or, Space: 999
by Eric Funk
It was a well-guarded secret that the elves had developed a working space drive centuries -- if not millennia -- ago. Always launching at night, keeping the labs and workshops deep in their territory, their missions were not known to the rest of the world. The elven space program was changed forever when a diplomatic mission involving the elven Prince was shot down and had to make an emergency landing in the center of the largest human kingdom in broad daylight during an international trade conference. The secret was out. The release of the Prince was quick and cordial, while diplomats stalled as top researchers raced to examine his crew and ship. Meanwhile, a security fiasco leaked the human's findings regarding the Wheel, the key to space flight, to all the other major powers. Thus began a worldwide race for space.
While the elves were the first to break the bonds of terra firma, they warned the humans that there are terrors Beyond and that it should not be taken lightly. The elves decided not to share maps to slow the humans' exploration, hoping that mankind would listen to reason. Considering the elves to be trying to scare them with fire side stories, the human nations raced onward to the stars. The perceived insult only encouraged mankind to send cheap, manned probes as far as they could in space. Aghast at the humans' bravado, they had not told the men exactly why the elven designs employ stealth. The nations had always assumed it was against being detected by men. The fools. The aliens now knew Terrans were moving amid the spheres . . . As probes were being destroyed in the inner and outer system, a few of the wiser nations approached the elves, and begged them for advice, allowing them to set a council to coordinate space research and efforts. The elven translation of the council name is the Necessary Advisory Space Authority. The elder race accepted this as it gave them some influence over the reckless humans.
- Age of Prosperity: A vague term used liberally to define a prior "Golden Age" for other planets in the Solar System when a species develops space travel.
- Glacial: Ice-based quasi-elementals invading from the outer reaches of the solar system.
- Lift Rock: An anti-gravity substance that keeps the continents of the gas giants aloft. It is mined and refined as anti-ballast in modern ships.
- Luminal: Fire-based quasi-elementals invading from the Sun.
- Moon Crystal: An artificial gem made from Moon Dust in zero gravity. It can enhance golem cognitive ability. The larger the crystal, the greater the boost.
- Moon Dust: Magic-rich dust originally found by refining megatons of lunar regolith used to power space ships. It was recently discovered that unrefined dust from the Great Red Spot holds the same properties.
- Moonraker Pike: A ballista pike fastened above the skyscraper sail to protect the crow's nest.
- Strake: Armor for the whole ship. A magical protective shield, it extends protection over the entire vessel, including rigging, masts, and open deck.
- Wheel: Magical control for a space ship.
The elves claim to have invented the "Wheel" propulsion system that makes modern space travel possible. The "Wheel" is the helm of modern space craft. It requires Magery 0 to operate the vessel, and the level of Magery is a bonus to skill rolls to pilot the spacedrive and maintain the device. The most advanced Elven ships use Moon Dust as fuel, Jovian rocks as anti-ballast in the upper deck, and are ornately decorated. Modern "Age of Prosperity" researchers are beginning to date their discoveries and some disagree with the claim that the elves were the first to invent the device.
The Wheel is a high-impulse, low-maneuverability drive. It has such poor handling that to perform fancy maneuvering requires landing in water. Landing on land is a slightly awkward action, but it certainly eases maintenance, access, and transfer of goods. It is certainly in genre to hold boarding actions while two vessels descend into the atmosphere. A large rowboat or skiff was found to be the smallest size vessel possible that one can outfit with a "Wheel," with no maximum dicovered as of yet.
- Couriers and raiders can get as far as 1 AU per week (0.14 AU per day)
- Typical warships and merchants can travel 1 AU every 2 weeks (0.07 AU per day)
- Colonial vessels and long haulers can reach 1 AU every 4 weeks (0.04 AU per day)
For ships, see p. SW102, page 464 of the Basic Set, and GURPS Fantasy, page 142. A simple conversion rule to fine the speed in millions of miles per day is to take the ship's speed in miles per hour, and divide it by two. (For example, 10mph becomes 5 million miles per day.) One million miles per day is about 0.01 AU per day. Actual speeds will vary by ± 10% for age and quality of the model and individual ship. Many messenger vessels ply the space ways as there is no instantaneous communcation between spheres.
Example distances 01 Jan 999
(calculated with NASA's Horizons)
In addition to propulsion, elven artificers lay claim to designing modern ship armor, called "strake." It protects the entire vessel with DR1 or more and keeps in air. The only downside is that it impedes all fast motion through it. Thus archers must place their lead hands outside to fire unimpeded. Basic cargo ships have DR1, couriers and trade ships have DR2, and warships have DR3+. Each point of strake DR also stops 1 rad/s. This encourages the use of swords and bows in boarding actions.
This setting assumes a generally "cinematic" lens is on, each asteroid has at least 0.1G. In general, objects as small as mile-wide asteroids have normal air pressure, although space has "thin" pressure (see page 429 of the Basic Set and page 137 of Compendium II). This means that unpowered ships do slow to a halt, and then drift with the solar wind. The temperature in the "vacuum" of space is -40°F. Solar wind brings mana, but also "mana sickness" (see radiation, page 435). Although the long-term sickness (and genetic damage) it causes can be cured with magic, and HP lost must be healed by rest.
Terran nobles are beginning an unspoken contest about who can import the largest floating island from the gas giants. Some Terran nations are building floating air facilities out of imported rocks. Few forces can directly harm such floating fortresses. Each country has launch facilities as close as possible to the equator to save time on launch (but see "Beanstalk," below).
Terran orbit is starting to become crowded with fortresses and factories, and the Terran countries have had many armed conflicts. The difference comes in when an invader stops by to cause trouble, be they pirates, or the alien Luminals or Glacials (see below). Only then can human prejudices possibly disappear, at least for the duration of the conflict.
The moon actually rotates, but it is half-covered in black "soot." This residue is suspected to have originated in the destruction of the Fifth Planet (see Asteroids, below). This soot causes the immediate area to be any kind of higher aspected mana. Thus there is a growing industry that continually sifts through the regolith for "Very High" mana dust. Machines must go through thousands of tons of regolith to obtain a handful of "Moon Dust." Despite the abundance of fuel, there are relatively few port facilities due to the difficulty of defending them. This may change with the completion of some new artillery in the near future, but nations often fail to come to each other's aid. The permanent settlement, "Startown," is built on the North pole, so that the magistrate can always signal a base orbiting Terra.
Mission Control for the Luminals (see below). The surface is very hot, perhaps 200°F.
This planet appears to be tide-locked with the Sun. The side continually facing the Sun is quite hot (120°F/50°C), and the dark side is quite cold (-4°Fz, making the respective territories perfect for colonies of the Luminals and Glacials, respectively. In the twilight region is a green band with a lush ecosystem that is often torn in places as the war between Lumiunals and Glacials damages regions. The ecosystem adapts quickly and regrows to recover from the damage, but it is losing overall. There is some evidence that Mercury was once a larger garden world, but its "life zone" was removed, and the planet's rotation was stopped.
Vast stands of trees reach into the clouds in the temperate and tropical zones of this jungle planet. Between the tall trunks are low plains. This trend is reversed in the colder latitudes, with the occasional stand of trees. There are traces of an ancient civilization, with many scarred ruins seemingly at random, some under huge, ancient trees. Toward newcomers, the indigenous halflings are shy, the centaurs, stoic, and the giants and minotaurs are hostile. The port of Aphrodite is a small trade center in a clearing made by a meteorite. It is built as a fort to protect it against frequent raids by giants and minotaurs. There is evidence of an ancient city under the settlement, but no entrance has yet been found. The settlement is adjacent to a large plain controlled by a powerful tribe of centaurs. See Races, below.
There are many ruins of a different, but not completely dissimilar, ancient civilization on this rusty desert planet. These settlements are often buried under sand or contemporary settlements. Local legends and elven lore indicate that Mars was once green and lush, but an ancient war shattered the ecosystem. The goblinoid races are currently rebuilding their civilizations, but are slowed down by the reptile men at every turn. The largest spaceport, dubbed "Ares," is an extension of the largest goblin city. The current landing areas appear to be over the ruins of an ancient spaceport. The site was selected because it was flat, non-arable land. See Races, below. See also GURPS Mars' "Dying Mars," replacing the races presented therein with the fantasy races above.
Moons: Phobos is unremarkable. Deimos has traces of prior habitation, including an anchor for a beanstalk.
Asteroid Belt/"The Fifth Planet"
The belt is a wide area, with enough room for everyone, and is too big for any one group to claim or patrol. There is a growing industry mining valuable ores. The more cautious and timid groups tow objects back to Terra, Mars, or Callisto for dissection in safety. Several armageddon cults are based here, and seek to bring destruction to other habited worlds. Evidence suggests that the asteroid belt was once a high-mana planet, creatively called the Fifth Planet. Ever so rarely is an artifact found, often part of a furnace or a wall. This spurs a fine inspection of the region, rarely netting anything new.
This majestic planet has many features. Landing on its main ring can offer an observer a great view of the floating continents below, and the Jovian moons above, especially the four largest (see Gallilean Moons, below). Most of the floating continents are as large as any found on Terra, but some are as small as a house. The land masses float at a variety of altitudes, based on the ratio of "lift rock" in them. This causes a certain amount of antigravity lift, causing the mass to naturally float to a certain altitude. If one tries to move it up or down from this point, it feels just as heavy as solid rock. Experiments show that the rocks also keep a certain altitude on Terra, although the math and ratios are not yet understood. The refining of this mineral is an important aspect of ship construction, but quickly dooms the island to fall to the deep clouds of Jupiter. Thus as the ore is extracted, it is kept on the island until all the machinery is removed, as once it goes, the island plummets.
The Great Red Spot is where the most concentrated mining efforts are, despite it being three times larger than Terra. The best research indicates that this is where the core of the Fifth Planet fell when that world was destroyed (see above). The red dust is a Very High mana compound very similar to that found in minute quantities in the lunar regolith, but it is very risky to try to harvest it from the storm. It is still attractive, despite the distance, as this is pure, and needs no refining.
Radiating its own heat, Jupiter's air is warm and dry. Despite this, there are rain storms at high altitudes. The tops of most rocks are covered in plant life and soil. Habited regions tow and anchor islands together, and link them with ramps and bridges. No one is sure where the occasional new island appears from, but they appear to surface from the Deeper altitudes, bare and without greenery. Descent into Jupiter will mean that the air pressure will soon become Dense (see page 429 of the Basic Set and page 137 Compendium II).
Io: This volcanically active moon is the farthest stronghold of the Luminal people. They fiercely guard its airspace. As the geography changes quickly, there is little known about this moon today.
Ganymede: This moon is complicated. For some unknown reason, its seas are inhabited by a variety of war-like aquatic creatures. The Glacials claim its surface, but cannot control its watery resources. The aquatic combatants fight equally against each other as they undermine the Glacial facilities. Terran forces have been trying to contact the aquatic races, but have barely been able to identify them (see Races, below).
Europa: This body is the little sister to Ganymede in most respects, including the smaller-scale war within it.
Callisto: The outermost of the major Jovian moons is a lonely planet without life or unusually abundant resources to call its own. It is, however, the only safe place in the Jovian system for Terran nations to build supply outposts, however. From here, protected convoys escort vessels to and from the floating islands below. Although Jupiter's Main Ring is inside the orbits of the major moons, it is too hard to defend.
The second-largest gas giant in the solar system has a composition similar to that of Jupiter, but the rings have many levels and can be inhabited.
Titan: The moon of Titan has an ecosystem. It is the farthest body out that has recognizable life. Thus, it is the farthest Terran colony on a rocky biosphere. It is the last staging ground for exploration (or invasion) of the outer system. A well-fortified multinational outpost is under construction. Alone together, away from Terra, these settlers fear a common foe from the deep.
Uranus and Neptune
These two brothers share features similar to those of Saturn and Jupiter, but their floating islands are mostly composed of ice. The temperature at "normal" pressure is on average 20°F, and drops to -75°F at "Dense." There is no life here as Terrans know it (but see Races, below).
Triton: The Neptunian moon, Triton, has a tundra ecosystem, populated with penguins, polar bears, and other anachronistic animals. The average temperature is about freezing 32°F.
There is some evidence that Pluto was once a larger garden world, but its "life zone" was removed, and the planet was split in twain -- Charon is only half the diameter of Pluto. Today it is a last resting place for many creatures, a dumping ground for abominations that cannot be destroyed. The "cemetery-zoo" is spread across the opposing faces of Pluto and Charon (e.g., the sides away from the tide-locked hemispheres). The Glacials taunt fate by stealing life from sleeping immortals to fuel ships (see Races, below). It is a pressing question among philosophers as to who placed these creatures on Pluto. The elves have evidence that they have added to the collection, but cannot prove that they laid all these cryonauts to rest. That said, not all are immortal abominations, some are self-imposed exiles, and others are prisoners.
No Terrans have explored this far out. There do not seem to be unusual levels of mana nor much light. Discovery of a garden world out here, a "Planet X," could certainly change opinions, however. Using a modern astronomical chart, heroes could explore objects unknown in the previous centuries, such as 136199 Eris (a.k.a. "Xena").
The Call to Adventure is strong, and almost any character could arise to leave the safety of Terra. Soldiers, prospectors, and housewives could each be doing their national duty, on the run, or just sick of their neighbors. Any standard fantasy race could be seen, be they elf, dwarf, or halfling. Apart from the starfaring Terrans, the humanoids on Mars and Venus are found in modest numbers on Terra, but the Terran and foreign groups have no memory of each other.
Terran industry is making and ever increasing use of golems. While the most basic golems are unimaginative, humans have "reinvented" the golem, allowing increased levels of intelligence through Moon Crystals. The larger and more complex the crystal, and the less specific the orders, the more adaptive it is. The most recent models seem to be alive, and some claim to be self-aware. There is much debate regarding the nature of Artifice Intelligence. Human researchers have also replicated the elven technique to store the spirit of a (usually) willing individual in a golem. These "ghosts" need not eat or breathe. The most complicated procedures use the Simulacrum spell to make a seemingly-organic form.
Beyond Artifice Intelligence, a GM may wish to play up the local biomods and cybermods with some cyberpunk tools and Gene-weaving spells. Thus, Terrans of all sorts can have mana-powered implants, human and animal-aspected bio-implants, self-powered sensing and communication items, spell wands, and biological-bodied Artifice Intelligences. Life on Terra can be a typical fantasy setting, or possible rebuilt using a Transhuman culture, with tiny permanent Gateways to send messages and people instantly across any distance. Dream nets could connect sleeping people together in communal Virtual Kingdoms over almost any distance on the planet.
All the races found on Terra's sister planets of Mars and Venus are also found in relatively small numbers on Terra. Philosophers ask how this is possible. Some point to teleport failures, others to massive banestorms. The most recent theory gaining popularity is that some "Age of Prosperity" ships visited the three worlds, and stranded the passengers -- or their crew. Martian Races include goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, reptile men (see Gabrook, page 21 of GURPS Banestorm). Venusian Races can include centaurs, halflings, minotaurs, giants (see Lorn'dil, page 22). The aquatic races under Ganymede and Europa may be from Olokun (page 22). See also GURPS Fantasy, pp. 106-111.
Alien Races (See The End for Templates and Secrets)
It is certain that these fiery beings started their exploration of space from the Sun. They have permanent cities on the Sun, Io, and the hot side of Mercury. Whether or not they actually evolved on the Sun, or simply chose it as their arrival point in the system is a matter of hot debate. Their ships are shaped like flaming birds and manta rays. Unproved rumors include: "to kill a Luminal, drop a bucket of water on it" (False). "Luminals cannot stand the dark" (partly true -- they dislike absolute dark).
It is suspected that these beings of living ice originated their exploration from Neptune. They also have permanent cities on Uranus, Pluto, Ganymede, and the dark side of Mercury. While their most advanced settlements appear to be in the floating ice islands of Neptune, it is uncertain if they are native to the planet. Instead of eating food, a Glacial must absorb a similar amount of water. Terrible stories abound regarding Glacials absorbing victims' fluids. Their ships are shaped like silvery crystal fish. When confronted with food and drink, Glacials may try to eat and drink it, and become confused when they cannot. Unproved rumors include: "Glacials are immune to gaze attacks" (False), "Glacials are unusually vulnerable to sound" (False).
Fe Fi Fo Fum: The alchemist Ythtic has started to grow a large plant with the intent of growing it into orbit. This "beanstalk" absorbs sunlight and a special nutrient bath, gaining miles of height every day. The researcher has built an enchantment into the plant such that one will transport from one end to the other with no additional energy cost. The large amounts of energy are stored in the plant. With every day's sunlight, the plant grows taller, and different organizations grow more nervous. There are many questions on people's minds, such as "What would happen if the plant should fall, or worse, succeed?"
Spin Around the Black: A courier ship needs testing of a new Wheel drive. It has the latest improved maneuvering engines using wind creation spells at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories. The new design needs some shaking down. The path is a simple swing around some asteroids at a Trojan point. Engineer and Pilot characters will have a chance to shine. The trip itself involves some minor breakdowns, with a major one at the farthest point. While the engine is down, the group is ambushed by some pirates! At some point, the patron will reveal that she has stolen the ship, but is not a pirate. She works for a rival corporation. They may be able to save the ship, but can they save themselves?
Raiders of the Lost, um, Ark: An archaeologist finds some ruins which he claims were once a large precursor space ship. He claims that the ship is of goblin or halfling ships design because the crew stations are all less than five feet in height. On the bridge can be found intact Moon Crystals. Were the crew simply short LAI golems? What weapons and wealth might be aboard?
Extra Spice: A junior military officer from an antagonistic military loudly claims the wreck in the name of his government. He is proficient in loud speeches, and will certainly hamper any PC efforts as he can.
Sleeping King: The heroes are sent to recover someone who has become the last heir to a crown, currently asleep on Pluto. The adventurers will have to contend with competitors who are willing to risk detection by the Glacial bases on Charon. An issue that did not occur to the Patron is whether or not the heir wants the job after all these years.
Baby (Monster) on Board: The adventurers pick up some semi-valuable ore as a consolation cargo. During the flight, a baby void beast hatches (ST 15, Bite: 1d (imp), see the end). It senses the strake shield as a solid barrier, and will lunge at any warm body that gets in its way.
Extra Spice: At the last moment, a GM could choose to have the beast bond to the least likely PC, as a source of roleplaying tension.
Asteroid Mining: The PCs are to help a small group of prospectors out on the Main Belt. Aside from cultist squatters, claim jumpers, pirates, and alien invaders, they must be alert for the slim chance of untold treasures being found in the asteroids, as such would certainly carry a price.
Island Hopping: A Great Red Spot mining station on Jupiter was soon to be threatened by a new floating island. The PCs' patron has dispatched a team to quickly mine and "drop" the island so that it misses the outpost. The team has not reported back nor finished their mission. The adventurers' mission is twofold. The primary goal is to change the course of the island, preferably by mining some Lift Rock. This will save many lives. The secondary goal is to rescue the men from the first mission. The heroes find the area quiet. After the crew debarks, and explores a cave, tentacles reach out and try to kill them! Damaging the tunnel tentacles in any way will reveal that the veins of the creature are heavy in Lift Rock!
Follow-Up: Millionaires have been bringing new islands to Terra. The bare ones are ready to be renovated . . . The race to Terra can be as fast or slow as necessary.
Hot Pursuit: A rebel Luminal scientist wants to defect. The heroes have been chosen for their reputation, disposability, and so on, as they will be beset by Glacials, Luminals, and other nations . . .
The Thin Blue Line: Terran forces have been trying to contact the aquatic races on Ganymede and Europa, but have barely been able to identify them. The heroes are given underwater gear in magical cities and equipment. The group must sneak past enemy lines and contact aquatic allies. The first challenge is to find them.
Cogito Ergo Sum: After leaving a small outposts, the adventurers discover a stowaway on board. It is a golem with an expensive-looking artificial body. It seems to trust the PCs, and confesses that it is a golem on the run. The next port the ship arrives at is all abuzz about a huge reward for a certain unarmed golem, returned intact. Can the fugitive trust the PCs now? After all, they're only human (probably).
Alien Secrets and Templates for GURPS Fourth Edition
The Glacials are the last survivors of Pluto, who took these icy forms to escape to the depths of Neptune. Later, the first exploration of Pluto is instinctive, but their origin has been forgotten, even by themselves. Their reputation is largely undeserved. It started due to a well-publicized survivor of a raid witnessing some starving Glacials feeding . . . Few individuals have "normal" Magery. Many have Magic Resistance, and a few have Magery 0.
Appearance: A sharp-looking slender golem made of ice.
Category: Elemental-kin, ice.
ST 15; DX 8; IQ 10; HT 12.
Will 10; Per 10; Speed 5; Dodge 8; Move 5.
SM 0; 400 lbs; DR 2.
Traits: Body of Ice; Dark Vision 5 (Shifted); Infravision; Pressure Support 2; Reputation -3 ("Eats Sentients"); Unaging (Accessibility: temperature colder than -40°F); Very Fat.
Notes: Few Glacials actually have "Phobia (fire)," but all are generally aware of their weakness, unless they are Overconfident.
The Luminals have a complex caste system. The most militant are the dominant, warrior caste. The few researchers, poets, thinkers, and meek construction crews rarely leave fortified bases. Most individuals have Magic Resistance, and the rest have Magery 0, or rarely, Magery 1+.
Appearance: Glowing humanoids with fiery orbs for eyes.
Category: Elemental-kin, Fire.
ST 8; DX 9; IQ 10; HT 11.
Will 10; Per 10; Speed 5; Dodge 8; Move 5.
SM 0; 130 lbs; DR 2.
Traits: Body of Fire; Bright Vision 5 (Shifted); Perk (Feature: Flashlight); Pressure Support 2; Spectrum Vision; Unaging (Accessibility: temperature hotter than 175°F)
Notes: Few Luminals actually have "Phobia (water)," but all are generally aware of their weakness, unless they are Overconfident."
Appearance: A Dark-grey manta-like creature with a prehensile tail.
Category: Space monster.
ST 40; DX 12; IQ 2; HT 12.
Will 12; Per 12; Speed 6; Dodge 10; Move 6 (Ground).
SM +3; 4 tons; DR 5.
Traits: Chameleon 3; Flight (Space Move 12); Enhanced Move 10 (Space Move 12,288 y/s or 0.6 million miles per day); Ichythoid; Metabolism Control 10; Teeth (Fangs: Impaling).
Features: Native Pressure: Thin; Native Temperature: -40°F
Notes: Must match speeds to attack with "normal" Flight.
Most of the Transhuman Space books can be used whole cloth, provided that the GM make the conversion of terms such as Moon Dust for helium-3, Moon Crystals for computers, golems for cybershells and ghosts for Ghosts.
To become more gritty, the ships can colonies all are now fully enclosed. Life support is provided by "air rock" and heat exchangers. Space combat is by grappling and boarding. Ignore the "Recommended physics" under Solar System.
- "Bronzepunk" -- Bronze-age Transhumanism -- parahuman, biomod, clockpunk
- "Elves: A Case Study of Transhumanism in Fantasy Worlds" by Jürgen Hubert
- "Aulos: City in the Sky" by Matt Riggsby
- "The City in the Storm" by Martin Jenner
- "Zauberpunk" -- Cyberpunk meets Technomancer -- by Stephen Kenson
- "Gene Weaver" -- A new GURPS Magic College -- by T. Carter Ross
- Death Gate Cycle, elemental worlds -- by Weis and Hickman
- NASA Planetary body distances Tool. Enter two planets, a date, and click.
- Object 136199 Eris a.k.a. Planet Xena
- Septerra Core -- PC game
- Nautical Terms
* * *
Special thanks to Daniel Boese for being a sounding board, my advisor, Rowan, for approving of my "coin-op plot," and DryaUnda for some last minute course corrections.
Article publication date: February 2, 2007
Copyright © 2007 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.