[EDIT 6/17/21] At the bottom of this piece is the subject matter written up to 2,700 words and is the beginning of my work to do this setting completely. Check back now an again so you can easily steal these ideas for your own games!
Using the badly organized but very cool Space Opera game system I am now sketching out the lines for my idea of a Dune-like campaign. Yes, I know I said I would use Classic Traveller for the game mechanics, but I am hungry to run a sci-fi campaign with the venerable, and much shaded, Space Opera system. The Setting Suns Campaign is my attempt at a thoroughly space- opera saturated sandbox with the strangeness dialed to eleven. What I mean by strangeness is that weirdly beautiful experience the original Dune books delivered to millions of readers. I go on in length of what this strangeness feels like to me in this earlier blog post, and I am groping closer and closer to my "This is It" idea. Please help in illuminating what this campaign world is trying to be if so inclined. The universe is a very big place as you know and there are many places to fill with their "proper" pieces.
The premise is humans have a path of immortality gifted to them by the inscrutable Taakar, but in exchange are bound to the Proto-Hyasphere. This is a collection of habitable systems in the Spica sector of space. These are the Spica, Tharon and Sardis Systems. Only the Merchant Masters Guild and its members are allowed to travel between these systems and are responsible for distributing the Taakar drug which extends life. Everyone else is limited to their solar system, though travel within the specific system is permitted. Much like animals in a game preserve, the known human race is quarantined from the greater universe and are watched by agents of the Merchant Masters. The drug is claimed to lengthen a person’s life span by tens of thousands of years. This has not been verified because most people willingly euthanize themselves around 500 years due to paralyzing ennui. No Merchant Master has ever been known to do this so there is a possibility some members of this ruling class have been living a tremendously long time.
There are two habitable planets in the Spica system. Spica and Kia Howi. Any character who takes the new Merchant Master class Sword Mind is automatically from Kia Howi. Kia Howi citizens are recognizable by their red-copper complexion and coal black hair. Kia Howi is a standard Type 1 Terran planet dominated by steppe and with about 40% standing water. Most KH rituals and religious beliefs hold water in high regard. The breathable atmosphere is contaminated by a fine, razor-sharp silica dust so natives of KH are familiar with detecting and filtering contaminants and highly knowledgeable in surviving semi-arid and arid conditions.
Sword Mind (Armsman); requires an Empathy score of 15 or greater. They are the only ones who can take the Combat Training skill. May not take any Direct Fire skills except for archaic weapons. All forms of melee weapon skills are available. A Sword Mind has an imbedded HBS Battle Sensor inserted in one of the character’s eye sockets. Several portions of the skull are removed, and the hardware of the device is grafted onto the brain tissue. The cyber “hack” adds an additional eye underneath the main sensing eye. This makes the Eye of Taaker a Tech 9 device instead of the standard Tech 7 hand-held device.
HBS Battle Sensor capabilities; picks up and identifies life forms, energy and heat sources, force fields and radioactivity, giving a rough direction/distance of these signals. Range is 1.5 km and has no need of a powercell or rolls for breakdown under normal use. Off planet and in space the range of the devise is magnified one million percent!
Merchant Master (any class); requires both an Empathy and Psionic score of 15 or greater. May not use any weapons or learn any combat skills. Psionic score determines position within the MM guild. Psionic skills may be used for combat and violence. The only psionic field available is Telekinesis and the 7-9 level powers are going to be dramatically revised.
Merchant Masters are only found on Spica in regards to an official home, though they may come from any of the human races in the greater Proto-Hyasphere. It is very rare to see a Merchant
Weapons in the world of the Taakar are forbidden. Anyone found in possession of weapons faces life imprisonment. Anyone found using a weapon faces the death penalty.
Therefore, the Combat Training skill is not available to any other class than the Sword Mind or Quantum Weaver, and even these classes have restrictions to what is available. Everyone else is limited to the Streetfighting & Brawling skill, which caps off at Level 5.
First Edition Edit and Draft
Setting Suns Campaign World for FGU’s Space Opera
Only the Merchant Masters and its members were allowed to travel between these remaining systems, and they were tasked with distributing the Taakar drug which extends life. Every fifty Spica years, every fifty revolutions around the Taakar which had replaced the systems original primary star, the Merchant Masters go out to the four planets of the Proto-Hyasphere and distribute the Blood of Taakar which must be repeatably taken to maintain an unnaturally long life. All others are limited to their solar system, though travel within the specific system is permitted. Much like animals in a game preserve, the known human race is quarantined from the greater universe on four planets and watched by agents of the Merchant Masters. So it has been for the last two thousand years.
The drug is claimed to lengthen a person’s life span by tens of thousands of years. This has not been verified because most people willingly euthanize themselves around 500 years due to paralyzing ennui, overpopulation, and an eroding ability to be fascinated. No Merchant Master has ever been known to have taken their own life so there is a possibility some members of this ruling class have been living since the arrival of the Taakar.
The Proto-Hysphere in Brief
The limits of human expansion into known space are enforced by a mysterious field encapsulating the three systems in the Spica Sector. To encompass a section of space over tens, if not hundreds of light years, to seal it off from the greater universe, is a technological achievement of mind-boggling proportions. But this achievement is real. Those, two thousand years ago who found the Taakar’s ultimatum unacceptable began to flee Spica and nearby settled systems. Only to find the fence had been raised and all attempts to pass through the barrier resulted in death and destruction. In less than a galactic standard year the vast empire of humanity throughout Spica sector, which had evolved from thousands of years of slow exploration and glacial rates of expansion, was reduced to these three systems. The ultimate authoritarian rule of the Merchant Masters assured those in the Proto-Hysphere represented all that was left of humanity. That any who remained outside the Hysphere were to die at the hands and immense power of the Taakar.
There was resistance, to be sure. Those still unwilling to abandon the ideals of a “Free Federation of Planets”, massed their great fleets of starships and attacked this thing called the Taakar which now lived at the center of the Spica solar system. And were annihilated.
So humanity marched on under this irresistible authority, heeding the mandates of its administrators, the Merchant Masters, living within their galactic reserve for reasons unknown. So it has been for two thousand years, unchanged. The only thing of human invention which has flourished are people themselves. With none ever needing to die planet populations grew and grew. The technology of Quantum Weavers, those technicians of impenetrable Taakar tools have always answered this challenge. Cities burrow deep into subterranean crust and reach into the sky. Miracles of agriculture and food growth supply enough to eat, stations orbit in space harboring more humanity than has ever been known to exist in the vast expanse of the universe, free to pursue their interests, of which the what, where and why of the Taakar is most popular, if they do not violate the mandates of the Merchant Masters, the voice of the Taakar. These are unwavering and unchanged since the beginning of the Proto-Sphere; no space travel beyond one’s solar system and no study, practice, or creation of the means to war and mass-scale violence. Possession of weapons is prohibited and results in life-time imprisonment, considered by many a crueler fate than death as none are allowed to refuse the immortality drug of the Taakar. Many believe humanity is being raised like cattle for eventual consumption by the Taakar, but the Merchant Masters which interact directly with this other dimensional entity assure the alien life form means no harm and its reasoning is beyond the comprehension of humanity.
Weapons in the Proto-Hyasphere of the Taakar are forbidden. Anyone found in possession of weapons faces life imprisonment. Anyone found using a weapon faces the death penalty. Attempting to learn, train or instruct the Combat Skill by citizens of the Proto- Hyasphere is a crime punishable with life imprisonment or death if attempted with others. A group of citizens caught combat training, with or without weapons, can be executed immediately by authorities.
Therefore, the Combat Training skill is not available to any other class than the Sword Mind or Quantum Weaver, and even these classes have restrictions to what is available. Everyone else is limited to the Streetfighting & Brawling skill, which caps off at Level 5.
There are two habitable planets in the Spica system. Spica and Kia Howi. Any character who takes the new Sword-Mind class is automatically a native of Kia Howi. Kia Howi citizens are recognizable by their red-copper complexion and coal black hair. Kia Howi is a standard Type 1 Terran planet dominated by steppe and less than 40% standing water. Most KH rituals and religious beliefs hold water in high regard. The breathable atmosphere is contaminated by a fine, razor-sharp silica dust so natives of KH are familiar with detecting and filtering contaminants and highly knowledgeable in surviving semi-arid and arid conditions.
The stellar primary, the sun of the system has been replaced by the Taakar with their “interface” with material reality. It is a luminous, globe of fusion energy which resembles a giant Type M star. It is here the Merchant Masters contact the Taakar and acquire the drug necessary for immortal life.
Tharon and Sardis Systems
Both solar systems only have one habitable planet, and these are busting at the seams with staggering population counts.
How are the rules used in Setting Suns?
Space Opera is the Complete Science Fiction Role Playing Game, and the flexibility of the rules bears this out when I decided to use these rules for Setting Suns. The Setting Suns campaign universe has unique features which will require players to be aware some changes to the character creation process, different representations of tech and space travel, even the socio-political structure may appear different to players familiar with more traditional “ray gun and a rocket ship” space opera games. But these changes are few and minor regarding the rules of the game. There is no change to how combat is run or world creation procedure. Skill and action resolution have no changes. Psionics have a prominent place in Setting Suns, but fields are limited, and high-level powers are changed to serve the requirements of the setting. The biggest change, and challenge, for both Star Master (SM) and Players (PCs) is roleplaying within the bizarre realities the setting conceits rest on and how to succeed in their desires and goals. We will start with the changes to the standard character creation process.
Character Creation for Setting Suns
All the regular classes of the game are available. The universe still needs astronauts, engineers, and scientists. Armsman are impacted by the new restrictions on the use of weapons and the availability of the Combat Training skill, but still there is nothing from creating a straight up Armsman. The “career paths” presented in Space Opera needed to generate a PCs starting wealth, equipment and skills are very generic. This is done on purpose by the writers of the original game. It is a feature, not a bug. This is so that a Star Master is not wedded to an official game setting by the publisher. Just because there is no such thing as BRINT or BOSS in Setting Suns there are still agents, spies, and policing authorities. This is space opera, and there is nothing in the rulebook which does not fit or cannot fit the most exotic ideas of science fiction. In this game world, changes to the rules are stylistic only. The underlying rules are left intact. So, 3.0 PC Career Experience, 3.1 PC Initial Enlistment and 3.2 PC Employment procedures can be used as written right out of the Space Opera rulebook. The Player Characters and Star Master are left to fill in any blanks remaining by this all-to brief book.
Be careful to note there are no changes to the reenlistment rules of the game. If a character on creation whishes to remain in the service chosen, they must actively seek to remain or will be discharged. Those who do not must seek their fortunes in other adventurous pursuits.
As has been mentioned earlier, the standard Space Opera careers are still available. If a player wants to have served in “Starfleet” or “Planetary Defense Force” for a career background have at it! Such trades will have to be drastically reevaluated in light of Setting Suns social, political and intergalactic structure. Any “Starfleet” (any martial order for that matter) will necessarily be a clandestine, underground force unless working directly for the Merchant Masters.
Interstellar Survey and Survey Scouts will be in high demand to find hidden, undiscovered and overlooked systems for habitation by those who wish no longer to be under Taakar rule. While Planetary Police Forces will be subsumed under the authority of Quantum Weavers, such organizations arise organically on the crowded worlds. “Turf” is still expected to be taken and protected, customs of mutual convenience need to be enforced, advantages over your neighbors need to be maintained to enjoy the best parts of the world, and black markets must be maintained to satisfy the lusts of an indolent populace.
Contact Service and Diplomatic Corps still remain to negotiate and politic with Merchant Masters on a city or society’s behalf. Contacting other human and alien races beyond the Hysphere is still desired for any number of reasons, and the Merchant Master’s commercial fleets still need to be flown and maintained.
New Classes for Setting Suns Universe
The new character classes offered represent powerful citizens in the ruling classes of the campaign and each one of these classes have Attribute requirements to attain them at character creation. These new classes represent the circle of people in the game world which have a monopoly on some aspect of power needed to rule this future-tech, speculative science fiction setting.
Sword Mind (Armsman); requires an Empathy score of 15 or greater. The Sword Minds are the martial order of the Merchant Masters. They are the Merchant Masters “Pretorian Guard”. They accompany Merchant Masters as their personal bodyguard when they travel to the Taakar. Highly ritualized, trained at birth and held to strict codes of behavior they are like Samurai during dynastic Japan. They have the natural empathy needed to survive contact with the Taakar and have lived through the procedure grafting powerful technology to their brain.
They are the only ones who can take the Combat Training skill at character creation. This skill must be bought at the highest level. They may not take any Direct Fire skills except for archaic weapons. All forms of melee weapon skills are available. Unarmed, and Vibro-Blade/Force-Blade/Monofilament Blade are two required and must be bought up to the highest level.
Sword Mind characters must take Contra-Gravity Harness at the highest level and receive Survival, Steppe level 5 at no cost.
A Sword Mind has an imbedded HBS Battle Sensor inserted in one of their eye sockets. Several portions of the skull are removed, and the hardware of the device is grafted onto the brain tissue. The cyber “hack” adds an additional eye underneath the main sensing eye. This makes the HBS Battle Sensor an Eye of Taaker, a Tech 9 device instead of the standard Tech 7 hand-held device.
The Eye of Taakar’s has the same capabilities of a HBS Battle Sensor; picks up and identifies life forms, energy and heat sources, force fields and radioactivity, giving a rough direction/distance of these signals. Range is 1.5 km but has no need of a powercell or does not need rolls for breakdown under normal use. Off planet and in space the range of the devise is magnified one million percent!
All Sword Minds are from the planet Kia-Howie. They have skin of a red-copper complexion with coal-black hair color. A “retired” Sword Mind should find many Patrons who would seek their skills and some who have experienced the true nature of the Taakar may desire to further their “research”.
Merchant Master (any class); requires both an Empathy and Psionic score of 15 or greater. They are the ruling elite. They and only they directly trade and negotiate with the Taakar for the life extending drug. They are forbidden to use weapons or learn combat skills. Psionic score determines an individual’s position within the Merchant Master guild, and all are considered “awakened”. The higher their psionic abilities the more authority they possess. Psionic skills may be used for combat and violence. The only psionic field available is Telekinesis and the 7-9 level powers are dramatically revised. Read the Psionics chapter for all the details. A Merchant Master will be called on to suppress insurrection, pacify cities groaning under population strains, see to the distribution of immortality, maintain political order and most of all, deal directly with their other-dimensional masters. A feat of deadly and dangerous proportions.
Active Merchant Masters reside on overpopulated Spica, though they may come from any of the home planets in the greater Proto-Hyasphere. Retired Merchant Masters, like their Sword Mind cousins, are free to settle wherever they choose, but can expect unique opportunities of employment and adventure offered to them by potential patrons. Or find they are targets of citizens out for revenge against Merchant Master totalitarianism.
Merchant Masters Class Requirements (any class); requires both an Empathy and Psionic score of 15 or greater.
Skills required; none.
A Merchant Master is defined by their level of Psionics. The field of psionics practiced is Telekinesis and the Psycho-Kinetic Crystals are a physical object they all possess. The PK Crystal is what the Taakar have provided to make them what they are, possessors of advanced science which represents only a minute fraction of the power coursing through the otherworld entity of the Taakar. Merchant Masters begin the game psionically awakened and have access to their full talents.
The psionic talents level 6 and above are changed in the following ways:
Morass/6; is now called Dissolution, and instead of making physical materials “soft” it destroys the material entirely. The percentages and volume figures should be interpretated as the amount of material terminated as the atomic structure is unwound.
Mind Touch/6, Life Sense/6, and Psychic Force/7 remain unchanged.
Energize/7; is now the ability to bring any type of powered equipment to full charge/power.
Magnetoscreen/8, Negafield/8 and Radshield/8 remain unchanged.
Battlescreen/9; is now called Cosmicscreen, a protective shield which provides a complete life support system for the adept against electromagnetism, anti-matter, radiation, and the cold vacuum of space.
Power/9; is now limited to increasing the power of a Crystal Ship.
Maneuver Drive/9; is now the ability for a Merchant Master to set an interstellar course with 100% accuracy, subject to the standard modifiers. Since this is a level 9 talent there are only two standard modifiers, +100% for Maneuver Drive/9 and +200% for Maneuver Drive/10. Well, then how do they fail? As far as a Merchant Master is concerned, they do not. It will be up to the PCS and SM to create such situations. The actual translation into tachyon hyperspace is completed by Quantum Weavers.
FTL Drive/10; is now the ability for a Merchant Master to transfer into the Taakar at the center of the Spica solar system and conduct audience. This is usually only every fifty years when they need to be infused with the drug of immortality, but they may have to make this translation at any time based on the will of the Taakar or a Merchant Master’s current needs. If transfer is attempted within the Spica system from a Crystal Ship success is automatic. If transfer is attempted withing the Spica system not on a Crystal Ship, there is a 3% chance of failure. Transfer attempts within the Sardis system while on a Crystal Ship has a 5% chance of failure. Without being on a Crystal Ship chance of failure is 11%. Chance of failure from Tharon are 9% and 18% respectively.
Quantum Weaver (Tech); requires an Empathy score and GTA score of 15 or greater. They are technicians specialized in using and maintain the technology created ages ago to allow interaction with the Taakar. They are required to take Combat Training to qualify for Fusion Gun and ARP Projectors skills. Quantum Weavers may take the Street Fighting & Brawling Skill, which is an additional cost, and must be paid for at full price even with Combat Training for Fusion Guns and ARP Projectors.
Technician skills required to be purchased are as follows, Scientific Programming, Cybernetic Brains, Alien Computers, Anti-Matter Generation Systems and Beamed Power Transmission.
They are frequently performing tasks in the alien and hostile environment surrounding the Taakar at the center of the Spica system, see to the operation of the complex ships of the Merchant Masters and are used as soldiers in any large-scale conflict the ruling class may face.
Quantum Weaver Class Requirements (Tech); requires an Empathy score and GTA score of 15 or greater.
Computer Tech: Scientific Programming, Cybernetic Brains, and Alien Computers.
Power Tech: Anti-Matter Generation Systems, and Beamed Power Transmission.
Combat Training to qualify for Fusion Gun and ARP Projectors skills.
Quantum Weavers may take the Street Fighting & Brawling Skill, which is an additional cost, and must be paid for at full price even though Combat Training for Fusion Guns and ARP Projectors has been purchased.
Ranks of Command among Quantum Weavers is set by their level of FTL Pilot:
FTL Pilot 3rd Class, Weaver of the Watch/1-6,
FTL Pilot 2nd Class, Tachyon Weaver/7-9, and
FTL Pilot 1st Class, Quantum Weaver/10
Unless a Quantum Weaver is onboard a Crystal Ship, they are headquartered and trained on Spica. Primary duties planet side are evaluation and recruitment of potential Quantum Weavers, administration of limited martial training, and debriefing Sword Minds and their agents.
The World of the Proto- Hyasphere
Kia Howie is a rugged, dry planet with 7.5 billion souls living on its surface. A vast expanse of steppe girdles the equatorial regions of the planet which give way to short, thick coniferous forests and rolling hills which cover the planets temperate zones. The “arctic” zones of the planet are high alpine tundra which rapidly transition into tremendous mountain ranges all the way to the poles. Intermittent rivers arise when during seasonal changes as the frost and snow in the arctic melts and sweeps through the tundra and into the steppe. A Kia Howie day lasts 66 hours while a year is 157 days.
The year’s length is identical to Spica, and this kept the planet was unknown to the humans on Spica until Tech levels of 4 and greater were achieved. Once noticed it was not long before colonists would leave Spica and brave the unknown grasslands and steppe of Kia Howie. The first danger encountered by the citizens of Spica was the unusual nature of the Terran-like planet and its deadly dust contamination. This silica-laced dust is the significant, defining feature of the planet’s surface. It is contaminated air. A continuous wind drives clouds of dust filled with microscopic silica which filets lung tissue in a day. The earliest settlers on Kia Howie had to become proficient in filtering dust from the air which led to larger and larger sealed cities. Traveling the surface requires elaborate breathing filters to avoid long-term lung damage and death.
Water is scarce, a mere 38% of Kia Howie is covered in surface water. The largest bodies of water are found in shallow seas along the equator.
Spica was and still is the capitol of the human race as far as history will allow a look into the dark past.
All in-system, sub-light starship designs are available, and the TISA Maneuver Drive is in common use. It will not possess defensive armaments or armor but may have shields to protect the ship from fast moving debris. Of course, if PCs want to try and get a ship with defensive armaments and battle armor they should be allowed to try. Building an armed starship would be a dramatic adventure arc in itself filled with all sorts of dangers and excitement.
Ships with FTL capabilities are the province of the Merchant Masters and these ships are designed around schematics drawn up two thousand years ago by the first Quantum Weavers after their contact with the Taakar. More correctly, after their contact with the Taakar they became the first Quantum Weavers who were capable of building what they had been given. These ships are shaped like globes consisting of clear, facetted crystal. They are the size of a small asteroid, 21 miles in diameter. They are not affected by gravity wells, and they are 21 times faster than terrestrial jump ships. A ship rated at a 21Warp factor will travel 21 LY in 24 hours. The ships made from the knowledge of the Taakar travel this same distance in an hour. They do not appear to have sub-light capability, the Crystal Ships appear in orbit of their destination, a systems’ Primary. From this orbit the sub-light ships of the system approach to receive the goods the Merchant Masters have delivered. Cavities appear on the surface of the Crystal Ships which become the berths for the terrestrial ships. Goods are then marshaled into their holds by crew in contra-grav harness under the watchful eyes of a Sword-Mind. If there is to be a meeting between leaders, they will be received within the halls of the Crystal Ships. The Merchant Masters only leave the Crystal Ships when home, on Spica, the seat of their power under the unblinking flame of the Taakar. These transits are completed in sparkling sub-light ships which have been built to the Quantum Weaver’s specifications.
The Crystal Ships have no apparent weapons, why would they need such things? No screens or EW/ECM energy have ever been detected from the Crystal Ships.
History of the Merchant Masters
Avodad Evuu was the first Merchant Master come the arrival of the Taakar. It is recorded he and a scientific team of 20 boarded the Naval vessel Kliest Rain and set out to investigate anomalies on the sun’s surface which had been picked up by Spica orbital satellites. The Kliest Rain took orbit around the stellar primary at 6 million kilometers and Evuu’s team launched probes into it.
21 days prior, routine satellite scanning beamed back to Spica City unusual sunspot activity which grew daily into gigantic circles of blue radiance. By the time Spica authorities had decided who and what would go an investigate these changes to the sun had turned completely into a blue radiating surface. No changes in temperature from this anomaly, no changes to Spica’s atmosphere could be detected as this transformation completed. Outside of the optical change in appearance the system’s sun behaved as normal.
On the third day of close observation the sun increased in visible magnitude 1,000 times and knocking out all communication between the Kliest Rain and Spica. When the sudden explosion of light cleared away the Kliest Rain was no more. In addition, the original M Type star which stood sentinel over the Spica system for billions of years was gone. Erased in an instant and unbelievably… replaced! What was once the life-giving sun of the Spica system was a swollen globe of blue purple twice the size of the missing primary. The citizens of Spica were horrified to see in their viewing platforms spiraling arms writhing out for a million miles in all directions. Purple flesh like appendages as thick as a small moon coated in a viscous milky-red liquid. The pliant undulations traced by planet-side recording devices showed these liquid structures were both unaffected by the cold void of lifeless space and the apocalyptic heat which radiated from the large globe’s surface.
Leadership was paralyzed, floundering for what to do. Thousands of years humanity had poked, prodded, and explored the unfathomable reaches of space encountering all sorts of strange and terrible sites and alien entities, but this explosive transformation of a star into something so alien had never been encountered. Never recorded in the annals of creation by themselves or any other species of the universe. The system’s full force of might, Federation Starfleet, ringed the monstrous thing, massive batteries of towering Nova Guns charged, Megatorp warheads activated. Historical records tell of the miracle which, after an impasse of 21 days, the “Anomaly” released 3 gigantic, brilliant crystal globes, equidistant from each other and rotating in a steady triangle formation. Avodad Evuu returned to Spica, appeared it is agreed, in the council halls of the Federation, much changed and full of the radiance of Taakar. He had come from “the Heart of all things” and gave the Taakar’s message of hope and its terms.
The council was horrified at the change in humanity’s destiny Avodad Evuu declared was inevitable. But once the armada of the Federation was vaporized in a crystal rain of plasma from the alien orbs, humanity’s acquiescence was assured and a course of peace, harmony, and eternal life was delivered to Spica by Avodad Evuu and the transformed members of his team which first contacted the Taakar. These are what would become known as the Merchant Masters and Quantum Weavers.
Of course, there was resistance, and the incredible psionic powers of the Masters, and Weavers could only resist so many forces arrayed against them without resorting to planetary annihilation. The fierce natives of Kia Howie were courted, converted, and made into the spear of the Masters. The Sword Minds were born, and with the technology of the Quantum Weavers all Federation resistance was destroyed.