Apparently now I’m a sci-fi GM. Starting this month I’m running a dozen sessions of Impulse Drive on Gauntlet Hangouts, but using Coriolis' setting. As well, two of my face to face groups swapped over to space games. The first I’ve talked about a bunch, my Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri hack. The second opted to shelve our Trail of Cthulhu game in favor of Scum and Villainy. So now I’m focused on starships, merchant traders, and tech gear.
Scum and Villainy is one of my favorite Forged in the Dark games. It has a clean presentation and wears its setting pretty lightly. Where Blades in the Dark has Duskvol baked into everything, S&V’s playbooks feel open. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have a setting—it does. The backdrop feels like Star Wars with a little Fading Suns thrown in, plus maybe some Dune? It’s hard to describe—but it does have a lot of mystical and religious elements present.
...Which made it a little challenging when the group asked if we could play S&V in the more grounded Ashen Stars setting. I said OK at the table and spun from what I remembered for session one (multiple aliens, a forgotten war, Lazer enforcers, and synthcultures). Afterwards when I re-read the Ashen Stars material, I realized how large a jump there was between the settings. The biggest change would be the expanse of it.
S&V has a handful of described systems, each with multiple planets. The PCs gain Heat in each system individually. Ashen Stars assumes a massive number of settled systems broken up into clusters. To make things manageable, I cut things down to three clusters where the PCs' heat would be tracked (plus a track for Government and Corporate heat). In my version space travel and communication within each cluster is relatively easy. Moving between clusters requires gates and specialized hyperspace lanes.
But that’s just geography. When I’ve run FitD games, locations haven’t mattered nearly as much as the web and network of factions & NPCs. After a year and a half of play, my Blades group had a modest sense of Duskvol’s neighborhoods. They knew a few key places (the Academy, the racetrack). On the other hand, they had a strong and clear sense of the factions. Places provide backdrop, characters provide motives. With that in mind I turned to breaking Ashen Stars into factions.
It meant tweaking scale and making some abstract actors into looming forces. I also had to invent other groups for balance and steal names from offhand references in Ashen Stars supplements. I borrowed S&V’s approach to groupings, but added a fourth and shifted some things around. About a third of the factions come from there, with an Ashen Stars coat of paint applied more or less. It turned out well, but of course took longer than I’d intended (something to talk about next post). Below’s what I came up with—I hope it might be a useful model for others (maybe someone wants to do this with Coriolis…)
Bleedists (III): An underground network of revolutionary cells believing that the Bleed should be granted full independence and autonomy. They have suffered setbacks in recent years, making them increasingly desperate.
Blink Gate Guild (III): Maintain the in-cluster jumpwells and the trans-cluster hyperspace lanes and gates. The most important builder of ships. All ships in the Bleed must be certified and registered, by default with the Blink Gate Guild—but forged papers are common.
The Counters Guild (IV): Though nominally under Combine control, they’re practically independent. These agents maintain the interstellar currency network and build shadow repositories in any system the Counters have a presence in, storing mysterious items and securing auctions and commerce (IV).
Division X (IV): Combine counterintelligence and spies. They work throughout the clusters to maintain the Combine’s presence and exert control through disruption. (IV)
Eschaton Secure Facility (III): The most notorious prison system, housing the worst of the worst. Originally run by the Combine, it is now for-profit. Brokers audiences with its population and grants commutations for those with power and wealth.
Farpost Fleet (III): The remaining Combine military operating in the Bleed. Functions both like a police force and the hammer of the Combine should needs arise. Has grown increasingly corrupt in recent years, as the posting is far outside Combine space.
House Gongsun (III): This is one of the few noble houses with cross-planet and cross sector influence left. Others have collapsed, lost authority, fled back to the Combine, been destroyed, or relegated themselves to a single planet or system. They hold many of the most important mining monopolies, with their capitol planet Sun Palace, lying in the same system as Warren.
House Talatonu (II): The other remaining noble house in the Bleed. They have maintained their position by monopolies on certain kind of AI manufacture, as well as their cutting edge Viroware.
Loyalists (III): The network of people, often in administrative positions, who believe that the Bleed should return to full Combine authority and control.
Ministry of Settlement (V): Representatives of Combine authority within the Bleed. If you’re dealing with non-local bureaucracy, it’s probably them. They have authority over the Farpost Fleet and Division X. They maintain a policy of status quo: Combine authority should neither be extended nor diminished. Based out of Ossa One aka The Ossuary.
The Sub-Ministry (II): The bureaucratic infighting has left other Combine divisions and departments pushed off to the side. They have banded together to accomplish their individual objectives outside the gaze of the Ministry of Settlement. These include Combine Scientific Council, Combine Cartographic Authority, Committee for Universal Reconstruction, and beyond.
Surveyors Auxiliary Corps (I): Often accompanied by a motley crew of adventurers, these dozen or so colorful characters have the Combine’s pseudo-approval to perform open-ended surveys, studies, and censuses.
Arcoro Effectuations (II): Fixers who operate all over the Bleed. They help people and places in need to set up contracts for Lazers and other operatives. Have their own teams for more problematic and delicate jobs which their clients might want handled off-books.
Central Effectuation Repository and Transmission aka CERT (III): The system which funnels contracts and jobs to Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators (aka Lazers). Tries to stay apolitical, but has great influence in how contracts get dispensed, promoted, and fulfilled.
Gosha Armaments (III): The largest weapon manufacturer in Bleed. They handle everything from ship-to-ship firepower to hand-held slug throwers. Said to use lack of oversight to its advantage by engaging in dangerous and contaminating testing.
Guild of Engineers (V): While most of the High Guilds’ authority has crumbled out here in the Bleed, the Guild of Engineers remains a trusted party. The corporations resent the Guild’s status and believe that quiet support from the Combine allows it to maintain its edge in resource acquisition, cybernetics, tech advancement, and research. Often have the best toys.
Hextent (IV): The largest corporation in the field of infrastructure and mining. Has its tendrils all across the Bleed. Leverages its size to undercut local contractors and then subsume them. Still supports the system of planetary “service contracts” which has fallen into disfavor in the Bleed.
Loghos Corporation (IV): Specializes in cybernetics, computers, and artificial intelligence. Is working to install more AR city systems in all corners of the Bleed. Known for their advanced robots and replicants.
NQA Effectuations (I): A network of independent, but highly skilled fixers who work to help clients of all kinds find the right agents. Rag-tag and not above operating with criminal elements, it has avoided being crushed underfoot by larger and more powerful companies for years.
Polygene (III): The leader in biomedical, synthetic, and genomic technology in the Bleed. Gained its #1 status when authorities revealed rival corporation Hansetica’s role in the development of illegal bioweapons. While Hansetica claimed that had been part of the war-effort, Combine authorities struck and dismantled it in short order.
Shining Stars (II): Some Lazers organize into companies to better serve, protect, and get paid. The Shining Stars has the best reputation, though how much of that is PR remains questionable. Resented by smaller, independent operators who believe it gets preferential treatment.
Sunstorm Drivers (II): A group of independent, hot-shot pilots. Many organize illegal races. They take dangerous jobs for pay, and a few test dangerous new engine/ flight technologies for corporations and other groups. They wear a pin that shows how many races they’ve won.
Tactical Discretion, Inc (I): A smaller, no questions asked mercenary company. It specializes in security, enforcement, training, and jobs which employers don’t want to send through CERT. While many corps have merc operations, TDI operates independently.
Universal News Web (II): Central news provider. Often leverage this on other factions. Has a monopoly on news broadcasts coming via hyperspace pipeline from the Combine. Leverages that for more access.
Cobalt Practicum (I): Organized labor union dabbling in a little crime to fund their demands for a better life. Usually display a blue stripe somewhere on their clothes.
Enokida Clan Yakuza (II): Criminal organization which manages drug dens masquerading as society houses. Specializes in entertainments and exotically sourced pharmaceuticals.
Ixmacane’s Thorns (II): Once a respected group of Lazers, they have been banned by CERT after their involvement in a number of questionable operations. Some say corporations and rivals framed them, while others say that there’s a darkness at the group’s heart. Regardless the Thorns are a dangerous outfit willing to do whatever it takes to complete their tasks.
Koivula Cartel (II): Weapons dealers that specialize in ship weapons, headed up by the ruthless Lea Nikula, who insists on doing the first deal with every client in person.
Maelstrom Inc (III): Once a potent corporation, infighting led to their downfall. Mid-level workers stole the company’s fleet and headed out into dark space. Now they’re rabidly anti-corporate space pirates living in a nebula that’s difficult to navigate.
Shankara (II): Criminal organization which specializes in the use of those with psychic talents. Also known to have a penchant for Precursor and Ancient relics.
Spectral Gang (I): Mostly young, disenfranchised xenos who have turned to crime and found strength and solidarity with each other. Used to be based on Warren but they have begun shifting their center of operations.
The Syndicate (III): A tightly knit mafia who specialize in high-end thefts, smuggling, and extortion. Strong access to technology and said to have some corp backing.
Ueno Clan Yakuza (III): Far reaching criminal family known for their control of gambling and assassination in many sectors. Recently destroyed the Yanagi Clan.
Vivarex (IV): The most successful information broker to ever live. Said to be able to access any terminal, anywhere—though no one can explain how. Frantically seeking her sister, who the Counters Guild took hostage.
Wreckers (I): Scavengers and thieves with a few brilliant hackers, who incite factions to fight so that they may pick the battlefields clean later.
Zhorohev’s Ravens (III): Fiercely individualistic pirates who specialize in disabling ships before boarding. Skilled at ship-to-ship combat and said to have a private chop-shop star system.
Church of Stellar Flame (IV): One of the official Combine Churches, its branch in the Bleed has developed its own fanatical approach. Religious zealots with only a few powerful members. Stretched thin, they’re using their power and influence to seek out and eradicate dangerous artifacts and mystic activity in the sector.
Church of the Long Day (II): Anti-tech nu-faith which has spread to many systems where the populace feels oppressed or alienated by the tools of technology. Its “martyrs” use technology shaped to look like non-tech items and weapons.
Conclave 01 (I): Independent, sentient Robots led by an ancient Urbot known as the Prime. Working to control the mining sites and gain control over Precursor AI modules required to generate true sentient machines.
Ghosts (II): Scientists who, due to a mishap, live exo-suited in a half-phased state. The Church of Stellar Flame offers a significant bounty on them and their ghost ship, the Skeleton Key—dead or destroyed (but certainly not alive).
Most Precious Blood (III): A nu-faith which believes that there is a genetic code linking certain individuals across species. The have a remarkably deep understanding of genetic science, making them in demand to elites. The Combine outlawed this faith after its role in eugenic incidents, sending it out into the Bleed.
Restreamers (III): This bizarre religious cult believes that the current timeline of the universe is the wrong one. They believe they can reset that through divine and mundane intervention based on psychohistory and futurological congresses.
Scarlet Wolves (IV): Although they often hire themselves out as bounty hunters, the Scarlet Wolves are a renowned group of assassins. Each member is said to have a distinct, encoded holo-tattoo. Apparently connected to a secretive religious doctrine.
Suneaters (IV): Actually called the Reclaimers’ Society. A network of archaeologists and scientists obsessed with recreating lost technologies. Rumored to have extinguished a star in pursuit of their goals.
Synthculturists (II): A loose group operating throughout the Bleed to secure enhanced rights and support for synthculture societies. They believe in a strict policy of isolation, subvented by authorities in the Bleed. Often contradictory and at cross-purposes with itself, the Synth organization off their own worlds has become its own thing.
Tenfold Path (II): Cybe immortality seekers using artifact tech implants, viroware, and chemicals distilled from the living; several of them have been around for hundreds of years. Most were powerful before their transformation, though they now conceal their true identities. They split from conventional Cybe culture.
Vigilance (I): Warrior psychic mystics bearing artifact blades, who seek to enforce a code of justice on any they find wanting. Make claims to having been vital in the Forgotten War.