A friend of mine recently pulled together a new group of players to introduce to the Stage. I was happy to run the game as GM, and we played our first session a few months ago. Unlike the other campaigns I’m currently in or running, this one is going to space...

This game uses new setting material. It takes place in the Spine, a science fantasy setting I’ve been working on and off on for a little over a year. However, it is a ‘light’ version of the Spine: I’ve decided to not yet implement all the weird alien races I’ve come up with as they still need a lot more work.

Some basics on the setting and the adventure

This game takes place in human space, known as the Monarchy. The Monarchy is a human autocracy spread over many star systems. It is governed by the Archon and the noble families that hold fiefs in his name. It’s a science fantasy setting, which (in my book) means magic and technology are entwined. An example is spacefaring: the people of the Spine have not mastered faster-than-light travel; however, they employ mages who open portals that bypass time and space and allow spaceships to travel from star system to star system through a parallel dimension known as the Mirror.

Players get to pick between two races in the Monarchy: natural humans or engineered humans. The natural humans are those born of a union between unmodified men and women, whereas the engineered humans are grown in vats.

Our story begins in a prison facility on a remote asteroid, Bellermacher Installation Gamma-16, or, ‘BIG-16’. Our heroes were all imprisoned there after they were arrested (justly or unjustly) by the forces of Count Sjahkan (the local ruler) during a revolt on the star system’s capital planet, Bellermacher III. Below is the introductory text I sent them before we began playing.

Introduction

There is a strange quality about this place: a cleanliness that breathes offense at your presence--at the presence of all of you; a mechanical disregard for organic life, regardless of it being born to the tune of its mother’s cries of pain, or to the silent hum of the vats and the trickle of its nutrient fluids.

A rough shove followed by a curt grunt make it clear that now is not the time for silent reflection. You rub your painful shoulder and proceed.

Up ahead, the prisoners are divided into different columns. Guards in armored vests behind faceless masks push the prisoners around with their batons. On platforms overhead stand snipers with long, scoped driver rifles, while the sleek barrel of a blaster cannon protrudes from a turret up ahead and casually trails your every step.

No chance of escape.

You allow one of the guards to manhandle you into one of the columns. He stamps your bright yellow jumpsuit with a small device; it leaves a mark on your chest that says, “Cell Block C”. You exchange glances with another prisoner. There is fear in his eyes, and the same markings on the chest of his jumpsuit.

Down corridors, elevators, and shafts they lead you. Doors fold in on themselves as the guards verify their identity to terminals that blaze with hostile red flares. Bright lights nearly blind you at every corner as faceless guards march past, followed by the uncaring buzz of sentinel drones.

When you reach the deep inside of the facility, they wash and clean you--all together in a single room. Then, drones come down from a vault in the ceiling and proceed to bathe every prisoner in a flood of scanning signals and sharp light. With four or five prisoners, the drones give a hostile buzz, and an ominous voice erupts from nowhere and commands those prisoners to stay behind as another door slides open to the rest of you.

Behind it unfolds a massive cavern--one could fit an entire starship inside it--that is alive with thousands of lights, intersected by dozens of shining metal corridors, tunnels, and railways. Hundreds of drones buzz around, going about their unfathomable business, as automated telecars hurtle down their rails at lightning speeds to transport squads of inmates to the Dead God knows where.

Ten guards await you here at the edge of this cavern. The smallest is over eight feet tall, and they all brandish batons and riot shields, their faces hidden behind masks that are alive with the reflection of you and the miserable group of prisoners that stands with you.

One of the guards steps forward. He removes his mask to show a face covered in thick, gray scales and offers you a smile that reveals two rows of perfectly straight and white teeth. A clone...

“Welcome to your new home,” he says.

The BIG-16 campaign has somewhat of a history. I ran it with the players who now play the Deniza campaign to test the then-current version of the Stage (which was before this website was even online) from 2011 to 2014 for a total of a little over 20 sessions. The result of that run was the previous and now outdated iterations of the Core Rulebook and the Supernatural Rulebook. It was the best science fantasy campaign I ran and I remember it fondly. I’m excited to revisit this place with a new crew, flesh it out, and maybe make parts of it into a module.

The characters

There are three players in this group (not counting myself), and these are the heroes they came up with:

Byzi Yamato is an engineered human; more specifically, a middle man. Middle men are designed to be extremely intelligent, but are supersensitive. Byzi used to work as an intelligence officer close to the Archon. He was sent to the distant planet Bellermacher III to incite a revolt against Count Sjahkan. As he plotted to subvert the government, his innate paranoia grew and he came to believe that his being sent to Bellermacher III was part of the Archon’s plot to get rid of him. Something shorted in his mind, and Byzi roamed the streets of Sjahkan-grad in a stupor until he was arrested during the riots and sent off to BIG-16.

Oberth Hohmann is a nomad, a species of engineered humans that are designed to excel in zero-g conditions and life aboard spaceships. Oberth was one of the most promising of his batch, produced at the request of the Archduke Egon von Stokach. However, during a formal dance that he attended with his master, Oberth stared inappropriately at a princess of high birth (fascinated by the patterns of her dress, or so he claims). His behavior disgraced his master, who sold him off to the Baron Lagrange. The baron put Oberth to work in the Caramboule-system, where he orchestrated impacts of asteroids and meteors to produce rare shock-quartz. However, he always believed he was destined for greater things. How Oberth ended up on BIG-16 is, as of yet, a mystery to anyone but Oberth.

Liam Olsen is a natural human, a ‘pan-colonial’: one of men and women who inhabit the colonies far from the Monarchy’s Core Worlds. They work (often as serfs) for the mighty aristocracy. Liam was a miner in a titanium mine on Bellermacher III, owned by Count Sjahkan. During his days there, he has watched many a man work himself to death. Riots and disturbances occurred frequently despite the harsh punishment passed down on the perpetrators. When the planet-wide revolt erupted, the miners were quick to join. They overcame the Count’s security forces and armed themselves. Unfortunately, the counterattack was devastating: the Count’s soldiers retook the mines and by the Count’s decree the entire staff of miners was replaced. Liam, who had nothing to do with any of it, was arrested and sent to BIG-16 regardless.

Let’s get started.

Read part 2 here!