Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bleak Worlds: Zangliss

Zangliss.  One of the Bleak Worlds.  The Basic Database Entry reads as follows:
Zangliss (Zan-Gliss)

Dim, smoldering red skies filled with billowing red clouds, a tortured surface wracked with constant upheavals of red ice, red rocks and generally as red an environment as can be managed, all of it just this side of the kind of cold that usually burns the life out of things. Zangliss has an eccentric, tidally-locked orbit that keeps it caught in the perpetual eclipse of its massive red sun caused by its parent gas giant. What life there is can be found in the inconstant meltwater zones girdling the incredibly salt-saturated seas of slush that sluggishly jumble and tumble the myriads of jagged icebergs and ice floes that freeze out from the super-saturated mineral-solution that makes up the majority of what passes for water on this world. In the meltwater zones there are over a hundred different micro-climates that form under the steady, regular cyclic phases of heating and cooling brought about by the tidal effect of the gas giant that no one has bothered to name beyond its registration number and icon sequence within the Open Source/Public Access sections of the Autonomous Construction System databases made available since the last Revolution. Aside from some shrimp and a few red-tinged protozoa there's not much to see here. Except for the ring of colossal stone faces that hang brooding solemnly in a perfect circle around the equatorial zone, each one the masterpiece of a single robotic sculptor who has since left for other venues. But why was it ever built in the first place?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Trisectivore Chitinopods

Born, bred and for the most part banished to the Badlands, the Trisectivore Chitinopods prowl about the deadzones, feral interstices and ruinous wastes of dead and dying worlds hunting after their one and only prey with a triple-minded persistence as deeply etched into their core genetics as is possible to achieve.  Synthetic pseudo-insects, the Trisectivores are living tripods formed from myriads of overlapping and in some instance interpenetrating almost tumorous layers of convoluted chitin that grow across three distinct phase-levels simultaneously.  Unlike those predators capable of shifting across phase-states, the Trisectivores simultaneously occupy three distinct states at once, in a hazy, buzzing shimmering cycle of being more or less present in any one of their native three phase-states in a regular sequence that never changes.  At any given moment they are no less than 30% physically present and no more than 90% physically present.  Each one occupies a different frequency of phase-states, thus making whatever defenses that operate well against one pretty much useless against another.  Seeing as how they hunt in packs of threes, this can certainly pose a problem to those who draw their attention in the wrong way, like provoking them to attack.

The known sources of provocation for Trisectivore Chitinopods are as follows: the scent of ozone, electrical systems run at a frequency too close to the Trisectivore's field of electromagnetic perception, the color blue, large masses of out-of-phase biological materials, auras that contain six or nine-fold resonances, hexagonal shield-matrices, nonogrammic planar iconohedrons, and bipedal humanoids wearing veils (especially if mounted).

Trisectivore Chitinopods possess no mouths and have no bite, but they do have a vast array of micro-stings that can extend outwards from every niche, convolution or imperfection in their chitin.  Their three legs also end in wickedly barbed three-part pincers, each of which can extrude triple-edged bayonnet-like spikes (three to a claw-part) at will.  These bayonnet-spikes can also be made to rapidly shift across nine consecutive phase-states in a random order, allowing them to cut across an even wider swath of spatial layers than would at first be suspected.  This cross-planar effect is persistent, even in the event that the Trisectivore is killed.  Some Badlander tribes have managed to trap and kill a few of these creatures, often at great cost in terms of lost limbs and grisly deaths, in order to collect some of these bayonnet-spikes which they then have learned how to use as weapons.  The toxins exuded by the very material of which these bayonnet-spikes are formed is also persistent and has been known to seep across even planar layers for some reason.

These creature also possess three distinct minds, each mind controlling one eye and one limb and they operate within a heavily shielded closed-loop telepathic symbiosis which allows them to focus one, two or all three minds upon any one undertaking at any moment, giving them tripartite psychic defenses and possibly some triple-damned psychic attacks as well.  Their involuntary nervous system is likewise triply redundant allowing them to continue operating even after two out of three of their limbs, eyes and/or minds have been destroyed.  And yes, they regenerate if given a chance, thankfully at a fairly slow, if persistent rate.

The Trisectivores cannot use their telepathy outside of their own chitinous forms, so they use a peculiar form of color-shifting and postural sign-language to converse with others of their kind.  This is a distinct, physical language that no other species can hope to imitate or decipher--the mental framework and physcial sensorium necessary to perceive it, let alone appreciate or understand it at all would require being a Trisectivore.  Likewise, there is no known way to communicate or negotiate with these things.  At all.  It is best to just not attract their attention, generally.

Trisectivore Chitinopods were designed from the beginning to survive and operate for all their existence deep within the worst of the Badland Worlds.  Acid, extremes of heat or cold, incredible pressures, electrical effects, and anything else that can reasonably be expected from the natural, background environmental phenomena common to the Badlands can pretty much be counted on as ineffective as an attack form against these creatures.  Their chitin is also triply underlaced with an organic polymolecular mesh that makes piercing attacks a nuisance as opposed to a shell-breaker, as with most other insect-derived species.

To say that the Trisectivore Chitinopods are tough is an understatement.  Thankfully they usually only spawn clutches of three every three years, though some of the more experienced Trisectivores have taken to caching triplet-clusters of eggs which can take as long as three decades to finally hatch.  They are at least as intelligent as the majority of beings that they have encountered so far, and it is rumored that some few of them have been attempting to learn how to read, possibly as a precursor to attempting to learn spell-casting, but of course that is a crazy rumor and no one takes it seriously.  Only the most foolish and mad individual with a overwhelming deathwish would even consider attempting to teach these things how to communicate or read

Oh, and the prey hunted across the Badlands by the Trisectivore Chitinopods?  The Veiled Riders.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dershav Floating Heads

Weirdness abounds on the Interwebs.  I woke this morning from a dream about creatures who were not much more than floating heads with vestigial bodies.  Creepy little shriveled people who hovered in the air by a combination of telekinesis and a manipulation of telluric currents that they tapped-into and harnessed for all their needs.  No sooner did I have the roughdraft of the above image done, and I took a break to do some blog-surfing and walked right into Cyclopeatron's recent post about Poul Anderson and A. E. Van Vogt.  You can find his post here.  The book cover he included for Van Vogt features a pale, smooth-skinned floating-head dude.  I doubt it means anything significant, but I did think it was kind of funny/strange.  Huh.

Anyhow, on with this post.

The Dershav are a chthonic offshoot of humanity who live entirely deep underground in bizarre networks of shafts, sheer-walled tunnels and convoluted cavern-complexes often over-run with bioluminous fungi and cthonozoa.  These spaces are not intended to facilitate walking and are treacherous in the extreme for anyone attempting to spelunk through them as well.  Pockets of poison gas are maintained in low spots by clever reshaping of the ceilings and stalactites of choke-point passages.  Every opportunity has been taken to facilitate interlopers falling to their deaths.  Completely unexpected pockets of grit, sand, gravel or even ultra-fine dust are arranged to fill areas, flow through or across other areas, and to swallow up the unwary or the unlucky.  Sharp projections are arranged so as to only be found once one has run into them being buried in powder or set within carefully arranged shadows just to catch someone on their needle-sharp points.  In fact the entire expanse of the Dershav territories deep below the surface of Riskail are considered to be some of the most clever and devious death-traps known, and thus they are a source of challenge for various athletes and celebrities who seek to beat the Dersahv at their own game.

Only the Dersahv aren't playing at any games.

Extreme xenophobes, the Dershav are horrified that anyone would be so senseless as to not take the hint and leave them well enough alone.  The constant deprdations of media crews, videolisti and the aforementioned athletes with their attendent clouds and swarms of papparazzi have motivated the Dershav to seriosuly up the ante.  Which feeds into the cycle of challenge and only serves to encourage, embolden and spur on the intruder's efforts.

To add insult to injury, all the media attention has resulted in tour groups venturing down into the already cleared sections which are supposedly safe.  The tour guides relate how this celebrity camped here or that athlete nearly lost it over there, and so on. 

The Dershav have had quite enough of this nonsense.

But they are split as to just what they ought to do about it.

One group has sent a delegation to the exurban grotto-districts where they hope to bargain with Budoji for passage to some distant, unclaimed shell-world where they can rebuild their society in peace, free from all the trespassers and interlopers who now come barging into their carefully arranged pebble mobiles, telluric aura-sculptures, or delicate spore-vortexes, all of which have been trampled, ruined and destroyed by unwitting fools from the surface world in search of thrills.

The other faction doesn't want to leave their ancestral caverns.  They have decided to fight a geurilla war against the invaders from above and they have begun to arrange some rather nasty traps utilizing telluric currents drawn from the deep Ley Lines of Riskail.  Powerful, negative surges of force directed by the intensely focused hatred of the Dershav have begun to slash murderously through the camps of the celebutards, sporting enthusiasts and (un)reality contestants.  Things are about to escalate.  Badly.  Wildly.  In the worst possible ways. The Dershav have begun to take the heads of their victims as trophies.  They wrap them in the same worm-rinds and snail intestines that they themselves wear as mummy-like protective coverings and then carry them about within their auras as macabre tokens of their status as warriors, for the Dershav have had enough of Civilization and have turned to savagery and barbarism to defend their lands from those who would trample their ancient thrones beneath designer spelunking boots or gem-encrusted sandals that look good on the Nets.

Moons of Riskail, Part One: Duleeb

Riskail has two moons.  Voj is a cometary core sheathed in an artificial ocean, while Duleeb is an asteroid that was dragged out of its native orbit, melted into a mass of molten nickle-iron by solar mirrors and then a mass of cometary ice was slammed into the middle of the molten mass which was then spun very, very fast in a tightly controlled elctromagnetic field until the original lumpy potato-shaped chunk of space rock was converted into a shiny new hollow sphere.  Then the nanoprocessors and moleditors got involved.

Duleeb was sculpted into a more naturalistic-looking lunar body, all the while the interior was developed into a peculiar, almost amniotic sea of a habitat that received sunlight via translucent sections of the armor-like shell. 

Four gates were situated at equidistant points around the equator of Duleeb, each one nestled deep inside a heavily shielded and armored Fuller dome in the center of some crater or atop a artfully raised ridge.  They allow access to the surface for anyone equipped for operating in a vacuum environment, but none of them have any direct connection to the interior of Duleeb.  That's probably a good thing.

Rooted at the very center of this massive metal ball filled with sloshing amniotic seas of exotic minerals and strange compounds is a quasi-crystalline pseudo-coral colony-structure of living filamentous tendrils that extend outwards across multiple planar and phase levels simultaneously, creating a growing, self-repairing, network of mostly invisible filaments which girds the world of Riskail and acts as a defense against stray bits of cosmic debris, meteroites or asteroids and the like.  Any body striking the network of filaments is quickly disassembled and converted into feedstocks for the thing that is anchored deep within the heart of Duleeb.  The kinetic energy of the impact is completely absorbed by the net and used to spur further growth farther and farther out from its current orbit.

On particularly clear nights, and under the right circumstances, you can look up and see the very faintest hints of the tendril-like filaments as they shift across phase states, those trunks closest to the very surface of the moon becoming the most visible and looking something like a slowly waving bed of sea grass of kelp deep underwater, only far, far overhead.  The effect is a bit unnerving.  Many people complain that it gives them nightmares or that they become fearful that the thing within Duleeb will one day turn its attentions to Riskail and begin to devour the world, but that is only so much apocalyptic nonsense and no one takes it very seriously, except a few cranks and the odd cultist.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Twelve Bleak Worlds

Outside the stable interconnected environments of the Known Worlds there are those planets that just didn't quite make it all the way or that failed for a million different little reasons.  Terraforming is tricky business, even for the Deep Infrastructure.  Some worlds turn out wonderfully like Ladesh, Lourdes or Niris-Calais.  Others turn out far less wonderfully like Cyrol, Paljaz and Rimidon.  Still others have their ecologies crash, their terraforming processes run amok or are subject to catastrophic events that boil off their atmospheres or otherwise degrade, collapse or even outright destroy their ability to support life despite what in all other respects would be and should be optimal circumstances.

Some of these worlds that have been massively interrupted and terribly disrupted recover.  In time.  With effort.  Solar mirrors get deployed, asteroidal debris gets restructured and nudged into new orbits to provide protection, oceans get re-established, atmospheres get replaced, domes and polymer sheaths get erected.  The Automated Construction Systems of the Infrastructure go to work and get these worlds on track to being livable habitats, employing whatever measures or methods they have in their databases, for however long it takes.

But even then, after hundreds, even thousands of years of invested effort and contrivance, despite all the herculean efforts of the ACS, some worlds just won't budge.  For whatever reasons there are those worlds that are seemingly bound and determined to remain inimical to life.  Some of these are classified as Hellworlds and are closed off from the regular access levels of Civilization.  They are dangerous, brutal, harsh and unforgiving places where life is vastly unwelcome and often violently expunged with extreme prejudice.  Others of these worlds are borderline Badlands, just at the very threshold of supporting life in the most meager, miserly and miserable conditions possible or imaginable.  Then there are the Bleak Worlds.  Life is barely able to hold on to its tenuous toehold on these planets.  Their ecologies are incomplete, wild and unpredictable, but not in the brutal honesty of the Badlands nor the terrifying hostility of the Hellworlds.  The Bleak Worlds are cold, mostly barren and patient.  They mislead visitors into cruel predicaments and deadly circumstances with the sly subtlety worthy of an Amortal meta-chess master.  There are good reasons that these worlds are closed off from the rest of Civilization, sealed and monitored by background systems that match the patience of these worlds as nanoscale efforts continue to process the atmospheres, enrich the soils, and work towards providing an ever-expanding niche for life to take root and take up the battle on its own behalf.  Lichens, mosses, algae and a host of microorganisms dominate the fragile, besieged micro-biomes scattered across these places.  Nothing more complex has been able to take up the fight, yet.  And few, if any visitors ever come to these places.  They remain mostly pristine and wild, virginal ecologies just at the very threshold of becoming feral wildernesses.  But not quite yet.

Most of these worlds are simply rocky masses with some water and a very marginal atmosphere.  Few have anything more advanced or complex than fungi, bacteria or algae growing on the bare rocks.  Short visits are usually fairly uneventful, but long-term settlement is deemed unlikely, despite a few individuals or small groups who've tried to make a go of it anyhow.  None have succeeded.  These worlds are just not ready or able to sustain the sort of robust ecosystems required for humans to thrive  upon them, and some of them might never achieve that goal despite the best efforts of the Deep Infrastructure.  Below are some examples of the more memorable (such as they are) Bleak Worlds reachable from Riskail with the appropriate gate tokens.

(13) Twelve Bleak Worlds

Voronezh (Vor-oh-Nezz)
Radiant azure skies and rich, sapphire snows combine to create an intense blue radiance that overwhelms unprotected eyesight with a lingering lapis glow that has inspired several poets over the course of the last few centuries.  A handful of warm-spots can be found atop the dense blue icepack which encloses the oceans of this world, most of them the result of minute cracks reaching down to undersea vents where a profusion of sulfur-metabolism lifeforms are busily expanding their elegant unseen empires of smokestacks, tube-worms and microflora.  The cracked ice is treacherous, prone to collapsing and re-freezing in a matter of minutes.  Yes, it is that cold.  Unprotected, your average visitor has the life expectancy of a naked newt dropped onto the peak of Everest.

Zangliss (Zan-Gliss)
Dim, smoldering red skies filled with billowing red clouds, a tortured surface wracked with constant upheavals of red ice, red rocks and generally as red an environment as can be managed, all of it just this side of the kind of cold that usually burns the life out of things.  Zangliss has an eccentric, tidally-locked orbit that keeps it caught in the perpetual eclipse of its massive red sun caused by its parent gas giant.  What life there is can be found in the inconstant meltwater zones girdling the incredibly salt-saturated seas of slush that sluggishly jumble and tumble the myriads of jagged icebergs and ice floes that freeze out from the super-saturated mineral-solution that makes up the majority of what passes for water on this world.  In the meltwater zones there are over a hundred different micro-climates that form under the steady, regular cyclic phases of heating and cooling brought about by the tidal effect of the gas giant that no one has bothered to name beyond its registration number and icon sequence within the ACS databases.  Aside from some shrimp and a few red-tinged protozoa there's not much to see here.  Except for the ring of colossal stone faces that hang brooding solemnly in a perfect circle around the equatorial zone, each one the masterpiece of a single robotic sculptor who has since left for other venues.  But why was it ever built in the first place?

Mazeeva (Mah-Zee-Vah)
Blackness knows a whole new meaning in this cold, barren place where the rocks have complete authority and the snow is tainted black from volcanic ash.  The many active volcanoes are all deep under water and their eruptions rip through the black-tinted ice with spectacular violence.  Vast plumes of smoldering acid, smoke and ash rise into the heavily overcast skies finally settling out of the black clouds as dark hail, smoldering rain or mingled black ash-snows.  A thick, viscous oil-like sludge covers everything, accumulating in superchilled pools and leaving a thick skrim across the fractured ice.  The air is almost breathable, unless one ingests the ash which is highly acidic, and of course it is extremely cold, and the pressure is rather intense, often forcing an accumulation of black gunk in the seams and joints of anything that spends very long exposed to the dark winds of Mazeeva, not to mention the condensation of acid that tends to happen as well.  No fewer than three master spell-fighters have erected attunement psycholiths at secret locations on Mazeeva. Each one is said to impart a different and very powerful attack spell to those who find one and carry out the appropriate rituals.  Needless to say, few make this particular journey as it is extremely dangerous, difficult and demanding, as were each of the three master spell-fighters themselves.

Grosk (Grah-sk)
The gentle, supple surface of Grosk appears to have very little variation in elevation and almost no tectonic activity.  No volcanism.  The air is breathable and clean, the light streaming through the slowly undulating clouds is bright and even warm on one's exposed skin.  It isn't until after you've spent a few minutes walking around the place that you might realize that the whole surface of this world is covered by a colony of microorganisms that extends downwards for miles.  But then, people tend not to notice such things until after they've had the surface tension disrupted and the colony has swallowed them whole.  The Sowers of Grosk cultists are very friendly people who would love nothing more than to show you around this world. Each one of them has already voluntarily submitted to the colony and allowed it to consume their brains so that they might achieve union with the colony.  Welcome to Grosk.

Aergia (Ayr-gee-ah)
Dim, quiet and sluggish, this world takes centuries to rotate around its axis, making it for all intents and purposes a one-face world, sort of.  Low mountains jumble together along the few faultlines, appearing more like melted lumps dripped into place as an after-thought by a lazy creator-deity who couldn't be bothered to put in the extra effort required to make them look like proper mountains.  Those cracked and crumbling faces of the exposed rock which receive sunlight are spotted with sporadic lichens, mosses and a few million different slime-molds all trying to break the rocks down into soil and finding it a tedious, slow process.  The atmosphere is just tolerable, the temperature is mild and only fluctuates a few degrees at any given moment, and the weather is mostly a slow motion mistiness that drifts counter-clockwise across the sunlit polar region that points almost dead-on to its sun.  The darkside is a place of shimmering aurorae and infrequent snowfalls, most of which are of little consequence as the surface is generally just a slight bit too warm for them to accumulate.  Eventually snails and slugs might find a home here, but for now it barely supports the few low-order life forms that have been able to find a mostly viable foothold.  No one has any record of who built the cyclopean stepped pyramid at the south pole, nor why the structure is encircled by irregular elliptical patterns of tall, black featureless monoliths.

Othrys (Oth-Riss)
Cold, barren, rocky and bereft of any redeeming features aside from rugged coastlines battered by constantly agitated waves and furious storms full of lightning, hail and severe winds.  The only life in this place is deep below the surface and far below the most turbulent waters where a strange pseudo-mechanical ecology derives its energy from temperature shifts and the motion of the waters stirred-up by the perpetual storms above.  The storms of Othrys are legendary and to be marooned or exiled to this place is usually a death-sentence, unless there is some truth to the rumors of some sort of sentient coral-colony deep below the waves that has taken an interest in the goings on around it.

Phiarus (Fee-Ar-Us)
Boulder-strewn and dusty, the surface of Phiarus is impressively uneven and broken-up by craters, ridges and the scars of innumerable impacts from asteroidal debris and even some comets.  The surface is mostly airless and blasted with harsh radiation.  All life, such as it is, lurks deep below the rugged surface, mostly in the form of oozing pools of protoplasm inhabited and infested by hundreds of microorganisms and simple life forms all living together in a peculiar form of symbiosis.  Each protoplasmic mass is a unique autonomous ecology filled with flagella, protozoa, pseudo-mitochondria, and a host of other lower-order forms of life suspended within a gelatinous soup sheathed in a crust made up from masses of bacteria and viruses and an interlocking mesh of quasi-crystalline minerals in a half-digested stew of enzymes which these things use to slowly migrate about the depths of the planet.  More than one clever prospector and at least two seperate settlements have attempted to form dome-structures in selected craters or crevasses in order to attempt to tap into the immense and literally fluid mineral wealth oozing around beneath the crust of this world.  So far all such attempts have failed.  Some more spectacularly than others.

Nalabong (Nah-lah-bong)
Cold, dark, covered with continental-scale bioluminescent fungal colonies that are mostly petrified.  The worlds' surface is rough and fairly inactive seismically.  The one and only visitor to this place reported a series of blisters, possibly domes of some sort, had been raised along those ridges and few small-scale hills that received the faint light of the perpetually lingering dawn.  They didn't investigate the blisters, so nothing more is known regarding them.

Valdiv (Val-Div)
Frozen, rocky, and dark--the perfect place for high-altitude tombs and necrotats.  The harsh ultraviolet rays of the sun scour the life from all exposed surfaces, driving all the survivors into the deep, dark waters of the three polar seas.  It is suspected that more than one tribe or sect of undead have laid covert claims upon the steep pinnacles of Valdiv and that they may be engaged in a bitter, mostly discrete and invisible war amongst themselves over who gets access to what locations.  So far seven apprentice Kitain from Kapht have failed to return from ill-advised hunting expeditions to this desolate world of dry fjords, deep ravines and knife-like peaks that jut out of the thin atmosphere.

Karlom (Kar-Lom)
The air is so filled with wind-driven particulate matter that it is impossible to determine where the skies end and the ground begins.  Literally.  The violent winds of Karlom have uprooted billions of tons of boulders, gravel and dust, all of it swirling around in complex patterns of turbulence, smashing into one another and causing a stupendous uproar that is only matched by the thunder following the impressive electrical discharges that erupt through all the dust, precipitating spectacular cascading series of explosions.  It's a noisy, highly agitated place likely to crush the unwary visitor before they recover from the noise that manages to penetrate even the best noise-suppression gear.  The vibrations echo on through the rocks and the flayed crust just as much as through the atmosphere.  The only thing that manages to grow here are some tough, pernicious weeds that feed as much on the constant vibrations of all the impacts and the rushing winds as they do on the inconstant, flickering sunlight that filters down through the massive duststorms, eventually.  What exactly is C'Len the Withdrawn's interest in this place?

Bidasoa (Beed-Ah-SOH-Ah)
The three-armed Trivardik acheironists bring the bony-remains of their dead to this place, often tossing them into the greenish seas and lakes with the usual tripartite rites of their kind.  The air is breathable, but the rest of the rocky surface of this place is barren and devoid of life, except along the shores of the major bodies of water where a greenish scum has accumulated from the vast masses of algae that fill the seas, lakes and pools of Bidasoa.  Short-term exposure doesn't appear to be life-threatening, though it is also the source of the algae that infest the majority of Trivadiks.  It is unclear what, if any, benefit this infestation provides aside from the cultural significance of the individual Trivardik having made the bone pilgrimage and personally carrying out the burial rites associated with such a journey.  Trivardiks are creatures of ritual and this Bleak World has become something of a sacred site for them.

Daruje (Dair-Ooh-Juh)
Moist and misty gray skies loom ominously over rich black soil writhing with purplish-gray masses of undead worms set to till the soil of this Bleak World by none other than Haelon himself.  It is highly recommended to avoid this world unless under the express protection of one of the Elder Dead.

Goleedivon (Goh-Lee-dah-von)
Mountainous, rainy and cold with lichens covering nearly every surface and occupying nearly every available niche of the thin, fragile ecology of this world.  A tribe of Renunciates tried to establish a village on one of the steeple-like islands protruding from the various high tarns (mountain-lakes) near the middle of the main continent, but they were forced to leave after their hydroponics farms failed and their crops were infected with a peculiar red blight.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Twelve Secular Gulag-Asylums of Devukarsha

"An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty.  It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.  He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates his duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."
Thomas Paine

"Let every man think what he wants and say what he thinks."

Like the infamous Chateau D'If featured in A. Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, or the notorious film noir prisons of Sing-Sing or Alcatraz, or the dreaded slave-pits of many a bad 80's Sword and Sorcery novel, places of incarceration are notorious and necessary institutions in any society that reserves the right to wall-off those it deems too dangerous, too violent, or too crazy from the rest of the citizenry. 

Edmond Dantes would never have become the avenging Count of Monte Cristo if he hadn't been betrayed and tossed into Chateau D'If by his supposed friends.  No Chateau D'If, no cold and ruthless Count hellbent on revenge and things get flabby and boring instead of exciting and fun.  Likewise with Errol Flynn in the Sea Hawk where he gets chained into a Spanish galley for his crimes against the Empire.  Without the slave galley there wouldn't be a daring escape against great odds.  Similarly in many Westerns, the local bandits and outlaws are always trying to bust one of their gang out of jail.  Even Odysseus had to escape from Calypso's isle, Circe's isle, and...hey--what kind of a schmuck would cut-out on either of those goddesses/nymphs/sorceresses?  Anyhow, forgoing a discussion on the unbelievable stupidity of Ulysses, rewards without risks just make for a boring story or game.  Getting sentenced to one or another of the secular gulag-asylums of Devukarsha is a very serious risk and sometimes it can serve as a very suitable challenge for a character or characters to break out, or to make their escape from such a place.  It's one of those in-game consequences that can make things interesting.

Player characters are bound to do somethng that stirs up a lot of angst, animosity or enmity amongst various and sundry occupants of any setting.  It is part of the player character code to make enemies amongst the NPCs.  Some of those enemies are bound to have friends in high places or influence that they can bring to bear at inopportune moments.  Far from rail-roading anyone anywhere, getting tossed into the clink needs to be a natural consequence of player choices and actions, a repercussion of their actions.  Handled that way, it serves as an interesting opportunity.  Consider John Ostander's excellent storyline where his hero Grimjack does some Hard Time.   Sending deserving player characters into notorious and dangerous prisons is not only an adventure in and of itself, it can lead into all sorts of other fun stuff as well.  Criminal underworlds, connections, contacts, rumors, the proverbial room-mate who talks in their sleep about incredible treasures, etc., etc.  And of course, they can also serve to scare some misbehaving adventurers enough that they start looking for alternatives to wanton killing and excessively stupid and pointless assaults on the general populace.  If you've been a DM/GM for longer than fifteen minutes, you've run into the type.

Obviously, not everyone deserves to go to the guillotine, nor do the Courts sentence miscreants to the Spheres unless they've used-up every other option.  Penal-Colonies and prisons are wasteful, obsolete and mostly illegal, but there are a few that have been grandfathered-in after the fact and still operate discretely.  They serve a need.  A need that most of Polite Society would just as soon never talk about or hear about.  There are also various 'non-prisons' of a more private character, institutions that hide behind euphemisms and platitudes while they lock away troublesome siblings, errant children, or recalcitrant spouses, even the occasional enemy or rival, for a price.  Always for a price.

Since the days of the Old Regime there have been any number of private prisons, contractable donjons, and discrete asylums scattered across the lower tiers of the city.  There are rumors, persistent as they are unfounded and so far unproven, that there are prisons beneath certain of the House Citadels or hidden amidst the various villas, chateaus and manors of the upper tiers.  These places, both those known to the public and those so far only suspected, are grim reminders of the draconian measures taken by the established powers during the civil unrest preceding the revolution and the overthrow of the communards.  And there are those deprecated, dilapidated and defunct old prisons that pre-date the failed communes and councils of the middle revolution.  Some of the deepest pits of despair and imprisonment still active and awaiting prisoners within Devukarsha are far, far older than most would find even close to comfortable to contemplate, with no fewer than three reputed to pre-date the founding of the city itself.  But those are flea market rumors and the chatter of illiterate data-peasants.  No one takes such ridiculous claims and outlandish tall tales seriously.

The Magistrates of the Courts like to point out that most of the old secular gulag-asylums have been closed, shut-down and in some cases demolished.  Most, but not all.  Not by a long shot.  Some of these establishments have been in business for a long, long time and they have served a select clientele all too well to be discarded out of hand.  Revolutions come and go, regimes rise and fall, times change, but the penal-chateaus, isocells and gulag-asylums endure, always there in the darker recesses, back behind forgotten corners, walled-off and veiled with bitter roses or obscured beneath mounds of paperwork and red-tape.  They still exist, they continue to operate, and their inmates are in most cases truly lost, forgotten or damned indeed.

(13) of Twelve Secular Gulag-Asylums of Devukarsha

Dome du Karmes
Located 1,200 miles West of Devukarsha via a subterranean channel connected to the backside of the Induphrates River-Gate's Harbor-Basin, The Dome du Karmes is situated deep within a jagged and rough crevasse in the midst of a barren and bleak expanse of rough rock and lingering radiation from an old battlefield dating back to the Second Revolution.  Prisoners attempting to escape by any avenue except the heavily guarded and patrolled channel tunnel usually die horribly within a few minutes upon leaving the relative safety of the Dome.  The Warden of the Dome du Karmes likes to inject each of his inmates with freeform nanogelatin that he can control at will within line of sight, causing it to form elegant sculptures that erupt from deep within uncooperative or disrespectful inmate's bodies in a bloody awful mess of artistic expression.  The collection of sculptures wrought from within former inmates lines the various hallways, corridors and of course the cafeteria.

Everything beyond the black-draped gate to Ulzem is heavily encrypted, biometrically keyed and all prisoners records are expunged beyond what is allowed to persist within the Ulzem systems.  Prisoners are treated with memetic scramblers that make it impossible for them to meaningfully communicate with anyone save their overseers advocates who are in charge of their rehabilitation efforts.  The Ulzem Colonies are scattered across an entire solar system, mostly burrowed deep into the cores of numerous large asteroids and a variety of spherized habitats developed as human-hybridized fungal ecologies.  The longer one remains within the Ulzem colonies the less likely it is that they will survive the transition back to life on the outside, if they should ever satisfactorily achieve all of the ever changing conditions of the advocates, which is unlikely at best.  No one has ever escaped from Ulzem in over a thousand years of operation.  Good luck.

Deep beneath the surface of a world reputed to be awash in seas of molten metal and magmic slag, the subterranean grotto-gulags of Vindiso are dimly lit, stifling hot, stagnant places filled with hardened criminals whose only hope of relief comes from the coordinated gladiatorial combats that the authorities have made available outsystem through various corrupt back-door channels of blind distribution.  People pay good money to watch these fights, and even more to bet on them.  It's a very lucrative monopoly that competes unfairly with the legitimate Casinos whose bosses would love nothing more than to shut these games down once and for all, unless they got the chance to buy-in or take them over.

The non-descript manor that serves as the primary connection-point for the Tartarudiso Penal-Colony could be anywhere within the city of Devukarsha.  No one who has been remanded back to Polite Society from this place can ever find the gate again due to some sort of deep-level modifications made to their nervous systems before attaining release.  Beyond the primary gate is a chamber of Eight subsidiary gates leading to a collection of progressively worse jungle hellworlds, each one a sweltering nightmare of unrelenting heat, humidity, mold, vermin and harsh labor.  As a gulag, each of these colonies has a quota of prisoners who are expected to perish from the demands of the overseers; to be sentenced to Tartarudiso is to be executed by hard labor under horrific conditions.

Asylum-Chateau Diodati
Once a richly decorated and well-maintained estate of the Comte Diodati, an eccentric archaic who founded the Chateau Asylum as part of his efforts towards the rehabilitation of particular kinds and sorts of psychopaths, the Chateau-Asylum was 'liberated' during the First Revolution by a group of radicals who forced the unfortunate Comte Diodati into some sort of criogenic suspended animation mechanism and then turned the trusteeship of the place over to one Baron Thecis Rathven, a highborn inmate of the establishment who has since kept things quiet.  Perhaps too quiet.

Rik'Sulax Penal Fleet of Gallery-Galleys
A tall and trim royal blue galley heavily encrusted with gold and rare jewels, with giant pearls carved into delicate lamps and rich carpets strewn across the upper decks where art treasures from hundreds of societies and city-states are arranged by the curators to best effect.  Each ship of the penal fleet is a one-of-a-kind museum/gallery filled with priceless heirlooms and irreplaceable works of art. 

Jolille Facility
Every aspect of an inmate's life is completely and fully monitored for every second that they are in the custody of the Jolille Facility including their very thoughts.  Everything is recorded, documented, examined and interpreted by the Facility's resident expert systems who miss nothing, see everything and are everywhere.  Even inmates who have died continue on with their sentences, so immersed in the Facility's monitoring systems that even death offers no release from this sterile, brightly lit clinic of a prison.  There is no parole, no pardons and no escaping, not even into one's own dreams or fantasies.  They are watching.  Always vigilant.  They know what you are thinking before you know it yourself.  There is no way out of Jolille Facility.

The Black Bastion
A notorious prison-asylum converted over from an ancient fortress and the site of both heavy fighting between radical factions during all three revolutions as well as the place where several riots have taken place that have played significant roles in the history of Devukarsha.  Only the aristocracy and Nobles get sent here, as only they can afford to cover the costs associated with their incarceration in such a prestigious and historical locale.

A cold, harsh angular-walled citadel perched atop a massive barren bluff of raw stone in the middle of some tempestuous sea filled with ice floes the way a shark's mouth is filled with teeth.  Dantesino is a dismal, heartless place of despair where the prisoners are left to their own devices within crude, unlit and chilly cells hacked out of the cold, gray rock beneath the citadel, often by the previous inmate.  The citadel is so heavily warded that telepathy is stifled, empathy is turned back upon the sensitives who try to employ it, and most forms of psychism are interfered with so as to be both unpleasant and ineffective for anyone foolish enough to attempt their use within these walls.  Spells refuse to enter these precincts or respond entirely inappropriately, often seriously damaging those who try to use them in this place.  Isolation and boredom are the order of the day, and the bone-chilling cold.  Many prisoners begin to look forward to the surprise inspections, regular beatings or even the Director's monthly holographic sermons on morality which were initiated over seven hundred years ago as part of an obscure political sect that had gained some credibility during the Third Revolution before being wiped out by internecine feuding amongst themselves.  Several left-over bioweapons still crawl about the less used regions of the citadel looking for stray Atoners and otherwise ignoring all others as they smell wrong.

A series of rocky islands scattered across at least six different worlds sealed-off from all other gate networks and maintained as subsistence-level penal colonies patrolled by sentient sharktopi who are allowed to eat anyone of the inmates who try to swim away from their registered island without permission.  Sometimes the guards revoke an inmate's permission half-way to another island just to see if the inmate can make it to either one before getting torn to bits.  Other inmates bet on the outcome.  Some have taken to pushing their luck and deliberately try to get the guards to pull their trick just to test themselves against the vicious sharktopi.  A few, scarred and half-crazed individuals have gotten very adept at this game.  Most just feed the patrolling creatures.

The entrance to Bagnesante is an old hunting lodge with a single gate in the basement that leads to a world whose central landmass, a cliff-shored island covered by dark woods filthy with luminous, poisonous toadstools and rife with treacherous sinkholes serves as a freeform prison without walls.  Prisoners are dropped through the gate with a few small items and forgotten.  They are expected to fend for themselves and build a new society based upon the heretical doctrines and subversive philosophies that the caretaker assumes got them sentenced to Bagnesante in the first place.

A damaged and incomplete Niven Ring crawling with multitudes of feral bactophorms and assorted hybridized vermin, all with a distinct taste for human flesh.  The main gate is located at the base of a fortress arcology that oversees the day-to-day operations of the Base Camp where each newcomer gets outfitted with medieval-level weaponry and sent off into the devastated wilderness to collect bounties on the various parasitical and other vermin that have infested the Ring's ecologies beyond any real hope of ever driving them off.  It's supposed to be a doomed enterprise, a death sentence for the irredeemably hyper-violent to go bash away at inhuman creatures who are, if anything, even more violent than they are.

Graziannore and Balvaux
Rarely spoken about, and officially denied to exist, these covert criogulags sequester the bodies of their respective inmates within a massively parallel criogenic stasis cyst after infecting them with penal wetware and then plugging them into sealed virtual reality systems that respond and adapt to their inherent sociopathy, aggression and other criminalizing psychoses and flaws.  The systems then pit the various inmates against damaged AI salvaged from the ruins of Evedarus, Briskail, and other failed colonies or infamous battlefields. Sometimes special arrangements are made and the inmates are pitted against AI systems developed by students at some of the War Colleges.  Those who do exceptionally well in these simulations can sometimes draw the attention of one of the Warlords who might consider offering them a conditional pardon, allowing the inmate to serve in the Warlord's retinue as a cyberfighter or holiconic avatar.  No one's body has ever been removed from the Criocysts as it would degrade the overall memory and performance of the networked brains tied directly into the sub-systems, though in some cases clones have been attempted with very mixed results.  Something in the penal wetware tends to mess with the cloning process, often killing the would-be body before it can even receive the downloaded consciousness of the parolee.

Topilz Bonegrave
The earliest sections of Topilz were dug out from an old salt mine on Rudorra using conscript labor from amongst the expendable convict population.  They dug out the newer sections with their bare hands and whatever make-shift tools they could rig together, often relying upon the bones of their fallen comrades after the flesh had been stripped from them for sustenance.  Over the years the diggers have taken to embedding the skulls and bones of their fallen fellows into the beautifully carved walls, niches, columns and arches of this grim, dark and horrible place.  The prison is divided into sections, each of which is harshly segregated from one another by monolecular mesh fences, shockscreens, and galvanicasters which have been known to vaporize convicts even suspected of anything vaguely resembling disorderly behavior.  The lowest of the low are the diggers, those relegated to the dark and raw sections that they expand through crude physical labor.  Many of them have become infected with various forms of undeath, possibly as part of some deal that the warden has struck with a cadre of Necrosophics who now operate a charity-mission which provides the only medical attention available within the lowzone where the diggers are.  The convicts of the softer sectors are growing increasingly agitated and nervous as mysterious disappearances have been taking place and infractions that once would have resulted in a loss of cafeteria privileges for a few days now gets you booted to the lowzone instead.  There is talk of rioting, but so long as the guards possess the high-ground, the weapons and the means to flood the convict's chambers, it is just talk.  For now.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Twelve Synthecosms of Riskail

Synthecosms are manufactured, artificial pseudo-universes derived from a bizarre spatial aneurysm-effect and locked-down into stable pockets extruded or bulged out of the underlying geometrically-defined fabric of space itself.  They generally only have one opening and that is where they merge back into the spatial continuum or spectrum.  Some of the earliest experiments yielded synthecosms only a few nanometers in diameter, some of them extending outside of the local frame of reference for time-flow and thus opening the door to a number of temporal as well as spatial opportunities that were then pursued by the various scientific factions, AI-collogues, and other parties during the Pre-Diasporic years leading to the Breakdown.  Many of the earlier versions failed, proved to be unstable and in some instances made better weapons than anything else.  It wasn't until just before the Singularity that a group of clandestine cyborgs working in laboratories hidden in the midst of colorful favelas in Brazil discovered how to form a functional, stable and customizable synthecosm.  Their efforts led to the release of the plans, schematics and details out into the crude precursor to the Worldnet and eventually those technical details were recovered by the Datasphere when it restored the free flow of information to humanity.

Since those long distant and highly edited days gone by the creation and design of synthecosms has become an artform and there are those who compete amongst themselves to develop and evolve radical isolated ecologies and outrageous environments within synthecosms that they then make available to athletes, survivalists, extremists and others as part of various games, annual events and hyper-competitive contests.  All synthecosms devolve to the Public Domain, by common law, one hundred years after they have been established, if not before.  All the necessary information for creating and working with synthecosms is freely available through the Datasphere as part of all sentient being's social inheritance, in remembrance of the terrible sacrifice made by those who originated this particular technology, and the horrific abuses it was first put to by private interests and covert agencies serving governmental interests over human rights.

The goal is for such things to never again be abused or misused.  Of course that means that whatever abuses are taking place are now different than those that have been stalemated by making it all public, but the sheer amount of effort or perverse ingenuity required to abuse this technology from this point onwards is staggering and anyone capable of doing such a thing might very well push the very boundaries of possibility towards things that cannot yet even be imagined.  It is hoped that the various agencies, offices and ministries are watching, monitoring and scanning for such an instance so that the atrocities of the past are at least minimized and any technological progress obtained in this manner does not proliferate amongst the private sector, but rather is made Public Access and thus open to the scrutiny of all citizens and all interested parties, both incarnate and softborn.  This strategy has averted a great deal of wasteful suffering.

Synthecosm Conventions and Best Practices
Since the Third Diaspora all synthecosms have been mandated to make use of a hexagonal frame around their primary aperture.  Older versions still retain their round aperture-frames and can sometimes be mistaken for a municipal gate, or at least that was the decision of the pre-Purge Courts, from back when judges were still entirely living, breathing humans who sometimes relied upon juries of other humans and the system was a barbaric, adversarial contest of wills, personality and duplicity based upon casting doubt, not actual facts.  The law is still in-force, mostly as a tradition, having been deprecated from an automatic summary-termination-offense to a regenerative stint in a rehab-gulag on one of the penal-worlds maintained for asocial offenders who lack empathy or the comprehension/understanding necessary to appreciate the role of traditions, laws and rules in Polite Society. 

It's not that they can't break the law, it's that they cannot understand or appreciate how their actions affect others.  Sociopathy is a difficult thing to remediate due to the culturally distasteful ambiguity of imposing a moral prosthetic upon someone who by their very nature cannot possibly give informed consent in any meaningful way.  If they could give informed consent, they wouldn't be sociopaths.  Thus these types get shunted off to isolated locales where they can learn how to cooperate, work within a social framework, and reach a level of personal development where they can discover a functional sense of morality or acquire such an awareness of their own lack/damage that they can be repaired or healed without it being forced upon them through violence.  Most individuals recover from their rehab-sentences in the penal-colonies within six or seven generations or iterations (in the case of softborn).

Synthecosms are used in a wide array of industrial and infrastructural processes, including the isolation of harmful materials, mobile rapid flood-abatement, pollution containment and re-processing, eco-caching, and emergency nurseries for endangered wildlife or fragile ecosystems threatened by outside contamination or despoilation.  People also make use of the most common smaller-scale synthecosms for luggage and personal storage.  A few individuals have constructed entire habitats within synthecosms that serve as isoparks, personal estates, and shared playgrounds (non-competitive).

All synthecosms are mandated by common law to provide a vestibule-space at the immediate vicinity of their primary aperture.  All such vestibule-spaces are to maintain a free, clear and uncorrupted connection to the Datasphere which is to remain freely available to anyone and everyone within the vestibule-space at all times.  This vestibule-space is to be maintained as human-livable and to plainly and clearly provide any visitor to the synthecosm a fair and accurate description of the space beyond the vestibule.  Of course some interpret this ruling a bit differently than others and it has been known for various synthecosm designers to hire poets (dire and other kinds) or Corazunian marketers to draft these artist statements and introductions.  It is advised that anyone contemplating making an excursion or exploration of one of the synthecosms consider beginning with some of the more well-detailed, documented and benign environments available before rushing off into spaces and places where they just might get themselves caught dead.

Please note that while a typical synthecosm is in fact a direct physical extension of the common underspace, they are in effect, at least legally, considered to be separate domains and outside the bounds of any surrounding space or regional authority.  Synthecosms are autonomous regions by their very nature and all rules and traditions regarding such spaces apply to synthecosms in full force and effect.  By entering a particular synthecosm the visitor is formally accepting and agreeing to the registered rules, rites and requirements for that synthecosm regardless of their ignorance or negligence.  Essentially, enter at your own risk.

(14) of Twelve Common Synthecosms of Riskail

Forty-Eight Ledges of Parlung
A vast cavernous elliptical space filled with breathable air and lit by the shifting glistening golden-orange radiance emanating from the synthecosm's boundary-zones.  A series of garden-ledges float in slow, lazy orbits, one staggered in relation to the next for a sequence of forty-eight distinct Ledges, all of which have been designed as topiary mazes, water-filled channel-mazes, and ever more exotic forms of mazes and labyrinths by the Great Artist Parlung who lies in state within a transparent stasis-sarcophagus awaiting whomever is clever enough to outwit his mazes and re-awaken him for a fabulous reward.

Sea of Needles
A series of replicated synthecosms far too common for anyone's liking.  Originally the Sea of Needles was an industrial repository for needle-like bits of polyglass left-over from some obscure sculptrist's mostly deleted work with biomemetically reactive clouds of semi-autonomous polyglass needles and spindles that responded both to viewers auras and to certain ley-line interactions. Recognizing the utility of the Sea of Needles as a potential training ground for various psychic and sorcerous techniques, an increasing number of sorcerers and even some of the otherwise aloof Orders have begun to replicate and revise and design their own versions of the original which now serves as something of a template for all the versions that have come about since.  It is now commonplace to encounter some version of a Sea of Needles synthecosm expressly set-up as a training ground for sorcerers, psychics and others, each version being more specifically adapted to the particular needs of the student or the intentions of the mentor, as the case might be.

Spheres of Mareng
Peculiar inverted sphereworlds established by the Stonjin Mareng of Kridos'Aleem, an individual notorious for having contributed to the collapse of the Vorkuta-Nilonj Dysonsphere project.  Mareng remains a controversial figure, all instances of his existence are under censure and subject to prejudicial erasure by House Vorkuta for his proven involvement in the Vorkuta-Nilonj affair.  Mareng's synthecosm Spheres are, however, not subject to House Vorkuta's feud and are still to be found scattered across numerous worlds, with the majority being found most often in regions belonging to or under the supervision of House Vorkuta.  Each of the Spheres of Mareng exhibit a variety of peculiar gravitic effects and each one is outfitted with a complete sub-system modeled upon basic terraforming processes that enable anyone registering a claim on one of the Spheres to engage in their own ecological redecorating of the space to their heart's content.  Many people distrust Mareng's intentions in providing these systems within his Spheres, especially in light of his feud with House Vorkuta, and have come to look upon the Spheres as potential traps.

Datharian Pocket Tombs
Secure repositories for the most discriminating or potentially problematic forms of dead, undead or non-living ancestors in need of interment for whatever reason.  Even the tomb-robbing Elothrin clans have trouble cracking into these places, though it has happened at least once.

Vast egg-shaped spaces filled with dim, smoldering red light, extremely cold temperatures, and swirling slopes of crimson sand and grit that precipitously spiral downwards to a blood-red lake of fluid that is not water by any means.  There are harsh-edged monobsidian blades set at crazy angles just beneath the crimson sands which it turns out are nanocytes attracted to blood.  The crimson sands break down all forms of blood into constituent compounds, often quickly and painfully killing those unlucky enough to get cut by one of the millions of concealed blades.  The turbulent atmosphere only gets more intense and powerful the farther upwards from the surface one tries to go and it seems to be possessed of a rudimentary intelligence that allows the synthecosm's background systems to manipulate the winds in order to make airtravel impossible.  They can also cause the blades to rotate in alternating bands beneath the crimson sands.  For a place that has been replicated over a thousand times, no one really knows what the point of all this is actually.  Quite a few would like to know, and numerous explorers have attempted all sorts of clever expeditions, but so far to no avail whatsoever.  Rumors and folklore have accumulated in regards to the Pel-Nog synthecosms alleging that they must conceal some incredible treasure or deeply disturbing knowledge that has been removed from general circulation.  It is also a popular urban conceit that the Red Mark of the Old Regime's Censors drew upon the Pel-Nog synthecosms.  But there has never been any substantiated proof of this particular tall tale to date.

Empathically reactive enclosures that hyper-adapt their psychoscapic configuration to suit the particular individual who enters their domain after being ritually challenged.  Only one person can enter a Lemyo at any given time, and not all of them leave.  Telepaths, Semroo, Tezin and other groups make use of the numerous versions of the Lemyo synthecosms for testing their acolytes, disciples, students and apprentices.  It is said to dredge through the deepest fears of those who enter their sphere of influence in order to devise a suitable series of challenges to reveal the underlying truth of each aspirant's personality, identity and integrity.  No two challenges are ever identical, though some have had superficial similarities.

Hyper-Plateaus of Lorm
Surrounded by a tempest of shattered glass and worse things, the sandy floor of the vestibule is marked with the accumulated wards, warning plaques, cautionary signals, as well as hundreds of memorials for those who failed to survive the extremely demanding conditions established within these synthecosms.  All that is known commonly is that the challenges consist of making what the synthecosm sub-systems recognize as good choices, which may in fact only be a set of arbitrary and random guesses or gambles.  No one who has survived the Hyper-Plateaus of Lorm will discuss the challenges nor any other aspect of them with anyone who has not themself already survived the assay personally.  Even clones with telepathic unity across their bioiterations find themselves suddenly cut-off from their collective mind and made into a warded individual incapable of discussing or revealing the secrets of the Hyper-Plateaus even to their own clones.  There is a bit of prestige attached with having undergone this particular trial and making it, but very few have made it all the way and those who give up before completing the full course often come back somehow less than when they first entered, as though diminished in some strange way.

Pocket Gardens of Remat Nosri
Dedicated botanical synthecosms designed and populated by Remat Nosri Herself during the Interregnum.  These particular synthecosms are extremely valuable and much sought after as they contain numerous strange and exotic plants that have developed and evolved in complete isolation from all other biomes and as such are irreplaceable in their biological uniqueness. 

The Tower Within The Well
A million-mile shaft that bleeds into absolute zero temperature darkness at the boundary-zone of its interior walls, the so-called Well has a stone structure suspended in the exact middle of this cylindrical space with a gap of only ten or twenty feet at most between them.  Somehow the stone of the interior structure remains unaffected by the extreme cold of the outer walls unless actually brought into contact with them, which is usually vividly destructive.  Rampant nano-glossaliacytes infest each of these million-mile tall towers, etching every available surface with the characters of countless unknown, unregistered and mysterious glyphs, symbols, hieroglyphs and other forms of written language -- all of it functional, all of it transcribing various secrets of both sorcery and science, and all of it previously unknown, missing or unsuspected.

The Square Doors of Halith Narso
A baroque tesseract that was originally constructed as part of Narso's research into hypergeometries, until he became obsessed with a woman, her death and his subsequent revivification of her as a retrocarnate clone that has since become trapped within each of the various revisions and iterations of the Square Door synthecosms since Halith Narso abandoned the things in disgust, guilt and remorse over what he had done.  Unfortunately she remains trapped inside the tesseracts, endlessly wandering in stylish sorrow through panoramic vistas drawn from and constructed in mimickry of the works of Maxfield Parrish, Van Gogh and other classical masters.  Each Square Door synthecosm is built around a different classical artist.  They are elegant and majestic galleries, complete with tragic tales of high drama and a suitably macabre haunted figure of disconsolate beauty forever trapped, bereft of all hope and completely at the mercy of any who would show her mercy at the cost of destroying a priceless work of art.  For some it is a difficult, even damning dilemna.

Tethard Metalliomes
An experimental metal-based pseudo-ecology locked away behind black wards of serious killing power to ensure that fools do not blunder into the feral biomes contained within these synthecosms by accident.  There are rumors of withdrawn robot monastics who have been dwelling in silent isolation within these synthecosms for the last few centuries, but no records exist of whom they might be or why they are there.

Luddorro Vaults
A hovering ebony cube marks the entry-point to these ancient and highly warded vaults watched over by the Sentinels of Luddorro, a sectarian clonefaction whose history extends back to the First Awakening and the Opening of the first Sea Gate to Charybdis.  For a suitable fee anything can be sealed away and preserved within the Vaults for as long as one should wish, for time does not work the same within the various Luddorro synthecosms as it might seem to elsewhere.

The Round Room
A mysterious, circular chamber completely devoid of all markings, clear of all impressions and empty on a level and to a degree that is preternatural and disturbing.

Kechmullian Silica Forests
Abandoned overgrown self-luminous silica forests reach throughout the entire expanse of the elliptical innerzones of this synthecosm notorious for the molecular filaments extruded from each of the silicaceous pseudo-coral/plants.

It's the Little Things that Matter

Riskail is a difficult environment to maintain.  Prior to any of the gate networks opening the way to this world it suffered a near continuous pelting with asteroidal debris until one day it was finally struck by a comet.  The comet hit at an oblique angle and plowed into the midst of a supervolcano.  This cataclysm shook the world to its core and changed everything.  Drastically.  Violently.

This was the birth of the Great Rift.

The cometary impact shifted the planet upon its axis, altered its rotation and spewed millions of tons of volcanic ash across the world.  The thin atmosphere was lashed by massive, spectacular thunderstorms as everything cooled down into a harsh and bitter winter.  Tremendous amounts of gasses were released from the ruptured supervolcano, the primordial ice of the comet melted and vaporized into water that mixed with the outgassed acids and other compounds released by the impact and the subsequent eruptions, tremors and collapses that followed.  The very crust of Riskail buckled and warped under the incredible pressures, heat and violence of the processes set into motion by this one chance meeting of two celestial bodies.

At some point in this process the Infrastructure noticed Riskail and determined that it now could support life, that it was just within the fragile and precious Life Zone that would make it a suitable addition to the Commonwealth of Worlds and so it plotted out the placement of four Sea Gates.  The waters of Riskail mingled with the waters of a thousand million other worlds and the Infrastructure began its long-term project of subtly nudging Riskail's development along so that it became a place where humanity could come, live and breathe and continue to develop and even thrive.

Great mirrors were placed into orbit to adjust the level of sunlight available.  A large sun-grazing asteroid was snagged and tugged from its ancient orbit to serve as a moonlet to block Riskail's surface from any further disastrous impacts.  Another moonlet, formed from the lingering fragment of a previous cometary core that had only managed to partially graze the planet was sheathed in polymers and filament-mesh and set into a counter-orbit to its companion moon as a sanctuary and refuge, a back-up as it were, for the ocean-forming and life-seeding processes.  Great anchor-pilings were sunk at strategic points around the fractured and ruptured crust of the world in order to adjust the seizmic distress, mitigate the destructiveness of the old volcanoes and harness them to serve as deep geological engines and powerful resources for the reshaping of an entire world.

Swarms of barnacle-derived creatures (among myriads of others) still attend to the deep structures of the foundations of the world to this very day.  For a few shiny bits or some trinkets you can often get a lutrin or gavik, especially one of their younglings, to dive down and capture one of the barnacle-creatures.  They taste terrible, but if you know how to handle them, they produce a powerful cement that works in any environment and especially underwater.  Of course no one really knows what good the things are aside from playing pranks on uptight adults.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Twelve Pylon-Gates of the River Senube

The River Senube flows through the very heart of Devukarsha.  It is born from a series of twelve pylon-flanked River Gates that bring the waters of twelve other worlds into Riskail, allowing them to comingle in the colossal harbor basins that feed into the staggered waterfalls that in turn cascade down into the interconnected series of municipal reservoir-lakes that then form the head of the River Senube proper.  It is a marvel of engineering that extends across more than a dozen worlds and serves as the backbone of the thriving integrated multi-world ecology that makes life possible on Riskail.

The Twelve Rivers that feed into the Senube are as follows:
  1. The Zonges, flowing from Seleucis, a world of vast continental forests made up of gigantic old growth trees and dense underferns and myriad forms of mycological colonies that erupt from the rich humus-laden soils like rounded abstract sculptures oozing with psychoactive milky-fluids.
  2. The Dordogne, flowing from Baccarin, a cold world buried beneath mega-glaciers that have expanded to completely cover-over the majority of the continents and most of the islands, save for a few volcanically active spots where ashfalls are more common than snowfall.
  3. The Eumazon, flowing from Old Kedellim, a recovering hothouse world of seemingly never ending rains and lush lagoons that twist and wind around incredibly eroded and complicated coastlines made up of thousands of isolated buttes, bluffs and heavily overgrown columns of limestone and basalt.  The rainforests of Old Kedellim change color according to the season and their bioluminescence shifts according to the position of the sun which is mostly unseen through the perpetual overcast and constant rainfall that ranges from gentle mists to torrential downpours in the space of a few minutes.
  4. The Ob-Irtyshmur, flowing from Numia, a blasted and rocky world of crevasse-jungles growing deep down to fumarole-fed springs rich in sulphur and other minerals.  All the canyons of Numia are banded and striped in alternating shades of washed-out earth-tones bleached into a distinctive soft, pale lustrousness by the hot, bright and merciless sun that rages overhead like a violent god of wrath.
  5. The Saffronoco, flowing from Ladesh, a world of immense flowers and ferns where majestic bamboo forests have adapted to fill almost every ecological niche available to them and vast mats of sea-going vegetation form incredibly varied migratory sub-ecologies that support millions of insects, crustaceans, avians and reptiles, as well as sea-going mammals.  Living airships are grown here by various monasteries, as are various evolutionarily differentiated biofactors descended from the Feral Age.
  6. The Volgongo, flowing from Veyl, a world reknowned for its many shells, layers and caverns that extend for thousands of miles below its deeply scarred, pitted and cratered outer shell-surface.  In many respects Veyl resembles Cathelia-Prime and there also seems to be some sort of conenction to Budoji as well.
  7. The Saskarrin, flowing from Aegron, a world emerging from an ice age into Monarchist rule with the WorldKing at Admeth commanding the great orbital mirrors to drive back the harsh ice favored by the Yld-tribes who now incessantly raid the coatal settlements under the protection of the various Nobles of the WorldKing's court.  Many of the younger generations choose instead to gather their followers and/or henchmen, assemble a settlement mission, hire a few professionals or guides, take up a Royal Charter and head out through the SeaGates in saucer-shaped heliprop dirigibles in order to establish their own personal freeholds and baronial estates.  So many of the best and brightest have established thriving colonies out past the SeaGates that many have begun to remark on the decline in the general state of things around Admeth, but never within hearing of the WorldKing or his secret police.
  8. The Induphrates, flowing from Sumier, a hot and humid world of vast deserts and reedy-swamps formed by the buckling of the tectonic plates which were disrupted severely during the transit of a rogue planetoid that nearly collided with Sumier in the recent geological past.  The landscape is all topsy-turvy and given to extremes in temperature variations that make life extrmely harsh here.  Only the few family-groups of Deliberate Nomads seem to have figured out how the make the best of this unforgiving terrain and deadly-spiteful environment.
  9. The Siret-Nile, flowing from Thebu-Amur, one of the Phaoronic Enclaves known for numerous criss-crossing networks of canals lined with palm trees and narrow forests or gardens, each connecting into various lakes and oasis-cisterns.  Unfortunately, there are numerous illicit burial grounds scattered through the back-country canyons dating back to the earliest Dynasties of Riskail and other worlds.  For a price the blueblooded Elothrin clans can lead you through the saltwastes or the boraxflats to find tombs, sepulchres and crypts so far unspoiled and in pristine condition, as long as the price is right.  Viromummies from Shal'Pish have been known to make pilgrimages to certain proscribed regions of this world for so far unknown and possibly unpleasant reasons.
  10. The Angari Dar'ya, flowing from Tanus, a world of equatorial badlands and fertile polar seas that are fed by hundreds of great rivers fed by the melting glaciers surrounding the arctic zones, remnants of cometary debris used in the early stages of terraforming this world just at the very brink of livability.  All the settlements and city-states of Tanus are domed and capable of sealing themselves off from the rest of the world should it ever prove necessary.
  11. The Loire, flowing from Niris-Calais, a world known for the vivid yellow leaves of its trees, the gentle rainy season in the spring of each hemisphere, and the incredible intricate lacelike series of overlapping hills that leave little if any naturally flat spaces larger than a few dozen square feet anywhere in the world.  All the roads wind back and forth in treacherous-looking switchbacks and bicyclists, Gran Prix drivers and other sporting enthusiasts flock to Niris-Calais for the various events sponsored by the little villages and isolated enclaves nestled up in the hills or down in the fertile valleys.  The wines from this world are justly famous and much sought after.
  12. The Tiber-Danube, flowing from Drucerne, a rocky world wreathed in overlapping canopies that extend outwards over the numerous small oceans and seas to create an interlocking series of living layers that reach upwards to the sunlight while leaving the waters in shadows lit by insects, glowferns, and other living things.  The steep ravines and talus-slopes of Drucerne are misleading because of all the obscuring vegetation and climbing the various high-points is both difficult and challenging to the trained athlete and suicidal for anyone else.
Each of these twelve rivers are part of their own, distinct network of interconnected River-Gates that reach back past the worlds listed above for as few as a dozen worlds and as many as hundreds if not thousands, as the Siret-Nile is alledged to flow all the way from Old Earth itself, as are the Induphrates and the Eumazon.  No registered expedition has returned from exploring/mapping the routes of these river-networks back to their sources, but several have made progress mapping and surveying the immediate regions and zones of the rivers at least part-way, some more than others.

By law the river-ways are free and to remain open to all travelers at all times.  Anyone can travel through the river-gates regardless of their social status, class, standing, wealth or affiliation.  Several smaller cults make use of this provision to maintain floating raft-colonies or shrine-boats that ply the river-ways just outside the reach of the law.  Smugglers, slavers and other unsavory types also make good use of this provision to transport their illicit wares and the like in and out of the city-states along the rivers.  Fisherfolk travel up and down one river after another along seasonal circuits and proprietary routes handed down from one generation to another in strictest secrecy so as to preserve their way of life which depends upon knowing when are the best times to harvest various plants, collect certain forms of aquatic fungi or algae, or when various species of fish or crustaceans spawn.  The Fisherfolk are wise in the ways of the twelve rivers and though they may help you find what you're looking for, you'll never be quite sure how they did it.

Each one of the Twelve River-Gates flows into its own harbor basin which stretches back behind the river-gate in a tunnelized channel that connects to a domed reservoir, crater-lake, deep cistern, series of fresh-water grottoes, or other subsidiary structure.  All of the harbor basins have docking areas for smallcraft, holding pens for various aquatic pack-beasts, and full harbor facilities for even the largest riverboats and most dirigibles and aerostats such as those commonly arriving from Aegron, Drucerne or Ladesh.

Lutrin families maintain makeshift shacks all along the inner-rims of the harbor basins and it is not uncommon to see a few Du'vallja out in the basin doing whatever it is that they do out in the dark, deep and fast-moving waters.  Venduu likewise maintain a noticeable presence in these precincts and their foam-nests and bubble-gardens are all over the place.  Venduu Bubble-Gardens are glistening biomechanical bubbles of translucent material housing specialized greenhouse-operations, carefully tended topiaries, orchid-farms and similar micro-ecologies, all watched over by Nebru, or other plant-bonded hominids who have been designed and bred by the Venduu as biocaste slaves or geneered servitors. These greenhouse blisters slowly crawl along like domesticated gargantuan slugs, clinging to various surfaces and making their idiosyncratic ways through the entire expanse of Devukarsha and the worlds beyond each of the River-Gates. Most of these structures are public access, or have facilities for hosting visitors, but a few are very strictly private.  Even headblind mammals can tell an open bubble-garden from a closed one by the pattern of their external markings; swirls and curves mean the bubble is open to visitors, harsh, angular patterns mean keep out under pain of death, and it will assuredly be painful.

Riverboats, gigantic cargo barges, autotugs, and colorfully-pennoned ferries all crowd the harbor basins.  Many transfer their cargoes onto the wharves and docks in order to return back up the river they came down on, but a few will make use of the secondary gates at the far ends of each harbor basin to move from basin to basin until they reach the particular river upon which they wish to continue their journey.  The back-channel for each basin is paved on both sides to serve as broad service roads that connect to warehouses, storehouses, and a wide array of specialized freight handling services, teamsters, couriers and so forth.

The River-Gate harbor basins form a staggered series of markets and bazaars that parallel and rival those of the waterfront districts and the floating wharves that serve the great ships that ply the seas and oceans that lie beyond the Sea Gates.  The competition between the freshwater basin-markets and the saltwater waterfront markets is fierce and at times can get more than a little heated.  The Unions are always getting called-in to mediate conflicts and grievances, sometimes to address legitimate claims. Ongoing feuds between rival alley-gangs, raids upon the warehouse districts of the more aggressive droogs and the occasional roacher-poachers out for a quick and easy score are nightly occurrences.  Dronecops patrol the common spaces and private security, mercenaries and bully-boys manage the rest.  It pays to know where you're going in these areas, as it is extremely easy to crossover from public spaces into gang territories, temporary authority zones, urfolk enclaves, droog hunting grounds, or worse.  Many people hire native guides from amongst the least objectionable urfolk or some of the harbor-tribes, mostly because their information is more certain to be accurate and up to date, while the various databases and municipal registries are woefully misleading, often on purpose.  One also has to beware of so-called tour-guides, most of whom work for the exotic meat industries.

Unlike along the seaward waterfront, the bars in the river-gate harbor-basin areas are more impromptu arrangements, most often informal affairs arranged between the brewers, vintners, or enterprising folks with a barrel or a keg and a tap or some salvaged cases of wine that they sell from their make-shift bar assembled on the spot from stacks of pallets, bales, boxes and containers until all the booze is gone, the money runs out or someone rousts them from out of their spot.  You will never drink in the same place twice in the basin districts.  Likewise there are no lodges, no inns and no hostels in the immediate vicnity of the harbor-basins.  Anyone seeking accomodations invariably needs to take a tram, trolley or gate to one of the near-by hotels, rental flats, etc.  Or you could take your chances and attempt to bribe a Lutrin family to let you sleep in their rickety shack or see if a Venduu will let you sleep-over in one of their bubble-gardens, but it's not recommended.

Hopefully you came to the harbor-basin districts armed and in at least a reasonable-sized group, especially if you're silly enough to be mucking about the place at night.  The roachers are notorious for abducting stray travelers for ransom or dinner and there are numerous other, less friendly types who only come out to do business in the dark or during certain obscure configurations of the moons phases.  It is best to just simply avoid the alleys and rampways of the basins at night, unless you belong there, have grown up there, or just don't care.  It's a dangerous place for the unwary, uninvited or uninitiated.

I'm wrapping-up work on a set of tables for encounters in the harbor-basin districts and another set of tables for random boats and cargoes that can be encountered.  Each of the River-Gates and the worlds beyond them will be detailed, much like how Thebu-Amur already has been, though I plan on coming back to that one in due course and detailing it a bit more.  Just detailing some of the types of resources and cargoes that come through each world via the River-Gates would be interesting.  The Lutrin, Nebru, Venduu, roachers and droog-gangs will also get their own write-ups shortly.

Whatever you do, don't drink anything at Alex's Milk Bar.  Even if it's on the house.  Especially if it's on the house.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A RoboMule for Sister Zhara

Space Westerns.  Many of C. L. Moore's Northwest Smith stories could be seen as Space Westerns.  So could Leigh Brackett's Eric John Stark tales (as corroborated by Trey in the comments below).  The movie Outland was definitely a space western.  If you haven't seen this 1981 classic with Sean Connery, I highly recommend it as a good example of how to do a space western.  You can catch the trailer here:

Lovecraft's In The Walls of Eryx and his collaboration with Zealia Bishop The Mound are both claimed as being space westerns by the folks at spacewesterns dot com.  The idea of a 'space western' sounded peculiar at first, but then I recalled Outland, and was reminded of Serenity/Firefly, and even some episodes of Babylon 5.  So okay, maybe The Mound is some weird sort of proto-Space Western after all.  It's definitely weird.  I've always liked The Mound, despite a few bushel-baskets of flaws and a passel of plot-holes.  The sheer feverish conglomeration of wild ideas and accumulating strangeness makes that story stand head and shoulders over quite a few other HPL-collaborations.  Subterranean worlds that might be otherplanar in nature, Bulwer-Lytton-esque prehistoric societies surviving beneath Oklahoma and getting discovered by Spaniards, nuclear-powered zombies and some of the most atrociously disgusting human-(de)based breeding programs ever committed to paper make this one disturbing and creepy in all the right ways, for Lovecraftian horror.  But until now, I've never considered it as being a space western.

When I first began work on Riskail, I had three primary themes that I wanted to keep in mind as foundations to everything else.  Surrealism was first and foremost.  Ecology was the second.  And no, not the hippy-treehugger nonsense, but real ecology, the kind that Frank Herbert would recognize; more Rachel Carson and less granola.  The third was mythology, the kind of mythology that Joseph Campbell talked about, only moved forward in time and space as part of the human experience out past the boundaries of here and now.  Everything else, all the technology, robots, geneering and gates -- it all is just so much frosting applied to the three layers of Surrealism, Ecology, and Mythology that make up the core layer cake of the setting's foundation. 

I've already posted a bit about Surrealism and the Ecology-aspect of things seems to be coming along nicely, especially as I post the travelguide to Riskail, the Gate Plazas, Moons, and the series of pieces detailing the River Senube and the Sea Gates.  Those are all in-the-works even as you read this.  I expect to be busy posting loads of stuff in the next few weeks.

Surrealism and Ecology are pretty much covered, so that leaves Mythology.  Greek, Roman, Norse and Egyptian mythologies have always been around and available to me for as long as I can remember.  Sumerian, Babylonian, Celtic/Arthurian, and the rich panoply of Buddhist and Hindu/Vedic mythologies have fascinated me since I first discovered them in a section of the school library I was supposedly too young to be checking things out from.  A wonderful English teacher, Mrs. Book (that was really her name!)  came to my rescue as I was arguing (unsuccessfully) with the librarian about checking out a copy of Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur.  She asked me to read from the book, so I did.  The librarian stood there open mouthed in shock.  As far as she was concerned I was way too young to be able to read such a book.  I wasn't.  Mrs. Book nudged her and I got to check out the book.  Later on Mrs. Book introduced me to Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are, which was something that she did not want me to miss or overlook as I insisted on rummaging around in the more grown-up section of the library.  In thinking back to this incident, I was reminded to look outside the comfortable boxed-in parameters that I might be getting used to, or accustomed to, and see what else was laying around.  Two forms of modern mythology that I definitely enjoy are Espionage and Westerns.

Espionage is a lot like politics as applied mythology,  and I will be developing quite a bit of stuff in this area fairly quickly as I detail the Houses, Clans and Factions and go over the timeline, recent history, calendar, the Old Regime and the Eternal Revolution, and so on.  And by the way, Ravishing Virgins is not the only story I have for Bartolomeo Grell, nor the crew of the Smiling Gaijin III.  There will be more espionage-stories set in Riskail in the near future.

So that leaves Westerns.  And Space Westerns.  A circuit clicked into place for me when I started thinking back to one of the earliest exercises I did in order to establish my approach to Riskail.  I wrote down on the top of a piece of paper the words 'What I Want From a Setting' and I didn't care if it was an RPG or a novel or a comic book/graphic novel.  I focused on the setting.  One of the first things I wrote was that I wanted to have a setting where ...the unnamed High Plains Drifter who might or might not be the illegitimate bastard son of the Comte St. Germain and who once rode as Zorro and sailed as Sinbad or Jason (possibly with Oddysseus) could ride into a Noirish-type town from someplace far, far away and face off against mad scientists, vampiric censors and fascist marketers... Not bad.  Gaudy, overwrought and quite a mish-mash, but it served its purpose and got me to working out the details that would support something sort of resembling just such a setting.

Zorro and Sergio Leone 'spaghetti-westerns,' merged into the voyages of Sinbad, Jason and Ulysses were the jumping-off point for the kinds and sorts of characters that would be fun to build and the sorts of exotic locales to explore and grim-and-gritty challenges to be faced.  I'm glad that I drafted that document and looking back on it, I can see a dozen or more things that I have got to get down and posted, including more of the Western-ish stuff, the multi-world-spanning caravans, the voyagers who traverse the treacherous waters of the Sea Gates, the Embodied Principles and outlawed temples, and so on.

Northwest Smith's stories were about emotions and mood more than any plot.  They were exercises in atmosphere and tour de force examples of character-driven story-telling that have more in common with film noir and westerns than with the usual suspects that pass muster as science fiction or even fantasy.  The guy just happens to have a ray gun and just happens to travel from planet to planet.  But really, that could all be dropped, changed or glossed over and it wouldn't matter.  And that got me to thinking about how a richly developed setting can host any number and variety of characters from any sort of background and tell just about any sort of story.  Stripped-down to the bones like the setting in Shambleau, for example, or as elaborately evolved as Tekumel or Talislanta or as complex as ancient China, Egypt or Central America, on the other hand, can accomodate any character, any story, because they either mold themselves to the character (Shambleau) or they swallow the character alive and force them to conform to the setting, one way or another (Tekumel).  In Moore's Northwest Smith tales, she's keeping the setting to a minimum, and allowing the characters to hog the limelight.  With Tekumel, you get a deeply layered setting that you'll never be able to change without destroying it; literally, the very thing that makes it work is the social structure that prevents anyone from tampering with things too much.  You can develop human-Pe Choi hybrids, but the setting includes built-in immune-response structures (Of course, the Pe Choi kill everyone involved in a terrible war, even if you are an emperor, and you will make a deal as every temple, clan and noble has a sword, eye or spell aimed at your head until you restore the peace).  You can go off the deep end, but the setting brings you back to the mainstream.  Balance is restored.  Not quite as jarringly as a typical Star Trek episode where everything gets re-set by the end of the last scene, but it comes close sometimes.  I find that peculiar cultural inertia intriguing.  I'm not sure that Riskail would benefit from such a conservative impulse, but then again there are factions such as the Amortals and Necrosophics who truly do value conservativeness in ways, means and to a depth no one who still draws breath can hope to fathom, so maybe there is some sort of similar or parallel mechanism buried within the Deep Infrastructure to help preserve the setting no matter how badly some group of miscreants player characters try to screw things up.  Maybe.

In film noir, the characters interact however the story winds up going, but in the end they are all changed by the experience, almost always for the worse.  There is a deep-seated pessimism inherent in Noirish narrative that can add some spice to things, so long as it doesn't get overpowering.  There is a definite leavening of the Riskail setting with some vestiges of Noirish-ness, but that is more a function of looking to the Pulps for inspiration than in trying to consciously ape film noir conventions.  Riskail owes more to Casablanca/The Maltese Falcon and Bogart than to Alan Ladd, though there is a definite place for Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet in any of my games.  So the Noir-influence is there, but it's not central, nor is it as essential as the influence of John Wayne movies, Louis Lamour and Zane Grey have been and will continue to be, though it might not have been too overly apparent just yet.

In a Western, the characters interact and most often we get a morality play ruminating on Good, Bad and the general Ugliness that most humans try to avoid facing or owning up to, but is there all along deep inside each and every one of us.  In that regard, the Western has a lot in common with Horror, the other not-quite-white-meat of literature.  Horror is also a morality tale, very often wrapped-up in sexuality.  See all the slasher movies.  Read some Clive Barker.  I'll spare you the discussion of surrealism as a transgressive movement and how transgression is at the very heart of both Westerns (events set in motion by some low down dirty owlhoot's transgressions against the widow markus) and Horror stories (monsters violating victims with machetes, tentacles or Cronenberg-style arm-pit syringes...) and just leave it at this: Film Noir, Westerns, Science Fiction, Sword & Sorcery, (Sword & Planet), Horror and Surrealism all merge comfortably in the literary backwater that is the Pulps, the catch-all genre that used to be called 'weird,' and I rather like how they all mix together like colors on a palette as I paint-in the details of my setting.

Not only is Riskail a Truly Weird setting, there's a healthy dose of the (Space) Western in it as well, and you'll be seeing more of that in the days ahead.  Poe and Lovecraft facing off with six-guns beneath an alien sun over the dubious virtue of a saloon-droid that looks just a little too much like Darryl Hannah in a film noir directed by Salvador Dali or Jodorowsky in collaboration with Sergio Leone.  It does a soul good just thinkin' about it.  I like this Weird Space Western vibe.  I think I'll play with it a bit more before moving on.  You know, there ought to be a Zorro-complex virux out there to infect the aristocracy so that they take up the fight protecting the oppressed urfolk of the perimeter villages...

And now for a little bit of Space Western Theme Music for you:
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