Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hazards of Space and Subspace

Image from 2001: A Space Odyssey © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Ken St. Andre lists three 'game scenarios' for his Starfaring role-playing game:  'standard exploration', 'the planet search contest', and 'alien (or enemy) attack'.  For aliens or enemies, St. Andre suggests either “Human war and...fighting it out in space,” the Robots, or the Slish.
The Slish are arch-typically B.E.M. in concept, methane breathers, tentacled, the works. They are non-telepathic and unreasonably hostile to all other lifeforms. They have a faster-than-light star drive, but it does not utilize Star Crystals; nor can the Slish enter Subspace. They do not utilize their FTL drive inside solar systems. They seem to be especially interested in gas giant planets, and are most often encountered near one. They do use energy weapons similar in effect to the Shiva beam weapons of humanity, but their shields do not seem to be as powerful as Human shields. Aside from these generalizations, Slish ships vary in quality...
Additionally, the Slish are “octopoid” and they “seem completely immune to the psionic powers of human telepaths.”  We also learn, “No one captured by the Slish has ever returned to tell the tale.”  Apparently, no Slish have ever been captured.  With regard to encountering the Slish in combat...
Attacking Slish ships approach on a constantly corrected straight line towards their target ship, firing at a rate of 5 times per combat turn. This means that while the human ship is making Saving Rolls to determine if it is hit by the Slish who have evolved the technique of firing randomly in the general direction of their randomly evading target, the Slish ship is on a mathematically predictable course; and though they fire 5 times for every once you fire, you will hit the Slish ship every time as long as your Gunnery computer is working.
The 'Space Hazards' chapter begins, “For each turn that a ship is in space, either Subspace or regular space, the G.M. will roll 2 dice.”  How long is a turn?  St. Andre neglects to inform us.  At any rate, a roll of twelve (i.e., 2.77%) indicates “some form of trouble.”  St. Andre supplies two tables – one for 'normal space' and and another for 'subspace' – but invites prospective Galaxy Masters “to add your own inventions to these lists of space hazards.”

The listings for the normal space table are:  Slish (~33%), Galactic Core Radiation (25%), Meteor Strike (~17%), Power Crystal Malfunction (~14%), and Supernova (~11%).  When Galactic Core Radiation is encountered, 1d6 is rolled.  The result is subtracted from Mentality, Physique, and Health; however, the result is added to “Psionic powers.”  Health can be recovered, but “Other characteristics are permanently changed.”  The 'supernova' result is only applicable to “Unstable stars of spectral classes 0, B, and A with masses greater than Sol.”  Supernovae generate a wave of radiation that reduces “the Health of all crew members” by 3d6 and “half that number from the Mentality of all survivors.”  Starships that do not promptly retreat into Subspace “will be vaporized by the expanding shell of superheated gases.”

The entries for the Subspace table are:  “Kthulhus” (~66.7%), “Derbis” (~27.7%), and “Berserkers” (~5.6%).
Kthulhus are the dominant life-form in Subspace. They exist and grow by devouring the slight energy leakage from normal space into Subspace. They are disturbed by the warping of Subspace caused by Starship warpengines, and when they detect it, they will approach and attack the source.
Kthulhus cause crew members to hallucinate; this eventually causes a reduction of Mentality.  “Kthulhus may be driven off or slain,” page 43 tells us, “by psychic blasts of hatred or aversion from a crew member concentrating on the idea of a Kthulhu, and who has a higher psi rating than the Kthulhus rating.”  Derbis is a “Subspace life-form most nearly resembling a rock with eyes.”  It's like dyslexic debris!  A Derbis “thinks, after a fashion,” and desires “to reduce itself to free hydrogen.”  To accomplish this, “they smash into [starships] with glee, [since] the energy shield will disintegrate them.”  The effect on the ship “is similar to Meteor damage in normal space.”  Berserkers are, of course, a reference to Fred Saberhagen's creation.

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