Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Outworlds

Art by Jeff Dee

According to the Introduction of the Space Opera rules, “...we have been most fortunate in procuring several copies of the Interstellar Survey Service's Sector Star Atlases which are standard issue to all spacecraft entering given sectors of the galaxy.”  Actually, they're called Star Sector Atlases and are indicated as such in the product listings on the inside back cover.  Almost all of the Star Sector Atlases are numbered; for instance, the complete title of the first atlas is Star Sector Atlas 1:  The Terran Sector.  In Space Opera parlance, a sector represents a cubic volume of space 100-200 light years to a side.  The rules helpfully explain, “space is very definitely three dimensional...”  Very definitely.

The only unnumbered Star Sector Atlas is titled The Outworlds.  It is unnumbered because it “is not from the same game universe” as the default Space Opera setting.  However, even the numbered atlases can be inconsistent with one another since they are derived from different campaigns and thus reflect different interpretations of the setting.  In any event, The Outworlds sector “can be added on to an existing campaign, or be used as the starting point for a new one.”  Also, “The worlds and alien races in this sector can also be used on their own; simply ignore any references to other Outworlds.”

Supposedly, “The sector is 150 LY on a side.”  However, there are two planets that are 171 light years apart on the z-axis (or “the vertical dimension” as the rules state).  At least, that's what I gather from “–78 BISTHUM” and “+93 MANO.”  The Bisthum system is home to Outpost 8.  Outposts are defined as “Planets that are being investigated and prepared for colonization” and civilization is represented by “Generally an E StarPort, a few pre-fabricated huts, and a team of lonely researchers.”  The Mano system contains the planet Goshlookout where “semi-intelligent animals” plague the colonists.
     The first beasts were six legged dinosaur-like creatures who were heavily armored and armed.  Later types grew wings, prehensile trunks, shooting spines, and other deadly weapons.  The worst beast ability is the almost total resistance to poisons and biological weapons...Each beast will have one unusual ability, such as resistance to lasers or stunners.
The Outworlds was written by Stefan Jones, who has a variety of RPG credits that span decades, including Port o' Call.  Interestingly, his first writing credit was a (capsule) review of Space Opera in The Space Gamer #33 (November 1980).  (For Trillion Credit Squadron, he is listed as one of three people having “Useful Suggestions,” so I don't think that counts.)  Was he already working on The Outworlds (1981 copyright) when he submitted that review?  Jones also wrote the Space Opera adventures Vault of the Ni'er Queyon (1982) and
Operation Peregrine (1983).

In the atlas, information about each planet of interest is conveyed through two documents provided under the auspices of the United Federation of Planets.  (Really?  They couldn't go with the Federation of United Planets or the Combined Federation of Planets?)  The two documents are:  Form 217/DIS.8JE from the Department of Interstellar Survey and Form 550/CS.6MV from the Contacts Service.

Blank Survey Evaluation Form

Example Contacts Service Form:  Alkast

“Technological Level” appears at the top of the Contacts Service form, right next to the planet's name.  Whereas weapons and various items of equipment are assigned Tech Levels, what 'Tech Level' means with regard to a society is not expressly established.  Tech Levels range from one to ten but “Tech/7” is the standard level for galactic civilization.  Tech Levels correlate to “Type of Government.”  For instance, Anarchy results in a Tech Level range of 1 – 4; Representative Democracy offers 4 – 10.

Societal Strength also ranges from one to ten; a score of one “signifies a collapsing society” while ten “signifies a very strong society, highly resilient to sudden changes because of the sheer determination of the people and the social institutions to survive and adapt.”  Societal Strength is based on Social Organization.  A Caste Society has a 2  – 5 range; a Communist Society has a 1 – 7 range.

The Xeno-Acceptance Factor (shown as 'Xeno Acceptance Index' on the form) “is the percentage chance that a member of the culture will be prejudiced in his dealings with an 'alien' not demonstrably of his race and general cultural background and beliefs.”  Isn't that the opposite of acceptance?  Regardless, the lower the Societal Strength of a culture, the greater the chance of prejudice.

None of the Outworld planets have a listed Bureaucracy Level.  This is just as well since this concept is not defined in the rules.  Support Index refers to the portion “of the population which will support the present governmental system in a 'crunch'...”  Loyalty Index is the “chance that a given individual citizen will be loyal to the present system.”  Repression Index indicates the “percentage of the population 'repressed' by various discriminatory measures under the present social and/or political system.”  Corruption Index is the “chance that a given government official will accept a 'bribe' or 'gift' or 'token of appreciation'...”  Law Level ranges from one to twenty and is mainly concerned with weapon restrictions; the greater the level, the stronger the restrictions.

The Trade Acceptance Index is “the percentage chance that a trader will find a ready market for his goods on the planet.”  The rules inform us, “The index does not assure a sale, but it makes an attempt possible once per week that an offer comes up.”

Among the nine new alien races described in the The Outworlds there is what humans call the CULT; sometimes spelled with all capitals, sometime with only an initial capital.  An illustration of a CULT member is presented at the beginning of the post.
     The minds of the entire species are linked together by a sort of mechanical telepathy, using communicators implanted within the brain of each individual.  The CULT lives in space craft or on (or in) asteroid bases...They have five strong tentacles and a bulbous central body, all encased in a segmented exoskeleton... Cult walk on three of their tentacles at a time, leaving two free for manipulative functions.  The thick shell is usually light gray in color, the skin in [sic] dark red or purple.
     Behavior patterns of the Cult are very erratic...Trade missions sometimes dump valuable goods on the StarPort landing field and leave without collecting payment.  These abberations [sic] are thought to be due to malfunctions in the computer and communications equipment of the Cult mass-mind network.
Another Outworld race is referred to by humans as Greenstar Demons (or 'Green Star Demons' as the atlas also calls them).  How the Demons refer to themselves is unknown, as is their homeworld.  This race occasionally...
     ...raids the Outworlds and is believed to be the cause of many ship disappearances.  The Demons get their name from their bodily appearance, and from a mysterious force field they use that seals off systems they are raiding.  This force field has the side effect of causing the primary of the system to glow bright green...
     The Demons are xenophobic and highly intelligent monsters.  They take intelligent beings for use as food animals, slaves and other horrid purposes.  Demon ships shoot on sight, trying to disable and board any ship they come across.
Before leaving the Outworlds, we owe it to ourselves to address the spice mines of Kessex.  (That's Kessex – not Kessel – OK?  Call off the lawyers.)  In “deep underground spice caverns,” slaves gather fungoids.  “Luxury Goods (Spice Products)” are the major exports of Kessel Kessex; however, neither the value of such products nor their use is indicated.  Kessex is in the Rant system (the companion star is is Rave).  The only system within twelve parsecs is Kherm, containing the planet Agar.  The Lazkee Corporation 'owns' Agar, an ocean world where an “algae-like plant...is processed and converted into edible foodstuffs for shipment to other worlds.”  This is an important distinction; the market for inedible foodstuffs is negligible.

2 comments:

  1. In my Head Canon, the SO "United Federation of Planets" was the wining name in a contest, narrowly defeating "Jedi Alliance" and "League of Evil McEvilskins".

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