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[Sorcerer] Heartless Void, a science fiction Sorcerer setting

Started by ubergeek2012, September 13, 2005, 02:13:47 PM

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This is a first draft for a science fiction setting I've been working on.  It started as an attempt to write a one-sheet for a game but quickly grew beyond my control.  I'm looking for feedback so feel free to point out any Good, Bad, or Ugly stuff you notice.

Heartless Void

A setting for Sorcerer written by Bob Manning

Inspirations: Lost Universe, Firefly, Traveller, Westerns


   Heartless Void is a science fiction  sorcerer game in which the players portray people living on the frontier of an interstellar confederation.  There are no supernatural elements, but strange alien artifacts and technology do exist.  In the right or wrong hands their power can be harnessed.
   The setting will mostly be centered on the far fringes of known space.  Imagine a poor frontier area populated by explorers and prospectors trying to eke out an existence far from any true civilization.  There are small waystations carved out of asteroids where jury rigged spaceships that would never survive contact with a gravity well of any significance come to refuel and trade isotopes mined from silent asteroid for food.  It's a region where true law enforcement officials such as Confederate Marshals are spread so thin that each one may have an area of responsibility measuring more than 10 light years across.  This far out the lawmen are on their own.  Often, justice is what you can make of it, and life can be cheaper than oxygen.
   Central authorities don't care what happens on the frontier as long as resources continue to flow back to the center.  The Confederation is always hungry for the rare radioactive elements that can be found out here in the asteroid belts and clouds.  Occasionally, some lucky prospector even manages to strike it rich.  Some even live long enough to enjoy their newfound wealth before it's violently wrested from them.  But as long as there's money to be made out here, there will be people brave or foolish enough to try and make their fortunes on the edge.
   In this age, humanity has once again spread beyond its own easy reach.  Lacking any way to transmit messages faster than the speed of light, news can travel only as fast as ships can carry it.  This puts the frontier far beyond any real central control.  Even if you could plot a course without getting too close to a gravity well and had unlimited fuel, it would take almost a year to reach the frontier from the core worlds.  Usually however, conditions are a far cry from this optimum.  Entering systems along the way to refuel and skirting around the vast gravity wells of large stellar masses will most likely double your travel time.
   An average ship can manage to keep their interstellar drives active for about 2 weeks without having to stop and refuel, which gives them a straight line distance of approximately 20 light years.  There are some ships built with more stamina able to travel further distances without stopping for resupply, but due to the expense most of these belong to the government and military.  Conversely, there are many models designed for short trips available cheaply.
   Once within a solar system, ships must rely on much slower  conventional drive to navigate between planets.  In fact, there are many ships built solely for local use, saving the expense of an interstellar drive.  This is the sort of ship operated by most ore prospectors.


   Humanity in Heartless Void uses the plural humanity introduced in Sex and Sorcery.  The first scale is a measure of  how close a character's mind is to being warped into following alien thought patterns.  By synchronizing your brain with an artifact you run the risk of having your brain altered by the device in a way that effectively turns you into a sociopath.  In this way, humanity works similarly to empathy.   It can be gained by helping people and engaging in positive social contact to reinforce human bonds.  Spending too much time in isolation or acting inhumanely towards other people can cause humanity loss.
   The second scale is about fighting for what's yours.  In the style of classic westerns, sometimes a man or a woman has to stand up for themselves and do whatever it takes to protect your friends, family, or property.  This means that humanity gain rolls can be made if you don't back down and you do what you need to do for the protection of you and yours.  By giving up without resistance when something belongs to you is taken or if you take something by force that isn't rightfully yours, humanity loss can ensue.


   In Heartless Void the "demons" are artifacts of ancient alien technology, sometimes found in hidden locations on the fringe of human occupied space, floating in odd places between the planets, or within asteroid belts.  Most people in the empire are not even aware that such things exist.  Even rumors of such things are often disregarded as wild stories made up by people spending far too much time in deep space.  There are those that know at least some of the truth though, and these are the "sorcerers" that have found such devices and managed to gain some measure of control over them.

   The types most commonly found are objects and parasites, with inconspicuous and passers also occasionally found.  Most artifacts were apparently designed to be tools and weapons, with actual starships not uncommon.  Each does in fact have its own form of intelligence, even if it is artificial.  To be used by humans, they must first be synchronized with.  They work through a direct mental interface, but links with a human brain are imperfect at best.  It is possible for a human to use them, but the bond with the alien "mind" is an unhealthy one which often leads to madness.
   Objects tend to be unusual looking devices with no manual controls that are operated directly by the mind of the one bound to it.   This can include starships, large vessels with strange designs and no controls.  Parasites are devices that take up residence inside a host, or even replace limbs or other body parts.  Some artifacts qualify as Passers, usually due to innate abilities to alter their own appearance to match their surroundings.    There are even those rare artifacts that can make themselves undetectable, qualifying as inconspicuous demons.  There are no known examples of free floating alien intelligences that would count as possessors.

   There are a few demon powers that work in nonstandard ways which require some discussion.  Artifacts with the hint power can only relay information regarding the device's intended function, or in some cases the history of the item itself.  Hop is a power related to possessor demons, so most likely won't be appropriate for any artifacts in this setting.  Probably the biggest change is for the travel power as it relates to artifact starships.  Starships with the travel power multiply the standard rate of  space travel by their power rank rather than following a human norm.
   Beyond these guidelines, when creating artifacts try to keep all the powers within the theme of science fiction.  Most of the standard demon powers can be be thematically described in many ways that make consistent sense within this setting.  Even though any sufficiently advanced technology may be indistinguishable from magic, endeavor to keep the descriptions on target.

   Perhaps it wasn't so for whoever created these artifacts, but when used by humans they have something of a mind of their own.  Some are more self aware than  others, but they all tend to push their users into acting in certain ways.  Usually, this translates into a desire to carry out their intended purpose.  This has been known to result in horrific tragedy when powerful weapons have fallen into the hands of people unable to control them.

Example Desires:
Destruction: This would be a device built for war, or at least some form of weapon in all probability.  Such an artifact would give its user urges to kill and destroy, so that it could live out its purpose.
Protection:  An artifact intended as a defensive item such as armor might want its user to constantly put himself in danger so that the device is needed to protect him.
Travel: An intelligent starship might be uncomfortable remaining in a single location for any length of time, always trying to get back to flying at FTL speeds.
Creation: A tool made for building things would want to keep creating rather than lie idle.
Knowledge: Any device created to gather or store information will always hunger for more knowledge.

   Keeping in mind that artifacts aren't quite the same thing as traditional Sorcerer demons, their needs should be a bit different.  As opposed to desires, needs should generally fall into the realm of energy and materials requirements.  These can range from something simple such as a starship needing to spend time near a star collecting solar energy, to something complex like rare metals.  A good rule of thumb to stick to is the easier the need is to acquire, the more often it is needed.

Need Categories:
Gross and Savage: This type would be appropriate for artifacts containing mostly biological parts, perhaps even types grafted into a human body.  Suitable needs in this category would include the need for human brain fluids, or various animal proteins.
Annoying: This would mean things like the necessity for large amounts of food due to an increased metabolism caused by a parasite demon, or something along such lines.  Of course, a need for food becomes more than annoying when food is scarce...
Trivial: This would include easy to acquire things such as oxygen, rock, or sunlight.  Again, such things are only trivial when they're readily available.

Sorcerers and Lore:
   In Heartless Void, "sorcerers" are those rare individuals intelligent, persistent, or just plain lucky enough to have discovered an artifact of alien technology and learned at least a few of its secrets.  Lore is a measure of just how much you really know about alien artifacts.  This includes a basic knowledge of some of their capabilities, how to get them to function, and even knowledge or intuition of likely locations to find more of them.
   A person with a lore of 0 knows nothing of alien technology.  Even if they've heard mad ramblings about such rumors, they won't really believe them.  Lore values above 1 are reserved for those few who have learned some of the truth.  A person with a  lore of 1 is probably someone who has found an alien artifact somewhere along the edge of know space himself, or has taken it from another.  They've learned at least the rudiments of using such devices as well.  Anyone who has progressed to lore values of 2 or 3 has gone a bit further.  Perhaps he has managed to find multiple artifacts for study, or perhaps he has just managed to glean a lot of information from a single object of some power.  A lore of 4 or 5 means someone has advanced knowledge of alien technology, and most likely knows where to look for more.  A lore value of 6 would indicate someone with a high degree of knowledge and mastery.  It also most likely indicates someone who barely human and fantastically dangerous.

   The mechanics for Contacting, Summoning, Binding, Banishing and Punishing will remain pretty much the same, but there do need to be a few thematic changes.  Due to the physical nature of artifacts, they cannot be Contained.  Also, it is not always necessary to enact the contacting phase, since dormant artifacts do not disappear as banished demons do.  The one basic sweeping change from standard sorcery is that instead of occult rituals, "sorcerous" acts are instead largely scientific and mental exercises guided by special knowledge.

   Contacting will tend to be different in this setting since instead of "expanding one's mind well outside of commonly acknowledged boundaries" as the Sorcerer book puts it, it usually requires instead that you physically travel beyond well known areas.  Even for those who know where to look and how to find them, artifacts are so rare in the areas currently inhabited by humans as to be virtually non-existent.  This means that most of the time it is necessary to venture deep into unexplored space, sift through uncharted asteroid fields, or plunge into dark nebulae to find one.
   The die rolls will remain the same as in Sorcerer, but the descriptions and reasons for both bonuses and penalties will change due to the different genre.  Hallucinogens won't be nearly as helpful as a powerful and sophisticated sensor package, although stims still might help keep you searching far beyond normal human limits.  After all, losing consciousness while maneuvering between asteroids will most likely end your space faring career, along with things such as breathing.

   The analog of summoning in Heartless Void is activation.  Once an artifact has been found, it must be turned on before its power can be harnessed.  Again, the mechanics are the same as for summoning, but sacrifice of living things may not necessarily be very helpful in boosting the attempt.  A heavy dose of whatever the artifact's operational needs are would probably be much more helpful.

   Upon activation, the artifact will at once attempt to attune and synchronize with the nearest living intelligent being.  In most cases, this will be the person both brave and foolish enough to tinker with it.  Once again, the mechanics for binding remain unchanged.  However, instead of some sort of contract or bargain, the bond tends to be a mental and or physical link between the artifact and it's user.  All three attributes are still valid for binding, usually dependent on the type of artifact and how it works.  Some examples follow.

Stamina: Struggling with a weapon to make it perform as desired, implanting a symbiotic or cybernetic object into your body, holding a self mobile device still while attuning.
Will: Using sheer determination to force a link, cleverly outwitting safeguards.
Lore: Using special knowledge of alien structures and designs, altering your thought patterns to more easily align with the artifact.

   An artifact that remains activated while unbound to a user needs to find a new one as soon as possible, losing 1 power and then 1 stamina each day until it is once again linked to one.  If the artifact's stamina is reduced to zero, it powers down and returns to a dormant state rather than disappearing.  Of course, some types of artifact are better than others at finding new users, and some are pickier.  Normally, this sort of thing only happens if the user bound to an artifact dies.

   Punishing an artifact works in the same way as punishing a demon.  It can be seen as powering down the device in order to keep it under easier control.  Of course, they hate this just as much as demons.

   A successful banish does not destroy or dismiss an artifact, but returns it to a dormant state.  This leaves those present with both the problems and opportunities inherent in having such a powerful object just laying around.  In such a case, a new user can activate and bind the artifact without having to go through the process of searching for one.

   Here's a list of example descriptors to help reinforce the flavor and genre of Heartless Void.

Space Baby: Born in space, zero gravity environments pose no discomfort or hindrance to you.
Genetic Modifications: Given the harsh realities of life on the edge of space, some choose to strengthen their bodies through unnatural means to gain an edge.
Combat Veteran: Before coming out here, or perhaps since then, you spent some time as a soldier.  The skills and the scars tend to stay with you.
High Gravity: Either you came from a High-G world, or you just like to keep your artificial gravity cranked up.  Either way, you have the muscles to show for it.
Weathered: Harsh environments have nothing on you.  You've survived sandstorms, rock storms, and worse.
Saloon of Hard Knocks: You may not like to start bar-room brawls, but you like to finish them.
Light Speed Reflexes: Sometimes you react to things before even knowing why.

Grizzled: Your resolve has been hardened by a life of witnessing suffering.  Now, you hardly even notice your own.
Don't Tread On Me: When stepped on, you bite back.  Hard.
Clever: Your quick wit has kept you out of trouble more times than you'd like to remember.
Spatially Oriented: Unlike groundhogs, you naturally think in all three dimensions.
Educated: Either you were lucky enough to grow up on a world or station with real schools, or you spent your time between the stars reading instead of sleeping.
Persuasive: You're pretty good at getting other people to see things the way you want them to.  Sometimes that save you from having to do any real work.
Relentless: You just don't stop.  Ever.

Newbie: (Lore = 1)  You found something strange, probably on accident.  Now you know that this type of thing is real, but not much else.
Experienced Explorer: (Lore = 2-3)  You've managed to find a few sites containing alien ruins or other clues, from which you've learned a few things.
Cell Member: (Lore = 2-4) You're a member of a group that shares knowledge about the things they find with each other.
Xenoarchaeologist: (Lore = 4+) With many alien ruins and clues under your belt, there are many secrets in your head.

Lawman: You are or were a keeper of the peace, perhaps even a Confederate Marshal.  Either way, your knowledge of the law is strong, and probably your belief in it too.  You'll also have training in law enforcement procedures.
Prospector: You've spent years learning to locate and retrieve valuable materials from mostly hazardous areas.
Miner: You've done a lot of work in large scale mines, either planetside or in large mineral rich asteroids.
Mercenary: Even when life is cheap, those skilled at taking it can charge top dollar.
Bounty Hunter: In the absence of true law and order, sometime justice has to be bought.
Pilot: You've made your living piloting starships professionally.
Crewman: Years of shipboard life have taught you a lot about how to operate starships.
Pirate: Rather than make an honest living, you get what you need the old fashioned way.  By taking it.
Explorer: You earn your oxygen by poking around in areas untread by man and selling information about what you find there.  This doesn't just mean in distant systems, either.  Humanity is spread so thin out here that there are inhabited planets that are largely uncharted.
Working on: Heartless Void - A Sorcerer Mini-Supplement (Started Here)

Ron Edwards

Hi Bob, and welcome!

Strongest one-sheet I've seen in a long time. Play it, play it.

I think Containing might be included with a bit of imagination. I'll bet your players will find ways to make it work, so if they do, I'd say run with it.

I imagine someone is going to want to take "outlaw" or "wanderer" as a Cover, and will probably need the standard explanation for why that won't fly well. The quick & effective solution is to add "from where/what" to the term.



After talking to Paka I've decided to put off actually writing any revisions until I've play tested what I've got down so far.  You're right about containing though, after thinking about it a bit I've thought of a few ways it might work.

As for Wanderers and Outlaws, I included Pirate as a cover originally with the idea that characters on both sides of the law were just as feasible as those in the middle.  I'll have to see how things work out in my group.

Anyway, thanks for the quick feedback.  I'll post a follow up once I have some actual play experience.
Working on: Heartless Void - A Sorcerer Mini-Supplement (Started Here)