Battletech: Roleplaying Power

Battletech’s A Time of War has an interesting chapter, Political and Military Power, that could be useful to Traveller groups. It provides a somewhat different take on noble ranks, bloodnames (‘ranks’ for Clans, a geneered group of space warriors), and military ranks. As there are more major powers here – and as all the players are human – what a noble rank means is less clearly defined than in the Traveller universe.

There’s more to A Time of War – the roleplaying supplement for Mechwarrior – than that, much of quite useful for a military-focused campaign… especially one using giant fighting robots. I’m more into exploration and societies, though.

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“10 Space Empires That Actually Make Economic Sense”

Taking a look at io9’s 10 Space Empires That Actually Make Economic Sense we see the different ways to make a sprawling interstellar empire work, financially speaking.

  • The Vorkosigan Saga – wormholes, and single-crop worlds;
  • Asimov’s Galactic Empire – shipping food to the 40 billion on Trantor, bureaucratic core of the Empire;
  • Neptune’s Brood – “slow money”, a.k.a. “money whose very lack of liquidity makes it a stable investment tool for millennially long term projects.”
  • Downbelow Station – “The basic economic model, though, remains “food for ore.” (A better trade, probably, than Asimov’s “food for bureaucracy.”)”
  • Firefly – “The main device that makes the Alliance and the Outer Worlds economically plausible? Imperfect terraforming. We’ve terraformed a ton of planets, but haven’t done all that great a job of it, meaning that there’s a constant need for goods (foodstuffs and medicines) on those outer worlds, which are by no means self-sufficient.”
  • The Night Dawn Trilogy – The (Edenist) harvest of helium-3 from gas giants. Antimatter works, but is banned due to its explosive/destructive qualities.
  • Dune – It’s all about the Spice.
  • The Expanse – small ships haul ice and commodities; big ships haul high-margin goods.
  • 2312 – a high-tech planned economy, with capitalism restricted to luxury goods. Asteroids are big here, for transport and as farms.
  • The Space Merchants – Corporate Earth has made most substances addictive, and “both fuel & food are very scarce.”


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A Tale of Two Worlds

Using worlds as an analogy for cities can be useful, when talking about high-pop systems. For example, take A Tale of Two Cities: Chongqing and Chengdu, and turn those two cities to worlds. Rewriting for Traveller…

“Why does Chongqing have the most gorgeous women in Cathay sector? There are several theories:

  • As the old capital of the Ming Empire, it was where all the concubines of the nobility were to be found.
  • The ancient Ba Kingdom was founded here, where minor human races noted for their beauty merged into one.
  • Uniquely pure water, the many mountains, and high-oxygen air brings out the health of the people.
  • The superhot Singram Spice, grown largely on this world, has properties that clears the skin and refreshes the muscles. When it isn’t burning off your tongue.”


“Chongqing’s Motto: Yeah, we crazy!”


“Chongqing is this chaos spread out over an entire planet of 32 billion people-and-counting, beholden only to the Emperor, and that only in name. Every dug-in mountain-city in Chongqing is infected with Chongqing-itis, which basically is a willful pride in all things irreverent. Other worlds care about their face and will try to show Travellers and rich executives or nobles from Capital their pretty face. Chongqing has it written in blood that any local that bows and scrapes to outsiders is actually a Chengdunese spy, trying to learn the secret of singram.”


“I left Chongqing’s madness for Chengdu because the of Chengdu’s tranquil, tropical climates, the hardly-working starport and the easy living. Chengdu is the fat provincial nobleman to Chongqing’s beer and singram steel worker; the sweet green rice paddies to the wild and jagged peaks; the world of comfort to the world of craziness. They constantly sneer at each other, but Chengdu’s sneer is preceded by a quick peek left and right. Chengdu also has a reputation for beautiful women and a penchant for the good life, but there doesn’t really need to be an explanation for it. It’s just the way it is.”

“I can’t help it. In Chongqing, I would have had to be a gangster or end up in the gutter. Here in Chengdu, I can get a feta cheese hamburger. There aren’t many hamburgers in Chongqing.”


“There is a vibe here in Chengdu that attracts a certain type of Traveller and I consider myself to be representative of that type of person. Chongqing does not attract Travellers. I love it there and I still go back every chance I can, but its a tough place to live. Not when you have the easiest world in the Empire just three parsecs away.”

It would be pleasant for someone to write an amusing travelogue for the Imperium, covering (say) the top 20 systems, and a few stops along the way.

Places are interesting, but people even more so. Hot women with flattering tongues and cold eyes have their dangers; but innocent, trusting, and easily deceived women can also ruin an unwise man. Knowing who to trust – if anyone – is a balancing act for any Traveller.

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The Grungy, Low-tech Military

The worn, low-tech feel of the Russian military isn’t too far off from the run-of-the-mill local militaries of the Empty Quarter (outside of the highly advanced Alpha Quadrant, dominated by the high-tech Rukadukaz Republic.)

Not a drone or robot in sight, no near-space abilities (except slow rockets), not all that much computerization… it looks about right. The only notable difference is that the Russians of the videos are Slavs, and the men of the Empty Quarter are mainly Arabs, East Indians, and (mixed and pure) Vilani, so everyone is somewhat darker.

(Including the tanned-to-chocolate complexions of the Vilani.)

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Technical Details

Fun stories of derring-do from TVTropes, then a grumble on the fluff vs crunch business.

  • In at least one episode in WW2, light Russian tanks crossed frozen rivers, daring German pursuers to do the same. But a Tiger tank weighed in at fifty tons as opposed to twenty-two…
  • …the Poles were used to underpowered, underarmed Polish and French fighters, and found that the only way to make any impression on German formations was to dive head-on at them and open fire at point-blank range. When they tried this in Merlin-engined, 8-gun Hurricanes, the tactic proved to be awesomely effective, causing more than one German raid to abort entirely as the pilots tried desperately to get away from these madmen…
  • Royal Navy pilot Lt. Charles Lamb pulled this move to shake off two pursuing Italian fighters who thought his antiquated Swordfish biplane would be easy meat. Lamb dived to sea level hoping the far faster Italians would overshoot and lose him. Pulling out of his dive just above sea level, Lamb’s rear-cockpit observer alerted him to the two Italians who were in close pursuit. But a hundred-miles-an-hour biplane can pull out of a dive far more easily than a monoplane fighter doing nearly four hundred… the two Italians crashed into the sea, so intent on an easy kill they hadn’t noticed their own peril.
  • The all-female Soviet Night Witches used old biplanes for night bombing raids that were difficult to shoot down since they flew slower than the stall speed of the Germans’ Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs.

To do any of the above right, you need crunch – and moreover, what the crunch means. If I was to look over a list of tank weights, I would just see a bunch of meaningless numbers. It takes an experienced tanker who knows plenty about both tanks and river ice to combine the two to create awesomeness.

It’s time for me to wander away and whine about my inability to know/calculate everything.


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The Unicorn Effect

Every Traveller should have at least one good Unicorn story.

More than one, for nonhuman PCs.

Change ‘Unicorn’ to ‘Mass Riot’, if the PC is a Blood Vargr.

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Good Eats, Fine Living

Screen-Shot-2015-11-23-at-1.32.58-pmYou never know what oddities you’ll find on the next world.

“But can you sell it at a good price?”
“Try Amazon.”
“But they don’t ship to the Empty Quarter!”
“So, ship them in yourself! You can get a good price for them, if you position it as the latest fad from Terrra…”

I have always been mildly interested in worlds that get most of their protein from unexpected sources like specially bred insects, farmed rats, and other such surprising sources. I would think this to be especially likely, in the struggling human colonies during the Long Night.


I admit, I have a weakness when it comes to the high life of Imperial nobles and executives.

But look at it from another angle: take a Noble who has always lived like this, and then threaten his lifestyle. What would he be willing to do, to hold on to his accustomed way of living? What kind of risks would he be willing to run? How far would he go?

I think that he would be willing to go farther than he would guess, and do things he never thought he would ever do, to remain an honoured personage in the public eye, keep the riches and comforts he has always enjoyed, and avoid the public shame of losing everything he has worked for.

Or perhaps the Referee should use such visions of luxurious living as bait for the PCs to snatch at: and when they finally reach it, they realize to their sorrow that, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life: he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days.”

Very fine homes, like very fine women, demand continuous, expensive care. And getting the money to keep the pleasures of fine living entails a certain amount of risk…

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Tamerlane, and a Reworked Caliph of Hebrin

From Wikipedia

If I were to imagine a great leader arising from the Empty Quarter, it would be someone like Tamerlane – “Timur” in the Wikipedia article quoted below.

Timur is considered the last of the great nomadic conquerors of the Eurasian Steppe, and his empire set the stage for the rise of the more structured and lasting Gunpowder Empires in the 1500s and 1600s…

As a means of legitimating his conquests, Timur relied on Islamic symbols and language, referring to himself as the “Sword of Islam” and patronizing educational and religious institutions. He converted nearly all the Borjigin leaders to Islam during his lifetime…

Timur’s armies were inclusively multi-ethnic and were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which were laid waste by his campaigns. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the world population….

OK, let’s stop right here.

Killing about 5% of today’s planetary population (2015) would be about 365 million dead. As a point of comparison, World War II killed about 100 million people, or about 4.3% of the 2.3 billion people on planet Earth at that time.

Could a very cunning and hyper-charismatic caliph arise in the impoverished worlds of the Empty Quarter – probably on Hebrin – and kill 5% of the sophonts of Charted Space? Doubtful, but very unlikely things have happened in history before. Killing 5% of the sophonts of Charted Space is roughly equivalent to sterilizing four full sectors, or wiping out 50% of the population of eight sectors, or 25% of the population of sixteen sectors.

Hmm… about those “multi-ethnic” armies. If a caliph of a highly Solomani (read: species/cultual supremacist) religion can somehow successfully re-engineer Islam to be a pan-species religion – perhaps by accepting all forms of nonhuman strict monotheism as “sufficently Islam”, and creating additional Hadiths to properly bring alien races into the fold, and aggressively suppressing the numerous Islamic teachers (and their followers) who would prefer to retain human supremacy (and despise uplifted dogs…) – then it could be done.

(And surely, the violent tendencies of the Blood Vargr are best put to work against the enemies of the Caliphate… who, by definition, are enemies of Islam. Obviously.)

Timur is regarded as a military genius and a tactician, with an uncanny ability to work within a highly fluid political structure to win and maintain a loyal following of nomads during his rule in Central Asia. He was also considered extraordinarily intelligent – not only intuitively but also intellectually. In Samarkand and his many travels, Timur, under the guidance of distinguished scholars, was able to learn the Persian, Mongolian, and Turkic languages. More importantly, Timur was characterized as an opportunist. Taking advantage of his Turco-Mongolian heritage, Timur frequently used either the Islamic religion or the law and traditions of the Mongol Empire to achieve his military goals or domestic political aims.

A military and political genius, able to weld wildly divergent nations into a single, obedient sword.A far different Caliph than the overemotional would-be Caliph that led the failed Hebrin Rebellion of the 800s.

This Hebrin Caliph would have to work in the shadows for about a decade, often in person, to get his dream, and often in person (to get his charisma to get in sync with the Vargr) : this is the best time for the Imperium (and PC agents, working on behalf of the Imperium) to catch him.

But if he is able to time things perfectly (and with a little help from Solomani Security), he could gather a major force – first in the Julian Protectorate, and then in the rimward-trailing Imperium – and declare his independence, timed exactly with the start of the Solomani Rim War.

If things get this far, it may be impossible for the Imperium to recover, and it’s quite likely that it would fall apart.

Theological Implications

Islam fundamentally denies plurality: only unity is real. There is no free will, and everything is rigidly determined. While the Total, Unified State is one natural endpoint of Islam, the other endpoint is a kind of mysticism, where all is to be absorbed into the One Reality.

(See Rushdoony’s The One and the Many for details.)

The mystical side of Islam is not too far from Hinduism – and many Hindus would argue that they follow a monotheistic religion. (I’ll let them explain how “monotheism” and “330 million deities” are one and the same.) The Caliph may well prefer to bring the heretics in with a quick recital of the Shahada (to boost manpower and the workforce) than to kill them unnecessary.

Or maybe he will force the heretics to recite the Shahada, and then kill them. It depends on how the Caliph and his officers feel at the time.

As for the Hegemonic Last Man, let’s turn to Sufism for a way to integrate this into Islam:

According to Moojan Momen “one of the most important doctrines of Sufism is the concept of the “Perfect Man” (al-Insan al-Kamil). This doctrine states that there will always exist upon the earth a “Qutb” (Pole or Axis, of the Universe)—a man who is the perfect channel of grace from Allah to man and in a state of wilaya (sanctity, being under the protection of Allah).

The Caliph would persuade the Hegemony of Lorean that he is the Last Man, according to both Islamic doctrine, and the Cultus of the Last Man. Being able to pull this off (with the required bribes and assassinations) would net him a good number of violent fascist types: if the Caliph can get them to work with the Blood Vargr, and suitably equipped to TL 14 standards (preferably TL: 14/15, when fighting the Imperium) then you could have a very potent military force indeed.

The Bwap can easily be persuaded to see things the Caliph’s way: they just want the bureaucratic details to be obeyed, and don’t care too much on whether those details make sense or not, or if they are just or not. Like any bureaucrat, they know that it’s all about the letter of the law, not the spirit!

The Vilani can be brought in, if they see the Caliph as the way to Enforce Conformity across not only all human cultures, but all sophont cultures. It isn’t Vilani Tradition, but after enough beheadings, the pragmatic Vilani will no doubt see the wisdom of Submission.


In Stellar Reaches #12, the Hebrin Rebellion of 871 Imperial is instigated by the Duke of Hebrin, who, believing that a hostile Empress was going to eject all Sunni Muslims from the Sector Military, raised the flag of rebellion… and was crushed. This defeat was punishing enough to make a new rebellion in 993 – the “current year” of Stellar Reaches – a non-starter.

So, if you want to run a Tamerlane campaign, you’ll have to insure that the rebellion never happened in your timeline. A Muslim Duke who gritted his teeth and knelt (for now) could suffer a lesser defeat and humiliation (humiliation always brings agony to the Arab), but still retain much more of his power and traditional authority – and maybe even manage to shift the sector capital to Hebrin, in return for his vigorous support for the Iridium Throne.

(Most crucially, Hebrin would remain a purely Arab Sunni Muslim world, without a major die-off, and without a massive influx of unbelieving Vilani settlers and aliens to forever break up the heart of Islam in the sector.)

So, the Duke smiles and smiles, and obeys and obeys, and is rewarded with more and more Imperial power and honours…

…and works with the genetic engineers of the Last Man, to build a Superior Man as a combined heir for his throne, and to lead the Hegemony, and to unite that Faithful…

…and one day, a courier from the Hegemony arrives with a unique present: an embryo of himself and his favourite wife, upgraded to perfection. A boy that, after being secretly implanted in his wife’s womb and naturally born, is swiftly named Timur before the approving roar of the crowd…

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Even More Tribal Wars IN SPAACCEEE

There is a recent article, on a Greek Navy ship deliberately sinking a migrant raft, and leaving them to die.

WATCH: Greek coastguard attacked for deliberately trying to SINK migrant boat
THIS is the shocking moment a Greek seacrew are filmed trying to pierce a hole into an inflatable dinghy carrying around 60 desperate migrants.

The overcrowded fragile rubber dinghy is shown sinking after a Greek crewman lunges towards it with a sharp pole.

The migrants onboard are heard screaming in the dark as their life raft begins to sink into the Aegean Sea.

The footage reveals the Greek ship sailing away from the migrants who are left to die….

Can I see this happening in the Empty Quarter?


And note: in real life, those Muslim migrants were saved by a Turkish (read: Muslim) military vessel. “It’s all about which tribe you’re part of…”

Now, all the Referee needs to do is to have (say) the system military from World A board a ship of migrants – or genuine refugees, for that matter – and forcibly redirect it away from the homeworld… and have the PCs come to the rescue.

Or, perhaps the system military will simply kill everyone onboard. “But make it messy, so it looks like a Blood Vargr hit: we all know what they are like…” Investigating civilian PCs need to be careful about ‘poking their nose where it doesn’t belong’: even Imperial Navy and Imperial Ministry of Justice officers would be wise to always keep a sidearm on their person, when chasing down the whispered rumors…

And, in the latest news, it looks like race is beating religion on the tribal allegiance front:

Dreaded terrorist group Islamic State (IS) does not consider South Asian Muslims good enough to fight in conflict zones of Iraq and Syria. It treats them as inferior to Arab fighters and often tricks them into suicide attacks.

IS fighters from South Asia are housed in groups in small barracks, paid less than the Arab fighters and provided with inferior equipment

According to an intelligence report prepared by foreign agencies and shared with Indian agencies, fighters from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as from certain countries like Nigeria and Sudan are considered inferior to Arab fighters.

There appears to be clear hierarchy wherein the Arab fighters are preferred as officer cadre and provided better arms and ammunition, equipment, accommodation and salaries.

“The fighters from South Asia are usually housed in groups in small barracks and are paid less than the Arab fighters and are provided inferior equipment,” the input says.

Again, I can certainly see a in-house racial hierarchy in the Empty Quarter, with Arab Muslims above East Indian Muslims; both above the Afro-Asian/Vilani converts from Lazisar; and all above the few Vilani converts out there (if the Vilani are even considered Real Humans with souls, that is).

I also fully expect all Muslim Brotherhood (and even any underground surviving Hebrin Caliphate forces) to issue all sorts of propaganda, showing Solomani men of all races, living together in equality under a prosperous Shari’a-grounded regime.

(Let’s pass by the mysterious absence of entire Vilani, Bwap, and Vargr planetary populations in silence, shall we?)

And yet another story idea, ripped from the headlines:

Genocide Wiped Out Native American Population

Physical traces of ethnic cleansing that took place in the early 800s suggest the massacre was an inside job.


A massive deposit of mutilated and processed human remains has been found in the American Southwest.

The remains and other artifacts at the site, Sacred Ridge in Colorado, indicate ethnic cleansing took place there in the early ninth century.

The genocide likely occurred due to conflict between different Anasazi Ancestral Puebloan ethnic groups.


The unearthed bones and artifacts indicate that when the violence took place, men, women and children were tortured, disemboweled, killed and often hacked to bits. In some cases, heads, hands and feet appear to have been removed as trophies for the killers. The attackers then removed belongings out of the structures and set the roofs on fire.

“I think that the major event was preceded by social stress within the community that may have been exacerbated by a period of drought,” Chuipka said. “The scale of the mutilations suggests that it was planned and organized in the preceding days or weeks, and that the violence took place in a relatively short period of time — a few days.”

“All evidence points to a rapid event, which is only possible with coordination and complicity within the community,” he added.

Hmm… AD 800 is about 1,300 years ago. The Third Imperium (in Stellar Reaches) is 993 years old, so transposing the event to the Quarter would have it occur in the Early Dawn era, when interstellar society was beginning to rise up, but still a few centuries before the Imperium was reborn.

I can see some outsider settlement being established, but eventually growing oppressive, resulting in a nasty wipe-out of the colonist-rulers. Or a group trying to hook up with the startraders, but then exciting the envy of all the other tribes…

It wouldn’t take much to tie the incident to powerful tribes that today dominate the sector: say, a Vilani settlement group wiped out by East Indian Solomani. Yes, it happened 1,300 years ago, but this is the Empty Quarter, and people keep score… and are always looking for ways to even things up.

“God, the Empty Quarter is an ugly place to live, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sometimes, it is. But that isn’t going to change, until the inhabitants decide to change.”
“I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for that to happen!”

The Imperial officer sighed, as he watched the binary sunset sink below the horizon of the impoverished desert world…

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Fathers and Sons… and Dreams

Levi Ackerman, of the anime Attack on Titan, has a difficult personality. But what I want to focus on here is his relationship to his father (well, father-figure):

Levi is the son of Kuchel Ackerman, a prostitute who worked in the subterranean city. One day, Kenny Ackerman, Kuchel’s older brother, comes to the city to see her; only to find that she is dead. There he finds a young and squalid Levi sitting in front of his mother’s bed. Kenny decides to take care of him, but he does not consider himself a good father, so he raise Levi as he could: teaching him knife skills, how to get along with people, and violent behavior. Levi also learned to use his own power. The time passed and Kenny Ackerman ended up teaching Levi everything he knows. One day, in the subterranean city, Levi started a fight which he won easily. On that moment, Kenny decided to leave him behind, as he had made sure that he and Levi were not going to have a pathetic death like Kuchel.

Well, at least the man taught the kid both interpersonal skills and some decent knife skills: that’s a lot better than nothing. I’d assume most fathers in the Six Subsectors are cut from the same cloth, with one modification: “Always teach your son to take pride in his tribe.”

Different men define the borders of their tribe differently, as we shall see. But the bedrock basics, the hard assumptions, remains the same.

A good father (as opposed to the average) would teach his son a trade, and useful information about the wondrous universe he happens to inhabit. But most important are the dreams that are passed on, to make sense of the information, to know what it means, to have a goal to push for, to fight for, to kill and die for…

“See all the stars at the constellation of Eyedrop? All of those stars are ruled by humans… and most of them, by our Emperor.”
“But that’s such a small bit of the sky! What about the other stars?”
“The galaxy is vaster than our imagination. Some say that a mighty Emperor will one day rule them all, but I don’t believe it.”

“No one on our world, not in a thousand years, has made Hajj to Mecca. But if, inshallah, the Imperium retakes our shining jewel, Terra, I want you to be the first.”

“Long before these chaotic, disease-spreading Terrans started to infest the stars, our people brought peace, order, and an enduring consensus throughout the stars… and no small amount of prosperity, too! Every world you step on, every gust of air you breathe, was first taken in by us Vilani. Never forget your birthright…”

“All the universe is trapped in a cycle of pain, humans and Bwap, Vargr and K’kree. Everyone struggles to free themselves from the web of illusion, of vain magic, of cycles of futility and failure. All are interwoven in the cycle of Samsara, as you can be resurrected as a Bwap, or a Vargr can be a man in his next life… or a worm, or even a star. You will find that all distinctions eventually wash away, as you see more of life.”

“All life, from the Emperor to the bacterium, is bonded by a single tree. This tree needs to be carefully and exactly followed, in it’s every twist and turn, for us to enjoy her fruits. One flaw, one mistake, one rotten branch, and the whole tree is in danger of death. But a detailed, exact obedience to the smallest command? This alone will let the sap of life flow throughout the tree.”

“God holds you strictly responsible for everything you do… everything you say… and everything you think.  You (and not the Vargr) may enter eternal life, and you  (and not the Bwap) are in danger of eternal hellfire. You, and not they, are made in His Image, and must uphold His commandments: and you will find that as much a burden as a source of glory, for as long as you shall live.”

And, on the other side of the Lesser Rift…

“There are prey animals, and there are predator animals. Is there anything else that a Suedzuk Vargr truly needs to know?”
(Watches a Irilitok walks by.)
“Well, there are also broken dogs as well.”
“Don’t worry about them. Their future is bonded with their hairless masters, and their shed blood will mingle together as we howl in victory!”
“But we are few now, and they are many.”
“The prey should always outnumber the predators: haven’t I taught you that before, my young hunter?”

“It is the spice of Vilani order and discipline, seasoning our Vargr flesh, moulding our pack instincts, that has made us the mighty [culture-race] that we are. Vilani without Vargr is only a dreary, bland uncharismatic sameness: Vargr without Vilani is all aggression and no organization, no patience. Our pack needs both sets of claws, to carve the stars into a form we find pleasing!”

“All men seek salvation from the violence and the madness of the Vargr. Some look to an invisible Lord; others, to the man on the Iridium Throne. But we know better: it is only a Superior Man, the Last Man, geneered by Science, who will open the gate to our salvation… and the destruction of the Eternal Enemy, the Vargr. You, like the generations before you, and the generations after you, must be committed to bringing to life the dream of all humaniti, as foretold by the greatest of the Psion Farseers.”

“The humans and the Vargr are meant to work together in harmony, and not clash in conflict. All these dominance displays, all this blood… it brings shame to all sophonts. We share the same homeworld, and so much  genetics… it should be the Children of Terra against the universe!”

Even more than survival, than knowing the tools of the trade, fathers place their dreams into the hearts of their sons. How these dreams grow or wither in the new soil, is for the PCs to decide.


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