Ashen Stars Cover

Play the gritty reboot of your favorite science fiction TV series. Winner of the 2012 Silver ENnie award for Best Setting, designed by RPG legend Robin D. Laws and powered by the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system. Out here in the Bleed, you’re the closest thing there is to a higher authority. You’re Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators —”lasers” for short. You’re the seasoned freelancers that local leaders call whenever a situation is too tough, too baffling, or simply too weird for them to handle. It’s a dirty job, but it pays. And sometimes, you get to make a difference. In Ashen Stars you take on the role of freelance troubleshooters and law enforcers operating in a remote sector of space called the Bleed. Amid the ashes of a devastating war that ended with a massive retreat by the Combine, you’ll solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — balancing the promise of a quick buck against the need to maintain a reputation that wins you lucrative contracts, and pays the upkeep on your ship and your cyber- and viroware enhancements. Play one of seven species: The eerily beautiful, nature-loving, emotion-fearing balla The cybes, former humans radically altered by cybernetic and genetic science The durugh, hunched, furtive […]

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03-ashen-starscoverThere are a lot of books in the pipeline right now, but none of them are quite cooked yet, so here’s a little bit of whimsy before the cannon of self-promotion is brought to bear on this space. As you know, Bob, Icons are a lovely little mechanic from 13th Age that model the player characters’ relationships with various powerful individuals/factions – the Archmage, the Emperor, the Lich King and so forth. (There’ll be lots of new – or rather, old – Icons in the upcoming Book of Ages, but I said I’d save the self-promotion).

We’ve adapted Icons to other GUMSHOE games before – here’s Ken talking about Icons in Night’s Black Agents, and in the Dracula Dossier, and in Trail of Cthulhu, and now that I think about it I should really do a set for Cthulhu City (more self-promotion – for shame!). They work especially well, though, in the wild and vasty space of the Bleed in Ashen Stars.

Quick rules reminder. Each player gets three Relationship dice to allocate among the Icons. Relationships can be positive, negative or conflicted. At the start of each session, everyone rolls their Icon Relationships (d6s); a 6 indicates that that Icon is going to get worked into the adventure somehow in a way that benefits the player, and a 5 means that things are complicated and messy. And, given this is Ashen Stars, a spend from an appropriate Investigative Ability like Cybe Culture gives a re-roll for the matching relationship.

Rasal, The Practitioner

Coordinator of the Combine’s reconstruction and redevelopment projects, Rasal embodies the distant, technocratic civilisation in its efforts to reclaim the Bleed. Rasal makes little effort to hide his distaste for the rough, chaotic region, and makes as many trips back to the safety of the Proper as he can. Whenever he returns, though, he brings vast resources – both financial and technological – to help solve the problems of these war-torn stars.

Allies: The Viceroy, the Princess in Exile, the Merchant       

Enemies: The Rebel, The Transer

Judy Coyle, The Viceroy

The commander of Ossa One, the Special Legate to the Far Settlements is in charge of keeping law and order in the Bleed. She’s responsible for licensing Laser crews, as well as commanding the Combine naval forces in the region. Coyle must balance her loyalty to her distant superiors in the Ministry of Settlement to the needs of the local worlds.

Allies: The Practitioner, Grand Arbiter Koket, the Merchant

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, The Seeker, the Rebel

 Azela Shaw, The Rebel of the Bleedinsect

The most outspoken of the Bleedists, Shaw is a former naval officer who now rejects Combine control of the region. She’s proved to be a formidable organiser, rallying the disparate groups and worlds that oppose the Combine into an ad hoc alliance. Coyle claims that Shaw’s rumoured criminal connections taint the whole alliance, but Shaw’s allies dismiss such claims as Combine mudslinging.

Allies: The Healer, the Merchant, The Transer

Enemies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur

The Master of the Plunderbund

The Plunderbund is a syndicate of criminal gangs, pirates, thieves, unscrupulous mercenaries and shady corporations – a shadow economy, even a shadow government, slithering into the gaps left by the shattered Combine. The Plunderbund, for all its many faults, gets things done – if you need something, they can get it for you, but at a high price. The mysterious Master of the Plunderbund is an elusive figure, and may be the figurehead for a ring of crime lords.

Allies: The Rebel, The Princess in Exile, the Connoisseur

Enemies: The Viceroy, The Merchant, Grand Arbiter Koket

Klaadarr, The Seeker

The stagnant, sterile Combine is a secular realm, devoid of spirituality. The Bleed, though, is afire with mystic revelation and revitalized nufaiths. New religions – or resurrected old ones – boil across the stars, finding eager converts and fanatical followers on worlds desperate for something to believe in now that the Combine is gone. Into this tumult comes the Seeker, an alien prophet of all Nufaiths and none, who claims that that God can be found in the Bleed. Listen to him – he’s right.

Allies: The Transer, the Healer

Enemies:  The Meddler, the Pracitioner

Anacar Inatuy, The Merchant

Inatuy and her corporate allies made their fortune in the Bleed in the chaotic years after the war. There is still unimaginable wealth to be made out here, in the wild frontier, as long as they can thread a course between the stultifying control of the Combine and the apocalyptic chaos of a galaxy without law or justice. Of course, moral ambiguity is very much within the Merchant’s wheelhouse.

Inatuy is merely the most visible member of a cabal of corporate magnates and industrialists; the Connoisseur remains aloof from this cabal, and while he may be wealthier than any one of them individually, they vastly outmatch him as a group.

Allies: The Pracitioner, The Rebel, the Princess in Exile

Enemies: The Healer, The Connoisseur, the Transer, the Master of the Plunderbund

02_ashenstar_BallaStarwind, The Healer (Balla)

Starwind led an exodus of Balla artists, scientists and adventurers out of Combine space to settle in the Bleed. Her movement seeks to channel Balla emotional energy into healing and remaking the galaxy, instead of suppressing it. Her followers – the Chorus – have the potential to accomplish wonders, but might equally drag the Bleed down with them into madness.

Allies: The Transer, the Viceroy, the Seeker

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Rebel

Grand Arbiter Koket (Tavak)

Koket is a legend back in the Combine – a decorated general, an accomplished philosopher, and a legal scholar who helped shape the decisions of the Combine Bench for decades. He was rumoured to be a candidate for Chief Justice, but instead chose to travel to the Bleed instead. While semi-retired, he retains his status as a judge, and serves as arbiter or investigator in especially complex or controversial cases.

Allies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Transer

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Princess in Exile

Krtch-Ick, The Connoisseur (Kch-thk)

Krtch-Ick is an immensely wealthy Kch-thk; he made his fortune back during the Mohilar War in dubious circumstances, and moved to the Bleed to evade Combine jurisdiction. He collects all manner of things – new foodstuffs, alien artefacts, “interesting people”, wrecked starships, military hardware. Whole planets, on occasion.

He owns corporations too –  among his assets is the Freedom Egg, a Bleed-wide media conglomerate that broadcasts news and entertainment across the region. Krtch-Ick’s word can shape opinion throughout the Bleed, so rumours that he’s becoming more unstable with each reincarnation worry the authorities.

Allies: The Rebel, the Seeker, the Master of the Plunderbund

Enemies: The Merchant, the Viceroy

Ukshqnza, The Princess in Exile (Durugh)

The death of martyred King Ukshqa and the Mohilar War transformed Durugh society. The old police state hierarchy collapsed, leaving their civilisation in a state of near-anarchy. Princess Ukshqnza was one of the few members of the king’s immediate family who escaped the chaos. She fled to the Bleed with an entourage of loyalists – not to mention several warships, a large portion of the Durugh state coffers, and (allegedly) a complete copy of the fabled Silent Gallery, the archive of Durugh espionage and blackmail. While the Durugh are now part of the Combine and Ukshqnza has no official standing, many Durugh see her as their ruler in exile, and the Combine look warily at her as a rallying symbol for Durugh separatists in the Bleed. At the same time, her combination of military force and unmatched intelligence-gathering capabilities make her a vital ally to Combine forces trying to keep order in wild space.

Allies: The Practitioner, the Master of the Plunderbund, the Meddler

Enemies: Grand Arbiter Koket, the Transer

Remaker, The Transer (Cybe)

The military records that might have identified who Remaker was before she was transformed were lost in the war. She emerged onto the political scene in the Bleed full-formed like Athena, as the champion of a wide-ranging coalition of cybe veterans. Remaker’s allies include mercenary legions and charitable foundations, cybe researchers and prophets, raiders and lasers alike – wherever one finds cybes, there too are her followers. Her avowed goal is to establish an independent cybe state in the Bleed; rumours connect her to illegal experimentation in creating new cybes, and some claim that her secret aim is to transform the entire population of the Bleed into her mind-slaves.

Allies: The Rebel, The Healer, the Seeker

Enemies: The Viceroy, The Practitioner

The Meddler (Vas Mal)02_ashenstar_vasmal2

The mysterious Meddler is a Vas Mal who retained considerably more of his cosmic awareness than the rest of his kind. He can, it seems, see the future, and can also see the temporal nexuses and pressure points that can change that future if poked in just the right way. The Meddler manipulates events and individuals to bring about those changes.

Allies: The Seeker, the Princess in Exile

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur, the Merchant

The Ashen Shadow (Mohilar)

And they are still out there, moving in the dark places between the stars. Their recent defeat stripped away much of their power and has shown them they are not invincible. They must work in secret, through agents and intermediaries – until the stars turn dark, and the Mohilar can return…

Allies: None

Enemies: All

Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

We might get Gar to write about the GUMSHOE and Fear Itself implications of the great Netflix series "Stranger Things" soon. Before that happens I’d like to sneak in to highlight one particular moment.  Without delving too far into spoilers for those who have yet to binge, a point comes where rumpled police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) needs to get information on the other side of a guarded door.  As seasoned GUMSHOE hands know, if you have the Locksmith ability and a locked door stands between the PC and that info, the PC gets the info, no spend required. Here we have a classic example of that setup, except that it’s a uniformed stooge of the evil conspiracy and not a lock. What does our hero do? He knocks the guy out with a surprise shot to the jaw, opens the door, and heads on in.

This brings us to an obvious extrapolation: in GUMSHOE, you ought to be able to do the same.

I’d restrict this to characters the tactic feels right for. If your investigator has the investigative ability Intimidation and at least 4 points in Scuffling (or the equivalent, depending on which GUMSHOE iteration you’re using), you can KO a guard to get a core clue. In certain GUMSHOE games you could describe this in different ways: using a stun pistol in Ashen Stars, a Concussion blast in Mutant City Blues.

Hopper suffers no direct repercussions for knocking out the guard. It never gets mentioned again, in fact. We must assume then that he spent a point of Intimidation to ensure that he not only got the clue but did not suffer any blowback for resorting to the rough stuff.

When building or improvising scenarios where punching your way to information, you might include the opportunity to stave off later consequences with a spend of Intimidation, Bureaucracy, Cop Talk, Credit Rating or whatever else seems appropriate to the setting. This might cost 1 point or even 2, if it would otherwise seem unlikely for the investigator to get away with this entirely.

Since you can’t count on a player to think of this fun but extreme solution, or for the punch-enthusiast among the party to be the one that shows up at the door, also allow a more typical alternate way of getting past the guard.

A column about Roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

At the height of the Combine’s prosperity prior to the Mohilar War, recreational drugs had been rendered safe by technology. All manner of pleasurable sensations could be delivered as viral treatments encoded with anti-addictive measures. Physical wear and tear on the body caused by their side effects could be easily reversed with advanced medical techniques. Yet in the sober, emotionally centered Combine culture, with its emphasis on personal improvement, exploration, and the advancement of knowledge, social mores kept a lid on their use. Young people finding themselves might go through a period of sustained recreational viroware (recroviro) use, but settled adults found little use for them.

The profound psychic malaise left behind by the aftermath of the Mohilar War has left some in the Bleed, the region of frontier space patrolled by freelance lawkeepers like your Ashen Stars characters, embracing the self-destructive side of drug use. A new breed of users regards the possibility of addiction, overdose and sudden health catastrophe as an integral component of the experience. Deliberately unsafe viral cocktails called SRVs or “swerves” cater to the desire to put the risk back into risk-taking behavior. The S stands for stripped, as in stripped of all health safeguards. Particularly shady dealers may sell SRVs as the safe versions, hoping to increase market share by addicting unwilling customers.

The breakdown of interstellar authority allows local officials to adopt controlled substance policies that differ wildly from world to world. Some keep everything legal, even the swerves. They argue that prohibition merely adds a criminal profit motive to an activity a certain segment of the population will engage in regardless of penalties. Others maintain a veneer of illegality but in practice accept that the drug trade is too expensive to reliably regulate. Planets where elites or citizens demand tighter regulation of behavior invest heavily in anti-swerve efforts, sometimes banning the harm-free recroviros as a gateway experience to the hard stuff. On Caligula (formerly Cygnus IV) it is illegal not to have at least least one mind-altering recroviro in your system on an imperial feast day—which covers 45% of the local calendar.

Recroviros your laser crew may encounter include:

  • Draftline: causes the body to produce alcohol on mental command. With experience you can calibrate your experience, maintaining anything from a gentle buzz to utter incapacity.
  • Floaty: instills a feeling of oneness from the universe and spiritual insight while in zero gravity.
  • Solitude: allows the user to filter out the physical and emotional presence of others. Favored by introverts, and by crewmen in small, cramped ships desiring respite from the voices, smells, and demands of colleagues. Using while on duty can lead to disaster and is considered cause for dismissal or worse.
  • Phantom: makes you think that one of your limbs is missing. Few prefer the leg variant. For maximum effect, select the formula that affects your sense of your favored hand.
  • Pseudopod: conversely, creates the powerful sensation of having a twelve-inch prehensile tentacle emanating from the center of one’s forehead. Attempting to manipulate objects with this nonexistent appendage may cause accidents or injury. Do not operate heavy equipment.
  • Ecosphere: allows you to perceive an environment through the sensations of its plants and microorganisms. Non-balla take this to understand what it is to be balla, which the ball themselves regard as ridiculous. Ecosphere provides only an illusion of this sense. Some users claim the addictive stripped version delivers the real thing.
  • Pulse: as above, but you (seemingly) sense the world as a collection of electrical impulses. (Pictured.)
  • Deathball: randomly simulates the sensation of one of 12 hideously violent deaths, as selected by a random algorithm. Variants include a pain-free version, or doses that allow you to select the death experience you want to undergo. (Connoisseurs turn up their noses at this practice, arguing that it misses the point.) Originally designed for therapeutic use, a one-time dose can instill the euphoria and sense of purpose associated with a near-death experience, while skipping the part where you actually nearly die. This wears off over time. Habitual users may be chasing that feeling, with diminishing returns. Or some of them just like the intensity of being devoured alive by Rigelian ants. Tavak warriors use deathball to train themselves in stoic disregard for mortality. Durugh enjoy it on a perverse physical level. Administering deathball without consent is illegal nearly everywhere—you may be hired by victims to track down and bring to justice the person that did this to them.
  • Cocaine: a viral simulation of the original, bestowing manic energy and manic grandiosity. The non-stripped version allows you to turn off the effect at will. The SVR, not so much.
  • Heroin: another viral simulation, instilling physical bliss and the desire for complete inaction. Like the above, increasingly likely to be found in swerve form.

Humans use more recroviros than anyone else. Durugh outdo them in the consumption of swerves. Some durugh disdain viral recreational drugs for the old school addictive substances of yore. Spacefaring durugh drug labs once made and sold their historic equivalents of cocaine, heroin and quaaludes, before they discovered that the old Terran stuff hit them even harder. Encounters with durugh ships whose occupants are completely baked on bath salts may sorely test your negotiation abilities.

Kch-thk don’t generally bother with mind-altering substances. For them, no high exceeds that of eating. Balla disdain them for spiritual reasons.

Your character can use the Virology ability to identify the properties, side effects, and safety level of recroviros and swerves. Forensic Anthropology lets you find their traces in a body’s blood and tissues. Law tells you what legal restrictions, if any, apply to their manufacture, sale, possession and use in a given jurisdiction. With Cop Talk you can quickly determine how aggressively these laws are enforced in a given place. Streetwise leads you to users, dealers, and the viral engineers who make the stuff.


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop. Ship plans appear in Accretion Disk.

An Ashen Stars scenario hook

Interstellar commodities magnate Agnes Moro wakes up in an unfamiliar, disabled ship floating in space near the planet Bifrost. Its primary holo screen plays an audio-only recording on loop. The electronically distorted voice says:

“Search your recollections and you will find that you have none. We have confiscated your memories. Using a viroware treatment, we have suppressed the areas of your brain that allow you to access your episodic memory. Although you will remember basic facts about yourself, retaining language and background knowledge, including tasks you are trained for, until you comply with our demands you will be unable to look back on incidents of your life and bring them fully to life inside your head. You still know who you are, Agnes Moro, but we have kidnapped your capacity to feel who you are. Your childhood, your early wild years on Focus 6, your rise to power as a business titan: all of these will remain but shadows to you until you pay up. A data file located on the home screen of this ship’s navigational console contains instructions for the handover. For four bigcreds worth of powdered tantalum, we will give you the antidote allowing you to once more access your life’s store of anecdotes. This treatment is DNA-coded to our original brain-suppressing formulation. Without its coding, no lab will be able to synthesize a version that will work for you—not in time, that is. Because if you don’t meet our demands in the within 72 hours, the neurological changes become permanent, and no antidote can ever help you. You may hire a laser crew to effectuate the handover but be warned—if you try anything funny, you’ll never see your past again.”

Agnes hires the team to make the exchange. Just as her instructions say, she warns them to play it as the memory thieves demand, avoiding anything that would mess up the deal. But when she takes the antidote and the incidents of her life come flooding back to her, she transforms back into the real Agnes Moro. The implacable, vengeful Agnes Moro who would never take a violation like this in stride. Now she instructs the PCs find out who did this and deliver them to justice on Bifrost—the planet she owns.


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Once again we look at a common small ship of the Bleed and see what your Ashen Stars characters can typically deduce about the people who drive it.

Whenever your console pings the presence of an approaching small vessel, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s going to be a hauler. Ninety-eight of those times, or more, its crew won’t be performing laser duties. They’ll be doing what the name of the ship suggests: hauling a cargo from one planet to another.

That tells you something about freelance justice-makers who choose to ride one: they like to blend in. They may actively maintain cover identities as freight carriers, or simply prefer the anonymity that comes when a ship of their profile comes up on the viewscreen.

You can’t assume that a crew that isn’t really hauling freight is working a laser contract, either. Reasons for laying low abound in the Bleed. Pirates don’t go for haulers much, preferring to invest in either escape velocity or offensive punch. Assassins and mercenaries, on the other hand, whose dirty business occurs planetside, might find a hauler suits them just fine.

When the crew of that hauler turns out to be a rival laser operation, certain assumptions come to mind. They’re no substitute for investigation but will get you started.

They’re either thrifty, with an eye for the balance sheet, or scrappy types who bought the first ship they could afford. Or perhaps they used to fly something better, but lost that in a dogfight and have had to settle for a crummier ride. Beware of this last group: skeevier crews might try to snag your boat if it’s better than theirs.

If you’re looking for the most influential member of a hauler’s collective, seek out its business affairs officer. By tradition this individual often carries a nickname like Numbers, Spreadsheet, or Tab.

Hard-headed and bottom-line oriented, you can best deal with them through Bargaining, offering genuinely appealing quid pro quos. For best results, tell them about a solid cargo deal you’ve sniffed out but plan to pass on. They eat red tape for breakfast, but that means they leave a paper trail. When they’re being tight-lipped, you can find out what they’re doing to tapping local officialdom via Negotiation. Inspiration works poorly on them; they’ve done a cost benefit analysis on altruism. Risks and payoffs determine their willingness to scrap, so don’t try Intimidation if you’re bluffing.

And skip the Flattery, unless you’re polishing their rep for delivering in on time and under budget.


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop. Ship plans appear in Accretion Disk.

The Accretion Disk supplement for Ashen Stars (available from Pelgrane’s shiny new webstore) contains detailed writeups for six common Laser ship designs – the Runner, Hammer, Rampart, Speeder, Porcupine and Hauler. It’s also got deck plans for, er, seven ship designs. Some meson shrapnel interference unaccountably scrambled communications, so the Mandible got a set of deck plans but not a writeup.

With most humble apologies to the noble kch-thk civilisation, this not-food seeks to repair this terrible discrepancy.

Mandible hull view

(Click on the deck plans for larger images)

Mandible

No-one’s closer than a Mandible crew. Maybe it’s the close quarters and lack of privacy on board the kch-thk-designed ships. Maybe it’s the complexity of the ship’s advanced weapons systems and countermeasures that demands teamwork and trust. Maybe it’s the hive pheromones leaching out of the extruded bio-metallic hull struts. As the saying goes, when you sign up on a Mandible, you become part of the ship.

Mandible lower deck

Lower Deck

1. Shuttle Bay

Some Laser crews move their shuttle to the docking pad on the upper deck, and return this room to its original purpose as a ‘boarding ovipositor’. This specialised bolt-on costs 8 bigcreds, and has an upkeep of 1. Activate it at the start of a combat to reduce the threshold for Cripple for Boarding to a mere 9. The Mandible’s two massive mandible-claws lock onto the enemy ship, and the ovipositor punches through their hull, allowing the kch-thk marines to swarm on board.

There are two big downsides to this. First, it leaves the Mandible open to counter-attacks while moving to grab on, reducing all the ship’s Fire and Trickbag specs by 2 each (both Dishing It and Taking It). Second, a crew equipped with an ovipostor might as well go all the way and paint their hull black with skull-and-crossbone flags and rename the ship “Obvious Pirate” – reduce Reputation by 2.

2. Port Cargo Hold

Both cargo holds have forward-facing cargo doors, and the mandibles on the deck above can be used to grab space debris and drop it into the corresponding cargo hold.

Battle Station: Check for Salvage! If you’re at this station when your ship completes Rake, Slash or Destroy, you may make a Systems Design test (Difficulty 6). Succeed, and you grab some salvage from the enemy ship that might be worth something. Roll a d6; on a 1-5, if someone in your crew spends that many Systems Repair, the salvage is worth that many bigcreds. On a 6, you’ve salvaged something interesting, like a damaged-but-repairable bolt-on, an escape pod, some of the enemy’s cargo, or even one of the enemy crew, blown out in an explosive decompression.

3. Starboard Cargo Hold. You can Check for Salvage from this station too, if you want to maximise your chances of finding loot.

4. Hazardous Storage. Commonly referred to as the larder.

5. Secure Storage. This room comes equipped with extensive life-support equipment for sustaining a kch-thk grk’k’a chamber.

6. Access to Main Deck. The spiral staircase is a concession to stodgy quad-limbed not-food – on an all-kch-thk ship, there’s a sort of climbing frame/sphincter structure called a clk-ll instead that’s more comfortable to scuttle up.

7. Translight Drive. Every kch-thk translight drive includes a small shrine to Krdzt-Ktchh (see Ashen Stars, p. 157), the martyred inventor of faster-than-light travel. These shrines are included as a matter of tradition, but some engineers swear that they bring luck to the ships that carry them. When all is lost, spending a point of Kch-Thk History to recite the Convulsive Chant might inspire a merciful GM to let you refresh a few points of Systems Repair or Piloting.

8. Power Core

9. Computer Core. Battle Station: Optimise Output! The Mandible’s computer core is built right on top of its power core to enable this risky tactic. It’s possible to have the computer micro-manage power allocation, quickly shunting systems on and off-line to wring a little extra venom out of the reactors. This counts as hyperclocking (Ashen Stars, p. 92), but gives 3-6 points instead of 4. (Roll a die, and count any result of 1-2 as 3). Associated Spec: Fire (taking it)

Mandible main deck

Main Deck

1. Crew Quarters. Perhaps the most infamous aspect of the Mandible design is the lack of private rooms for the crew. It’s possible to hang plastic sheets or other dividers to break up the space, but there’s no elegant solution short of rebuilding the main deck. (Costs 10 bigcreds and takes six weeks). The lack of privacy may wear on the nerves of more sensitive crew members – it’s a great reason to call for Emotion Suppression tests from Balla, for example.

Mandible ships cannot obtain Side Deals (Ashen Stars, p. 173) involving carrying passengers.

2. Lounge. In an emergency, the floor of the lounge automatically pops open, allowing quick access to the shuttle bay below. Any occupied sleeping pods are then transferred into the shuttle.

Note that in the original schematics for the Manidible design, the ‘sleeping pods’ were originally designated for food storage. This automated system was not created to preserve the lives of the kch-thk crew – it’s there to ensure that they have sufficient food after the ship is destroyed and they reincarnate on board the shuttle from its grk’k’a tank.

3. Sleeping Pods. New crew members may hesitate at the idea of sleeping inside what’s effectively a cryo-stasis pod, but it’s the only private space on the whole ship.

4. Sick Bay. Another concession to the limitations of non-sequential lifeforms. A sick or injured kch-thk is more like to attempt Consciousness Transfer to another body rather than waste time and effort on healing a sub-standard shell. Mandible sickbays are often under-stocked and poorly equipped.

5. Facilities. All your sanitary, food preparation, mating and washing needs in one convenient location! What, does your species not usually combine those activities?

6. Access to Bridge.

7. Sensor Station. Battle Station: Countermeasures Targeting Solution! Spend a point of Energy Signatures to give your Stratco a 3-point pool of Naval Tactics. Associated Spec: Fire (either) or Trickbag (either)

8. Sensor Array Access. The deck plans don’t convey how cramped, narrow and confusing this access crawl-space is. Slither down here in a fight, and you’ve got a bonus 4-point Systems Repair pool that can only be spent on Override or Trickbag repairs. The downside is that it costs you 2 points of Athletics to get in here.

9. Weapons Station. Battle Station: Main Battery Targeting Solution! Spend a point of Energy Signatures to give your Gunner a 3-point pool of Battle Console. Associated Spec: Fire (either) or Trickbag (either)

10. Weapons Array Access: Like the Sensor Array access – 2 Athletics buys you 4 Systems Repair for Fire or Trickbag repairs only.

11. Sublight Engines. The Mandible’s drives are notoriously ‘showy’ – they throw off plenty of visible radiation moments before activation. It’s trivial for an enemy ship to track these emissions and anticipate the Mandible’s movements, hence the ship’s terrible Maneuver (Dishing It) rating. Clever Mandible crews prefer to engage enemies in environments where the ship’s giant glowing abdomen doesn’t telegraph their intentions quite so obviously, such as thick dust clouds or radiation storms.

12. Drives

13. Engineering Control. Battle Station – Suppress Engine Flares! A successful Systems Design test (Difficulty 6) improves the ship’s Maneuver (Dishing It) rating by 2 for one showdown. Fail, and the ship’s Maneuver (Dishing It) rating drops by 1 for the rest of the combat. Associated Spec: Maneuver (either).

14. Auxiliary Monitoring Station. Battle Station – Double-Check Those Flares! If another crew member attempts to Suppress Engine Flares while this station is occupied, that crew member may roll two dice instead of one and take the higher roll.

15. Access to Upper Deck

Mandible upper deck

Upper Deck

1. Bridge. The Mandible’s bridge is something of a tempting target. The canopy is composed of a semi-transparent resin that’s almost as tough as the rest of the hull, but it’s still a weak spot. If an enemy ship successfully Rakes or Slashes the Mandible, all crew members on the bridge take an extra die of damage.

2. Tactical Station.

3. Access to Main Deck

4. Pilot Station. Battle Station – The Krzd Feint: It’s possible to mislead an enemy who’s tracking your engine emissions by shunting plasma out the lateral maneuvering thrusters at the last instant. Pulling off this trick requires a Systems Design test (Difficulty 6). Succeed, and you get to count your negative Maneuver (Dishing It) rating as positive for one showdown. Fail, and you blow out the lateral thrusters and end up even more sluggish, reducing both your Maneuver ratings by 1. You can only attempt the Krzd Feint once per battle.

5. Comm Station

6. Gunnery Station. Battle Station: Devouring Fire. By carefully calibrating the ship’s weapons fire, a skilled gunner can unleash a fusillade that cripples an enemy ship as part of a successful Trickbag attack. If the Stratco wins a Trickbag showdown, spend 4 Battle Console to add the ship’s Fire (Dishing It) rating to the skirmish point haul.

7. Engineering Station

8. Access to Engineering

9. Airlock

10. Docking Pad. The surface of this docking pad secretes an adhesive gel instead of using artificial gravity or magnetic grapples to keep docked ships in place. One neat side-effect of this technology is that it’s possible to ‘stick’ a Mandible to, say, the side of a rocky cliff. It can park anywhere. It’s also possible to glom onto the belly of a larger vessel, hitching a ride without being obviously detectable…

 

Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In space, the darkest day of the year is every day. Nonetheless, five of the Combine’s seven major species evolved naturally on home planets before reaching for the stars, and to various degrees remember rituals and holidays that marked the turning point between encroaching and receding night.

Before the war, human secularism confined Christmas celebrations to the quaint symbolism of Santa, mistletoe, and candy canes. Since the mysterious end of the Mohilar threat, certain nufaiths have reshaped the Nativity story of the holiday to their own futuristic ends.

The emotion-averse, nature-loving balla fight to retain a connection to growing seasons. Their solstice holiday, Seedsong, has farmers keen songs of hope to hibernating plants, and to seeds anticipating their next germination. On spaceships, balla gift each other, and trusted outsiders, with plant cuttings, bulbs, and seeds. Unlike the olden days, these can be planted and tended straightaway in a ship’s hydroponics facility. The balla in the illustration holds a bulb it has sung fertility into, offering it as a gift. Don’t recoil when it chirps!

Get ready for trouble on the durugh solstice. On this day of misrule, serfs and peons were permitted to speak freely and satirically castigate their authoritarian betters. During the festival, one is not supposed to remember, much less taken personally, anything a durugh of inferior rank or status says to you, right before he stumbles off to drunkenly vomit. Lasers can expect an investigation conducted on a durugh world during Chaotica, as the holiday is commonly translated, to vibrate with boozy, brawly complications.

Kch-thk of course celebrate by feasting. Their holiday, called Doorbreak, marks the end of a fast with the ritual destruction of pantry doors. Dry, crunchy foods modern Kch-thk would normally eschew in conditions of abundance become a heartfelt connection to the rigors of the past.

Tavak recall the Winter Wars, a series of battles in which warriors of honor vanquished a culture of unrestrained violence and pillage. Orations of epic martial poetry take place over a dozen nights. Gifting ceremonies at the end recapitulate the awarding of spoils to the victorious sword-priesthoods.

None of the solstices of these five cultures sync up. All remain keyed to original dates from the dominant hemisphere of each respective homeworld.

Cybes reject solstice celebrations as obsolete reminders of earthly limitations.

The vas mal, somewhat annoyingly, insist that in their former godlike personas they inspired all mortal religious beliefs and festivals. However they do enjoy a nice Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

 


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Your freelance law enforcement crew may have formed and then found a ship with which to ply the justice trade out in the Bleed. Or perhaps you joined an existing laser gang that already had a ship. Whether or not you had a say in the class of ship you crew on, it has an attitude toward the galaxy that eventually comes to affect the way you see things. All right, all right, you’re a perfect flower of free volition, unencumbered by cultural influence of any stamp. But you have noticed that you can type other crews according to the type of ship they ride, right? You can guess an investigator’s ship class from seeing how she drinks in a bar, and can likewise estimate the sort of person you’ll be dealing with from the class of ship that hails you in the big bad black.

Let’s start with the obvious. And there is no ship class more obvious than The Hammer. The ship class that notoriously got liberated from its original designers by disgruntled operators. That tells you how a bullish craft shapes the decisions of those behind its consoles.

Hammers require more crew members than most to op their many battle stations. They take more casualties than most laser crews. This means recruiting a steady stream of expendables. Seasoned investigators may fill lead positions, but that leaves a lot of hair-trigger jarheads wandering around starport when the main folk are off gathering information. Look for the thick-necked young crewperson with the heat burns and skull-shaven hair, and that’s your typical Hammer crewer.

Used to cruising the Bleed in their shoot-first, question the debris later vessels, they default to bullying when challenged. Like most no-necks, you can back them down with a superior show of force and steelier Intimidation of your own. Many have criminal pasts whose past Downside associations you may recall and therefore leverage. Flattery regarding their workout routines can loosen their lips, too. Just be ready for a long stream of details about the relative merits of zero-grav versus heightened-grav core strength moves. Hammer crews don’t literally meet the definition of an alien species but they do tend to form their own cultures. Ergo, a show of Respect may be the fastest way to earn the trust of these authority-loving outlaws. Yep, they’re walking contradictions: folk who used to be loners on the run and are now valued members of a keenly survival-oriented unit. They’re ready to die for their brethren, so never try to get them to rat on each other. Whatever you need from them, holo it as something that benefits the team. Their sweaty, edge-dwelling, aggro team.

 


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A nufaith For Ashen Stars

After the disaster of the Mohilar War, new religious movements swept the ravaged region of galactic civilization called the Bleed. Among these so-called nufaiths is a belief system dependent on the personal detachment inherent in long-distance electronic communications. Onandeteria, named after its balla founder, Onandeter, teaches that great spiritual force has always suffused the universe. Prophets of all religions accessed this, understanding it through a multiplicity of cultural experiences. However, the still-mysterious disaster that ended the war threatened to entirely destroy spiritual energy throughout known space. In order to survive, or perhaps as a unpredicted side effect of whatever happened at the war’s end, the universal reservoir of spiritual harmony fled into the deepest harmonics of communications grid. Now, say the Onandeterians, you can interact with divine energy only at a remove, filtered through various telecommunications technologies. This force, which they call the teleteleos, underpins all, giving purpose to an otherwise meaningless interstellar existence. Practitioners pray together only in virtual places of worship, beaming in their holopresences to chant, sing, and commune in fellowship. The more of these virtual services you attend, the holier you become. Devout attendance, the holopriests promise, brings a form of immortality of consciousness, allowing one to permanently harmonize with the teleteleos after death. However, physically touching another worshiper dissipates all of your spiritual attainment. Some sects say this puts you back where you started before you joined the cult. More extreme believers hold that such a disastrous event forever cuts you off from the teleteleos, no matter what you try to do to atone. This happens even when practitioners come into contact unknowingly. As isolated worshipers who appear to one another cloaked in various holographic avatars, accidentally bumps become all too possible. This encourages worshipers to become shut-ins, paranoiacally avoiding all unmediated interaction. Accordingly Onandeteria provides an ideal faith for fugitives and recluses.

The freelance law enforcers of your Ashen Stars crew may be looking for one of these fugitives as part of a bounty contract. They might have to find a way to intercept transmissions used for church attendance, to track a worshiper to his meatspace lair. Or they might be hired by one of the faithful to avenge a scheme that led to their inadvertently touching another worshiper. Another plot hook might have them tracking down the blackmailer who is accessing all the juicy data stored on a confessional server.

An Ashen Stars scenario premise

Before the Mohilar War, many of the Bleed’s planets were settled by proponents of the Synthculture movement. They created worlds to replicate past periods of human and alien history, often filtered through a pop culture lens. The self-described film noir world of Lost Angeles (spelling intentional) functioned surprisingly well until the war came. But in the ensuing privations a new generation of people born and raised on Lost Angeles grew tired of the cultural limitations placed on them by their parents and grandparents. The old regime drifted into authoritarianism and fell to a coup. Now a new civil war rages, between upstart democrats and old-guard former rebels turned oligarchs. Neither faction cares much about the planet’s original hard-boiled style. Which is why one of its aging enthusiasts, now safely off-world, has engaged the PCs to recover one of its key heritage artifacts. A replica of the Maltese Falcon prop from the 1941 film of that name formed the centerpiece of the office belonging to the planet’s first ruler, Mayor Teddy Huston. It appeared in countless newsreel projections in which he delivered epigrammatic truths to his grateful people. Miles Bond, a noir enthusiast of the tavak species, issues the contract. He wants the lasers to wade through the active war zone that is the Lost Angeles capitol and recover that falcon. But it has to be the particular, slightly over-sized one Huston commissioned. Bond doesn’t intend to keep the precious artifact in his own collection. It should be in a museum, he declares, perhaps the Institute of Synthculture Development on Rosehaugh II.

Though neither warring faction seeks to enforce Chandler-era style any more, the statuette remains a vestigial symbol of prestige and authority. The rebels say they have it, and the government claim they do. Leader of the democracy movement, Lai Damron, says it will be destroyed when they take office, marking a symbolic end to calcified tradition. Or is that propaganda spread by current president Narcia Ugan, who wants to turn the Combine against Damron by painting him as eager to destroy a galactic heritage relic? Can the lasers find the thing that dreams are made of? When they do, how to they prove that they have the authentic replica?


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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