Tuesday, July 16, 2013

X-plorers; Planetary Survey: Micah


Micah Control, this is the Beautiful Dreamer inbound from Ceres Station. We are 5,000 kilometers out, approaching on heading 275 mark 10 relative to your position. Do you copy, over?

     Beautiful Dreamer, this is Micah Control. You are clear to approach. Please adjust your heading to 274 mark 9 and moor at buoy 5. You should be picking up a transponder signal now. Please transmit your crew and cargo manifest, as well as ship’s registry, then await further instruction. Welcome to Micah, Beautiful Dreamer. I hope you packed your long underwear. Micah Control out.  

Micah is a stark, rocky world located in the Reaches. It is a barren place, save for a thin belt of grassland at the equator. Its polar regions are permanently locked in ice. There are no large bodies of water, except for a small, icy sea in the southern hemisphere. The gravity is .9g. The planet orbits Micah 414, which is a yellow-orange main sequence dwarf. This results in a low average temperature (12.7 °C) and long, dark winters.

     Precipitation is rare (5 cm per year) and most vegetation is scrub brush, stunted grass or tenacious lichen that clings to the rocks. The atmosphere is rather thin, so any prolonged physical exertion will result in fatigue, shortness of breath and headaches. The world is independent, mostly due to its remote location and meager resources that no one covets.

     Native animal life consists of insects that lurk in rocky crevices and a limited variety of small mammals. One creature in particular, the Micahn golden badger (Mellivora aurum), is prized for its dense, golden coat. Capturing the creatures can be dangerous, as the animals react with hostility to intrusions on their territory. Exobiologists have wondered how a creature so similar to Earth’s badger evolved on Micah, but no definitive theories have yet been developed.

     The small sea supports aquatic life, but a thorough exploration of it has yet to be undertaken. Avian life is non-existent. Several years ago a small grazing animal was introduced on Micah. This stubby herbivore, called the rothe, feeds on grass and lichen and provides the Micahns with fresh meat.

     The world is noteworthy because of the Micah Institute of Advanced Analytical Sciences, which is located in Meridian (pop. 250,000). The Institute is famous for its mathematicians and physicists who, in the absence of outside distractions, have turned their minds inward. The Institute educates promising post-graduate students and also supports itself by solving complex problems submitted to the university by off-world engineers, governments and corporations. Most Micahns are affiliated with the Institute in some way and rely upon it for a living.

     Besides Meridian, there are very few inhabited areas. These smaller settlements consist of fishing and agricultural villages.

     As a general rule, the citizens of Micah are subdued and quiet, more cerebral than vocal. Many settlers have chosen Micah as a home because it is far from the crushing throngs of citizens on Venus, Earth and Mars. They appreciate the wide open space and often resent intrusions from outsiders.

     The board of trustees that governs the Institute also acts as the planetary government. Appointment to the board is possible only through selection by the chairman of the board and ratification by the other trustees. Most all of the board members are high-ranking Institute professors and administrators. Occasionally, an ordinary citizen of Micah might grumble about the lack of popular representation. Most people, however, accept the fact that Micah would be deserted without the Institute, so they defer to the board’s judgment.

     There has been discussion as to whether or not Micah should apply for membership to the United Corporate Nations. This, of course, would require the Institute to re-form as a corporation. While the idea does have merit, many are concerned that membership in the UCN would require the academics to compromise their professional ethics to serve economic and political interests.

     A small spaceport can be found above the planet. It is built upon the surface of an asteroid that was pulled into geostationary orbit above Meridian. The station manages traffic in and out of the system. It also facilitates the transfer of goods from cargo ships to the planet’s surface.

     Generally, goods are transferred from a ship’s hold into specially designed containers that act as re-entry pods. The pods fall to the planet’s surface and are later launched back into space with rocket engines. However, this is only the case with bulk goods. Some cargo ships are capable of landing directly on Micah’s surface to unload their cargoes.

     A spaceport can also be found on the surface of Micah. It manages the launch of the landing pods back into space, as well as loads and unloads cargo ships that are able to make planet-fall. The planet-side facility is located 5 km. outside Meridian. The Jialong Logistics Corporation operates both spaceports.

     While violent crime is rare on Micah, there are incidents that do occur from time to time. Drinking alcohol is quite common as the winters are long, dark and depressing. To energize themselves, some citizens have taken to abusing stimulants to increase their energy and lighten their mood. Enterprising criminals have emerged to fill the growing chemical dependencies, much to the chagrin of local authorities.

     In addition, Micah is a desirable location for some fugitives. Criminals with a even a modest work ethic can make a living by working on one of the fishing trawlers that navigate the cold, icy sea. Also, some individuals with a checkered past have purchased herds of rothe and golden badgers to raise and sell. These fugitives can be incredibly dangerous if they feel their secrets are at risk. Some bounty hunters come to Micah looking for outlaws on the lamb.

     The planet’s government has hired the United Corporate Nations Police (UCNP) to advise them on the best ways to police their world. While the UCNP has been very helpful, many are worried that the law enforcement agency may be the toehold that the United Corporate Nations needs to exert influence over the Institute.

Special Rules
     Because of the slightly lower gravity and thin atmosphere, humans born and raised on Micah have a few adjustments to their attribute scores. They will have a -1 penalty applied to their Physique scores and a +1 bonus applied to their Intelligence scores. These adjustments take into account the fact that physical exertion is not a common aspect of Micahn life and that there are abundant opportunities for education.

     Most starting characters native to Micah will be Scientists or Technicians. A character living on Micah receives a bonus to multi-classing if they wish to learn a skill from the Scientist class. They pay 1,000 less experience than the values listed on Table 7 of the X-plorers rulebook.

     For example: Arshia Rangarajan, who emigrated to Micah from Kerala, India, is a 3rd level Technician specializing in robotics. To advance to 4th level she needs 10,000 experience points. She wishes to learn the Science skill of a 1st level Scientist. Normally, she would need 4,250 xp to learn Science at 1st level, but due to her access to the Micah Institute of Advanced Analytical Sciences, she will only add 3,250 to the 10,000 she needs to advance to 4th level. Therefore, after earning 13,250 xp, Arshia will add Science 13+ to her character sheet, in addition to the increased benefits of being a 4th level Technician.

     Finally, due to the planet’s thin atmosphere, Physique-based saving throws suffer a -2 penalty. This penalty can be negated by wearing a light respirator that Micahns use when outdoors. The respirators are small and cover the mouth and nose. A light adhesive that reacts to the sweat and oils in the skin ensures a snug fit. A respirator costs 50 credits.

     Link to a rough map of the Beautiful Dreamer, the freighter from the introduction.


  1. Very nice. I think if I were going to run a SF RPG, it'd probably be X-plorers (though there are one or two others out there I'd try, like Edge of Space).

    1. I feel that for SF, rules-light is the way to go. Like you said, Edge of Space, X-plorers or Star Frontiers might be great candidates. I need to see if there are other rules-light systems in print. I briefly considered Diaspora, but unfortunately my brain cannot wrap itself around FATE.

      I like Micah, because as a So. Cal native I have always been drawn to quiet, rocky places. Replace hot desert with cold desert under a cool, yellow-orange star and it'd be my kind of dreary place. Heck, I could even live near to icy sea. There'd have to be surf once in a while. ;)

    2. Oh good lord, I think I just wet myself! Edge of Space is mentioned in the company of X-Plorers!

    3. Your game and X-plorers are so great for accessibility and ease of play. They are very similar in style and feel. :)

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, John! You did a darn fine job with X-plorers. I have been reading a lot of pulpy sci-fi lately and it's got me thinking about your game quite a bit. :)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks!

      I hope to follow it up with a few NPCs as well as one or two scenario seeds. Ms. Arshia Rangarajan at least deserves some stats.

  4. Thank you for this, fun read with interesting ideas.

    Are you sure you aren't from Wisconsin like me? I mean, Badgers, and this quote scream Wisconsin, ha ha:

    "Drinking alcohol is quite common as the winters are long, dark and depressing"

    1. Oh my gosh, you are spot on with that WI connection. That is so funny!

      By the way, great work on the Phoenix Barony, as well as X-plorers of course. :)

  5. What about Traveller? That is a rules-light system for chargen (especially Classic Traveller). The later versions add a little more die-rolling for 1-year terms instead of 4-year terms, but at least the core mechanic of 2d6 roll vs. 8+ seems pretty light in most cases.

    I think where things get bogged down is the math-heavy systems of constructing starships and other things. Not being very math-saavy myself, I was always challenged by the calculations of safe jump distances and the detailed system generation in Book 6: Scouts.

    1. It's funny that you mention Traveller. The first iteration of this article was keyed to that game. You can see evidence of that with the pairing of the "highport" and "downport" and the fact that the ports are run by a third party, a la the Imperium controlled the spaceports, but the local government owned everything else.

      Is there a new version of Traveller out? I seem to recall a Kickstarter or something.

    2. Well, there is a Traveller 5th edition? I think that had a Kickstarter going on.

      I was referring to Mongoose Publishing's version of Traveller, which has Mishap tables for what happens to your character if you fail on the Survival roll at the end of each 1 year term. Plus they have other careers than just military ones.

    3. Yeah, T5 is out. I plan to write a review of it at some point. The basic idea of the game is an improvement of T4, though, where a number of dice based on the difficulty (more difficult = more dice) are rolled to hit a target number or less. Of the two, Mongoose and T5, I think that I prefer Mongoose, but that may be because I prefer MegaTraveller and Classic Traveller to the route taken by T4/5. That said, some of the best Traveller supplements were written for T4, and the T5 core book has a lot of stuff in it.

  6. Cool! I love world descriptions. It's easy, with most of the SF RPGs out there, because of the way that they center on traveling from one world to another, sometimes two or three in a session, to forget that a world is a whole place, with all sorts of stuff on it beyond whatever the PCs get involved in. You could run a whole campaign on just one world.

    1. In recent years I have found myself drawn to micro-settings, where most of the action takes pace in a rather small geographical region. I wonder if in a sci-fi game a single planet would be of suitable scale or perhaps smaller still a la Babylon 5 or Deep Space 9.

    2. Well, the game Blue Planet proved that a single world could provide plenty of adventure possibilities (as, for that matter, did Empire of the Petal Throne!), so a world wouldn't be a problem. I haven't seen anyone try a single space station yet, but High Colonies limited itself to the hundreds of space stations in the Solar System, for the most part (Earth was devastated, and I forget what was going on on Mars). Oh, there's Metamorphosis Alpha, all in one large spacecraft!

  7. This is great stuff. At the mention of bounty hunters and criminals on the lam, a whole scenario exploded in my head. I really should run more sci-fi games. I love the world-building.

    One rules-light system that hasn't been mentioned so far is Stars Without Number. I've got a hard copy sitting on my shelf, but I haven't had a chance to dig into it yet.

    One last thing: my submission for alternate name for Micah (not that you asked) is PLANET OF THE NERDS. ;)

    1. Stars Without Number? Sounds cool! I have heard about it, but never read it. I may have to take a look.

      Oh my gosh, I love planet of the nerds! Years ago I ran some scenarios that were based around the institute and one of them dealt with a deranged doctoral student whose dissertation was rejected. He began plotting against his committee and the PCs were brought in to provide protection and to thwart the young man's plans.

      Like you said, though, I think there's a lot to be done on the Nerd Planet!