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Planetary Romance Setting: Sard

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The forums have seemed slow lately. I must do something about that. Would anyone like to see materials from my old Planetary Romand campaign? Setting is Sard, Planet of Adventure. My gaming group used it in two campaigns: First I ran "A Princess of Sard," and then another player ran "Gods of Sard."


For a start, though, next post is a bit of fiction to introduce you to the world and the universe beyond.


Dean Shomshak

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            Lieutenant Kyle Ramirez strapped himself into the shuttle’s pilot seat, then keyed in the sequence to rouse the sleeping machine. Gauges and telltales lit up across the control panel as the shuttle’s computer talked with its counterpart in the shuttle bay’s control room. A musical hum of power rose from the shuttle’s rear. Kyle checked all the telltales, quickly but systematically. All nominal. He flipped on the comm to the control room.

            “Everything looks good, Control. Navcom has the course.”

            “Roger, Kyle. All clear on this end, too. Is this your first trip planetside?”

            “Yup.” The shuttle’s cradle turned and moved it toward the bay door. “Have you ever been on Sard?”

            “No, and I hope I never do, inshallah. It all looks horribly primitive.” A pause. “Launch in one minute. Ready?”

            “Ready, Control. Come on, you think every planet’s primitive compared to Mars.”

            “The rest of Human Space is primitive compared to Mars. And Sard is worse than most. You did notice how some people carry swords?”

            Kyle grinned. “Yeah, I saw the briefing. I’m not going to those parts, though. Karkovy looks pretty civilized.”

            “Better than most of the planet, maybe, but… Well, I worry. People who’ve been on Sard for long come back with strange stories about things that weren’t in the briefings. If they come back at all. Thirty seconds to launch, evacuating shuttle bay.” The rumble of the bay’s powerful pumps reached all the way through the metal cradle into the shuttle itself.

            Kyle’s grin widened. “Come on, Mother Hen. It’s just a short drop to the embassy. I don’t know why they even need a person on board. I’ll be back in a few hours — I won’t even have time to see the embassy grounds.” The bay doors slowly slid open.

            “I suppose. Oop! Launch time. Go with God, Kyle.”

            “You too, Sven.”

            The cradle reached out from the bay and released the shuttle. The rods of the gravitonic drive glowed in the shuttle’s rear as it pulled away from the space station. Kyle checked the shuttle’s projected flight path again. The computer had not gone mad since the last time he checked. All the shuttle’s systems still worked. Kyle leaned back and looked out the shuttle’s window. Another anachronism, he thought, just like having a pilot on a routine mission the computer could handle by itself. If he did need to take control, he would watch the instruments, not look out a window.

            The world of Sard loomed over him. Every minute, Kyle checked the instruments once more, but he spent most of his time watching the planet.

            On Sard’s daylit side, pale golden traceries of cloud overspread the planet’s dark blue seas and mottled, orange-and-brown continents. Kyle spotted two hurricanes. Matching traceries of auroras covered the planet’s night side. Kyle could not see any lights of cities. That half of Sard held no cities large enough for their lights to show from space. As dark as the night side of Earth…

            Kyle hadn’t bothered to turn on the artificial gravity, so he felt the slight shift as the engines set the shuttle slowly turning end over end. He glanced at the control panel again: Yes, everything still worked the way it should, still on course. The world of Sard slid back from his view as the shuttle spun. The glare of 40 Eridani A took its place; the window automatically darkened to protect Kyle’s eyes until it passed. The shuttle’s belly now faced the planet as it descended into the upper atmosphere, and the Eyes — the two distant companion stars of Sard’s sun — stared down into the shuttle cockpit.

            Now Kyle kept his attention on the control panel all the time. Atmosphere was always the most dangerous part of a flight. The computer handled the descent perfectly, though. Friction with the atmosphere bled off the shuttle’s velocity; slight nudges from the engines kept it stable. For the next ten minutes the shuttle became a beautifully aerodynamic meteorite passing halfway around the planet, slowly descending. At last the red-hot haze around the shuttle faded and the shuttle descended more steeply. Kyle glanced outside to see the highest level of cirrus clouds pass by. One of the hurricanes towered in the distance, far enough to present no danger. The shuttle passed over ocean; the continent of Karkovy still lay over the horizon. A bank of cumulus puffs approached…

            The shuttle shuddered, an alarm sounded and half the lights on the console turned red. The computer shouted, “I’ve been shot!” overriding Kyle’s usual preference for machines not to speak.

            Now the shuttle needed a pilot. Half the computer’s sensors were out and only two of the drive rods responded. The shuttle was too low to return to space. The descent was too steep. The shuttle started to roll. Kyle set its left wing stretching a little wider, increasing the drag on that side, and the shuttle righted itself. A nudge on one of the drive-rods to bring up the nose… He was going to crash but he might live through it… The shuttle slammed into the ocean.

            “WAKE UP!” the computer screamed, over and over again. Kyle lifted his face. He hurt. A lot. He opened his eyes and saw the half-deflated remains of the airbag that had saved his life. The gravity plates should have saved him from the crash — No, a third of them still worked, the telltales said, which was why he had survived at all. The computer’s voice dropped to a normal speaking tone. “The shuttle has a hole in it. We’re sinking.” Oh, that explained why his feet were wet. Several centimeters of water already sloshed across the shuttle floor. The shuttle really was swaying; it wasn’t just him. The thump-thumping sound must be waves striking the shuttle’s hull.

            Hands shaking, Kyle unbuckled his safety harness. The seat cushions were supposed to unhook and become a flotation device…

            A different thump made him look up and out the window. He saw — a ship! An old-time, floating-on-water ship made of scarlet glass. Bronze-skinned men, mostly shirtless, hurried to and fro on errands he couldn’t guess. Kyle started as a dripping wet, black-haired boy scrambled across the top edge of the cockpit window. The boy saw Kyle looking at him, grinned and stuck out his tongue. He carried a cable that ended in a hook. The boy moved out of view. A minute later, the shuttle tilted sideways, leaning toward the scarlet ship, moving toward it.

            Gathering his wits, Kyle looked closer at the ship and its crew. Its sleek lines and hydrofoil outriggers suggested it was built for speed, faster than it could possibly achieve with its mast and sails. A large, snouted mass at the front could only be a gun. A big gun. The men on the ship — and a few women, too, Kyle now saw — all seemed to wear gunbelts, or dagger sheaths, or… yes, those had to be scabbards for swords. This wasn’t a rescue ship, a commercial ship or a pleasure craft. Not a military vessel, surely? The details clicked together at about the time the door of the shuttle blew open. Pirates. Kyle reached for the stunner on his belt, but that didn’t help when the grenade dropped through the door.


Dean Shomshak

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No; the player of the character who had Princess Araqueth of Hyperborea as a love interest dropped out of the gaming group before we got around to it. He's back, though, so it's an option again.


Moving on: Next I'll post the introductory handout when I began "A Princess of Sard." I'll divide it into bite-size chunks instead of a file attachment so people can read it in more accessible bits as they find time.


(Oh -- and it was 4th edition HERO, in case it becomes relevant.)



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            A PRINCESS OF SARD is a limited-series campaign set on the planet Sard, in the Terran Sphere, 400 years from now. The genre is Planetary Romance. Characters are Heroic-level, but moderately powerful.


Campaign Style

            Planetary Romance features a blend of SF and heroic fantasy on a colorful and exotic world. Some Planetary Romances lean more to the SF side, while others are fantasy with a veneer of technology and pseudo-science. Protagonists may be either natives of the planet, or visitors from offworld. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels are the definitive example of Planetary Romance. Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure series, or the Darkover series of Marion Zimmer Bradley, are somewhat closer to “straight” SF, but fall in the same tradition.

            A PRINCESS OF SARD is swashbuckling. The characters are called upon to perform epic deeds such as storming enemy fortresses, fighting giant robot monsters, destroying pirate fleets, or even winning wars and seizing kingdoms. They encounter gorgeous princesses, fantastic treasures, vile villains, noble friends, jewel-like cities, bizarre gadgets and weird creatures. A loincloth and a few leather straps are adequate garb for battle.

            A PRINCESS OF SARD is not superheroic, though: John Carter of Mars can fight a hundred warriors and only retreat when the second hundred appears, but if your characters choose twenty-to-one odds against competent fighters, they will probably die. This campaign does draw a distinction between courage and suicidal insanity.

            Likewise, the campaign setting, the planet Sard, isn’t quite as romantic as Barsoom. Sard is in a universe based on fairly rigorous SF — not hard SF because it includes FTL travel, psionics, and other space-operatic elements. Some effort is made, however, to tie the rubber science to real possibilities such as genetic engineering or superstring theory, and keep it internally consistent. (Assuming anyone cares.) Also, this is not retro SF. There is no such thing as “life force.” Aircraft are held aloft by propellers, jets, or the like, not by reservoir tanks of anti-gravity rays. This makes Sard somewhat less spectacular than it might be, but it’s a planet that can serve as a springboard to broader SF adventure as well as a setting by itself.


Special Note: Strange Luck

            In A PRINCESS OF SARD, the characters have 3 dice each of Luck and Unluck for free, both as a group and as individuals. Any Luck or Unluck they buy adds to this. Every now and then, I will check the party’s Luck and Unluck. When things go well, I will check Unluck to see if problems appear. When characters are in danger or stumped, I will check for lucky breaks. Outrageous coincidence is a part of most romances, Planetary or otherwise. As one critic described the Barsoom novels, if a hero, a villain, a princess, and a saber-toothed tiger are within a thousand miles of each other, they will find themselves together before the day is out. I intend to honor this tradition.

            And don’t let me get bored. If the adventure bogs down in argument, bafflement, excessive planning for every contingency, or just BSing, I will check Unluck, just to see if something happens to liven things up: wild animals, assassins sent by an enemy, a DNPC’s sudden abduction by slavers, or whatever else I can imagine to screw you over.

            Finally, you can make a Luck roll to gain a bonus for flamboyant but risky actions. Each pip of Luck rolled gives +1 to the relevant Skill Roll (or cancels a penalty).

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Sard in Brief


            Sard orbits the star 40 Eridani, a trinary star system about 17 light-years from Earth. The planet has a warm, moist climate like Earth in the Jurassic period, with many shallow seas and swamps. The lush biosphere includes two main classes of large animals: three-legged, vertebrate triskeles, and boneless tentacloids.

            Most remarkable of all, Sard is a Forerunner world. Millions of years ago, a sapient race called the Monopods rose to great heights of civilization, but died out when one of the companion stars in the 40 Eridani system collapsed into a white dwarf, flooding the system with radiation. The Monopods left many beautiful cities of time-defying ceramic and crystal, however, to amaze early explorers. Some of these cities remain more or less intact and on land, and humans now live in them. The Monopods also left the planet depleted of mineral resources, so few areas of Sard could sustain an industrial civilization.

            Sard attracted colonists from a wide variety of ethnic groups and philosophical persuasions. Many of them didn’t care much about rebuilding the industrial civilization of Earth. In fact, some of them came to Sard specifically to get away from that. Still, they came from high-tech societies. Few areas of Sard developed heavy industry, but Sardians freely applied high technology when it seemed cool. On Sard, you’re more likely to find a robot pegasus than a cargo plane. The Sardians even invented a number of unusual technologies such as the Neural Interpretive Link that lets a person control a machine by his thoughts, or the personality-altering techniques of Voodootronics. Bionics, psionics, robotics, holography, and other advanced technologies also find use on Sard, to make dreams real and give people powers and devices that seem almost magical.

            Six great nations grew on Sard. The kingdom of Hyperborea consciously follow a program of pseudo-medievalism, and extols personal heroism and martial prowess. The great Republic of Karkovy became Sard’s most industrialized power and defends itself with formidable but fanciful war machines and cybernetic soldiers. The brutal Empire of Kwazembia constantly plots conquest to gain greater territory and mineral resources. Strange, remote Novo Bahía became the Land of Wonders, blessed with advanced techno-magic that could change personalities at will. In Tamilore, rival factions use psionics to become holy men and incarnate demons. In Vajranagar, the Diamond Empire, the rulers counterfeit divinity through reconstructed bodies and special effects technology. Sard boasts many smaller cultures as well.

            Thirty years ago, war ravaged Sard and upset the balance of power. The Cladist Axis, a quartet of post-human societies based on genetic engineering, attacked Sard and the rest of baseline humanity. Aside from the physical damage of war, Sard suffered attacks by meme-bombs: advanced propaganda designed to disrupt societies. All six nations now reel from civil wars and secessions, banditry, strange and fanatical cults, and horrors spawned from military robotics and genetics. Sard gained another wave of colonists, too: half-human soldiers and refugees from the destroyed Cladist Axis, hiding from a vengeful human race in the hinterlands of a world still largely wilderness. Some of the cladists retain their blasphemous super-science and use it in dark plots to rebuild their power.

            Sard is a world of wonders and romance, but afflicted with many troubles. Anyone brave and strong enough to face its dangers can find adventure, glory, and just about any other reward they can imagine.


Sard’s Universe


            Sard is part of the Terran Sphere, a bubble of space about 25 light-years in radius, centered on Earth. The time is 400 years in the future. Humans have traveled the stars for 300 years. Star travel is expensive but not overwhelmingly so: Wealthy private citizens or small corporations can own spaceships. The Terran Sphere holds several worlds settled by humans, with more or less exotic cultures of their own. Some worlds are based on other SF subgenres, so you can play a visitor from a Cyberpunk setting or other subgenre if you want. (Earth is, unfortunately, a post-holocaust world.)

            Humanity interacts with several alien races. Alien civilizations such as the Nivoncoli Conglomerate or the Zyradu Ecumene are much older and mightier than humanity. Fortunately, they are also distant enough that conquering humanity might not be worth their efforts. Then again, the Galactics may have stranger plans for humanity than mere conquest.

            All the human worlds theoretically answer to the World Governance Board, a government created by and for Earth’s megacorporations. Earth’s devastation in war 30 years ago crippled the WGB, and it can no longer enforce its rule over all the worlds. The lifting of the WGB’s heavy hand freed the colony worlds to develop however they want — and to attack each other. The major worlds of the Terran Sphere maneuver to usurp the enfeebled WGB and force the other worlds to follow their particular vision of human destiny. Despite having a relatively large population, Sard is far too weak and fragmented to join this Great Game. The governments of other worlds see it as a useless backwater… or an easy conquest.

            Genetic engineering caused the great war that destroyed Earth. Computers, star drives, fusion power, and other technologies changed how people lived. Genetic engineering changed what people were. The WGB did its best to ban human genetic engineering — which meant the experiments were conducted by fanatics willing to create their own colonies outside the WGB’s control. These “cladists” engineered several varieties of altered humans. The cladist colonies grew powerful enough to threaten the WGB. In the First Cladist War, the Cladist Axis tried to establish itself as a sovereign, rival power. The cladists suffered a humiliating defeat. Twenty years later, they launched a war of revenge to exterminate any baseline humans they could not conquer. They failed again, but not before slamming a huge comet into the Earth and killing nine billion people. The WGB ravaged the cladists’ world in return. The surviving cladists are now hated and hunted on most worlds. Sard is relatively tolerant of cladists, in that it has no strong, centralized government to coordinate persecution.

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Future Technology

            The Singularity — a hypothetical condition where technology transforms humanity into something utterly different and possibly godlike — has not happened. People are still people. Even genetic engineering left the cladists all too human. On Sard, high technology has far less impact on daily life than on most worlds.

            Artificial Intelligence was developed in the 21st century, and most predictions about it turned out to be wrong. AIs are not programmed: True intelligence appears through a chaotic process as unpredictable as raising a child. AIs have no more insight into their own thought processes than does any human. The dream of building a computer smart enough to design an even smarter computer does not seem possible. At least, the Galactics haven’t done it.

            “Uploading” human minds into computers also turned out to be impractical. True intelligences cannot be transmitted, either: They must stay in the processing medium, flesh or electronic, in which they began. Ordinary computers give people on developed worlds access to almost unlimited information, though, while “expert systems” can perform well-defined tasks better than any human. Military expert systems make humans almost irrelevant to space combat. On Sard, tiny but powerful computers give rise to a number of unusual technologies, such as robots that take instructions directly from their owner’s thoughts.

            Nanotechnology, another great hope of Singularity prophets, also didn’t quite pan out. Humans have not yet encountered the universal assembler that can turn anything into anything else (though some alien nanobots come pretty close). So far, all nanobots are finicky, special-purpose creatures that only work in labs and factories. The basic problem is that robots the size of bacteria are about as programmable as bacteria, communicate with each other as well as bacteria, and feed on chemical fuel like bacteria. Only human nanobots aren’t as robust as bacteria. The best attempt to create a catastrophic, “gray goo” nanobot resulted in a bug that could destroy a concrete pillbox in ten or twelve years if no one hosed it off first.

            Microtechnology, however, finds widespread use on Sard. The planet’s techno-artisans rely on the faber, a box that breaks stuff down into its raw materials and reassembles the atoms into computer chips, energy cells, or other small items of technology. A faber can even build the parts for another faber. The device cannot transmute matter, though: If you lack the raw materials for something, a faber can’t build it. Still, fabers enable Sard to produce limited quantities of very high technology.

            Of course, no one could reach Sard without faster-than-light travel. Humans (and aliens) build two kinds of FTL drives, based on the same technology. The planoform and linoform drives operate by stretching the “hidden” dimensions of space. Within the bubble of warped, 10-dimensional space-time, a starship stands still. The bubble itself can move much faster than light. The planoform drive rotates one dimension of the space-time bubble outside normal space, leaving a massless, mathematical plane section to move through space. The linoform drive rotates two dimensions out of normal space, leaving a mathematical line section.Planoform ships can be as large as you want, but are comparatively slow. Linoform ships can move much faster, but cannot be very large. Small numbers of people, or small quantities of goods, can move around the Terran Sphere quickly — but a significant military force takes weeks or months to move between stars. Sard has three small starports, and people can land elsewhere if they dare.

            FTL drives, artificial gravity, plasma blasters, and a number of other more-or-less fantastical technologies depend on hypernuclear matter, or substances that incorporate particles other than the protons, neutrons, and electrons of ordinary matter. Making “hy-matter” requires tremendous energy — far more than normal nuclear reactions. Some forms of hy-matter have the useful property of converting one fundamental force into another. For instance, artificial gravity devices use a material that turns electrical energy into gravitational fields. Other sorts of hy-matter generate new forces, such as the “force fields” that can protect starships or whole cities. Still other materials catalyze nuclear reactions, permitting the safe, lightweight nuclear batteries that are an important power source on many worlds. Sard cannot make its own hy-matter, so these substances become tremendously valuable.

            Personal weaponry reached its height of lethality in the 21st century. The great problem is that dealing more damage doesn’t make a person more dead. Small arms development focused on making weapons more reliable, better able to penetrate or bypass defenses, or able to incapacitate with less chance of killing. In the 25th century, humans use a wide range of guns, from traditional, chemical-powered slugthrowers to plasma guns and stunners. Most of these can be found on Sard, though energy weapons are rather less common than slugthrowers. Sardians also use archaic, muscle-powered weapons such as swords and bows… though star-age technology may improve them, too, such as compound bows made of super-springy plastic, or swords with diamond edges that never dull.

            Personal defenses lag somewhat behind weaponry. Some worlds possess actual powered armor that makes one man the equivalent of a tank. Most warriors, however, cannot obtain such expensive gear. The best commonly available defense is ballistic cloth, which is considerably lighter in the 25th century than the 21st. On Sard, some people wear armor made of the hard, tough glass/ceramic invented by the Monopods, but many warriors prefer to eschew that much encumbrance. And even on warlike Sard, most places don’t let you “clank,” or walk around fully armed and armored for battle.

            Medical technology now includes gene therapy and reconstructing damaged body parts from cloned tissues. Most of these technologies are not available in rural Sard: If you’re wounded, your medical resources are probably limited to sutures, hot water, and herbs. In some towns, however, you may be able to buy offworld medicine, all the way up to replacing lost limbs. Star-age medicine is one of the most precious commodities traded on Sard.

            Communications technology is spotty as well. Radio is common in the settled areas of Sard, and the upper classes often have video communication. Flares from the sun can disrupt all radio communication for days at a time, though. Some regions used to have cable systems for telephones and such, but most of these systems have broken down.

            As always on Sard, though, style trumps normal industrial or economic concerns. If a gadget is cool, you can obtain it if you’re willing to spend enough effort and money. You may even be able to obtain alien technology, more advanced than anything humans can build for themselves.

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Future Ideologies

            Aliens, new technologies, and various social developments made a number of older political and religious ideologies irrelevant, and raised new philosophies to prominence. The following schools of thought are especially influential in the Terran Sphere.

            Cladism held that humans should diversify into many species instead of one. Most societies now suppress this ideology. “There’s more than one way to be human.”

            Coccooners fear powerful alien races and technological attempts to change humanity. They say their societies should insulate themselves from outside influences. “Leave us alone.”

            Darwinism promotes both freedom and conflict to weed out the weak and stupid and to grant greater opportunities to the strong and smart. Some darwinists are also ethnic or religious bigots who think their group could triumph over rivals. “Survival of the fittest.”

            Excelsians want individuals to develop their full potential while remaining human. “Be all you can be.”

            Luddites oppose further technological development and would scroll back human technology to some earlier level (industrial, pre-industrial, medieval, neolithic…). “Break the machines and back to the past.”

            Manager ideology says that in a dangerous universe, people need central planning and control to stay safe and strong. “Obey the boss, he knows best.”

            Phereters revere the powerful Galactics. They are older, more powerful and more experienced, so humanity should submit to their rule or at least emulate their ways. “Respect your elders.”

            Transhumanism says humanity’s greatest challenge and goal is to become something greater than itself. Different transhumanist groups disagree on how to do this, or what humanity should become. “Humanity is only a first draft.”

            Various worlds follow these ideologies to greater or lesser degrees. The conflicts building throughout the Terran Sphere have more to do with promoting particular ideologies than traditional fights over resources or territory (though sheer lust for dominance remains as strong as ever in human history). Particular groups may follow combinations of these ideologies. For instance, the superintelligent Daedalans combined cladism with transhumanism, while the Huxleyan beast-men combined cladism with luddism.


There, that should do for now. In a few days I'll post the extended planetary profile.


Dean Shomshak

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I dare anything! And you know that if you sentence an Earthman to the Klar pits (or gladiatorial arena, whatever) he ends up taking over and leading a slave revolt against the tyrannical overlords. It's a rule.


To prepare for Sard I read about a half-dozen of the Barsoom books and at least a dozen of the Kregen series by Alan Burt Akers. (There's at least 50 of the latter series, and a friend of mine has them all, but I didn't have the stamina for that.) Before that, I'd read a bunch of the Darkover and Pern novels, before the authors reached the "just cranking it out" stage. All in all, I'd say Darkover was likely most influential, in that Sard is part of a wider SF universe rather than being a sealed-off setting that barely pretends to be SF instead of Fantasy.


EDIT: And how could I have forgotten Tschai, from Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure series?


Dean Shomshak


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Bah next you'll be telling me that forcing the captured good guy scientist to work in my laboratory unsupervised is a bad idea.


So these Voodootronics. Are they carried in drum like containers and are activated when you beat on them, or in dna markers in the shape of the target, and released when you stick a power pin into them?

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More on Voodootronics in the extended planetary description, which begins... Oh, now. Let's start with the technical details about the planet and its place in the 40 Eridani star system, then move on to some text description of the planet and biosphere:


SARD (40 Eridani A2) [NB: This shows I created the document before exoplanets were discovered. The current nomenclature uses lower-case letters for exoplanets instead of numbers. It should be 40 Eridani Ab -- even that assuming that in the future, exoplanets will be named in order from the star, whereas currently they are currently labeled in order of discovery. This will presumably change when all the planets are discovered at once.)


Distance:         15.9 LY (4.9 parsecs)

Primary:           K1 (0.77 solar mass)

Luminosity:     0.36 sols (bolometric 0.43 sols)

Orbit Radius:  99.6 x 106 km

Illumination:    0.81 sols (bolometric 0.97 sols)

Revolution:     257.7 standard days

                        231.6 local days

Eccentricity:    1.0%

Rotation:         26.7 hours

Axial Tilt:        14o

Mass:               8.3 x 1024 kg

Radius:            7,160 km

Gravity:           10.8 m/sec2 (1.10 g)

Density:           5.40

Atmosphere:    Oxygen-Nitrogen, standard pressure

Hydrosphere:  82%

Population:      408 million

Satellites:         None


            Astrography: Sard is the only habitable planet in the 40 Eridani system. This star also has the Arabic name of Keid, which turns up in some Sardian place names. Sard orbits an unusually bright orange dwarf star, part of a trinary system. The other two stars are a white dwarf and a red dwarf. They orbit each other a considerable distance from Sard, and are merely bright stars in its night sky. Sard shares its star with two other tiny terrestrial planets and two jovians. One of the jovians, AGATE (q.v.), hosts a gas station. 40 Eridani B, the white dwarf, has a single, weird cinder of a world. 40 Eridani C has a single, small terrestrial planet, once an iceball, now a dry rockball. The tidal effects from B and C cleared out 40 Eridani’s Oort cloud and Kuiper belt, so comets are very rare in this star system.

            Geography: From the ground, Sard’s sun does not look any yellower than Sol, but it radiates much less light in the blue end of the spectrum. The Sardian atmosphere scatters that trace of blue light, so Sardian sunlight always holds the golden hue of an Earthly late afternoon. From orbit, Sard is a globe of mottled yellow-white, yellow and orange-brown. The UN survey ship captain thought it looked like a ball of sardonyx, and this was shortened to Sard.

            Sard is about two billion years older than Earth. It has plate tectonics much like Earth, but its continents move more slowly. Its largest continent is slightly larger than South America. Actual landmasses are even smaller because broad, shallow seas (called epeiric seas) cover much of the continental areas. Most mountain ranges are old, low and eroded, like the Appalachians. On the other hand, the many jostling plates create several archipelagoes. Most island chains resemble the Lesser Antilles or Pacific islands, but a few consist of huge islands like the Philippines or Indonesia.

            A low axial tilt and small landmasses give Sard a mild, warm, moist climate from pole to pole. Snow seldom falls except at one mountainous peninsula near the north pole. The planet has no true deserts. Temperate forests and tropical jungles and savannahs cover most of its land area. Extensive belts of swamp fringe many of the epeiric seas. Despite having less land area than Earth, Sard has more arable land overall. Unfortunately, powerful hurricanes are common and can reach high latitudes before they dissipate.

            Humans live on every continent of Sard. Some continents received little settlement, though, and remain almost vacant. Sard holds no large cities but many towns.

            Most importantly, Sard is a Forerunner world. A race called the Monopods or Old Sardians evolved 20 million years ago. The Monopods built hundreds of many-spired arcologies of a fantastically tough ceramic that archeologists dubbed vitrium. Rising sea levels and subsiding continents placed most of these jewel-like cities underwater. Erosion toppled many of those that remain on land. In some places, though, vitrium piers, walls and whole towers rise from the sea or the soil. A few structures remain sufficiently intact that humans move into them.

            Ecology: Sard’s native life biochemically resemble Earthlife to a high degree. This is not entirely a good thing: Several Sardian pathogens and parasites can infect humans, and Earthly diseases can cross over to Sard. From the start of colonization, Earth authorities imposed strict sterilization and quarantine protocols to prevent Sardian plagues from spreading to other worlds. The protocols failed on a few occasions.

            Sard has a rich ecology. Two phyla supply large land animals (compared to one on Earth). Sard also has three phyla of large land plants (just one on Earth). Despite its long history, Sard’s biosphere suffered fewer mass extinctions than Earth’s — a consequence of fewer comets in the planetary system. The last mass extinction, 20 million years ago, killed off the Old Sardians. The biosphere has fully recovered.

            One phylum of native plants uses hydraulic tubes to bend, curl and move. Another uses elastic fibers. The hydraulic plants contain the same brown photosynthetic pigment as Earthly brown algae, while the fibrous plants use a green pigment almost identical to chlorophyll. Some species of these plants can uproot themselves and move. A few are carnivorous. Plants of the third phylum resemble the giant mosses, liverworts, rushes and ferns of Earth’s late Paleozoic era, and photosynthesize with a yellow-brown or yellow-orange pigment.

            One phylum of large animals resembles the hydraulic plants and comes from the same kingdom of life. Sard abounds in squirmy creatures that humans call tentacloids. The two main classes have leathery or scaled hide. The sea tentacloids are called nektons; the family of large, scaled tentacloids that live on land are called dromons. Tentacloids are surprisingly strong, quick and tough for creatures without skeletons. The phylum that gave rise to the Old Sardians looks more like Earthly vertebrates, but the large land animals have three legs. Scales or feathers cover these triskeles. Most species lay eggs, but all triskeles are warm-blooded. The trinosaurs are a large class of scaled triskeles.

            The tentacloids superficially resemble the enigmatic and malevolent aliens that humans call Biomorphs, but this seems to be coincidence. Biomorph biochemistry does not resemble Sardian biochemistry to any great degree.

            Sard’s large predators learned to eat humans. The baka, a triskele predator named for an evil spirit from Haitian folklore, looks like a large, black dog with horns, except it has three legs and its black ‘fur’ actually consists of fine feathers. The megasaltor, which looks like a hopping, one-legged allosaurus, is the largest triskele predator. The landkraken, the largest dromon predator, snatches at passing creatures with its tentacles and constricts them. The haustellon, a small pack dromon, swarms over its prey to suck blood and enzyme-liquefied body tissues.

            Humans get their own back by domesticating several Sardian species. The brock, a triskele resembling a three-legged badger, is a popular meat animal. Sardians fish for various sorts of nektons, as well as marine relatives of the triskeles. Humans domesticated the jennet, a feathered, horselike triskele, as a riding animal and beast of burden. Humans also use the hauriant, a scaled, finned triskele, as a riding animal for short-range sea travel. Scaled, winged triskeles called amphipteres fill the roles of birds. Some amphipteres have brightly colored scales and humans keep a few species for food, pets or a Sardian version of falconry. Sardians have not domesticated any dromons.


I concede that what follows is more than a bit encyclopedia-y. I was already thinking that Sard might become a project to pitch to Hero someday -- not anymore -- but I now think this style is not good for published material.


Dean Shomshak

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            History: Millions of years ago, the Monopods reached great heights of culture and technology. Their civilization lasted tens of thousands of years. The Monopods never developed space flight, however, perhaps for lack of a moon as an easy first target. When 40 Eridani B collapsed into a white dwarf, it puffed out a shell of ionized gas (a planetary nebula) that flooded Sard with radiation for centuries. This caused a mass extinction. The Old Sardians struggled heroically, building cities in their planet’s mountain ranges and underwater, but ultimately died out. In the most stable regions of the continents, however, they buried armored vaults holding records and artifacts of their civilization. They surrounded each vault with a huge bullseye of concrete impregnated with slow-decaying radioactives, creating markers that could last a billion years. Routine radiation and mineral surveys found the bullseyes, and thus the vaults.

            Sard became one of the first worlds explored by humans. An EU expedition charted the 40 Eridani system. Russia planted the New Kharkov colony almost at once in hopes of claiming the planet… which meant they discovered the planet’s biological dangers. Most of the other major countries sent their own colonies, giving Sard small populations of Americans, Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, Brazilians and Turks. Brazil used its colony as a gulag for political prisoners. Sard also received several small colonies of ethnic and religious minorities fleeing persecution. In a typical example, a wave of renewed religious intolerance in Iran drove that country’s Zoroastrian minority to seek refuge on Sard, where they founded the colony of Parsumash or New Persia.

            The exotic biosphere and alien ruins attracted private colonial groups with more eccentric desires. Thousands of Anachronists — people who wanted to re-create archaic societies — moved to Sard, resulting in communities that imitated medieval Europe and Japan. The alien ruins and the tentacloids’ resemblance to creatures from 20th-century horror fantasy led an early explorer to dub one continent “Hyperborea,” with regional names such as R’lyeh, Innsmouth and Mhu Thulan. This continent attracted hundreds of Dreamlander fans of those old fantasy writers — a small group but one that proved influential, especially in naming. They were joined by hundreds of Atlantists who held crackpot notions linking the Old Sardians to mythical “lost continents” on Earth. The Atlantists sought to create a society modeled on the imagined culture of their “lost civilization.” Larger and more powerful colonies eventually absorbed these oddball groups. The eccentrics tended to be wealthier than most colonists, however, and money (and getting there first) sometimes bought personal and cultural influence that lasted for generations.

            The Conglomerate attacked Sard during the Corporate Rebellion. The most technology-dependent and urban colonies suffered the most, while the Anachronists found their low-tech survival skills in high demand. Of necessity, most colonists accepted the need to learn such low-tech skills and to exploit what the planet offered.

            When the World Governance Board abolished the United Nations and most national governments, tens of thousands of national soldiers refused to accept the new regime. A lot of them moved to Sard, especially Hyperborea. Some of them came as conquerors; others sought to rebuild the civilian governments of their home countries. Either way, their numbers, weapons, discipline and cultural separation from the colonists turned several groups into military aristocracies. The Anachronists began the custom of calling the soldiers knights and nobles, like their own leaders; not a few soldiers took the custom themselves.

            At the same time, the WGB sent a massive wave of colonists from Central Africa. The WGB bought out the African dictator Ondo Kwazembe by giving him a continent on Sard. He and his cronies sponsored a mass immigration of poor Africans for their “empire” of Kwazembia. Kwazembe and his cronies soon decided to try seizing other colonies. The resulting wars did much to assimilate the soldiers with the colonies they dominated.

            Further waves of colonists came in the various Anti-Nationalist Purges. Kwazembia received most of the Central African exiles. Tamils and various other Hindu groups established Tamilore and Vajranagar, eventually subsuming earlier but smaller colonial groups. Sard gained a variety of small nations that grew, fought, united and divided. Kwazembia remained constant. New Kharkov grew into the powerful republic of Karkovy, Kwazembia’s chief rival and leader of the military and political alliances that contained it.

            The First Cladist War shook up Sard’s social and political alignments. Karkovy suffered greatly from the cladist attacks and never recovered its full strength. The kingdom of Hyperborea emerged as a strategic and political rival. The Second Cladist War caused even more damage. Sard received the most intensive meme-bombing of any world: The Daedalan propagandists found its patchwork of eccentric cultures and subcultures an irresistible challenge to twist and subvert. Kwazembia aligned itself fully with the cladist axis, giving the cladists a large military beachhead as well. The WGB and Sardian forces defeated the cladists and partitioned Kwazembia, but the meme-bombs kept working. The WGB tried to unite the weakened Sardian states into a world government capable of home rule, but a decade after the War ended the Sardian states collapsed into anarchy. The WGB, itself weakened by the devastation of Earth, did not intervene. Some countries have partly rebuilt themselves, but much of the planet remains chaotic. Sard now stands as a petri dish of wild cultural and political ferment. No one can guess how it will develop.

            Society: Officially, Sard is divided into the nations of Hyperborea, Karkovy, Novo Bahía, Tamilore and Vajranagar. Large sections of Hyperborea, Karkovy and Vajranagar no longer obey the central governments, however. Two rival governments fight for dominance in Tamilore. Kwazembia also reconstituted itself as a shrunken but still comparatively powerful tribal empire. Almost half the planet consists of independent splinter states, warlord domains, cult communes and tribal territories, not to mention huge areas of virgin wilderness that continue to attract new colonial groups. The last major wave of colonists consisted of “beastman” cladists, fleeing the sack of their homeworld, HUXLEY (q.v.)

            Under WGB prompting, the five legitimate states formed a confederation with a parliament called the Roundup. The WGB divided the settled areas of Sard into 96 departments. Each department sent a delegate called an elector to the Roundup. The WGB legate became the tiebreaking 97th elector.

            If 49 electors vote for a bill, it becomes planetary law (though the articles of confederation limit the Roundup’s jurisdiction in important ways). Electors who fail to attend a vote are counted as abstentions. At least 49 electors must show up for a quorum; procedural votes can be passed by a majority of the electors who show up. After the collapse, however, gathering a quorum became impossible. The last valid Roundup meeting took place 20 years ago. Many Roundup electorships passed to local warlords or tribal chiefs: They value the prestige of the title. Several departments are so anarchic, however, that no one can make a convincing pretence of representing the district in the Roundup.

            The remaining states scheme and trade favors in hopes of assembling a Roundup. A valid Roundup could call the WGB military to enforce its decrees. The WGB Astry hasn’t a prayer of pacifying Sard, but it could make any Sardian state the undisputed planetary hegemon — even the resurgent Kwazembia. The WGB legate now resides in Novo Bahía, but Hyperborea and Karkovy host embassies of their own. These three nations also receive ombudsmen from other worlds in the Terran Union.

            Here are the percentages of Sard’s land area the Sardian states held immediately before and after the Second Cladist War and today, as well as the numbers of electors that remain (though many electorships are merely potential, if someone could establish their rule over an anarchic region). “Unincorporated” includes everything from bands of hunter-gatherers, to city-states and kingdoms


            Nation                         Prewar Area  Postwar Area Present Area  Electors

            Hyperborea                 14%                 18%                 10%                 13

            Karkovy                      18%                 26%                 14%                 18

            Kwazembia                 29%                                     13%                 15

            Novo Bahía                 4%                   9%                   3%                   6

            Tamilore                      6%                   10%                 5%                   7

            Vajranagar                   8%                   12%                 5%                   7

            Unincorporated           1%                   1%                   29%                 30

            Unsettled                    20%                 20%                 20%                


            Because of the warm, humid climate, most Sardians do not need to wear much. Most clothing is either ornamental, or protective — ballistic cloth or vitrium, or leather, lacquer and metal in the more backward regions — and sometimes both at once. Many Sardian warriors wear the best protection they can obtain, though quite a few prefer to stay light on their feet and dodge attacks. In many parts of the world, Sardians routinely wear little more than shorts and sandals. Some people prefer loincloths for casual wear. Sard’s sun radiates in the far ultraviolet more weakly than Sol does, so people tan but do not burn.

            Most Sardians are fairly dark-skinned in any case. The colonists were about evenly divided between caucasian Russians and Europeans, black Africans, brown Indians and Malays, and already interracial Americans and Brazilians. In many regions, centuries of intermarriage thoroughly blended people’s ancestries. Only Kwazembia possesses anything close to “racial purity,” either as fact or ideology.


Dean Shomshak

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            Ideology/Religion: Sard brought forth four new religions: Solarism, Tecumba, Mythoid Cults and the Trinary Temple. Solarism is the chief religion of Hyperborea, with the Trinary Temple as a widespread splinter-sect. Tecumba dominates religious life in Novo Bahía. Mythoid cults occur all over the planet. The Russian Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Christianity and various forms of Hinduism also have important followings in various parts of Sard. Hinduism is spreading rapidly, thanks to missionaries from Vajranagar.

            Solarism grew from a variety of Neo-Atlantist and Zoroastrian practices. This religion holds that stars are sentient beings who spiritually guide the people who live on their planets. Sol is the tutelary god of all humanity, while the tree stars of 40 Eridani watches over Sardians. Worshippers seek a spiritual communion with their stellar patrons. A star-god can assist the devout with a mystical perception of Ahura Mazda (‘Lord Wisdom’), the star-creator and universal deity. Solarism has spread to other worlds in the 200 years since it began.

            Solarist temples follow a circular plan, with three balls of light in the center to represent 40 Eridani. Other globes in subsidiary chapels represent Sol and other stars. Solarists also represent stars through anthropomorphic “visionary portraits.” More portraits represent the four fundamental forces of the universe, or other scientific principles. Pictorial allegories of scientific concepts are a distinctively Solarist genre. Worshippers symbolize their faith through a sunburst.

            Tecumba evolved from African-derived Brazilian religions such as Macumba and Candomblé. The Novo Bahían colonists applied neurology and electronics to Macumba and turned it into a powerful technology for mind alteration. Some wags call it “Voodootronics.” Macumba centers on possession by semi-divine spirits called orishas. Through Tecumba, worshippers achieve orisha possession at the push of a button. Other faiths promise communion with gods; Tecumba lets a worshipper become a god. Voodootronics can also create other sorts of specialized sub-personalities (also called orishas), induce altered states of consciousness, or permanently change a person’s baseline personality.

            The similarities between Sard’s tentacloids and the creatures of “Cthulhu Mythos” fiction led to fables about “Mythoids.” The chief Mythoids are Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath. They rule squadrons of lesser spirits. Mythoids are amoral and prone to mischief. Most Sardians treated the Mythoids as a joke pseudo-religion — a source for profane oaths and an excuse to dress up, get drunk and shout “Iä!” Mythoid cults were social clubs. Other Sardians turned the Mythoids into the tutelary gods of the Sardian biosphere. These neopagans preached respect for the natural world and ecstatic release from social inhibitions.

            The joke became rather tasteless, however, once humanity encountered the deadly Biomorphs, who also resemble the creatures of 20th century horror fiction. The meme-bombing generated Mythoid cults straight out of the old horror stories, embracing murder and debauchery. These degenerate cults became so destructive and notorious that most Sardian states — even the warlords — outlaw Mythoid cults entirely.

            A small fraction of Hyperboreans (and an even smaller fraction of other Sardians) follow the Trinary Temple. This New-Agey sect says the Old Sardians evolved into angelic spirits who send revelations to the Temple’s leaders. Some Solarists and Mythoidists also honor the Old Sardians as the planet’s tutelary spirits. The Monopods did not believe in any sort of supernatural or spiritual existence, but the Trinarists do not find this any impediment to their faith. The Temple actively proselytizes throughout Sard.

            No ideology dominates all of Sard’s disparate nations. Many people now lean toward excelsian and darwinist ideas, simply because life is dangerous on Sard, and they want to win life’s struggles. The same dangers prompt strong manager and cocooner ideas in other people, though. Sard has complements of luddites, transhumanists, and followers of other ideologies, too — even cladism, thanks to Kwazembia’s treachery and cladists stranded by the fortunes of war.


Reviewing this, I should have cut the Biomorphs from the setting. I likes me some Lovecraft homage, and wanted to create a design space for space-horror in the wider meta-setting, but it never became relevant in play. To me it now seems slightly jarring.


Dean Shomshak

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            Technology: Sard has a wide variety of specialized manufacturing and electronic technologies. Automated micro-factories called fabers enable techno-artisans to produce all sorts of components and devices directly from raw materials. Some regions are more backward than others, but one cannot predict who has star-age machines and who slogs along with medieval technology — and indeed, many people use both at once. Warriors carry swords and plasma blasters; ships powers by fuel cells dock next to windjammers. Sard has little hypernuclear technology (not even fusion reactors) or biotechnology. Novo Bahía and Karkovy maintain the largest surviving industrial infrastructure and the most contact with other worlds.

            Fuel cells are the chief source of power on Sard. These devices extract energy from chemical fuels such as sugar, alcohol, or vegetable oil. Some advanced fuel cells can extract energy from any organic matter. Electricity from a large fuel cell may be stored in small but powerful batteries to use in energy weapons, robot pets, or other portable devices. Solar cells are also widely used, when a device does not need much power. Many common folk, however, get by with no power source more advanced than a windmill and a fireplace.

            Sardians know how to create the “vitrium” ceramic of the Monopods and use it as a building material. Vitrium can be made in a wide variety of colors, lusters and transparencies. Sard has palaces and whole towns of imitation jade, crystal, onyx and pearl.

            Economy: By interstellar standards, Sard has a collapsed economy. Despite this, Sard retains both abundant agriculture and high-tech manufacturing. It simply lacks large volumes of trade or mass production. The stabler parts of Sard easily feed their populations, though famines may strike anarchic regions. Sard’s techno-artisans handcraft a wide variety of advanced devices. The planet exports small quantities of fine wines and liqueurs, indigenous foodstuffs, perfumes, handwoven cloth and other folk arts, and specialized techno-toys and entertainments.

            Large-scale industry is possible only in a few parts of Sard. The Old Sardians exhausted their world’s mineral resources and maintained their civilization through tight recycling. The Monopods’ cities, and attendant metals, are mostly underwater. In the 20 million years since their extinction, only a few small ore deposits have formed on Sard.

            The planet has a surprisingly large tourist industry. A warm climate, lush scenery, exotic alien ruins and centuries of colorful history result in many things for visitors to see and do. Some warlords, cults and tribes are not above kidnapping a convenient tourist for ransom. On the other hand, one enterprising warlord turned his fiefdom into a theme park for interstellar tourists in search of “adventure vacations.”

            Military: In its anarchic state, Sard cannot field a space force or build large weapon emplacements. A few old emplaced weapons remain intact. Nations and warlords compete and scheme to claim them. By necessity, most warfare on Sard is small-scale, using small arms and a little artillery ranging from mortars to laser cannon. All the nations build navies; so do several port city-states or island fiefdoms. The small, scattered landmasses make old-fashioned marine transport and combat unavoidable.

            As a nominal member of the Terran Union, Sard contributes troops to the WGB Astry. A steady trickle of Sardians leave their world to seek honor and glory among the stars. The WGB operates two military space station in orbit around Sard, for customs and protection, but the troops rarely visit the surface.

            Notes: The Monopods had one leg, two arms and scaly skin. Their time-capsule vaults provide samples of their art and technology. Old Sardian technology did not surpass what humanity now possesses. Vitrium was the only “lost secret of alien technology” found on Sard.

            Scholars translated enough of the Old Sardians’ ten recorded languages to reconstruct sections of their laws, history, customs and philosophy. (They did not have fiction.) As usual with aliens, translating the words is easier than translating the meanings, even though the Monopods tried to make it easy for whoever might find their vaults. The Old Sardians knew they were doomed. They left their vaults in hopes a new sapient race might evolve on their world: They never considered the possibility of aliens from the stars.

            Monopod art tended toward abstraction. The most common art form consisted of Escher-like “friezes” and “mandalas” of changing, interlocking forms. Old Sardian music was also intricate, abstract and contrapuntal.

            After the discovery of the first vaults, Sardians adopted Monopod motifs to their art and architecture. Most public buildings, for instance, display the abstract mandalas and morphing geometric friezes that the Old Sardians loved. Old Sardian artifacts are the planet’s greatest treasures. Many Sardians feel they have a duty to preserve the memory of the Monopods.


Dean Shomshak

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Moving on the descriptions of major countries:



            Geography: The Kingdom of Hyperborea occupies Sard’s northernmost landmass. The kingdom also occupies an island chain and slivers of three nearby landmasses (Lemuria, Daitya, and Poseidonis; the island of Rutas remains uninhabited). The kingdom’s capital is the town of Celephaïs. Other notable towns include Arkham, Ulthar, Commoriom, Troynovaunt, Tritonis, Caiphul, Heian-kyo and Zaranj. The Riphaean and Eiglophian mountains run the length of the Hyperborean continent; their highest peaks are Kadath, Voormithadreth, Lerion and Hatheg-Kla.

            In the planetary collapse, several provinces of Hyperborea seceded to become independent splinter kingdoms. Every now and then another province secedes, or the kingdom recovers a province by force or treaty.

            History: The Anachronists, Dreamlanders, Neo-Atlantists, Euro-American soldiers and Zoroastrians who settled the Hyperborean continent produced several aristocratic petty states. WGB leaders thought the self-proclaimed kings, knights and barons were extremely silly, but that didn’t stop corporations from dealing with whatever local strongman could offer a bargain.

            The petty states went through centuries of expansion, war, collapse and history. The largest kingdoms were Polarion, Mhu Thulan, Tritonia, Mnar, Albion and Parsumash, which survive as the main informal divisions of the continent. Late in the 23rd century, the kingdoms of Mhu Thulan and the R’lyeh Archipelago merged through a marriage alliance to become the optimistically-named Kingdom of Hyperborea. This kingdom led a Hyperborean League of other small states. After the First Cladist War, the WGB helped Hyperborea annex the other states to centralize Sardian power into fewer governments.

            The Second Cladist War bled Karkovy white; grave internal conflicts wracked Vajranagar and Tamilore; and Novo Bahía was too small. Hyperborea gained greater influence almost by default. The kingdom soon suffered its own collapse into civil war and anarchy, though. Hyperborea seeks to recover the territories lost to rebellious vassals, tribes and communes.

            Society: Hyperborea is a semi-hereditary monarchy, partly feudal and partly constitutional. The kingdom has three ranks of nobility: non-hereditary knights, hereditary lords, and semi-hereditary zamindars.

            Knights receive their title for meritorious achievements (usually military). Few knights achieve further promotion into the lords or zamindars, but it does happen now and then, and it’s not unusual for a knight to marry into the higher nobility.

            Lords carry a wide variety of titles such as baron, count, duke, prince, graf, amir, bey, pasha and so on. No title carries any special privilege compared to other titles. The lords collectively own a large proportion of Hyperborea’s land, and a somewhat smaller proportion of the kingdom’s businesses, but lords vary widely in their wealth. Some lords own vast estates. Others own nothing but a set of privileges and obligations.

            Zamindars are provincial governors appointed by the king or queen. They do not actually inherit their governorships, but appointments tend to stay within families. Fourteen “Great Families” dominate the nobility and receive most zamindar appointments. Once in a while, though, a monarch appoints a knight to a zamindar post because of outstanding merit or to shake up the other zamindars. Some of the petty splinter-state kings are rebel zamindars or their children, who often see themselves as restoring former kingdoms.

            Any commoner can draft any lord at any time to decide “low justice” cases such as small claims, minor property crimes, divorce or non-lethal assault. If all parties agree in advance to a lord’s judgment, there is no appeal. If the disputants prefer, or for “high justice” cases such as homicide, major theft, or any case that involves the nobility, each province has three Assessors empowered to render judgment. Seven Lords Assessor hear appeals, cases that cross provincial boundaries, or that involve the monarch or zamindars. Zamindars appoint Assessors with the advice and consent of the monarch. The monarch appoints Lords Assessor with the advice and consent of the zamindars. Hyperborean judges are called Assessors because they began by negotiating ransoms and weregilds between the early nobles.

            Hyperborea does not practice primogeniture. Nobles pass their property to whatever relative they want. If a noble dies intestate, the province’s Assessors select an heir. At the death of the monarch, the Lords Assessor perform the same duty, except they have no obligation to stay within the monarch’s immediate family. Twice in the last century, the Lords Assessor pragmatically handed the Opal Throne to the most powerful zamindar.

            The Lords Assessor also possess the exclusive power to impeach zamindars and Assessors. Even the monarch cannot remove these officials from their lifetime posts. Lords Assessor are removed through assassination and monarchs are removed by coup.

            The Hyperboreans enjoy extensive gender equality. Women own businesses and become knights, heirs to noble estates, zamindars and monarchs.

            Children take the surname of either parent, with the other parent’s given name turned into a patronymic or matronymic through abbreviation and a Russian suffix. For instance, Carthax, son of Diego Malenkov and Nathicana Jones, could call himself either Carthax Nathovitch Malenkov, or Carthax Diegovitch Jones. His sister Amira could call herself Nathovna Malenkov or Diegovna Jones. In marriages between lords and lower-ranking people, children inherit noble rank.

            A strong hedonist streak runs through Hyperborean culture. Hyperboreans consider pleasure a subject that deserves dedicated study as much as war, politics or business. People at every level of society become full-time host-entertainer-pleasure technicians, or sybarites, and consider it an honorable profession. Vanity, ornament, and flair are virtues to Hyperboreans: It isn’t enough to be good at something, one should look good as well. Hyperboreans often wear a lot of jewelry made from metal, vitrium, lacquer, feathers, nacre, or whatever they have on hand; sometimes a Hyperborean’s outfit is little more than strategically placed jewelry.

            Dueling is extremely common in Hyperborea and is a legal option in civil disputes. Hyperborean law permits public weaponry; Hyperborean custom encourages it, especially for aristocrats. All single-target weapons, from knives to laser carbines, are legal for private citizens. Weapons capable of automatic burst fire (such as submachineguns) are not; neither are vehicle-mounted weapons, grenades and poison weapons, though enforcement is problematic.The kingdom’s techno-artisans produce a wide variety of nonlethal but incapacitating weapons for the dueling market, though laser pistols and old-fashioned swords remain very popular as well.

            In a legal duel, however, both parties must use weapons of equivalent technology, to make it a fair contest. “Hyperborean Chivalry” extends to weapons use in general: A person who draws a gun on a person who attacks him with a sword may face criminal prosecution later, if witnesses testify he had a blade as well.

            Since not everyone is physically able to fight a duel, the old, young and infirm may choose proxies to fight duels for them. To prevent people from using hired-blade duelists to harass enemies, proxy duelists cannot accept any sort of fee or gift for their services… at least, not openly. Service as a proxy duelist carries great honor, though, and some people can use that to manipulate the system. For instance, a noble who wants to disgrace a rival might present himself as the proxy for a widow or orphan with a grievance against his target. If the rival wins the duel, he looks like a cad. If he loses, he must pay whatever redress the conspirators cooked up — but at least he can salvage some gallantry by throwing the fight in an obvious way.

            Most Hyperborean aristocrats keep up the traditional skills of riding, hunting, swordplay and the like. Their world and their station demands courage and fighting skill. Some Hyperborean lords achieve interstellar fame as professional hunters or jousters who practice their art on trivid: for instance, a televised big-game hunt with the hunter using nothing but a lance, sword and a trusty warhorse or jennet.


Dean Shomshak

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            Ideology/Religion: Solarism is the official religion of Hyperborea, but the laws do not enjoin penalties on people who follow other beliefs. Significant minorities follow Hinduism, Pentecostalism, Russian Orthodox Christianity, Zoroastrianism and the Trinary Temple.

            Most Hyperboreans believe human life should be hard, fast and passionate. Popular songs and stories glorify action, desire and rugged individualism. The kingdom’s few philosophers agree that a person does not truly live until he risks his life to get what he wants. This makes Hyperborea the most enthusiastically and consciously excelsian society on Sard and probably in human space. Of course, warriors seek to develop their physical prowess, but most Hyperboreans believe in a sound mind in a sound body. Too much dependence on machines is considered wimpy. All major 25th-century philosophies have their partisans on Sard, however — even if most people do not consciously articulate them.

            Hyperborean lords use excelsian ideas to justify their privileges. Because they don’t have to work for a normal living, they have time to develop their minds and bodies to the utmost. Commoners imbibe this “Be all that you can be” attitude as well, though they lack the opportunities and training resources of the lords. A steady trickle of commoners rise to knighthood through their achievements, which helps reconcile other commoners to the hardships and inequalities of their society.

            Technology: Hyperborea has quite high technology despite its small industrial infrastructure. The kingdom’s techno-artisans excel at microelectronics, holography and other high-precision, low-energy technologies. Miniaturized devices concealed within jewelry, knicknacks or other ornamental items are very popular. A well-crafted device often becomes a family heirloom. On Sard, only Novo Bahía exceeds Hyperborean technology overall.

            The techno-artisans possess great skill at baroquing — disguising the actual workings of a device or computer program through multiplied, redundant parts and needless complexity. On other worlds, machines or programs are baroqued as a security feature, to make them harder to reverse-engineer, crack or subvert. Hyperboreans simply love intricate complexity.

            The psychomantium is Hyperborea’s most celebrated techno-toy. This device consists of a holographic projector linked to a miniature EEG reader and a powerful computer. The EEG reads a person’s brainwaves and the computer translates them into holographic images. One can learn to evoke images on command, as one gains control of one’s brainwaves and the computer learns to associate specific brainwave patterns with particular images — the feedback goes both ways. Skilled psychomancers can make a living as entertainers in Hyperborea. They evoke images suggested by the audience or “duel” each other to see who can attune a blank psychomantium first. An attuned psychomantium can pick up unconscious thoughts from reveries to evoke visible dreams. The most technologically advanced psychomantia can attune to a person with great speed, making them an important diagnostic tool for mental and memetic illness. They also find use in interrogation — pulling images directly from a person’s thoughts.

            The same “Neural Interpretive Link” used in the psychomantium permits a wide range of other devices based on mind/machine interface. For instance, a person can control a robot through a neural interpretive link, and receive sense impressions from the robot, to the extent the device becomes a virtual extension of the person’s mind and body. Some elite Hyperborean warriors link their minds to a robot falcon and use it as a forward observer. More dubious uses include projecting one’s presence in a larger android beast, as a form of technological lycanthropy.

            Economy: Although agriculture dominates Hyperborea’s economy, plenty of high-tech manufacturing takes place — just not in bulk. Even before Sard’s collapse, the Hyperboreans preferred to buy consumer goods directly from a producer rather than through a vendor, and this kept businesses small: No chain stores mean few really large markets, and therefore little incentive for mass production or standardization.

            Hyperborea has a free-market economy. Business law deals chiefly with safety and fraud, and instead of detailed regulations the law sets down principles for the lords and Assessors to interpret. A dissatisfied customer may challenge the vendor to a duel instead of suing.

            Military: Like the rest of Sard, Hyperborea has little weaponry heavier than an APC, and emphasizes small arms in battle. All nobles receive some degree of military training. The monarch can draft them in wartime. Many knights and lords hold reservist officer’s commissions. The monarch is commander-in-chief.

            Hyperborean military doctrine emphasizes speed, strategy and personal gallantry. For instance, a Hyperborean commander faced with a plasma cannon nest would send a squad of commandos to take it out, rather than ordering a massed infantry charge or an artillery barrage. Military training stresses that it’s very hard to stop a few skilled, determined people who prefer success to survival.

            The logical conclusion is assassination. The Hyperborean military includes a secret cadre of professional assassins called the Sharp Rebuke. Officially, these high-tech ninjas only murder foreign enemies and internal subversives. Unofficially, monarchs use the Sharp Rebuke to remove overly-ambitious or intransigent nobles. A monarch must use the Sharp Rebuke cautiously, however, since too frequent assassinations can spark the sort of coup they are meant to avoid.

            Hyperboreans see nothing shameful about political or military assassination. It’s the ultimate expression of individual power. Some Hyperboreans feel sorry for “Rebukers” because they cannot claim the glory of their deeds. Other people think the assassin’s need for a “secret identity” is romantic.


Dean Shomshak

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Since Nothere asked about Voodootronics, I'll skip ahead to Novo Bahia and post the descriptions of Karkovy and Kwazembia later.



            Geography: Novo Bahía occupies a small continent that straddles Sard’s equator. Settlement also extends into the large Iroon Archipelago that extends east from the continent, but Novo Bahía wields little real control over these islands. A relatively high range of young mountains runs along the southern coast of Novo Bahía. The nation’s capital, São João de Matha, lies on a bay between two arms of these mountains. The only other significant towns are Pôrto Keid (Sard’s best spaceport) and Paso de Ferro.

            History: Late in the 2070s, the totalitarian government of Brazil turned its brand-new Sardian colony into a gulag for political prisoners, dissidents and anyone else who might challenge state power and prestige. Exile to another world was permanent enough to suit the Brazilian rulers, without the bad press brought by outright execution. The exiles themselves named their colony after Brazil’s most notorious slave-port. The ranks of the dissidents included many of Brazil’s scientists, writers and artists. The Brazilian regime also exiled many priests of Macumba, Candomblé and other “Voodoo” religions because of their influence over Brazil’s poor.

            The result was a politically liberal society with technical and artistic skills and strong Voodoo piety. The wave of Brazilian soldiers who fled the totalitarian regime’s downfall in the WGB takeover usurped Novo Bahía’s government, but not its culture. The soldiers claimed large expanses of Sard for Novo Bahía — but a few years later more migrations of soldiers from other lands overpowered the Brazilians. The military government collapsed in a popular revolt.

            When science met Voodoo, they spawned Tecumba and voodootronics. The new technology profoundly disrupted Novo Bahían society. At the press of a button, a Tecumba adept could assume the personality and skills of an orisha and let the god deal with situations. A Tecumban politician didn’t have to deliver a campaign speech himself: He could deliver it as a super-charismatic divine king like Chango or Obatala. A businessman could assume the divine cunning of Legba for a negotiation. As the Tecumbans learned how to evoke tailored orishas, doctors, lawyers, engineers, detectives and even scientists used artificial sub-personalities to help them in their work. Anyone who wanted to reach the apex of their profession had to use voodootronics. For a time, Novo Bahía became an odd theocracy until voodootronics became common enough that individual politicians gained no special advantage from an orisha. Over the next century, Novo Bahía passed through phases of religious dictatorship, democratic revolution, religious republicanism, psychocratic oligarchy and anarchy before stabilizing as a civil republic.

            Novo Bahía did not expand much beyond its single small continent until the WGB awarded it a slice of partitioned Kwazembia. On the other hand, Novo Bahía enjoyed 150 years of unusual stability and prosperity after the initial chaos. In the Cladist Wars, Novo Bahía suffered the least from the Daedalan meme-bombs, because the voodootronic technicians could recognize and treat the obsessions induced by Daedalan propaganda.

            Novo Bahía lost its island and Kwazembian territories in the planetary collapse, but its government and society remained intact. It has the most stable and centralized government on Sard — but it’s still a small country.

            Society: For the last century and a half, Novo Bahía has been the sort of stockholders’ republic found throughout the Terran Sphere. Citizens receive voting shares based on their investment in society. Novo Bahía rates mental health and mind-alteration professions as “highly invested”; this includes priests (a privilege recently extended to priests of all faiths, not just Tecumba). Government office also receives a high rating (just like every stockholders’ republic); so does military service. People can earn more voting shares by having themselves cleared of antisocial attitudes and habits. Conversely, people temporarily lose their franchise for criminal acts.

            Novo Bahían government works through a combination of elected officials, civil service bureaucracy, judges and plebiscites. The government has no legislature as such: Civil service bureaus make their own rules, which people or other bureaus can challenge in lawsuits. A suit can result in a review by a panel of judges or a public referendum. Plebiscites at six-year intervals elect the judges, the heads of the major bureaus and a president as overall head of state.

            The Bureau of Psychic Health wields great power. These gently ruthless “Mind Police” investigate and prosecute malpractice and misfeasance involving mind alteration. They also certify the competence and integrity of voodootronic practitioners and investigate complaints about people who persistently host dangerous orishas. Psychic Health workers cannot force a person to change behaviors that are merely obnoxious, but they can exorcise beliefs and habits that threaten the safety of other people. For merely irritating or self-destructive orishas, Psychic Health workers place the subject of a complaint into a calm, rational state called “Clear” and ask her whether she wants a permanent cure.

            Some Novo Bahíans go overboard on mental modification. They invite in so many orishas, and change their personalities so freely, that they possess no stable identity. Novo Bahíans call these compulsive changers ibaji. An ibaji loses voting rights but suffers no other legal sanction. Most ibaji settle into a stable personality after a few years.

            The power of voodootronics tempts some people to crime. Some mind-shapers fail their certification exam and practice in the black market. A few people use mind-shaping itself to commit crimes, by brainwashing innocent people into committing other crimes on their behalf.

            On the other hand, voodootronics permits the surest rehabilitation known to humanity. A skilled mind-shaper can isolate the personality traits responsible for repeat offenses and exorcise them or impose a conscience. In extreme cases, the Bureau of Psychic Health may alter or excise so much of a criminal’s mind as to produce “death of personality” — the former criminal becomes a whole new person. In such cases, the Bureau gives the convicted felon a say in his future self’s personality, but the Bureau’s word is final. A small but vocal movement in Novo Bahía argues that in cases when the Bureau and a felon cannot agree, the Bureau should turn the convict into an ibaji and let him find his own way instead of imposing a personality by fiat.

            Ideology/Religion: Most Novo Bahíans at least pay lip service to some form of Tecumba, even if they do not actively participate in the religion. Tecumban ideas permeate Novo Bahían culture. Everyone accepts that personality and identity are fluid, even without the drastic interventions made possible by voodootronics. Novo Bahíans don’t ask, “How are you today?” They ask, “Who are you today?”

            Classic deities such as Chango and Yemanya do not exhaust the possibilities for orishas. Novo Bahíans treat all passions, obsessions and complex memes as orishas that can possess a person. Their philosophers, priests and psychodynamic engineers (the three classes overlap a great deal) argue about what constitutes the self that orishas possess: Does a true self exist, or are individuals mere hollow vessels filled by more or less persistent orishas? Some people turn ibaji because they believe the latter.

            Novo Bahíans hold transhumanist ideas more strongly than other Sardians. Tecumba adepts believe they literally become gods when orishas possess them. Secular Novo Bahíans may see voodootronics as a way to become mentally superhuman or post-human; some Novo Bahíans also now try to develop psionic powers through Tamilore’s psychotronic methods. Other Novo Bahíans take a more excelsian attitude to personality modification. The ibajis, for instance, seek to encompass the entire range of human experience within one lifetime, while other Novo Bahíans simply try to “become themselves the most they can.”

            Technology: Novo Bahía has the most advanced industrial infrastructure on Sard. No other Sardian state enjoys the benefits of mass-produced, high-quality technology to the extent the Novo Bahíans do. Novo Bahíans routinely use computers (with advanced simulated-personality agent programs), aircars, and other interstellar-standard personal technologies. To the rest of Sard, it’s the Land of Wonders where everyone is rich.

            Voodootronics, of course, is Novo Bahía’s signature technology. Voodootronics encompasses a broad range of consciousness-altering techniques, including electronic brain stimulation, drugs, guided imagery and trance-inducing sound and light. Tecumba adds more archaic techniques such as dance and drumming. After centuries of development, Novo Bahían voodootronics can induce radical personality shifts within hours, and a person with the right brain implants can activate a prepared orisha personality at will.

            Economy: Novo Bahía’s post-industrial economy blends high-density agriculture, fishing, high-tech manufacturing and information services. Personality modification accounts for a significant fraction of the economy. Voodootronic brain implants are major purchases, comparable to a new aircar, but many Novo Bahíans consider them worth the price. Personality modifications follow the same price range as home appliances, depending on the extent, detail and quality of the alteration. Simply breaking a habit might cost no more than a new blender, while a complete overhaul of one’s interpersonal skills might cost as much as a complete kitchen suite.

            Novo Bahía engages in limited commerce with the rest of Sard. Techno-artisans from other countries buy Novo Bahían components, tools and the precious fabers — plus the latest offworld techniques, which always reach Novo Bahía first. Other Sardians visit Novo Bahía in hopes of buying personality modifications to make them better fighters, courtiers, lovers, or whatever other ambition they hold.

            This country divides Sard’s slight offworld commerce with Hyperborea and Karkovy. Some offworlders prefer Novo Bahían personality-sims for their computers — they seem more human than the technically superior Martian or Gwydionite models. Offworlders also visit Novo Bahía for the ultimate in psychotherapy, and Novo Bahían psycho-engineers find their skills in high demand on other worlds.

            Military: Novo Bahía manufactures more heavy weapons (such as tanks and field artillery) per capita than other Sardian states, and retains a fully mechanized military, but centuries of habit keep the military posture entirely defensive. Novo Bahía possesses no long-range missiles or aircraft (although they could build such items), and their navy is more of a coast guard.

            Some Sardians fear that Novo Bahía uses its mind-altering technology to brainwash visitors and turn them into sleeper agents within other countries. Anyone who admits they received a voodootronic mind-mod can expect some suspicion when she returns home. Fewer Sardians realize that if the mind-shapers can turn paying clients into better soldiers or commanders, they can do the same for their own armies. Novo Bahía can give every regiment its own Patton or Alexander, and field platoons of Otto Skorzenies and Audie Murphies.


Dean Shomshak

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And I think that's enough for now. I'll post another batch of material around the end of the week.


And to answere Nothere, a small drum would be an excellent way to carry a Voodootronic possession-trigger, whether it contains a radio transmitter to the subject's brain implants or just as a mnemonic key to assist in activating an orisha.


Dean Shomshak

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Before continuing with the encyclopedia-like description, here's a morsel of local color.






            People on Sard cultivate many crops and raise many food animals brought from Earth. They also domesticated a number of native plants and animals for food. Some Sardian foodstuffs are exported (in small quantities) to gourmets on other worlds. Others leave offworlders shaking their head in bafflement.



            Mold-Cake:  This common staple food consists of mold grown on a slurry of ground Sardian vegetation, then pressed into pale brown slabs. Mold-cake tastes bland and musty, with hints of flavor from the starting vegetation. The texture is soft, rubbery and thready all at once, like slightly fibrous tofu.

            Few people actually like mold-cake. It’s a way to turn waste vegetable matter into edible protein and carbohydrates. Poor people who live on mold-cake suffer from vitamin deficiencies.



            Brock:  The brock is a triskele something like a large, feathered badger. Brock meat has a savory edge like pork, though it’s not like pork in any other way.

            Krolik:  (Russian, “rabbit”) This small, burrowing triskele is proverbial both for its savory flesh and its timid stupidity. Downy krolik pelts are sometimes used to decorate clothing, or the feathers are stuffed in pillows.

            Norb:  This small nekton is fished in large quantities. Norbs are usually steamed or pickled, and served whole.

            Pashtet:  The Russian name for meat paté. This is popular on Sard as a use for meat scraps, and because you can stretch the pulverized meat with mold-cake and no one’s the wiser.

            Zoober:  (Russian, “bison”) This large triskele is used both as a beast of burden and as food. Zoobers are known for stubbornness and temperament. Red-meat cuts are eaten as is; the organ meats are usually turned into pashtet.


Fruits and Vegetables

            Crawl-Fruit:  The fruits in this plant family all have tentacles. The fruit drops from its vine or tree, then the tentacles pull it toward sunlight. The fruits crawl for less than a minute, but this helps spread the seeds away from the parent plant. Domesticated crawl-fruits are of course larger and sweeter than the wild varieties. Crawl-fruits range from softball-sized to blackberry-sized, in a variety of colors.

            The arbus (Russian, “melon”) is one of the largest crawl-fruits. It looks like a small canteloupe with a purple-green rind and six-inch tentacles. The greenish flesh has a musty sweetness, like horehound.

            Wriggleberries are small, red ovals the size and shape of almonds, with little tentacles less than an inch long. They are sweet, with a hint of cinnamon. Some people swallow seedless, fresh-picked wriggleberries whole. In some circles, the wriggling in the stomach is considered an esoteric and acquired pleasure. Other people consider it a test of manly fortitude.

            Khrenlist:  (Russian, “horseradish-leaf”) The peppery leaves of this herb are one of Sard’s most popular condiments, either fresh-picked or ground into a dark orange paste.

            Zelyon:  (Russian, “green”) This long-narrow fruit looks something like a small, green banana. The pale green pulp has a tart, refreshing taste.



            Alcohol is a fundamental human desire that transcends races, religions and cultures. Every world develops its special forms of booze, along with the usual wine, beer and distilled spirits. Sard is no exception.

            Brockal:  This distilled spirit is flavored with the digestive bile of brocks. Sardians claim the bitter, pale green liquid is not as disgusting as it sounds. Brockal is said to have medicinal value for digestive upsets, which gives a great excuse to drink a little the morning after a binge.

            Kife:  This reddish liqueur was invented in Caiphul (hence the name). It’s flavored with several Sardian fruits and spices, including wriggleberries. The sweetness hides the alcoholic wallop. Fine kife is traded offworld.


Dean Shomshak


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Continuing with the descriptions of major countries:



            Geography: The Republic of Karkovy claims the entirety of Sard’s second-largest continent. A young mountain range rises along its northeast edge, separated from the rest of the continent by two shallow seas to the north and south.

            Half of Karkovy’s population lives in the cordillera. Settlers concentrated on the mountains because they held ore deposits formed after the Monopod extinction, and the Russian settlers preferred the cooler mountain climate. Towns dot the rest of the continent, with wide unsettled or thinly-settled areas between them. Karkovy’s capital is Tyuringrad. Other important towns include Kazan, Rostov, Sardograd, Eskezar (formerly Eskesehir) and Saporsk (formerly New Sapporo).

            History: The Russians worked harder than any other early colonists on Sard. Russia (which once more annexed Ukraine and Belarus) wanted to reclaim its prestige as a world power. That meant building an extrasolar colony. New Kharkov, or Karkovy, did not expand as fast as the founders hoped, but eventually it flourished. The Russians planted settlements wherever they found minerals, superior farmland, or other useful resources, ignoring the land in between. Karkovy eventually annexed smaller colonies from Japan and Turkey. WGB support helped Karkovy dominate Sard for centuries, with Kwazembia as its chief rival.

            Karkovy’s own success, however, led to its stagnation. Rich corporations formed pacts and cartels, like the WGB in miniature, to guarantee profits and stifle competition. Karkovan technology fell behind that of other Sardian states. The Russian bureaucratic tradition eventually strangled the frontier habits of self-reliance and entrepreneurship. As taxes rose and regulation became more omnipresent, popular discontent grew.

            In the First Cladist War, Karkovy fought on three fronts: the cladists, mineral-hungry Kwazembia, and its own people. Daedalan propaganda sparked a massive rebellion that combined class warfare and collectivism with intense Orthodox Christian mysticism The government quashed the rebellion, but not quickly or easily. Internal troubles and a stagnant economy slowed Karkovy’s reconstruction, while Hyperborea steadily grew in influence.

            In the Second Cladist War, meme-bombing sparked a second rebellion. The WGB demanded the central government concentrate on fighting Kwazembia and producing materiel for the wider, interstellar war. The Karkovan government delegated the fight against the rebels to the provincial governors, with almost no oversight. By the end of the war, many governors were outright warlords, ruling through private militias or mercenaries.

            Karkovy’s expanse worked against regaining central control. The more remote provinces became autonomous kingdoms, even if the resident warlord didn’t formally secede. Karkovy still rules more territory than any other state on Sard, but has lost control of huge regions.

            Society: Karkovy is a federal republic. Each province sends three delegates to its parliament, the Duma: one appointed by the province’s governor, the other two elected. The candidates of the two parties who receive the most votes both go to the Duma, a measure intended to promote a wide variety of political views. The dominant coalition in the Duma appoints a Prime Minister and the top bureaucrats of the civil service. The bureaucracy has a great deal of autonomous authority, though. Each province elects its own governor.

            Since the Second Cladist War, many provinces have been in a state of emergency. Governors frequently suspend elections because of the “unrest” and appoint all three Duma delegates, if they bother to send any at all.


And since I passed the Sard description on to another member of my gaming group to run "Gods of Sard," I added this note:




Didn't get anything for Karkovy, though.


Dean Shomshak

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Karkovy Continued:


            Ideology/Religion: The Russian Orthodox Church is Karkovy’s dominant religion, though decades of anarchy and isolation result in many illiterate priests who don’t know much about their own doctrine. On the other hand, Orthodox monasteries have become important rival power centers to some of the warlords. The Dukhobor (“Spirit Wrestler”) sect in particular has come into prominence: These technology-averse mystics decided long ago that they could compromise their pacifism for self-defense, and developed a martial art resembling Judo or Aikido. A number of monasteries now teach this martial art to priests, monks and nuns, so they can defend themselves against bandits. The urban church officials disapprove of this spreading practice, since they value centralized authority and good relations with the state, even when the state is a warlord with an army of bandits.

            Where the central government retains control, most Karkovans staunchly follow manager ideals. They see a strong government as their key to safety and prosperity. The government they actually have, though, does not inspire much confidence or loyalty.

            Technology: Karkovy used to have reactors to “breed” hypernuclear matter for nuclear batteries. The Second Cladist War destroyed those facilities. The Karkovan government now conserves its nuclear batteries for its military, and retrofits to chemical fuel cells or other power sources whenever possible. Solar power and fuel cells are the chief sources of energy in the lowland provinces; the mountain provinces exploit abundant hydropower.

            Wealthy Karkovans travel in personal aircraft. Most towns have chemically-powered streetcars. In the countryside, people rely on carts and carriages drawn by animals. A century ago, Karkovy built a railway system to move people and cargo between towns, but war and rebellion cut the lines in many places.

            The First Cladist War gave Karkovans a deep suspicion of biotechnology, to the point where they stopped bioengineering replacement limbs and organs for the sick or maimed. Instead, they turned to cybernetics. It was only a short step from bionic prosthetics for maimed soldiers, to cybernetic super-soldiers. Even in collapse, Karkovy has exceptional skill at bionic prosthetics, through only the upper class can afford cyborging. Some warlords become cyborgs just to become “living weapons” and impress their followers.

            Economy: Karkovy retains an industrial economy in the towns, but the countryside is entirely agrarian. Heavy industry and the higher technologies are reduced, though, because it’s harder now to move raw materials, parts and finished products around the continent. Even in the largest towns, people learn to make do with less.

            Major industries rely on state subsidies, making them wasteful and technologically backward. Smaller businesses are hampered by the need to pay bribes to local officials and local mafias. It’s completely impossible to start a new business legally: The regulations are just too complicated. In the countryside, farmers increasingly re-create the medieval manor as they form co-ops, fortify their villages, and fall under the sway of local magnates, landlords, or other bosses.

            Military: Karkovy maintains more heavy armaments than the rest of Sard put together. Between the Cladist Wars, the government pursued a large arms buildup to counter Kwazembia (and the tax burden eventually helped fuel the next rebellion). Karkovy’s choices for its strategic weapons systems, however, struck outside observers as… peculiar. Karkovan weaponeers and politicians insisted their designs served vital functions of intimidation and cultural pride.

            The antigravity battle stations made strategic sense. These heavily-armored fortresses could fly anywhere on Sard and blow the heck out of anything. But making them giant, golden Orthodox crosses?

            Karkovy’s submarine fleet gave it the power to interdict any other state’s shipping. At least, it would if Karkovy built all the submarines it planned. Outsiders were not persuaded by the reasons given why the submarines had to look like giant Sardian sea creatures.

            On land, Karkovy’s existing tank force was supplemented by new mobile artillery designed to function in terrain too rugged or densely forested for wheeled or tracked vehicles: They walked and looked like stylized human or animal figures.

            Karkovy’s military dominance would be absolute… if it could place all its military power under one command, and keep it all working. Karkovy can no longer build spare parts for its battle stations, submarines and mecha. Engineers must cannibalize parts from broken-down war machines. Only a third of Karkovy’s baroque arsenal is in working condition, and a third of those are held by provincial governors and warlords who won’t give them up. The central government considers the war-machines too valuable to risk in battle against mere warlords; it reserves them as its trump card against invaders. Since the Cladist Wars, however, one submarine proved quite sufficient to destroy a pirate fleet operating out of Kwazembian territory.


Dean Shomshak

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            Geography: Ondo Kwazembe claimed the planet’s largest continent for himself, including the section cut off from the main landmass by a narrow epeiric sea. The central lowlands are mostly swamp and jungle, giving way to lighter forest on the plateaux that run along the continent’s southern edge. The eastern end of the continent rises in mountain-ringed highlands that hold the largest savannahs on Sard. Tribes of nomads live in the eastern savannah and resist all attempts to bring them back into Kwazembia’s empire.

            The resurgent Kwazembia now controls about half of its equatorial continent, centered on the waterway that Kwazembians call “the Narrow Sea.” A large island in that sea holds Kwazembia’s capital, the town of Port Alioune. Other cities include Bangassou, Lusambo, Ondovia, Tenkeville and Zorem.

            History: When Ondo Kwazembe declared himself Emperor of Kwazembia, he imagined his dynasty ruling Sard for a thousand years. It lasted one generation after him. His grandsons fought over the throne. Kwazembia’s generals resolved the issue by killing them both and installing their own Emperor. This began a tradition of emperor-dictators chosen by generals and the chiefs of high-ranking tribes (and often murdered by them, too).

            Ondo Kwazembe chose Sard’s largest continent because it was largest and looked like Africa, but he didn’t realize its mineral resources were largely exhausted. Kwazembia made repeated attempts to conquer other parts of Sard, with occasional success, in order to seize or extort mineral resources. In the First Cladist War, Kwazembia allied with the Cladist Axis as part of another attempt to seize territory. After the war, the WGB forced Kwazembia to pay reparations to Earth and the other Sardian states. In the bitter Second War, Kwazembia joined the Cladist Axis completely. The ruling elite wanted their offspring genetically engineered into supermen, and gave the cladists a beachhead in return for this service.

            This time, the WGB and its Sardian allies conquered Kwazembia outright. The WGB partitioned Kwazembia and gave most of its territory to the other Sardian states. A third of Kwazembia became a trust territory under direct rule from Earth. The gengineered children were hunted down and euthanized as genetic criminals.

            A decade later, though, none of the Sardian states could administer their Kwazembian territories; they had too many problems of their own. The WGB kept a nominal hold on its trust territory a few years longer. Shortly thereafter, old generals and government officials emerged from hiding to declare Kwazembia’s return. Tribes that once held high rank in the old regime quickly embraced the new one, and set out to subjugate the other tribes. Kwazembia has regained about half of its traditional territory, though much remains thinly populated.

            Society: Kwazembia merges tribe and caste. Its founder made himself Emperor, with his tribe and personal followers as the ruling class. Other tribes received higher or lower status according to how quickly they pledged loyalty, or to what extent they paid their own way to Sard. Lower-ranking tribes pay tribute to higher-ranking tribes; their members are limited to less-prestigious, lower-paying jobs. A third of all Kwazembians are serfs descended from penniless colonists culled from Africa’s teeming slums. In the 200 years since Kwazembia began, tribes have changed ranks but the system has held.

            An Emperor rules Kwazembia with the advice and consent of a council of generals. Kwazembia has no written constitution, but a strong body of customary law. A 60% majority vote by the generals can veto an Emperor’s decree or even remove him from office: That’s enough generals to mount a coup with almost certain success, and the vote warns the Emperor to mind the wishes of the men with guns. The generals also appoint new Emperors. About half the time, they choose a son or other close relative of the previous Emperor.

            The Kwazembian government includes a large civil service that is absolutely honest… because the law entitles government functionaries, from city guards to cabinet ministers, to charge for their services and take bids for their favor. Civil servants charge as much as they want and deliver as little service as they want. Only prudence restrains their greed and prods their sloth: No service at all means no bribes, and they might anger their own superiors or the all-powerful army.

            Ideology/Religion: The early Kwazembians followed a variety of Christian, Muslim and animist beliefs. Kwazembe and his cronies promoted Pentecostal Christianity as the state religion. Kwazembian Christianity, however, includes traditional African elements such as blood offerings to ancestral spirits. Other religions diminished over the centuries.

            No central authority trains or oversees the Pentecostal preachers; they follow an apprenticeship system. The ruling elite quickly learned how to subvert the preachers through gifts such as fancy vehicles and new church buildings, so most preachers supported state power. Those who preached against the government died. The resurgent regime continues this practice. In the breakaway provinces, however, some preachers now speak out against Kwazembia.

            A few breakaway tribes now adopt Hindu, Orthodox or Solarist ideas and rites, but they add these notions to a Pentecostal base rather than fully convert to the other religion. The tribes of the eastern highlands always ignored the state religion, and follow idiosyncratic cults of their own.

            Technology: Kwazembia is technologically backward. Only the military and high-ranking tribes are allowed to use blasters, computers or other high technology. People of the lowest-ranking tribes are not even allowed to read. Independent tribes cannot build anything more advanced than an automatic rifle, but achieve limited access to higher technology through techrunners and occasional fabers brought from Karkovy or Hyperborea. Among the independents, a faber to produce ammunition is the most precious treasure imaginable, well worth fighting a war against another tribe.

            Economy: Kwazembia’s economy relies on a mixture of subsistence farming, cash crop plantations, and extractive industries such as logging and what little mining is possible. Local factories are inefficient and generally operate with 20th-century technology — not even fabers. Kwazembian consumer goods are too shoddy to find markets elsewhere on the planet (though they manage to sell beads and trinkets to some of the more backward tribes). Most manufacture is for domestic consumption in the towns. The ruling elite that owns the factories protects their market through sumptuary laws that restrict what people of various ranks may own. This inevitably creates a thriving black market supplied by techrunners who smuggle in goods from other parts of Sard.

            Kwazembian agriculture is as backward as its industries. The equatorial soils are leached by constant rain, so they are not much more than red clay. They don’t hold nutrients well. Tropical soil can be farmed with careful land management, but the Kwazembians rely on slash-and-burn farming that exhausts the soil in a few years.

            The people who moved into the eastern savannahs turned to stock-raising. They now live as nomads, living off their herds of cattle and paying no attention to the government anymore.

            Military: Kwazembia once supported the largest military on Sard (albeit the worst-equipped). Its army is not so large now, but still poorly armed by interstellar standards. The Kwazembian army and navy relies entirely upon slugthrowers and chemical artillery, with no energy weapons at all. Kwazembia also has a small force of short-range aircraft. For now, however, Kwazembia chiefly makes war on its own breakaway tribes, whose weapons are no better. The Kwazembian elite tries (with limited success) to import offworld weapons. So far, the advanced weapons all go to the elite guards of the Emperor and the generals.


Dean Shomshak

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