When your Ashen Stars characters next seek a person, piece of information, or illicit technology, place the object of their search in the fleet of the Asteroid Pirates. These rough-edged survivors of the post-War Bleed seek their fortunes in ships whose hulls are part alloy, part hollowed-out microplanetoid. Arrayed together, aided by sophisticated wavelength spoofers, the fleet can easily be misread for an ordinary asteroid belt. They use this stealth tech both to evade their hunters and ambush their targets.
(If the PCs need to locate the fleet to gain information, the Energy Signatures investigative ability reveals its presence. Tell the player that the character was almost fooled, as a less brilliant counterpart would certainly have been. When the presence of the fleet simply poses a danger, require a Difficulty 4 Sense Trouble check to distinguish it from an asteroid belt before it’s too late.)
Outsiders call them Asteroid Pirates. Members of the fleet refer to themselves as the Free Stones. Only some of its constituent ships engage in piracy. Others strictly work salvage, though the distinctions between these two trades can blur. At least half of the fleet engages in service activity, as the fleet operates with the economy of a small, star-roving settlement. Particular ships serve as shops, restaurants, spas, repair shops, or provide other goods and services. The pirates and salvagers trade their purloined/recovered goods with the rest of the sector, and spend that income on the fleet’s other ships.
Ships that operate as public businesses connect to one another by projecting tube-shaped forcefields between their airlocks. Customers can walk from ship to ship as they would through the streets of a planetside town. However the ships can change their relative configuration at any time, requiring frequent consultation of one’s communicator to find a specific destination. Some proprietors pay the owners of more popular establishments for the right to tube-lock with them, increasing their foot traffic. If you want to get to Van Gar’s Psychic Kinesiology Center, you have to walk through Hostius’ Knife Haus, and his blades are priced to go, go, go.
The fleet usually flies in a single-planar arrangement, as seen above. During an attack, the tube-locks disengage. The fleet reconfigures into a sphere, with the lesser armed service vessels protected in the middle and the higher-powered pirate and salvage vessels forming a protective zone around them. Together the fleet can muster more cannon power than a single warship, and strikes with a completely unpredictable fire pattern. Pilots maneuver and target independently of one another, with an unpredictability that challenges even the most experienced tactician.
As they say in the Bleed, anyone who claims to lead the Free Stones is lying, and any Free Stone who denies influence may well possess it. They claim to operate as an anarchic collective, coming to decisions by spontaneous gestalt. You may decide that this is true, or that an unofficial council of wealthy or accomplished captains exerts de facto leadership as needed.
Free Stones range in profile from disaffected ex-Combine officers to society-shunning oddballs to outright space scum. Between them, the hundreds of crew members of the asteroid fleet might have an answer to any question your player characters care to ask.
Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop. Ship plans appear in Accretion Disk.