Ashen Stars uses the episodic ‘planet-of-the-week’ or ‘case-of-the-week’ approach to adventures – the Lasers get an assignment, show up, solve the mystery, and move on to some other part of the Bleed. It’s Have Starship, Will Travel.In a Station Duty campaign, the Lasers are on permanent assignment to a particularly troubled system or sector, a place where there’s an ongoing need for hired justice, in the mode of Gunsmoke or Deep Space Nine.
For a campaign like this, you need ongoing villains, which means you need a larger criminal conspiracy for the Lasers to investigate, bit by bit. You need a supporting cast with secrets to be discovered. You need a sector that’s a crossroads, a place that attracts lots of strangers, and has some value that must be protected. And above all, you need the players to care about the place, to want to defend it and improve it.
Welcome to the Themis System
The Charybis Outzone used to be the Charybis Cluster – before the Mohican War, multiple major translight corridors led off from the Themis system, connecting Charybis not only to the rest of the Bleed, but several frontier worlds beyond. During the later stages of the war, the Enemy collapsed these corridors, isolating Themis. The Themis worlds spent five years cut off from the rest of the galaxy, all alone in the dark, until Combine pathfinder vessels found their way through the seething tachyonic chaos. Today, only a handful of the corridors linking Themis back to the Bleed are secure, and Combine engineers are still working on rebuilding the routes to the lost frontier planets.
Worlds of the Themis System
Seven major planets orbit Themis, five of which are inhabited. In order from the star:
Aurora: Hot and rocky, so close to the star that much of the surface is molten.
Mere: An uninhabitable ball of rock, with a thin poisonous atmosphere.
Barrow: Similar to Mere, but just this side of habitable; humans can survive on the surface with breathing masks and other protective gear. There’s a penal colony and some first-stage terraforming stations.
Themis Prime: Themis Prime is a garden world, Earth-like and full of life. It attracted thousands of colonists before the war. Later, Themis was designated a transfer station for refugees from other parts of the Bleed; hundreds of passenger liners and transport ships arrived here, carrying those fleeing the war. They were supposed to travel onwards, but the collapse of the translight corridors stranded them here. Unable to cope with the influx of refugees, the government on Themis collapsed, and criminal gangs and factions took over. Today, Themis is a world with sprawling shanty towns amidst unexplored wilderness. Three major criminal syndicates – the Kt’lar Clan, the Shuttle Guild and the Buratha Ring – exert far more influence than the feeble Recontact Office overseen by Administrator Wells.
Uqbar: Uqbar’s a lifelessrock, close to the exit point of several key translight corridors. Before the war, it was home to a Combine naval base. Massive anti-ship artillery installations guarded the mouth of the corridors. When the system was isolated and the civilian government on Themis collapsed, the commander of Uqbar enforced brutal martial law. The Combine have officially begun the process of decommissioning the base and its military assets – over the protests of the base’s former commander, General Gatar.
Goliath: A gas giant orbited by more than two dozen moons. One, Goliath-C, had a secret Durugh listening post buried deep beneath its surface, which has since become a minor Durugh colony.
Glacis: A frozen world on the edge of the system. Its moon, the Hermitage is home to a NuFaith sect, the Third Road Mendicants.
Criminal syndicates on Prime, militant Bleedist veteran on Uqbar, sinister Durugh plots on Goliath-C – this isn’t a one-day assignment. The Lasers are here for good…
The Station & The Duty
Character creation for a Station Duty campaign works as normal for Ashen Stars, with one tweak – characters aren’t obliged to take Warpside Assignments. As the characters don’t start with a starship, there’s less call for abilities like Battle Console or Gunnery.
Instead of a starship, the Lasers have access to a station – it’s their barracks, their armoury, their medical facility, their bullpen, their shuttle garage and their jail cell. The station’s a standard Combine SCROTCH (Self Contained Remote Operations/Technical/Communications Habitat) – an easily transportable modular habitat that can be placed in orbit or landed on a planetary surface. So, the first question for the players – where do they put their station? On Themis Prime? Right in the middle of a city, or out in the wilderness? In planetary orbit? Out in space? On one of the other worlds? Each possible location has benefits and drawbacks.
The station has a large shuttle bay, capable of holding half-a-dozen shuttles, but at the start of the campaign, the characters have only two shuttles. What do they pick?
- Blunt: Advantaged in fleeing, disadvantaged in pursuit
- Sharp: Advantaged in pursuit, disadvantaged in fleeing
- Balanced: No advantage or disadvantage
- Capacious: Disadvantaged in fleeing or pursuit, can carry three times more cargo
- Stealthy: Disadvantaged in fleeing or pursuit, hard to detect with sensors
Later in the campaign, when the Pathfinder team opens more of the collapsed translight corridors, connecting Themis to frontier worlds and unexplored systems, give the Lasers a choice of starship – as the adjacent frontier are within their jurisdiction.
The Recontact Authority
Technically, the Lasers are employed by and answerable to the Recontact Authority, a Combine office with responsibility for bringing the Themis system – and the translight corridors – back into interstellar civilisation. In practice, the Lasers would be wise to maintain some distance from the unpopular Authority, which under Administrator Eldan Wells has wobbled between ineffectual and actively destabilising.
The Recontact Authority has two main branches – the Planetary Office with responsibility for rebuilding Themis Prime’s government, and the Pathfinder section that’s reopening the damaged corridors and sending expeditions to the frontier worlds beyond. One of the Planetary Office’s first acts under Wells was to lift the martial law imposed by the naval base on Uqbar, putting Themis Prime back under the civilian authority of its duly elected president and legislature.
A few months after that, the Office was forced to dismiss the president and legislature of Themis Prime, as they’d shown themselves to be utterly corrupt servants of the Prime criminal syndicates. The new civilian government is now under siege by the syndicates, hated by the heavily armed separatists on Uqbar, and mistrusted as a Combine puppet by the majority of the population.
Wells is honest, trusting and rational – which makes him a terrible fit for the tangle of crime, greed and mistrust that defines the Themis system.
No Reputation, Only Justice
Reputation doesn’t play a factor in this campaign; the characters have an ongoing contract with the Recontact Authority, so they don’t need to compete for jobs. However, the Lasers are supposed to be high-minded, fair and scrupulously neutral when dealing with the various factions and species. This is measured by their Justice score – if they get a negative Justice, they’re seen as too close to one of the factions (likely the Combine). A high Justice means that everyone sees the Lasers as independent. Note that getting your Justice too high is also bad – it means people see the Lasers as inflexible and unwilling to cut a deal. As per the standard rules, Public Relations can be used to massage how your Justice is perceived.
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 PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.