A Killing Color in the Sky

posted by Doresh Original SA post

Polychrome - A World of Steel and Stain

The Slenderman mythos took on some weird forms in the far future.

A Killing Color in the Sky (aka The Fluff)

Now let's take a look at one of the supplements for Kevin Crawford's Stars Without Number, his OD&D / Traveller mashup set in a galactic sandbox that is just recovering from a 500 year dark age caused by the Scream, a mysterious event that caused every Psychic in the known universe to go out either like in Scanners or Event Horizon.

Like a lot of SWN supplements, Polychrome offers crunch - in this case rules and gear for cyberpunk adventures - and fluff. In this supplement's case, it's about the eponymous planet Polychrome - which like many planets that get an in-depth treatment is located in the Hydra Sector, the example sector from the corebook.

So, let's find out how many shadows run around this place. Like with most places detailed in SWN, Polychrome has three major time periods to cover: How it was in the golden age, how it almost got FUBARed during the Scream, and how things have developed since then.

Sunshine, Lollipos,...

Polychrome is the only habitable planet in a system that otherwise just has two gas giants - Titania and Oberon -, a few planetoids, and an asteroid belt used for mining. It is slightly bigger than Earth with roughly the same gravity. Days are almost 3 hours longer, and the temperatures are a bit milder - though that's the least of your worries since the atmosphere has a few tricks up its sleeve, but we'll get to that in a second.

Polychrome was a lush garden world that became a lucrative trading hub thanks to its proximity to the homeworld of the Zadak, a caste-based race of mantis-like aliens. The Zadak were pretty big into biotechnology and had a religious taboo against producing inorganic technology, though all but the most zealous of them were perfectly fine trading in inorganic tech from other races.
In order to avoid problems with the Zadak who were zealous, the people of Polychrome avoided a large industrial footprint by relying on nanofabbers (basically giant replicators). As those were quite expensive, the Exchange of Light (humanity's most important intergalactic bank) had quite the presence on Polychrome.


The Polychrome citizens would've survived the Scream just fine. They didn't have a whole of Psychics around, and the planet offered them enough resources to survive on their own just fine.

Unfortunately their neighbors weren't so lucky: The Zadak had an entire caste of mediators who were all Psychics. Their homeworld was engulfed in chaos and anarchy, and one of the mediators than went crazy happened to be on a ship headed towards Polychrome.
Blaming mankind for the Scream, he used the onboard facilities and psychic powers to create the Stain, a highly aggressive bioweapon that destroyed organic matter on the genetic level. Think of an evil super virus that gives you turbo cancer.

The Zadak ship got shot down by the orbital defense system of Polychrome when the humans noticed that something was up, but by that time the Strain was already wrecking havoc on the biosphere. Any lifeform in the area first touched by the Stain was utterly annihilated, and the rest of the world was doomed.
Figuring out that they had at most three months before the Stain engulfed the whole world, the humans hastily built an underground bunker, allowing at least some of them to survive. This bunker would get expanded into the Warrens, an underground megacity.

Over the years, a suspicious increase in cancer and similar illnesses uncovered a fiendish trait of the Stain: It could split and reform itself at the molecular level, making it capable of seeping through rock and even solid steel in due time.
Thankfully, the Stain concentration that get through the Warrens was not high enough to be instantly fatal, and the Stain that get through seemed to only target specific genetic makeups. This gave rise to Proteus implants, which constantly shift the user's DNA just enough to throw off the Stain. This makes DNA identification useless, but it's better than nothing. Though you still don't want to walk around on the surface without a vacc suit.
Since these implants were quite expensive, they effectively split the population into the clean and the stained.

Megacorps kinda suck

Kano has seen better days.

The Warrens are run by a council of nine. One of them is a successor of the original Exchange of Light stationed on Polychrome, while the other seats are filled by the megacorps.
The Exchange councilor is actually the Chief Councilor, but the megacorps have the final say on any matter and effectively absolute power, what with them having exclusive access to the nanofabbers that keep the whole place going.

In true cyberpunk fashion, the megacorps are huge d-bags, gleefully exploiting the population that utterly depends on them for survival. At least the megacorps are constantly busy with scheming and subtle backstabbing, so treating the poor to much like exposable trash will just cause another megacorp to swoop in as the noble hero.

There's quite a bit of rebel activity in the Warrens, but they are ultimately powerless against the megacorps, and often just end up as useful idiots for their power struggles.

The megacorps are as follows:

The Feel of the City

The Warrens themselves are a giant underground dome, around 10 km in diameter and 1 km in height. You generally want to live far away from the bedrock, since that's where the Stain has the easiest time entering.
The coreways are a system of tunnels and vents under the dome that are part of the geothermal power network. This place has the highest concentration of Stain, and maintenance patrols shoot intruders on sight, so you probably don't want to live here unless you have nowhere else to go.
The underhabs right at the bottom are your typical cyberpunk slums. Live is pretty crappy around here thanks to the Stain and the authorities not caring a lot about the place (and even those that do are blissfully ignorant of the real problems). The only work to be found here comes from cheap labor, gang violence, and dodgy backyard cybernetics.
The rim districts is the city's middle-class, built on the dome's inside in ring-shaped layers. People here typically work directly for the megacorps, and may safe up enough cash for a Proteus implant. There's a lot of tension with the underhabs, who see the rim districts as the safest and most readily-available place to vent off anger against the megacorps.
The uptown districts are the place for megacorp managers and other rich folks. It hangs suspended in the dome's center via struts. Security is very tight here, and the only stained allowed are loyal servants. Still, there's always a way inside for the bold and desparate.

Aside from the Warrens, there are a few smaller underground sites, mostly used as resorts, testing facilities, or weird renegade communities.
The original surface cities are still in mostly pristine condition, making them a primary target for salvage groups. The Stain makes it mandatory to go out in vacc suits and sealed vehicles, but even under best circumstance you generally only want to be outside for a few hours, since the Stain will eventually find a way through the seals.

Polychrome today

Polychrome is the premier cybernetics manufacturer in the Hydra Sector. Their reliance on pretech infrastructure doesn't allow the megacorps to export their facilities, so instead they ferry wealthy customers for a visit to the uptown districts for some fancy cybebrware.
The return of interstellar trade is also a nice insurance for the megacorps, since their nanofabbers can't actually replicate anything that could be used as replacement parts for themselves, and they have been slowly but steadily dropped in performance.

The Chief Councilor and various rebel groups also see offworlders as a means to beak free from the iron grip of the megacorps, though it's anyone's guess whether they would replace the current regime with a more benevolent.

The Zadak today

The Zadak that survived the chaos of their homeworld just want to forget the little "accident" that befell Polychrome, pretending it was just the work of some crazy human Psychic and burying all evidence to the contrary.

The crews of the escort ships who witnessed the Stain's release had other opinions. Even if the humans caused the Scream, destroying an entire planet's ecosystem was way out of line. Their insistence to get the truth out resulted in them getting exiled on Polychrome, which wasn't a death sentence since the Stain doesn't react to Zadakian genetic makeup at all.
The exile's descendants number a bit more than ten thousand, and they try to make up for the sins of their ancestors by cultivating small patches of Zadakian fauna in hopes to restore the planet's ecosystem.
Since the Stain clouds makes orbital observation difficult and the exiles life on the opposite end of the planet from the Warrens, humans have yet to actually find out about their presence.

Since the Zadak rulers have little interest in having the truth be uncovered, they frequently stage raids to nurture hatred against Zadak.

NPCs and Locations

"Did somebody say 'Heresy'?!"

These are around three pages worth of notable NPCs and places.

The most loveable NPCs are Dr. Anthony "Scissors" Bright, your typical backyard cybernetics surgeon living in the underhabs, and Bastable Quint, a strict but fair salvager who once got enough loot in one expiditon to buy himself a Proteus implant, even if the trip himself caused half his face to be paralyzed by a tumor.

Major NPCs include Sofica Bondieu, the current Chief Councilor who is trying to break the megacorps' power. If the PCs fuck up on Polychrome, she is likely to recruit them for some busywork as penance.
Tatyana Lin is heir to the Lin Foundation. She and her six siblings are actually identical clones of Amalia Lin, who had a major influence in the megacorps' rise to power after the Scream. She and her sister spend a lot of time with assassination plans against each other.

The most notable place for offworlders is definitely the Amalia Lin Spaceport, Polychrome's spaceport that is a surface dome. Stain exposure is pretty bad here, but offworlders don't stay long enough to be affected all that much. Working here without a Proteus implant sucks big time.
Daybreak is a typical adventure hook: The city was hit directly by the Stain and has become a popular treasure trove for salvagers. There's a persistent rumor about a map leading to an intact nanofabber somewhere in the city.
Lucid Gardens 5-17 is a sleezy underhab hive block, dominated by the 5-17 Authentics, whose leader - Joshua "Core" Rackman - is a brilliant and calculating individual whose uncanny abilitiy to uncover traitors could mean that he is a feral (aka untrained) Psychic, which could result in him going batshit crazy at some point (if that didn't already happen).

Next Time: The Crunch. Time for hacking and Wolverine claws.

The Crunch

posted by Doresh Original SA post

Polychrome - A World of Steel and Stain

The Crunch

After some advice about running adventures on Polychrome, your typical Crawfordian adventure seed tables, and guidelines on how to handle investigations, we move on to new crunch!


The internet on Polychrome is a bloated mess of all kinds of different protocols, access methods and ways to transfer data. Poorer folks might have to content with oldschool computers, while the elite might afford to plug their very mind into the net. And much to the delight of hackers, even databases that are seemingly off the grid can be accessed remotely if you know what you're doing and can get close enough.

Polychrome doesn't do the whole Shadowrun thing of handling hacking like some sort of tech combat. Instead it's just a single skill check.
Hacking actions you can perform inclue hacking into databases to aqcuire information, steal money or change records. You can also try to create an alternate identity known as a ghost. They come in three levels: level 1 ghosts are useful for handle smaller financial activities, but don't hold up to close inspection by the authorities when you try anything too big with it. Level 2 ghosts are effectively "real" people, and level 3 ghosts actively try to protect themselves, erasing criminal records against themselves and safely pulling out money if the authorities try anthing funny.

Combat on Polychrome

You generally don't want to cause trouble with the cops in the better districts, since those have good security and send reinforcements about as fast as the cops in GTA. The slums are mostly lawless areas controlled by gangs, though the security that does show up is a lot more likely to use lethal force.

Thanks to Polychrome's long cybernetics history, the medical facilities are plentiful and in decent condition. You can get yourself patched up even in the worst of districts.
Officially, citizens aren't allowed to buy and own anything more dangerous than pistol or melee weapon. People in the slums naturally don't care, and even the upper-class tends to pack more heat, albeit not openly. To keep the gritty cyberpunk feel, Polychrome isn't really into energy weapons.
As with most worlds in Stars Without Number, the authorities are generally okay with body armor as long as it's not too heavy or militant-looking, because that's a bit suspicious. Sightseeing tours in power armor are right out of the question.

Covering your tracks when you're on the run from the police is a lot easier on Polychrome, since the Proteus implant makes DNA identification useless. Even if you can't afford the implant, you can usually find some stitcher to change your retinas, fingerprints, and more!

The Mean Streets

This section includes statblocks for common foes you might run into on Polychrome.

Cop Security (HD 1) isn't too big of a threat for experienced PCs, but they typically appear in numbers.
Cyberninja (HD 3) have already been mentioned in the corebook a few times, and now we finally have their statblock. They are naturally infiltrators and assassins using cutting-edge technology. No autofire weapons, but they can slice you up in melee or throw a monoblade at you from afar. A special variant of Cyberninja are know as "Judiths" or "Judies". They go through extensive biosculpting to better get close to their target.
Elite Operatives (HD 6) are scary. They can take quite a beating, and wield their nasty monoblades and mag pistols with deadly accuracy.
Gangster Thugs (HD 1) are much more harmless. Little combat training, weak weapons, and they tend to flee often.
Stained Termies (HD 1/2) are the unfortunates who have developed common signs of terminal Stain infection. Knowing that they're doomed anyways, they tend to go a bit revenge-crazy. They go down easily, but will generally fight to the death.
Zadak Raiders (HD 1) are basically more accurate cops. They have four arms, two of which ending in mantis claws and the other two holding an organic, plant-based rifle that shoots chitin shards.
Zadak Warbeasts (HD 5) are basically giant centipedes with mantis claws on their legs, slicing and dicing any foe within range. The funniest trick a PC can pull off is identify its Handler, shoot him and watch it going berserk in the middle of a Zadak group.

Psionics on Polychrome

Polychrome never had much of a history with Psionics, probably because the planet was colonized before the FTL exposure started to unlock psionic abilities.
When someone on Polychrome is shown to have psionic talent, he's usually snatched away by one of the megacorps. Being a corporate psionic is quite lucrative, but nobody on the planet quite knows how to properly train a Psychic. Since failure to control your powers can fry your brain, that is somewhat of a problem. The megacorps have tried to hire Psychic mentors from other worlds, but they are hesitant to take the offer since there's a very high chance of surprise cyberninja assassinations from other megacorps.
Since cybernetics have fixed their little Stain problem, the megacorps eventually found a way to kinda sorta do the same for their Psychics: The Firewall System. It consists of chips containing cloned brain matter which will be damaged by the user's psychic energy in his brain's stead. To ensure obedience, the implant also happens to supply you with a hard to replicate drug cocktail that will kill you if the supply runs out. You're basically a psychic Jem'Hadar.

Ruleswise, the Firewall System replaces the power point system from the corebook with a charge-based system. A single chip is good for 10 uses before it is completely fried, at which point you either have to swap it out or fry your own brain via torching. Not burning out a chip is recommended as you can let the tissue heal itself with a chemical bath.
Even if you're well-off and can afford multiple backup chips, you'll eventually have to make Tech saves to see whethr or not your brain is overloaded and needs to recover for a day.

Thanks to the shoddy training and the implant getting a bit in the way, Psychics from Polychrome can't learn psychic powers beyond the 5th level, so no flying around or planet-wide teleport shenanigans in this cyberpunk world.

Cyberware on Polychrome

Resistance is futile.

Thanks to Polychromes experience with cybernetics and the infrastructure to support it, you can not only get the regular Cyberware from the corebook at a nice discount, but also get yourself Cyberware that is largel exclusive to Polychrome.

Biosculpts let you mess around with your appearance, changing anything from your skin color, gender, or apparent species. If you pay extra for a Rebuild, you can also change your DNA. Cheaper ways to pimp yourself up include Personal Augmentation Technologies (stuff like a new nose or an implant that takes care of your hair) and Phosphor Tattoos (aka tattoos that glow and can be changed on the fly).

The corebook already featured small kinetic spikes and other integrated weapons that let you punch people in power armor, but what if you want something less subtle with a bigger punch? Well, how about Cyberclaws? They count as monoblades and include everything from Wolverine claws to giant elblow blades. A favorite with Cyberninja, though they're hard to conceal unless you use the "Feint" Cyberware Signature to mask them as some other piece of Cyberware.
Direct Interface is a favorite for hackers. You can wirelessly interface with most devices, and have a number of plugs for the others. It comes in two levels, with the first one requiring sublte gestures and subvocal commands, while the second one is completely controlled by your mind. This adds a bonus to your relevant skill checks, but has an added critical failure chance for when you get nervous and lose concentration.
Three of the most advanced pieces of Cyberware lets you do some superhero stunts: the "Gecko" Gravity Anchors let you temporarily change in which direction you're affected by gravity (letting you run on walls and ceilings), while the Inertial Shunt Nodes can turn full-body kinetic impacts into harmless light (aka you can survive falls and crashes; I think you can get this in most Deus Ex games) and the Neural Overload Wiring lets you gain extra turns (at the cost of raising your System Strain, which is also eaten up by stuff like Cyberware and healing; still pretty nifty to have).
The Integral Commlink is a simple audiovisual transceiver and receiver that is reliant on the local communications grid, so probably not very useful on more primitive worlds.
Covert Ops and other sneaky fellow will like the "Deep Echo" Penetrative Radar (which senses objects through walls and overlays them onto your regular vision) and the "Masquerade" Polymorphic Identity which lets you collect DNA, fingerprints and retinal signatures. Especially the first one is not too useful on Polychrome, but at least you can get it simply by touching someone. The other two are even easier to get as they just require you to look the guy in the eyes or at his fingers. There's tons of shenanigans you can do with this after your trip to Polychrome.
If things go really badly, you might want to invest int a Panic Button Implant. If you've been knocked out with 0 HP and there seems to be no help coming, this one-time implant will pump you full of nanobots. They'll patch you up, but the ensuing system shock will reduce some of your attributes.

And of course we can't forget the "Proteus" Metamorph Implant. It protects you against the Stain concentration in the Warrens and even lets you survive a bit longer on the surface, and you gate a saving throw bonus against radiations and other effects that try to mess with your DNA.

Adventure Resource Sheets

This is a bunch of tables to roll up sudden twists or buildings, as well as a list with prices for common goods and services. Also includes a helpful summary of what is considered to be "a lot of money" on Polychrome for each social class, which is always helpful for bribes.

Next Time: Bad Blood, an example adventure.