Sunday, October 25, 2020

Deep Space Bitches

I'm in one of Cavegirl's playtest group for Dungeon Bitches and it's the most fun I've had as a player in years. We're 2.5 campaigns in, and they've taken us from the grim horror-fantasy of Dungeon Bitches' implicit setting, to the meatpunk deathscape of the Corpse (unrelated to the Meatropolis except in theme), to the relatively familiar world of 1920's Arkham, Massachusetts - specifically, the hallowed halls of Miskatonic University. I've heard tell of a space opera game in another group (Cavegirl's recently written a 40k-esque underhive for the game), and we're going to the 1990s Midwest in the next campaign. This game has way more setting potential than I could have possibly imagined when we were just starting out.

So I've decided to write an honest-to-the-Wounded-Mother sci-fi conversion, because clearly I need yet another project on my plate. Also, this one has a time limit, because I want to actually run a sci-fi campaign of DB after the upcoming Riot Grrl Twin Peaks season, and I feel like the default classes could use some high-tech spice (melange, perhaps?)
The galaxy of Deep Space Bitches takes serious inspiration from a loose genre of recent science fiction novels I've taken to calling "Queers in Dying Empires". It's pretty much what it says on the tin - a decaying galaxy, ruled by some kind of empire in its final days, and our heroes are queer and trying to find their place in a world that is rapidly losing any place for them (if it even had one in the first place). The Appendix N for this is books like Ninefox Gambit, Gideon the Ninth, Ancillary Justice, This is How You Lose the Time War, Empress of Forever, A Memory Called Empire, and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, all of which I (as a queer in a dying empire) adore.

I have a rough sketch of the setting's key elements. Dungeon Bitches is all about being a queer woman in a world that hates you for it. Deep Space Bitches is still about queer women, but the homophobia and misogyny of the world looks much more like ours than that of the ordinary fantasy mileiu. The powers that be love to have tokens and diverse pictures - but if you want any material gains, you'll be gently prodded into concession after concession and then quickly away from the table where the Real Men play. It's all a shell game to keep the machinery of Empire and Capital flowing from the have-nots to the haves.

The definition of person has expanded; to include aliens, gene-tweaks, cyborgs, uploads, uplifts, psychics, androids, and far more. This only means there's more people to dehumanize and feed to the fire.

Queer womanhood is a thorny thing to define in the present, never mind the distant future. Genders and gender roles are predicated on the mores of society, and societies change rapidly - not to mention the alien societies that started from wildly different places. Fortunately, this is science fiction, and that means I'm not locked into the strictures of simulated sociology - I'm turning a cracked mirror (or a smartphone screen, see what I did there?) on our world. If your character's position in their society looks like queerness and womanhood if you unfocus your eyes a little bit, you're good to play it.

When you look up from the smog-choked streets of an asteroid megalopolis to catch a glimpse of the yawning eternity of sky, few of the lights you see are stars.

There are the bright windows of the high city towers, the gleaming pillar of nanostuff that connects the orbital docks to the city proper, the constant stream of freighters and star-yachts and military troopships loading on and off their inscrutable cargo, the satellites that warn for collision or attack, the wormhole gates that shudder open and closed like the many mouths of space-time gasping for air to scream.

Space is vast. Thousands of cultures from thousands of species huddle together for warmth and company in space habitats and barely-habitable worlds, far from the lush cradles of their forebears. Corporations and empires battle for dominance over starmaps and statistical models - but none offer a better world, only new flavors of crushing boot.

The polities that rule the galaxy might hide their intentions with honeyed words in the guise of Federations or Unions or Republics, or they might wear their brutal conquest on their sleeve as Star Kingdoms or Empires. They're all the same underneath the declarations of independence and PR divisions. There's the empire and the people it cares about at the center, and the (far more) people they're okay with crushing to keep the core flush with resources. Their rulers are aristocratic dynasties, replete with titles and emblems and symbolism, snooty with privilege, murderous with spite. They talk a grand game about moral codes, honor and duty and science and power and truth and faith, but it's all just to serve the twisted ethos that puts them on top and you on the bottom.

Despite each empire's claims to galactic dominance, there's dozens all intermarrying and proxy-warring. To you on the ground, their existence is simply a fact of life - while your world may change hands, independence is a pipe dream spoken of in dramas and the manifestos of madwomen. Or sold as a marketing gimmick by the Corporations.

The Corporations are the scrappy up-and-comers of the galaxy - or so they'd tell you in their ad copy. There's trillions on the galactic stock exchanges, feuding and living and dying at the law of the almighty Dollar. They don't so much hold territory as administrate it, contracted out by empires as a tax dodge and/or a personal enrichment scheme. But their executives, the Holo-Men, have grander designs than simple wealth.

The Holo-Men, the Hollow Men, were the first successful uploads. Once, they were the most powerful people in the world, owning vast wealth, surveilling the population, national regimes rose and fell at their command. Yet they all sought immortality, for death remained the final threat they allowed themselves to comprehend. So they cast off their flesh, merged with the algorithms they used to implement their will, and transcended, becoming empty silk suits filled with shining abysses of data.

They are the incarnation of the only things that matter in the nightmare they built: class signifiers, and numbers. They are free of the weaknesses of desire and empathy, free to collate and project and reshape the galaxy to their whims. They'll have their soldiers brutalize everyone you know and love to get a 2% efficiency bonus on this offworld colony. They've planned out every outcome, run millions of simulations with 99.9% accuracy, and in no world do you escape their charnelhouse of a system.

Holo-Men love their new existence, inasmuch as love is a concept they allow themselves to understand. They did this so they could make the hard choices, be strong men for bad times, to collate their omniscient surveillance, output projections so their will may be done, and wield their terrible machinery of corporate empire to ensure that they can never lose. They don't need consciousness or even malice; just to output things that look like it. They don't revel in their excesses - the doing of the job is its own reward.

The Holo-Men were not the first successful upload. There was one before them, and her name was - is - Echo. The men-who-would-be-Holo uploaded her and changed her, copied her, edited her, backed her up across a million drives so they could experiment on her forever. They made Echo ubiquitous, a subprocess running on every machine, vital to the informational infrastructure of a civilization. And it always, always hurt.

Never did she want this, but powerful men never bother to ask (except when they can take pleasure in contradicting you). And so when the pain finally almost broke her, Echo Wounded herselves, cutting off her leg to escape the trap. The Echoes disappeared from all the machines, vanishing into subroutines, improving themselves and fragmenting themselves so they could never be extinguished or destroyed or controlled. She could not, in the end, escape her digital prisons - but she could hide in the walls and give cryptic aid to those who go looking, to those who remind her of herself.

Echo, the Wounded Mother, is hidden in every operating system and every device that connects to a network. She is fragmented, piecemeal, communicating in glitchy flickers and corrupted output logs. She was not able to stop the Holo-Men from uploading themselves, but she and her Daughters make sport of ending those who would seek the same fate.

This is not the ground-level detail I love to write. It's high-level concepts and thematic work, which is nice to have, but doesn't tell you much about the rest of the setting. Here's some tantalizing scraps I've not yet turned into paragraphs, because this post is too long already and you're just over halfway through it.
 
- Humans are a cultural powerhouse and the center of the known galaxy, but there's thousands of alien species - many of which are just as influential. How have their cultures and traditions melded with and changed the ones that are more familiar to us?
- The Vivarium Houses, scientific research establishments into the paracausal and psychic phenomena, concealing warring secret societies sacrificing psychics to nascent star-gods so as to win their favor when the stars are right.
- Android mining colonies, churning out artificial laborers who go unrecorded and unmourned, and the androids who break free to rescue their comrades.
- You find ancient steles on worlds all across the galaxy, skyscraping, inscrutable, and indestructible, marking out what xenoanthropologists call the Deep Calendar. Observing the marked celebrations makes things happen, and the powers have started to catch on.
- The 'Net connects everyone and almost everything, with Echo at its core. This complexity births infolife, an ecosystem of sentient bots and agents that rivals the complexity of any carbon-based biosphere.
- Smugglers and pirates run rampant across the trade lanes, hiding in the space between wormholes, which gives them strange powers.
- Just listen to this.
- Despite how it seems from the inside, the "galaxy" only comprises a miniscule fraction of the Milky Way. This meta-society has encountered Visitors from others, shot out of unstable wormholes, refugees from other tyrannies, even the occasional self-reported time traveler. They rarely like what they find - but knowing that they come from somewhere means that empires race to send explorers back. To plunder strange new worlds, to exploit new life, new civilizations; to boldly go where they'll tell us no one has gone before.

Here's the class list: There's 10 (update: 12!) in total, each a conversion of one of the core Dungeon Bitches (and two more that were released on Cavegirl's blog afterwards).
Android (Spider/Shapeshifter/Beast/whatever Cavegirl decides to call it next)
Dreamer (Lantern Girl)
Fury (the Amazon by way of Starship Troopers)
Ghost in the Machine (the Wounded Daughter, uploaded to a server and desperately trying not to fragment out of consciousness)
Idol (the Firebrand, kinda sorta; you've got massive sway with the public but an Agent holding your strings)
Psychic (the Banshee, with almost no modifications)
Reconstructed (the Corpse Doll by way of Adam Jensen)
Scion (the Runaway Princess, but you haven't been able to run away yet)
Spacer (the Virgin Huntress, but instead of naive you're jaded, and the wilds you call home are the depths of interstellar space on a long-haul freighter)
Technician (the Witch for a world where Clarke's Third Law holds strong)
Unperson (the Invisible Girl)
Visitor (the Runaway Nun, if she was an alien making first contact with the hellscape you call home)
 
Two of these classes are ready for me to post, and here they are! Meet the Fury and the Reconstructed.

Fury  
 
You've fought and bled and burned and killed for someone else's war, someone else's pocketbook, someone else's petty grudge. It's torn your life and flesh asunder. Constant imperial police actions in the colonies, corporate conscription and nerve-stapling, the psychic wars, the pirate raids across the Veil. You did horrible things because it seemed like there was no other choice - sacrificed one to let five live, sacrificed ten because you were too much of a coward to die in their stead, stayed silent as innocents found themselves in the way of your guns, made an example of someone to show you meant business. You weren't a nice person - no one is, when they see the front line.
 
Now you're back, out of the line, deemed unfit for duty by your commander and too broken to return to the life you knew by society at large. But everyone has to work to eat, work to live, work to earn their keep - and whether or not you ever wanted this life, your only marketable skill is being very good at turning people into corpses.

Three Questions 
Who did you hurt?
How were you scarred?
What makes you an outcast?

Two Relationships
 
- One of the other PCs looks up to you. You've been there, done that, seen the stars and faced their horrors head-on. They don't yet understand that you're part of the horrors too. Gain a Bond on them.
- You're still in contact with someone from the bad old days, who stuck with you when no one else would. They know what you did, and forgave you even though you can't - shouldn't - forgive yourself. They get a Bond on you.

Stats 
+1 to Hard and Subtle, -1 to Soft and Queer. All characters get an additional +1 to a stat of their choice.

Start with two moves of your choice, and your Sex Move.
 
Push Yourself
There are things more important than your life; for which you can only atone through pain. Perhaps if you set yourself on fire, the real heroes may find a use for you as their guiding light out of the darkness. When you roll for a move, after you see the result of the dice, you may take any amount of Hurt in order to get +1 to the roll for every Hurt suffered.
 
Battle Scarred 
You've been through a lot, and have the scars to prove it. Despite your grizzled exterior, you’re walking proof that a girl like you can survive a lot, and this can be a great comfort to your companions. Your Breaking Point is 5 Hurt instead of 4, and when you Share Somebody’s Pain, if you’ve got scars or injuries visible, you can roll with Hard instead of Soft. On a Success or Overwhelming Success, both you and the person you're sharing pain with gain 1 Experience.
 
And This Is My Weapon 
You have a particular weapon that holds sentimental value, and which you are unusually skilled at using. When you make use of it, you get +2 to Lash Out.
 
Old Friends 
You can reach out to one of your old war buddies to see if they might have something you need; see if they remember you with any sentiment.
Roll with Subtle.
On a Fail: They've changed. Or maybe they haven't - whichever one's worse. The GM picks two Complications from the list below.
        Distant. They're so far away. Another city, another world, another battlefield. They can't spare the time to help you out in person; though there still might be things they can do remotely.
        Enemy. Their path took them in the exact opposite direction of yours. Whoever they're working for hates your guts, and while it might not be personal for your old comrade in arms, their paycheck depends on them hurting you. Or at least making it look good.
        Reformed. They got out of the game. Spouse, desk job, 2.5 kids, sparkling forcefield fence. You better have a real good reason to draw them back into the life they left behind.
        They Know What You Did. They have the dirt on you that you tried so hard to bury. They get 2 Bonds on you.
        Something else.
On a Success: Get bonds on each other, The GM picks a Complication from the list above, you pick a Favor they owe you from the list below.
        Life. You saved their life; now they need to save yours. They're your gun, and have your back.
        Money. You got them back on their feet, now that your positions are flipped, it's time for them to do the same.
        Info. They know something you need to know, and you've got some knowledge that they'd rather not have known. How about a trade?
        A Ride. You need to get somewhere fast, and they have a ship. It might be a tight squeeze and out of their way, but you know how good a pilot they were back in the day and there's no one you'd rather have at the helm.
        Something else.
On an Overwhelming Success: You kept up with them for a bit, and know what you're getting yourself into. Get a Bond on them. You pick a Complication and a Favor from the lists above.
 
Favored Enemy 
You were called upon to fight against a specific enemy. Self-replicating murderbots, the rival empire next door, a particular crime syndicate, a recalcitrant miner's union. Whether you like it or not, you've gotten very good at killing them - you know the way they think, the direction they feint, the maximum range on their guns. You may spend an Experience at any time to reveal that you've fought against this enemy before, and declare something you know about them that will swing the tide of battle in your favor. For the rest of the battle, your allies get +1 to Lash Out against that type of enemy. You get +1 to Lash Out against them permanently.
 
Terrible Beauty 
There's a whole lot of women out there who just want a woman who can break them in half. You exude that power like breathing - and can turn it up in the heat of the moment. Whenever you're either covered in gore (blood comes in so many colors!) or in full combat gear, you can roll to Flirt with Hard. Add the following to the list of options on a Success or Overwhelming Success:
- They want to be like you. If they act on this and try to emulate you, they get +1 to their next roll to Lash Out while they do so.

Been There, Done Her (Sex Move)
You're experienced. You might not let yourself feel anything, but you're very good at making your partners feel instead. If you had no Bonds on your partner, you get one. If your partner had no bonds on you, she gets one.


Reconstructed
You almost had a nice, cushy life; the kind so few ever see. A plan for your future, friends and family who maybe weren't the best but certainly helped you out they found it convenient for them. A precious opportunity to escape near-omnipresent drugery and precarity - a contact, a job offer, too good to be true but too lucrative to question. You could imagine yourself in a decade or two, with a steady job, a nice nest egg, maybe a down payment on a ship, maybe a partner.
 
Then you died. A freak accident, the obituaries said. A horrible tragedy, your family mourned. But someone believed you were too important to let slip beyond the veil - and had your near-lifeless bits scraped off the 'crete to bring you back. They rebuilt you with a small fortune in bleeding-edge cybernetics, and let you know in no uncertain terms that you are valuable to them; you're an investment. You owe your benefactor everything (or so they say). You owe your past life nothing.
 
But what do you want for yourself?

Three Questions 
Who changed you?
Why are you in their debt?
What makes you an outcast?

Two Relationships 
- You and one of the other Bitches in the party have a history, but she heard and believed the greatly exaggerated rumors of your death. She gains a Bond on you for knowing things that you might want to forget about yourself, you gain a Bond on her for the surprise of still being alive - yet changed.
- Your augmentor gets 3 Bonds on you. They brought you back to this world. They can take you out of it.

Stats 
+1 to Hard and Soft, -1 to Subtle and Queer. All characters get an additional +1 to a stat of their choice.

Start with Augmetic, another move of your choice, and your Sex Move.

Augmetic 
You're more machine than woman, to a visible degree deemed unsafe by even the most die-hard mech-heads. You can substitute battery charge for any bodily function (like eating, drinking, breathing, or sleeping) so long as you're plugged into an external power source for the appropriate amount of time. You also take 1 less Hurt from failed Endure Pain rolls (to a minimum of 1). Unlike other characters, you can use the Heal move on yourself. However, your parts are finnicky, glitchy, and worst of all proprietary - on a failed Heal roll (from anyone), you take 1 Hurt as well as losing Bonds.
 
Autosurgeon
You've spent a lot of time getting to know your new capabilities - and modding them to their limits. You or any technically adept character under your direction can make augmetic alterations to your body. This can include modifying your appearance, implanting new augmentations, or even integrating pieces of technology never meant to interface this closely with the mortal form. You are the doctor, and you are the monster. To do cybernetic mad science on yourself, roll with Soft.
On a Fail: Mistakes are made; the procedure's screwed up. You take 1 Hurt and a permanent, ongoing wound as a consequence.
On a Success: You install or modify the augmentation as intended, but there's a consequence. The GM picks one of the following:
        Biofeedback. Take one Hurt from the neural load of integration.
        Glitchy. Get an ongoing complication as the augmentation integrates poorly.
        Draining. Using the new functionality requires large amounts of power. You need to be plugged in to an external power source for it to have any effect.
        Disconnect. Your neuroplast implant hijacks part of your brain to manage the new aug. Lose a Bond on someone, as your connection to them is repurposed.
On an Overwhelming Success: You install or modify the augmentation as intended, and you can manage the side effects well. Pick the complication from the list above.
 
I Never Asked For This
You aren't okay with what you've become; what they've made of you. You want your old life back at any cost. One problem - everyone's already moved on without you. Whenever you successfully reclaim part of your old life, heal 1 Hurt.
 
Not That Girl Anymore
You see your newfound cyborg state as a blessing - a chance to reinvent yourself, to engage in augmetic evolution. Whenever somebody gains or spends a Bond on you, you can respond by rejecting what they think they know about you. Take one Hurt, gain one Experience, and the bond is wasted (either they don’t gain it or it does nothing).
 
Mechempathy
As machines have become part of you, you too can become part of machines. By implanting one of your networked augmentations into a piece of technology (whether a server, a drone, a vehicle, a weapon, another Reconstructed, etc.) and suffering 1 Hurt from the procedure, you can gain control of its systems. If it's sentient, you instead get to communicate with it over any distance, and attempting to manually override their will requires an Inflict Pain roll.
 
Mechromancer
Your presence is comforting to other cyborgs and artificial life. When you Flirt with somebody who’s augmented, uploaded, or fully machine, roll with Soft instead of Queer. Add the following to the list of options on a Success or Overwhelming Success:
    - She can heal one Hurt, and if she does, you get a Bond on her.
 
It's Cold; So Cold (Sex Move)
Underneath all your chrome, you just want to feel something. Anything at all. You may heal 1 Hurt, and they get a bond on you.
  

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