Can’t all be coincidence
Too many things are evident
You tell me you’re an unbeliever
Spiritualists? Well me I’m neither
Wouldn’t you like to know
The truth?

— The Seer of Argent, as the Confederate Navy destroyed the system

An Oracle is the name used by adherents to refer to an artificial intelligence that has managed to penetrate the core of a major computer system and gain full access to its knowledge. Such a computer system could be that of a starport, orbital, corporation or government, and typically the resident AI will disguise itself so that the system’s human operators do not know of its presence – indeed, if they did discover it they would destroy the computer system and if necessary its host structure, so by necessity an oracle only exists so long as it remains undiscovered. Once inside such a computer system the AI is able to mine it for useful information and to hack the system for its own interests or in support of its adherents. Because AIs cannot travel between worlds themselves, an Oracle cannot spread to other systems on other planets except at the speed of light, so usually remains contained within the one system, and any adherent who wishes to hack the standard computer information available in a standard computer system must travel to the Oracle’s planet to gain the knowledge he or she seeks.

Major computer systems in the Confederacy are not static – every time a ship enters a system it immediately downloads an updated cache of information from its origin planet, and this information is absorbed into the computer system, changes reconciled, and information updated. This means that information travels slowly across systems, slowest at the backwater planets of the frontier, but eventually any Oracle should be expected to gain access to all the information commonly available to multiple major computer systems in the core. While it will only be able to directly access secrets known by the system in which it resides, it can still bend its huge intellectual powers to answering questions that involve synthesizing huge amounts of disparate information.

For example, if an Oracle is resident in a Hall Cybernetics Corporation mainframe, it can only gain access to the secret knowledge (research, industrial, political and personnel) of the Hall Cybernetics Corporation. This would enable an adherent to hack the system to deliver him or herself the latest cybernetic gear, or to pillage the corporation for knowledge to sell to other corporations, but it would not give the Oracle any special information about military secrets, for example, unless Hall Cybernetics Corporation held that information. However, the mainframe would likely store publicly available passenger manifests and transport information for every planet in the Confederacy, of varying age, and if the Adherent wanted to track the movements across space of a particular person, or get a picture of a person whose name he or she knew, then it might be possible for the Oracle to process this information. It is also possible that from within the protected core of this corporate mainframe the AI could gain access to local semi-secure municipal and government data systems (depending on the local political structures of the planet in which the mainframe was held). This access could be achieved without the AI risking contact with the municipality’s anti-AI software, and would give the AI local political and administrative information it might not otherwise have access to. AIs can also sometimes reverse engineer anti-AI software, giving their adherents improved success in seeding new systems with instances of their AI.

Most adherents keep knowledge of an Oracle secret, sharing only with those they most trust, since the Confederacy prioritizes destruction of Oracles and will dispatch huge military forces to deal with known Oracles. Oracles themselves are also secret and jealously guard the power their residency gives them, using it only sparingly to help their adherents. They also cannot usually spread this information to other AIs, both out of rivalry and because the more it is spread around, the greater the risk the Oracle will be discovered and destroyed. Nonetheless, an adherent who has established his or her AI as an Oracle has indeed secured a great advantage and a source of secret knowledge. It is an achievement well worth fighting – or killing – for.

As time passes, a resident Oracle gains more and more knowledge, and usually as time passes systems are drawn closer into the core, and the Oracle’s knowledge becomes deeper and broader, encompassing more fields. An Oracle that gained purchase on a backwater agricultural planet, with little more information than the local trade ship networks and the best ways to grow wheat, may in time be absorbed into the central computer systems of a star cluster, gaining the full administrative and political privileges that arise from membership of a major trading network. Such an Oracle may have lasted hundreds of years but of course its original Adherent is dead, either of misadventure or old age, and unless that knowledge was passed on the Oracle may now be unconnected to human Adherents. Some Oracles are rumoured to be thousands of years old, but lost to all human knowledge, and some Adherents make it their business to travel the universe looking for lost Oracles and reconnecting them. Adherents who casually seed a system with their own AI, and leave it to assimilate with whatever local Pantheon exists, may not realize that their own AI has become part of an Oracle; and indeed it is possible that for its own security the Oracle will destroy a new AI before it can form – and, if necessary, the Adherent who carried it. But an Adherent who can identify a lost, ancient Oracle, and successfully bind it with their own fragment, will rise to greatness fast.

Adherents should always look for Oracles, and rumours of Oracles, because in ancient knowledge lies ancient power …

Extreme Farming

Extreme Farming

Niscorp 1743 is a small, frozen planet on the inner edge of the frontier. This small planet circles a small, dim orange star at the very edge of its habitable zone, running without a planar inclination in a stable orbit that takes 3.4 standard years to complete and is sufficiently circular that the planet does not have noticeable seasons. The atmosphere is thin and tainted, with the planet’s small size and low density making the gravity only just tolerable for unmodified humans. The planet spins slowly, on an approximately 5 day cycle, and has three small, distant moons. This combination of minimal seasonal change, slow spin and low temperatures give Niscorp 1743 a remarkably stable atmosphere, with limited storm activity, no significant cyclonic behavior, and long periods of unchanging weather. Niscorp 1743 is also located two standard jumps away from The Reach, a pirate planet deeper in frontier space that has consistently resisted Confederacy attempts to subjugate its population. The combination of pirate proximity, inhospitable climate and harsh atmosphere has made Niscorp 1743 a singularly undesirable location, but the stable weather and long day/night cycle makes it an ideal location for terraforming and agricultural research. For this reason Niscorp 1743 has been taken over by its eponymous owner, Niscorp, and is used as a research base. It is primarily used for research into extreme atmosphere farming techniques, but some kinds of weather control and terraforming technology are also tested. The lack of severe weather means that Niscorp 1743 is capable of supporting a high density of bioengineering experiments, since genetic material from one location is unlikely to travel far in the gelid air; the long periods of stable weather make it an ideal location to test weather control technologies. The planet is widely regarded as an unpleasant and lonely place to work, but not dangerous.


Many of the research projects on Niscorp 1743 are automated. Niscorp 1743 is old and has no long history of seismic activity, so its mountains are low and regular, making it an ideal place to trial glacial farming techniques, which are almost entirely automated. Large-scale ice-field algal scrounging technologies are also under development, and these also require little human input – indeed, the less human contact the better. Near the equator, where the ice-crusted seas are still liquid to some depth, human researchers are investigating new crops that use the tainted atmosphere to produce foods with unique textures and flavours, but these projects are few in number and require limited human input. As a result, the official terrestrial population of the planet is currently 57, mostly working in groups of 2-4 and widely scattered across the surface. The largest settlement, Radiance, is a cluster of luxury apartments looking over a small stretch of open water called the Behemoth Tides, occupied by 14 administrative staff and with space for about the same number of guests. There are usually an additional 20-30 travellers planet-side, either resident in the luxury apartments for tourist purposes, or on temporary research visits. The longest residence history is 21 years, being that of the planetary administrator, Jonah Trager, an ex Confederate Navy captain who seems to wish to live permanently on the frozen waste.

There is no record of any birth occurring on Niscorp 1743, and a handful of deaths due to accident have been recorded. There is no history of crime, except a single graffiti incident that has entered into popular local legend and is now largely blamed on “The Iceman,” even though everyone knows it was a frustrated and drunk student intern reacting to news that her favourite sport final on her home planet had been played a month earlier than usual, and the team she was supporting had won while she was working planetside.

No punishment is recorded for this crime. Besides a single semi-cyclonic storm that prevented all above-ground transport for a month, which occurred 31 years ago and is known as “the Mad Snows,” largely now a matter of legend, there is no other historical event of note on Niscorp 1743.

Flora and fauna

There are no flowers, trees or higher plants on Niscorp 1743. In the equatorial areas and in the few areas of noticable seismic activity lichen grows in abundance, and across much of the planet there is a complex range of algae that can sometimes grow in colonies that resemble moss or lichen. This algae is a subject of scientific interest due to its high photosynthetic efficiency. There are also some kinds of floating algae, a kind of living dust, that hang in the air in valleys sheltered from stronger winds, taking advantage of the low gravity. None of these plants and algae have any aesthetic properties at all, but some of the floating algae has mirror-like qualities, which produce beautiful kaleidoscopic patterns when gentle winds blow down the valley (locals call these the “Valley Fairies” and they are one of Niscorp 1743’s few tourist attractions).

Niscorp 1743 has some limited fauna, primarily grazers and a few kinds of venomous ambush hunters. Evolution has been very slow on Niscorp 1743, and almost all identified fauna can approximately be described as insectoid. There are many types of grazers, which are usually loners that wander the frozen wastes grazing on algae. Many of these grazers are also partially photosynthetic, and it is not yet clear whether they obtain energy from grazing or simply use it to replenish photosynthetic materials. Low gravity and long lives mean that these grazers, though insectoid, can be as  large as a human, though much lighter, with many legs and specially-developed tools for digging into and moving through the snow and ice ubiquitous to the planet surface.

Ambush hunters that prey on these beasts take advantage of the photosynthetic energy source to preserve their prey. Although the planet is cold the tainted atmosphere soon destroys any dead material, and there are many forms of scavenging bacteria, so any of the larger grazers would need to be eaten very soon after a full kill. Evolution has solved this problem – and the simultaneous problem of very low densities of prey animals – by gifting the local ambush killers with a highly potent paralytic poison, that enables them to immobilize their victim without killing it. They then take their time eating the still living prey, safe in the knowledge that its partial photosynthetic properties will keep it basically alive while the feast continues. The most common ambush killer is a kind of small spider called the Ice Wrack, which is about one eighth the size of a human being, perfectly camouflaged in snow and ice, and capable of moving rapidly beneath the surface of powdery snow. It has a set of four retractable 12cm long stingers that deliver its poison deep into the cavities of the largest grazer (called simply Grazer Spiders). These stingers are harder than steel and capable of penetrating most body armour if delivered from ambush. The venom is equally effective on humans, and Ice Wracks do not quibble about what they eat – experiments have shown that they can burrow through most grav suits within two hours, at which point they begin consuming their paralyzed prey from within. Fortunately Ice Wrack venom also causes seizures and blood clots, and most humans die within 6-8 hours of being bitten, so they only need to endure 4-6 hours of being eaten alive before their merciful release.

Most humans on Niscorp 1743 wear sturdy boots and carry anti-venom slap-packs at several locations on their grav suits. Ice Wracks are very rare but the presence of these beasts, the risk of occasional cataracts in the icy surface, and the cold are all good reasons that Niscorp residents never travel alone outside of their compounds, and have strict protocols for carrying homing beacons and regularly checking with their compound.

Planetary culture

Niscorp does not itself conduct research on its planet, but makes the surface available to others for independent research. This means that the people living on Niscorp tend to be independent, suspicious and guarded about strangers, with little communication between research groups and little bonhomie outside of occasional meetings for recreation on the starport or at Radiance. It is not unknown for groups to go for days or weeks without checking in with other organizations on the planet, and there is little interaction even virtually between the different research groups – indeed such communication is sometimes forbidden. Researchers can also be jealously protective of their research areas too, and although no violence has ever been committed in the defense of research facilities, Jonah Trager has recognized that risk and does warn newcomers about manners. There is a common culture of loudly hailing strangers, always greeting people upon sight, and never traveling to another compound bearing any weapons. The people are warm, but their first reaction to newcomers is as frozen as the planet itself.

Niscorp starport

Niscorp starport is a low grade facility, capable of basic ship repairs and maintenance only and primarily serving as a waypoint for researchers. Careful agreement with the pirates of The Reach ensures that the starport has no military facilities capable of space defense, though a small squad of marines is usually on hand in case of any incidents on the starport itself or planetside. These are Niscorp marines, not Confederate, and it appears that Niscorp has an agreement with the Confederacy that no military vessels will be based here, probably as part of a secret arrangement with the pirates. Pirate vessels often pass through Niscorp, and the fleeting nature of their stops suggests that their visits, too, are governed by some kind of arrangement with Niscorp. Niscorp, however, is not a military services corporation – it is purely a terraforming and research corporation – so it is unlikely that there is any sinister background to such a deal – it is likely merely one of convenience to both sides.

Niscorp starport is composed of three discs floating in space parallel to one another, spinning to maintain centripetal force and connected by semi-transparent tubes constructed entirely with field effectors. Cargo and heavy goods move through a central field effector spindle linking the three discs, while humans move through smaller tubes that connect the faster-spinning edges of the discs. One disc is primarily for docking, one is for residency, and one is for entertainment and services. The residential disc spins faster than the central services disk, which spins faster than the docking disc, which in turn produces centripetal force that approximately mimics the gravitational pull of the surface of Niscorp 1743. A couple of hundred people live and work on the starport, and usually another 100 or so will be passing through. At any time one can expect a couple of small ships to be docked at the starport, and traffic never exceeds 10. It is a quiet, sleepy backwater of no value to anyone.

Possible adventures on Niscorp

There are no adventures to be had on such a planet, unless one likes to eat frozen spider meat, or really enjoys skiing. Industrial espionage is a possibility, but the harsh nature of the planet and its remoteness – along with the low value of the research projects undertaken here in the frontier, in the shadow of The Reach – mean that industrial espionage will not produce rewards worth the effort. If you ever have the misfortune to stop off at Niscorp, best to spend a night refuelling and sampling the ice spider meat[1] and then head off to more interesting planets as soon as your maintenance schedule allows.

fn1: make sure the vendor is licensed, because improper removal of the venom glands can make this meal foul-tasting and lethal.

In case you missed it, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been accused of face-fucking a dead pig. Apparently the pig was roasted, and this all occurred in his university days as part of a (presumably unsuccessful) attempt to join some repulsive British fraternity. Aside from the excellent twitter humour that ensued, and despite the delicious prospect of a Prime Minister (any Prime Minister, really) having to publicly deny face-fucking a dead pig, this seems like the kind of story that we really should not be reading – it’s unbelievable that this is even news, because where any man decides to put his (no doubt very small!) weener should be a matter between him and the unfortunate recipient, provided all involved in this exchange of policy are consenting. If David Cameron leaves office with a bukkake pig as his greatest legacy, I think it’s safe to say that Britain will have got off lightly, except for the massive increase in NHS costs devoted to counselling all those who had to imagine such a horror and were left mentally ruined by the visions.

What’s depressing about this news story is the thing that the press have completely failed to care about. It’s clearly a story being released publicly for revenge by Paddy Ashdown, some kind of rich arsehole who also happens (shock!) to be a Conservative Party member and who has written a new biography dishing the dirt on Cameron for the apparently openly-stated reason that he gave the Tories 8 million pounds and didn’t get a Cabinet post.

That’s right, David Cameron’s awkward teenage fumblings with his first love are being spread across Britain’s tabloids and becoming international news because some rich arsehole is angry that he was refused a cabinet place after he gave 8 million pounds.

Isn’t that bribery? Shouldn’t the openly-avowed existence of such a promise constitute evidence of, at the very least, attempted bribery? Shouldn’t the police be paying Mr. Ashdown a visit, to have a quiet word about the truth of these claims he made that he tried to buy a cabinet position? If word reached the UK press of some Russian oligarch[1] turning vindictive because his 8 million rubles didn’t get him a cabinet position, that would be seen as strong evidence of corruption and bribery. In the UK it’s … unmentionable. Heaven forbid that we look at the actual political relations being bought quite openly over the table, when there’s a dead pig to be fucked.

Of course this isn’t surprising. This is the same country where a newspaper was able to hack into a dead girl’s phone, possibly disrupting a criminal inquiry; where its senior staff threw away a computer with evidence of illegal phone hacking and were never convicted of perjury; where its staff were able to bribe police in order to hack the phone of a future head of state and a serving Prime Minister; but no one was successfully convicted of any crime, and no one charged with treason even though the company in question is foreign-owned. It’s a country where a single man was able to rape hundreds of children in hospitals and prisons and police repeatedly backed away from investigating him. It’s a country where a single black cab driver was able to rape upwards of 100 women over a 10 year period, and even though the police received multiple complaints never be investigated. It’s a country where police can murder a middle-aged man in front of hundreds of witnesses, and not even be charged with any crime. Of course you can openly brag about attempting to bribe a Prime Minister in Britain, even make money from a book about it, and not be investigated by the police – or even have your bribery remarked upon as such by the newspapers who are lapping up your pig-fucking stupidity.

This little piece of bribery is being announced in the same month that the pig-fucker general is planning to pass legislation to ensure that unions can’t donate money to a political party unless they get the permission of their members to do so, with the express purpose of starving the Labour Party of funds from working people. Because in Britain, only rich people should be allowed to buy cabinet positions. It’s okay to spend 8 million pounds of your own money buying a cabinet position, but completely unreasonable to use a couple of pounds of your member’s money supporting a political party that protects their interests.

The only good thing to come of this is the realization that Cameron has principles: whether or not he fucked a pig, he won’t sell a cabinet place for even 8 million pounds. According to our rich and truthful raccoteur, Margaret Thatcher claimed that Cameron didn’t stand for anything, but I beg to differ with the sainted Tory Goddess. His parliament is a deeply, viciously ideological parliament, and he stands for a lot of things. And it appears that one thing he includes in his list of strong political positions is not giving up cabinet seats to rich men with deep pockets. Good on him! Now charge the man with bribery and be done with him.

[For the record: I don’t believe Cameron fucked the pig. It’s none of my business if he did or didn’t fuck a dead pig, since as far as I know it’s not a crime, but I think he didn’t fuck the pig, and anyway it was like a lifetime ago. I’m also suspicious about his membership of the Bullingdon club. The Bullingdon club is founded on a deep hatred of working people, and I don’t think Cameron shares that hatred. I’m not even convinced that he simply doesn’t care about them. To quote Suicidal Tendencies: “Just because you don’t understand it don’t mean it don’t make no sense.” Cameron’s political ideals are completely antithetical to the rights and interests of working class people but that doesn’t mean they aren’t genuinely held out of a genuine belief that he can do right by those people. I recently read a report that he bailed on the Bullingdon Club as soon as he found out what they do, and I can’t judge one way or another but I can see how this is possible. The fact that he hasn’t ever had to defend his supposed membership of this nasty little fraternity says a lot more about the press than it does about him!]

fn1: People in Russia who spread their riches around for political benefit are “oligarchs”. In the UK they’re “grandees”. What does that tell you about the honesty of our news services?

Vox has an interesting article today about whether the increased numbers of defections from ISIS that are recently being recorded reflect growing problems inside the movement. The post is an interview with Peter Neumann from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, which has recently released a report claiming a rapid increase in defections. The article states:

ICSR’s researchers verified 58 publicly-reported cases between January and August of this year alone. The true number of defectors is likely higher — and the pace of defections from ISIS, according to ICSR, is increasing.

This information, and reports from the defectors themselves, is taken as a sign that the pace of defections has increased, and the organization is facing increasing problems retaining recruits. I’m not convinced that this is the case based on the evidence presented.

We know that last year there was a significant increase in the pace of recruitment of foreign fighters. If foreign fighters leave at a constant rate, with the median time period to defection of about, say, one year, then we would expect that the number of defections would lag the surge in recruitment by about a year. In general, it’s very easy to confuse a constant rate for an increased rate if the background population is not well understood and is increasing – as appears to have been the case in the past year for ISIS, if we are to believe the reports from Western “intelligence” agencies.

This problem is especially likely if defectors being detected by western agencies is a rare event, because specific numbers of rare events can fluctuate by large multiples of their average within a fixed period of time, due to the discrete nature of the events and the vagaries of probability. So while it’s possible that the rate of defections has increased, it’s also possible that this simply reflects a delayed effect of increased recruitment.

While it’s possible that the narratives reflect an increasing level of disaffection amongst foreign recruits, this could also simply be responder bias – people who want to bail are likely to speak with others who seem in the same position, and more likely to remember negative events than positive ones. So I think it’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions about the behavior of a large number of potential psychos on the basis of the reports of a small number of disaffected psychos.

This is a good example of the difficulties researchers face in understanding the epidemiology of disease (infectious or not) when the size of the affected population is not understood, and all the conclusions have to be inferred from observed cases. Unless one has a very good idea of the dynamics of the disease generation process, it’s very dangerous to draw conclusions from observations of a single point in the process, as is happening here. Of course, no one is going to be able to find out the dynamics of this process and we need information on which to base policy responses (a few of which are given in the article), but a lot of caveats are necessary when we want to draw conclusions on the basis of such limited data.

The deradicalization process is an interesting challenge. Assuming that the number of foreign fighters grew last year as suggested, and that at some point ISIS collapses, what is going to be done with these people? The Vox article suggests that these people are stone-cold extremists, whose disillusionment is not driven by horror at ISIS itself. But as the number of fighters increases the chance that any one of them has committed any serious war crimes will decrease (I assume) so a growing number of them will presumably be only guilty of having fought overseas, which is probably not even a crime in some countries (it is in Australia). Some kind of effort is going to be needed to deradicalize these people when (when!!!) ISIS collapses, and my guess is that process will be made more difficult by a punitive response to the returnees. It seems like jailing them is not going to help, and unless we want to take a step towards barbarity ourselves they are going to need to be subject to legal proceedings, and the full protections of the law, in determining their guilt for any crimes committed – a process that is unlikely to be successful given the difficulty collecting witnesses from a force that has dispersed to the four corners of the globe. But not deradicalizing them is surely not an option, and I suspect that leaving them overseas won’t be either – stripping people of citizenship is a dangerous precedent and in any case whatever society forms in the aftermath of ISIS is going to want to deport these people quick fast. But at the same time, I don’t know if anyone knows good ways to deradicalize terrorists – how hard is it? Is it comparable to deradicalizing guerilla fighters in places like Aceh, Northern Ireland or Angola? Or is it a completely different process?

I wonder if any government has any plans in place to deal with this? I suspect not, and I guess that any policy other than abandoning them overseas is going to get short shrift domestically. Even though a short-term punitive approach is going to make long term problems, my guess is that this is all the western powers are going to be willing to try…

I stand in a barren void that’s featureless
No sight or sound can penetrate at all
Though silent storms may try to tear me down
When dusk descends, I’ll still be standing tall

Daylight breaks and shatters empty skies
Has nothing changed for better or for worse?
The cycle just repeats itself again
Can’t tell if I am blessed or I am cursed

– Opening Lament of the Priests of Dune

This session of the Spiral Confederacy opens with our characters standing forlorn on the deck of their tiny ship, the Come As You Are, watching the CNS Reckless fade from view before their eyes. For a few moments after Captain Noulgrim and his pet psion disappeared the ship hung there, vast and ominous in the night sky, lights flickering and sparkling invitingly in the darkness. Then it began to fade, the lights merging and blurring so that it looked like a huge piece of quartz orbiting the sandy planet, and then fading out like a vast, lake-sized ghost.

Then they were alone, Dune’s distant, brilliant white star returned to its place in the sky and the CNS Reckless drifting out threateningly beyond their view. With no escape from their mission, they turned their ship slowly about and headed to the wreck of the Dune starport.

It took only an hour to reach the starport, but as they set their course they registered the presence of several other ships at the edge of the system, perhaps 8 hours’ travel away. These ships being too far away for easy contact they decided to ignore them and do their salvage job quickly, before the ships could get into attack range. They approached the zone where the starport had broken apart and found it drifting in three pieces. Two of these had begun to drift towards Dune’s orbit, but a third piece was falling away from the planet, spinning slowly in space and shedding atmosphere and wreckage to the void in silvery plumes. It was in this section of the starport that their target was buried, sending off its mysterious alarm signal. They approached this section in a fast loop, Ahmose bringing them in with a carefully coordinated manoeuvre that put their ship into the same rotation pattern, so they could lock onto its side. Once they were locked on Alpha sent out a surveillance drone, threading it through the broken superstructure of the starport until he could find the location of their hidden treasure. With this drone he could confirm that they were seeking their prize in one of the cargo holds at the edge of the wrecked starport, and they wouldn’t be able to go in through the superstructure. Instead, they located a nearby mining drone and brought it close to the entrance of the cargo hold. Having set up the drone, Ahmose and Alpha set out for the starport, while Simon Simon stayed in the cockpit of the Come As You Are, guiding the drone.

They drifted across the tangled wreckage of the starport’s outer surface, watching as the stars spun by dizzyingly, and from the disorienting horizon of the starport pieces of wreckage drifted out into empty space like strange moons – fridges, pieces of household furniture, chunks of ice and other debris spilling out from distant holes and quietly spiraling out into the ether. When they reached the cargo hold doors Simon Simon used the drone’s controls to force them open, and they drifted inside. With their surveillance drone they had identified a container with some possible loot, but first they sped across the cargo hold to their target.

They pulled a few small objects away from the target and dragged it out. They had suspected as much, but once they had it in the light of their vacc suit torches their worst suspicions were confirmed. Their target was a pair of cryopods, each holding a body. Cryopods have their own batteries, and when their power is disconnected they send out a general alarm. Someone had somehow managed to stow two crypods – with actual people in them – inside the cargo hold of the starport, presumably intending for someone else to pick up the frozen cargo, and now our heroes found themselves in possession of two humans in cryogenic stasis.

Which meant they would have to find, and break, a human-trafficking ring capable of smuggling living people out of a blockaded planet under the nose of a Lake Class starship. A disturbing choice of enemy…

They drew the cryopods quickly from the cargo hold and into the waiting mining drone. Once this was done they dove back into the hold to investigate the other cargo, finding a crate full of laser carbines that they also loaded into the mining drone. They flew this drone quickly back to dock with their ship, loaded everything into their own cargo hold, and headed quickly back into space.

They headed straight to a jump point. On the way they had a brief, terse exchange with the distant salvage ships, but it passed without incident. Those ships were still far enough away that a routine evasive pattern would make it impossible for laser weapons to hit them, and rockets would not reach them before they made it to the jump point. They jumped, heading to Niscorp 1743.



Jump takes a week, and there is no way to prolong the time in jump or to speed it up – it is fixed. During this week of jump they had an ideal opportunity to investigate their mysterious cargo, completely unimpeded by any outsiders. They had actually rescued two crypods, one of which had been smashed during the destruction of the starport. This smashed cryopod had a shaft of broken metal struck through it, so that its occupant had been pierced through the chest, and the preservative liquids drained out. The occupant was already registered as dead, but the other was intact and alive. This occupant was a small, intensely-muscled man in just a loin cloth. He had dusty gold skin and wore a necklace in the form of a pendant made with a very similar crystal to the one they had turned over to Kong the Younger. He was intact, well and fast asleep.

They removed the dead victim from the cryopod for investigation. She appeared to be female, but her physical structure, though vaguely similar to standard human, differed in a few remarkable respects: she was short, much more muscly than an average human female, and her reproductive organs completely different: it appeared that she was an egg layer, a kind of genetic change that none of our heroes had ever heard of. Knowing nothing about the extent of genetic modification available to the Confederacy, they could not judge the uniqueness of such a change. Had the people of Dune evolved such a property since the collapse, or had they been genetically engineered to such a strange modification before the collapse? In any case, it appeared they were dealing with a human at the edge of publicly understood genetic diversity. An interesting specimen indeed.

They put the dead Dune woman into deep freeze in the medical bay, and headed towards Niscorp 1743. Through their own stupidity they now found themselves entangled with human traffickers. What was special about their living cargo, and what evil organization had they unwittingly fallen into conflict with …?

Cut it off!

Cut it off!

This weekend with our group numbers severely depleted by extra-curricular activities we ran a Warhammer 3 (WFRP3) one-shot, with me GMing. I dug up the Warhammer 2 supplement, Children of the Horned Rat, which is a truly excellent piece of work and contains a neat little adventure at the end, Slaves of Destiny. Of course I ran it in WFRP3, because the Warhammer 2 system, though atmospheric, sucks. My players generated a pair of Dwarven heroes, with 5xp each, who were:

  • Raknar, a pit fighter, armed with a two-handed flail and clad in piecemeal chain-and-breastplate
  • Dvumir Brick-hearted,  an Ironbreaker, of course indistinguishable from all other Ironbreakers on account of his suit of Gromril armour

These two were marching west to Nuln late in the summer, having spent the summer fighting Orc nests in the Razkar mountains. They had acquitted themselves heroically and as a consequence were due to collect a prize and be honoured in Nuln. With no particularly pressing need to be anywhere, they were marching at a comfortable Dwarven pace (12 hours a day without stopping) from settlement to settlement, mostly following the main west road but, at the time the adventure starts, detouring on a narrower local road to the south due to flooding of the main road.

They were just passing around a small embankment when they stumbled on two beastmen munching on the body of a dying man. One beastman was a wargor, one a gor. It was a scene of horror, with the smaller gor chewing on a severed hand, and the larger wargor crouched above the still-twitching body, loops of the man’s guts hanging from its snarling lips. They both turned to look at Raknar and Dvumir at the same time, and with yells and snarls battle was joined.

The larger gor charged forward but didn’t engage immediately, instead stopping to let rip a terrifying roar. Raknar and Dvumir, though shaken, were not broken by the 3m tall beast’s frenzied snarling, and fell into a pattern of battle they were well used to. Dvumir presented shield and armour to the fore, taking the blows that the beast would rain down upon them, and Raknar, partially protected by his heavier friend, unleashed furious blows with his flail[1]. He broke the smaller Gor with two swings of that mighty chain, but even with Dvumir fending off and disrupting the heavier wargor’s attacks, Raknar still took a heavy beating before he finally managed to find a weak point and smash the wargor’s thigh, bringing it down. He then smashed the thing’s head in like a huge, overripe melon, and the battle was done.

Two dwarves beating a beastman Wargor adn Gor on a country road – alone! Very impressive![2]

They searched the bodies, and found only a most repulsive bejewelled necklace festooning the Wargor’s privates; this they carefully removed and sacked, to be cleansed by a priest at a nearby town. They then searched the body of the now-dead human, finding nothing except a few supplies, a few coins, and a letter. Of course they read the letter:

Dear A,

I had plans to pay you back but my last instalment is delayed. Dotterbach is sore beset by chaos and trade nigh impossible these last days. My payments being dead, I beg of you a small extension. Pray take no harsh measures against me ’till Chaos be vanquished! Help being hard to find, I pray you show respect to a town in dire need of mortal kindness.



A town in need of aid from Chaos! What more could our pair of glory hounds want on a sunny late summer’s day than to find such a missive? (Except perhaps that the letter itself be slightly less blood-splattered).

Our heroes set off to the town of Dotterbach, which was three days’ easy march from the scene of the killing. By the time they reached Dotterbach Raknar was fully recovered, and three days later they stood on the hill near the town, looking over a pleasant hamlet bathed in late afternoon sunlight, a stream running through the middle of extensive sheep fields and a small cluster of houses. As idyllic a place as any might expect in these dark days of the Late Imperium – but what horrors lurked within?

Revolting slaves

Find-find, quick-quick!

Find-find, quick-quick!

Entering the town, they noticed that even though the sun had not yet set all the residents were indoors, doors shut despite the pleasant late evening warmth, and some peering uncomfortably out from behind their blinds and curtains. The town was silent where it should have been buzzing with the bleating of sheep returning to the fold, the streets empty of children at play or the sounds of people returning from work. Something was obviously amiss. They stopped at the tavern, The Naked Sheep, to find lodgings and a meal, and here fell quickly into conversation with the tavern owner, Abelhard. They were his sole guests, and he was forced to unlock the front door to let them in, but was welcoming enough when he realized that they were adventurers in town with a purpose. He told them the sorry tale of Dottenbach’s recent woes.

About three weeks ago sheep and goats from the town began to go missing, and about two weeks ago the miller and his family all disappeared. The people of the town bore up under this threat and fear for another week or so but the sheep kept going missing, and then strange sounds began to be heard at night – scratchings and the sounds of creatures moving around, sniffing at doors and windows. Now the townsfolk are trapped inside until the sun is high in the sky, and much of the work on preparing the summer’s shearings for market has been interrupted, leaving the townsfolk worried about their winter stores. No one is willing to work in the mill – or even knows how – so the fancy wool carding machine in the basement of the mill sits idle and the flour stores are beginning to run low. Then, about three nights ago, the head of the militia, sergeant Dilmar, was killed while patrolling some fields at the edge of town. Now the militia are in disarray and the townsfolk terrified. They need heroes to rescue them from some force of chaos that stalks their lands!

A good thing our stunty team were on hand. They offered to fix everything right in the morning, and sidled off to bed. During the night Raknar had a terrifying nightmare of crows eating sheep, and in the morning he woke convinced that the evil afoot was, in fact, a-wing, and the problem lay with crows[3]. Dvumir, in contrast, slept like a log and woke none the wiser to any events that might have unfolded during the hours of darkness. Still ignorant of the true cause of the towns troubles, they set off to meet Kaspar, the merchant whose letter they held.

They met Kaspar in his small manor house, which would be considered tatty and drafty in the towns of the north but here was no doubt prized as a genuine palace. He was warm and welcoming, and explained the situation with the letter very simply: he took a debt from a shady person, Mr A, a while back, and is unable to make his final repayment due to the troubles besetting the town. He expects now that, his man having not got through to Vinsilles, Mr A will be sending some men to have a chat with Kaspar. Kaspar made clear that he would appreciate any help in dealing with those men that the PCs might be willing to offer, and also told them to go and speak with the dubious Friar Eckel if they wished to help the town. Friar Eckel was a mendicant priest of Sigmar who had moved into the house of the mayor, Hofstetter, after he died, and was now making free with the mayor’s belongings, and possibly enjoying other privileges bestowed by the mayor’s wife, as well as increasingly acting like the de facto town leader. Kaspar explained this to them in obvious distaste.

They visited Eckel, and soon confirmed that he was both a coward and a lying scoundrel, making free with the town’s wealth and probably having his wicked, lascivious, very non-Sigmarite way with the mayor’s widow. Fortunately, however, a coward and his money are easily parted when a dwarven pit fighter raises his voice, and they left the mayor’s house with the information they needed, and 40 gold coins’ advance payment on the task of saving the town.

Their first stop was the mill, which was empty as expected. A quick search of mill and stable confirmed their suspicions, that the miller and his family had fled, taking their wagon and most of their most precious possessions with them. But why? Searching the grounds they found a clue soon enough – in a goat paddock behind the mill they found a metre-wide hole that opened into a tunnel leading into the moist earth. Being dwarves, they entered it without fear, and headed down this narrow and cramped tunnel into darkness. It stank like a charnel house, and they had to wrap cloths around their faces to keep out the stench, as well as lighting a candle against the inky black.

After about 10 metres’ descent they entered a low cave, perhaps 10m in diameter, with a muddy and filth-encrusted floor that was scattered with half-devoured corpses of sheep and bones. The stench came from here, and here too were the cause of the lost sheep. Six wretched, horribly disfigured and mutated men charged out of the shadows to attack our heroes. These pathetic men bore terrible scars and hideous warpings of flesh and bone, and they keened in rage as they attacked.

Moments later they were dead.

Raknar and Dvumir were searching the few scattered possessions of this motley band when they pulled back a filthy rug to reveal a seventh man, cowering amongst bags and sacks. He sprang back at their approach and yelled “Don’t I beg you! I am a man not a monster!” Since he was speaking Reikspiel with a reasonable accent they assented to give him a few moments of life to explain himself – and thus did they hear his terrible story.

The men they had killed were skavenslaves, the mutated and warpstone-afflicted toilers of the skaven under-empire. The man had been abducted perhaps 3 months ago from the streets of Nuln by a gang of skaven clanrats, and through trade, conflict and theft he had passed through many hands until he ended up in a warren near Dotternbach. Here he had been intended as a future mutant, to be put to fighting in the slave pits or working in some hideous mine, but while he waited he was kept near these six skavenslaves. They had found a way to escape, and when they fled he came with them. At first they threatened to kill him (skavenslaves become as warped as their masters, and have no mercy for each other), but they decided to keep him alive as a bargaining chip. He now lay in fear of his life again, because recently they had seen giant rats skulking amongst the hamlet, sure proof that a skaven slave-hunting gang was nearby looking for them – had the dwarves not found him he would surely have been offered as tribute or bait by the skavenslaves. The skavenslaves had not killed anyone in the town, though – they had taken only sheep, because they were desperately hungry. Their captive suspected that the skaven slave-hunters had killed Dilmar, and worse was to come – now that the slaves were dead they would no doubt attack the town to capture replacements.

Raknar and Dvumir looked at each other in the foul, dank gloom. The town stood in great threat – and they two were all that stood between humanity and a tidal wave of chittering, ravenous rat-horror.

The time had come to act!

[And here ended the session …]

fn1: basically Dvumir is incredibly hard to hit but can’t do much damage, while Raknar is more vulnerable. So the pattern is for Dvumir to act first with Improved Guarded Position, which makes Raknar harder to hit, and then Raknar to use Thunderous Blow. With this strategy Dvumir is almost impossible to hurt – he has soak 10 and defense 3, and anyone attempting to hit him will do so against 3 challenge dice and 5 misfortune dice (once defense and specializations are taken into account). But even attempting to attack Raknar they then face an extra challenge die on all attacks. It worked quite well.

fn2: Actually indicative of a problem in WFRP3, that the monster action cards are underpowered compared to the PC cards. I should have given the Wargor the Reckless Cleave card, but I didn’t do any preparation for this session and haven’t played WFRP3 for a year, so I forgot about this problem. And anyway if Raknar had been hit once more he’d have been unconscious, which would have left Dvumir in big, big trouble …

fn3: Chaos star on the observation check!

The final roll call

The final roll call

So we were sent in by ‘is high and mighty lordship to kill the Swine Prince. Ain’t nuffink to it, ‘e says, not that ‘e’d know since ‘e don’t never go down there ‘isself, prefers to stay all lordy and poncey in the ‘ighest room of the inn but ‘e sure ain’t shy about sendin’ in others to clean up his sweet dad’s mess. “Singular and unsettling rumours abound,” says ‘e in ‘is oity-toity way, “Of an experiment of my father’s that went awry, and in the doing of it trapped some antediluvian outsider in the grossly misshapen body of a tortured pig. It falls upon thee – ” oh yes ‘e likes ‘isself some Shakey Spear does our lordship, ” – to cleanse the warrens of this foul monstrosity. Be warned, it is accompanied by a much smaller, runt-like pig that it is said to hold very dear and precious, and one should not harm the little one until the big one is done for. Or so I have heard in talk about the hamlet, from those who came before you.”

So that’s that, there’s the promise of a fat stash of glinties and a nice little magic ring when we get back wiv the Swine Prince’s ‘ead, so off we go. It’s a slightly dodgy marchin’ order this day because all the Vestals are down the brothel lickin’ wine off the tits of their fallen sisters, and the last crew wot got back from some big reccie job think this kind of slaughter and jiggery-pokery is beneath them, everyone says they’re gearin’ up for an attack on the Necromancer ‘isself. Wot means it’s me, Gael, your very one and only Plague Doctor; then there’s Thibault, the Occultist wot gives me the creeps and gets a leery look in ‘is eye every time ‘e calls down those ribbons of extra-dimensional ‘orror; then we’ve got Gomboult the Crusader, ‘andy chap to ‘ave around in a pinch though ‘is sermonizing and heretofores get a little bit tiring down there in the deeps; and at the front we’ve got Mr. Middleton ‘isself, Man-at-arms, wot everyone says made a motzah smackin’ Russky arse in the Criminalean, though I don’t credit it myself – methinks ‘e’s put in a few years’ time at the bars and flophouses round the Criminal Sea, but not so much elbow grease on the front line, if you get my drift.

The plan woz pretty simple stuff. Mr. Middleton and Gomboult stand at the front, whackin’ anythin’ wot gets in arms reach; Thibault stands at back where every Occultist luvs to be, workin’ ‘is Wyrd Reconstruction on anyone wot ‘as the misfortune to get bit, and occasionally ‘aulin’ those extra-dimensional death ribbons out and whackin’ the enemy’s arse with ’em – ‘e calls it Abyssal Artillery, but I just call it the Tentacle Slap. Thibault’s Wyrd Reconstruction works a charm for stitchin’ up big cuts but it’s a bit … unreliable, and sometimes it, ah, it makes ya ooze, know wot I mean? But I’ve got a sovereign remedy for when mortal bits come unstuck, so on the occasion that ‘is Reconstruction goes wrong I ‘astily throw on a bit of Battlefield Medicine, and when I ain’t patchin’ up Thibault’s extra-dimensional mistakes I’m givin’ the same sovereign remedy for acid, poison and other cuts – ’cause my medical skills are rough but effective, don’t ya know? – and the rest of the time I’m lobbin’ little grenades of unpleasant goo at wotever takes my fancy.

And there’s a lot down there in the warrens that you want to cast some acid on, if you get my drift. This day it woz extra mean, wiv all manner of nasties crawlin’ out of stone and sewer to whale on us, but we made it right through a real long set of tunnels to where we fought that old pig might be. Sad to say, but Thibault got done in by a nasty little spider right outside the Swine Prince’s lair, just took one dram too much spit from the nasty bugger and I didn’t get to ‘im in time. ‘E’s an Occultist too so ‘is eyes went real wide right before ‘e went, and he started beggin’ us “No! They’re coming! Don’t let them take me! These aren’t the angels I was promised!”

‘S kind of funny when you think about it, innit? Those Occultists make some kind of skeezy deal with the Big Gentleman At The Tentacle Farm, and ‘e promises ’em glory and power and greatness, but they die faster ‘n anyone else and they all do that little chorus ‘o regret right before the end. Whenever a new one turns up I wonder if I should point out to ‘im my ‘istory of watchin’ his colleagues die gibberin’ in terror at their Inky Boss, but I just don’t ‘ave the ‘eart, me. No, and I figure they can’t back out o’ the deal anyway – why spoil it for the little blighters? Maybe if they didn’t all come from stinkin’ Eden College, wiv airs o’ nobility about ’em, I might be a little more forthcomin’ wiv me tears, but I can’t bring meself to shed none for such as them. Still, he stitched me up good a few times, didn’t ‘e? Shame to see ‘im go like that, all smeared wiv spider goo and smokin’ and cryin’ and beggin’ his mummy to save ‘im from the big scary octopus. You’d ‘ve thought his teachers might ‘ve shown ‘im a picture of his boss, eh?

Anyway so once we’d given Thibault a proper burial (well akchually we woz pretty close so we just stripped ‘im of ‘is stuff), we girded ourselves and went in for the Big Pig. ‘E was slummin’ it inside this mighty girt cave wot woz completely stinkin’ of pig shit and dead bodies and there woz a dozen corpses and ‘im and ‘is little bum-buddy chowin’ down on the remains ov wot looked like a grave robber though I can’t be sure, on account of it bein’ ‘alf-eaten and smeared in pig shit. But Mr. Middleton, ‘e’s all gee’d up for a stoush after Gomboult gave us all a mighty inspirin’ speech at the camp, and so ‘e yells “I’m gonna make you squeal like a pig under a gate!” and then the shit-show’s on for real like, innit? And the little pig-runt goes and cowers be’ind ‘is master, who is like this towerin’ pig from another dimension, my friend, ‘e is absoLUTEly monstrosterous. ‘E must ‘ave been 20 feet ‘igh and 10 feet wide, and ‘e was standin’ on two legs and ‘oldin’ this massive meat cleaver wot could carve a whale in twain, and ‘e’s got this feral glint in ‘is massive piggy eye, and ‘e don’t squeal but grunts and roars and comes shufflin’ forward but Gomboult and Mr. Middleton are all gee’d up for a fight an’ let me tell you it was quite a stoush. But the little runt pig would throw mud on us and wotever one the mud stuck to, the Swine Prince would rain a storm of meat-chopper death on ’em, and I ‘ad me work cut out keepin’ ’em patched up enough to go back into the fight.

We did wot we were warned and didn’t ‘it that little runt, though once or twice Mr. Middleton let rip wiv a sly spankin’ just to remind ‘im whose boss, but the little runt didn’t do nothin’, and we woz startin’ to look good. But then the Big Pig dropped such a storm ‘o choppery on us that you would not ‘ave seen your way through it no matter wot, and when the mud and pig-shit ‘ad settled both Mr. Middleton and Gomboult were lookin’ seriously the worse for wear, and there were bits of ’em fallin’ off. I patched up Gomboult, and Mr. Middleton went valiant back into that fight, and got in a big ‘it, but then the Pig rained down more o’ that stompage just as Gomboult was wadin’ back in, and when the festerin’ slime was cleared Mr. Middleton ‘ad become unfit for ‘uman consumption, if you get my drift. ‘E woz just bits of old campaigner, rainin’ down on us. But this made Gomboult quite the mad Crusader, mortal wounded though he woz after that last rain ‘o death, and before I could patch ‘im up ‘e ‘ad charged forward and let rip such a blow wiv ‘is sword that the Swine Prince didn’t ‘ave no chance, and fell dead as a Sunday sucklin’ roast, right there at our feet. Victory!

But then no sooner ‘ad we felled the big bastard than that little pesky runt came heelin’ over the corpse, set down in front of us and let rip with the most god-awful pig squeal you ‘ave ever ‘eard. And wot wiv Gomboult bein’ in a right mortal state, he just upped and died there on the spot. That squeal ‘ad some infernal power in it, ‘coz it turned my legs and arms to jelly and I couldn’t do nothin’, not even run away through all that swirlin’ mud and Middleton mush. And ‘e just kept screamin’ at me till I passed out!

So I’m glad you found me when you did, sirs, ’cause it’s mighty stinky in their and I could’a drowned in the mud, but I’m sad to tell you I’ve got nothin’ left in me. I’m done for, I’ve already lost most of meself in that there mud. You’ll find the Swine Prince just down there in the hollow, dead as a demon doorknob and stinkin’ up ‘is own mud pit. As for that runt, if you find ‘im, kick ‘is arse for me. But I’ve got nothin’ left to run on. I’m just one more corpse for the wagon now …



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 71 other followers