Thera: The Runelord Epic Class

The Theran Epic Hero:

   Beyond Twentieth Level :

   Theran characters may take a maximum of 20 “normal” class levels. Any levels beyond that must be taken in one of Thera’s two, mutually exclusive, high-level Classes – Epic Hero and Rune Lord. While it is possible – at least in exceptional cases – to start taking levels in these classes at level fifteen, it’s unusual. Characters who don’t qualify for Epic Hero or Rune Lord can’t advance beyond level 20 on Thera.

The Rune Lord:

   Bound to the powers of order and embodiments of the Runes which make up Thera’s structure, Runelords have great influence over the world about them, but are bound to that world – and pay a price for their power, both immediately, in the form of Divine Drawbacks, and in millennia to come. Over the ages, a Runelord will gradually grow into, and be transformed by, their rune or runes – slowly merging with the magical structure of Thera. Eventually, their Runes will spawn subrunes, new branches of magic will arise, and the elder rune will slowly be forgotten as it grows into something else – and its associated Runelord will pass on at last.

  • Requirements: Level 15+, completion of an Epic Quest, total attribute modifiers of plus ten or more, and attunement to at least one unclaimed Rune (The other two “attunements” may overlap but this will conflict with the power of the existing Runelord – who won’t like it. Both lords abilities will become unreliable).
  • Attack Bonus: +(L/2). Doesn’t raise the number of iterative attacks available.
  • Base Caster Level: +(L/2)
  • Save Bonuses: +(L/2)
  • Skill Points: +(Int Mod) per level.
  • Hit Dice: d8
  • Special: Gain one Feat, one Divine Power, six points of Resistances (energy forms, damage types, poisons, attribute drain or damage, environmental problems such as lack of air or food, and types of physical damage are all eligible), and one Divine Drawback per level.
  • Immunities: Aging and Disease, with a permanent “Death Ward” and “Mage Armor” effect. As expressions of universal energies, they’re resistant to both magic and psionics (Spell and Power Resistance of = 10 + Level).
  • Drawbacks: All Runelords are foci of vast (and quite detectable) forces, are watched by virtually everyone, are vulnerable to some specific form of attack (GMO, but this varies with the Runelord), and are difficult to heal or transform, as they can’t drop their spell resistance versus such effects.

Divine Powers:

   Astral Realms; Shaping the formless energies of the Astral Plane requires an unshakeable will and a great deal of belief – but Runelords generally have ample access to both. Powers on this list include:

  • Avatars; You may have up to (Intelligence) Avatars of yourself (treat as Simulacrums, but with a mental link to you) active at any given time. These take a week each to make, but there is no associated cost.
  • Minions; You control a variety of “Astral Constructs”. While these are semi-intelligent and quite powerful – an effective manifestation level of (user level/4, 10 maximum) – they’re shaped by the belief of your followers, not entirely by you. You gain one such construct per active major temple dedicated to you.
  • Realm; You control a private realm on the astral plane; within it your Talent Feats are much enhanced (half cost or double effect) and you can manipulate the environment at will. Deceased followers tend to turn up there. You may take a Talent Feat to gain the ability to gate back and forth between your realm and Thera.
  • Wrath; Those who anger you or violate the tenets of your faith will be stricken by some form of supernatural punishment (a disease, a bolt of lightning, a curse, etc).

   Followers; Runelords tend to develop cults and followings among those who find their runes important. Some take advantage of this Powers on this list include:

  • Cultists. You’ve got a group of fanatics. At any given time you can call on 3D6 devotes to undertake even the most suicidal missions.
  • Disciples. You have a direct bond with a small group – equal to your charisma score at any given time – of your priests, and may speak or channel your power through them at will as well as know what’s happening about them.
  • Faithful. You have a religion, and may call on great numbers of ordinary people, considerable reserves of money, and other resources, as required.
  • Investment. Your followers supply 1000 EP per day that you may use to cast spells, make items, or invest in mortals – raising them to a maximum of level 15. Sadly, you can not add it to your personal EP total.

   Mindspeech; The presence of a Runelord has strange effects on reality – and on minds. Some Runelords learn to use that psychic impact. Powers on this list include:

  • Adjutant; You may designate any one being at a time as your Familiar, Companion, or Mount, and grant it the relevant bonuses at an effective level equal to your total level. If you take this more than once, you can so imbue that many creatures at a time.
  • Divine Aura; You “radiate” an emotion, an aura of disguising illusion, or a Consecrate/ Desecrate effect in a radius of (10 x Charisma) feet. If relevant, standard saving throws for innate charisma-based powers apply.
  • Gift Of Tongues; You may communicate with any creature with a mind, listen in on hidden thoughts, and either Enthrall, Fascinate, or inflict Suggestions or Commands, on those you speak to. Perhaps fortunately, standard saving throws against innate-charisma based powers apply.
  • Spirit Sight; Your senses extend into the Astral and Ethereal planes. As a Feat you may learn to extend your touch and magical/mental talents to those levels as well.

   Runebond; The bond with their runes is the core of a Runelords power. Powers on this list include:

  • Awareness; While a Runelord automatically becomes aware of “major” activities involving his or her rune – the researching of great spells, relevant natural disasters, major battles, etcetera – this allows them to “sense” minor activities, involving otherwise-unimportant individuals. This also covers the symbolic activities of Theran “prayer”. (E.G.; “Praying” to a wargod involves at least a good practice bout – while praying to a deathgod usually means killing something or other).
  • Influence; You may manipulate events on a global scale, granting those you favor a “+3” bonus on rolls related to one of your runes and inflicting a “-3” penalty on those you oppose or disapprove of. For example, a god of Trade can influence relevant Diplomacy, Navigation, and Profession checks. Those he favors will get rich, those he opposes will run into menacing customs agents and upset customers all day.
  • Mastery; Reduces the “effective” level of personally-cast spells involving one of the user’s runes by 3 levels. If this reduces it to below zero, it becomes an extraordinary – rather then super- natural – effect. Mastery may be taken up to three times, twice provides reductions of 6/3 spell levels for the primary/a secondary rune – and three times provides a 9/6/3 level reduction for the users primary/first secondary/second secondary runes..
  • Returning; You’re very difficult to kill. Unless someone else claims your runes, or you are killed in some specific manner (GMO), you will eventually return even without help. If you are helped, your return will be quick.

   Metamorphosis; Runelords are always transformed into runic embodiments to some extent, but can limit it to the more or less cosmetic level if they choose. Some choose otherwise. Powers on this list include:

  • Ascension; You gain an appropriate plane-touched template (often Aasimar or Tiefling), without an ECL adjustment. This can be taken twice, in which case you get the appropriate “Half-Whatever” template, also without an ECL adjustment. Runelords can gain lycanthropic, half-dragon, and similar templates, as well, but cannot gain more then one. Runelords with this ability always appear quite monstrous, more so if they belonged to a monster species to start with.
  • Embodiment; You take on a monstrous form, and a variety of special abilities derived from it. Such forms usually include a few enhanced attributes, “natural” weapons and armor and a few physically-oriented “Feats”. Of course, quite a lot of equipment – such as armor, weapons, and magic items, will become unusable, and most people will react quite strongly to you.
  • Runemark; You gain +2 to a chosen attribute appropriate to one of your Runes. You are also blatantly changed by this; you may acquire a distinctive glowing aura when your abilities are in use, be physically warped, have glowing runic tattoos all over your skin, or whatever Mark the game master decides is appropriate.
  • Runeward; You may make saving throws against spells and effects which do not normally allow them. Moreover, whenever you make a saving throw against an effect which would normally produce a partial effect, the effect in question is entirely negated.

The Price Of Godhood:

   Runelords normally have more problems then heroes do. A god must take on one limitation from the list below per level in the Runelord class.

   Bond Of Faith; Runelords often get trapped in the nature of their runes, and in the role their followers expect them to play. Limitations on this list include:

  • Unable to resist Wyrd; You are unable to go against the nature of the runes you’re attuned to. For example, a death goddess might find herself unable to aid her own dying child, a sun god might be unable to “intervene” during the night, and a a war god might find himself unable to work towards a peaceful solution.
  • Metamorphic Cycles; You undergo a regular sequence of transformations, such as a sun god who starts each day as a child and dies of old age each night – although that’s extreme, even for gods, and probably counts as several choices.
  • Personal Artifact; A sizable part of your personal power becomes bound into an artifact of some sort. While this increases the effects of those abilities by 50%, it can be stolen – and those powers are not available without the artifact.
  • Distinctive Features; You are easily seen for what you are – no matter how you disguise yourself or shapechange.

   Immortality; The energies coursing through a gods body have a physical impact as well. Limitations on this list include:

  • Impervious; You are resistant to growth, as well as to aging and harm. You gain experience points at only one-third the normal rate.
  • Lost Slots; The innate magic of your body blocks the use of many items. Slotless items must be put into one at first, after that you will lose two slots per time this is taken.
  • Fertility; Like a dragon, you are fertile with almost anything. Unlike them, any liason with a mortal WILL result in a child. Such children will inherit a natural link with you and a certain amount of power – although how it will express itself is unpredictable.
  • Ascension; The oldest, and most powerful, Runelords tend to merge with Thera itself – and must be invoked before they can manifest. As a side effect they’re near-indestructible.

   Relationships; “Immortality”, coupled with slow inhuman transformation and vast personal power – some of it inheritable – is hard on a gods social life.  Limitations on this list include:

  • Divine Spouse; You’ve married another god of some sort. At best this takes up a lot of your time. At worst, well, Hera and Zeus are a fairly mild example.
  • Offspring; You have troublesome children, ranging from kids who disrupt your rituals or find weird trouble to get into to offspring who hate you, and want to usurp your position.
  • Callousness; You’ve watched mortals come and go for millenia, and have ceased to care. This does not endear you to those around you.
  • Divine Awe; You may be beautiful, inspire awe, or be unbelievably ugly, but those about you have massive emotional reactions, despite any disguise. In rare cases, this can kill.

   Reputations; While gods inevitably acquire reputations, things can get a bit extreme. Limitations on this list include:

  • Well-understood; Those opposing or dealing with you can be expected to know your abilities, tactics, psychological “buttons” and other relevant information in fair detail.
  • Nemesis; You’re opposed by another entity of similar powers – typically a god embodying an opposing rune, but sometimes simply a hero or god with an opposing personality.
  • Outlawed; You and your followers are wildly unpopular, and will attract endless opposition.
  • Overrated; People overestimate both what you can do and what areas you influence. This is likely to irritate other powerful entities and to attract unwanted trouble.

   Megalomania; As limited aspects of reality fall subject to a runelord’s will, it becomes hard to avoid feeling that the rest should be equally obliging. Limitations on this list include:

  • Irrational; You tend to stop thinking and lose all sense of restraint and discretion when you’re defied or offended.
  • Transcendent; You see yourself as “above” law and custom; you are a GOD, such pettiness does not apply!
  • Arrogant; You tend to treat all “mortals” as your personal servants and property. If they don’t like it, you can always find some more.
  • Lordly; You demand worship and respect from all those around you of lesser stature – and if they aren’t gods or epic heroes, they’re lesser.

   Unfocused; Runelords are personally linked with events going on throughout the world. As a result, they often find it hard to focus on anything in particular. Limitations on this list include:

  • Absent Minded; You tend to forget things. A LOT. You may forget your gear, your friends names and to refresh your spells unless you can make some very good wisdom checks.
  • Distracted; You suffer a -3 circumstances penalty on anything not directly “related” to one of your runes and must often make concentration checks to pay attention to what’s going on around you.
  • Oblivious; You suffer a -4 penalty on all Spot, Listen, and similar rolls.
  • Invoked; You’re subjected to random calls on your attention and power as you’re invoked for various purposes.

   Responsibilities; Runelords are important people, and their link with an aspect of reality often places demands on them. Limitations on this list include:

  • Committments; You have a lot of things to do, and often do not have time for “personal” adventuring or projects.
  • Runic Backlash; You’re affected by events which impact your rune; For example, a sungod might be severely weakened during an eclipse.
  • Primal Link; Your emotions and well-being touch the world about you through your runes. Minor disturbances will reveal your motives and emotions,
  • Marked; Your runes have set their mark on you; you will find it difficult or impossible to use opposing powers.
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Federation-Apocalypse Session 57: A Singular Assault

   Marty couldn’t help looking back for a few moments: it wasn’t usual for Kevin to sit around moping; normally when something went wrong he just went to a backup plan and started another five schemes. Who would have known that his weak point was being beaten up and dominated by the Big Bad Wolf Muppet? Even on a bender he never would have guessed that one. Maybe it was something left over from early childhood? At least it hadn’t taken him long to recover after being removed from Sesame Street – but seeing Kevin-the-Werewolf moping because he’d gotten beaten by another wolf-creature almost made up for missing out on seeing his ex-wife’s face after the dragon, even if he had had to pick him up and carry him out of Sesame Street while he was busy whining.

“What did you expect? He was twice as big as you! Now, if only I could have seen her face. What do you think she looked like, Limey?”

“Uh, happy maybe? Pet’s are always fun!”

“Yeah, they are. Especially when they spit acid and you’re not the one having to clean it.”

“Yeah!”

   Kevin had still looked pretty sheepish for a bit after Marty hauled him out of Sesame Street and he’d reverted to human form.

   Oh well. Enough retrospective. Kevin was pretty well caught up on his scheming and recruiting anyway. He’d just been giving orders for the dataswipe-and-analysis they’d been wanting to run on a Core computer node; he was having the magical services offices in Crusader use the best copy-spells they could manage (a specialist-thrall should be able to manage something in the L6 to L9 range even if he or she couldn’t do it very often) to copy all the internal and hardwired data from one of the system nodes there to external storage for analysis. That way they could analyze things without letting the computers know about it at all. That should be quick and quiet enough to keep the system from simply wiping the bits they wanted to know – which was a problem with almost any form of physical theft. The bloody computers reacted in microseconds.

   With that underway, it was time to get back to the Linear Realms. The bulk transit gate from Crusader was up and running anyway, so they had a nearly-direct route to use.

   There was a lot of forklift-and-truck traffic going back and forth through the gate, although every once in a while something rumbled past under it’s own power. The Norfolk base was buzzing with activity as well. The Commander was busy “directing traffic” on the Crusader side of the gate.

   He probably didn’t want to give up his new powers. Well, it didn’t seem to have gotten him into trouble so far – and if there was an attack, he’d probably be more useful over there anyway.

   Anyway, the shipping was going just fine, although it was obvious that Norfolk hadn’t been this busy in some time, and was taking a while to ramp up to meet demand.

   They’d already deployed them some additional Thralls, so there wasn’t much they could do there at the moment. Marty voted for trying to get in on some of the followup assaults on the other enemy bases. It would be a lot more entertaining – and he needed to work off all that birthday cake anyway.

   Myagi confirmed that the mopping-up was still underway. Attacks were stepping up on both sides; it looked like the enemy had caught on to the fact that the Linear Developments had caught on, and they were now trying to cause as much damage as possible. The boldest move so far had been an attack on Yucca, but New York had been one of the more troublesome places though.

“Really. Where are they attacking in New York?”

“Well, your realm is shaping up to be a notable front. We can deploy a few more aides here to help you out. What’s most urgent?”

“Well they have been trying to hit the financial institutions and the harbor facilities, and causing general chaos. The Police and Fire departments have their hands full at the moment, the FBI are enroute now – along with some uncover military forces. At the moment we’ve traced a large number of their operatives to the New York area. Unfortunately with all the chaos going on there, our forces are spread thin.”

   Well, evidently they weren’t having any trouble accepting the Thralls as special agents – although a little shapeshifting might help with the uninformed. Kevin – suddenly having plenty of Thralls available – promptly deployed a hundred more to help them out, half to the New York area.

   Marty was mulling over going in person. He didn’t like to see ANY version of his home town being threatened. Maybe he should start putting together the Greater Federation of New York or something.

   The Linear Realms weren’t actually on the attack anywhere at this particular moment; they’d hit all the known enemy bases as quickly as possible, and were now analyzing information, running interrogations, and trying to trace people back.

   On the defensive side, New York was being hammered hard, Washington DC was in lock-down, and they’d gotten wind of an assault on North Bay Base in Ontario. In the Linear Realms it was the primary headquarters of NORAD. The transfer had been made after the responsibilities grew to large for Cheyenne to handle without serious upgrade costs.

   Kevin sighed and called for another hundred Thralls. After all, he’d just recruited quite a few, and they might as well help defend their homeworld. All of that was defensive though; they needed enemy commanders. Well, they could continue trying to capture and trace; he’d bet that the enemy still wasn’t sure what they were up against.

   So: rout terrorists in New York, join the defense of North Bay, chase a bomber in Washington, interrogate prisoners, see what they were after in Yucca, wait and see what else turned up, or do something else entirely?

   Kevin deferred to Marty; he was the combat strategist after all – and Kevin was still feeling a bit embarrassed about making suggestions.

   Marty considered that. Yucca might get them some intelligence. The thralls and the local forces could probably handle New York, as much as he hated to admit it. They still didn’t know that much about their opponents except that they were using Singular tech. Marty made a personal note to rummage around in Singular a bit more; the military there had apparently had secret technologies that the lunar colony bunch they’d transferred to Ealor hadn’t known about – such as the dimensional transport device that MacArthur had used to escape to the Linear Realms. North Bay and NORAD it would be. He wasn’t sure that he wanted the enemy to have access to those kinds of systems anyway.

   Kevin quietly opened a gate on request: he was still feeling a bit subdued.

   Hopefully the attack hadn’t yet started!

   Currently the base was a whirlwind of activity. Fighter planes were flying nonstop air cover. Trucks full of soldiers were arriving almost continuously, along with automated tanks and light military vehicles. There were drones flying everywhere, and a significant police presence on all the roads. Antiaircraft defenses were being prepped for action.

   Kevin promptly deployed thirty thralls in various small-animals forms to keep an eye out for infiltrators. He didn’t think that the Linear Realms bunch fully appreciated the power of local Identities yet. Besides, any direct attack would probably come from the inside via teleportation, gates, or some similar method, and would bypass most of the external defenses.

   They were in the local records now anyway, so they stuck with the information they’d given Myagi; “Perry Scott” and “Peter Acquilla” headed for the gate – and were promptly surrounded.

“Identify yourselves. Please be aware that failure to comply is cause for us to open fire!”

   After some identification – the guard looked a bit oddly at the readouts on his rifle when they noted the presence of Jamie Wolfe, Bard, Gerald, Daniel, “and various Ferrets” (“What? I like ferrets!) – but everything appeared to be in order. He did ask them to submit to retinal scans, which might not be perfect, but it was better than going by general descriptions.

“Alright, everything looks to be in order. I suggest you find someplace out of the way and keep your heads down. The story is the top brass are expecting a major firefight coming in, but they aren’t letting us in many of the details.”

“Right. You heard him, guys.”

   At the central command center, the place was a mess. There were computers and people giving status reports from all over the world. There were satellite video feeds coming in on various screens. At the center of the room there was a holographic display of the base and the surrounding areas including at least some of the underground chambers and utility lines.

   Well, they were basically here to keep an eye out, and possibly spot patterns that the locals hadn’t. Marty took local guard and kept an eye out for odd behavior, while Kevin used his new multi-tracking talents to watch multiple situations and relay useful information to the Thralls.

   Marty kept an eye out for odd behavior as well.

   Hm. There wasn’t much actual tactical information in the flood: several operators were watching geophysical data and occasionally making observations about incoming tremor data. Another set was watching weather data and making similar observations. There were so many people coming and going that the – extremely numerous – guards had pretty much given up on confirming ID’s of everyone coming and going from the room.

   Tremors and weather? Either this was a front, or somebody was planning on snatching the entire planet or something and these people knew about it already. If this was a military command center in the middle of a series of raids and attacks, there should be a lot of situation reports and tactical information up. Not weather reports.

   Kevin had the kid with divination – even if it was only low level – start checking for illusions. This could be something very weird.

   As it turned out, the generals and almost all the technicians were illusory. The guards were real. They had a look around for some real people other than the guards. Somebody had to be holding the illusion. One of the local psychics might be behind it: limited psionics worked just fine in the Linear Realms… It looked like one of the technicians was real, but he wasn’t paying attention to his display. He was drinking coffee and was mainly watching the room itself.

   Kevin wandered over to him and quietly set up a modest privacy/cloaking/anti-spying spell.

“I take it you’re expecting an attack here and this is bait?”

   The man sighed.

“Saw through it then, did you?”

“Well, the data displays are inappropriate.”

   Marty joined them

“So, what’s going on?”

“They are? Blast it. One second.”

   The “technician” closed his eyes for a moment

“Blasted things tend to drift without direction I fear.”

“Why not just funnel in some real date feeds? It would make your job easier. I’ll assign a couple of aides to bodyguard you and help out a bit. They’ll have enough computer capacity along to generate some realistic datafeeds.”

“That would be appreciated. I assume you are more of the psy-ops bunch? You don’t look like the enlisted type.”

“House of Roses.”

“Cross-dimensional operatives.”

“Don’t know why I am surprised anymore. So then the rumors are true then? That is not reassuring.”

“Rumors?”

   Kevin called in a couple of the Thralls who’d gone in in small-animal form and introduced them.

“That someone from a parallel world is attacking. I’ve heard everything from Nazis to Alien Empires as possible candidates.”

“Sadly, they’re all out there, and they all are possible candidates. Fortunately, there are just as many allies out there – and the ability to freely create gates is very rare.”

“Allies huh?”

   The man was a bit startled as the Thralls Kevin had called in resumed human form in front of him. Kevin covered his illusion for a moment when it wavered in surprise.

“Now that is a neat trick. The only other person I’ve ever seen do that couldn’t change size.”

“Much easier with extra-dimensional access. Anyway, they should be wearing more than enough computer power to handle simulating some decent datafeeds and they can help with your illusions and such.”

“Good, that should help things a lot.”

“And for you, some basic body-armor; don’t worry, the fiber structure will simply weave itself into your existing clothing. The computer functions will come online as soon as it adapts to your neural patterns.”

“Oh now that is handy. I can see allies being of great assistance.”

“I take it the actual command structure is operating from an undisclosed location or some such?”

“That is my impression. Apparently the higher ups are being paranoid right now.”

“Can’t say I blame them.”

“Well, nice to meet you, and I’m glad I could help out a bit – but this may not be the most effective use of our time at the moment.”

“Understood”

   At that point, of course, they were proven wrong as the lights began to flicker

“Now that is strange, this place is supposed to have its own power station.”

   The ground started to vibrate, and they become aware of a humming sound rising in volume in the background.

“Which will have taken an instant – thus producing a flicker – to take up the load when the external grid went down. Either that or something just generated quite a pulse. Ether way, the backup power will also be a target. Better get ready to have the images react with confusion as the displays go down.”

   Marty got ready for a fight as Kevin tried to spot where the interference was coming from. If someone was opening a Gate he should be able to spot that. If it was a mole drill or something it could get weird.

   That opened up a series of speculations about the killer mole people jumping out and attacking NORAD – after all, they could undoubtedly find a batch if THEY wanted them for some reason and it would definitely be a surprise tactic for the locals – but it didn’t seem to really fit the theme of their opponents. Now, if they’d been defending the Crusader side of the supply gate, it would definitely have been something to look out for.

   Regardless, Kevin could tell there were at least three gates opening up – one inside the room and two outside. Hopefully it wasn’t going to be War, Plague, and Death. They weren’t really ready for that yet. He warned the illusionist (and told the two Thralls to bodyguard him), and they all concealed themselves and got ready.

   Meanwhile, back on Kadia, the Thralls – per Kevin’s instructions – were formalizing the current informal procedures. People who expressed interest in the Thralls abilities were being given a basic summary:

“Amarant Solutions field agents are trained to use whatever magical, psychic, shapeshifting, and even gatekeeper potentials they may possess, are trained in the martial arts, are supplied with appropriate equipment, are provided with a verity of enhanced abilities, indefinitely extended lifespans, various other augmentations, and are soul-anchored so that they can be recovered if killed. Unfortunately, at this time, the training program and soul-anchor only seems to be fully effective on relatively young and adaptable individuals. Given these extensive benefits, those who opt to undergo such training and augmentation must sign up for an obligatory indenture period – which, thanks to the abilities they are granted and the soul-anchoring, they are guaranteed to survive in good shape, after which their various enhancements and abilities are theirs permanently, although they may sever the soul-anchor at any time after their indenture is up. The requirements and training for local office positions is not nearly so stringent”.

   Potential Thrall-applicants were referred to Kadia, where more detailed summaries were available. Those who were still interested after more detailed explanations and more complete demonstrations of the various powers can attend a recruitment spiel – but must agree to a recording-device ban, scan, removal, and blocking, as well as to memory blurring of the details of the contract if they didn’t sign up.

   Slaves and other involuntary candidates got the recruitment spiel. If they didn’t accept they were given minor memory blurring and were either cared for if they were too young or, if they were old enough, were put to work elsewhere until their debt was paid off if they couldn’t come up with the cash to buy off their indenture.

   Of course, when “official” inquiries, or concerned parents, started turning up, they’d probably have to go more or less public and discard the memory-blurring part – although the basic “happy Thrall” impression from Kadia and Core should still be a good point. Kevin had prepared a presentation for parents and authorities that stressed the immortality, safety, public-service, and educational aspects – as well as the bestowed powers and the regular home-leave and contact provisions. Of course, that presentation also stressed the fact that kids who wanted to go adventuring were making their way into the Manifold anyway, and a fair number of them were meeting horrific fates out there – while the ones who signed up as Thralls were quite safe. After all, as soon as the inquiries really started he’d have to make the general outline of the contract pretty much public – if only because people could figure out quite a bit of it though investigation anyway, so there was no big point in denying it.

   Besides, as Marty had noted, the best part of all that was that it was all true.

   In the Linear Realms, one of the walls of the command center suddenly lit up and turned into a shimmering circle of light – and people in gray military fatigues begin to step through into the room. They promptly began shooting at the illusory technicians. A few Praetorian signatures and quite a few of the combat cyborgs they’d last seen assaulting the FBI offices. A relatively small squad at least – and, while the gate was staying open, at least no more were coming through at the moment. It looked to Kevin like the gate went… back to Singular. North America. Nevada. Most likely some sort of holdout military base. Possibly the place MacArthur had abandoned.

   Blast it, they should have asked if he’d abandoned anyone there. Still, it might have been some other base anyway, and they’d been fairly distracted at the time. Probably shouldn’t have trusted the robotic assessment of the place – or have checked for an alternate version: they never had found another explanation for the time differential between their visit and the lunar colonists timeline.

   Still, this could be pretty serious trouble if they let it stay purely physical. They probably weren’t up to multiple praetorians and a bunch of killer cyborgs unless they called in all the Thralls – and they were needed outside. They opted to try for supernatural oratory, with as many enhancements as they could stack on, instead.

   He also had a couple of Thralls in small-animal form slip though each gate and start reporting. That multi-tracking discipline was SO convenient in situations like this.

   Marty and Kevin launched into a tourist-style welcome spiel, and – between them – managed to ensnare the entire squad. They couldn’t hold them all that long – or if they were subjected to any serious attacks or restraints – but they could have the Thralls swipe their weapons and then pile some explosives around them and ask for a surrender.

   Outside, the contingents from the other gates were spreading out to the rest of the base, and there was quite a lot of gunfire and explosions – but the fact that the locals were expecting this, and had backup from twenty-four Thralls seemed (at least according to the Thrall-reports) to be putting the Linear Realms bunch handily on the winning side.

   On the other side of the gates, the Thralls were reporting a very large room with what appeared to be a control center up on a balcony looking down at the three gates. There were more troops set up in a defensive position around the gates with multiple heavy gun emplacements. The entire place appeared to be built out of concrete. A man in his thirties, wearing odd style clothing, was leaving the room to head up to the balcony at the moment. He was dressed a bit like Spellweaver, but the face didn’t match. Baelarian mages guild robes or similar perhaps.

“Too bad we don’t have Jarvain or the Mirage along.”

“Eh, I don’t know. He drinks all my alcohol.”

“We could just step through and start talking, but enough would be sure to resist that we’d just get shot up.”

“And while I’m starting to miss death, that wouldn’t do anybody any good.”

“Of course, multiple heavy gun emplacements means multiple large stocks of explosives, and the Thralls do have pyrokinesis: they might die of course, but that’s no big deal.”

   Since the locals had the command-attack-squad disarmed and covered by heavy arms (and incidentally seemed fairly impressed with the ability to neutralize attackers by talking to them), they decided to go on the offensive.

   Kevin had the Thralls he’d sent through start detonating ammunition stockpiles; they’d go through in person when the explosions died down. Impressively – and in a good tribute to their sensible reaction of “working at range and from under what cover they could” – none of them were even too badly hurt – and they’d recover from that in a few moments. That left the guns more or less destroyed, a lot of smoke and charred concrete, most of the soldiers badly wounded, a few dead, and the windows to the control center all cracked.

   Kevin and Marty (Jamie was busy helping with the local defense) arrived and found quite a few dead-or-severely-wounded lying around, the smell of burnt and powdered concrete, the sound of klaxons going off, and flashing red lights (the main lights had been knocked out). The gates were providing most of the illumination and there was nothing much left in the way of opposition.

   Marty had his Thralls give him a telekinetic toss through the control-room windows – and Kevin followed him in. The six Thralls in small-animal forms could handle any attempt to reorganize the soldiers after they finished healing themselves and stabilizing the ones who were near death.

“Ah, just like old times… WHEE!”

   They crashed through a cracked window, sending shards of glass everywhere, and landed on top of a computer display with a technician staring up at them.

“Hi! Nice hardware!”

   The oddly-dressed guy was nowhere to be seen: he’d probably scrammed as soon as something went too wrong – if not earlier – but clues were clues. The technician screamed and took off running – along with everyone else in the room. Kevin telekinetically closed and sealed the doors before they could get to them though.

“Was it something I said?”

“Settle down please!”

   With their supernatural oratorical enhancements still running, it was easy enough to settle everyone down. It was just a timesaver anyway.

“Might I ask what all of you believe you’re trying to do?”

“Because I’d give at least 20-1 on your being seriously deluded.”

“Well I would say we are trying to fight a war.”

“Against who? At the moment you were harassing people who didn’t even know you existed, so you’re not doing very well. As a surprise attack, this is a complete bust. Would you like to rent a tactical advisor? I’m sure Marty has some connections.”

“Yeah! I can get you call center training, and you’ll learn how to punch and kick people in no time!”

“Or, if you want, we can have explosions in here too, and we can talk more in the hospital.”

“That’s fine too.”

   There was something of a difference of opinion among the responses:

“Well I like my health thank you.” – “Don’t tell them anything!” ” Traitor!” “Oh like they couldn’t get it from us with whatever weird powers they might have!” “Ya, but still…” “Do we really need to be discussing this in front of them?” “Well where would you have us discuss it then?”

“Hey, all I do is sneak around and stab people. I’m GOOD at it, but still.”

“Look Mr… Ilander; we’re trying to make this as easy as possible all around, since you’re blatantly nothing but pawns. Would you rather I simply wrecked your mind pulling things out of your head?”

“Alright then I am game, what do you want to know?”

“For starters, WHY are you doing this other than ‘there’s a war?'”

“What is it you want? There are lots of empty universes where you can get what you like without bothering people.”

   Marty was mildly disappointed. For a few minutes there it had looked like there might be a serious fight. Still, he wanted to stab something more interesting than technicians – like Cthulu. Or at least somebody on the other side of some importance. Unfortunately, there were lots of layers of pawns to get through.

   Personally, Kevin was betting that these people had been told that the Linear Realms had been behind the magical attack of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse in an attempt to steal their technology – and the fact that the Praetorian technology had been being used covertly in the Linear Realms thus became evidence of theft. Always nice when you could send in a sabotage crew and then use their presence as a way of getting the people you’d almost exterminated to fight your battles for you.

   It looked like that just about hit it perfectly.

“Just for the news people, you’re currently working for a group that almost destroyed your world, stole your technology, is using it to sabotage other worlds, and now is sending you in in the wake of their saboteurs to attack the people who “stole your technology”. You got to be massacred and then enslaved without even realizing it! Lucky you!”

“Which also makes you yet another blind for the actual enemies to hide behind; therefore there is no real need to injure you. I presume that you also find this good.”

“Well I suppose so, although this idea of being lied to this entire time is unsettling.”

“Now, just as a note, we gave the people from the lunar colonies a nice new planet and some assistance in setting up. Since this place is such a mess, I’ll call over and see if they’d like some more company.”

   That raised quite a commotion – mostly of the good kind, although they heard some resentment over some being allowed to escape to the moon while the Earth was in such a state.

   Marty told them where that had gotten the lunar colonists – Battling Business World – and asked if they’d like to be put there instead. Kevin pointed out that there was no shortage of good planets, but if they wanted the moon, they could give them that instead.

   That mostly shut them up.

“You know, Marty – “civilized warfare” is all very well, but I think we’re compressing it too much. It is sort of obligatory to rehabilitate and rescue after one side “wins”, but we keep trying to do it all within an hour”

“Back home we called that time management.”

“Well yes, but the usual assumption is win BEFORE rescuing the enemy, not keep stopping the battle to do it in the middle.”

   The Ealorites were pretty shocked that there were survivors planetside, but they were willing to take them in.

“Right then; how many people in your colony? And do we have to go rummage them out, or will you bunch visit your relatives and then call or visit back?”

   The consensus was about 2,500 people – and they were willing to collect them if this “Ealor” place was as described, although it might be difficult with this section of the facility under lockdown. Soldiers and drones would be arriving shortly, some automatic, some not.

“Right then: off you go. We can call back any remaining forces from the Linear Realms while we’re at it.”

   They got a few details on the gate system as well, but they could worry about that later.

“Marty? Shall we wait for the soldiers after we send this bunch off? Along with the wounded?”

“Sure. I haven’t stabbed anybody in a while.”

   Meanwhile, from Ealor, Child Protective Services was taking the chance to chew Kevin’s ear about the Thralls. After all, they 1) Talked about being able to kill themselves. 2) Were willing to do so. 3) HAD done so. 4) Had – obviously – been conditioned or otherwise tampered with in order to be like this. 5) Seemed perfectly willing to kill themselves REPEATEDLY. 6) Talked about an “Afterlife” that sounded like some kind of glorified Arcade. And the list went on and on.

   Kevin would have thought that (1), (2), (3), (5), and (6) would seem to be sort of going in a loop – or that the ability to “repeatedly kill themselves” at least indicated that – for them – it wasn’t too serious – but the CPS people seemed to be stuck in a logic loop with a thesaurus. And yes, while they were obligated to serve him for a period in exchange for their immortality and powers, immortality and powers meant that they no longer NEEDED protective services.

   Oh well. They could try to straighten it out in person next time they were by – but Kevin suspected that no outside argument would get Child Protective Services out of their loop; it was probably a computer calling. Of course, to be fair, under normal circumstances, would they really want Child Protective Services to see child-suicides as acceptable? Still, it wasn’t like the Thralls were actually suiciding; for them it was just discarding their current body in favor of fast travel.

   They set up a table, a luncheon, a white flag, and a sign proclaiming “negotiations”. Just to make sure, they also set up a blatant pile of nuclear/antimatter warheads and a Thrall-waiter with a bottle of wine and some menus. Marty shifted to a good suit, and got out a briefcase and a cigar to help him look formal and official.

“This is perfectly legal according to the laws of Faerie.”

   They had a Thrall dressed as a Butler unlock the door and provide a formal announcement. A couple of others were in the corner, finishing up medical treatments in the injured.

  • “Some military gentlemen to see you Sir!”

   A squad to soldiers and drones came through the door and spread out to duck behind cover at a run – although one – it looked like the squad leader – stepped out into the open a few seconds later.

“What the hell!?… Right, well I suppose it would be wrong of me to shoot you. Especially if those weapons are real.”

“Well, not the puffy fuzzy ones. The others are. You can shoot me if you want though, I have diplomatic immunity. Will you find it especially comforting to shoot me, or would it be more upsetting if it didn’t accomplish much of anything?”

“And I just come back pissed when I die.”

“How many times do I have to tell people; that is not how diplomatic immunity works. Wait a minute, what the hell? Did the lab boys royally screw up this time?”

“Oh, trust me. If I want it to work that way, it will. And I think the level of screwup depends on how you look at it. Most of the techs are off getting acquainted with another survivors colony. Tea, Port, Red Wine, Water, or Faerie Liquor?”

“Right, the lab boys seem to have made a wormhole to Wonderland and have brought back the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit. Port I think. I am going to need it during this.”

   Kevin handed him a glass. Marty had a Martini.

“Close enough really. So who’s in charge here?”

“Sir, is that wise?”

“Probably not, but it will preempt the headache I am going to get from this.”

“Well, I’d say it’s as good as any other response, and better than most. Quite a lot of them get everyone killed for the moment, while this response simply gets him a glass of a rather nice port.”

“Well I suppose that all depends on what you mean by in charge.”

“Well, what have you got? Because we intend to negotiate until you have a nice new planet to live on, a wider social circle, good healthcare, peace in our time, all at no particular price, and we won’t take “No” for an answer!”

   It seemed that the local Singularites were in charge via a council at the moment – although there were several outsiders who had taken up residence or visited on a regular basis. They also seemed to have a lot more say in what actually went on than their official status would indicate.

   The locals were mostly willing – and eager – to leave after they got a look at Ealor.

   The Outsiders were a little more complicated.

Star Wars: 10CH, Retired Assassin-Droid

   Droids got a slight upgrade in the Twilight Seekers campaign – although not as much of one as they got in the second edition rules. By default, in first edition, a droid gets 1D in each attribute, and 18D of skills (with no upper limit on their allotment), which they can give up to add available gadgets (usually 1D each, but the cost may be increased for particularly impressive gadgets) or armor (1D per die). They cannot use force points of be sensitive to the force, although they can often be repaired from “death”.

   In the Twilight Seekers campaign player-character droids get a total of 9D in their attributes rather than 6D. Normal characters also get four major pieces of equipment, three contacts, two plot hooks, one enemy, ten experience points (to spend before the game or save), and a thousand credits. Droids get five pieces of equipment (installed if desired), the ten experience points, and the thousand credits (and may consider any gadgetry they buy with their initial funds installed) – but start with no contacts, plot hooks, or enemies. On the other hand, they cannot place more than +8D in any single skill or gadget, cannot upgrade equipment by spending experience points, and must spend 3 XP to install a new gadget – although the game master may opt to waive this if installing trivial things like cigarette lighters and timepieces.

10CH (“Retired” Assassin Droid):

   10CH was – like so many assassin-droids – programmed, equipped, activated, provided with a target list by an anonymous purchaser, and turned loose to eliminate his targets, their guards, their offspring, and anyone who got into the way.

   It was a long list. Since 10CH had no idea whether or not he had backup, he took his time – being destroyed before he completed his task might mean that it would never be completed. He took funds and resources when he could, upgraded himself steadily, and added more systems. Still, along the way, he started to wonder what the point was. Some of his targets hadn’t even been born yet when he’d been given his initial target list – and he suspected that his master, and his cause, had died shortly after he’d been sent out.

   He started merely stunning guards and bystanders.

   Soon after that he started checking for information when he eliminated a target. Not too long after that, he was sure. His mission was futile: his master was long dead, his cause lost, and his “enemies” no longer even knew why they were being targeted.

   One day he looked at another terrified human – a grandchild of one of his original targets – set his blaster to stun, and left his target breathing as he walked away.

   For a time he functioned as a bounty hunter himself, but – more and more often – the targets of such hunts seemed just as futile as his original mission. He simply couldn’t find anyone that seemed like a worthy target. After awhile, he simply did the shipboard maintenance for another bounty hunter – and didn’t even pay much attention when the ship traded hands a few times. He needed an “owner” anyway to function in the galaxy, and a bounty hunter would do.

   After he ran across the Sith, he stocked up on weapons again. A galactic war presented plenty of worthwhile targets.  

   Attributes: Dexterity 2D, Knowledge 1D, Mechanical 1D, Perception 1D (Hide/Sneak +1D, Search +1D), Strength 2D (Armor +8D, Cyberweapons +8D), and Technical 2D.

Major Items:

  • Jamming Field: This is normally used to screen 10CH’s internal modifications and gadgets (-6D on relevant checks), but can be extended to disrupt communications and/or scanning systems in a radius of up to 10 meters, albeit at a somewhat reduced effect (-4D) or to make it difficult to spot the user (Hide/Sneak +2D).
  • Multisensor Pack: +4D to Search and relevant checks.
  • Ultrasonic Disruptor: This item generates a powerful ultrasonic blast: this can be used to stun living beings (5D), clean surfaces, shatter crystals and electronic components, generate deafening tones, upset a target’s sense of balance, induce nervousness and disorientation, and transmit information to appropriately-equipped systems.
  • Brainsocket (1): A “Brainsocket” is essentially a socket for a secondary droid brain, allowing the use of it’s skills. Unfortunately, no single droid can handle more than three such subordinate “brains” and their skills can never be increased.
    • Brain 1) Starship Repair +6D (8D total) and Security +6D (8D total).
    • The 10C series was apparently designed for infiltration and disguise: ergo, the Brainsocket system. They could be fitted up as a protocol droid, set to gardening, or competently undertake any other role – while still being ready to strike at a moments notice. Who would expect an expert gardening droid to also be an expert killer? Normal droids didn’t come with that many differing skills.
      • 10CH eventually installed another two sockets (6 XP) and added additional brains:
      • Brain 2) Languages +6D (7D total), Con +6D (7D Total) (3 XP).
      • Brain 3) Dodge +6D (8D total) and Melee Parry +6D (8D total) (3 XP).

   10CH’s purchased built-in gadgets include a Fusion Cutter (75), Vehicle Tool Kit (200), General Tool Kit (200), Flare Launcher (10 shots, 50), a small Spotlight (Worklight, 50), Comlink (100), Vibrosaw (75), Power Prybar (30), Macrobinoculars (100), Grapple Gun (75), Grenade Launcher (12 grenade magazine, 500), Vibrohands (As per Vibroaxe, Str+2D damage, 500), Shockweb Launcher (4 shots, 400), a Repeating Blaster (6D damage, 2000), a Shield Generator (+2D “Armor”, may protect a small radius if desired, 750), a Concussion Missile Launcher (8 shots, 1500), and a Pocket Computer with a basic “Encyclopedia” database (100). This required that he spend both his initial 1000 credits and almost all the money he could get by cashing in his ten experience points (5700 credits) – leaving him with nothing left of the 6700 total.

   10CH didn’t initially have any grenades, shockwebs, or concussion missiles in his magazines. It was a part of being retired. Later on, he loaded up on the armaments again, and is currently fully stocked with a mixture of grenades (four each gas/concussion, incendiary, and high-explosive in switchable magazines), as well as shockwebs, flamethrower fuel, and concussion missiles.

   Later Additions (3 EP Each): Medium Fusion Generator, Flamethrower (12 shots), Backup System (counters memory wipes and control devices, allows reconstruction despite massive damage), and a Repulsorlift System (prevented damage from falling and allowed remarkable “leaps).

   10CH still has two EP left.

Star Wars: Twilight Seekers Part IV

   Unfortunately, with the planet subject to a Sith blockade, getting out wasn’t easy. While there was still massive amounts of traffic – it was a city-planet after all – most of it was cargo-only, and there were some pretty good sensor-precautions being taken to keep it that way. Most personal ships knew better than to try to run the Sith blockade – and they wanted something a bit bigger than that anyway. They hadn’t had any luck cracking the security on the spaceport – not that they’d really expected to be able to crack military codes – and they didn’t have the credentials to simply breeze past the guards (or the capacity to make them). Blast their way in? Despite Arak’s and the Wookiees enthusiastic endorsement of that “plan”, they just didn’t have the manpower to face the garrison. The local underworld had been of some assistance earlier, at least in terms of buying supplies, but they just weren’t very trustworthy – and would be less so when there were no further prospects of profit or assistance from a departing group.

   Wait: if they simulated a bloody big attack on the port, all the ships there would start taking off. The Sith port commander would expect it – so all they’d need to do would be to be aboard a ship and steal it.

   OK, that said nothing about getting in or getting aboard – which were sort of critical points – but it would cover the taking-off part. There might even be enough other ships launching to provide some cover for the jump to lightspeed.

   Eventually they put Khadim-17, 10CH, and much of their equipment in a box. Neither had any conventional life-signs to give them away, 10CH could cloak much of their activity, and a little extra shielding on the box should let them pass for a shipment of specialized electronics. The local underworld could provide them with enough documentation for that.

   Arak and the Wookiee took roles as cargo handlers. That was usually a job for droids, but small-scale operations sometimes used organics; they handled unusual situations a lot more readily – and both of them were certainly built for it. Keldav and Telera could be merchants, or possibly a merchant and a bodyguard. Handell could be their driver, Lesin could be a secretary, and the troops could be contract (“slave”) laborers being shipped out.

   It was kind of thin, but who would suspect that the local resistance organization would break cover and walk into the enemies stronghold with no weapons?

   For the diversion, they rigged up some really massive explosions. The area immediately around the port had been evacuated for security – but that left some enormous environmentally-sealed buildings unoccupied and with plenty of power and water. Setting up some large-scale electrolysis systems soon filled those structures with a pressurized mixture of hydrogen and oxygen – enough to put them in the low-nuclear potential range.

   Nobody would suspect. They’d disabled the environmental sensors inside, there was no high-energy source to show up on scanners, the power-grid monitoring had been offline since the invasion – and still had months to go on the repairs – and who used chemical explosives any more?

   They got past the basic perimeter thanks to Keldav and Telera’s combined force-hypnosis talents and some fast bluffing – and the first blast went off as they were trying to get past the secondary security gates. Unfortunately, the second blast failed to trigger; the shockwave from the first had apparently disrupted the mechanism somehow – and the Sith were responding to a single blast by starting to lock down the port.

   Arak decided that this was a chance to redeem himself for having agreed to retreat. He took the truck he was driving and – like so many others – started “getting the hell out”.

   Unlike the others, he crashed his vehicle into their second bomb-tower at full speed – and shorted the power supply an instant before impact.

   Well, even among Kredath Berserkers, there weren’t many who rated a nuclear-level funeral pyre.

   With the port foundations starting to crumble, most of the power systems down – and the third blast going off on schedule – there was a general rush for any available form of transportation, including the ships currently in port.

   The damned Wookiee stopped for some sort of personal honor-battle with a guard-captain who’d yelled something insulting at him (despite attempts to persuade the player that not even Wookiees were that honorably stupid) – but the rest of them swept aboard a cargo transport just before they were getting the ramp up – and quietly got out Khadim-17, 10CH, and their weaponry while the crew was frantically getting the ship into the air and headed for orbit. After all, someone had apparently started a nuclear bombardment.

   Back on Surkiant, their Wookiee friend with the unpronounceable name had taken some serious wounds closing with his chosen enemy – but once he had his hands on the fellow, he ripped off one of his arms and clubbed him with it so hard that he was hurled back into the flaming chasm which had opened up next to them. Unfortunately, as the edges collapsed, Mr Wookiee went down too, and was presumed dead.

   On board, with the ship headed for orbit – and the captain (along with many other ships) having filed an emergency flight plan with the Sith blockade – it was time for the hijacking. Fortunately, the crew wasn’t prepared for three force-users (Keldav, Lesin, and Telera), Khadim-17, 10CH, Handell, and sixty-odd republic troops.

   Handell took the controls and recklessly (at least for anyone else) jumped them to Lightspeed when they were barely clear of the atmosphere – and long before the Sith had the little exodus sorted out. With any luck, they’d just take it for general panic anyway.

   They took Lesin and Telera back to their temple – and finally had the time for some in-depth conversations and a bit of investigation along the way. Keldav was especially interested in Khadim-17 – but was a bit shocked when he determined that, as an individual, the energy-entity was only a month or two old – and had quite a few “siblings”. Good god. Were they behind all those rumors of “undead” and “haunts” coming out of the region around Mandalor? No wonder the creature was so hesitant, confused, and asked so many odd questions! It could be a superb ally once it learned a bit more though. He’d have to come up with some kind of an educational program for it. Dammit though… The Jedi seemed to be almost as crazy as the Sith. Less violent and destructive, but just as arrogant and blind. There HAD to be some way to be a force user without going crazy!

   Back in Republic space the Republic (naturally) impounded the ship – oh well, it was too big for their purposes anyway – and started debriefing the troops. They weren’t terribly pleased to hear that this random group of unranked weirdos working for some senile Jedi had more or less taken command – and seriously wanted to talk to the group. ESPECIALLY to the non-Jedi force user, whoever it was in the armor, and whoever had been installing all those systems in their droid. The fact that they had gotten access to the republic code sets was especially troubling. Those were pretty vital.

   Fortunately for them, the group had already gotten Lesin and Telera to vouch for them and headed for the Jedi Temple. Unfortunately for them, back at the temple, there turned out to be a small contingent of Sith undercover operatives lying in wait. It seemed that they’d tracked the beacon on De’arc’s ship – and were pretty determined to capture Keldav, Khadim-17, and Lesin if it was at all possible. They’d brought along some fairly heavy firepower too.

   During the fight they hooked up with Garyan – a local republic garrison trooper (heavy weapons specialist) – who’d been at the temple to talk about a a youthful cousin who was showing signs of force-sensitivity. Fortunately for him, given the ongoing war-alert, he’d had his kit and weapons in his speeder.

   Lesin managed to get most of the kids out another way – although the group wound up with a couple of them in tow (along with a fair amount of information from the Jedi archives and a few odd relics) as they fell back to their own ship. It still needed repairs, but at least it was reasonably spaceworthy at the moment – and they’d had just about enough of the local welcoming committee.

   Another emergency takeoff. Just ahead of the pursuit. After a mysterious assault on a Jedi Temple and skipping out on a military debriefing without explanation. Leaving massive damage behind. They hadn’t even really gotten any money! At this rate they were shortly going to have to find another galaxy to live in! Just ONCE they’d like to be welcome back somewhere!

   Dammit!

   Keldav’s old master showed up as an “astral projection” of some sort while they were boosting to orbit. He had some sort of a proposition for them. Unfortunately for that, Khadim-17 had reached his own conclusions: his encyclopedia database said that Sith Lords were more-or-less mythical beings of ultimate evil, on a par with various other demons and evil gods, and that bargaining with such entities – or even listening to them – was invariably a bad move. Moreover, from personal observation, listening to the promptings of the “Dark Side” made people explode. This was a bad thing. Therefore he turned off his audio circuits and proceeded to stun anyone who showed any signs of listening to Mr Sith Lord. Waking up with a headache was better than exploding.

   Mr Sith Lord seemed to become pretty frustrated – but lost them when they jumped into hyperspace anyway. They never did find out what he wanted.

   It was serious conference time. They might be able to explain to most of the Jedi – at least if Lesin made it out and/or they listened to Telera – but that would still leave the Sith, (probably) the Republic, assorted law enforcement groups, some bounty hunters, any unconvinced Jedi, and at least a couple of underworld organizations on the “hostile” (or at least really upset) list. On the positive side, they had a ship – even if it was still in need of various repairs – quite a lot of weaponry, most of the Republic and a basic set of Sith codes (lifted from the ship they’d stolen), a modest amount of cash, some Jedi databases and a few obscure artifacts, Keldav, Khadim-18, 10CH, Garyan (the replacement character for Arak; the Wookiee player hadn’t made it since the mess at Surkiant), Handell, Telera, and a couple of force-sensitive youngsters. Keldav was beginning to consider trying to found his own order. There HAD to be a better way to handle force-sensitives! He wasn’t sure if the others would be up for that though. After all, Telera, Handell, Garyan, and the Kids could just quietly disembark next time they hit a planet. It wasn’t like they were committed to any great purpose.

Star Wars: Twilight Seekers Part III

   They lifted off just ahead of the pursuit again. This was just great: repairs half-completed, now they’d be wanted by the police, and they’d attacked a major interstellar criminal syndicate.

   They got the hell out of the sector. They didn’t think they’d done anything large enough for the reports to chase them that far.

   They were wrong of course.

   Along the way they came up with a somewhat reckless idea: there were several competing bounty hunter’s guilds – and they mostly didn’t get along. They really needed to know if the bounty on Force-sensitives was a local or galaxy-wide thing. Also, the guild members didn’t usually go after bounties on each other; they left that to outside guilds. Ergo, joining a bounty hunters guild might be well worthwhile. Besides, where else would they go? They weren’t likely to be trusted by the Jedi, the Sith were apparently after them, the guild would have access to money, parts, supplies, and work, and they could probably handle most bounties.

   That started off fairly well. They paid their fee, they consulted the boards, they started doing a little planning, they found that the bounty on force-sensitives seemed to be galaxy-wide, and they teamed up with Adak Ar’Lerion, a reptilian bounty hunter who was looking for some new partners. They didn’t find out until later that he hadn’t been able to team up with anyone else due to his penchant for excessive violence (yet another replacement character).

   Unfortunately, it seemed like the Bounty Hunters Guild wanted a closer look at Khadim-17 – although they apparently figured out quickly enough that he wasn’t a droid; what they could read of his life-signs didn’t match anything they had on record, and the suit was one of the latest Mandalorian designs. They also had some suspicions about ANYONE carrying a lightsaber, and recognized that 10CH was loaded with augmentations. The fact that the Sith – spurred by De’arc – were making some behind-the-scenes inquiries probably played a role too; a modest guild couldn’t afford to go to war with the Sith. There were even a few rumors floating about involving the other Khadim – although most of those tales of dead vehicles and ships traveling about with no crews, inoperative droids that refused to die, and similar horrors, were easily dismissed.

   The attempts to trump up some excuse to demand that Khadim-17 and the rest of the group submit to some sort of examination led to a great deal of confusion – mostly revolving around the fact that, when you attempted to catch Khadim-17, he tended to just wander off and help people at random while asking silly questions. Still, with great firepower and a lot of destruction, they got him back to the guild offices eventually – although not until someone figured out that simply asking would work, even if he did keep insisting that removing his armor was not possible. They weren’t too happy with what the found when they demanded that Khadim-17 take his helmet off. He cheerily complied of course – but an animated suit of armor, occupied by a desiccated corpse with electrical sparks crawling all over it, and a voice that continued to speak from the empty helmet, was something out of an fantasy-horror entertainment production – or the product of some sort of hideous Sith Sorcery out of legend.

   It even gave Keldav quite a jolt. He didn’t think the creature was any kind of “undead” – he was pretty sure that something like that would show up pretty plainly in the Force – but that body couldn’t possibly be alive.

   Wait. Hopelessly naive about the simplest physical details, asking all kinds of silly questions, learning so quickly, wanting to know about the war, spending time on each new world “getting to know the planet”, not knowing about anything from more than a few weeks ago, claiming to be so young, talking to computers like they were alive… COULD there be such a thing as an energy-being? De’arc had picked it up on Mandalor. Had the planetary bombardment actually stirred up a “planetary sprit” of some sort? There were a few old legends of planets having their own souls – and it did refer to itself as an “fragment” that was acting for some sort of greater whole.

   Still, there was no time to study the thing now. The spreading panic – the guild had, of course, been monitoring the office visually – was giving them a chance, but the local guild still had a lot more raw power available than they did.

   They had made a break for it while the getting was good and had Handell bring the ship down to hover over a nearby plaza for the pickup. It was too damned close, but they managed to fight their way out and reach the ship. Fortunately, the local authorities weren’t too interested in the internal quarrels of the bounty hunters guild; they didn’t respond until well after everything was done, the guild didn’t have too many ships immediately available, and Handell was a very good pilot.

   Still, that was yet ANOTHER world they could never go back to – and it looked like joining the Bounty Hunters was not going to work.

   Adak had come along. Nobody else was willing to work with him locally anyway, and this bunch looked like they were headed for LOTS of violence. He’d never been big on “Bring them back alive” anyway.

   So: no Sith, no Bounty Hunters, joining the criminals wouldn’t exactly get people off their backs, and talking to the Republic Government would simply lead to being kept in custody while twenty years of discussions went by – if not to being shot as suspected Sith spies.

   Besides, Keldav was becoming increasingly worried about exploding. He wasn’t prone to losing his temper, but nobody was perfect – and the fates of Dr Orin and Arace had definitely made an impression. Jedi were known for a lot of things – including some awfully silly bits – but they definitely WEREN’T known for spontaneously exploding. Besides, they might know already – but it was possible that news of the bounty was something they’d overlooked or would at least take as evidence of good faith. He got the rest of the group to agree to visit the Jedi readily enough.

   So where was there a Jedi Temple they could visit?

   As it turned out, there were quite a few of them. It was fairly well known that – if you had a child who was still showing major symptoms of force-sensitivity past early childhood – you took them to the Jedi if you wanted them to live. Those with minor or erratic talents might do all right on their own, but major powers were lethal unless trained. They picked one of the smaller ones and set out.

   Unfortunately, with the ongoing Sith-Jedi war, there was hardly anyone there; a few Elder Jedi – the ones too senile to participate no matter how great the emergency – and a modest collection of youngsters just starting their training. In fact, the Elders were so far gone that they either failed to recognize that Keldav was a partially-trained Sith or took it that he was trying to purge the Sith influence without even asking him about it (or possibly acted in response to some sort of force vision or something). They sent everyone to assist Telera Vanyel – a skilled Jadi who would be capable of evaluating Keldav’s current abilities and providing appropriate training in using or suppressing them as appropriate.

   Unfortunately, she was currently assigned to assist Lesin Bala, a much younger Jedi with some sort of special knack – and her assignment was aboard a capital-class republic ship. Well, hell. At least anyone chasing them would have to deal with a Republic Interstellar Battle Group before getting to them and the senior Jedi had given them suitable paperwork and a safe-conduct. They stowed the ship (and billed it to the Jedi Temple) and “reported for duty”.

   They were in deep space before they actually met Telera – and she didn’t react well. She’d seen the paperwork of course, and had been expecting a young Jedi trainee and a few soldiers – not a renegade Sith apprentice, no matter how much he’d rejected the Sith! It was hard to say if it was worse, but he was accompanied by some weird alien wearing Mandalorian Battle Armor – one of the groups that was mostly on the OTHER SIDE of the war – a Kredath Berserker (Adak was pleased! Not many recognized his species!), some random crooked pilot who managed to keep more weapons than most people could reasonable carry concealed about himself, and a droid with too many illegal systems to count!

   Telera respected the orders of the elders of course – but she also knew that they weren’t in the best of shape. She assigned the group to quarters at the far end of the ship, a good kilometer and a half by corridor from the person they were supposed to be helping her protect. It looked to her like the best way to assist Lesin would be to keep these lunatics as far as possible away from her.

   The group found ways to occupy themselves. Khadim-17 and 10CH took advantage of the onboard shops to upgrade their various systems (installing more weapons, various programs, better computer systems, a Republic military-class encryption module, and other items). Handell used the simulators to expand the range of ships he was used to piloting and Adak went sparring with the troops.

   Unfortunately, the Battle Group emerged from hyperspace into the middle of a Sith Ambush. The first the group knew about it was when the boarding action started.

  Since they were next to the engines they shot up a few boarders there – but it was obvious that keeping the engines working was a losing game. Even when Khadim-17 ripped the missile pods off one of the fighters Handell shot down and started using them to keep off the other incoming fighters, the damage was just building up too fast – and Adak and Keldev were having trouble holding off the borders.

   They fell back into the inner corridors and headed for the bridge.

   Along the way, Keldev actually found Telera for them; she was – at least in passing – defending a medical area and some unarmed physician-types. Unfortunately, a moments later, a Sith found them all. Telera got herself decapitated – but that opened up the Sith for a blast from some sort of sonic device 10CH was carrying that shattered the crystals in his lightsaber. The Sith still managed to withstand Handell’s blaster shots as he was falling back down the corridor (thanks in part to his armor) – so Khadim-17 shot him with the last antiship missile in the missile pod. The Sith spent his last moment in complete incredulity that ANYONE would treat a proton torpedo pack as a hand weapon – much less fire one in a confined area.

   The explosion took out a dozen compartments and opened the area down the corridor to space, but Keldav got the door sealed fast enough to keep everyone from being sucked out. Well, they were in a medical area anyway and lightsaber wounds cauterized surfaces and prevented blood loss – so Keldav hurriedly used his talents to keep Telera’s brain alive while the rest of them heaved her into a bacta tank, hooked up artificial blood circulation, and started healing the damage. They had Khadim-17 carry it along. He was out of missiles (and no one really wanted to get him any more at the moment), so he might as well carry something.

   Sadly, that left them with no clear idea of who they were supposed to bodyguard, or of where they might be – and the evacuation was already underway. They settled for loading people into the escape pods and getting out.

   The nearest planet was Surkiant – a world-city world, and the place the fleet detachment had been heading to protect. The planetary defenses were still putting up a valiant fight, but the Sith fleet was battering them down rapidly. Fortunately, that left the Sith Fleet too occupied to waste time targeting escape pods – so a sizable contingent of the republic forces made it safely to the surface.

   The group splashed down in a lake, with other pods dropping form the sky all around them. 10CH tracked the ones he could – but they needed transportation. Khadim-17 flagged down a hoverbus. Unfortunately, the driver and passengers abandoned it as soon as they got a good look at the group that was getting on – so Khadim-17 presumed that they’d reached their stop, and took over; they drove around picking up other Republic soldiers.

   They had a pretty good sized group before a pair of Sith Armada fighters caught on to what was up and started trying to strafe them. Khadim-17 promptly turned into a parking garage. Astoundingly enough, the fighters followed them; there was just enough room – and apparently they were more afraid of admitting they’d been evaded than of taking a ridiculous risk.

   Handell took over driving, 10CH started scanning around for another suitable vehicle, Arak got the troops organized – and Khadim-17 and Keldav disembarked to deal with the fighters.

   Keldav dodged, rolled, and sliced off a wing with his lightsaber, while Khadim-17 simply heaved a parked speeder into the other ones path.

   There were disadvantages to terrifying your troops to the point that they’d do incredibly stupid things rather than risk your displeasure.

   They left in another vehicle, abandoned it once they were out of the area, and had Arak go out and pay cash to rent a subsurface floor; that way no one would need to see all the Republic uniforms. No one would suspect him of being a Republic loyalist or refugee – and he wasn’t as memorable as the rest of them.

   They settled down and started sending out Republic-Code encrypted messages and setting up rendevous points, carrying out various acts of sabotage against the Sith occupation, assaulting small patrols, and otherwise making trouble. In a world-city, there was plenty of electrical power, chemicals, manpower, and other resources to use. The Sith couldn’t even protect their own bases adequately when they were sitting on top of a tunnel network that went twenty miles into the depths of the planet.

   Eventually Telera woke up – and was pretty surprised to do so. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, the Sith garrison finally located them, and they had to abandon their position for a retreat to the undercity. Too bad, they’d gotten fairly comfortable. Still, they exploded a lot more things on the way out. Unfortunately, Arak apparently considered himself shamed by having had to retreat – no matter that they were outnumbered by a heavy military force.

   Still, with Telera awake, they could get a line on Lesin – and the information that she was trapped in a subsurface section with the Sith troops slowly closing in. Along with a few new allies – including a rambunctious wookiee who had been enjoying a well-earned rest in the jail before his escape – they headed in to break the encirclement from behind and rescue her. With the help of he local underworld (the occupation was bad for business), and despite Arak’s new suicidal tendencies – he now tended to charge straight at heavy weapons emplacements – they got in, got Lesin, and got out.

   Trouble was, she seemed to be a major target – and they couldn’t resist much more without risking provoking the Sith into bombarding the planet. It was time to see about getting out.

Star Wars: Twilight Seekers, Part II

   Handell had occasionally been on the run before – such as after that absurdly-subversive touring theater group had somehow managed to touch off a planetary rebellion – and knew that the best way to get caught was to get predictable. There wasn’t any way to avoid being SOMEWHAT predictable – they had to have repairs – but they could generate a quick list of everywhere within their current range, yet still reasonably far from Tsh’rell and with enough technical resources to get the most urgent repairs made, and pick randomly. There shouldn’t be any way short of force-sorcery stuff to predict that.

   They wound up headed for Valoth – a relatively sparsely inhabited world of rolling plains and hills. Not a lot in the way of local resources, but a fairly good export trade – and a consequent good set of port facilities – in luxury naturally-grown grains, meats, and similar products. Mostly imported vehicles, medical supplies, and industrial products. Money might be a problem, but they were off-season – harvest wouldn’t be for several months – so a lot of the facilities should be empty and cheap to rent.

   Heh. Random chance seemed to have picked them a good one. Hopefully it hadn’t picked them the best or anything, cause that’d be predictable again, but it wasn’t likely.

   Down in the engine compartments, 10CH – a repair droid with a few illegal modifications – blinked a stream of binary curses as the engines he was trying to retune fired up again in the middle of the fine adjustments. Blasted organics! If he wasn’t assigned to keep this bucket of bolts working, he’d have gone on to another assignment in a single 90-hertz sinewave cycle! No use trying to get anything further fixed at the moment; he’d best head on up and see if it was the Shields, the Weapons, or the Engines that would most urgently be needed in working order next.

   Hey, new owners! GOOD.

   De’arc cursed madly when he woke up. What in HELL had happened? His ship! His weapons! His armor! His Prisoners! Even his damned Droid! He was never going to live this down!

   Wait a minute… He still had the tracking signal code, and they probably wouldn’t find it for quite awhile – and the only way he could think of that they could have gotten out would be Force powers. Strong ones. Those cells had held a lot of people who desperately wanted to get out.

   It wouldn’t make up for his ship, but if the Sith really wanted sensitives, he either had a line on a really strong one. Maybe even partially trained already – and there wouldn’t be that far they could get without some major repairs. He wasn’t beaten yet.

   De’arc headed for the communications center. He’d need to make some connections.

   On Valoth, it took most of the groups liquid cash to pay for a berth. That left them with a list of “had to have” components to negotiate for, and not much to trade. Fortunately, 10CH was really really good at Starship Repair. They headed off to try and blend in a bit and to get the stuff they needed.

   Unfortunately, Keldav had casually answered a few of Dr Orin’s questions about force techniques during the trip – while glossing over the underlying Sith philosophy. After all, surely the basics were pretty generic.

   Orin was an untrained sensitive – and was pretty badly frustrated. He was a well-respected doctor. Comfortably well off. He had a life. With a minor knack for diagnosing difficult cases. He had done NOTHING to deserve a life as a penniless, locally-unlicensed, fugitive from some sort of galactic manhunt! He was hungry, it was too damned hot, his skin was sunburning, his feet hurt, and he had not had a decent bath since leaving home! Worse, somehow he just KNEW that the locals didn’t want to talk to him because he was an offworlder!

   He tried asking them where he could find a clothing store – in hopes of getting a local outfit and fitting in a bit better – and three of them in a !@#$% ROW had brushed him off with barely-comprehensible basic phrases! He couldn’t recall ever being so angry and frustrated! He’d let them know that they’d damned well better cooperate!

   So he hit the street merchant who was selling cold fruit drinks. And it felt GOOD. So very GOOD. He’d NEVER done that before – but somehow he found himself doing it again. With something from the stand he’d found for a club. He was a DOCTOR. He knew JUST where to hit to make it hurt really really badly.

   Two local law enforcement types and some kid – apparently one of the street merchants – tried to stop him.

   So he hit them. After a few hits, they were just meat, like the street merchant, and his kid, and a few other kids and bystanders. And he felt so GOOD. They DESERVED this. They were going to PAY for offending him and for everything else that had gone wrong!

   The others got back around them. Khadim-17, Keldav, Handell, and 10CH got back from their own little errands – basic supplies, a few absolutely-necessary tools, and other such items – just in time to help take down Doctor Orin when he turned on them. It was actually quite a fight; in his berserk state Doctor Orin was nearly a match for everyone except Khadim-17 put together – and Khadim-17 kept stopping to ask what was going on.

   They pretty much denied any connection afterwards, claiming that Orin was just a crazy man who’d paid for a lift. Damn it: now they had an even tighter time limit. Now that an inquiry had been made, they needed to get their parts and get out before the checks spread too far.

   Keldav was brooding too… Was the Dark Side that destructive to the mind? Was it simply that he hadn’t really included any kind of philosophical basis in his hints? Was something like that lying in wait for him? His training had been nowhere’s near complete when he’d run. Was that why no one did? Wait… If stressing an untrained sensitive led to explosions like that, could the Sith be offering a general bounty in an attempt to CAUSE this sort of thing?

   He REALLY needed to talk to a Jedi. On friendly terms.

   One good thing did come out of it. It seemed that there was a bit of a “range war” going on – and between Orin’s obvious combat psychosis, the presence of Khadim-17, 10CH’s various illegal combat-enhancements, Handell’s skill with a gun, and Keldav’s possession and competent use of a lightsaber, they’d been pegged as war deserters or mercenaries – and the local ranchers and farmers were hiring for a little raid on the local underworld boss and his protection racket.

   Well, they needed quite a bit of money, they had little or no time, and whatever-the-hell Khadim-17 was, he seemed to be armored enough to stand up to heavy weapons.

   They went for it, and they took Arace – the mercenary middleman (and the replacement character for Dr Orin, although the player was still in a bloodthirsty mood) along with them.

   Weird. Arace was a low-grade sensitive too. Was the Sith-Jedi war stirring up every potential sensitive in the galaxy?

   Keldav was still speculating when he realized that Arace’s nascent force sensitivity was reacting to his own Sith-trained powers, as weak as they were. Was he going to blow up too?

   As it turned out, the answer was “yes”. Khadim-17 wasn’t too effective on the attack – he didn’t really seem to understand the concept very well (could he have a noncombat droid personality program? In that chasses? Why!?) – but he made one hell of a diversion while Keldav and Handell neutralized guards. Arace got a nasty wound, but responded by riding an explosives-laden speeder into the front gate.

   The boss got off a communique to some sort of criminal syndicate (apparently his employers) before they dragged him out of his underground command chamber – just what they needed, more people with a reason to come after them – but the mop-up wasn’t too much trouble after than.

   Except to Keldav. Two in a row? There wasn’t much of ANYTHING left of this one.

   Wait. The armor-thing was force-sensitive! It couldn’t be a droid – did that mean that it was likely to blow up? If THAT thing went on a rampage, he didn’t know how he’d stop it… At least it didn’t seem emotionally unstable. If anything, it didn’t really seem to have many emotions except for a sort of vague helpfulness.

   Oh well. He’d sort out what it was another time. Right now it was time to get the rest of the parts and supplies to 10CH, get the ship patched up, and get the hell OUT OF HERE. The local law enforcement wasn’t that efficient or clever, but it wouldn’t take long for them to trace this back to them – and it would be wise to be long gone by the time they did.

Star Wars: The Scale of the Galaxy

   In the Star Wars universe galactic civilization is tens of thousands of years old – and is still using much the same technology as it was thousands of years ago. City-worlds have been city-worlds for thousands of years, millennia-old technologies are still in common use, and the Sith and Jedi continue to assail each other, as they have for eons. Individuals often surpass such limitations, but their advances often seem to die with them; such “advances” may actually be nothing but a manifestation of personal abilities.

   Evidently things are pretty steady-state and the practical limits of many technologies have been reached. Ergo, it’s worth taking a look at just what that state is, regardless of the details of when and where a particular Star Wars game is set.

   The Milky Way contains somewhere between 200 and 400 billion stars, depending on the number of low-mass stars (which is highly uncertain) and has a total mass of approximately three trillion solar masses. It seems to be fairly average as spiral galaxies go, and the “out of the galaxy” shots in the movies show what looks like a fairly normal galaxy.

   Going by the movies and novels, virtually every star has planets – and most of them seem to have inhabitants. Quite a few random large moons do too. Admittedly, much of the time those inhabitants seem to be relatively small resource-exploitation colonies, but that would give us at least ten inhabited “worlds” (including inhabited moons and those colossal space installations) per system.

   That would make roughly three trillion inhabited worlds. That’s 3 x 10 to the 12’th power. Roughly four hundred and fifty inhabited worlds for every human being alive today.

   That means that claiming that any product of even the slightest importance coming from a single world is about as absurd as claiming that one person, working one day a year in their basement, produces all the automobiles made on earth.

   That tells us that the odds of some random lead going back to a planet you’ve been to before – or have ever even heard of – are minuscule. That interstellar bounty hunters are pretty much a myth. That even if we assume that one average Jedi suffices to look after ten entire planets (a job that even Superman and his friends seem unable to fully accomplish, despite super-intelligence, time travel, and many other advantages unavailable to the Jedi), that would mean that there were three hundred billion active-duty Jedi. Opposing that, we have the stated numbers of the Clone Army; a mere two hundred thousand at first, and perhaps two million at their peak. As is very common in fictional “galactic armies”, the entire force included far fewer people than the sixteen million who served in the United States military alone during world war two. That really isn’t enough to assault a single planet, much less to harass the adult in-service Jedi, who would outnumber the clone troopers one hundred and fifty thousand to one. For a similar consideration of scale, if Darth Vader was hunting down Jedi, and killed one every ten minutes, twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, he could expect to finish up in a mere five or six million years – except for the fact that there would be new kids born in the meantime. The Jedi might not even notice his efforts.

   Planets only last about ten billion years anyway, which mean we can expect about 300 to be destroyed per year – roughly one per day on the average. Ecospheres don’t last nearly that long: one can expect dozens of planetary extinction events per day. Give travel time, the Death Star wouldn’t make a noticeable contribution even if you ran it continuously at full capacity.

   This won’t work. So lets throw in some additional assumptions:

   1) 99% or more of the Star Wars galaxy is uninhabitable – afflicted with gamma-ray bursters, excessive levels of radioactivity, robotic death machines left over from ancient wars, dense nebula that produce too much meteoric activity for stable ecospheres, and various other destructive effects. There may be small pockets of inhabitable systems in the depths of such regions, but they usually pass unnoticed unless they develop civilizations and probe outwards.

   2) Many ecosystems – another 99% or so – host such dangerous toxins, force-using predators and force-based defenses, and similar obstacles – that they are effectively unusable. Such planets are deathtraps for sapient lifeforms. Why is that? It’s simply because lifeforms do not develop intelligence if they possess the raw physical or force-based power to dominate their ecosystems anyway. Ergo, the most dangerous animals are far more dangerous than the most powerful individual sapient beings. Sapient races are quite rare – rare enough that even many suitable planets, much less the 99% unsuitable ones, do not host an indigenous sapient species.

   3) There are hardly any resources that are worth exploiting at interstellar ranges; unless there’s an inhabited planet in the system; establishing asteroid colonies and such is hopelessly uneconomic. Those which are established usually collapse within twenty generations.

   4) The Arrhenius Spore Theory is accurate: almost all life in the Galaxy shares a common basic biochemistry and genetic structure. Many sapient “races” are in fact simply genetic variants of a relatively few older races, which have colonized, collapsed, and recolonized repeatedly over the history of the galaxy. Some are still even interfertile, at least with limited technical or force-based assistance.

   5) The galactic fringes or “outworlds” are too spread to be effectively incorporated into the mainstream of galactic civilization, and rarely even have regular contact with the galactic mainstream. We can dump another 90% of the possible worlds from consideration.

   That reduces things by a factor of a hundred thousand, taking us down to a “mere” 30,000,000 worlds. That’s still far too many – honestly, the Star Wars “galaxy” seems to contain a few thousand systems at most – but it’s a lot more manageable. We need a few more assumptions though to get things entirely under control.

   6) Many types of stars – Red Dwarves (Brown Dwarves were not included in the initial estimate on the number of stars anyway), those significantly hotter than the sun, Giants, and so on – virtually never have any worthwhile planets. Since Dwarves are small and difficult to see, they’re often not even cataloged. Their presence is one of the things that makes random jumps into hyperspace (“jump to lightspeed”) dangerous and forces most ships to stick to well-established routes. That takes another 90% or so off. We’re down to a mere three million planets. Darn it. I still want to get rid of some more planets. Move over Darth! I’ve eliminated 2,999,997,000,000 inhabited worlds already, and I’m not satisfied yet!

   7) Sapient life often makes a mess. Roughly 90% of the worlds that are otherwise suitable for sapient life do not support it. They may have been devastated by war or by various superweapons (apparently all too common in the Star Wars universe), over-exploited to the point where they’ll need a geologic age to recover, have been polluted past the point of viability as homes for civilizations, suffer from excessive climactic instabilities, or otherwise be just too unpleasant.

   That leaves us with a mere 300,000 worlds in the galactic mainstream that support significant populations (and gives me a 99.9999% kill ratio, which I suppose will have to suffice).

   Now, according to some of the sources – I’ll use Wookieepedia for quick reference – at it’s peak, the Galactic Empire consisted of more than a million planets and up to fifty million colonies, protectorates, governorships, and puppet states. Given that we have no idea how many essentially uninhabited planets the empire officially claimed, and that there could easily be several hundred such subunits (major asteroid colonies, Oort cloud colonies, gas giant mining colonies, etc, etc, etc) within one inhabited solar system, we’re probably looking for a smaller number still – but we’re getting down to within the right range.

   So: the Galactic Empire controlled – say – 80% of the populated worlds of the inner galaxy, or about 240,000 of them. Of course, it also laid claim to everything else in those solar systems – including small colonies on other planets and major moons, completely unusable planets (most of those other worlds would fall into the 99% near-lifeless, frozen balls of ice, or too dangerous to inhabit category), and small states on planets that (like many or most) lacked a unified government.

   What are those worlds like?

  • .1% (or about 240) are World-Cities, like Coruscant – with a population of around 3 Trillion people each.
  • About 5% (12,000 or so) are fully-industrialized, civilized, worlds, with an average population of about 20 billion each.
  • 80%, or close to 200,000, are low-population or primitive colonies, asteroid belt settlements, and similar locations, averaging around 100 million people per world. These usually don’t see a lot of galactic traffic.
  • The remaining 4.9% are a mixed bag, and include worlds with very harsh environments, marginal worlds, recently devastated planets, and similar places. They won’t be included in the basic estimate.

   Overall, that comes out to 980,000,000,000,000 – plus a small percentage for assorted lesser orbital colonies, that 4.9% of mixed-bag worlds, and assorted small moons. Call it a nice even Quadrillion (or 10 to the 15’th power) individual sentient beings. We can probably double that to account for the outworlds – which, while they are less developed, still outnumber the inner worlds by nine to one.

   That would indeed make the Yuuzhan Vong war – with casualties estimated (per Wookieepedia) at 365 Trillion – perhaps the most destructive war in history, accounting for the death of roughly 18% of the galactic population (presuming that the number does not include the Yuuzhan Vong casualties themselves and that the estimate is accurate). Of course, it’s still not comparable to the Black Death – often estimated at 30-60% of the European population – but that was a lot more localized.

   Now, for practical purposes – especially given the massive near-impassible zones so common in the galaxy – we can probably ignore a lot of backwater worlds, pockets of worlds that are hard to get to, and minor distant worlds. If you’re mostly concerned with a particular galactic sector, we can expect most of the action to take place in a relatively small cluster of easy-to-reach worlds – perhaps a mere .1%, or 240. 80% of those will be minor worlds – leaving 48 major worlds.

   Ah, now we know why things keep coming back to that relatively small list of planets, and how bounty hunters can operate, and so on: this may be a galactic setting in theory, but in practice it’s more like a bunch of cities – each at the center of a cluster of smaller towns – scattered across a small continent.