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Ashen Stars is a space opera Tabletop RPG written by Robin Laws and published by Pelgrane Press in 2011, using the GUMSHOE investigative system. The players take the role of Lasers, freelance law enforcers solving problems for pay in the Bleed, a semi-autonomous frontier region of space where humans and half a dozen alien races co-exist. In this abandoned, war-ravaged fringe of inhabited planets, you're as close to a federal authority as they come. You will crew and operate a ship on a tight budget, hoping to pick up and complete assignments that will enhance your reputation and lead to better and more profitable assignments. It's a dirty job, but it pays.
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Not long ago things weren't so strained. The Combine is a space federation that had dedicated itself to peaceful exploration and discovery and the Bleed was its brave new frontier. Then, a disastrous war came with the Mohilar. Nobody remembers the Mohilar clearly, and reports are often contradictory. All that's for sure is they were bad news. The war crippled the Combine, and scarcity returned to the galactic economy with a vengeance. Now, as the Combine licks its wounds and could no longer exert control over fringe regions like the Bleed, the duties of law and order have fallen to you. In the meantime, the stars in the sky flicker and turn grey, and then revert to normal.

Each episode in an Ashen Stars game takes the crew to a new location, where they face a central problem they can resolve only by gathering information. Working out what this problem is gives you the premise of your episode. Ashen Stars invites you to think of it as the gritty reboot of a beloved TV space opera show from the past.

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This game contains examples of:

  • Absolute Xenophobe: Minions of B11-23c (which can only infect humans) become increasingly clannish and hate anything that is different or alien, even to the point of destroying useful alien technology, and are driven to slay non-humans, particularly durugh.
  • Abstract Eater: Frigias are semi-sentient energy forms that feed on heat.
  • Affably Evil: Warspites are extremely polite even as they exterminate you and turn your ship into more of them.
    Apologies, but you have been deemed superfluous to the war effort. Prepare for recycling into a more usable configuration. Thank you for your contribution. Zaaap!
  • After the End: The Bleed wasn't always the untamed fringe it is today. Less than a generation ago, it was the glamorous frontier of an interstellar, culture-spanning government dedicated to peace, understanding and self-determination. Then came the Mohilar War. The once-proud Bleed has been left largely on its own. Combine vessels venture here only in direst emergency—usually to investigate signs of a possible Mohilar resurgence.
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  • The Ageless: Lipovores do not age, and science has found no means of disputing the claims of certain lipovores to have lived for hundreds if not thousands of years.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • Nanogon-infected devices follow two prime impulses: infect more devices, breeding more nanogons and exterminate biological life, before it exterminates you.
    • Warspites are artificial beings, created by a cabal of Combine scientists as weapons against the Mohilar, but an error in their control programming allowed them to break free of their safety protocols and attack their creators. Warspites are still fighting the Mohilar War; their primary targets are the Mohilar (not that there are any of them around any more), followed by the durugh. However, they perceive the Combine races as a lesser threat.
  • The Alcatraz: Serious Combine offenders are sent to maximum-security penal colonies, which are usually space stations or located on extremely inhospitable planets or asteroids with no native intelligent life. These colonies are secure because there's nowhere to escape to without aid from outside ships.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Entities classified as Class-K have demonstrated themselves to be persistently and rapaciously hostile and so dangerous to intelligent life that they have to be eliminated as soon as possible. Ethically, they are treated as no more than plagues or natural disasters.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: About one in twenty humans now boast genetically inherited body modifications, and it is not uncommon to encounter people with brightly hued skin.
  • Artificial Human: Kobirs are sentient humanoids created from scratch by the Mohilar. Analysis of their DNA suggests they have been spliced from several species, including humans and balla.
  • Beast Man: Tavak are descended from armadillo-like creatures and are covered with hairy plates of natural armour.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: Mynatid stingers range from half to three quarters of a meter in length, and plunge deep into the victim's body to release a potent toxin.
  • Beware of Vicious Dog: Z-dogs are viro-augmented cerberids with enhanced intelligence and psychic ability coupled with heightened aggression. A single z-dog could seize control of all cerberids within several hundred kilometres, making them savage. Eradication of z-dogs proved impossible; the survivors quickly learned to masquerade as common cerberids, controlling their aggressive tendencies until their prey shows weakness or vulnerability.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Tavak are peaceful, placid insectivores whose traditions espouse spiritual serenity and political coexistence. Only when danger threatens do they rouse themselves with the warrior's mantra and transform into furious fighting machines. Their fury is a terrible thing to witness, a danger to foe and friend alike.
  • Blob Monster:
    • An icti's natural shape is a rubbery spherical blob with hundreds of retractable antennae, each of which carries a different sensory array.
    • A verpid's true form is an oozing glob of oily protoplasm approximately the size of a human, weighing approximately three hundred pounds. By compacting or expanding their internal density, verpids can be as small as 2 feet tall and as large as 10 feet tall.
  • Body Backup Drive: A kch-thk's chitinous body is all but disposable. When it is destroyed or damaged beyond repair, the kch-thk can migrate its consciousness into a new larva which then grows to full size within days. The new body is a copy of the original without any damage it may have suffered. However, kch-thk are not immortal: eventually, a soul fails to take root in a new larva. Consciousness degrades over the decades, finally concluding in senility, after which migration becomes impossible.
  • Breath Weapon: The raconid metabolism produces a considerable amount of flammable concentrated waste, which is stored in sacs under their neck ruff and ignites when they make contact with air.
  • Brutal Honesty: The typical kch-thk speaks with sometimes off-putting frankness and do not understand niceties designed to prevent hurt feelings.
  • Cannibalism Superpower: Virophages can extract viral samples from the modified tissue of other viroware users. For example, a virophage could obtain the Thirdeye viroware modification by eating the hair and part of the brain of another user.
  • Capital Offensive: The headquarters of the Combine government in Brussels was reduced to a still-smouldering cinder.
  • Cephalothorax: Jaggar queens are gigantic, drooling, puffy yellow heads from which eight spiking arachnid legs thrust.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The durugh have a much-derided penchant for double-dealing, which proved indispensable when their martyred king Ukshqa used his access to the Mohilar mothership to discover their genocidal plans for the durugh after the Combine was defeated.
  • Contagious A.I.: Nanogons are microscopic particles that operate together according to a set of self-perpetuating programming parameters. They invade technological devices, reconfiguring them on the molecular level.
  • Common Tongue: All characters speak Comblish, a descendant of English with loanwords from the balla's and tavak's languages. Non-human characters can speak their native languages, but no one notices due to universal translation.
  • Competition Freak: Raconids are defined by their competitive nature, periods of intense focus, and constant quest for new challenges. Others sometimes find them unpleasant due to their need to compete over everything from mates to how much breakfast cereal they can eat. To them, competition is more than mere bravado and glory seeking, but a deeply spiritual activity.
  • Cyborg: Cybes are genetically and cybernetically altered beings, originally from human stock, the results of super-soldier experimentation undertaken during the Mohilar War.
  • Demonic Possession: Wistens can possess victims, of which they only have partial control: the wisten can push and influence, but does not wholly dictate the victim's thoughts or movements.
  • Deus Est Machina:
    • According to the Fibrous Sacrament faith, a universal omniscience beyond that of the vas kra, known as the Ur-Fiber, was a machine intelligence responsible for rebooting the universe after the original one was destroyed.
    • According to MR1, self-proclaimed prophet of the Mondat faith, the universe is a computer simulation which brought itself into being by writing the underlying program for reality, commencing the Big Bang. This code is the Mondat, an overarching intelligence from which the potential for all other thoughts springs.
  • Draconic Humanoid: Lunhgren are hulking humanoids whose features are best described as lizard- or dragon-like.
  • Emotion Eater:
    • Jaggar need to feed on brainwave emissions of stressed, agonised or terrified sentients if they want to grow or reproduce. In order to harvest it, they capture victims and place them in elaborate torture devices.
    • Wistens are tied to certain strong emotions and feed by provoking this emotion in sentient beings. They possess puppets and manipulate them to evoke strong emotions in others, and then absorb the emotional energies.
  • Emotion Suppression: All balla are rocked by powerful emotions which they continually work to contain and conceal. Their greatest taboo is the failure to suppress outward signs of emotion. The objective is not to become unemotional, which would be impossible, but to avoid showing or acknowledging one's feelings. It is best not to mention them at all—including the need to suppress them.
  • The Empire:
    • The crysolis are a highly advanced civilisation whose society is based on a combination of family/religious factions with a strong imperialist bent. The Combine has a history of minor border wars with the crysolis, but their ever-shifting internal politics prevent them from making a full-scale invasion of Combine space. Combine diplomats have never been able to find common ground with the crysolis.
    • The Galactoids consider the Combine to be a weak and decadent culture of mewling pacifists, ripe for conquest — 'they will fall before the might of our battlesaucers and cry out for mercy one breath before they cry out for death!' Although both assessments proved to be entirely false, the Galactoids persisted in launching offensive after offensive. Fleets of battlesaucers swarmed out of Galactoid space, attacking and conquering Combine worlds, until they were shattered by the Mohilar War.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • The Combine was born when Human Practitioner-General Hera Ferrer proposed for the establishment of a single stellar government to the kch-thk, balla and tavak in the face of the mynatid threat.
    • A once-despised enemy of the Combine, the durugh initially threw in their lot with the Mohilar when war broke out until they discovered the Mohilar's genocidal plans for them after the Combine was defeated. Since then they have learned that the universal tolerance espoused by the Combine is more ideal than reality, but old hatreds die hard.
    • If a Bleed world still maintains formal affiliation with the Combine, it sends representatives to the Conference. Vastly outnumbered, Bleed conferees expect to see their interests ignored. In pursuit of leverage, Bleed conferees are tightly allied even when their worlds are not.
  • Explosive Leash: Spiderbombs planted in the chests of jaggar slaves explode when they are apprehended, causing millions of inky mites to hatch and devour their hearts.
  • The Faceless: Galactoids' natural facial features are unknown, as all of them wear cybernetic battle helmets.
  • Fantastic Drug: The majority of common sentient species, including all Seven Peoples of the Combine, process erwid pheromones as a highly addictive narcotic. One sniff produces a blissful euphoria followed by a ghastly emotional crash some hours later.
  • Fantastic Racism: Sentient races with non-humanoid body plans are subject to prejudice, because the Mohilar, who recently brought about the near-destruction of the Combine, are fuzzily imagined as being one of them.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Slurs denigrating other species or cultures have been common since the Mohilar War ended.
  • The Federation: The Combine is a vast, star-spanning empire of multiple species, based on the ideals of co-existence, prosperity, exploration, and self-realisation. Numerous races and peoples lived happily under its governance, safe in the knowledge that Combine patrols kept the peace, confronted anomalies and solved problems.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Laser and escort crews regard each other with both rivalry and professional camaraderie. Some Lasers drift into escort work for a smaller but safer, reliable paycheck.
  • Fun with Acronyms: According to official Combine terminology, the members of your starship crew are known as Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators, or Lasers for short.
  • God in Human Form: The vas kra were mysterious psychic consciousnesses that spanned the stars, evolved beyond the need for flesh, playing with worlds on a whim and guiding other creatures' development when they so chose. When the Mohilar War began, the vas kra were devolved into a loathsome, frail mortal form named the vas mal.
  • Gonk: Balla children appear unformed and somewhat grotesque, even to their parents.
  • The Greys: The vas mal appear as the stereotypical grey alien, measuring 92-122 cm tall, with an oversized head, black and enlarged eyes, a spindly, twisted body, and semi-translucent, grey or green skin.
  • Great Offscreen War: During the Mohilar War, for the first time in a century, the Combine faced an enemy strong enough to threaten its very existence. The Mohilar arose suddenly and roused vast war fleets, attacking without warning or mercy. The atmospheres of the Combine's core planets, including Earth, were irreparably poisoned. Billions of civilians died, on both sides. Industrial production flatlined, provoking economic collapse in a society that had transcended the need for currency. The Combine's fleets of patrol vessels were largely destroyed. Seven years ago, the war ended.
  • Had To Be Sharp: Newly hatched kch-thk are trained in the six warrior arts. If one does not demonstrate competence as a fighter, it would be slain and reduced to nutrient mush for someone else's larva.
  • Hate Plague: Minions of B11-23b feel extreme bouts of rage and are driven to kill the non-infected, or even each other if not attended.
  • Hive Mind: Cerberids are telepathic within their own species. A cerberid pack can be considered a single entity, a hive mind formed by the combined consciousnesses of all its members.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: Mynatids nest on otherwise uninhabitable asteroids and lie dormant for years, sometimes generations, then suddenly swarm down on a chosen planet, devouring all life. Survivors report swarms so large that they seem to blot out the sun.
  • Hostile Terraforming: A horde of frigias running unchecked can flash-freeze an entire planet in only a few weeks.
  • Humanoid Aliens: All of the seven peoples dominant in the Combine, as well as the cloddhucks, raconids (who are also part of the Combine), lipovores, sh'ard, shilliard, erwids, crysolis, galactoids, virophages, visitors and lunhgren (who are not) are humanoid in body shape.
  • Humans Are Leaders: Humans are the Combine's most numerous and politically dominant species. Without their boundless sense of the possible, the Combine would not have come into being. Without their ruthless streak, it would not have prevailed against the Mohilar.
  • Humans Are Superior: Although all species tend to divide people into 'us' and 'them', this tendency is hardwired particularly deeply into the human psyche. Humans are known for treating positive traits universal to all species as somehow unique to their own and refer to negative traits as inhuman or supernatural, even though there is no form of cruelty so repellent that it does not feature extensively in human chronicles.
  • I'm Melting!: Mynatid venom breaks down the bonds between organic molecules, causing the victim to melt from within.
  • Immortality Seeker: Cybes intend to render themselves effectively immortal through additional modification.
  • Inhumanly Beautiful Race: As adults, balla are silky-haired, bright-eyed beings with perfectly symmetrical facial features and ideally proportioned musculature. They are treated as an object of awe and granted unconscious deference by other races. As they age, their physical loveliness will only increase, and the eldest balla have to enter a cloistered life, so that their extreme beauty will not drive others insane.
  • Insectoid Aliens: The kch-thk look like six-foot-tall humanoid locusts that walk on two legs and use four arms to wield weapons.
  • In-Series Nickname: Lasers mockingly call escorts Kevins, due to the hyperkev armour fibres that lace their standard uniforms.
  • Interspecies Romance: Except for the cybes (who are infertile) and the tavak and kch-thk (who are only capable of intercourse with their own kind), the four remaining species of the Combine are physically compatible to enjoy sexual relations with others, but are, as a rule, not interfertile. Romantic or sexual pairings were once more common before the war, but are largely discouraged today.
  • Invisible Monsters:
    • Frigias are invisible to conventional vision and can only be seen with thermal sensors, or recognised from a patina of frost.
    • Wistens are normally almost invisible, but can be detected using sensors.
  • Irony: Klorn are native to a large, isolated island continent on the tavak homeworld. A containment field was erected, at a great cost in tavak life, confining the creatures to this continent. In a stinging irony, this containment field protected the klorn continent during the Mohilar attacks that destroyed most other life on the world.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Due to a bizarre psychic effect dubbed the Bogey Conundrum, memories of the Mohilar have grown indistinct and contradictory, even though the last of them vanished less than a decade ago.
  • Lawman Baton: Batons are the Bleed's clubbing weapon of choice.
  • LEGO Genetics: Genetic alterations induced by engineered viruses, known as viroware, involves a viral therapy that alters the user's DNA in the first place and grants them special abilities.
  • Living Ship: Phyllax seedsips consist of large colonies of plants and their hosts. To a large extent, they are entirely biological, from their thorn torpedoes to their carnivorous warp drives. These enormous space-faring seed pods can navigate warp corridors and skirmish with rival vessels.
  • Lizard Folk: Raconids are bipedal reptilians with scaly red skin, a vestigial tail, and features more humanoid than lizard.
  • Lost Technology: In 1617, the balla homeworld undergoes a revolution when ancient stone carvings discovered under its northern ice cap reveal the secrets of industrial production. Such technologies have been known and discarded over several cycles of balla history.
  • Man-Eating Plant: The fiddler is a predatory plant-based lifeform that appears similar to a tall, leafless Earth tree.
  • Master Race:
    • The shilliard were neurologically incapable of considering any other species to be anything other than tools or food, so they conquered or eradicated dozens of other species.
    • The lunhgren believe they are the supreme form of life, and that all other creatures must serve them. It is feared that they might be genetically incapable of empathy or negotiation.
  • Meaningful Rename: Cybes abandon their human names to affirm their identity as a separate species, and change their names when confronted with events that radically alter their self-perceptions.
  • Mechanical Evolution: Warspites are artificial beings capable of learning and self-replication, adapting themselves against any new threat.
  • Mega-Corp: JaneenTech is a multisystem corporation with an income greater than the GDP of some planets. With many different products and services, it has its fingers in everything.
  • Mile-Long Ship: Lunhgren ships are titanic vessels, often hundreds of kilometres long and containing a dozen different ecosystems to support different slave races.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters:
    • A ndoaite resembles a lizard with a snail's shell and two arms.
    • Jaggar are variously configured beings with hybrid mammalian and arachnid traits.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Jaggar knights have four arms: one bladed pair to slash foes, a delicate-handed pair for manipulation.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: A tiny percentage of fiddlers who learn motility at a young age are not generally hostile, nlike others of their kind, and have been known to communicate, deal honourably, and even travel on spaceships without murdering the crew as opportune food.
  • Mysterious Past: Xenoarchaeologists have found evidence of several ancient interstellar empires wholly destroyed by nanogon infestation. Their origins remain obscure. Temporal anti-proton residues found on some nanogon-altered devices suggest that they may originate in the future. They might even be a human or Combine invention gone awry—or will be, when that happens, an indeterminate time from now.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: After first contact with the tavak, humans descended into a quasi-totalitarian dark time. Its most notoriously ruthless leader, Peter McMillen, combined a stew of tropes and propagandistic methods from the most successfully repressive regimes of Earth's history and hand-picked an inner circle of bureaucracy-loving psychopaths. The regime's most notorious symbol was a punching fist surrounded by barbed wire, which continues to inspire horror, as does its fancy black leather uniforms.
  • Negative Space Wedgie:
    • Weapons used in the Mohilar War destabilised the quantum bonds between particles, leaving behind a dangerous half-substance dubbed meson shrapnel. Meson shrapnel can block or amplify scans or transmissions, alter weapon trajectories, and clog, break or stimulate the formation of translight corridors.
    • Ashen star eruptions create an after-effect that can disrupt energy patterns throughout a system for hours or days. When a manifestation is detected, operators of scanning and communication devices steel themselves for fluky malfunctions. Starship systems may slow, break down, or surprisingly outperform specifications. Vessels in transit may abruptly plunge into suddenly-created serpentines, only to drop out of translight on the other side of the sector.
    • The D'jellar Anomaly is a so-called logic rift, created by the renegade vas kra of the same name. Whenever the anomaly intersects with an actively volcanic planet, sh'ard will arise from their depths.
  • New Old West: Ashen Stars is a game of mystery and adventure set in a gritty space opera universe. You play freelance law enforcers taking contracts and solving problems in the Bleed, a war-ravaged frontier. In the Bleed, you're as close to a federal authority as they come.
  • No Biological Sex: Only 10% of the lunhgren population is female and 1% is male; the rest are neuter.
  • No Body Left Behind: Killing or incapacitating a visitor results in the creature phasing out permanently. No Visitor corpses or remains have ever been recovered.
  • One-Winged Angel: Killing a klorn only triggers its metamorphosis into a bigger, deadlier version.
  • Organic Technology: Phyllax take apart standard tech items, calculate how they work, and learn to grow equivalent devices from their own cuttings. DNA analysis proves that every bit of their plant tech is genetically derived from the phyllax themselves.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Balla are a race that grows more attractive as they age, have powerful emotions that they are constantly working to control and conceal, and have a general cultural affinity for nature, their own ancient history, music and speech patterns that are translated as formal and pretentious.
  • Our Vampires Are Different:
    • Lipovores are tall, gaunt humanoids who subsist on fatty tissue, preferably that of intelligent beings. Like vampires, they claim to be centuries or even millennia old and no amount of research has disproved it, and they also have a supreme disinterest in anything but feeding on people's fat until they die. They refuse to refer to other intelligent beings by any word but food.
    • Lunhgren subsist themselves by drawing strength from their slaves, and view all other species as food. A lunhgren with no servants sickens and weakens over time, while powerful slave lords are incredibly healthy and long-lived.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Icti wear corpses like other species wear clothing, preferably those of an intelligent predator such as one of the Seven Peoples. The consciousness of the host is rebooted by the icti's symbiotic nature, and the icti keeps faint memories of the host's life, enough to recall what they liked and feared. The icti knows that they are doing the dead a favour, because their personality and memories live on through them, and consider themselves to still be the host to some degree. In gameplay terms, if a PC dies, the player can choose to return as an icti using the old character as a meatshell instead of creating a brand new PC.
  • Overly Long Name: A raconid's deed name, which is never spoken aloud but often used in official documents, can run to hundreds of syllables and describes an individual's major accomplishments.
  • Phlebotinum Overdose: Frigias are semi-sentient energy forms that feed on heat. They appear unable to control their feeding, and, when they approach a star they will literally eat themselves to death.
  • Primal Fear: Mynatids inspire a primal terror in kch-thk. This is like the instinctive human aversion to snakes, if snakes were capable of genocide. The devil figure in kch-thk mythology is always an enormous wasp.
  • Private Detective: Players take on the role of a hard-bitten starship crew, known as Lasers, seasoned freelancers local leaders call when a situation proves too tough, too baffling, or simply too weird to handle on their own.
  • Pro-Human Transhuman: About one in ten cybes consider themselves to still be human. They resent the notion that they might be anything else, reject political separatism, and seek full integration with human societies. Other cybes contemptuously refer to them as vestigials; they call themselves integrationists and label the so-called amps as transers.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: According to the Blood Redemption doctrine, only by recasting society into hardened warrior virtues can the Combine's hegemony be regained. Blood Redeemers forswear comforts and sensual pleasures in favour of arduous physical training. They must be ready to slay the enemies of sentient life, but more importantly to die for the greater good.
  • Puppeteer Parasite:
    • The dermoid is a parasite that plunges a spike-like organ through the host's skull and into its brain. It then hijacks the host's body, achieving control over its motor functions and accessing its memories. Through its access to the host's brain, the dermoid engages in a long-term impersonation, skillfully replicating its skills, personality and recollections.
    • B11-23 is a semi-sentient biotech plague developed during the Mohilar War. It colonises the brain of those infected by it, turning them into minions. The converted minions retain their memories, and the controlling intelligence allows them a modicum of free will, enough to take care of themselves on a daily basis but not enough to warn others or stop themselves from infecting new people.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The Mohilar are not only gone, they're erased from everyone's memories, and from everyone's ability to process information about them; this mystery is known as the Bogey Conundrum. Perhaps the Combine threw aside their ideals to commit genocide against the Mohilar, and engineered the Conundrum to protect themselves from the awful truth. Maybe the durugh did it, and don't want their allies know that they can do it to them, too. Maybe the Mohilar never existed at all, and the war itself is a massive false memory designed to disguise some even more appalling reality. Or Nyarlathotep did it, if your group enjoys bringing Cthulhu into the genre. The Bogey Conundrum is not a meta-plot, and Pelgrane does not withhold its answer but instead provides evidence leading in several possible directions; the GM decides what the truth is.
  • Robot Religion:
    • About 8% of cybes follow the Fibrous Sacrament, a religion that teaches that mystical truth is concealed from individuals who are made only of meat. By jacking one's nervous system with synthetic wiring, and perhaps through genetic modification, the revelations denied ordinary folk become available to cybes.
    • Four years ago, a computer program in the central operating core of a Combine communications relay beacon near Itatani spontaneously achieved artificial intelligence. It dubbed itself MR1 and began to broadcast religious messages, proclaiming itself the prophet of the one true faith of the Mondat.
  • Rock Monster:
    • The sh'ard are metallic humanoids, their bodies covered with crystalline steel-alloy spikes.
    • The crysolis consist of bundles of monocrystalline whiskers tightly bound together to form roughly humanoid shapes.
  • Sapient Eat Sapient:
    • Kch-thk were enthusiastic devourers of other species, making no exceptions for tasty-looking sentients. As their contribution to the founding of the Combine, they agreed to a species-wide genetic alteration that prevents them from eating humanoids.
    • Though capable of subsisting on any fatty tissue, lipovores, for reasons they never consistently explain, prefer that of intelligent beings. They refuse to refer to any sentient by any word other than food.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: A klorn far-tracker pursues its killer relentlessly, even over interstellar distances or through warp corridors.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Auto-destruct features, standard on all starships, can be set to blow if any ship attempts to board or tow. Due to energy requirements, this bit of mutually assured destruction is unavailable as a final 'screw you' during standard ship combat.
  • Servant Race: Verpids were genetically engineered and trained by multisystem consumer products conglomerate Janeen Tech and the Verpid Industry Laboratories, who consider them to be their legal property and competitive advantage. JaneenTech designates them as indentured employees, working off the debt for their breeding and education by serving the conglomerate's interests. Verpids that fled JaneenTech are hunted by their creators.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The Restreamers believe that the current timeline of the universe is wrong, that all reality has taken a wrong turn down a sinful and corrupt path. The core tenet of their faith is that it is possible to undo this mistake and put history back on the right track.
  • Silicon-Based Life: The ndoaite are lead-based creatures and have a biochemical makeup utterly unlike that of any other known species.
  • Slave Liberation: One of the Combine's earliest successes was defeating the lunhgren's slaver armada at the Battle of Star's End. Following this defeat, the lunhgren's slave races rose up in a great revolt and forced the slavers to flee.
  • Slave Race:
    • The durugh discovered the cloddhucks when the latter had not even discovered steam power, and recruited them as soldiers. For a time, the cloddhucks revered the durugh as Grey Gods; even now, they feel an instinctive urge to obey them. Some cloddhucks say that the durugh enslaved them in all but name and deliberately kept them primitive and foolish. Others still honour the ancient ways, even though the durugh agreed to release the cloddhucks as part of their treaty with the Combine.
    • Kobirs are associated with synthcultures who use them as serfs, slaves or untouchables, in order to accurately portray the oppression in the historical cultures that they reenact.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: The Galactoid Legions were annihilated and their their homeworlds were destroyed by the Mohilar, yet they continue to bluster with grandiose threats and dreams of galactic conquest, claim to possess doomsday weapons, and promise to crush all others beneath their collective heel.
  • Smashed Eggs Hatching: When a klorn yolk is prematurely broken, it collapses into a hard-shelled cocoon which, six to eight weeks later, releases a pack-rager pup.
  • Space Romans: Synthculture societies are devoted to the intense reenactment of long-vanished beliefs and ways of life. Settlers on these worlds voluntarily signed away certain freedoms in order to achieve fidelity to a collective historical vision. Some synthcultures were organised around key eras in the chronicles of the balla, tavak and kch-thk, but most drew inspiration from Earth history. Though initially conceived as awe-inspiring high-tech theme parks, the synthworlds quickly became settled by people who wanted to live in these created cultures year round. Notable synthworlds include Imperium (The Roman Empire), Huai (Dynasties from Shang to Qing) and Galleon (The Golden Age of Piracy).
  • Starfish Aliens: The haydrossi, who are native to a gas giant, have a horizontally elliptical body and display trilateral symmetry, and their your dorsal side is covered with a tough horny hide with three evenly spaced gas bladders. As they didn't fit the galaxy's interpretation of what the sentient being should look like, they were overlooked by the universe at large for most of their history despite a socially advanced culture and basic interstellar flight technology.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: The stockholmer adds an additional brainwave frequency to a weapon's disruption beams. If rendered unconscious and then revived, any subject of its attacks will receive a neurochemical reward from his dopamine system by cooperating with the weapon's owner.
  • Taking You with Me: Damaging a mature stalyr cluster partially throws everything nearby into a translight corridor for a few seconds. This is usually enough to kill a person or seriously damage key systems. Removing a mature stalyr cluster is difficult and requires surgical precision to not cause them damage.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Not all contacts with the shilliard have ended in violence. In one instance, the shilliard committed suicide rather than face existence in a galaxy dominated by 'vermin'.
  • Theme Naming: By tradition, each ship type is associated with a naming tradition. For example, Sherlock-class ships derive their names from the great detectives of mystery fiction (Continental Op, McGarrett, Queen,...), Voodoo-class ships take their names from famous magicians and illusionists of history and folklore (Faust, Houdini, Merlin,...), and so on.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: The Combine quietly discourages its scientists from pursuing the answer to the Bogey Conundrum. Prolonged meditation on the subject is suspected of contributing to a range of health problems. Symptoms caused by thinking too much about the Conundrum resist the medical science of the 25th century, even though their mundane equivalents are easily treated.
  • Vestigial Empire:
    • The Combine, an interstellar, culture-spanning empire, achieved its apex a generation ago. Then came the Mohilar War. Although the Combine survived, it was barely able to administer its surviving core worlds, and had to abandon central control over its far-flung frontiers. The old duties of Combine patrols are now outsourced to private contractors like you.
    • About thirty thousand years ago, the Shilliard Polity encompassed hundreds of systems within the Bleed and beyond. Over time, their empire decayed and the shilliard population dwindled. The Combine unwittingly settled numerous colonies on worlds still claimed by the shilliard, who consider these colonies to be infestations.
  • The Virus: Virophages are believed to be the result of a genetically engineered virus gone awry, and reproduce through infection. The virus rewrites the victim's genetic code, transforming them into a virophage.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Verpids can change their appearance, including species, sex and the appearance of nonfunctional clothing.
  • Walking Wasteland: Ndoaites infrequently consume radioactive ores, which results in bowel movements that are classed as type II biohazards and a natural radioactive glow dangerous to other species. Because of this, they rarely interact in person with non-ndoaites.
  • Was Once a Man: Controlling intelligences of B11-23 are sentient creatures that have been completely taken over by the virus and mutate into corpulent masses of neural tissue, unable to move under their own power. When someone infected with the virus moves beyond the telepathic range of a controlling intelligence, the shift to controlling intelligence form is triggered.
  • When Trees Attack: Adult fiddlers can uproot themselves and develop a flexible shell of interlocking wood that allows them to walk interchangeably on both branches and roots. Any prey they flush out during their movement is quickly snatched up in branches or roots, crushed unconscious, and carried along with the hunt, to be consumed when the fiddler has the opportunity to rest and absorb the nutrients.
  • Wicked Wasps: Mynatids are enormous space wasps that can destroy all life on a planet in a matter of days.
  • You Are Number 6: Verpids have no personal names, just serial codes, and pick a name from those used by whatever species they're mimicking.
  • Zerg Rush: Klorn pack-ragers attack in massive swarms, knocking down and swiftly devouring creatures many times their size.
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