Thursday, June 2, 2022

(Dragonstar) Imperial Supply

 Imperial Supply was fine.

Yep, that's what I want to say about this book. It was fine.

Okay, maybe I've been spoiled recently by a string of rpg books (including previous titles in the Dragonstar series) that were high concept and had a lot to say for themselves. Books that strove to craft a new world with fantastic sights to beggar the imagination and inspire a lifetime of stories. I'd kind of forgotten that sometimes an rpg book is just supposed to be functional. Here's a bunch of high-tech gear that you can add on to your character sheet, let's spend half a page describing the extremely specific resolution of this weird grenade, no need to think beyond the tactical implications.

And that's fine. No, really. I keep saying "it's fine," and sometimes that's code for something not being fine, but look, you're playing in the Dragonstar universe, you're going to want your character to have stuff, and this book is filled with stuff. Sometimes, an equipment book can be a backdoor setting book, as it describes not just the stuff you have, but the logistics of its manufacture, the sci-fi technology behind its operation, and the motives and circumstances of its most prominent users, but Imperial Supply rarely indulges in those impulses.

We learn that there are orc pirates, who operate out of Naster station in the Galinak system, but little else about their culture (aside from the fact that their leader adopts the honorific "Her Most Supreme Bruteness," which would be kind of cool if it weren't so on the nose). Also, there is a light-saber analogue, called the Sunsword, which is wielded by the paladins of SOLAR (although, I forgot to share my disappointment when I learned from A Guide to the Galaxy that the backronym meant "Special Outlands Army Recon"). The book is a little coy about whether they genuinely use divine magic to channel the nuclear inferno from the heart of a star, which is weird for a reference guide that otherwise uses an objective voice, but I'm going to choose to believe, because it was a rare bit of memorable specificity.

Speaking of which, Imperial Supply repeatedly refers to a hitherto unseen bit of the setting in a way that suggests it's not just making something up for the sake of examples. They were probably getting this information from a design document that contained guidelines for a future supplement that never got made. Because we get our first real peek into the Dark Zone (previously established as a no-go area inhabited by illithids) and it's very consistent about the fact that the weird psionic technology of that region is studied by a group known as the Edgecrafters  and gathered by people called the Dark Edgers in a place called Kalibrig,on the edge of the Dark Zone.

It's a neat little implied setting, with distinctive themes - a powerful and prosperous spacefaring civilization whose technology nonetheless has serious limits encounters a region a space that defies their power, which remains shrouded in a nebula that blocks conventional sensors and from which, most expeditions never return. But individuals can accomplish what empires cannot, and small groups of explorers, ones that don't pose a threat to the powers deep in the nebula, may sometimes emerge with strange technologies that appear to defy the known laws of physics. Nobles, industrialists, and intelligence agencies will pay handsomely for this salvage, to better gain an advantage over their rivals. Thus the edge of the Dark Zone is a place of intrigue and mystery, where fortunes can be made . . . if you can resist the lure of the voices beyond.

However, that's me extrapolating from, like three or four equipment entries. Sadly, Imperial Supply runs afoul of Dragonstar's overall lack of a clearly articulated sci-fi aesthetic. There are spaceships and robots and railguns, but they don't really build towards anything. The game isn't about using magic to overcome the limits of hard sf. Nor is it about encountering diverse civilizations with unique ways of solving the same technical problems. Nor is it about the scientific vertigo of unearthing incomprehensible post-singularity tech from the ashes of deep time. It's all just kind of here. There's science-fictiony type stuff and it's presented in a list.

It's fine.

Ukss Contribution: There's a drug called Perfection. Habitual use raises your Wisdom, but lowers your Intelligence and Charisma. Some monastic orders (nicknamed "dark monks") will take so much of the drug for so long that they go catatonic and must be sustained on life support, presumably with their superhuman wisdom still intact. I find this to be an interesting philosophical idea, and will enjoy trying to expand on it.

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