July 26, 2019

Dark Matter | Off the Record

Comments from the Finger: Still working on a bigger post this week. Take these totally non-OGL suggestions for your own Dark Matter game in the meantime.
     Remember, you can get the Final PDF of Dark Matter on the Mage Hand Press store or on DriveThruRPG!

Dark Matter | Off the Record

When we wrote Dark Matter, we had to abide by the OGL -- a set of guidelines which limits which parts of 5th edition we're allowed to use, in exchange for using the system without fear of legal backlash from Wizards of the Coast. This means we weren't able to include all of our craziest, most bonkers ideas in the book, and had to come up with some creative solutions instead. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't use them (off the record, of course.)

The Brain Wars

In the infinite chasms of Black between stars, an aeons-long war wages between entities of terrible psionic fury. This war, like so many others, is a battle for control of resources; in this case, the resource is the humanoid brain supply.

Mind flayers are purple brain-eating aberrations from the edge of the galaxy. Wrothians are an ancient race of organic constructs, nourished by psionic energy, principally from the brains in jars kept among their ships. One side means to consume brains for nourishment; the other means to harvest them for power. Little more is needed for each to plan the other's genocide.

For all their differences, the parallels between these sinister races are staggering. Both are commanded by paranoid monsters of psionic wrath: the wrothians are overseen by their "perfect" primarchs, whereas ships of mind flayers are generally overseen by a single elder brain. Both have singularly powerful drones capable of laying low a party of adventurers, and both are feared by nearly everyone in the 'verse. However, where wrothians prefer to stage raids on worlds, stealing people away in the dead of night, mind flayers prefer to infiltrate worlds though thralls and psionic manipulation, commandeering a supply of brains from a ruthless seat of power. But because humanoid brains are finite, psionic battles break out wherever the two races collide.

And so, a silent, psionic Blood War has raged in the darkest parts of space between stars. Constant battles of incredible psionic wrath have kept both sides stretched thin, and spared the 'verse the undivided attention of either race. Should one side be destroyed -- or worse, subsumed -- surely, all would be lost.

The Two Bug Peoples

The 'verse has two populous races of insectoid folk: the thri-kreen, a four-armed, two-legged race, and the skathári, a two-armed, four-legged race. They couldn't be more different, however.

Whereas thri-kreen are nimble warriors, capable of wielding up to four blasters at one time in a firefight, skathári are hardy, powerful fighters which prefer clubs and axes. Moreover, when the first thri-kreen abandoned their magically-damaged homeworld and took to the stars, they embraced the ships, computers, and constructs they found there, picking up laser swords and blaster weapons with ease. By contrast, skathári proved to be incorrigible luddites, refusing to trust even the most basic magical technology. What the skathári gave up in tech-savviness, they more than make up for with raw survivalism, as they can thrive on even the most inhospitable planets in the 'verse.

The two races of bug people consider each other rivals. The skathári see the thri-kreen as star-crossed brothers, who lost the faith in the old ways, whereas the thri-kreen see the skathári as misguided brutes. Before a skathári and thri-kreen will even sleep on the same ship, they will likely engage in a near-lethal duel of blasters and warclubs to settle things (for a few days, anyway.)

Beholder Deathstars

Beholders are hate manifest; they hate everyone (other beholders most of all) such that they despise even sharing a planet with others. Therefore, whenever one gets the chance to hijack a battle moon or a large starship, they're likely to take to the stars in search of a lonely respite from other living things. But this does little to stifle their paranoia. Even in the void of space, beholders harbor an enmity for the potential of other living things, and so build their space-lairs into remarkable killing machines.

A space-beholder usually fits its lair with a single central beam cannon, shaped much like the beholder's central eye, capable of razing entire starships which approach. They continue to modify their ship with parts of pilfered and destroyed ships, building it out in every direction until it at last approaches something reminiscent of a chaotic, metallic moon. (Any resemblance this might have to superweapon space stations from other science fiction franchises is pure coincidence.)

Vect, Warforged, and the Spark

At the same time the Jormund Foundry manufactured its ten-thousandth batch of vect units, amoeboid explorers discovered a foreboding world on the Galactic Frontier. This planet, occupied by relatively-advanced humans, was recovering from the throes of a terrible war, during which they had built armies of humanlike constructs, called the Warforged. Either the humans of this war-torn planet were mad, or something within their great Creation Forges had malfunctioned, as every one of the machines was sentient. Nothing of the sort could ever be allowed on the galactic stage.

The amoeboid explorers blacklisted the planet from galactic visitation for two centuries (enough time, they reasoned, for their machine creations to rise up and slaughter them), and departed again for the stars. However, their ship malfunctioned on their way to the Solar Citadel; some Spark of that planet's Creation Forges had tinged their Dark Matter engine and sent them careening into dwarven space.

The rest, as they say, is history: the vect gained sentience and the Spark War began. Perhaps every race of constructs is destined to become sentient past a certain level of advancement. Or, perhaps, something specific and mystical is at work, empowering lifeless machines across the 'verse into beings which can think and feel. Perhaps, we will never be sure.


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  2. Question: I Kickstarted Dark Matter and I was wondering how I accessed the final PDF?

  3. WOW. I LOVE this post.

    All ideas here are certainly awesome, but the Brain Wars are especially so IMO. And just think of what the Githzerai could do with their mastery of changing gravity!
    And all that is, of course, before bringing on the classic spelljammer stuff (neogi, nautiloids, etc.).

    On another note, my one disappointment with Dark Matter is that it does not roll too well with the established planes of existence and the Planescape, and without the OGL restrictions it might've been so much easier to fix this (with more than a single sidebar)...
    But off the record, are there any suggestions? How would something like the City of Brass, Mount Celestia or the Demon Lords fit into the Dark Matter setting? Just extra planes as usual, and as they are in spelljammer?

    1. Weirdly, in all my playtesting for this book, other planes of existence just haven't come up very often. If I had my way about things, the Elemental Planes, Feywild, and Shadowfell would be accessible from anywhere in the 'verse and be the same everywhere, whereas every system with intelligent life generates its own upper and lower planes, which are only accessible when you're in that region of space.

      Moreover, magical technology would generally fail outside the Material Plane (the assumptions used when designing them had certain levels of background energy in mind.) So the City of Brass wouldn't have changed much -- you can still play it authentically without modifying new technology into it.

    2. Alright, thanks. That certainly clarifies things and helps integrate planescape in (and also helps keep some gods, planes, etc. if enough planets believe them).

  4. All of these ideas are great! I had used Star Spawn (from Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes) in my campaign that dabbled into Dark Matter material to great effect!

    Aberrations seem to be born for the more sci-fi campaigns (then again, I think that's kind of their point or at least main inspiration).