August 30, 2019

Dark Matter | Off the Record 2

Comments from the Finger: The dead ends we came to while designing the world of Dark Matter are perhaps more interesting than the setting itself.

     Remember, you can get the Final PDF of Dark Matter on the Mage Hand Press store or on DriveThruRPG!

Dark Matter | Off the Record 2

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 Sigils

The earliest version of Dark Matter, which was little more than the Palm's science fiction home game, didn't have maw stations, but it always had something similar: Sigils. Taking a page out of the beloved Planescape setting, the 'verse was littered with ring cities in the depths of space, populated by a menagerie of creatures. Each Sigil city was more or less indistinguishable from Planescape's hometown, but with their own alien twists, depending on their locations in the 'verse. Moreover, when a ship flew through the center of one ring city, it would appear at another. Sound similar?

The progression from familiar ring cities to ancient space skeletons was actually fairly straightforward. As the proto-Dark Matter version of Sigils always had black holes in their centers, we thought that it would seem daunting for pilots to make dark matter jumps (which is what void jumps were originally called). A suitably concise name was called for, thus we named them "maw" stations, since the opening of a cave and the black mouth of a black hole aren't that different. The mad, brilliant twist was to take this name literally and make them nearly circular jawbones, like those of sharks. Finally, our head artist Martin Kirby reimagined them as entire skeletons -- the image being substantially cooler and far more imaginative.

The Lady of Un

If we had kept with the original Sigil cities, parties might have encountered the Lady of Pain amongst the stars; today they get Old Un instead. The Lady evolved into something more abstract -- a force over the 'verse, a forgotten god, and at last, the unknowably ancient Old Un, entombed in the Sepulcher Star. Whereas the Lady of Pain is a character in her own right, Old Un is a mystery to be solved, and we prefer it that way.

False Prophets of the Sun

The original design of the avia-ra didn't cast them as resolute clerics of a singular solar religion, but as a caste of sorcerers and warlocks, drawing their power from the Sun. In this earliest conception, the fact that the avia-ra worshiped the sun -- which is not a deity -- shaped their ability scores and most effective classes. Avia-ra of early drafts forged direct pacts with powerful entities, exclusively becoming warlocks instead of clerics. Thus, they needed high Charisma, and also made for effective sorcerers. This naturally led to the idea that they could be charlatans, peddling their arcane magic as a sort of divine connection. To some extent, this isn't even a deception: the avia-ra just have a more direct (read: warlock-y) connection to their god.

Shades of this earlier version are still present in the setting, as some avia-ra are still very much charlatans, peddling their religion to low-world races with promises of lasting civilizations and helpful technology, in exchange for servitude to the Sun Above. It helps that there is a clear tie back to the Ancient Aliens trope, and that the book (and 5th edition in general) desperately needed a good Wisdom race. That being said, I still find myself running avia-ra NPCs as high Charisma characters, as smooth-talking your way past a guard with a bird voice never gets old.


  1. Oh, wow! The mix of sigils and the Lady with Dark Matter is simply ingenious!

    I get why you took it down, of course, but it could've worked really nicely IMO.

    The avia-ra thing kinda surprised me, since I thought of them more like fanatics, and didn't imagine them being very individualistic. I think the direction you took with them is a good one (also, bird voice is the BEST thing to annoy players with).

    1. If any setting works well with Dark Matter, it's Planescape. Our original vision of the setting was more akin to that, until the art and tropes took things in a more traditional science fiction direction. But if you're looking for a setting to throw in a blender with Dark Matter, it's Planescape, hands down.

    2. I feel like spelljammer would also work decently well with Dark Matter, at least with regards to what I've seen of the two.