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A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge would be a great setting for either a space opera or a space horror campaign. I highly recommend the book.

1993 Pyramid article from Steve Jackson Games about the setting:


Wikipedia article on the book (contains plot spoilers):


Hey, just buy it already. It won the Hugo Award, for Pete's sake:


Setting Description:

Humans are a minor species in this setting, one of millions of biological species living in the Beyond. Unlike many Hollywood science fiction settings, aliens are as likely to look like dogs, or elephants, or butterflies, or rhododendrons, as they are hairless bipedal apes. Most biological species are approximately human-sized, and nearly all are between the size of a mouse and a blue whale, although there are exceptions.

The Milky Way galaxy and deep space outside the galaxy are divided into four zones of thought, based on their distance from the galactic center. Technology and even intelligence itself becomes more and more limited the closer you get to the center of the galaxy. There are no sharp dividing lines between the zones; one zone gradually fades into the next, and the quality of the zone gradually changes from the top of the zone (closer to the edge of the galaxy) to its bottom (closer to the center). Also, storms, extensions, or tendrils can extend from one zone deep into another zone. The zones are likely a natural phenomenon, a function of gravity or star density, but this is never confirmed in the book. It is likely that other galaxies experience similar phenomena.

The Unthinking Depths surround the galactic core. Here, biological and artificial INT is limited to 5. That limit likely gradually decreases as you get closer to the center of the galaxy, but that has never been tested. Faster-than-light travel and antigravity are not possible here. Space ships that go into the Depths will be permanently stranded there. Computers and other artificial intelligences moving toward the depths will slow down until they stop working entirely. Biological intelligences will experience something similar, becoming more and more stupid until they reach animal- or zombie-level intelligence. The Unthinking Depths begin about 30,000 light years from the galactic center.

The Slow Zone is the next outermost layer, from 25,000 to 38,000 light years from the galactic center. Old Earth is said to exist somewhere in this zone. Faster-than-light travel and communication are not possible. It is possible to jump into the Slow Zone, but not out of it. Most ships in this zone use Bussard ramjets and coldsleep facilities for the crew. Generation ships are also possible. INT is limited to 24, and that limit gradually decreases as you near the Unthinking Depths. Computers don’t work particularly well. Trade, diplomacy, development, and military operations take lifetimes to come to fruition.

The Beyond is where the action is, 38,000 to 48,000 light years from the galactic center. Here, faster-than-light travel and communication are possible, as are superhuman intelligence and antigravity. Millions of species live here, and they mix freely, although not without conflict. Interspecies prejudice exists, although the most successful species are able to deal with nearly any other species. Trade and diplomacy are constant. When wars happen, they tend to be very destructive, involving hundreds if not thousands of star systems, and over quickly, in a matter of days or weeks. Genocide against individual species has been known to happen, but most violence happens in bars when a species with a biological predisposition to dislike another one gets its arm/tentacle/frond/servomechanism bumped. The Beyond is connected through the Net, a region-wide communications network. Rumors fly across the Net quickly. Because high-intelligence AI is possible, the Net can be data-mined easily. Some species in the Beyond are unthinkably old; others only recently made it up from the Slow Zone.

The Transcend begins near the edge of the galaxy, about 48,000 light years from the center and extends into deep space around the galaxy. This is the region of Powers, entities with intelligences so vast that it is dangerous for humans and other biological organisms to interact with them. Powers can manipulate, possess, destroy, and re-create thousands of biological entities at a time as easily as we play with building blocks. Sanity rules apply, although Transcendent Powers are able to put a small piece of themselves into a biological organism in order to interact with other bios without driving them mad. Transcendent Powers have been known to extend their reach down into the Beyond, for both good and ill, though such terms may not apply to Transcendent Powers. Some Powers may be dormant; it is possible to awaken a dormant Power at the top of the Beyond, if you find one. It is also possible for biological entities to transcend and become a Power. It is difficult for Powers to reach into the Beyond, and impossible for them to reach into the Slow Zone. When Powers are interested in affecting affairs in the Beyond, they usually use biological or artificial proxies, though it is as interesting and useful for them to do so as it is for human beings to try to communicate with bacteria. Humans have been known to experiment with or exterminate bacteria, however. It is possible for one Power to kill another Power.

Edited by Aelwyn
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Characters would likely live in the Beyond. A wide variety of nonhuman characters could be chosen. Useful skills: Pilot (Starship), Navigate, Artillery (Ship’s Guns), Persuade, Bargain, Appraise, Etiquette, Knowledge (other species, Powers, locales), Energy Weapon, Brawl, Computer Programming, Research, Repair (Quantum), Medicine.

Plot ideas:

Characters work for a corporation that is controlled by the proxy of a Power. The Power’s motives are difficult to understand; sometimes It seems to be undermining peace, development, or trade, and other times encouraging it. Occasionally the motives become clearer after a mission is completed, but not always.

Characters are mercenaries, assassins, or bounty hunters, working for any corporation, species, or Power willing to pay the going rate. You want someone captured or simply killed? Do you want it quiet, or loud?—we can do it either way. Various legal systems, corporations, or species may be out to get the characters, but the Beyond is big. There are a lot of places to hide.

Characters are scientists, merchants, archaeologists, and explorers seeking their fortune. Although most of the Beyond is civilized, there are still many unexplored worlds. The galaxy is unbelievably ancient. Lost civilizations and even remnants of dead Powers have left amazing technology hidden away in the unexplored parts of the top of the Beyond. Of course, it could get nasty if you wake up the wrong thing.

Characters have been falsely (or perhaps accurately?) accused of something horrible, perhaps genocide or working for a rogue Power. The Net is buzzing, and everyone in the Beyond is out to get the characters. Well, maybe everyone. Not everyone subscribes to TlinkkkitGenocideBoundersReach | Relay or BountiesCurrent | Relay, but enough species do that the characters are in trouble. They’ve got to get themselves to safety and clear their names.

Characters are working for a multispecies corporation seeking to bring new species into the Beyond. There’s been a recent extension of the Beyond into the Slow Zone, enabling us to send faster-than-light ships into new areas to explore and check for intelligent life. The team should try to make contact, avoid getting entangled in local politics, if possible, and bring some likely candidates back to the middle of the Beyond. Don’t stay too long, though. The Beyond is unpredictable and may retreat again.

Edited by Aelwyn
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I totally agree that the zones of thought would be a great setting and I love your plot ideas. I think the zones are at least as interesting as Niven's Known Universe and Banks' Culture. I loved all of the politics and mystery of the powers, the blight and the challenges of navigating the zones. I just wish Vernor Vinge had spent more time exploring that universe in later books (as opposed to the Tines).

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I agree strongly, Jae... the Beyond is a BIG universe with a lot of potential, and Vinge just scratched the surface with the one book. I haven't read the others in the series, but I believe Children of the Sky focuses only on Tines World and a Deepening in the Sky is a prequel that occurs mostly in the Slow Zone.

I love Vinge's aliens. So completely non-human, and yet they have all the personality traits, quirks, and failings that make human beings great and horrible. 

Stats coming...

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Tines are native to Tines World, but they’ve recently been contacted by employees of the Vrinimi Organization. Tines World had reached a medieval/low Renaissance level of development at the time of contact: crossbows, metallurgy, stone architecture, ceramics, primitive flamethrowers using raw petroleum, early refracting telescopes.

Tines are highly intelligent and adaptable and in the opinion of the Vrinimi Organization are ready to be incorporated into the culture of the Beyond.

Tines World is at the bottom of the Beyond, subject to frequent incursions from the Slow Zone. Visitors may find themselves stranded.

Tines are similar in appearance to dogs or wolves of Old Earth, with longer necks and a drum-like organ on the tops of their heads, the fore-tympanum. The fore-tympanum produces low-frequency sound waves, which can be detected by a Tine’s shoulder tympanums. This allows for a form of telepathy or hive mind among a Tine pack. If the tympanum is damaged or destroyed, an individual Tine may be cut off from its pack and revert to being an animal. Tine fur is often black, white, or brown. Most individuals have some combination of the three colors. Tines have short, pointy teeth and reddish eyes.

Tines work very well with humans, as they are extremely similar to dogs, the animal that has the longest symbiotic relationship with humans. Tines are excellent vocal mimics and find it easy to learn languages that use sound as a medium and have approximately the same range as human speech. They also purr when in close contact with other beings, which humans find pleasant. Not all species may feel the same.

Humans seem extremely odd but amazing to Tines. There are no similar animals on Tines World. It is astonishing to Tines that humans can walk on two legs without falling over, and human hands appear to be paws with tentacles attached.

Tines always appear in packs of 4 to 6 individuals. Occasionally a larger pack may be encountered, and some Tine cultures may include an entire small island of up to 100 individuals acting as a single pack, but those cases are rare. A pack acts as a hive mind, with memories and perceptions shared by all individuals in the pack. The personality of the pack is an amalgam of the personalities of all of its members. If there isn’t a lot of integration, the pack may act as if it has multiple personalities, and the loss of one member can drastically change the personality of the pack. Most packs are well-integrated, however, and are able to lose a member or integrate a new one without a lot of damage to the personality of the pack. In fact, new members, including pups, can sometimes reinvigorate a pack, bringing new skills, ideas, and personality traits into the group.

Tines use their mouths to manipulate objects, and a Tine pack is able to work in concert to do extremely difficult tasks requiring a lot of coordination. However, they may find tools designed for other species, such as small keys or buttons, difficult to use.

In combat, Tines use metal enhancements to their claws, which is where they got their species name. (Tines themselves do not use the term—they refer to their claw enhancements as “battle axes” and like many species, they think of themselves as “people” and others as “aliens.”)

Tines are devastating in hand-to-hand combat, with the pack quickly surrounding and attacking a target, gaining the advantage of attacking from behind. Tines are also excellent with missile weapons, with one member holding a crossbow, another firing it, and the other members looking at the target from different angles.

However, battles with lots of Tine packs involved tend to be bloody, confusing messes, as packs get mixed and confused and turn on themselves. It is recommended that any military platoon consisting of mixed species have exactly two Tine packs, and that the packs stay away from each other unless one of the packs loses members. If one of the packs loses enough members to become mindless, its members can be incorporated into the other pack.

If two or more Tine packs come into tympanum range, each pack must make an Idea roll every time it takes an action. A 95-00 always fails, regardless of the INT of the pack.

Many Tines are excellent sailors. Their boats are generally small sailboats built for a single pack or with outriggers for extra packs that need to be separated from the pilot.

The Tines sense of smell is not as great as that of a dog from Old Earth, but they have good vision, and since every pack has four to six sets of eyes that can turn in different directions, they make excellent guards, soldiers, artillery spotters, and nannies.

Some Tine packs are centuries old, with their memories going back through previous members, long dead. Such packs are known as Pilgrims. On Tines World, they are often wandering adventurers, though they may also be highly regarded sages or political figures. Such a pack might be able to recall almost anything with a successful Know roll, though of course it would not know anything that the pack had never experienced, such as the weather on a planet it had never been to. It is difficult to remember more than a few centuries back.

A Tine pack is in effect a single individual; players choosing to play a Tine character should be allowed to play the entire pack.

STR, CON, SIZ, DEX, and APP listed are for an individual pack member; INT, POW, and EDU are for the entire pack. If a pack member dies or is incapacitated, the pack retains the same INT, POW, and EDU, unless it falls below four members. At three members, a pack becomes confused, and its INT, POW, and EDU are divided in half, minimum of 5. All actions require a successful Idea roll at the lowered INT. At two members, a pack becomes animalistic, with INT, POW, and EDU divided by 3, minimum of 5. At one member, a pack becomes a singleton. The Tine is now an animal with an INT and POW of 5 and an EDU of 0. It can hunt, feed itself, seek shelter, and it can seek out other Tine packs and beg to become a member. However, Tine packs are often resistant to incorporating new members, and a Tine pack can usually easily fight off a singleton.

Packs have 1D3+3 members.

STR 2D6+1 (member)

CON 3D6 (member)

SIZ 1D6+2 (member)

INT 2D6+9 (pack)

POW 2D6+9 (pack)

DEX 2D6+6 (member)

APP 3D6 (member)

EDU 2D6+12 (pack)

Weapon: Battle-axe/Tine (similar to the Claw weapon in BRP) 1D4 + 1

Skills: Pilot (Watercraft), Crossbow, Claw, Bite, Dodge, First Aid, Teach, Appraise, Repair (various), Art, Craft, Language (high-talk), Command, Strategy, Knowledge, Spot, Sense, Insight, Stealth, Track

Once the Tines have been incorporated into the culture of the Beyond, Tines characters might have more advanced skills, such as Energy Weapon or Pilot (Starship). A Tine pack would make an excellent Artillery crew, with two or three members operating the weapon and one or two members as spotters. Likewise, they would make an excellent crew for a small starship built specifically for a Tine pack, although such a ship would have to be custom-made and would likely be expensive.

Hit Locations

1-2 Right hind-leg 1/4 total HP

3-4 Left hind-leg 1/4 total HP

5-7 Hindquarters 2/5 total HP

8-10 Forequarters 2/5 total HP

11-13 Right fore-leg 1/4 total HP

14-16 Left fore-leg 1/4 total HP

17-19 Head 1/3 total HP

20 Typanum 1/5 total HP*

*Damage to the tympanum can cause the member to lose contact with the pack and become confused

Edited by Aelwyn
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Greater Skroderiders

Skroderiders are intelligent plants that evolved from beach-dwelling, fern-like trees. An ancient race gifted them with the Skrodes, 120 cm x 150 cm wheeled carts with enough computing power to raise their intelligence to nearly human levels. Skroderiders have a symbiotic relationship with their Skrodes. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to call them plant cyborgs.

Although they have reasonably high intelligence, Skroderiders often have to pause to think while they access data on their Skrode. At a critical moment of decision, or if asked a complicated question, at the GM’s discretion, a Skroderider character may have to make an Idea roll. Failing the Idea roll will not prevent them from answering or making a decision, but it will cause the Skroderider to pause while it consults its Skrode.

Skroderiders often decorate their Skrodes with decals, scarves, flags, pennants, and tassels.

Primarily traders and merchants, Greater Skroderiders also make good mechanics, engineers, programmers, medics, and diplomats. Their fronds are delicate and make a soft rustling sound when they speak through their voders. Because of their indecisiveness, it is not recommended that they be put in a combat position or be made a pilot of a starship likely to be involved in a chase. However, they are exceptionally brave and may sacrifice themselves for others, even members of other species.



SIZ 1D6+2


POW 2D6+9

DEX 2D6+3


EDU 2D6+9

Skills: Appraise, Bargain, Etiquette, Persuade, Repair (Mechanical, Electrical, Electronic, Jump Drive, Quantum), First Aid, Medicine, Pilot (Starship), Navigate (Space), Fine Manipulation, Language (Triskweline, numerous others), Computer Programming, Listen, Research, Science (various), Sense, Stealth, Technical Skill (various)

Mutation: Hardy (Major): Because they are plants, Skroderiders can continue to perform actions unhindered until they reach negative hit points equal to their CON characteristic. Minor wounds do not require them to make a POW x 4; and they do not fall into shock as a result of major wounds. Once they reach hit points equal to their CON characteristic, they will die unless healed back to positive hit points within 5 minutes.

Hit Locations

1-10 Rider 2/3 of HP

11-20 Skrode 2 point armor metal casing, 2/3 of HP

Edited by Aelwyn
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Vrinimi are large insectoids whose skin ranges from pale, grub-like flesh to hard, translucent chitin. They also have internal chitin that supports their body just like a skeleton. A Vrinimi somewhat resembles a tall grasshopper standing upright, with mouth parts and large, human-like arms. From far away they appear to be vaguely humanoid. They have large compound eyes with several eye-freckles on each eye that perform approximately the same function as the human iris.

Vrinimi are polite and formal. They are often found in leadership positions. They make excellent diplomats and traders.

The Vrinimi are an old, well-established race in the Beyond. The Vrinimi Organization runs the Relay station, which sees an immense amount of Net traffic. It also acts as a communications outpost between the Beyond and the Transcend. It is also involved in trade, particularly of information, data repositories, and ancient artifacts.

STR 3D6+2


SIZ 2D6+10

INT 2D6+10




EDU 2D6+12

Armor: 2-point chitin

Skills: Appraise, Etiquette, Persuade, Insight, Language (numerous), Computer Programming, Listen, Research, Science (various), Sense, Technical Skill (various), Strategy, Command

Hit Locations: Use hit locations and hit points for humanoid characters.

Edited by Aelwyn
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