- Published: 26 March 2020
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Once considered the crown jewel of the sector, Prospero was a world of peace and serenity where refuge and wisdom were sought in equal measure. Now, under the Shohan, it has become a training camp for their infiltration teams, and a grim parody of life in the Terran Sphere, with brutal undercurrents. The occupation is fueling a vein of righteous anger that threatens to explode as a new, unpredictable tempest.
The Bard System
Bard is a binary system and shows signs of some trauma in its distant past, although no concrete theories have been proposed that take all of the facts into consideration. The primary star, Bard A, is a yellow G-type star, larger than the sun. It possesses 9 planets, equally divided by two asteroid belts into sets of three worlds. By convention, each set is known as a Folio.
The first folio contains: Puck, a tiny little world whose orbit is an incredible 70 degrees off the orbital plane of the system. Its highly elliptical orbit swings it from being the closest planet to Bard A to second place at its furthest point. Portia, normally the second world from the star is far more conventional; a dry terrestrial world with a nitrogen-methane atmosphere. The world is routinely considered for a Gaian terraforming project, but every negotiation on the matter has broken down. Finally, Prospero, the only life bearing world in the system. Prospero supports two tiny moons: Miranda, the closer of the two, and Ferdinand the larger moon, which appears smaller from the surface due to its distance from Prospero. Ferdinand is a captured body in a retrograde orbit. On some nights the two moons seem to approach one another from opposite ends of the sky in an event known as the lover’s kiss. The planet’s surface is dotted with five continents, with most of the settlements on the continent of Ariel, which stretches across the equator to the mid northern and southern latitudes
Past Prospero lies the asteroid belt that demarcates the first and second folios from each other. This asteroid belt, informally known as the First Binding, was the sight of most of the system’s heavier mining industry. Its relative closeness to Prospero enabled freighters to make transits between the belt’s refineries and the beanstalks of the colony.
Opening the second folio is the double planet system of Romeo and Juliet. The two planets are both smaller than Mars. It is estimated that in another few hundred million years or so the two planets will finally collide with one another. The presence of the Star-crossed Lovers, as they’re collectively called, and their eventual fate inspired the naming theme for the system. The last planet in this folio is Viola, the smallest of the gas giants in the system, akin to Uranus or Neptune in mass and size. The planet has a spectacular ring system, likely the result of a collision between a stray asteroid and a now defunct moon. Before the occupation, Port Illyria in orbit around Viola was one of the major transit stations in the system, its lighthouse array pushing light luggers in system or catching outbound ones.
The asteroid belt officially known as the Second Binding, and by cautious spacefarers as Iago’s Belt, for the hazards it poses. It is a far more ragged structure than the First Binding. Perturbed by the gravity of two giants to either side, there are gaps where asteroids have been swept away, clusters where they swarm and a thousand or more rocks in retrograde orbits. Ships transiting through the belt are well advised to keep a close eye on scanners. Compounding the problem is Macbe - The Scottish Planet. (The old theater superstition has carried over to the planetary namesake.) The largest of the gas giants in orbit around Bard A, the planet sits firmly on the grav limit for the system. The Jovian glitch caused by its gravity well has been the bane of many a captain forced to burn extra fuel after being caught up in it. Port Birnam, the station responsible for servicing the area, was known to have the highest refueling costs in the sector. Finally, the two remaining gas giants are Lear and Othello. Both of which have highly eccentric orbits. Most astronomers speculated that they were disrupted by the capture of Bard B before settling into their current orbits.
Bard B, the companion star, is a larger red dwarf. Although it is orbited by only one planet, Hamlet, that world is a monstrous Super Jovian. Its planetary system is extremely complex with over 60 major moons, many in unusual orbits and many extremely large, even given the great size of Hamlet. The prevailing theory is that the giant swept up a number of planets during its formation around Bard B, and then again, swept up a number of outer system bodies when its star was captured by Bard A. The complex orbital dynamics made it a popular site for starship rallies. Today the stations all lie abandoned.
Settlement And History
Prospero was the first inhabited world in the sector. Technically, the world was settled before the start of the Colonial War, as the first settlers arrived the year before the outbreak of the war. They decided to evacuate shortly after the Chinese incursion at Alpha Centauri and the colony remained abandoned for its entirety. It was not long after the Treaty of Mars was signed that many of those same settlers returned to restart their colony.
There are many reasons why Prospero was such an attractive candidate for colonization: proximity to the nucleus of the newly formed Terran Sphere, agreeable climate, and high biocompatibility with terrestrial life are among them. The truth of the matter is that Prospero is special. Most would consider it to be among the most beautiful worlds in the Terran Sphere, with lush green vegetation, bright azure skies, and a brilliant yellow sun. The world seems saturated in color. But this is not the true reason for the world’s appeal. Instead the world is home to what is known as the Prospero Effect. A sense of tranquility seems to pervade the air here. Those on planet report higher levels of contentedness and peace of mind than elsewhere in the Terran Sphere. The effect isn’t only psychological. Other studies have confirmed that Psionics recover faster from using their arts, and injuries heal faster at a small but statistically significant rate. Despite many studies documenting its effects, no one is quite sure of the cause.
Thanks to the Prospero Effect, the colony has gained a reputation as a retreat for the wounded, or simply those seeking something higher in their lives. Several branches of Ascendantism consider the world to be sacred including the Tóngxīnfǎ (Corebook, p101), which became a sizable minority on the planet prior to the War. Alongside the retreats, shrines, and temples that beckon to pilgrims, the Altaira Academy was considered an elite school for the Psionic arts. There were also a number of cutting edge medical complexes, including a TSN facility, that leveraged the unique circumstances of the planet for the benefit of their patients.
There are some enclaves scattered throughout the countryside to support the pilgrims and other seekers that make their way to the planet. Most of the population had settled in and around Cape Nielsen, with the city of the same name serving as the capital of the colony. The sprawling town hugs the coastline of the cape; meandering down to the beanstalk footing at its southern tip. Nearest to the Beanstalk footing is the area known as South Port. The district is the industrial section of the city, home to heavier fabrication shops and transient housing for business and other temporary visitors. Above South Port, on the eastern inner edge of the Cape is the neighborhood of Bayside. Considered one of the cultural centers of the city; it hosts various marinas, boardwalks and public beaches. The outer edge of the cape has been set aside for Ocean Dunes Park, a natural preserve overlooked by various residential high rises. Continuing north is the city’s Chinatown. Although exclusive ethnic enclaves are rarer on Colonial worlds, Cape Nielsen’s community was founded by refugees from areas of China devastated by the Bombardment who wanted to preserve their cultural identity. Many of the first Tóngxīnfǎ shrines were raised here, and the community was important to this branch of Ascendantism. Finally, in the hills overlooking the Cape is Carpentier Heights. Often called simply “The Heights”, various hospital complexes, treatment centers, and laboratories that make up the heart of the medical community on the planet are interspersed in the suburban neighborhoods that dot the hills.
The city was a beacon of the visual arts, whether it was Ascendant iconography, avant garde galleries, or the murals and graffiti that dot the cityscape. Many prominent artists of the Terran Sphere have lived or worked here since its founding. The celebrated artist Marcos Li remarked: “I could have watched the waves breaking on a dozen different worlds, but when looking out across the ocean here, I was compelled to stay and tell the story of those waves. I’ve never looked back since that moment.” Although the visual arts were always at the head of the table in Cape Nielsen, other artists always flowed through the city like the waters of the bay, seeking their own insights; poets and playwrights, musicians and mystics, all looking for a whiff of inspiration in Prospero’s air. It’s understandable then that while the planet was largely evacuated prior to falling into the hands of the Shohan, its loss was second only to the defeat at Artemis III as a blow the Terran Sphere’s morale. Indeed, the final battle there strained its defenders past the breaking point.
Sword of the Xan
As it became clear that the Terran Sphere would have to yield yet another world to the Shohan, the Bard defense force and part of the TSN fleet refused the order to retreat. On open comms, Commodore Gerard Clairvaux, highest ranked surviving officer of the defense force, berated the retreating squadrons in stark religious tones for its constant cowardice, then rallied forces into a headlong charge against the Shohan forces. It was the last sight that retreating ships had of their erstwhile brethren. Almost all believed that Clairvaux charge, glorious though it might have been, could only have led to their deaths.
Despite appearances, the breakaway force did not die that day. Clairvaux adroitly lead his ships on a fast run through the Shohan forces, to the Grav Limit, and deeper into Shohan controlled territory. However, Commodore Clairvaux feinted yet again and ordered his ships to crash their waves in deep space before reaching the nearest star and backtracked, bringing them to Bard B and Hamlet’s moon Claudius.
As the ships settled into orbit around the moon, Clairvaux revealed that he had received what he believed was a message from the Xan, showing him how to track the Shohan using a Prophetic Net: a method utilizing multiple prophetic attunements inside a concordance where the gaps in the vision reveal the Shohan’s location. In the year since their separation from the Terran Sphere fleet, this technique has allowed them to stay one step ahead of the Shohan. Its success has helped solidify Clairvaux’s vision of Tóngxīnfǎ Ascendantism among the ship crews and raised his standing to nigh living saint status. Long Concordances, sometimes lasting entire shifts and involving an entire ship’s crew, are now commonplace and their fervor only grows day by day.
Functionally, the Long Concordance is a rank 3 telepathic attunement. During a Long Concordance, prophetic visions are able to reverberate and be shared through the members, allowing them to be seen from multiple perspectives. While they can't directly see the Shohan's actions behind their force fields, they're better able to see the shape of the reactions. As a result, the resulting Clairvoyance tag can be condemned and consequenced against Shohan targets. This ability only lasts as long as the Concordance is maintained and costs 1 point of strain from the Concordance per Clairvoyance roll, multiplied by the resulting Tag’s rank. There are side effects, however. Chief among them Telepathy Induced Dissociative Disorder. TTID is a rare diagnosis in most of the Terran Sphere, usually linked to those without psionic training - or not enough training - who spend a great deal of time in high-level psionic attunements. It is believed that these individuals become used to the presence of other thoughts alongside their own, and become incredibly anxious, uncomfortable, and even panic-stricken when not in such an attunement. Affected individuals will retreat from their own identities, sometimes refusing to answer to their name, or attempt in a to mimic the Concordance through behaviors such as conversing with themselves. After the first several documented cases, the Xan Academy started researching ways to combat and prevent the phenomenon. Common treatments recommend extremely individualistic endeavors, such as art, to reinforce the notion of the self. The disorder may be taken as a Wound Tag by non-Psionic individuals who spend long periods of time in Concordances, especially during combat.
The Sword Of Xan may be ever unified in their faith, but their ships are a motley. The battle line’s backbone is a small squadron (4 ships) of Intrepid class frigates. This is supplemented by a variety of cruisers and lighter craft that they’ve been able to salvage from other systems. Many are System Defense Craft: the Pocket Cruisers that were the TSN’s bane. These ships lack gravitic drives, therefore the Sword has outfitted a recovered freighter to act as a Carrier, although it is by far their most vulnerable warship. The core of their support staff are a few big Locust Industrial ships that were discovered trying to escape from the Shohan occupied systems before the Shohan caught up to them. Most of the original crews are still on them. For many the relief they felt when the Sword’s ships first offered to escort them to sanctuary has soured as they have been forced to remain at Claudius with their ships commandeered by the Sword for their own ends.
The Sword does not have access to the Plasma weaponry designs that the Terran Sphere has developed. Instead, their engineers have kitbashed together scavenged drive systems to mount on their ships. The modified ships can use the Turn and Burn maneuver at Standard rather than Hard challenge rating but Step up the difficulty of the ship’s Evasion Roll next turn and uses 2 units of Fuel for each turn that they do so. Most of the modified ships are the System Defense Craft, their most expendable units while the heavier combat craft hammer away at any ship whose force fields have been breached.
By far the most important project the Sword has undertaken is Project Vigil. The name is a reference to the Vigil of St. Gereon, when he was lost in the Void and the Xan appeared to him. Some of the most skilled psionics of the Sword set out astrally into the void, making the journey from Claudius to their homeworld of Prospero. For most Psionics, travel across the vast void of space between worlds would be unthinkable. With no frame of reference to ground themselves, they quickly lose their way. Go too far and the line back to their bodies can weaken, leaving a Psionic lost, all alone in darkness and starlight. One Psionic who was fortunate to escape such circumstances likened it to being trapped in an avalanche and not knowing which way was up or how to escape. The psionics of the Sword who undertake the Vigil, christened Spirit Walkers, have an advantage. They can hear the faint call of Prospero, even out as far as Claudius, and can drift towards its call. Even so, it is a long, lonely, and dangerous journey.
Occupation: The Inside Out Room
The breaking of the Terran Forces at Prospero fell was made more shocking by how smoothly the evacuation had gone. When it became evident that the Shohan were going to advance towards Bard, the population of Prospero was able to evacuate in good order. Most hoped they would be able to return to their beloved home. As such, the colony’s infrastructure was shut down safely. Even the beanstalks were left in maintenance mode, in the slim hope that the Shohan would leave their beloved home unmolested once they saw the colony was abandoned. Instead, the Shohan saw an opportunity.
As the Sword watched from their outpost on Claudius, they saw Shohan escorting transport after transport, all of Terran make, to the planet. The determination to discover the Shohan’s plans for their beloved homeworld helped inspire Project Vigil. When the first Spirit Walkers finally made their pilgrimage across the void to Propero, they found the empty streets of Cape Nielsen filled once more. On the surface, Cape Nielsen seems to be any colonial town in the Terran Sphere. People work, go to cafes, take the train back to their apartments. In other words, they go about their lives. Of course, this is far from the truth.
When the Shohan saw the empty city spread out before them, they saw an opportunity to change strategy. Throughout their conquest, they had swept up small outposts, fleeing starships, and other odds and ends of humanity along with the various colonial worlds. Originally, most of these individuals were sent to the nearest occupied system to share in the fates of those colonists, assuming they didn’t disappear for other purposes in transit. With the capture of Prospero, the Shohan begin to route these miscellaneous prisoners to this world, settling them in the empty city.
As the population swells, the Shohan, under a midrank overseer by the name of Eira, have turned it into a parody of the Terran Sphere. While on the surface everything is normal, in reality, every single aspect of life in Cape Nielsen is monitored by the Shohan. Dissidence is dealt with swiftly and without remorse. The Spirit Walkers have deduced that the occupation runs on some sort of points system. Those who cooperate with the Shohan’s instructions earn points, which can lead to relaxed restrictions, extra rations, even some light privileges. Those who cause headaches for the Shohan, even minor ones, lose points. Loss of all of one’s points earns a one way trip to the Heights. Those who are taken there are not seen again, though what exactly the Shohan are doing with the prisoners is the subject of much speculation.
It’s this points system that enterprising prisoners try to game in order to orchestrate an escape. Unlike some other occupied worlds, there is not much of an organized resistance, as any such large gatherings tend to be noticed and rapidly dispersed, often with several trips to the Heights. Those who manage to escape often attempt to take refuge in various places away from the eyes of the Shohan. Difficult due to the constant orbital surveillance, but not impossible. Those inclined to escape the boot of the Shohan have found options: the dense forest/jungle cover, natural cave systems, or some of the more remote monasteries. Much care is needed in attempting to escape. The natural inclination is to gather points to gain privilege, which can then be turned into supplies that can be used to attempt escape, and/or survive off the land once out. However, with too many points comes increased responsibility and attention from the Shohan. Too few points, and risk getting harassed on a regular basis.
But perhaps the most cruel part of the occupation is the goal the Shohan had in re-establishing a human community, even if it is a mockery of the colony that once thrived here. Ultimately, this prison-stage provides a place for SOAP teams (Deployment Companion, p15) to hone their ability to blend in and pass as humans. It is unknown how many infiltrators-in-training have slipped into the human population, but what is known is that those who notice and speak of it soon find themselves taken away to the Heights.
For the Spirit Walkers holding vigil on the planet, there is little they can do directly when they are so far from the source of their powers. Instead, they attempt to subtly nudge things in the right direction when action is called for. Most have begun to use their telepathy and clairvoyance to make contact with the local populace to offer guidance and comfort, gaining new adherents for the Swords’ Vision in the process. The Shohan have not yet caught wind of this religious awakening among their captives. No one is sure what their reaction would be, but few within the Sword would expect it to be anything but the harshest of countermeasures. They are surprisingly wrong. Overseer Eira - should she ever discover the underground religious movement - would see it as the greatest test of her infiltrators’ abilities yet, hoping that one among their number might be able to find the whereabouts of the Sword and remove a thorn from the side of the Shohan forces in the sector. Despite her knowledge of the Terran Sphere, Eira would likely underestimate the importance that Psionics play in the Sword, leaving her infiltrators far on the fringes of the movement as they dare not risk entering the Concordances that form the backbone of Ascendant worship. From this position it would take all of their skills in subversion to gain any truly useful intelligence, but Overseer Eira is willing to be patient given the potential prize.
Battlefield: The Tempest (GM Information)
Bringing a battle fleet into Bard is difficult. Even when the Scottish planet is in a favorable position, ships must carefully transit the outer binding. Barring a rare planetary conjunction, they must then make a naked dash across the second folio and transit the inner binding to reach Prospero.
For raiders and spies, the system is quite favorable. The bindings which hinder a fleet formation offer individual ships excellent cover, either to evade pursuit or to sneak in system. Patient captains may arrange starfall to occur on the opposite side of the sun from Prospero, move into the inner binding, and then ride an asteroid for several months until they are quite close to the planet. Raiders can use the asteroids, particularly the outer binding, to stage ambushes. The mix of standard and retrograde rocks in Iago’s belt even allow for an ambush from both sides, provided the enemy can be lured into the correct position. For Terran Sphere planners, mostly unaware of the planet’s value to the Shohan, a raid against Prospero is a perfect opportunity to weaken Shohan forces in the system and divert resources from more important targets, such as Fort New Detroit and Diyu. It is unlikely that the Fleet will gather significant forces for the raid, preferring a fast strike in and out. Just enough to rattle the Shohan. The flip side to this is the potential for the PCs in a game to hold senior positions in the force, and to have a chance to truly step onto center stage.
MacBeth’s glitch in the grav limit dictates arrivals to some degree. Ships arriving near it revert early, and thus burn more fuel to pass by. Conversely, Macbeth is an obstacle for any ship retreating past it. The Shohan have revived their long disused grav wave calculations to understand why, and so do not expect to receive Terran probes from certain stars while Macbeth is in the way.
Unfortunately for the Terran Sphere, that is likely the only advantage they receive. While the colony appears only lightly defended to scouts, this is a bluff. Overseer Eira is well aware of reports of ships operating behind enemy lines and has moved most of the forces designated to protect her system into deep space, awaiting the moment that an unwary force makes its way towards Prospero. Her plan has never been sprung, in part because the Sword’s forces have been in position long enough to spot the outlying forces. Reconnaissance from the Terran Sphere does not have this luxury of time. Additionally, thanks to her oversight of the infiltrator teams, Overseer Eira is extremely well versed in the capabilities of Terran Sphere technology and its naval doctrine, which provides her with an unexpected edge in countering the invading force’s moves. For player characters that encounter her, they should feel almost like she’s using clairvoyance to guess their moves as the Shohan forces react to the fleet.
There’s still one more player that needs to make their grand entrance: the Sword.
Having raided and spied upon Bard for years, the Sword’s routines are broken by a clairvoyant vision; the TSN will soon raid Prospero in force and it will most likely be a disaster for them. Commodore Clairvaux intends to add his forces to the raid, hopefully turning the attack into a rout for the Shohan. The Sword fleet, in order to arrive with the maximum surprise, will make a sustained realspace burn from Bard B. Crossing the outer system with cold ships on a ballistic trajectory, they will slingshot around Macbeth to hopefully arrive just as the TSN engages. Executing their trademark burn maneuver in a high speed strafe will be difficult, but with the Shohan distracted by the TSN, Clairvaux believes it will be decisive. If the TSN does not show, their escape plan is to burn harder in system rather than brake for battle, slingshotting around the sun in order to reach the grav shore as soon as possible.
The TSN reaction to the arrival of the Sword’s force is mixed. On one hand, reinforcements are always welcome, especially in an operation that has rapidly gone downhill. On the other, the Sword barely acknowledges the TSN, going for close burn maneuvers that foul naval targeting solutions. From here there are several directions the battle could take. The Sword may fight to see the Shohan fleet decisively defeated before taking up orbit around Prospero, or, they may leave the Shohan fleet to the TSN while moving directly for the planet. The Sword moving to attack Prospero, with or without the Shohan defeated first, places the TSN in another quandary. The navy came here on a raid, and is not prepared to land troops on world. The Sword, on the contrary, is eager to retake the ground. When Commodore Clairvaux starts landing shuttles, does the TSN try to send down what marines they have? If Clairvaux compensates for his limited ground teams with selective or even indiscriminate orbital bombardment, does the navy intervene? Does the Commodore, fearful of the infiltrators hiding among the populace, order the entire colony purged to prevent them from spreading? In all of this, how do the fleet officers, at the limits of their orders and training, react? Are they willing to start a three way fight against their erstwhile fellows, or will they stand back to let the former Bard Defense Force reclaim their home by any means necessary?
After the battle, the Sword of the Xan’s legal status is a thorny issue, assuming they even stick around within the system. The former Bard Defense Force personnel disobeyed direct battlefield orders during the evacuation, and as such ought to be arrested pending court martial. They have also press ganged civilians into service, conducted illegal salvage, and occasionally stolen from TSN supply lines. Did Clairvaux’s heroic liberation of his homeworld earn him a reprieve, or has the brutality he ordered in the reconquest added to the charges against him? Either way, Clairvaux is unlikely to submit to the Terran Sphere authorities for a trial, nor would his people stand for it. It’s entirely likely that if pushed too far, the Sword will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Admiral Riley and the original Havenites, cutting a path out of the system through tightly stretched Terran Sphere forces back into occupied space. In this case they would be even more determined to wage their crusade against the fallen Shohan and infidel TSN alike.
For the Shohan infiltrators who have been training on the colony, its fall presents them with an ironic opportunity to slip into the Terran Sphere. Should the Terran Sphere regain possession of the colony from the Shohan and the Sword, it will have to develop some method to detect the infiltrators unless it wants to keep the entire colony on lock down. Such a situation is sure to displease both the newly liberated inmates and the dispossessed former inhabitants. Even with a lockdown, the Sword of the Xan or private smugglers may see a number of Prospero’s former residents at large in the Terran Sphere. All of this assumes that the Terran Sphere and the Sword carry the day, of course. With the raiding force’s unpreparedness and the lack of coordination between the two forces, it is entirely possible for the Shohan to drive them both from the system. In that case the ambitious Overseer Eira, once confined to a single system, may have won the standing she needs to ply her hand across the sector. Such would be a dangerous state of affairs for Terran Sphere, given the time and energy she’s devoted to learning everything she can about her human foes.
[This Rough Magic]
[Good Wombs Have Borne Bad Sons]