Wikipedia defines Space Opera as “a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced technologies and abilities. […] Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale”.
Indeed, Agora is a game of space battles, interstellar intrigue, kings, emperors and dictators, air locks and blaster burns, a galaxy-wide Faith, an Imperial Navy, and naturally, an autonomous and self sufficient space station parked in the middle of nowhere.
The above is the introductory section for Agora, a space opera setting for Eero Tuovinen’s Solar System rules set, as based off of The Shadow of Yesterday, by Clinton R. Nixon.
In addition to the obvious Babylon 5 inspiration, Agora drinks from many sources, ranging from the strictly historic, like ancient Rome or the Spanish Inquisition, to the most outlandish science fiction franchises, like Star Wars and Star Trek. References will be obvious throughout this text, and the authors make no claim to the referenced material.
Agora was developed by Gonçalo Cardoso Dias, Diogo Curado, Luis Figueira and myself. Originally, we were going to license it under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Portugal license, but then this happened, so we’re not. Instead, we’re going to get it illustrated and published as both a PDF and a print-on-demand book, and sell it. All the proceeds will go to a charity in Gonçalo’s name.
We think it’s a fitting memorial.
In any case, I’d like to show some writing samples, stuff that’ll give a feeling of where we went with it.
Culture Description Example – Tholians
“Every once in a while, two independent planets would start some war. In came the Tholians, to ‘enforce the peace’, or ‘protect the civilians’. Five years later, both planets’ navies would be wiped out, and both planets would have become shiny new provinces in the Empire. Everyone thinks the Terran Federation was born out of some lofty ideal of peace and prosperity. The truth is that the first version of the Articles of Federation was really nothing more than some obscure and intricate means to protect the rights of independent planets to wage war on each other. It’s absurd!
- Rear Admiral Dejean Togo, Agora garrison commander, retired
Peace Through Strength
Thole is a small but incredibly rich planet and was once a central hub for one of the Trade Unions that collapsed during the period known as the Second Shattering. Made wealthy and prosperous by merit of their abundant and easily extracted natural resources, the Tholians built a culture centered on art and philosophical thought.
When their corporate shelter disappeared, however, they were left to fend for themselves. Possessing no military to speak of, they were quickly annexed and enslaved by a nearby feudal kingdom. The Tholians spent many years fighting to keep their customs and culture intact under the yoke of their savage rulers. When they realized that things were never going back to what they were, the once creative and peaceful Tholians turn their minds to rebellion and war.
For years, the conquerors held their ground, but seeing their achievements disappear under the blast of pipe bombs and army boots did nothing but harden the Tholian hearts and minds. They expelled the invaders from their home world, and in the process, suddenly realized that the galaxy was in shambles, with warlord kings run amok and mega-corporations intent on blind expansion and annexation. The enemy was defeated, but they would surely return with even greater force. Even if they didn’t, sooner or later, others were bound to come. So, the Tholians rapidly adapted the technology left behind by the invaders and launched themselves into space.
Setting Description Example – Agora
“Most people that come to Agora are well travelled. They’ve already seen the biggest space stations, the most cosmopolitan capitals, the richest markets in the galaxy. Still, the jaw gape and eye pop of a first time visitor tells it all. Nothing can prepare you for having the whole of galactic culture distilled to its very essence and literally smashed into your face as you step through the Customs air lock! It’s an unforgettable feeling.
- Grada Volvat, Tholian cruiser captain
The Deep Space Habitat is a huge self-sufficient space station capable of housing several hundred thousand people, and a permanent home to nearly fifty thousand souls. Its central decks are under the purview of the Agora government itself and are where most of the businesses and meeting halls are located. Directly below it, the customs deck provides universal access to the station, whether from the common docs or from the surrounding private docks, actually owned by the governments of each of the nations.
All around the central decks, the national wings house the various national delegations. Each of the main noble houses of Gemmel has quarters there, as do the various regiments and fleets of the Tholian imperial navy, the various departments and divisions of the Aryes Trade Union, and the various political parties of the Terran Federation. Only the Sartorian Expanse presents a completely unified front in Agora, backed by Faith and holy scripture.
Above the central decks stand the hydroponics farms, the automated factories and the energy plants that provide power and sustenance for the people on board, and above that, the huge panoramic decks and ceremonial ball rooms provide visions of rare beauty and a perspective of the galaxy as a whole.
Subsystem Example – Psionics
The Psionics subsystem is based on one ability, Psionics, and on a large number of Secrets and Techniques. A Technique is exactly the same as a Secret.
Ability: Psionics – Used to roll the various psionic techniques listed below. Unless otherwise noted, use of this ability requires close interaction with the target, like a conversation, a touch, dancing in the same group on a dance floor, sitting at the same game table, etc… After the technique is used, the target will generally be aware of what was done to them, but not necessarily by whom. Psionics is opposed by Resist.
Secret of Psionic Aptitude – The character has a Psionic Pool. This Pool never refreshes on its own. Refreshing it requires the use of Secret of Meditation. When buying this Secret, the Pool starts at 1, but can be improved normally, as per the standard Solar System rules. For the techniques and secrets below, the shorthand PP means Points of Psionic Pool.
Secret of Meditation – The character can meditate for a few hours, in a quiet, secluded place. After the meditation, the character can transfer points from the Default Pool to the Psionic Pool.
Technique: Telepathy – The character can open a mental link with another character and communicate through it. Any thoughts voluntarily injected into the link by either character are automatically available to the other character.
Cost: 1 PP.
Technique: Influence – The character can shift the target’s feelings towards a simple emotion, in order to gain advantage or impose disadvantage in a specific manner. This shift lasts for one scene.
Cost: 2 PP per bonus die; 3 PP per penalty die.
Technique: Mind Reader – The character can read one specific memory or thought from the target.
Cost: 2 PP.
Technique: Mind Drain – The character can inflict Harm on the target.
Cost: PP equal to the level of Harm.
Technique: Eyes and Ears – The character can sense all that the target can sense.
Cost: 2 PP.
Specific Crunch Example – The Inquisitor
An Inquisitor is a high-ranking member of the Sartorian Expanse religious authority.
Ability: Torture – Use of Torture requires a subdued subject. It is opposed with Endure or Resist at the choice of the Inquisitor, depending on whether physical or psychological torture is employed. A successful roll has two effects: the subject suffers Harm equal to the result of the roll, and the torturer can create an Effect useable at any time any piece of information or position assumed by the subject would be relevant. The nature of this information or position must be specified before rolling. The Effect must be paid for with one point of Default, as per the standard Solar System rules for Effects.
Secret of Religious Training – This Secret counts as Secret of Religious Upbringing and Secret of Training for Pray.
Secret of Righteous Presence – The character has two bonus dice in Intimidation and Torture against characters with a Faith Pool, and can use Intimidation instead of Sway against characters with a Faith Pool.
Secret of the Weight of the Faithful – Impose two penalty dice on any roll made against the Inquisitor by a character that knows what the Inquisitor is, provided the situation has not already escalated to actual violence.
Note: Torture is always considered violence.
Note: Most people, even the non-faithful know who the Inquisitors are in any given area.
Cost: 6 Default.
Key of Justice – The character is dedicated to upholding faith and righteousness by any means necessary.
1xp: The character questions someone in the name of the church.
3xp: The character tortures someone or has someone punished for their sins.
Buyoff: Forgive a sinner for their sins.
Character Creation Excerpt
Instead of the default Solar System rules for character creation, Agora characters should use the following variant rules:
Basics – All Agora characters belong to one Race and one Culture. If their Culture has one, characters may or may not belong to a Background.
Abilities – All characters start with the following Abilities:
- Their racial Ability.
- One cultural Ability.
- Three other open or cultural abilities.
- Of the above, one starts at Expert (2) and the other four at Competent (1).
Passive Abilities – All characters start with the following Passive Abilities:
- Endure, Resist and React.
- Of the above, one starts at Expert (2) one at Competent (1), and one at Mediocre (0).
Secrets – Characters without a Background start with three Secrets. Characters with a Background start with two Secrets.
Pools – Characters start with the following Pool values:
- The Default Pool starts at 10.
- The Money Pool starts depleted at 1.
- The Combat Pool starts at 2.
- (The Psionic and Faith Pools must be purchased via their respective Secrets. The Hacking Pool is dynamic and must be determined via a roll each time it is needed.)
Keys – Characters start with one Key.
There, that should give everyone a feel for what we’ve accomplished. We’re quite happy with it.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll post here about our quest for illustrators and about whatever publishing details we come up with.
In the meantime, Go Play!