by André La Roche
Long ago, a collective made up of a dozen highly-evolved species, known as the Founders, seeded all other life across the universe—possibly even across the multiverse. Their influence is ubiquitous; their culture, however, is dispersed across ruins and locked in fragments of radically advanced technologies. Yet despite their reach and power, the Founders all seemed to venerate and fear some incomprehensible and greater power that lurked outside of most dimensions. In order to protect themselves (or perhaps master such enemies), they built powerful devices and edifices that are every bit as dangerous as they are potent.
Founder-Tech is a catchall term that applies to the items and artifacts left behind by the Founders. Despite coming in a variety of shapes and forms, it can almost always be identified by its biomechanical appearance and the thick black ichor it generates. Salvaged Founder-Tech has been responsible for nearly every major technological advancement—from remote sensor technology to teleportation, terraforming, and energy technologies. Founder-Tech, misused, has also been responsible for retroviral plagues, quantum destabilization, and temporal guerrilla warfare.
The Race for Founder-Tech
Eventually, the Founders disappeared, leaving behind their powerful tools. These tools can be found across the entire universe, in the unlikeliest of corners at the most surprising of times. Any time someone discovers a new piece of Founder-Tech, they trigger a goldrush as stakeholders from across the universe scour and salvage what they can from the discovery, reverse-engineering its secrets. Chaos reigns as societies across the galaxy leapfrog technological, political, and sociological advancements through secrets that would have stayed locked away for generations.
The Arch is an extremely powerful and volatile piece of Founder-Tech. It’s a mobile gateway portal across all possible times and space. Its appearance is biomechanical, resembling a ring of metallic tubes, internal organs, and jagged teeth. The Arch is well-known in the universe as a source of Founder-Tech. The Galactic Mercantile Confederacy’s (GMC) Code of Universal Trading allows the first discoverers of an Arch appearance to stake claim to all Founder-Tech items that emerge from the gateway. Since the Arch inevitably disappears to reappear somewhere else, these claims are fleeting, albeit highly lucrative occurrences.
Multi-Dimensional Gateway • Volatile and Unpredictable Coveted by Traders and Pirates Alike
Great (+4): Creating wormholes across time, space, and dimensions; causing chaos
Poor (-2): Sustaining stable wormhole connections
Countdown to Disappearance. Every time something or someone exits the Arch, the Arch takes a shift of stress. Consequences taken by the Arch cause it to bend reality around it such as Poisoned Oxygen or Slowed Time. Stress and consequences accrued by the Arch are not recovered normally at the end of a scene. Every time something or someone enters the Arch, the Arch recovers a shift of stress. If the Arch is ever taken out through accumulating stress, it disappears in a flash of destructive energy, appearing somewhere else across space, time, and reality, with all stress and consequences cleared.
Random Destination. Whenever something or someone enters the Arch, it exits at a random time and location on the other side.
Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Severe (6)
Front: The GSS Pandora
The GSS Pandora is a salvage and scientific exploration ship. Its captain recently learned that the Arch has reappeared within the solar system. The captain decided that the Pandora would be the first ship to lay claim to this appearance of the Arch and collect its spoils, and hopes to beat the neighboring Krulz Imperium to claim this particular Arch sighting. All the while, the Pandora is unaware that tachyon particles from a nearby red dwarf star are affecting the Arch in unpredictable and dangerous ways.
What Is a Front?
A front paces the plots and schemes of villains or the terrible doom awaiting the PCs if they don’t engage with the problems emerging within the setting. Think of a front like a train, hurtling down the tracks toward a brick wall, ready to smash through everything unless the PCs get in the way.
Each front features a countdown clock, a prescriptive and descriptive measure of both what will happen if the front is left unchecked and how much more time is left before the front is fully realized. If the front is ignored, you tick down each section of the clock until it reaches the doom that awaits the PCs (prescriptive); if something achieves a portion of the front’s future plans early, move the clock directly to that section (descriptive).
As the clock gets closer to midnight, the action becomes more elevated and the stakes become more dire. If the PCs can stop the front early, they may be able to avoid the worst of the consequences; waiting until the clock is nearly exhausted to intervene means that the front will have permanent effects on the setting even if the PCs manage to stop it.
The Pandora is, indeed, the first GMC-chartered ship to find its way to the Arch, and immediately sends an away team to the surface. What the Pandora hasn’t counted on, though, is that the nearby red dwarf star is emitting tachyon particles that have caused the already unstable Arch to malfunction. Worse yet, a Krulz Imperial Cruiser is also on the trail of the Arch. The Krulz have, at best, a relaxed relationship with the Code of Universal Trade, and are willing to usurp the Pandora’s claim to the Arch by any means necessary.
The Pandora away team, point-of-first-contact for the science ship
- Uthak, captain of the Krulz Imperial Cruiser
- Krulz away team of a dozen individuals
1500-1800: The Pandora’s sensors discover the Arch on a nearby planet. The captain rushes to claim the sighting before the Krulz Imperium and orders an away team to secure the site.
1800-2100: The Arch begins to visibly crackle with energy—something that’s never before been described. It releases a cloud of hallucinogenic gas onto the away team, causing them to fall unconscious and experience vivid dreams of their greatest desire. Any attempts to move affected individuals away from the Arch causes them to go into shock and their vital signs to plummet.
2100-2200: The Krulz Imperial Cruiser enters orbit looking for the Arch. They mean business and aren’t afraid of a little bloodshed. They send a transmission to the Pandora claiming the Arch and warning the Pandora against any resistance.
2200-2300: Captain Uthak of the Krulz personally leads an away team planetside to attempt to secure the Arch. They kill anyone who gets in the way of staking claim to the Arch. Meanwhile, scientists aboard the Pandora conclude that tachyons from the nearby red dwarf star are impacting the Arch’s functions in unpredictable ways.
2300-0000: The Pandora away team’s vitals show no signs of changing. Meanwhile, the Arch’s energy crackling grows wilder, and it begins to hum loudly. It produces a biomechanical monstrosity resembling an animated tangle of razor wire. It attacks all lifeforms around it. Later, the away team finally wakes up, sobbing and reporting that it felt like they were experiencing heaven while incapacitated. They can finally be moved away from the Arch without doing any harm.
0000: The Arch uncontrollably spews energy into its immediate vicinity. Captain Uthak panics and directs the Krulz to forcefully unmoor the Arch from its surroundings, causing an explosion. The Arch, and anyone within two-hundred meters of it—including the Krulz—disappear to an unknown place in space and time.
In addition to a countdown clock, fronts also contain a number of special rule revisions that focus play on the important themes of the setting.
Black Ichor: The Arch generates a black ichor that, when ingested, grants a mental connection to the Founders across time and space. Those who imbibe it gain a +2 to all overcome or create advantage rolls when attempting to understand Founder-Tech. However, consuming the ichor has a downside: the consumer grows more alien and Founder-like, their body slowly becoming a biomechanical monstrosity with a psychology distant and removed from the present temporal concerns of its current universe.
Arch Activity: In addition to the events described in the front, every two hours there’s a chance of Arch activity occurring. Roll four fate dice. Starting in the top-left corner, move one column right for each +, and one row down for each -. The result determines what, if anything, comes out of the Arch.
Fronts in Play
As events in the front tick down toward the 0000 doom, make sure the PCs are aware of the events. Depending on their position in the fiction, they are likely planetside at this point, but could possibly be aboard either the Pandora, the Krulz Imperial Cruiser, or another ship. Give them chances to interrupt and get mixed up in the plot!
Engaging the Arch
The Arch is a remnant of an older, more powerful, and more dangerous time and place. It connects those around it to an infinite number of dimensions. Its gifts are as often threatening and disturbing as they are beneficial. Any attempt at claiming spoils from the Arch should best be treated with caution and care.
The PCs might be representatives sent by the governing body of the GMC to further understand and catalogue the Arch’s function. As the appearance of the Arch can produce travelers from distant times and places, the GMC might have an official corps dedicated to integrating these travelers into their new place in the universe.
Examples: diplomats, scientists, Pandora crew members
Caught in the Crossfire
The PCs might have no connection to either the Pandora or the Krulz. They might have heard of the Arch’s whereabouts through other channels, or it might have appeared on top of their heads. For example, they might be the native inhabitants of the planet that the Arch appeared on, or a competing GMC trading ship.
Examples: other GMC space traders, planetary inhabitants, space pirates
The PCs might have encountered the Arch at a different time or place, and foolishly entered it, emerging into a new time and dimension. Depending upon where the PCs come from, the existence they’ve now entered could be similar to what they knew, or radically different. One thing’s for sure: the struggles to acclimate into a new universe will challenge them profoundly.
Examples: World War II soldiers, lost children, fantasy warriors
Scions of the Founders
The PCs might have some connection to the Founders; the exact nature of that connection might be known or unknown to the PCs. It’s their job to shepherd the responsible use of Founder-Tech, and to try to do damage control when the Tech meets with great volatility, such as due to the interference of the red dwarf’s tachyon particles.
Example: alien heralds, recipients of Founder-Tech, super-scientists
Adapting the Arch
The Arch is a perfect fit for any kind of game you run. As a mobile, multi-dimensional object, it has a ready-made reason to appear anywhere you can think of. Here are some ideas for adapting the Arch to other environments. Note the alternate stunts that would make the item a more natural fit for the alternate setting.
Sword and Sorcery
Evil cultists and the snake people they worship have designated the Arch a holy relic. They receive fantastical and magical items from the Arch, and tame the horrific beasts that it sends through, offering “sacrifices” into the Arch to appease it. They now believe that they can use the Arch to summon their Elder Serpent God, and usher in a dark age of reptilian rule.
Summoning Circle: The Arch’s chaos subsides momentarily and it acts as a stable multidimensional gateway. Once per game session, by succeeding at an overcome roll at difficulty 4, someone on one side of the Arch can successfully use it to summon a being from another time, dimension, or place known to the summoner. If that being attempts to resist the summoning, the roll becomes a contest.
World War II
Hitler, obsessed with the occult, has heard of the Arch and believes that he could use it to turn the tide of the War. The Allies have received intel from their spies that Hitler has located the Arch in Antarctica, and has sent a group of his most loyal and highly-trained assassins and soldiers to recover it for him. The Allies have assembled their own best and brightest, and the race is on to prevent the Arch from falling into damned Nazi hands!
Enhanced Understanding: The Arch subtly bends its surroundings in ways that aid in scientific understanding or advancements. Anyone nearby with scientific background or training gains a +2 bonus to all create advantage or overcome rolls when attempting to achieve a scientific breakthrough.
The Arch has appeared in an abandoned warehouse near the Southside slums. It seems to call out to vulnerable youth who feel its pull from across the city. They resist it for a time, but ultimately succumb to the siren’s song of entering through the Arch. How will the PCs prevent any more children from falling prey to it? Will they be able to handle the monstrous creatures and items that have been exiting the Arch?
Such Sights: The Arch calls out to the minds of the weak or vulnerable. It grants +2 to all overcome rolls made by individuals who seek it out with a skill, skill mode, or approach rated Average (+1), Mediocre (+0), or worse.