"You can have peace, or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once."
- Robert A. Heinlein.
If you read the history books, it sounds like some kind of fairy tale. Our ancestors seized new worlds, shaped and pounded them into paradise. The Solar Conglomerate governed, guided by wisdom, formed the Vanguard to proudly serve and protect humanity among the stars. But if you really look back at the way we did it, the cost was beyond measure.
Our worlds were built on the backs of corporate labour - patented gene-line clones or convicts forced into service contracts by the system. We’re talking terms of service that kept them in stasis for centuries, augmented them against their will, humanity stripped from them shred by bloody shred.
The Solar Conglomerate called it necessity, some called it slavery. By the time human expansion had stabilized, it was an institution – labour forces were traded on open markets, corporations sold them as chattel to the highest bidder. Four centuries ago prison sentences were abolished – corporate service became the de facto punishment for almost all crimes. They called it Conscription.
The first uprising was no surprise, the signs were there. The Vanguard was sent in to deal with the mess. Expertly trained military forces tried to quash the rebellion. But the Firebrand slipped away. The incidents grew worse – a workers front on one world militarized and overthrew the local Conglomerate ministry. Organized terror attacks grew more frequent. Conscripts organized, bypassed safeguards and systems designed to keep them docile. There's an entire underground of renegades, hell bent on breaking loose of their servitude.
Cracks are starting to show. On some worlds the bloodshed is getting out of hand.
The Vanguard is no longer tactically in control, they’re just reacting to a bad situation, and my gut tells me it’s just going to get worse.
Ten thousand worlds spread across thousands of cubic parsecs of space. Humanity in a vast sprawl, scattered through this arm of the galaxy like sand cast into the wind. We have rebellion everywhere. SolCon calls it sedition, the Vanguard calls it war. The clones and convicts, the drones and hybrids, under the boot of human expansion and corporate servitude for so long
– They call it Freedom.
Born out of necessity for the expansion of the Solar Conglomerate the Vanguard is an interstellar military built for asymmetrical tactical engagements. Its primary purpose is to act as an all-purpose military force across human space — operating as both interplanetary reconnaissance, and colonial protection.
Formed in the early years of the Solar Conglomerate’s reach into the stars, the Vanguard at first was a forward reconnaissance force. The Vanguard’s role as an expeditionary military ensured the survival and prosperity of the first colony worlds. Many of the colonial planets were, and are, hostile and unforgiving places. Predation from native wildlife, hazardous conditions, or Colony Schism Syndrome could lead to fatal errors in the expansion plans of SolCon’s corporate masters. During this fragile time the Vanguard served to ensure the flourishing of a new colony. They provided security personnel, medical services, and in some cases slave and conscript control.
As human space expanded, and the core worlds formed, the Vanguard began to take on a policing role. Piracy, grey and black marketeering, smuggling, and unsanctioned conscription became endemic as the economy of the core worlds took shape. While SolCon had the Solar Navy and the Core World Armed Forces – the Vanguard became an agile military force, able to cross parsecs of space in days to deal in order to quickly respond to extreme missions. Even to this day, the Vanguard are the first to deal with issues requiring the rapid response of a skilled and highly trained military.
Now, having to move quickly and with little interference, the Vanguard are a highly independent autonomous group that answers solely to the authority of the Solar Conglomerate.
This power affords Vanguard Command a great deal of room in how they approach specific threats and problems. Colonial Marshal's – the highest authority in the Vanguard fleet – often bear the burden of being responsible for the welfare of a hundred or more inhabited worlds. Back in the cradle of human space, the Solar Conglomerate board is the primary authority – but in matters of war along the Edge, the Vanguard has the authority to make decisions without the entanglements of bureaucracy.
Now that the Firebrand have begun to overtake previously quiet Edge worlds, the Vanguard have become more and more entangled in conflicts with them. Many in the upper echelons of SolCon consider the Vanguard engaged in all-out war with the terrorist organization. The Vanguard must act quickly, or the Firebrand may soon be able to spread into the core worlds.
Reports of terrorist activity and servile revolt indicate the Firebrand’s origins along the Typhon jump lane at the very tip of the Edge worlds – within a dozen systems known as the Chiron cluster. Isolated, at the edge of the Magellan expanse, the Firebrand took hold in a backwater and silently built to the bursting point.
Some reports claim the Firebrand was born out of a loss of control, a corruption of the network of systems built to prevent such an uprising from ever happening. Somehow, without any warning, a force of conscripts and servile clones overthrew the Control and Command centre for the Typhon jump lane itself, cutting the Chiron cluster off from the rest of human space.
Vanguard expeditionary forces were the first to cross the cold expanse to intervene. Crossing without the help of the jump lanes, the trip took a decade. Dusting into the cluster at super-luminal speeds Vanguard Bastion class troopships deployed cautiously. They were expected.
With a decade to prepare, the Firebrand had grown to include every Conscript and gene-line clone in the Chiron cluster. Cloning facilities had been overtaken, and the tanks had churned out clones to swell the ranks of the Firebrand. Resources had been methodically re-routed to provide materiel and equipment. And somehow military training had been implemented.
The fighting force waiting for the Vanguard battalions was a trained combat ready military of billions.
The battle was fierce. But the superior technology and training of the Vanguard prevailed.
Just as the Vanguard gained the upper hand, the Typhon jump lane re-opened. While the battle in the Chiron cluster raged, an unknown number of ships carrying Firebrand terrorists slipped into the jump lane network. The Edge worlds were now a playground for the Firebrand.
Once the Vanguard reclaimed the Chiron cluster, evidence indicated that not only had the Fireband deployed these ships into the jump lanes to contact other worlds – Slower and larger generation ships had been built in the shipyards of many of the clusters worlds. While most of these had been sent out on unknown courses into the Magellan expanse – and perhaps beyond– indications exist that some had been sent inwards to the core worlds carrying unknown payloads. Travelling at slower than light speeds, these stealthy sleeper ships could pass undetected through the Edge worlds – directly into the heart of human space.
Now the Firebrand rises up everywhere. It has been six years since the Battle of Chiron, Conscript and clone revolts along the Edge are spreading faster than the Vanguard can contain them. How the Firebrand managed to organize and execute this uprising is still a mystery. But they are a real threat, and no one knows when they will strike and what they will do next.
Using the themes of Nano-technology, infection, and an atmosphere of terror – the Strain are insidious, frightening, and tenacious.
Originally a benign nano-tech system – the Strain were created when the systems technology was merged with an ancient alien bio-organic artifact. Now it is a terrible life-form without mercy. A force of un-nature bent on mankind’s eradication.
Relying on a distributed self-governing network of creatures called exoforms, the strain preys on organic and technological systems. The sentient collective mind of the strain has become one of humanities greatest enemies. Using its grotesque exoform organisms and nano-infection as its vectors, the Strain is intent on contaminating all of human civilization and absorbing it into the Strain Construct.
The foundation of the Strain is the intelligent spore-like vector that creates them. This nano-spore can reanimate the dead, turn living hosts into new strain “constructs”, and also act as a deadly vector for infection. Without this nano-spore, the strain are crippled, unable to expand, and unable to convert the living or the dead into more Strain.
It is a key mechanic, central to what makes the strain unique. In order to prosper the strain must spread.
Part of the distinct structure of the strain is that players will guide the intent and purpose of the Strain nano-cloud. The nano-cloud gives the spawn player the resources necessary to spawn new strain in the game map, shift resources to support strain special abilities, and – more importantly – provide a background count of mutagenic nano-tech fuel to keep the battle running.
The spores and the ever spreading strain infection give the Strain player the ability to reach across the map in an insidious cloud of invisible death. Infecting anything it touches, and converting the dead and the dying into exoform servants slaved to the nearest Strain – the nano-spore counters of the strain represent the reach of the strain across the battle.
The Strain infection can actually impair and over-ride the nervous systems of infected hosts, and so we have designed game effects that allow the strain player to infect and manipulate its enemies. Not only that, but the infection can mature rapidly. An infected model can go from normal to monster in a heartbeat. The Vanguard player needs to keep track of infected allies before they turn feral and convert to strain exoforms.
The other major design theme of the strain is forced evolution. Many of ours sources of inspiration had infected individuals turning into monstrosities themselves. We thought that would be a super cool way of making the strain frightening to the opposing player, whether they were Vanguard, Firebrand, or something else. They can convert the enemy into them.
The Strain is capable of using nano-spores to evolve lesser strain into more powerful exoforms. This forced evolution means that the strain can rapidly grow from a shambling mob, into a lethal brood of monstrosities.
To denote the evolutional stages that the strain can go through, each type of exoform is described at its phase. We used this to classify the strain, their power levels, and their vulnerability. Each phase is a step along the way for each exoform. Some can metamorphose, while others are evolutionary dead-ends designed to serve only one purpose, infect and multiply.
Phase 1 exoforms are usually the reanimated dead, although there are other types of phase 1’s that have yet to be classified. These form the foundation of a strain mob, as the strain infection usually kills and converts base life forms to contribute to the strain construct as it evolves.
Phase 2 exoforms are converted living infected. At this stage, these creatures have become part human and part machine. Some might grow talons, fangs, and maw-like openings in their chest. Others might grow blisters resembling blaster guns or energy weapons. Some even merge with whatever gear they were carrying at the time, becoming a monstrous amalgamation of tech and tissue. These are the fertile seeds of the more powerful strain.
Phase 3 strain exoforms are well developed killing machines. Capable of lethal and co-ordinated attacks, these creatures push the strain cloud to its limits, eating up nano-resources at a tremendous rate. Their abilities allow them to threaten even the most well trained Vanguard commandos. Some are a living arsenals of blades, while others are literally walking gun platforms.
Phase 4 strain exoforms are the big daddies of the strain. Murderous overlords of the Strain Construct’s intent, these creatures are the height of Strain forced evolution. Each of these creatures is a living toxic factory capable of spawning massive amounts of Strain nano-vector. Powerfully built, incredibly hard to kill, and vicious to the end, they are the most advanced Strain form (yet) seen by human eyes.