This article is nominally meant to be used with the Terran Empire or Galactic Champions settings. You could also import The Void into any Star Hero campaign with a strong dose of psychic/magic powers, such as Bob Greenwade’s Space Wizards setting or the universe of Outlaw Star (or several other anime-space opera settings for that matter). Certain portions of the setting are left open-ended, to enable you to better customize The Void for your own use.
Beyond the anti-spinward edges of Terran Empire, past the Ackákian Empire, near fabled Malva, lies The Void. A roughly spherical section of space approximately one hundred parsecs in diameter, The Void is a place spacers avoid, and with good reason—there are no stars to be found there. The Void is so full of dust, gas, and debris it effectively blocks any starlight from passing through, making it a dark circle in the night sky of many worlds. Within The Void are dozens of shattered solar systems, each made up of burned and blasted planets slowly orbiting the remains of now-dead stars. These brown dwarfs are compacted and frozen cinders—all that’s left of once life-giving suns—most of their mass having been ejected into space as some unknown event consumed them.
Few people have ever dared to venture into The Void, and fewer still have managed to return. Hyperspace travel with its borders is dangerous and fraught with peril, as travelers must move slowly to avoid the numerous hazards present in both Hyperspace and real space. Displacer drives suffer increased accuracy problems, while Spacewarp use is nearly impossible. Apparently, The Void is already so folded upon itself, warpdrives are unable to operate correctly.
Within The Void
The Void has no set boundaries, but is rough sphere about one hundred parsecs across. The edge of The Void is actually expanding, as the dust and gas from multiple stellar explosions spreads across the galaxy. As it does, it thins ever so slowly; at some point in the unimaginable future, The Void may be relatively clear once again.
Those who enter into The Void soon discover there are a multitude of hazards to deal with—hazards which can not only affect a traveler’s ship, but his very mind. For starters, the darkness of The Void makes any sort of visual navigation impossible, while the echoes of dying stars effectively fill a broad spectrum of communications bands. For those in Hyperspace it is even worse, as Hyperspace within The Void is warped and twisted, with eddies and currents found nowhere else. These currents are capable of grabbing an unsuspecting ship and sending it careening across light-years, or trap it in an inescapable Hyperspace loop for all eternity.
For those who can successfully navigate the perils of The Void, there’s still the matter of wrecked star systems. Solar systems within The Void are little more than blasted ruins, and in many cases gravitational stresses have reduced the terrestrial planets to mere chunks of rock rolling through space. There are no safe space lanes, while The Void’s creation is too recent an event for the debris to have settled into stable orbits. Collisions are a constant danger, and each impact results in more rock fragments being added to the asteroid fields.
Even worse is the stellar radiation flooding the depths of The Void. Whatever created The Void in the first place sent stars to their deaths with massive explosions of gamma, radio, and X-rays, and all of which is more than capable of damaging unshielded ships and travelers. In the areas where the expanding wave fronts of two (or more) stars meet, the resulting energy discharges can be both beautiful to behold and instantly lethal.
But the worst danger to be found in The Void isn’t a physical one, but a threat to a traveler’s mind and sanity. Even those who skirt the edge of The Void are affected, reporting strange dreams, hallucinations, and voices when there is no one else around. Within The Void, these effects become more pronounced the deeper one goes, till some lose all connection with what is real and what is not, and end up reduced to raving madness. Psis theorize The Void is filled with the spiritual energy of the billions who died there, and most minds, be they organic or mechanical, can't handle the psychic assault, eventually breaking down and becoming ‘possessed.’ Not even Hyperspace is safe, and the psionically active have reported seeing fleeting glimpses of humanoid forms, momentary flashes of human and alien faces (often wracked with expressions of terror and pain), and hearing snatches of conversation or faint screams. Extended travel in Hyperspace will eventually subject a psi to an unending chorus of voices, all babbling, screaming, talking, and begging for the his attention. Meanwhile faint and filmy figures beckon forlornly, calling the psi to them.
Those whose minds are ‘weak’ (or in the case of computers, unshielded), are subject to possible possession, in which a particularly strong spirit manages to merge with its victim, overriding the original personality (or programming) with its own will. Androids and robots are known to be the most susceptible, and in some cases have developed a form of sentience. Rumors tell of entire starships being affected, some spacing their crews to become unmanned “ghost ships” drifting in the void. Others feel such a strong desire for companionship they refuse to allow their crews to leave, trapping them for the rest of their lives.
Center Of The Void
Anyone who is skilled (or lucky) enough to reach the center of The Void will be rewarded by an almost incomprehensible sight: a vast wormhole, a rent in the very fabric of space, surrounded by a slowly spiraling disk of detritus as wide as a solar system. As it slowly falls into the wormhole, it’s sucked in and eventually spat out... somewhere else.
The debris surrounding the wormhole is composed of the rubble of the system’s original planets, mixed with thick clouds of dust and gas, some of which seem to slowly coalescing into proto-stars or gas giants, adding bursts of light, heat, and wide-spectrum radiation to an already chaotic mix. Amazingly enough, there are even surviving artifacts to be found; bits of space-stations and starships float among the ruins, some of it from structures far to big to have been totally consumed by the energies responsible for The Void’s creation.
Notes For The Game Master
When presenting The Void, you need to stress its fearsome reputation. Even before a band of PCs ever reaches The Void’s fringes they should hear tales of haunted derelicts filled with the corpses of their former crew, pilots who went mad trying to fly into The Void, androids and robots who started speaking with the voice and personality of someone long dead, strange events and accidents, whispering voices, horrific dreams, and waking nightmares. Hiring a ship to take them to the edge of The Void will be both difficult and expensive, while getting one to take them inside The Void should be downright impossible. You can even borrow from various well-known Earth legends about lost and missing ships, and create Terran Empire versions of the Carroll A. Deering, Flight 19, the Flying Dutchman, and the Mary Celeste, among others.
Travel Within The Void: The Void will start to make its presence known long before a group of PCs ever get to it. For starters, The Void itself is visible from many worlds, and in some cases virtually fills the sky once the sun goes down. Even those living in systems far from The Void will have heard about it, and any space-farer will know to avoid it at all costs. One can’t fly through The Void via Warpship while it’s impossible to plot a Displacer jump into its depths. Any exploration will have to be done by piloting a ship through the most chaotic and twisted expanse of Hyperspace known.
At the edge of The Void, the PCs should first become aware of The Void’s nature through a series of minor events. Suggestions include having the most psychically sensitive of the crew experience bits of dreams, usually involving a burning sky and great expanses of fire. Anyone with empathic powers will start to feel a sense of great sadness and loss, and may themselves feel down and depressed and not know why. For the rest of the crew, they may hear faint voices, or occasionally discover a closed door has come open, a small object has apparently moved in its own, or on rare instances catch just the briefest glimpse of someone at the edge of their vision. Anyone engaging in an EVA should experience more dramatic versions of these events, and may hear other voices talking over their communications link, or feel unseen hands pushing or pulling on them.
These events, for the most part, should be neither hostile or benign. In addition, you need to use them sparingly, and not overload your PCs with a barrage of such events. Insert them at slow points during play, casually mentioning a whispered word or a glimpse of a fleeting figure to any character currently alone and out of eye- and ear-shot of anyone else. For a touch of drama, wait until a PC is trying to get something done quickly and really needs a specific tool right now—only to discover it sitting a few feet away from where it had been.... Conversely, you could make some of these events beneficial to the PCs. For example, the character reaching for the same needed tool might find it pressed into his hand. However, for the most part, these occurrences should be eerie and unsettling, designed to spark fear and apprehension.
Once inside The Void PCs will find themselves beset with a whole host of problems. Visually there’s nothing to see in the depths of The Void, with the exception of a few faint points of light (which may or may not be stars). Static jams the communications bands, and once past the fringes of The Void any long range transmissions quickly become garbled and hard to make out. Scanners should return false readings and echoes, making it difficult to determine what is there and what is simply a mirage. Hyperspace is twisted and looks ‘wrong,’ although observers may be hard-pressed to define what they mean by ‘wrong.’ Traveling in Hyperspace is physically difficult as well, and the ship will shudder and shake, as if buffeted by unseen wind or waves.
As soon as anyone ventures into The Void proper, things progress from simply unsettling and eerie, to downright scary and eventually terrifying. Dreams go from being faint snatches of surreal images to powerful horrific nightmares, eventually occurring regardless if a character is sleeping or awake. The imagery should be of burning suns, great heat, and the very air becoming too hot to breathe. Faint voices will become discernible as speaking words and complete sentences, all talking to the listener and pleading with the character to save them from certain doom (or, foretelling their own doom for coming this far). The glimpses of figures out of the corner of the eye should eventually reach a point where clearly descendable figures beckon and gesture, pantomiming for the viewer to follow them. Objects may be moved to other parts of the ship or vanish all together (sometimes to be replaced by objects never seen before), hatches may open of their own accord, or refuse to close outright. Circuits may burn out—always the same one, always at the same time. Readout and displays may give scrambled information, or have information entered when no one is near the keyboard. Artificial intelligences and computers may demonstrate knowledge of events not in their databases, or start to display distinct personalities that are a far cry from their initial programming. In a worst case scenario, you can have the ship’s computer or even the actual ship itself fall victim to this effect, forcing the PCs to at best wipe and reboot the computer, or worst, to abandon ship.
In game, these events should make characters jumpy, nervous, and unable to fully concentrate on the task at hand. Lack of sleep due to constant dreams and nightmares will cause the characters to feel tired most of the time, and may lead to a loss of appetite, fatigue, illness, and various stress-related complications.
Pilots and astrogators should find it harder and harder to navigate, and should suffer penalties to their ability to do so. Any repair job should take longer than normal, and may not be completed properly, even if the player thinks the job was. You can then use such an event to spark a crisis situation, driving up the stress level even further, and causing more tension among the crew.
The Gate: The wormhole at The Void’s center is probably the least hazardous object in the entire expanse. Although it has sufficient gravitational pull to draw objects into it, it’s nothing like a black hole, and there’s no ‘event horizon’ beyond any escape is impossible. The Gate is more for visual effect, an awe-inspiring backdrop to whatever you decide to have happen at the Center of The Void. However, there is one thing about the Gate you can use to make life interesting (and thus difficult) for anyone planning to explore The Void—you can have the Gate pulse.
As debris falls into the Gate and is sent through the wormhole (to be ejected where or when ever you decide is most interesting), the Gate emits bursts of energy. In real space these bursts consist mainly of radio waves, traveling across The Void at the speed of light and serving to do little than further clutter up the spectrum. It’s in Hyperspace these pulses reveal their more destructive nature. Due to the nature of Hyperspace and the wormhole, these pulses can cross The Void in a matter of weeks or even days, causing cross currents, eddies, ripples, and storms in space time. Ships in Hyperspace during just such an event can be pulled of course, have their rate of travel slowed or sped up, or can be ejected from Hyperspace entirely (or, pulled into Hyperspace from real space). This is the main reason why Warpships and Displacer Drives don’t work well within The Void.
The nature of the Gate and its effect on Hyperspace allows for instant plot seeds. Characters exploring The Void can find ships and artifacts from the past, the future, or even other dimensions. A Gate pulse is the perfect excuse for allowing PCs to find a ship from your favorite science fiction universe, or allow them to visit the said universe itself.
Artifacts And Civilizations: As devastating as the creation of The Void was, it didn't quite destroy everything. When deciding what the PCs can find in The Void, you should consider sprinkling various bits and pieces of alien or human-made technology about—such as moon-sized space stations and huge starships (or fragments thereof). Whatever you do include, make sure it serves some sort of plot point. If every dead system has a few wrecked spaceships, after a while the PCs will get used to (or grow bored with) the idea and ignore them. Instead, have the first system they visit contain a stripped and gutted wreck, a silent testimonial to the power of The Void’s creation and its effect on the population. Later, once the PCs are deeper in The Void, similar derelicts might have fuel, data, maps, or even weapons that will be needed further in. Or, the wreckage might contain some sort of horrific monster just waiting to prey on an unwary explorer (shades of the movie Alien....). Just don't feel the need to place a wrecked ship in every system or have every ship contain ‘treasure,’ this is space opera, not a fantasy dungeon crawl.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can consider placing a civilization of sorts at the Center of The Void. It shouldn’t be very large, or even well-established, with a population consisting of refugees from the creation of the Void (unlikely, to be honest), those who have become lost in The Void, and/or people who have been drawn through the Gate from the other side. A society such as this will present your PCs with a multitude of problems and questions. Individuals—or even whole factions—may ask the PCs for rescue, for assistance against another faction, for help going back though the Gate, or may simply desire to kill the PCs and take their ship. Much like everything else in The Void, dealing with the people found here should be eerie at best and frightening at worst. Many of them should no longer be totally sane, and the close proximity of the Gate and the influence of The Void allows for a greater percentage of psis and other super-powered beings than the campaign norm.
Monsters In The Dark: The Void is the perfect place to tuck horrible monsters of all sorts. The only question is “what kind?” Anything found in The Void would have had to arrive from elsewhere in the galaxy, traveled through the Gate, or have originated within The Void. Unless you plan to have giant space-faring slugs (or dragons, or whales, or...), it’s probably best to presume anything found in The Void came from The Void itself. Fortunately, the the nature of The Void allow you to rationalize a whole host of psychic beings, such as ghosts, poltergeists, and energy vampires. Creatures such as these should be individual beings, separate from the general occurrences of The Void. They should have specific reasons for being (such as remaining at the place where they died, guarding a specific object, or haunting a specific place or ship). They can either want the PC’s help (to complete an unfinished task, or to give their body a proper burial), or may simply desire the life energy of the PCs. For an increased touch of suspense, the ‘monster’ can be an abandoned ship possessed by some form of inimical psychic entity.
Options For The Game Master
As GM, you have the right to change any of this material as you see fit. For example, the you could make the fringe of The Void itself a dimensional rift, so that anyone passing through ends up in a separate universe, not just a twisted section of space. In doing so, you can then change the laws of physics (and thus, the universe) around as much as you desire, consequently allowing for those giant space-faring monsters mentioned above. The only constant is The Void should be a place of mystery, myth, and legend, the Terran Empire version of the Bermuda Triangle, the Sargasso Sea, and Vile Vortices all mixed into one. Space farers should be hesitant and afraid to go there, and rightly so. The Void should be dangerous hazard to life and limb, to do otherwise lessens the idea behind the nature of its creation and its possible effect on the Terran Empire setting.
The Creation Of The Void: The exact cause of The Void is not described for the one simple reason: it doesn't need to be. It happened long before the PCs arrived. They can’t stop or prevent it’s occurrence (unless you decide to have a time travel episode), and even if they are present at the creation of The Void odds are they’ll need to be Galactic Champions-level characters to do something about it. As in many other settings, the PCs only see the end result of some great event, not the event (or the cause) itself. Their ‘job,’ so to speak, is to deal with the fallout, not to worry about the whys and wherefores.
Of course, you still might want to know what caused The Void. The most probable explanation is some sort of Malvan superweapon. Used to stop some unknown threat (perhaps an early incursion of Nibu Gemani or the precursors of the Xenovores), the weapon ran rampant, eliminating not only the desired target, but a wide expanse of space as well. This means the plans for the weapon are probably on Malva somewhere, and a highly-skilled thief, or a renegade Malvan with dreams of galactic conquest might seek to remake it.
The next question is ‘what sort of weapon?’ Based on the events surrounding the creation of The Void (entire stars consumed), the twisted nature Hyperspace, and the Gate to be found at its center, The Void seems to have been created by some sort of Hyperspace shunt. A weapon capable of warping an entire solar system (or an invading battle fleet) somewhere (or somewhen) else. When this weapon proved unstable, it ended up consuming itself, draining hundreds of stars in the process and eventually collapsing inward to form the wormhole at the Center of The Void.
The Gate: Having a giant wormhole that leads to another part of the universe (or another universe entirely) might be a bit much for some campaigns (or a bit of a letdown after surviving the madness of The Void). You might want to place something else at The Void’s center—something more material. This is perfectly fine, and much like the cause of The Void, you don’t need to explain how it got there, just make sure the PCs have an interesting (and fun) time dealing with it.
Other Objects To Be Found
Cosmic Treasure House: The Center of The Void can be a world-sized library, filled with artifacts and knowledge from all over the galaxy—much of it more advanced than anything humans know today.
Magic Artifact: Be it as mundane as a plain gold ring, or as ornate as a richly inscribed battle sword, this item just reeks of powerful magic. Its exact abilities are up to you, but they should make the wielder a force to be reckoned with. Dating back to the Atlantean Age, the artifact is probably a weapon, and might have been built for the sole purpose of slaying some galaxy-threatening monster. There may be other functions as well, such as allowing access to the Cosmic Treasure House or the Super Starship (see next entry). A variant on this item would be a Magical Tome of Knowledge, filled with powerful and unique spells, psi disciplines, or technological blueprints.
Super Starship: A relic of the old days, this beautiful and sleek space cruiser is faster, more powerful, and better armed than anything out there today. It might be smaller than most ships, or larger, but never fear, it can outrun and outfight virtually anything. It might even have a fully functional AI onboard who can handle most ship’s functions and also is a storehouse of ancient knowledge.
Super Weapon: Another relic of the past, this immense weapon can only be mounted on a starship. Highly accurate, it’s capable of blasting an entire planet to bits with a single energy pulse. Its only drawback is a lengthy recharge time.