OSR: The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake Session Session 15 & 16 - Thunderstruck

In the Previous Installment, the PCs:

  • Contemplated a Massive Erection.
  • Milked a Jelly.
  • Predicted a Riot.

The PCs are:

Tom Shambledrake
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate. Inventor of the Lightning Accumulator and the Lightning Inverter, which, when combined, should revolutionize magical charge production in Endon.

Jonty Earl
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, and accidental inventor of the Jonty Suit.

Dr. Augustus Hartwell

Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", currently employed at Blumsworth Hospital. Ally of speaking rats, workers, and other vermin.

Lizzy Ramchander
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary to Doyle Wormsby.

Doyle Wormsby
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator. Motivated by truth, justice, and tobacco.

Edouard Menta

As Tom prepared to raise his iron tower over Endon, Lizzy, in a tastefully exuberant dress, scanned the crowd and tried not to go "cor" too loudly. She'd spotted ministers, bankers, financiers... and a mysterious yet familliar figure.

"Snedge," she hissed. The group's nebulous nemesis, henchperson-at-large to Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, was moving through the crowd in an unconvincing disguise. Lizzy discreetly pursued him as he ducked under a grandstand, and watched, concealed, as he pasted a sheet of brown paper onto the wooden scaffolding.

"Aha!" Lizzy cried, pointing at Snedge with more bravado than sense. Snedge took a half step backwards and reached for a concealed pistol.

For the past few weeks, Lizzy had slowly perfected her duplicate self spell. Normally, she cast it on a gel stabilization matrix, extending the spell's duration from minutes to hours. She also cast it in a locked and specially warded room, both for the sake of propriety and to avoid frightening her newly hired assistants.

But desperate times call for inadvisable applied magic. Lizzy tossed her enchanted kitchen knife into the air and vomited up a second, naked, mucus-covered copy. Lizzy II crawled out of Lizzy's I's throat, caught the falling kitchen knife, and charged Snedge while screaming like a banshee. Lizzy I turned and ran to get help.

Snedge was a seasoned purveyor of evil deeds by night, day, or magical light, but the horrific spell-birth of Lizzy's duplicate shook him to his rotten core. He went white, fired one wild shot, and then tried to hit Lizzy with the butt of his pistol. Lizzy realized that Snedge probably still had his damage-triggered teleport amulet, and so, instead delivering a well-deserved stabbing, cast cone of dense foam, hoping to drown the footpad in a wave of beer-flavoured bubbles.

As predicted, Snedge's amulet did not react to the foam. Unfortunately, after a few seconds of agitated spluttering, Snedge managed to bludgeon himself and teleport away, leaving a Snedge-shaped gap in the foam.

The gunshot had attracted a small crowd, who were very surprised to see a naked young woman under the grandstands. Lizzy I, with the rest of the group in tow, arrived at a dead sprint. "My sister!" she exclaimed, as if that explained anything, as her duplicate attempted to fashion a dress from foam. The two Lizzies recombined with a brief squelch.

"Nothing to see here," Jonty said to the crowd. "Just some, err, wizard business. Please return to your seats."

"I've been shot!" a young man yelled from the stands. Dr. Hartwell was already examining his superficial wound, while Jonty fretted about liability and damage claims.

Tom and Doyle examined the papers Snedge had been pasting to the grandstand supports. The backside was painted to resemble wood, but the other side concealed a magic sigil. The group collected a case full of papers discarded by Snedge, then raced around peeling off as many as they could find.

"They're not spells," Lizzy said, peering at one. "They're more like blank spellbook pages. I think this bit is a focal rune."

"And that's Nesbert's elemental condenser," Tom said. "Perhaps this is a sort of lightning... attractor?"

"But that doesn't make sense," Lizzy said. "You're not summoning lighting today. You're just making a tower. It's not even raining!"

On cue, a light drizzle began to fall on Endon. Clouds rolled towards the city from every direction, called by a weather-changing spell. Doyle sighed in satisfaction. He did his best work in the rain.

"If these are lightning traps," Tom said, "we should put them in a warded are and check the rest of the construction site for other surprises."

A few minutes later, Chastity Flintwich, their cantankerous hired expert in metals and thaumic field theory, spotted some suspicious engravings on the heaps of iron bars around the construction site. "This looks like a golemancy anchor," she said. "Fine work. If this iron gets hit by the right sort of lightning it'd be bad news."

"What do you mean, the right sort of lightning?" Tom said, alarmed.

"I'd need to be modulated by some sort of imprinting machine or spell. This is just an anchor, a signpost. You'd need a very fancy bit of thaumic engineering to turn lightning into an empowering spirit."

Tom looked up at the swirling stormclouds. The sky was a bruised and turbulent purple. Rain was spiraling down in the eldritch winds. With a clap of thunder and a flicker of octarine light, a fiendishly complicated magic device appeared in the center of the construction site. It looked like a mechanical washing machine made of glass and copper, and it was clearly fizzing with potency.

"Like that," Chastity said. She then swore hard enough to ionize raindrops and ran for cover.

"Fuck this for a lark," Doyle muttered, and cast a teleport spell of his own. He swapped the device with a patch of air directly above the site, at the limit of his spell's range.

Lightning flashed from horizon to horizon, pouring into the device but finding nowhere to earth itself. Trapped in midair, the machine detonated, showering Needle Circus with a fine mist of metal droplets and mercury vapour.

 "Between this and the stock fraud," Jonty moaned, "I think we should cancel the tower raising. Unexpected delays due to weather." He forced out the words "full refunds" but was overcome with emotion before he could finish the sentence.

"What stock fraud?" Tom said.

"Oh, ah, well, someone - that is to say, several someones - have been selling false certificates of Iron Spike Thaumaturgy stock. Well-made forgeries, damnably well made," Jonty burbled. "Doyle's on the case."

Doyle had examined the false certificates. He had to admit that they were almost as good as the originals. All the anti-counterfeiting measures had been replicated. The only incongruity were the certificate numbers (which didn't appear in the real registry) and a faint blue tint to the purple ink.

Though he was loathe to involve the Coppers, this case suggested prior history. He'd called up Victus Crane via Nero Krahlhammer's scrying orb. The last time they'd used the orb, Victus had warned them that the Thaumaturgic Detectives - the Deekers - were cracking down on scrying attempts in Endon. If a glowing red eye appeared in the scrying orb, it was a sign the watchers were being watched. 

The Deekers hadn't intended for the system to be used to summon them, but when Doyle scryed their headquarters at the Grim Baliol and held up a handwritten note, Victus turned up promptly. 

"The work of our escaped forger?" the Copper asked.

"Probably. I suspect we're both being set up by someone. We lose credibility for these fake stocks. You follow up, rush in, and have a nasty accident," Doyle said.

"Seems implausible," Victus said, but he seemed hesitant.

"It's all too plausible. This is a political move. Who's backing this forger? Who broke him out of prison?" Doyle said, gesturing with his cigarette.

"This is police business," Victus said, "so stay out of it. In particular, stay out of it if I use some high-grade scrying equipment to track this forged stock to its source and then send a messenger to you and your disreputable friends. As a member of the Metropolitan Police I'll, of course, have to take the obvious approach, but you should not take an oblique approach at the same time. Do you understand?"

Doyle continued to smoke.

Alexey Egorov
"The messenger arrived ten minutes ago. Address in Redding Cross," Doyle said, pointing to a waiting cab. "Who's in?"

Lizzy stuck up her hand. Dr. Hartwell shrugged. Tom thought about it, then agreed. "I should stay here and ensure the crowd disperses," Jonty said. 


"Front door or back door?" Tom asked.

"Roof," Doyle replied, pointing. "They won't expect that."

With shouts of "urgent wizard business, make way," the group bluffed their way into the adjacent tenement, cracked a staircase window, and peered at the roof of the warehouse. Through a greasy window, they could see Victus Crane and two other figured locked in combat.

Tom was the first to leap over. He overestimated the strength of the roof and plunged into the upper offices in a cloud of dead pigeons and broken tiles. The escaped forger, his hired thug, and the Deeker all paused their struggle to look at him.

"Aha!" he cried, for lack of anything better to say.

Faced with a wizard with burning eyes, a magnificent hat, and a death wish, the thug downed a small vial of black liquid. Green scales, grey warts, and muscles like greased ferrets in a sack bloomed across his body. He'd been a large and sturdy man before the change; now he was a very large and very sturdy troll. He hit Tom with a fist the size of a pumpkin.

Tom flew backwards, bounced off the wall, landed on his feet, and charged. He cast shocking grasp and filled his fist with lightning. 

But Lizzy cast first. She fired inebriate at the goon. Her mutated spell had a pleasant side-effect; it also had a chance to disenchant its target. The trollblood potion reverted; Tom's shocking grasp knocked him the thug cold before he could reconsider his position.

Unfortunately, Tom's shocking grasp also flung the wizard across the room, where he collided with both the forger and Victus Crane. Tom was the only one to stand up. Victus was unconscious, bruised, and had a broken leg. The forger had broken his neck in the tangle.

The Coppers swept in to clean everything up. With Dr. Hartwell's aid, Victus was able to corroborate the PCs' story. Doyle's discreet investigation of the forger's workshop revealed the stock plates, currency blanks... and a peacock.

The peacock worried Doyle. He'd been hired to retrieve a pet peacock, and that case lead him to the forger, who was apparently using peacock blood to counterfeit Bank of Endon notes. He'd assumed bills being marked in peacock blood was an urban myth, like the child-eating crocodile under New Bridge, but apparently it was true. He'd returned the peacock to Sir Truckle, in this very cage... and here it was again. How? And why? And was it his imagination, or was it giving him a knowing look.

"Can I take this bird?" Doyle asked Victus. "It's not really evidence. It's a bird. Besides, the forger is dead."

The wounded Copper shrugged, then winced. "Write out a receipt."

"Yes," a voice whispered in Doyle's head. "Take me from this place. Open this cage. I will reveal great and terrible secrets."

Doyle gave the peacock a very stern look. 

Senfeng Chen
Thirty minutes later, in Doyle's disorganized office, the group (sans Jonty) examined the birdcage. 

"It's not magical," Tom said, "which is odd, because it's gold plated. Any gold in Endon will pick up some stray magic, but this is completely inert. I suspect it's actually enchanted, but very cunningly concealed. It's old too."

"Hello birdy," Lizzy said cheerfully.

Doyle sighed. "What are you? Who hired the forger to make fake stock certificates? Did you escape Sir Truckle, were you stolen, or are you the mastermind behind this operation?"

"And why can't we hear you?" Lizzy added.

"Release me and I will reveal many secrets," the peacock telepathically whispered to Doyle. "I can speak with this one because his mind is sufficiently paranoid. The rest of you would ignore the subtle powers I can currently employ."

"It wants to be let out," Doyle said. He considered the cage, then, before anyone else could react, snapped the lock and opened the door.

The peacock hopped onto his desk and peered around the room with insane orange eyes. Sounds of collective dismay were drowned by the fizz of magic. The peacock transformed into a horse-sized dragon. Doyle watched in dismay as his ancient desk collapsed and his carefully stacked piles of newspapers were pushed to the edges of the room. 

The dragon, thankfully, seemed to be mostly tail and neck. Its bulbous goggle-eyed head whipped around the room, examining the PCs with its blazing eyes. Despite the colour-leaching properties of Doyle's office, which usually turned everything inside it greyscale, the dragon was a rich blue, fading to purple along its crest and wings.

Free at last!" the dragon piped. 

"Dragon!" Lizzy said intelligently. Dr. Hartwell moved towards the door. Tom just stared. Doyle nodded in satisfaction. He'd expected a supernatural being of some sort.

"You will address me as Balchezazar the Azure," the dragon said imperiously. Lizzy nodded.

"Delighted to meet you. I'm Lizzy Ramchander. This is Doyle Wormsby, Dr. Hartwell, and Tom Shambledrake."

The dragon eyed Tom. "You're named 'Shambledrake'? Why?"

"It's my... family's name? I don't know. We've always had it."

"Disgusting. Might as well be named 'Mucus and Lung Diseases'. Wait..." the dragon said, and sniffed Tom. It recoiled like a cut spring. "Oh no, you're related."

"I'm what?!" Tom said.

"Maybe related is the wrong word. Contagious? Your family is, or was, the dracocult of my disreputable brother. We hatched at the same time, but his scales never came in. He turned out all wrinkly and awful. Just awful. I always wondered what happened to him. Yes, that's his smell on you. How horrible."

"One of my ancestors is a dragon?" Tom said.

"No, no. Disgusting. No, several of your ancestors spent a lot of time around a Shambledrake. Not a proper dragon at all, but it seems it's still contagious. That's how dragons work," Balchezazar explained patiently. "Mortals pick up elements of our magnificent nature by proximity."

"Magnificent nature, got it," Doyle said. "What were you doing in a cage?"

The dragon looked chagrined. "It was a long time ago. I was young and foolish, and there was this human in a garden. I decided to... well, in any case, I was captured. That was two hundred years ago. Two hundred years in a cage, in the Truckle family, listening to them prattle on and live and die and talk and talk and talk. Awful."

"You were captured by Sir Truckle's ancestors?"

"Yes. Horrible people. And then they used my blood," Balchezazar said, "to mark your idiotic paper money. As if paper could be valuable."

Doyle nodded as the dragon rambled about hoards and sound currency. Any rich lunatic could buy a peacock, but dragons were mythical. 

"So Sir Truckle sold your blood to the Royal Mint?" Tom said. "Where did the forger come in?"

"Sir Truckle became avaricious. The forger he hired, in turn, desired more than a share of the forged bills, and so parted ways with Sir Truckle. This lead to our first meeting," Balchezazar said to Doyle. "Though I do not know who broke the forger out of prison, or who hired him to make your so-called stock papers."

"And what is your plan now?" Doyle asked.

"First, vengeance. Sir Truckle, his family, and his servants will burn. Then... well, I am not entirely certain."

"Ah," Tom said. "Perhaps we could convince you not to burn Sir Truckle." Tom knew that the Truckle family owned several potion-refining works. A blast of dragonfire could level more than just one building.

"You cannot," the dragon replied frostily.

"What if we could inflict vengeance on your behalf?" Tom added cautiously. "After all, Sir Truckle is only a human, and it would be demeaning to personally take vengeance on a human." 

"Continue, wizard," the dragon said, narrowing its eyes. "You would burn Sir Truckle for me?"

"Ah, well, not as such. We would inflict a much more terrible revenge. We would see him prosecuted for his crimes and executed in a lawful manner," Tom said. 

"And his name would be printed in the newspapers," Lizzy said. "Oh the shame! The disgrace!"

"Whereas if you merely burned him, the reputation of his ancestors would be unharmed," Tom added.

"I will consider this. But hark," Balchezazar hissed, "if you do not take sufficient vengeance I will be forced to destroy Sir Truckle and all his wretched relatives. And in any case, I must rest for at least a day. This hovel will suffice."

"Hovel," Doyle grumbled. "Whose name is painted on the door?"

"Yibsmirrow Elyod," Dr. Hartwell said quietly.

The next morning, without fanfare or tickets, Tom raised his tower.

Onlookers thought the tower appeared by magic. This was technically true; Tom had hired an illusionist to project the tower's form accurately and perfectly, a skill illusionists mastered in their training. All Tom had to do was shape hundreds of tons of iron to match the illusion. It was a legendary feat of metal control, and it nearly turned Tom's brain into a potato pancake, but it worked. As the thin morning sun poured over Endon, it struck the largest iron structure ever raised.

Newspaper editors howled to stop the presses, find some architects, and get some iconographic images. Architects, wizards, and opinionated citizens lurched to their windows to stare at the apparition. The Daily Denunciation called it a marvel of the age and a sign of inevitable progress. The Sign of the Times called it a hideous pincushion, a diabolical instrument of wizardry gone mad, and the ugliest building yet devised by mortal minds. But for everyone else, it was simply the Iron Spike. 

Jonty had commissioned crates of pewter models for immediate sale, and handed slightly more impressive bronze casts with any purchase of stock. Nobody else in the group entirely understood Jonty's stock market schemes, but he assured them that they were all enormously wealthy... in theory.

The tower seemed to change Tom's personality slightly. "Tower madness," some elderly wizards said knowingly, behind closed and warded doors. A wizard with a tower tended to view the world as a campaign map and fellow citizens as ants. Tom had his workers build a rubber-lined insulated room near the top of the tower, so he could look over Endon during even the wildest storms.

He also reinforced the walls of the Gel Knight works, Lightning Inverter warehouse, and surrounding yards. If civil unrest was coming to Endon, Tom felt that he could wait out the rioters inside a fortress made of iron and magic. He had stacks of unused iron discreetly stacked around the compound. If all else failed, he'd simply raise an impenetrable iron wall, call down hourly lightning strikes, and... starve to death. Lizzy spotted the flaw in Tom's plan and discreetly began stockpiling supplies. 

Anna Hartwell (Dr. Hartwell's sister), and John Huffman (the golem-maker) evaluated the golem-raising glyphs cut off the raw iron bars. They manged to raise a tiny iron figure, which staggered about, filled with lightning and confusion before running into the barrier wards and fizzling out. "Imagine that, but eighty feet high," Anna said. "Rampaging around the city."

When the group returned to Doyle's office, Balchezazar the Azure had carefully rearranged the room. The dragon seemed to be using Doyle's collection of plates, pots, and pans as a shabby hoard. "This is temporary!" the dragon exclaimed. "I am out of practice. Tell me, hairy bipeds, what is your plan to ruin the name and works of Sir Truckle?"

Tom explained, and Balchezazar listened. Then the dragon laughed and laughed and laughed.

Nevertheless, that evening, the group implemented their scheme. One half of Lizzy had spent the day discreetly scouting the mansion of Sir Truckle. As darkness feel, Lizzy (recombined) and Dr. Hartwell (disguised) ambushed one of Sir Truckle's maids as she returned home from her evening off. Dr. Hartwell used alter self so he resembled the maid, changed (awkwardly) into a matching set clothes Lizzy provided, and set off to infiltrate the mansion. Lizzy remained with the maid as backup.

Meanwhile, Doyle crept from rooftop to rooftop, a bomb tucked under one arm. It wasn't a particularly deadly bomb. He'd requested "fireworks, smoke, sparks, and flame" from the back-alley alchemist he'd hired for the job. Enough to burn down a house, but with enough noise and smoke to give everyone a chance to run out, and for the police to run in. Dr. Hartwell's job was to set off a similar bomb in the cellar, where Balchezazar the Azure said the family kept their forged printed bills. All the Coppers needed to do was follow the trail of breadcrumbs, assisted by anonymous tips from Doyle.

The back-alley alchemist, Aloysius Trent, had also hinted that the double-walled vial of liquid that Doyle had seen Benjamin Fits and other members of the Mechanics' Society handle might be oil of azide, a new explosive developed by Endon's leading alchemists. Super high explosive liquid expert Aloysius[1] could level a building, "even one such as the Iron Spike." What the labour agitator Fits, and the shadowy collection of wizards known as The Project, planned to bomb.

[1] I'm amazed my players turn up to these games.

Dr. Hartwell's disguised worked for under five minutes. He managed to get into the basement of the manor, but as he searched, he noticed a green mist creeping down the stairs and swirling around his head. It seemed to be some sort of magical burglar alarm. He found a wall safe by examining the masonry, but as he planted the bomb, Sir Truckle's butler appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Oh dear," Dr. Hartwell thought. "I should signal Lizzy for help." He paused, staring at the very confused butler and knot of other servants. "And we should have agreed on a signal before embarking on this ludicrous scheme."

"What's all this then?" the butler said. Wreathed in green smoke, Dr. Hartwell coughed politely, then tried to sprint past the butler. "None of that," the silver-haired servant said, and caught the disguised biomancer with a surprisingly sturdy arm.

Dr. Hartwell cast inflict pain on the butler but, to his shock, the butler simply shrugged off the effects and tightened his grip on the doctor's arm. He then cast mutate. One of the butler's eyes bulged and turned a vile shade of red, and something rustled in his unmentionable regions. He looked deeply concerned, but if anything, even more determined to bludgeon Dr. Hartwell into unconciousness.

At this point Lizzy appeared at the head of the basement stairs. She'd (sensibly) decided to watch the back of the manor from a dustbin across the street, and (questionably) decided all the commotion was a signal to intervene. The butler took one look at her and, to everyone's astonishment, fired a squirming magical ray from his newly mutated eye. The ray struck Lizzy in the chest and knocked her flat on her back.

Dr. Hartwell used the distraction to down a potion of ratform. With fearsome ease, the butler caught the falling rat with one hand. "Got you!" he gloated, as Dr. Hartwell tried to figure out how his claws worked. Instead, the twice-transformed doctor cast polymorph, transforming the butler into a rat as well. Both rats dropped to the floor as the bomb Dr. Hartwell planted detonated, filling the room with smoke and sparks.

In the confusion, Dr. Hartwell skittered across the room, leapt onto Lizzy's chest, and scrambled into her pocket. Both PCs fled the building. On the roof, Doyle decided the detonation of Dr. Hartwell's bomb was the signal to drop his bomb down a chimney. A few seconds later, the windows in the front of the house blew out with a gust of oily flame and bouncing sparks.

When the Coppers finally arrived, they were baffled by tales of "rat-witches" and "agitators among the lower orders." Sightings of "rat-witches" increased overnight, aided by articles in the illustrated press. The Coppers did not find any obvious signs of forged currency.

Dr. Hartwell nearly lost his equilibrium when Sir Truckle's butler turned up at Blumsworth Hospital the next day seeking urgent magical treatment. The butler hadn't seen the doctor's true form, and was therefore more than willing to listen to the foreigner's advice. The mutated evil eye was troubling, but the butler was far more worried about certain rearrangements in the trouser area.

"I regret to inform you that you are oviparous," Dr. Hartwell said gravely. 

"What does that mean?" the butler asked, pale as a bottle of ooze milk.

"I means you will, err, lay eggs. That is, you are going to lay an egg shortly, and will continue to do so until cured."

"This can be cured?"

"Oh yes," Dr. Hartwell said, confident that he could polymorph away the mutations easily. "But you should lay the current egg first."


"What is it?" Lizzy asked.

"It's an egg," Dr. Hartwell replied, as he pondered it.

"I can see that, but why is it in a warded glass jar on a hot water bottle?"

"It is going to hatch soon," the doctor explained. "Sir Truckle's butler laid it."

The rest of the group gathered around the dinning table of the townhouse to watch. After a few minutes of tapping, a tiny pink fist burst through the shell, and a fully uniformed miniature butler crawled out. He glared at the group with a malevolent mutated eye, then stared at the glass jar hard enough to chip it.

"No," Dr. Hartwell said. He refused to imagine a world filled with tiny egg-laying evil-eyed butlers. Creating a breed of mutated speaking rats in the basement was one thing, but this was too much.

"What are you going to do with it?" Lizzy asked.

"Smash it with a hammer and burn the remains," he said. "It's the only way to be sure."

The shadow of the Iron Spike is not the only shadow falling across Endon. Doyle's investigations suggested the 26th of Malbrogia was the day of action for the Mechanics' Socitey and the out-of-work miners marching on Endon. Labour agitation, speaking rats, currency manipulation, a vengeful dragon, a new explosive; all signs pointed towards doom. Will the PCs evade the grasping hand of fate, or, like a rat in a basement, will they be caught by the relentless butler of tortured metaphor?

Find out next time.


Sci-Fi: Sensors and Navigation

Sensors are often overlooked in science fiction. They're a tool that allows the plot to happen, and have whatever capabilities and author requires at the moment.

 In fiction:

"Captain, we've detected a ship at 100,000km."
[Image appears, crisp and detailed]
"Any life signs?"
"We're detecting high levels of applied phlebotinum in their hull."

In reality:

In the Bright Conference, sensors aren't magic. Let's see what is actually possible.

The Panopticon

Most civilized systems have a cloud of small telescopes and/or few very large telescopes to track asteroids, debris, in-system ships, solar flares, and traffic violations, linked to pattern-matching computers and live decision-makers. There's no stealth in space... if you've got a moderate budget.

But starships have mass restrictions. You can’t pack all the toys.

Large ships can, of course, pack quite a few toys. Distributed array telescopes are a plausible reason to carry a drone or two. But small ships, like the ~20 ton single-astronaut cans of the Bright Conference, can’t do everything. Their sensors need to be:

  • Plausible using current technology. Off the shelf components are ideal.
  • Low maintenance. Minimal cooling tech, and robust enough to survive thumps, bumps, and lurching.
  • Low mass.
  • Small enough to launch inside a faring. No boom arms or long aerials; a Bright Conference pod has to maneuver and dock, not just cruise.

The intention is not to collect space science. It’s easier just to ask the locals for their data. The intention is to navigate, take photos, and locate objects in a system.

Sensors in the Bright Conference

The Mk. 1.0 Human Eyeball

Also known as looking out a window. Pack a camera with a selection of expensive lenses and a pair of binoculars. This sensor is in your living area, which means you can use it as long as you’re alive, and it’s cooled and maintained by the most important systems in the ship at no additional cost. In an emergency you can navigate (badly) with nothing but a grease pencil, a window, a few bright objects, and a notepad.

The Mk. 1.0 eyeball is adaptive, which is annoying in some ways. It can't tell the difference between different stellar classes visually up close. If you're around a yellow star or a blue star, all light "seems" white.


Basic External Cameras

In an ideal world, a pod would have full coverage fixed cameras (at least one in every direction).  Cooling and power requirements mean that might not be viable. Cameras need to be toggled on. Each camera's shutter is connected to a simple lux detector so you don’t Bean your camera by pointing it at the sun. 

Instead of, or in addition to, fixed hull cameras, you could mount something like the ISS EHDCA (PDF link). This is not a highly precise automatically tracking camera. This is a basic look-around-the-hull camera. A periscope without a direct optical link. The more I look at the EHDCA, the more delighted I am by its design. 

You'll probably want at least one camera on the end of your robotic arm, for inspection and tool manipulation, and possibly one low-resolution fixed forward-facing camera for docking or maneuvering.

Alex Ries

Main Telescope

You want the widest and longest telescope possible. You can use tricks to fold the telescope’s length into itself, but you can't escape the laws of optics. 

Ideally, you want a rotating mount with independent stabilization. You can set it to track an object and it will, provided your spacecraft isn’t manuvering or you aren't throwing your weight around. Most space telescopes point the entire craft at their target; this is not feasible with a large heavy craft full of air, unpressurized liquid, cargo, and a wiggly human being. Independent stabilization is needed.

You can divert the telescope's image to a diffraction grating and spectrometer or a number of specialized CCDs (IR, visual, UV). You'll probably have a lower resolution conventional off-the-shelf full-colour option and a higher resolution black-and-white option for specific wavelengths that your computer can use to create a false-colour composite.

Ideally, you'll want to point the telescope 90 degrees from your direction of travel so you don’t chip your mirrors.

How big?
Given the mass, size, and complexity restrictions, let's say a Bright Conference pod defaults to an 8” reflector telescope. You could easily go with a 12”, but anything larger and I’d start to worry about stabilization and complexity. 

What can you see?
Conveniently, lots of people on earth have 8” reflector telescopes. We can use their images to calibrate our expectations. Yes, focal length and eyepieces and digital layering and all that will change the results, but we're eyeballing output, not calibrating an actual telescope.

Reddit user McTaSs

You can spot the shape of the ISS, but you can’t tell one satellite from another. A fleet of Star Destroyers could park next to Jupiter and you’d have no idea. Still, an 8" telescope is a lot better than the Mk. 1 Human Eyeball, especially when it's connected to an image-averaging computer. With enough time, you can smooth out the fuzziness of an image, or spot small changes and highlight them. 

For the purposes of Fermi estimates, ISS is 400km up and is 100m wide. So if you want to read a 1m license plate with the same blurry resolution as that ISS pic, you need to be within 4km. 

Spectral Analysis

Bounce incoming light off a diffraction grating, so that only one wavelength reaches the detector, then record the intensity. Slowly scan across all available wavelengths, then repeat several times, then do some math on the output. From this, you can learn:

  • The main elements in the atmosphere of a planet... if you can point your telescope at it for more than an hour and if your software can peel signal from noise.
  • What fuel a ship is burning (H2/O2, CH4/O2, etc.) and if the ship is using a nuclear heat source to boost fuel temperature.
  • The spectral type of the nearest star (if your telescope is set up as a solar telescope; otherwise, do not point it at the sun.)

You cannot detect:

  • Life signs inside a ship.
  • The exact elemental composition of any given distant object.

If you can estimate the mass of a ship, you can work out all possible trajectories it can take. You might not know how full its fuel tanks are, or the type of engine, but the rocket is a tyrant.

The Magellan probe. The dual dish (top) and altimeter (cone-shaped thing, left) are probably worth including on a Bright Conference pod, in an updated form.


Tuneable, so you can listen to ambient radio waves bouncing off of planets and objects. Shielded from your own ship as much as possible. A dish works. The bigger the better, provided it fits in your faring and can be cooled. A forward-facing dish could also act as a debris shield, as a dish antenna is more resistant to damage than a telescope mirror. The same laws of optics apply, so a sensibly-sized dish won't give you magically more detail than your optical telescope.

Active radar (such as SAR) can provide fairly detailed results without implausibly complicated equipment. Resolution is unlikely to beat your optical telescope's resolution.

X-Ray Telescope

Useful for pulsars, useful for navigation. X-ray optics are getting smaller, better, and sturdier these days, so a dedicated telescope seems viable. You could possibly mount it on the same stabilization platform as your main optical telescope. Long focal lengths probably aren't viable.

A scintillation detector consists of a shielded tube, a crystal, and a photodetector. Gamma rays and/or X-rays hit the crystal and make it sparkle, and the detector converts those flashes of light into a signal. No moving parts. Aside from spotting stars, a scintillation detector is useful for spotting unshielded reactors or other human-killing hazards... hopefully before they become hazardous.

In theory, you could pack a gamma ray or X-ray spectroscope, which could provide another method of elemental analysis. Watch cosmic rays hit an object, then analyze what bounces back. In practice, I'm not sure they're worth it. They need a lot of shielding compared to a simple rate-based "where are we and are we in trouble" scintillation detector and a lot of time to generate useful results. Still, if you can make a small one, you might as well bring it along.

Laser Rangefinder

Bright Conference pods have tiny lasers for docking. The larger the laser, the more complex the cooling system. Calibrated for distances below 500m. Not useful for long-distance signalling.

Gravity Detector

I've included this because gravity detectors are cool, but they're probably not useful. They're extremely fiddly to use on the ground. In theory, they can detect a spoon at 5m. In practice, you don't want them to detect a spoon at 5m, you want them to detect large and distant objects, which means you need a very stable platform, long observation periods, and a lot of noise correction. 

Neutrino Detector

Again, not useful. High mass, very little immediately useful information.

The Scale of the Galaxy

The Galaxy Song is still, 40 years later, accurate enough for RPG purposes. It's worth storing in the back of your mind for quick reference.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,But out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.We go 'round every two hundred million years.And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions,In this amazing and expanding universe.

Thought experiment: You are Star Tyrant Ludicrous the 2nd. Your vast fleet of space warships can conquer an astonishing 100 star systems per second. Tick. 100 flags over 100 suns. Tick. Another 100 flags over another 100 suns. 

How long does it take your fleet to conquer the Milky Way?

100 billion stars / 100 stars per second = 1 billion seconds (1x10^9). We know that there are 3.2x10^7 seconds in a year (it's a handy number to memorize). So that's 32 years. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Similarly, if you imagine a line sweeping across the galaxy at 100 stars per frame and 60 frames per second, it'd still take 192 days for the line to reach the other side. 100 billion is a ludicrously large number. It boggles the mind. And that's a low estimate; some papers suggest 400 billion stars is more accurate.

The point is, if you're telling a human-scale story and you feel the need to include other galaxies, consider just how much sand is currently in your sandbox.

Lost In Space: Galactic Orienteering

Thought experiment: You are teleported somewhere in the galaxy. How can you determine your position?

In a Bright Conference scenario, you can ask the gate that you exited through where you are, and compare it to any number of moderately accurate maps of the network. The gate's automated system will give you all the information you need about your location in the galaxy and in the local star system. It's always acceptable to ask for directions.

But let's imagine that you can't ask. This is an interesting experiment, and one that doesn't seem to have any well-documented solutions. If you have a cunning answer, post it in the comments.

1. Broad Position
All the constellation are different. You can't expect a computer to accurately store the relative position of 100 billion stars and then, just by looking at a portion of the starfield, calculate your location. It's possible, but you'd need a very, very accurate galactic map and a very fast computer.

Instead of looking at all the stars, why not use a special type of star? Pulars seem like they're designed for celestial navigation. They're unique lighthouses. If you have a database of pulsars, you can slowly scan the sky with your X-ray telescope or radar dish, locate a few pulsars, and triangulate your position. The more pulsars you identify, the more accurate your position. Wikipedia claims +/- 5km but I'm skeptical.

2. Local Position
But before you determine your broad position, it's best to determine your local position.

First, turn on your navigation computer. Tell it to lock your pod's position relative to the starfield ahead of it. Basically, your computer can take a picture of the star and use your pod's reaction wheels to keep the stored image in line with what the camera sees. It's tricky to take celestial measurements if your ship is rotating or tumbling.

Once your INS is set, you can adjust your pod's attitude without fear of losing track of external objects.

Second, check your habitat dosimeter. If you're in a high radiation area you might not live long enough to do anything about it, but it's nice to know. Radiation can give your next steps a sense of urgency.

Third, try to spot the nearest star. The easiest method is to unlock the roll axis and gently spin your pod while looking through the windows. Spinning along a pod's long axis requires less energy than tumbling end over end. Within a system's heliosphere, the local sun is still probably bright enough to identify with the Mk. 1 eyeball.

If there's no obvious candidate for a nearest star, you might be in interstellar space. Proceed to the next steps, but if you don't spot any planets or bright objects, then your broad pulsar-determined position from step 1 is probably acceptable. Space is big and mostly empty. 

If you do spot a star, mark its approximate position in the computer. During the next phase, your computer will try to avoid pointing your ship's delicate instruments anywhere near the star.

Activate survey mode. Your navigation computer will use your ship's cameras to build a complete map of the starfield around your ship. This process takes approximately one hour. Your pod will alter its orientation using reaction wheels. You should avoid moving around the pod during this process. Bunk down or strap into your seat.

The survey may identify bright spots. These could be planets, ships, or stations. You can export the coordinates to your telescope system and take a closer look.

3. Velocity
Calculating your velocity is difficult. Your spaceship doesn't come with a magic speedometer.

The good news is that you can use your radar system to determine your velocity relative to any dangerously close planets or vessels. Eyeballing some existing projects, I'd say a Bright Conference pod could determine the relative velocity of any planet, moon, or asteroid within 500,000 km via active Doppler radar. Ships and stations might need to be within 5,000km.

But you can't calculate the orbits of distant planets if you don't know your relative velocity. You could be stationary, relative to the star, and falling like a stone, or you could be speeding through the system like a bullet. You can't tell if the apparent shifts in a planet's position are due to its velocity or your velocity.

You could potentially use the red/blueshifts of various pulsars to calculate your velocity relative to Sol, but that's not useful. You might assume that, if you can triangulate your position within the galaxy within +/-5km, you could just take multiple pulsar fixes and calculate your velocity that way. This is true, but it'd be your velocity relative to various pulsars, not relative to other objects in the system.

You could use red/blueshifts of local spectra to determine your velocity, but only if your relative velocity is alarmingly large. You only have an 8" telescope.

Also, you can't assume you're near the invariable plane of a system, so you'll need to take many, many measurements. Since a planet's moons typically fall along the same plane as the other planets, you can use them to quickly determine the approximate location of the invariable plane. Moons might also be more useful for the estimates above. I'm sure astronomers can do fiendishly clever things with transits and shadows. I've tried to work out a few basic calculations with the moons of Jupiter. The results suggest it's possible, but very difficult, and you'd need to know or estimate the size or mass of the moon to get any useful information.

A gravity gradiometer might be useful here, but, as stated above, they seem very fiddly and slow. A gradiometer can, as the name implies, only measure a gradient, so it's a bit like trying to navigate a city by only looking at the pavement under your feet.

Best Guess

Also known as doing a lot of estimates and averaging the results.

  • You can determine the type of the star by its spectrum, and can estimate its mass.
  • You can determine temperature of gas giants or atmospheric planets by their spectra. You can use that, plus the stellar type, to estimate their distance from the star.
  • You can estimate the mass of a planet by its type. That, plus its distance from the star, can be used to calculate its orbital period via Kepler.
  • You can then compare the estimated velocity to the observed velocity to get your own orbital velocity.

If your trigonometry is rusty, have an analogy. Imagine you are standing and watching a street through a camera. A car drives in front of you, perpendicular to your camera. You take two photographs of the car. 

By comparing the two photographs and the time between them, you can calculate the car's velocity. If you know the length of the car you don't even need to know how far away the road is. With some slightly trickier math, you can even tell if the car is moving away from you ("changing lanes") as well as moving past you.

In a second experiment, you walk by a stationary car and, while in motion, take two photographs. If you know the time between the photographs, you can calculate your velocity.

In a third experiment, you walk past a moving car. If your velocity is known or the car's velocity is known, you can calculate any missing information. But if you and the car both have unknown velocities, calculations are no longer possible. You can't tell if the apparent shift in the car's position between the photographs is because it's moving, you're moving, or both.

Nevertheless, you know the the bounds of the velocities, and can use them to estimate possible unknown values. You know the speed limit on the street. You know the car isn't stationary. You know that you probably can't run faster than 12 km/h. You know that cars come in a relatively narrow range of sizes.

Why Is Velocity Important?

You want to avoid crashing into things. Space isn't about up. It's about sideways. You can get near space with a hot air balloon or a cannon. You can't stay in space without a whole lot of sideways.

The further you are from a gravity well, the cheaper it is to adjust your path relative to that gravity well. This is why probes that want to look at the sun's poles travel deep into the solar system before swinging back towards the sun. The smaller your relative velocity, the easier it is to adjust your vector. 

So figuring out where you are, how fast you are going, and if you need to adjust your velocity is a very important part of stellar navigation. And since Bright Conference pods have very limited delta-v, it's important to know when to burn.

In the Bright Conference, gates are usually parked in stable orbits. Earth's gate is parked near Earth-Moon L1. You have time to figure out where you are.

In the real world, space navigation relies heavily on dead reckoning. You know where you were, you know what changes you made to your velocity, and you can check your current position against a number of known observations. Apollo 13 wasn't able to take see the stars through their debris cloud, but they were able to use the position of the sun, the earth, and the moon (and some frantic ground-based calculations) to check their position and velocity. 

In the Bright Conference, you need to reset your dead reckoning system every time you travel through a gate. Most systems provide standardized (or at least comprehensible) information. 

But the map is not the territory. Knowing where you are and how fast you're going won't help if you're six months from any interesting destination. Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son of a bitch in space, and he's a persistence predator.


OSR: Wards and Counterspells

Over on discord, evilscientist42 asked if there were any good counterspell rules. They published their own before I had a chance to finish this post.

True counterspells are dedicated spell-eating spells. A shark, to pierce and burst incoming magic. Variants include stifle, deflect spell, and Horsbraile's Needle of Thaum. A dedicated counterspell gives you more power for your charge, but requires a spell slot.

Some wizards see them as cowardly. It wastes an entire spell slot on the possibility someone will cast a spell on you and you'll have time to react and you have sufficient charge to do something about it. Wizards tend to think in terms of "doing unto others."

Traditionalists and novelists love thematic negations. Ice ray vs. firebolt. Reality rarely obliges.



The Magical Industrial Revolution has significantly altered the availability of raw magic. The largest magic battery in the current Ioderth range, the "Gargantua-II", can store more thaumic charge than the legendary Flying City of Augh [1] used in its entire operational lifespan.[2] 

This is because a magic battery has only one job: storing magic. It doesn't need to do taxes, navigate traffic, or dream of a better and more remunerative future.

Strictly speaking, the human brain doesn't need to do any of these things either, but it tends to be used for more than just storing raw magic. Learning to carry a charge without detonating is part of wizarding training. Learning how to release that charge into a spell without accidentally fulcruming your brain through your ears or blowing off the ends of your fingers is an equally important part.

An untrained human being can store just enough magic to find their keys in the dark, create true love from reasonably priced ingredients, or run into a burning building to save a child. With time and effort, a human can store significantly more thaumic charge without exploding. The first humans who figured this out became wizards, or druids, or seers, or merely very good at hunting mammoths. Magic has come a long way since then.

[1]. Full name: "Augh What Is That"
[2]. Approximately eleven minutes.

João Bragato

Improvised Counterspells

Instead of relying on a dedicated spell-killing-spell, some wizards simply dump raw magic into the atmosphere. Weak spells overload and fall apart as the thaumic gradient switches direction. It's seen as a sign of fear and lack of control, but history is written by survivors. Survivors who might be missing the tips of their fingers, but survival is survival.

Improvised Counterspell

For GLOG wizards. Acquired at Wizard Template C.

As a reaction to a spell that targets you or passes near you, after your opponent rolls their MD, spend any number of MD. 

  • If your [sum] beats their [sum], the spell is cancelled. 
  • If your [sum] equals their [sum], the spell detonates. Default is half the distance between you and your opponent, radius [dice]x10', [their sum]+[your sum] damage, Save for half. 
  • If your [sum] is less than their [sum], the spell is cast normally.

MD invested in a counterspell do not return on a 1-3. Do not generate Mishaps or Dooms.

Mechanical Notes

This gives wizards yet another use for MD. Knowing your opponent's [sum] before deciding whether or not to counter makes it less of a gamble and more of a calculation. If their [sum] is 5, do you risk 1 MD or use 2? If their [sum] is 16, even 3 MD probably won't help. 

I feel like having returning MD would tempt players to use the ability too often. It also makes thematic sense; you're not metering out your magic, you're dumping it blindly.

Pavel Kolomeyets


A spellbook page traps a spell without being, itself, a spell or bound enchantment. Similarly, a ward alters or deflects magic by its substance and structure. As a spellbook page resembles, thaumaturgically, a cozy human brain, a ward can resemble a wall, a mirror, a spiral, or a key. It's all about shaping the flow of ethereal forces. A circle is the most basic thaumic shape. 

Wards are a trade between cost (low), time (high), expertise (fiddly), and effectiveness (never as much as you'd like). There's a saying: "a well-made ward gives you time to worry." 

Many a fine wizard has spent years engraving their workshop with wards, only to slip on a dribbly candle and knock their head against decorative pewter candlestick.

Cheap, simple, and never as effective as you want it to be. Your average poltergeist will be stopped, but any ghost serious enough to worry a wizard will simply melt its way through, in time. The last thing many exorcists see is a pleasant orange glow.

A bit gauche these days, but bones earth all sorts of magic. They're at least six times better than lead, and you can mine them in any major city. Chalk is just another kind of bone, so whenever you see a wizard marking symbols in chalk, know that their forebearers would  have marked them with burnt femur.

Extremely gauche and very unreliable. Still, prudent wizards keep a cage of mice handy. Blood wards lose effectiveness as they dry, but fresh blood has unmatched potency.


Conducts stray charge away instead of absorbing it, which is good if you like your wards to be reusable. Wizards traditionally connect copper earthing strips to a dried crocodile.

Rules for Wards

A well-made ward (at minimum, 3 hours for a 5' circle) gives you (inclusively):

  • Knowledge. You know if a designated creature type or spell crosses your ward. 
  • Obscurity. Precisely targeted spells (scrying, teleportation) are distorted by wards.
  • 1 round of extra time. A fireball sizzles in midair. Lighting burns but does not strike.
  • 1 point of damage reduction. 

You can layer wards, and the results stack, but each layer doubles the time required.

Any solid object can be warded, but the math for warding a coat with silver embroidery thread is much trickier than a nice chalk circle on stone.

Wards have a 50% chance to fail after use.

Wards work both ways. If you ward against scrying, you cannot scry out. If you ward against skeletons, do not move quickly across the barrier.


Sci-Fi: Assorted Reviews: Spiders and Skeletons and Strategy

So many books, so little time.


Children of Time, Children of Ruin, Children of Memory

-Adrian Tchaikovsky

Dan over at throneofsalt suggested this series. Dan is very wise, and sums up the salient points, so I won't bother.

Children of Time is good. If it came out in 2000, it might have changed the world. In 2015, it was merely on the upper end of the curve. Children of Ruin is even better, well ahead of the pack in 2019. Children of Memory is masterful and it may take decades for anyone to catch up.

There's an arc sci-fi worldbuilding/idea-development trilogies usually follow. In book 1, we meet A. In book 2, A meets B, create a utopia of the author's choice, and receive hints of a shallow but world-ending threat C. In book 3, C is defeated. The problem is utopia. Having spent several books establishing the best of all possible worlds in considerable detail, according to the author, all plots stagnate.

I was worried Tchaikovsky was going to follow this path. Instead, Children of Memory shattered all expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by the first two books, but the third left me breathless and awed. The craft! 

If Children of Time and Children of Ruin and were piano, Children of Memory is the full symphony orchestra. I thought some of the motifs in Children of Ruin were wearing thin by the end, but Children of Memory says "motifs? Behold my fugal masterpiece of interlocking motifs, counter-motifs, and inversions." Any one of the dozens of concepts in Children of Time could support a mediocre novel. It's astonishing. Heap gold and accolades at the feet of Tchaikovsky, ye heathen masses.

The Locked Tomb Series
Gideon the Ninth, Harrow the Ninth, Nona the Ninth

-Tamsyn Muir

I try not to describe works as "X meets Y", as I feel it's reductive, but in this case it's impossible to avoid. The Locked Tomb is, and seems to be fully aware of it, Warhammer 40k meets Revolutionary Girl Utena meets a lot of other cultural references I cannot adequately source. Sabriel? Homestuck? It uses memes fluently. It's probably incomprehensible to someone who doesn't speak fluent tumblr.

To extend the musical metaphor from the review above, the language in The Locked Tomb is the equivalent of dropping a piano on someone. I found myself remembering a line from Kill Six Billion Demons.  "Behold! The awesome fires of god. The limitless power of pure creation itself. Look carefully! Observe how it is used for the same purpose a man might use a particularly sharp rock!" The language shifts registers like a teenager learning how to drive stick. Smoke billows from the clutch.

I'm also not a huge fan of the post-ironic trend of softening every emotional punch with a quip, or winking at the audience whenever anything dares to be serious. It's less egregious here because everyone seems to participate. Protagonists, antagonists, inanimate objects, relics, and descriptive text. Snark into the abyss and the abyss snarks into you.

And yet, it's fun. It's good, and it's fun, and it's more than the sum of its parts. It's black on obsidian morality, a giant grimdark biopunk explosion written by someone with considerably more emotional expertise than the average Black Library author. It's indulgent without being smug. It is ridiculous without, somehow, collapsing fully into self-parody. 

It's delicious junk food and it's labelled accordingly. Let the reader who has not eaten a whole family-sized bag of chocolate covered almonds cast the first stone.

The Saga of Cuckoo
Farthest Star, Wall Around A Star

-Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson

I read this a long, long time ago, and recently reread it as part of my Bright Conference project. I'd say these two works, dimly remembered, exert a significant influence on the project.

Farthest Star features a truly alien collection of aliens, a sense of tragedy and futility, and some good hard-ish sci-fi problem-solving. It also features a lost more -ism than I remembered. Prefix as you see fit, but there's a lot of it.

The sequel is less interesting, but provides a solution to the mystery raised in Farthest Star. It also has even more -ism, so be warned.

I was surprised to discover that Pohl also wrote Man Plus, a story I'd read much more recently. Have you ever read a story, thought "this author clearly has issues," checked the author's "personal life" section on Wikipedia, and said "well that tracks"? Man Plus is very much that sort of story.

Pohl has a knack for subtle horror. I'm often unsure if an element is deliberately crafted to be horrifying, or if he didn't think it through. If the former, it's masterful. If the latter, it's worrying. The Purchased People in Farthest Star. The blind surgical faith in Man Plus. The banality of unexamined evil.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes 

I'm cheating a bit here. Not the novels, the TV series. Not the whole series, just the first and second seasons of the 1989-1997 run, because there's a lot of it.

It's refreshing to find a series that's not afraid to tackle hard social topics without kid gloves. Grand strategy, the decay of democracy, the role of the military, the flaws in empire-building. What do you do when the majority vote for autocracy? Is there such a thing as a just war? Character offer theories and solutions, but, as in the real world, there is rarely a perfect answer.

The strategy aspects are not terribly deep, and are basically massed infantry tactics in a spaceship disguise but they're still leagues ahead of most media. Knowing what move your enemy is about to make is not enough. When should you give up control of a situation and focus on reacting to your opponent's moves? Should you react at all? Is this a feint, a distraction, or a prelude?

The documentary-style framing narrative is a nice touch, as are the cutaways to people we'll never see again. There's a sense of scale, of historical inertia, of a complex and unseen world full of real people.

LotGH is sometimes criticized as aestheticization of fascism, but in many ways, fascism is pre-aestheticized. Midway through Season 2, we are finally shown the origins of these far-future factions. It turns out that the Galactic Empire is not pompous and archaic by accident or technological regression.

Rudolf the Great deliberately selected his fascist aesthetic. This is pageantry. Behold the heirs of the heirs of Rome, wearing costume jewellery and old drapes. A few images later, his cronies are all dressing like good burghers and teaching their sons to tie cravats and their daughters to embroider. Five hundred years later and they're all still wearing the same clothes, because nostalgia is the death of innovation.