Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The Planet Crimson

The Grand Cluster has many world shrouded in mystery and laden with power. One of the most pivotal to the power structure of the cluster is Crimson, which provides unique psionic drugs to the powerful Pinnacle Empire

Crimson is covered with an insidious thick red fog that gives the planet its name. It rises two miles above the planet's surface, sends most life into a helpless stupor, and corrodes machines from the inside. Just above the fog hovers massive machines kept aloft by powerful psionic flows emanating from the planet beneath. Strange gears four hundred meters across slowly turn in the red skies, while the factories attached to them use some unfathomable process to produce the most powerful psionic drugs in the grand cluster. Bolted onto these factories centuries later are a collection of homes and structures housing the modern population, a collection of native workers who can see the psionic flows emerging from below, occupying soldiers guarding the wealth of the planet, and doomed prisoners recovering from their exposure to the mist in the mines below.

 On the surface itself, protected and isolated by the fog, is an alien ecology featuring forests of an organism shaped like coral and a host of small hardy creatures that thrive in the otherwise hostile fog. dotting this alien wilderness are the old ruins of vast cities made of smooth towers with mushroom tops, massive vents in the surface spewing out the fog, miserable mines where the enslaved criminals of the empire are forced to harvest exotic psionic drug predecessors, and the camps of the flappers, a hairless winged race with a great crests, long beaks, and a taste for human flesh.

Crimson was one of the most memorable worlds of my campaign Called From Exile, and I'm planning a campaign set entirely on it. It is visually memorable, hides immense secrets, and easily lends itself to intrigue, being isolated, hostile, and at the center of grand politics, all at the same time. 

The Crimson Mist:

The thick red fog of crimson has an insidious effect on those it surrounds, and a defining effect on the planet. Every minute of full exposure, living creatures must roll vs. Will to avoid falling asleep. succeeding by 3 or less makes them merely drowsy. For each consecutive roll, a cumulative -1 is inflicted. Precautions can decrease the frequency of the roll:

  • Wearing Heavy Clothing increase the time to 2 minutes
  • Wearing Heavy Clothing and a breather increases the time to 10 minutes
  • Wearing a Sealed Suit and a breather increases the time to 20 minutes
  • Wearing Heavy Clothing and a breather while near a Crimson Urchin increases the time to 2 Hours
  • Wearing a Sealed Suit and a breather while near a Crimson Urchin increases the time to 3 Hours

The Cumulative penalty wears off at a rate of 1 per hour if completely out of the mist, or 1 per 2 hours if in a building or vehicle surrounded by the mist

Machines, meaning anything with moving or electronic parts that's not alive, must roll vs. HT every 10 minutes or receive a cumulative -1 to IQ, DX, HT, and rolls to use the machine. An AI may roll vs Will instead. This is caused by small red crystals that grow on moving and electronically sensitive parts. Precautions can also decrease the frequency of the roll: 

  • A leaky seal, like one intended to maintain climate control increases the time to 10 minutes
  • A true seal keeping out all atmosphere increases the time to 20 minutes
  • Crimson Urchins have no beneficial effect for machines

Machines can have these crystals cleaned off of them: the time varies by the size of the machine, but five minutes per square yard of surface area is a good benchmark, minimum five minutes, and most machines have to be taken apart and put back together, which is going to take its own time.

The effect of the crimson mist is psionic, which is how it can form those crystals across seals and vacuum. The crystals have no value, and will slow sublimate over a a few days if removed from the mist

The Mist will also penetrate sealed buildings. After four hours, a small amount of mist will seep in, enough to stop the recovery from the cumulative penalty. This can be stopped by scrubbing the building clean (five minutes of scrubbing per four square yards of wall keeping out the mist). After 12 hours, the mist will make many small holes in the wall that it will move through .

The floating factories are somehow immune to these effects, even when storms blow the mists up high to where the factories levitate. However, the buildings bolted onto the factories are not immune, and storms on crimson, while mild in terms of wind force, can do a lot of damage to machines as the mist seeps in. 

The Mist varies in thickness: at its thickest it inflicts -2 vision per yard, but -1 per yard is more typical, and even on the surface, -1 per 2 yards occurs regularly.  

The Mist also blocks Psionics, adding a penalty equal to the vision penalty to any roll to use psionics at a distance.This is not effected by any distance modifiers placed on the psionic ability.

The Urchins

Mist Urchins, or Crimson Urchins, as they are known off-world, are named for their resemblance to sea urchins. They weigh about a quarter of a pound, and have small tube feet on their underside they use to cling to objects, and especially to people. Crimson urchins are famously "friendly", and will slowly move towards people at the speed of about 1 inch every five seconds. While they cannot see, they do have short-range echolocation. They are cultivated and kept by those on Crimson who foresee a need to brave the mists, and are highly effective at staving off the mist's insidious effects. 

Keeping a crimson urchin requires a minimal source of food (they seem to eat anything) a hour-long exposure to the mists once a week, and contact with a psionic being for at least 15 minutes a day. Without these things, they suffer and slowly die over the course of a month. Despite this, they are tricky to breed, and market price for one is $2,000.

The Factories 

There are around 500 of these factories floating in the skies of crimson, over what is really a small fraction of the planet. They are not stationary, but move from place to place, propelled by the psionic upwellings from the planet. Their operators, known as "The Sighted", can see these flows, and direct the factories to follow. In fact, a great deal of the factories' maintenance and operation can only be done by the sited, who can see the flows of the "Ether" around them. The Factories most notable feature is their giant gears, which turn slowly for some reason even the Sighted barely understand. These in turn operate a variety of other strange mechanical contraptions, and at the very end of the process, expensive psionic drugs are produced in small collectors.

 The typical Factory is about 500 meters tall, 700 meters wide, and 1000 meters long. Their exteriors, especially their upper exteriors, are covered in slowly moving gears, vanes, antenna, vents, and and cams. On their underside are all the structures added on, sometimes bolted, sometimes dangling. Their parts are often a dull bronze, though the exact alloys and colors show a bewildering variety. Each factory has dozens of levels, and can comfortably hold around 50,000 people. 

As a general rule, the richest and most desirable parts of the factory are the closest to the top and to the center. The upper portion of the factory is mostly moving parts, precluding too much settlement, but once the gears stop moving, you enter the domain of the rich and powerful. usually in the center of each factory is grand artificially lit "main street" with the highest end shops, homes, and government buildings. As you move away from this center, out and down, you enter worse and worse locations, with the worst locations being those dangling from the bottom of the factory. These dangling structures usually house the miners recovering from the surface below. Most of the time they are out of the mist, but when the mist rises higher than usual, it will enter the bolted on structures and especially the dangling ones.

Travel within the factories is generally done on foot: its corridors are too narrow for anything else. Traveling between factories is done by repulsor craft when the mists are low, and they generally fly high so as to avoid unpleasant upwelling from the mists below.

The Sighted

The Sighted are the population of humans that run the factories of Crimson. A quirk of genetics combined with growing up on the planet grants them the psionic ability to see the flows coming up from the mists. Crimson's economy does not function without them, and they are given a fair amount of autonomy, running and directing the factories, selecting their own magistrates and maintaining an independent guard that enforces their laws, so long as the factories continue to produce the critical psionic drugs that the pinnacle empire needs to thrive.

The partnership between the sighted and the pinnacle empire is old, and its perhaps one of their most critical planets, but tensions between the two are rising, as the growing population of the Pinnacle ruling families begin to demand higher outputs and the sited find that their elevated status is limited to their own planet. Crimson is perhaps the most fragile part of the pinnacle's power structure, a unique cog that cannot be replaced and barely be controlled.

The Empire

 The Pinnacle Empire is ruled by the "Pinnacles", a group of families gifted with enormous psionic power. The unique drugs produced by crimson allow them to boost their powers, develop their talents, and most importantly, to reliably trigger psionic abilities in their youth.

While the Pinnacles allow the Sighted to run the factories, they maintain a heavy garrison in orbit and in isolated portions of the factory, an administrative staff who keep an eye on the sighted and who handle the administration of any off-worlders who might make it there, and a system of mines worked by hapless prisoners. The head imperial is referred to as a Viceroy, as they do not rule directly, and they are almost always a ranking pinnacle with well-developed psionic powers.

The miners are kept in crowded barracks underneath the factories. Living conditions are cramped, unsanitary, and often exposed to the mist. Prisoners are treated as mostly expendable. The guards consider merely guarding this place a punishment. They venture into naturally occurring caverns to harvest rare psionically active crystals that grow there. Flappers occasionally pick off miners to eat, and losses are generally fairly high. Most miners are promised that if they can survive for a given amount of time (usually five years), they will be let go, but prisoners rarely make it that long.

The Flappers

On the surface of Crimson is a population of nomadic hunters known colloquially as the "Flappers". Those trying to be a little more formal about it call them the pterubus. Flappers are essentially humanoid pterosaurs, with long head crests, beaks, and wings made of skin stretched between their bodies and arms. Their skin is thick and wrinkled. Hunched postures make their eyes shorter than humans, though their crests often make them seem taller. Flappers are naturally immune to the effects of the mist. They are also hostile to outsiders and a large portion of them think that humans are delicious. 

Flappers live off of Crimson's native ecology, mostly hunting slow-moving animals protected by hard shells, sharp spines, and toxic flesh. They work hard to process these creatures and make them edible. They maintain that the whole planet belongs to them: they especially dislike the sighted, who they refer to as thieves. Both peoples claim to be descended from the people who built the ruins on the surface, and they often attack each other on sight. Flappers lay eggs, and refer to five directions instead of four. They seem to have a sense much like the sighted, allowing them to perceive the psionic flows emanating from the planet. 

Their politics is very fragmented, with individual groups running their own idiosyncratic governments, and they are quite willing to go to war with each other. Typically, a band is led by a number of Flappers holding offices like "The Egg-Mother" or "The Story Keeper". The specific offices used vary from band to band, as does how they are selected, but the group is usually tight-knit and informal decision making is often validated by the leadership. Most bands have a few hundred individuals.

The Ruins

Crimson was not always the way it is now. Legends among the sighted tell of a time when they lived on the surface, when the mist was not as thick or corrosive as it is now. Back then, a thriving civilization lived on the surface in enormous cities full of miracles. The Stories tell of the coming of the mist, and of the Flappers appearing as previously unknown monsters created by dark processes, and slaughtering the cities choked by the mist. 

The Flappers have their own tales, where they claim that Crimson was always like this, and that the sighted came and drove them from their cities and oppressed them, but that in the end their sages released the mist ten times thicker than before, and drove the sighted from the surface.

The great cities still stand on the surface, smooth ceramic towers cloaked in red mist. All metals have corroded away, and the organics have been consumed. But there might be hints of what happened in there... hints of the civilization that built the floating factories and whose left-overs are powerful enough to be a strategic concern in the modern pinnacle empire...


Combat on crimson tends to occur at very short range. The factories are largely indoor facilities, and the mist both obscures vision and destroys weapons. The Sighted rely mostly on force shields, hyperdense superfine blades (+4 damage, armor divisor (5)) on swords and pole-arms, and unconsciousness nerve disruptors, used as both guns and grenades.

Flappers also use hyperdense superfine blades, but they generally use them on spears and polearms. As the mist will corrode even bow-strings, they tend to use thrown projectiles as their ranged weapons. They are heavily reliant on the mist to make up for their ranged deficits, but their storm callers are said to be able to control its upwelling and use it as weapon against their foes.

The Pinnacle empire has access to the hyperdense superfine blades as well. They typically try to draw melee troops from across the empire. They also make sure to have a number of psionically powerful champions on the planet. They also keep a number of fighters in orbit. The Pinnacles are unchallenged on the battlefields of crimson: the sighted usually fight back through sabotage, and the Flappers are reliant on their superior mobility and senses in the mist.


This article was unexpectedly long. Crimson was a very iconic location to run an adventure in, and I hope to run an adventure there again. There is a lot to do, despite having a pretty small population and effective area (its a planet, but you're going to spend time in very small areas, like the factories). My players vividly remember Crimson to this day. I hope you enjoyed reading about it, and I hope I get to run a game in it again.

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