Story Title: Too Deep
Elevator pitch: A fantasy archaeology team is trapped in deep space with an ancient killing machine loose on their ship. Alien, but with magic and politics and without the psycho-sexual undertones.
The Empire rules over most of known space, but despite their propaganda, they were not the first. Your team found an ancient floating city in an area deemed uninhabitable by the Empire and found writings and technology that vastly pre-date any Imperial histories. Chief among these finds was an unknown artifact made of a material no one aboard recognized. You brought it back with you, excited to have such an unprecedented find to present to the Empress. But a mysterious power surge has left the ship adrift in uncharted space while the artifact turned out to be a hibernating weapon with immense killing potential—and it won't stop until everyone on board is dead.
We are in space, beyond the boundaries of the Empire, very nearly beyond the boundaries of the known world. The story is entirely confined to a single, failing research vessel with no way to get home. Escape pods are present, but reaching them is a likely suicide run. The game mostly consists of trying to sneak around the ship to find clues to what happened, ways to repair the necessary systems so the crew doesn't starve/suffocate, and finding any way to get help with the seemingly-invincible enemy that prowls the vents and corridors of the ship.
The Ebon Empress: The ruler of the known world. Her name is spoken with awe, reverence, fear, mystique, and all four at once if you're smart. The oldest living flesh-and-blood entity in existence, Her power is absolute and final. She is more important than any gods, because gods can be replaced—She cannot. She is not in the story directly, but her presence is felt in all things. She is both religion and political entity, and quick to remind doubters that she is deserving of both.
Dr. Veiss: An Ascended researcher in charge of the lab teams. She tries not to let her status put too much distance between herself and her staff, but she still speaks with the authority of someone born to the upper caste. Analytical and professional, she is excited about the discovery but wishes they could have remained on-site instead of rushing home to parade it around for clout.
Dr. Cayless: The dig leader, responsible for the team that found the artifact. A mortal who loves his daughter and is well-liked by his staff, but has difficulty standing up to his superiors and is easily walked on.
Emma: Dr. Cayless' daughter. A quiet, sweet girl with boundless curiosity. Likes touching things, especially when told not to.
Dr. Asellus: The ship's therapist. Patient, gentle, and a little aloof. Secretly a spy from the deepest parts of the government, here to make sure nothing too world-shaking is let on/off the ship. Takes great interest in the player character's actions as a possible recruit/threat.
Child of the Black Sunrise: Often shortened to “Sunrise,” or “Sunny,” she's the head technician for the ship. A mortal who suffered a near-death experience in her teens, she's glibly fatalistic about much of life, but is an under-appreciated savant when it comes to getting the altar-engines to sing. Gets along with the spirits and deities aboard the ship better than any of the people.
Conspicuous Owl: A minister of the Empire, here to oversee spending and make sure the expedition is worthwhile to Imperial interests. Haughty, self-important, and a tremendous jerk. Delights in bullying the crew as an untouchable extension of the Empress herself. In reality, he's a low-level politician who's been shunted here so he won't bother anyone truly important—and part of him is subconsciously aware and afraid of this.
The Zero: The mysterious entity brought aboard the ship from the ancient city. Found in a tomb covered in un-translated glyphs, the creature resembled a strange armor chestplate made of unknown material. In its dormant state, no one knew what the artifact was, or that it housed such an entity. But a mysterious power surge has awakened it from an eons-old slumber and now it seeks to fulfill its sole purpose—death, brought swiftly and efficiently to all life around it. The Zero is part biological, part mechanical, with boneless limbs that can stretch and bend with inhuman strength, making it capable of squeezing into tight spaces, with no tactical blind spots in combat. It quickly proved itself deadly even to the Ascended on board.
Other Notable Aspects of the World:
-There are choice members among the populace known as “Ascended.” These people are long-lived, able to use self-enhancing magic, and are of the highest social caste. The Empress herself is one, and there are several aboard the ship, leading the expedition.
-Technology and magic are not exclusive to each other. Engines are powered by earth spirits to resist gravity, with runes carved into the devices to act like code to direct the elemental entities with instructions. Air purification is powered by wind spirits, heating is fire spirits, and so on. Mortals are capable of learning and modifying runes, or communicating with spirits, but cannot use magic themselves to summon/tame the entitites.
-Spirits function like programs that keep the world running. A fire spirit is like an executable that creates heat and light. More powerful spirits have more sophisticated “programming,” allowing them more functions and dominion over their element. Gods are what occurs when a concept/spirit gets enough praise and worship to become self-aware, functioning like an AI; capable of its own decisions, but still limited to its specific parameters of control.
-The primary plot is to escape: restore the ship enough to send out a distress signal, and to survive long enough for a pickup.
-The survivors are all packed into a space that is secure, but tremendously uncomfortable. The player will have to find ways to mitigate the rising unrest of the fearful crew, either by mediating disputes, retrieving supplies (at great personal risk), or willfully sacrificing more troublesome elements of the surviving populace. How many survivors make it off the ship when the credits roll is up to you.
-As the crew gets more and more afraid of the Zero, some get desperate and seek more powerful aid. But with no gods forthcoming, they turn to demonic summoning—a practice that goes about as well as you expect.
-The nature of what happened aboard the ship, during the dig, is a mystery, one that can only be uncovered with deliberate sleuthing; a dangerous prospect, since all the answers lie squarely in the Zero's hunting grounds. Translating glyphs, hacking message terminals, and interpreting lab results can give you an edge in conversations and against the monster, who may be more vulnerable than it seems.
-Contacting Imperial help creates a new problem: upon learning what's on board the ship, they're ordered to destroy the entire vessel with everyone aboard, rather than risk letting this thing escape. If you want rescue, you'll need to deal with the Zero yourself, or escape and get picked up separately.