The past few days I’ve been reading Coriolis: The Third Horizon, an RPG by the Fria Ligan team. So far I’ve read all the player-facing rules and am plowing through the extensive background.1
The tag line for Coriolis is “Arabian Nights in space”. In brief, long before the setting’s present mankind discovered portals from one star to the next. The interconnecting routes between stars form a “Horizon”. Centuries ago, the “Third Horizon” fought a war against the first two, and destroyed the gates back to the Second and First Horizons. The Third Horizon then dissolved into petty wars; worlds drifted out of contact. Within the past century, however, the slower-than-light generation ship Zenith, packed with frozen colonists, completed its 1000 year journey to … the already inhabited Kua system. After arguments internal and external, the Zenith crew unfroze the colonists and created the space station Coriolis. Much of the setting revolves around the conflict between the Firstcomers who have lived in the Third Horizon for untold generations and the upstart Zenithians. Firstcomers tend to be religious, traditional, and tribal; Zenithians tend to be commercial and technocratic.
While I’ll have more comments about the mechanics and setting later, in particular how they’re tied into and reinforce the setting, I thought I’d create some potential player characters. For what it’s worth, each took about 20 minutes.2
Character Generation in Coriolis
In Coriolis, before creating player characters, players and the GM decide why they’re bumming around the Third Horizon.
Players must first choose what type of group they are. The rules offer these choices:
- Free Traders, including couriers, smugglers, and space truckers
- Mercenaries, including pirates, rebels, black-ops teams, and any other heavily-armed groups
- Explorers, including archaeologists looking for ancient ruins, colonists making a new home, prospectors looking for a strike, reporters looking for a scoop, scientists seeking out new worlds and new civilizations3, etc.
- Agents of law enforcement, secret agencies, assassins’ guilds, etc.
- Pilgrims visiting holy sites, looking for work, or just traveling.
Based on this choice, each character gains access to an appropriate Group Talent of their choice. Some Group Talents give bonuses or special rules to all members of the group, others give the entire group an ability they can exercise, as a group, once per session.
The players also choose a Patron, a Nemesis, and Ship. The Patron and Nemesis are broadly defined NPCs: a name, a position of authority, and a short description of their goals. The Ship, on the other hand, like in a certain short-lived science fiction TV series, is almost a character in and of itself. (If the players install an AI, it could actually be an NPC in and of itself.) Players can choose to build their own ship with fairly detailed options, but the book provides four fully described sample ships, each with three slightly different builds for different groups. I’ve yet to build a ship; maybe that will be a future post.
Creating a player character in Coriolis in other YZE games:
Character Concept:4 an Archetype that shapes what Attributes, Skills, and Talents the character will have, and what role they play in the crew and in the setting. The rules define ten, plus “sub-concepts” to fine-tune the character:
- ARTIST (Courtesan, Musician, Poet)
- DATA SPIDER (Analyst, Correspondent, Data Djinn5)
- FUGITIVE (Criminal, Mystic6, Revolutionary)
- NEGOTIATOR (Agitator, Diplomat, Peddler)
- OPERATIVE (Assassin, Guardsman/-woman7, Spy)
- PILOT (Driver, Fighter Pilot, Freighter Pilot)
- PREACHER (Ascetic, Missionary, Prophet)
- SCIENTIST (Archeologist, Medicurg8, Technician)
- SHIP WORKER (Deckhand, Dock Worker, Engineer)
- SOLDIER (Legionnaire, Mercenary, Officer)
- TRAILBLAZER (Colonist, Prospector, Scout)
Upbringing: home system (randomly rolled), Firstcome or Zenithian, and one of three choices of Upbringing which determine points for Attributes and Skills9:
- Plebeian: raised on a planet in humble surroundings.
- Stationary [sic]: raised on a space station.
- Privileged: raised by Zenithian aristocrat or Firstcome nobility
Name and Appearance: guided by Character Concept, but ultimately up to the player.
Reputation: based on Upbringing and Character Concept, among other things (including actions in-game), representing social influence.
Icon: Everone in the Third Horizon believes, to some extent, in The Icons, nine beings or concepts that guide mortal lives. The character gets a randomly generated Icon as their patron, and a corresponding Icon Talent that they can use once per session either to get out of a specific kind of trouble or get closer to their goals.
Attributes, Skills, and Talents: shaped by Character Concept, much like other YZE games, except half the Skills are “Advanced Skills”; players can’t use them unless they’ve spent a point on them. (This affected some of my character design decisions below.)
Hit Points and Mind Points: calculated from Attributes to track physical and mental damage:
- HP = Strength + Agility
- MP = Wits + Empathy
Personal Problem: an affliction that flares up whenever the GM compels it with Darkness Points (see below).
Relationships: the character’s attitude to the other PCs, also guided by Character Concept but whatever the GM will allow.
Gear: specified by Character Concept, with a few options. Notably Cybernetic and “Bionic” (surgical/genetic) modifications show up in both lists, and after character creation cost Experience Points and money. But I think during character creation it’s a Talent slot or a Gear choice? Maybe?
Encumbrance: a character can carry their Strength in “normal” items without penalty, and each item of Gear is rated Tiny (negligible), Light (½ Normal), Normal, or Heavy (2x Normal).
Crew Position: in space combat every player character chooses one of five roles, based on skills: Captain (Command skill), Engineer (Technical skill), Pilot (Pilot skill), Sensors (Data Djinn skill), and Gunner (Ranged Combat skill). It’s best to figure them out up front, and even to plan characters around them if space combat will happen a lot.
Each group described above has suggested Character Concepts, but as long as a PC fits into the group concept somehow anything is possible, GM permitting.
Besides each character having a patron Icon with benefits, Darkness Points are the main mechanic that fuses the setting’s more mystical elements to the players’ experience.
Most people in the Third Horizon believe in and fear the Dark Between the Stars, which embodies both the harsh realities of space and the cruelty of fate. The GM accumulates Darkness Points based on players’ in-game actions, including but not limited to:
- the players pushing a roll, referred to in the rules as Praying to the Icons10
- using an Icon Talent
- using Mystic Powers
- messing up a jump into an interstellar portal
The GM can then spend Darkness Points to make the players’ lives “complicated” and “interesting”. Effects range from momentary bad luck to signs that the universe hates them to at the extreme end oh dear Icons no really something out there wants us to suffer. There are even creatures from the depths of space whose powers run on Darkness Points. Tempt fate, and fate strikes back.
When a young reporter for Free News – a competitor to corporate news giant The Bulletin – set out to cover some of the Third Horizon’s hidden stories, she accumulated around her an eclectic group of rogues and misfits.
Group Concept: Explorers (Correspondents)
Ship: the Dancing Maiden, a Standard Oryx-class Courier technically owned by Captain Nada but “rented” by FreeNews, i.e. all money from FreeNews and the Captain’s mandatory “side hustles” goes to pay off the ship’s enormous debt.
Group Talent: Seasoned Travelers - characters may substitute MANIPULATION skill checks for CULTURE checks to figure out the locals’ customs. (MANIPULATION is a General Skill that everyone has, while CULTURE is an Advanced Skill; anyone in the group can potentially pick up on local culture.)
Patron: Drefusol Arnadi, owner of independent news feed Free News, who will help the Dancing Maiden out, a little, as long as Fatima GETS THAT STORY!
Nemesis: Jarros Kumbra, of the Colonial Agency, who thinks Fatima’s muckraking and Captain Nada’s … everything … makes the task of founding colonies on barren, barely explored worlds seem somehow ill-advised.
Fatima Abdelkadir knows the Consortium and their lackeys at the Bulletin are hiding important information from the people of the Third Horizon. Why are officials in the Colonial Agency planting families – families! – on unsurveyed worlds, and what happens to them afterward? Fatima is going to find out. The people need to know!
Appearance: flawless makeup, dark corporate caftan
Concept: Data Spider (Correspondent)
Background: Zenithan Dabaran, Stationary
Personal Problem: thrill seeker
Icon: The Merchant
Attributes: Strength 3, Agility 3, Wits 5, Empathy 3 (HP 6, MP 8)
Skills: Infiltration (Agl) 3, Manipulation (Emp) 3, Observation (Wits) 2, Data Djinn (Wits) 1, Technology (Wits) 1
Talents: Seasoned Traveler (group talent, see above), Merchant’s Talent (get a loan), Third Eye (metaphorical: harder to surprise)
Gear: arrash (mild narcotic), personal holograph, proximity sensor, stun gun, tabula
Crew Position: Sensors (6) or Engineer (6), depending what Batou will let her do.
- Sabah doesn’t even see me. Some day he will.
- Ithar is an ace pilot and otherwise a waste of time.
- Batou has a keen eye for what’s important and what’s really going on. He bears watching.
- Captain Nada inspires people and commands respect … like I will some day, Icons willing.
Comment: Fatima is young and idealistic, and sometimes comes on strong. Some of the crew interpret this as a power play. But she’s really looking for allies to help her get “The Truth” out to the rest of the Horizon … or at least to her editor.
When Sabah met Fatima nosing around a colony world, he knew she was trouble. She can’t shoot, she can’t track, she can’t find water in a forest never mind a desert. Somebody’s gotta keep her out of trouble.
Appearance: bald, heavy overalls
Concept: Trailblazer (Scout)
Background: Firstcomer from Mira, Plebeian
Personal Problem: stubborn
Icon: The Gambler
Attributes: Strength 3, Agility 4, Wits 5, Empathy 3 (HP 7, MP 8)
Skills: Infiltration (A) 2, Observation (W) 2, Ranged Combat (A) 2, Survival (W) 2
Talents: Seasoned Traveler (group talent), The Gambler’s Talent (one automatic Critical Success per session), Nine Lives (switch “ones” and “tens” dice on Critical Injury table rolls)
Gear: environment scanner, exo shell (i.e. vaccuum suit), 5 m-doses (first aid drugs) recon drone, Vulcan carbine,
Crew Position: Gunner (6)
- Fatima won’t stop talking. Ever. It’s maddening.
- Ithar is always correcting him, even when he’s wrong.
- Batou survived decompression and the wastelands; in a crisis, stay near him.
- The Captain puts up a good front, but something’s gnawing at her.
Comment: Sabah says very little, but everyone talks to him. The rest of the crew interpret this in their own ways.
Ithar was supposed to take the lady down to the surface for a few days. Just a few days. And then … well it wasn’t his fault! They dared him! And that’s all Ithar has to say about that!
Now Ithar works for the Captain. Who’s also crazy, but she’s got a real ship. A fast ship. He can’t wait to see what she can do.
Appearance: chiseled features, leather jacket
Concept: Pilot (Freighter)
Background: Firstcomer from Algol, Plebeian
Personal Problem: reckless
Icon: The Lady of Tears
Attributes: Strength 3, Agility 5, Wits 4, Empathy 3 (HP 8, MP 7)
Skills: Pilot (A) 3, Data Djinn (W) 2, Technology (W) 2, Ranged Combat (A) 1
Talents: Seasoned Traveler (group talent), The Lady of Tears’ Talent (ignore Critical Injury effects or recover quickly), Zero-G Training
Gear: communicator IV (orbital range, requires harness) exo shell (i.e. vacuum suit), flight suit, stun weapon, talisman for Pilot+1 (one-use bonus)
Crew Position: Pilot (8)
- Fatima thinks she’s the captain of this boat, but she’s not.
- Sabah is a good friend, and a good listener.
- Batou can take a zero-g roll without throwing up … impressive.
- The Captain thinks he’s a rickshaw driver, not the experienced, talented, and dashingly handsome professional he is.
Comment: Sabah thinks he’s a hotshot flyer, and he only cares about proving that to everyone else.
Botou is Xingur, bred to survive harsh deserts, but he and his family lived all their lives on Coriolis. The short, leather-skinned Humanite11 is a whiz with technology. He’s far less good with people.
Appearance: tired eyes, tank top with Coriolis logo
Concept: Ship Worker (Engineer)
Background: Firstcomer Xingur from Kua, Stationary
Personal Problem: short fuse with fits of rage
Icon: The Deck Hand
Attributes: Strength 4, Agility 4, Wits 4, Empathy 2 (HP 8, MP 6)
Skills: Technology (W) 3, Data Djinn (W) 3, Medicurgy (W) 1, Pilot (A) 1, Observation (W) 1, Ranged Combat (A) 1
Talents: Seasoned Traveler (group talent), Resistant (Xingur talent, armored vs. environmental damage), Deckhand’s Talent (if ship loses all energy or hull points, Icons restore it), Zero-G Training
Gear: Arash (mild narcotic), dura knife (a melee weapon), exo shell (i.e. vacuum suit), power glove (a melee weapon), tools (ordinary)
Crew Position: Engineer (7) or Sensors (7), depending what the Ship needs.
- Fatima is always watching everybody, and talks radical rubbish. She must be plotting against the Captain.
- Sabah is a close friend, and a great listener.
- Ithar treats me like a bug. Just like the others …
- Captain Nada is someone he would die for, or kill for, as needed.
Comment: Botou is a social disaster. Nada wants to exploit his talents, and he adores her. Fatima and (shockingly) Ithar admire him, and he distrusts them.
Captain Nada is an enigma. She’s a petite woman whose presence fills a room. She dresses like a pampered noblewoman (or a courtesan), but she will cut you.
Some say she’s the daughter of a Zalosian cleric who made her way to the City of Foreigners and fled. Others hint she was training as a courtesan somewhere, but left the life, came into money somehow, and reinvented herself. They say she’s been a mediator in the Nomad Federation’s many clans, the impressario of a traveling circus, the wife of a corsair until she killed him for cheating, and a runner for the Syndicate until she lost some valuable merchandise.
Mostly she keeps her word, rewards loyalty, and does everything she can to pay down what must be a monumental debt. And she hates liars.
Appearance: too much makeup, red djeliba with gold embroidery
Concept: Negotiator (Diplomat)
Background: Firstcomer from Zalos, Privileged
Personal Problem: owes the Syndicate … a lot
Icon: The Judge
Attributes: Strength 2, Agility 3, Wits 3, Empathy 5 (HP 5, MP 8)
Skills: Command (E) 3, Manipulation (E) 3, Melee Combat (S) 3, Pilot (A) 1, Ranged Combat (A) 1, Techology (W) 1
Talents: Seasoned Traveler (group talent), The Judge’s Talent (hit does automatic Critical Injury once per session), Faction Standing: the Nomadic Federation (flotilla of disparate spacer groups)
Gear: communicator V (interplanetary range, heavy), exquisite clothing, language translator implant (speak and understand), lie detector implant, mercurium dagger (“liquid metal” blade retracts into hilt),
Crew Position: Captain (8)
- Fatima is good with words. Pity she wastes her talents on childish ideals.
- Sabah is very blunt, when he talks at all. Best to leave him be.
- Ithar thinks he can talk back to me? He’ll soon learn otherwise.
- Batou is easy to like, once you get past his defenses. And he’s so easy to manipulate.
Comment: Nada knows how to exploit people. If they do what she wants she’ll put up with their quirks. (Up to a point. Ithar is nearing that point.)
Apparently an older Coriolis RPG – maybe released only in Sweden? – inspired not only the authors of this edition but the name of their company. I gather they replaced the older RPG’s mechanics with their own Year Zero Engine, but kept all or nearly all the setting. ↩︎
The older version of this site had several articles comparing character generation in multiple disparate systems, notably how long it took to make a character from scratch given a concept. At some point I might restore those … ↩︎
The setting defines thirty-six star systems accessible via portal, but describes only six in any detail in the main book. A supplement describes a few more … and has rules to develop the rest. ↩︎
The Coriolis core book actually presents this item second, but while creating characters it’s easier and faster to decide this up front, note the options ↩︎
A role and a skill dealing heavily with information systems: computers, communications networks, databases, sensors. ↩︎
Characters can have “mystic powers”, i.e. psychic abilities. Mystics are persecuted because in the setting and even in Coriolis mechanics the use of mystic powers brings misfortune on them and those around them. ↩︎
Security for a government or corporation (like there’s a difference), or a freelance bounty hunter. ↩︎
“Medic” or “Doctor” aren’t spacey-wacey enough. ↩︎
On the other hand, if player characters spend game time actually praying to one of the Icons, they gain a bonus on skill checks related to that Icon. The Lady of Tears governs Medicurgy (medicine), the Dancer governs Dexterity and Melee Combat, the Traveler governs all science and technical skills, etc. ↩︎
Almost-human people genetically engineered for harsh environments or specialized purposes. Humanites have an extra Talent related to their ancestry, but their Reputation scores are halved because “pure” humans don’t like them. ↩︎