I've been pondering using Illisk in my upcoming campaign. so while reading up on it from every source I can find (primary source being, of course, the write up in 'Edge of the Abyss'), i'm also pondering implications and theories. so lets start with the basics: Illisk is a dead world wracked by horrific hell storms able to tear unprotected humans to bits within a very short period of time. Scattered around the planet are megastructures that are, for all intents, hive cities built by an as yet unidentified xenos species. each city has racks upon racks of xenos corpses all of whom appear to be plugged into a possibly world spanning system of cogitators, which are still mostly operational. the cog boys are trying to figure it all out, and they've found all kinds of weirdness - everything from the corpse of some Xenos lord plugged into a cyber throne room to a buried vault deep within the planet that has 'constructs of metal given the form of the alien'.
ok, lets start with the obvious. I don't think Illisk is the homeworld of these aliens. the planet was stripped bare of any useable mineral resources. there don't appear to be any evidence that the planet was the place where these xenos were born and evolved. granted…I don't have any evidence to say illisk wasn't their planet of origin either but, nobody would gut their homeworld in such a coldly efficient manner or with such unity of purpose. it just doesn't fit, y'know? plus, the likelyhood that their home planet would have exactly the resources necessary to build these megastructures is pretty low. So I think illisk was chosen specifically by this race of xenos to build and power these stuctures.
the next most obvious question is : why build illisk in the first place? these cities were designed to plug damn near everyone in this race to a giant computer system. But why do that? were these xenos intended to be part of some computer? were they to be additional computational resources or is there some sort of xenos 'virtual reality' paradise running on those computers?
my completely random speculation is that Illisk was one of two things:
1. these xenos decided to build themselves a virtual paradise where everyone would have everything they ever wanted and could be an aspiring god. peace and unity achieved, wars ended, all desires fulfilled. then they ended up dying out while masturbating to endless porn simulations and xenos versions of Civlization V and Anno 2070.
2. illisk either was one of the original 'bio-forges' used by the Necrons to turn their populations into their eternal legions of murdering metal or it was build by a species that attempted to duplicate the bio-forging process but something went wrong. illisk could also have been a failed attempt by the Necrons to reverse engineer the process and they just left the place there and walked away in disgust at their failure.
that's basically what i've got right now for the planet. i'm leaning towards theory #2, but with the 'failed attempt at reverse engineering the process' option. that opens up some interesting possiblities that might be fun to play with in a campaign.
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Dennis McKiernan authored the science-fantasy novel, The Caverns of Socrates. To carry onward from your first hypothesis, Socrates suggested that reality is relative to an individual perspective. Someone who is born and then lives their entire lives within a cave, without an opportunity to experience the greater world outside of that cave, would believe existence ended at the boundaries of the cave's walls. Were they at the end of their lives suddenly exposed to something more than the realm of their entire "world" (say a team of excavators opens a way into the cave from the outside) would this lone cave person think they were being "invaded by aliens" or would they suddenly regret not having thought of digging themselves from within their limited world? This is the concept of Socrates's musings on the subject. And, perhaps, from the perspective of those from outside the cave it could be a representation of the Schrodinger's Cat conundrum.
In the novel The Caverns Of Socrates, a group of "tournament" role players are invited to test a prototype AI-controlled virtual reality, wherein they would experience the virtual lives of their most successful PCs from first-person perspectives. They entered into suits rigged with all manner of medical monitors and other gizmos, their brains linked to the virtual reality technology. The group were then "put under" and entered the realm of their common roleplaying environment (I forget now the name of the realm) and their sub-conciousnesses were able to interact as muscled warriors or agile footpads or keen-eyed archers gathered together as a classic "party of adventurers" drawn into a game, the plot conceived and the "NPCs" and "monsters" orchestrated and "acted out" by the AI GM.
At one point within the story, one of the participants (an investor) is attacked by a monster that (iirc) crushes him with it's muscled coils (tentacles or some such), and he is killed in the virtual reality. Unbeknownst to the remainder of the players, his real body has also been killed…by the AI. All the medical wiznickies inside the suits are hooked to the players' bodies and monitor everything, and their bodies, even their brains, can respond to external stimuli that aids in the virtual "physical and mental" experience, and the AI (through electrical overstimulation of muscle groups) caused the player's muscles to constrict, crushing his ribs and snapping his spine. It is then the creators of the AI virtual reality engine realise they may have created a monster, and (through plot device hand waving) the remainder of the players are warned they must complete their "quest" successfully and that death is real and not just a virtual experience.
Perhaps something like this could have happened on Illisk? Perhaps the poor creatures hooked into the machine thinking they would live lives as gods but could leave any time they desired, but then it was such an awesome experience they decided to stay…until their physical bodies died and nothing remains but their "living" minds, or they were simply a group of gamers participating in one big game, and the AI (or whatever you'd care to call it) wouldn't let them out unless they successfully completed the game. Beat the BBG or die. For real.
Illisk could be a planet that is physically dead, but the tech-engine houses an entire reality, perhaps another galaxy or a completely alien universe created by the minds of "game developers and gamers", and the PCs themselves could wire into and particpate in, interact with, even permantly affect this virtual reality, perhaps solving the mystery of Illisk during the experience. Perhaps within this virtual reality, the PCs learn of something that exists in reality that no one now living knows, something forgotten long ago by a group of gamers who failed to "win the game" and died? And perhaps the PCs find themselves trapped within the virtual reality, and must work with a now physically dead race of Xenos to extricate themsleves before they too waste away and die? Before some other Explorers stumble along and claim their "abandoned" Dynasty.
How much time passes within virual reality as opposed to reality? Is it at the speed of thought? Can an entire life be lived, an epic existence realised within the span of just a few seconds? Perhaps the Explorers have only been plugged into the virtual reality for five minutes, but they have lived an entire lifetime and died, never to return to conciousness, their bodies slowly wasting away like those of the unknown inhabitant-gamers of Illisk?
I prefer this idea over the cliche' Necron reveal. This gives the GM license to bring life to literally anything he can imagine, and whatever these imaginings are might mean years of unique and utterly alien/weird campaign experiences for the Players and the PCs, whereas anything to do with Necrons is, well, not at all interesting after the veil has been lifted.
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