Waking up is the most difficult thing to remember. Your first memories are of shivering blackness, uncontrollable convulsing in the void until your thoughts became coherent enough to realize … this is physical. The shivering continued in waves as your eyes slowly opened and acclimated to a different kind of flickering darkness. You were naked, huddled, alone, lying on a field of red fungi, the noise of a rhythmic machine humming in the distance. Around you, hulking steel beams and plates converged in a cavernous, triangular tunnel, dimly lit by a slowly pulsating light. The expanse of the tunnel was enormous. The corners of the triangular skeleton met in darkness. You would soon learn, however, that this massive structure is little more than an insignificant hallway within a superstructure that is much larger and far more enigmatic than your re-awakening mind could begin to fathom.
An authoritative voice within your mind intoned, “Rise. Hunt.”
As your eyes acclimated to the dim light of the passageway, you began to hear the patter of paws upon the moist fungi blanketing the corridor. Then the smell. Instinctively, you remained motionless, not even breathing as the creature’s steps quickly approached. You were hungry, but calm, like you had done this numerous times before. You knew that you’re human, but that, somehow, you are also a beast of the wild, and the hunt is your domain.
The creature sprinted past you, unawares. With a mighty gallop and a springing leap, you closed the gap between hunter and prey, pouncing with fearless precision as …
… a hand helps pull you out of the water. It was a dream … within a dream.
Your mind returns to the present moment. The hand pulling you out of the water belongs to another of your kind — another Vagabond. You step out of the tank and onto the platform atop a gargantuan vehicle, a Hauler — one of many within a caravan slowly making its way through the hallways of the Penumbra, the gravity-dense Outer Reaches of this metal-clad world known as Nibiru.
“Your eyes,” she says to you, “look feral. I’ve seen that before. You’re from the Wild.”
The dream of the hunt is still fresh. As you breath in, the smell of rust and fungus surround you. A cool wind blows by — air forcibly circulated through the steel caverns from an endless network of vents, ducts and fans — one of the intricate systems of life support inside this massive construct.
You are a Vagabond — at least that’s the name by which those who found you refer to your kind. To them, the Vagabonds are a mystery. No one knows from whence you came. Nor do you. All that is known is that Vagabonds awaken, alone, and enter this world with unusual abilities that are often coveted by those who desire power.
In your case, you are a hunter who is also the prey.
You’ve had to learn quickly in the few days you’ve been awake. And one thing that’s been hammered into you is, beware who you trust. You eye the other Vagabond. What does she want?
“Relax,” she says, noticing your piercing gaze. “I’m on your side.”
“Time to earn your keep,” says one of the Enēšu as he hands you a ration.
The Enēšu are the inhabitants of the Outer Reaches, the Penumbra, the gravity dense region that lies beyond the resource-rich, regulated comforts of the Antumbra. The Enēšu are the descendants of hardy frontiersmen who ventured out beyond the Core Sectors in search of profit, adventure and freedom. What they and their descendants learned, however, is that the world of Nibiru, which provides abundantly for those in the Core Sectors, provides no comfort, no love for those who venture out beyond the comfort zone.
You step down off the Hauler onto the fungi-covered ground. An Enēšu hands you a cutter.
“We have to get through that thicket,” he tells you and points over to a tangled net of wires and cables that blocks what otherwise looks like another passageway.
Atop another Hauler you see Nabua, the leader of this caravan, an Arku from the Antumbra, a resident of the Core Sectors, and a member of a powerful clan within the largest and most influential vault within Nibiru — Ashur. You’ve heard about the vaults, but can only imagine them — massive, miles-wide spherical chambers that are home to megalopolis urban environments — people and civilization for as far as the eye can see.
Nabua nods towards you. He is too weak out here in the heavy gravity of the Penumbra to offer any assistance. In the Core Sectors, the gravity is lighter, the living easier. Only the Enēšu are accustomed to this taxing environment — and Vagabonds like you.
Nabua is responsible for taking you in and welcoming you to the caravan — along with two other Vagabonds who were found not too far from where you awoke. It’s not uncommon to find Vagabonds awaking in small groups, Nabua told you. Nabua referred to himself as your savior. In exchange, you and your kind will help him find Arwia, a witch who resides in a hidden village. She is the key, he told you, to finding his mother.
You, the other two Vagabonds and a few Enēšu reach the wire thicket. After one of them shows you how to use the cutter, you raise the tool over your head and are about to slash down — when you have a memory. Your arm is a powerful paw, slashing down onto the body of a giant, thrashing webworm. Your claws tear through the webworm’s flesh and it violently rears; but you manage to hang on.
The cutter slices cleanly through the wires as you shake the memory. The Enēšu next to you notices you having a moment.
“Why?” he asks you. “Why are you here? Where did you come from?”
You look at him coldly and shrug.
“It’s like you’ve been dropped in here from another time,” he adds.
Another Vagabond chimes in. “Perhaps one day, we’ll remember.”
— — —
Nibiru is a high-concept sci-fi fantasy RPG that could just as easily be the backdrop to a major motion picture. Within the corridors and vaults of a superstructure space station known as Nibiru, players take on the roles of Vagabonds, amnesiacs who are inexplicably dropped into this enigmatic world and must find a way not only to survive, but blend in without falling subject to powerful forces that seek to control the Vagabonds and their unusual abilities.
Nibiru’s rotation creates an artificial gravity, the strength of which increases the further one travels from the structure’s Core. The Core is the power station — a series of fission reactors which is fed a steady stream of iridium by drones that scavenge the station’s surrounding environs. But the humans within Nibiru have no knowledge of this. They have no knowledge of anything beyond the steel enclave of their skyless world. They have no knowledge of why they are there, what is their purpose, what is the purpose of their world, nor where they came from. Nibiru society is itself amnesiac (not wholly unlike our own), though the Vagabonds suffer from a greater degree of unknowing.
The Core pumps out light, warmth and electricity in waves known as cycles. Ventilation systems circulate throughout, power nodes network the Core’s electrical bounty and an entire ecology of flora and fauna together create an artificial ecology perfect for life in a Goldilocks region known as Antumbra. Antumbra, or the Core Sectors, is a region concentrically just beyond the Core. Within Antumbra lie the settlements, the vaults of the Arku, the city-states of Nibiru’s Eden for which the Core produces an abundance of life’s necessities and where the motto is “As long as you grow in the direction you are told, you won’t lack resources to live.”
Antumbra, this Garden of Eden, is where human life within Nibiru began and developed into societies, city-states and civilization. But as humans do, the inhabitants of Nibiru eventually began to explore.
Beyond Antumbra, concentrically further from the core, Penumbra, the Outer Reaches, proved to be a more challenging environment. With a heavier degree of artificial gravity, a colder environment and a more challenging ecology, life in Penumbra is difficult.
Despite the difficulty, Penumbra and beyond would be colonized by the Antumbran city-states, with the politics and social struggles inherent in colonial relationships following suit.
While the physical and social structures of Nibiru are well described in this corebook, one very important question remains …
— — —
What is Nibiru? The term Nibiru comes from ancient Mesopotamia; Babylon, in particular, around the time of pharaonic Egypt, possibly before. The term means “a crossing” but often signified astronomical deities, oftentimes Marduk (Jupiter), during certain points in that celestial object’s journey through the night sky — or, astrological crossing. Nibiru, however, has taken on a much more interesting meaning in modern popular thought thanks to Zechariah Sitchin’s translation and interpretation of the ancient Mesopotamian tablets.
In Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles series, he describes Nibiru as Planet X, the tenth planet in our solar system (back when Pluto was still the 9th) which follows an enormous elliptical orbit around the Sun and which returns to our neighborhood once every 3000 years or so — oftentimes brushing by so closely as to create cataclysmic effects here on Earth. According to Sitchin’s books, inhabitants of Nibiru, known as the Annunaki, settled on Earth and genetically modified existing Earth hominids into modern day humans to be used as an Annunaki slave race.
Now that’s an awesome story.
Writer Frederico Sohns has reimagined this mythology into something completely new — Nibiru as an artificial construct, within which, somewhere, is the secret to humanity’s origin — at least, the origin of humanity on Nibiru.
Sohns’ tells this reimagined mythos at the very beginning of Nibiru, in the introduction to “The Skyless World” — a dream-like story of an ancient Mesopotamian festival celebrating the construction of a new temple, and the people’s collective dream that night of their souls rising to the sky, their holy debts repaid.
Nibiru, their second home, passed by.
What is the debt being repaid? What is the significance of their souls rising to the sky just as Nibiru the space station crosses the heavens?
And just who is the giant creature on the cover of the book? Is that bio-mechanical behemoth the Leviathan, “the mother of all beasts”, an enigmatic entity that is the source of will behind all non-human creatures in the Nibiru RPG? Or is it the People’s Shepherd, the one who legend tells taught humanity how to survive when it first found itself on a massive space station? Or neither?
Nibiru does not provide the answers. That job is left to the storytellers. You.
— — —
Nibiru is a heavily story-driven game. This is not about dice-rolling combat, although that does play a role. Nibiru provides the setting, the elements, the tools and a short sample adventure, but ultimately the narrative is going to be generated by a GM with excellent story creation skills and a group of talented players who can flesh out characters and backstories on the fly.
Nibiru is not a novice game. Firstly, the book is difficult to digest. I read through it three times before I felt like I had enough of a grasp on this world to attempt to write about it. Secondly, the world is completely enigmatic. Many questions are left unanswered and in the hands of the GM — which is great, if you’re imaginative enough to bring this alien world to life. And it is that enigmatic aspect of Nibiru — the fact that the space station itself is a riddle to be solved — which makes an adventure within this world so potentially fascinating.
Mechanics-wise, Nibiru is as fundamentally different to the average RPG as it is imaginative.
Dice rolls are conducted only with d4s. An average roll uses three d4s, and if any of them turns up a “4”, the roll is a success. PCs that have modifiers (+1, +2 or +3) attached to specific abilities get that number of dice added to the roll.
Where Nibiru really departs from standard practice is that players “remember” their special abilities, and thus gain modifiers, as they play. Any action or circumstance can trigger a memory of the player’s choosing. For instance, a PC whose memories are tied to the “Wild” habitat (i.e., a Vagabond whose memories hearken to a beastial existence, one tied into the Leviathan) might find himself at a chasm and suddenly remembers an experience as a lion leaping across a great expanse. The player notes this memory on the journal page, along with the corresponding modifier and immediately gets to use the modifier bonus.
— — —
One final thing worth noting about Nibiru is Enki’s Covenant. Enki’s Covenant is described as a secretive network with eyes and ears throughout the city-states of Antumbra and beyond. Like a secret cult, it deals in a life-extending elixir called Paleweed; it created stratal credit, a colonial monetary system designed to maintain Antumbran control over Penumbran colonies; and it hunts Vagabonds.
Primarily, it hunts Vagabonds. And for that very reason, Vagabonds must always conspire to keep their identities under wraps. Enki’s Covenant is like a shadow that creeps over the entire Nibiru superstructure. Nobody can be trusted. That one element alone is an extremely useful story-driving tool.
Nibiru is easily more than a game. Like other works reviewed on this site, this book is a work of literature. You may find yourself playing, or you may just find yourself immersed in a sandbox alien world.
— Marc Star