The time has come to introduce (or reintroduce) your players to the world you'll find within the pages of d20 Dark*Matter. Be "in the know" or become so through adventuring in the setting when you take advantage of Dark*Matter's conversion to the d20 Modern rules. If you aren't sure what to expect, then you're off to a good start -- perhaps your characters will be a bit more prepared for anything.
However, to make it a bit easier on you, we're providing you with some excerpts, including the Table of Contents, a list of feats, the entry about the Alchemist prestige class, and some information about the Greys.
VISITORS FROM THE STARS: THE GREYS
The Greys seek to observe humanity. A few seek to "improve" the human species.
Headquarters: Martian city-ship in Valles Marineris.
Followers: Nearly a million on Mars; several thousand on Earth.
Secret Knowledge: Advanced technology, psionic FX abilities.
Common Missions: Abduction of humans, observation of humans and other species.
Requisition Limit: Unknown.
In 1947, Kenneth Arnold coined the term "flying saucer" as he reported his sighting of strange unidentified flying objects. Later that same year, reports came from Roswell, New Mexico, that the military had recovered a crashed extraterrestrial craft. Alien encounters, however, are much older than these events. Although most of modern society does not realize or believe it, aliens have almost always been among us. Visitors from other planets visit, observe, and even interact with humans, and have done so since before recorded history. Ancient humans knew of them, although they did not always know exactly how to describe or categorize the aliens correctly. In fact, it may be that modern humanity is as incapable of truly understanding them as our primitive forefathers were.
The Greys (which call themselves fraal) are the most prevalent and significant alien presence on the Earth today. Their spaceships are seen flying over military bases, cities, and desolate areas alike. They are seen landing on Earth and the Moon, and their handiwork may be witnessed even farther out, on Mars.
Small in stature, they have incredibly advanced technology and impressive psionic FX abilities. Their ships cross interstellar distances, and they have the ability to deceive and even erase human minds. The Greys can manipulate energy and matter in startling displays of power.
Their agenda is unknown. The Greys mutilate animals. They abduct and study humans. They observe military bases and activities and follow air and spacecraft. Are they sinister or friendly? Are they something else entirely? No one knows for sure, although many claim to have the answers.
The mighty city-ship of the Greys is settled into the Valles Marineris, the great rift on Mars. It often sends scout ships to Earth; most of the time these scouts simply pick up atmospheric, marine, and biological samples for later examination, but occasionally they drop off an agent to investigate human cities, paranormal sites, or regions of known alien presence firsthand. In the most extreme cases, they send a retrieval or eradication team to remove traces of their presence. With their superior technology, psionic abilities, and command of gravity itself, the Greys find it relatively easy to keep these trips hidden.
Uneasy sentiment accompanied the Greys' settlement of the Sol system. The decision that determined the aliens would settle Earth was controversial even in its own time, and it has continued to be debated ever since, with views and counterarguments changing from generation to generation. Was it ethical to settle an inhabited planet? Was it right to attempt to aid humans? To what extent should the Greys attempt to moderate the human proclivity to violence? The issues have only become more urgent as humans have grown more and more technologically savvy. Indeed, in the last century humanity has surpassed Grey achievements in some areas of technological endeavor, primarily chemistry and micromanufacturing. More important, the Greys now have a much harder time gathering raw materials for their own industrial enterprises: Humans have laid claim to most of the terrestrial sources of petroleum, metals, and chemical feedstocks.
Humans have no idea of what the Greys' true goals are. Indeed, why do they have such an interest in humanity? They are presently observers, interfering very rarely and discreetly. A few are exceptions to the rule, preferring to adventure and see the world, but even those few are rather secretive.
Certain Greys even accost witnesses while posing as Men In Black; they adopt something like human form through telepathic illusions. Their mental abilities allow them to eliminate their tracks, or at least reduce the traces of their presence to a level that can easily be denied by human governments.
A few Greys believe that it is possible to "improve" the human species, reducing its penchant for violence and vulnerability to a wide range of alien pathogens, and addressing its lamentable lack of appreciation for -- indeed, fear and hostility to -- alien advancement, culture, art, and technology. These Greys abduct humans, use viral and physical tools to change their physical and genetic makeup, and release them to the wild, where they are tracked and studied. For the most part, they carefully choose victims most likely to pass on their legacy -- that is, humans of childbearing age -- but occasionally they take victims for gerontological studies as well.
The Greys who fear humans as a potential reservoir of disease and violence are fully in favor of continuing this program, but many others oppose it as too little, too late. In order for them to have had a large impact on the human gene pool, the changes would have had to be implemented long ago when the city-ship first arrived. Now, with a human population in the billions, no more than a few thousand can be altered by the limited number of scientists available for such research.
More cynical Greys suspect that the genetic tinkering may have other goals entirely. These scientists suspect that a faction among the Greys seeks to gather genetic samples to gauge human strengths and weaknesses for some dire plot.
A few Greys live among humans but keep their presence secret. The most trusted and skilled reconnaissance agents drift into human society under cover of psionic illusions or memory wipes that keep their presence a secret. These close-contact agents speak human languages fluently, understand human technology in detail, and always live in safe houses bought by the aliens through blinds, holding companies, and layers of lawyers.
More often, reconnaissance parties simply monitor radio, TV, and Internet topics. They collect data, may briefly question a human subject or two, and commission further research through third parties such as private investigators, polling agencies, and market research firms. Primarily, they seem interested in human beliefs, adaptability, and ability to cope with stressful or even lethal situations, as if they are testing the psychological profile of various human populations over time. In addition, they sometimes track obscure economic and medical indicators. What is ultimately done with all this data is unclear, but the Greys take it quite seriously.
Although many purport to know something of the history of the Greys before they came to Earth, such facts are always suspect. In truth, we know nothing of these aliens before they first contacted humans in prehistory, and precious little after that. The ancients saw the Greys as gods. However, they could also be the source of many demon myths. In fact, no one agenda rules the Greys (see Grey Politics, below). Certainly the political war fought among the aliens in the days of ancient Thera (see page 47) shows that they are not always a harmonious group.
Modern knowledge of these aliens comes post-Roswell, when the Greys formed a relationship (even if it was short-lived) with the U.S. government. Evidence exists that in the southwestern U.S., the government (or some part of the government) is working hand in hand with the Greys, performing sinister experiments or preparing for a dire plot. Some abductees report that human military personnel not only know about alien abductions, they assist the aliens in conducting them. Perhaps the government sold some of its people to the Greys in exchange for technology?
Other Greys seem interested in helping humans. In ancient times, they assisted people in building projects, taught them about the stars, and gave them limited amounts of technology. Even today, some humans who report encounters or communication with the Greys claim that they are benevolent creatures sent here to watch over us, help us, and in fact protect us from the rising Dark Tide.
The fraal are described in the d20 Menace Manual (page 45).
The fraal are far from a unified political body. Instead, no fewer than three distinct political factions exist -- the Ahotti, the Iltan, and the Ziljir -- with no doubt many smaller splinter groups.
Considered the most powerful of the Grey factions, the Ahotti (which translates roughly as "our people") have shaped most Grey policies for the past eight thousand years. For the first three thousand years of the Greys' presence on Earth, the Ahotti limited humanity's access to Grey technology, doling new advances out sparingly over time. In this way, they believed that humans could be brought up to the Greys' level without irrevocably harming human culture.
The activation of the standing stones of Thera, and the ensuing attack by the otherworldly beings that stepped through the doorway, encouraged the Iltan (literally, "free mind") to propose a dramatic increase in the rate of technology sharing. Fearing additional future encounters with the extradimensional invaders, the Iltan lobbied the current Grey Speaker to approve the granting of additional scientific advances to the Atlanteans. Despite their minority status, an alliance with the Ziljir faction -- along with an agreement to allow the Ahotti to increase efforts to quash the growing Egyptian reliance on arcane arts -- allowed the Iltan to sway the Speaker.
For their part, the Ziljir were content to act as "kingmakers" in fraal politics. Generally considered a fringe group, the Ziljir are often seen as troublemakers; their name is derived from the Fraal term for "chaos-bringer." Most Ziljir were more interested in personal gain than in improving the humans' lot in life, and enjoyed taking advantage of their status as revered beings among the lesser humans.
During this time, many Iltan moved secretly within Egyptian society, working to undermine the Ahotti's efforts to discourage certain intellectual pursuits (such as the Hermetic arts). A few among them helped form the Companions of Horus, a human society dedicated to the free sharing of ideas and learning. Some even worked to open friendly relations with the kinori (d20 Menace Manual, page 56).
The destruction of Thera forced a major shift in fraal politics. Many Ahotti blamed the Iltan's new policies for the catastrophe. The humans could no longer be seen as equals, claimed the Ahotti, nor could they be allowed to continue the studies of arcane magic. A political firestorm arose, during which the Speaker (perhaps egged on by Ziljir extremists) was pressured to denounce the policies of both the Ahotti and the Iltan, restricting Grey development to single cities and leaving humans to form their own civilizations in certain preserved districts.
Though later fraal historians feel this decision prevented a civil war, the decision was not a popular one. Reasoning that the Egyptian culture was too poisoned against the Greys to continue efforts in this region, the fraal moved across the Atlantic to Central America.
There, the fraal pursued a more conservative plan, remaining separate from the young Olmec civilization. Despite the Speaker's prohibition, some Greys walked among the humans, spreading information and teaching the humans in the ways of agriculture and other sciences. These teachers entered Mesoamerican lore under such names as Kukulcan, Quetzalcoatl, and Viracocha. However, the Grey presence in Central America was shorter-lived than on Thera, and the city-ship left around A.D. 700 and made the Moon its new home. In the mid-twentieth century, when humanity seemed poised to leap across the gulf of space from Earth to the Moon, the city-ship moved to Mars, where it rests today in Valles Marineris.
Leaving the Earth did not end fraal interference in human affairs, however. Members of the Iltan faction are believed to have been in contact with the Knights Templar for about 100 years, teaching them secrets of psionics and learning what the knights had discovered about dark matter and arcana in return. In fact, certain records -- such as the Migashi Tablet, discovered in the Sahara by an Institute expedition in 1951 -- seems to indicate that Iltan efforts to share information with humans have continued into the present, despite the Speaker's prohibitions against it.
From time to time, individual fraal display personalities that diverge greatly from those of their fellows. The fraal call these rogues, or hesai, and target them for reeducation or elimination as appropriate.
Some rogues follow selfish or evil agendas, preying on humans with their powerful psionic abilities. Their activities often result in cases that humans are at a loss to solve. In general, they try to keep their activities low-profile, as they are often the targets of alien trackers, strikers, and elimination teams if their activities become publicly known. The most notorious example currently operating on Earth is Eenevar jil Tan, a Telepath who controls a criminal empire in southeast Asia and traffics in heroin. Marooned after a surveillance operation went wrong, Eenevar has turned his psionic gifts into a profitable tool to control the Shan arcanists. To them, he is simply "The White Ghost" and is revered as a supernatural figure. His compound in the jungle is heavily fortified and extremely isolated; it can be reached only by air.
Other rogues live among humanity quietly, without attracting attention and without using their mental powers to manipulate and abuse humans. These are often simply deserters from recon expeditions, and they are fascinated by human foibles and behaviors. Some, such as Itohiro Nakami, director of the Hoffmann Institute, seek to help humans. In a few cases, hesai desert because they seek to master the arcane arts found among humans, generally without success.