Sepulchre Variations, The
The Robophiliac Bionts Attack
Image from Steve Bowers
The Robophiliac Bionts attack
The Sepulchre Variations are one of the oldest collections of virchworlds, consisting of a vast array of grotesque and eerie iconography adapted to hundreds of different clades.

The original form was the setting for the independent virch horror game Sepulchre released in the Middle Federation Era, set in a haunted, abandoned lunar warren. (The Technocalypse, tapping into anxieties of the time, provided a rich source of horror imagery.) The game was briefly the most popular in SolSys, but following a backlash of Megacorp-funded moral outrage, soon fell into obscurity.

Nevertheless, some decades later, the setting enjoyed a resurgence in popularity among virchbuilders who added new twists and aspects, repurposed it in various ways, and shared their creations over the net. Additions such as the Shuffling Watcher, Europan Thanatologists, and the Meat Vats with a Hidden Secret became popular in their own right. Other modifications added interactivity: Funhouse Mirror modelled its environment on the user's own home and hab, and FreudFreut used psychological targeting to further tailor it to the user's own anxieties.

By the 2000s, the original setting had become a tiny element in a sprawling patchwork of environments. Forests of eternal night, ice plains, and mist-soaked beaches lay alongside districts such as the Otherworld (a hellscape combining bleeding biotech and primitive industry), Stepfordia (a saccharine but apparently normal habitat), and Dunwich. Aioid-tailored environments such as Rossum, Demons of the Second Kind, and Planet of the Robophiliac Bionts became popular. Some places had become tourism spots or even homes to uploads. The first attempt at a master virch, containing all Sepulchre environments, with a total habitable space three times that of Earth, was constructed on Corona on 2190.

A little under a hundred Variations, including the master virch, were part of the initial alliance of virches that became Cyberia. Over following centuries, thousands more followed.

Over their history, the Sepulchre Variations have suffered waves of neglect and popularity, sometimes falling out of favour and being largely abandoned for centuries at a time, only to be revived in some new form. They have accreted into a vast world. Many horror virches, erstwhile competitors, have been absorbed. Some additions have been influenced by Perfect Horrors or gifted by transapients.

Nevertheless, they remain an important cultural touchstone for many Terragens. The Variations have earned a denunciation from the Solar Dominion and praise from some TRHN ais. Some regions have been restricted or even banned due to risk of psychological damage. (In Cyberia, dangerous regions are open-access, but clearly signposted with warnings.)
Clade Patternism has been a strong influence. While the originals were aimed almost exclusively at humans, the majority of the Sepulchre Variations are now aimed at other sophonts, filled with clade-specific anxiety, revulsion and fear triggers.

The first To'ul'h region, Cold Bright Skies, appeared in 4509. It was quickly followed by a swathe of others. The discovery of new xenosophonts has always been followed with a burst of virch additions.

There have been many disputes over whether a given addition should be counted among the Variations, particularly when the addition steps away from the established Sepulchre theme. The biggest incident arose in Cyberia when the Doctors of Dada Oneironauts created a saccharine parody of the entire Sepulchre world, filled with colourful and neotonous monsters in 5992. The resulting Canon Wars lasted several decades, though many participants insisted it was all in good faith.

The Variations achieved a brief notoriety in 7415. A recently-transcended S2 from the Ghemur system forcibly uploaded the system's entire population, er former fellow citizens, and transferred them to a master copy, justifying er actions with the phrase "life without pain has no meaning." The colonists were rescued within a century, and the offending Power edited to remove coercive tendencies. Nevertheless, some of the colonists had adapted to life in the virch and opted to remain.

In the Current Era there are an estimated 720 million Variations, 72% of which are members of Cyberia. Some 11,000 master copies exist, though given the disagreements about canonicity of some additions, plus the difficulty of keeping up with constant additions throughout the Terragen sphere, few master versions contain all the variations. The total surface area of a single master copy is close to 260 billion times that of Earth, or more than 20 times that of the Kiyoshi Pentad. Physical realisations, with the aid of ufog can be found in many places, and more permanent installations (carrying only a fraction of the Sepulchre) exist on Tetra (Kepleria) and Wyrme (Cableville).
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Development Notes
Text by Liam Jones
Initially published on 05 September 2018.