Sunday, December 29, 2013

What the Elephand Lands are Like

I tried to write this post in my more usual long form, but it wasn't working.  So here's this instead.

Precis: A cold, bitter frontier beset by inhuman enemies; fantasy Russia by way of Byzantium

Conspectus: Monomakos, the Overlord of the White Throne; ice age megafauna; dark forests crawling with the twisted results of failed experiments from the ancient elves tinkering with the now lost technology; the twisted, half-fish immortals in the service of His Piscine Majesty, the Viridian Emperor; tribes of fearsome Leiber-style "Ghuls;" Orcs! (it's been years since I've had them in one of my games); Kelnorian ruins in their marbled splendor crumbling in the cold snow; the remnants of Markrabian star-cruisers leaking "magic" into the surrounding area; blue "northern" elves; the ice wizards of Valon; demons trapped for millennia beneath glaciers; forest products; the screaming banshees of the Sidhe Hills; Rigorn the Magnificent, a Ghul Mage of terrifying power and mercurial mood;  The White Throne with its scrimshaw panels of mastodon tusk and tiger bone depicting the conquest of a people; Bullywug ruins in the marshes of the Greatflood River; cavemen morlocks and white apes, oh my!; amazons riding polar bears and sabertoothed tigers; a bitter but petty skirmishes along a long and wild border; strange pylons that create the warm weather found in the Land of Beasts, where dinosaurs roam free; the lost elven city in the mountain; cairns and barrows of a peoples lost to historical record; the whip-wielding disciples of the fish god Armadad-Bog; the cold bodies of dead gods of wood and stone who were dead before the first man walked the world

Taste; Sound; Image: "Winter's Wolves," Laketown from The Desolation of Smaug*

A Note on the new look: I decided changing the name of my blog temporarily would probably get confusing, and I liked the vaguely purple color scheme so I found another picture on my hard drive that fit it.

*I actually have some serious problems with this movie, and it's not very Tolkien, but its combination of cold town on a lake with medieval Russian looking guards mimicked what I was already thinking about for Damkina very well.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

In Places/Spaces Deep Plans for 2014

My parents went a bit overboard this Christmas

  • As I've mentioned a few times on G+ and on this blog, my chief goal is to have Traveller be my main game for 2014.
  • In that vein, I also want to do more to promote STARSLUGS.  A few of us who are planning to run Traveller games on G+ are trying to meet a couple of times to hash out how we want this thing to work.
  • Finish Feudal Anarchy.   This will probably include renewed attempts at a playtest campaign.  Stay tuned.
  • Get those guys in the top picture painted and killing each other.  I'm planning on using them as part of an imagi-nation project for the fake German polities of Rotland and Blauland (named after the two sides in the original Prussian wargames).  I'm not sure if I'm going to use Charge! or a modified version of By this Axe (With this Bayonet?) yet.
  • I also want to get my version of the Wilderlands closer towards being game ready.  This might have to wait until D&D Next is out (which I believe is sometime this summer).  As mentioned above, I'm not planning on running it this year, at least not as my main thing, but I do want to start hammering some stuff out.
  • I have a couple of ideas for space themed microgames I'm kicking around, including a card game designed to simulate Star Trek-style ship combat and one about playing raiders in a Foundation/Space Viking-like space-pocaypse.
  • Finally, I want to set up a reading list of Traveller-esque/applicable science fiction to spend the year reading.   I might do blog posts about what I thought about them when I'm done.  We'll see.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Aliens(?) of the Directorate: Ultra-Terrans

Appearance and Biology
Ultra-Terrans are, technically speaking, humans, though the degree to which they have been genetically and cybernetically modified may make this fact seem incredulous to some observers.  They appear as aesthetically perfect humans, often with strangely colored skin or eyes or both.  They often possess redundant organs and other systems designed the help their human-like bodies cope with their decadent lifestyles.  Their DNA shows a great deal of "junk code," which act as special genetic markers, allowing them access to a number of services, institutions, and equipment unavailable to normal Directorate citizens.

Ultra-Terrans are the result of thousands of years of genetic experimentation on Sacred Terra, and they existed even before the founding of the Directorate.  Sometime before humans discovered the jump drive, the ancestors of Ultra-Terrans were able to use their money and influence to make themselves a class apart from ordinary Terrans.  Not content to hold their position through monopolizing force, wealth, and political rights as the nobles of Terran antiquity had done, those that would become Ultra-Terrans invested in technologies that would allow them to make their delusions of exceptionalism a reality.  It is believed that sometime during the colonization of the other planets of the Sol system, this led to a terrible war that saw the Ultra-Terrans cast down for a time, but with the creation of the Directorate's Steering Committee they were once again able to cement their position at the head of humanity.

Ultra-Terrans are arrogant in the extreme, obsessed with decorum, and extremely competitive.  They seek to prove their superiority over other humans, other Ultra-Terrans, and other species in order to justify their position at the head of the galactic community.  Some Ultra-Terrans take on a paternalistic attitude towards normal humans, a fact that many of those so patronized find even more irritating than the normal mode of Ultra-Terran behavior.

Ultra-Terrans are 40k space marines in a setting otherwise inhabited by Han Solos.  They also possess more than a dash of the inhuman strangeness that the nobles of Franke Herbert's Dune have, often to the exaggerated degrees seen in the David Lynch film.  Ultra-Terrans often engage in practices that are repulsive to nearly all humans, such as incest (or more often clone-cest) and cannibalism, having various modifications designed to negate the undesirable effects of these activities.  They are that knight from Jabberwocky... in Space!

Ultra-Terrans as Player Characters
One cannot make an Ultra-Terran character by choice, much as one cannot chose to enter the nobility.  If, while making a human character, you roll a high enough status to enter the nobility, roll 1d6.  If your Social Score is an A, you have a 1 in 6 chance of being an Ultra-Terran, if it is a B, a 2 in 6 chance, and so on.  Ultra Terrans add 2 to two of the following characteristics: Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, or Intelligence; however, no score may be brought above B/12 in this way.  In addition, the player must figure out a way in which their character looks eerily inhuman, such as "Dune eyes," cobalt colored skin, a complete lack of hair, etc.  The character also gets a silly space prefix applied to their title, such as Astroduke, Galactoviscount, or Metabaron.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

All I Want for Christmas is a Shambleau

In addition to the raw materials created by the Solar Event, traders in the Boom Worlds deal in a wide variety of exotic goods.  These are, of course, heavily regulated by the Terran Directorate.  However, there are a number of goods that are completely illegal under Directorate law, with only smugglers, aliens, and pirates to act as purveyors.  Below are a few of the more common, interesting, and exotic ones.

Terran Animals
Strangely, historical accident has created a situation where animals once native to Sacred Terra are now more common on the world Minerva than in the rest of the Directorate.  When the Guild of Redistricters decided to convert Terra into a Metroworld over a century ago, a number of Terran animals became "extinct," existing only as data collected on their respective genomes.  After the failure of the Athena Group's first colony on Prometheus, the megacorporation began researching the possibility of "resurrecting" these animals as part of a future terraforming attempt.  The results of this project can be seen on Minerva, which teems with ancient Terran animals such as zebras, tortoises, and gigarhinos.  These animals are often sought as pets by wealthy nobles, or occasionally simply for their pelts or other animal products.  However, the populations of these animals are tightly controlled on Minerva, and tampering with their numbers by hunting or capturing them is completely forbidden.

Psychic Frontal Lobes
A recent fad among the minor nobility of the Directorate - those that lack the genetic markers and cybernetics that distinguish the nobility of Sacred Terra - is to consume the right front lobe of aliens, and sometimes even humans, believed to have possessed psychic potential.  The goal behind this activity is obvious.  Unfortunately, a huge market of "fakes" has grown up to satiate the demand for lobes.  Many unscrupulous smugglers simply sell non-psychic lobes or those of non-sophants with unusually large brains.  In any event, it is the official position of the Bureau of Astropsychics, as well as the High College of Medicine that this practice is inefficacious.  The Low College of Medicine and the Board of Epicures is still holding debates on the subject.

This strange substance is rarely seen in Directorate controlled space.  Its precise nature is a mystery to Directorate authorities, but it seems to only be used by the mutant populations of the Boom Worlds, mutant or otherwise.  Its illegality is due to the fact that its production seems to be linked with the kidnapping of healthy terrans.

This anti-aging drug was created by Asklepios Pharmaceuticals, a megacorp that was purchased by the Athena Group a little over a year ago.  It supposedly relies on substances found only on worlds with ruins from Interstellar Empire present on them.  It was taken off the market after several users, began to show symptoms similar to the mutagenic properties of the Boom Worlds.  Still, desperate and vain minor nobles and merchants often desire the drug, believing that they will not gain mutations in the same way that the second wave of Boom Worlds settlers have not gained mutations from whatever energies caused them in the first wave.  The Kruelians have taken up the manufacture of a coarse, unrefined form of the drug that is more cheaply available.

These strange creatures appear similar to females of a large number of species, purportedly due to their ability to shape shift.  They are supposedly capable of giving their "owner" all manners of physical and psychic pleasure, but it is well known that the eat the life force of those who utilize their... services.  Unlike other natives of the Boom Worlds, they do not have any significant populations of mutants, leaving Directorate scholars to conclude that they are foreigners, perhaps from the same sector as the Ningaubles.  They are often traded as commodities by Kruelians and [Click]s, thus their inclusion here.

Most consumables on Directorate worlds consist of meat animals, nutrient-sludge, and occasionally the edibles native to nearby garden planets.  However, recently a movement towards culinary "primitivism" has started on a number of high population and non-agricultural worlds.  These people desire a large amount of the ancient Terran grain known as wheat, which is still farmed on a large number of Directorate worlds.  However, the Directorate uses this grain to create the foodbars used by their armed forces and most spacers, and thus normally has a monopoly on the substance.  A few enterprising smugglers have begun moving wheat to feed the growing market for bread and biscuits in Directorate space.

Clicking this link will take you to a table showing the availability and prices of these goods.  Xamblai are not included because they are typically sold as individuals or small groups, not by the ton.

New Look for a New Year

As part of a cheap trick to shame myself into running the same thing for a year, I've decided for a temporary re-configuring/re-naming of the blog for 2014.

I want 2014 to be the year of Traveller and STARSLUGS, so let's hope I can make that happen.  I'll still probably be posting D&D stuff as I work on that on the side, but the goal is to make my Traveller campaign, both at home and on G+, last the whole year.

Not a very long post, but here's a song I guess:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Notes on the Wilderlands of Swords and Wizardry

I decided that I will actually run a (heavily modified) version of the Wilderlands for my home group.  It will be based on the events of my early college campaigns, as well as some other stuff I think is neat.  You will notice some "misspellings" in the text below.  These represent my initial mispronunciations of certain words (Pazidun Peninsula, Tharabians, etc.) based on my semi-dyslexic reading of the original setting.

The City State of the Invincible Overlord
The City State of the Invincible Overlord was all but destroyed many years ago when a great automaton, a relic of the Uttermost War, erupted from the Earth and attacked the city.  The thing was stopped by a group of adventurers, who have since passed into legend and are sometimes revered as a kind of mini-pantheon known as the Comitatus.  The overlord of the past several years, Bjorn the Mighty, a Skandik demi-god rumored to himself be a member of the Comitatus, has rebuilt the city and brought the Skandik kingdoms of Ossary and Croy to heel.  The culture of the CSIO is largely based on 3rd century Rome, with Tharabian and Skandik troops acting as auxiliaries in its legions.  It is still primarily a city state, and Ossary, Croy, and the other kingdoms within its influence are protectorates, not provinces.

The Empire of Vridistan (the City State of the World Emperor)
Viridistan acts as the chief rival to the CSIO.  The Viridian Emperor's territory is apparently large, streatching from the Desert Lands to the Elphand lands, and having recently acquired some lands in the Eastern part of the Roglaras when the CSIO was being rebuilt.  However, his grip over these areas is weak, and the individual satraps possess a great deal of power.  As the name and some of the nomenclature hints at, the Viridians resemble the Achaemenid Persians culturally, complete with Immortals.  However, the Viridians are a tiny, disappearing minority and the bulk of the population is Tharabian (Celtic) or Ghinorian (Greek).

Barbarian Altanis
Conan, or perhaps Konahn, land.  The barbarians here have skin of vaguely red or violet hues, showing their possible relationship to the ancient Orichans of old.  They often raid into the lands of Viridistan and the Skandiks.

Antil is the City of Slavers and primarily serves as generic sword & sorcery bad guy fodder.  They are bald and tend to eschew the historical armor more commonly found in the other areas of my Wilderlands for stupid Red Sonja bad guy style get ups.

The Kingdom of Oricha once stretched the entirety of the Pazidun Peninsula.  Its rulers were said to be men descended from demons with blood red or violet skin and raven black hair.  Their descendents supposedly live on in Barbarian Altanis, but their culture was destroyed long ago during the rise of the Kingdom of Kelnore and the arrival of the Tharbrians to the Roglaras.  It is thought by some that the CSIO may have been Oricha's capital.  Their culture and ruins are vaguely Egyptian in a kinda weird, Hollow Earth conspiracy theory sort of way.

Ghinor is the common tongue's name for the ancient Kingdom of Kelnore, which at its height stretched almost across the entirety of the Wilderlands.  The kingdom fell, much like Oricha, with the rise of two new kingdoms (Viridistan and Tarantis) and the arrival of barbarians (the Skandiks).  The southern areas of the Wilderlands still possess a number of Ghinorian successor states, most of which have either pseudo-Hellenistic cultures (though some may be more like early Byzantine).

Elphand Lands
This frozen land marks is dominated by the Elphand Province of Viridistan, a rather rebellious region that is notoriously difficult to run.  It is sometimes given to extremely competent satraps in the hopes that they will be able to cement Viridian influence there, and sometimes given to those out of favor with the Emperor as a sort of exile.  The northernmost section remains independent, and the city of Damkina - an isolated Ghinorian successor state with a vaguely Kievan Rus-style culture - has, on a few occasions, been able to rally the northern villages together to resist Viridian incursions.

The Great Forest
This large section of the Elphand lands was once home to a great Elven empire, created supposedly only shortly after the Uttermost War, though times the chronology for events that distant is often hard to pin down.  It is now home to a few petty elf kingdoms and a strangely large number of cave-men, morlocks, and other strangely-human like beasts.

Valon was once an outpost of the Elven Kingdom of the Great Forest, though now it is mainly ruled by men (and a large number of half-elves).  These men share the blue skin of the Northern elves, hinting at their mixed ancestry.  It is a beacon of civilization in an otherwise barbaric wilderness, though this means it is also vulnerable to the excesses of Wilderlands civilizations, particularly slavery.  Like the Tharabians, Avalonian culture is vaguely Celtic, though perhaps more reminiscent of medieval Ireland than the Gauls.

Tarsh is a largely ruined city that once stood at the head of a great kingdom in the North. It was once a protectorate, though not a direct part, of the Kingdom of Kelnore.  When combined with its strange, star-gazing druids, the overall effect is rather like Mithridatic Pontus.  With the collapse of the Ghinorians in the face of other kingdoms and barbarians, the strange priests of Tarsh turned inwards to investigate the magical properties of the heavens and of bizarre gates that liter the area. 

The Valley of the Ancients
This infamous valley is filled with ruins that predate even ancient Oricha, some even going back before the Uttermost War.  This is where you get ray guns.

Tarantis is a vaguely Seljuk protectorate of the Kingdom of Karak, known for its pirates and occasionally for its Sinbad-style sailors.

The Kingdom of Karak
Karak is a vaguely Mongolian kingdom whose territories in the Wilderlands include Tarantis and the Ebony Coast.  While the urban centers of their kingdom tend to be in the south, the Karakhans themselves spend much of their time on the Glow Worm steppes, where they keep their horses and live their traditional nomadic lifestyles when not holding court. 

The Desert Lands
This is another rebellious province of Viridistan, centered around the Holy Cities of Mycr, a strange monotheistic deity rarely worshiped outside these lands.  Mycretians loathe the Viridians but their priests urge pacifism, leading to a number of odd forms of resistance.  The holy cities are supposedly connected by miles of underground passages, complete with shrines and even a sacred fire sometimes purported to be Mycr himself.

A Ghinorian successor state at the edge of a steaming jungle, Lenap is very similar to the Ilionians of Uz - that is, they are Greeks who have a large number of strangely Mayan affectations as well as a cultural fascination with dinosaurs.

I'm probably going to redraw the map immediately around the campaign area (haven't decided if that's going to be the CSIO or not yet), replacing or renaming settlements in order to make the aforementioned cultures show up more clearly.  I like the Wilderlands, but I think it suffers from being nonsensical culturally unless the DM puts some extra work into it.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Musings on my home group and my DMing style

Last weekend, a member of my home group ran a one shot game using the final D&D Next playtest packet, and I have to say I was impressed.  I found the system general simple enough for me to like it and also that several things it did, such as backgrounds and the way profeciencies work, closely mirrored things I have been wanting to implement in my S&W games as part of an attempt to make them more like WFRP.  Naturally, I soon turned my thoughts towards how I would modify the system to run a Dark Country game for my home group.

But home groups are funny things.  The G+ group that I've been playing with for the past two years, aside from being very patient with my constant flitting from one setting to the next, has also really really dug the Dark Country.  This should come as no surprise as they're made up of people who saw my add for the Dark Country G+ game and went "that sounds awesome. Sign me up!"  My Hattiesburg group is, instead, made up of close friends I've had since high school.  Because the group is based around our friendship rather than our taste in particular kinds of fantasy games, this means there are some differences

Some players in my home group have never liked the Dark Country, and before last night I was never entirely sure why, even if I had inklings.  Sure, some did, but the ones that didn't often were the ones who were most invested in the idea of playing D&D, so if they aren't having a good time it kinda drags the whole thing down.  After discussing what I wanted to run with my players last night, I discovered the reasons that they don't like my Nightwick game.

The first, and this was primarily the complaint of a single player - though one who is, again, one of the ones who tends to get invested and thus his complaint is probably worth considering - is that my constant need to limit character options in an attempt to get a specific tone is damaging to game balance, since the game assumes that all options are in play.  I don't particularly agree with this, since I think that D&D was, is, and hopefully will always be set up as a tool box for individual groups.  Using all the tools in the toolbox is the quickest way to Boring Town imaginable, as it leads to the high fantasy nonsense one sees in post Forgotten Realms D&D.  What you leave out is, at least to my eye, just as important as what you put in.

The other complaint, which I think was more broadly held, is that the Dark Country was too shitty, and that there was little sense of progress in the Nightwick Abbey games I've run for them.  The most obvious reason for this is a problem I've noticed with my own DMing style over the last year or so: I treat the setting as a noose slowly tightening around the PCs' collective neck.  This might not sound like such a bad thing, but I noticed in my Cocanha playtests of Feudal Anarchy that it lead to the G+ group sometimes feeling like they could take nothing but missteps, and in my G+ Dark Country game it eventually led to my having to advance the timeline of the setting by several months in order to avoid all of the adventures suddenly becoming solely about procuring food for the village of Nightwick.  This is a problem, I realize its a problem, and I'm trying to figure out ways to fix it.

More importantly though, talking to my players helped me realize another issue they were having, and I think that certain G+ players such as Robert and Zak were having is that Nightwick Abbey's very nature means that one doesn't feel like any progress is happening.  In other megadungeons, the dungeon is mostly a static environment.  I don't mean that the monsters don't move or that there aren't active factions in the dungeon.  I mean the dungeon itself isn't alive.  Nightwick Abbey is.  So in Greyhawk or Dwimmermount or whatever, clearing an area might not be permanent, but you at least feel like you did something.  In Nightwick, on the other hand, the dungeon is still living and still mad at you and still vomiting up monsters, so there's little sense that anything got done, regardless of how much you mapped.

This is something I previously hadn't considered, and would explain my home group's general preference for Uz over Nightwick, even if it often contradicts the problem of limited player options I first identified.  There's more of a sense of progress in clearing out a level of the Uz undercity.

Last night I discussed a number of possible options with my players, noting that I would prefer to run something that I made because the thing that I enjoy about the classic D&D settings is that they were created through play.  The organizations and historical events in them are a combination of the creativity of the players and the DM, and that is super cool.

So initially I pitched the Wilderlands, since, for that group, there a large part of what I would be doing for that setting was created through play.  In my old 3e game, several of their characters are legends if not out and out (minor) gods, and my wife destroyed a giant robot that was rampaging through the CSIO (my co-DM used the stats for the Tarrasque) by rolling 3 20s in a row* while only level 6, ensuring both the immortality of her character and, by the collapsing of the giant robot, the destruction of large sections of that famous city.  So the changes made by player character action would, hypothetically loom large over any future Wilderlands campaigns.

But my tastes have changed since I ran the Wilderlands in college.  Back then I was primarily interested in Late Antiquity, my intellectual imagination fired by the works of Walter Goffart and Patrick Geary, not to mention Jordanes and Bede.  And while I do still clearly enjoy pre-medieval fantasy settings, my tastes, both intellectually and in terms of fantasy fiction, have turned more towards things related to the high to late Middle Ages.  I like knights and guilds and medieval depictions of the Devil and fortified manors and even the Church.  These are largely incompatible with both the Wilderlands as generally conceived, and, more importantly, the Wilderlands as it is likely remembered by my players.

So I'm not really sure what to do.  My G+ players, particularly Michael, Huth, and Zzarchov, would likely prefer that I keep running the Dark Country (and to a lesser extent the Terran Directorate) until Christ in His glory comes to sit in judgement, and I greatly appreciate those players, but as Chris Kutalik has noted on several occasions, there is something about the experience of playing with a face to face group that is just better, even if G+ is a great deal better than other forms of digital gaming.

*I never remember if this was a houserule or an actual rule, but we always said in my group that 3 20s in a row meant that the thing was auto-dead regardless of other factors, much like the similar rule in EPT.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lychgate Locations

Cathedral Square
This square sits at the foot of the Cathedral of St Gax, a squat structure built by the Sword Brothers almost two hundred years ago.  The cathedral is more of a fortress than a church, though its interior is lavishly decorated.  Cathedral Square is the home of the great markets held nearly once a week during the Summer and sometimes into the Fall - though trade slows during the snowy season.  It is surrounded by the moderately well-appointed townhouses of the merchantry and lower nobility of Lychgate.

The Square of False Gods
This square is surrounded by a number of squat, ruined stumps that are said to have once been idols to pagan deities.  These idols were hacked, burned, and dragged to their current location after the Sword Brothers won a victory over a particularly fearsome pagan tribe.  It lies in the Low District, just a ways north of the Southern Gate, setting it almost in the middle of the city's slums.  On market days it sees almost as much, if not more, activity as Cathedral Square.  At night it is heavily patrolled by the badger men, due to the bishop's suspicion that it is a meeting place for Yimsleyite rebels and members of the Brotherhood of Thieves and Assassins.

The Whore's Nipple
Few inns in the Dark Country hold as terrible a reputation as the Whore's Nipple.  In the unlikely event that the Brotherhood of Thieves and Assassins is anything other than a paranoid fever dream of Bishop Notker, its headquarters is most assuredly here.  Even if it isn't, the Whore's Nipple is a place where ne're-do-wells can go to seek illicit employment.  Sleeping on the floor of its common room, while cheap, is not advisable without a shiv.

The Brazen Man
A well to do inn and eatery with a macabre centerpiece, the Gilded Man is named for the "statue" of a pagan king that stands in the center of the common room.  The king was killed by the Sword Brothers when he was immersed in molten bronze, and the statue purports to be the result of this brutal execution.  This is a common meeting place for the guildsmen of the city, who enjoy the numerous, and sometimes bizarre, games provided by the proprietor.  Strangers are, usually, unwelcome unless they are obviously wealthy.

The van Toad Trading House
This large building was once the home of the Guild of Hostlers, Scribes, and Imaginers - a now defunct organization whose members were burned at the stake for witchcraft after the bishop found a coin missing from his treasury.  The van Toad family acquired the property during the trouble last year with the pig-men, when the bishop allowed froglings into the city for the first time in exchange for a hefty sum of guilders.  It is rumored that the van Toads are attempting to have the restriction renewed, but only for the other frogling merchant houses.

The Bishop's Palace
This imposing structure lies just north of the Low District.  The surrounding neighborhood was once part of the slums, but a convenient series of fires around the time of Bishop Notker's election allowed for the gentrification of the area, and the purchasing of a number of quaint lofts by the children of Realmish nobility.  The palace itself is, in some ways, not unlike the cathedral.  It is squat, well fortified, and shockingly ugly by Realmish standards.  Despite its apparent impenetrability, rumor says the daring rascal Yim Yimsley was able to gain access to the bishop's private chambers.

Badder's Barracks
A large building that once served as a guild hall, Badder's Barracks now acts as the headquarters for the local guard, as well as the barracks for the badger men.  It's location isolates it from the commercial areas of the city, and makes many guards complain of the long, armored walk to the Square of False Gods.  Its dungeons are said to go deep beneath the earth, and may even connect with the various tunnels created by the Brotherhood.  The proximity of the city to the Long Swamp makes this unlikely.

The Ruined Shanty
This small ruin has stood outside the South Gate for almost a year.  It was apparently home to a group of rebels who sought to grant Arnawald the Black Eagle entrance in the hopes that he would take the city from Notker.  The bishop knows that Arnawald is pious man who would never question his authority but executed the rebels all the same in order to set an example.  A few sickly trees still have spare threads of rope, or even most of a skeleton dangling from them.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Aliens of the Boom Worlds

These sophants are not available as options for player characters.  Instead, they represent some of the most numerous aliens in the Boom Worlds, or at least the ones that the Terran Directorate has encountered.  Many of these species belonged to a political entity known only as the Interstellar Empire before the solar event caused this polity to collapse.

The Founders
This species is no longer believed to exist, though certain similarities to their self-depictions and the Kruellians have lead some xenologists to hypothesize that they are one and the same.  Sources say they founded the Interstellar Empire during the height of the [Click] Imperial Period.  Their technology seems to have been more advanced than the Directorate's in some ways, less advanced in others.  They were particularly adept at genetic manipulation.

The Thool (singular and plural) are one of the most commonly encountered aliens in the Boom Worlds, and many of their colony worlds have been brought under the control of the Directorate.  Most of the planets where their colonies are located are fluid ocean worlds.  These colonies usually exist as great domed cities under these oceans, leading xenologists to believe these are not their natural habitats. Their biology seems too fragile and complex to have evolved naturally, and it is believed that they were uplifted - or perhaps even created - by the enigmatic founders of the Interstellar Empire.  The Thool see these figures as gods.

Kruelians are larger than many sophant species, and seem to be very prone to whatever forces cause the mutations seen in the Boom Worlds.  They are believed to have been the leaders of the Intestellar Empire before its collapse, and many continue to act as petty warlords, cult leaders, and crime lords using the remaining institutional structures of that empire.  While often viewed by other species as crass and vulgar, they show a remarkable curiosity, and it is not unusual for them to act as scientists or xenologists among the races of the fall empire.

These beings are most often found in the employ of Kruelians, leaving many to believe that they are some sort of warrior caste from the Intestellar Empire.  They vary somewhat in appearance, with individuals being heavily genetically and cybernetically modified for their various combat roles.  Their internal structure appears remarkably flexible when compared to creatures that rely on either an endo or exoskeleton.  They do not seem to possess any way to reproduce, and it is believed that the current members of the species are relics from the time of the Interstellar Empire.

This strange race does not actually appear to be native to the Boom Worlds.  Instead, they seem to have arrived after the chaos created by the solar event.  Xenologists believes that every member of their species possesses at least some psychic ability.  They often serve as information brokers in the Boom Worlds, using a combination of technical skill, psychic talent, and extensive contact networks to acquire their "goods."

Aor Beings
These creatures are perhaps the strangest the Terran Directorate has ever encountered.  Thus far, they have only been found in the vacuum of space, and all attempts by the Scout service to make contact with them have failed.  They are extremely massive, some being as large as the highfreighters piloted by the Directorates strongest astropsychics.  They do not utilize jumpsace to travel, but seem capable of some other form of FTL travel, though it is unknown if this form is affected by time dilation.  They are named for the planet Aor, where the Kruelians and Thool assert that they originate.  This planet is currently considered a Red Zone by the Directorate.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Aliens of the Directorate: Froguloids

Appearance and Biology
Froguloids appear as humanoid frogs roughly 1m in height.  They typically have green skin, though males often possess more exotic colors.  Sexual dimorphism is fairly subtle in Froguloids, but there are enough differences to tell one gender from another.  Froguloids require a larger amount of food - especially protein - and moisture than terrans, though they can usually exist in the same environments.

Froguloids were originally created by terrans as an experiment in uplifting.  It was thought that the process would be fairly easy since the anatomy - as opposed to the physiology - of a frog is not that dissimilar from a human.  Froguloids have long been employed by Imperial scientists in order to jump start the terraforming process on prospective planets.  It was thought that their fast metabolism as well as their propensity for mutation would help scientists identify potential atmospheric hazards undetectable by the Directorate's astropsychics.  This history has made Froglings somewhat paranoid, though not enough to damage their relationship with other species.

Froguloids now have their own systems and colonies, with a capital known as Frogulon.  They are still technically part of the Terran Directorate, but they enjoy a great deal of autonomy.  Their social structures are more or less the same as terran society except as noted below.  There is also a splinter state known as the Bullywug Star Empire, but this is fairly small and acts more as a base for piracy than an actual state.

Froguloids are fairly gregarious and adventurous, though they have a habit of distrusting terrans.  They make excellent traders, scientists, and explorers, a fact that both terrans and Froguloids take credit for.  
They enjoy diversions of all sorts, but often tire of things very quickly.  Forguloids often become frustrated with humans, whom they accuse of being "slow." They are also known for their propensity for drink and mind altering substances, though these are usually very strong by human standards to account for the differences in Froguloid biology.

Froguloid society largely resembles its human counter part, including both noble titles and dress; however, they possess strongly entrenched "houses," or large family units, that act as the major political players on both Frogulon and in the Bullywug Star Empire.  They are a mix of Toad of Toad Hall, Mass Effect's Salarians, and Frog from Chronotrigger

Froguloids as Player Characters
Small (1d6 Strength, 3d6 Dexterity,) Fast metabolism (+2 DM to Initiative, double life support costs,) can survive underwater 10x as long as human characters.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Aliens of the Directorate: Reptoids

Appearance and Biology
Reptoids are, as the name suggests, vaguely reptilian humanoids.  They are taller than humans on average but typically appear leaner.  Their heads are large and round, with strangely beak-like mouths and massive, deep-set eyes.  Unlike Terran reptiles, Reptoids are able to regulate their own body temperature - though they tend to still be more vulnerable to cold than other sophants.

Females and males are virtually indistinguishable to other species.

Reptoids constantly rewrite their own history, so it is difficult for outsiders to know the truth.  Reptoids use scholarship of all types in order to justify or undermine existing power structures rather than to satisfy intellectual curiosity. They currently possess no true homeworld, and some Reptoid officials have told Directorate scouts and xenologists that they originated on Terra, and that they were responsible for uplifting humans.  These Reptoids claim their species did this in order to use the humans against their [Click] masters, a plan which apparently backfired.

While a compelling story, and one that seems to have precedents in ancient Terran legends, scholars of comparative xenology at many of the Directorate's state funded techno-universities have confirmed that the Reptoids make similar claims about the [Click] and a number of other alien species with which they have contact, supposedly slotting themselves into existing mythologies in order to place themselves in an ideological position of power.

What is known about them is that they were one of the first species to rebel against the [Click] Empire when the Directorate began reaching its hand out to grasp the stars.  Since then they have served the Directorate as spies among other alien populations, though several members of the Steering Committee and the College of Thought believe they are using this position to spread misinformation and to further their own interests.  Outside of their limited governmental function, Reptoids are typically second class citizens in Directorate space.

Reptoids are known for their paranoia, deceitfulness, and self-serving natures.  Every Reptoid believes himself to be the most important being in the universe and all other things existing solely as resources to be exploited.  To humans, this often makes them appear as a species of sociopaths.  It also has made it easy for other interstellar powers to manipulate them.  This attitude is believed to have been in part due to their evolution - since their ancestors are believed to have eaten their own siblings, children, and even parents.

Reptoids are consummate schemers and sadists in the Harkonnen mold; however, to the face of their human superiors they tend to be obsequious and fawning to a ludicrous, obviously feigned degree.  They tend to dress similarly to the dominate species in the part of the galaxy they're in - Terran fasions in the Directorate, [Click] garb in the alien successor states.  Armin Shimmerman would play a Reptoid.

Reptoids as Player Characters
Natural Armor, Natural Weapons (Claws), -1 to tests made in cold environments, regenerate any lost limb in 1d6 weeks, and roll twice for Social Standing, using the lower score as their standing among non-Reptoids

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Freetrader Conventions become STARSLUGS and some thoughts on homebrew Traveller settings

At the suggestion of Zak, the Freetrader Conventions will hereafter be known as the Simple Translation Agreement Rules Simulating Lastingly Unified Galactic Sectors, or STARSLUGS for short.  I've also been made aware of this handy document which should help in converting characters from other versions of Traveller if anyone wanting to run GT or MT decides they want in on this whole STARSLUGS thing.

On a tangentially related note, in a comment on my initial Boom Worlds/Galaxy of Fear post, Greg stated that "whenever I have seen different settings using Traveller, my mind refuses to accept it," which is a sentiment that seems to be common, even if it is not universal.  It is also a sentiment that I have a hard time understanding.  Looking at Classic Traveller, and even at the more recent Mongoose edition which I'm reading, I see a game that almost demands that you make your own setting.  It provides the referee with the tools to generate the sectors, worlds, and even the ships in which the game takes place.

Now this is not to say that there isn't a setting implied by the rules.  The most notable example of this in both CT and Mongoose Traveller is the presence of the Scout Service; however, the underfunded Star Fleet character of the scouts makes them something I'd include in a setting anyway, and I see that as little different than keeping beholders in a D&D game.

And I think that's really the key of what I'm saying: I view the implied setting of Traveller the same way I view the implied setting of D&D. They are both a set of elements borrowed from various pieces of source fiction that have been combined to make the game feel a certain way, but that are malleable and subject to the desires and inspirations of the referee.  Traveller, at least as presented in the LBBs and the Mongoose corebook, is a toolbox for making your own science-fiction adventures in the far future.

For some neat examples of this philosophy from the early days of Traveller, check out Freelance Traveller's Other Roads.  Particularly interesting to me are these two campaigns, run by two different referees at the same time in different parts of the galaxy.  They are what finally convinced me that STARSLUGS would be a good idea.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Freetrader Conventions

The Signing of the Convention Treaty on Geneva IV

In order for freetraders in the Space CantonmentDirectorate Space, and other willing sectors, to prosper and thrive, the referees of those campaigns have set out the following articles in order to ease movement between them.

Article 1
Characters may move between Directorate Space and the Space Cantonment freely provided they meet the standards required in other articles.

Article 2
Characters are bound by the rules of the version of Traveller being used in the game they are currently playing.  This includes things such as the rules for combat (both personal and ship-based), weapon damage, the functions of certain technological items, etc. 

Article 3
There is one exception to the rule presented in Article 2: skills.  Characters use whatever skill they possess that is closest to the one in the system currently being run.  This means that characters from the Cantonment (and possibly other CT games) possess broader skill categories than those the Directorate.  Skill acquisition is also based on the characters native system, and not on the system currently being run.  Skill rolls function as other items described in Article 2.

Article 4
Characters may bring their own personal effects with them, but not those held in common with other members of their party/crew.  This includes any ships the characters rolled on the benefits table, assuming the ship is being used by other party members.

Article 5
Psions, astropsychics, and aliens must submit their characters to the referee at least 48 hours in advance so that the referee has the time to read over any relevant sections of their rules/come up with how certain foreign abilities work in their area of space-time.

Representing the Cantonment: Chris Kutalik
Representing the Terran Directorate: Evan Elkins

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Aliens of the Directorate: the [Click]

This write up originally appeared on my old Traveller blog, but I have edited it in order to make it more in line with my current conception of my Traveller setting.

Appearance and Biology 
Male [click] aliens appear as furry creatures slightly larger than a human in stature.  From their furry faces peer a set of compound eyes and mandibles.  Their actual skin is a carapace designed to insulate their bodies from their planet’s notoriously harsh days and nights, as well as to protect them from predators.  Females are little more than mobile bloated egg sacks.  Similar organisms exist on the [click]’s home planet, though their fur is usually hidden beneath an outer carapace.  It is theorized that these creatures are to the [click] what gorillas are to humans.

The [click] were once the proprietors of a massive empire that included several other species.  They ruled through fear and grand displays of extravagance that both terrorized and mesmerized their various slave species.  However, their natural propensity for infighting eventually led to the rapid collapse of their empire about the time humankind first discovered the Jump drive.  Their handiwork can be seen in the Caliboi, which humans of the Future-past know as Mu-tants.

Today the [Click] Empire is no more, but it has left a number of domains controlled by petty [click] warlords and clans.  The Terran Directorate has been gobbling these up for several years now, and few of the remaining states would be able to resist a Directorate invasion.

[Click] culture is largely patriarchal.  Unlike other species, this is due to a strong biological imperative.  Female [click] are essentially non-sapient, and the males treat them as a commodity.  Fierce competition exists between males for who possess the most females, and war leaders will often lead raids on enemy worlds to capture women.  Oddly, this practice has also led to the kidnapping of the females of other species to display as trophies, despite the fact that the [click] cannot mate with them.

The largest class of the [click] is infertile males.  These males have usually been sterilized at birth in order to keep them in a submissive state to be used as work horses for the bureaucratic and military functions of the successor states.  A thin upper echelon maintains their fertility, but they must constantly protect it from up and coming fertile males.

Most view the [click] as decadent.   Their clothing vaguely resembles that of the various desert peoples of Earth, with robes designed to insulate the wearer against harsh climatic conditions.  However, since the [click] have left their desert home world, the rarely need such clothing.  Today it serves a primarily decorative function and is usually bestudded with jewels and rare materials in order to show the prestige of the wearer.

The [click] are more or less space-stag beetles, and spend much of their time competing with each other for position, rank, and females. Since they are intelligent, this usually take the form of more subtle contests and schemes, though physical violence is quite common among them.  They take slights to their prestige very seriously.  [Click] consider themselves superior to other species, and they do not tend to treat with them on equal terms.  This does not mean they do not enter into negotiations when necessary, simply that they only do so begrudgingly.

[Click] as player characters
Armored; Natural Weapon (claws);  Notable Endurance; Weak Dexterity
All [click] characters are male.  Any with a Social Standing less than 11 are infertile.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Organizations of the Boom Worlds

In addition to the organizations described in the Mongoose Traveller core books - the Army, Navy, Scouts, etc. - there are a number of organizations unique to the Boom Worlds setting.*

The Third Section
The Third Section is a subcommittee within the College of Thought.  It's original purpose is long lost to history, but after the last war with the [Click] broke apart the last pieces of their empire, the Third Section became the Steering Committee's secret police.  Due to issues of logistics and manpower, the Third Section is rarely deployed and, despite assertions to the contrary, the Directorate is not able to maintain anything close to a police state; however, when revenue begins to dry or Steering Committee members see their megacorps begin to hemorrhage profits, Third Section agents may be deployed.  The results of these deployments are always disastrous.

The Bureau of Astropsychics
The ostensible purpose of the Bureau of Astropsychics is to train psychic-potentials in the art of psychic-astrogation.  This art has led to the discovery and exploitation of a number of new sectors, as well as the creation of the mutants that make the extreme jumps required to access the Boom Worlds possible.  However, it is a well known secret that the Bureau of Astropsychics also illegally trains a number of its members in the art of psychic warfare.  These adepts are often hired out to Directorate authorities or feuding noble houses, making it unlikely that the members of the bureau will ever be prosecuted.

The Athena Group
One of the many megacorps of Directorate space, the Athena Group specializes in terraforming.  Its greatest success is often said to be the planet Minerva, which currently acts as its corporate headquarters in the Boom Worlds.  Athena is equally known for its infamous failure, the colony on Prometheus.  The  reasons for the colony's failure are a mystery to all but the highest level officials within the company.  Many conspiracy theorists - at least those with any sense of the interstellar economy - assert that the Athena Group also serves as a weapons developer for the Third Section, or any number of other shadowy organizations.

The Pirates of Guthrum
Guthrum was one of the first planets settled after the Boom Worlds was discovered.  Unfortunately for that first wave of settlers, the residual energies of the solar event had not yet calmed enough to prevent them from mutating.  Now Guthrum is under Directorate interdiction, for its mutant population - which seems to be reasonably self-sustaining - often attacks those who enter their system.  In addition to this, they are also known to engage in piracy and lead raids on nearby systems.  Their brutality is legendary, but savvy free traders know that it is possible to reason with them.

The Oniax Syndicate
The solar event which created the Boom Worlds and destroyed the alien interstellar empire that once existed in that remote corner of space left in its wake the mutated descendants of a once glorious people.  Some of these descendents have accepted Directorate rule, but few did so willingly.  Directorate officials believe that the Oniax Syndicate is one of a number of "criminal" syndicates within the territory newly acquired by the Directorate based around pre-existing alien noble houses.  The Oniax Syndicate is known to engage in piracy - sometimes alongside the Pirates of Guthrum, sometimes opposing them - and to be a large producer of the alien drug known simply as "juice," which seems to sooth the pain of the mutants produced in this region of space while having now affect on those with more standard biologies.

The Order of the Universal Principle
The Order of the Universal Principle is a strange movement that has taken the idea of a unified theory of physics to what Directorate officials consider an unhealthy extreme.  They have eschewed scientific searches, preferring meditative rituals designed to align one's consciousness with that of the universe.  These meditations often, bizarrely, occasionally lead them to commit assassinations, suicide bombings, and other acts of terror.  These often coincide with the members of the Order ranting insanely about the secret significance of a "divine number."  The precise digit has, so far, been different at each event.  The Directorate considers them a great threat to the safety of its citizens.

Darkstar Defense
Founded on Pinkerton, a metroworld close to Sublime Terra, Darkstar Defense initially served as a mercenaries during the [Click] Wars under the name Pythagoras Ltd.  After several name changes, Darkstar Defense changed its roll to that of a privatized police force utilized on a number of metroworlds, particularly those owned by members of the Steering Committee or one of the Terran noble houses.  They provide most of the security forces in the Boom Worlds, acting as customs agents, criminal investigators, and of course good old hired muscle.

The OpProl
A technical term for a supposed unified resistance group among the farmers and workers of the Boom Worlds, the existence of the OpProl is hotly debated outside the Steering Committee and its various colleges.  Directorate propaganda attributes a large number of radical political views to this organization, including mandatory sterilization of all citizens who currently posses a faufreluches social standing of 8 or higher, affirmative action for Froguloids, Dogoids, reparations for the [Click], and some vague terror called "soshialsm."  Whether or not these views are held by anyone the Directorate would identify as an OpProl, it is true that a number of farmers and workers have begun stockpiling weapons on the worlds of Ceres and Nibelung.

*In addition, I have renamed the TAS to the Traveller's Guild because guilds in my sci fi make me happy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Home Group Boom Worlds Session 1 Highlight Reel

Last Saturday I ran Mongoose Traveller for my home group - which they chose over WFRP for various reasons.

The characters they generated were...
Wolfgang - a retired star marine who spent much of his earlier career worried he had become a terminal lance

Baron Abolone - an incompetent upperclass twit whose mental capacity leaves much to be desired even with his genetically engineered background

and Steve McQueen - a crippled pilot named after the famous Astronomer (who has not yet been born in our timestream and who was himself named after the director, not the actor)

Their ship is the Tutunus.  It's vaguely phallic shape was not lost on my players.

Highlights from the session include:

  •  Accepting a mission from a cobalt-blue skinned noble who desired a large number of "black cylinders" be recovered from one of the moons of the alien controlled world of Diteen.
  • Realizing their jump drive made this job they just accepted impossible.
  • The introduction of coffee into the metabolism of Ceres' clone-kiosks.
  • Training some farmers on Ceres in the manufacture and use of TL 7 firearms in exchange for an upgrade to their jump drive.
  • Nearly being attacked by mutant alien pirates, then making a deal with them to get an escort ship in exchange for 3 gallons of human blood (made during the three day travel time within the Diteen system by the players with the help of the medibot)
  • Paying the vampire-drugie-mutant-alien pirates to do their job for them, followed by the pirates jumping to the next system over, which happens to be the largest alien pirate base in the subsector. 

The players are currently on Diteen's single scout outpost (which lies on an island in a fluid-ocean on the planet, well above the terraformed dome-cities of the alien inhabitants of Diteen) trying to figure out how to get the cylinders from their former "employees." Next Saturday they should have a couple more people to add to their crew.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Adventures in a Galaxy of Fear

The Directorate Sees All

The Terran Directorate believes that the iron grip of its power stretches across the whole of Space and that its Steering Committee controls the fates of man and alien alike.  It is certainly true that the Directorate is powerful and after the recent wars, plagues, and a few corporate take overs there exist only a few minuscule polities that are able to maintain any sort of independence. Most organisms in owned space are, nominally at least, owned by the Directorate and subject to its edicts.

A Meeting of the Infamous Steering Committee

The heart of the directorate is, of course, Terra.  The sacred home of humanity now almost entirely consists of an enormous and highly stratified city.  Its class of exceedingly rich, genetically modified nobles live in great dome-estates above the class while those who cannot afford those luxuries must toil away in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the surface.  The few remaining habitable zones on the surface either serve as private reserves for the nobles.  The rest was destroyed long before the existence of the Directorate during the Time of Troubles, an event that the Directorate often uses to justify its own existence.

Terran Nobles Often Have an Otherworldly Appearance

But the range of worlds claimed by the Directorate is vast, and that is only Terra.  While genetically modified nobles often govern other worlds, many of the Directorate's upper class are little more than common humans - though no aliens may enter their ranks.  Access to technology varies widely across the worlds, and many possess only a smattering of sapients who live and hunter gatherers and remember the sublime light of the Directorate as little more than a warped myth.  

This Froguloid Has no Idea of His Citizenship Status...

...While the People of the Metro-World of Clovis Benefit Enormously from Directorate Trade policies

As such, the ability of the Directorate to directly affect the lives of most of its citizens is minimal, though often crack downs will occur when one of the genetic elite is dispatched to crack heads and bring the localities in line with the will of the Steering Committee.  The effect of all of this is to create a kind of standard culture for so-called "spacers" - even if this is highly variable, again due to the scale involved - and billions of separate ones for the inhabitants of various planets.

The most recent project dictated by the Steering Committee has been the colonization and exploitation of the so called Boom-Worlds.  These worlds exist in a remote sector far removed from Sacred Terra, but a recent solar catastrophe in the sector's Galactic Southeastern edge have brought them to the Directorate's attention.  The solar event is believed to have dispersed a large number of heavy atomic particles that would be suitable for extraction and refining in the service of the Directorate's military and monetary ambitions.

A Depiciton of the Boom Worlds Drawn by One of the Directorate's Most Powerful Astro-Psychics

Early colonists also claim that the event destroyed a vast interstellar civilization.  While it is the belief of the Directorate that these peoples and their rules must have been inferior, since they were destroyed by a mere exploding star, the ruins of this empire have attracted scholars and looters from across Space.  So have the remaining alien populations on the planets that saw only small amounts of increased radiation from the event.  Xenologists claim that many of these populations show notable physical changes from depictions of members of the same species from before the solar incident.  In some rare incidents aliens have shown bizarrely aggressive behavior that would seem at odds with their previous levels of sophistication.

Adventurers Exploring one of the Many Alien Ruins in the Boom Worlds

Access to these worlds is made possible only by a genetically modified group of tortured humans whose minds work in tandem in order to maintain the massive warp bubbles involved - far larger than those used by normal Directorate ships.  The fact that these near catatonic members of the human race are a rare commodity in the Directorate means that access to the Boom Worlds is extremely limited, with regular travel only available to megacorps possessing writs from the Steering Committee itself and the convicts they sometimes employ.  Return trips are even harder to arrange for those not carrying raw materials on the megacorps' massive barges.

It's Hard to Sustain a Warp Bubble

Despite the isolation and the inherent dangers of the region, many see the financial opportunities and distance from the hands of the Steering Committee as a chance for a freedom that is impossible in other regions of space.  There's money to be made in those stars.