Saturday, June 22, 2019

Elysian Empire Redux

I have redone my Elysian Empire setting for ACKS, focusing on the "Early Dark Ages"-inspired version of the setting rather than the "Early Modern" variant. I have also changed the map so that (almost) all the Elysian Empire will fit into a single ACKS "Campaign Map" (i.e. 960x720 miles).


Lysandrus of Elysia conquered the many city-states of old and defeated the Sorcerer Kings in the name of the Conquering Sun. He founded the Elysian Empire and crowned himself, by the Grace of Sol, the first Emperor. 517 years later, his empire lies in ruins.

At its height, the Elysian Empire stretched from coast to coast, unifying the continent under the Emperor's might. It was a civilization of Law. Some say it was the greatest civilization since the dawn of Man. Its wealth, beyond any dream, streamed from the many provinces to the shining city of Elysia. Its magnificence is now a matter of fables. Fought over by pretenders, claimants, and would-be Emperors, it is now a dead, burnt-out shell of its former glory. In the place where one Emperor ruled, now several compete. In a land once shepherded by a single Bright Pontifex, five Pontiffs claim the title, each endorsing his own usurper to the throne.

The Empire is dying. It can barely rule the Imperial domain of Elysia, let alone the provinces. Many aspiring tyrants fight over its throne. In the outer provinces, the locals have not seen an Imperial Legion - or tax collector for that matter - for decades. Local Tribunes and other officials now became de-facto sovereign lords. Their armies are depleted by years of war. Beastmen and bandits besiege their impoverished domains. Some would say that the land calls for heroes - but politics calls for another thing.



So here is the work-in-progress map and geographical overview.

Primary provinces:
Inner Kvenland - cold, forested land. Known for its fierce warriors and expertise in seamanship. (inspiration: Germania or Denmark). Now under Chaos control.

Camalynn - once a fertile province on the Empire's northern border. Now mostly borderlands with the forces of Chaos coming from the west. (inspiration: Arthurian Britain).

Rayanes and Leoneis - twin breadbaskets of the Empire; two rich lands where the vast forests of the past were cut down in favor of bountiful fields and light woods. (inspiration: late Roman Gaul/Iberia).

Nysa - mountainous land dominated by the Nysan Peninsula. Land of seaman and mountainside farmers. Known for mineral and fish exports. (inspiration: Roman Greece).

Elysia - seat of the Empire (inspiration: Rome and Roman Italy).

Tamaskyra - a fertile, if mountainous, land. Known for olive and wine exports and has a long warrior tradition. (inspiration: Greece and Asia Minor).

Qedem - an ancient, if somewhat dry, land. Has a flat, fertile shore and a hilly and mountainous "back country". Civilized for millennia; played a pivotal role in the Slave War. (inspiration: Judea and Syria).

Erida - Swampy, hot land of rivers and marshes. Alongside Kemet, this housed the first post-Mu civilization. (inspiration: Mesopotamia).

Kemet - a dry desert dominated by the Eternal River, which allows extensive agriculture on its banks. The oldest civilization on the mainland once Mu sank beneath the waves. (inspiration: Egypt).

Non-Imperial lands:
Outer Kvenland - savage mountainous and wooded, cold land. Known for brutal warriors worshiping gods of war and sea; now under Chaos control. (inspiration: Nordic countries).

Muspeland - the dwarves' old homeland, now mostly controlled by beastmen and worse. Used to be the seat of the great Dwarven Empire; now dwarven vaults control only its southern tip.

Valakurask - cold, forested land. Its superstitious peasants live in fear of their fickle Fey overlords. Never conquered by the empire thanks to Fey sorcery. Most elves come from this land - changelings born to human parents but with Fey souls. (inspiration: Slavic lands).

Irem - land of sand and rock. Most of its population are nomadic herders. (inspiration: Arabia and other Near East deserts).

For a high-res map, look HERE. Again, the map is work-in-progress. (mapped in Hexographer).

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Dark Nebula 2900 AD: new map!

I have created a new starmap for my Dark Nebula quasi-OTU setting.

It is based on Ian Stead's wonderful Blank High Resolution Starmaps (which he designed for Stellagama Publishing), with the stars, borders, routes, polities and other content added by myself in Paint.NET.

Click HERE for a full-res starmsp.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Some of the main differences between Cepheus Engine SRD/Core and Cepheus Light

People often ask me what is the difference between the Cepheus Engine SRD/Core and Cepheus Light.

The Cepheus Engine SRD/Core is quite faithful to the old Mongoose SRD. Cepheus Light is a re-write of the rules for greater speed and ease of play. I will list some of the differences.

  • The CL skill list is shorter and more consolidated. There are no cascade skills, and no specializations.
  • CL task resolution divorces skill DMs from characteristic DMs. For example, in CE SRD you modify your to-hit throw in combat by both, say, Gun Combat and Dexterity. In CL, only Gun Combat.
  • CL character generation has no Position/Commission throws
  • CL personnel combat uses simple ranges (effective/maximal) rather than the SRD's more complex range bands.
  • Weapon statistics are different, with "Aspects" governing their unique features.
  • CL vehicles and starships don't have Hull/Structure, only hit locations.
  • CL vehicle and starship combat is mapless and uses a "chase" mechanism. In general, CL ship combat is very different from the SRD one
  • CL merges Sensors into the Computers.
  • CL drive TLs determine drive size, not maximum jump numbers, so, for example, you can have Jump-3 at TL9 on small ships.
  • Cepheus Light provides ample game-play examples to make the rules more accessible.

Note that this is a non-exhaustive list; there are many other, less prominent changes.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Hard Space is taking shape!

Over two years ago I wrote an outline for a near-Earth, near-future setting called Hard Space.

Since then, Stellagama Publishing has published These Stars Are Ours! our premier space opera setting. More important to the current discussion, however, is another Stellagama product - Near Space. It uses abstracted (“flattened”) real space with some hypothetical brown and red dwarfs added for better gameability. The latter allow Jump-1 travel from Sol to other worlds. They also create a “Solar Main” allowing slow Jump-1 ships to travel quite far, albeit at a snail’s pace.

So I'm working, intermittently, on Hard Space as well.

Hard Space, which I worked on in the passing year along other projects, is a setting explicitly using the Near Space data. Right now, I post here it as a series of blog-posts for Classic Traveller and the Cepheus Engine. If there will be enough interest, I might consider making this a commercial product for the Cepheus Engine, though Ashes of Empire, a sequel to #TSAO, is also in the works.

All map locations and physical world stats in Near Space exist verbatim in Hard Space. Some colonized by humanity and some waiting to be explored.

This does not come at the expense of my main sci-fi universe, These Stars Are Ours! (#TSAO). As in my 2016 post, I have resolved to write three paragraphs of TSAO-related (or Sword of Cepheus-related) content for each paragraph I write for Hard Space.


The elevator pitch for Hard Space is:

Cyborg Smugglers Fight Cthulhu in Space!

What does that mean?

Cyborg - this is a hardcore cyberpunk setting. Major chrome, significant upgrades of the human machine, hacking, and of course the cultural aspects of cyberpunk, such as individual vs. corporation and style being important. Think Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Smugglers - Player characters (PCs) are, at best, in a legal “grey area”, that is - bounty hunters, mercenaries, and private eyes. At worst, they are criminals and outlaws. Again, this fits the cyberpunk themes, where protagonists are often dealing with all sorts of shady business or existing on the wrong side of the law. Think Firefly.

Fight - life is cheap, and so are bullets. There are no major wars, but there are brushfire conflicts, covert operations, and police actions. Combat is by no means the center of the setting, but violence is common. Think Ghost in the Shell.

Cthulhu - the one place where the setting eschews hard-ish science is in the element of cosmic horror. Space itself is deadly; some things which dwell in it are deadlier. There will be a sanity mechanic for use in CT and/or CE as part of this setting. Jump drives and shipboard gravity, by the way, belong here. Think Event Horizon.

in Space - this is a (near future) hard-ish space interstellar setting. Space is hard. Apart from the cosmic horror element mentioned above, science is pretty hard. No grav-cars, no compact fusion power plants making your life easy - you use vector-thrust and fission. Ships have fusion-torch reaction drives. And space can definitely kill you. Think The Expanse.


Anyhow, the premise of Hard Space is this - the year is 2170 AD. Humanity has only recently reached out to the nearby stars, but limited technology does not allow for rapid interstellar expansion. Space is dangerous, ships are small, and even seventy-three years of faster-than-light exploration and settlement have only carved out a small, sparsely populated colonial region around Sol. As the old national governments on Earth have been bled dry financially and politically by the events of the mid-21st century, space is the domain of the private sector - of the larger corporations. Once you leave Luna's orbit, Earth governments are little more than flags-of-convenience to private-sector investments and facilities. Competition among t interstellar corporations is tense and quite cutthroat, leading to a great degree of underhanded actions and industrial espionage.

Most of humanity still lives on Earth, followed by Luna and Mars. As Earth is highly polluted, extremely crowded, and suffering from an unstable climate, many people - especially from the lower classes - are willing to take major risks to move to the colonies, where living conditions are often somewhat better, and where corporate jobs abound, even if they are mostly low-level jobs. To get away from the urban blight of Earth, many would even accept the risk of travel by Low Berth. Moving to Luna or Mars is easier, but the jobs on the extrasolar colonies pay better, and some of them have actual open-air environments.

This is a time of outward expansion and adventure among the stars - and also of great, mortal danger. Going into the Unknown is a particularly risky endeavor, as the Unknown as teeth, and claws, and tentacles and even the slightest malfunction in a ship's drives or in a spacer's vacc suit could spell disaster to the hapless explorer. Corporate and government marines battle vicious pirates, desperate rebels, and nasty xenomorphs on many worlds, facing a bloody attrition rate; explorers and couriers on the frontier and beyond - colloquially called "scouts" - go among unexplored stars, and in many cases do not return from their missions. The rewards of interstellar exploration are staggering, but so are the risks...

"Going out", into interstellar space, is relatively "cheap". A wealthy cult or rich madman can charter a starship and start their own "utopia". Engage in immoral research, dabbling in the occult, and so on.

Meanwhile, very old, alien things slumber on countless worlds, awaiting the hapless explorer or greedy colonial corporate exec to stumble into them...

Sources of inspiration - literature
Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Call of Cthulhu, Shadow over Innsmouth, and other works by HP Lovecraft

Sources of inspiration - film and television
Alien and Aliens
Apollo 18
Event Horizon
Star Hunter
The Expanse
Ghost in the Shell

Sources of inspiration - video games
Alien Legacy
Dead Space
Metro: 2033 and Metro: Last Light
Red Faction and Red Faction: Guerrilla
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadows of Chernobyl
System Shock 1 and 2
Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The two veteran players in interstellar colonization are the UN - led by Switzerland, Britain, Russia, and some Asian countries; and the International Commonwealth, which is mostly African and Chinese. The American Federation - where Brazil, Argentina, and the former US hold sway - are latecomers to the interstellar scene. However, they are aggressively expanding into further stars using cutting-edge ships with long-range jump drives.

The default setting is the UN Arm, which is mainly British and Swiss in culture, with some strong elements of Southeast Asian culture as well. The biggest corporations around the UN Arm are the Royal British Interstellar Company (RBIC), the Russo-Chinese Zhang-Markov, and the Swiss biotech giant Sanapharm.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Rusted Lands

I haven't posted in quite a while - almost two months. My workload was massive, and I had little time for game writing. I had, however, time to teach myself the Scribus  layout software and do a new layout for Cepheus: Faster Than Light, which, hopefully, will allow me to publish it through DriveThruRPG, which is more visible to Stellagama Publishing's prospective customers than Lulu. This is because DriveThruRPG PoD works with Lightning Source, which is far more demanding in terms of layout than Lulu. Fingers crossed, this will clear Pre-Media in a few weeks; if this will work, Cepheus Light: Pocket Edition is next!

Anyhow, I have been thinking about an ACKS post-apocalyptic steampunk-magitech setting. I have toyed with the idea of post-apocalyptic ACKS before, but it was a "modern" or "futuristic" apocalypse, demanding specialized classes and technology rules. However, a steampunk-magitech apocalypse means that I can use existing ACKS rules with significantly more minor modifications: ACKS already has steampunk-ish machinists and automaton rules, as well as Magical Engineering. Most magic will be ACKS-type, especially after the War, with pre-War magic being more common and automatons being much cheaper before the War.

Pre-War society had industry, steam power, and clockwork automatons as the basis for an advanced society. Then, civilization blew itself apart in total war. Now, as the industrial infrastructure lies in ruins, building machines is expensive, as per the automaton rules in ACKS' Player's Companion, and magic is less common (that is, as common as in ACKS Core).

This will use ACKS Core rules for the most part, rather than the Heroic Fantasy Handbook. Pre-War magic was flashy and wondrous; in the War itself, it was highly destructive. Imagine how destructive the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, and WWI would have been with ritual-level spells combined with massive mecha in addition to the usual guns, artillery, and flamethrowers.

I see the WWI aesthetic as appropriate to this setting: ponderous machines (as WWI tanks were), chemical weapons and gas masks, and a long, futile, murderous trench war. Imagine how it would have looked if steampunk technology and magic existed on Terra. Imagine how deadly this would have been.

This is how the Rusted Lands came into being.

Civilization is dead, save several surviving pockets and enclaves. Huge wrecked war machines and industrial edifices stand rusting among the old battlefields. Technology regressed to an almost Dark Ages level - as per ACKS core ("late antiquity" - but I always imagined it as a bit later, along the lines of the early Dark Ages). However, matchlocks are still around - two steps down from the flintlocks (and beyond) of the War.

So, among the ruins, the survivors lead a feudal existence. And you can conquer them and restore a piece of the past's Glory.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Dark Nebula 2900: Solomani and Aslan naval doctrines

Dark Nebula, 2900 CE. The Rule of Man is dead for 157 years. Human - mostly Solomani - civilization persists on Maadin, far from the horrors at the Core. Now, a new force arises to challenge the nine-world Maadin Confederation. Proud aliens, hungry for land and glory. The Aslan. A mere 377 years since their invention of the Jump Drive, the young Aslan grow their empire rapidly. For centuries, their meager Jump-1 drives confined them to the Kuzu Main to the Spinward. However, in the last century, Jump-2 technology acquired from Solomani traders allowed them to expand to the Trailing as well. Thus, their thirst for land leads them into inevitable conflict with the Solomani of Maadin.

But how do these two powers organize their navies towards the coming war? One should remember that neither side has a copy of High Guard. While Classic Traveller rules lead to certain conclusions in ship design, both sides build their navies based on historical experience and societal factors. Such historical experience has much to do, in turn, with various factors outside raw Traveller ship optimization. Being untested against one another, these forces have naval doctrines which would evolve with the conflict.

The Solomani draw their naval tradition from the Interstellar wars between the nascent Terran Confederation and the Ziru Sirka. In these wars, while missile boats - a Terran innovation - played a certain role, major victories were won by massive capital ships. The concentration of battle-cruisers and battleships, alongside Terran technological advantage in Jump-3 drives, led to a decisive Solomani victory over the crumbling First Imperium. The subsequent Rule of Man faced little external conflict, while internal conflict during its collapse rarely involves large naval engagements. 

Thus, the 30th century Solomani naval doctrine calls for significant investment of resources in Heavy Cruisers (Type-CR), with an eye towards the construction of Dreadnoughts. The Confederation currently possesses two Heavy Cruisers, CNV Gilgamesh and CNV Enkidu (CNV is Confederation Naval Vessel), and its first Dreadnought, CNV Inanna, is under construction at the Maadin shipyards. Other combatants are much smaller than these multi-kton monstrosities, and many are below 1000 tons - mostly frigates, small missile boats, and destroyers (the latter being in the 1000-3000 ton range). Two massive troop ships, CNV Enki and CNV Enlil, prepare for ground invasions [actual fleet composition may vary once I run through Trillion Credits Squadron data for these fleets].

The Solomani plan is to use these two main combatants in a concerted attack against Aslan naval concentrations, using an aggressive strategy aimed at destroying Aslan naval infrastructures before the aliens will have a chance to organize their forces. Maadin gambles on an all-or-nothing strategy - leaving their rear mostly unguarded while burning their way into Aslan space by superior firepower to destroy Kuzu's shipyards and thus neutralize the Aslan threat for the time being. Solomani are uninterested in conquering and occupying Aslan space itself, but plan to use this war as a pretext to annex the various independent human worlds to the Confederation, or at least render them its client-states.

Thus, the Solomani main objective is to neutralize and contain the Aslan threat, with the secondary objective being expansion into neutral human space.

The Aslan naval doctrine revolves around two factors - the fragmented nature of the Heirate and the Aslan male. Lacking a unified naval force, each major Aslan clan fields its own navy. This greatly limits Aslan ability to field Solomani-style Heavy Cruisers, at least early in the coming war. Aslan clans also have to prepare for limited, but serious, aggression by other clans, alongside preparation for war with the Solomani. This biases their naval doctrine towards a larger number of smaller ships. The Aslan male is another factor influencing alien strategy. Each Aslan male, especially high-born ones, dreams of glory among the stars - and a lion's share of prime interstellar real-estate. Aslan males love to be pilots, where their superior spatial awareness and predatory instincts shine and lead them to glory. If they cannot be pilots, they dream of being Marines, facing the enemy in honorable face-to-face personnel combat. Gunnery, another traditional male naval profession, is only a distant third in its desirability.

This leads to small ships and swarms of fighters to maximize pilot positions, alongside preparation for ground combat and boarding actions. The few major clans prepared for combat with the Solomani field a Light Carrier each (I'll import the Mothership from Imperium, which is Dark Nebula's sister-game, potentially toned down to be listed as a Light Carrier rather than a full-scale one), alongside a Troop Transport; other ships tend to be much smaller attack craft, often below 1000 tons. There are five such clans interested in war with the Solomani, leading to 5x Light Carriers and 5x Transports, alongside much smaller support and patrol craft.

The Aslan plan, if one can describe it as such, is to invade human space piecemeal: first Enjiwa, Pasar and Godoro, then Simsek and the Mizah Cluster. This would be  a race between the five clans; and will potentially lead to (ritually limited) conflict between them. Invading the confederation itself is a distant objective, as there are hordes of ihatei thirsting for land who must be satisfied - this is the primary Aslan objective.

Thus, the primary Aslan objective is an interstellar land-grab, with the secondary objective being a grab for the greatest prize in the Dark Nebula - Maadin itself.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Camalynn 1666 - County of Aerik (Barrowmaze)

As you may have noticed, I have integrated Greg Gillespie's Barrowmaze into my own Camalynn EY1666 setting.

Barrowmaze's Duchy of Aerik becomes Aerik County. It is one of the four counties ruled by the city-state of Surabka (to the north of this map). The map also shows the neighboring Mersic County (administered from Mersicton) and lands (to the south) controlled by Surabka's rival city-state, Igorburg (to the south of this map). There is also an autonomous Dwarven colony, the Krum Tok Vault, nominally a vassal of Igorburg.

Between EY (Elysian Year) 1647 and EY 1651, Surabka and Igorburg fought a bitter war. The main battlefields were in Aerik County and its environs. Krum Tok stayed mostly neutral, only paying taxes to Igorburg to finance the war effort; fighting destroyed the fortified Igorburgian town of Blackfort. Bogtown was the site of another battle, and two battles occurred inside Barrowmoor itself - the First and Second Battles of Barrowmoor. Remnants of battle and bodies - some say, also spirits - of the fallen are common in Barrowmoor, both near Bogtown (where the First Battle of Barrowmoor took place) and directly to the south of the Old Dwarf Bridge (where the Second Battle of Barrowmoor took place).

Worse still, the Yellow Plague swept through the County in the fateful year of EY1659, further depopulating the area and leaving many disfigured.

The result is a devastated, depopulated County, on the beginning of its very long road to recovery. It has three things going in its favor: fertile lands in the County's northern edge; the strong - and virtually untouched - mining economy of Krum Tok, and *drumroll* Barrowmaze itself. The horrid barrow-mounds began attracting adventurers and grave-robbers in the post-War years, as deserters from both armies came home with major treasures and rumors of horrid monsters. Helix, once a peaceful peat-digging and farming community, grew into a rich "boomtown" with adventurers, tomb-robbers, and assorted scum flooded it, as roads from Helix to Barrowmaze are better explored than those from Mersicton (which also saw growth in light of this adventuring craze).

Surabka rules an area of 123 6-mile hexes, a little less than 4,000 square miles. In ACKS terms, it is a mid-sized Duchy, though its ruler calls himself a Prince. Following the plague, average population is 50 people per square mile, or 300 families per 6-mile hex, for a total of approximately 37,000 families.

This is an advanced, urban realm, like the rest of Camalynn, technologically similar to the earlier part of Terra's early modern period. It is also highly centralized around the city-state of Surabka. This means an urban population of 7,000 families, with Surabka itself being home to 4,500 of them, being a Large City (Class II Market). The other 2,000 urban families are distributed between the various settlements, primarily the county seats.

The Duchy of Aerik suffered war and plague and is depopulated. On paper, it has an area of 35 6-mile hexes (approx. 1,000 square miles), making it huge for a county. However, it is mostly uninhabitable Moor. Thus, average population density is 30 people per square mile, 180 families per 6-mile hex, and a total population of approximately 6,300 families. Of them, 950 are urban families; 600 of them live in the fortified county seat of Ironguard, which is a Large Town (Class IV Market) 150 in the devastated Bogtown, a Village (Class VI Market), and 200 in Helix, another Village. However, Helix's "boomtown" economics "upgrade" it to a Class V Market.

Mersicton is the county seat of Mersic County, which has an area of 29 6-mile hexes and an average population of 40 people per square mile, or 250 families per 6-mile hex mostly working in forest-related agriculture. The total is approximately 7,250 families, of them 800 live in urban settlements, of which the largest is Mersicton, a small town of 500 families (Class V Market). Mersicton sees some economic growth from the Barrowmaze "industry", but not as much as the more accessible Helix.

Krum Tok Vault, a Dwarven colony and a nominal (though very autonomous) vassal of Igorburg, controls 19 hexes, mostly of mountain and forest country, an average population of 40 people per square mile, or 250 families per 6-mile hex, for a total of approximately 4,750 families. They are centralized mostly in the industrial town of Krum Tok, surrounding the Dwarven vault, with an urban population of 700 families, of them 475 in Krum Tok, making it a Small Town (Class V market).