Friday, March 31, 2017

Vault and Valley

A new setting for ACKS is brewing in my head. It is much smaller than Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu and far more "traditional" in D&D terms.

This is a "micro" setting. Its focus is a mid-sized dungeon which was once a dwarven Vault owned by a Duke on the Borderlands of a dwarven realm. That kingdom crumbled, the Vault fell, and the Duchy became uninhabited Wilderness.

According to the core ACKS rulebook, this means a value of approximately 115,000gp for the stronghold, at least 75% of it are underground. That will give me the exact measurement for the dungeon in 10'x10' squares! This means 86,500gp invested underground. According to ACKS p.126, that's 173 10x10x10 cubes of excavation, not including mines (which are not part of the stronghold itself).

The Vault also had mines both beneath and around it mining high-quality iron deposits. There were natural caves beneath the mines. The deepest cavern had an underground lake, in which an ancient Aboleth dwelled. When the dwarven miners eventually tunneled into its layer, all hell broke loose.

After a century and a half, human settlers arrived in the nearby valley which was once the dwarven Duke's domain. They named their village Oathbridge after the legend that a Dwarven lord once swore an oath to one day return to the ruined bridge located upstream from the village. The settlers were led by a petty nobleman who became the new village's Castellan. He belongs to the Empire, but the Empire is weak and crumbling. The Emperor rules this village in name only. In practice, the Castellan is loyal only to the local Tribune. No Imperial Legionnaires were seen in these parts for many decades.

Seventy years later, the current domain, ruled by the original Castellan's grand-grandson, is still Wilderness - even the Tribune's castle stands on Borderlands. The Castellan rules over 150 peasant families. As the area is risky, slightly more than half of these - 80 families - huddle close to the Castellan's fortified manor in a small village (Class-VI Market). Most are miners working in a few reclaimed mines. Others raise sheep or barley.

The Castellan has a powerful stronghold for his title - at 30,000gp - as he rules a Wilderness domain of about one 6-mile hex. This includes a small tower, some walls, a gatehouse, and a courtyard with several buildings, build on a local hill.

The ruined dwarven Vault is in the next 6-mile hex to that of the Castellan's seat and village.

The current Castellan - a Lawful level 4 Fighter - is young and inexperienced. He was enthroned rather than his older sister, who left in anger. He is not a bad man himself, but is not very competent as a ruler and is being manipulated by his majordomo - who also serves as a court wizard - and things in the village are quite sordid.

There are various monstrous threats to the village, not least of which are lizard-men and goblins. Lizard-men - typically primitive and Neutral - have dwelled in a nearby swamp for eons. Once, their tribe paid tribute to the dwarven lords. Since very recently, there is a second tribe of Lizardmen, which hails from the ruined Vault. So do the goblins - the two tribes are in constant war over the upper levels of the Vault. This new tribe, unlike its swamp-dwelling cousins, is surprisingly well-organized. It is also equipped with far better equipment than anything usually seen in the hands of lizard-men. Unknown to the Oathbridge residents, they had advice and help from the Aboleth, whom they worship as a god. They are slowly winning their war against the goblins and are also raiding human settlements from time to time.

Another threat is that of the bandits, led by the legendary Bandit Queen - who is somewhat of a folk heroine. The common story whispered among peasants, is that she fights for the common man and will eventually oust the current Castellan and his advisor, to install herself as a just ruler over the village.

She is, in fact, the Castellan's older sister - a Lawful level 5 Explorer - who slowly builds her power towards a comeback for revenge and for claiming what she sees as justly her own...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Signal 99 - an adventure for THESE STARS ARE OURS! - COMING SOON

“99…99…99… The ship is damaged – crew and passengers in peril – please assist – 99…99…99…“ 


Review of Far Horizon by Zozer Games

Ruleset: Cepheus Engine/OGL 2d6 Sci-Fi
Author: Paul Eliott
Artist: Ian Stead
Size: 63 pages
Publisher: Zozer Games
Price: $9.90
Grade: 5 out of 5

Space is awesome. Rocket science is awesome. Astronauts are awesome. As children, we dreamed of traveling the stars in a space capsule or rocket ship, wearing a space-suit, visiting all sorts of weird and wonderful alien planets. For me, the most important element of science-fiction is the Sense of Wonder, that sensation you feel when you encounter strange and wondrous scenes, objects, and ideas. Science fiction allowed me to escape the boring school life to far more intriguing places in our imagination. Far Horizon scratches this very itch.

Far Horizon is space exploration. Realistic space exploration - scientists in a spacecraft visiting a rogue planet passing through the outer edges of our solar system. It is 2100 AD and the characters' deep-space vehicle, the eponymous Far Horizon, undertook the first manned mission to Pluto. In 2095, astronomers detected a new planet passing through the Kuiper Belt. Strangely enough, they also found tiny shifts in the planet's trajectory - and have added a visit to that planet to Far Horizon's mission. This world - Tartarus - is a mystery for the players to crack.

This adventure is devoid of combat, yet action abounds. This is an adventure of interplanetary exploration, including all the challenges and threats of realistic spaceflight in a thermal rocket with limited fuel flying through the outer system. This is science fiction at its finest - the characters have to figure out a puzzle of science while exploring an alien planet, all while avoiding the deadly dangers of deep space travel. They have a limited time to explore Tartarus due to orbital mechanics and limited fuel; overstaying can spell slow death in the cold reaches interstellar space.

Far Horizon takes place in Zozer Games' Orbital 2100 hard-science setting, though the setting book itself is not necessary to run the adventure. It focuses on the deep space exploration aspect of the setting rather on its Expanse-style interplanetary politics. It should be very easy to set this adventure in any other hard-science, near-future solar system setting, or run it as a one-off.

The book also provides a detailed overview, including stats, description, deck plans, and excellent renders (by the wonderful Ian Stead) of the Far Horizon deep space vehicle itself; also, it has detailed stats and rules for realistic TL8 and TL9 space suits. These will be useful for a wide variety of hard-science near-future games and are second to none. The adventure also provides pre-generated characters (in Cepheus Engine stats) in case the players lack the setting book.

I heartily recommend this adventure, as it is a very unique and interesting hard-science space-exploration romp.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Barbarian Conqueror King" - now on Kickstarter!

I have first posted about my "Barbarian Conqueror King" setting for the Adventurer Conqueror King system (ACKS) over four years ago, on February 10, 2013. This is an all-out, "four-color" pulp-fantasy setting with sword & planet, sword & sorcery, and sci-fantasy elements. It has dinosaurs, aliens, lizardmen, mad sorcerers, and mighty barbarians - what not to like?

I am proud to inform you that this setting is now crowdfunding in Kickstarter, together with a Heroic Fantasy Handbook, both to be published by Autarch LLC. I have seen the Heroic Fantasy book and it is also well worth your money!

Back it HERE!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

These Stars Are Ours! Reviewd

I am proud to see that two prominent bloggers have already reviewed These Stars Are Ours!

First is Robert Weaver from Ancient Faith in the Far Future (who by the way was our indexing expert).

Read and enjoy! Both are wonderful reviews.

Frames of Reference

The Star Wars presents its frame of reference
A good setting, whether for a sci-fi story (or movie) or a role-playing game, needs a frame of reference. This is a central element of the setting that affects many, though not all, of its other elements. This also allows you to fall back to the frame of reference when you run out of ideas or have to improvise.

A frame of reference is neither a theme per se nor a mere plot. It is the combination of plot, backstory, and themes - the glasses through which you see the setting or franchise.

For example, both Star Wars and Babylon 5 have excellent frames of reference. Star Wars (the original trilogy) starts off with scrolling text describing the Empire and the Rebellion against it. Moments later, we encounter an Imperial Star Destroyer chasing a Rebel Blockade Runner. Almost any world or other setting elements in the original Star Wars universe has something to do with this civil war; most have Imperial presence. Others have hidden Rebel bases. When designing an RPG adventure in the original Star Wars universe, for example, you have a frame of reference to work from - there is the Empire and there is its war against the Rebellion. It colors almost everything. It also serves as a terrific starting point for plot and setting elements.

The same goes with Babylon 5 - its pilot starts with an intro speaking about the Earth-Minbari War, then proceeds to have a plot directly connected to it. While many Babylon 5 plots have little to do with the Earth-Minbari War, it is always in the background and serves as a launching pad for stories in many occasions. Son enough the story moves on to the main frame of reference, which is the Shadow War.

So, when designing a new setting, think of a major frame of reference that defines your setting. Was there a massive War recently? Is this a post-apocalyptic setting? Or did Earth discover faster-than-light travel just recently and is now exploring the wide-open frontier of space? Either way, a frame of reference helps you build a good setting.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

These Stars Are Ours!

Over three years ago, I posted on this blog the first seed of what became These Stars Are Ours. The ideas underlying this setting ran in my head, in one guise or another, for over a decade before that. Today, I am proud to present you with the end result of all these years of dreaming, deliberation, and hard work - THESE STARS ARE OURS! - a full-scale new space-opera universe for the Cepheus Engine and other 2D6 OGL SciFi role-playing games.

Set in 2260 AD - two years after the Terrans took Keid and forced the Reticulan Empire to capitulate - it introduces the player characters to the immediate aftermath of the Terran victory in the Terran Liberation War against the mighty Reticulan Empire and its many thralls. For their part, the upstart Terrans, bolstered by their victory against their old masters, now move to become a power to be reckoned with in interstellar affairs. Against this background of espionage, maneuvering and saber-rattling, and on the new interstellar frontiers, the player characters can forge a destiny of heroes or villains of the new United Terran Republic. The book provides all the astrography and background necessary to set a sci-fi campaign in the exciting times of the 23rd century. 

It is two years after we won the War against our old Reticulan masters. We - the children of Mother Terra - are now free to forge our destiny and put our mark on the stars. These stars are ours! This is a time for bold men and women to step up and claim the universe. We need intrepid explorers to discover the riches of our far frontiers; enterprising merchants to open new trade routes with far-away alien stars; cunning spies and agents to protect us from any alien plot against our hard-won independence; and of course - daring soldiers and spacemen to protect our borders and push back those who would enslave us again. 

We are not alone - brave Cicek warriors and even Reticulan and Ssesslessian defectors fought along our side against the Reticulan legions. Against this mighty alliance, stand our many enemies - both internal and external. Corrupt politicians and crime-lords plot to turn our glorious Republic into their own plaything at our expense. Ruthless pirates and raiders rob far-flung colonies, heedless of the opening they give to our greater enemy. In the shadows, House Thiragin - the Reticulan noble house which once ruled Terra with an iron fist - plots and plans for its ultimate revenge on us upstart “barbarians”. For all of this - children of the Earth – Mother Terra needs you!

This book contains:

- History and background material for 23rd century Terra and the larger universe.

- Corporations, political parties, and illegal groups – both Terran and alien.

- 4 major alien species and several minor ones – all detailed.

- Rules for generating and playing characters from 6 alien species.

- 7 alien careers and 12 Terran ones.

- Advanced character generation rules and event tables for all included careers.

- Rules for cybernetic augmentation, body modification, and cyborg conversion.

- 2 small craft and 5 starships with full game statistics and high-res deck plans.

- The Terran Borderlands including 64 detailed worlds and a high-res star map.

- 12 Patrons offering adventurous missions to the players' characters.

Note that this book provides character generations, biological and cultural background, and flying saucers (!) for playing Grey Aliens from Zeta 2 Reticuli – ready to drop into any Cepheus Engine campaign!