Saturday, May 5, 2018

Elysian Empire - updated map

I've updated the map for my Elysian Empire setting for ACKS. This is still a work in progress, but it does cover the western part of the Empire with their final geography. This still requires cities, though, and names for some of the rivers and mountains.

Regarding the western provinces...

Tamascyra - temperate-warm province which was civilized longer than any other province in the western part of the Empire. Currently partly Civilized and partially Borderlands. (cultural/naming inspiration: Greek).

Rayanes - temperate bread-basket. Currently Civilized in its southern part and Borderlands in its northern half, due to beastman invasion from Muspelheim (cultural/naming inspiration: Celtic).

Camalynn - temperate land, once part of the ancient Dwarven empire and later a rich human kingdom and finally Imperial province. Currently in turmoil following a Chaotic invasion from Outer Kvenland, which the remaining Imperial garrison, led by Ivar "the Dragon" (a young general whose star, people say, is rising), somehow repelled. Borderlands at best; Wilderness in its northern part. Isenvale March is located in Camalynn's central mountains (cultural/naming inspiration: mostly English, some Slavicand Norse inspirations as well).

Inner Kvenland - temperate land, the part of Kvenland conquered by the Elysian Empire centuries ago. Now a burned-out battlefield following Chaotic invasion from Outer Kvenland. Wilderness (cultural/naming inspiration: Norse).

Outer Kvenland - harsh and cold land known for its excellent seamen and warriors. Once, the Kvennish High King also ruled what is now Inner Kvenland and northern Leoneis, but the Elysian Empire conquered these lands. Its people were once proud Neutral pagans. Now, the land is in the claws of the popular Chaotic cults of Hróðvitnir the Wolf Lord and Blóðughadda the bloody-haired Sea Queen. These cults invaded neighboring lands, and so far met serious resistance only in Camalynn, from which it was repulsed at a great price. "Borderlands" Chaotic area for the most part, with some Wilderness as well (cultural/naming inspiration: Norse).

Leoneis - temperate-warm province, rich with grain but also beset by swamps. Most of Leoneis, apart from the hill country to its north, is lowland. Currently, northern Leoneis is a battlefield, invaded by Kvennish Chaos cults, and the south has a barely functioning remnant-Imperial government (cultural/naming inspiration: French).

Muspelheim - cold and hard mountainous land. Once the heart of the old Dwarven Empire, which has collapsed many centuries ago. Now beset by beastmen; only a few heavily-fortified Dwarven Vaults remain as  Borderlands, the rest being Wilderness (cultural/naming inspiration: Germanic/Slavic).

Valukarask - frigid land of the north. Typified by taiga forests and cold marches in its north and some farming in its southern parts. Land of fey and witchcraft, never truly tamed by the Elysian Empire. Now considered Borderlands (cultural/naming inspiration: Slavic).

Korovod - independent High ("True") Elven kingdom. Land of dark taiga forests, home to fey and to Elves. Staunchly Neutral (pagan) in faith. Part civilized, part borderlands (cultural/naming inspiration: Slavic, with focus on Slavic/Norse fey).

A review of Alien Breeds by Zozer Games

Product's Name: Alien Breeds
Ruleset: Cepheus Engine/OGL 2d6 Sci-Fi

Author: Paul Eliott

Artist: Ian Stead

Size: 51 pages

Publisher: Zozer Games

Price: $5.00

Grade: 5 out of 5

A few months ago, I reviewed Zozer Games' HOSTILE setting for the Cepheus Engine. As I said back then, HOSTILE is the "real deal" - the perfect Alien(s)/Bladerunner RPG setting. Not an official setting, but one with the serial numbers partially filed off. It does its job magnificently, better, in my humble opinion, than the official offerings in this field.

HOSTILE begs for Xenomorphs, Alien(s)-style. Alien Breeds delivers. Aliens, as in the films. Serial numbers filed off just enough to prevent copyright issues. With full Cepheus Engine stats (and thus Mongoose Traveller 1E - mostly compatible with Classic Traveller and Mongoose Traveller 2E as well). Ready for the Referee to unleash on unsuspecting players...

Wait. Unsuspecting? Not so easily. I'd bet that virtually every sci-fi enthusiast playing Traveller has seen the films. Some have read the numerous novels and comics as well, and played the video games. The moment a Facehugger shows up, or any other part of the Xenomorph's life cycle for that matter, the players are bound to know exactly what they're up against. This is a recurrent problem with using well-known settings ("IPs" in 2010's terminology): the player already knows the Big Secrets, unlike a first-time watcher of the films, or any of the characters in them. This removes a large part of the horror associated with these creatures. Fear of the unknown, of the alien - that's the heart of Alien (1979). But the alien is no longer unknown. You could even say that it's no longer truly alien. Its a fixture of modern culture.

Alien Breeds tackles this question by presenting no less than 18 subspecies of the Xenomorph - each with unexpected abilities. I won't list them here, to avoid spoiling the fun to any prospective players. But you should know that their capacities and capabilities exceed, by far, those shown in the films. They can do things to the unsuspecting - truly unsuspecting - player character that Ripley never had to face. Players will see a Facehugger's husk, or a Xenomoph egg, and think they know what they're dealing with. They're in for a surprise. Potentially several surprises. A few breeds are quite predictable variants, but many are not what you'd expect from a Xenomorph.

Aside from the breeds and a very well-written description of Xenomorph biology (both ordinary and variant, the book contains two additional parts. The first is a short description of Leyland Okuda's ("not"-Weyland Yutani) science division, along with its ordinary roles and secret agendas. It also details the secretive "Project Red Midas", studying alien lifeforms for military usage. The second is an adventure called, quite as you'd expect, "Outbreak".

The adventure goes back to the original Alien film from 1979 for inspiration. This is not an action-packed Bug Hunt by Colonial Marines. Rather, it pits a commercial space crew against an insidious mystery on a remote mining colony. Don't expect Smartguns and Pulse Rifles, but rather several mining lasers and two shotguns. The colony, like the original Nostromo, is initially "alive and well", with an almost full number of workers, rather than the dead Hadley's Hope of Aliens fame. Something is very wrong, and very deceptive, in this mining colony. The PCs come to refuel and unload supplies, but refueling will most likely require solving this mystery and dealing with some... err... wildlife.

The booklet describes the colony in great details and clarity Even if you don't intend to pit your characters against Xenomorphs, this is still a highly useful space colony which could be easily dropped, with minimal modifications, virtually into any interstellar sci-fi setting. The big gem here is a set of highly detailed colony maps and floor-plans, drawn by the talented Ian Stead. Very useful!

In short - if you like Alien(s), or simply want a detailed space colony for your sci-fi game, this is an instant buy.