Wednesday, November 20, 2019

[ACKS] Lyonesse - Basic Math and Demographics

More work on my Lyonesse setting for ACKS. This time - basic math and demographics.

Below is the (very rough) political map, showing the Ducal-level domains:

So first, let's look at the basic domain alignments and sizes:

  • Royal Domain - Lawful - 20x 6-mile hexes. The King of Lyonesse rules this directly.
  • The Forest Duchy - Lawful - 82x 6-mile hexes. Vassal domain to the King of Lyonesse.
  • Treheim Duchy - Lawful - 112x 6-mile hexes. Vassal domain to the King of Lyonesse.
  • Ironguard Duchy - Lawful - 85x 6-mile hexes. Vassal domain to the King of Lyonesse.

Thus, the King's actual kingdom (Principality in ACKS terms but is sovereign and thus its head is a King) - 299x 6-mile hexes.

Now for Chaotic realms:

  • Tideborn Duchy - Chaotic - 19x 6-mile hexes in its current, reduced size (County in ACKS terms). Practically independent.
  • Swine Kingdom (Orc equivalent) - Chaotic - 67x 6-mile hexes. (Duchy in ACKS terms but is sovereign and thus its ruler is the Swine King)

Population density is relatively low due to the  recent Yellow Death epidemic; 40 people/square mile in Lawful lands, 250 families per 6-mile hex.

Population sizes:

  • Royal Domain - 5,000 families, comparable to a County.
  • The Forest Duchy - 20,500 families, appropriate for a lightly populated Duchy.
  • Treheim Duchy - 28,000 families, appropriate for a lightly populated Duchy.
  • Ironguard Duchy - 21,250 families, appropriate for a lightly populated Duchy.
  • The King of Lynoesse reigns over 74,750 families, which represent 373,750 subjects.
  • Tideborn Duchy - 4,750 families, appropriate for a lightly populated county. The ruler is Blood Duchess Isabella, a Chaotic sorceress who transformed herself into a Grand Vampire.
  • Swine Kingdom - a Chaotic domain per AXIOMS II. Population density is 125 Swine "families" per hex - a good population for beastmen, but Swine reproduce quickly. Total population 8,375 Swine "families". Note the Tribal warrior culture - this can field 8,375 Swine warriors at once if the Swine King calls a general muster!

As a side note, the Swine King uses the profits from raids on Civilization to arm and reinforce his forces. The Swine now have arquebusiers (this is an early-modern quasi-apocalyptic setting)! Their guns are crude matchlocks (humans have flintlocks) but they do strike fear into the hearts of their lizardmen opponents along the swamps and the Weald!

How big is Lyonesse?

  • 1x 6-mile hex = 32 square miles.
  • The landmass is about 700 or so 6-mile hexes.
  • So the whole area is approx. ~22,400 square miles.
  • About the size of Croatia or Togo! Or half of Greece or England.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Quick and Dirty Classic Traveller vehicle combat v3

Three years ago, I posted simple Classic Traveller vehicle combat rules. Two years ago, following feedback and playtesting, especially by Robert Weaver of Ancient Faith in the Far Future fame, I updated the rules once more. Now, I present the third revision of these rules, particularly with new chase rules.

I have written these rules with the typical Books 1-3 Proto-Traveller spirit in mind. That is, for the purpose of including vehicles in the various adventures and mishaps of interstellar travellers, traders, scouts, and misfits, as well as small-scale mercenaries. Its main aim is to provide some basic rules for what happens when your Scout empties his Submachinegun at a hovering Air/Raft or, at most when a mercenary shoots a RAM grenade at an AFV. However, larger armored engagements are also possible.

I drew inspiration for these rules from the Book 2 ship damage rules, the ATV rules in Double Adventure 2: Mission to Mithril/Across the Bright Face, and for a much lesser degree, the Striker wargame.

Skill Notation
For the ease of reference, "Throw Mechanic 8+" means "throw 2D and add the Mechanics skill; a result of 8+ is a success" and so on.

Vehicle Movement
Vehicle combat is either Tactical or Chase Combat. Tactical Combat is ordinary Book 1 combat with a vehicle included, usually moving at a slow pace of up to 4 range bands per round.

Chase Combat and Dogfighting
Chase combat is a chase and is played in turns. Each side throws 2D + the appropriate vehicle skill. The vehicle with the higher throw has Advantage. The Pursuer wins on ties. A vehicle with Advantage may attack normally. A vehicle without Advantage may attack at DM-4. Chase lasts until one side is disabled or 5 turns pass without either being disabled. Particularly slow vehicles such as Tracked ATVs suffer a -2 DM to such advantage rolls, while fast vehicles such as Air/Rafts enjoy DM +2. You may only hit extremely fast airborne vehicles such as Speeders and Jet Aircraft use the aircraft by specialized weapons, such as air-to-air missiles or specially designed lasers.

Hitting Vehicles
Hitting a vehicle with a man-portable weapon is an ordinary combat task. Throw 8+ to hit, add the appropriate weapon skill and characteristic DMs, as well as the usual Book 1/Book 4 range DMs. Ignore armor DMs and instead use the vehicle armor in the tables below. Vehicle-mounted weapons use the Gunnery skill instead, with the appropriate range modifiers. On a hit, consult the appropriate damage table.

Hitting a fast-moving vehicle outside of chase combat suffers DM -2. You cannot hit fast, high-flying aircraft from the ground without specialized tracking weapons, but you can hit a slower aircraft, albeit at DM -2 to -4 (Referee's discretion, depending on flight altitude or speed).

Vehicle Damage
To keep things within a Little Black Book scope and flavor, these rules abstract the many types of weapons and armor into three broad categories each. Use the following table to see how each category of weapons affects each category of vehicle armor and choose the appropriate damage table to roll on. Each weapon his causes one roll on the appropriate damage table.

Soft SkinLight ArmorHeavy Armor
Small ArmsSurfaceNoneNone
Support WeaponCriticalInternalSurface
Heavy WeaponDestroyedCriticalInternal

Small Arms: any regular personal weapons, whether a slug-thrower or a laser. All Book 1 weapons are Small Arms, as are the various rifles and pistols in Book 4. Light and medium machine guns also fall into this category.

Support Weapons: heavier man-portable weapons carried at the squad level or light vehicle weapons - such as Book 4 PGMPs, heavy machine guns, autocannons, Light Assault Guns (AKA Anti-Tank Rifles) with High Explosive or Discarding Sabot rounds. Most grenades, whether hand-thrown or RAM, fall into this category as well, including grenade launchers.

Heavy Weapons: full-scale anti-armor weapons. This includes Book 4 FGMPs and Book 4 Field Artillery. The specialized anti-armor HEAP RAM grenades also fall into this category.

Soft Skin: an unarmored vehicle, whether civilian or military. In Book 3 terms, this includes the Ground Car, Hovercraft, all Winged craft, Air/Raft, Speeder, and Motorboat.

Light Armor: a lightly-armored vehicle such as an armored car or light APC. In Book 3 terms, this includes the ATV and G-Carrier.

Heavy Armor: a heavily armored vehicle, such as a heavy APC (or IFV) or a tank. In book 3 terms, this includes the AFV, the Steamship, and the Submersible (due to size rather than armor for the most part).

For damage, roll on the appropriate tables below:

Surface Damage
2-5Bounced Off
12Internal Damage

Small Arms surface damage: light small arms such as handguns roll with a -2 DM on the above table, while lasers and heavy small arms such as machine guns or Autorifles roll with a +2 DM.

Bounce Off: Shot has bounced off the vehicle's skin or armor. No damage.

Device: One secondary external device, such as a light fixture or antenna, was destroyed (Referee's discretion).

Locomotion: The vehicle's locomotion, such as wheels, treads, or propeller, was damaged. Ground vehicles lose half their speed from the first Locomotion hit, and stop completely with the second hit. In case of a single-engine aircraft, this might cause a crash; throw Vehicle (Winged Craft) 8+ to land safely (DM +2 if DEX 10+), otherwise this is a crash causing a roll on the Critical Damage table. In case of multi-engine aircraft, this causes a -1 DM to all Vehicle (Winged Craft) rolls per disabled engine and will be at risk of a crash if all engines are disabled. Grav vehicles have enclosed grav-lift modules and are immune to this case of damage. Watercraft will be dead in the water and subject to currents and drift until the characters repair its locomotion. Throw Mechanic 8+ to repair damaged locomotion.

Breach: If the vehicle is pressurized, its environmental seal is breached, exposing its occupants to the environment. Can be repaired with a vacuum seal patch or a Mechanic 6+ throw.

A breached watercraft begins to leak, reducing its speed by one quarter and inflicting a cumulative -1 DM to all throws related to the vehicle's steering. Four such breach hits will cause the watercraft to take in water and begin to sink. This only applies to small watercraft; large ships such as Steamships and the larger Submersibles stay afloat from such minor breaches. Only a Knocked Out critical result (see below) will sink such large craft.

Weapon: One of the vehicle's weapons is disabled and may not fire. AFV (and other tank) main cannons are immune to this in most cases, but their secondary weapons are not. Throw Gunnery 8+ to repair a disabled weapon.

Internal Damage: Lucky penetrating hit! Roll on the Internal Damage table!

Internal Damage
2-5Transmission or Suspension
10Main Weapon
11Power Plant

Transmission or Suspension: The vehicle's transmission or suspension is damaged. A wheeled or tracked vehicle is immobilized. A Grav vehicle may only move up or down. For aircraft, throw Vehicle (Winged Craft) 11+ to land safely (DM +2 if DEX 10+), otherwise this is a crash causing a roll on the Critical Damage table. Field repairs of damaged transmission or suspension are difficult and require a Mechanic 10+ throw (DM +1 for INT 10+). At a workshop, this throw is easier, at Mechanic 8+.

Crew: 1d6 crewmembers are injured at 3D damage each.

Electronics: One or more of the vehicle's electronic systems is destroyed, usually the control systems or major sensors/radar. Flying an aircraft or Grav vehicle with damaged electronics suffers DM -2. Throw Electronics 8+ to repair damaged electronics.

Main Weapon: The vehicle's main weapon is damaged and disabled. This includes AFV (or other tank) main cannons. Throw Gunnery 10+ to repair a disabled weapon.

Power Plant: The vehicle's power plant takes a direct hit and the vehicle is disabled. Each occupant must throw 8+ (DM +1 for END 8+) to avoid taking 3D damage. In case of a aircraft or grav vehicles, this might cause a crash; throw Vehicle (Winged Craft) or Air/Raft 10+ to land safely (DM +2 if DEX 10+), otherwise this is a crash causing a roll on the Critical Damage table. This cannot be repaired on the field.

Critical: Massive damage. Roll on the Critical Damage table.

Critical Damage
1-2Knocked Out

Knocked Out: The vehicle is rendered completely and irreparably inoperable. Furthermore, each occupant must throw 8+ (DM +1 for END 8+) to avoid taking 3D damage. Aircraft crash, causing 6D damage to all occupants. Low-flying Grav vehicles crash, causing 3D damage to all occupants; if they are flying at a high altitude or at high speed, this increases to 6D damage. Watercraft, include large ones, suffer massive hull breaches and will sink within 1d6 combat rounds.

Crew: All crew suffer 6D damage each.

Destroyed: Vehicle destroyed. On ground vehicles, crew must throw 10+ (DM +2 for DEX 10+) to bail out with "only" 6D damage. Otherwise, they are killed immediately.

Optional Rules
The following rules are somewhat more complex than those above; the Referee should use them at her discretion.

Technology and Penetration: Higher-tech weapons tend to better penetrate lower-tech armor, and higher-tech armor tends to offer better protection against lower-tech weapons. If you use this optional rule, if the weapon has a higher TL than the target vehicle, consider it as being one "category" higher, that is - Support Weapons behave as Heavy Weapons. This does not apply, however, to Small Arms, except for Book 1 Laser weapons and the various Book 4 weapons using specialized armor-piercing ammunition. Conversely, if the weapon has a lower TL than the target vehicle, consider it as being one "category" lower - for example, Support Weapons behave as Small Arms. Weapons "shifted" above the Heavy Weapons "category" will destroy the target on a successful hit. Weapons "shifted" below the Small Arms "category" are ineffective.

Called Shots: Many armored vehicles have weak spots. If you use this optional rule, if the Referee rules that the character knows of a specific vehicle's weaknesses, the character may roll to attack at DM -2 to hit a weak spot. Characters may only do so up to Medium range unless using guided or tracking weapons. If the attack hits, consider the damage as done by one "category" of weapon higher, that is - Support Weapons behave as Heavy Weapons. This does not apply, however, to Small Arms, except for Book 1 Laser weapons and the various Book 4 weapons using specialized armor-piercing ammunition. Discovering an enemy vehicle's weaknesses may be an adventure of its own; alternatively, the Referee may call for a throw of Tactics 10+ (DM +1 for INT 9+) to discover the target's weaknesses by observation and deduction. Note that also in this case, weapons "shifted" above the Heavy Weapons "category" will destroy the target on a successful hit.

You may download these rules in PDF format from HERE.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

[ACKS] Lyonesse Setting Overview

(Map done in Wonderdraft)

This is a setting for the OSR game ACKS, in which I intend to run Barrowmaze, as well as other OSR and Old D&D modules, and a general sandbox.

High Concept
In the millennium since the Elysian Empire withdrew from the island of Lyonesse and, eventually, collapsed, Lyonesse grew into a prosperous kingdom (principality in ACKS terms). However, internecine warfare, followed by plague and famine, devastated its population. Where busy trading and fishing ports once stood, now ruins stand empty. Where fields yielded a wealth of wheat and barley, swamps now sprawl. King Rolf IV at Isenholm, at the southern coast of Lyonesse, holds nominal dominion over the entire island. In reality, he reigns over a half of his forefathers’ kingdom, and even that includes three largely autonomous vassal duchies. Beyond that - abandoned wilderness reigns supreme. And in this wilderness, bandits, Swine, and worse hold sway. Chaos seeps through the cracks of dying Lyonesse and engulfs it from the north. Will heroes arise to turn back this tide of Chaos, or will darkness consume the island?

  • Dark European folklore, especially related to fey, undead, and lycanthropes
  • Early Modern Europe - especially at its darker times (30-year war, for example)
  • H.P. Lovecraft’s (and others’) Cthulhu Mythos
  • Thief: Dark Project (video game)
  • Darkest Dungeon (video game)
  • Grim Dawn (video game)
  • Zweihander (Tabletop RPG)
  • I6: Ravenloft (D&D module)
  • Curse of Strahd (D&D module)

Meta-Setting Concept

The year is EY (Elysian Year) 1666 - an accursed year. War rages in the Mainland. Years of warfare, plague, and famine have devastated the countryside on the Island of Lyonesse. King Rolf IV, who - on paper - rules the island from its traditional capital of Isenholm, reigns over its southern, mostly forested, part. Three dukes owe him fealty, but their coffers and barracks are as empty as his. The rule of Law is weak even in the king’s own domain and disappears completely in the northern half of the Island.

The largest city - the only “proper” city - in modern-day Lyonesse is Isenholm, on its southern coast. It is the King’s personal domain, and where Law holds sway - at least in theory. It grew bloated with refugees fleeing plague and famine in the north, and today extensive slums sprawl beyond the city’s old walls. Petty nobles vie for power with its walls, ever competing with the Wardens - heads of the three competing syndicates. The overworked City Watch is infested with graft and bribery; the Grey Church takes its place, in certain neighborhoods, in enforcing the Law - but is more concerned with hunting Chaotic heretics than with petty theft and gang rackets.

The two Churches of Law tend to the people’s spiritual needs. The Bright Church, led by Archbishop [the term replaces Patriarch for the Bright Church in this setting], offers solace and promises of salvation. However, rumors abound of corruption among its ranks and even infiltration by Chaotic clerics. Matriarch Vindicta heads the Grey Church, worshiping the same Divine with an austere zeal. Ever distrustful of temporal nobility and royalty, the Grey Church rallies the faithful against Chaos and its many agents - actual or imagined. The peasantry, however, while faithful to the Church’s Conquering Sun - which the Grey Church calls the “Divine” - also seek the aid of the old Pagan [Neutral] gods, who sometimes offer concrete guidance where the Churches only pontify about Divine Wrath or distant Salvation.

Beyond the Royal Domain lie three Duchies. There used to be six. Two have fallen to Chaos and to the Swine [this setting’s porcine Orcs], one - Tideborn - is now far from its past glory and in the firm grasp of Chaos under the Blood Duchess Isabel - who is rumored to bathe in the blood of virgins to remain eternally young. But Treheim, Ironguard, and the Forest Duchy still stand on the side of Law - even if tenuously so.

Civilized rule extends from the southern shore to the southern branch of the Spine Mountains, encompassing the entire Forest Duchy and the southern half of Treheim Duchy. Beyond this are the Borderlands - extended as far north as Castle Treheim itself on the western coast and Bogtown on the eastern coat. Further north is wilderness, infested with Chaos, bandits, Swine, and all sorts of vile monstrosities. There lie the ruins of the one-great cities of Myrholm and Northport - abandoned due to plague and Chaotic attacks and now the province of Swine and vile men.

From the central Spine mountains, the Swine Prince - the fattest and vilest of Swine - leads his miniature but growing domain. The Swine hordes are, so far, content with harassing Ironguard and Treheim, but their numbers are growing with the years, and Men fear their desire for conquest and plunder. An independent Swine band is no match for a proper military force, but, led by their Prince, the Swine Horde strikes fear into the hearts of Men.

From Myrholm, the Lizard God - rumored to be a dragon or dragon-spawn - terrorizes the Marsh Cove. Two years ago, Bogtown endured the Scaled Legion’s onslaught, saved, at a great price, by Duke Ironguard’s army. The wildest lands, however, lie to the north of Myrholm, Tideborn, and the Central Spine - infested with the vilest of creatures who took up residence in the abodes of Men when the latter fled southward following the Plague and the Famine Year.

Darkness gathers. The one-proud Island of Lyonesse no lies in shambles. For the prospective adventurer or mercenary, opportunities abound. Opportunities to gain vast wealth by exploring ruins, by allying with any of the many factions - or, eventually, by rising with an iron will to fulfill dreams of conquest and lordship.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Dark Nebula 2900 CE - Nobility

In my Dark Nebula variant-OTU setting, some Human worlds possess a noble class - a remnant of Rule of Man aristocracy. The Maadin Confederation, of course, lacks such classes, but its neighbors, particularly Mizah (Maadin 0304-A762853-B), tend to retain such classes. Below is a draft of the way I handle them in this setting.

The Rule of Man had an aristocratic ruling class - some nobles were hereditary Vilani administrators, some were the children of Terran Navy officers given positions of power over the conquered Ziru Sirka. Some nobles ruled; others held honorary titles. Representative of such social station were present, of course, in the Spinward expeditions establishing the Dark Nebula colonies. When the Rule of Man collapsed, some of its aristocratic traditions remained on certain worlds. Other eschewed such positions of privilege, often in favor of non-hereditary military rank (as is the case in the Maadin Confederation).

Mizahni nobles belong to either one of the five Great Houses, or to one of the numerous Minor Houses. Great House heads, the Archdukes, are parts of the Mizahni government. The five Archdukes form the Council of State, which advises directly to the Queen of Mizah. Lesser nobles within the Great Houses also hold positions of tangible political or economic power, from megacorp CEOs - as each Great House owns a megacorporation - to hereditary positions of power in the government.

Minor Houses are heirs to Rule of Man, or even older Ziru Sirka, aristocrats. They usually lack direct political power, but may vote and be elected to the Mizah Senate. Such nobles are numerous, comprising approximately 8% of the population. Their families often enjoy great wealth. However, regardless of their actual wealth, they enjoy certain privileges thanks to their formal social rank.

Below is my draft of noble privileges on Mizah and other worlds under its influence (or other worlds retaining nobility), by noble rank.

Knight, Knightess, Dame (Social Standing 11)
The Right to Bear Arms: Knights may bear ceremonial personal arms, regardless of the local Law Level. Such arms include a ceremonial sword (such as a rapier or a cutlass), and/or a handgun (most often a revolver but sometimes also a handgun or snub pistol). The weapons must be carried openly and may not be concealed. While in public spaces on Mizah, such right is of minor importance (thanks to the Law Level of 3), the nobles may bear such arms in the presence of their peers and betters - and in some (though not all) controlled areas. This also extends to other worlds, some of which have higher Law Levels.

The Right of Election: Knights who are Mizhani citizens may vote to the Mizah Senate and be elected to Senators. Ordinary (SOC 10-) citizens lack the vote.

Baron, Baronet, Baroness (Social Standing 12)
As above, and:
The Right of Audience: a Baron may request, within reason (i.e. subject to the Referee's discretion), an audience with his peers or betters, except for the Royal House itself or the Archdukes. The noble with which audience is requested may not refuse such request as long as it is reasonable, and must hear the Baron and consider his or her words. This does not mean, of course, that the noble will automatically agree to the things proposed by the Baron, but will hear what the Baron has to say.

The Right of Hospitality: Barons can request, and reasonably expect, hospitality from other nobles, except for Archdukes and the Royal Family. The host must provide such request hospitality as long as it is reasonable. This means room, board, and protection (if necessary). This is usually for several days. Abusing this right and overstaying this welcome is a major faux pas.

Marquis, Marquesa, Marchioness (Social Standing 13)
As above, and:
The Right to Bear Arms in Royal Presence: the Marquis may bear ceremonial arms, as noted above for the Knight, including in the presence of Archdukes and the Royal Family. Furthermore, it is customary that the marquis bear such arms in the presence of his peers and betters; being unarmed in their presence is faux pas. The Marquis may bear such arms even in any controlled or secure location, without any limitations whatsoever.

The Right to Travel: the Marquis may request, at a reasonable basis, travel accommodations upon a starship with Royal blessing and financing. This is always High Passage. The Marquis may "bump" other High Passengers to gain such accommodations to themselves and their entourage (up to four persons). Abusing this right is faux pas.

Count, Countess (Social Standing 14)
As above, and:
The Right to Retainers: the Count may be accompanied by up to four armed and armored retainers. There is no limit to the arms and armor they may bear; indeed, Combat Armor is common in such cases. However, arming retainers with heavy weapons (such as machine guns or rocket launchers) is faux pas. The Count may be accompanies by such retainers in Noble or Royal presence. It is customary that the Count be accompanies by at least one retainer on formal occasions.

The Right to Royal Audience: the Count may request, and be reasonably granted, audience with an Archduke or members of the Royal Family (including the Queen herself), as per the Right of Audience described for Barons above.

The Right to Royal Hospitality: the Count may request, and be reasonably granted, hospitality from Archdukes and the Royal Family, as noted above for the Baron above.

Duke, Duchess (Social Standing 15)
As above, and:
The Right to Urgent Royal Audience: the Queen or an Archduke will grant audience, upon request, to the Duke as urgently as possible (if necessary) and in preference over the Duke's lessers. Abusing this right is a major faux pas and may lead to sanctions.

The Right to Indefinite Royal Hospitality: hosting a Duke is a great honor, even for the Queen or an Archduke. Upon request, any noble or Royal will grant indefinite room and board, as well as protection, to the Duke, at their palace.


The maximum Social Standing for player characters is 15. Social Standing 16+ is reserved to NPCs by default. The Referee must exercise extreme caution in granting such rank - and the rulership entailed in being an Archdule or Royal - to player characters.


The above also applies to worlds under Mizahni influence, namely the Fastness worlds:  Kov,  Salia, Taanga, Hasara, and Daanari. Other non-Fastness, non-Confederate worlds may also apply part or whole of the above, though they are less likely to do so. The Maadin Confederation, of course, lacks nobility, and rather gives social status to non-hereditary military officers.

Back to Kanahu!

I have decided to run my next (PbP) ACKS game not my Elysian Empire setting but rather in my older, and published, Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu setting. Why? because I find myself more inspired to use this setting, despite Elysia and Camalynn being fun to write as well; and because, well, I did more prep (70,000-word manuscript!) for this setting than for anything else I have written for a fantasy world. So I have so much stuff ready and at hand! Even a full adventure of my own writing, featuring Visitors! (which was published on the Autarch Patreon for backers of a certain level and above only).

I am using the default Harat region, with a twist: the game will take place 20 or so years before the default setting date. This will mean that the Sorcerer-King Nabu-Ram still rules Harat, challenged by rebelling slaves, led by the lizardman former gladiator Mazatel of Sitali. The rebels control certain eastern parts of Harat's former sphere of influence, and war rages. The game will not begin on the front lines, and the players may ignore much of the military action t, but, on the other hand, could dive right into it if they want. But the War will always be there in the background.

The catch - players start in rebel territory and most of the highest-level Divine spellcasters around work for the rebels and use the limited healing resource for the benefit of rebel leaders and heroes. So allying with the rebels (Lawful) might get you such Divine favor; but on the other hand, in the rebel territory, taxes are high to fund the War and the rebels are always short on cash. The Sorcerer-King (Chaotic) has deep pockets with which to reward mercenaries, even lower-level ones.

This will mean re-creating ruler NPCs, especially as some towns have new rebel rulers and some of loyalist rulers.

The centerpiece of the game, at least where the players start the game, will be Barrowmaze (by Greg Gillespie), which on my map is located in what was once in independent territory but is now under rebel rule. I'll have to adapt Barrowmaze's Helix to BCK's Gesher-Zur; NPC names and even races will have to change (no elves, dwarves, or halflings in BCK, but rather lizardmen, geckomen, and bugmen).

Should be great fun

Friday, July 12, 2019

Classic Traveller - Pulling Rank

Thinking of my Dark Nebula setting for Classic Traveller, here is something I had in mind for characters with military backgrounds to make their ranks more interesting. While I am writing this with the militarist Maadin Confederation in mind, one may use such rules in any setting involving ranked military characters, such as those generated by Classic Traveller character generation.

People tend to treat military officers, including reserve or retired ones, with respect. The fact that a military force saw fit to promote someone says something about that person. In militarist societies, this goes even further, as the social elite often includes many high-ranking officers, active and retired alike.

This, of course, is not as universal as the Social Standing (SOC) characteristic. The latter represents connections, including family connections. In some places, it also represents one's social station in a more formal manner (such as castes or a feudal system). Despite the above, civilians do not always respect military veterans, and some may see "pulling rank" - requesting preferential treatment thanks to one's military rank - as faux pas.

In civilian or semi-civilian situations where characters try to get preferential treatment (above and beyond what their SOC signifies) due to military rank, use the following rules.

Throw 8+ on 2D to successfully "pull your rank"
DM+Admin, Carousing, Liaison, or Streetwise skill, as appropriate*
DM+2 in militarist societies
DM-2 if holding a foreign human military rank (relative to the local polity)
DM-2 when dealing with "Proud Warrior" aliens (such as Aslan)
DM-4 when dealing with other aliens (such as Desertborn or Droyne)

* The relevant skill depends on the situation at hand. Bureaucratic situations would call for Admin; high-society social occasions call for Carousing; diplomatic or commercial situations call for Liaison; and criminal (or similar) milieux call for Streetwise. For the sake of this throw, treat the character as having Skill-0 in the relevant skill - no "Unskilled" penalty applied to the roll.

A successful throw allows the character to use the following "Apparent SOC" instead of their own Social Standing characteristic score:
Rank O1 - Apparent SOC 8
Rank O2 - Apparent SOC 9
Rank O3 - Apparent SOC A
Rank O4 - Apparent SOC B
Rank O5 - Apparent SOC C
Rank O6 - Apparent SOC D

Of course, if the character's original SOC score is higher than their rank's Apparent SOC, use the original one.

The effect lasts for the current scene. At the Referee's discretion, this may be a permanent effect towards certain NPCs impressed by the officer.

The above implies to ranked military careers in Traveller Little Black Book 1 or The Traveller Book: Army, Marines, and Navy. At the Referee's discretion, merchant ranks may serve here as well, especially in commercial situations.

When using Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium, eligible military careers include Sailors and Flyers. At the Referee's discretion, Diplomat or Bureaucrat ranks may apply as well. In certain criminal situations, a Pirate's rank may even apply!

Optional Rule - Civilian Honorifics
The above assumes societal respect for military rank. However, certain civilian titles also inspire respect in people. At the Referee's discretion, use the following Apparent SOC scores:

Doctor (Medic-3+) - Apparent SOC 10
Professor (EDU 12+) - Apparent SOC 10

A Short History of the Dark Nebula

Click HERE for a full-res starmap.

Below is the history of my Dark Nebula variant-OTU setting for Classic Traveller.

Disclaimer: The Traveller game in all forms, including the OTU (Third Imperium) setting, is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977 - 2014 Far Future Enterprises. See sidebar for details.
Note that this setting is strictly non-canonical, and should not be interpreted as  official Canon of a violation thereof.

Ancient History
Approximately 300,000 years ago, the Dark Nebula was at the Rimward edge of Ancients space. Colonized by one of their many factions towards the end of their reign, the Nebula never saw intensive Ancients development. The Ancients colonized Karpos (Maadin 0610), with secondary sites at Changha (Maadin 0708), Salia (Maadin 0205), and Drax (Kuzu 0610). For an unclear reason, they steered clear of the Dark Nebula itself. This frontier faction of the Ancients did not posses human or canine subjects, nor did it intervene much with the evolution of the two local proto-sentient species, the Aslan and the Desertborn. The Final War of the Ancients soon followed, and their sites fell. A small population of Droyne did survive, however, on the main colony Karpos itself - despite widespread orbital bombardment.

Eons passed; the Aslan and Desertborn began using more advanced stone tools and engaging in primitive herding. A new starfaring species, however, appeared - around 12,000 BCE. Dubbed the Pyramid Builders by Solomani scholars, these star-travellers spread through space using slower-than-light sleeper-ships and generation-ships. They were, however, biochemically alien, adapted to live in what humaniti considers to be insidious atmospheres. On such hellish worlds, they built their edifices - pyramidal structures covering deep underground tunnels. These travelling carnivores brought their prey with them, seeding life in inhospitable environments. They even "terraformed" some of their worlds, namely Enjwa (Kuzu 0510), Omoro (Maadin 0402), and Irbev (Maadin 0606) - to suit their atmospheric preferences and ecosystem.

Solomani and Aslan Colonization
Narrowly escaping total nuclear war, the new Aslan Hierate - established in 2481 CE - began expanding into space in earnest. With their homeworld of Kuzu (Kuzu 0209) fully divided between Aslan clans, young Aslan ihatei - non-inheriting second sons - found an outlet for their territorial urges in space. Jump travel soon developed, as early as 2520 CE. The Aslan, however, lacked a centralized government. The Hierate was the closest they could get to having one - but each clan founded its own interplanetary and interstellar colonies. The main expansion was along the Aslan Main - with a long "tail" to the Rimward beyond the Kuzu Subsector. Limited by Jump-1 drives, for the time being, the Aslan were confined to their main, which they colonized in the usual haphazard ihatei ways. Then, the Solomani came.

The Ziru Sirka - the Vilani Grand Empire of Stars - never reached the distant Dark Nebula. Its successor-state, however - the Rule of Man - did. Aggressively expanding to the Spinward-Rimward in search of resources to feed this ailing empire, the Rule of Man set its first scout base on Maadin (Maadin 0702) in 2600 AD. Exploring this base's stellar environs yielded further colonization of the Maadin Cluster, especially the mineral-rich Mechane Belt (Maadin 0703).

Unlike the Aslan, however, the Solomani - as the Rule of Man's people were called here - had far advanced technology. Exploration and colony ships usually had Jump-2 drives, and sometimes Jump-3 ones. Able to cross significant interstellar gulfs, the Solomani soon expanded across the Maadin Subsector and into the Kuzu Subsector. Expansion, however, was slow given the limited number of ships and colonists coming from their Empire's core. Eventually, in 2641, Solomani scouts encountered the Desertborn - who by then already had an industrial civilization on their homeworld of Rim (Kuzu 0602) - and traders soon followed. By the late 27th century, the Desertborn already built their own spacecraft and began exploring and colonizing their own star-system, though their small and fragmented population base precluded rapid technological advancement and interstellar colonization.

In 2659, a misjumped Solomani scout dropped out of jump space in Kuzu orbit. While the ship was boarded and inspected by the Aslan, the scout captain, Minerva Amlaris, is forever lauded for her diplomatic skill - and besting an Aslan male in one-on-one blade against dewclaw combat, gaining the boarders' respect and allowing fruitful first contact. Soon after the scout crept back to Solomani space - carrying a female Aslan ambassador - Human traders learned of the potential of Aslan markets. Superior Solomani technology fetched a high price in Aslan space, enriching a few Human merchants, most notably the Stempfer family of Mizah. With the Rule of Man's government's notorious inefficiency, the Solomani did not prevent advanced technology with military applications from reaching Aslan hands. Soon enough, these aliens had Jump-2 capabilities and weaponry rated at TL11.

Twilight and the Accelerando
The Rule of Man was aptly named the "Ramshackle Empire". Unstable and inefficient, its collapse was inevitable. By the dawn of the 28th century, its gradual collapse led to a curious socio-technological phenomenon - the Accelerando. With little or no governmental oversight, and with rampant corruption, scientists with good connections could appropriate massive budgets to projects never even contemplated in less distressed times. Such projects grew like parasites on the Empire's dying body, creating a false spring of strange flowers - accelerated technological development along unorthodox lines.

One such project was Unit #72, initially from Maadin. Appropriating billions of desperately-needed funds, they chose five stars within the previously unexplored Dark Nebula itself as their abode, far from the prying eyes of whatever remaining Imperial authorities. There, they tried to develop technologies which will - so they claimed - save the ailing Rule of Man from its inevitable collapse - artificial intelligence, cybernetics, genetic engineering, and, especially, new technologies for interstellar travel and, theoretically speaking, communications.

The latter technology reached a place that even the great scientists of the much later civilizations were unable to replicate, but at a price. On November 3rd, 2747 CE, The Event occurred. Experimental stationary jump-transmission coils on the world known today as N3 (Maadin 0208) fired as part of a planned experiment. However, they caused an unexpected effect. In an instant, all five star-systems of the Dark Nebula were torn from their place in the Space-Time Continuum, and hurled, through space and time. For a whole year of local time - 145 years in real-space time - these systems were in limbo - disconnected from our universe. For that time, the Nebula was a dead zone - an area of space where no solid bodies could be seen, and where anomalies in the Space-Time Continuum endangered any ship entering that space.

The Maadin Imperium and First ihatei War
Later historians will mark 2744 CE as the beginning of the Long Night proper. 30th century Maadin, however, lists its beginning on 2780 CE, when the Last Ship from Terra arrived. It was clear, at this point, that the Solomani colonies in the Dark Nebula Sector were on their own. No communications, let alone help, would come from Terra or any other Rule of Man center. Technology slowly regressed to locally-sustainable production - rated at TL11 rather than the Rule of Man's TL12; and even that - on a few worlds. Many colonies deteriorated much farther.

In 2785 CE, citing "Continuity of Government" laws, Maadin's governor, Armando Abbas, declared himself Emperor. Using his remaining naval assets, he moved to consolidate his rule over the Maadin subsector. His success, however, in such imperial endeavor was limited. Lacking the resources of a proper empire, he met stiff resistance from various colonies. Particularly, the governor of Mizah (Maadin 0304), a prominent colony, declared himself King of Mizah and used his own naval assets to push back against Abbas' invasion.

As the dust settled, the Maadin Imperium ruled nine worlds and began rebuilding its economy and military using local resources, as did its smaller rival - Mizah. When Emperor Armando I passed away in 2812 CE, his son, Emperor Alfonso I, took the throne. In 2820 CE, Alfonso attempted to invade Mizah, starting a three-year interstellar war and ending in failure, further souring the relations between the two states. After he passed away in 2843 CE, Armando II inherited the throne. By that time, the Maadin Imperium was in decline. Corruption ran rampant; favoritism within the armed forces filled the top rank with incompetent nobles, weakening them and enraging the lower-ranking professional officers.

In 2862 CE, however, the Maadin Imperium received what would later be known as its death stroke. The Aslan ihatei, or "second sons", turned their attention to the Trailing and invaded independent colonies en masse. Within two months they controlled Pasar (Kuzu 0507), Godoro (Kuzu 0606), and Simsek (Kuzu 0505), with harsh fighting continuing on Enjiwa (Kuzu 0510). Within a year, they went as far as Salia (Maadin 0205), threatening Mizah and the Maadin Imperium directly. Faced with a common threat, Maadin and Mizah quickly signed an unease mutual defense pact and launched a counter-attack.

Fighting was bloody. While the Mizahn units showed great bravery and skill, the Maadin Navy suffered several humiliating defeats at the hands of the ihatei, losing two battle-cruisers and facing disastrous defeat in their ground invasion of Godoro. When both sides reached a cease-fire agreement, in 2866 CE, the Maadini military was in shambles and the Maadin Imperium lost its credibility in the eyes of its own citizens. The Aslan retained their conquests of Pasar, Godoro, Simsek, Astek, and Daanari and the Solomani forces retreated to lick their wounds and rebuild their navy.

Coup, Confederation, and the Second ihatei War
Failure in war bred popular discontent and unrest on Maadin and its subordinate Imperial worlds. When mass demonstration erupted in 2870 CE, Emperor Armando II ordered troops to fire on them. This was a fatal move for the Emperor. With the situation deteriorating into street fighting and wholesale slaughter of civilians, middle-ranked Naval and Marines officers declared their support for the dissidents and mutinied, killing their noble admirals and launching a coup against the Imperial state. Within three weeks, the Emperor was dead; the Military Presidium was in power.

The Presidium - a seven-member "head of state" - then moved to re-consolidate the former Maadin Imperium into the Maadin Confederation. The limited rate of communication, even over such small distances, prevented full centralization and allowed local governments to replace the old Planetary Archdukes of Imperial times. Maadin and the Military Presidium, however, held much power compared to the other colonies.

The highly popular Presidium abolished noble titles and established a republicanist, if militarized and authoritarian, regime. In the 2870's, its priority, however, was military reconstruction to compensate for the losses in the First ihatei War. Taxation was heavy, as it still is thirty years later, to support naval construction. The Confederation christened its first Heavy Cruiser, CNV Gilgamesh, in 2874, alongside a fleet of lighter patrol craft. The first Heavy (Division) Troop Transport, CNV Baal, left the shipyard in 2875. Despite heavy taxation, the "clean" and competent image of the new administration and its dedication to restoring Maadin's military might maintained its popularity among the civilian population and military ranks.

In 2882, however, the Aslan tested the Confederation's mettle in battle, and tasted its renewed military vigor. Launching a massed attack on Hasara (Kuzu 0804), Taanga (Maadin 0105), and Salia (Maadin 0205), the ihatei swarmed into Human space, threatening Mizah and declaring the aim of conquering the Confederation as well. A very reluctant alliance with Mizah saw the Confederate fleet, bolstered by Mizahn squadrons, launch a counter-attack, pushing the Aslan back to Daanari. By 2884, Aslan lines collapsed under the combined Human attack, liberating Pasar, Godoro, Simsek, Astek, and Daanari and forcing back the Aslan to old Hierate space - at a stiff cost to Solomani military assets. Signing a ceasefire in 2885, the Aslan agreed to relinquish their former conquests in return for the Solomani forces' retreat to Mizah and the Confederation - far from the Aslan border.

Present Day and the Return of the Nebula
Following the Second ihatei War, the Confederation engages in massive military construction. Militaristic and authoritarian, it wishes to exert its will across the two subsectors, and openly declares so. Meanwhile, a new generation of non-inheriting Aslan males are itching to grab new lands - and the Confederation and its rival/ally of Mizah stands in their way. While the Military Presidium enjoys great popularity thanks to its success in the War, taxation is high to finance military development, and the population begins to chafe under this burden. Rivalry with Mizah is also brewing, with the more radical members of the Presidium dreaming annexing it to the Confederation, though another Aslan war will force yet another alliance with such rivals.

In August 2892 CE, suddenly the N4 star of the Dark Nebula appeared on the horizons of Taida Na, re-lighting the old cloud. By the present days of 2900 CE, these stars appeared in the skies of Osa, Salia, and Kov as well. Soon enough, rumors have reached both Solomani and Aslan ears that the worlds of the Nebula, hinted upon in legend, are back. And now, their technological treasures are ripe to the plucking. Or so the Solomani and Aslan think...

The year is 2900 CE. At the dawn of the 30th century, the Hierate and Confederation rattle their sabres. This time, both powers aim to establish dominance over the two subsectors once and for all. War is inevitable. Soon enough, the secrets to be revealed in the returned Dark Nebula will threaten to tip the balance towards whoever exploits them back. The Nebula, however, will not yield its secrets so easily...

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).

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Camalynn 1666 - On Dwarves

More on my Camalynn setting - and now, on Dwarves. Dwarves build their vaults near underground rivers and/or geothermal vents. This brings a natural power source to the forge's massive bellows and mechanical hammers, as well as other machinery. Thermal vents usually also bring hot spring water for the bathhouse.

The forge is the vault's heart and its temple. The head craftpriest works the forge as part of his sacred duties - he is also the head smith in most cases.(edited)

They tend to be independent; dwarves in my setting once ruled over a kingdom, Muspelheim, which had both a dwarven and a human population. Most of Muspelheim is now the domain of beastmen; only a few independent vaults remain in the south of Muspelheim.

Once they did pay tribute to kings of Camalynn (a human kingdom). Now Camalynn has fallen into a collection of city-states itself, so the vaults are independent themselves

Dwarves worship the Mastersmith - the one Lawful god who forged the world out of stone and the dwarves from steel. Some rogue theologists claim that the Mastersmith and the (human Lawful god) Conquering Sun are one, but both the Churches and the dwarves deny this. The hammer is the Mastersmith's favored weapon, and favored tool.

Dwarves are the most technologically-advanced race of my setting. They have flintlock firearms while humans have matchlocks; they have all the cool mechanical technology inspired by real-world Song Dynasty China medieval tech (even an Alchemist's Fire double-piston flamethrower). And, of course, automatons. And some lost vaults are rumored to have even higher tech.(edited)

Automatons are the sole monopoly of the Machinist's Guild, which is Dwarven. They guard their technology jealously and enjoy legal protection in most human kingdoms and city-states. They also produce superb versions of technology known to Man, such as clocks and printing presses. A city's Dwarven Quarter, dominated by the Guild, is thus a technological wonder.