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.