Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Remixing Eberron—the setting Post III

So... we've got the high concept of remixing Eberron, based on what I believe the high concept of Eberron is.  This means:
  1. Adapting a system that better manages the expectation of that high concept than the highly tactical and static and rulesy and bloated modern versions of D&D (I've selected my own m20 variant, FANTASY HACK, but you can go with something else, if you like), 
  2. Establish some guiding principles which, if adopted, means you can fine tune the remix at the detailed level when in game in order to better coincide with the good, old-fashioned, pulpy tone that the setting is trying to reach for but failing for a variety of reasons (but most especially the demands of conforming to details of the social justice delusion about the nature of reality), and 
  3. Pruning esoteric D&Disms that are unrecognizable outside of the world of D&D junkies and more in line with what anyone with a familiarity with the foundational myths and fantasy literature of Western Civilization would recognize, and 
  4. Adapt setting elements as highlighted in this brief prospectus over the course of a few blog posts into this paradigm.
So far, we've had a few posts (click on all posts with the EBERRON REMIXED tag) that have done some of that.  I'm actually trying to change as little as possible, so as to make all of your material still applicable, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some changes that aren't fairly significant, though.  And I should probably add a number 5. to that list: I also change stuff that I just don't like, on occasion, even if it doesn't cause a conflict with any of the four above.  An example of this would be changing the halflings of the Talenta Plains into jann.  Just because I think the notion of barbarian warrior halflings is kind of ridiculous and hard to take seriously.  Rather than accept the challenge of trying to make it fit, I just picked a race from FANTASY HACK that I think fit the bill better anyway (for fans of D&D races, this race is similar enough in concept and appearance to the fire genasi.)

In spite of this remixing, I suspect that Eberron will still feel more like a D&D campaign than most games that I'd entertain here on this blog.  Just for grins, let's do a quick catalog as a minor aside of my alternate settings and games and whatnot: if nothing else, it might spark in me the desire to explore another of these a little bit more when I finish this (as this latest small series of posts on Eberron.)
  • AD ASTRA: The capes and rayguns space opera setting that I've been spending most of my time the last few months playing with.  It is also deliberately an ersatz Star Wars, although as it continues to develop, it continues to diverge in many ways from the original.  But it was originally the combination of the prior AD ASTRA, which was always a Starjammers or Guardians of the Galaxy style "superheroes in space" concept that I never did anything with combined with STAR WARS REMIXED... but read that one below to see how it came to be.
  • CULT OF UNDEATH: a horror-fantasy setting that can be dropped into an existing setting, or which has enough material to handle several campaigns on its own right.  This was originally designed as a place in which to run a Carrion Crown Remixed adventure path, but if I ever do a Strange Aeons Remixed, it'd take place here too.  It's also the final and formal evolution of an old setting element of mine, Tarush Noptii, the kingdom of the vampires, as well as the included setting example for FANTASY HACK.  I do actually have plans in place to get back to this and spend some time playing with it a bit in the next few months.
  • DARK•HERITAGE: The setting for which this blog was initially devised, although I've often wandered far afield, and haven't done anything with this in a long time.  Which is too bad, because I was in the middle of a rather comprehensive upheaval of the setting.  It's also the very first m20 game of my own that I developed, and the prototype for everything else that's followed since, including my "complete" alt.D&D m20 game, FANTASY HACK.
  • DREAMLANDS REMIXED: An attempt to take Lovecraft's Dreamlands setting, which he never really developed as well as could be hoped.  In reality, much of what is sometimes considered the Dream Cycle should really belong to a proto-Sword & Sorcery prehistorical cycle, in my opinion, and rather than being about dreamers in an alternate reality, I'm officially making it a S&S setting.  Blended also with some Clark Ashton Smith stuff; especially Hyperborea.  This needs a lot more work to be usable.
  • EBERRON REMIXED: This series of posts.  
  • FALLEN SONS: Is just a high concept, of a post-apocalyptic fantasy world.  Kinda like the future as seen in the Terminator movies, except instead of killer robots, it's demons that destroyed the world.  Anyway, I'm still not sure what I want to do with this one, so it's still in the icebox for now until I get inspired.
  • FANTASY HACK: This actually isn't a setting.  I took my rules for CULT OF UNDEATH, which was considerably more "D&D-like" than DARK•HERITAGE was, and decided; why not go all the way and turn it into an alt.D&D?  Here it is. 
  • MAMMOTH LORDS: Does for North America what they Hyborian Age does for Europe and MENA.  Vikings and Indians, basically.  But this is now defunct.  I've taken this idea and hybridized it with my older DARK•HERITAGE setting, and the new DARK•HERITAGE which is emerging is similar enough to this setting now to effectively replace it.
  • MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED: What if Middle-earth were a sword & sorcery setting instead of a high fantasy one?  That's the concept here.  I've toyed with it a bit, but my last post on it was on the verge of really coming up with an alt.Middle-earth setting with the names and landmarks having their serial numbers more officially filed off.
  • MYTHS REVISITED: Inspired by stuff like the Percy Jackson movies and the concept from comic books of Olympian and Asgardian gods as superheroes, essentially, this is meant to be a "mythology as superheroes in the modern age" type setting.  I barely did anything with it except describe the high concept. 
  • ODD D&D: A D&D setting, using only D&D elements, but eschewing the most popular and iconic ones.  The evils to be fought are lizardmen and yuan-ti empires; the PC race palette is totally different (except for human.  And half-orc, if I remember) and instead of magic, there's only psionics. I never did make a map for this, though—although I always meant to.
  • REALMS TRAVELER: According to the oft-told story, Gene Roddenberry sold the concept of Star Trek to the network by calling it "Wagon Train to the Stars" as a nickname.  This setting, then, would be Wagon Train to the Planes.  It would also be fairly D&Dish, although significantly different than "standard" D&D.  Maybe it would more honestly be called "Quantum Leap to the Planes" since each "episode" would involve traveling to a new plane, until finally they'd get to their real destination at the end of the campaign.  This is more of a campaign really than a campaign setting.  Or, at least it would be if I ever sat down and did anything with it.
  • SOLNOR: Taking place in Greyhawk, actually; but entirely underwater.  D&D meets The Little Mermaid.  I never did anything with it other than say, "hey, here's a high concept!"  And I didn't even think of it myself.  Maybe that's why I haven't been motivated to do anything with it ever.
  • STAR WARS REMIXED: Originally meant to actually be Star Wars—except set 1,000 years after Return of the Jedi.  I created a whole bunch of stuff for this, including even an entire m20 variation.  For a variety of reasons, I later became somewhat disenchanted with the idea of playing in the Star Wars setting itself, so I ended up taking my Star Wars + 1,000 Years setting, filing the serial numbers off of it, and calling it AD ASTRA.  After all, I never developed my AD ASTRA concept, so it was just sitting there begging to be used for something.  Since this point of divergence, or fork point, if you will, AD ASTRA has continued to evolve away from Star Wars in many details; but it remains very much a product of the same kind of feel and the same kind of thing as Star Wars.  As Star Wars was a pastiche of a whole host of earlier space opera stories: Lensmen, Dune, Leigh Brackett, and Flash Gordon, combined with Lucas' love of the Kurosawa samurai movies and Westerns, AD ASTRA is a pastiche of not only all of those things (because I'm on first name basis with all of them) but even Star Wars itself.  Or rather, perhaps it's a pastiche that focuses those same elements in a similar fashion to Star Wars.  Anyway; as AD ASTRA took over what had been STAR WARS REMIXED, the latter become defunct, needless to say.
Anyway; that exercise took more space and time than I expected; I better get back to my EBERRON REMIXED setting elements.  But it did do its job; I've decided, looking over that summary, what I want to do next as my EBERRON REMIXED series comes to a close.

The Mror Holds.  Another one of the relatively few nations that can be used as is; because it is actually a nation, and not a conglomerate.  Other than making sure it complies at the detailed level with the principles spelled out last post, no changes required.

The Lhazaar Principalities.  Only a few minor changes here; 1) more humans, less gnomes.  2) They are usually portrayed in official books as somewhat tropical—but have you not seen where they are on the map?  They're quite a bit to the north of Karrnath, which is supposed to be really cold.  Now, granted—Karrnath might well be continental in climate, while warm currents keep it from being too cold; but then again, warm currents keep northern Europe from being as cold as Siberia and northern Canada.  That doesn't mean that islands like Great Britain and Ireland are tropical.  Rather than Caribbean style pirates, the Lhazaar pirates have to have a much more northern feel to them.  Like Vikings in Medieval ships, maybe.

Xen'Drik.  There need to be more colonial footholds besides just Stormreach on the northern shore, which in turn leads to a "Scramble for Africa" politically tense environment.  Instead of drow, I'm using kemlings, but that can just be a mechanical rather than setting change.  The giants are largely to be represented by ettins from the FANTASY HACK monster list.

Xen'Drik also isn't just totally "savage"—it's not a continent of dungeons and ruins and monsters.  There are, of course, the ruins of past civilization that are now fallen, but lots of people live there (mostly kemlings, but there could easily be plenty of humans as well), usually in poorly organized polities, with primitive technology and social structure.

Sarlona.  I'm also not really changing anything much here, although I'm considering this a "fringe" part of the setting, where PCs wouldn't actually go (although NPCs may on occasion be from there.)  The only thing that I'm "changing" is that the Inspired are not a "race" per se; I'm considering them just an aesthetically pleasing race of humans.

Aerenal.  I'm not changing this much, other than to note that the Undying vs. the Undead is too esoterically D&D to make any sense to me, honestly.  The whole "no, no—it's positive energy rather than negative energy" was always rather silly; these are just really spooky elves with a civilization that one-ups ancient Aegypt in terms of venerating and preserving the dead.  It's kind of a moot point; the Aerenal elves are rather isolationist and unwelcoming, so it's more a point of reference than a place to visit.

Frostfell.  I think there's little reason to change much here, because there's so little detail about it anyway.  I'd undo some of the hints of exotic, weird humanoids (I really don't need more) and maybe have hidden threats; Clark Ashton Smith style, hiding up in the ice.  A combination of Father Llymic, At the Mountains of Madness, and Hyperborea, if I do anything with it at all.  Which I probably wouldn't.

Argonessen.  Since so little is known about it, there's no reason to change it.  There will actually be very few dragons in Eberron, but those that do exist will largely be powerful and feared, no doubt.  Dragons in FANTASY HACK are a bit more monstrous than those in D&D (particularly Eberron) but still—this continent is too far away from the normal field of play to really matter much. (I should point out that I never got, or even saw, the book Dragons of Eberron so there may well be more material than I'm aware of.)

Everice.  I don't know anything about Everice except that it's there.  You're on your own.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Remixing Eberron—the setting Post II

I've come around to some Principles of remixing Eberron, although I haven't yet spelled them out exactly.  Before I start the next nations on this survey, how about I "chat" about them, just a bit?
  • Eberron is a D&D setting, but the pulp and noir elements that inform its tone clash with D&D as it has become (D&D is not cinematic, action-packed or swashbuckling; it's careful, cautious and tactical, and it actively punishes anyone who tries to by pulpy or swashbuckling.)  The very first thing I noted that is important to successfully "remix" the setting is to find a new system for it that better accommodates its tone.  There are a number of potential options (any swashbuckling fantasy system can be adopted—Savage Worlds, FATE, or even—ironically—old school D&D or retroclones.  I've picked m20, both because I really like m20, and because it accomplishes this goal while also making the use of existing Eberron d20 material very, very easy.
  • Along those lines, pulpy, swashbuckling settings from the actual pulp era were much more humano-centric, and D&D was initially expected to be so as well.  The more I've thought about it, the more I've come around to the wisdom of humano-centric settings.  I used to be perfectly fine with weird, cosompolitan, and fantasy-alien settings, but that doesn't really work well for the tone of Eberron.  The tone of swashbuckling pulp and noir really needs to be humano-centric.  So, for every nation, I've changed the population balance to greatly increase the expectation of humans, and greatly reduce the expectation of non-humans.  I haven't necessarily spelled this out in numbers of percentages, but as an example, let's look at Breland.  The official population breakdown is:
    • Humans: 44%
    • Gnomes: 14%
    • Half-elves: 10%
    • Elves: 8%
    • Dwarves: 7%
    • Halflings: 4%
    • Changelings: 4%
    • Goblinoids: 4%
    • Orcs: 3%
    • Other: 2%
  • My breakdown, on the other hand, would look more like the following—and again, this is meant to be merely a sample, with similar changes applied to every other country.  And also keep in mind that Breland is relatively diverse compared to most of the other nations of Khorvaire.  I want the nations to actually be nations, not "proposition nations"; the definition of which is "a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, and language, inhabiting a particular country or territory."
    • Humans: 88%
    • Half-elves: 3%
    • Gnomes: 2%
    • Elves: 2%
    • Dwarves: 1%
    • Orcs: 1%
    • Goblinoids" 1%
    • Other: 2%
  • It's also striking how much social justice dogma has infiltrated any official D&D publication.  I'm very interesting in remixing out any of those strains of melody (to probably take the remixing analogy a little too far.)  The former point actually supports this; an understanding of biological HBD, for instance, makes social justice equalitarianism ridiculous.  The piling on on traditional institutions of Western civilization (or their fantasy surrogates) is to stop, the elevation of strange hippiness will cease, most of the female adventuring/warrior NPCs will be re-gendered to the sex that actually does that well, etc.  But this is stuff that I don't need to actually detail too much; just point out that I'm making that a principle of EBERRON REMIXED.  
  • Finally, I just want a more coherent whole.  I've always thought that coherency is one of the things that Eberron lacked, because, as Keith Baker said repeatedly, everything from D&D had to have a place.  I'm totally OK with taking some esoteric D&Disms and removing them altogether.  If that means I need to replace them with FANTASY HACK equivalents, well, that's OK.
Anyway, on to the nations for Post II

Zilargo.  Gnomes in EBERRON REMIXED probably aren't quite as tiny as they are in D&D. They'll be small-statured, but probably averaging more like 5 ft. something tall and slight rather than hobbit-sized.  Within the range of some human populations, really—I think of them as like the most indio of Mexican in terms of average size, or maybe a shade smaller (not that the gnomes look like central Americans.) Zilargo is, however, the one specifically gnomish nation on the planet (not that gnomes don't live elsewhere as well) and this is their homeland.  While not a particularly war-like people, they are somewhat belligerent in their own way, and their political meddling is notorious.  They often make use of mercenary companies for protection, however.

Darguun.  This nation can be used more or less exactly as written.  I'd increase the percentage of goblinoids just a bit (because I have no kobolds, for one thing).  If you really need bugbears too, which are not part of the FANTASY HACK rules, you can use the thurse stats for them. (The Thurse is meant to be any powerful, savage creature; a gnoph-keh, or sasquatch, or Neanderthals of the Neanderthal Predation Theory.  Bugbears are right there in the exact same type of creature.)

The Mournland.  This also has little need of alteration.  Some of the specific magic effects don't work as advertised because they have no exact equivalent in FANTASY HACK, but otherwise, this needs little to no change.  As with other Galifarian nations, the Cyran refugees are not a mixed bag of all kinds of races so much as they are humans.  And the Mournland itself has become a refugee for anti-social warforged, since the cursed effects don't bother them.

Karrnath.  This is another nation that, other than upping the population percentage of humans, can be used more or less as is, without needing to change much.  I love the idea of institutionalized undead in a nation that isn't actually evil... but which is certainly kind of creepy and dark.  Fun stuff.  One of my favorite Eberron elements in general.

The Talenta Plains.  Eh... this one, on the other hand, I think needs some work.  First off; I think the names Clawfoot and Fastieth and whatnot are stupid.  Call dinosaurs by names that are familiar, or nicknames that are obvious.  Raptors, pterosaurs, etc.—I hate the Eberron dinosaur names.  I also think this nation is really bizarre as conceived as nomadic, dino-riding Plains Indian halflings.  It's the last word in that sequence that throws it off.  I'd prefer to have halflings be what they normally are; rarely occurring, rural hobbit-like creatures with a few enclaves here and there—maybe a bit more like Bree than like the Shire; or like the Shire, except much smaller, and there's more than one of them.  The Talenta Plains nomads, on the other hand, can be jann, from the FANTASY HACK monster list or Appendix II.

Other than that rather significant switch, though—I'm leaving them mostly as is.  One quick note; the romanticization of the primitive Plains Indian life is not really apparent here.  Do some reading of the actual history and practices of the Comancheria, and you'll get a better idea of what the Talenta Plains is like.

Valenar.  Another nation that can be used almost exactly as is.  I'd maybe make the elves a bit more common, reduce the half-elves numbers to coincide with that, and make the relationship between the Cyran refugees and the elves a little bit more fraught with tension, but otherwise... yeah.  No major change needed.

Q'Barra.  This is another one that needs relatively little change.  The changes that are needed are mostly 1) to point out that lizardmen in FANTASY HACK are really more like lizardmen in Warhammer than they are like "lizardfolk" in D&D.  Maybe this isn't a big deal in actual practice.  And, 2) there aren't any kobolds, so any references to them need to be replaced with something else.  

Remixing Eberron—the setting Post I

I said in my initial EBERRON REMIXED post that some aspects of the setting were a little too try-hard; i.e. they maybe would have been better had they been unshackled from the need to "fit" into the D&D paradigm, as it had evolved into by the time Eberron was released.  Part of what this means is making some changes to some of the setting.  One that I mentioned specifically was that Droaam as a "nation of monsters" felt like a trash-can where anything that we didn't know where else to fit was just tossed in.  It was kinda aesthetically unpleasing.

So, in that same spirit, what are some other minor changes that I think need to be made to the setting of Eberron?  For the most part, I intend to completely and totally use the map as is, but I may need to make some changes to the "flavor" of some nations/regions.  Although, I'm trying to remix the setting, not remake it.  So the changes are mostly to increase the pulpy, cinematic, sword & sorcery + pulp noir feel (as opposed to weird, tactical 3.5 D&D feel) so the changes will mostly be along the lines of: 1) limiting the exposure to weird and esoteric D&D monsters; if they exist, they'll be much more unusual or even unique, rather than commonplace, and 2) make every portion of the setting usable right "out of the box" to a 1st level group of characters.  This last doesn't mean that there won't be powerful opponents beyond the scope of 1st level characters, of course, merely that there aren't places like the Demon Wastes or Droaam that are really more "high level" areas.  And finally, I'm mostly going to just focus on Khorvaire.  I do have the book Secrets of Sarlona, although I haven't read it in years.  I don't really know much about the details of Xen'drik or Argonessen or anything, other than the rather brief stuff in the campaign setting book.  I'll treat the entirety of those continents with less detail than a single Khorvairan nation—as the setting book does.  Which reminds me; I should point out that this is the annotated notes for remixing, but it is assumed that you own the setting book in order to properly use them.  I only have the 3.5 version, but I presume that with the 4e or even 5e version, you could probably still pull this off too.

I'll split this topic into at least four posts—after which, EBERRON REMIXED will be more or less ready to play!  After that; there were some more things I wanted to do with the CULT OF UNDEATH setting before I wrapped up that project.  I've already talked about what I'm going to do with AD ASTRA.  And I haven't done anything with the namesake setting of this blog in quite a long time, which may need to be revisited soon...

Post I: The Demon Wastes, the Eldeen Reaches, the Shadow Marches, Droaam, Aundair, Thrane, and Breland.

Post II: Zilargo, Darguun, the Mournland, Karrnath, the Talenta Plains, Valenar, and Q'barra.

Post III: The Mror Holds, The Lhazaar Principalities, Xen'Drik, Sarlona, Aerenal, the Frostfell, Argonnessen, and Everice.

Post IV: Other power groups and important details, churches, etc.

The Demon Wastes.  I don't really care for rakshasas.  They do come from mythology, although nothing in Western civilization, so they fit uneasily in a fantasy setting that's mostly based on Western civilization, and written for people who belong to Western civilization.  I prefer to use more commonly known daemons, many of which are listed in the monster section for FANTASY HACK and can be used as is.

I also think Ghaash'kala is a pain to say, but I'll let them and the Carrion Tribes remain mostly as written—although living in a cursed environment, it shouldn't be surprising that many of the humans have become Cursed over the generations.  This means that the majority population of the Demon Wastes are savage, originally Sarlonan humans, with orcs as the second major population.  The demons and monsters will be, on the other hand, relatively rare.

The Eldeen Reaches. I dislike the hippy vibe of the Eldeen Reaches as the peaceful, harmonious pseudo-Wiccans, persecuted by the intolerant pseudo-Christians of the Church of the Silver Flame, so that will be eliminated in favor of a more superversive, old-fashioned pulp like vibe.  I don't have anything like a druid class, and I think having a druid caste as they were historically makes little sense too—but frightening, terroristic sorcerers of this kind of vibe work very well for me, though.  The Gatekeepers as holding back Lovecraftian horrors is still a thing.

The Shadow Marches.  This is a backwater area of xenophobic savages; human and orc, mostly.  It is also an area beshrouded with hints of Lovecraftian horrors.  The grim hills and fetid swamps are homes to cults best left uncovered, and peoples best kept isolated, as their reaction to civilization is not likely to be good for either them or the civilized.  This, like Droaam, is less a "country" in the traditional sense of implying political unity, and is more akin to a "region" with some level of cultural unity only.

Droaam.  The Daughters of Sora Kell are not monsters in the literal sense; they are hags in the more traditional sense; witches (female liches, to be precise).  Humans given over to the power of the devil, and given in return awful power of their own.  As noted above, though—this isn't a politically united country, merely a region.  The Daughters are powerful, of course, but they do not desire domination over the others who live here. Monsters do tend to be more common here than elsewhere on Khorvaire, and tribes of savage ratmen and thurses wander the countryside eating whatever (or whomever) they can get their hands on.  We won't have any of the "Star Wars cantina, but with D&D monsters" cities here.  Various types of monsters are more likely to be encountered here, but they tend to be singular, or very small tribes, taking advantage of the desolate, depopulated frontier nature of the area, rather than trying to build a "monster society" under the auspices of the Daughters.

Aundair.  Aundair is a human nation, and it's meant to evoke Musketeer era France, at least to a minor degree.  According to the setting book, it's only 51% human, but EBERRON REMIXED is a much more humano-centric version of the setting; I'd pump that up to nearly 90%, with half-elves making up by far the majority of the remainder.

Thrane.  This nation is silly.  Intolerant, pseudo-Christian crusaders as a theme in D&D and other modern fantasy is just not only super tired, but honestly deliberately insulting and offensive.  I will go so far as to say that yes, the Church (of the Silver Flame; but I'm going to make it more overtly Christian in character) is headquartered here, but you don't see Italy looking like a nation of bizarre religious fanaticism.  You're not, as the setting book says, "more likely to meet a missionary than a farmer."  Of course, that means that Thrane loses some of its uniqueness relative to its neighbors; although "uniqueness" in this case is over-stated.  As I said, this isn't a unique trope, it's a lazy, offensive trope of social justice crap.  I would tend to mostly gloss over Thrane; it's a nation much like Aundair, I suppose—just politically separate from it.

Breland.  With the advent of Sharn, Breland is (kinda) the protagonist nation of Eberron, and certainly where I expect most campaigns would spend some time, if not most of their time.  I'm not going to change Breland much from where it is as written, except (of course) to minimize the non-humans and the racial cosmopolitanism, ad refocus on a much more humano-centric interpretation of the setting.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Updating Eberron Remixed

Well, I stumbled—kinda by accident—across one of my EBERRON REMIXED posts, and I read the three that I'd made.  Clearly, the m20 mechanics that I offered were "primitive" compared to where I am today.  By this, I mostly mean that they still retain too much of their original d20 detritus.  The rules, especially for most of the Eberron specific races, are too clunky and fiddly.  Too much there there, for a system that's supposed to be lightweight and fast-moving.  Plus, a few other things have migrated.  Here's a recap of my original races rules for EBERRON REMIXED, then I'll "harmonize" them with FANTASY HACK and see what I can do about bringing EBERRON REMIXED into the fold as a potential FANTASY HACK setting.

Then, because I never really did so, I'll talk in a little bit more detail in a further post sometime about some specific things that I'd change about the Eberron setting as published.  (For 3.5, anyway.  I never bought anything from 4e, so I don't know what—if anything—about the setting changed as the version of D&D updated.)

Original EBERRON REMIXED m20 races:
  • Human: +1 to all skill rolls
  • Elves: +2 to MND
  • Dwarves: +2 to STR
  • Halflings: +2 to DEX
  • Gnomes: +1 to DEX, +1 to MND
  • Half-orcs and Orcs: +4 to STR, -2 to MND
  • Half-elves: +1 to DEX, +1 to 2 skills
  • Hobgoblins: +2 to STR, +2 to DEX, -2 to MND
  • Goblin: Same as halfling
  • Warforged: +4 to resisting poison, disease, sleep, and anything else that wouldn't normally affect a construct. (Normally warforged are immune to all these things,but a +4 is enough of a bonus to shield them against any level-appropriate attack.) 
  • Shifters: All shifters have +1 Survival, +1 Physical, and a bonus that triggers when the shifter "shifts"—1/day per every three character levels.
    • Longtooth/Gorebrute: 1d6 damage bite/gore, +2 Str
    • Razorclaw: 1d4 damage claws (on hands and feet), +2 Dex 
    • Cliffwalk: Climb at half speed, +2 Dex 
    • Beasthide: +2 Natural Armour, +2 Str
  • Changelings: Change form as move action, +1 to Subterfuge, +1 to Communication
  • Kalashtar: Can spend 1HP to establish a two-way mindlink with a creature it can see, +1 to Communication, +1 to Knowledge
In FANTASY HACK, the rules for humans and elfs are the same as those listed for humans and elves above.  Everything else is changed.  Shifters don't exist in FANTASY HACK, of course, but the Woses are based on the exact same concept.  Warforged also don't exist in FANTASY HACK, but can be emulated by taking the rules for combat robots from AD ASTRA.  I'm wondering if concepts like half-elves are necessary, but then again, they are fully within the spectrum of using the race-builder rules; so I guess, why not?

Here's the updated list of races for m20 EBERRON REMIXED, harmonized to be compatible with FANTASY HACK.
  • Human: +1 to all skills
  • Elf: +2 to MND
  • Half-elf: +1 MND, +2 to any skill(s)
  • Dwarf: +1 STR, +1 to AC as natural armor
  • Halfling: +1 DEX and Stealth affinity
  • Gnome: +1 to DEX, +1 to MND
  • Goblin: +1 DEX and +1 to Subterfuge
  • Orcs (and Half-orcs): +2 to STR
  • Hobgoblins: +1 STR, +1 to DEX
  • Warforged: +1 to STR, +2 to Acrobatics, no stat increases on leveling, but are immune to mind-influencing magic, and do not need to breathe, eat, drink, etc. 
  • Shifters: +3 to STR, -1 to MND, +1 to Survival skill, -1 to Communication skill.
  • Changeling: Can change form as a single action, +1 to Subterfuge, +1 to Communication
  • Kalashtar: Cam spend 1 HP to establish a two-way mindlink with a creature it can see, which enables telepathic communication, +1 to Communication, and +1 to Knowledge
The Cursed, Jann, Kemlings and Nephilim are all appropriate races to use too, although I'll need to give some thought as to where exactly they tend to be.  My first thoughts are that Droam is mostly made up of Cursed, with Hag queens, rather than populated by a bizarrely diverse collection of monsters.  And my second thought is that the Kemlings replace the scorpion drow on Xen-drik.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Dhangetans

Here's the latest version of my map; a bit updated.  You can see, I think, which systems I've detailed—they have a few details imprinted on them beyond just the name.

Since I decided (for whatever reason; partly kinda random, honestly) to center my setting development on the Carrick Grand Marches, a Bernese colony ruled in the name of the Monarchy by a Grand Duke and highly-regarded and placed member of the Bernese peerage, it has behooved me to focus on the immediate neighborhood around this colony.  There are, however, no fewer than ten Dhangetan Cartel worlds that are within a single bulk jump of either the Carrick, or the Carthen Colony; Carrick worlds that were flipped politically by the Revanchists to become blue statelets that have not been detailed except that they have a name.

Well... on the other hand, two of those ten are probably best done in two bulk jumps, because one would create an avoidable and unnecessary risk of misjump.  But, I do have two other Dhangetan worlds that I have detailed; Meni Bana (1627) which sounds suitably foreign, and New Rodinia (1925) which does not.

So; priorities: as I continue to do a few more star system data sheets, here's my plan—finish the last two Principality of Tan Kajak worlds—Perchta (1328) and Erai (1329).  Then go on a big Dhangetan jag, getting all ten of the worlds that are within the immediate vicinity of the Carrick detailed.  These worlds are Moise (1624), Drini IV (1625), Tawasy (1724), Kari Jora (2123), Fthughu (2223), Cadon (2224), Kyuli (2326), Scaley (2327), Kribblu VII (2328) and Sakuleth (2428).

I'll probably also do the Cilindarean world Peleres (1723) while I'm at it, giving me thirteen more data sheets to do.  By this time, I'll most likely be a bit sick of doing them, and will be ready for a break.

In parallel, I've been developing the outline of a plot—for years I've been wanting to write, and have lacked either confidence, time, motivation, or gumption or... something, but I'm getting older, and regret for not doing it is catching up to me.  Quite honestly, some of the Dhangetan worlds are better as elements of setting design than some of the worlds that I have focused on, because they are "wretched hives of scum and villainy" in a rather lawless frontier region, which make for great storytelling opportunities.  Just ask any Western or Pirate themed story.

But I might go through and add a few more names to a few more systems, at least.

EDIT:  Whoops!  I said here's the latest version of my map, and forgot to attach it!


System: Shoa-Shanian
Hex Location: 1933
Star Type: Single K5 V
Number of Worlds: 12
Gas Giants: 7
Planetoid Belt: Kuiper belt and two asteroid belts

Starport Type: D
World Size: Artificial
Atmosphere Type: N/A
Surface Water: N/A
Population: Super-populated
Political Affiliation: Independent ally of the Republic
Tags: Warlock Academy, Feral World, Alien Ruins
Notes: I'm not quite sure what to make of this weird result.  I'm already thinking that an artificial world that's super-populated and only has a type D starport (poor quality, only offers minor repairs, no refined fuel available) was weird enough, but then I rolled up Feral World and Alien Ruins as tags?!  This is going to be one of the most unusual systems I've rolled up...

Shoa-Shanian is a low-light and relatively low-heat orange dwarf star, in a system that is littered with debris; a gas and dust nebula thickly colors space around it, like a miniature, solar system-sized Eagle Nebula, complete with dark pillars of gas, and brightly lit and colorful fans of dusty gas.  When the system was very first scouted during the now ancient days of the Old Kingdoms, the actual worlds of the system weren't very inviting for settlement.  There are a large number of gas giants, which provide the raw materials for bulk drive fuel, and there are a number of rocky and metallic or icy airless worlds as well (including satellite moons of the gas giants) as well as lots of asteroids and comets and centaurs.  In fact, the system is positively littered with debris, possibly due to the weak solar winds from the Shoa-Shanian star, which haven't cleared the system nearly as thoroughly as most.

But the colonists stayed anyway, because what they discovered was a massive, nearly moon-sized craft floating in the thickest part of the gaseous nebula.  The architecture of the ship is alien and unknown—many scientists in the past have remarked on possible links to Ancient gray ruins found throughout Known Space, both in terms of trying to draw parallels and others who find them lacking.  This artificial world is partly metallic, but surprisingly mostly made of stone, as if it were itself a gigantic asteroid converted into a craft.  Artificial gravity and Earth-like atmosphere pervade the ship, left presumably by whatever passed for alien thaumaturges or warlocks, and even an ecosystem with water, runaway weeds-life, and alien rat-like creatures thrive here.

Colonists have been here for a long time, but following the Wars of the Last Emperors, they lost track of their connections to the rest of Known Space, and slipped into a technological Dark Age.  Today, they present the odd conundrum of a savage and even feral artificial world, with politics that are tribal, and technology that is—mostly—barely better than Medieval.  Second Wave colonials make up less than 2% of the population, and tend to hold themselves mostly apart from the "natives" of the first wave of colonization.

In spite of the loss of the system during the Dark Ages which followed the fall of the Marian Empire, rumors and old records of the strange world and its mystery remained in the rump states that succeeded that Marian Empire, and various New Wage colonials, as they swept in to rediscover what was lurking in the New Alderamin sector, were keen to find Shoa-Shanian, even though its exact location was lost and forgotten.  Jase Hompson, an earth-descent young warlock, and his crew of adventurous explorers was the one who eventually found the world.  Although he comes from the part of space that belongs to the Republic (only recently Revanchist, at this point) their crew was extremely independent and skeptical of the Revanchist bureaucracy.  Those who followed in his wake, or were descended from him and his original crew, maintain that skepticism—although they dislike the Bernese and see them as ethnic rivals and hate the Heathens, their relationship with the Republic itself is somewhat... complicated.  Hompson and his crew were Earth-descent as well, and were as skeptical of the cultural influence of the Jaffans and Psarians on the Republic as they were of the increasingly parasitical bureaucracy.  So today, Shoa-Shanian remains an independent ally of the Republic, unlikely and unwilling to join officially, and able to fend off less than peaceful integration by nature of the warlocks that Hompson started training.

Today, the Shoa-Shanian warlocks, almost all natives (or colonists) of the world, are among the most feared in the neighborhood—which is saying something, considering their general proximity to the Voormellei Confederation and the Vorgan Than Viceroyalty.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Galaxy's Edge: Kill Team

Another month, another Galaxy's Edge release, and another review!  I didn't actually review the first book, Legionnaire, although I talked about it plenty.  I did review book 2: Galactic Outlaws and I may yet continue the streak.  In any case, I'll do Book 3: Kill Team.  So far, the schedule has been something like the following:
  • Every month, a new title is released (not only are Cole and Anspach writing at a furious pace, but they must have had a lot of groundwork laid ahead of time.)  I can't remember if they said that they're planning a 9 or 10 book arc, but it's something of that order of magnitude; so by next summer, we'll have done it.
  • I've got the book on pre-order as a Kindle download.
  • I get it on the day it's released.
  • I finish it by the next day.
There's not a lot of books that I tend to finish that fast—the only ones in many years until now that I consistently did so was with Butcher's Dresden novels.  And he hasn't even put one out in over three years now, so he's pretty overdue and behind schedule.)  But these seem to do the trick.  They're that good.

First; let me reiterate for those just catching up what the premise of Galaxy's Edge is, paraphrased by me from the authors' own words.  It can be neatly encapsulated in their hashtag, #StarWarsNotStarWars, and it means that the authors are fans of the Star Wars franchise... but are somewhat disheartened by much of what has happened to it.  While chatting about it, they decided to work together, writing it the way it should have been; the way it once was (read my Secret History of Star Wars posts for more info here, linked in the review to book 2).  It's kinda a pastiche of Star Wars, which of course was also a pastiche of Dune and Lensmen and especially Flash Gordon to begin with.

And like the Star Wars movies, which started off imitating the plots of unrelated genre movies, before "evolving" into something where the plot wasn't exactly the same, you can see clear analogs to some other plots you may be familiar with.  Legionnaire had a lot of obvious similarities to Zulu (1964) and Galactic Outlaws reminded me very closely of True Grit (1969 or 2010—take your pick.)  Kill Team reminded me strongly of John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in one plot arc, but it also reminded me strongly of Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal, especially in how it went back and forth between an assassination (or terrorist) plot and those carrying it out, and those who are tasked and racing to thwart it.

The voice of the character "Tom" who makes up the more Le Carré-like half of the novel, is quite different than what we've seen in the series to date.  It felt a little more navel-gazing-like, especially early on, than I was expecting, but at the same time, I've read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, albeit probably twenty years ago, so I was able to recognize immediately what it was probably meant to be a direct homage of, and thereby appreciate it.  And it didn't wallow in self-introspection all that much, really, which is of course would be death to any swashbuckling space opera action story.  This sounds like a complaint.  It's not; it's just a heads-up that they adopt a somewhat different voice for about half (roughly) of the novel which might have been a bad move if it had not been handled carefully.  But it works great here.  And for those (like me) who get and recognize the reference, it's actually kind of cool.

Once again, Cole and Anspach do not fail to disappoint, and I really enjoyed Kill Team.  It serves as a direct sequel to Legionnaire, and from the perspective of Galactic Outlaws I guess that would make it a flashback, or a prequel—although it does a fascinating job of tying together elements of both of those books, just in case you were starting to think that maybe the first was just a somewhat more distantly related prologue.  It's not.  The two story lines from the two respective novels are actually deeply intertwined.

But I can't tell you much about them without spoiling stuff, so I won't.  

I also don't know for sure what more to say about this novel that I didn't say about the last one.  The premise of the series, and any grand philosophical maundering about that, I've already done.  The fact that they're still great; I've also done.  I did also appreciate that the subtle (yet quite pointed) social and political satire that's there for those with the wit to see it, but it never even comes close to the ham-handed message fic that the Left loves to indulge in.  It actually—like, OMG!—serves the needs of the plot and creates believable and plausible motivations for functional, normal characters to do things that we readers can relate to as functional, normal people ourselves.  So, not knowing what else to say about the book other than that, well—just get it and read it!  You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


System: Tr'Udon
Hex Location: 1529
Star Type: Triple (distant) F5 V, A0 V, M2 V
Number of Worlds: 11, 17, 12
Gas Giants: 8, 5, 0
Planetoid Belt: Kuiper and asteroid belt, Kiuper belt only, Kuiper and asteroid belt

Starport Type: C
World Size: Earth-sized
Atmosphere Type: Thin
Surface Water: 20%
Population: Large (9 billion)
Political Affiliation: Seraean Empire, Outremer, Principality of Tan Kajak
Tags: Mining world, Civil War, Eugenic mania
Notes: Tr'Udon is an unusual system; with three stars, all capable of supporting earth-like planets, and each of which having a large cadre of planets, there is an incredible diversity of settlement.  While the main world stats describe the "main" world of the system, in reality, the system has several settled worlds, several of which are "earth-like" to various degrees—many of them are full of silicates and metallic materials, and vast quantities of raw materials are mined from the system.

The real defining feature of the Tr'Udon system, however, is the ongoing civil war for control of the system between two Seraean noble houses, Djak and Parthsor.  Both are branches of the house of the original Tan Kajak himself (descendants of his more distant cousins, to be exact) and as the Baron Kardon Djak was usually deemed mentally unfit to rule, his cousin, Lord Haltoru Parthsor, called Haltoru the Gaunt was pressed into seeking the baronial seat.  For two decades now, these aging baronial claimants have waged war, and the minor lords and knights that support them have brought to bear their forces to advance the cause of one or the other.  This war has spread throughout the varied system, and sometimes beyond.

A curiosity of Seraean culture is that while they do not encourage this type of disunity, because it threatens their ability to project force across Known Space, they do, however, innately and obsessively enjoy this kind of conflict.  Because of the fact that this one spills out of the Tr'Udon system, a little bit, it gets some bad attention at Phovos Mal and from some of the other Outremer nobles, but they tolerate it because it mostly takes place in system, and because it's entertaining as the all get-out to them.

One of the things that the Seraeans of Tr'Udon have done, which is somewhat unique to them, is a cybernetics mania.  They are obsessed with the creation of the perfect soldier, and have created a template of four-armed soldiers, with a great deal of robotic augmentations, that are unique.  A very few of them are capable of becoming psionic knights genetically too, and the four-armed semi-robotic Tr'Udoni knights are among the most fearsome to encounter.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Hentau III

System: Hentau III
Hex Location: 1628
Star Type: Single M4 V
Number of Worlds: 8
Gas Giants: 4
Planetoid Belt: Kuiper and asteroid belt

Starport Type: D
World Size: Larger than earth
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 50%
Population: Medium (100 million)
Political Affiliation: Seraean Empire, Outremer, Principality of Tan Kajak
Tags: Cold war, Xenophobic, Oceanic cities
Notes: Hentau III was initially settled by the Bernese, and was part of the Carrick Grand Marches.  It is one of the few Carrick worlds that wasn't simply colonized; its colonization was contested by forces allied to the Dhangetans, which meant that the settlement was never peaceful, and never settled.  The Bernese were fighters, though—and they fought with the Dhangetan scum, skiffers, and even small numbers of Cilindarean mercenaries for several decades, and hung on to their settlements, for the most part.  Neither side were prepared (or capable) of committing enough resources to settle the issue permanent.

Until the Seraean crusaders came in and conquered the system decisively.  Millions of people were enslaved, and most of them were then imported back to the Empire, where they were never heard from again.

But that was now three generations ago.  Today, the situation is a bit different.  While Seraeans clearly make up the biggest plurality (and if you add Idacharians, the Heathens are a clear majority) of the population, there are still relatively large numbers of ethnic Bernese other humans, skiffers, some Cilindareans, and other, less humanoid aliens as well that live here.  For the last two Princips, descendants of Tan Kajak himself, the official policy has been to avoid systemic ethnic oppression.  The original settlers of non-Heathen stock have been allowed to remain in their settlements, albeit much reduced after the great slave-reaping three generations ago.  Others have migrated to the Heathen settlements, and succeed or fail based on their own merits.  In fact, one interesting side effect of this relationship is that Hentau III has become a fertile recruiting ground for spies to serve the Seraean Empire among the Dhangetans, or the Monarch worlds, or even in some cases, on some Revanchist worlds.  They've had less success with ethnic Cilindareans.

But the other curious side effect is that the planet is in a constant state of low-grade, tribal war.  The old Bernese settlements still fight against the settlements that were allied with the old Dhangetans.  Both fight with the Heathens.  Alliances and allegiances shift constantly.  Rather than clamping down on the chaos, the Heathens find the whole thing thrilling entertainment; a worthy place for young warriors to get some practice, and even a fertile ground for big money bets for gamblers.  This is, in fact, one of the main roadblocks to further ethnic integration; the culture of the Heathens, the Bernese and the others is too different for them to ever truly integrate except in the case of rare individuals.  It also means that there is very little trust for those outside of your tribal groups.  If a space traveler were to set his ship down near a Bernese settlement, such as Medon, it's unlikely that you'd get any reception other than radium fire, even if you were yourself an ethnic Bernese from one of the Carrick worlds, for instance.  Mistrust and sharp tribal boundaries is a strong feature on Hentau III.

Arrival of a Heathan noble's personal warships
Another curious fact; the original settlements were mostly located on rivers, and at river mouths, or otherwise access the great coastal floodplains that make up the majority of the landmasses.  Various types, often refugees from the wars, have moved even further inland, although the surface of the planet still remains relatively pristine, and even has many corners essentially unsurveyed and never before seen by intelligent eyes.  The Heathens, on the other hand, mostly live actually at sea, in vast cities either on small islands, or floating as giant rafts, or even submerged beneath the surface.  This is because the water here has a slightly unusual chemical composition.  This has very little effect on humanity, but it does make it the perfect habitat for Seraean spider-fish, both the meat and the eggs of which are a delicacy in Seraean society, and sell for ridiculous amounts of money to Heathen nobility.  In fact, Hentau III has become one of the largest exporters of spider-fish to the Empire, comparable to the oceans of Seraea itself, or famous exporter worlds within Imperial space like Shatina, Lantai, or Vorria.

Meni Bana

System: Meni Bana
Hex Location: 1627
Star Type: Double (distant) G8V and a black hole
Number of Worlds: 6 and 5
Gas Giants: 5 and 4
Planetoid Belt: No, and Kuiper and asteroid belt, respectively

Starport Type: C
World Size: Artificial (i.e., tiny)
Atmosphere Type: N/A
Surface Water: N/A
Population: Medium (3 million)
Political Affiliation: Dhangetan Cartel
Tags: Xenophilia, Hostile solar system, Boom Town / Gold Rush
Notes: It's always fun when the dice cooperate.  The likelihood of me rolling up a black hole or other exotic star for the second star in a double system was already low, but what are the odds that I'd also get the Hostile Solar System tag?  It looks like I hand-picked that tag, but actually I didn't.  It was all serendipitous.

Meni Bana is under the control the Dhangetans, although no Dhangetan lives in the system on a permanent basis.  Rather, it is governed by their Lieutenant Zenin Nkazao, a skiffer warlord (imagine the skiffers as a hybrid between a zabrak and the kroot in appearance.)  It is an unusual system, made up of two "suns", one of which is similar to our own, but the other of which is a black hole.  They are in a distant orbit as far as companions go, so their interactions with each other are somewhat limited.  Both "suns" have a suite of planets, all but one of which are gas giants.  But nobody lives on the airless rocky worlds either, except for small settlements of pilgrims, miners or hermits, all of which are officially uncharted.  The largest settlement in the system is a large space station in close orbit to one of the gas giants, which serves as a gateway to the system, as well as a facility for fuel refining.

The gigantic artificial capitol of Meni Bana
Many of the people who staff Nkazao's staff are Cilindareans, and he has a strange fascination for their culture.  They are often given favored status in Meni Bana, either because of Nkazao's preference for them, or because of the Cilindarean staff's own preference for their own.  Many have come to Meni Basa in recent years, drawn especially by the chance for wealth.  They make up a sizable plurality in the system, which sometimes brings them into conflict with the others who live here, because they are not shy about exercising their political capital.

People are scattered all through the system, however.  There are two other features of the Meni Bana system that make it more interesting than it otherwise might have been—long after the Dhangetans claimed and colonized the system, it was discovered than an ancient Marian treasury convoy came to a bad end in the system.  The wreckage of their treasure ships (and of course, their cargo of treasure) are scattered throughout the system, most especially in the orbit of the distant black hole.

This means that while there is tons of wealth just flying around out there in space for the finding and taking, which brings many would-be treasure hunters to system, of course, it's all "buried" in the gas and dust disk that circles the black hole.  It's immensely difficult to actually find anything, and there are lots of risks associated with treasure-hunting in the gravity well of a black hole.  Many treasure hunters never return from their forays into the realm of the black hole, and few of those who do come back with a big score.  But that doesn't dissuade those who are sufficiently comfortable with the risks from trying, and Meni Bana has assumed a gold rush town status—people from all over showing up to strike it rich, or die trying.

Due to its location, there are many routes that these prospectors and treasure hunters take into Meni Bana, which contributes to its cosmopolitan nature (which in turn contributes to simmering conflict, that is often ethnic or political in nature, and stems from events happening outside of the system.)  Revanchist citizens can easily reach Meni Bana from any of the worlds of the Carthen Colony and many from the Rhyne Colonies.  Bernese can reach it from Eliane (which admittedly, isn't the best vector to travel through, given that Eliane is itself a pretty rough frontier world without much in the way of services—but it does reach Meni Bana without making a risky 4-hex jump.)  All of the worlds of the Principality of Tan Kajak can also reach Meni Bana, bringing the baleful eye of the Heathens.  And, of course, it's easily reached from Dhangetan worlds Drini IV or even Moise.  Cilindareans cannot reach Meni Bana directly from one of their own worlds, but Cilindareans have always been comfortable and even usually welcome to travel through Dhangetan worlds, and the two Dhangetan worlds mentioned above are near their world Peleres.  It is interesting to note that space lanes from the rest of the Cilindarean Arm are rather lacking; there is a "hole" in galactic space between the majority of the Cilindarean Arm and the worlds of theirs that are close to the Dhangetan Cartel, requiring a rather lengthy journey around, and often through systems that the Cilindareans do not directly control.

For Menian denizens other than the strangely Cilindareophile Nkazao, this is seen as probably a good thing, as it means that armies of Cilindariates and mothakes won't be arriving any time soon in a wave of expansion.  However, one of the political intricacies of Meni Bana is that it is no secret that Zenin Nkazao has worked with some Cilindarean warlords to destabilize and offer up systems of the Rhyne Colony as easy potential conquests.  Given this, along with its proximity to territory of literally every other major power in the sector,Meni Bana is a strangely relevant political Schwerpunkt to galactic politics for the entire sector.  Nkazeo hasn't the foresight to see what he may have unwittingly unleashed with his unusual Cilindareophile attitude, but all of the major powers are looking at sending additional resources nearby, and an escalation of tensions centered on Meni Bana seems to be a very real risk.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Many Faces of Seraean Outremer

Technically, Outremer is the word used in Seraean circles to refer to any of their colonies; i.e. territory that is politically affiliated with the Empire, but outside of its borders proper.  However, the word is usually used to refer to only the most recent expansions, so the earliest two satrapies are often not considered part of Outremer proper.  The attached map is a cut and paste of a section of my big sector map, with the satrapies marked and labeled, and with Seraean space lanes put in as well.  First, I'll describe each of the satrapies at a reasonably high level (considering that I've only developed systems so far for one of them) and then I'll talk a bit about the space lanes.

Vorgan Than Viceroyalty is the very first "colony" of the Seraeans and their Idacharian allies.  Initially, the entire reason that the Seraeans turned their attention westward from their own borders into the scattered New Alderamin sector was that scattered settlements of Idacharians were already here ahead of them, and they invited the Seraeans to help them capture Arsallum.  To the Idacharians and their Old Ones cult, closely allied with the Shadow Cult of the Seraeans themselves, Arsallum was a pilgrimage site, an important part of their religious history from the time of the Old Kingdoms, prior to the establishment of the Marian Empire.  It had turned extremely heretic, helped spawn the abominations that are the Cyber-liches, and was under their control.  With the help of the Seraean military might, the Idacharians conquered Arsallum, pushed the cyber-liches back into what is today the Voormellei Confederation (and inadvertently laying the seeds for their later alliance with the Grand Dukes of the Carrick Grand Marches) and established the very first of the Imperial colonies.  Eventually, the Vorgan Than Viceroyalty, ruled by a Viceroy (by definition) grew to encompass four systems, and started to diverge culturally somewhat from the Imperial center.  As their interests and concerns were far from Phovos Mal, they developed an unruly, independent streak, which was later to explode following the declaration of various Umbral Crusades, many led by the so-called Free Heathens, who desired even greater autonomy and independence from Imperial control.

However, the wars with the Cyber-liches had been brutal, Pyrrhic affairs, and these shadow knights were looking to establish their own power bases where they could rule absolutely.  They desired softer targets, and the immediate vicinity was not necessarily rife with them.  Numerous wars with the Reavers to the south and west of them were fruitless, as holding Reaver worlds was deemed to be impossible; the Reavers were too mobile as a society, and their hit and run raids made short-lived conquest attempts on Tronii T'Kali (2135) futile.  Fotta Zonaii (2133) was not only heavily armed and truculent themselves, but they were on reasonably good terms with the warriors of Freeport (2131), but they were also willing to make common cause with the Death Sages of the Voormellei Confederation, who still hated the Seraeans and Idacharians (collectively called The Colorless, or sometimes merely The Heathens.)  They were too hard of a target, although diplomacy allowed some of the Shadow Knights to negotiate rights of passage through their system for their Crusader armies.

The next conquest was Lada (1935) which has since been gifted to an Idacharian warlock who styles himself an independent king—but to maintain his position, he also agrees to be a stepping stone further to the west.  Lada was an independent nation prior to this, settled by a variety of frontiersmen, but they never managed to maintain a strong position, in part due to continual predation by the Reavers.  They were easy targets for the Seraeans, who also made the Reavers fear to prowl through the system.

The Dhangetans are a powerful group squatting fetidly over much of the very center of the sector.  An expansion of their rule are the Dhangetans of the Desai Worlds; a splinter group that settled near the Carthen Colonies and the Emerus Marches.  This made them the next reasonably large group of systems beyond Lada, the Reavers, and a few strong independent worlds—not great targets for further Seraean expansion, really.  But their infamous corruption presented opportunity.  Vaaxh-zhu, the Dhangetan emir of the Desai Worlds wanted one of his rivals removed, as well as blocking access to further rivals deeper within Dhangetan space.  Offering the Crusaders passage through Fenebruck (1634) and Vorli VI (1631) he betrayed his people and offered conquest to the worlds of the Principality of Tan Kajak, as they later came to be known.  These worlds were weakened by internal struggle; both Bernese settlers, and the less savory types that followed in the wake of the Dhangetans had wrangled over the systems for years, and both were not only occupied with fighting each other, but also weakened from decades of doing so.  Tan Kajak, the founder of this satrapy, made relatively quick work of both forces, claimed all four worlds in short order, enslaved millions of people (to great profit) and sparked a diplomatic crisis between the Monarchy and the Empire (although inadvertently defused an ongoing diplomatic crisis between the Dhangetans and the Monarchy while doing so.)  The old space lane that connected Beodon to Hentau III to Perchta and Kereux was cut off, and only pirates or otherwise desperate travelers use it today.

Other crusaders, seeing the grip Tan Kajak had on ruling his satrapy, decided to set up their own demesnes, and turned south from Fenebruck.  The Desai lords had recently abandoned Oerken (1536) in disgust, and the Crusaders agreed that it was a pointless exercise to try and conquer it.  But nearby were weak and fractured worlds that fell easily to the Crusaders, becoming the Kingdom of Phatoru Shdor.

When the Revanchists managed to flip the allegiance of the worlds of the Carthen Colony from the Monarchy to the Republic, they also came into direct conflict with Tan Kajak.  Overall, this small area is the biggest powder-keg in the entire New Alderamin sector.  Although few are truly aware of how sensitive the area is, it is in reality crawling with would-be Gavrilo Princips, and many could-be Franz Ferdinands.

These two satrapies are sometimes not considered part of Outremer, because they were the earliest established, and the other three are the results of much more recent aggression by newer Shadow Knight lords.  Surrounded mostly by very strong Bernese colonies, with large populations and strong armies, the Shadow Knights, led by the charismatic and dynamic Lord Kar Tanus VI, father of the current ruler of Thanatos (0733), Kar Tanus VII, found an avenue to a weak and decadent new swath of territory that became the three regions of New Outremer.  Cabaea (1337) was a Bernese settled world, but refused to recognize the sovereignty of the Monarch—or more specifically, of their local lords—and declared itself independent.  Staffed with a relatively powerful military, it was a hard target for either the Shadow Knights or the Royal Military, either one, but not so strong that it didn't need to look for favors and allies.  Tanus negotiated right of passage for a massive Crusader force that swarmed Revanchist world Veile, then Koschei Prime and then Rograde, taking them in quick succession.

Claiming to be repossessing their inheritance on Thanatos, another major pilgrimage site that dates back to the days before the Seraean or Marian Empires, they quickly conquered it as well as a host of nearby systems.  In doing so, they encroached upon a local war between the Altairan Ascendancy and various Revanchist colonies; the Crusaders didn't care and enslaved and conquered worlds belong to either with impunity.

This is the Civitas Ordenis Umraci, or Shadow Order State, the bulk of what is usually considered Outremer, and it was once ruled entirely by Kar Tanus VI (his son only rules uncontested today on Thanatos itself, while fractious lords and knights from the rest of the satrapy acknowledge his primacy only reluctantly.

More Altairan worlds were conquered to become the Moaktor Phtok satrapy.  This Crusade was devastating to the Altairan Ascendency—both the North and South regions are only seven systems each, while ten systems that were formerly Altairan are now outright ruled by the Seraeans, and two others (Traaknizar 0336 and Katturra 0537) have maintained their Altairan lords, but they have allied themselves formally with the conquerors and turned their backs on the leaders of the Ascendancy.  Some of those ten systems had already been recently lost to the Altairans and claimed by the Revanchists, however.

And finally, a couple of systems became the Sarkmina Duchy, by expanding mostly at the expense of Republic colonies; Burislav (0936) and Goll III (0937).  Although the expansionist aggression that formed all three of these was the same crusader movement, the various satrapies represent, rather the ability of certain crusader lords to carve out their own demesnes and impose their authority over it more than anything else.  Culturally, you would not expect too much of a difference between a Sarkmine world, or one in the Moaktor Phtork or the Civitas—but their allegiance would be to a different lord.

This history also explains the space lanes, to a great extent.  Coming from the east, you must pass through the Vorgan Than, then Fotta Zonaii, Lada and Fenebruck, and then either go through the Desai Worlds to reach Tan Kajack, or pass through Cabaea to Veile and the New Outremer conquests.

Notable: the Crusaders went to relatively great pains to avoid confronting the Emerus Marches (and thereby bringing down the wrath of the Monarchy on themselves) or the Takach Kingdom.  They were opportunists, not masochists, and challenging powerful groups with many resources was generally avoided, whereas taking easy pickings and weak or conflicted worlds was preferred.

Bernese Colony Lanes

The Monarchy is challenged in regards to its colonies in the "south" of the New Alderamin sector; of which they have several large, profitable, and politically powerful colonies.  However, they have no direct access to them.  Looking at the full sector map, you'll notice that the Monarchy's main territory, the southern reaches of which are shown at the top and top west especially of the map, are completely cut off from their colonies in the south by a vast sea of green; the Cilindarean Arm.  While the Monarchy does, of course, have access to space lanes (not shown here) by treaty both with the central Cilindarean government, but also with several specific system governments to reach their colonies, the reality is that the Bernese colonies have always had to be more self-sufficient and self-reliant than the colonies of the other major powers.  The Revanchists and the Empire can reach their colonies through stops of territory that they own or are allied with, with only a few treaties with other systems, and as such, both are at a logistical advantage relative to the Monarchy when it comes to the supply and management of their colonies—although that advantage isn't always realized (the Imperial colonies in particular, are surprisingly autonomous, and don't want to be tied down by Imperial policy if they can.)

That said, the Bernese colonies tend to be quite well connected with each other, at least, and have developed space lanes that allow them to remain connected.  Although each is autonomous from the other, and there are sometimes serious differences of personality, culture and policy between the various colonies, they do tend to act, in some ways, as a joint entity comparable (in some ways) to a smaller power like the Cilindareans or the Dhangetans rather than simply transplanted islands of the Monarchy.  A few far-sighted people predict that complete independence of the colonies, probably united in confederation, lurks in the future, requiring only the spark of a bad monarch to push them to revolt and declaration of independence.  Luckily for the Monarchy, Maddav Bern III, the current Rex, is disengaged and therefore not all that bad.  He offers little benefit to the colonies by his policies, but he's sympathetic to them in general and mostly leaves them alone to conduct their affairs according to their own desires—exactly as the colonial governors, counts and dukes want.  Maddav Bern is approaching middle age, and remains without heir—so who knows what the next few years will bring.

The Colony Lanes, shown below, connect the colonies quite closely.  Traditionally, the Bernese Colony space lane starts in New Rodinia, a trade hub of some importance, where goods come into the southern edge of the sector.  Of course, many traders and travelers join the space lane further in.  In the past, when the Carthen Colonies belonged to the Carrick Grand Marches, they were included in the lanes, but since their alignment with the Revanchists many years ago, those spurs have been cut off and are infrequently used.  Rather, from New Rodinia, the lane passes through the Grand Carrick systems, usually starting with the super-populated (yet curiously frontier-themed) Shahar, and the super-populated urban Jhantor.  (The rest of the Carrick is usually serviced by "local" trade with Jhantor rather than directly from the space lane itself.)  The lane continues to Freeport, a friendly independent system, although it sometimes passes through Voormellei on the way.

Fotta Zonaii is another important connector system; also independent although historically friendly to the Bernese.  Fotta Zonaii is currently undergoing a civil war, which makes it less desirable as a stop than it used to be, but there are few good options to replace it.  Republic world Hata would make a possible re-route to avoid Fotta Zonaii, but the desperate and incompetent governor of Hata, Abembo Gama, has made it even worse than Fotta Zonaii even with the civil war.  Wary Republic ally Shoa-Shanian is a possibility, but that would leave New Titania out of the loop, bypassing it, which is politically difficult.  Right now, this remains a weakness in the space lane that needs to be solved diplomatically—although independent traders who are less invested in the political back and forth are capable of using many of these options without much fuss.

Passing through the relatively friendly independent system Annon, the lane now splits and can go many different ways depending on the specific travel needs desired.  Most often, it jumps from Annon to Heastead and from there can go to any of the systems of the Emerus Marches.  Wild frontier port Oerken is a stop from either the Emerus Marches, or even directly from Annon to the Viomium Marches.

From Heastead, the trade route typically avoids the Takach Kingdom, which tends not to bother the Takach, who like their privacy and are wary of foreigners. (To be fair, they've got a complicated relationship with both the Cilindareans and the Janissaries, with both of whom they claim genetic linkages, and they have fought many fierce wars against Umbral Crusaders who have tried to incorporate their systems into one of the Outremer satrapies.)  But mostly the route doesn't stop at Takach because unless someone is traveling specifically to the Takach Kingdom, it doesn't have to.  Cilindarean world Pentase has built its wealth on being a trade hub between Bernese colonies, and actively encourages passage.  This sometimes brings the local government of Pentase into low-grade conflict with some other Cilindarean interests, but the use of Pentase as the anchor of this leg of the space lane is unlikely to change anytime soon.  From Pentase, the entire Machesk Frontier is opened up and accessible.  The "northernmost" Machesk World, Kereux, is the bridge that makes it to the Bechtel Marches, albeit with at least two stops through Altairan Ascendency worlds.  The Altairan Ascendancy has always been friendly to the Bernese colonies, but after political crises with Revanchist expansion, and then the establishment of Imperial Outremer, that relationship has only strengthened considerably, and the Colonials almost see the Altairans as brothers-in-arms, if you will; not exactly part of the Colonial orbit, but their closest allies in the region.  The same people who predict that some day in the future the Bernese colonies will form a new nation, or at least confederation, connected to each other, wonder if the northern Altairan Ascendancy will join them.

As an interesting note, although it's been more than a century since it's been used, the old space lane had a much shorter option.  In this scenario, Beodon was still a Carrick system, not one allied with the Revanchists, and the Umbral Crusade that conquered Hentau III and Perchta had also not happened yet.  All three of those worlds would have shown as solid red planets 125 years ago.  Now, the route is completely closed except to those few travelers who are comfortable and capable of traveling through Monarchist, Revanchist and Imperial space with impunity.

NOTES: STAR SYTEM DATA SHEETS required: Pentase (1131), Annon (1734), Shoa-Shanian (1933) and New Titania (1934).  All of the Bernese colony worlds, on the other hand, will be done anyway, although of them, Kereux (1028) and Heastead (1433) seem to be the most urgent.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Broadsword spacelane

The ambitiously named Broadsword spacelane was established early on in the "Scramble for New Alderamin" by Revanchist colonizers.  From the corner of the Revanchist Republic, it pushes through the Dhangetan Cartel to the Carthen Colony—a real coup that the Republic was able to switch those systems from red to blue; they had once been part of the Carrick Grand Marches.  From there, it makes one more stop through a Dhangetan system, an independent system, and hits the Calder Settlements.  The former spacelane continued into Calder and Altairan systems that have since been conquered and established as part of Outremer Umbral Crusader states.  This has "broken" the spacelane, although some people do, in fact, continue to use it.  It is largely closed off, however, to official Republic convoys, especially military ones, at least at the "southwestern" edge.

As the Republic continues to push, however, it's also managed to damage relationships with the Dhangetans.  This spacelane has evolved into one that neither corporate nor military Revanchists can expect to use without trouble, but any independent operator, or small trader can still follow the entire route without any issue.  The Seraeans are only too happy to tariff traders passing through from Calder to the Belebach worlds (which used to be part of the Calder Settlements in happier days.)

When passing through the Dhangetan systems, it's worth pointing out that the majority of the people you have to deal with when stopping for refueling are not, of course, Dhangetans, who rule as extremely rare individuals.  Humans, oerks, cetians, Sirians, and especially skiffers are the people you most deal with, and they tend not to care as much about politics.

Even passing through the Vichy worlds of Outremer, you will often deal with lingering officials of Altairan or even Revanchist extraction who have not (yet) been replaced by Seraeans or their allies, because they're simply aren't enough of them to worry about manning the docks of the spaceports.  Some of those who make this run are little more than privateers, who in fact prey on Imperial transport, so some of these stops are fraught with some danger if their ships are recognized.

Some of them are trying to reroute the lane somewhat, but there aren't any safe harbors that get to the Belebach worlds and the republican allies without going through the Emerus Marches—which is nearly as intolerable to Revanchists as dealing with the Imperials.

Ad Astra setting

I spent the weekend at a waterpark with the family, but a few things crystallized while I was sitting there in a lawn chair in the sun in front of the outdoor waterslides.

  • I quit what I was doing with cataloging the systems that have no star system data sheets yet, and instead did it in Excel (and uploaded it to Google Sheets.  You can actually look at it here.)
  • This allows me to sort and stuff; it gives me much more flexibility than the cumbersome way that I was doing it.  But, in coming up with the spreadsheet, I had a few thoughts occur to me:
    • I need more smaller polities.  Sometimes when I have a few independent systems close by, or even just a single Bernese or Republic system way outside of the Bernese or Republic orbit, it will eventually need to be renamed as a smaller polity or colony or something.  (Independent systems 1313, 1314, and 1315 are ripe for consolidation, for instance.)
    • It wasn't my intention that every light green (i.e., allied with the Cilindareans without actually being Cilindarean) system would be Janissary, but that's mostly what I've done.  The only exception is the Takach Kingdom, but as I further develop this, some of those Janissary worlds will probably turn into some other kind of Cilindarean ally instead.
    • On the flip-side, although I've identified no worlds as specifically belonging to an "Old Ones" polity, I do kind of see the majority of "independent" Seraean allies as being Idacharian.
    • I have made a few small things clear, though—such as the establishment of the Danian Kingdom, which you can read about very briefly in the entry for Khirunizan.  I also turned a couple of Republic worlds into the Belebach Colony (named after Belebach, one of the two systems involved.)  There will no doubt be more of this yet to come.
  • I will eventually do some more data sheets, and going over the map again actually made me a little bit more interested in doing so.  I wonder if I should start filling in some Outremer worlds?  I'm considering breaking Outremer up into a couple of constituent satrapies or something, just to give me a little bit more diversity.  We'll see.  The Principality of Tan Kajak would be an excellent example of what isn't considered part of Outremer today, but really should probably be considered one of four or possibly five major groups that make up Outremer.  The already detailed Vorgan Than Viceroyalty should also be considered the earliest component of Outremer in this paradigm.
  • I'd like to create a separate map file.  It'll be harder to read the names of the systems, but this one will focus mostly on space lanes.  I have none detailed today.
  • That's probably the biggest single difference between AD ASTRA and Star Wars; the fact that you can't just zip around the galaxy.  There's more of a convoy or caravan feel to it, of a crossing the plains, or maybe the Silk Road, or wandering about on foot across Africa—except in space.  The fact that space travel takes time in AD ASTRA, and that communication is limited to the speed of light, meaning that travel brings news, not little communicators that buzz all across the galaxy, makes it very different than Star Wars.
  • Of course, the other big difference is that this isn't the story of a single family, or of the Jedi, or anything like that.  AD ASTRA's warlocks and psionic knights are pretty modest as far as superheroes go.  Although they do certainly have superpowers, they aren't in general any better than other non-superpowered characters.  If the warlocks and psionic knights are the equivalents of Captain America or Black Panther, there are still plenty of other Black Widows and Hawkeyes out there in the galaxy.
  • Speaking of which, on average, no more than one in a few million is a warlock or psionic knight.  In a galaxy of untold teeming billions, that means that of course there's still plenty of them, if you gather them all in one place, for instance, but by and large, I kind of like the idea of them being extremely rare.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Some more Ad Astra setting info

Well, I've gone ahead and finished transferring all of the setting info (specifically the STAR SYSTEM DATA SHEETS I developed here on the blog) into pages on the AD ASTRA google site.  You can check it out here, or you can read them by using the tag listed above to find the relevant blog posts.  I do actually like the formatting of the blog posts better, but I did make some minor edits and corrections to a few things (especially on the older data sheets) as I transferred them to the Google Sites.  Mostly this was to correct for spelling inconsistencies (Dhangeti to Dhangetans, Cilindans to Cilindareans, etc.) but I did make a handful of corrections that were at least a little bit more substantive.

What's next?  I'm going to go ahead and add every hex that popped up as having a system on it to the list.  More specifically, I'll make a second list below that one that has all of those.  I will use this just for reference; I don't actually intend on going on a massive data sheet creation bender.  In fact, I don't have any plans for the moment to even do a single additional data sheet, although I'm sure that I will eventually do so.  Mostly, it's just to "claim" the hexes, show the political affiliation, and if I've come up with a name for the system (I did add a fair number of names already) I'll note that too.  Then, as I'm working on AD ASTRA stuff in the future and need more detail, I can just pull from this well and whip up a new system.  I've got names for many of the other colony areas, as well as Outremer, and it is my intention to eventually get around to that.  All of the Altairan Ascendancy, both North and South, is named, although I haven't done squat-all with it other than name the systems (apologies to Tarkin.)  I even named half of the Reaver worlds.  This will be helpful if I just need to refer to another world obliquely to create the illusion of depth, without having any details about it yet.

I've actually done the same thing with history.  I refer to a few things, without explaining them.  I actually don't have any intention of explaining them.  If you recall, in the first Star Wars film, Ben Kenobi refers to the Clone Wars, but doesn't explain anything about them other than that he was a general and Jedi knight, as was Luke's (at this point, unnamed) father.  When I was a kid, what my imagination filled in based on that reference was probably cooler than the reality of the Clone Wars as they were later detailed.  Or, at the very least, the possibilities were, which remained undetermined.

I've got a few things like this, which I want to catalog just so I can keep them straight and not forget that I mentioned them, but I don't really want to do any detailing about them other than that.  Filling in detail about the past is usually counter-productive in fantasy, and this is absolutely space fantasy more than it is sci-fi as the smug, Asimovian types would call it.  Besides, it's equally true in sci-fi anyway.

So, without further ado, here's a very brief history of the past.
  • Nobody even knows how long ago: Grays were all over the place, leaving ruins across the galaxy.  They're sometimes credited (or blamed) with the spread of humanity to various worlds in the galaxy long before any of them were capable of traveling there on their own.
  • A long, long time ago: Humanity spread from Earth, and lost track of where earth was.  They discovered xenohumans; biologically human, but of clearly different ethnicity than any earth group, and arguable what the original home system was.
  • A slightly less long time ago: The Old Kingdoms.  Compared to our society today, this would be equivalent to the Babylonians or ancient Egyptians, except that they aren't a totally alien ethnic group.
  • Still rather a long time ago: The Marian Empire, which united the Kingdoms of Earth-descent humans, Altairan xenohumans, and a number of alien races as clients.
  • Several centuries ago: The Slave Wars.  The Janissaries won their freedom and became a separate ethnic group, allied with the Cilindarean Varangians.
  • After the Slave Wars: The Wars of the Last Emperors; which eventually brought the Marian Empire down into dissolution.  The rump states are the Republic and the Monarchy, plus numerous smaller independent polities.
  • In the last century or so: The major political groups—The Revanchist Republic, the Bern Monarchy, and the Seraean Empire, stretch out into the New Alderamin sector to rediscover and reclaim worlds that belonged to the Marian or Old Kingdoms sphere of influence, but which were beyond their reach following the dissolution of the Marian Empire.  They find that several significant and powerful nations have grown up in the area, including the Reavers, the Altairan Ascendancy, and most especially the Cilindarean and Janissary States, and the Dhangetan cartel.  Plus, as these three superpowers interact with these other kingdoms, and each other, they bring political tensions to the fore, and risk vast conflicts spreading to all of Known Space.