Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What to do about Space Wizards?

My concern with this idea of "space wizards" being the principle that actually powers FTL travel, artificial gravity, and other technologies for which there is no real technological equivalent—but which space opera readers (and viewers, and gamers, etc.) kind of expect—is that they end up looking like D&D wizards, except that I have to make up a whole bunch of space-related spells for them.  That not only sounds like a lot of work, but it also sounds like something that I doubt I'm really very interested in doing, because the end result will likely be unsatisfactory.

One solution that is growing on me, and which I'm seriously considering, is to make them essentially nothing more than a plot element; i.e., there won't be mechanics to explain exactly how they work, and they won't be playable characters.  In this, I'm partially influenced, I believe, by the old show Thundarr the Barbarian, where (with a single exception; Thundarr's side-kick Ariel) sorcerers were inhuman, strange, monstrosities, for the most part.  Mindok the wizard, to use one example, is a classic brain in a jar looking to reanimate prehistoric astronauts so that they can build him a new body (not sure why he thought they could do that.) Stryia has mutated an army of shark people to threaten humanity, Morag is essentially a psychic vampire, etc.  These are all really bizarre things that, as I said, serve more as plot devices than as anything like a player character.

I admit that part of the reason I like this is because it requires less work for me to develop anything for the m20 iteration of the setting, which would be nice, because I really have no idea in what direction to develop that anyway.  I'll noodle around the concept a bit more before I decide for sure.

As for fiction writing in the setting—well, I hardly need to develop m20 mechanics to do that anyway, right?

Friday, May 27, 2016


The World of Xoth is an early discovery of mine; a sword & sorcery in the very old-fashioned sense.  The author of it came to my attention many years ago for his work online in converting D&D (Third edition) to Hyboria; the setting of Conan.  He later decided to dabble in his own version of a Hyborian-like setting, which is World of Xoth, I've had the map and read a handle of blog posts on it years ago too.  Which is why was surprised when I stumbled across it more recently and discovered that there was content I had never seen before, including a newer high resolution map, and a 60 page pdf of house-rules that updated the system to Pathfinder... and then did some stuff to it.  Most of these house rules would have worked just fine for d20 too, for that matter.


Now, granted, I'm not very interested in Pathfinder.  The system took d20 and amplified the problems that I already had with it.  The Pathfinder setting initially charmed me a bit, but as ever heavier doses of SJW nonsense were injected into it, it eroded whatever sense of wonder that the sword & sorcery foundation initially engendered.  So, I've largely stopped paying attention to Pathfinder altogether.  But... there's still enough to it that someone else can make Pathfinder work for them, and there's even stuff in there that can be useful to a rules minimalist like me who's migrated from d20 to m20, which is in some ways a polar opposite type of evolution from d20.  And that's exactly what the World of Xoth does.  In addition, there was one twist to the mechanics that I quite liked and may yet adopt to a version of m20; especially if I ever get around to developing the MAMMOTH LORDS setting; which does for the New World, kinda, what the Hyborian Age did for the Old World.

To wit; the World of Xoth is a humanocentric, classic sword & sorcery setting, which means that there are no racial choices that are mechanically meaningful except human.  There are a number of human races that you can choose from, but they all have roleplaying hooks only, not mechanical hooks.  However, each race will tend, and usually with only extremely rare or even nonexistent exceptions, fall within one or maybe two different "cultural archetypes."  And there are mechanical implications to your cultural archetype.  He uses a spectrum of cultural archetypes, starting with Savage, and progressing from there to Nomadic, Civilized, Enlightened, Decadent to Degenerate.  His pseudo-Vikings, for example, are "mostly Savages" with "some clans and individuals are Nomads as well as rare Civilized half-breeds."

I quite like this idea, and I think I'll adopt it to MAMMOTH LORDS; it has a really iconic sword & sorcery feel to it.  But I'm not sure that I want to think too much about MAMMOTH LORDS when I'm trying to figure out exactly what to do with my "space wizards" from AD ASTRA.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Space wizards

I picked up a Kindle book the other day, and I've already read half of it.  It was a free sample, but it's only the first of a (so far) nine book series.  Here's a trailer for the series itself.  I should point out that the first novel has been re-titled; instead of being called A Pilot's Pilot it's now Salvage Trouble.

To me, the most interesting thing about it is not that it's being compared to Firefly (which I never watched; and which seems to borrow from a bunch of older tropes anyway.  It felt more like a homebrew Traveller game fiction in some ways to me.) or even Star Wars; rather, it's the admission that given the General and Special Theories of Relativity, faster-than-light travel is impossible (Alcubierre's calculations notwithstanding which violates quantum physics anyway).  Most science fiction writers come up with some kind of handwavey approach to bridge this obvious difficulty, usually by referring obliquely (but without any serious discussion of the science involved) to hyperspace, or some other such standby.

Author J. S. Morin makes an intuitive leap to saying; look, all of those science fictional explanations for how FTL travel are really ascientific.  Let's go all the way and suggest that it is actual magic that makes it happen.  Artificial gravity, FTL travel, etc.—all of it, requires a wizard.  There's no scientific way to do it, so you need someone who already defies science to make it happen.

This cognitive leap isn't really unprecedented.  The Warhammer 40,000 setting has what is basically magic, and wizards and daemons which power their warp space travel.  Although Star Wars uses a semi-science fictional hyperspace explanation, the Jedi are basically space wizards, and Ben Kenobi is even referred to specifically as one in the first movie by Uncle Owen.  In the D&D milieu, from which the author admits to coming, it's even more explicit, with settings like Spelljammer and Dragonstar.

I'm giving serious thought to incorporating a similar idea now into my AD ASTRA campaign setting.  What would this change?  Surprisingly little, except that I may want to incorporate some kind of class that creates a wizard (to serve alongside my psychic ersatz Jedi).

As an aside; the author's homepage:  http://www.jsmorin.com/

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Watching GenCon die in realtime...


GenCon goes full Social Justice Retard.  Those are not insiders.  Well, a handful of them are.  That's an agenda pushing for social justice ridiculousness.

I had a reasonably good time when I went to GenCon some 5-6 years ago, or however long ago it was.  I haven't been particularly motivated to go again, but I can see that it's gotten much worse than I suspected.  I now have all kinds of reasons to actively avoid it.

Setting Lite™

I got to travel a couple of weeks ago to the Mexican border at Laredo, TX.  From there, I took a road trip up to the Panhandle, and visited my folks who live in the general vicinity of Lubbock, and I got to hike a bit at Palo Duro Canyon, which was for many years a candidate as a national park (to be honest, I don't think it really has quite enough oomph in terms of dramatic scenery or anything else particular noteworthy to be a national park, although it makes a very fine state park.)  As part of that drive, we rode up north through the Texas Hill Country, parts of the rolling hills of the Permian Basin and Edwards Plateau, and of course up the Escarpment on to the Llano Estacado, or "Staked Plain" which is the southernmost extension of the so-called High Plains.  Although it was late spring, the Hill Country in particular had had plenty of rain, and while the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes were gone, there were still vast fields of later blooming wildflowers.  Droughts in prior years had killed many of the mesquite and juniper trees, but there were still plenty that were green as well.  The mixture of dead and live trees reminded me a lot of my trip to the Uinta Mountains last year, which had a similar mix, although of very different kinds of trees, and for very different reasons.

Anyway, as I was driving, my thoughts wandered to my setting development, as it often does.  Texas is home to me, even though I don't currently live there, and the history, character, scenery, and past conflicts are truly with me at an almost genetic level, so its no surprise that the DARK•HERITAGE setting, as it evolved, is heavily influenced by not only Texas specifically, but the whole concept of the Western genre overall; a kind of fantasy that instead of being loosely based on Medieval Europe, is loosely based on the Golden Age of Caribbean piracy and the Old West.  Although, to be fair, I kind of prefer the period prior to the Golden Age of the cowboy; more the first half of the 19th century rather than the second half, with trappers, explorers, mountain men and early Indian fighters being maybe the more iconic model than the traditional cowboy.  More Daniel Boone and Kit Carson than the Lone Ranger or the Wild Bunch.

It also occurred to me that given that my influences are fairly broad; maybe the whole idea of developing a "setting" with a map and all kinds of details—certainly a time-honored pastime for RPG players familiar with the works of Tolkien, Greenwood, and others—may be completely unnecessary.  In fact, maybe the use of real places, without the context that anchors them in the real world, isn't even such a bad idea.  What if I had the Hill Country in my setting?  What if it was the anchor of my setting, but I compressed some of the geography around it; a coast-line with piratey islands nearby, desert to the west, plains to the north, and craggy, dramatic mountains to the northwest?  Do I really need all of this other setting all over the place?  What do I really need to do with it?

Anyway, I haven't really quite figured out where to go with this thought... but I think it's an interesting concept.  I doubt I'll actually get rid of the work I've already done, but I might end up kinda sorta ignoring a lot of it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Weird Tales punt...

I have been completely slammed both at work and in my personal life, and don't expect that to clear up for at least another week and a half or so.  So, rather than simply not post anything at all because I didn't have time to write up something meaningful, I'm going to highlight three blog posts on another blog that give one a great place to start exploring the corpus of Weird Tales beyond the basic collections of Lovecraft, Smith and Howard that are readily available.




And I should note that despite a superficial similarity of sorts between our surnames, I am no relation at all to Nictzin Dyalhis.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sigh. v. 1.3.2

I'm not sure why I keep saying that I'm "done" because no sooner do I say that, but I find errors and big editing needs.  I'm updated the file again, from 1.3.1 to 1.3.2.  I've also gotten rid of the graphics and no-graphics split; I only have a no-graphics version now.  So, there's three files:

When this becomes AD ASTRA, I'll take out some of the setting information, or adapt it to my setting, and change the names of things like Jedi, Sith, lightsabers, droids, etc. but otherwise, the rules will be exactly the same.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Final(?) Star Wars m20 updates

Well, my "context" post took a lot longer than I expected.  Mostly because I got carried away with too many details, which near the end I ended up chopping a bit.  But now it's done, and I'm ready to move in to some other aspect of AD ASTRA; such as adapting the STAR WARS REMIXED rules into the setting.  With one final review of the rules, I realized that my last update was a little sloppy.  There were a number of minor errors of various other kinds of things; so I made an update from v. 1.3 to v. 1.3.1.

Here's the final version of the rules, put into a zip file which includes the final version of the document, a no-graphics version of the document, and the character sheet.


These rules will end up being used almost exactly as is for AD ASTRA; I'll obviously change some of the races and I'll remake the Jedi and other knights as psionic knights.

Ad Astra historical context

Although I'm not sure exactly in what format I'll eventually be presenting this formally, I'm using this post to "noodle" a bit with some setting Bible  concepts, mostly for the purpose of establishing context.  I don't want to go all "Wookiepedia" on this, though.  Keep in mind that during the first Star Wars movie, pretty much all of the context that we get is that 1) there used to be a Republic served by the Jedi order as some type of peacekeeper or somewhat.  2) Now there's an Empire, and a resistance that attempts to overthrow them.  3) There's an Imperial Senate, yet also ranks and nobility like princesses and stuff.  4) The Empire disbands the Senate.  5) Darth Vader was a Jedi knight, but he betrayed and murdered the Jedi Knights.

Now, granted, you can glean a handful more details out of the movie than just that, but not many.  That's really kinda it.  Much of the context around Star Wars was either developed in the Expanded Universe, or during the prequels.  There's less context than you need.  This is especially true for folks coming out of the RPG hobby, where big time-lines and detailed campaign settings are the norm.  In reality, most of that is completely unnecessary.  Maybe even detrimental.

But I want to create a little context.

c. 10,000 B.C. through c. 2050 A.D.  Gray aliens abduct numerous people from Earth and resettle them on various planets throughout much of the galaxy, in an inscrutable experiment that lasts millennia. Because of this, genetically pure humans are the largest species throughout the Known Sectors by far, outnumbering everyone else combined at least four to one.  However, the long separation combined with responses to alien environments, climates, food sources, etc. have caused a proliferation into an extremely wide array of distinct ethnic groups, many of which now feature exotic (from the perspective of an Earthman) features such as skin, hair and eye color, and even other features.

2060 A.D. Following the recovery of a crashed Gray spacecraft, a team of European and American scientists manage to reverse engineer some of the technology that will become the core of space travel; artificial gravity and primitive bulk drives, which allow the piecing of the "skin" of the brane, allowing temporary travel through the bulk before reentering the brane at another point in space.  These early bulk drives allow only relatively small bulk jumps which take several days, but over the next millennia, these are improved somewhat.  Bulk jumps that allow the travel of tens of light-years over only about a week's worth of time and a single refueling are now common.  (Keep in mind that this is still quite limited. Unlike in Star Wars, where you can travel to hyperspace and end up on the other side of the galaxy in just a few minutes, bulk jumps allow crossing the Local Bubble over the course of many months.  The entirety of the Known Sectors is only about 2,500 light years across by 800 light years wide, making up a significant portion of the Orion Spur and a portion of the Sagittarius Arm adjacent to it, with a number of filaments and bridges that connect the otherwise vast and uncrossable gulf between the arms.  If one were to travel as quickly as he were able, doing nothing but travel, from one end to the other of the Known Sectors, it would still take almost the entirety of an average lifetime to do so.

c. 2075 through 2125 A.D. As political and economic conditions continue a several century long slide, large numbers of settlers from America and northern Europe in particular left Earth in bulk drive arks to seek their fortunes elsewhere.  Upwards of 15% of the entire population of these areas eventually leave Earth as conditions deteriorate into increasingly unstable banana republics caused by the rule of totalitarian globalists who dilute and degrade the physical and human capital of the nations that they rule.  Near the end of this period, Russia and China also attain bulk drive technology and send some settler arks of their own.  At the end of the period, conditions on Earth have deteriorated so badly that nobody else is able to marshal the resources to send any more arks, and Earth degrades into a stagnant, technologically impoverished backwater.  Over the next few centuries, Earth is declared a quarantine zone by nearly every major interstellar colony, and some even forget their origin from Sol.  As for the inhabitants of Earth itself, they soon forget that millions of people left to seek their fortunes in the stars.

Starting from this point on, Earth completely ceases to play any role in the setting as it evolves.  It's location is hidden or lost, it becomes uncharted, and the colonists who originated there do not look back.

2125 through c. 2500 A.D.  The various settler arks arrive at their destinations and establish colonies.  In the beginning, some were supplemented by further arks, but those soon tapered off.  Most, however, grew organically very quickly, as large families meant more hands to help with the large quantity of work that needed to be done.  While more than half of the colonies were made up of culturally aligned Anglophone Americans and Europeans, the Sinophone and Russophone colonies grew as well.  Some of the colonies maintained contact with others, while others grew more insular and less likely to interact with others.  All of them, due to strong founder population forces grew to be culturally monolithic, and the possibility for the boil off effect; those who didn't fit into the society could go found small little Utopian communities, or do whatever they wanted to, on their own.

2511 A.D. First contact with a non-Earth alien; a human of the Altairan variety.  By now, the post-Terran colonials have multiplied into being nearly a billion strong across nearly a dozen worlds, but this is a major sea-change in their perception.  The Terran colonists start to pull together and organize themselves into Federations and Confederacies, paving the way towards the eventual organization into pseudo-Imperial coalitions that evolve by 3000 A.D.  The genetic similarities between the Terrans and the Altairans led to the origin of the Gray Hypothesis.  Indeed, as ruins found on Altair's moons supplemented and bolstered this theory, purporting to be ruins of Grays themselves sent to monitor the Altairans, presumably after their relocation from Earth to Altair.

2564 A.D. The first discovery of non-human aliens, the humanoid Hulks.  Within the next three centuries several more non-human species are encountered.  To date; no first contacts are with interstellar societies.

2628 A.D.  Contact with the Ubrai Empire, the first truly interstellar society other than that of the expatriate Earthmen.  Although exotic, with a gracile build, a pale white skin tinted with blue, and wispy hair the color of wheat, the Ubrai are obviously human.

2669 A.D. The first Ubrai-Federation War starts.  Due to logistical challenges with regard to space travel, the war lasts for more than fifty years, although it is only "hot" on occasion.

2701 A.D.  An anonymous Ubrai scientist, experimenting with the concepts of the bulk drives ability to pierce the known universe/brane to try and develop a weapon for use in the war, accidentally creates an energy wave emanating from the bulk.  Although exactly what happened is still very unclear, either some kind of parasitic element came from the bulk, or some existing element was mutated and corrupted by the energy leaking from the bulk.  Taskin, the world on which this happened was completely depopulated due to plague, and declared a permanent quarantine world.  The plague spread from there, although weaker, and eventually affected nearly all of the Known Sectors.  Population fell across the entire area by as much as 50%.  The war came to an end as everyone hunkered down and focused on local affairs.  The centralized governments almost completely disappeared.

c. 2850 A.D.  After several generations, interstellar travel and expansion was able to start back up again, as population booms following the plague affected many worlds.  One interesting side effect of the plague is that through a combination of anti-bodies and symbiosis between the extra-dimensional virus and the people who managed to survive the plague as carriers is that small changes to the genetic code of a handful of people, relatively speaking.  Those affected by this change have the genetic predisposition to access energy from the bulk.

c. 2925 A.D. The first traditions of using psionic energy; this energy from the bulk, become established.  These are the very early Psionic Knights.

2945 A.D. The second Ubrai-Federation War.  The end result, after several years of conflict is a new polity that incorporates citizens of both as the Interstellar Republic.

c. 3000 A.D.  While the exact date is uncertain, around here there was a tipping point where the Republic as an actual republic that cared about the will of the people became a Potemkin Republic that was an actual Empire, although not one in name.  It wasn't until nearly 3100 A.D. that it openly embraced it's identity, when the Chancellor officially declared himself Emperor.

3009 A.D. Contact with the growing alien-human Idachar civilization.  Within a few years, a long-term Cold War starts which lasts for centuries.

c. 3100 A.D. A violent order of psionic Knights with a zealous Manifest Destiny doctrine attempts a coup of the government.  Although defeated, they do a significant amount of damage to the Empire, then flee to uncharted space, where they establish the Shadow Empire.

3387 A.D.  After many centuries of cosmopolitanism between the various ethnicities, the Empire is no longer heavily populated by any one single population core (although various regions within it are.)  The government, in a need to maintain control, has gradually eroded much of the freedoms that its citizens once enjoyed.  Resistance and rebellions have been inevitable for years, but in this year, open rebellion starting in the New Texas system.

3407 A.D.  The Shadow Empire and its Rampage Knights invade the Interstellar Empire during its ongoing civil war.  This state of near constant war persists for centuries.  At the end of it, vast populations have been wiped out and/or displaced, and the demographics of many systems across the Known Sectors are changed.  The Interstellar Empire has been overthrown, and in its place are two new polities; the Interstellar Republic (2.0) and the Monarchy.  The Shadow Empire has also expanded into many areas that were formally part of the Interstellar Empire.

3766 A.D.  The current King of the Monarchy calls a Crusade against the Republic to free its capital.  Both polities claim the mantle of heir of the old Empire, and the bitterness of the Monarchy that the former capital belongs to the Republic is deep.  The Republic is almost completely overthrown, and the Capital world is in possessed by the Monarchy for more than twenty years.

3811 A.D. After decades of war, many groups have formed splinter states of much smaller size than the traditional Empires or mega-state polities.  This is especially common on the "frontiers" but sometimes even in the geographical center of the Known Sectors.  The Republic, after retaking the Capital and a few other worlds, officially embraces a Revanchist policy and becomes the Revanchist Republic.

3984 A.D. The present day.