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.