Since semi-regular updates of this site are generally considered a sign of the apocalypse, it is only fitting that I continue with more snippets from my apocalyptic RPG, Earth Delta, which is intended for use with Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, and damn straight that awkward phrasing is there mostly to get google to be aware this site sort of exists.
Since a major chunk of “completing paragon tier” is “finishing the monster list”, that’s where I’ve been putting a lot of my attention. I’d been contemplating some sort of mutant lobster for a while, and then, suddenly, the phrase “prairie lobster” popped into my head, and I rolled with it.
Some design notes: Mostly, these are intended as “baseline” critters — the kind of bog-standard things you need at various levels to fill niches. Exotically powered and specialized monsters are way cool, but if everything is an insane pile of custom one-off mechanics, the game becomes unplayable. At the same time, I want to try to make them feel right for their nature and not be trivial reskins of any other creature. So the prairie lobster doesn’t mark, per se; it grabs you, and if you stop struggling against it for an instant (to attack something else), it gives you a little extra pinch. Its ability to grab and hold two targets, coupled with its size and reach, lets it do a lot to make enemies choose to take it down first.
The riding lobster was actually where my mind first started; I just had this image of a cowboy type, rolling a cigarette as the sun set in the west, while his armored and clawed mount plodded along. The yunguns are there because you can always use some more minions, and I like “ecologies”, where different creatures in the same category can have roles that make a kind of sense, even if what we’re discussing is horse-sized lobsters that have decided to live like buffalo. It’s not how ridiculous your premise is that matters; it’s how you play out the consequences. I also like the image of swarms of lobsters, about the size of large dogs, bounding playfully around the prairies, tearing random passers-by to pieces with their claws.
You will note I resisted the urge to give them Vulnerability 10 butter.
(As with a lot of this “Preview” stuff, this is hot off the presses, literally created only a few minutes before posting, and may be even more typo-riddled and unbalanced than my usual stuff, to the extent that’s even possible.)
It’s my hope that I’ll post a PDF addendum to this article, that will have the critters more properly formatted; for now, you’ll need to make do with what WordPress does to Word.
Lobsters are tough and ill-tempered critters, while also being notably delicious. Their giant fighting claws make them naturally threatening, especially when increased dramatically in size and given the ability to confront man more directly, whether in the ruined cities that line the coastal regions, or wandering the great plains… hey, man, this game has flying grizzly bears with laser eyes. You can deal with prairie lobsters.
Much like the hoppertank, prairie lobsters are oversized arthropods who have undergone dramatic transformations in lifestyle. They are found in many of the fertile grassy plains of the world, especially the Purple Plains and the Ghostgrass Expanses. They are primarily omnivorous grazers, devouring many types of grass and the insects and other creatures that live on them, but they can and will eat larger prey if they catch it. They are especially good at rooting out smaller burrowing animals, and if a herd moves into cultivated land, it can be devastating if they are not driven off. They compete with hoppertanks for many of the same feeding grounds, and if the hoppertanks’ greater mobility fails them, they will be torn apart and devoured with gusto.
Some prairie lobsters have been captured young and trained as mounts; see “Mounts”.
Prairie Lobster Adult
|Prairie Lobster Adult||
Level 15 Soldier
|Large natural beast (mutant, arthropod)||
|HP 148; Bloodied 74AC 32; Fortitude 28; Reflex 27; Will 24Speed 5Resist 10 cold||
|m Pincers • At-Will|
|Requirements: Must have less than two targets grabbed.|
|Attack: Reach 2; +20 vs. AC|
|Hit: 3d8 + 7 damage.|
|Grabbing Pincers • At-Will|
|Requirements: Must have less than 2 targets grabbed.|
|Attack: Reach 2; +20 vs. AC|
|Hit: 3d8 + 7 damage, and target is grabbed until escape or until the lobster lets them go. The prairie lobster can grab up to two targets. While grabbed, if the target makes an attack that does not include the prairie lobster, it takes 10 points of damage as an immediate interrupt.|
|M Squeeze • At-Will|
|Attack: (Make a separate attack against each grabbed target.); +19 vs. Fortitude|
|Hit: 2d8 + 7 damage, and ongoing 5 damage (save ends). If the target is already taking ongoing damage from this attack, it increases to ongoing 10 damage (save ends).|
|M Fury of Clacks • Encounter|
|Trigger: When first bloodied.|
|Effect (Immediate Reaction): The prairie lobster adult makes a pincer attack against all non-prairie lobsters in range (Reach 2). It will drop anyone it has grabbed prior to doing so as part of this action.|
|Skills Endurance +17|
|Str 26 (+15)||Dex 17 (+10)||Wis 17 (+10)|
|Con 20 (+12)||Int 1 (+2)||Cha 14 (+9)|
|Alignment unaligned Languages —|
Adult prairie lobsters (it is nigh-impossible for anyone who isn’t an expert to tell male from female, and no one cares too much) travel the plains in herds of ten to twenty, usually surrounded by a small cloud of leaping, clattering “yunguns” whom they will try to protect from predators. Prairie lobsters are quite aggressive towards all other species, and will snap and make threatening displays at any creature that gets too close; if this does not work, a few of them will dash forward from the herd to dispatch the enemy. When badly injured, they tend to go mad, lashing out at everything in sight that isn’t a prairie lobster.
Prairie Lobster Yungun
|Prairie Lobster Yunguns||
Level 14 Minion Skirmisher
|Small natural beast (mutant, arthropod)||
|HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minionAC 31; Fortitude 26; Reflex 31; Will 22Speed 8||
|If a yungun has damaged the target this round, the pincer attack does +2 damage.|
|m Pincers • At-Will|
|Attack: +19 vs. AC|
|Hit: 9 damage and see “Group Attack”.|
|Skittersnap • Encounter|
|Effect: The prairie lobster yungun may shift 2 squares after making a pincer attack.|
|Skills Acrobatics +20|
|Str 17 (+10)||Dex 26 (+15)||Wis 14 (+9)|
|Con 20 (+12)||Int 1 (+2)||Cha 14 (+9)|
|Alignment unaligned Languages —|
Yunguns (no one is quite sure of the derivation of the word; some scholars feel it comes from the language of the Eastern Dragons, who, it is said, had great influence on the Merkan lands) are immature prairie lobsters, and usually travel with the herds, protected by their elders. Active, curious, and playful, they often explore in small groups, bounding and leaping across the amethyst waves of grain that cover much of the Central Merkan Plains. Their shells are remarkably hard, and an unwary traveler who finds himself surrounded may be torn to bloody gobbets by their claws. They are also extremely tasty when grilled over a fire, so everyone from wastelanders to armies of the Beast Legions on the march eagerly hunt them if they have wandered too far from their protective pack.
Level 14 Soldier
|Large natural beast (mutant, arthropod, mount)||
|HP 140; Bloodied 70AC 30; Fortitude 26; Reflex 26; Will 23Speed 7Resist cold||
|When mounted by a trained rider of 14th level or higher, the riding lobster grants a +2 to Intimidate checks made by that rider.|
|m Pincers • At-Will|
|Attack: Reach 2; +19 vs. AC|
|Hit: 3d8 + 6 damage.|
|Hold ‘em, Boy! (mount) • At-Will|
|Requirements: Must not be grabbing a creature.|
|Attack: Reach 2; +19 vs. AC|
|Hit: 3d8 + 7 damage, and target is grabbed until escape or until the lobster lets them go. The grabbed target grants combat advantage to a rider of 14th level or higher mounted on the Riding Lobster.|
|M Squeeze • At-Will|
|Attack: (One grabbed target.); +17 vs. Fortitude|
|Hit: 2d8 + 6 damage, and ongoing 5 damage (save ends). If the target is already taking ongoing damage from this attack, it increases to ongoing 10 damage (save ends).|
|Skills Endurance +17|
|Str 26 (+15)||Dex 17 (+10)||Wis 17 (+10)|
|Con 20 (+12)||Int 2 (+3)||Cha 14 (+9)|
|Alignment unaligned Languages —|
Riding lobsters are prairie lobsters trained from hatching to serve as mounts. They are fed a special diet that makes them slightly smaller and much faster than their kin, at the cost of shrinking one of their claws to virtual uselessness. While most range in color from dark green to olive green, a few scholars have found that feeding selected plants to them while young can change this coloration, producing brightly colored individuals who can be very distinctive. Some bloodger knights are known to have them bred in colors matching their personal heraldry, as have some Beast Legion commanders.
Riding lobsters almost never have additional mutations.
Hypnotic Shell: Some prairie lobster adults have shells which ripple in coruscating colors. This unusual effect increases in speed and intensity when the prairie lobster is in combat, and it can be hard to look away. So… pretty…. It gains the following attack.
|C Hypnotic Shell (charm) • Recharge 6|
|Attack: (All non-prairie lobsters in burst.); +4 vs. Will|
|Hit: Target grants combat advantage to all enemies (save ends). While this condition persists, the prairie lobster can slide one affected target one square as a free action on the start of its turn. .|
Venomclaw: A few prairie lobsters have evolved poison sacks in their claws. When they squeeze a target, they also inject a poison that causes partial paralysis, making it especially difficult to escape the beast’s claws or to flee far if they do.
|When a target is hit by the prairie lobster’s squeeze attack, it is slowed and suffers a -4 to Athletics and Acrobatics checks (save ends both). This is a poison effect. This is a different saving throw than the ongoing damage.|
Once more, a smallish update to Earth Delta (Lizard’s take on post-apocalyptic mutant gaming for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition), very possibly the start of longer and more regular updates. This comes, oddly, just as I’m starting to really get into my design for Stellar Warriors, having come up with a really cool (I think) mechanic for the Medic class and a nice start on “Force” (name changed in the actual text for obvious reasons) powers. I am simply tired of leaving things unfinished, and I am going to try to really complete ED, at least up to 20th level in terms of monsters, paragon paths, mutations, items, etc. This segment is more of a “filling in the gaps” bit, adding a new mutant animal type — Boars –and a few more Heritage Mutations. In the actual PDF, they’ll be nicely formatted, etc, but here, I’m just pasting them from Word and losing all the styles. (Eventually, I will learn enough CSS to get things to look good on this damn blog. It astounds me how few (that is to day, no) blog editors there are that will generate CSS in a WYSIWYG format while you type. A few have partial functionality, but I want things like spacing between paragraphs, borders, and so on.)
Boars are powerful, vicious, creatures renowned for ferocity and stubbornness, as well as great big tusks and questionable hygiene. Very often, they are portrayed as crude, belching, beer (or whatever fermented beverage exists in the post-apocalyptic ruins) swilling lechers, or, if you will, male chauvinist pigs. While this portrayal has appeal, and no one who chooses to play a boaroid should be faulted for wanting to indulge in it, these are not the only traits boaroids possess. For example, many also have a fondness for motorcycles. Whether indulging in their stereotypical crudity or not, they are larger-than-life creatures whose presence can be very commanding.
Boaroid Racial Traits
Average Height: 5′ 6″ to 7′
Average Weight: 160-300 lbs
Ability Scores: +2 Constitution, +2 Strength or Charisma
Speed: 6 squares
Languages: Common, Growl (Languages are listed on page 350.)
Skills: +2 racial bonus Intimidate (from Terrifying Demeanor), +2 racial bonus to Endurance (from Efficient Lungs)
Defenses: -1 Will (from Weak Minded)
Heritage Mutations: Efficient Lungs, Terrifying Visage, Large Fangs, Weak Minded, Double Heart
Other Mutations: You have 2 points to spend on beneficial heritage mutations. You may acquire a negative heritage mutation for additional points.
Boar’s Tenacity: When you are reduced to fewer than 0 hit points, you do not just go quietly into that good night. First, you do not fall prone as part of being reduced to 0 hit points, though you are dazed. Second, on your next turn, you may take one standard action before falling prone. From this point on, you follow the normal rules for dying. Lastly, you add your Constitution modifier to your death saves.
New Heritage Mutations
Alluring Scent (Utility)
Benefit: You emit a scent, subsonic noise, or psychic call that calms and attracts animals. You gain a +2 bonus to all Charisma based skills against creatures with an intelligence of 2 or less, and a +4 bonus on Nature checks when foraging for food.
Benefit: You have a special affinity for self-aware machines (perhaps you are one, perhaps not). This may be an electromagnetic aura, an odd form of telepathy, or unusual senses. You gain a +2 to all Charisma based skills when used on creatures with the Android, Cyborg, and/or Robot keywords, and a +2 bonus to Technology checks when dealing with robots, cybernetic, etc, devices.
Flexible Features (Utility)
Benefit: You can alter your appearance. While you can’t change your basic size or type (usually humanoid), you can significantly change the details. You can look like any humanoid of your size, and gain a +5 racial bonus to Bluff checks to resist attempts to penetrate this disguise. Looking like a specific individual is more difficult; you gain only a +2 racial bonus. Changing features is a minor action. You gain no additional powers or abilities by changing shape.
(Some may note this is pretty much identical to the morph power that’s part of the Polymorphic Bloodline; if you have this mutation and choose that bloodline, you get some useful enhancements to your shapechanging. )
Just a bunch of magic helmets for Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons along the basic theme of “Dude, they look like animal heads”. Because my campaign is set in a world where the only mammalian life forms are the major races who came fleeing a world-ending catastrophe a few hundred thousand years ago, and a few demon-created species like gnolls and minotaurs (blame the Eladrin for summoning said demons and their minions), these have a strong reptilian bent to them.
All of the bestial helms are shaped like the heads of various animal species, with a focus more on style and appearance than on actual functionality. Only the enchantments worked into them allow these helms to be truly useful in combat, as opposed to purely ceremonial, situations. The magic of these helms draws upon primal powers, so they can be made only by those with a primal class (including a multiclass feat, etc). If the crafter has recently (within 24 hours) slain a member of the species which is captured in the helm, and done so in single combat in a fair fight (not against a chained, drugged, or weakened animal), then the cost in residuum to perform the ritual is reduced by 10%. The body of the beast must be used during the ritual to gain this effect; it is consumed in the process.
Helm Of The Greenstripe Scytheclaw
Scytheclaws are the most common predators on the planet, with dozens of species. Greenstripes are found primarily in the fertile flatlands of central Karathakos, and are known, as one might guess, for their pattern of rippling green stripes that serve as effective camouflage when stalking through the reeds and grasses of the plains. They are legendary for two things… their silent, careful, stalking and their deadly pounce. This helm reflects both aspects of their nature. It is usually made of dark iron, pitted and worn, and decorated with stripes of jade, tourmaline, or malachite. Emeralds or rare green pearls form the eyes.
Level 6 Uncommon 1,800 gp
Item Slot: Head
Property: Gain a +2 item bonus to Stealth checks, or a +4 item bonus when moving through jungles, swamps, or similar environments.
Power (Encounter): Free action. Use this power when you charge an opponent who did not have line of sight to you when you began the charge. You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls, and, if the attack hits, the target also takes 5 ongoing damage and grants combat advantage to you (save ends both).
Helm Of The Skyshadow
Skyshadows are among the largest non-magical creatures which regularly take to the air. Featherless, they are adept gliders and can coast for longer periods of time between the occasional flap. They feed by swooping down on prey and snatching it up. The terrifying shriek they make as they grab their prey sends nearby creatures scurrying away.
This helm is usually constructed of high-quality leather from its namesake beast, ornamented with semi-precious gems. The hinged ‘beak’ of the helmet, still considerably shorter than the skyshadow’s own, is usually made of ivory bound with silver.
Level 9 Uncommon 4,200 gp
Item Slot: Head
Property: You do not need to make an Athletics check to jump any gap of 1 square or less.
Power (Daily): Free action. Use this power when you charge an opponent, at the start of the charge. Attack +12 vs. Will, Close Burst 2, centered on opponent. Target: All allies of the target of the charge. Hit: 1d6 thunder damage and push 1 square, using the target of the charge as the origin of the push effect.
Helm Of The Dawn Trumpeter
Hadrosaurs of many types are used as beasts of burden and food. Strong, herd oriented, and slow minded, many species have been domesticated, any wildness bred out of them over generations. There are plenty of wild kin left, though, and folk who live far from the wilderness and know only the domestic strains may be surprised at how fierce the untamed can be, forgetting that hadrosaurs must regularly fight off some of the most vicious predators of the land.
Dawn trumpeters are so-named because of the bellowing sounds made by males when the sun rises, calls to the herd to gather up and calls to their mates and children to come close. The helm of the dawn trumpeter features an ornate crest, decorated in patterns of silver and lapis lazuli, with heavy hide panels sewn over an iron framework.
Level 12 Uncommon 13,000 gp
Item Slot: Head
Property: You and all adjacent allies gain a +2 bonus to saving throws against fear effects.
Power (Encounter): Minor action. Close burst 5; all allies in burst. You may pull all allies 1 square.
Power (Daily): Move Action. Close Burst 5; targets allies. You may teleport any allies in the burst closer to you. They may be placed anywhere, so long as the total distance from you to them has been reduced (i.e, you can teleport an ally who was 4 squares to your left to a position 3 squares to your right.)
Helm Of The Megalodon
You may note that megalodons do not have some fake made up “native” name like skyshadow or scytheclaw. There is a very good reason for this. There is nothing I could come up with that’s cooler than megalodon! I mean, really. What else should I call it? “Giant Swimming Cuisinart That Noms You To Death”? (OK, actually, I think I did call it Teeth-That-Swim when I did GURPS Lands Out Of Time, but that doesn’t work well for a helmet name.)
Some people may also note that megalodons were Pliocene creatures, and that if I have no other Pliocene-era life on my world, I should not have megalodons, either. Some people can bite my shiny metal ass. All that matters when I do worldbuilding is if something is totally frakkin’ awesome, dude, and 100 foot long (To hell with all you dream-killing so-called “scientists” with your “math” and your “biology” and your “facts” and your “evidence” that says megalodons were only 60 feet or so. What’s more likely to be true? What we learn from rigorous study, careful analysis, application of proven techniques, and repeated experimentation and testing of theories, or what we really, really, wish the world would be? The 96% of the human race that’s not atheist says the latter, and who’s going to say they’re wrong? Reality? Hah! Where was I? Oh yeah, megalodons) sharks are totally frakkin’ awesome. And in my world, some have crossbred with dragons, but that’s another post.
The megalodon helm is actually formed from teeth taken from the great shark, and to be used in the crafting of this helmet, they must be taken from a living specimen that has fed on sentient flesh within the past 24 hours. The lining of the helm is made from a megalodon’s skin (all the parts do not need to come from the same creature, though it’s fairly rare for it not to be the case) and additional structural support is provided by iron mined from nodes of ore floating in the elemental seas.
Level 30 Rare 3,125,000 gp
Item Slot: Head
Property: You gain the aquatic keyword. Your swim speed is equal to your base speed +2.
Property: If underwater, any melee attacks you make against creatures without the aquatic keyword gain a +4 bonus, instead of the usual +2 bonus.
Property: You gain a +2 untyped bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls for melee attacks against bloodied targets.
Power (At-Will): Standard Action. Attack +35 vs. AC. Hit: 3d12+10 damage, and target takes ongoing 15 damage (save at -2 ends). A critical hit does an additional 6d12 damage.
Power (Encounter): Minor action. Until the end of your next turn, all of your melee attacks against bloodied targets ignore damage resistance.
Power (Daily): Free action. Use this power when you reduce a non-minion foe to 0 hit points with the helm’s at-will power. You may regain the use of an expended martial encounter attack power. If you use that power before the end of your next turn, you gain a +4 item bonus on attack and damage rolls with it.
Something I haven’t done in a while… some new fiction. Assorted author’s notes (random and useless rambling) at the end of the tale. Saying more beforehand strikes me as pointless; if the story needs you to tell people what it’s about or why you wrote it prior to the audience reading it, you have failed writing forever.
Alfie Saves The Day
It was a Tuesday. Alfie remembered that, and he was pretty sure it was early August, though it might have been late July. It was definitely 1917, though. The version of his life that was public knowledge got that part down pretty well, even if it left out a lot of the other stuff. They were somewhere along the Argonne, dug in deep, as they had been for months, for years. They were hungry, hot, tired, scared, and bored, and Alfie had decided… or been volunteered, as he always was, because he was best at it… to see if he could get some chickens.
He had. The woods were a mix of abandoned trenches, barbed wire, half-burned or half-exploded trees, and roads turned to mud and gravel, but he moved through them swiftly and silently in the dark, needing to carry no light so long as there was a hint of moon or star to turn what the real men saw as a great black void of shadow on shadow into what he saw, a landscape of subtle grays and scents and motions that he could never have been taught the words for. The real men didn’t have the words, and it was a bad thing to make up words of your own, words the real men couldn’t understand. Alfie learned early on not to do bad things.
Occasionally, there would be the world-shaking rattle of an exploding shell. He couldn’t help but start at those, but the real men did, too, so it was nothing to be ashamed of. They had a little less to fear, though. There was that new policy they’d began, a year or so back. If they lost an arm or a leg or an eye, they could have another, from someone who had lost even more. The papers had called it a great thing, a triumph for the common man. Only the rich had been able to afford the treatments before, the nobles and lords and captains of industry, but now every soldier, if there was any hint of life left, could be given these gifts. Not the Mor, though. It wouldn’t do to sew the arm of a real man onto a Mor, and a crippled Mor was useless, could never earn back the cost of his life. They would have to go to sleep, and that would be that.
Unless he was very good. If he was very good, if he acted in all ways like a real man, then, it was said, he would become one when he died, that all of the beast would be flayed away and sent to burn below, while the pure man would ascend to heaven. Alfie thought that sounded like a wonderful thing, and had worked very hard on acting like a real man.
He smiled a bit and touched the patch on his shoulder with his left hand. “PFC”, Private First Class. Not many Mor got that; not many Mor even made private. He got pay and rations the same as the real men, and he supposed he could even give orders to a private, but he knew better than to try. The real men he served with liked him, even if some of them teased him; they teased each other as well, it was all about being a soldier, and they really liked him when he brought them chicken, like he was doing now. With his right hand, he reached up to grab a branch, intending to use it to help swing over a small crevasse, and then it suddenly struck him that both hands were empty.
So, off and on, I have been working on Stellar Warriors, which is turning into the mega space opera game I’ve had as a “thing to do” pretty much since I discovered gaming back in 1978. After toying with several systems, I’ve found the one I currently have passion for is Pathfinder (and 4e, though I’ve got Earth Delta to satisfy my itch for that), and as I started working, I also found I was “correcting” everything I thought was wrong with D20 that Pathfinder didn’t fix, and, sorry to all you rules-light folks out there, that tends to mean more detail and options, not less, though I’m also trying to apply what I’ve learned from 4e about which details are useful and which aren’t, and how to abstract things that need to be abstracted.
This post has no mechanics whatsoever, though. It’s the first pass at a general background and framework for the setting, and I’m presenting it here first because early drafts of things are often lost and forgotten in the age of digital clay, and, second, because I have the delusion that people are interested in how creators create; how they make decisions, what they were thinking, etc. So I figured I’d post the text as it currently appears in the draft I’m writing, but also include comments, explanations, etc, as to what my goals were and why I made some choices. Hopefully, it will be entertaining.
My comments are going to be in monospace font.
Here Beginneth The Text
Providing setting information in a game is always complicated. On the one hand, the best part of being a game master is being a worldbuilder; it’s always more fun to build your own sandbox than to play in someone else’s. On the other hand, it is often necessary to have some idea where to start, as well as some kind of shared context or assumptions which can be used to frame new content or ideas.
Every choice made in rules design, from how lethal a weapon is to how faster than light travel works to how “mystic” powers, like Qa, function, contributes towards implying a setting. If there’s no FTL communication, a “galactic democracy” where people across the galaxy are up to the minute on the news and share a common culture becomes impossible. The captains of starships must have great leeway to decide how to enact general policies, as new orders can be months or years away. Worlds can diverge from “galactic culture” rapidly.
A set of rules for stellar generation that produce only one world in a thousand that’s easily habitable by humans implies a much different galaxy than one in which all but the most extreme worlds can be easily settled. A system of starship design that puts small starships into the price range of luxury yachts or private jets creates a different setting than one that makes the smallest FTL ship solely the province of governments or large corporations, and so forth.
While the “implied setting” sets borders on what kind of background is supported best by the rules, those borders are immensely broad. Hundreds or thousands of different settings can be built that all fit within what’s implied by this set of rules, and a thousand times as many can be built with only small fudging and pushing at the edges just a tad.
The setting here, the Eighth Interregnum, is one of many. It is designed to support a wide variety of playstyles and backdrops while still being a single universe. The vast bulk of it is left very deliberately undesigned and vague, with regions painted in only the broadest of strokes. It exists to help provide context for things like racial descriptions, background traits, and to create a sense of place, but it is not an exhaustively detailed setting and never will be. It uses common tropes and themes in order to set the boundary points of a framework that each GM is free to fill in as he sees fit, or to discard entirely. It can also serve as a sort of ablative skeleton, providing a structure to those parts of the universe the GM hasn’t detailed yet, to be removed as his world grows and replaces the default.
I am not a buyer, in general, of settings. I prefer games with strong genre flavor. I often buy games that combine system and setting, especially if the setting is so broad as to give me plenty of room to play, or if the setting more-or-less is the game. (Shadowrun, for example — it’s not like there’s a “Cyberpunk And Magic” genre with many examples out there. It’s also easy with Shadowrun to lift nothing but the basic premise, races, mechanics, and fill in your own megacorps, nations, and so on without regard for the ‘official’ rules.) On the other hand, a lot of people like settings, or hints of settings, and I’ve found that writing rules completely without any reference to a world or a context is dull and uninspiring. Hints of how the rules interact with the world and the kinds of things one is likely to do with the rules brings them to life and inspires the GM. Overly-detailed encyclopedic settings where the rules are intimately tied to the setting, on the other hand, I find to be extremely useless. There’s a difference between “Here’s a magic system with some flavor text in the descriptions naming a few great wizards” and “Here’s a magic system whose entire balance and mechanics relies on the cosmology and calendar of this setting and which you can’t disconnect from it.”
Interregnum And Empire
It is commonly considered that the galaxy moves through cycles of Empire (when a single power or culture dominates at least 80% of the known galaxy) and Interregnum (when no power dominates more than 5%). Galactic historians debate tremendously on precise dates, boundaries, and so on, but there is a general consensus among all but a few fringe scholars that there have been eight such cycles since the collapse of the Progenitors.
This is one of those themes I always return to, time and again, mostly because it’s a rich source of background material when you need it, and it appeals to my general view of the universe. “The Eighth Interregnum” was a phrase I came up with when writing some of my earliest science fiction, back in my freshman year of college; you’d think, given that, it would be extensively detailed by now, but, in fact, it’s mostly some names and ideas I’ve occasionally re-used but never seriously developed. (I always find it hilarious when people think their “ideas”, undeveloped and unexplored, are valuable, and that doing the grunt work of “actually writing it all down” is something some other shmuck can do after he’s paid you a fortune for your “idea”. Please. This is also why no company is going to “steal your ideas” — the worth of an idea is nothing. It’s not worth stealing.)
Before any of the known races existed in space, or possibly even evolved, there were the Progenitors. It is unknown what their physical form was; they are known only by the occasional artifacts found in the strangest and most obscure reaches of space, and no two of these artifacts seems designed for beings of the same body type, yet all are clearly from one culture, and, it is believed, that culture consisted of a single race, due to the lack of any evidence of multiple spacefaring societies prior to the Progenitors. It is widely speculated that when they arose, the very laws of the universe were different, and that they literally altered all reality on the most fundamental level to allow life as it is currently known to exist. Then they vanished. That was more than a billion years ago.
I don’t really have much more to say about this than what’s there; I don’t have a Secret Detailed Origin. I mostly wanted the ultimate macguffin in the background, primarily as a way of explaining a universe of mostly-compatible biochemistry and, perhaps more importantly, evolutionary cycles “synced up” so that nearly all intelligent races are within a million or so years of each other.
Sometime between the Progenitors and the Eight Empires, there was a period known as the Reign Of The Stargods. This time was marked by the existence of a dozen different species, which apparently rose to power roughly concurrently, and which then fell to a massive war of “all against all”. Their technology was beyond anything which the Eight Empires ever achieved, though it was still less than that of the Progenitors. Their battles scarred and shaped the universe, and their relics, though far more common than those of the Progenitors, are literally worth the price of a world. There are constant rumors that some of the Stargods may exist, hiding in folds of spacetime or (if you’re really paranoid) striding the galaxy posing as mere mortals, observing… or controlling…. the lesser species.
A somewhat more useful set of macguffins. I have a very strong “vision” for these guys — they are much akin to the Celestials from Jack Kirby’s Eternals, with a side order of Vorlons and Shadows. In some ways, they could be called the “Zeroeth Empire”.
This is the best known artifact of the Stargods. “Olympus” is a very vague translation; the place has hundreds of names, all basically “the home of the gods” — Valhalla, the Shining City, the Watchtower. It is a structure the size of a large gas giant, made of glistening metal in a hundred colors, all strange tubes and odd shapes and immense blocky substructures. The outer surface defies all attempts to penetrate it with any sensors, and it radiates a constant heat of 74.23 degrees. Any craft, from the largest mega-battleships to the most intricate nanoprobes, vanishes instantly when it approaches within 0.67 light years. No energy is detected coming from Olympus, nor is there any energy emitted when the craft are destroyed, or teleported, or shifted to a parallel world, or warped to the dawn of time, or whatever happens to them. A few cultists believe they are transported inside to join the gods.
You see how the use of arbitrary and random “exact numbers” gives an aura of faux legitimacy to a thing? No, I have no idea what Olympus is for; it’s probably a base where some of them are sleeping, but it could just as easily be the Stargod version of a monthly storage rental.
During the time of the Fifth Empire, one particularly cunning local governor decided to take advantage of this, and began having all unwanted refuse and garbage hurled in the direction of Olympus, treating it as a galactic garbage disposal. Three weeks after he began this practice, he vanished utterly. So did the planet he governed. No one has tried to exploit the defenses of Olympus since then.
This is a bit of a reply to how PCs, in general, will take anything you create that is Cool and Mysterious and Awesome and turn it into some kind of tool they can use to get m0ar l00tz.
Rise And Fall
Technology tends to progress in a sort of bell curve. On most worlds, there is a long period of stagnation and slow change, followed by a time of extremely rapid development that can take a world from swords to spaceships in a few hundred years, followed by one of two things: Either the discovery of FTL travel (or being contacted by a race which already has it), or the rapid consumption of all in-system resources, followed by war and collapse.
Space Opera is anti-singularity. If you ever look at most “tech level” charts, including the one in Stellar Warriors, you’ll see that you have something like “Bronze Age”, “Iron Age”, “Renaissance”, and then 4 or 5 levels that span the 19th and 20th centuries (sometimes 4 or 5 just from WW2 to 2000), and then something like “Early Stellar” and “Advanced Stellar” that presume stagnation for hundreds of years. I figured I’d just lampshade the idea that once you hit FTL, you’ve maxed out the “big changes” and that most of what’s left is incremental, with truly revolutionary breakthroughs occurring at a much slower pace. It’s utterly unrealistic based on everything we know, but it’s necessary for the kind of setting this is.
The first world in a region to discover FTL has a huge edge; it will quickly contact and exploit nearby worlds, and then use these new resources to keep expanding. Because no message can travel faster than a starship, the instantaneous communication that is a precursor to rapid technological change stops; further, the vast array of resources to exploit once the stars are opened undermines the search for new technologies, as competition becomes more a matter of expanding and acquiring than of doing more and more with the same supplies. This creates the other side of the bell curve, another period of slow discoveries and refinements, with few revolutionary breakthroughs.
Eventually, one expanding culture reaches another, and then they may form trading alliances, or they may do battle, or both, in succession. Eventually, they merge into a single larger culture, by conquest or by trade, and then they expand until they meet another, and so on. Over hundreds or thousands of years, the galaxy becomes the province of an ever smaller number of ever larger nations, until one dominates.
Some folks (though, granted, not the kind of folks likely to be reading this site) would probably object that this is a particularly Western European Patriarchal Capitalistic Imperialistic view of the universe, and declaring it as a universal constant that occurs throughout time and space is narrow minded provincialism and that truly advanced races would live in peace and harmony and sharing. Some folks are idiots. Lizard says:”Those that beat their swords into plowshares shall do the plowing for those who do not.” Even if I’m wrong, it’s irrelevant — Cosmic Space Hippies are boring.
It is just as inevitable that it will collapse. This may take a long time, usually thousands of years, but it follows the pattern of the avalanche. Once the collapse begins, it accelerates, usually taking less than a century from the first real cracks in the Imperial structure until the galaxy is consumed in war. Worlds are blasted to the stone age, if they are not destroyed entirely. Trade, except between a few close worlds, sputters and dies. Knowledge is reduced to myth or lost forever. A small handful of systems retain their old technology, but they do so by huddling close and not venturing out. Fragments of the old form tiny stellar holdfasts of a dozen worlds or so, often locked into tense wars with their neighbors that flare from cold to hot at any moment. A thousand petty planetary leaders look at the galactic chaos and seem themselves or their world as the new Empire. And on the tens of thousands of worlds abandoned and destroyed, someone rediscovers pressing a stylus into clay to make words, someone works out the laws of gravity and inertia, someone learns to build rockets, and then it all starts again.
The Lost/Forgotten Homeworld Of Mankind is a trope I like; I also like the idea of a constant cycle of collapse and rediscovery, that since the universe is one which is inherently rational and understandable, advancement isn’t the result of a one in a billion Great Genius having a Vision, but is something that is inevitable anywhere you’ve got a mind to perceive reality and the means to manipulate it.
The Eighth Empire was immense, and immensely old. It had survived so long, weathering three great crisis (later called the False Collapses), that many had begun to call it the Last Empire. Quite a few historians became rich and famous authoring treatises on “The End Of Interregnum” and foreseeing a glorious future that would last until the heat death of the universe, and then beyond, because given enough time, the Empire would reach the same level as the Progenitors and rewrite the laws of nature.
First, I love pseudo-history. There’s nothing like reading a phrase like “the third war of the North” or “the era of the Shining Fortress” or the like, especially when it’s wrapped up in mention of how this fictional period in fictional history was given its name by fictional historians. Second, that’s a pretty explicit and unrepentant dig at the moron who wrote, following the collapse of the USSR, a best selling steaming pile of bantha poodoo called “The End Of History”, in which he prognosticated (that’s a big word; it means “made up some total horsecrap”) that “history” was now over because the last “great conflict” had been resolved. I’ve got some 1000+ corpses in downtown Manhattan who might have something to say on that, if, you know, corpses could talk.
Yeah, right. Pull the other one, it has space-bells on.
I’ve developed this weird habit of deliberately using the clumsy construction that is more found in mock pulp sci fi than in actual pulp sci fi, of sticking “space” in front of every word. Go figure.
The first came from the great spaces between galaxies, a region no species had managed to cross within the time of the Eight Empires. As they came from the void, ravening and terrifying, they became known as the Void Demons.
The second were born in the flare of a hundred novas. It’s believed they were using the stars as a kind of gateway between galaxies, or perhaps between realities, in the absence of any other explanation. Vaguely reptilian and masters of a kind of bio-technological fusion never seen before, they became known as the Star Dragons.
This is another bit of my past. Sometime in the early 1990s, I had made some notation on a timeline I was working on regarding the “war between the Void Demons and the Star Dragons”. I just liked the names. Again, this is more detail on them than has occurred before.(I’d toyed with “Stardrakes” in other parts of my draft, but “Star Dragons” just sounds better to my ears.)
Both forces were advanced far beyond the Eighth Empire, so advanced some thought they might be the Stargods come again. Neither seemed to concern themselves with the existing Empire; they destroyed any ships that attacked them without effort or hesitation, but otherwise showed no sign they were even aware other beings existed. They would transform a planet into a factory for war machines with no reaction whatsoever to the people already on it, not even to conquer and enslave them. All that mattered to either side was destroying each other. By the time the war ended, which occurred when both sides had reached a position of stalemate that caused them to vanish as suddenly as they’d came, leaving only ruins and relics behind, the Empire had been rent into a thousand pieces, great lines of war and devastation criss-crossing the galactic structure. When the Void War (sometimes called the Demon/Dragon war), ended, a few optimists hoped this would be the Fourth False Crisis, and that the Empire could, after perhaps only one or two hundred years of disorganization, pull itself together.
Ah, there’s nothing like completely handwaving away any and all questions about motive or methods. Absolute, total, and unrepentant deus ex machina. The uber-powerful whatevers showed up and kicked you all to the cosmic curb. Buh-bye now!
But the important thing is, they left behind their toys. I really like space opera games where there are immensely powerful artifacts to quest after.
It didn’t happen. Once shown to be vulnerable, it lost a crucial amount of respect. All the petty enemies of the Empire who had never dared to strike against it or defy it were emboldened. Furthermore, it had lost much of its military and economic might in futile battles against the Demons and Dragons. (I wish I could have worked Dungeons in there. Oh well.) Many of those regions which maintained some kind of communication and control declared themselves independent, or claimed that they were the true heirs to the Empire, and they fell to battle against each other. Many parts of the galaxy simply drifted apart. Others were destroyed by raiders and pirates following rumors of a ruined Void Demon blackship, or a partially functioning Star Dragon planetary seeder.
I have only vague notions of what a “blackship” or a “planetary seeder” are. But they sure sound cool!
And so, here we are.
Here Endeth The Text
Coming soon (since I’ve already written it and just need to paste it in): Several regions of space, defined by theme and function, and not by a catalog of the worlds they contain or the names of the local politicans.