Monday, June 29, 2009

Gettin' Healthy..No Really!

I've just joined the View, a community center in the town where I work, so I can get into shape. I'm not talking about going nuts or anything - just toning up a bit, losing the gut that's crept up on me over the past few years, and getting my blood pressure down.

I'm switching to one cup of coffee a day, and cutting way back on the cigarettes in anticipation of quitting entirely.

The neat thing about this place (the View) is that it's partially paid for by some local Chamber of Commerce program through my employer, and I'm encouraged to go there during the day when I need a break. I can't see myself working out before or after work - but to have a long lunch, run over there, work out a bit, swim a lap, jump in the shower and come back ready for the afternoon - that sounds fine indeed, and it's something I might actually do.

Furthermore, the View is a really impressive, state-of-the-art community center, and I think it might be just about the only state-of-the-art facility in Grandview, Missouri. :)

It's not much of an update, but I'll keep you posted on how my attempts to become a lean, mean, fightin' machine go.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sea of Shards Campaign Setting

I'm in the process of moving material off of the old Pharaoh's Tomb at wikidot.com and putting it here, mainly so it will not get lost. This is the first entry I've transferred here, and decided to do an illustration to mark the occasion. This is a description of my "Sea of Shards" campaign world, which was inspired by several anime shows Connor and I had been watching at the time. It was also inspired by the 1980 film "Flash Gordon," some Edgar Rice Burroughs, and other stuff. Gonen's World fans will be interested to learn that I had originally envisioned this world as the same, rarely mentioned planet Primus that can be seen in the skies of Gonen's World. Whether that ends up being the case remains to be seen. Anyway, it's a long post but for the record, here it is, Sea of Shards.

Sea of Shards is a "science-fantasy" campaign set on the planet Primus, a huge gas giant in a far-off solar system. The most interesting thing about Primus is that is has thousands of tiny worldlets floating in its upper atmosphere - like moons, but set within the skies of the planet. Folk travel through the "ether," as they call it, from island to island on airships or on flying animals. Magic is real, and technology is almost as mysterious. Warriors fight with swords, guns, and martial arts. They may go up against the fascist state called The Order, fight blimp bandits and Hawk People, or seek out adventures on the countless small islands that drift in the ether. Overshadowing all is the impending war between The Order and The Concord, a free republic, and fear of ancient technology that once destroyed the world.

The Bad Guys
The enemy of all freedom-loving folk is The Order, a fascist state. From their home island of Prasiodimeum, these militaristic predators have spread their conquering tentacles through the ether, bent on dominating all to their will. But what dark secret drives this mad quest for power?
The rulers of some of the independent kingdoms nearby are in thrall to The Order, and may act against innocent folk if their masters order it.

There are many other dangerous folk in the Sea of Shards; the Hawk People, while not wholly evil, are motivated purely by self-interest, and will often attack travellers. A similar threat are the Blimb Bandits, ordinary humans who have been outcast from civilized society, and make their living as sky pirates.

Some enemies live within The Concord, using legal loopholes in the freedom-loving laws of Arkadia to do evil. One example is the Dazzi Corporation, which is seemingly a normal company that sells normal goods, but is in actuality quite secretive and has their own dark agenda. Most people don't trust the Dazzi Corporation, but have no proof that it is up to anything illegal or unsavory.

The Good Guys
At the other end of the spectrum is The Concord, a republic, which is based on the island of Arkadia. Almost everyone prospers in this free state. Elected representatives oversee various worldlets within Arkadia's circle of power. It attempts to be utopian, but the bureaucracy sometimes gets in the way. For example, there are a few large corporations who abuse the freedom of Arkadia and engage in unsavory business practices. Finally, there are many good people within the various islands that make up the Sea of Shards, who enjoy their independence, but if they have to be subject to anyone would prefer The Concord over The Order. The Concord is the most powerful threat to The Order, but the two nations are not yet at open war.

The Neutrals
The Sea of Shards, a vast expanse of small worldlets adrift in the ether, lies roughly between Prasiodimeum (The Order) and Arkadia (The Concord). These tiny, independent states owe no allegiance to The Concord or The Order, but will ultimately be caught up in the struggle between the great powers that surround them.

A Diversity of Worlds
There are thousands of islands in the ether. No one could explore them all, not even in a lifetime. A staggering array of weird planetary types exist, unconstrained by our conventional laws of physics. Worldlets in the lower atmosphere are warm and tropical. Those in the upper atmosphere are arctic. Every climate and terrain type is represented somewhere in the skies of Primus.

The People
The dominant race of Primus is humanity, especially in the spheres controlled by The Order and The Concord. However, there are many breeds and sub-species scattered throughout the ether. The most noteworthy of these are the Animal Folk, sometimes called Half-Breeds, Wild Ones, or worse by some. Others call them Super-Evolved or Augmented. Genetic experimentation in ancient times caused created these chimera-like races. The most powerful are the Hawk People and the Tiger Folk, but many others exist, usually remaining isolated on their own floating islands. Animal-folk often take on the characteristics of the animal they are bonded with, including special adaptations or abilities.

The Wildlife
The flora and fauna of Primus are perfectly adapted for life on a gas giant. Most common are the gigantic Floaters. These balloon-like beings are miles wide, and spend their lives lazily floating in the ether, grazing on helium-plankton. Floaters are so large that in some cases, people have been known to live on them like parasites. Floaters are numerous despite the fact that they are the prey of humans and other races. The most serious predator on Primus are the Hunters - great winged monsters that eat the Floaters for their stored helium. There are so many types of both Floaters and Hunters that no one has ever categorized them all. Also common on the worldlets themselves are the full range of terrestrial animals, as well as many bizarre oddities. The ancient genetic manipulation that created the Animal-Folk created many strange and wonderous creatures, some of which seem to have almost magical abilities. All manner of surprising animals and plants can be found among the Sea of Shards.

The Geography
Only the upper atmosphere of Primus is habitable - a layer about 1,000 miles thick. This is a HUGE amount of space, all of it filled with brilliant arrays of multi-colored clouds. You never know what color the skies of Primus will be on any given day, but mostly they are a deep red-orange, filled with swirls of other colors. The atmosphere is so thick, and the cloud cover is so constant, that no one on Primus has ever seen the stars. Astronomy is unknown.
In the depths of the atmosphere, temperatures increase rapidly, and the atmospheric pressure becomes crushingly intense. Anything that falls into the lower atmosphere is crushed and fried (not necessarily in that order!).

Of the worldlets that float in the ether, the largest is Praseodimeum, in the control of The Order. The second-largest is Arkadia, the home of The Concord. These are nearly continent-sized. Between and around them float the abundant, diverse worldlets that make up the Sea of Shards. Great floating forests of fungi and ferns drift among them. Some are even carnivorous!

Ray Technology
The people of Primus have developed a technology based on light. Complex crystals can break light into its constituent rays, like a prism. Each ray has a special property. For example, the Ray of Propulsion propels airships, and the Ray of Levitation can be used to move heavy objects or keep artificial islands afloat. However, the crystals and the intricate clockwork light-gears that harness the properties of the rays are both rare and expensive. Normally, only the powerful or learned have access to them.

Twelve rays have so far been discovered; the search for the fabled "13th Ray" has long been a preoccupation among the scientists of Primus.

Weaponry
The weapons of Primus are as diverse as its islands and its people, but a few general trends predominate. Various forms of blade are the most common sort of weapon, and in some areas sword-making is considered a form of art, and sword-makers are highly respected. Many swords have been infused with strange properties by various rays as the sword is constructed.
Firearms are also popular, though among the warrior class such weapons are frowned upon as cowardly. Nevertheless, the Sixgun, Slugthrower, and Scattergun are a common hazard as one sails among the islands in the ether.

There are other exotic weapons as well, but only the blade and firearm are spread throughout the lands of Primus.

In addition to weaponry - or sometimes instead of it - some warriors follow a particular fighting style. Each style emphasizes a different aspect of hand-to-hand combat (kicks, throws, etc.) and many include specialized stunts or quasi-mystical power built up through a warrior's innate chi, or aura. Some folk who do not adhere to the old ways scoff at this concept, however.

Transportation
Outside of animals, the most common form of travel between islands is the airship. The term is misleading, for their are hundreds of kinds of airships. Nevertheless, there are predominant broad classifications into which most airships fit, however bizarrely they may have been modified.

Tiny class ships are the smallest type, and are useful for their high acceleration and maneuverability. However, the top speed of a Tiny ship is relatively low, and it is particularly vulnerable to direct hits.
Medium class refers to a wide range of craft sizes - basically, anything not tiny or huge is considered an airtroll. This is by far the most common type of airship, serving as everything from a tramp freighter to a military patrol cruiser.

Huge class ships are the largest. These massive craft usually carry scores of crew members and many tons of cargo. Aside from a few large trade ships, the majority of wardregs are used as military craft.

Finally, there are freakishly large ships generally referred to as Juggernauts. Ships the size of cities, juggernauts usually serve as semi-permanent artificial islands, rather than traveling craft.
In addition to airships, the races of Primus have found many other ways to get around. All manner of gliders, pedal-powered air bikes, and more exotic craft abound.

History
It is said that in ancient times, there was only one gigantic floating island on Primus. In those days, folk possessed great powers, and created mighty machines to do their will. The ancient epics tell of the Apocalypse War, when powerful mecha destroyed the First World and shattered it into thousands of fragments - thus, the Sea of Shards was born.

While surviving artifacts of the First World are beyond rare, folk have whispered for thousands of years that keys and clues to the ancients' power must be scattered throughout the ether, perhaps buried in the cores of the many worldlets of the Sea of Shards. Given the fate of the First World, most people think those ancient secrets are best left forgotten. Yet there remain a few who seek the lost secrets, whether for good or evil. Until recently, most of those people have been considered crazy. No real evidence for the First World existed - it was just a myth.

In recent times, however, a top secret cabal among the elite class of The Order began a serious search for the lost technology spoken of in the mythical epics. This cabal was ruled by General Zorba. A brilliant military commander, his otherwise-razor sharp mind was demented from secret studies of occult writings. Zorba and his cabal began to experiment with the Black Ray, a facet of light that is unknown to everyone outside the cabal. With the Black Ray, Zorba began to communicate with the spirits of the dead. With the technology thus gained, Zorba and the cabal uncovered the ruins of a giant mecha on the small world of Shoto. Slowly, painstakingly, and in great secrecy, the cabal excavated the mecha, removed it to Zorba's private Juggernaut (Skull Station) and reverse-engineered it. Within several years, the cabal had constructed six mechas and used them to stage a coup on The Order's homeworld of Praseodimeum. The Order, which prior to the coup had been a fairly liberal oligarchy of nobles and trade barons, became more and more of a fascist state.

Soon, Zorba became the Supreme Leader of The Order, and began the brutal expansion and annexation of its neighbors that exists to this day.

The most potent weapons The Order possesses are the Six Furies - the mecha created by studying the shell of the ancient robot found on Shoto. They are called Fear, Loathing, Wrath, Dominance, Slaughter, and Vengeance. Each of these six mechas has its own special properties.

The Quest of the Heroes
The heroes are the crew of an airship, who must seek out secrets of the ancients so that the forces of good (represented by The Concord) can battle The Order on equal footing. It will take the Order's expeditionary armies a long time to conquer their way across the Sea of Shards to The Concord's homeworld of Arkadia, but if nothing is done to stop them, they will inevitably reach The Concord and subjugate its client states and even Arkadia itself. That cannot be allowed to happen, and The Concord's agents are using the time they have wisely.

For whatever reason, our main characters have been chosen by The Concord's Secret Police to act as freelance "Seekers" - that is, agents who hunt down artifacts of ancient power. Seekers carry Letters of Marque from The Concord. These certificates authorize the Seekers to negotiate on behalf of The Concord for the acquisition of such artifacts. Seekers are also authorized to engate in tactical and strategic combat with the forces of The Order. The Concord military is under orders not to engage the ships of The Order unless The Concord's sovereign territory is invaded. Only the Seekers can, at this point, legally fight the forces of The Order. Usually, however, Seekers are more detectives and archeologists than combat specialists, and while each team of Seekers can hold its own in combat, direct conflict with The Order is often best avoided.
In the Sea of Shards, the political situation is complex. The vast majority of worlds are neutral - although most would probably throw in their sympathies with The Concord, if forced to choose. But in addition to the military, both superpowers have extensive networks of spies and agitators in place among the worldlets of the Sea of Shards. Nothing is ever precisely as it seems, and a shifing, treacherous web of ever-changing alliances makes the task of a Seeker more difficult as he sails the Sea of Shards. For the most part, open combat with The Order is a rare thing. Usually, the chief antagonists are secret agents employed by The Order - similar in many ways to the Seekers themselves. These operatives also seek the ancient secrets. The race to obtain these things is not as critical for The Order as for The Concord, but if nothing else, The Order would like to prevent The Concord from acquiring ancient technology - or at least delay it as long as possible.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gonen's World Art Previews

Here are some previews of art for Gonen's World: The Roleplaying Game. The text is all finalized, and the layout is complete - I'm just drawing pictures and plugging holes at this point. The book is 56 pages long and contains the complete rules (how to create a character, game mechanics, magic, inventions, vehicles and so on), a complete guide to Vlodasai with full descriptions of all races, settlements and geographical features, the history of Vlodasai up until the Classic Age of Queen Farin (the default setting - we've gone way past that in our own games, obviously), including calendar, seasons, celestial bodies and lots of other "crunchy bits," a bestiary with all the monsters you know and hate (and some new ones!), 30 - yes, 30 - adventures and eight short stories by the likes of Colin Campbell, Ryan Ashmore, Connor McAnally and myself. The book is 8.5x11 (that's fourteen 11x17 sheets folded over, creating 56 pages), light cardstock full-color cover, and black and white illustrations throughout. Here are some examples:
A typical view from an airship porthole, with castle and "white flower" in the background.

A globe of Gonen's World, such as one might find in an academic's study. Note Vlodasai in the middle of the globe, with Jamerik jutting up just south of it. The writing is in the Voltern script (a simple substituion cypher, really) which is in the book.

Here is the first illustration from the "Making a Hero" chapter, showing examples of the different carreers. From left to right, we have a Criminal, Barbarian, Mechanic (wee moldai), Aeronaut, Soldier, and Academic (blue kathkari).

...and this is the second illustration from the "Making a Hero" chapter, showing the Bravo, Mathemagician (red kathkari), Scout, Dilettante, Monk, and Priest (in this case, a priest of Darius).

The book is divided into two parts - the Rules of Play and World Guide. This is the "splash page" for the rules section. Some of you might have seen earlier versions of this picture before. I call it "5:10 to Highseat" and it shows Queen Farin's flagship returning to the capitol after some mission. The Voltern script on back of the ship says "Hot Queen."

This is an illustration from Colin Campbell's short story "Lockpicker!" which details one of Corso's many misadventures.

...and the second illustration from "Lockpicker!" Note the little mouth on the chest, and you know what sort of magical alarm Corso faces in the story (not to mention the maniacal little wee moldai!).

That's it for now, I will post more as they come and keep you updated on the way. Of course I won't spoil everything - for most of the pictures you'll just have to wait for the book. I hope to have it all done by the end of summer, in time for a new Gonen's World campaign this fall.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thanks, but no Thanks, for the Angst

This post was edited because it was too...well, angsty. :)