Saturday, May 5, 2018

Elysian Empire - updated map

I've updated the map for my Elysian Empire setting for ACKS. This is still a work in progress, but it does cover the western part of the Empire with their final geography. This still requires cities, though, and names for some of the rivers and mountains.

Regarding the western provinces...

Tamascyra - temperate-warm province which was civilized longer than any other province in the western part of the Empire. Currently partly Civilized and partially Borderlands. (cultural/naming inspiration: Greek).

Rayanes - temperate bread-basket. Currently Civilized in its southern part and Borderlands in its northern half, due to beastman invasion from Muspelheim (cultural/naming inspiration: Celtic).

Camalynn - temperate land, once part of the ancient Dwarven empire and later a rich human kingdom and finally Imperial province. Currently in turmoil following a Chaotic invasion from Outer Kvenland, which the remaining Imperial garrison, led by Ivar "the Dragon" (a young general whose star, people say, is rising), somehow repelled. Borderlands at best; Wilderness in its northern part. Isenvale March is located in Camalynn's central mountains (cultural/naming inspiration: mostly English, some Slavicand Norse inspirations as well).

Inner Kvenland - temperate land, the part of Kvenland conquered by the Elysian Empire centuries ago. Now a burned-out battlefield following Chaotic invasion from Outer Kvenland. Wilderness (cultural/naming inspiration: Norse).

Outer Kvenland - harsh and cold land known for its excellent seamen and warriors. Once, the Kvennish High King also ruled what is now Inner Kvenland and northern Leoneis, but the Elysian Empire conquered these lands. Its people were once proud Neutral pagans. Now, the land is in the claws of the popular Chaotic cults of Hróðvitnir the Wolf Lord and Blóðughadda the bloody-haired Sea Queen. These cults invaded neighboring lands, and so far met serious resistance only in Camalynn, from which it was repulsed at a great price. "Borderlands" Chaotic area for the most part, with some Wilderness as well (cultural/naming inspiration: Norse).

Leoneis - temperate-warm province, rich with grain but also beset by swamps. Most of Leoneis, apart from the hill country to its north, is lowland. Currently, northern Leoneis is a battlefield, invaded by Kvennish Chaos cults, and the south has a barely functioning remnant-Imperial government (cultural/naming inspiration: French).

Muspelheim - cold and hard mountainous land. Once the heart of the old Dwarven Empire, which has collapsed many centuries ago. Now beset by beastmen; only a few heavily-fortified Dwarven Vaults remain as  Borderlands, the rest being Wilderness (cultural/naming inspiration: Germanic/Slavic).

Valukarask - frigid land of the north. Typified by taiga forests and cold marches in its north and some farming in its southern parts. Land of fey and witchcraft, never truly tamed by the Elysian Empire. Now considered Borderlands (cultural/naming inspiration: Slavic).

Korovod - independent High ("True") Elven kingdom. Land of dark taiga forests, home to fey and to Elves. Staunchly Neutral (pagan) in faith. Part civilized, part borderlands (cultural/naming inspiration: Slavic, with focus on Slavic/Norse fey).

A review of Alien Breeds by Zozer Games

Product's Name: Alien Breeds
Ruleset: Cepheus Engine/OGL 2d6 Sci-Fi

Author: Paul Eliott

Artist: Ian Stead

Size: 51 pages

Publisher: Zozer Games

Price: $5.00

Grade: 5 out of 5

A few months ago, I reviewed Zozer Games' HOSTILE setting for the Cepheus Engine. As I said back then, HOSTILE is the "real deal" - the perfect Alien(s)/Bladerunner RPG setting. Not an official setting, but one with the serial numbers partially filed off. It does its job magnificently, better, in my humble opinion, than the official offerings in this field.

HOSTILE begs for Xenomorphs, Alien(s)-style. Alien Breeds delivers. Aliens, as in the films. Serial numbers filed off just enough to prevent copyright issues. With full Cepheus Engine stats (and thus Mongoose Traveller 1E - mostly compatible with Classic Traveller and Mongoose Traveller 2E as well). Ready for the Referee to unleash on unsuspecting players...

Wait. Unsuspecting? Not so easily. I'd bet that virtually every sci-fi enthusiast playing Traveller has seen the films. Some have read the numerous novels and comics as well, and played the video games. The moment a Facehugger shows up, or any other part of the Xenomorph's life cycle for that matter, the players are bound to know exactly what they're up against. This is a recurrent problem with using well-known settings ("IPs" in 2010's terminology): the player already knows the Big Secrets, unlike a first-time watcher of the films, or any of the characters in them. This removes a large part of the horror associated with these creatures. Fear of the unknown, of the alien - that's the heart of Alien (1979). But the alien is no longer unknown. You could even say that it's no longer truly alien. Its a fixture of modern culture.

Alien Breeds tackles this question by presenting no less than 18 subspecies of the Xenomorph - each with unexpected abilities. I won't list them here, to avoid spoiling the fun to any prospective players. But you should know that their capacities and capabilities exceed, by far, those shown in the films. They can do things to the unsuspecting - truly unsuspecting - player character that Ripley never had to face. Players will see a Facehugger's husk, or a Xenomoph egg, and think they know what they're dealing with. They're in for a surprise. Potentially several surprises. A few breeds are quite predictable variants, but many are not what you'd expect from a Xenomorph.

Aside from the breeds and a very well-written description of Xenomorph biology (both ordinary and variant, the book contains two additional parts. The first is a short description of Leyland Okuda's ("not"-Weyland Yutani) science division, along with its ordinary roles and secret agendas. It also details the secretive "Project Red Midas", studying alien lifeforms for military usage. The second is an adventure called, quite as you'd expect, "Outbreak".

The adventure goes back to the original Alien film from 1979 for inspiration. This is not an action-packed Bug Hunt by Colonial Marines. Rather, it pits a commercial space crew against an insidious mystery on a remote mining colony. Don't expect Smartguns and Pulse Rifles, but rather several mining lasers and two shotguns. The colony, like the original Nostromo, is initially "alive and well", with an almost full number of workers, rather than the dead Hadley's Hope of Aliens fame. Something is very wrong, and very deceptive, in this mining colony. The PCs come to refuel and unload supplies, but refueling will most likely require solving this mystery and dealing with some... err... wildlife.

The booklet describes the colony in great details and clarity Even if you don't intend to pit your characters against Xenomorphs, this is still a highly useful space colony which could be easily dropped, with minimal modifications, virtually into any interstellar sci-fi setting. The big gem here is a set of highly detailed colony maps and floor-plans, drawn by the talented Ian Stead. Very useful!

In short - if you like Alien(s), or simply want a detailed space colony for your sci-fi game, this is an instant buy.

Monday, April 30, 2018

In the works: Cauldrons & Casseroles: a gamer's cookbook!

Art by Hannah Saunders
We at Stellagama Publishing are now hard a work on... A gamer's cookbook! The writer is the very talented Hannah Saunders, an RPGer and superb cook, who brings to the table a wealth of recipes ready for easy consumption while gaming. From pies to spring rolls, it aims to put home-made refreshments on the gaming table

From Hannah's introduction to the book:

"For quite a while, I have believed, as a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast and a role-playing gamer in general, that our community deserves way better refreshment than the mere Mountain Dew or coke and cheese puffs while playing our beloved games.

Me myself being both an aficionada of role-playing games and a fantasy and science-fiction fan, I have decided to dedicate a whole book to recipes inspired by those universes (or, rather, multiverses): Cauldrons and Casseroles...

Aboleth Bites
The dishes themselves are also practically suited to the game as an activity, by being typically food items of the hand-held type and do not require any utensils or any other fiddly equipment, and therefore function as appropriate, casual snacks.

In addition, the dishes have been given highly-imaginative, playful and picturesque names in order to immerse the cook even more within the experience, and to complement the course of the adventure story taking place.

As role-playing games are becoming an increasingly popular pastime and hobby for many in our current culture for quite a while, I reckon that a tradition of gaming food and drinks should evolve accordingly. Since cocktail parties or sport events, for instance, have evolve their own food traditions, there is no reason role-playing games shouldn't either...

I hope this book will inspire all of you to sharpen your kitchen wizardry skills and make some gastronomic magic happen!"

Phoenix Breast Wraps
Stay tuned!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Uranium Fever

Stellagama Publishing is Proud to Present:


Mining is a time-honored practice, its roots going back to the Stone Age. When humanity reached space, it began mining the asteroid bodies and extraterrestrial planets in pursuit of metal and ice. The most desired and profitable of these minerals are rare earths and radioactives. With asteroid mining, the Belter was born – a profession, and then a culture, of space miners. The company miner, working for corporation or government, works long shifts on interplanetary rocks for a steady salary and employment benefits. The independent belter, on the other hand, strikes out into the belt, prospecting, and mining with his own ship. Usually, he scrapes by on base metals and the more abundant rare earths. However, what sustains the belter through hard work and the loneliness of space is the lust for hitting a "motherlode" – good radioactive ore worth a fortune. As the 20th century song goes, this Uranium Fever infects the miner's heart and propels them into the unknown.

This product explores the theme of interstellar mining. Its default setting is These Stars Are Ours! – Stellagama Publishing's space-opera setting. However, almost all material in this book will work perfectly well in any science fiction setting using the Cepheus Engine rules or any similar 2d6 OGL ruleset. The book begins with a discussion of belt mining in Terran space in the 23rd century, and then provides detailed rules for generating belter characters, generating asteroid belt characteristics in the Cepheus Engine, and mining asteroid belts. It also includes three belter spacecraft, and a collection of equipment serving in the interstellar mining industry.

So, fire up your fission reactor, calibrate your mining laser, and follow the calling of Uranium Fever to distant stars!

Get it HERE!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Dark Nebula: Accelera, Research Unit #72, and origin of the Dark Nebula

How did the Dark Nebula Event come into being? The answer is in the waning years of the Rule of Man, when paradoxically, science developed in a feverish, accelerated pace. This was the Accelerando - a blossoming of a hundred strange flowers of weird science while interstellar society crumbled around them.

This had several reasons. Chief among them was lax - often non-existent - government ethical oversight. Any kind of research was possible, including the most bizarre and inhuman experiments. Another was the rampant corruption and inefficiency of the late Rule of Man. Local officials - often junior naval officers in their origin - had unchecked power and little experience in politics. The well-connected or manipulative scientist could often convince the official (or "Noble") in charge to dedicate vast sums to research which will "save the Imperium". Simpler graft and embezzlement were also common. With little or no regulation and easy access to ill-gotten funding, science could take roads never thought of in the past. Cybernetics, machine intelligence, human gengineering, trans-dimensional travel, psionics - all were on the table.

One such group was Research Unit #72. In the early 28th century, they set up shop on the extreme Spinward frontier, near a young colony named Maadin. They chose five stars within a nebula as their abode, far from the prying eyes of whatever remaining Imperial authorities. There, they tried to develop technologies which will - so they claimed - save the ailing Rule of Man from its inevitable collapse - artificial intelligence, cybernetics, genetic engineering, and, especially, new technologies for interstellar travel and, theoretically speaking, communications.

The latter technology reached a place that even the great scientists of the much later 3rd Imperium were unable to replicate, but at a price. On November 3rd, 2747 AD (-1771 Imperial), The Event occurred. Experimental stationary jump-transmission coils on the world known today as N3 fired as part of a planned experiment. But they caused an unexpected effect. In an instant, all five star-systems of the Dark Nebula were torn from their place in the Space-Time Continuum, and hurled, through space and time. For a whole year, local time, these systems were in limbo - disconnected from our universe. But then they burst back into Real Space - 145 years later in Real Space dates after their disappearance. For that time, the Nebula was a dead zone - an area of space where no solid bodies could be seen, and where anomalies in the Space-Time Continuum endangered any ship entering that space.

In August 2892 AD (-1626 Imperial), suddenly the N4 star of the Dark Nebula appeared on the horizons of Taida Na, re-lighting the old cloud. By 2900 AD, these stars appeared in the skies of Osa, Salia, and Kov as well. Soon enough, rumors have reached both Solomani and Aslan ears that the worlds of the Nebula, hinted upon in legend, are back. And now, their technological treasures are ripe to the plucking, though still ripe with Space-Time Continuum anomalies, mutated animals, crazed survivors and a mad, mad AI.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Dark Nebula: some musings and considerations

More musings and considerations of my variant-OTU Dark Nebula setting.

First, I would like to move the date two centuries back to 2900 AD (-1619 Imperial). This will make the Aslan Hierate even younger, as appropriate for a frontier setting. So this might have "30th Century Role-Playing" as a tag-line. In the Core - near Terra and Vland - this is still within the "twilight" years. However, at the high frontier such as the Dark Nebula, the Long Night has come earlier.

There is no direct contact with Terra for over a century. Contact was sporadic since the collapse of the 2740's (-1770's Imperial). It slowly declined; today, in the 2900's, it is rare for news to travel all the way from Terra to Maadin. Even when it does, it is indirect. The communications lines and trade routes are dead. Maadin and the other colonies had to fend for themselves for a century and a half. Even before that, distance from the Core forced them into partial autonomy.

The Aslan had a slow start. They were initially at TL9 in 2520 (-1999 Imperial). Since this setting has no empty-hex jumps, this means that they could only colonize the Aslan Main. This chain of stars extends to some distance to the Rimwars-Spinward from Ikona. Contact with the scattered Solomani colonies did not provide rapid technological advance due to their underdeveloped state; for years, the Aslan used native TL9-10 technology, supplemented by Jump-2 and Jump-3 ships purchased from Terrans. When they developed TL11 and large-scale native Jump-2 capabilities, they have already put their major colonial effort along the Aslan Main. Ihatei expeditions began raiding to the Trailing, but by that time the Solomani have developed to a degree which made such efforts difficult.

There were many border conflicts between Aslan and Solomani. Most were minor skirmishes between a band of ihatei and local Terran colonists. The exception was the Great Aslan War (Aslan call it the Solomani War) of 2771-2779. This gave birth to the (Maadin) Solomani Confederation as a mutual defense pact of the better-developed Terran worlds against the Aslan in the absence of help from the Core. The War ended in decisive, but bloody, Solomani victory. The result was the Mizah Accords. These forced the Aslan to withdraw from Enjiwa and Pasar and set the majority of both subsectors as a neutral zone. Definition of "neutral", however, was vague, especially as far as Aslan are concerned. So far, this seemed to hold as a "gentlemanly agreement", with both parties limiting the scale of military activity in the neutral zone to a reasonable level. There were two larger conflicts in 2813 and 2877, but these did not escalate into all-out war and things returned to normal afterwards.

Now the drums of war beat once more, this time with a new generation of aggressive ihatei maturing on Kuzu with thirst for conquest to the Trailing and an increasingly authoritarian and militarist Solomani government eager to meet this challenge with laser fire.

The 30th century Solomani Confederation is small - a mere 9 worlds - but united under a strong regime. The Aslan have many colonies to the Rimward-Spinward, but are split along clan lines and do not present a united force. The would-be belligerents are an ambitious Aslan clan (I'll choose or generate a name later) and its new generation of restless ihatei and the Solomani Confederation.

Maximum tech level is 12; military ships are capable of Jump-3. Most civilian Solomani ships have Jump-2 as the Solomani lack a Main going out of their space. Aslan civilian ships sometimes have Jump-1 and service the Aslan Main. Independent colonies tend to have lower TLs, but most of these are not very habitable and thus require some technology (often TL7) to survive.

There are Starport-A's only on three worlds: Maadin, Mizah, and Kuzu. There are a handful of Starport-B's as well. The rest is the high frontier.

As of the Dark Nebula itself, the stars within it disappeared 200 years ago, in 2686; then suddenly reappeared in 2898. They were colonized by a large research institute before the rest of the Maadin subsector, and are rumored to hold extremely high technology developed by that institute. However, there are far, far worse things there than renegade scientists...

Dark Nebula - Kuzu and Maadin subsectors - 2900 AD

Sunday, March 18, 2018

ACKS: Flagellant Redux

The Joy and Purity of Pain
Art by Hannah Saunders
(C) Stellagama Publishing, 2018
I have decided to re-design my Flagellant class to fit the Heroic Fantasy themes of my Elysian Empire campaign setting for ACKS. In this case, the actual priests would be the Monastic ones presented in the Heroic Fantasy Companion. The Flagellant becomes a non-spellcaster. A darker equivalent of the Paladin, a fervent opponent of Chaos, using pain to purify his soul and unleash divine wrath at his enemies.


The followers of the Flayed Lady - called St. Maraella by the Bright Church - see pain as the pathway to penitence and spiritual purity. They view martyrdom as the pinnacle of faith a believer can achieve, and wounding of the mortal flesh as a road to clearing one's soul of dark Chaos. Their most devout holy warrior, therefore, is the flagellant - marching through the corrupt mortal world to call the sinful to repent and flogging his own flesh to ward away the bestial call of the carnal body.

An iconoclast, an enemy of slavers, resentful of the haughty, the flagellant fights with zeal. He - or she as is often the case - may lack training in heavy armor or in a wide selection of weapons, but makes up to that in burning religious fervor. A simple robe or a leather armor to his skin, he carries his characteristic flails to rend the flesh of the Chaotic idolater and the mortal tyrant.

Requirement: None
Prime Requisite: CON and WIS

Class Build
(see the ACKS Player's Companion)
Hit Dice 2 (1,000XP): 1d8 hit dice.
Fighting 2 (1,000XP): as a fighter, but:

  • Weapon selection reduced to Narrow - bows/crossbows and flails/hammers/maces: 3 powers, 450XP.
  • Armor selection reduced from Unrestricted to Restricted - hide armor or lighter: 2 powers, 300XP.
XP for level 2: 2,750XP.
Attacks, Saving Throws, and Magic Item Use: as a Fighter.

Powers: 5, of then 4 at level 1 and an additional 1 traded for powers at levels 5 and 9.

Level 1:
  • Flagellation: the character can whip himself into a furious religious zeal. He suffers 1 point of damage per level of experience, but gains a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls and becomes immune to fear. The character may not retreat from combat while this lasts. Furthermore, the Judge may rule that he will have to attack, to the best of her lethal ability, the nearest enemy of his faith, even if the player thinks this is not a prudent choice. The zealous fury lasts until the combat ends (1 Power).

  • Stigmata (re-skinned Flesh-Runes): innumerable scars from years of self-flagellation and other forms of self-punishment blessed his wounded flesh with holy protection - an armor of faith. At 1st level, the flagellant gains a +2 bonus to AC and decrease the damage from any non-magical attacks by 1 point per die. At 7th level, this protection increases to +4 AC and 2 points per die. At 13th level, the protection increases to +6 AC and 3 points per die. The damage reduction is applied per die. Damage can be reduced to 0, but not less than 0, on each die. The AC bonus from flesh-runes stacks with potions of invulnerability, rings of protection, and similar effects, but does not stack with armor. Attacks from monsters of 5 HD or more are considered magical attacks due to the monster’s ferocity (3 Powers).

Level 5:
  • Martyrdom: upon reaching 0 hit points, the character may choose to remain in full fighting condition, functioning as if he has above-zero hit points, and applying any further damage as negative hit points. He may continue fighting until she reaches a negative number of hit points equal or exceeding his Constitution score, or stays conscious for a number of rounds equal to her level of experience - the sooner between them. Then he falls, unconscious mortally wounded. The price of his sacrifice is that he suffers a penalty of -1 per level of experience to both Mortal Wounds and Tampering with Mortality rolls related to that injury (1 Power).
Level 9:
  • Holy Fervor: Any hirelings of the same religion as the character gain a +1 bonus to their morale score whenever she is present (1 Power).