Friday, 27 January 2012

Le Monde du Futur

This is the last of these giant setting-dumps, I believe. As a disclaimer, Cold-War era international politics are something I'm a little hazy on, so please excuse the occasional wobbly bit history (I also fudge a lot of the facts in order to fit with the theme and aesthetic, so that affects things too)

A sort of Cold War/Big Brother/Brazil/Paranoia/Modernist aesthetic coupled with a heavy dose of Metal Hurlant-style Euro-sci fi. Illustrations by Moebius, Bilal, Mezieres, set design from Alphaville and the Bauhaus, and costume design help from Jean-Paul Gaultier. A worn, 60s-to-80s future where spaceships and flying cars zip about, but on the crowded, grimy city streets people just ride bicycles or scooters. It would be like if Blade Runner had Europe instead of Japan as the culturally dominant ones.

I like the notion of enclosure, and the people of the world being forced into tight urban spaces. To that end, I see the world of the future (I almost want to say the year is 2000 for fun) as being composed primarily of enormous arcologies that link or combine several major present-day cities (say, there’s the Paris-London-Amsterdam megacity. Or perhaps one big Anglopolis and a northwestern continental one with France and Belgium and the Netherlands. Whatever) and the world outside the megacities is just a mess and practically uninhabitable due to nuclear war or something. Technology is clunky and primarily analogue because the world went to hell in 1966 or something and a substantial chunk of the world’s industrial capacity was lost, so everything’s done on a smaller scale now and people are perfectly content with oven-sized computers and film and typewriters. And hover-cars.

I can see that post-disaster there would be room for major revolution within certain governments, and that nations might rise from the ashes under a nationalist dictatorship, but that goes part-and-parcel with the general tone of things; everywhere in the world is basically pretty horrible and probably a police state, and the PCs are against that in some way. It’s a ‘punk’ setting. Maybe there’s a scummy little international lunar colony, where the worst undesirables of Earth society end up. It’d be kind of like Casablanca, maybe.

So in this one your characters are variously:

  • anarchic (or anarchist) gun-happy Tank Girls and street toughs
  • Ennui-ridden Francophones, lurking in smoky stairwells or bars where a lone record player loops a scratchy Edith Piaf album, or some gloomy jazz
  • Hardboiled detectives in the vein of Chandler, Blade Runner, or Alphaville
  • Overtly futuristic Moebius-y people with curious headgear.
  • Deluded upper-class people content with the current state of things
  • Organised revolutionaries, full of idealistic notions of overthrowing the corrupt government and restoring to the world to its pre-disaster state.
  • Small-time businesspeople, taxi drivers, and suchlike
  • Spies, for or against the current regime.
  • Hired killers, with a host of deadly piece-together guns and a precocious young Natalie Portman sidekick.
Fashion-wise, people fall mostly into one of two camps: either they wear futuristic fashions with wild hair and accessories (and not entirely dissimilar to a person of the 1980s), or they look broadly 60s, with suits and miniskirts and suchlike. People live in cramped, boxy flats in the megacities, but don’t skimp on decor; homes are all decorated in some variation on a modernist, 60s-future style (albeit with a lot of concrete about). This is the Euro-future, the Dutch and German knack for design has greater prominence. (Bauhaus spaceships)

The major political powers in this future are something along the lines of:

  • America: The ‘Disaster’ (or 60-Minute War, or just WWIII) obviously affected America pretty terribly; huge swathes of its territory are uninhabitable, cities reduced to rubble, all of that. America, at its peak before the Disaster, is now reduced to a third-rate power at best. The capital is New York (optimistic, really, but this is fiction. Nuclear radiation works on principles of fun and drama), and many of the country’s best minds and important figure fled to Britain before the attack, leading to the UK’s surge in importance (akin to Von Braun et al in America after WWII).
  • European Union: The calamitous effects of the Disaster left Europe massively weakened, and caused many nations to realise that banding together in mutual support wouldn’t be a bad thing. When the Germanies united in the 80s the EU was further strengthened. Today there are Autobahns criss-crossing the continent, linking the various major metropolises via high-speed radiation safe travel. The largest cities are Paris, Berlin, Benelux City, and Roma.
  • USSR: It’s pretty much just playing along with genre expectations to include this, but in the 80s and earlier people didn’t seem to consider the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it always continued well into the future. We’ll say they had the upper hand during the war, delivering a decisive strike against the Americans and then essentially ending things. They were probably also hit, but less badly. They have their own lunar base, which they maintain with greater diligence than the EU Lunopolis. (can you tell I was born post-Perestroika?)
  • Britain: It’s pretty patently ridiculous to say that Britain will be a world power in the science-fictional future, but perhaps the disaster levelled the playing field somewhat. I see the UK as mostly semi-isolationist, occasionally dragged into American schemes. With a rise in nationalism and patriotic fervour, the monarchy is somewhat strengthened (though still complete figureheads), and the head of state is Queen Beatrice (the top four in line to throne having perished in various ways. Beatrice was in Australia or something) Most of the populace lives in the Anglopolis, or Greater London, which dominates most of the south and midlands, and is connected via subterranean shuttles to Mega-Glasgow (Wales is a nuclear-scarred wasteland)
  • China: China is this world’s stable, reasonable state on account of their being largely unaffected by the Disaster. They’re affluent, well-populated, and their communist ideology comes out looking pretty okay in the face of some of the worse countries in Earth A.D 2000. Chinese influence probably extends out into the rest of Asia, as well as into the weakened America (which causes something of a Blade Runner effect, although Europe also has similar influence). China is, because of this, one of the most progressively futuristic nations, with a full-fledged space programme, cyborgs, big multi-level Moebius cities, and sundry other sci-fi bits and pieces.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Adventuring in the Great War

Inspired in part by the admirable Weird Adventures/The City material being set down over at From the Sorcerer's Skull, this is the result of some idle, half-thought-through contemplation on how to run a campaign set in or around a version of WWI that could also accomodate anything out of the Fiend Folio, say, and still work. So after this stream of consciousness setting creation, we have this version of history where Queen Victoria lives on through the aid of technology and countless alchemical elixirs and unguents; a world that accommodates D&D by being very flexible in its approach to historical accuracy and no aversion to anachronism, but maintains a pulpy, weird feel rather than any kind of odious ‘steam-punk with elves and dwarfs’ thing. In this Great War, technology is much as it historically was, and magic is rare and mostly the purview of fairies or late-century style Spiritualists (magic-users via Blavatsky & Crowley). (This is a bit fragmented, with a lot of brief paragraphs containing just one or two thoughts)

Adventurers would perhaps belong to a club, which grants certain benefits for maybe a small cut of looted spoils. Having the Great War raging, either in the foreground or background, upsets the normal order of society and affords them carte blanche to gallivant across Europa doing as they will.

To quickly summarise the history: very far back doesn’t really matter, save to say that the dark ages or so were populated by slightly more mythic heroes and dragons and what-all. Arthurian goings-on probably happened to a greater or lesser degree, and Merlin’s works are still extant in the world (there are also the remnants of mythic islands, such as Lemuria, Hy Brasil, Atlantis, or Lyonesse around; the level to which they are part of everyday goings-on is undecided). During the Tudor period, the throne of England was taken by the elf-queen Gloriana, or Good Queen Gloriana, who governed the nation in its first steps toward Empire (places named in honour of Elizabeth, such as Virginia, are called after Gloriana in this world)
. Her court magician, John Dee, fashioned two of the most infamous magic artefacts of all time, the Hand and Eye of Dee.
  • The German Empire leads its alliance of Central Powers with an iron will, its goals furthered with the application of countless technological innovations of tremendous potency. The German inventions  have hastened developments in other nations, as well as spurred the rise of the New Luddite Party in Britain through fear of this rampantly accelerating technological development. Gas-masked, pointy-helmeted stormtroopers swarming out of a choking, deadly fog and landships and the aerofleet.
  • France is France. There are monsters to fight there, and undead in the Paris Catacombs and things. It’s France. Everyone is fighting here, so there’s that going on. (can you tell I couldn't think of much of anything to put in France, or many interesting adventure hooks or action?)
  • Ruritania because why not? Burroughs’ version, as well, and Borduria & Syldavia? There’s a Lyonesian Ambassador, there can be a Ruritanian one. Cagliostro, with its poplation of 3500?
  • The Russian Empire lies in a tenuous position, with revolution dimly on the horizon. The Tsar’s son is taken ill, which allows the ‘Mad Monk’, a sorcerer of sinister potency, to inveigle his way into the counsel of the Romanovs. The threat of Russia’s new magical power now looms over Europa like a great malignant cloud.
  • Austria-Hungary has ever been second fiddle to Germany, and the War has not changed this. Austro-Hungary has made some attempts at homegrown innovation in the vein of the Germans, but little has come of it. The country is also, of course, overrun with social and cultural strife as the various constituent regions chafe at the rule of the Dual Monarchy.
  • The Balkans are, as ever, fragmented and problematic to the surrounding empires. In this reality, however, the addition of vampire counts and suchlike make the area both a great deal more of a problem.
  • America’s colonisation followed our history for the most part, although it also fostered a number of magicians, persecuted at the time, as well as an even stronger influx of religious minorities. The West is still fairly young, and far from where I would want the campaign to go, but East you have New York (which could have a different name in this. I wouldn’t mind) and New England and Gloriana state and all that. Not to mention the Dominion of Albionoria (Borealia, Vesperia?), the still-British part of the continent.
  • Britain has, under the steady and near-century-long rule of Victoria, prospered and grown like no empire since that of the Romans. Through the developments in industry and certain arcane practices of the past century, the tangled mess of the Capital has grown to stretch halfway to Cambridge in the north, Oxford west, Brighton to the south, and all the way to the Estuary eastwards. To commemorate Her Majesty’s glorious rule, construction on a trans-channel bridge was begun until war halted building. The country faces greater social strife, however, with the rise of magicians and Spiritualists, New Luddism, and, of course, the War.

Basically, the world is in essence the 1916 (or whenever) that we know, but a touch more old fashioned in certain ways (for instance, the tendency to compare Her Majesty to prior queens is more pronounced, as are ‘New Roman Empire’ associations, and certain names and terminology, i.e. Europa, are more antiquated than OTL), and bent and molded so as to allow D&D and its various idiosyncrasies to fit comfortably. A pulp feel is strong, and classic or mythological monsters are discouraged; unique or re-skinned foes are preferred, as are the weirder and pulpier canon beasts.

Organisations where PCs might get work (in Britain):

  • Their private club, for gentlemen of an adventurous or exploratory nature, and ladies of uncommon brassiness. Good source for hirelings.
  • Royal Geographic Society. It was practically an adventurer’s guild historically, but with monsters and magic treasure it’d be hard to stop them. Rather more formal, but they give out grants and help outfit expeditions.
  • Secret Service. For home-front threats and espionage abroad, both mundane and more esoteric. A priceless artefact in the hands of the Hun? Call the adventurers!
  • Scotland Yard, for London-based adventuring. Morlock hunts, daring forays into smog-dense Limehouse to bring supplies, clearing out a dangerous cult from a Tube station.
  • The Army, for adventures on the front. Fighting witches behind enemy lines or putting an end to a German Juggernaut or protecting an alchemist in No-Man’s-Land. General Kitchener wants YOU to adventure for Queen and Country.
It is also entirely likely that, were I to run this, I'd steal the idea of multiple clones of Victoria from Sorcerer's Skull. The original version would stay mostly either in Osborne House or, more likely, in Balmoral, as far from the war as possible. With multiple Vickies running around, the possibility of royal-issued quests is increased, and adventuring at the behest of Victoria cannot be a bad addition to a campaign.

Friday, 20 January 2012

5 Taverns

A selection of taverns, designed in preparation for some urban-crawling.
  • The Smiling Chirurgeon: under-lit and fairly raucous. Strange mix of bohemian types and ordinary working-class folk. A one-eyed Jackwellian Priest is conducting an enthusiastically heckled & praised lecture on why wigs are sinful.
  • The Provost’s Head: philosopher/academic’s pub. A sage at the bar is looking for someone to help him look for a lost artefact that will prove his theory on the nature of ancient civilisations. Barman  is a cheery Dickensian figure.
  • The Well: front for smuggling operation, filled Star Wars cantina-like with all manner of weird people and species. Barman is heavily tattooed and fiercely bearded
  • The Orc and Cockerel: dusty tavern frequented by down-on-their-luck thieves, predominantly. Barmaid knows a hex which she can be persuaded to teach a PC if they can help her with a bit of trouble she’s in. One of the thieves at the bar has a map leading to a treasure that he can’t get to on his own.
  • Mangler’s: orcish smoke parlour. Caters mostly to an orc clientele, serves harsh rotgut and specialises in smoking crabs. Cellar leads to a fungal garden, barman is a 2nd-level barbarian.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Have a big ol' list of names

Arstasia Vennebore
Cadwalader Pigeon
Honoria Matchlock
Vornimand Rudwich
Bixby Scrope
Balthazar Slyne
Antimony Olgamesh
Optric Lasswise
Perfidia Gripe
Artorius Conger
Eustacia Pike
Melchior Hogwife
Cathaspar Parable
Llelai Corcorine
Trobart Pinafore
Robilard Panzelkonse
Yolanda Gryneleigh
Harcourt Pulm-Otho
Anophelia Moncour
Wintershaw Saxe
Uther Maeliapter
Anharawd Possett
Romula Ludd
Boggart Vandernoir
Pruntby Lumpwaste
Casternigh Prawn
Arbroast Torque
Jane Cacotope
Augusta Weremaid
Jormund Lackavarn
Havilard Babbinger
Desdemona Prax
Llophelia Coelemoulian

Most or all of these have graced the various NPCs from Keep on the Borderlands, as well as serving as names for a PC or two.

Offloading setting-stuff, take 1

As this blog is designed to, at least initially, act as a place to dump the sundry bits-and-pieces of D&D stuff I've put together, the first few posts will likely be like this one (i.e. little descriptions of locales with some annotations). This stuff here is of the WFRP mold, and is thus the real world with added elves and gorbels. Apologies for any cusses in the text, something was up the day I wrote these (let's say I was channelling Zak S.)

I think key to this is a sort of underlying theme of 'either it's a city or it's the wilderness and it's deadly' or, to put it another way, it's like the 'points of light' in reverse (gaps of darkness?). The cornerstones of the world are the various metropolises and city-states, but in between are just wild landscapes littered with things that will kill you.

  • Prettain: Grimy Blanchian shit-stained Britain-analogue, vaguely pre-norman and with extra Celtic stuff for colour. Feudal, dominated by ludicrously out-of-touch toffs and a succession of quirky and occasionally dangerously mad monarchs. Maybe the aristocracy holds to some form of ‘chivalry’, but still come off with a sort of old Etonian air, like they see themselves and their surroundings through Arthurian-tinted spectacles and treat everybody like that while at the same time being completely venal pointless bastards. (Speaks for itself, really. It's Britain in the 'dung ages', and people have Anglo-Saxon names 'cause I like them better than French ones.)
  • Mordengrome:Bloody enormous drowning-in-its-own-immensity metropolis and all of the inspiration that goes along with it. Mordengrome squats low and wide over a sluggish black river, its crumbling bricks and labyrinth of chimneys and steeples rising into the smog. London/Mieville/Venice/Lankhmar/Noir/&c. Gigantic and bizarre and practically incomprehensible and thoroughly sin-drenched. The basic distillation of an urban environment with added decadent sorcery, or something. (If I had my way, most adventuring would happen in cities, hence the sheer number of them in my campaign worlds. This is the primary one, though. The city that is characterised mostly by its urban-ness, instaed of a certain feel or genre it emulates like other cities)
  • Great Pesmect: Much like fake-Britain, but slightly cleaner and the aristocracy is seven times as decadent and weird. Court fads and baroque etiquette prevail, and Machiavellian Harkonnen schemes are the order of the day. people are noir-ish and full of ennui, ruled by a conjoined brother and sister who keep a vast harem of the country’s most beautiful boys and girls. Was once known simply as 'Pesmect' until some king of the past decided, in a fit of aggrandisement, to append the 'Great' part. (I was recently informed of the 18th-century court fad of scathing wit, where the victims of said wit were occasionally driven to suicide by the jokes made about them. Witticism-based combat is the obvious extrapolation of this, and it claerly would come out of Great Pesmect)
  • Arlemania: Warhammer-y fake Germany, with creepy Grimm forests. Witches, goblins, barrow-wights, fairy tale puzzles, and a hundred squabbling egomaniacal elector-princes.
  • Balquileia: Quasi-Mediterranean land locked in a feud with religious enemies. Devoutly religious, some crusades-stuff and an inquisition. Subvert things by making them a witchocracy, instead of fake-catholic.
  • Astraghul: Ineffable brown people. Religiously different to the rest of fake-Europe. Intermittently have crusades launched against them. 1,001 Nights and some Sword-and-Sandal stuff goes here. (A bit facetious here, but basically one needs somewhere to stick the sort of things that pseudo-mediaeval Europeans regard as exotic. It's all of the Muslim world, from North Africa to the Mughal Empire rolled into one big, dubiously politically correct, package)
  • Carcoveria: Fuck-off huge empire (or multiple interrelated fuck-off huge principalities trying to unite each other) to the east. Cold, rich, and very like us but not quite. Straddle the line between foreign devils, bearded barbarians, and relatable neighbours.
  • Ymoria: Snow-blasted icy barbarian wasteland of vikings. Wolves, giants, fur cloaks and such. Add in some Martin-esque Northerner kings, more like Scotland or something than Norway. There’s some Beowulf here, too, and some Broken Sword. The trolls here have culture and king and things, and are kind of more like giants in certain respects.
  • Orzorine Empire: The now-flagging remnant of a sword-and-sorcery empire that once spanned the known world, still fabulously wealthy but also failing. Fat off the riches of the east, but increasingly seen as ripe for raiding to the west. The place to procure rare or obscure items, seek nigh-lost knowledge of elder days, and experience the last few traces of weird fantasy fake-Rome.
  • The Thaumic Putrescence: Freakish magic wasteland. Mind-breakingly weird shit, mutation storms and an aggressively unnatural slant to everything. All of the deepest weird in D&D goes here, as do mutations and anything else that breaks your sanity from being too messed up. (this is basically MiĆ©ville's Cacotopic Stain, right down to the ridiculous name in an attempt to mimic the feel of the Stain. It exists solely to rationalise to a degree such monsters as Flail Snails and Owlbears without resorting to 'a wizard did it')
  • Malbandon: Pirate Venice, with secrets and ships and sneak dealings. A Leiber+Assassin’s Creed feel, with secret societies and cults and underground warfare under the nose of a corrupt Doge and his militia cronies. More weird nobility, but these ones have a penchant for expensive foreign drugs and like masquerades. (preferably attended whilst off their heads on black lotus powder)
  • Hawksaw: Dracula and Bathory and vampiric politics; Twisty dense forests of Ian Miller treants and people gibbeted on trees and bracken, Balkan nonsense (vampire watermelons), sinister gypsies, wolves.
  • Bridge-city. City made of bones. Giant city now inhabited by normal-sized people. Middenheim. City built in a giant sinkhole. City of permanent night. Bloated Gormenghast-Carcassonne city-fortress. (I never felt like fleshing-out yet more big cities, but these are a handful of basic ideas should a need for a city-state arise.)
  • Nonhuman lands. Dwarves live in mountain-holds (mountain dwarves have a caste-system, and are either devoutly religious or decadent and weird, and probably have a bunch of dark, subterranean cults) or are itinerant fairy tale tinker-types, akin to the dwarves out of The Hobbit+Rumpelstitskin and whatever else. Elves are from another world, which is a messed-up fairy tale universe of Faerie weird. They’re hard to understand, and mostly live in hill-palaces that are half in our world and half in Faerie or wander about the deep forest doing their own Elfish business. You almost never see an elf in a city. Halflings live in human lands, and are pretty much like tiny, fat, West-Country landsknecht who like off-colour jokes and pipe-smoking. They vary slightly in character and detail depending on where they live, but basically hold to that standard. Gnomes are like tiny elves as written by the Dutch. They like animals, are slightly woodsier, and represent the fairy-types that aren’t elvish or goblin-y. Orcs occupy a big region to the south, a sort of ‘Here be Orcs’ land. Goblins are like other fairy creatures.
  • Vort/Jackolantern: Hardboiled, rain-slick city of bawdy music halls and speakeasies, rampant gang warfare, and anarchic cops-and-robbers antics every night. (I like both names, but can't decide which is more appropriate. The idea of politics involving a power named Jackolantern is awfully appealing, though)

By way of introduction: A Ramble

I suppose I need to introduce this blog and what I'll be doing on it? That's typically useful, so I'll give it a go:

I'm a student-type individual and artist, and I write quite a fair amount of nonsense related to fantasy role-playing games, mostly as a way of a warming-up before writing assignments, and even the occasional actual game-with-real-players affair. Over the past few months, I've accumulated a decent store of hastily-written setting notes and ambitious, impractical ideas that I have decided to share with the Internet and the many strangers on it.

My gaming credentials are of ignoble pedigree, as I grew up playing the third edition (3e, Type III) of D&D, but a couple of years ago came to the realisation that dictionary-length tomes of feats and skills and classes with un-rememorable abilities was acting more as a barrier to fun than a means towards it, and so have been jettisoning chunks of the system like a sinking dirigible looses sandbags, turning to older versions of the game for inspiration. I now play mostly with a jumbled, chimeric set of rules cribbed from 3e and Holmes Basic and the odd internet source.

So that's about it, I think. Expect crude pastiches of real-world history and maybe a sketch or two.