Monday, May 1, 2017

Future History, Part 1 of 3: The 21st Century


The 21st Century found the Earth in a conflict between capitalistic globalism, reactionary traditionalism, and an increasingly ineffectual liberal minority. The elections of populist conservatives throughout the Western world brought about an economic boom that translated into higher profits for corporations, but little relief for workers and average citizens.

In 2024, a joint effort between NASA, the ESA, and Russia established Gagarin-Shepard Station in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), a replacement for the aging International Space Station. In addition to an expanded research capacity, Gagarin-Shepard was designed as a staging base for planned expeditions to Luna and Mars in the near future. This was followed in 2027 by the establishment of Tiangong, China’s first permanent station in LEO.

In India, huge advances are made in computer engineering and biotechnology. Rudimentary Artificial Intelligence is created, albeit with considerable oversight and almost paranoid monitoring. In addition, the first custom organs are genetically engineered using DNA from the recipient. The Indian Space Research Organization parlays these new technologies to push forward an aggressive orbital presence. The rapid development culminates in 2029 with the establishment of Aditi Station in LEO. It is both larger and more advanced than Gagarin-Shepard or Tiangong and becomes an important hub for many independent, non-Western space missions and research.

Tensions in the Middle East come to a head in 2030 when Iran and Saudi Arabia declare war on each other. Iraq and Syria again become the battleground between the two nations as Shi’a and Sunni Arabs fight each other openly alongside the Iranian and Saudi militaries, respectively. The United States, weary of its two-plus decades of adventurism in the region at the start of the century, steps back from their Saudi allies. The war is bloody and brutal, as the two sides show no mercy to each other.

The Middle Eastern War causes considerable disruption to the world economy due to the interruption of oil production. The resulting crash in the mid-2030s is ended only as the global infrastructure shifts over to Indian designed fusion plants. Powered by fusion power, over a dozen new orbital stations are placed in Earth orbit.

Luna becomes an active space location in 2036 when permanent outposts in lunar orbit are established by United States (Armstrong), the ESA (Aurora), China (Changxi), and a joint effort between Russia and India (Chandrayaan). History is made in 2037 with the establishment of the first permanent Lunar colony, Korolev, by the Russians and Indians. It is followed in 2038 with the establishment of Kennedy, the first permanent American colony. China and the ESA establish Chang’e and Selene in 2042 and 2043, respectively.

While large parts of humanity and the mass media is fascinated by the nascent colonization of the moon, a growing number of populist causes in both the major powers of the world and the other nations whose resources are being exploited by transnational corporate interests begin to become more organized and militant. Central Asian and African revolutions start initially as proxy wars between the great powers but slowly escalate as the great powers follow the slippery slope from advising to full spectrum combat operations.

In the midst of all of this conflict, Brazil serves as a voice of neutrality and sponsors many of the (ultimately failed) peace talks throughout the decade. They found the Ataegina colony in LEO, the first large-scale permanent orbital habitation in 2044. As many of the other orbital powers become belligerents in the upcoming world conflict, Ataegina becomes the haven for apolitical and independent space interests.

Up until 2049, forces of the great powers meticulously avoided direct conflict between each other, hoping to avoid sparking a fight that presented a more existential threat. In 2049, U.S. and Russian special operations forces engaged each other in a protracted firefight in a Central Asian proxy war. This led to a gradual escalation of airstrikes and reinforcement culminating in large force on force engagements in multiple continents and oceans. Alliances were tapped and by the end of the year, all of the world’s great powers were locked into World War III. The wars quickly settled into a conventional stalemate and became a war of attrition. In orbit, Orbital Kill Vehicles wreaked havoc on outposts in LEO and Lunar orbit. Only Brazil’s rigid neutrality kept Ataegina from being damaged.Global total war led to large-scale economic disruptions all over the world, and by 2053, all belligerents signed the Ataegina Treaty, brokered by Brazil, which solidified miniscule gains by each party. Overall, no one is declared a winner of World War III, but all of the great powers are greatly reduced in stature.

As the parties involved to World War III collapse into exhaustion, internal tensions rise within all parties involved. In Europe, the EU collapses as the remaining members of the Union and NATO go their separate ways. While most nations revert to nationalistic independence, the Scandinavian nations form the Scandinavian Union, which begins as a common market and limited political union similar to the EU. As time progresses, the Scandinavian Union found utility in closer ties. Selene, the Lunar holding of the now-defunct ESA, suffers as the individual nations fund only the areas that benefit their citizens. In the United States, the tension between the different regions is far more dramatic and results in a slowly expanding civil war. By the end of 2055, five nations, Cascadia (the west coast), the American Union (The Northeastern and northern Midwest regions), the United Republic of America (The Appalachian and southeastern region), the Republic of Texas and the High Plains Republic (The northern Rocky Mountains and plains west of the Mississippi). Mexico annexes huge portions of southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Texas and Mexico have an immediate and violent rivalry. The Kennedy colony on Luna, with it’s relatively small population, declares its neutrality during the American Civil Wars and eventually signs treaties with all of the remnant factions. Kennedy becomes a fiercely independent and inclusive colony and serves as the Lunar equivalent of a Free City with the attendant diplomatic and espionage activity.

Isolated from the events of the war, Brazil emerges as the most significant world power. Its enhanced military and technological advances lead it to lead the efforts in both space exploration and rebuilding after WWIII. In particular, the Nuclear Thermal Rocket (NTR) makes Lunar travel much faster and allows more minor expeditions to the other planets within the system. Led by Brazil, nations who managed to avoid involvement in the conflict (particularly Indonesia and Mexico) surge forward into gaps filled by the fading powers.

The 2060s, known as “The Brazilian Decade” are generally a boom for multinational industries. Many of the early Earth LEO outposts that survived World War III are quietly retired and their operations moved to Ataegina. Similarly, the invention of the NTR renders the need for the Lunar orbital outposts obsolete, with Chang’e becoming a primary hub for activity. Brazil establishes Abaangui on Luna in 2067 and Mexico establishes Estrella in 2068 at the Earth-Sun L4 point on Asteroid 2010TK7.

Mexican scientists based out of a Los Angeles-based research consortium develop advanced materials technology that allows for stronger spaceship construction as well as the exploration and colonization of the ocean floor. Underwater colonies begin to quickly pop up off the coast of Latin America.

The American Union asserts itself in the latter part of the 21st century, with the establishment of Tycho, the first permanent Martian colony, in 2081. Many other nations start to follow suit, but the economic downturn during the last 15 years of the century cause many of those projects to either be abandoned or reduced in size to temporary outposts.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Assumptions of a 5e World: Races, Part III: Halflings

Oh, Halflings...

A lot of people have some pretty strong ideas and criticisms about Halflings--and most of it valid. The evolution of the D&D Halfling has strayed far from its Tolkien roots.

1. Field Mice and Citizen Soldiers
There are two quotes in the PHB that strike me as interesting regarding the Halfling racial character. First:
The diminutive halflings survive in a world full of larger creatures by avoiding notice or, barring that, avoiding offense. (p. 26)
For them, adventuring is less a career than an opportunity or sometimes a necessity. (p. 27)
This, along with the very pastoral and no-nonsense description found in the flavor text remind me of the romanticized small-town America in the early part of the 20th Century--plain talking, lawful, and pleasant farm folk who are willing to take up a noble cause when it is just to do so. However, there is also a side to them which attempts to remain anonymous. They integrate into other communities as easily as forming their own, often becoming an invisible, but vital, aspect of society. Even urban halflings, cooks and butlers extraordinaire, routinely move around unseen by the taller folk.

2. Subraces
Personally, it has been difficult for me to really get a strong feel for the subraces of halflings. The Lightfoot Halflings are sneakier, chattier, and more prone to wanderlust, while the Stout Halflings are hardier. And that's really all the differentiation in the PHB. The subraces appear to be almost more mechanical bonus options compared to living, breathing cultures.

3. My Halflings
What might differentiate the two is the environment they come from. Shire-based halflings, more rustic and laconic, might fit the traits that the Stout Halflings possess. City halflings mesh up well with the Lightfoot Halflings--the charisma bonus is suitable for members of the service industry and the Naturally Stealthy trait relies on being around tall people, something urban halflings have in far more abundance than their rural counterparts.

For the most part, I don't see much of a reason for Stouts to be out and about in the world unless there is a pressing need. And when they do leave their homes, they do what they need to do and then come home. A Stout who chooses the life of adventure would certainly be a bit scandalous. Lightfeet, on the other hand, could easily be brought on initially as servants of adventurers, evolving into adventurers in their own right and slipping into more mainstream culture. The majority of Lightfeet would probably cock an eyebrow and "tsk" the adventurous halfling, but urban halflings are far more tolerant of this behavior than the Stouts.

On Friday... HUMANS!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Assumptions of a 5e World: Races, Part II: Elves

Continuing my look at the assumptions of the world that would exist in D&D's fifth edition, I'm going to look at Elves today.

1. Basic Premise
So, the first sentence of the profile (after the Dragonlance quote) states that "Elves are a magical people of otherworldly grace, living in the world but not entirely part of it." This basic premise of elves has two things to talk about--inherent magicalness (what an awful word, can someone give me a better one?) and detachment from the world.

The first is easily explained thanks to the Fey Ancestry trait. But what does this ancestry entail? Are elves what happen to Fey when they stay away from the Feywild for too long? Are they creations of the Fey? Are they crossbreeds of Fey and something more mundane? Do the elves even know?

The detachment is likely a combination of their unusually long lifespan and their alien nature. I've got some ideas I'll share below.

2. Subraces
So, according to the PHB, there are two subraces of elf--High and Wood Elf (I know Dark Elves are in the book, but fuck those guys. Seriously.). The long story made short is that High Elves are a little more intelligent and inherently magical and Wood Elves are a little more wise and adept at hiding in natural surroundings. I do find it interesting that Grey/Sun Elves and High/Moon Elves were combined into one category of High Elf.

To me, this means that High Elves remain closer to their Fey ancestors and Wood Elves have embraced life outside the Feywild. Which means, in my game, I'll likely make that extra language that High Elves get Sylvan to further strengthen that connection. I've got a few more thoughts on how I will implement elves in my game, but first...

3. Drizzt/Drow Rant
You know how a lot of people hate Dragonlance?
That's how I feel about Drizzt.
First, The Crystal Shard was the first D&D novel I really loved as a kid. I thought it was fantastic. Drizzt was a rad idea, I liked the relationship between Bruenor and Wulfgar, and my exposure to fantasy literature wasn't all that developed, so it didn't seem as tired to me then as it does now. Then Drizzt became the spokesman for the Forgotten Realms and we got oversaturated with him. But what really pissed me off about the Drizztification of D&D is now every single swinging dick gamer wanted to play the "good" evil race. UGH. So yeah, I blame Drizzt for a lot of my annoyance in games. And I liked my Drow mysterious and unknown. Now there is just too much canon out there. And another thing--why do they need to be black-skinned? I'm not going all social justice here, but why should they have such a big target on their back (and face and hands and...)? If I incorporate some kind of Dark Elf into my game, they will be radically different than the ones in D&D canon.

4. Elves in my Game
High Elves. Holding on to their connection to the Feywild, they most certainly have a superiority complex over the rest of the world. Native practitioners of magic, they certainly look down upon the brutish methods the other races use to access the Weave. Bards, sorcerers, and warlocks would be exceedingly rare in High Elf society, Wizards dominating all aspects of magical culture in elven society. The Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster paths are very common coming from the High Elf enclaves.

Wood Elves, on the other hand, use very little learned arcane magic. I'm not sure what separated them from the Feywild, but whatever it was it sent them on a path to secrecy and evasion that granted them the Fleet of Foot and Mask of the Wild traits. They will still have spellcasters, but they will be the more native ones--sorcerers, druids, rangers, etc.

Elven culture is isolated into various enclaves--High Elves out of arrogance (and the location's connection to the Feywild), Wood Elves out of paranoia--but the elven wanderlust mentioned in the PHB does bring elves into the world of man. I reckon that High Elves will send people out for a brief stay in short-lived society to keep an eye on them, make sure there is no threat to the enclaves and possibly some appropriation of culture and technology. The High Elves are too busy navelgazing and reminiscing about Fey times to really be doing any of that work themselves. So, a young High Elf might head out for about 20-50 years then return to the enclave for a century or so to process and philosophize about what they learned on walkabout. The elves on this Grand Tour would certainly be living opulently and refusing to do a lot of the heavy lifting for any endeavors they are involved in. While large swaths of the people hold them in similar disdain as they would some of the more foppish nobility, there is a sycophantic group of romantics and opportunists who form their entourages.

Wood Elves, on the other hand, would keep a lower profile when they move around in foreign circles. They would often interact with human society through interlocutors (maybe a human/half-elf order of rangers and druids). The rare Wood Elf adventurer would likely be ranging about looking for some kind of advantage for the Wood Elves, be they allies or maybe an artifact. I just have to suss out what the big threat to the Wood Elves is.

So yeah, elves.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Assumptions of a 5e World: Races, Part I: Subraces and Dwarfs.

So, I've had the 5e Player's Handbook for about two weeks now and I have slowly been getting a feel for it and the world that it implies. I'm going to start with the races, since that's the first thing that the PHB discusses. As always, your feedback is encouraged.

1. Subraces are back!
I am no expert on some editions of D&D, but it seems like every other major iteration of the game either adds in or subtracts out subraces. I don't recall hearing about them before Unearthed Arcana, and they seemed to be gone when 2e came around. 3e brought them back, 4e did away with them. I may be wrong here, but this might be the first PHB that actually has mechanically separated subraces. Personally, I like the idea of subraces. Your low-density races might be more homogenous, but in a D&D-trope-centric world, there are going to be plenty of dwarfs and elves, so it makes sense that there will be substantial differences in culture.

2. Dwarfs
Karkaz Axeshield, representing Mithril Hall Vocational Technical School,
scored his education on a throwing hammer scholarship.
Dwarfs in 5e are certainly your typical grudge-bearing, greedy, god-fearing grumps they always seem to be. They all get to use dwarfy weapons (hammers and axes--and the terrifying thought of THROWING HAMMERS (see the picture to the right)) and have some sort of vocational training. Of note, they don't get an attack bonus against greenskins--which means that a 5e world doesn't necessarily HAVE to have the Dwarf-Greenie conflict.

Hill Dwarfs are wiser and more resilient than Mountain Dwarfs and Mountain Dwarfs are stronger and more armored than Hill Dwarfs. Mountain Dwarfs are also 4" taller, on the average, than Hill Dwarfs.

The assumption I am getting from this is that Mountain Dwarfs have a much more militant society than Hill Dwarfs. I reckon they are on the frontlines of SOME conflict and have a mentality where EVERYONE is a member of the militia when push comes to shove. It could be a siege mentality similar to Israel or maybe an isolationist streak like Switzerland.

Hill Dwarfs have been a little less straightforward than their cousins. I'm seeing them as a more introspective and philosophical than the Mountain Dwarfs, but I'm at a loss to explain the extra hit points. Maybe the outdoor hill living has helped Hill Dwarfs provide a healthier and more balanced diet than the iron rations-chowing Mountain Dwarfs.

So, what I am taking from all of this is that the dwarfs who left the mountains became a little softer and more intellectual than the Spartan dwarfs in the mountains, fighting ancestral foes.

3. My Dwarfs
With all of these assumptions, I am wondering how the different dwarf subraces (to include the Duergar) came to be in my D&D 5e world. Greed and Grudges seem to be the main negative drives of dwarf culture, while family and faith are the positive drives.

Ten thousand years ago, the dwarfs ruled huge swaths of the Underdark, being at the top of the subterranean cultural pyramid. Unfortunately, they grew lax in their homage to the Stone Spirits that gave them their power to rule over the Underdark. One clan's hubris was so powerful that they forswore the Stone Spirits and declared themselves superior over all--even the Gods. The remaining clans, while not as degenerate, hedged their bets, providing lip service to both sides in the conflict, waiting for a clear victor before going all in. This angered the Stone Spirits, who cursed the Dwarfs. The rebel clan became the Duergar and the remaining clans became the Dwarfs we know today, exiled from their great cities to the fringes of the Underdark, closer to the surface. Some of the dwarfs repented their inaction and dedicated themselves to service of the Stone Spirits, hoping one day they will return their calls and prayers. They renounced the greed and hubris that led them to exile and toil in the mountains, hoping to regain a portion of their lost glory. Some of the dwarfs turned their back on the Stone Spirits and the mountains. They settled in the hills and took the gods of man as their own. Fully committed to their greed and lust, they are ruthless merchants, decadent profiteers, traffickers of flesh, and all manners of base commerce.

Next week, I'll try to finish out the Big Four races.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Neo-York Chronicles: Cassandra Tate, Genetically Engineered "Perfect Daughter"

I've been messing about with GURPS lately, building a cyberpunk setting called Neo-York.
The setting has been slowly coalescing and I have started looking at some system stuff. It has literally been DECADES since I really gave GURPS a good look from an "I'm going to run this" perspective (but I've mined the hell out of the sourcebooks for inspiration).

Using some of the guidelines from GURPS Bio-Tech, I've made a template for a "Perfect Child," to be sold to the mid-level execs of the technologically advanced Manhattan City Core. Their children will be technically savvy, but somewhat pliable and unable to deal with stressful situations, making them perfect for non-executive roles.

Here is a 50-point "Perfect Child" I built, suitable as a 20-point Dependent for Manhattan-based characters.

Building the Better Child
Cassandra Tate, “Perfect Daughter”, age 10
50 points
Attributes [-35]
ST 8 [-20]; DX 9 [-10]; IQ 10 [0]; HT 11 [10].
Damage 1d3/1d2 [0]; BL 13lbs. [0]; HP 9 [0]; Will 7 [-15]; Per 10 [0]; 11 FP [0].
SM -1; Basic Speed 4.25 [0]; Basic Move 4 [0]; Dodge 7; Parry -.
4’2”; 69 lbs.

Social Background
CF: Manhattan
Languages: English (Native) [0]

Advantages [97]
Beautiful [12]; Eidetic Memory [5]; Fit [5]; High-Tech 1 [5], Mathematical Ability 4 [40]; Patron (Character) [30]; Resistant to Disease (+8) [5]

Disadvantages [-52]
Attentive [-1]; Careful [-1]; Dead Broke [-25]; Skinny [-5]; Social Stigma (Minor) [-5] Stress Atavism (Moderate) [-15]

Skills [40]

Artist (Painting) (H) IQ-2 [1]-8; Biology/TL-9 (H) IQ-1 [2]-9; Chemistry/TL9 (H) IQ-1 [2]-9; Computer Operation/TL9 (E) IQ+1 [2]-11; Computer Programming/TL9 (H) IQ-1 [2]-9; Current Affairs (Science & Technology) (E) IQ+1 [2]-11; History (United States) (H) IQ-1 [2]-9; History (World) (H) IQ-1 [2]-9; Literature (H) IQ-1 [2]-9; Mathematics/TL9 (Applied) (H) IQ-1 [2]-13*; Mathematics/TL9 (Computer Science) (H) IQ-1 [2]-13*; Musical Composition (H) IQ [2]-9; Musical Instrument (Piano) (H) IQ [4]-10; Physics/TL9 (H) IQ-1 [2]-13*; Poetry (A) IQ-1 [1]-9; Research/TL9 (A) IQ [2]-10; Sport (Tennis) (A) DX-1 [1]-8; Writing (A) IQ [2]-10.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ratnyvarosh: Rules for NPCs (Part 4): The Warrior Class

Warriors represent the common fighting man, inferior to the fighter and cavalier classes by a significant margin. Warriors are your standard hirelings, mercenaries, and soldiers. While warriors eventually become adequate combatants, they are still quite limited compared to the PC classes.

Warriors have the following special ability:
* Limited Ability Score Bonuses

Warriors require a minimum strength score of 8 and a minimum constitution score of 5. They can be of any alignment and use any armor. Warriors can gain proficiency in any weapon and can utilize any armor. They begin the game with two weapon proficiencies and earn a new one every four levels. They suffer a -3 penalty on “to hit” rolls with weapons they are not trained in. 

Table A-X: Warrior Level Advancement
X.P. Level HP. Attack
0 1 1d6 A
1000 2 2d6 A
2000 3 3d6 B
4000 4 4d6 B
8000 5 5d6 C
16000 6 6d6 C
32000 7 7d6 D
64000 8 8d6 D
128000 9 9d6 E
192000 10 9d6+1 E
256000 11 9d6+2 F
+64000 +1 +1 +1/2 levels

Limited Ability Score Bonuses

Warriors are in tune with themselves to the extent that they are able to use their full abilities in combat-related rolls. The Warrior can utilize the melee “to-hit” and damage bonuses from their strength score, the initiative and missile “to-hit” bonuses from their dexterity score, and the hit point bonuses from their constitution bonus (albeit at the non-fighter rate). They do not roll percentile dice when they have a strength score of 18. If their ability score is low enough to provide a penalty, the warrior must take that penalty.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ratnyvarosh: Rules for NPCs (Part 3): The Noble Class

Noble NPCs represent the bulk of the upper crust of Ratnyvarosh. 

The only requirement for entry into the noble class is being born at the appropriate social station. 

Nobles have the following abilities and restriction:
* Starting skills
* Limited dual experience use
* Inability to receive ability score bonuses

Nobles can gain proficiency in dagger, lance, rapier, spear, and swords (bastard, broad, long, and short). They begin the game with one weapon proficiency and earn a new one every five levels. They suffer a -6 penalty on “to hit” rolls with weapons they are not trained in. Nobles are proficient in mail armor and everything lighter than it and shields. Nobles fight using attack column A and never advance in martial ability.

Table A-X: Noble Level Advancement
X.P. Level HP.
0 1 1d4
1001 2 1d4+1
2001 3 2d4+1
4001 4 2d4+2
8001 5 3d4+2
16001 6 3d4+3
32001 7 4d4+3
64001 8 4d4+4
128001 9 5d4+4
192001 10 5d4+5
252001 11 5d4+6
+64000 +1 +1

Starting Skills
Noble characters start with a free level in the courtly graces skill. This skill need not be paid for with x.p. and does not count as an initial escrowed skill.

Limited dual experience use
As a noble gains experience (typically through the daily x.p. means, occasionally through the ill-advised adventure), for every two x.p. they gain, they are able to sink one experience point into a skill without sacrificing the point for leveling. For example, a noble who has just reached 2nd level has 500 free x.p. to spend on skills (usually buying back their initial skill in escrow).

Inability to Receive Ability Score Bonuses

Nobles have simply not developed the self-awareness to translate their natural abilities into benefits in combat. Nobles do not receive melee “to hit” or damage bonuses from strength, positive magical attack adjustments from wisdom, initiative, missile “to hit”, or armor class bonuses from dexterity, or hit point bonuses from constitution. Nobles with low scores, however, receive the penalties inherent.