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).

Dark Nebula Redux: the Long Night has Come!

Following a discussion online, I think I will go with the Dark Night for my Dark Nebula OTU variant, just as Andy Slack did. There are three reasons for this.

The first is that it appears that the Dark Nebula board game takes place during the Aslan Border Wars (-1118 to 380 Imperial, 3399 to 4898 AD) - or before them - most likely before the Imperial era, as it depicts a Solomani rather than an Imperial human faction. The small size of the Aslan(ic) Hierate on the Dark Nebula board game maps, near seemingly frontier neutral space, also hints at an early stage in Aslan interstellar colonization.

The second is to give me more freedom of play in this setting, most likely as a Solo game, by toning down the Space Nazi aspect of the Classic Era Solomani Confederation. The Classic Era Solomani make great villains, as in the Argon Gambit adventure of Classic Traveller fame, but a totalitarian or semi-totalitarian regime would yield itself to quite a specific type of game, while making other game-play styles more difficult to carry out. I can still have various elements of this regime present in my game, as I see aggressive authoritarianism - though not necessarily totalitarianism - as a thread going through Solomani history. Unlike the Vilani, who love a stable, placid state of affairs, Solomani value entrepreneurship - both private and governmental - in the economy and an aggressive push forward in the political sphere. The Interstellar Wars between the Terran Confederation and the Ziru Sirka accentuated these tendencies, as did the tragically heroic attempts to keep the ramshackle Second Imperium together. The Classic Era Confederation did not arise in vacuum.

The third is to allow a frontier. In the well-developed Classic Era, I'd expect thorough development of space within a few jumps from the Aslan homeworld of Kuzu, as given in the Dark Nebula. Even secondary and tertiary colonies will benefit from centuries of trade and development. This is especially true due to the trade routes between Aslan and Solomani. Trade brings prosperity, and prosperity tends to expand beyond the trade routes themselves. However, a century or three after the Aslan first reached to the stars, near collapsed Terran space, would present a frontier. The Aslan, hungry for land holdings, would eventually come into conflict with the less-collapsed Solomani worlds. Reverse-engineering Solomani technology, they will eventually rise to challenge the local Solomani pocket empire. Still, between the two pocket empires - the nascent Aslan Hierate and the resurgent Solomani Confederation (centered on Maadin) - a wide frontier will still exist, slowly developing as the two polities make their play.


The Long Night has Come.

The Ziru Sirka, mighty empire of Mankind, ruled the stars for millennia. Suffocated by bureaucracy and drowned in a quagmire of bureaucracy, this magnificent culture was rotten at its heart. Its Terran conquerors, despite their heroic efforts, could not save it from its inevitable doom. Thus the Rule of Man - a bright light among the dark stars - fell into oblivion. Many worlds died in isolation. Others fell prey to raiders, pirates, and slavers. Chaos reigned.

These are the darkest years of Humanity.

The year is 3100 AD - later generations will call it -1419 Imperial. The 32nd Century has just begun.The Long Night reigns for 357 years. The Rule of Man is no more. But on the frontier, far from the worst parts of the collapse, a new candle flickers in the dark. A candle at Maadin, an old colony of the Second Imperium. With its rise from the ashes of the old empire, it built a confederation of nine worlds - the new Solomani Confederation, a name used by several successor states of the Second Imperium, and later to be used by the Classic Era Solomani state.

However, a new power arose to challenge the scattered human colonies of the Dark Nebula - a young alien species, proud Aslan. Entering the scene five centuries ago, the slowly rose from their homeworld to a union of several worlds - the Aslan Hierate. Its Trailing expansion, however, encountered human resistance from the various pocket empires of the day, and thus most of its colonial efforts are to the Spinward. Cold peace endures between humans and Aslan, distured by brief periods of warfare.

Now, once more, a war is brewing. The Solomani Confederation of Maadin thirsts for resources while the Aslan thirst for land; slow recovery from the initial collapse means that heavier military forces are once again available.

But as the two polities maneuver in preparation for war, the stars of the Dark Nebula, long absent, have reappeared. Now, they are the key for victory - or possibly the doom of both prospective belligerents. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dark Nebula Redux

Four years ago, after purchasing the Classic Traveller and JTAS CD-ROMs from Far Future Enterprises, I encountered the Dark Nebula board game. This game depicted a proto-Traveller struggle for dominance between the Aslan and the Solomani. It showed an area of space similar to two adjacent Traveller subsectors. However, directions were reversed - the Solomani were to the Spinward of the Aslan - and the game used fixed jump routes instead of Traveller-style free jumps. Most stars on that map - except for the Aslan homeworld of Kuzu - did not appear in later Traveller publications.

The interesting thing is that Dark Nebula presents an interesting version of the Solomani-Aslan border region different from future depictions of the canon Dark Nebula Sector. Here was an opportunity - a proto-Traveller, quasi-canon setting ripe for the plucking. On one hand, this is the "Official" universe. This allows us to use the wealth of material presented by the Classic Traveller and JTAS CD-ROMs. On the other hand, it is non-canonical, so we need not be bound to the stifling limits of Traveller canon.

Andy Slack did design an excellent variant of this setting for Stars Without Number and Savage Worlds; I find his work inspiring, though I am probably taking a very different road than his in my version.

I toyed with this setting back then, in 2014. Now I got the urge to explore it once again.

My old map was cluttered; I added two unnecessary polities which made non-aligned space needlessly civilized. However, the basic conversion from board game maps to Classic Traveller maps still holds. Here we have two subsectors - Kuzu and Maadin - on the Aslan/Solomani border. Neutral systems abound as well, just as in the boardgame. There is probably some treaty in place between teh Solomani and Aslan, which created this frontier "buffer zone" between them. A treaty both intend to violate.

I wonder if Kuzu here, on the border, would be the actual Aslan homeworld, or will the real one - Kusyu - exist two or so subsectors to the Spinward?

This will mostly be Classic Traveller, with some Megatraveller seasoning. I do like the idea of a weak Imperium leading to resurgent Aslan and Solomani expansionism. Megatraveller's Civil War, when removing the New Era virus from it, serves this purpose well. Imperial events are very distant from this setting. However, both Solomani and Aslan seized the opportunity to invade Imperial space. With great success. With their Imperial rivals knocked out of the fight and recent conquests bolstering their confidence, both polities look for new places to satisfy their appetite for conquest.

War is inevitable.

But when will it break, and who will emerge victorious? This depends on many factors. Both sides now set their plans in motion in this deadly game of interstellar chess. Before launching an invasion, they first need to put their pieces in place and prepare well. In the meanwhile, "peace" reigns - the calm before the storm.

Both are eyeing the big prize: the Dark Nebula itself, its stars returned from beyond time and space, brimming with technological wonders - and untold horrors. Neither the Solomani nor the Aslan, however, dare send their fleets into the Nebula right away, as this will surely ignite all-out war - for which they are still preparing. Instead, they work by proxies, by mercenaries and "Stalkers" - (fool)hardy men and women who dare enter the Nebula in search of relic technology and dark secrets. Few return; but those who do bring back wealth and speak of wondrous phenomena and buried secrets.

Espionage, false-flag operations, Stalking the nebula, exploring the dangerous Neutral Zone frontier - the players have a sandbox brimming with opportunities to play in.

This is Proto-Traveller. Mostly Classic Traveller, Books 1-3/The Traveller Book, and anything I can cannibalize from other Classic Traveller adventures, supplements, and JTAS. The above-mentioned Megatraveller seasoning is relatively minor in scope - mainly as a background to the Solomani-Aslan border tensions.

Most ships are small; however, the Dark Nebula board game calls for heavy transports each capable of carrying an armored brigade or an infantry division, and capital ships capable of carrying an infantry division each. This is definitely smaller than High Guard ships - the larger of which could carry many more soldiers; probably this will use Expanded Book 2 with ships going as large as 12,000 tons, probably sufficient for carrying infantry divisions.

But most ships would be small - the capital ships and heavy military transports are the exceptions, not the norm. Only huge corporate freighters plying the few core routes can sometimes reach such sizes. Most systems without Naval bases usually see ships at 1,000 tons or below.

Here is my new work-in-progress Dark Nebula map. I'll generate the starports and most bases later.

A Note on Canonicity

Dark Nebula is not canon. I repeat: it is not canon in any way. It is vaguely set in the OTU, but in a variant OTU. Specifically, I use Classic Traveller - and some Megatraveller - material in a way suiting this particular variant. I sometimes use it in significantly different ways than in canon. I also place some adventures and other material set in Foreven, the Solomani Rim and the Spinward Marches in the Dark Nebula

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Barrowmaze Play Report: Hidden Shrine of the Green Man

Revised Barrowmaze Map
Yet another excursion into Barrowmaze, this time exploring deeper into the tombs, including the central one... And discovering that un-nature, like nature, abhors a vacuum.
The Lucky Dwarves and their Companions
  • Boulderson the Lucky - Level 2 Dwarven Craft Priest - Eliran
  • + Nobus Handus B. the Magnificent - Level 1 Nobiran Wonderworker, Boulderson's henchman
  • Rufus Chickenfoot - Level 2 Dwarven Delver - Itai
  • + Angus the Cleaver - Level 2 Dwarven Fury - Rufus' henchman
  • And dogs, Lots of dogs.
Yet again, the Dwarves delved deeper into Barrowmaze, returning to the old central mound after an uneventful trip from Helix. They expected their initial travel through the chambers they have "cleared" to be uneventful as well. However, un-nature, just like nature, is ever-moving and ever-developing.

They heard horrid laughter from a chamber they once cleared. Investigating it, they encountered no less than four Hecuvas, horrid undead remains of long-dead priests animated by Nergal's waning chthonic influence. The Dwarves, however, once again were uncanningly lucky - this time with their Ancestors' providence. Boulderson called upon his fathers of old, and three of the undead cowered and fled from their bright spirits deeper into the maze. The fourth stood no chance against the aggressive Dwarves.

And deeper they went into the haunted halls. They ended up in a dark room with four pillars, and found four gloves bearer demons' faces. After Rufus checked for traps, and found none, they spent a long time investigating the pillars, until they found secret compartments with levers on their tops; it took them some more time to figure out that they should pull the levers while wearing the gloves. This opened a secret door to a narrow corridor.

There, beyond another secret door their keen Dwarven senses found, they found the long-dead remains of a priest of the Green Man - an old Neutral pagan god - called Hildras; he was interred in the tomb upon his dead many years ago. He was buried alongside his cloak (permanent Resist Cold effect) and holy mace (+1), which the adventurers took. Now Boulderson was armed with a magical weapon! Undead beware!!!

Finally, behind the final secret door in this area. they found a shrine to the above-mentioned Green Man. Boulderson, while far from a cleric of the Green Man, still paid respect to that god and performed a ceremony in his honor; the Green Man bestowed a minor blessing upon the Dwarves.

Thus, once again, they returned victorious to the Village of Helix.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Barrowmaze Play Report: Who robs the robbers?

Revised Barrowmaze Map
The Dwarves continued their delve into Barrowmaze, searching for treasure in these haunted halls. This time, as you'll see below, they did have to use their axes - and in this case, not only against the living dead.

The Lucky Dwarves:

  • Boulderson the Lucky - Level 2 Dwarven Craft Priest - Eliran
  • Rufus Chikenfoot - Level 2 Dwarven Delver - Itai
  • + Angus the Cleaver - Level 2 Dwarven Fury - Rufus' henchman
  • And dogs, Lots of dogs.
So the Lucky Dwarves entered Mound 12 - the Central Mound - for the first time. The mound was empty and full of tracks - the result of significant foot traffic. A deep pit from the floor led into a deep, arched hall below. The Dwarves lowered themselves and their dogs by rope to the deathly quiet room below. There were bones on the floor, and, again, tracks of recent foot traffic. They followed the tracks into a side room, where a trap separated Angus from the rest of the party, locked behind a stone slab along with his dogs - and three skeletons attacked him. One dog lost his life, but the other characters managed to find the secret level which raises the stone slab, and defeated the skeleton.

Down the road, corpses - some of them fresh - were abundant. One still held a torch in his cold, dead hand, and had 15 Platinum Pieces in a small belt pouch, which the Dwarves looted. The corpses looked like novice adventurers or lowly tomb robbers, usually gnawed and partially eaten by creatures unknown - or by the "surprise" waiting next door: rats. Lots of rats. With razor-sharp teeth under their whiskers. However, the party was clever, and threw a burning oil flask into the rat-infested room, killing most of the rodents. Axes and hammers took care of the rest.

Keen Dwarven eyes located two secret doors in the nearby corridor. One room held a demonic idol, next to which two bags sat on the floor. After some deliberation and fear of a trap, the players opened them - to find silver and gold, which they took. Another room appeared to be a tomb-raiders' hidden cache, with backpacks and adventuring equipment hidden in it, again much to the joy of the Dwarven crew.

Such potential treasure, of course, attracts unwanted attention. The party was split, with Rufus in the cache room and the rest in the demon room, when Angus and Boulderson heard noises from the corridor. A whole gang of tomb robbers heard the noise made by the Dwarves and came to investigate - and rob them. They set up two battle formations on both sides of the corridor next to the demon room, trapping the characters. Then they made their demand: "your gold or your life!"

But Dwarves do not surrender so easily. Rufus and Boulderson prepared to defend themselves on both sides of the demon room's door, effectively setting up a choke point. One robber entered and was quickly felled. A stalemate ensued, as the robbers did not try to enter that death trap and held positions outside. However, Rufus, hearing the ruckus from the nearby room, sneaked back towards it, surprising one of the robber squads from behind. This led to disarray in their ranks. Then the Dwarves attacked. Enjoying momentum and partial surprise, they defeated the rank-and-file robbers and backed their leader to a corner.

They offered the robber boss a choice: "your gold and (good-looking) sword or your life!" - and he agreed. They allowed the leader and the one surviving robber to retreat deeper into the dungeon with their armor and light weapons, but received all the robbers' gold and the leaders sword - a magical Sword +1!

Thus, victorious, they returned top the Village of Helix.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

ACKS House Rules

So far, we've been using the following house rules for the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS):

  • Thieves and thief-like characters (e.g. Dwarven Delver) add their Dexterity modifier to Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Open Lock, Pick Pockets, and Disarm Traps rolls.
  • War dogs take Henchman "slots" and are limited by them.
  • War dogs get Mortally Wounded and may be stabilized by a character with Animal Husbandry. This, of course, entails a roll on the Mortal Wounds table for the poor hound.
  • Dwarves have "darkvision", which seems appropriately natural given their subterranean habitat. This is not necessarily perfect infra-red vision but (probably) rather the ability to see with very little light. It seemed to us that dwarves, who often spend their entire lives underground, should have a way to see in darkness, or at least in very dim light.
  • Turned undead who flee far into the dungeon (i.e. out of the fight) grant XP as they are "vanquished". However, you can gain experience from a given group of undead only once per "foray into the dungeon", which is approximately a week. This is to prevent abuse of Turn Undead to gain infinite experience from turned undead.