Friday, August 29, 2014

Starfall Inspirations

To better explain the atmosphere I want to instill in Starfall, I will share some of my inspirations for the setting. These range in media from movies, to video games, to music, to books. I hope this will both serve to help introduce you to this dark and mysterious world, as well as better codify my own thoughts on the matter.

Video Games

I am drawing on two particular video games as inspiration for Starfall – Diablo and Dark Souls. Both are dark, brooding, violent, and grim. Diablo started and epitomizes the epic loot grind that lies at the heart of any dungeon-delving video game. The idea of constantly returning to a massive dungeon started there, for me, back when I got a copy of the original game for free on a 5.25" floppy (yes, I'm that old). The two sequels expanded on that core and created a game that boils down to killing monsters and taking their stuff so you can improve. I have a hard time naming any game that is more Dungeon Fantasy.

The second game I mentioned was Dark Souls. It is not about the grind at all. It features relatively little improvement; indeed at high levels, you still die in a single hit and can easily take five or ten minutes to defeat a single opponent. What makes Dark Souls special is the atmosphere. It achieves this through its NPCs, never completely explaining the entire story – you are left to fill in the missing pieces with your imagination, and its seamless transitions between regions that give a sense of change and bespeak to the flavor of the upcoming section. You may spend hours working through a cramped, dark abandoned city, walk across a stone causeway to enter a massive castle full of traps just to be whisked away to a bright and devastatingly large, empty abandoned city that feels completely different. A dark stairway downward leads to a dank cellar that opens into a sewer-swamp; stepping into a painting transports you to a world as grim and gothic as the massive canvas portrayed.


While the typical mythological books always bare mentioning – I'm looking at you, Illiad, Odyssey, and Beowulf – I also hope to tap into the descriptions of differentness described in Ben Bova's Mars books, capture the sense of daring and exploration from the Barsoom novels, and the impossible struggle against supernatural forces present in such gothic fiction as Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin, many of E. A. Poe's works, and so, so many of H. P. Lovecraft's.  For that matter, Lovecraft deserves a mention all on his own, considering I draw heavily on his mythos for the general feel of the demons in Starfall.

Of course, I cannot help but be influenced by the works of Tolkein, but I am hoping to deviate from them in this. I want something more grim, more dark, more pessimistic. This isn't a fight to save the world – it is already lost, and it is not a post-apocalyptic mission to create a brave new world – demons are still devouring the old one. I suppose that makes this a transapocalyptic setting, if such a thing exists. I suppose you could almost call it a cross between Lord of the Rings and All Quiet on the Western Front, if you had to.


A wide variety of movies probably lend some piece of themselves to this project, but the main ones are probably based on the books I've mentioned above. Others would include Apocalypse Now, Hamburger Hill, R-Point, Ju-on, and Ringu: Besudei. A feeling of individual struggle against impossible odds hoping for a happy outcome but generally resulting in futility pervades the setting. People struggle to live another day, not to save the world; the world is already lost. A band of adventurers may fight heroic battles for personal gain, certainly, but the horrors they face should change them. Fun, huh?

Friday, August 22, 2014

One Super Dungeon

I became enamored with the idea of a megadungeon after reading +Peter Del'Orto's blog Dungeon Fantastic.  I have long run sandbox games, and the idea of a massive dungeon complex that adapts to and is shaped by the players appealed to that. Some time this past winter, I decided I wanted my own, so I began conceiving an ancient evil fortress buried under a ruined city that itself arose as a center for dungeon delving. But as I slowly worked, thought about the history, and worked up multiple entrances and interconnections, it became clear that this was not a single contiguous dungeon. It was a super dungeon.

Not everyone may know of super dungeons by name, but the concept shouldn't be terribly unfamiliar. Briefly put, a super dungeon is a massive complex sprawling across miles rather than yards.  It is a dungeon of dungeons. Those curious should look up David Pulver's Eidetic Memory: Super Dungeons (GURPS Pyramid #3/50: DungeonFantasy, p. 20-25). It's well worth the read.

This particular super dungeon consists of a pre-starfall fortress where a particularly evil spirit once sheltered while creating an army with which to conquer the world. It was burrowed out deep beneath a natural cave system in a remote part of an equatorial jungle. Eventually, the forces of good managed to defeat the vile spirit and dismembered him. They hid each of the twelve parts within the massive, labyrinthine fortress and sealed it. Those of his followers who survived his defeat scattered to the wind, but only for a time.

After years passed and memories faded, the shattered forces of evil began to coalesce once more at the fortress. Groups of cultists and dark-minded adventurers sought out the buried dungeon and attempted to gain entrance. Some sought powerful artifacts, others wanted to stitch together the pieces of their fallen master and his broken dream. Over time, a vile and despicable city grew atop the dungeon stronghold, and once again the forces of good found it necessary to decimate the growing threat before anything came of it.

Now, the primary megadungeon consists of the Swallowed City - the remnants of that dark jungle town, its sewers which reach through the natural caves down into the vile fortress, and the fortress itself. Those ruins are still partially inhabited by a variety of unsavory beastmen who regularly try to plunder what lies beneath their feet. They are often beaten back, however, by forces unknown to jungle inhabitants. Satellite dungeons include a local beastman dwelling known as Bridgetown, a number of cenotes that dot the land, the natural caves, a large subterranean river, the compound of a local witch, an abandoned gem mine, and a forgotten and fearsome temple buried beneath the roots of the rainforest.

A Relational Map

I suppose this map could still use some more information. In particular, it needs to denote which regions connect to the surface. I'm sure it's missing other things, too, but that is the one omission staring me in the face.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Soundtrack: [1] 

A gust of wind caught the stranger's hood in its grasp and threw it back.  The townsfolk shrank in horror at the bone-white hide, black, abyssal eyes, and grotesquely extended beak-like face of the creature before them.  It opened its hideous maw to reveal rows of rat-like teeth, hissed, and vanished into a cloud of mist.

The plaguebearer is a horrific creature that subsists on the blood of others.  It tears at its victim's neck, wrist, inner thigh – anywhere a major artery or vein is accessible – and guzzles the blood down amidst its prey's screams of agony.  Despite their similarities with vampires, plaguebearers are not related to them; they are embodiments of disease and physical corruption.  They are a walking pestilence that sap the strength and life of their victims until their consumption is complete and they transform into plaguebearers themselves.

ST:16HP: 20Speed: 6.00
DX: 12Will: 10Ground Speed: 6
IQ: 10Per: 13Air Speed: 6
HT: 12FP: 12SM 0
Dodge 9Parry 11 (Unarmed)DR 0

Fangs (16):  1d+2 impaling + Blood Drain (see below).  Reach C.

Talons (16):  1d+2 cutting or impaling.  Reach C.

Power Grappling (20):  Plaguebearers are immensely strong and know how to use that to their advantage.  Except when rolling to hit or for an active defense, they can use an ST-based Wrestling roll (skill 20).  Additionally, whenever you would make a ST roll that usually enjoys a ST bonus from Wrestling, you may waive that bonus and attempt a ST-based Wrestling roll instead.

Blood Drain:  A plaguebearer must successfully grapple or pin a foe and deliver a bite that penetrates DR to inflict injury.  So long as this initial attack succeeds in injuring its prey and the plaguebearer maintains the grapple or pin on success, it drains 1 HP per second and heals 1 HP per full 3 HP drained.  The drain ends instantly if it releases its prey.  Blood Drain can only affect living subjects that have blood to drink.

Friendly Face:  A plaguebearer's true form is truly monstrous, but they still manage to infiltrate populations regularly.  They do this with a glamour that makes them appear like any other human.  Whenever someone observes a plaguebearer, the GM secretly makes a Will-5 roll.  On a success, the person sees the plaguebearer for what it is, but on any failure, it appears as an ordinary, nondescript person.

Infectious Touch (Resisted at HT-3):  A plaguebearer's touch spreads disease.  Anyone who comes in direct contact with a plaguebearer must immediately roll against HT-3 or contract a highly contagious wasting disease that inflicts 1d-1 fatigue damage every hour, with 1d-1 toxic damage on any resistance roll failed by 5 or more. Once the victim incurs 1/3 HP in injury, he suffers -2 ST, Moderate Pain, and gains Absent-Minded and Confused. At 1/2 HP, the pain becomes Severe and the victim gains Unfit. At 2/3 HP of injury, the pain increases to Terrible, and the victim replaces Unfit with Very Unfit.

Pestilent:  Plaguebearers are corporeal embodiments of disease.  Should they injure a living person through an unarmed attack, he must check for infection at -3, just as if he had been wounded in a locale with a special infection.

Summon Rat Swarm (12):  Roll 3d.  On a roll of 12 or less, the plaguebearer successfully summons a Rat Swarm.

Traits:  Appearance (Monstrous); Bad Smell; Disturbing Voice; Divine Curse (Cannot enter a dwelling for the first time unless invited); Doesn't Breathe; Dominance; Draining (Human Blood; Illegal); Dread (Salt); Frightens Animals; Immunity to Metabolic Hazards; Infectious Attack; Injury Tolerance (Unliving); Insubstantiality (Costs 2 FP/Minute); Lifebane; Night Vision 5; Regeneration (AP; HT/Second); Speak with Animals (Specialized, Rats); Supernatural Features (No Body Heat, No Reflection, Pallor); Unaging; Uncontrollable Appetite (12) (Human Blood); Unhealing (Partial, Healed by Leech and Necromancy); Unkillable 2 (Achilles Heal: Fire); Vulnerability (Fire x2).
Features:  Affected by Spirit Empathy (rather than Empathy).  Born Biter 2.  Sterile.

Skills:  Brawling-16; Disguise-14; Shadowing-14; Stealth-16; Wrestling-16.

Class:  Spirit.

Notes:  Plaguebearers are intelligent and may be willing to negotiate.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tales from the Jungles

Soundtrack: [1]

What follow are two short stories about locales within the Great Jungle. They represent local folklore and a tidbit of history. I do not speak to their veracity, but what is truth but a statement retold until the spirits make it true?

The Massacre at Shade Lake

Long ago in darker days before the Swallowed City was swallowed, there lived a chieftain who tired of having his villages raided and razed, assembled a great war host. Armed with spears and shields, they marched through the jungle on the terrible city to make war, but before they could arrive, the fell lords of the nameless city fell upon the army. They slaughtered everyone to the last man.

Not to allow such a show of insolence to go unpunished, the dark lords set their armies loose on the chieftain's lands. This time, they did not butcher, rape, pillage, or burn anything.  Instead, they collected every person – man and women, young and old. They bound their captives and marched them through the jungle to the battlefield where their brethren were slain. There they were made to look upon a lake, but rather than water, all they could see were floating, bloated corpses cloaked in a miasma of flies.

Horrified, many tried to run. They were the first to fall. Eventually, the dark army killed every single subject the chieftain had and dumped their bodies into the lake until all of the water was pushed out and what was a lake became a massive pit of rotting corpses.

No water every truly returned to that lake. Over the centuries, plants moved in, and with them, but the ground was never the same.  So tainted it had become that now all the remains is a canker on the land, a blighted swamp where the water runs red with memories and the bright pink soil speaks to atrocities of a forgotten age. That is how the Whispering Marsh came to be.

The Pillars of Heaven

Long ago, some time after the fall of the Black City, a great forest spirit aspired to divinity, but its spark was not strong enough. Consumed by pride, it decided to climb a nearby mountain in hopes of waging a war for godship against the heavens, but the celestial spirits rained down fire upon him, defeating his forces and halting his advance atop Mount Aserat. There, he reached to the sky in frustrated hatred and spat curses at the gods even as they transformed him into a stand of tremendous trees.

Today, those trees and their saplings still grow in the cloud forest atop the summit of Mount Aserat, possessed by that spirit doomed to spend eternity so close to the heavens, yet never touching their glory. Their sap burns to this day with his impotent rage, and sometimes causes entire trees to burst in massive, fiery explosions when they can no longer contain his vehemence.

Friday, August 1, 2014

On Mapping the World

Early on in the creation of Starfall, I found I needed a map, so I could begin fleshing out potential campaign locations. I am not much of a cartographer, but I knew that I wanted something realistic that denoted height and terrain changes. From that, thanks to the Climate Cookbook, I could derive current, seasonal weather patterns, and climate zones.

As I said, I am not much of a cartographer, but I knew that I wanted something realistic that denoted height and terrain changes. From that, thanks to the Climate Cookbook, I could derive current, seasonal weather patterns, and climate zones.

As I said, I am not much of a cartographer, so I began by scouring Google Images for some topographical maps. Thankfully, NASA has quite a few wonderful maps of other worlds. I eventually settled on one of Venus because it showed a good deal of variation, has a lot of interesting geographic characteristics, and is not nearly as instantly recognizable as Mars.

From there, I used GIMP and some techniques from RobA's tutorial, How to Create an Artistic Regional RPG Map, up through the point where he creates the seas.  To create the land mask, I used color selection to grab all of the colors below a given elevation and paint bucket them white. After finishing up the steps to create the seas, I spent at least two months going pixel by pixel along the coasts in the land mask, tidying up what the color selection left messy. Then it was on to get some temporary labels (I just used the actual Venusian names) and work through the cookbook.

By now, I'm sure people are wondering why I would go through all of this trouble. For me, all of these little details have widespread ramifications. Trade winds determine sailing seasons and trade routes, and climates dictate weather patterns, which dictate flora and fauna. Want to know what lives and grows in a region, you need its climate. Want to know its trade partners, you need currents and wind patterns. All of these are interrelated, so for me, this is a huge part of laying the groundwork for later worldbuilding.

The Maps

What follows are a handful of maps of Starfall.  These are cylindrical projects, so scales grow increasingly distorted as locations leave the equator. The scale is 4 miles per pixel at the equator. This is an entire planet, so it is kind of large.

The World of Starfall

Temperature Maps

 January Temperatures: Summer in the North

 July Temperatures: Summer in the South


Trade Winds Maps

January Trade Winds

 July Trade Winds

Annual Precipitation Changes

This map uses 50% gray to represent no change between January and July, while darker grays represent increasingly high precipitation in January and lighter grays have increasing precipitation in July.

Oceanic Surface Currents

This map displays warm currents in red and cool ones in blue. Such currents add a nominal boost to the speed of any sailing vessel, a couple of miles per hour or so. Still, winds play a far more important role in driving sailing ships.

So What Comes Next?

The next step I need to take is to map out climate zones. Ideally, I would have far more programming skill than I do and write software to interpolate the temperature and precipitation maps according to a table and output a pixel by pixel climate map for me.  Unfortunately, I do not have this capability, so I will have to eyeball things. The downside is that I will likely miss out on many interesting microclimates, but on the upside, I'll have a climate map long before I learned how to program.