Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Amblecotius - A Warhammer 40,000 World

I've been collecting 40k-style artwork off the net recently. Nothing that actually comes from any Games Workshop publication though, just other Space Opera and general Sci-Fi stuff that seemed to chime in with my own mental image of parts of the 40k universe look like - which isn't always in tune with GW's as I started back in the Rogue Trader days when things were less "gothic nastiness" and somewhat more chaotic and open to adding just about anything you wanted.

I thought it might be an interesting exercise in "World Creation" to take a bunch of these pics and construct some form of world/universe outline captioning them. Partly this is to create a backdrop for my games of Future War Commander which seem currently to be fought out in a vacuum somewhere on a nameless planet embroiled in a nameless war for reasons unknown.


Amblecotius Prime is the third planet orbiting the Amblecotius star somewhere at the tip of a far-flung arm of the Imperium of Man. Amblecotius is the system capitol, the only permanently-settled satellite of it's parent star and is designated by the Administratum of Holy Terra as an Agri-World - dedicated to the production of foodstuffs and bio-mass products (bio-fuels, bio-plastics etc.) in order to supply nearby Hive worlds.

Situated out on the fringes of Imperium space the system has been ravaged by xeno invaders and rebels on several occasions. Following the nuclear bombardment suffered during the Grey Flensing War of M37 against invading Dark Eldar slave-raiders, the continent of Pertshe was devastated causing the total loss of the planet's second city Parimber Hive leaving Amblecotius with only one major centre of urbanization, the capitol of Termitius Hive located on Madhedra, the first continent to be settled. As a result of this loss, the ruling clan House Huriatat moved the administrative capital to the orbital palace known as The Daughter which had previously served as a monsoon-season residence for the Imperial Governor's court.

Having expanded mightily in the three thousand years since the move The Daughter is now more of a vast mega-structure and home to almost all the mechanism of government and noble households. Pertshe remains unsettled and is still heavily radioactive.

The Daughter pictured from low orbit as it passes over the shattered and blasted remains of the third continent. Larger space vessels are forbidden from docking at The Daughter and are serviced by system boat shuttles operating from the lower surface of The Daughter. The Daughter has no facilities for large-scale cargo handling, cargo vessels must land at the space port attached to Termitius Hive Spire.

The social standing of the Amblecotian great and good is determined by the vertical position of their households - The court of Imperial Governor Count Orlando Deletru Huriatat occupies the highest towers and spires.

The Governor's children, Prince Oriflamme Deletru Huriatat and Princess Lloligor Aratz Huriatat taking their morning perambulation amidst the cloisters of Government Palace high up upon The Daughter. Seen in the background is an automated mail shuttle and a tame GELF - a Genetically Engineered Life Form vat-born to fulfill a dual purpose of pet and, via concealed surveillance equipment, security camera and watchdog.

Planetary Defense Force Trooper Surrenjo Subbili on guard duty, Termititus space-port.

"The Sourbridge", habitation zone sited over "The Sump", the lowest point of Termitius Hive, where the flooding and liquid pollution known as "The Sour" reaches it's highest level. Not visible in this shot are the hundreds of feet of abandoned habitation zones currently lost under the waves of sewage, industrial waste and waste water.

The crew of the skiff on the right are presumably Sour Scavengers, salvage experts recovering scrap metal, plastic, ceramic and archo-tech from The Sour for resale. Some form of salvage is visible to the left, no doubt the target of the scavengers.

A state of near-war exists between rival gangs of scavengers, deaths are common and many of the profits are creamed off by competing organized crime families. The pictured scavengers will be as armed to the teeth as their poverty allows for and prepared for any violent eventuality that might occur whilst claiming their prize.

Another xeno-form of Chaotic origin is located upon Pertsche and logged by Exo-walker #2 of the Planetary Defense Force's scout division. Once located, the walker pilot will attempt to keep in close proximity to the Chaotic aberration, guiding in an Imperial Navy air-strike in an attempt to cleanse the planet of the stain. The work of the scout division is highly dangerous and successful pilots are at risk of being "disappeared" by Imperial authorities should their knowledge of beasts Chaotic be deemed to be too in-depth and therefore a danger to the Pax Imperium.

Pilot Scala Cadmanti, civilian shuttle pilot.

Captain Ingstani Jurlsam, Imperial Navy ground-attack pilot. Based at Termitius space-port, Captain Jurlsam has been credited with the destruction of no less than 18 Chaotic aberrations on Pertsche working in tandem with the walker pilots of the PDF's scout division.

PDF Sergeant Prudin Raugapha on a chilly sentry duty in Madhera's polar regions. In these southern climes, away from the light pollution of Termitius and The Daughter, both the ringed Amblecotius IV and further satellite Amblecotius V are clearly visible.

Condotierre-Colonel "Skeletal" Calcyt poses for the camera in typically belligerent manner. Warlord leader of the "Blue Scourge" mercenary outfit, Calcyt and his company are currently employed by House Huriatat as a private army following a purge of PDF high command two years back which occurred as a result of a failed assassination bid by two politically radicalized officers. Calcyt is not trusted at all by anyone outside of House Huriatat and it can only be a matter of time before he attempts a coup d'etat or accepts a better paid offer elsewhere or even a better paid offer to war against his current employer.

Illustrations by Jim Burns and Oscar Chiconi.

For the record I game at Stourbridge Wargames Club which meets at Amblecote church hall. And yes, I suspect that GW's addition of the Agri-World to the 40K background is a blatant rationale for all those "green", rural wargames tables we see!

Monday, 30 March 2009

Future War Commander

I have a game of Future War Commander scheduled for a week on Friday - 3000 points worth at the Stourbridge and District Wargamers club. I'll almost certainly take a force of Space Marines, painted up as "Crimson Fists". I have started painting up bits from the lead mountain of OGRE Miniatures to produce a North American Combine force but I'm not certain that I could get a balanced 3000 points worth painted within the fortnight.

This will be the fourth time I've played FWC, all games fought out this year. Not bad bearing in mind I didn't get the rules until mid-January and didn't have a single model painted up back then.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Cracking Open The God-Isle

I was reading on wikipedia about the Githyanki and their civilization sited upon the Astral Plane. I've never been one for having any real interest in TSR or WOTC's world creation (that's their universe for them to play in - this is mine etc. etc.) but I was taken by the idea of the God-Isles, the immense petrified remains of dead and forgotten gods. These vast relics float throughout the Astral Plane, providing islands of gravity and normal time flows amist the gravity-free, timeless expanse of the Plane.

The floating island idea attracts me - it's very similar to the concept that crops up time and time again in Japanese CRPGs, and also in one of my favourite films, the really rather wonderful and beautiful Laputa - Castle In The Sky. It struck me that a campaign world could be located on one of these islands.

Since travellers in the Astral Plane have silver cords attaching them to their point of origin, the Plane has always been associated with the colour silver to me. Therefore I got thinking that an aboriginal race of Astral Plane humans could live in a city atop one of the floating God-Isles under silver skies. Without a sun, merely an ambient illumination, there would be no day/night cycle.

This contrasts nicely with the idea of dark dungeons under the surface of the "world". We now have an eternal "noon" above ground and an eternal "midnight" below it. This fits neatly in with the idea of the mythic underworld discussed on many of the OD&D blogs recently. Now the tunnels and catacombs are no longer just extensions of the "real" world that happen to be underground but almost another dimension, one with a strong element of metaphor and dream-world to it. I like this.

Another theme I like is that of Howard's Lovecraftian tale "The Black Stone". The denouement of this tale is that a black monolith in Hungary turns out to be a spire of a massive fortress buried under the level of the ground and that the cliffs below it are the grown-over battlements and walls. Such a fantastic idea - the idea that our world, the neatly-contained little world of the tale is actually just a layer on top of and around an older reality is such a great concept that I've always been amazed as to why this tale isn't up there in the pantheon of OD&D must reads alongside with Vance and Poul Anderson. I would have never discovered this tale without reading Harms' Encylcopedia Cthulhiania, an excellent reference work to all things Cthulhu Mythos.

Anyway, I like the idea of a random chunk of debris floating across the Astral Plane striking the surface of our campaign world/island and breaking down into the stone ground exposing the tunnels, pits and workings of the mythic underworld. The PCs entry to the dungeon would be via this sink-hole.

Why are these tunnels, pits and workings inside the dead God? That's an question for another blog-entry but I strongly suspect it will something to dead the nature of the God before it died.

Unearthing The Netherpit

All good Dungeons deserve a good name. Locally there's a town called Netherton where Nether- means down/lower and comes to English from the Old English nitera. There's also a suburb of Netherton named Netherend and the first time I ever came across the name (on a street sign sighted from within the bus I was on) I immediately thought it redolent of fairy tales and mythology. Netherend is actually quite a common village name in England and also often used to refer to the outskirts or last few buildings of a village. In the town where I grew up there was an area known as "Townsend" which no longer was the end of the town due to heavy post-war development.

I've always liked the double meaning of the word 'pit' when used in the Dungeon sense. Obviously a pit is a hole in the ground but from a D&D point of view it's a common trap. There's also the Biblical meaning referring to hell and locally in the Black Country it refers to a mine - once again returning us to subterraean passages and chambers with all the attendant hazards and fears.

Concatanate them together and we got Netherpit - a great name for a Dungeon.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Yo'm inna ten be ten rooem. Woram yo ah doen air kid?

I was googling for the website of the Black Country Roleplay Society today which was a bit of a waste of time as it turns out that they meet on Thursday and I race Scalextric cars at a slotcar club in Great Barr on most Thursdays. However I did find this, a write-up of somebody's Hunter:The Vigil campaign set in Birmingham and the Black Country.

Why is this remarkable? Because the guy running it lives in Massachusetts, USA.

Somebody in the US has taken this unfashionable and rarely-noticed post-industrial region of England where we still speak the English of Chaucer and Shakespeare and based his campaign there, presumably researching it via the magic of the intertubes. Such an unlikely state of affairs that I can only regard it as bostin' m'lover ay it?.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Welcome to Fighting Fantasist

I'm on a bit of an OD&D(*) thing at the moment. Why?

Because of this blog and all the myriad of like-minded sympathizers that you'll find linked from within it.

Accordingly today I picked up three books with an eye to getting back into the game and reading up, losing myself within the little imaginary worlds they create, dreaming up new stuff and creating a big dungeon. Highly unlikely to ever play the game again though, but we can all dream...

Firstly two eBay scores - The Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II each for 99p. Neither are essential to play but they will sit alongside my main three books (Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual) on the bookcase and no doubt provoke a few ideas themselves. By all accounts both books are a bit patchy as regards their content.

I also ordered a print-on-demand softback of Swords and Wizardry, one of the current retro-clones of OD&D - pretty much the original rules (game rules can't be copyrighted/trademarked) minus any trademarked imagery/names (which can be copyrighted/trademarked) put into a book that is far better organized than the original OD&D books. Been curious about Lulu for a while mainly because I am writing a novel in fits and starts and I suspect that they could provide me with better manuscripts (for distribution amongst interested friends) than sneaking the odd sneaky copy out at work on the office's laser printer could do. I mean, they'd be bound properly and everything. I'm sure that the first time I hold a manuscript that is perfect bound will be the time I regard myself as a "real" writer in training. But I digress...

Also I printed out today the first booklet from the White Box OD&D, the real ur-ruleset from 1974. I've had it as a PDF of dubious legality for a few years but only in the past couple of days have I decided it might be nice to just print a copy out, collate it in plastic sleeves in a ring binder and have it around as a nice nostalgia piece that could be played today without worrying about damaging a rare, valuable and historically important game that is about 6 months older than me. I actually think an one-off game of White Box with the full works - GM screen, miniatures, using a d20 for 1-10 rolls instead of the more modern d10 - could go down quite well with my normal wargaming group.

Gratuitous and nostalgia-inducing picture follows...

Yes, so it's AD&D and not the original. It's not even the original DMG cover. But for me this picture summed up everything the role of the DM was - arbiter of the lore, wizard and evil genie springing surprises upon his players. I really love the symbolism of the great bronze doors being swung back to reveal the figure of the DM and his hosts skulking behind him. It's also the style of artwork that TSR were using when I became aware of the RPG hobby (Red Box era) and so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

(*) - As in Original D&D from the early days before any of this modern rubbish. Where exactly "modern rubbish" starts is up the individual but for me the pre-modern era goes back to the old "Red Box" Basic D&D. I never really took to AD&D it always seemed overly rule-bound.