Friday, August 21, 2015

The High Kingdom of Thassyl OR: Remnants of an Empire!

Fridays in AEthrem returns once more! This week's episode: The High Kingdom of Thassyl!

Thassyl's history dates back to the liberation of humanity from ghond enslavement, beginning as a city-state in northeastern Pelifor. A long line of hereditary thandi warlords used the city as a base of operations, raiding and conquering the surrounding lands. As each successive warlord handed their territory to their child, early Thassyl expanded just a bit more, and the city itself became an island of stability in a tumultuous historical period.

The modern history of the High Kingdom begins with the Order of Establishment. As proposed by the city's merchants and craftsmen, the order suggested sweeping changes to how the territory would be governed. To appease the rapidly-growing Peloric Church and its devout adherents, who were uncomfortable with the idea thandi ruling over Thassyl, the warlord and their thandi lieutenants would be given civic and military leadership positions, while legislative and judicial authority would rest with the conclaves - bodies of non-thandi members elected by vote of the population. This would give those without pacts some oversight of the current leaders. In exchange, noble titles and rules of inheritance were established for thandi - most of whom were already passing their pact on to their firstborn children anyway - with the position of warlord becoming that of the High King or Queen. The Order of Establishment recognized pacts as a special burden personally granted to the nobility by Pelorus the Crafter, securing their power base and outlawing rogue thandi in a single stroke.

As the High Kingdom of Thassyl, the new nation expanded even further in power. The laws of inheritance eliminated most of the infighting over changes in leadership, and trade prospered in the resulting stability. Random raiding gave way to more organized military action, and the High Kingdom became a serious threat to neighbors which had previously only dealt with limited, sporadic raids from its lands. Noble military leaders began establishing the wesheni orders - elite units of battle-trained noble thandi that became the most feared opponents in their time.

Thassylian diplomats were the first humans to establish relations with the native acilon of the Sillindri Wildlands, to the east of the High Kingdom. They enabled the signing of the passage agreement, creating the only overland route to the Valerican subcontinent. This route was immesurably safer than travelling to the subcontinent by sea, and while Thassyl was not allowed to claim any territory within the Wildlands, their control of the western terminus of the route ensured a constant stream of taxes for those returning from the Valerican colonies in the east.

For nearly two centuries following the conquest of the neighboring Kingdom of Exelos, Thassyl became the dominant world power, with the High King taking on the title of Emperor. Its occupied territories and colonies gave Thassyl more territory than any human nation before or since, and rival even the holdings of the ancient ghond civilization.

Unfortunately, this height was unsustainable. The Empire eventually pushed its borders too far, and citizens in many of its colonies and occupied territories rose up against its local representatives. Constant fighting on multiple fronts exhausted even the Empire's colossal reserves. In the end, only a slightly-expanded High Kingdom of loyal territories remained, along with a patchwork of new and resurgent nations.

Today, Thassyl's former global prominence has left it as a center of culture, politics, and learning in the civilized world. Many businesses and causes headquartered themselves within the city of Thassyl itself during the height of the Empire, and still remain there to this day. Likewise, the foremost universities in the world lie within Thassyl's borders, and the Royal Museum is the foremost repository of archaeological relics in the world. 

With the loss of their former territories, courtly politics among the noble families has turned particularly vicious - unfortunate outsiders a likely to find themselves pawns in a generations-long game between two or more families. While the wesheni still exist, many of their orders have turned from martial pursuits to the fields of politics or business. Those nobles without a pact often find their own manipulative niche in the High Kingdom's infamous diplomatic corps, maneuvering events in the outside world for their nation's greatest advantage.

While a shandow of its former self, most of the citizens of the High Kingdom remember its glory days, and fervently await their nations return to power.


Venture! Thrilling Adventures in the World of AEthrem and its associated characters are the property of Weird Science Games, LLC, Copyright 2015.

West End Games, OpenD6, and The D6 system are trademarks and properties of Purgatory Publishing Inc.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ss'ra OR Ancient Marvels of the Lost Reptilian Civilization!

It's time for another exciting installment of Fridays in AEthrem! This week's episode - ss'ra: ancient engineers or future foes?!

In the modern day, ss'ra seem a small threat to all but the lone and helpless explorer. Standing only about a meter tall, with a typical understanding of only the most basic of technology, members of this scaly species exist in small tribes or clans far from human populations, engaging in regular skirmishes with outside groups of their own people. Ss'ra populations can be found scattered over nearly half the globe, some friendly to humans, others vehemently hostile to outsiders.

How could such a species once have controlled half the world, and rivaled the ghond culture as a world power, as archaeological evidence indicates? The secret to their former strength lies in a unique quality of the ss'ra: while an individual ss'ra is not particularly intelligent by human standards, they have the uncanny ability to share thoughts an knowledge with other nearby ss'ra. As a communal population of their species grows in size, so too does their individual mental faculties and their capacity for innovation.

During the time of their conflict with the ghond, the entire ss'ra species was apparently linked as a single culture. From their shared knowledge, they had engineered technologies far beyond the capabilities of modern human society. Artifacts and legends speak of light and sound being harnessed by the ss'ra of that time to provide communication, defense, and to power transports and other fantastic machines. While some of these tales are certainly misrepresented or outright fabrications, relics recovered from the ruins of that civilization have inspired the creators of modern technologies, such as radio broadcasting and the airplane.

This golden age for the ss'ra came crashing down with the final strike of the ghond. Few historical records remain of the alleged thandi act that destroyed the unified ss'ra culture, but its impact was clear - the once connected, singular population was fragmented into myriad small enclaves. These smaller groups lacked the knowledge of how their species once remained connected over long distances, keeping each cluster of ss'ra isolated. However, another oddity of the ss'ra mind was their real undoing.

While individual members of the ss'ra species incorporate into the shared thoughts of an established group easily, it appears that established groups cannot connect with other communities of the species. It is possible that each group functions slightly differently, and they cannot "talk" to others. Ss'ra who have worked with humans have problems explaining the experience (as they do when describing most complex things verbally), but have compared it to hearing incomprehensible gibberish or radio static when foreign ss'ra are nearby.

The smallest communities of ss'ra are incapable of understanding this effect, but very easily determine that eliminating rival groups of nearby ss'ra stops the irritant. This has led to the current stagnation in ss'ra culture - as a group of their species grows in number, so too does the area over which they can be "heard" by others. Any enclave sufficiently large enough to form the foundation of a new unified culture inevitably draws the ire of numerous smaller gatherings of their species as they expand, and are worn down in unwanted skirmishes over a period of years.

Rumors still persist of closed communities of ss'ra in isolated areas, remnants of the former civilization with technology still far beyond modern human innovation, who have yet to be broken into small, squabbling tribal communities. Some stories claim that these lost ss'ra are simply building their power until they can reemerge whole into the modern world, the rival of every human nation across the globe. Others tell that they are already actively opposing human civilization in secret, quietly organizing their people and preparing for a lightning strike before the humans can counterattack with whatever power the ghond once used to fragment the ss'ra in antiquity.

Archaeologists and treasure hunters alike have found no true proof of these tall tales, but they still seek out the ruins of the ancient ss'ra culture. A well-preserved find could provide invaluable historical information or be the hiding place for a plethora of devices large and small, any of which an inventor's guild would gladly provide a small fortune to acquire. A researcher or an entire venture company could retire on a single discovery like that, if either were likely to ever actually give up their world-hopping careers.


Venture! Thrilling Adventures in the World of AEthrem and its associated characters are the property of Weird Science Games, LLC, Copyright 2015.

West End Games, OpenD6, and The D6 system are trademarks and properties of Purgatory Publishing Inc.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Ghond OR: The Terror From Below!

Daring devourers of dangerous data of the world of AEthrem - prepare yourselves! Fridays in AEthrem has returned with grim tidings from the very ground beneath your feet! We're speaking of the ever-present boogeyman of human societies, lurking in forgotten ruins and deep caverns - ghond!

In ancient times, before humans had mastered writing or agriculture, ghonds lived as a unified species and culture, dominating nearly half the world. They covered the landmasses of Pelifor and Otaru in their colossal stone cities. Members of their species were the first to form pacts with ryn, making ghonds the first thandi in AEthrem.

Early humans could not compete against the advanced ghond society, and their early hunter-gather tribes were forced to the wildernesses of the world or bound in servitude to ghond masters. If modern archaeologists are correct, ghond civilization flourished for over three centuries on the backs of human laborers. However, their rapidly-growing culture came into sudden decline following its first encounter with the reptilian ss'ra.

The ss'ra were expanding into new lands just as the ghond civilization was growing into the same regions itself, and had technological marvels that the ghonds could only dream of. (Marvels, dear reader, that we will read about in the next thrilling installment!) The two species almost immediately began conflicts over vital resources necessary for their respective new settlements. Over the course of a century, these early skirmishes blossomed into a massive and devastating war.

In the end, the ghond population had been reduced to a tiny fraction of its former size. Early human legends claim that a desperate, powerful ghond thandi made a terrible bargain with their ryn, fragmenting the communal society of the ss'ra beyond repair through arcane means. As a sacrifice worthy of this act, central Pelifor, once a fertile land and the core of the ancient ghond civilization, rapidly shifted into the arid Lahana Desert as it exists today. While modern scientists scoff at this as superstition, a rapid change in the local climate did occur (whether natural or mystical), and devastated the ghond culture even further.

Reeling from war and disaster, the ghond were no match for an uprising among their human slaves. Ghonds had been using humans to bolster their waning forces in battles against the ss'ra for decades, and human veterans shared their knowledge of fighting and tactics with others on their return home. Local rebellions turned into regional movements of liberation, with humans easily outnumbering the weakened ghonds.

Humans eventually claimed the surface world for themselves, while the ghond that did survive the human retribution were forced underground, besieged in the underground storehouses of their cities. Those in the core cities fared the best, as the surrounding land turned inhospitable prevented vengeful human armies from prolonged sieges. In time, these survivors expanded their tunnels into the store rooms and caverns in neighboring cities, contacting other remaining ghond survivors.

As the human population exploded on the surface, flourishing in the wake of their former masters' departure, ghonds slowly rebuilt some semblance of their former glory underground. They now dwell in a warren of natural and hand-carved caverns, living a harsh life under the Boudon, a caste of philosopher-priests. For centuries, the leaders of their new, subterranean society have kept one goal in mind - retaking the surface world from the human usurpers.

Luckily, human civilization and technology advanced by leaps and bounds while the ghond culture was still rebuilding. They are no match for humans in weaponry (most still use spears, bows, or scavenged human rifles) or numbers (the limited resources underground prevent much population growth). Instead, they have had to express their hatred indirectly - striking out at targets of opportunity or subtly manipulating things within human society to their advantage. Many of the worst disasters in human history are supposedly the work of a ghond thandi agent, or a human pact-bearer trained by one, according to paranoid gossip.

Actual encounters with ghond are rare, and mostly limited to archaeological expeditions below their ancient cities deep in the Lahana Desert. The few accounts on record describe them as tall and lanky by human standards, with lantern-like faces and large, black, pupilless eyes. The ages spent underground have left the hairless bodies of the ghond with a pallid complexion, and they wear hand-woven headdresses and body wraps for warmth in their subterranean environment.


Venture! Thrilling Adventures in the World of AEthrem and its associated characters are the property of Weird Science Games, LLC, Copyright 2015.

West End Games, OpenD6, and The D6 system are trademarks and properties of Purgatory Publishing Inc.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Design Philosophy - Advantages and Disadvantages

Welcome to our first post on design philosophy, where we'll be talking about the choices made in creating the rules and setting for Venture! Unlike Fridays in AEthrem, these posts will appear irregularly, as topics present themselves and time permits.

In this post, we'll be discussing Advantages and Disadvantages. These are a staple character option in many systems (although some will use alternate terms for them, such as Benefits and Afflictions, Boons and Hindrances, Traits, Qualities, and so on), giving options to advantage and disadvantage characters in small ways. Advantages and Disadvantages are well-established and widely-accepted within tabletop RPGs, and are included within the OpenD6 rules on which Venture! is based. So, why are we talking about these today?

Venture! does not include Advantages and Disadvantages within its core rules.

Now, please give us a chance to explain this before firing up your torches or running for the nearest pitchfork. We love advantages and disadvantages. They are one of the most reliable options to tweak your player character to be just the way you want it to be, on top of encouraging roleplaying of characters at the table - since many disadvantages introduce character faults or limitations to be portrayed at the table (such as with Devotion or Prejudice in OpenD6), or story elements (such as Employed or Infamy).

However, we feel that Advantages and Disadvantages best serve the game as an optional rule. While many games now include these within their core rules, if you look back about twenty years or so (around the height of the D6 system) you will see that it was very common to include Advantages and Disadvantages within a rules supplement or compendium as one of several options that players and game masters could choose to include in their games. We believe this has several benefits:

1) Ease of access.

Although Advantages and Disadvantages may be a good and useful part of the rules, they are still additional things to be aware of within the game system. The game master must take time to be aware of their effect in the game system, and the players must be aware of the function of those they've chosen and when they apply in the game. This also calls on the issue of system mastery, where an experienced player (or just one that is better at optimizing characters) would know to make a character with Advantage X, making their character superior at Skill or action Y than any other character that neglected to do so. For a new player, it can be disheartening to be outdone by another player character due to a simple lack of familiarity with the rules.

2) Speeding up character creation.

This is tied to ease of access somewhat. In our experience, character creation for a player new to any system goes fairly easily and quickly, except for two standard steps: selecting Advantages and Disadvantages and purchasing equipment. Why is this? Because in both of these steps, the player needs to look through a large list of options, weigh them, and select only a few that are appropriate for their character. If the player wants to make the "best" character they can, they will want to spend quite some time in these steps. This slows things down in even the most comprehensive systems, but in OpenD6, with its otherwise rapid character creation, it can be similar to hitting a brick wall.

3) Avoiding default use.

By including Advantages and Disadvantages in the core rules, you are assuming default use. If the game master doesn't want to use these rules (such as for the above reasons), they will have to point this out to their players, and this may involve revising already-completed characters in cases where a player creates their character without the GM's involvement. ("But it says here: 'select Advantages and Disadvantages'.") This isn't a huge concern, but if these are provided as an optional rule, the players typically feel more positive about their lack of inclusion.

4) Organization and page count. 

This is primarily a concern just on our end of things. If we wanted to include Advantages and Disadvantages, we could either include all of those we want to include in Venture! or just the most common or representative ones, providing others in a supplemental book. Including everything uses up a big chunk of the core rulebook's precious page count (would those 20 pages be better served with setting details?), while splitting them between the core rules and a supplement can complicate referencing rules for these at the table ("What book was that in, again?") and still use up page count (although much less).

So, we will most likely be including Advantages and Disadvantages in Venture! at some point, contained within an optional rules supplement. This simplifies things for both us and for new players, and frees up space within the book for more setting details, which are really the draw of the game (as the majority of its rules system is freely and publicly available online). There were pros and cons to consider when coming to this ultimate decision, but we feel that it best served the style of game we wanted to create to proceed in this way.

Agree? Disagree? Have a question? Leave a comment below!


Venture! Thrilling Adventures in the World of AEthrem and its associated characters are the property of Weird Science Games, LLC, Copyright 2015.

West End Games, OpenD6, and The D6 system are trademarks and properties of Purgatory Publishing Inc.