Friday, September 25, 2015

The Sillindri Wildlands OR: PERIL of the FORBIDDEN Woods!

Daring explorers, its time to once again delve into the wild and strange locals of the world, to dare the beasts and natural hazards outside of civilization, to push forward with another Fridays in AEthrem!

In today's episode, we look at the Sillindri Wildlands - a wide and untouched expanse of forest, separating eastern Thassyl from western Valerica. The woods of the Wildlands are varied and temperate where they meet the sea in the south, but shift to pine forests and sparser steppes and tundra further north, completely ending only where they meet the arctic wastes. Tall mountains run north and south through the heart of the territory, dividing it into western and eastern reaches, with some corresponding diversity in local wildlife. Strong winds among the peaks complicate air travel, and many commercial routes instead opt to travel over the open ocean to the south.

The most well-known native species to the Sillindri Wildlands are the acilon. The acilon are intelligent, but rarely seen - wearing heavy robes and masks on the rare occasions when they interact with humans. While we can only speculate as to their true appearance, we do know that they hold a deep, spiritual reverence for the Wildlands. Humans encroaching within the woodland are quickly descended upon, forced out in a suprise, mass strike and a flurry of arrows that leave few alive.

Less fortunate interlopers encounter one of the many hostile animal species that call Sillindri home. Foremost among these are moon wolves - wild canines that travel in large packs. Survivors of an attack by a moon wolf pack report being toyed with by the animals, harried for sometimes days at a time until they were well clear of the Wildlands. There may be some truth to the entrancing glance of the moon wolf as spoken of in the song "Just a Lady Wolf" - some witnesses claim to have been paralyzed upon looking the creatures in the eye.

The Causeway - established in the passage agreement that Thassyl signed with acilon representatives centuries ago - is the only place where humans are accepted within the Sillindri. This small area stretches across the Wildlands from east to west, but is only a kilometer wide. The acilon do not attack humans within the Causeway, and even creatures such as the moon wolves inexplicably tolerate them here. However, those that stray from its boundaries are immediately at risk - numerous stone markers have been erected to mark the border and prevent these tragedies.

Settlements within the Causeway are independent of each other and any governing authority. The passage agreement prohibits armed soldiers from being stationed within or passing through the area, preventing anyone from claiming the lands from independence-minded locals by force. Communities survive by trading essential supplies and acilon-produced goods (especially pottery) with those moving trade goods through the Causeway. Locals also allegedly form the membership of the Red Mask Society, the group responsible for all smuggling operations through the Causeway, and a hand in any other local crime. Their name comes from their iconic red masks, done in the same style as the acilon themselves, suggesting a connection between the two.

Legends and rumors about the interior of the Sillindri Wildlands abound, but no account of any travel more than a few kilometers in has ever been verified. Pilots have reported on light reflecting off something within the woods as they've passed overhead, giving rise to the stories of greenhouse cities and fields of diamonds that fill cheap fiction magazines around the globe. Unfortunately, treasure hunters that head out to find what exactly the acilon are hiding rarely, if ever, return.


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, September 22, 2015

Design Philosophy - Initiative

Initiative (or any other term for turn order) in combat exists in some form or another in almost every role-playing game. The majority of popular rule systems call for a die roll contest between characters or groups of characters to determine this order. In Venture!, this contest is skipped entirely - play flows around the table, starting with the players / player characters and ending with the game master and her non-player characters (with the only exception being when the non-player characters ambush or get the drop on the player characters and start the turn).

Why implement a potentially unpopular system like this?

1. The Narrative Benefit of Initiative Checks (or its Lack)

First of all, let us say that having an initiative check with the game's rules isn't an inherently bad thing. If you are looking at an RPG as a means of telling a story, however, it should benefit the narrative at the table. Many games do incorporate important details of the setting into their initiative rules - superhero or cyberpunk-themed games come to mind, where having a superhuman reaction time ensures that a character acts first or even multiple times in comparison to slower characters. A similar benefit is gained in implementing action speed rules - letting lighter weapons or simpler attacks occur earlier or faster than bigger weapons and slower actions. This can add a fun tactical element, but it also sets a tone for the grittiness and feel of combat in the game world.

If the initiative rules aren't helping to set the scene in your game universe, is there anything to be gained by using them? 

2. Keeping the Action Flowing

Experienced role-players are probably familiar with one of the potential problems with a typical initiative system: the lull in action that it can cause. The game master will be working with the player characters, building anticipation for a fight to come, everyone is getting their weapons ready for the upcoming fight, challenges are issued, the enemies charge.. and then the game master halts the story to call for an initiative roll. Where are my dice? What is my modifier? Can I do one thing before we go into combat? OK, what did everyone roll? Let me write these down - you two both got an 18, who has a higher Agility? Alright, we're all set - Alice, you're up.

With focused players, this can be a minor speed bump, just taking a few moments to resolve. If everyone at the table is distracted or tired, this can take at least a few minutes, and can kill the anticipation that's been building up. Its like pausing a movie right before the climactic fight scene to grab snacks and take a bathroom break, it doesn't ruin the experience, but it does kill some of the momentum.

There is an additional lull if any of the players at the table aren't aware of their place in the turn order. Suddenly caught unaware, they can flounder, trying to decide on a course of action. Again, this adds a few moments more to the combat. While this doesn't sound like much on paper, trying to maintain that initial rush before the fight grows harder with every second wasted. By going around the table, each player knows exactly who they will be acting after and how many characters will act before theirs, all without having to consult (or have the game master maintain) a list of the initiative order.

3. Maintaining the Game's Tone

Venture! is trying to emulate pulp novels and film serials. The player characters typically go first, making them proactive, charging into a fight with the first blow. Ideally, this should immediately gain them momentum in the fight and make the players feel like the daring heroes they should be emulating in the game setting. In a few moments, they'll have dealt with several faceless minions of their adversaries, and be ready to face down the remainder.

After these initial blows, things become a back-and-forth once the non-player characters strike back. The player characters take out a few mooks, and dive away from the return fire. As the lieutenants and mastermind of their foes become exposed, things flow like a duel - these greater foes exchanging strikes at one or more player characters until one manages to connect.  This is a deliberate attempt to make the action at the game table progress as the cuts in a filmed action scene would: the heroes strike a blow, evade a counterattack, strike another blow, get engaged in a desperate struggle with their equal, and ultimately, dispatch their adversary.

4. Ambushes are Dangerous!

One additional benefit to this system was discovered during playtesting: ambushes by non-player characters become frightening and dangerous. The players become accustomed to acting first, so if their enemies get the drop on them, it puts them in an unexpected, perilous situation (just like their characters). Most ambushes will turn into a desperate struggle quickly. The worst will end with the player characters capture, which helps feed the story.

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.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Valerican Confederation OR: A Rising Star in the New World!

Fridays in AEthrem returns with disparaging news! Our astute and loyal viewer will have noticed that several weeks of this series have gone mysteriously missing - lost in transit to the airship docks of Koriden City for distribution to your local cinema! Investigation by the authorities continues - the suspected culprit? Sky pirates! While our faithful protectors strike back against this scourge of the air over Rasault, we struggle vigilantly to produce and distribute additional reports from our studios in Ban Nihara! Fridays in AEthrem will not be done in by these recent shortfalls!

In this week's episode, we travel to our own backyard, the Valerican Confederation. Once a cultural backwater, slowly occupied by outcasts from the west over three and a half centuries, the Valerican subcontinent has become a major world power. In the sixty years since formally gaining its independence, its influence has expanded to rival even those nations that founded the earliest colonies in Valerica!

The Sillindri Wildlands separate Valerica from western Pelifor. Combined with the inherent difficulties in water travel, this prevented settlement of this territory by humans (or the ghond culture before them) before the existence of the passage agreement between Thassyl and the native acilon of the Wildlands in 670 YF. Once an overland route to the subcontinent became available, colonies for the western powers boomed throughout the newly-open lands.

Most of the Valerican colonies were founded by Thassyl itself, Valerica's closest neighbor to the west of the Sillindri Wildlands. Nearly every major power in the west established a colony on the subcontinent, either paying heavy taxes to pass supplies back and forth through the Sillindri Causeway controlled by Thassyl or risking the myriad hazards of ocean transport: harsh storms, titanic and hostile sea creatures, and piracy. Despite its controlling power, every colony acted as a pressure valve for established society - gathering together a motley collection of outcasts and dissidents - political rivals, members of fringe religious groups, renegades or loners, and more than a few thandi fleeing persecution in their homeland.

For years the various, squabbling Valerican colonies were exploited by their founding nations, plundered for their rich and exotic natural resources. That came to an end when Thassylian colonies began openly revolting against the High King in 936 YF. Kingsland, the richest - and best defended - colony, was finally granted independence in 947 YF by a floundering Thassyl, overwhelmed by fighting rebellions on numerous fronts. Five years later, the Treaties of Confederation were ratified, creating the modern Valerican Confederation and its five provinces.

Of the five provinces, Koriden is the most well-known and the wealthiest. Renamed in honor of the rebel general Mirena Koriden (formerly Kingsland) following its liberation, Koriden covers the eastern terminus of the Sillindri Causeway, stretching across the southern coast of Valerica in the west. It is a temperate land, home to several long-established port cities. Chief among these is Koriden City - the provincial and national capital - famed for its towering skyscrapers, centers of learning, and the constant political and business squabbling among its elite. Koriden is also home to the longest-established and most famous venture companies, its cosmopolitan cities serving as an excellent hub for their unique business.

To the north and east of Koriden, Mirenfell Province varies from cool to frigid in temperature, stretching from mountains in the south and east all the way to the arctic. The mines of Mirenfell's mountains produce a vast bounty of coal, iron, and precious metals - many of the province's cities are constructed within the depleted upper level of mines. Passes through the mountains in the province have made it a crossroads for road and railway traffic within Valerica - material passing from the eastern Provinces to Koriden for export. In recent years, heavy industry has become centralized in the province to benefit from rail shipments. However, it is most well-known for corruption - its an open secret that the government in Mirenfell operates at the whim of the Gavierna, a criminal syndicate founded by the earliest refugees from Exelos to work in the province's early mines.

Giltlund is a pastoral province to the east of Koriden and Mirenfell, dominated by rolling hills covered in temperate native grasses and farmland. The earliest settlers to the province were Pathists, a divergent sect of the Church - its followers preferring a simple and agrarian life, isolated from the outside world. Later settlers established their own farms and ranches - Pathists and these outsiders rarely mingle and both steer well clear of the decadent "city folk" from the few larger cities in the province. Giltlund was once home to a significant population of ss'ra at the height of their culture, and numerous ruins remain of their former cities, especially on the eastern coast. Numerous small ss'ra communities still dot the grasslands, and a few are still hostile to human settlers.

Between Giltlund in the north and Amprissa in the south, Rasault is traditionally viewed as a navigational hazard more than anything else. Rasault is as arid as Giltlund is lush, arid deserts and scrub waste covering most of its surface, making it the least populated province in Valerica. This wasn't always the case, as the province is full of ss'ra ruins. It has become a popular destination for treasure hunters - either seeking legendary ss'ra artifacts or natural deposits of precious gems, which are sometimes found by prospectors in the wastes. In recent years, these prospectors have stumbled upon an unexpected treasure, finding massive oil deposits within the province - resulting in a boom economy for the region. The plateaus of central Rasault offer a perfect staging point for the second largest business in the province: air piracy. From isolated airstrips, criminals can easily plunder shipments of locally-harvested oil or shipments of trade goods passing from Amprissa.

Amprissa is a broad crescent of land occupying the far southeastern shore of Valerica. The tropical province once hosted ss'ra cities and, later, a scattering of Otaran colonies. For reasons the Beryl Throne has never revealed, Otaru abandoned Valerica around the time colonists began expanding into it from the west. Ban Nihara, the provincial capital, was built on the remains of the largest Otaran settlement in the area, covering the mainland and several islands, all connected by bridges and water taxis. An entire island in the city now serves as an embassy for Otaru, and goods from the continent to the south flood into Amprissan ports. The province is also home to two of the newest industries in the world: aircraft production and film production. Both originated within Amprissa, and it has since become famous for both.

The Valerican Confederation has leveraged its unique resources to great profit since its founding, new local corporations growing by leaps and bounds from the profit. It is also the birthplace of the airplane - the most talented and established manufacturers in the airplane industry still calls Valerica home. In recent years, the Confederation has also come to a trade deal with the inscrutable and isolationist continent and Empire of Otaru, with exotic items from that land flooding into its local markets on a scale not seen before. Immigrants have been flocking to Valerica for years to benefit from its expansion and development.

Today, Valerica is poised to become the dominant power in the world, if it isn't torn apart from within. Shadowy forces struggle for control of the rapidly-growing nation - policians, crime syndicates, captains of industry, and secret societies. At the same time, spies and saboteurs operate within Valerica on behalf of foreign powers to undermine the Confederation from within. While always known as a free and democratic society, life within Valerica could change suddenly if the balance between these forces were to shift to far in any one direction.

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, September 4, 2015

Ferridon OR: The Fascist Khradi - Poised to Strike!

Faithful followers, Fridays in AEthrem has returned! We must apologize for our absence last week, but personal issues prevented us from providing you with our regular, thrilling post. And now, without further delay let us delve into the growing darkness of Ferridon!

Among the nations of AEthrem, Ferridon is one of the youngest, but it is founded on ancient cultural roots. The Ferridi Highlands lie to the far south of Pelifor, an expanse of moors, steppes, and eventually the foothills of arctic mountains in their most southerly reaches. The landscape of the highlands is harsh and inhospitable, making it one of the few parts of Pelifor that did not fall under the control of the ancient ghond civilization - a fact that the native human clans of the region still take pride in.

While poised to claim most of southern Pelifor following the fall of the ghond, the Ferridi clans were instead slowly overwhelmed by recently-liberated human servants and their descendants. Generations spent in servitude had given the freed human population knowledge and innovations that the Ferridi just didn't have, not to mention access to pacts with ryn - which the Ferridi considered a taboo. The natives of the Highlands found themselves again slowly pushed back into the least desirable parts of their homeland, struggling to keep up with the advancements of the outside world. A few Ferridi endured in their lost territories, becoming second-class citizens to new colonists.

The patient endurance of the Highland people came to an end just twenty years ago. A charismatic leader came to the head of the Khradi clan, an outcast family known to allow the creation of thandi pacts among its members. The Khradi's leader stoked the fires of rage among the Ferridi, calling for a Reclamation of their lost lands. His support reached a fever pitch with the Week of Blood, when the members of the Ulaz clan and their supporters (who had long acted as a diplomatic face for the clans with outside nations) were exterminated by the Khradi and their allies.

After usurping leadership of the clans, the Khradi leader established Ferridon as a new nation, with himself as its leader, the First Lawgiver. The First consolidated his power to lead with an iron fist, and destroyed any record of his birth name - he is now referred to only by his title. Ferridon spent the next five years in a constant state of war known as the Ferridi Reclamation, seizing one colony or independent nation of southern Pelifor after another. Ultimately, the new nations borders extended from the Ferridi Highlands to the southern sands of the Lahana Desert, with only a few small neighboring countries maintaining independence.

In the decade and a half since, Ferridon has consolidated its power - seizing the resources and infrastructure of its new territories and building upon them. The Khradi clan are the undisputed rulers of the nation in the political, military, and economic arenas alike - their ranks have grown exponentially, as anyone wanting a position of power in Ferridon seeks adoption into the clan. Citizens live day to day at the edge of martial law, with the fauffgraen (an order of thandi military police) executing dissidents and traitors in the street on a regular basis. In spite of this risk, rumors persist that numerous rebel groups and foreign spy networks operate within the nation's borders, doing what they can to resist the Khradi.

Ferridon has grown in power to rival any other human nation, expanding its military by leaps and bounds. Suspicion grows by the day that the First is ready to begin expanding his empire for the first time since the Reclamation. For now, Ferridon strikes out subtly, with Khradi operatives spread throughout the world, disrupting rival powers and spying on potential threats to the young nation. At the same time, the mad archeologists of the state-sponsored steinnenanchwaan dig for the most dangerous relics of the ancient worlds to no good end. If given the chance, the Khradi regime will plunge the world of AEthrem into a war the likes of which it has never seen. The question, then, is what exactly are they waiting for?


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.