Monday, March 12, 2007

The “physics” of space flight.

Skyships, in the steampunk world, are ships that float in the sky. Unlike balloons, which require a large reservoir of helium or hydrogen, skyships use only the fantastical technology of the steampunk world. The basis of this technology lies in the duality of etheric energy, which is both a wave and a stream at the same time (I don’t know how exactly, but it is). The principle is that ether moves through objects, and a net could conceivably be created that could catch the ether. This, in turn has a number of ramifications. The first one is that a station could beam etheric waves outward. Essentially, power station can use a steam engine or turbine to generate electricity, and then beam it though a Tesla coil to the surrounding area. Receiving stations could be set up (some as small as a shed) to receive the power, thereby powering the house or building. In the case of Aeronefs (small winged flying machines), as long as they remain within the area of the beaming station, the power is utilized to create a repulsion effect against gravity that moves the craft very fast (speed of about 145mph). These repulsion plates are also part of the etheric science of the world. Gravity is merely a form of ether, and the plates are specially designed to repel etheric wave effect on the aeronef. In the case of skyship, a series of plates is placed on the outer hull, negating gravity and allowing the ship to float, and another set of plates is used to propel the ship. When the proper power is applied to the plates, they can change altitude or speed accordingly.

There is a major draw back to this principle, however. Powering these plates requires a massive amount of energy. For example, an aernoef has a back up battery on board that can provide about 15 minutes of emergency power. These batteries, while rechargeable, are roughly 65 pounds and are about the size of small table. Skyships generally have a large series of batteries (12-48 depending on the size of the ship, and always in increments of 2) which provide basic operation for the anti-grav plates and propulsion. But, with only 15 minutes of power per battery these banks only last for at most 12 hours. Skyships often have small steam turbines on board, which can be used to recharge the batteries, but it is highly inefficient, with a ratio of about 2 hours of steam turbine operation (and the accompanying coal or wood) per one hour of battery power. Attempts to hook the repulsion plates directly to the steam engines result in little change in this ratio. This is why in each engine room of a skyship sits an Etheric Acceleration engine. When a skyship wants to achieve orbit, they must first charge their Etheric Acceleration engine. This is no small task, as it requires a substantial amount of energy to do. Additionally, skyships are not rockets, and aren’t aerodynamic, requiring an even larger amount to achieve orbit than a sleeker design. The only place that such energy would be constantly and abundantly available would be the poles of a planet were massive amounts of magnetic energy could be pinched off via large beaming stations and transferred into the Etheric Acceleration engine. The engine releases all of the energy in a relatively short but steady burst, accelerating the skyship upward at a necessary escape velocity. While the ships must be sturdily built, the poles also exert less pressure on the ships because of reduced gravity and atmosphere, so they have a relatively high rate of survival than anywhere else. It is possible, but the ship would have to be very well build, and substantially more aerodynamic. All in all, 8.75 of 10 skyships survive to make it into orbit.

Once in orbit, a ship must deploy a special etheric sail. The etheric sail is essentially a large specially created sail that, when charged with energy, catches etheric waves and propels the ship in the direction the sail is deployed. The more sails a ship has, the more waves it catches resulting in faster speed. Even the smallest ship requires a couple of masts of sails, and large frigates or war galleon, like their ocean going counterpart, have as many as 2-3 main masts and numerous sub-masts. Conceivably a system could be set up to use sails to recharge the batteries, but this would require the ship to divert the energy it receives from the sails to the batteries, instead of propulsion in space. Thus, most captains choose to use steam turbines, or charging the repulsion engines prior to departure.

A large frigate or war galleon moves roughly 25,000 miles per hour, and can reach the moon in about five days. Smaller ships can take over a week. Mars is substantially further, with larger, multi-masted ships taking about 2 and a half months, and smaller ships taking 4 months or so. The asteroid belt would take a little over a year for large ships and about a year and a half for smaller ships. Subsequently, many ships have yet to make it to the asteroid belt, and its rich mineral deposits.

Friday, January 19, 2007

New London

New London is the most powerful city on earth. The seat of the British Empire resides in the middle of the city, and the British Empires largest banking institutions are within walking distance of each other. It is only fitting that one post be devoted to the city that, in many ways, holds the fate of Earth in her hands. It isn’t to say that cities such as New York, Paris, Rome, or Berlin aren’t important, but instead that with the amount of global power that the crown holds the well being of London is in many ways the well being of the world. I’d like post a disclaimer that many of you will come to be familiar with in the upcoming months. I’m not a historian. The history you will read here is decidedly geared to the world that I’m creating and as such some creative leeway has been taken. If what you read here doesn’t jibe with what you know, all I can say is that it’s a game. As with my previous posts, this will also contain some statistical information, so hopefully I won’t be too boring.

The current population of New London amounts to approximately 22 million people, included within the metro area and the outlying areas. The population breakdown is 89% Human, 6% Halfling, 2% Dwarven, 1% Erl, and 1% Goblin, and 1% Other. Its primary industry is banking, commodities, government, refined technologies, and military. Since the London disaster of 1817, much of the city has been redesigned and rebuild, creating a modern, gleaming metropolis that is the envy of the world over. Before I get to the city today, I’d like to take some time to address the history of the city.

London was originally a small group of forts for Roman soldiers during the Roman occupation of the island from about 50 BCE to about the 4th century CE. In 348 the fort was destroyed by an alliance between Celts and the Ancient Wyrm Clogbwytawyt. Later the Celts occupied the mouth of what is now the Thames, near the old forts ruins. In the 7th Century, Viking invaders pushed back the Celts and occupied their towns until they were in turned pushed back to the sea in 851 CE by the U’thr. It was during his unification of Britian and subsequent ascension as its first king that old London was built upon. The old forts became the skeleton of the new city, and it grew rather large as the city became central to the island's trade and political arena.

In 1066 William of Normandy invaded the island to assert his claim to the throne of Britain. At that time Harold Godwinson was the acting ruler of the nation, and after a stunning victory against Viking invaders at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, he rallied a force equal to Williams as he marched back to Hastings to meet the invader. During the battle, Harold was shot in the eye with an arrow and killed, causing his troops to route. William was crowned king of Britain on Christmas Day in 1066. The Normans and their feudal society continued to perpetuate the monarchy through the current time period. The Monarchy quickly sought to assert British authority throughout the island, and eventually spread to Ireland and France. Additionally, British military campaigns against the remaining Celtic tribes pressed into the northern highlands.

Some time should be to address the Celtic peoples and their continued presence on the island. Little is known of the Celtic peoples original homeland, although some Sparks have claimed that they hail from Russia, Sweden, and perhaps Portugal. What is known is that the Celts are highly trained sorcerers and druids. Unlike real world history, the Romans, and later the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons found the Celts a inordinately hard people to conquer. Their sorcerers and druids evened the odds against Roman tactics, against Viking brutality, and against Anglo-Saxon Calvary. The have existed as the thorn in the side of virtually every British monarch since William the Conqueror, but only in the past 75 years, with substantial reliance upon Spark technology and tenacity, has the British government managed to keep the Celtic tribes under control.

The result of this continued conflict caused many raids by the Celts from the time of Williams ascension.. This resulted in gradual concentration of peoples in and around large urban areas, including London. The city, at the 1600 census, had a population of 5 million, staggeringly high for the time. The result was overcrowding and constant disease as a result of poor sanitation. By about 1650 the city was plague ridden, resulting in the death of nearly 2/3 of its population. In 1666 Celtic raiders made their way into the city after nearly a month of raiding northern cities, and set the palace and the nearby buildings on fire. While the raiders were killed in the subsequent fighting, it severely damaged and burned down much of the interior portion of London. Despite this, the British government rebuilt the city and restructured its defenses for the future.

From the early 17th to the mid 18th century saw the city grow into a large European trading center which increased its population. Many advances, including a prototype steam rail, were installed to aid the population in traversing the urban sprawl that London had become. The Colonial expansion increased the wealth of the British Crown beyond belief, and even in the 1770's, the French and American revolution saw a massive increase in British industry in the city as military support was sent to British interest in both America and France.

By the dawning of the 19th century, London was the most powerful city in the most powerful nation on earth, and on 1813, became the most powerful city in the inner solar system, as the HMS London landed on the Moon. The next 3 years saw even more economic prosperity as mineral deposits discovered on the moon were sent back to earth for British exploitation. Sadly, this would result in a dark spot in the history of colonial expansion. On August 13th, 1817, a canister filled with iron ore was mis-launched from the Tycho City Commodities Delivery System and landed near downtown London. The impact of the canister leveled every building within a 500 square kilometer area, and killed approximately 4 million people. The impact of the canister also caused substantial seismic activity to roll through the island, and a large earthquake hit the mouth of the Thames river. The result caused a massive tidal shift in the tectonic plate, dropping the plate by about 12 feet. The result flooded most of old London, dropped most of the Isle south of the river into the channel and sent a 16 foot tsunami rolling about 45 miles inland into France and the Southern Swedish provinces.

This day was one of the darkest in mankind’s history, as the banking institutions and British government nearly collapsed under the strain of the disaster. Quick thinking by surviving members of the House of Lords (While the House of Commons did exist, their governing powers was substantially limited. Veto power was held over the House of Commons by the House of Lords) set up a functional government to aid survivors. The death of King George and his two sons thrust young Victoria, then merely 2 years old, into the position as Queen. She took the throne officially on May 24th, 1835 on her 18th birthday, although until that time she was actively involved through her regent, Sir William Melbourne.

During the rebuilding of London, Sir Melbourne was instrumental in laying out the new city plans and using the crowns considerable resources to rebuild. The city south of the Thames was underwater, and north of the Thames was mostly in rubble. Sir Melbourne's guidance put thousands of laborers to work building the cities core again, as well as digging tunnels for an underground steam and electrical powered rail system. In addition to the London Underground, he rebuild the New Buckingham Palace and the Administrative Square, where Parliament meets now.

London Now

London is divided into four major districts with a number of sub-districts (and some of these sub districts have their own sub-districts as well). Most of these districts and sub-districts are not clearly delineated, but those who live in New London have some general idea of what area they are in when they walk around.

1. The City of London (or just The City). This is the location of the old Roman fort of Londonium and was the hardest hit by the mis-drop disaster, requiring the most rebuilding. The City contains the governmental function of the city as well as the major banking and financial centers of the city. The City has a number of sub-districts as well. These sub-districts include Westminster, which houses the New Buckingham Palace and Administrative Square; Leicester Square which is an arts and entertainment district; Orctown, which is home to most of the cities orchish and goblin population; Southbank, an trendy area filled with boutiques and other businesses; and Bloomsbury, home of London's numerous universities, polytechnic schools and the cities only arcane academy.

2. East London. This is a largely impoverished area of New London, with an increasing number of heavy industry. It is a crime ridden area that has seen been plagued by a number of issues in recent years. Many of the workers that helped rebuild the city reside in East London, causing a substantial increase in the population. When the work was completed, many of these workers were unable to find new jobs, causing a substantial upsurge in crime. Some of the sub-districts include Bricklane, a large Hindi section; Docklands the large industrial dock district that has grown up in light of the city now being a port; Mile end, a large hafling community; and Whitchapel home of the infamous Stratford experiments and perhaps the poorest sub-district in the city.

3. North London. Like East London, North London is a large industrial area. Unlike the eastern portion of the city, the industry in the Northern portion is largely highly mechanized, and many of the areas are rather well off financially. It is the home of the cities new capitalists. Some of the sub-districts include Kings Cross, the launch point for London Underground, and home of a large number of apartment buildings; and Crouch End, a middle class neighborhood as well as a large industrial complex.

4. West London. West London is primarily the living and shopping section of the city. Its outskirts also have a number of smaller textile factories and New London air center, an embarking point for skyships and airships going to Rome, New York, Berlin, and Moscow. West London is densely packed in most areas, with either multi room apartments or small houses wedged very close together. West London is at times free of the bustle of The City or Eastern London. Some of the Sub-Districts include Acton, a mixing pot of nationalities and popular with people just moving to London; Chelsea, an affluent neighborhood of old aristocratic hold outs; Ealing a predominantly Japanese and Chinese neighborhood; Kensington, a shopping and arts district; and Notting Hill a cramped residential area.

This should suffice for a general description of London. Normally I'd also delve into some specific landmarks in the city, but I feel that at this point it might be too specific. Rather, I wanted to give the city some attention, and hope to revisit it in the near future.

An update

Those of you who read this blog probably notice a couple of things. First is that it hasn’t been updated in a while. The second is that the first adventure post is missing and the second adventure post never came. I’d like to address the fact that it hasn’t been updated in a while first, which will lead me into why the adventure posts are missing. I haven’t updated because things have been pretty busy lately, and are just now settling back in to some semblance of normalcy. I’ve been in the mood to add to the blog for a while, but just haven’t got around to it. I’m rectifying that today. As for the adventure logs, it should be stated that the last one was unbelievably long, and the second one was nearing twice its length (Damn liberal arts education and its emphasis on wordiness). I feel that while these posts do add something to the purpose of the blog, that purpose would be better fulfilled if I took the inordinate amount of time I spend writing an adventure log and devoted it to creating more posts to flesh out the world. Remember that my ultimate purpose here is to (hopefully) get people into the worlds that the Steampunk genre encompasses and perhaps adopt it as their own. I’ve become uncharacteristically fond of the genre, and hope to see (or ideally facilitate) its entrance into the mainstream. As such, I feel my duty is to fully explore the world background.

Friday, November 24, 2006

On Space

One of the more interesting aspects of the world is the conquering of the inner planets. The exception to this is Mercury, which is still, even in my world, a huge ball of metal and rock. Some time should be given to how it is possible that a Victorian era world could have made it to the inner planets. First, I'll start with a brief recollection of some of the historical milestones regarding the first flights to the Moon, Mars, and Venus, and then I'll talk a little about their respective societies.

Much of what is possible today is based upon the knowledge of an Austrian man named Nikola Tesla. Born in German controlled Austria in 1782, Tesla was quickly distinguished as a powerful young spark, and was given a full scholarship to Berlin polytechnic at the tender age of 13. His early theories were derived from Isaac Newton's Etheric physics model. While at Berlin polytechnic, Tesla expanded upon Newton’s theories, and began to wow the scientific community with his theory of light. It was this theory that allowed Tesla to, at 22 years old, devise the first Etheric Acceleration engine. Unfortunately, Tesla discovered that it required an immense amount of energy, almost too much to be harnessed via natural means. However, his gravatics theory, developed as part of his light theory, provided Tesla with a possible solution. By setting up special power capture stations at the North and South poles, where the earth’s magnetic field was strongest, these stations could milk magnetic energy off the earth and channel it to an Etheric Acceleration engine. It provided enough power to accelerate the engine fast enough to leave earths gravity. After another 10 years of trial, Tesla, with the backing of the British Government, built substantial inroads into space travel. On November 3rd, 1813, the HMS London, with a crew of 2 Humans, a Half-Orc and a Dwarf, made a stable orbit around earth. It was the dawn of a new era. Using specially created sails, the London and its crew accelerated to the Moon, where the ship made its landing on November 10th.

Within 2 years, nearly 1500 British citizens were living on the moon. Most of these were miners, who were tapping the Moons considerable mineral resources. By 1816, sparks working for the British Government created the CDS (Commodity Delivery System) on the moon. This system, a large "cannon" of sorts, fires canisters loaded with mined minerals back to earth to be refined by British facilities. It was one of these canisters, mis-targeted, that landed in London in 1817, killing most of the cities inhabitants, reducing much of the city to rubble and fracturing a portion of the island near the Thames River. After the incident, all CDS "drops" were targeted in the North Atlantic off the coast of Ireland.

The moon also made an excellent staging zone for exploration of other planets. In 1817, the HMS Manchester landed on Venus, and contact was promptly lost. A later expedition, this time by British Marines, discovered that the ships crew had disappeared at the "hands" of indigenous entities. As of 1847, there have been only a few ships to land on Venus. The environment is inhospitable and the indigenous entities are unforgiving.

Also in 1817 the HMS London landed on Mars. The discovery of an advanced race of aliens was met with some trepidation by the races of earth. The aliens, called Illithids, had technology that was just as advanced as the British, and while they knew nothing of magic, they commanded powers not unlike that of the arcane. At first, some attempts were made on the part of British diplomats to engage in dialogue with the Illithids. However, unlike the Native Americans, who were easily duped by overzealous colonists, the Illithids had a strong sense of entitlement to their home world. Subsequently, they made no attempt at mercy when they decimated the small contingent of diplomats and guards and sent them back with their brains devoured as a sign of intent. The British Empire, outraged at the act, declared war on the Martians almost immediately. Luckily, the invention of the Etheric Shock Rifle in 1820 made the conflict a short one. A small contingent of soldiers armed with the weapons were able to inflict horrendous damage upon the ranks of the Illithid warriors, and in 1824, at the base of Olympus Mons, the Illithids signed their unconditional surrender.

Currently, there are about 17,000 people on the moon, and about 1.5 million on Mars. Most of them are British citizens, although there are a number of Americans, Europeans, and even the occasional Mexica or Asian. Because the British Empire owns the proprietary rights to Tesla's Etheric Engine, and funded the launch facilities at the North and South Poles, anyone wanting to get off Earth has to go through the British authorities. The cities that have sprung up around the launch facilities, called Northgate and Southgate respectively, have an interesting amalgamation of people. Northgate is the largest city with a population of about 250,000 people. Most of them are mechanics, soldiers, miners, pilots, scoundrels, adventurers and tradesman. The launch facility itself sits on an artificial island, with a number of surrounding islands that have hangar bays, landing pads, repair facilities, administrative offices, a military garrison, coal refueling facilities and a small batch of hotels and restaurants. Around the islands, on whatever land can be seized, sits a shanty city that houses those who can't afford to live in Northgate proper or any of the affiliated facilities (the administrative offices have their own living quarters, as does the garrison, repair facilities and hangar bays). All told, about 55,000 people live in Northgate proper, and another 195,000 live in the shanty town nearby. The British government tried at first to keep the squatters away from Northgate, but realizing they couldn't, decided to rectify the strain that they had on Northgate's infrastructure by putting a beamed power station near the launch pad. This diverts some of the magnetic energy from the launch pad to give power to the squatters. This helps cut down the otherwise high mortality rate they have. Northgate Shanty, as it is called, is not as gleaming or as nice as Northgate proper. It is a den of thieves and criminals, seeking passage off of Earth for any number of sins. The British Government maintains almost no presence there, except the occasional military raid on some of the more powerful criminal elements. The squatters are at the whim of whatever food and supplies cargo haulers bring in, food and other commoditiesies are scarce and expensive. Even still, many people flock to Northgate hoping for a better life among the planets.

Southgate is nothing like Northgate. Because of the distance that a traveler has to go to reach Southgate is often beyond their financial means, Southgate has few of the problems that Northgate has. Like Northgate, South gate has a launch pad, garrison, landing pads, repair center, refueling station, administrative center, hotels, and restaurants. The population of Southgate never rises beyond 35,000 people. Southgate is a popular place to launch military expeditions, and during the Martian War of 1818, makeshift hangars and barracks were erected near the city to house departing soldiers and ships. They are still there, old, defunct, and unused by anyone other than the occasional spark or wizard seeking to create some monstrosity.

The moon has one major space port at Tycho City. This port is smaller, with only a launch pad, a small garrison, and a repair facility. Most British soldiers shudder at the thought of a duty at the Dark Rock, a moniker they have placed upon the garrison at Tycho City. It sits on a high mountain near the dark zone of the moon overlooking the departure point. Because the Moons gravity is substantially low, and it is tidal locked, it produces no worthwhile magnetic field for ships to utilize. Subsequently, there is little beyond a ships own thrust to get the necessary escape velocity to leave the Moon.

Mars has approximately three dozen landing ports situated around the planet, and a departure point, called Marsgate, at the South Pole. Most of Mars inhabitants live in subterranean colonies, as the winds above can get quite strong, and frigid temperatures often are capable of freezing a person in a matter of minutes. Mars is, in most other respects, not unlike earth. It's year is slightly longer, but its seasons are virtually the same. Large canals hold water from deep underground rivers and lakes, although most time these rivers are frozen over. The abundance of water and micro plants keeps Mars atmosphere much like earths at high mountain altitudes. There are three major cities, New Cambridge, New Dunwich, and New Stygia, and a large number of smaller towns and villages. The Illithid armistice of 1824 gave over the government of their people to the British Crown, and like many of the peoples that the British have graced with their imperialistic views, the Illithids are little more than second class citizens to the British. The Illithids, however, are a completely subterranean race, and subsequently, much of what is known about their culture is very limited. For example, no one has ever reported seeing an Illithid child or an Illithid female. The British would love nothing more than explore the extensive catacombs that lie beneath the surface of Mars and gain more information about the aliens that live there, but so far, no one has successfully returned from any expedition. The British see this as substantially problematic, as without the capacity to fully account for where the Illithids are, it could certainly not put down any major resistance should they try to change their lot in life. For now, the British government is content with what limited control it has, and begrudgingly give the Illithids their space.

Most Illithids remain far removed from the machinations of the British people. Their culture is alien and highly individualistic. There seems to be no particular social order with one notable exception. Some Illithids, called Hunters, seem to be particularly loathed by their brethren. The Hunters, devoid of the tentacles that are normally present on an Illithid, are seen rarely, and only when one of the Illithids have committed some unperceived sin against his people. The past 23 years of constant British presence on Mars has contributed greatly to the Illithid culture. Those that do live in the cities have adopted British fashion and culture in total, and have picked up the language fluently. Because of the particular gifts that the Illithids have, many are sought by police and investigation companies. Interestingly, this has given rise to a fundamental question in jurisprudence: Can information gained from Illithid powers or magical extra sensory perception be admissible in court? Those Illithids that are part of mainstream British society on Mars seem unusually content with their lives.

Venus has no major towns or cities of note. A heavily fortified British Marine garrison is the only official presence maintained on the planet. Venus is a virtual death trap to those who aren't aware of what awaits them. The entire planet is covered with steaming jungle, with large reptilian beast hunting anyone not careful enough to avoid them. Also present are groups of intelligent creatures, not unlike orcs, large intelligent apes, shapeshifters, bi-pedal man sized birds, small pygmy-like men, grey hairless dwarves and humans. There has been little, if any, contact with these indigenous cultures.

For the most part, the people of earth have little knowledge or interest in what occurs on the other planets. The plights of the Illithids or the recent sabotage that is occurring in mines near the dark side of the Moon have little impact on their world. It may impact commodities marginally, but for the most part the people of earth maintain an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality when it comes to the other planets. Still, occasionally someone will hear news of something that has occurred "out there". For those in the know, or with the appropriate interest, getting to the other planets is not as difficult as one might think.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The world and those within it

They life of a person in the steampunk world is not dissimilar from the life of your typical industrial revolution citizen. There are some differences however, and I want to take a few moments to explain some of those differences. Since the game is primarily (at least for now) set in Europe, I'm going to explain a typical European mind set as a way of showing what the world is like. This will contain some statistical data, and as most of my endeavors of this kind, is probably a bit more technical than most people probably want to read. I'd also like make a disclaimer of sorts. I'm don't have a masters degree in history. I'd like to consider myself a student of history insofar as I understand most of what occurred, but in depth knowledge is beyond me. As such, many people may see very atypical things here regarding my views of culture in Europe when compared to the real culture of Europe in the past. My response to this is that some changes are bound to be present in such a world. Mad scientists exist and so does magic. Perhaps I should instead say please suspend disbelief. It'll make reading this much easier.

The current European population sits at about 500,000,000 people, or roughly 20% of the worlds population. Of this, roughly 89% of the population is Human, 7% is Halfling, 2% is Erl, 1% is Dwarven, and 1% is other races including Orc, Half-Orcs, and Half-Ogres. However, this statistic is only reflective of races that are commonly considered civilized. There are uncounted Ogre, Giants, Goblins, and other "sentient" beings in Europe. The main religion in Europe is Catholicism, with small pockets of Lutheranism in Germany and Anglicanism in Great Britain. Obviously this also discounts the religions of the Erl, Dwarves, and other races. Curiously, many of these races have adopted human religious traditions, especially Orcs, Half-Orcs, Goblins and Half-Ogres. Many of these races have at one time or are currently enslaved depending on the nation. As such, Christianity offers a measure of solace. In Great Britain especially, a strong animist tradition has sprung up in many of the more rural areas. Among Halflings, who call the British Isles their birthplace, this animist tradition is especially strong.

Typically, most Europeans are very tolerant of other "Races". One of the side effects of existing in a world where creatures such as Ogres and Orcs exist is that among humans, less emphasis is placed upon ethnic diversity because humans truly are one race. This has a curious effect of spilling over to other races such as Dwarves and Halflings, creating a more accepting tolerance of them as well. This isn't always the case however. One of the primary divergent aspects of this is seen in slavery. Unlike our "real" history, Africans were never imported as slaves. Instead Orcs, and to a lesser extent Goblins, carried that distinction. Among Europeans, slavery was outlawed long ago, and an attitude of equality is very much ingrained in the ideals of most European nations and states. However, examining the norms would show that many Orcs and goblins still have the distinction of being the poorest of the poor. Incidents of racism exist, as do incidents of sexism, but racism at least in Europe is not as common place as it might be other places.

Your typical European citizen knows very little about the superstitions that exist in the steamppunk world. As a whole, most of them live in and around large cities. This is somewhat divergent from real history, but in the face of intelligent and combative entities such as dragons and trolls, most intelligent people congregate to areas that are safe. As such, cities in the steampunk world tend to be substantially larger, and the distance between them more barren. Farms certainly exist, and so to do small hamlets or villages, but these are generally protected by some powerful spark or mage. The average commoner in a large city lives their life without ever really seeing anything too out of the ordinary. Most have a passing familiar with Orcs, Goblins, Erl, and other demi-human races. They will probably see a few of them in their lives. But just as common in a large city are Clanks, Jaegers, and other technological creations. Alien to these city dwellers would be things such as undead, dragons, ogres, giants, and other monsters. Outside of the cities, however, the citizenry are much more aware of monsters, and would understand if one spoke of ghouls, vampires, and skeletons. They would see Clanks and Jaegers as truly alien. Equally alien would be magic and technology, although to a lesser degree. Most of Europe is claimed by some sovereign, and most of these are sparks or mages. As such, depending on where one lives, magic or technology would be the prevalent order. It depends on where one calls home whether you accept magic as the norm or technology.

The primary currency in Europe, and for the most part the rest of the world, is the British Pound. It is used by nations the world over, from the wastes of Alaska to the jungles of Peru. One pound sterling breaks down to 10 shillings, and 1 shilling makes 10 pennies. An average worker in an industrial European nation can expect to make about 30-50 pounds sterling in a month. This is generally enough to allow for a very tight subsistence existence. Most of the population of Europe are workers of industry in one form or another. Either they manufacture goods to be sold in other nations or farm to produce food. It is in many ways a typical capitalist economy. The biggest issue is that the British economy is the back bone of the rest of the world. Not withstanding America, which has finally managed to become self sufficient, the Mexica Empire, which loathes outsiders, and eastern Asia, which remains isolated, every nation or state relies upon the goods that Britain provides them in trading. Fluctuations in the British economy can have far reaching and disastrous effect because so many people rely upon their goods.

The British economy is still very strong, and its imperial sentiments still allow it to reap untold rewards at the expense of other sovereign peoples. With the discipline of anthropology becoming something less of a novelty and a legitimate science, some attempts are made by British anthropologists to understand the cultures that the Empire is conquering, but it is a marginal attempt at best. As it stands, the British control Canada, a few island holdings in the Caribbean, All of South Africa to the Congo, North Africa from Morocco to Egypt (including Egypt), the Arabian peninsula, India, Australia, New Zealand, Mars, and portions of Venus. Additionally, the British pay substantial war reparations to the United States, and have a great deal of clout with the "colonies".

The game currently takes place in Germany. As such, I think some time should be taken to explain Germany. The current political climate of Germany is a volatile one. Originally united under an emperor (Karl Franz the 2nd), his death in 1802 left the nation fragmented. Having no heirs, the only existing noble class were the Barons that made up the Council of Ten that owned the lands of the empire. However, each of them were determined to gain control of the throne, and as such set out to claim it. At first it was debate, but as time wore on, civil war broke out as each one tried to claim the throne via brute force. This has left, as of 1847, a sort of lukewarm conflict that sees no end in sight. The borders of each barony are strictly drawn, and border conflicts occur daily. Still, major military operations have been virtually non-existent for the better part of 15 years, with one notable exception. The Erl, who claim the Black Forest as their homeland, have long been a thorn in the side of Baroness Astrid Von Haagen and Baron Nikolas De Roelf. This is primarily because if it weren't for the Erl, both of these nobles would have substantially increased land holdings and access those lands resources. In 1832 Pope Gregory XVI issued his now famous Il proscioglimento di profano (proclamation of evil) emboldening Catholics to rid the world of evil as a path to heavenly salvation. The Erl, whose religious tradition is alien and who have a long standing penchant for razing human villages and taking the children, became almost immediate targets. Using the proclamation, the De Roelfs and the Von Haagens gained papal support and began purging the Black Forest of the Erl in hopes that it would grant them a edge over the other baronies. Whether the De Roelfs and the Von Haagens will come into conflict is yet to be seen. Recently the baronial powers signed the Transportation Accord, a treaty of sorts that outlawed the attacking or seizing of any non-military related materials moving to or from any of the baronial territories. Many citizens within Germany see this as a sign that the conflict between the baronial powers is coming to an end.

Munich, the capital of the Von Haagen Barony has a population of 325,000 people, with a population of 92% humans, 5% Orcs/Half-Orcs, 2% Halfling, and 1% Other. Its primary export is refined goods, as Munich is considered by most to be the manufacturing center of Germany. Ironically, Astrid Von Haagen is not a spark, nor is her husband, and both seem to have an interest in technology only as far as what it will bring their purses. Because of this, and because of incentives offer by the Von Haagens, Munich boasts a large spark population with numerous laboratories and factories around the city. A rail way from Nuremburg provides the city with raw materials from northern Germany, and a rail from the south brings goods from Italy via the Alps. Additionally the newly constructed Nilmsheim Air Center brings in air ships and sky ships nearly daily from all over the world as well as Mars, Venus, and the Moon. Munich also has a large number of farms outside of the city to provide its inhabitants with food. What isn't grown is shipped. Munich has one university and a technical university.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The disparities of magic and reason

As I've mentioned before, there is a substantial opposition between magic and science in the world. Like our own worlds conflict between religion and reason during the renaissance, colonial period, and even today, the struggle between magic and science is tangible, and permeates every aspect of the world. If you are on one side, then you are probably not on the other. The interesting thing is that in my mythology for the world, this conflict isn't just an idealistic one. It's a very real conflict perpetuated by agents of each side.

This conflict stems from the mythology of magic. I'm not going to say whether this mythological view is true or not. It's up to the players to determine how they feel about it. Magicians divide the realm of magic into five spheres: Fire, Earth, Air, Water, and Mind. Each spell draws from these forces and intermingle to create specific spell effects. Some to a lesser degree and other to a greater degree. For example, the spell magic missile is drawn from the force of mind and fire. The spell dispel magic is drawn from all five to create a deficit to nullify magic. Magical schools teach the theories behind each spell as well as their appropriate element, allowing students to understand how they interplay and create magical effects. Sadly the mages of Earth make many faulty assumptions about the nature of magic.

Each element does combine to create magical effects, but only because the elements create a form of miasma that then creates the effect. Spells are all essentially drawn from this. Is what mages mistake is that the form remains consistent; that is, the spell comprises of earth, fire, water, air and mind. In fact, it becomes something completely different. But, that isn't the point.

The basis for these elements exists in the elemental schema that mankind has adopted since the primordial times. Unfortunately, as things are wont to do, the more stock mortals placed in these ideas, the more pervasive they became. The more pervasive they became, the more real the ideas behind them became. Then, suddenly, at some point in mortals distant past, these concepts eschewed their conceptualization and took cognizant forms. Now, instead of mere ideas, they existed in a dynamic and living sense. One might call them Gods, although with the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions so strong among most mortals, such words might be considered heresy. And, like the Gods of myth, they fought among themselves.

During the roman empire Mind flourished. His influence was felt by various cultures of the world, including the Greeks and Egyptians. Perhaps overcome with jealousy, the other elements began to suppress Mind by plunging the world into war, famine, and plague. Time gave way to the dark ages, wherein Mind was at his weakest. Thought, reason, order, were nowhere to be found on earth in any substantial sense. In this dark place, Mind went mad. He began to withdrawal from the world, biding his time. Finally, he began to slowly influence people by showing them reason and logic. He inspired countless men and women to embrace reasonableness and the renaissance was born. Soon, Mind became powerful enough wage war again but he realized that he could not directly affect the other elements. But Mind had learned that destroying that which gave the other elements purpose would be their unmaking. Still, he could not hope to take them on directly. Instead, he fragmented. In hundreds of thousands of motes of energy, he spread his essence across the world, and mingled with those whom he predicted would be the most worthy of his essence. Within each of them he gave them reason, order, and the capacity to take fledgling sciences to a level that would compete with magic. Because of Mind's illness, some of these people remained unchanged, and others tended toward megalomania. Still, each was a potent creator, and each would create Minds arsenal.

Each of these people would compound upon Minds essence the lessons learned during their life, and when they die, that mote would pass on to another to continue to learn again. It is speculated, by those in the know, that Mind simply waits for a moment when his knowledge surpasses everything. At that moment, he will reunite and reclaim all of the accumulated knowledge, as well as the weapons that were created by his essence. Then, he will have the strength to rid the world of the other four elements.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A question of authenticity

An issue has been raised regarding one of the aspects of the world some of my players don't like and I'm uncertain what to do about it. The world that the game is set in is a world of heroes and magic, mad science and ultra powerful, albeit steam powered, technology. Despite this, I'm struggling to keep very human and realistic issues present in the world and it seems be impacting the happiness of at least one, perhaps two of my players. The time period is 1847, and even in the alternative timeline of the world of steam and sorcery, there are a number of things that remain the same. One of these is the view of women in varying societies throughout the world. First, as a disclaimer, don't misunderstand my intentions. I'm a sociologist and a Marxist. I abhor gender inequality (all inequality actually) with every fiber of my being. I'm a feminist, and I'm a guy. But to me, issues of racism, sexism, and class struggle make for unbelievably great stories and create very real issues for characters to deal with. In my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying campaign, these issues were apparent, and included another of my pet peeves--religious zealotry. In the current adventure, the PC's had to go into an aristocrats club in Munich, and were immediately separated based on gender. The women were taken to a salon where they read poetry, and the males were taken to a smoking room. Everyone was there to try and gain some information. The women used a number of social rolls and a great deal of time to gain some information, and the male character bribed the bartender in the club. The information gained was virtually identical, yet to my female players it seemed as if the male character got this information easier. In the post game discussion, both of the female players (who also happen to play the only female characters) indicated their frustration (and in truth, did so during the game as well, much to my irritation) and one of them explained that, had they known the world was so misogynistic, she would have played male characters.

I understand their frustration. Originally conceived, the world wasn't supposed to have gender stratification in such an in-your-face way, but as I wrote the adventures, I found myself moving in that direction to create an engaging game. The role that gender plays was not explained to them, and I tried to help them understand how I saw it. The fact of the matter is that among common folk, both in my world and in the historical, women and men of lower social status were generally of equal status. Putting aside the idea of the breadwinner/homemaker model of the 1950-1960's, women have in some way always worked outside of the home. Like today, poor families of the Victorian era needed money to live on too, and often times the wife found a suitable occupation of some sort, be it mending clothing, laundry, or some such. Granted, these were domestic task, but even among those who chose not to have such an occupation, factory jobs were available for women. Among the aristocracy, economic issues such as starvation and impoverishment were not present (overall), and there was an expectation that wives be demure and educated rather than employed. I understand the desire for authenticity in a game (even one based of in the fringes of a theoretical scientific schema long dead), but I also understand that no one wants to be subjected to oppression in a game. So, which is the better route? Authenticity that angers and alienates players, or the happiness of the players at the expense of interesting role-playing situations?

Friday, October 27, 2006

The characters

The game has an interesting mix of characters that I'd like to talk about before I get into the first adventure log. Sadly, as it happens with any game I think, there have already been changes to the character line up for the campaign. One of my players has left to be a dad, and another was unhappy with his character, so he is changing between adventures. Near the end of the adventure another player joined us, so I'm going to avoid mentioning his character here since he's new and I haven't yet gotten a good grasp of his character.

Ash Larue: Ash is an American Cowboy wanted by his own country. It is interesting because from the very first game, Ash was a cut up. His wit is great, and he has an amazing capacity to turn anything any of the characters say into a joke, and is by far the comic relief of the group. He is a gunslinger that, if memory serves, worked for American sparks in before he became wanted by the US government for some travesty. He is full of stories of past exploits from places such as Hong Kong, London, New York, etc. He is an unbelievably charismatic character, and his silver tongue has managed to ingratiate him and his cohorts with people that might not necessarily want or like his company. Ash is somewhat of a learned fellow, knowing a little about Philosophy. His two pepperbox pistols are called Descarte and Hume, which I find amusing. He was the owner of the Weatherlight, having won it in a card game with the owner during a stay in New London with Francis (See below).

Antigone Moriarty: Antigone, or Arty for short, comes from a long line of powerful European sparks. She herself isn't one, and during her childhood was the subject of her families cruel machinations. Despite this, she has a soft spot for her family that is naive at best and fatal at worst. Her most hated enemy is her twin sister, who has tried to kill her on more than one occasion. Arty is full of stories of her families exploits, and on some level seeks to perhaps find a niche that they haven't occupied. Among them are experts in clockwork, Bioengineering, and Necromancy (her family boasts one magic user, who is married to a Transylvanian Count with a penchant for drinks that aren' She is a gifted mechanic and airship pilot, and seems to have some pacifist leanings. She is at times a bit naive and has been the butt of many of Ash's and Francis' jokes.

Francis Doyle: Francis Doyle is one of the best magic users in the world. His skill at magic is unmatched by all but the most experienced mages. He has been the faithful sidekick of Ash for a long time, and their exploits are amusing. The two of them play off of each other so well it is almost unbelievable (I'm sad that Ash's player is taking a break, and Francis' player is unhappy with the character. Their in-game dynamic is great and is by far some of the best role-playing I've seen). Francis is, or at one time, was a doctor, although with the capacity to heal magically, he very rarely uses mundane medicine.

Delana Vichela: Delana is a Hessian Dwarf, with an extensive knowledge of explosives. She is also very nearly kleptomanical, and has a penchant for finding things that other people have lost in their pocket, homes, or other personal territory. Her only other obsession is explosives and fires, although not necessarily in that order. She is adept at sneaking around, and is the groups designated rogue, if one could call her that. She is also skilled in magic to a degree, but only insofar as a few spells that aid her in stealing or hiding.