Sunday, 8 April 2018

Beyond the Waves: relics from the last war

For Beyond the Waves: ancient technology from the last war between the Haunted Empire and the Island States.

I. Ekranoplan wrecks

The airspace above the Archipelago is haunted. The Empire’s flyers would dive when they hit the Archipelago airspace, or curve in unpredicted trajectories. For decades the imperial scientists attempted to map that volume of air with its many loci and vortices and tunnels, but Sigma/Omega ratios could suddenly peak and vehicles would return decrepit, pilots bags of dust. Flying over the islands was too much of a risk even for a behemoth like the Empire who could throw steel and flesh and bone at any problem.

The ekranoplans were vast surface wing craft, much larger than any of the vehicles in service around the various island states. They were designed for carrying cargo, weapons and troops rapidly over long stretches of flat water for exploration or conquest.

Abandoned ekranoplan hulls can be found along the western shore of the land and on some islands.

1d12 Ekranoplan wreck points of interest
1 Wreck completely overgrown inside and out with several well preserved bodies inside
2 Coded military orders
3 A luxury fitted stateroom with Imperial memorabilia
4 1d4 active torpedoes of unknown payload
5 Several cubic meters of ancient computer
6 Disdended corpses and signs of bungled emergency egress
7 Maps of western ocean with expedition diaries
8 Leviathan tissue samples
9 Armoury with 1d3 lightning cannisters and other hand weapons
10 Neuronic interrogation equipment
11 Banks of cell samples, seeds and mature plants which have overwhelmed the vehicle interior
12 Human squatters who are either (1-2) inferior and afraid, (3-4) well-matched and hostile or (5-6) contaminated and infectious

II. Acoustic Mirrors

The obsolescense of aircraft that resulted in the ekranoplan in turn rendered radioetheric detection useless as the flyers were too low to resolve against the surface.

Sound mirrors were developed and many examples were installed on the shores of the eastern-most islands.

1d10 Acoustic mirror points of interest
1 Sound has attracted unusual animals or birds
2 Sheltering human settlement who have decorated the mirror
3 Mirror receives broadcast from somewhere out in the sea
4 Tribe bases religious observations, calendars and rituals around seasonal ambient sound from the mirror
5 Mirror contains a bunker underneath with telegraph room which is receiving a signal from somewhere
6 Mirror reflects leviathan song
7 Mirror has been damaged and tilts at an impractical upward angle, but is receiving transmission
8 Mirror has been broken down, moved and reconstructed to serve an unintended purpose
9 Local gravitational or spacetime distortion
10 Several imitation mirrors have been built up in the same area, and sing to one another

III. Targe hulls

Targe (“shield” or “border”) hulls are chains of either mobile floating or permanently anchored armoured platforms designed to interrupt assaults from ekranoplan vessels with poor manouverability and altitude control. Frequently installed close to sound mirrors.

1d10 Targe hull points of interest
1 Hull has been taken over by vast numbers of sea birds
2 Gigantic cannon, broken away from mounting and cannot be aimed
3 Remnants of a brutal skirmish; bones, damaged equipment, rusted firearms and cutlasses
4 Series of sophisticated signal towers line up with island mirror installations
5 Multiple stored drums of unknown chemical agent, some leaking into sea
6 Platforms severely damaged in collision, submerged ekranoplan wreck
7 Fishing settlement in former fortress with extended raft village anchored to fixed hardpoints
8 Suspended railroad connects network of artificial platforms strung between natural sea mounts and islets
9 Pirate hideout with livery
10 Bedrock collapsed under foundation revealing underwater natural structure

Image Credits and more images

Acoustic mirror by Paul Glazzard shared under CC BY-SA 2.0

Red sands forts by Russs shared under CC BY-SA 3.0

Ekranoplan art:

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Beyond the Waves: Playbooks

So the newborn has disrupted blogging for a bit. Anyway, here’s a playbook guide for Beyond the Waves, including:

  • new playbooks
  • tweaks for existing playbooks
  • miscellaneous notes

The whole document is here although it’s quite long at around 36 pages.

New playbooks

I’ve split out the new playbooks in a zip file here (Word docx format). They are:

  • The Pirate’s Protege: A swashbuckling warrior-rogue
  • The Wild Mage: A mage who walked into the heart of the island and learned the wild magic
  • The Pearl Diver: A rogue who knows all the island’s secrets
  • The Revenant: A dead soul that failed to cross the Ocean and washed up on the beach in a new body
  • The Triton Mercenary: A warrior from an ancient undersea race, who chose to walk on land and explore the human lands
  • The Itinerant Cartographer: An Elder character and a rogue, travelling across the Archipelago with the intention of mapping as much as they can — and training a pupil to carry on their work

At some point I’ll combine this content with the other blog posts… when I get 5 minutes. Yeah, right

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Beyond The Waves: Big Fish

Wallpaper_Leviathan_1280x960

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?

God tells Job how powerless he is against the Leviathan. Is it allegory for Satan, whom only God can oppose? Or is Leviathan a force of nature or indifferent deity, for whom mankind is an irrelevance?

Let’s discuss big fish in Beyond the Waves.

Origins

Monsters

These include the Aspidochelone or Kraken. Malign creatures that exist to drag humans below the waves, and personifications of cosmic evil.

Aspidochelone2-gks1633-danish-royal-library

(source: wikipedia)

Undines

Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun references Undines, gigantic women who are the concubines of Abaia, a gigantic, eldrich underwater monster. The undines are submarine giants. Perhaps they were once human, forced to exist in water once they became too massive to live on land. Crossing from land to water could be a magical trial, where the magician must survive in water through force of will, or perish. Over time they transform, gaining webbed hands and feet, etc.

Fish Riders

The mystical nature of the giant fish might also come from some associated human hero such as Paikea. The creature represents a force of nature and the rider is the spiritual force that directs it, for good or evil.

These are ideas for the GM — whatever the origin the sea creature various island religions may have different interpretations of what the Leviathan means (see the tables below).

Religion

How does each island culture regard the Leviathan?

  1. Does it feature in greetings, blessings, or curses?
  2. Do people wear amulets, charms? Do they inscribe images of the fish over their doors, in their boats, tattoos on their bodies?
  3. What does the fish mean to the islanders? Is it a demon, a wish-granter, a gateway to the other side of the ocean?

There could be more than one big fish, or there could be more than one interpretation of the big fish. See the tables.

Encounters

The Leviathan will turn up in various sea or land hexes. Treat these as Further Afield major locations. Settlements and cities will be on land, so the Leviathan should be sighted near the settlement (and no doubt will feature in that people’s religion). Ruins could be wrecks or underwater ruins. Monsters should be self-explanatory, and Otherworld or Source of Power could refer to mystical attributes of the creature itself. These can be Seen, Heard or Read About per the rules.

On Sea

  1. When the fish is seen, is it near or far?
  2. What signs are there that the fish is coming, or has been here? Wreckage, fish, strange colours in the sea?
  3. If the party encounter the fish on the water, how dangerous is it?

On Land

  1. How does the Fish influence local culture, religion, superstition?

Hooks

(No pun intended)

  1. The creature is a source of ambergris, which can make an enchanted potion. Scavengers follow in its wake, collecting marine and faecal smelling floating matter, because someone pays for that stuff.
  2. The god grants wishes to those that can catch it by the tail.
  3. A mariner escorting the party between islands has a grievance against the fish, and deviates from their course when it is sighted.
  4. Pirates hunt it for its skin, which will allow them to walk between worlds.
  5. A magical harpoon is stuck in its hide.
  6. You may ride to the underworld in the fish’s mouth, as long as you have enough rare incense to burn that it doesn’t swallow you.

Random Tables

To answer the questions, roll a dice or choose the answer that fits. Work in progress.

What does the fish mean to these islanders?

  1. The Fish is a force of nature. At times it may be cruel or benign. It exists to remind humans of their place in nature
  2. The Fish is a god of bounty, representing harvests, and appearing when the plankton blooms are plentiful.
  3. The Fish is a trickster, intent on luring sailors to their deaths.
  4. The Fish represents death, and carries dead souls across the Ocean.
  5. The Fish represents destruction, and where it appears violence will not be far behind. It can be appeased with a sacrifice.
  6. The Fish represents knowledge, which can be heard in its songs if you listen in the right way.
  7. The Fish is a transformed human, cursed to live in the sea.
  8. The Fish was once a human but is now a god with its own appetites.

Who talks about the Fish?

  1. It’s not discussed; it’s a pagan superstition at best, and frowned upon.
  2. It’s commonly referred to in a blessing of good luck, or polite greeting.
  3. It’s commonly used as a curse.
  4. It appears regularly in imagery.
  5. A hermit tries to warn people of the fish, but no-one will listen.
  6. There is a church and an organised religion.
  7. There’s a cranky magician at the edge of the island on an observation tower.
  8. A society (of assassins, magicians, or cultists) reveres the creature, and prays to it in secret. People fear talk of the Fish because they fear those that worship it. Tekeli li, etc.

What symbols do people carry of the Fish?

These can be worn as amulets to ward off its wrath, or to encourage its favour.

  1. Tribal tattoos.
  2. A charm, worn around the neck or as a bracelet, or on an earring.
  3. A plaque or carving into the hull of a boat for good fortune and strength.
  4. Paintings, murals, or tapestries depicting the Fish in the background of human events.
  5. A carving in the lintel of every front door in the village.
  6. A giant stone, laid in the centre of a stone circle, carved into the likeness of the fish and worn by the elements.

What tells you that the Fish may be near?

  1. Strange colours in the sky at night.
  2. The water turns a limpid green, as if you could see to the bottom.
  3. The water becomes opaque and reddish-black.
  4. Suddenly, a shoal of fish arrives, fleeing something.
  5. A whirlpool appears.
  6. On land, sudden and unexplained acts of violence or hot tempers.
  7. On land, mad proclamations by a seer.
  8. A terrible wind.
  9. A sudden calm and a break in the clouds.
  10. A human survivor, on a wreck, last of their crew, once swallowed and regurgitated.
  11. Ambergris, and possibly someone trying to collect it.
  12. Another ship in trouble.

Image.ashx

Monday, 28 September 2015

Beyond the Waves: Home Island

note: I forgot to post this earlier. It should come between the Introduction and the Playbooks essays when it’s compiled into one document

So, the “village” in Beyond the Waves could be located on a single island or it could be a cluster of islands nearby (maybe connected by rope ferries, bridges, or close enough to row across). If it’s a single island it could be large or small — note that the central island in Earthsea is still the size of Great Britain, so it could plausibly have all of the farming and even industry that the village in Beyond the Wall contains. However I prefer to keep the island small — perhaps unrealistically small (say, the scale of islands in Zelda: Windwaker) — and use the beaches and safe coastal waters as the “wall” in this version.

Recommend that the home island is about 3 hexes (medium).

So, let’s assume that the village is a single island — this will affect the “colour” of various moving parts:

  • The Boundary of the village will be the beach or nearby safe waters, perhaps bounded by a reef or spit, cliffs or a beach
  • Village industry will probably be pre-industrial (q.v. Earthsea) and include crafts, making use of natural resources and probably recycling, and getting a lot of food from the sea.
  • If there’s exotic materials like metals, these will have to have come from somewhere. Maybe there’s a mainland, or maybe there are caches of weapons and metallic goods somewhere. Or perhaps there’s a Dwarven volcanic island where metals are smelted, if you want to play to that stereotype.
  • Skills like Riding should be replaced with Sailing, and Farming with Fishing. Navigating and Swimming becomes important.

Fairly obvious, really. But none of this should affect the core activity of the game, which is the young protagonists striking out on their own and exploring the places beyond the village.

During character roll-up, make a map as you would normally do and insert the features that come from the playbooks into that map, bearing in mind it’s an island. If it’s an island cluster stick some features on islets (good place for hermits and witches). Etcetera.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Beyond the Waves: Island Generator

The Further Afield sandbox (or in this case, saltbox) is collaboratively (and if you like randomly) developed between all players at the table. One really important factor is the way the Village is at the centre of the map, and the location of other features is relative to the Village (distance and direction). Even when far away, home should always be present on the map.

Of course you don’t need to make the village (or island) central to the map; it could be at one end. This works if there is one big destination in mind (e.g. travelling from the Shire to Mount Doom, or Analand to Mampang). That makes your campaign a bit more of an epic journey than a free-roaming sandbox, but the principle is the same — the characters should always be thinking of home.

If you stick your archipelago next to a land mass it becomes bounded between the land and the ocean, so your archipelago could be long and thin as it follows the coastline of the mainland. At the same time archipelagos can contain thousands of islands and be located away from a land mass. In the early stages of the campaign you could only be looking at one small portion of the island chain, and concepts like Land and Ocean will be so distant that they may as well be myth.

Practical considerations:

  1. Because the islands can vary in size you may want to use smaller hexes or a bigger range between the “near” to “far” bands given in the Further Afield map sheet, or you’ll run out of space when packing islands in or you’ll only have a few islands on the map. Part of the feel of the saltbox should be that there are a lot of islands to explore, something that could take a lifetime. And there should be sea in between to cross.
  2. If the party plan to sail long distances, they should uncover new islands as they progress. This means your map needs breathing room, but also you won’t know what direction the map is going to expand in. The paper answer to this is to get another hex sheet and tape it to the original one, when you know what direction it’s going to expand in. There may be electronic tools that let you do the same thing (but I like paper)

OK, here’s how to grow the archipelago:

  1. Use the Further Afield rules for creating a location in turn, including direction, distance, and type. Do as many rounds as you have enthusiasm (or space on the hex map) for.
  2. Islands are small, medium or large.
  3. Stretches of sea between the islands can be any size; the distance between islands may determine what size of boat can sail those different channels.
  4. Each island has a Safety Slider. This affects the overall danger of the island itself, and extends to the surrounding waters. The Home Island (Village) is always +3 on this scale, i.e. safe.
  5. Each island is usually considered a “dungeon”, i.e. a single area to be explored. If there’s danger, the party should be in danger as long as they’re on the island. Safety rating applies to the whole area.

1. Where is your island?

Use the Further Afield rules for direction on the map, and distance (close/far). Also use the rules as you see fit for what kind of Major Location exists and whether the island is Heard, Seen or Learned and how accurate that information is (FA p.8).

2. How big is your island?

Choose a scale for your hexes. FA p.12 gives us a default distance of 1 hex = 10 miles; this means that small islands will be a 1-5 miles across (the size of Oxford), and big ones will be maybe 30 miles across (the size of London). That sounds OK to me. If there’s a settlement on the island it could be a mile across, and if there’s a major city it may be 5 miles.

Roll a d8:

1: 1 hex small island (entirely contained within 1 hex)
2: 2 hex small island
3-4: 3 hex medium island (usually one vertex of each hex entirely on land)
5-6: 4 hex medium island
7: Medium-large island, 5 or 6 hexes but all hexes contain beach/sea
8: Large island (at least 1 hex does not touch the sea on any side)

Each player draws their island within the above guidelines.

I’d suggest modifying the roll by +3 if the location is a Major City, and +1 if the place is a Settlement (see Further Afield).

3. Set the Safety Slider

Each island has a safety rating, set from +3 (very safe and welcoming) to -6 (really dangerous). This rating should apply to reaction rolls, rolls on random tables where there’s a mix of good and bad outcomes (with the bad outcomes low), etc.

This rating applies at sea, too. For every hex away from the island, move the safety slider 1 towards neutral (0). Use this rating to apply to chances of wandering monsters/pirates, dangerous weather events, etc.

Sometimes the danger is known, sometimes it’s secret. Sometimes the party have the wrong information (use the Further Afield rules for whether the information is accurate).

Big islands that are commercial hubs (where a lot of people of different cultures pass through) probably won’t range more than +/- 1. There’s a limit on how safe and friendly they can be due to size (they just become impersonal) and there’s a limit on how bad they can be, because if they’re dangerous to a lot of people then no-one will go near them to trade.

For islands (usually big islands) with a controlling the Safety should determine (or be determined by) how hostile that faction is to the PCs. (note: Faction rules to come later)

4. What’s on the Island?

Here are a few tables to start off.

Seashore

Roll 1d20 for each hex of island with seashore. Alternatively roll once for a small island, twice for medium and three times for large.

1: Rocks and cliffs, calm
2: Rocks and cliffs, dangerous currents or whirlpools
3: A cove with a rocky beach that floods at high tide; rip currents
4: A wide sandy beach with dunes
5: A lagoon separated by a barrier island or reef
6: A natural harbour, big enough for a boat
7: Rocky headland with a cove
8: A steep shingle beach with rough waters and seaweed
9: A spit, with or without a structure at its end
10: Small caves in a cliff-face (covered at high tide?)
11: Vanishing island (headland with vegetation — possibly seaweed — vanishes at high tide)
12: Beach with mud flats/quicksands
13: Shallows with rocks
14: Rocky beach with rock pools
15: Sandy beach with many small or large shells
16: Rocky headland with many narrow and tall rocks, rising like fingers from the sea
17: Cliffs with many ledges
18: A series of terraces
19: Headland and causeway, submerged with tide
20: Natural piers or sandbanks

Where to land your boat

Roll 1d8 and modify by +3 if it’s a City and +1 if it’s a Settlement. If it’s Ruins you have two options: either don’t modify the roll (so if there should be a pier and there isn’t, it’s in disrepair and can’t be used) or adjust is as you see fit but make every structure unreliable.

1-2: Nothing; you need to use natural features to moor your boat, drag it onto the beach, or anchor the boat and go ashore on a skiff
3-4: A small jetty for mooring fishing boats etc. Possibly with boat-building nearby. Could be owned by one family if there’s no settlement.
5-6: A natural or artificial pier
7-8: A harbour with a small quay, suitable for small-medium merchant vessels
9-10: A harbour with a large wharf, multiple piers, etc.

The Weather

Roll 1d6:

1: Changeable (sunny, windy, stormy)
2: Always warm and clement
3: Windy with rough seas
4: Stormy with lighting and rough seas
5: Frequently raining and cloudy
6: Meteorological enclave (makes its own weather, separate from surroundings)

Terrain

1d12:

1: Hills
2: Forest
3: Mountains
4: Caldera
5: Lagoon (or Atoll)
6: Freshwater brook or lake
7: Plains, fertile
8: Plains, infertile/desert
9: Salt marsh
10: Mesa/tableland
11: Rocky spires
12: Glacier

5. Interesting Things

Here are some interesting things about the island (may be a bit of colour, may be adventure)

  1. The island is surrounded by things that colour the water (seaweed, algae, jellyfish). What is the consequence of sailing or swimming in these waters?
  2. The island has many tall thin rocks on its coast, which sing when the wind blows. What does the song do?
  3. The coast includes geometric (e.g. hexagonal) rock formations.
  4. The water is unusually clear, and there’s something on the bottom of the bay. What is it?
  5. The Veil is thin here (see Beyond the Veil).
  6. A network of caves penetrates the entire island. What made them? What uses them?
  7. Several lava tubes can be found on the island. What lives in them?
  8. Many tall trees connected by rope bridges.
  9. A plain with a thin, brittle crust. What’s underneath?
  10. A ship, about a mile inland. How did it get there? Is there anyone on board?

6. Interacting With Minor Locations

When the Major Locations have been fleshed out, the GM writes the Minor Locations. The party then interacts with these on the way to Major Locations. For a Saltbox there are a few good reasons why they would need to interact with the islands on the way:

  1. They have limited water or food to stay on the water.
  2. They’re forced to land in bad weather.
  3. Winds or currents send them off-course.

OK, that’s it for this one. Now we have to fill it with people or nonhumans or monsters… TTFN.