Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Developer Diary: The Mortal Races

Making a short sidetrack from our odyssey over Age of Steel countries I thought it fitting to delve into the mortal races before we continue any further. After all they are the very basis for how many countries and conflicts have developed.

Now, I intend to go into each race in detail so let's just start with a little discussion over why there are different races in Centuria to begin with. I want to explore different social settings in this world - including racism but also society without racism. Having different races allows me to do this, while at the same time highlighting both the hypocrisy and the necessity in deciding boundaries. We can have a society in which skin color doesn't affect your social status while still picturing social conflicts between different races.

Claiming this image off the internet to represent the "classical" fantasy races, my idea for Centuria was to create a world "easy to jump into" yet still with a few twists to make it unique. Also, I wanted a plausible idea for how the different races had gotten there to begin with. 

Elves, dwarves and orcs thus get included pretty much by default. Now, the idea goes something like this: human evolution can pretty much be based on what happened on Earth. Dwarves I decided to portray as a different hominid and since the classical image that dwarves live in the mountains makes it unlikely they moved in overnight I decided to make Umarald their ancestral homeland. To have the humans migrate into the area is a quite plausible idea. Orcs then would also be immigrants - from the south, as many of their characteristics (dark skin, night active) fit better with a tropical environment than coming from the north. Now the elves; they are a rather advantaged race (being almost immortal and stuff) so there must be some explanation as to why the elves are not controlling the land. And, looking ahead, there's also a need for a good explanation as to how all these rather unique races appear in Umarald for some reason. My idea then is that the elves were created - from humans - using some sort of magic. Maybe demons were involved, maybe not. Regardless, this would provide a good reason for their abilities. 

Now, then, the very idea that magic could have created a race can be used to explain a whole lot of weird creatures in the world. I build on the idea that the elves, having discovered this could be done, transformed into all sorts of creatures: centaurs, minotaurs, worgs. And to create that little twist, why not introduce some friendly dwarf-elf relations? The gnomes, as usually described, form a rather perfect combination between the two? So we'll have some gnomes too based on this.

Great - we have most of the classical races and some explanation as how they came to be. Hobbits/halflings? I don't really see them adding much to the setting at this point and getting one more race to explain just seems a bit unrealistic. So, to still give the term some meaning I reinvent the "hobbits" as surface-living dwarves with a different social structure. Perhaps we'll see halflings in some future expansion (the world of Aladron is large, after all) but for now this gives us something to work with.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer heralds the Age of Knowledge

The feeling hasn't quite set in yet; but today the trilogy of rule books was completed. Still there's some way to go before there are any prints ready (proof reading for one thing) but just to have the content ready is a true milestone. 

The Age of Knowledge book weights in at 335 pages (slightly shorter than the 351 pages Age of Information book) and covers such things as seafaring, gunpowder weapons and of course a new political setting. As with the other books it is freely available at the downloads page

Now, just because all the books are nearing completion it doesn't mean that there's no more work to do. There's still a few continents to pull off ( and new adventures and settings to be described in detail - not to mention a lot of plot exposure of the machinations of this world. 

So don't fret - there'll be more. But for now here's the first chance to enjoy the full set of Centuria rule books!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Developer Diary: Gwendellor

Ah, Gwendellor. This brings back memories as the first ever campaign in Centuria took place in this country.

The idea with Gwendellor was a frontier nation at the edge of civilization. Monsters and beasts lurking in the forests and hidden secrets deep in the mountains. A little Scandinavian touch but a bit more mysterious; the land should feel foreign and dangerous even to those who called it their home.

The Order of the Falcon was at the heart of the concept of Gwendellor. I can't recall exactly where the idea for the orwellian order of assassins came from, but there are plenty of historical references to draw upon such as the hashashin and the knightly orders of the crusades.

What I do recall is that from the start I envisioned Gwendellor as a land the humans had wrestled from the orcs. Indeed I decided that the human cities were still housed within walls once built by the orcs. It was something that would give the orcs, a very stereotyped race, an interesting history - something for those serving the Order of the Falcon to consider and dwell upon as they fought with orcs; the orcs where there first. And they weren't just primitive savages; they'd have cities - an empire even. And this gave birth to the idea of Orchiag - the ancient orc empire that spanned the length of the Northlands. This suited just fine with my aspirations to make Centuria a game where things weren't just black and white.

I wanted Gwendellor to be a fairly sparsely populated nation. Manpower would be a scarce resource. This would explain why the Order was prepared to put so much effort into every recruit, and also why those that survived to become full members of the Order enjoyed such benefits. It also helped form a picture of the Order's relation to the overall population of the country: the people was a resource; nothing more, nothing less.

One more thing I wanted from Gwendellor was a multicultural environment with equality between the sexes. It made sense then, that the nation was formed as part of the Empire's initial expansion into the Northlands. Gwendellor had been the furthest that the human armies had ventured in their quest to defeat the orcs. But how had the land fallen into the hands of the Order of the Falcon?

The idea I came up with was that the Order of the Falcon was just one out of several orders which had formed the backbone of the imperial invasion. Naturally, the Order of the Falcon had been in charge of intelligence and espionage, but it would then make more sense for it to exist in Damasa or Gothia. Historically I believe far flung outposts have been benefical to those who wanted to be able to do things their own way. So, the Order had been expelled from Damasa during the civil war but rather than retreat and operate under the queen in Menlor the leaders of the Order decided they'd do better by handling themselves - acquiring new land to manage their own recruitment pool might have been a strong incentive. Gwendellor probably wouldn't have been a first choice, but available land is scarce and the Order would have picked what it could get its hands on.

So the story of Gwendellor is pretty simple, yet very appealing (at least I think so). And that was really the goal of it; to create a very interesting place for a campaign with lots of possibilities (forest exploration, battles with the orcs, assassination missions and so forth). As the Order is described as one of the few to combine combat training with magics (at least in the Northlands) it was also an excellent opportunity to try out a very wide range of rules for the game.

You could say Gwendellor was the trailer for the entire game and it is still one of my absolute favorite settings, particularly in the Age of Steel!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Developer Diary: Damasa

I created Damasa to be a rival to the nation of Menlor. As I envisioned the two to be the major powers of the Northlands and so I imagine their conflict was similar to that of France and England during the middle ages, with the Damasa strait making it difficult to hold on to any gains on the other side.

The first thing was to design a reason for the hostility between the nations. I had already decided I wanted the nations of the Northlands to be multicultural (that is, several human cultures present) so it was logical that they would have a common ancestry. I envisioned that human civilization had been spread north from the Southlands by a great human empire that dwelled there. To give the nations claim on each others' lands I decided that most human nations in the Northlands had once been part of the same empire. As two factions came to claim the throne a civil war lead to the rise of several independent states.

With a story in place, I could build on that foundation. Geographically, it made sense for Damasa to be the first place for humans of the Southlands to make landfall (as Alvor was already set aside for the elves). Thus Damasa would be the heartland for human civilization in the north; resembling the Empire in the Southlands in both architecture and culture. I wanted it to be a contrast to Menlor on several levels and though I envisioned the queen of Menlor as the rightful and just ruler I didn't want to create a black and white scenario with Menlor being the good and Damasa the bad.

I found a good place to start to be the government. If Menlor was a feudal monarchy then I could make Damasa something like a republic or democracy? Inspired by the Persian-Greek conflict of antiquity I decided that if Menlor was inspired from France and the Empire would be some Roman-Persian mixup then it made sense to give Damasa a greek-inspired culture. So I made Damasa a meritocracy, though under the rule of an emperor which was largely seen as benign. As this image more and more clashed with the very traditionalist plans I had for the Empire I needed an explanation. The traditional factions of the Empire I had imagined as wizards, the army and the Temple. Given that I intended for the emperor to be a wizard it made sense that the wizard faction would be on his (the emperor would be male to balance out Menlor's queen) side. As the Temple was a moral institution with strong ties to the queen they would be the emperor's enemies. It seemed plausible the emperor would have banished them from the land (perhaps to gain the favor of the wizards?). Granting its wealth to the people could have prevented civil unrest. Then remained the army. As the emperor had managed to force the queen from the northern heartlands it seemed logical at least a large portion of the army had been on his side. But it was hard to imagine the traditional generals happily going along with the emperor dissolving the Temple and openly flirting with the wizard faction.

This created the foundation for an internal conflict. I imagine that to overthrow both the Temple and the army in one go would have been too much. The sensible solution to such a problem would seem to keep both sides content - and historically soldiers are best kept from causing trouble at home by being abroad fighting. As this suited the storyline just fine it was a given choice: the emperor sent his soldiers forth to try to claim all lands in the north for himself. But Menlor's knights would have been quite effective against legionnaire style infantry forces. The emperor is running low on troops but military tradition prevents him from recruiting freely.

This is really a turning point in Damasa's history - both in-game and off-game. Having reviewed what has been written so far I decide to postpone Damasa's cultural revolution. The emperor claimed power through adhering to the Empire's traditions, not overthrowing them. Those who ally with the emperor do so because they see themselves as part of the Empire and want to remain loyal subjects. This doesn't change the end result however; the emperor still battles the queen but starts to run low on soldiers. What does he do? He's a powerful mage so one response would be to summon an army - an army which is not so susceptible to attrition. Undead fit the bill just about right. So the emperor turns to raising undead and the whole war turns into a horror story. Great background stuff!

So how to merge this with that democracy-social revolution idea? Well, it seems likely the emperor gains more and more enemies over time. The Order of the Falcon eventually manages to assassinate him (they are on the queen's side anyway). Then what? With the undead falling apart Menlor gains the upper hand. Damasa is still strong in wizards but it needs a new army. A new emperor rises and appeals to the people: it is time to throw off all those who wish to rule them and create their own nation! The Temple is friendly towards the queen so gets thrown out. The wizards are the most powerful faction so they offer to assist in return for more privileges and autonomy and the remains of the army grudgingly joins the people and fight off the invaders. Almost there now!

Naturally, as the country is restored the army wants to reclaim its former position but the new emperor realizes this could lead to the same scenario once more and refuses. The new army will be raised from the common people. In protest the remaining soldier families decide to leave the country - they will then be the foundation for the militaristic state of Cenowar. But Damasa is now where I wanted it: it is a nation with a strong sense of national pride, a strong wizard community, a reformed army and with little or no influence from the Temple. In a sense the historical roles have been slightly reversed; Damasa now resembles revolutionary France while Menlor would look more like England in the Hundred Wears' War.

We're on to a great start!