Star Trek Relics in Eclipse

And for today it’s a couple of relics. Unfortunately, unlike most relics, a character needs to be able to use very high-level technology to create or use these – and will need proficiency in Informational Combat to use the Tricorders full abilities. Still, if you just happen to hail from a Star Trek universe, here are a couple of the most popular toys.

Phaser (15 CP / 2 Point Relic):

  • Innate Enchantment: Specialized and Corrupted / only 1750 GP (35,000 Credits or Purchase DC 31) to duplicate the functions of a particular technological item or set of interlinked items with a common theme. The Phaser (or Plasma Laser) is a combination of…
    • Early Plasma (Laser) Pistol With Heavy Stun (4500 CR).
    • Early Plasma (Laser) Rifle with Autofire Module (2250 CR).
    • Plasma Launcher : Minigrenade Launcher (2000 CR) with 20 Fireflush Grenades (24,000 CR).
    • Plasma (Fusion) Torch (120 CR).
    • 30 extra Power Packs (2100 CR)
      • Total: 34,970 Credits. All items from d20 Future rules.
  • With 1d6+2 (6) Mana, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / only for Reality Editing, only for edits related to the devices Innate Enchantment effects or to the device itself, maximum of major edits (9 CP).
    • Common Minor Edits (1 Mana): Device is recharged/reloaded, an attack on it turns into a stunning energy discharge in a 10′ radius, produce an effect that is almost reasonable for the device in question (using a plasma gun to heat a room, flash-weld a door closed, attack a small area or double the damage or an area effect, hit automatically, or run a steam engine for some time).
    • Common Notable Edits (2 Mana): Device affects a small area rather than an individual target or a greater than usual area, device can be repaired as a standard action, produce an effect which is only remotely possible for the device in question (using a plasma gun to blast a sizeable area, create a wall of fire, hit and crit automatically, disrupt electrical apparatus rather than doing damage.
    • Common Major Edits (3 Mana): Make a plasma gun shoot cold, completely ignore range limitations, fire an overload blast for triple damage, carve out a tunnel, use the gadget to power up other systems, get things to work where they have no business doing so (for example, using a plasma beam under water).
      • Note that, if the device user is also using reality-editing technobabble, the effects are cumulative. Just sum up the total effective mana expenditure to determine the level of the edit.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only to recharge the Mana Pool above, takes several minutes of tinkering, requires a roll? (4 CP).

A phaser isn’t one of the most powerful weapons out there – but it can keep firing almost indefinitely, has a “stun” setting for when you don’t want to kill people, and can be used for all kinds of tricks as well as just shooting people. So why do most minions just flash and vanish when shot with a phaser set to “kill”? It’s because they’re MINIONS, and – in a Sci-Fi universe – generally only have a few hit points. That’s why pretty much ANYTHING kills them.

Tricorder (8 CP / 1 CP Relic):

The universal instrument pack would probably be best written as “Privilege: user gets to be the one to relay the plot-relevant information to the group after the game master has decided what he wants the party to know” – but most players would prefer a gadget that actually has some worthwhile effect. For them, we have the Classic Tricorder.

  • Sensor Suite: Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (level zero and weak level one effects) / Only for Divinations, requires at least one full round spent fiddling around with the gadget (6 CP).
    • Such effects include Detect (Magic, Psionics, Poison, Disease, Life, Time, Location, Dimensional Disturbances, Metal, Ores, Radiation, Secret Doors, Snares And Pits, Nutritional Value, Undead, Electrical Activity, Bugs, and so on), Find (Fish, Game, Forage, Campsite, Water, Oil, Gold, Personal Items), Know (Diagnosis, Direction, Numbers, Age, Origin, Creature Classification, Plant Classification, Immediate Past, Weather), Assay (Purity, Creature, Plant), and speeding up a search (Sift).
  • Innate Enchantment, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only 500 GP Value (2 CP).
  • “Card Computer”: Small PC with various programs. 175 GP.
    • Holorecorder (5 GP).
    • Motion Sensor (20 GP)
    • Piercing Visor (25 GP).
    • Power Backpack (4 GP). (for powering the “detailed scan” below).
    • “Detailed Scan” / “Disintegrator” (250 GP). 3d8 Nonspecific Energy Damage, 30′ Base Range, Crit 20/x2. Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect / Informational Combat Weapon. “Damage” is tracked separately. As it is inflicted, the user gets more and more information about the target. If the target is “killed” the user’s information is reasonably complete. If the user reduces a target to (-hit points) via informational damage he or she is entitled to use technobabble to explain it’s weaknesses and how it can be exploited – and have such explanations often turn out to be correct, even if they weren’t at all correct before / does no actual damage, exposes the user to informational feedback (a free counter-attack from the target) against his or her own hit points / “informational integrity” which can induce a variety of mental and physical problems, ranging up to incapacitation if the user’s informational damage total exceeds his or her hit points.

The Tricorder can detect all sorts of things – but at relatively short range and it often takes a good deal of time to “decipher what the readings mean”. Things can get much stranger if the user actually knows Informational Combat however, since with that… he or she can technobabble whatever is being scanned into complying with his or her ideas of how the universe is supposed to work. That’s why a skilled sensor operator can find a weakness in the enemy shields, or a way to bypass Borg immunities, or or a crack in the event horizon. They’re basically bludgeoning the universe into going along with their version of the “observer effect” and being the way they want it to be. (Unless, of course, the universe wins the informational battle and gets it;s own way). More mundanely… a Tricorder is a high-quality personal computer which can generate maps, spot hidden creatures, and record in various modes. It also has unspecified data libraries (a complete copy of Wikipedia perhaps?), which can be used to try and get back to the world that ought to be, if only Spock can collect enough stone knives and bearskins.

Hardcover Editions

A Picture of a eBook

Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I LIKE physical copies! Especially when you want to hand them around the gaming table!

Sadly, no article today (and possibly on a few later days). I’m trying to set up to make as many of the Distant Horizons Games books as possible available in hardcover as well as softcover and .PDF editions. That will include at least one book – Legends of High Fantasy – that’s been essentially out of physical print for years.

Hopefully, thanks to some new software, this project will not take very long.

Procyon Robustus

Raccoon (Procyon lotor).

Image via Wikipedia

First up for today, it’s a particularly bothersome animal, capable of annoying adventurers of almost any level.

And no, it probably won’t be in combat. Player Characters tend to be pretty well prepared and equipped for that.

Dire Raccoon


Medium Animal
Hit Dice: 3d8+9
Initiative: +4
Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares), Climb 20 ft.
Armor Class: 16 (+4 Dex, +2 natural), touch 14, flat-footed 12
Base Attack/Grapple: +2/+4
Attack: Claw +4 melee (1d4+2)
Full Attack: 2 claws +4 melee (1d4+2) and bite –1 melee (1d4+1)
Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: None
Special Qualities: Low-light vision, scent, clever hands, +12 skill points
Saves: Fort +6, Ref +7, Will +4
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 19, Con 17, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Disable Device +10, Hide +10, Listen +8, Move Silently
+10, Open Locks +10, Sleight of Hand +8, Spot +10, and
Swim +8.
Feats: Alertness, Adept (pays half cost for Disable Device, Open
Locks, Sleight of Hand, and Swim), and Specialized Fast
Learner (+2 SP/Level or Hit Die for a total of 3).
Environment: Temperate forests
Organization: Solitary, Gaze (2-5), or Nursery (2-3 Females, with 2-4
Smaller, 1-2 hit die young apiece)
Challenge Rating: 2
Treasure: Occasional stolen items.
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 4–8 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment:


Dire raccoons are larger, and somewhat tougher, than normal raccoons – but their principle threat to most travelers lies in their tendency to sneak into barns, homes, and campsites and steal things. Usually it’s just food – but occasionally they swipe something which is really important. They normally range from four to six feet in length and can weigh anywhere from one to three hundred pounds – but such massive specimens are rare. Dire Raccoons can be summoned in the place of Dire Badgers with a Summon Nature’s Ally II spell.

Clever Hands (Ex): Dire raccoons have functional hands, and are extremely clever about getting into places they’re not supposed to be and at disabling traps.

Awakened Dire Raccoons are often known as “Tanuki”, and usually acquire illusion, nature, and  transformation magic – although occasional clerical Tanuki are seen as well. In basic d20 they favor the Druid class.

RPG Design – Star Trek Physics

   The Star Trek universe uses a lot of power – and we know where it comes from; Antimatter.

   Or do we?

   Antimatter is a difficult thing to find. There isn’t a realistic natural source in the galaxy – and making it by any known method takes rather more energy than you can get back out of it.

   It’s equally awkward to store. If something happens to your containment system, not only will you loose your energy reserve, but you’ll probably lose your ship too.

   It does have one major advantage of course; it’s the most efficient source of power available to known physics and engineering. Antimatter has, in fact, such a good power-to-weight ratio that it is already – even with our incredibly inefficient methods of antimatter production – a marginally viable fuel for space travel (try googling “NASA Antimatter Engine”; you’ll find a load of trash, but there are some genuine studies out there).

   This is science fiction, so we can, of course, invoke zero-point energy systems, tapping into other dimensions, violations of conservation laws, and similar forms of technobabble, to supply energy – but if we overdo that we might as well admit that we’re making the “technology” work by waving a magic wand. Every science-fiction setting is entitled to a few waves of the magic wand – but the trick is to keep it down to as few as possible and – preferably – to keep them on the level of principles ormaterials instead of individual gadgets.

   That’s why this analysis is sticking with the original series and the first few movies. The various followup series used the magic wand so often that it’s almost impossible to make anything consistent out of their physical principles.

   So what do we actually know about the antimatter systems in the Star Trek universe?

  • They use antimatter, and actually seem to be fairly realistic about it’s properties – it annihilates on contact with normal matter to yield vast amounts of energy, it’s very dangerous, it’s very hard to find, you need special containment systems for it, and you DEFINITELY don’t want it getting out. There’s an alternate mirror universe full of the stuff (although there isn’t normally any access), and the interaction produces some fairly odd results.
  • They involve “dilithium” crystals, which are rare, somehow involve more than chemistry, and seem to have some fairly unique properties. In addition, time travel, very high warp speeds, and other exotic circumstances seem to put some special strain on them that isn’t shared by most other materials – including the highly-sensitive ones of living bodies. There are serious problems with synthetic versions and even the natural ones tend to break down in use. None of this has much to do with actual lithium or dilithium.
  • They are apparently necessary to achieve sustained FTL speeds – although there may be a mention or two of other systems apparently involving “quantum singularities”. Given that we never get more than a casual mention though, this could be the usual gross oversimplification that you get in casual conversation which touches on technical subjects.
  • Powering up a matter-antimatter annihilation engine too quickly results in backwards time travel. Now THAT’S a big anomaly.
  • Antimatter engines are apparently regarded as being SAFER than fission systems. That’s also pretty weird under normal circumstances. “Makes an area messily toxic and hard to clean up” is usually a bit less menacing than “instantly vaporizes the city”.
  • They don’t seem to use very much antimatter. Federation starships seem to be equipped with methods of transporting relatively small amounts of it rather than large reserves, can physically eject the antimatter system and have it be at a relatively safe distance in less than a minute, are not considered a major menace in orbit, and have been destroyed within eyesight range of unprotected humans with no one the worse for wear. The explosion is impressive, but certainly can’t involve much antimatter.
  • There’s some indication that the matter-antimatter engines use up a lot more matter than they do antimatter.


  • Federation warp drives require antimatter due to the vast energy demands.
  • Federation ships don’t actually carry enough antimatter to yield vast amounts of energy.
  • Federation ships do have to have antimatter, but once they’ve got some, they seem to have enough to operate almost indefinitely.
  • In the Star Trek universe, antimatter is a fairly safe fuel source.
  • They apparently don’t have to invest massive resources in creating the stuff.
  • Federation starships have broad corridors, plenty of personal space, and other luxuries – implying power to spare. There isn’t really any sign of them being particularly mass-and-space conscious.

   We have one set of observations that say antimatter is plentiful, and another set that says that it’s only actually used in tiny quantities.

   How can we make sense of this and still keep the magic wand waving to a minimum?

   Well, it was noted long ago that an antiparticle is indistinguishable from a normal particle moving backwards in time – and time seems to be entangled in this whole mess.

   Ergo, here’s the vital point where we can keep our magic wand waving to a bare minimum.

   The internal structure of “Dilithium Crystals” involves time. When electromagnetic energy above some critical threshold is projected into, or generated in, the otherwise-unreactive interior of such a crystal, it produces a field (or altered volume or space) within which time flows backwards.

   The annihilation of matter and antimatter generates vast amounts of intense electromagnetic energy.

   If carefully maintained within a small area, such a field will convert matter entering it into antimatter. That means that the initial supply of antimatter is only a catalyst; if it’s focused into a small area, and the matter feed is carefully regulated, you can increase or decrease the power output to suit demand.

   If you try to do it too quickly, you run the risk of the field either collapsing too rapidly – shutting down the engines and requiring a slow, careful, startup again with a fresh infusion of antimatter – or of the field expanding beyond the limits of the crystal. If it expands beyond the vacuum-chamber, but does not engulf the entire ship, the resulting matter-antimatter explosion will destroy the entire ship. If it does engulf the entire ship, from the viewpoint of the ship, it will go backwards in time until the field collapses again.

   Given that, we need very little antimatter – quantities small enough so that multiply-redundant containment systems are quite practical and that even a total containment failure will not endanger much of a planetary surface and will be quite survivable at even a modest distance from the main ship.

   We can even have several small antimatter reserves, so there’s a backup way to start the engines if you lose power unexpectedly. That also means that you can dump extra antimatter into the system to try for that “fast start” or “intentional time travel” stunt.

   The main fuel supply can simply be ordinary matter – such as water.

   Now, if the Dilithium Crystals have a structure that unique, it’s pretty reasonable that they’d be affected by time travel and forces which have no effect on normal matter. Normal matter doesn’t have any structure on that level to be affected. It’s also a possible reason for why synthetic crystals aren’t a lot of use and why even natural ones degrade; in operation, the structure of the crystal is forced unevenly back into time. Natural crystals – often many millions of years old – can handle a lot more going back into time before breaking down than synthetic ones from last year. Ah, that precious, precious, natural dilithium!

   This also means that antimatter reactors are far safer than fission reactors.

   What else can we do with this particular pass of the wand?

   Well, the other technological wonders of Star Trek include the Transporter/Replicator (and, later on, the Holodeck), the Warp Drive, the Phaser, the Tractor Beam (and other artificial gravity effects), Subspace Communicators, Tricorders, the Universal Translator, Sensors, and the Shields/Force Fields.

   OK, we can get around a few of those:

  • Tricorders are just sophisticated special-purpose analytical systems with a lot of miniaturized sensors.
  • The Universal Translator is presumably simply a very high-powered linguistic analysis system and automated translator.
  • The Warp Drive… well, we’re already playing with generating a field which modifies time. If we wrap the ship in such a field without quite going to the (presumed) threshold for time travel, then we’ve just opted out of normal space and time; we’re now within a “warp” – and FTL travel is fundamentally linked to time travel through relativity. All we need now is a low-powered drive to give us some “impulse”, and there’s no reason why our “warp” shouldn’t let us move around quite handily. That glosses over a LOT of details of course, but if we actually knew the details, we’d be able to do it. It also gets us out of having multiple drive systems; impulse power is a necessary part of the warp drive.
  • Phasers can be used to cause things to become hot, to cause matter to quietly vanish – with no apparent residue or energy release, to stun living creatures, and can be fired at targets which are moving far faster than light. They can also be dodged, but only by creatures which are clearly operating in purely subjective time. Phasers seem to have near-infinite speed, but can be seen. They lose energy even passing through empty space. Awkward… Wait; if solid matter is accelerated in time, it will become hot – at least to an outside observer. If it’s slowed, it will seem cold, and – it’s not too hard to believe – that complex biological processes will be somewhat disrupted. If matter is somehow stopped in time, it would quietly vanish – lost to the past without necessarily releasing other energies. OK: “Phasers” “fire” time-manipulation effects, losing energy as they “pass through” normal space due to interface effects and virtual pair production. Obviously, Phasers involve the use of tiny bits of dilithium. They’ve only got a limited charge, so they’re obviously too small for antimatter – but a larger power pack will make the same emitter “more powerful”; it’s just pumping more energy through the dilithium speck at the core of the system. Dilithium can be affected by high-energy radiation, thus Sulu’s misfire in Star Trek IV.
  • Force fields glow a bit, glow more brightly when touched, and interact with phasers. Another boundary effect then, generated by pumping power into an array of tiny dilithium-based “field emitters”. That means that things which can warp normal space and time – like Charlie – can easily pass through them if they wish. Energy never just vanishes, so energy directed against a force field feeds back into the generator system – so shields can overload and burn out.
  • The Tractor Beam is apparently an artificial gravity effect – a warp in space time. Can we do that? Happily, yes, we can. Once we’re distorting space and time, artificial gravity effects are pretty straightforward.
  • The Transporter/replicator is harder – if only because the Star Trek universe is never too clear on what the thing actually DOES. If it moves atoms, how can it duplicate people? If not, why can’t it copy people normally? Is the Soul involved? How can it sometimes send you into alternate universes? How could it split Kirk into good and evil halves? Well, if dimensions – that is, space and time, are involved, we can avoid the problems with quantum mechanics. The system is somehow flicking it’s targets through other dimensions, a process which could allow access to alternate universes and any kind of weird effect we like. Who knows what other universes could be like or what strange disturbances might occur there? Playing games with space and time… It’s a bit of a stretch, but that does still fall under the basic effects we can get from our one bit of unobtainium dilithium. 
  • That leaves us with Sensors and Subspace Communicators. Sensors aren’t all that awkward with respect to what they pick up; what’s awkward is their ability to do it at incredible ranges, and through massive amounts of matter or other shielding. Similarly, Subspace Communicators operate at incredible ranges and leap right past the speed of light. It’s almost as if both were operating through another dimension – just like the Transporter.

   Magic Wands are nice. Well-aimed and precise magic wands are even better. They also make it a lot easier to game in a setting; you can give the players a fair idea of what will and will not work, and of how they can try to adapt a setting’s equipment to their own purposes.

The World of Iselin

   Today, it’s another special request: in this case, a quick d20 setting.

The Known World

The Known World

   Iselin is an old world. The quasi-reptilian elder races – the dragons, gargoyles, lizard-men, and others – had long ago been granted inherent magical gifts by the gods according to their measure, had established their domains, and had settled into their own ways. “Primitive” some – such as the lizard-men – might be compared to the high councils of the dragons, but their ways suited them, and the spirits of the land, sky, and waters, favored the children of the gods in their long dreaming.

   But all things end.

   No one remembers why the younger races intruded upon Iselin. It might have been in flight from some disaster (according to the Dragons, likely of their own making). It might have been the simple desire for new lands to expand to. It might have been simple curiosity, or an inherent tendency to meddle. Regardless, the awakening was a rude one.

   The newcomers saw the gods as creatures like themselves – as exaggerated kings, emperors, and squabbling siblings rather than as primal forces. They actively drew power from the world, rather than accepting what flowed to them naturally. They imposed themselves upon the world, raising cities and shaping the lands to their will. They spread across the broad plains of Korinth – a land little used by the elder races, but well suited to the newcomers. They extended outposts to the Sier Coast and Randu Bay. They did many new things.

   And that was interesting.

   But one mighty magician-emperor went too far. He attempted to seize immortality – such as he believed that the dragons possessed – from the gods by force of will and epic sorcery, to extend his reign to the very end of time.

   What he accomplished was to blight his realm, to doom himself and many of his people to a horrific, cursed existence as the first Undead, and to taint the world with a variety of horrors. The forces he had unleashed even twisted many members of the elder races who had been unfortunate enough to have been drawing on the wells of magic at the moment the attempt was made. Maddened and evil, they became a menace to everyone around them.

   The undead horde surged out from Korinth, laying waste to the lands. Eventually the remnants of the Dragon Council took action: the plains of Korinth were reduced to ash and sand, the undead bound and cursed again with a vulnerability to the sun, and seals were laid while the dark hordes were forced below ground during the day.

   Since then, many centuries have passed – and, despite the madness and negative-energy powers that lie hidden in the old bloodlines, civilization has rebuilt. Most of the elder races have forgotten why the younger races are dangerous and to be avoided, but the Dragons maintain a wary watch over their doings.

Along the Randu Bay and Sier Coast:

   The Elhidrin Dales are a collection of rugged hills and modest valleys, inhabited by a selection of small communities, mostly surviving in substance farming, harvesting lumber, trapping, and fishing. Despite the rumors of mineral wealth and lost treasures, few venture back into the depths of the hills; the locals are all too aware that the maze of the hills also shelters a variety of twisted monsters and evil spirits wandering out of the haunted wastes. Those who live here are well advised to have their homes built sturdily, to keep them well-blessed, to keep their windows small, and to keep their doors barred at night. To open such a redoubt to a passing traveler is to invite possession, transformation into a lycanthrope, or worse.

   Verdun, linked to the coast only by a few perilous passes, harvests the products of the Niar Swamps and trades with the inhuman creatures which inhabit the area. While the land is unfriendly and plague-ridden, there is profit enough in the exotic herbs and spices to be found here to attract and sustain a modest population – all of whom know better than to take much notice of the occasional depredations of the Gargoyles.

   Travalin (Keywords: Arabian, Desert, Irrigation, Crowding, Trade) is both a city and a state. As a city, it lies on the Randu Bay at the mouth of the Akonn River. Wealthy, bustling, and a center of trade, the city draws it’s wealth from the lumber and furs of the Elhidrin Dales (obtained through a series of traditional monopolistic trading agreements), the exotic spices and herbs of Verdun, the more refined products of the Sier Coast, the bounty of the sea (including a thriving local industry fishing for the Seadrakes which frolic in the Randu Bay: their tough hides and rich fat have many uses), from the intensive irrigation and cultivation of the lands near the river (moving away from the river, the land swiftly becomes grasslands and then desert), and – most especially – from the rich ores of the Isenril mountians

   Ominously, Trevalin is built upon the foundations of the far older, and long-buried, city of Ralis. Deep beneath Travalin, in the crypts of ruined Ralis, lie ancient artifacts and crumbling crypts, populated by lost remnants of the ancient undead horde of Korinth which once overran the city. There, gradually bringing under his control the remnants of the forces which once destroyed him, Lord Tauren – once prince of Ralis, now himself undead – awaits his long-anticipated release.

   Far to the east of Travalin, the spires of the Culach Mountians rise from the Black Swamps of Niar. Here, under the rule of the Immortal Lord (actually a polymorphed dragon, driven mad by the Great Curse of Korinth long centuries ago) the Gargoyle Kingdom waits to take advantage of whatever weaknesses should develop in the lands of the young races.

   The wealth of the Isenril Mountians lies in valuable magical ores, which have inspired men to drive deep tunnels into the very heart of the mountains, where things have been disturbed that normally lair far away from the haunts of men. Still, the digging does not cease. The city-states of Sier have, of course, also taken an interest in the Isenril, as their rulers seek additional sources of funds to pay for their constant warring and hiring of orcish mercenaries.

   Along the Sier Coast there are numerous squabbling city-states, each to small and weak to seize full control of the area, but competing madly against each other in everything from Art and Architecture to Warfare. Perhaps fortunately, the Orcish and Half-Orcish mercenaries they hire from Corath are more interested in outmaneuvering each other than in actually killing each other. Recently, however, Rache has seized the Oranle Mines in the Isenril Mountians – a rich source of adamant ore. They have been using that resource to both equip and pay their forces – especially the Kierroth order of Orcish lizard-riders – in preparation for a massive attack on the (hurriedly- concluded) defensive alliance of Lonn, Vralle-on-the-Gyre, and Vaithe. With any luck, they will be able to smash the alliance before it can assemble a unified force. Numerous other city-states are scattered along the coast, mostly separated by spurs of the Isenril range, although they eventually give way to:

   Corath is chill and intemperate, it’s various tribes loosely united under the ferocious rule of the Makannth (“Great Warleader” is perhaps the best translation). Glorying in combat and the military virtues, the people of Corath seem to regard military service further south as a basic training exercise for young warriors – preparing them to serve in the endless conflict with the Adhartha Nomads who populate the plains and steppes to the north. Of course, they may also be simply spying and preparing for an internal conquest: attempts to expand to the south have been frustrated for centuries by the near-impossibility of dealing with the endless series of strongpoints which the Isenril mountains make available. Perhaps fortunately (given that the culture resembles a cross between the Mongol Horde and the Roman Imperium), the population of Corath is relatively small; there simply isn’t enough food available to support more – another reason for serving as mercenaries.

   The Adhartha Lands support few truly permanent settlements and none of any great size: the climate is too harsh for it. On the other hand, the migratory nomads which sweep back and forth across the northern end of the continent with the seasonal cycles of the snows offer few attractions for anyone save the occasional trader seeking ivory, furs, and gold – all of which are to be found in the distant reaches of the north. The nomads are, however, trained to a constant wariness and readiness for war by the depredations of the various cold-loving monsters which lair on the glaciers of the North and amidst the icy peaks of the mountains.

Features of Victorian Settings

   Today it’s another request: some basic information for running a Victorian or quasi-Victorian setting and how various environmental changes – such as the presence of nonhuman sapient species and magic – might impact that setting.

   To look at that, we’ll need to take a look at the basic elements of a quasi-Victorian setting.

   The first thing we need is a fairly stable group – whether nation, race, or organization – with a great deal of prestige and confidence in it’s own superiority. Our dominant group must have enough confidence to feel little need to actively oppress people or affirm it’s own superiority. In fact, they should feel that it’s self-evident – and that belief needs to have some sort of justification sufficiently strong to keep other groups from gratuitously challenging them.

   In the real world this was due to a notable edge in technology and military organization. While that was mostly a product of historical circumstances and chance, there’s certainly no reason why that couldn’t be the case in a fantasy world. On the other hand, forms of magic which rely heavily on individual “talent” and beliefs, and less on organized social support structures, tend to even out technically-based power differences. Worlds with personal magical talents will be most believable if there’s some additional reason for a particular group to claim superiority.

   Of course, in a fantasy world, that could be virtually anything.

  • One race really could be massively superior to the others – although this probably isn’t desirable in a game unless some equivalent mechanical penalty is applied, such as a d20 “effective character level” adjustment.
  • One group could have more advanced magic. In general, this calls for complex magic which requires extensive training and organized groups to use, since, if magic is personal and talent-dependent, new techniques will spread quickly and easily unless they rely on some special local resource or racial talent – in which case, we’re back to racial superiority. Of course, magic like that is difficult to tell apart from a local technology.
  • One group could simply be more favored by the gods – although this is a wonderful reason for general resentment unless there are compensating demands from said gods.
  • One group could simply be far more elegant and stylish than anyone else. While it’s usually hard to use this as a “weapon”, or to maintain in the face of hostile foreign cultures, it works pretty well as an internal control mechanism.
  • One group could simply be that way as an innate attitude. That’s unlikely, but it could be an amusing parody to have everyone else putting up with the patronizing group just because “they can’t help it”.

   In any case, our dominant group must be self-confident enough to see itself as a genial patron to the rest of the world – and to usually get away with it, even while looking down on and exploiting other people (members of the dominant group may or may not realize that that is what they are doing).

   Excellent reference works here include Kipling and movies based on his works, such as Kim and The Man Who Would Be King. For example, in Kim the British Military does not care if a boy who’s presumed Indian smokes, starves, takes absurd risks on the streets, or goes without education. If the child turns out to be white – well, he must be fed, bundled off to school, taught proper behavior, and ensured of some sort of future. On the other hand, if it will serve the British Empire, they do not hesitate to ask said child to serve as a spy and risk his life. That is, after all, the burden of being white. In The Man Who Would Be King, we see casual acceptance of the idea that a couple of British military men, a small supply of modern rifles and ammunition, and a few locals trained by those two adventurous Victorians, will doubtless be sufficient to overthrow an entire ancient kingdom. Now THAT is self-confidence.

   The motives for such a group to expand towards an empire are legion. For profit. Out of a near-religious sense of destiny. Out of a sense of obligation towards the lesser groups which obviously cannot properly govern themselves. Because adventurous individuals insist on pushing the boundaries outwards. To simply enjoy the game of intrigue. To see and explore new things. In the final analysis, perhaps it is simply because they can – and because it is in the nature of all life forms to take advantage of new opportunities.

   Such a group may have rivals, and will almost certainly have enemies – but its supporters are likely to be limited to closely-related groups, to oppressed locals who find the groups dominance more tolerable than that of their former overlords, and to small groups who hope to ride their coat-tails to a level of success that is superior to what they could have expected to obtain otherwise – even if it will always be inferior to that of the dominant group. Local rulers and cliques will, however, rarely be pleased to see the groups boundaries moving towards them. After all, a group that sees itself as truly superior will rarely be interested in accommodating local beliefs and traditions, power brokers, and rulers.

   The social consequences of such a belief are quite dramatic – and usually become a set of unquestioned values. After all, goes the logic, they are our values, we are better than everyone else, ergo our values are better then any others.

  • Determination is obvious. If your group is superior, that it follows that it has the most competent members and the best methods of making decisions. Ergo, unless some major unexpected change in circumstances turns up, there is no need to reconsider a decision and certainly no reason to listen to some outsiders opinion. It follows that resolute strength of purpose – often expressed as bravery and leadership – is one of the most admirable traits around. Sadly, while this is great for getting things done and when persevering in the face of obstacles, it also makes it almost impossible or shameful to admit to having made an error, leading to inflexibility, intolerance, rashness, a militant tendency to impose your will on others, and occasionally doing very stupid things.
  • Enthusiasm is really just another aspect of determination. After all, when you’re sure that your ideas are the best, you might as well throw yourself wholeheartedly into things – and there certainly is no need for second thoughts. Assured of ultimate victory, obstacles and delays can be accepted with good humor, the classic “stiff upper lip” is only to be expected, and vigorous effects can be easily sustained. As always, of course, this attitude has it’s downside – impatience with planning and research, anti-intellectualism, lack of foresight, and a failure to learn from history and the experiences of others.
  • Group Pride is another blatantly obvious value. To not take pride in your obvious superiority is to cast doubt upon it – which is socially unacceptable. Ergo, taking pride in your group is something of a civic duty – and failing to do so is tantamount to treason. While this brings obvious benefits of confidence, self-esteem, and group cohesiveness, it also means that such a group will often fail to appreciate the true strength of an opposing group, that admiration for anything from outside the group must be accompanied by expressions of how the source group is otherwise vastly inferior, and that the group will tend to become obsessed with trivial distinguishing features. Over time, this also means that the group will tend to become extraordinarily class-conscious. The casual acceptance of the inherent superiority of the group is easy to extend to equally casual acceptance of the inherent superiority of the upper social classes – and once you have that, it provides a comfortable rationale for the misery of the lower classes and for institutions like workhouses, child factory labor, and child prostitution. It’s associated with a certain amount of sexual repressiveness as well; after all, mixing with other – inferior – groups is obviously undesirable, and the same goes for mixing with lower social classes. On the flipside, a relationship with someone in a higher social class is obviously a matter of pride for the people on the lower end of the scale – a system which neatly supports the classical tenant-servant-master series of relationships.
  • Honesty is important for group cohesion – and the superior group should always stick together. Besides, what need is there to deceive inferior groups? Our quasi-Victorians should place great on their word of honor, their personal integrity, on dealing fairly, and on negotiating openly and honestly. Unfortunately, this also tends to make them naive, easily fooled, and uninterested in other – obviously inferior – codes of behavior.
  • Loyalty is a pretty obvious value. After all, when you’re a member of the superior group, to betray that group is obvious insanity – thus explaining the massive stigmata attached to “going native” or, indeed, to recognizing any real value in other cultures. By extension, loyalty to smaller subgroups – such as schools and military units – is expected and cultivated. A powerful sense of duty and willingness for self-sacrifice in pursuit of group goals is expected. On the downside, even minor disagreement can lead to ostracism, dubious orders are likely to be followed without question, and incompetence – and even blatant misbehavior – is likely to be quietly condoned and overlooked.
  • “Progress” is a somewhat double-edged value. After all, it is obvious that it will be difficult to improve on the general social organization of our dominant group. When they make technical progress, however, that is only to be expected. In fact, a steady flow of improvements is to be expected and encouraged – fueling a belief in personal scientific tinkering, exploration, and adventure. When other groups imitate the dominant one, that’s good: it acknowledges the groups superiority and is vaguely complimentary in the “being imitated by a pet” way. If other groups should somehow get ahead of the dominant group – well, that just isn’t possible unless they’re cheating somehow.
  • Self-Discipline follows from the assumption of superiority; if you lack superiors to discipline you, and yet wish to function in society, you must discipline yourself. On the positive side you get self-motivated individuals who value hard work, restraint, good manners, thrift, temperance, and respectability. It contributes to judgement, to coolness under pressure, and to reasoning rather than reacting emotionally. On the downside you get intolerance of weaknesses, coldness, difficulties in personal relationships, emotional and physical child abuse, and difficulties in understanding or sympathizing with others.
  • Sportsmanship also follows from the assumption of superiority: you don’t need to win to demonstrate that you’re superior – since you already know you are – and thus certainly have no need to cheat or seek an unfair advantage! In fact, conceding such advantages to your opponents is the only way to really be “fair”. Combined with loyalty, progress, and enthusiasm, this provides a recipe for personal fitness, team spirit, and even a sense of justice. On the downside, it leads to obsession with games and other trivia, the tolerance of grossly-disproportionate punishments for crimes and various other offenses (whether on the grounds that “they knew the risks” or “they cheated” and thus deserve it), failing to attempt to do something about bad odds, and an acceptance of dueling.

   At his, her, or it’s best, a quasi-Victorian individual is likely to be a being of integrity, courage, zest, drive, enthusiasm, and boundless loyalty, prone to hard work, progressive thinking, helping others, and taking appropriate pride in personal and social accomplishments. At the worst, such a being will be smug, intolerant, obsessed with games and trivia, half-witted, unable to learn from experience, unwilling to admit to mistakes, willfully ignorant of faults in superiors, judgmental and harsh, prone to leap into things without thinking, and hostile to every new idea that comes along. Unfortunately, by modern standards, all of those traits were likely to appear in the same person.

   The Victorian culture is notorious for sexual repression. I don’t see any way to derive this dubious “feature” from the basic assumption-of-superiority. That’s probably a good thing, since research tends to indicate that it mostly wasn’t true; Queen Victoria was somewhat obsessed with presenting the appearance of frosty respectability thanks to her early experiences, but the major sexual foibles of the Victorian age resulted from an admixture of another set of ideas – the earliest, and thus oversimplified, technical analysis of social roles.

   That’s pretty simple: a quick look at sex roles shows that, in humans, the females spend a lot of time encumbered by pregnancy, nursing, and caring for children. Ergo, the males have a lot more time to spend going out and doing other things.

   Thanks to this, the early analysts were mostly male. Thus they considered the things that males did inherently more important than the things that females did, because those things were most important to them – and that, combined with the values listed above, sufficed to “demonstrate” that females were inherently inferior to males. Ergo, the ideal pattern was for the weak, inferior, females to stay safe at home (where rival males couldn’t prey upon them), obey their far more competent husbands, and bear children. They should always be chaperoned or under the supervision of a relative, since they were vulnerable on their own – and they didn’t need to know anything about sex, since their husbands could explain that. The female should be quiet, demure, and confined, while the husband should be public, competitive, and forceful. Sexuality was for the purpose of reproduction, and thus should be confined to properly married pairs.

   Any other form of sexual behavior became a “perversion”, and a threat to the natural social order – an idea which fueled yet more abuse of “deviants” – including adolescents caught up in anti-masturbation crazes.

   In reality, things are a lot more complicated than that.

   Even at the time, the “ideal” was more theoretical than actual. In 1887 the Lancet medical journal estimated that there were nearly 80,000 prostitutes in London, out of a total population of 2,360,000. Still, while prostitution was seen as detrimental to the Empire, it was not until the nineteenth century that it was seen as being much more serious than blasphemy, drunkenness or any other public disturbance. A review of preserved diaries and letters tends to reveal that actual sexual behavior wasn’t much different from any other period before reliable contraception came along, although there was a good deal of public lip service to the theoretical “ideal”. Reputation and appearances were far more important than actual facts – again, pretty much as usual.

   Still, the Victorian values did have some impact; self-discipline encouraged restraint (at least until after marriage), seduction became a “sporting” proposition, mistresses and bastards were commonly recognized and well-supported – a reflection of honesty and group (family) pride – and so on.

   Now, if magic had provided reliable and easy methods of contraception for some time – as the original question indicated – there probably would be a good deal more acceptance of casual adolescent and young-adult sexuality (partially dependent on the prevalence of sexual diseases and countermeasures for them). Of course, such private behavior need have no effect at all on public displays and professed attitudes; hypocrisy is much older than the Victorian era.

   Personal magic, of course, will have social effects – indeed, depending on the nature of the magic system, it could have pretty much any effect you can imagine as well as a fair number that are probably beyond me.

  • If personal magic can provide a substantial powerbase, and women and men can both be equally good at it, I’d expect a lot more sexual equality: any society that attempted to discourage half the population from exploiting a highly useful ability would tend to lose out in competition with other societies. I’d also expect a world oriented as much around powerful mages as around other power sources – which doesn’t really fit in with a Victorian world.
  • If personal abilities are relatively subtle and/or require a great deal of practice, they’ll probably tend to be regarded as a menace in members of other groups, with suspicion in members of the lower classes, while – as in the middle ages in the real world – with casual acceptance in members of the upper classes.
  • If personal abilities come with particular positions, such as the “Divine Right of Kings”, you can expect society to revolve around those positions and for members of would-be rival groups, and technologists, or researchers of other kinds of magic, to be regarded with grave suspicion.

   Magic might or might not have much to do with religion. If it’s restricted to physical and/or “elemental” effects, it might not have much of any effect at all. It wouldn’t have anything to say about spiritual matters – and would probably be of no more interest to religion than any other tool.

   If there is spirit magic, then the effects on religion will depend on what it has to say. Do spirits dissipate shortly after death? Exist on a misty astral plane? Return to advise their descendants? Deal only with holy men? On this one I must plead “insufficient data” – although, if given more details, I’ll be glad to speculate.

   Now, the original question specified that direct magic was quite limited. Most magic used elementals as power sources, channeling their energy through devices and runes to generate various effects as well as using them as simple power sources for steam engines, weapons, and other war machines – which basically sounds like another branch of technology, using elementals instead of fossil fuels. Depending on the details that could change a lot of the mechanics of the early industrial age – but it wouldn’t necessarily change the nature of the society much.

Requests Page

   I’m adding a requests page, so that any of the current or older players who want something in particular posted from my old files can let me know. The first items are going to be for Shadowrun, since Charles has requested Sparrowhawks spell research lists and the spirit merger rules.