Sunday, October 26, 2014

Planetary Transformation

Although aetherships provide a means of traveling between destinations in the depths of space, it takes even greater magic to make previously unlivable planets into inhabitable worlds. To that end, arcane pioneers devised these items, which harness the combined powers of the four elements to create them. Indeed, it is said that they negotiated deals with the princes of the genies in order to do so. Whatever the truth of the matter, the devices work.



Elemental Obelisk
Aura strong conjuration; CL 9th
Slot NA; Price 100,000 gp; Weight 10,000 lbs.
Description
This item is a tall pillar of stone with a square base and a pyramid-shaped cap. Its sides are inscribed with the symbols of the four elements, one to a side. While it seems unassuming in appearance, it in fact contains powerful magic; they create gravity, warmth, moisture, and breathable air on a suitable surface. The exact volume of livable space one can create with each of these devices is left up to the discretion of the GM.
Construction

Requirements Craft Wondrous Item; create water, flaming sphere, gust of wind, wall of stone; Cost 50,000 gp

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Old Asteroid Mine

I am an inveterate re-user of maps. In this case, here's one that I created for my Edge of the Empire blog, repurposed for space fantasy.

-Nate


Encounters in Space: The Old Asteroid Mine
For use in any variety of ways is this mined-out asteroid, now abandoned serving as a home to a wing of gargoyles.




The Asteroid
Refer to the appropriate map for the following area descriptions.

1. Entrance
The only indication that this asteroid has been worked is a hole fifteen feet in diameter. Should the PC's wish to access it, they'll need to maneuver their aethership along a path that follow's the asteroid's drift, requiring a DC 15 Profession: pilot check—with failure by five or more indicating a collision. One or more crew members must then snag it with a grappling hook or some other such device, requiring attack rolls against AC 10.

2. Main Chamber
This broad, open area is nearly fifty feet long as well as wide; it has a ceiling thirty feet high. The interior is pitch dark. Scattered about the floor is evidence of the mine's old purpose—a broken shovel, a rusted pickaxe, and similar detritus. There is also a pile of loot taken by the gargoyles. The GM should feel free to tailor this list of loot as desired, or perhaps even trust to rolling on the treasure tables to determine its nature. Whatever the case, it includes a lot of worthless material with which the valuables are mixed. This is also a good chance to introduce a new plot hook, such as a letter containing important information that never reached its intended destination.
Closer inspection (a DC 15 Survival check) also reveals gargoyle tracks leading into the tunnels.

3. Tunnels
The height of any given tunnel section generally matches its width. These areas were dug out in pursuit of the asteroid's ore, and now serve as lairs for the gargoyles. The total number of such creatures present, along with their distribution, is left to the GM's discretion, in order to provide a challenging but not overwhelming threat for the aethership's crew.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Orcs in Space!

In a previous post I wrote up a crew of orc whale hunters. This post provides ideas for incorporating them in a space fantasy campaign.

-Nate

Orc Whaling Ship


The Discovery
(a.k.a. Orcs in Space!)

Captain!” The voice carried down to the sterncastle of the ship Abattoir from the crow's nest on the foremast. “Two points to starboard!”

Pulling out his spyglass, Captain Cyrus scanned the surface of the water in the direction mentioned. 
For a moment he couldn't make out a telltale. “Is it a spume?”

“No, Captain—seabirds. It could still be lucrative, though.”

“That is true.” Cyrus nodded, returning the spyglass to it case. “That is true. Alter course, two points to starboard. All hands on deck, and prepare for retrieval.”

There was a flurry of activity as boots pounded along the deck; a mass of orcs appeared from below, retrieving grappling hooks as they did so. They filled the ship's forecastle and head and then stopped, watchful and waiting.

Waves beat against the vessel's hull while the Abattoir closed on its target. As it did so, the crew members began to realize the size of the thing they'd encountered.

“By the gods,” the first mate declared. “It's huge!”

It was. The closer they drew to the mass that floated on the water, the higher it loomed before them. Gulls and other seabirds circled in the air above, but Cyrus had the impression that they were just as confused by it as he was. The dead thing looked like a whale, but it was larger than any he'd seen, dead or alive. Instead of a distinct dorsal fin, it had a ridge running much of its back. What was more, no eyes were visible on it.

“What in the hells is it?” someone asked.

“I don't know,” Cyrus declared, “but it could still be valuable. Lads, pull it alongside us.” He was answered by the sound of grappling hooks being spun and then thrown, followed by the meaty slapping of prongs biting into decaying flesh. Then, with an effort, the orcs of the Abattoir began hauling on their ropes, drawing the carcass alongside their ship. Only then, as the corpse shifted in the water, did Cyrus notice the timbers and shreds of canvas that were sticking out of its mouth.

“Hold there!” he shouted. “Lower the longboats; let's have a closer look at this thing!”

The Crew
Captain Cyrus and his orcs soon learned that the carcass they'd found was not of their world. What was more, he recruited a wizard to confirm what he suspected—that the wreckage belonged to a ship capable of traveling beyond his world's atmosphere. It took a good deal of time and money for them to repair that vessel, and then to master handling it. Once they'd done so, however, unbelievable new vistas opened for them.

The orcs of the Abattoir can be used in a space fantasy campaign in many different ways; here are a few possibilities:
  • They perhaps function best as rivals for the PC's—not necessarily enemies, but NPC's who compete against them for valuable opportunities such as claiming salvage rights and the like.
  • Characters in a difficult spot might be forced to take passage aboard the Abattoir, making for a voyage with plenty of opportunities for roleplaying and conflict.
  • When the orcs' unimpeded predations upset a nearby space druid and she lashes out against them, the PC's might find themselves in a position to mediate between the two sides.
  • In the event that the orcs did turn pirate, they would be formidable foes indeed.

“Aetherspace is a living system, just like those to be found on the many worlds that float through it.
It has its predators and its prey. Of course, only time will tell how the introduction of predators from those worlds will affect its balance.”

-Kestrel, halfling druid




The Abattoir
This vessel is a modified merchantman, set up for hunting whales. It has two notable modifications. The first is the addition of grappling ballistas, ones with barbed projectiles that tear into the flesh of prey and affix ropes to it. The second is a pair of large boiling kettles used for cooking down the valuable blubber taken from its victims. The fact that this process takes place inside a limited pocket of air means that she ship has a permanent stink of smoke and grease.


Hunting Space Creatures
Given the lack of, well, everything in space, hunting creatures in the aether is notably different from hunting them in the water. In this case, the attackers must hit with a harpoon, and then succeed at a Profession: pilot check opposed to the prey's CMD. Each successive hit provides a +2 circumstance bonus to that check. The prey, meanwhile, can attempt to break the grapple with combat maneuver checks opposed to the captain's Profession: pilot effort. Successive efforts by the attacker can reduce the prey to a “pinned” state, at which point it can be brought alongside the aethership and attacked normally.


Ballistic Harpoons
These function just like normal ballista bolts, except that they also have the Grappling quality and are connected by ropes to the aethership. They cost the same amount as grappling ammunition.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Shipboard Modifications



Shipboard Modifications
While some spacefarers focus their energy on developing new armor or weapons for aetherships, the elves work at building shipboard environments that are more natural and thus better suited for long-distance travel.

Item Cost Weight
Animal pen 2 sp/5-foot square 5 tons of cargo space
Box Garden 1 gp/5-foot square 5 tons of cargo space
Pool 5 gp/5-foot square 5 tons of cargo space

Each of these additions to an aethership creates space that can be used for housing some kind of flora or fauna. Note that these prices don't include the cost of animals or plants with which they're stocked; refer to the Trade Goods table on page 140 of the core rulebook to find costs for them. Each five-foot square devoted to uses as an animal pen, garden or pool can hold one large creature, or twice as many of each size category smaller than that.


With these modifications, some captains have turned their vessels into floating menageries, traveling aetherspace in search of new specimens for adding to their collection, or carrying known specimens with which to populate new worlds.


Naturalist's Guidebook
Cost: 50 gp; Weight: 3 lbs.
This book is a collection of drawings and writings detailing the plant and animal life native to a given planet. It grants a +2 circumstance bonus to Survival and Knowledge: nature checks made on that world (and that world only).



“One thing I'll give the elves—it does smell better aboard their ships.”

-Lucinda, half-elf sorceress and pilot



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hodgepodge

Today's post combines a number of elements. For one, here are links to sheets that can be used to track stats for a ship's crew. I'm including two because one is for seafaring vessels and the other is for spacefaring ships.

Sailing Ship Crew Sheet

Aethership Crew Sheet


There's also a bit about naming vessels.

What's in a Name?
After a party acquires a vessel, one of the first tasks is to give it a good name. To that end, there are plenty of options. Some ship owners like to name a vessel after an existing person, such as the Moon Maiden or the Lady Katherine. Others prefer to invoke a place name, for example the Mercurial Messenger, the Virtue of Venus or the Martian Marauder. Another option is to use an abstract principle, such as the Liberty or the Vengeance. Animals can make good namesakes, with examples such as the Skylark or the Dolphin.



Last is a short article about carrying animals aboard ships.



Animals Aboard Aetherships
An interesting element of travel aboard aetherships is carrying animals aboard them. Presented below are a few of the possibilities for these situations.

The Ship's Pet
Having one or more pets aboard an aethership can be good for the morale of the crew. What is more, ship's cats, along with certain types of dogs, can be useful for eliminating rats and other vermin that tend to gather aboard ships.

Service Creatures
Sometimes certain crews—especially the elves—carry wondrous creatures that perform various duties aboard the ship. Elves like to keep a few griffons aboard, especially for rescuing crew members who fall overboard, and some goblins are known to keep worgs for making hit-and-run attacks.

Living Cargo
Another common reason for animals to be aboard aetherships is if they're being transported as cargo. This can be preferable to hauling prepared meat—smoked or pickled, for example—because living animals don't spoil, and because they can be used to establish a population on colony worlds. It provides a challenge, however, because they take up more room, they can be messy and, in times of trouble, they can become downright dangerous. After all, should a ship be caught in battle, the animals could become panicked and thus stampede. Refer to the rules for the Handle Animal skill, along with the Bestiary entry for herd animals, to adjudicate such a situation.

“I tell ya, that wolf never had it better. She'd make the rounds of the ship, payin' a visit to all of the crew, and every one of 'em had a scrap of biscuit or a bit of meat for her. She got downright fat, she did.”
-Annelise, human ranger



Friday, October 17, 2014

Solar System Gazetteer

Here's a sample write-up for a typical (and familiar) solar system.

-Nate



Gazetteer of the Solar System
Presented below are stats for the planets of a typical solar system.

Mercury
Diameter: 3,031 miles
Gravity: 0.38 standard
Period of Rotation: 59 days
Period of Revolution: 88 days
Distance from Sun: 36 million miles
Temperature Range: -297° to 800°
Number of Moons: 0
Ring System?: No
Other Notable Features: The proximity of Mercury to the sun means that its sunward surface is extremely hot, while the night side is very cold. This means that it is possible to do some mining work in the edge between the two, but one must be highly mobile in doing so.
Venus
Diameter: 7,521 miles
Gravity: 0.9 standard
Period of Rotation: 243 days
Period of Revolution: 224 days
Distance from Sun: 67 million miles
Temperature Range: 896°
Number of Moons: 0
Ring System?: No
Other Notable Features: This planet has an acidic, hothouse atmosphere, making it even hotter than Mercury and on all sides of the world. Some alchemists believe it might be possible to harvest chemicals from the upper atmosphere, but haven't perfected a method yet.
Earth
Diameter: 7,926 miles
Gravity: 1.0 standard
Period of Rotation: 24 hours
Period of Revolution: 365 days
Distance from Sun: 93 million miles
Temperature Range: -60° to 120°
Number of Moons: 1
Ring System?: No
Other Notable Features: This planet is, of course, the gold standard when it comes to habitability. It has numerous highly-developed societies, and ones that now compete to exploit the resources of the many bodies to be found throughout the aether.
Earth's Moon
Diameter: 2,171 miles
Gravity: 0.17 standard
Period of Rotation: 29 days
Period of Revolution: 29 days
Distance from Sun: 93 million miles
Temperature Range: -29°
Number of Moons: 0
Ring System?: No
Other Notable Features: While it lacks much of an atmosphere, it is relatively warm by aetherial standards. As such, it is a favored location for experimentation with agricultural processes. There are rumors, though, of undead haunting some of the moon's dark corners.
Mars
Diameter: 4,222 miles
Gravity: 0.38 standard
Period of Rotation: 24 hours, 37 minutes
Period of Revolution: 687 days
Distance from Sun: 141,700,000 miles
Temperature Range: -81°
Number of Moons: 2
Ring System?: No
Other Notable Features: The surface of this world is covered by red-tinted desert, which lends Mars its distinctive appearance and thus its name. Long ago, astronomers on Earth saw what looked like canals on its surface, and the first aethernauts who arrived found that there was indeed the remains of a long-ruined civilization. What is more, tunnels lead beneath the world's surface into a veritable underdark. That underground world remains relatively unexplored, however.
Jupiter
Diameter: 88,846 miles
Gravity: 2.64 standard
Period of Rotation: 9 hours, 55 minutes
Period of Revolution: 11.86 years
Distance from Sun: 483,500,000 miles
Temperature Range: -202°
Number of Moons: 66
Ring System?: Yes
Other Notable Features: The most striking feature of this world is the giant red spot, a planet-sized storm that has been active for years and circles the world. Legends tell that this storm is inhabited by a powerful, angry spirit. Jupiter also boasts a narrow band of planetary rings, along with dozen of moons, with their own distinctive qualities, and ripe for exploration and development in their own right.
Saturn
Diameter: 74,900 miles
Gravity: 1.16 standard
Period of Rotation: 10 hours, 39 minutes
Period of Revolution: 29 years
Distance from Sun: 888,750,000 miles
Temperature Range: -202°
Number of Moons: 62
Ring System?: Yes
Other Notable Features: The broad system of rings is this planet's most notable feature, made of water ice and dust or rock. As such, it is a favorite place for harvesting ice for use on other worlds, not to mention a preferred destination for the up-and-coming tourist trade. It has nearly as many moons as Jupiter, too, promising plenty of opportunities in the future.
Uranus
Diameter: 31,763 miles
Gravity: 1.11 standard
Period of Rotation: 17 hours, 14 minutes
Period of Revolution: 84 years
Distance from Sun: 1,783,744,300 miles
Temperature Range: -238°
Number of Moons: 27
Ring System?: Yes
Other Notable Features: This is another gas giant (jovian planet), like Jupiter and Saturn. Its axis of rotation lies parallel to its planet of revolution, meaning that the planet rolls through the aether like a giant wheel. It is a cold world, but speculators believe that its ice may contain valuable alchemical compounds.
Neptune
Diameter: 30,779 miles
Gravity: 1.21 standard
Period of Rotation: 16 hours, 7 minutes
Period of Revolution: 164.8 years
Distance from Sun: 2,797,770,000 miles
Temperature Range: -328°
Number of Moons: 13
Ring System?: Yes
Other Notable Features: This planet is best known for is distinctive blue coloration. Its atmosphere is driven by powerful winds, and is very cold. In fact, it boasts a great dark spot, a massive and powerful storm similar to that found on Jupiter.
Pluto
Diameter: 1,430 miles
Gravity: 0.07 standard
Period of Rotation: 6 days, 9 hours
Period of Revolution: 248 years
Distance from Sun: 3,670,000,000 miles
Temperature Range: -378°
Number of Moons: 5
Ring System?: No
Other Notable Features: Some astronomers argue that this is actually a dwarf planet, similar to larger bodies in the asteroid belt and even some of the other planets' moons. It is little more than a cold rock drifting through the aether, but does boast a cache of supplies in case of interplanetary emergencies.

The Asteroid Belt
Given that hundreds of thousands of individual bodies make up this belt, it can't be detailed in the same way as the planets. The belt lies in a broad orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Each of these drifting space rocks can vary in size from ones that are similar to earth-bound boulders to those that are larger than the planet Pluto. Many of these are rich in minerals, making them a favorite target of space miners. Of course, ones that have been dug full of tunnels can also then become lairs for those creatures that live in the aether. In a similar manner, the asteroids' relatively small size also makes them the first candidates for terraforming, resulting in the first permanent outposts built by aetherial travelers.



Travel Times, Distance and Speed
Compared to planetside journeys, the distances covered when traveling between bodies in a solar system are incredibly long. After all, a voyage from the sun to the earth covers 93 million miles. To handle this, a space fantasy campaign divides movement into two different types.
Tactical speed is handled as per the rules presented in Ultimate Combat. Ships move and maneuver at their speeds in feet per round, while characters aboard them operate in the same manner.
Cruising speed, on the other hand, is much faster. In fact, cruising speed for ships uses the same number, but it is applied in thousands of miles per hour. Aetherships can only reach cruising speed when they are beyond the gravity influence of heavenly bodies—that is, outside of a planet's atmosphere, or at a similar distance from bodies such as asteroids or comets.


Using Earth as a Campaign Setting
GM's interested in using Earth and its solar system as the setting for a space fantasy campaign might want to check out the Kingdoms of Legend: World Guide from Interaction Point Games to find suggestions for that planet's cultures.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Worlds Building



For many homebrew fantasy RPG settings, the GM needs only to create one world. A space fantasy campaign, however, provides the opportunity to create many different ones. When doing so, the GM should keep in mind the following questions.

Heavenly Bodies
In the middle of every solar system is a primary star or stars. One is the most common number, serving as the most notable body in the heavens of the worlds of that system. It can happen, though, that a system is dominated by a binary pair, two suns that revolve around a common axis point. Such an occurrence affects the mythology and everyday language of the world in question. For example, the inhabitants of such planets talk about sunsrise and sunsset, or, more specifically, first sunrise, second sunrise, first sunset and second sunset. In the same way, having two twin sun gods is likely to change the traditional tales on such worlds.

There are two main types of planets. The most familiar to living beings are terrestrial worlds, relatively small and rocky planets that have a solid surface and, with enough of a gravitational pull, to maintain some kind of atmosphere. These, in turn, can have a variety of temperatures. Some are so cold as to be uninhabitable, while others just seem to be locked in a perpetual winter. Others are so hot as to be covered by world-spanning deserts, or even to be burnt-out rocks with no resources other than minerals for space mining. Few are the planets that fall into the sweet spot, those that are ideal for habitation by sentients and that can boast a wide variety of climates. The primary worlds of most campaign settings fall into this category, which means that other planets in their solar systems present other varieties of worlds.

Gas giants, otherwise known as jovian planets, are ones that lack a real surface. They may have a liquid or even a solid core deep in their thick atmospheres, but the air pressure at those levels is such that it can crush most objects. Even so, they sometimes have bands at certain altitudes that are inhabitable, although creating any kind of settlement is a distinct challenge. These bands can be home to a variety of exotic creatures, especially air elementals and other beings who possess the ability to fly without limitation. Additionally, these worlds are most likely to have rings, distinctive bands composed of ice, rocks and dust.

Moons add a lot to a world's mythology. As the bodies that are visible in the night sky, they provide a counterpoint to any notion of a sun god. The fact that they are terrestrial in nature means that they could possibly be inhabited; what is more, the civilizations that develop on them are heavily influenced by the fact that every day the experience earthrise. For most planets, the first extraterrestrial colonization that occurs happens on these satellites.

Asteroid belts usually result from bodies of matter created by the explosion of a primary body, but ones that fail to coalesce into a full-blown world. For the most part, these are little more than rocks drifting through space. Some of them are big enough to develop a spherical structure, and even to capture their own proto-moons. Bodies in the latter category are known as dwarf planets. Keep in mind that many dwarves consider that appellation to be terribly insulting.

The appearance of comets is always a notable event on any planet. These “dirty snowballs” pass through solar systems on wildly elliptical orbits, arriving once during a set number of years. Many planetary cultures consider them to be omens of important events, while those who've ventured into the aether recognize them as sources of valuable raw materials.

Distinctive Features
Having multiple bodies in a solar system gives the GM an opportunity to be creative when designing worlds. For example, one might be shrouded in a sea of ice that is rent by powerful geysers, while another drifts in the midsts of a gas giant's rings—this is known as a shepherd moon—and is pummeled continuously by meteors. A planet's rate of rotation (spinning on its own axis) could equal its rate of revolution (orbiting around its primary star), meaning that one side is eternally cooked by sunlight, while the other is shrouded in perpetual darkness. Each of these provides an opportunity to present new flora and fauna, cultures, plot hooks and other opportunities for adventure.


Further Inspiration
GM's seeking inspiration for a space fantasy campaign can look to the following sources.
  • The entire body of material for 2nd Edition AD&D's Spelljammer campaign setting, including boxed sets, adventures, supplements, novels and comics, is the inspiration for this work.
  • The Spelljammer: Shadow of the Spider Moon supplement from Polyhedron magazine, for use with D&D 3rd Edition, adpated many elements from Spelljammer, and details a complete solar system.
  • Distant Worlds is a supplement that details the other worlds of Golarion's solar system for that Pathfinder setting.
  • Disney's film Treasure Planet captures much of the feel of this setting, and has pirates, a map and lost treasure.
  • Shakespeare's play The Tempest, which has nautical elements, was adapted into a science fiction film as Forbidden Planet. It also influenced the movie Serenity.
  • Although it's identified as “Children's Fiction,” the novel Larklight takes place in an aetherial setting during the Victorian era.