Murky Waters

In the early 90s, a large asteroid crashed into the ice of Antarctica, releasing an enormous cloud of steam and dust high into the atmosphere where it stayed for weeks. Once the dust from the impact started to clear, researchers went to study the huge crater, they discovered an unknown orange-brown lichen growing on the newly exposed barren rock. Within a few days the scientists developed a severe lung infection that killed all of them soon after. Whether the spores had been frozen under the ice for millions of years or had arrived on the asteroid, the explosion from the impact had thrown them up into the atmosphere and to be spread by the wind all over the world over the following months. Nearly all people and animals everywhere became infected by the spores, usually ending fatal, reducing the global population to only a small fraction of what it had been within a year.

Those people and animals who turned out to have some resistance to the spores did survive the infection, but many of them continue to have them growing throughout their bodies like cancer cells, creating a wide range of strange mutations. And even for them, inhaling clouds of spores can overcome their bodies’ defenses, leading to a severe cough that can last for weeks and often be fatal.

At the same time as billions were dying all over the world, the lichens in the crater in Antarctica continued to spread, seemingly warming up the ground as they dissolved the rocks on which they were growing for energy, rapidly melting the surrounding ice much faster than anything that had ever been thought possible. Massive rivers of meltwater flowed into the oceans, raising sea levels, sometimes by several centimeters a day. The rising waters forced the people who survived the spore infection to flee inland as most major cities and industrial regions of the world were swallowed by the waters.

Four decades later, the rising of the waters finally came to an end, some 80 meters above what it used to be, which some have calculated to mean that all the ice in Antarctica must be completely gone. In Northern Europe, most of the regions around the North Sea and Baltic Sea sank beneath the waves. All that remains of Denmark and of Northern Germany are a few groups of small islands, and a small number of larger islands are where Northern Poland and the Baltic States used to be.

Without any ice to reflect sunlight and a larger ocean surfaces for water to evaporate, the new world is one of frequent and often massive storms. Clear skies are rare in a region that always used to be cloudy and wet, but these days smaller storms happen nearly every week. Towards the start of winter, they become almost daily and often grow to devastating strength that can snap or rip out trees. But people have discovered that salt is quite effective at killing the spores and the swampy marshes along the new coast lines are nearly free of lichen growth. This makes these areas much more hospitable than places further inland, where clouds of spores quickly overwhelm the lungs even of people resistant to them.

While the new coastal islands of Northern Europe are home to many tens of thousands of people and large numbers of animals, the sea itself is a different story. When the many large coastal ports of the region sank beneath the waves, the waters also swept away all the landfills and industrial waste and carried the toxic slush into the sea. With the waters from all the large rivers running into the Baltic Sea, the current has slowly carried much of it out into the North Sea and eventually Atlantic Ocean over the decades, but people still avoid swimming in the sea or eat any of the fish that are slowly coming back.

I had the idea for this Wet Wasteland a few years ago when I was reading Apocalypse World. It seems like post-apocalyptic wastes are 70% deserts and 30% nuclear winter, and while those can be really cool, it really gets a bit repetitive eventually. And nuclear war is so 80s. We now have many more varied ways to lay the world to waste and kill of most of the population. Being from Northern Europe, sea level rise and worsening storms are of course the obvious choice.

I am thinking of this world as a kind of blend between Fallout 1 and Metro Exodus with a good dose of Stalker. And having recently watched several videos on a couple military games from the late 80s and 90s like Wasteland and Jagged Alliance, I somehow got the idea that using that period as the peak of technology to be salvaged could be really fun. By now it’s very retro, but a period that hasn’t really been used much for that purpose yet.

I don’t think a setting like this would be much fun for long ongoing campaigns. But for single long adventures or shorter campaigns of 10 to 20 games in something like Mutant: Year Zero, this could be a pretty cool background

A Tale of the Past

Feeling particularly fed up with the D&D Fantasyland cliches, I found the motivation to resume work on Planet Kaendor and go full out with the Sword & Sorcery treatment. I once again had Kenshi and Conan Exiles on my mind, and now Forbidden Lands. (Also Morrowind, because I always do.) When I last ran out of steam, the setting seemed a bit bland and stale, but I think a new backstory could do wonders to give it the spark it needs without reworking the geography and culture in significant ways.
Long in the distant past, the lands between the Sea in the West and the Mountains in the East was home to the northern civilization of the Rakshasa and the southern civilization of the Naga. Eventually the two rising powers came into conflict, which turned into centuries of warfare. As the wars dragged on, both sides unleashed incresingly devastating sorcery, turning the forests that made up the borderlands between the two powers were into a blasted wasteland. Even when armies managed to cross the burned plains to lay siege to the enemy’s cities, there was no way to possibly hold a city that was taken on the other side, and so the original plans for conquest gave way to a rage of blind destruction. As the desolation spread further into the two great woodlands and both sides exhausted their power, invasions became more difficult and less frequent, until eventually they simply stopped altogether, with nobody having any claim to victory.

Where the burned wastelands slowly recovered over time to turn into a great plain of grass and shrubland, the two battered civilizations did not. When the shared enemy from the outside faded into the distance, cities turned against each other, further reducing both realms into hollow husks of their former selves.

Eventually, human barbarians from the Mountains in the East came down into the depopulated plains. First to hunt the abundant grazing beasts, but then to settle the fertile banks of the great rivers. Three shaman kings managed to defeat the last rakshasa lord ruling in the plains and somehow gained immortality for themselves in the process. Each of them claimed one of the former rakshasa cities for themselves as conquerors, though two of the cities had already been abandoned long ago at that point.

While human civilization grew in the plains, they always stayed clear of the great ancient woodlands to the North and the South, as the Rakshasa and Naga that continued to live beneath the trees were still terrible foes to face. But over the last generations, hunters and explorers have dared venturing deeper and deeper into the northern woodlands, and rumors spread that the Rakshasa seem to be gone. Many have doubts that these ancient beings have truly disappeared for good, but to many people in the western plains, possibility of a life beyond the reach of the sorcerer kings is very much worth such a risk. The northern woodlands are not just calling to those who wish to escape the grasp of the sorcerer kings. Abandoned rakshasa castles and towers promise powerful magical artifacts that might have been left behind and forgotten, and whose value could be beyond measure.

The Default Space Opera Setting

Over the weekend I was reading the Coriolis rulebook for the first time, and while making my way through it, I was frequently thinking “This reminds of Stars Without Number” and “This reminds me of Scum and Villainy“. (The first edition of Coriolis does in fact predate the SWN and Blades in the Dark systems.) I also noticed while reading the setting section of the book, that it really reminds me of the settings of SWN and SaV. I started working on my own space opera setting with the assumptions of both SWN and SaV in mind, so I can easily run a campaign with either system and will only have to pick one when the campaign is actually going to start. And I quickly noticed that Coriolis will also work perfectly fine with all my ideas, since it also uses pretty similar assumptions about the setting of a campaign.

In addition to all of that, I’ve been told on several occasions that my own setting sounds a lot like Traveller by people most familiar with that game. This made me realize that contrary to the common belief that sci-fi RPGs are less popular because there are no default assumptions for the game world to easily explain to players what they can expect, there actually is at least one such default setting very prominent in RPGs.

  • Humans only, or many alien species which are all nearly human with only one or two exceptions.
  • A single dominant galactic hegemonial power.
  • Governed by a ruling caste, often explicitly called nobles.
  • And also a few incredibly powerful guilds or corporations.
  • A past technological dark age.
  • Interstellar travel through hyperspace jumps (either gates or drives).
  • World War 2 style space navies.
  • A feared army of hegemonial super-soldiers (by reputation, not performance)
  • Swords.
  • Space pirates and smugglers.
  • Telepathic, telekinetic, and prescient powers.
  • Protagonists own a space ship for a crew of 3 to 8.

Not sure how many settings there are that check all these boxes, but it’s hard to deny that there is some kind of clearly recognizable pattern here.

Inwas first tninking of Star Wars as the source for this cluster of archetypes, but I think actually most of them even go back to Dune. RPGs which I think fit this mold are Traveller, Fading Suns, Coriolis, Stars Without Number, and Scum and VillainyFirefly also gets regularly mentioned as a source of inspirations for campaigns in these games, but I don’t know that one personally. The Mass Effect series also sits close to this cluster, but it also takes lots of influences from the StarCraft/FreeSpace/Halo style of videogame sci-fi. I think maybe even Destiny could fit in checking a lot of the boxes, but that one might be more of a fringe case than the others.


Intuitation is a neurological alteration produced in people with a certain mental aptitude through long mental training, combined with various psychoactive drugs. The brains of trained intuitators have an increased capacity for accurate memory, and also the ability to rely on subconscious processing for the analysis of information than normal people. Intuitation grants people a hightened awareness of their surroundings and perception of possible threats, an increased intuitive grasp of complex situations and concepts, an improved ability to find connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information, and a highly increased sense of empathy. Skilled intuitators have abilities that border on precognition, but they are still limited to the information and data available to them, and their ability to see and understand connections and pattern is not infallible.

A significant problem with intuitation is that much of the processing of information is happening subconsciously and intuitators are often incapable of explaining their reasoning behind their conclusions or even understanding them themselves. Intuitation is rarely able to provide proof for any insights an intuitator might have, but it is still extremely valuable in directing investigations or to provide warnings for possible attacks or traps. Intuitators can only work with information that is available to them and can be mislead by deliberately falsified or manipulated data. Often predicted possibilities simply don’t come to pass, and sometimes even the best intuitators simply make mistakes. All intuitators have a significantly increased risk of developing paranoia, delusions, and other disorders because they regularly have thoughts entering their minds that don’t appear to be their own, or have extremely strong intuitive convinctions about things that can not be proven and they can’t explain even to themselves. Typically, gaining access to more information about a subject can help developing a conscious understanding of the previously purely subconscious connections, but in the lines of work in which intuitators are commonly employed mysteries regularly remain completely unsolved. In most organizations, intuitators are employed only in strictly advisory roles and are very limited in their authority to make important decisions. And many officials, administrators, and officers have a strong distrust of the reliability of inituitators.

Some intuitators practice their minds primarily in negotiation and interrogation and become extraordinarily capable in detecting deceptions and ommisions, as well as very carefully chosing their words and behavior to create the best positive response from people they talk to. In these situations, having all the facts exactly right is often not completely criticial to achieving success, and it is more about constantly reading the reactions of other people throughout the course of an ongoing conversation. This allows intuitators to subtly dig for specific pieces of information that they need to get a more complete picture and increase the certainty of their suspicions. While such intuitators are much less at risk of developing paranoia, they do have a strong tendency to become highly manipulative of all people around them, even if they don’t mean to, which can lead to just as dificult problems.

Esekar Sector Map

Blue – Trade Ports
Yellow – Mining Planets
Green – Colony Worlds
Red – Fuel Stations

While it is still somewhat of a tossup between Scum and Villainy and Stars Without Number for the first Hyperspace Opera campaign, I am really liking the SWN sector map system and the worldbuilding implications that come from the limited ranges of Hyperspace drives.

The basic engines for any starship have a range of 1 hex, which takes 6 days to cover. The range and speed can be increased by upgrading the hyperdrive and installing additional fuel tanks, but aside from the costs it also takes up additional space and power that is no longer available for cargo space, weapons, and other upgrades. Since bulk cargo shipping is all about minimizing costs and speed is generally not a factor as long as the shipments arrive at a regular schedule, medium and heavy freighters are typically equipped with the cheapest hyperdrives possible. However, a range of only 1 hex rarely gets you anywhere, and a single extra fuel tank is much cheaper than an upgraded hyperdrive. As such, the standard for freighters is a range of 2 hexes, which take a transit time of 12 days.

The map shows all the possible routes for ships with a range of 2 hexes that allow them to refuel for the return trip. The systems not on the routes require at least a range of 4 hexes, which can be done with a Grade-2 hyperdrive and a single fuel tank. Such a ship is also capable of skipping any specific single systems along the freighter routes and avoid having to stop there for refueling. It also doubles the speed compared to commercial freighters, making it possible to overtake them in hyperspace and wait for them at their destination. And a Grade-3 hyperdrive that tripples the speed and range becomes a real game changer. A great thing to have the players spend all their hard earned money on and make them collect a lot of favors to get their hands on one.

A nice situation that emerged from this map is the connections between the mining planet Kamara and the two trade ports in Lupai and Ukon. Kamara is the main stronghold of the aspiring independent miners cooperative that is trying to free the miners from the control of the merchants on Lupai and Ordos. With a fuel station between Kamara and Ukon, the miners could transport their minerals to Ukon with really cheap old freighters with a range of only 1 hex, which are otherwise pretty much useless for anything else in the sector. However, that fuel station is in a location that would have very few other customers, except those who are deliberately trying to avoid having to stop at Lupai or Ukon. That completely forgettable fuel station could actually become a pretty important location for various adventures.

Esekar Sector

The Esekar Sector is a small region on the remote edges of Known Space, named after the brightest star within its boundaries. It is located near the frontier regions of Enkai, Netik, and Damalin dominated space. The first mining colonies in the sector were established around 200 years ago, mostly by various Netik and Enkai mining clans. At the height of the mining operations, the total population of the sector reached up to 20 million people, but since most of the easily accessible deposits of palladium and irridium have been depleted and most of the mining fleets moved on to other sectors, that number has fallen to less than half of that. Today only a single mining clan is still operating on Dresat, but there are dozens of smaller independent mines struggling to stay in operation by scraping away at deposits considered nonprofitable by the major interstellar mining companies.


(population: 4 million Damalin and others)

The planet Ordos is the primary commercial center of the Esekar Sector and home to nearly half of its population. Unlike most of the other planets in the sector, the original colony on Ordos was not established as a mining operation but as a parmanent trade port and location for food production, banks, and high-tech manufacturing. The entire colony with its multiple settlements is a consortium of several Damalin companies from the neighboring Teoher Sector. While small private businesses exist on Ordos, all the infrastructure is run and owned by the consortium, which is also the sole landlord for all properties on the planet. Ordos was specifically chosen for its mild climate and dense vegetation, which puts it into stark contrast with the mostly barren desert planets selected by the mining clans for their rich mineral resources. The planet is the closest thing anywhere in the Esekar sector to the urban worlds of the home systems, though that illusion quickly disappears as one gets close to the outer edges of the main cities, where the the buildings first give way to massive crops fields and then to seemingly endless forests that cover nearly all of the planet.


(population: 1.5 million Enkai)

Though the planey Lupai is home to a wide range of plants and animals, it has relatively little surface water and atmospheric water vapor, which combined with a mostly mildly warm climate makes it a near paradise for Enkai. It is home to more than half of the Enkai population in the entire Esekar Sector. In many ways Lupai is quite similar to Ordos, being a major trade hub for the sector and effectively ruled by companies. However, there is no central government on Lupai and the nine major cities are each owned by diferent Enkai companies. Despite their competition, the merchant houses are unified to some degree by their rivalry with Ordos. The significantly greater size of the Damalin cartel could easily drive any single one of the Enkai companies out of business, but by making agreements to not underprice each other for certain goods on certain planets, they have so far managed to survive, even with the disappearance of most mining clans from the sector.


(population: 2.5 million Netik, Enkai, Tubaki, and Chosa)

Even though Ordos and Lupai are the main economic centers of the Esekar Sector, Dresat is the sole reason they are having any business at all. Dresat is a rocky and barren planet that is nearly constantly shrouded in a sickly yellow haze that can cast the surface into twilight even in the middle of the day, and would never have attracted any colonists if not for its rich deposits of palladium and iridium. The entire planet has been claimed as the property of a Netik mining clan that has been opperating massive strip mines in several different sites on the surface for well over a century. While the mining operations have been scaled down over time, there are still well over a million miners employed by the mining clan and all the remaining economy of the planet exist solely to support the mine. When the mining clan will move out of the sector, many people expect Dresat to become nearly uninhabited within a decade. But the immenent closure of the mine has been predicted for over 50 years and it somehow still generates enough profits to justify its continued exiatence instead of relocating the entire operation to a new planet in a different sector, like all the other mining clans have done years ago.


(population: 600,000 Enkai)

Kulpin is another major Enkai colony in the sector. The jungles here are extremely dense and dominated by gargantuan trees, which cast most of the planet’s surface into permanent shadows. Most settlements are build on tall rocky hills and cliffs that rise above the surrounding forest, where the humidity is much lower than on the forest floor and more bearable for the Enkai residents.


(population: 400,000 Mahir)

This planet is almost entirely covered in jagged mountains, glaciers, and frozen seas, orbiting a single faint red dwarf star. Though considered inhospitable by most species, it is actually home to a sizable Mahir population. In the face of nearly constant freezing winds, all settlements are build inside vast caverns inside the mountain peaks. There is some mining going on, but many of the old abandoned mines have been turned into research and testing facilities of various Mahir companies. The outside environment and underground nature of settlements makes it practically impossible to get in and out undetected and the massive stone walls prevent any attempts of raiding them by force, which can be an important advantage over space stations when working in a violently competitive industry.


(population: 400,000 Enkai, Netik, and Tubaki)

Kamara used to be one of the main mining worlds in the sector that has been stripped mined by an Enkai mining clan for over a century before it was abandoned. Unlike Dresat, Kamara has relatively clear air with great open blue skies, and a mild climate that allows most species to be outside all day without any protective equipment. It also does not require any seals on habitats to keep out dangerous gases or particles in the air. Though being quite dry and dominated mostly by barren deserts, Kamara actually has some native plant life, but it is completely inedible to most species and both Netik and Jurikk agree that those plants they can digest are rather unappealing. The ability to grow foreign plants out in the open with the help of industrial fertilizers has allowed Kamara to become home to the largest number of independent miners in the whole sector, most of which are the descendants of former workers of the old strip mines.


(population: 200,000 Amai)

Palan is a planet almost entirely covered by water with only a few volcanic islands scattered across the ocean’s surface. Because of this it has been of little interest to either miners or settlers in the past, but has been chosen as the site of one of the first Amai colonies outside their home system. The colony on Palan has been established only 30 years ago, but small expansions keep being added to it to this day. It is almost entirely subsidized by the homeworld and what little industry exists on Palan is mostly a proof of concept for factories on new worlds and doesn’t make any profits. The only meaningful export of Palan is a kind of wine that sells for a good price on the homeworld, but really mostly for the novelty rather than the taste. The Amai mostly keep to themselves and have little contact with the other planets of the Esekar Sector.


(population: 300,000 Netik, Chosa, Tubaki)

Like Kamara, Tornesh is a mining planet that has been abandoned by the mining clans ages ago. However, its environment is far less hospitable, being much hotter and barren of any native life, and big sandstorms being quite common. Netik and Chosa are the only people who aren’t overly bothered by these conditions, but for some reason several thousand Tubaki still continue to endure the harsh environment and having no ambition to head for somewhere less hostile. While the miners on Kamara have established something of a civil society with public infrastructure and a sense of order, Tornesh is pure chaos and anarchy. There is no real authority on the planet, only various gangs defending their own claims over the increasingly crumbling old settlements. It’s an open secret throughout the sector that a good portion of minerals being shipped from Tornesh are being mined by slaves.