Homeworld Remastered

Freaking Homeworld Remastered!

This is one of the most amazing videogames of all time. I remember when this first came out and it was mindblowing. Real Time Strategy … in SPACE!

It was actually not a very difficult or complex game, but one of the early ones which I still consider to be high art, like Shadow of the Colossus, Mirror’s Edge, and the like. If you havn’t played the original games before, I highly recommend getting this one when it comes out. If you do have played the games before, I don’t have to tell you to get this one.

As a slight embarasment, I actually never got much beyond the 7th or 8th level of just the first game, but probably got that far four times over the years. It’s simply that anytime I think “I really want to continue Homeworld again”, I want to start a new game, because even the early levels (or perhaps especially the early levels) are just so great.

Humanoids of the Ancient Lands

In the Ancient Lands, there are five main humanoid races that make up most of civilization in the setting, as well as five minor ones who live at the periphery in much smaller populations. This number doesn’t seem very low, but when you start counting monster races like orcs and goblins, a great number of settings have several dozens of intelligent humanoid peoples, with some even well exceeding 50. And once you also include other intelligent and mostly people-like looking spirits, demons, and undead, the numbers are getting much higher than even that very quickly. So with the Ancient Lands setting, I decided to really keep the numbers as low as I can get them while still including all the archetypes I like. Which actually wasn’t as difficult as I expected, since a lot of classic fantasy creatures are just very slightly different variations of the same idea. Merging trolls, ogres, and hill giants back togther takes no effort at all, and the result of fusing dwarves, halflings, gnomes, goblins, and faeries into a single creature actually got me a very interesting and fresh result.

Main Humanoid Races

Lizardmen: The Lizardmen are the dominant race of the Southern Jungles and Islands, with smaller isolated groups being found on islands and in marshes as far north as the Burning Mountains. They are on average a head taller than humans or elves and often weight twice as much, but some populations are of much more slender build. While not particularly fast or agile on land, they are very good swimers and divers and most often make their homes directly at the water. As the other races are concerned, lizardmen show few emotions or individual personalty and seem generally somewhat dull, but in reality they are not any less intelligent. The cultures of the lizardmen are among the oldest in the Ancient Land, with many of their realms predating even the earliest elven kingdoms. However, the people of most major cities consider the lizardmen to be stuck in the past and having reached the limit of their abilities. While many of the outlying tribes do indeed have no writing or barely any metal, the major cities hidden deeper in the jungles are just as advanced as any elven kingdoms.

Elves: The elves of the Ancient Lands are similiar in height to humans but tend towards more slender stature, with slightly pointed ears and large eyes. They can live well over 300 years, but a great number of them only reaches half that age due to disease, accident, or war. Elves have been living in the massive forests of the north for a very long time, but their oldest major settlements go back only 2,000 years. Most of their large cities in existance today are just over 400 years old, quite young compared to the ancient centers of lizardmen civilization. The elves of the North are often called wood elves, while a smaller group that lives in the Southern Jungles with the lizardmen is known as dark elves. Wood elves have brown skin and dark brown to black hair, while dark elf skin is ash gray and their hair ranges in shades from light gray to white and pale blond. Light hair colors in wood elves and humans almost almost indicate some dark elven ancestry. Elves are more closely related to humans than to any other humanoid people of the Ancient Lands and children of mixed heiritage are not unusual.

Humans: Until just a few centuries ago, humans were very rare in the Ancient Lands. Only two small isolated populations exist in the Far North and the Southern Islands, and they are so different in appearance that for a long time few people were aware that they were of the same race. Humans became one of the major humanoid people in the Ancient Land when elves started to trade with the lands far to the west and hired local human mercenaries to guard their caravans from hostile elven clans on the way back home to the coast. Eventually this practice led to a mass migration of human clans from the west, which are collectively known as the Vandren. A second, much smaller group of the same human people had migrated north a few centuries earlier and settled down in the Witchfens for unknown reasons. Only in recent years, with some Vandren traveling north along the coast from their new home in the Grasslands, have members of these two groups encountered each other again, and they generally don’t consider each other kin.

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Forget about creation myths

At the Giant in the Playground forum, I regularly take a look at the first outlines people have written for their own fantasy settings, either for RPG campaigns or other things like novels or webcomics. And much more often than not, these outlines start with how the gods created the universe, some war of the primordials, and the interference from hell. Which isn’t a completely stupid idea. When wondering where to start, why not start at the beginning? But I think in practice this approach to creating your own fantasy world is a rather poor one and won’t really get you anywhere.

god-creationEffective worldbuilding does not start at the beginning, but at the end. Unless you are creating a world just for the fun of creating a world, you have some kind of specific purpose for your world in mind, and usually also some general idea for it’s style. When worldbuilding is a means to an end, then it’s really the end where you should start. First think what kind of world you want to have at the end of your timeline. Think what climate you want to have, what kinds of people inhabit the world, what forms of societies and cultures there will be, and what the major themes will be around which the adventures of the characters will revolve. Only when you have established these things does it make sense to think about the origin of the world and the mythology around it.

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The Ancient Lands: The lay of the lands

The Ancient Lands lie on the eastern coast of a large continent, which runs approximately from North to South for about 2,000 miles. The northernmost parts, bordering the arctic sea, have a cold climate with long winters and don’t see the sun for about two weeks. The very south is covered by huge jungles experiencing heavy monsoon seasons. Most people live close to the coast and no more than a hundred miles from the sea, with civilization reaching farther inland only along the major rivers that run from the highlands and mountains in the west to the sea in the east. With wind predominantly blowing from the east, ships can relatively easily up the rivers for considerable distances. As there are very few roads in the Ancient Lands, almost all trade and long distance travel is done by ship. Only the caravans that bring goods from the human lands on the plains in the west form a major overland trade route. In addition to the major population centers on the coast, there are also thousands of islands of various sizes, of which a countless number is inhabited by elves, lizardmen, or humans, but an even larger number is completely unsettled and unexplored.

The Far North: In the very north of the Ancient Lands, between the arctic sea and a long mountain range that forms a natural border to the lands in the south, lies the little known homeland of the Mari, a small population of tall humans with pale skin and rich brown hair. While most humans in the Ancient Lands are the descendants of nomads who have arrived from the west only in recent centuries, the Mari apparently have inhabited this land forever and neither elves nor kaas have any legends of their first arrival. There are few trees in the Far North and very little grows during the short farming season, so the Mari live mostly from herding reindeer, hunting elks, seals, and whales, and fishing. Few traders make the long trip over the treacherous seas, but thick animal furs and whalebone are quite valuable in many lands to the south. The Far North is home to many strange spirits unlike those found anywhere else in the Ancient Lands, whose motives are very hard to understand even for experienced shamans and witches visiting from other lands.

The Witchfens: South of the mountains that protect the rest of the Ancient Lands from the worst of the arctic winter lies a large highland of fens and bogs known to the people of the surrounding regions as the Witchfens. Very few people ever go there as there is nothing to be found that would be valuable for trade and is home to all manners of dangerous and hostile spirits. Fog and light rain dominate the weather and during the summer it’s a breeding ground for huge swarms of insects. Despite being regarded as one of the most inhospitable places in the Ancient Lands, it has been home to a secluded group of small human tribes known as the Katra, who have arrived there less than a thousand years ago. While they look similar in appearance to the Vandren who have settled in much larger numbers in the south, and share a somewhat similar language, their culture has become entirely different and they regard each other and strangers. These people live in small villages made from uncut stones with earthen roofs and have only very little metal, which they seem to get mostly from raids on neighboring lands. A peculiar trait of their society is that each clan is not ruled by a chief, but instead only has a first warrior who is loyal to an Elder Witch. The witches are almost all female and are the real rulers of this dreadful land. They don’t leave their homeland and do not accompany the warriors on raids and it is most likely that their special relationship to the spiteful spirits of this land is the true reason why their people have settled there.

Source
Source

The Western Forests: In the west of the Witchfens the swamps gradually turn into a forest of pines and firs that are part of the huge woodlands that cover most of the Ancient Lands. These forests, together with the northernmost parts of the great plains that lie beyond the western edges of the woodlands, are the homeland of the kaas. These beastmen are taller and stronger than either humans and elves and can wrestle easily with lizardmen – though it is rare that these two peoples meet – and are equally at home in the forests, the plains, and the barren hills they have inhabited for unknown ages. Sometimes they travel along the coast of the arctic sea in boats to trade with the Mari, but there are no roads that connect their distant homeland with the rest of the Ancient Lands. Mercenaries and explorers often travel south to the lands of the Falden and Vandren along old paths, but most of them are impossible to use with carts. To the other people of the Ancient Lands the kaas are a people of strong warriors hailing from a mystical land and they generally seem not inclined to talk a lot about their culture and traditions. There is also a small stronghold of Eylahen elves in the foothills of the northern mountain range, which overlooks the western end of the Witchfens.

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Mouse Guard RPG 2nd Edition

I just spotted a note that there will be a release of a 2nd edition of Mouse Guard in April. It’s not only going to be a reprint, but an actual revised edition of the game.

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Mouse Guard is probably one of the most amazing and unique RPGs that are out there. Not only are the rules quite unlike most other RPGs out there, the setting is truly one of a kind and the art of the book one of the best in the business. Even without having seen this 2nd edition, I highly recommend this game to anyone who has an interests in RPGs that are not about killing things and taking their stuff.

Humans with pointy ears

In Goethe’s probably most famous and classic play Faust, the honest and properly raised Gretchen falls in love with the dashing and intelligent Doctor Faust, but has some concerns about his pursues of alchemy and astrology and the highly suspicious companion he spends much of his time with. Despite all the trust she places in him, she eventually can no longer dismiss her worries and confronts him for the moment of truth: “How is’t with your religion?”

When it comes to fantasy these days, both literature and games, one of the big Gretchen-Questions appears to be “What do you think about nonhuman characters in fantasy?” No matter how you reply, there will always be lots of people all too happy to tell you why you should reconsider your stance. Some think it’s always a bad idea while others really don’t want to have anything to do with works that limit themselves entirely to humans. When it comes to Sword & Sorcery, a lot of people seem to be especially vehemently entrenched in their oppinion that it can’t really be even considered Sword & Sorcery when there are characters who are not humans in it.

One comment I see very often that appears to go for a middle ground is “I am not entirely against nonhuman characters, but they must be more than humans with pointy ears.” They have to be distinctly nonhuman in their nature and behavior or they could just have been humans in the first place. When you see a comment like that, you usually also see a great number of people who can totally get behind that and very much agree with it. But when you look at actual works of fantasy fiction, how often do you really see nonhuman characters that truely think and act completely different than humans do. Dark Sun had the Thri-kreen, a race of large and intelligent insects; Eberron the Warforged, a mass produced type of golem with human proportions build for warfare; and in sci-fi I could think of the Geth, a collective of trillions of programms that group together into artificial intelligences that control all kinds of robot bodies as fits their current needs. But these are a few exceptions out of hundreds and possibly even thousands of fictional types of people that have been made up in the last 100 years, who pretty much all very much fit the mold of “humans with pointy ears” (or horns, green skin, four eyes, or whatever).

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The Ancient Lands: A world of savage heroes and mythical beasts

Some may remember the name of the world from an RPG setting I’ve been working on last year, and which I used for a campaign this summer. With my interest in gamemastering significantly going back, I am now shifting towards trying my hand at writing stories. My current love in fiction is Sword & Sorcery, which conveniently focuses on a format of stories of shorter lengths and serial adventures instead of a single epic story arc, which personally suits me just fine. It seems much more practical for writing as a hobby instead of a profession. The more I looked into the craft of writing, the more it became apparent to me that worldbuilding for stories (be it book or movie) is very different from worldbuilding for a campaign. You can run campaigns in settings originally made for a book or movie, but that’s usually the most interesting for settings that have a lot of stories written for them. You probably wouldn’t run a campaign in the setting of Princess Mononoke, but Star Wars has everything a GM might ever want. In practice, a story setting, even an extremely detailed one, requires much less information on many things than a campaign setting. Even what Tolkien did was overkill, but writing The Lord of the Rings was really just the last thing he did with the world he had originally created just for the fun of creating a world. And in the end, 90% of all that material never gets even mentioned in the novel.

What I am planing to do here is to assemble a big toolbox of elements that I can use in stories and make references to, and also as a background that provides its own story hooks. I often find it a lot easier to come up with a story that involves the Sorcerer Kings of Dark Sun or the Priests of Set from Conans world, something that has to do with the Sith of Star Wars, or a plot dealing with the Daedra of The Elder Scrolls, than to come up with a story in a vacuum. I also find that it makes the stories feel more real. The plot does not just happen for a single reason and everything that is encountered or described in the story is in some way directly connected to the plot.

So what I am doing here with this series of articles is not about making an atlas and travel guide of the world, which enables a GM to pick locations a group of player characters can visit and how long it takes to travel between two points and what areas the journey would cross through. When you write a story, those are things you can just handwave. Maybe the journey took 10 days or 20, maybe they did have to cross a major river or mountain range, maybe not. In a game, those things are important. In a story you simply don’t mention what all happened between two scenes if it’s not relevant for the plot. Maps don’t matter. Instead, this is going to focus much more on the social and cultural side of worldbuilding. How do people from different population live and what is their relationship with each other. Where do they get there food from and what type of clothing do they wear. What technologies do they use in everyday life and what kinds of weapons and armor can they make or trade. These are all things that in most games really don’t matter or ever come up at all. In a story, they can be just as important as the plot, and in many cases have direct impact on the plot. And when a reader notices that there is a connection in a story between two things that have already been mentioned earlier, it makes the story feel a lot more realistic and unique. That’s why worldbuilding for books, movies, and videogames matters a lot. The Ancient Lands setting presented here is very heavily based on the Ancient Lands campaigns I ran in the past, but a lot of it has been shuffled around or been discarded completely, with a good deal of new elements being added to it, that make it a rather different world. Perhaps a bit like how the Forgotten Realms changed between the 3rd and 4th edition of D&D.

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Book Review: The Sword & Sorcery Anthology (Part 2)

Part 2 of my review:

I want to say it here again, that I really love Sword & Sorcery and hope that I will be reading something great every time I begin a new story. And when it doesn’t start well, I keep on reading hoping it gets better and I am really looking for things to like about it and that I could recommend favorably. I was really hoping this second part of the review would be much more positive and make the book at least a decent anthology overall. But my reaction turned out to be something else:513573755_o

It’s just going to get a lot worse.

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The Witcher finally fully translated to English

Overlord at Fantasy Faction shared the news that the deal for the translation of the rest of The Witcher series has come through.

The short story collection The Sword of Destiny will come out this May, and the two remaining books of the novel series The Swallow’s Tower and The Lady of the Lake in 2016 and 2017. The English translations seem to have a rather weird history, with a rather irregular schedule to put it mildly.

Collections

  • The Sword of Destiny (Pol. 1992/Engl. 2015)
  • The Last Wish (pol. 1993/Engl. 2007

Novel Series

  • Blood of the Elves (Pol. 1994/Engl. 2009)
  • Times of Contempt (Pol. 1995/Engl. 2013)
  • Baptism of Fire (Pol. 1996/Engl. 2014)
  • The Swallow’s Tower (Pol. 1997/Engl. 2016)
  • The Lady of the Lake (Pol. 1998/Engl. 2017)

Without any guarantee that the translations would ever be finished, I certainly wouldn’t have bothered with starting a five book series at all. Fortunately, I can also read the German translations, which had been completed four years ago. I don’t have the slightest clue why the English version was taking the longest. Even the Spanish, French, and Lithuanian translations had been finished years ago.

I reviewed The Last Wish last month, which I consider an excelent book and probably the best pick to get into the series. To me, it’s the best example of modern (post-80s) Sword & Sorcery and reaches even up to Conan in quality. I can’t recommend it enough.

I also happen to find the original announcement from the publishers site.

Book Review: The Sword & Sorcery Anthology (Part 1)

The Sword & Sorcery Anthology
The Sword & Sorcery Anthology

Now this title is a boast as big as it can possibly get. Swords & Dark Magic called itself the new Sword & Sorcery and fell disappointingly flat in that regard. “The Sword & Sorcery Anthology” can only be read in two possible ways: Either “The Complete Collection of Sword & Sorcery”, which obviously it isn’t, or “The Ultimate Sword & Sorcery Anthology”. I am more than willing to judge a book by its content, but when the publisher puts such a claim into the very title of the book, I will judge it by that measure as well.

Since getting through this book is taking a lot longer than I thought, I’ll split this review into two parts, covering half of the stories each. (The second half may take another week or two, though.)

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