Norwegian Minister of International Development Talks Larp

An interesting news item popped up a couple of days ago – Heikki Holmås, the brand new Minister of International Development in Norway, is a gamer. He also has some interesting views on larp as an instrument of political change, such as in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Go read the interview, it’s absolutely fascinating.

We’ve got a couple of gamers in our cabinet as well (they’re the two most obvious ones), but they haven’t really talked about it in the public. Then, they haven’t figured out a way to make it relevant to the job, unlike Minister Holmås here.

Incidentally, that WW2 larp he discusses, 1942, was covered in Nordic Larp, which I reviewed last year. More interestingly, the Israel-Palestine thing that he discusses is covered in more detail in Trine Lise Lindahl’s article “Weddings and Anti-Condom Activists” in the new Solmukohta book, States of Play. It’s available here as a free PDF. I helped in the proofreading process, and the print version is released on April 11th. I’ll write more about it once that date rolls around.

Hearts in Azlant

For quite a while now, I’ve felt like my Serpent’s Skull campaign is in danger of stalling. For ten sessions, the campaign explored the same damned ruins, which didn’t provide a sense of accomplishing anything, and I struggled with keeping things rolling. In general, the third and fourth books of the campaign, The City of Seven Spears and Vaults of Madness leave a lot to be desired. However, at the end of – by the way, here there be SPOILERSVaults of Madness, there is something remarkable, which I felt was worth salvaging and if properly executed, could renew flagging interest in the campaign.

The module culminates in the arrival of Ruthazek, the Silverback King of Usaro and Chosen Son of Angazhan in the ruined city of Saventh-Yhi, with his court of all kinds of ape monsters. He wishes to test the PCs and invites them to dine with him. The menu is written by someone who obviously appreciates Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

This is actually a repeated phenomenon in Pathfinder modules. At least Feast of Ravenmoor and Forest of Spirits feature similar scenes. While I would describe them as “postcolonially suspicious” (except for Feast of Ravenmoor, where they’re just hicks), I’ve managed to silence my inner critic because they make for awesome gaming.

Anyway, I felt this was the perfect opportunity to do something that will make the players sit up and pay attention. I decided to cook. Here’s the menu as it is described in the module:

The feast begins with fresh monkey brains and a bloody soup of eyeballs and wild onions. This is followed by raw hippo slab steaks with blood sweat sauce, along with a side of pan-seared botfly larvae glazed in honey. The final course is a rare treat of ice-chilled vegepygmy pulp seasoned with cinnamon and roasted coffee beans. Prodigious amounts of sour plantain wine are served throughout the feast.

Since vegepygmies are out of season and I think there might be some legal issues with the hippo slab steaks, I decided to chuck the menu. Instead, I went with something affordable, legal, and most importantly, unusual and weird.

Pig hearts.

For the actual content of the session, the module detailed a storytelling contest. I took this idea, and at a friend’s suggestion, applied Laura Bohannan’s “Shakespeare in the Bush” (read it, it’s a classic). The story told by Ruthazek the Gorilla King was a mangled version of Macbeth. I didn’t have as much time to prepare for this as I needed (most of my Saturday, for instance, was spent proofreading State of Play, an upcoming collection of larp articles), and the end result was a bit sloppy. I think I still managed to convey the Gorilla King’s worldview through it, though. Overall, the session was pretty much the heaviest in in-character discussion and roleplaying that I’ve ever had with the group. I deem my experiment a success.

Also, their faces when I brought the bowl to the table and pulled back the tin foil, while saying “I wish you heartily welcome to my table” as the Gorilla King. I played the character as one part Brian Blessed, one part Thulsa Doom and one part Hannibal Lecter. In addition to heart, I chewed quite a bit of scenery. Great session. I ended it with the Gorilla King handing the party the final macguffin (skipping the last dungeon crawl of the module).

Due to popular demand, I will now tell my secret recipe for cooking hearts.

Actually, there’s no secret and it’s pretty damn easy. I’m not what you’d call a remarkable cook. However, I googled “stuffed heart recipe”, found a bunch, read them, and then used them and the contents of my larder as a starting point for my recipe. The cooking times were the big one I wondered about. The heart is the densest muscle in the body and you need to take your time with it. I’d previously used heart in haggis, but never cooked a whole one.

Hearts in Azlant

3 pig hearts
2 onions
1 l beef stock (Or something like that. I just went with bouillon cubes.)
200 g of bacon
half a garlic bulb
handful of jalapeno
2 tbsp sun-dried tomato in garlic oil (Just something I happened to have lying around and decided to throw in on a lark.)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp basil
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp nutmeg
needle and thread

Wash the hearts thoroughly in cold water, taking care to remove any blood clots. Also, if they’re whole, cut them open. You may also wish to trim away the major blood vessels from within the heart, but leave the tubes up top untouched. They’re pretty much inedible, but they make the hearts look like, well, hearts instead of just any old piece of flesh. You might wish to warm up the oven now. I went with 175°C.

Chop up the onions, bacon and jalapeno. Crush the garlic. Lightly fry it all in a pan. Add the spices, set aside to cool. This is a good moment to boil up the bouillon cubes or warm the beef stock or whatever.

Once the bacon-onion-whatever is cool enough to handle, stuff the hearts with it. I found it easiest to first stuff any snug chambers that were still more or less whole, then sew up the heart halfway through and stuff the “main” chamber. Then, sew the rest of it up. Put them in a bowl, pour in the broth. You can pretty well drown the hearts in it. The cooking time has to be fairly long because of their density, and they dry up easily. It’s a good idea to check on them every hour or so and see that they’re not mummifying. Anyway, slam them in the oven and go do something constructive for about three hours. After the time has elapsed, they should be cooked through and through to a succulent consistency. Remove hearts from the oven, put them on a plate, pour on the red wine sauce. Have a camera ready to capture the shocked expressions of your players. Unfortunately, I did not, but I shall cherish the memory of their faces for a long time.

It was delicious. I also contemplated putting a tin of button mushrooms in the stuffing, but then forgot about it. If I ever make this stuff again, I’ll try that.

Pretty Ordinary Red Wine Sauce

3 dl beef stock (Or something like that. I just went with a bouillon cube.)
1 dl red wine (I used Gato Negro Cabernet Sauvignon, which is affordable, Chilean, and worked marvellously.)
half an onion (Or one small one, which is what I did. Don’t need the other half lounging about in my fridge.)
2 tbsp sugar
a pinch of rosemary or thyme
if needed, 1.5 tbsp cornflour to use as a thickening agent (I needed it.)
1 tbsp soy sauce

Make the broth. Add the wine, the chopped onion and the rosemary (or thyme – I went with rosemary). Let simmer for about 20 minutes. Sieve away the onion pieces and other crap. Also clean them from the pot before pouring the sauce back in it. If it’s not thick enough, use the cornflour. (Which must first be dissolved in cold water – pouring it in the hot sauce will only get you a lot of white chunks. This has been empirically tested because I couldn’t be arsed to read what it says on the package.) Add the soy.

Pour over hearts.

Also, red wine stains on character sheets just mean you’re playing a better class of game.

Stalker RPG Released in English

The much-awaited Stalker roleplaying game is finally out in English. Based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, it was written by Ville Vuorela and released by Burger Games in 2008. Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest daily newspaper in the country, dubbed it the best Finnish roleplaying game of all time.

Last year, I was contracted to translate it into English, which I did. Then it was in proofreading limbo for months. However, the wait is over, and the game is here. The prose is vivid, the diceless Flow system is elegant, and my utterly biased opinion is that it’s a must-have for, well, everyone. (Seriously, guys, you will be incapable of leading a happy and fulfilling life without this.)

Burger Games pays royalties from the game to Boris Strugatsky (Arkady having passed away in 1991). Since the Roadside Picnic was originally written in the Soviet Union where copyright defaulted to the state, they’re not technically required to do this, but it is how gentlemen go about these things.

Well, the PDF is out. Burger Games is now investigating the options for utilizing DTRPG’s print on demand service. Apparently there are some issues with margin widths, but we’ll see how that goes. There may also (hopefully) be a limited print run for Ropecon.

Though science fiction, the game is set now, today. Thirteen years ago, the Visitation created six Zones around the world. They are areas where the laws of nature no longer apply. The very chains of causality may be broken. Gravity and temperatures fluctuate, poisonous gases float over the landscape, and strange, unearthly creatures wander the land. They are watched over by the Institute, which is responsible for researching the Zones and guarding them, keeping the curious, the foolhardy and the criminal out. It is corrupt and its guard shoot first and ask questions later.

Despite the danger, some do go into the Zones. There is treasure to be had – the artifacts of the Zones are strange and alien, but possess powers that in a less enlightened age would have been called magic. There is a bustling black market in these items, and where there is demand, there is supply – the stalkers. Some do it out of greed, some because of thrills, a few because of a mystical affinity to the Zones. Romanticized in fiction and hunted by the law, they explore the Zones and discover their secrets. They are modern-day outlaws, living on the edge. Most die young.

Stalker presents Zone France, an urban desolation located in what used to be the city of Toulouse. Weird creatures and mutated beasts stalk the ruins, and what remains of the city is inhabited by the disenfranchised and the impoverished. Crime is rampant. The Institute patrols the border, but the border is long, the guards are few, and a determined team can easily get through into the Zone. In the end, the Zone is its own best guard.

The English translation also contains details on Zone Japan, originally released in the Burger Games designer blog.

The Flow system is simple and encourages roleplay. The basic mechanic is as follows: For a given task, the player describes their idea for solving it and how their character goes about it. The GM considers whether the idea has any merit and whether it fits the character and assigns the Idea and Roleplay values. If the character has an ability that would fit the situation, both values are increased by one. They are then multiplied and their product is compared to the target number. If it equals or surpasses the number, it is a success.

It’s there. Go buy it.

 

More Hamsters

Because, well, why not?

Here are the base Diminutive hamster stats and the awakened version of the same that I used as a base for Boo, two weeks back. I also cleaned up the writing on the cheek pouch ability to better fit a creature of such size.

If anyone does anything with them, let me know. They’re based on the giant hamster from Tome of Horrors Complete, slightly adapted.

No, I have no idea why I do this stuff.

Hamster, Miniature Giant                          CR 1/3
N Diminutive animal
Init +5; Senses low-light vision; Perception +4
–———–
AC 19, touch 19, flat-footed 14 (+5 Dex, +4 size)
hp 4 (1d8)
Fort +2, Ref +7, Will +1
Immune disease
–———–
Speed 20 ft., burrow 10 ft.
Melee bite +9 (1d2-5 plus grab)
Space 1 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks cheek pouch
–———–
Str 1, Dex 21, Con 10, Int 1, Wis 12, Cha 6
Base Atk +0; CMB -2 (+3 grapple); CMD 8 (12 vs. trip)
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Climb +8, Perception +4, Stealth +18
–———–
Cheek Pouch (Ex) A giant hamster can try to stuff a Fine-sized grabbed opponent into its cheek pouch by making a successful grapple check. A creature stuffed into the giant hamster’s cheek pouch takes no damage, and can escape by making a successful DC 5 Strength check or can cut its way out by using a light slashing or piercing weapon to deal 1 point of damage to the cheek (AC 11). Once the creature exits, muscular action closes the hole; another trapped opponent must cut its own way out.
A Diminutive hamster’s cheek can hold 1 Fine opponent. The check DC is Strength-based.

Hamster, Miniature Giant, Awakened        CR 1/3
N Diminutive magical beast (augmented animal)
Init +5; Senses low-light vision; Perception +6
–———–
AC 19, touch 19, flat-footed 14 (+5 Dex, +4 size)
hp 4 (1d8)
Fort +2, Ref +7, Will +1
Immune disease
–———–
Speed 20 ft., burrow 10 ft.
Melee bite +9 (1d2-5 plus grab)
Space 1 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks cheek pouch
–———–
Str 1, Dex 21, Con 10, Int 11, Wis 12, Cha 7
Base Atk +0; CMB -2 (+3 grapple); CMD 8 (12 vs. trip)
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Climb +10, Perception +6, Stealth +18
Languages Common
–———–
Cheek Pouch (Ex) A giant hamster can try to stuff a Fine-sized grabbed opponent into its cheek pouch by making a successful grapple check. A creature stuffed into the giant hamster’s cheek pouch takes no damage, and can escape by making a successful DC 5 Strength check or can cut its way out by using a light slashing or piercing weapon to deal 1 point of damage to the cheek (AC 11). Once the creature exits, muscular action closes the hole; another trapped opponent must cut its own way out.
A Diminutive hamster’s cheek can hold 1 Fine opponent. The check DC is Strength-based.

The Stratfor Glossary of Useful, Baffling and Strange Intelligence Terms

Apparently, the Anonymous hacked into the files of a private intelligence agency called Stratfor sometime last year. More recently, they released a lot of the stuff they came up with on Wikileaks. Most of it is just the usual kind of dirty laundry, but there’s one item there that I consider worth pointing out to the gaming community.

It is the Stratfor Glossary of Useful, Baffling and Strange Intelligence Terms.

It’s exactly what it says on the tin, a collection of (presumably) authentic, modern-day spy jargon. It’s also written in an amusing fashion. A few select quotes from the funny end of the spectrum:

Businessman: A source that does what he does for money. Businessmen will sell out to the highest bidder so are considered temporary employees. You must find a way to make them scared shitless of you. A high SS quotient is the foundation of a warm, lasting relationship with a Businessman.

Fucking French: Fucking French.

Hoover’s Dress: Yes, Jedgar liked to pop a dress on once in a while, just to kind of kick back and relax with Clyde. The dress is classified Top Secret and kept in a vault in the basement of the Hoover Bldg. Play with that thought for a while and then decide if this profession is for you.

Smiley: A man who is much smarter than he looks. He’s schooling you all the time you thought you were doing him. From John LeCarré’s George Smiley. Never screw with a Smiley. If a man looks too dumb to reproduce, first check his Smiley quotient.

It’s a valuable document for anyone running any kind of techno-thriller or spy game. Brings it that flavour of authenticity. If I ever run Spycraft, this’ll be the first thing I hand my players.

In addition to being a hilarious read, it also allows us a glimpse into how an intelligence operation is run, with concepts such as the following:

Center-of-gravity: The place to locate an operative at the lowest cost with the maximum return on information. COG is frequently counter-intuitive. The best source of information on Nigeria is not to be found in Nigeria. The COG for Nigeria is in London. This theory was created by people trying to get sent to London instead of Lagos. COG is not a hard and fast rule. There ain’t no handbook for the amateur spook on this.

Compartmentalized: Information so sensitive that it is broken into pieces with few given access to all the pieces. The more you compartmentalize, the less you can be compromised. The more you compartmentalize, the more difficult it is to figure out what the hell is going on. Finding the sweet spot is part of the Craft.

Craft: Intelligence is not an art or a science. It is referred to by the professional as The Craft, after Alan Dulles’ (a founder of CIA) book The Craft of Intelligence. Craft covers all of the skills and abilities of intelligence from writing to briefing to spying. People are said to have “good craft, or “bad craft” or “no frigging craft at all.” A man with good craft can go into a bar, meet a beautiful woman assigned to seduce him, get seduced and wake up in the morning with the woman working for him. That’s great craft. Or a man is picked up by a beautiful woman, convinces himself that she really likes him in spite of the fact that he is fifty, balding and overweight. After two drinks he comes to feel that they really are soul mates. He describes his latest operation in detail and never gets laid. This is a total lack of craft. All operatives, like all fighter jocks, think they’ve got great craft. A man’s got to believe in himself, right?

Also, there’s that certain cowboyish attitude that oozes off every entry, a too-cool-for-school authorial voice that drips from the pages – and hell, why not? If I were employed as a real, no bullshit spy, I’d probably also have a ginormous ego.

Even moreso, I mean.

There’s also how the document was obtained that makes it even niftier. I mean, this wasn’t written for public consumption. It’s an internal document that we’re only reading because the company got hacked. It is illegally obtained material. Immediately makes it sexier, doesn’t it?

Disclaimer: really, I have no idea if it’s real and not just something that got knocked off by the Anonymous, or it’s a spook e-mail joke or something. All I know is that it looks like it could be real and it was dumped on Wikileaks with a load of stuff that has partly been verified to be genuine. However, for the purposes of a roleplaying game, that’s not much of an obstacle. It’s exactly as real as the GM needs it to be.

Review: Distant Worlds

The newest offering of Paizo’s Pathfinder Campaign Setting line is Distant Worlds. It’s a 64-page sourcebook on the solar system where Golarion resides, and I’ve been waiting for it ever since they first shed light on the topic, way back in Children of the Void. It was finally released on PDF the other day, and I read it from cover to cover in a single sitting.

It’s an unusual thing to write a supplement about. With the exception of Spelljammer, D&D (or really, any fantasy RPG) has kept its feet firmly on the ground without worrying overmuch about what goes on up there, in the stars. Golarion, though, is strongly and consciously inspired by the pulp stories of old, and you can’t read all that pulp without running into John Carter of Mars and other planetary romances. There is also H.P. Lovecraft, who exerts a strong influence on the setting all by himself, and his monsters often came from beyond the stars.

Distant Worlds is more than just pulp science fantasy and horror, though. It is additionally informed by the hard science fiction of later days. According to this blog post from 2008, the solar system of Golarion is mostly the brainchild of Erik Mona (who brings the pulp) and James L. Sutter (who’s a hard sci-fi fan). Sutter ended up writing this book. Unlike Spelljammer, whose cosmology reads like the Top Ten Greatest Misses of Historical Astronomy, ranging from heliocentric systems and celestial spheres to phlogiston and some really wacky gravity models spiced with a dash of modern understanding, Distant Worlds is somewhat more scientific in its approach. I avoid the term “realistic” because… well, it’s still a fantasy roleplaying game, you know? There’s magic and superscience and stuff. It’s just interspersed with some actual scientific terminology that, as far as I can tell, is used correctly. (I have no idea if Sutter has any more background in this stuff than a love of science fiction. For the record, I do not.) There’s still stuff like most races being humanoid (which may or may not be due to some elder race seeding the system with them or the creator gods favouring that form) and pretty much every celestial body big enough to stand on being inhabited, regardless of whether it can support life or not. But hey, a book about these twelve rocks up there in the sky that are ridiculously hard to get to, impossible to survive and have nobody living on them would be… well, I’m not going to say “less interesting”, but we already have a real-life scientific discipline for that stuff.

The book is not a comprehensive gazetteer of the other worlds, but written as an accessory for Golarion-based player characters to go starfaring. Sorry, no four-armed green Martian player characters here, but there are ways to get to each of the planets and adventures to be had on them.

…IN SPAAACE!

The bulk of the book is taken up by the description of the solar system, which goes through the celestial bodies from the sun outwards and devotes from two to four pages to each.

The sun itself isn’t much to write home about. It’s there. It’s much like suns. There are cetacean fire elementals in there, and the occasional portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire. Also, at the heart of the sun, as well as most other stars, there’s a portal to the Positive Energy Plane. The sun is a tricky place to adventure in since there’s no atmosphere, the heat is enough to vapourize steel and if you can get past those problems, there’s still the slight issue that it isn’t actually solid and if you can’t swim or fly in it, you’ll fall until the pressure crushes you. That said, there are all sorts of fire elemental critters in there and some of them have even formed societies. Just don’t expect to visit them any time before level 16 or thereabouts.

The first planet from the sun is Aballon. It’s a ball of rock with no atmosphere next door to a star, so it’s blisteringly hot by day and freezing cold by night. The primary inhabitants, then, are robots. The Aballonians are real high-tech artificial intelligences that run on solar energy and were abandoned centuries or millennia ago by their creators, who one days just up and left, leaving behind cities and robots. The robots, being tremendously smart, upgraded, rolled out new versions, and, in their way, evolved. They are a thriving, synthetic lifeform with even a culture of their own. The Aballonians are split in two by a philosophical rift in the species. One half believes their creators will one day come back and that they must guard their cities and keep the industry running. The other believes that they must evolve and head out into the other worlds and become a creator race themselves. They are not automatically hostile to organic life, but rather alien in their mindset and hard to communicate with – especially considering that vacuums don’t really do sound.

There are pockets of organic life on Aballon, at the bottom of the Ice Wells, which are big craters with frozen water at the bottom. There’s a hardy local species of plant that can melt the water to derive nourishment from it and produce a mini-atmosphere within an Ice Well. One of these, called Horsethroat by its inhabitants, contains sentients, people who have been mysteriously transported there by an unknown force for an unknown reason, John Carter style. There are enough of them to run a small hamlet.

The second planet is Castrovel, inspired in part by the Venuses of Otis Adelbert Kline, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ralph Milne Farley (what the devil is it with writing planetary romance and three-part names?). It’s somewhat Atlantean; it’s a lush world of epic fantasy, where the nature is wild. The beasts are larger, the mountains higher, the storms fiercer. It is inhabited by the advanced civilizations of the elves (SPOILER: Castrovel is Sovyrian!) and the lashunta, who are a humanlike race of warrior scholars whose women are all beautiful and men butt-ugly (I swear, if the whole planet weren’t a big love letter to 1920s pulp…). They also finally found a place for the formians in Castrovel. The formians, those lawful neutral ant outsiders, were one of the things that most annoyed me about D&D 3E, where they replaced the modrons. Finally, they have been delivered where they belong, where they are simultaneously in touch with their roots as the ant aliens of Farley’s Radio Man, and not only placed on another planet so I can ignore them but also on a separate continent from all the cool stuff.

The third planet, of course, is Golarion. Its entry does not focus on the planet itself so much as on its moon, where there are, of course, Moon Nazis. Well, not really, but there is an ancient Azlanti prison colony that’s managed not to breed itself out of existence in these past ten thousand years. How have they managed this? They’ve supplemented their gene pool with half-succubi (who are all at least half-sisters, apparently, but the common relative is the demon so the genetics can be handwaved). Turns out there’s a decent supply of them around, since half the moon is controlled by demons from the Abyss, who have essentially been running the show after the Azlanti tried to colonize the moon and made a few slight errors.

The fourth planet is the red planet, of course. Akiton, it is called, and it draws from Burroughs’ Mars stories, a bit from Frank Herbert’s Dune, a dash of H.G. Wells and a touch of Mad Max. There’s shoggoths in the South Pole, red-skinned humans in the cities, four-armed giants in the wilderness and gunslingers everywhere. In addition to its trade towns and cities, Akiton is home to the Halls of Reason, where floating brains, the Contemplatives of Ashok, do unfathomable research. Of course, the gravity is lower than on Golarion, making Golarion-born characters faster and stronger. The atmosphere is thin, but breathable.

Moving outwards from Akiton, we enter the really science fictional (or just weird) area. The fifth planet is the tidally locked Verces, where the entire habitation is clustered on the band between the nightside and the dayside. Vercites are a high-technology society, with advanced cybernetics and even aetherships that can travel in the void between planets. Their society has three castes and is somewhat reminiscent of the minbari from Babylon 5 (after Delenn’s reforms). I get this strange 1960’s space opera vibe from Verces.

Then we have the Diaspora and Eox. The first is an asteroid belt, said to have been two planets that orbited one another as well as the sun, until a cosmic disaster struck and destroyed them, scattering their remnants into a belt across the solar system. Some survivors still dwell on large asteroids, augmented by magic and technology to hold atmospheres. Eox, then, is said to be the source of that cosmic disaster, a planet whose people launched a superweapon that blasted the Twins into rubble and whose blowback burnt out the very atmosphere of Eox and left the planet lopsided with a continent-sized lava field.

The inhabitants of Eox did the only sane thing under the circumstances – they turned themselves into liches. Eox is a planet without atmosphere, inhabited by the undead bone sages. They raid Diaspora in their corpse ships of steel and flame that need no life support systems. In space, no one can hear you scream. Eox is one of my favourites in the book. It just oozes flavour, and the imagery of a race of liches that stalk a blackened wasteland of a world they themselves have destroyed beyond any hope of the planet ever regenerating the damage, is immensely strong and appealing. Eox is like something out of a progressive doom metal concept album. The bone sages are tragic villains, utterly alien not only because they are, well, alien, but also because they’ve all been dead for millennia. This stuff just rocks.

The next planet is Triaxus, which is a lot of Anne McCaffrey and (I think) a little Ursula K. LeGuin. The planet has a weird orbit that sometimes takes it very close to the sun and sometimes very far from it. The orbit time is 317 Golarion years, and the culture changes drastically depending on which leg of its journey it’s on. Also, there’s dragonriders. I had some difficulty getting a feel for Triaxus’ flavour, unfortunately.

Then come the gas giants Liavara and Bretheda. They’re inhabited by telepathic blimp-like creatures that are very intelligent and tremendously adaptive. This is the really weird hard sci-fi stuff. Additionally, both of them have craploads of moons, where all sorts of interesting things dwell, from a species with seven sexes to an ice moon where a batlike people lives in the seas under the frozen surface. This, I suppose, is also the place where you can conveniently place any planetlike things of your own that you want to include in the setting.

Apostae is really weird, and I don’t really know what to think of it. It’s a planetoid captured by the sun and has an oddball orbit. It’s also not actually a celestial body, but some sort of generation ship, inhabited by a species called the Ilee, whose procreation is machine-driven and has no room for such frippery as genetics. Consequently, their forms vary greatly. All Ilee look different, most are not humanoid, and stuff like the number or even existence of limbs and sensory organs are all subject to variation. They kinda remind me of the PC races available in the Finnish RPG T.H.O.G.S., where you begin character generation by rolling for the number of limbs. I’m also getting an anime vibe off them, but I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Last, but definitely greatest, we get Aucturn, regarded previously as the Pluto of Golarion’s solar system. Except that this is really, really not Pluto, apart from the presence of mi-go. See, much like Apostae, Aucturn isn’t really a planet. It’s a living organism. Also, it may or may not be pregnant, and there’s a geographical formation that suggests it doesn’t breed by mitosis. At some point in the past, two madness-inducing death planets had sex. (I also figure that having the planet be a living creature you neatly sidestep the fact that being the last planet of the solar system, it’d be an uninhabitable and frankly boring ice ball otherwise.)

Aucturn is much like Eox, except that whereas Eox is utterly hostile to life, Aucturn is utterly hostile to sanity. It’s an entire world that worships the beings of the Dark Tapestry. Possibly literally. It’s inhabited by mad cultists from across the solar system, mythos monsters, and other nasty things. Aucturn is weird, and Lovecraftian, and really out there, and provokes a visceral “holy crap” reaction in me, similar to the ogres in Classic Monsters Revisited or the end of Use of Weapons. I love this stuff.

Overall, I’d have to say Aucturn is my favourite of the planets, followed by Castrovel and Eox.

Venturing beyond Aucturn’s orbit, there’s just the Dark Tapestry, the black between the stars, where the light of suns is dim and cold, and where creatures beyond mortal comprehension lurk. That’s Lovecraft country, out there. Madness and cold and death await.

After the planets, there’s a couple of pages of rules for stuff like gravity, vacuum and the like, including a note that planets with multiple moons will be really interesting places for lycanthropes. The approach is pretty light, in stark contrast with Spelljammer’s rules glut, including rules for how much damage you take when you fall from the orbit. (The falling damage is pretty bad, but you’ll probably be cooked alive by friction before that ever becomes an issue.) There’s also a couple of spells and a magic item for surviving out there.

Finally, there’s the aliens, a handful of game stats for some of the stranger creatures. There’s the aballonian, a construct that has short but good rules on introducing upgrades and variations on the base form and how they affect the CR. I feel that for the sake of consistency, it really should’ve had the robot subtype from Dungeons of Golarion, though. We also get the Brethedans, their cousins the oma space whales, the four-armed Shobhad of Akiton, the dragonkin of Triaxus, and the Contemplatives of Ashok.

Final Decree

Overall, I like the book. Its concept is original and new, and it somehow manages to mix the science fiction and fantasy elements into a whole that looks sorta coherent. (Not that it needs to be all that coherent, with the stuff being on different planets and all.) There’s cool stuff, weird stuff, interesting stuff and very little that I don’t like (mostly Triaxus, which just doesn’t do it to me). There’s something for everyone in there, with the exception of people who are dead set against space travel in their fantasy games, but I figure they’re not the target audience. The prose is occasionally a bit clunky, and the selection of monsters isn’t the most interesting, but I can live with that.

There’s one real flaw in the book, though, and that’s the adventure hooks. There are a couple listed at the end of all of the planet entries, and for the most part, they’re dull. Nearly all of them are essentially “the characters wake up on X, transported by unknown force”, “the characters must act as outside mediators between two warring species/castes/nations”, “enemy has fled to another planet and the PCs must follow”, or they spell out a hook that’s already obvious from the rest of the entry. They’re the weakest part of the book by far.

I’ll give it four stars out of five, and fervently wish that this book does well enough that they will revisit the solar system in later products, such as perhaps Pathfinder Society modules.