Science-Fiction Landscape

The Valkyrie campaign is my latest sci-fi campaign set in a homebrew setting. Currently, it’s without a name, so I’ll call it the Valkyrie Campaign Setting for now. It synthesizes a lot of the genre fiction stories I’ve read since I was young. While the setting started as a fun place to accrue characters and adventures, I never expected to create a complete story from it. So, that’s why it’s so important to continue to write down and accumulate all your ideas; that much anyone can do, and sometimes interlocking ideas can fashion a new, comprehensive adventure!

Of course, it’s easier said than done – so let’s delve a little deeper into creating a homebrew setting.

Focus Your Creation

It’s always hard to connect isolated elements together have them make sense. For me, there’s nothing quite like the confusion and disappointment in looking over your past work. I became concerned when in university I found an old document with some early ideas. I saw potential, but nothing more. There weren’t many concepts I could use straight out of the box of my younger, cliche-ridden mind. At first, the possibilities from making a sci-fi universe fascinated me. Then came backgrounds and nostalgia. Now, I’m hoping to focus this blend of ideas into a world with a consistent logic and history.

Above all, creating a setting requires a deep understanding of its core features. See how your ideas – whether you’ve imagined geographies, conflicts, or destinations – coalesce as overarching themes and cultures unfold. You also don’t have be too picky about what you throw away. If you adjust your ideas and save them, they may become more appropriate later.

While the setting is brewing, keep in mind how you’ll fit in a story. In the environment I designed, deciding what kind of game to run proved to be problematic. A rulebook from a friendly local game store luckily came to the rescue. With a few quick flips, I started to see it all come together!

Choose An Appropriate Ruleset

Enter FATE Core. With its extensive tools and flexibility, it became the ideal system to run my campaign. FATE happens to work best with a fast pace and cinematic set-pieces. It also conveniently fits into many homebrew settings and systems. I’ll be explaining more about why I chose FATE in a later post.

Fate Core System owned by Evil Hat Productions

Make a Place Where You Can Tell Stories, Then Tell One

The next few session report blog posts will be summaries of how the crew in Valkyrie got to where they are right now. I’ll try to bang those out before going more in-detail with the current sessions.  Information about the campaign setting, characters, and ongoing context will be interspersed throughout as well. This way, anyone can enjoy a game in this universe! Plus, I’ll explain my process for world-building to help out others and discuss lessons learned.

Setting Inspirations

TV:
  • Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop, Firefly – These all give a general idea to what characterizes this universe and what the campaign is similar to.
  • Parasyte, Tokyo Ghoul – Great inspiration for the Vruex and how they work.
  • Star Trek – Great ideas about the way the different alien species are discovered and interact, along with the exploration theme.
Movies:
  • Serenity – See Firefly
  • Bladerunner – The nature of Replicants resembles the relationship humans with Moditians to a point. However, they’re not illegal, just discriminated against.
  • Gattica – like Bladerunner, this movie asks similar philosophical questions about the obsolescence of natural man once an improved version can be manufactured.
  • Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek reboot films – These are all sort of Space Opera-ish, which exemplifies this setting genre.
  • The Alien series – More inspiration for the Vruex, the isolation that can happen in space,  and other horror elements.
Games
  • Starcraft – The Zerg are an excellent analog for the Vruex. You can compare the Sartha to the Protoss in some ways. While the Vruex and Sartha are different from these races, the attitudes are alike in their interaction between races. (Terrans see Protoss as a kind of arrogant, which people think the Sartha are. The zerg are a scary, spreading a real threat – likewise, the Vruex are, despite the smaller threat presence.)
  • Various Final Fantasies that mix old and new technology or deal with “ancient technology” (6, 7, 8, 10, 12, etc)  – The interactions in the Outer System are a lot like the way these games operate, and the addition of Dorel Ben Shi magic can also be seen as similar to these games.
  • Promethean: The Created, or Demon: The Descent – The Demons in this setting are almost as mysterious as the Quashmillim or Angels from these White Wolf/Onyx Path rpg’s.
Books:
  • Startide Rising by David Brin (and the rest of the Uplift trilogy) – An excellent look at the way the Kogim genetically manipulate the species around them, whether overtly or on a smaller scale through Bonding. The latter directly and quickly makes their partner animals smart, like in this book series.
  • Armor by John Steakley – This sci-fi book focuses mostly on the protagonist who uses exo-skeletal armor to fight through hordes of deadly aliens. He consistently is the only one to come back alive. The depiction of PTSD and horrors of fighting a war against hordes of aliens make this book real inspiration for a Moditian character, or descriptions of the currently ongoing Border Wars.
Serenity - Artist Masti Tiar - Found on Daily Design Inspiration

Serenity – Artist Masti Tiar from Daily Design Inspiration

Themes/Moods

Every place is huge. Behind every corner, there’s another new society, secret, or history waiting to be discovered. Oh it’s dangerous, all right – but in that danger also lies freedom, and more importantly the potential to do something great. Embrace the sheer vastness of all of the isolated planets of the Outer System, the maze-like mega-cities of the Inner System, the hidden space stations, the alien colonies – for within them all lies an infinite number of possibilities for anyone, even you, to find their niche.

Alright. Now you can get a sense how these themes here are what I’m going for:

  • The abandoned
  • Being an outsider
  • Discovery
  • Finding your place in the vastness of the galaxy

Let’s dive in.

Quick History – The Beginning

It’s the far future, and humanity persists to slowly disperse itself across the cosmos. After centuries of expansion, explorers have found a great discovery- a previously inhabited solar system, now abandoned. As if waiting for us, the remnants of ancient technologies still lie preservedhidden within an overgrown wilderness. A myriad of minerals and resources remain, having evolved and reformed over millions of years. Or, perhaps, they were never disturbed in the first place.

A strange substance known as the Ink became the most prized discovery of all. Research showed it was originally used by a religious sect to create paper talismans. These were the source of minor miracles in their ceremonies. Sparks would fly, strange smells would emanate, causing smoke, illusions, the whole thing. Once studied in detail, the unusual properties of the Ink came to light…and it promised so much more.

By farming this Ink en masse, humanity was able to build giant constructs known as Arcs. These portals could jump us across the galaxy to places known and even unknown!  As an already limited resource, Ink became increasingly rare and expensive as each trip exacerbated its scarcity. Corporations who built Arcs were compelled to assert their property rights. Whole economies rose and fell. Wars were won and lost, with casualties on both sides. And so it goes, the Jumps became few and far between.

An X Universe Jumpgate.

Jump Gates in this universe would be more inky-black…but even so, they look similar to this Jump Gate from the X-Universe.

The Separation

Honest folk who colonized the outer planets had grown accustomed to regular shipments of medicine, modern technology, and news. Their self-assurance deteriorated, however, when the payloads gradually came less and less. With smaller trade and supply drops arriving from the Inner System, the Outer System dwellers had to start fending for themselves…now poor fools who sought freedom. As a result, the government found a place they could deport anyone they deemed unworthy: criminals, the unsightly poor, political exiles, and even normal citizens. There were many unfortunates that would save up for years and pay the costs to start a new life, only to end up with the outcasts. And sometimes, if a place was lucky they would get one of the wise ones that were cast out.

Of course, it would be difficult to set apart the last group from any of the others, but they were there. They taught people how to live off the land, clothe and shelter themselves, and unite as communities. Live and endure in a simple, more humble way. Many a folk passed on this old-age wisdom across the land: monks who made pilgrimages for their vows, purists who set off for a higher purpose. Historians and freedom fighters parted ways too, to study and plan in private. These wanderers in turn would help the isolated villages and towns survive without the propagation of modern populations or industries. Their ideals became necessary for these small tribes to survive on their own.

Life Since Then

The rest is history. We met the Kogim, who came to warn us of the intergalactic threat known as the Vruex. The Sartha came to us, mysterious, inscrutable…and strangely, expectant. The Xai awoke from their slumber. The Demons began their whispers. The Infected spawned. The War of the Ben Shi wiped out whole generations. Then rumors spread of more aliens around us. And more! There was always more.

Lamb and Wolf from Riot Games

Lamb and Wolf from Riot Games’ League of Legends, but also an accurate representation of a Kogim.

Aliens, magic, miracles.

It was all new. And yet, among the change, the world kept turning for those on the outskirts of society. While mega-corporations almost as powerful as the Central Government rose, they took advantage of huge market shares in important technologies to seize control, keep it, and grow it. The right men of the Central Government were preoccupied with keeping humanity safe from the Border Wars. The rest spent time preserving the complicated bureaucracy, spy networks, and systemic bribery that kept them in power within the Inner System, instead of taking care of their overcrowded populations.

Lawless planets in the Outer System brought an untold number of dangers to the already defenseless and abandoned. Those of us in the alleys and cheap ships, we just kept on. You took what jobs you could, you took it day by day, and you kept an eye out for your place. It’s out there in the stars, somewhere…

Crashed Alien ship From Cowboys and Aliens

From Cowboys vs. Aliens (Universal Pictures) but might as well be on a backwater Outer System planet. But is it from the sky, or the ground?

Continued in Part 1.