Contact Light

I decided to move the science fiction stuff to a new blog, Contact Light. That blog is basically the “world-builder’s commentary”, a logbook as I create my own science fiction setting, discussing the how’s and why’s as the setting slowly takes shape.

I’d be very happy to see you there!

Some assorted links:


The Icy Embrace of Winter: The Roundup

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoSmallFebruary’s Blog Carnival on the Icy Embrace of Winter was the first time I hosted one, and I didn’t die of stage fright – yay! Thanks to everybody who participated!

If you’d like to catch up on posts, here’s the complete list:

Let me know if I missed one, and don’t forget to check out – and participate – in March’s Blog Carnival, hosted by Douglas at Gaming Ballistic. The topic: Virtual Table Tops and Online RPGs!

The Antarctic Snow Cruiser

The Anarctic Snow Cruiser

The Anarctic Snow Cruiser

The Antarctic Snow Cruiser was a massive vehicle designed by Thomas Pulter in the late 1930s. Intended to facilitate transport in Antarctica, it was a failure: its smooth wheels were unsuitable for gaining traction in the snow and the vehicle’s weight caused it to sink 90cm into the snow. Ironically, the wheels produced more traction when the vehicle drove backwards. The snow cruiser was then used as shelter for the expedition before being abandoned. The start of World War II prevented further funding.

The snow cruiser was rediscovered twice; once in the 1940s – when it only needed air in its tires to become operational – and once in 1958. The fate of the snow cruiser is unknown; it is likely buried deep in the ice or sunk to the bottom of the ocean when the ice shelf it was left on split.

Use of the Snow Cruiser

The snow cruiser is an excellent gimmick for any type of campaign or story:

  • Discovering the Snow Cruiser could be an event/encounter in an Antarctic hex crawl. Wild animals or monsters could make their home in it, and perhaps some useful items were left in the vehicle.
  • Like the original, it could make the core of a makeshift base; it could even be used to hide the entrance to an underground base.
  • A working model may be used by secret agents in a Bond style adventure
  • Vehicles similar to the Snow Cruiser could be used on other planets in a Traveller science fiction campaign, presumably it would especially work on smaller, low gravity worlds.
  • In a steampunk or weird science setting, the snow cruiser may be even bigger than it actually was.
  • According to rumor the original Snow Cruiser was taken by the Soviets. This is almost certainly not true, but in your adventure or story this could very well be the case – Especially if some sort of classified information was left on board, or a secret technology used in the construction of the vehicle (perhaps a new type of nuclear battery or miniature fusion power plant in a Sci Fi context).

Have any Snow, Winter, Arctic themes or ideas to share? Take part in February’s Blog Carnival on The Icy Embrace of Winter!

The Dangers of Winter

Iced Trees. Image by Jake N.

Iced Trees. Image by Jake N.

One of the great things about the Icy Embrace of Winter is that it introduces environmental dangers to an otherwise perfectly hospitable and safe region. The complications caused by these dangers add difficulty to an otherwise normal situation and create a sense of urgency since prolonged exposure to the elements can cause injury or death. Most of the dangers can be mitigated with preparation and technology, but even a modern society can buckle or break down under severe weather conditions.

Here’s a checklist of environmental conditions to consider in a winter scenario:

Snow: The most obvious one. Snow can make travel difficult and even block access to some locations entirely. Even in a modern setting, roads could be uncleared, making access to – or escape from – your adventure locale difficult or impossible. Buildings can be damaged or even collapse under the weight of accumulated snow. Snowfall reduces visibility and can covert tracks, making wilderness orienteering harder.

Ice: Lakes and even rivers can freeze over completely; this allows people on foot, or maybe even horse or car, access to locations they couldn’t go before, but it blocks travel by boat. Ice can be a hazard to shipping even if it’s not a continuous ice cover – famously illustrated by the fate of the Titanic. On land, ice can make roads or other terrain impassable (because it’s slippery) and it can damage or destroy infrastructure.

Wind: Storms and snow can combine to create blizzards. Without protective goggles, this can further reduce visibility – to the point of being essentially blinding. Wind also causes snow drifts and can shift snow into otherwise sheltered places. Wind chill will enhance the effects of low temperature on animals and humans by increasing the rate at which their bodies cool down. And of course, high winds can cause further damage to infrastructure by themselves.

Cold: Prolonged exposure to extreme cold can cause hypothermia and frostbite. Elderly people and infants are more susceptible than adults. Temperature below freezing can damage vegetation, and thus destroy harvests if it’s unseasonal. It can cause pipes to burst. If a city depends on an external source of fresh water – for example brought in by Aqueduct – this can complicate life, though the citizens can always melt ice and snow for drinking water. Remember that cold is relative; a society in a Mediterranean or tropical climate is less prepared to deal with cold than people who live in subarctic regions.

Frostbite: Damage to body tissue caused by cold. A wind chill of -30C will cause frostbite in 30 minutes. Frostbite causes loss of feeling in and a white or pale appearance of fingers, toes, ear lobes or the nose. Extreme frostbite can cause these to essentially die, requiring amputation. It’s not pretty and presumably not something you wish to inflict on your protagonists; but there are always side characters/NPCs.

Hypothermia: If a person’s body temperature drops below 35°C, it can eventually kill. Survivors may still experience lasting damage to internal organs. Warning signs include shivering, memory loss and disorientation, and incoherence. Victims will also appear drowsy and exhausted. This is probably more suitable for a protagonist or player character, and, as it increases the difficulty of regular tasks, much more likely to add drama and tension to a situation than frostbite.

Creatures: In a more fantastic or science fiction setting, winter may bring creatures to inhabited lands that do not normally venture there – The Wendigo, Yetis, ice elementals, or even white dragons. Such creatures may actually also be beneficial, since sources for food are scarce in winter, and their fur or scales may be a valuable commodity.


The Icy Embrace of Winter: Borell

February’s Blog Carnival is about the Icy Embrace of Winter, and I will be posting on an assortment of winter-related topics. To start my contributions off, I decided to post something I almost never do. Information about Enderra – the titular world of this blog. Enderra is host to a large pantheon; the Enderran god of Winter is Borell:

snow-flake-8God of winter, ice and snow, coldness
Personality: Grim, emotionless, stubborn
Appearance: An old man, bearded and grim and clothed in furs.
Symbol: Snowflake
Alignment: Neutral (evil tendencies)
D&D 3rd Ed. Domains: Water, Air, Winter
Preferred Weapon: Long bow

Borell is the grim lord of winter. If the world was built according to his will, then everything were to freeze over, and snow would blanket the world. Borell is constantly locked in conflict with Helion, the solar deity, and neither of the two gods can ever gain an upper hand in their struggle. The seasons are the direct result of this conflict. This means that Borell is one of the most powerful gods, as he is able to stand up to the sun god himself.

Borell is usually depicted as a grim man wearing furs of arctic animals. He wears a long bow on his back. He has gray eyes and white hair, as well as a white, thick but short beard. He is grim and bad tempered, and doesn’t acknowledge his worshipers much – although his clerics are granted spells as normal.

As a consequence, Borell doesn’t have many temples or an organized cult. Instead he is usually worshiped by hunters, savages who live in the subarctic and arctic areas, and by rural folk during the winter months. His holiday is Snowfall, which is celebrated when the first snow falls (and thus never falls on the same day). On this day, people pray to Borell and ask for a merciful – short and mild – winter.


Blog Carnival for February 2014: The Icy Embrace of Winter

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoSmallThis month I am hosting the Blog Carnival for the RPG Blog Alliance. Our topic: The Icy Embrace of Winter.

How do you incorporate Winter, Snow, Ice, and Frost into your games? What evocative places have your adventurers visited? What terrors lurk our in the snow-covered forests? What alien creatures burrow beneath the glaciers of the polar continent? How do you simulate the effects of the cold season (or the frozen continent) in your game? Is winter somehow strange and unusual in your world? What are the cultural effects of cold climate on your game world, and are there any important holidays or customs related to it? Do wizards make use of cold-related magic? Do vengeful gods terrorize the people with unnatural blizzards?

Winter and snow are a good choice for “Man versus Nature” settings; snow can add isolation and thus a sense of danger and urgency to any adventure. It doesn’t have to be a fantasy setting either; think of the snow planet Hoth in Star Wars, the Wendigo as used in Call of Cthulhu, or The Thing from Another World, which would not be the same story anywhere but the North Pole.

It’s a topic as wide open as the snowy plains of the northern Tundra. Let your imagination run wild, and share your posts on the subject with us throughout the month. Please post a comment with a link, or send me a personal message so I can include your blog and post in the summary post!

Happy Blogging!

Lots of assortedness:

  • Airships. I love airships and The Atlantic has some nice photos.
  • Earth-sized Lava World has been discovered
  • Stone Lake – so called because it petrifies (literally) animals.Awesome, awesome, awesome setting, as Realmwright points out. I do have some doubts about the validity of this, and even if it actually works about the details mentioned on Gizmodo, but for a fantasy / sci fi story, you can always bend reality enough to make use of it.
  • Living on the Ocean: For your waterworlds.
  • Piracy pays: If you need to rationalize piracy in a modern or a Sci Fi setting, then Somalia is your friend.
  • Technovelgy is an old site that keeps track of reality’s imitation of science fiction.
  • As many as one in five suns may host habitable planets.
  • Abandoned toy factories – Creepy dolls everywhere make for an awesome setting
  • Is it right to waste Helium on party balloons? – Interesting thoughts, plus: It turns out the US had a strategic helium reserve established in the time of airships. What awesome plot point that would make…
  • Realmwright is now a .com-dude.

The Making of Colonial Space: Drawing the Map

I am currently building a Traveller sector. I am using the Mongoose Traveller rules as a basis, though I have modified them somewhat. First of, a word of warning: If you want to create a Traveller setting, do not be deceived by the simplicity of the statistics for each world. A sector can easily contain 400 or more worlds, and this results in a lot of work if you want to have some sort of consistent result.

First step: The Region

As you know, Traveller subsectors are arranged in a 4×4 grid within a sector.

As my first step, I decided how common stars should be in each subsector. I decided that my “core” subsectors should have a higher number of stars and that the periphery of Colonial Space should include some rift-like regions. I settled on this:

6 6 5-6 5-6
6 5-6 4-6 5-6
6 5-6 4-6 5-6
5-6 5-6 5-6 5-6

To give myself a better idea what the region of space looked like, I then drew the following small map of a 3×3 sector grid:


Second Step: Star Placement

Next, I rolled whether each hex had a star system in it or not. And, yes, at this point I was still rolling dice. To make things faster, I rolled a bunch of d6 at one time and checked hexes off top to bottom. Needless to say this was a ridiculous approach; I should have just written a small script to roll up the sector. More on this later. At this point I had a hexmap with a lot of circles.

Third Step: System data

I quickly discovered that rolling actual system data took way too long to even contemplate doing it manually – there were too many dice modifiers involved, especially since I wanted to use the “realistic” optional rules in the hope that it would reduce the silly results I would get.

This is the point where I whipped together a simple awk script. It had no awareness of the actual layout of the sector, and it could not draw maps, so I spent another insane amount of time to center all those star system circles, colored them according to water/no water, and added spaceport classes.

I also added “trade routes” – basically just solid lines connecting A class ports that were in proximity of each other, and dashed lines connecting B ports to A ports and other B ports in their proximity. (Disregarding the Traveller 3rd Imperium jump limitations, as my FTL will work differently.)

Finally I used the result to sketch a rough border for my primary polity, an Empire (again, more on that later). At this point my map looked like this:

sector-maponlyI did have to refine my script multiple times during this process, to eliminate bugs as well as some glaring problems in the Traveller world creation system.

Step Four: Name That Star

After I had gathered data, the next step was to assign a name to every system. I had a bit of an easy start, because I had already gathered a list of 600+ potential names for colony worlds. Many of them were based on Earth locations, people etc which are not suitable for this setting. I did decide to leave in many of the mythology based names – out of necessity as much as anything else. So there’s no “New California”, for example, but a “Morrigan” and an “Uller”. Picking names, coming up with more names, and placing everything on the map took several days. I also began to draw additional borders for minor polities.

This is a snapshot of the work in progress.

sector03-maponlyAs an aside, I keep the world profiles and other related data in a LibreOffice spreadsheet for easier maintenance.

Step Five: Consistency and Detailing

After I had named all star systems, I began an interative process – this is where I am currently at. Basically, I am transcribing every system from the spreadsheet to a text document. At the same time I add Amber/red zones on the map, check for problems, and try to make sense of the results.

  • Why are the values as they are? – For example, if a world is a colony or captive government, who captured or colonized it, and why?
  • Are there values that make no sense? – Such as a vacuum world with a TL of 2 and 33 inhabitants. These results get fixed as I spot them.
  • Are there obvious implications, such as an Agricultural world next to a world with massive population?

One side effect of this process is that a number of smaller states have appeared on the map, for example the Atsinanana Star Empire – one clearly powerful world was sitting right next to two captive worlds.

As I type this, I have 8 out of 16 subsectors to go, but I picked the subsectors with fewer systems to start with – call it 40% done.

Lessons Learned So Far

Creating Traveller star maps is surprisingly much work. If I were to do it again, I’d do a few things differently:

  • Let the random generator handle more of the work; look into drawing maps automatically. If the script could produce a basic SVG, that would save days of work.
  • Change the world generation order. Traveller does some things right and some wrong. In my opinion, I should generate all the physical stats first, then decide a sort of habitability index, and then generate population and stats depending on population based on that. It could even easily be an iterative process, where all the nice worlds get colonized first, and then people spread out to less desireable worlds or to nice worlds that are further away. This could even result in a basic timeline.
  • Include stellar data and a few more odds and ends in the design sequence.

Current map WIP

sector12-maponlyMore on this setting will surely follow…