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World Laws of a Steampunk Reality

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On The Origin of World Laws

[Victoria, pt. 1]


Way back in Ye Ancient of Days (before I ever ran Torg) I ran a single session of DC Heroes, set in my own future of the DC Universe, after The Dark Knight Returns. The PC's were the new Justice League, intent on restoring the forgotten virtues of the League.


Immediately after the new League's first battle — with a half-dozen color coded hardsuited minor league supervillains — the PC's looted the unconscious bodies of their enemies and gave one powered suit to the PC who'd spent all of his points on mental stuff. I just looked at them, stunned.


"Have any of you read comics before?" End of that campaign.


Kill-and-loot is apt for D&D (and, frankly, most other RPG's) but it's not appropriate for a superhero game. That's not how superheroes act.


World Laws exist for this very reason: to give mechanical structure to "how people act" in a Reality. They also exist to say how the universe itself acts.


In Storm Knights, Reality is a state of mind for existence — it fosters appropriate behaviors, tools, and events. It also inhibits inappropriate behaviors, tools, and events. It does this through the mechanics of disconnection, through the mental influence a Reality exerts over alien characters, and through the mechanics of its World Laws.


Each Reality has a different mindset. The action-adventure of the Nile is different from the primitive dangers of the Living Land, which is different from the post-apocalyptic savagery of Tharkold.


World Laws are a large part of establishing and maintaining this mindset. Picking appropriate World Laws (and Axioms) is of critical importance, it's the foundation the rest of the Reality is built on and the easiest way to ensure players and GM's understand what the cosm should be.


The World Laws themselves rest on the key themes of the Reality. In fact, they exist to implement those themes in game mechanical terms. To build appropriate World Laws, you have to begin by selecting appropriate themes.


Victoria is my Steampunk Reality, with all that implies. Built by revamping Gaea, home cosm of the Victorians, it's a crucial part of Storm Knights. I'll talk about the themes of Victoria, and how they were translated into World Laws, next message.

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Themes of Victoria

[Victoria, pt. 2]


Before I dive into the themes of the cosm, let's talk about where I got them and why.


Steampunk is the genre of Victoriana: the Victorian age, real and imagined. Hollywood Victoriana (the almost-cliched, romanticized view of the past, where even the flaws we attribute to them are largely falsehoods), real Victoriana, and the retro-pastiche of works that form Steampunk proper.


Researching the genre involved, obviously, reading steampunk works like The Difference Engine (Sterling and Gibson) and Boneshaker (Cherie Priest), reading non-fiction works like The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (Jess Nevins) and The Steampunk Bible (Jeff Vandermeer), and reveling in miscellany: cosplay costumes, many evocative illustrations, and physical objects built by steampunks (as they call themselves), like a steampunk computer keyboard or case mod for a Macintosh. And, of course, reading classic Victorian novels (The Time Machine, Wells; 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Verne) and watching steampunk movies, like Disney's 20,000 Leagues adaptation (phenomenal) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire.


All of these works are different, sometimes greatly so, and all have different themes. (Fantastic Victoriana has hundreds, maybe thousands.) Out of all the themes I encountered, these three were the most interesting, colorful, and gameable:


Science. Mysticism. Adventure.


Science. Science is de rigueur. This is a Steampunk reality, and steam-tech has to be part of it. This theme is pretty much a no-brainer.


Mysticism. A perfectly straight Steampunk Reality (aping The Difference Engine) is possible, but would be heavily constrained (like the Living Land was, only offering miracles and nothing else). Victorians were heavily into superstition and magic, legends of monsters were commonplace at the time, plus this was the era of the Gothic novels (like Stoker's Dracula and many others). Spiritualism, occultism, and Gothic supernaturalism were such a part of the culture, that they needed to be part of the Reality.


Adventure. Victorian fiction, and hence steampunk fiction, usually revolve around adventure, exploration, and discovery. Allen Quartermain is a prime example, as is 20,000 Leagues. The notion of people discovering new lands, new inventions, new principles of nature is engrained in the corpus of works, and more, it makes for involving gameplay. Once I decoded how to differentiate this Reality from the other Adventure Realities (the Nile Empire and Living Land), this became a key World Law (as it hooks into the other two).


In fact, all three World Laws reflect on each other and interact. Science is corrupted by dark Mysticism, and Victorian Adventures often revolve around scientific discoveries. Newtonian Morality punishes scientific abominations as much as any moral misdeed, and uncovering dark secrets is a prime source of Adventure. Exploration and discovery are enabled by science (to find and travel to new lands), and Spiritualists have to search long and hard to uncover or devise their magical rituals.


(Not that World Laws are the only way themes play out in a Reality. Themes also suffuse the Axioms, tool-sets, and cultures of the cosm.)


This synergy between the three themes is what convinces me they belong together. They fit together tightly, like gears in a watch. They work together, turning in tandem, to make the Reality work the way it should.


Next time I'll talk about the details of the actual World Laws, what mechanics they enact and how those reflect and implement the themes of the Reality.

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The Super-Science of a Steampunk World

[Victoria, pt. 3]


Steampunk, before anything else, is about science. Not the science of the modern world, but an alternate science, a super-science which does impossible things using late 19th century technologies. As this violates the normal Tech axiom, a World Law is required:


An Age of Invention.

The science of Victoria is steampunk: fantastic gadgets and inventions, that duplicate tools of a much higher Technology axiom with the technology of the late 19th Century: mechanical devices, steamworks, and a strange metal from deep in the earth called aetherium. This World Law allows inventors and engineers to design, create, and operate such inventions. Not every invention of a higher Axiom is possible, only those which fit the paradigm of the Reality. (For example, Tech 23 video games have not been invented, and indeed cannot be, but heat ray weapons requiring Tech 26 have been demonstrated.)


Steamtech is a form of Weird Science, and can be used to enhance mundane devices, even those of a higher Tech axiom. (See the Nile Empire Sourcebook for details.) So long as the owners don't mind cluttering up their pickup truck with a clanking, coal-burning, whistling contraption, they can boost its performance in highly unorthodox ways.


Steamtech requires (of course) the Steamtech skill to design, build, modify, or repair inventions. Anyone who learns this skill can do so, though this is a contradiction outside Victoria (a 4-case, for non-natives). Steamtech devices are considered native to any Reality whose Tech axiom supports the effect of the device. Thus, a Tech 26 steamtech heat ray is treated just like a Tech 26 laser pistol for the purposes of contradictions.


It's a Steampunk World

Here are some of the marvels steamtech makes possible:


• Steamwalkers (steampunk mecha, a Victorian invention, see Jules Verne's A Steam House, or the 20 years of Edisonades).

• Automatons (robots).

• Integrated Calculation Engines (computers made of gears and levers).

• Skyships (sort of upside down Zeppelins the size of large buildings or small cities).

• Ironcrawlers (battleship sized tanks).

• Ornithopters (small planes that ape the flight mechanics of birds).

• Subterrenes, or "borers" (ships which tunnel through the earth, even diving to the lowest depths of the crust).

• Deep Colonies (cities built on the bottom edge of the crust, just above the mantle, that mine liquid aetherium).


Steamtech is powered by a metal called aetherium which, as noted, only exists in pockets between the mantle and the crust, and must be mined and molded at depth before being brought to the surface. Aetherium is the primary metal for steamtech inventions; all of them require some amount of the rare substance, the more exotic and incredible the invention, the more parts must be milled from aetherium. Aetherium can only be worked at depth, brought to the surface it hardens into whatever shape it has and cannot be bent, shaved, or melted. (It can, however, shatter or burn.)


The Great War, which cemented Victorian domination of the globe, was fought over aetherium, and control of the Deep Colonies. Though a French expedition first encountered aetherium channels (aetherium ejected by volcanic eruptions, that had solidified into tubes leading deep into the crust), they were captured upon their egress into Iceland (a Victorian possession). Victorians thus gained a solid lead in the mining and milling of aetherium, and hence its use in enhancing mechanical and electrical processes. The war, particularly the Deep Front, cemented their global leadership in this area.


The Deep War was unlike any other front (even with the world-wide clashes between ironcrawlers and skyships). Borers traversed the globe, invading and conquering (or destroying) Deep Colonies.


Subterrenes fought with tunneling torpedoes, right on the boundary between the crust and the solid, but plastic mantle. (At those depths, solid rock flows like a thick liquid.) Torpedo detonations blinded their echo-sensors, and a blinded borer could tunnel right through the edge of the core, into the plastic rocks of the upper mantle, and be destroyed.


Victoria is a Steampunk world and these, and other details of its steamtech, are a major theme in the Reality.

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The Mystical World of a Scientific Reality

[Victoria, pt. 4]


The first theme, and World Law, establish the primacy of science and engineering in the form of steamtech. But that is not all the cosm is. Alongside the Victorians' regard for inventors and scientists is a strong belief in, and respect for, the supernatural, the religious, and the paranormal.


This is only natural. The historical Victorians were very religious (as, indeed, were all the cultures of the period), agnostics and atheists were rare. They also had a strong belief in ghosts, spirit mediums, and various other mystical phenomena.


Nor is mysticism alien to steampunk. Boneshaker has zombies infesting a shattered Seattle, George Mann's "Newbury and Hobbes" books include strong mystical elements, including some very black magic, as does the Victorian pastiche comic series League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Victorian literature included a great many Gothic Horror novels, typified by Dracula and Frankenstein, and, of course, the many works of the Gothic master: Edgar Allen Poe. The mystical is a necessary element of a Victorian steampunk world, especially one built on a revamped Gaea (as originally seen in the Orrorsh Sourcebook).


Victorian Spiritualism


At low Axiom levels, when understanding of the appropriate concepts is primitive, tools of one Axiom are frequently conflated with those of another. For example, at a low Tech axiom, there is no difference between a doctor and a magician — they are considered one and the same, and a doctor's trade is as much superstition and magical ritual as efficacious medicine. One of the first signs of a rising Tech axiom is when doctors are distinguished from faith healers or mystics.


Victoria, as a cosm, has a low Magic, Spirit, and Psychic axioms, as a result tools and concepts from all three are blended together. This manifests as Spiritualism, which includes psychic readings, concepts of the afterlife and soul, and magical rituals.


Spiritualism is an FX system unique to the cosm, but requires no World Law (as it is a product of low Axioms). However, some of the other mystical facets of the Reality do. This World Law is:


Dire Curses and Vile Monsters.


I'll talk more about this World Law, next post.

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Natural Laws of Morality and Mysticism

[Victoria, pt. 5]


The second World Law of Victoria is:


Dark Secrets, Dire Curses, and Vile Monsters.


The Victorian universe is an ordered universe, governed by rational and perceptible laws, and susceptible to empirical analysis. To the Victorian mind, the Natural Laws that govern the universe include both physics and morality, and the two are indistinguishable.


In a sense, Victorian morality is Newtonian: knowable, predictable, and universal. For every action there is a commensurate consequence — the greater the action, the greater the consequence. Moral actions bring blessings of health and success and immoral actions bring curses: impoverishment, disease, insanity, and more.


The violations of the natural order are many, and innumerable. There are parents, nobles, rulers who use their position to abuse their servants, subjects, or those in their care. There is knowledge so terrible, it can only be gained through depraved and vile means. There are acts so abominable, they stain the soul and cast one beyond the bounds of humanity. There is power in black magics, power gained through forbidden and corrupting rituals. And there are beasts, monsters with the minds of men, whose existence is owed to dark powers and repellent acts.


Dark Secrets


One of the ways to violate Natural Law is to call upon the power of black magic. Black magic is an entire body of mysteries, hidden knowledge of the supernatural, that is the dark counterpart to other forms of magic. (And like other forms of magic, it incorporates religious and psychic concepts.) It has real power, but calling upon it is forbidden.


Not all magic is black magic. Black magic is distinguished by its blasphemous and debased rituals, forbidden appeals to the power of unholy beings (devils or evil pagan gods), and reprehensible ends: to fulfill lusts, to gain power, or even to murder.


(Superstition and folk-lore is common among the lower classes or rural dwellers. Though frowned on, these minor rites are not a violation of Natural Law, just unwise and evidence of a weak mind.)


Technology and research can also be turned to the service of evil. Technology can produce gross abominations of flesh and metal or cruel machines that disfigure the mind, body, and soul. Such inventions can be used to enslave, to murder, to let loose one's inner demons, allowing indulgence without limitation. Obscene inventions are abhorrent to the order of nature, and they bring forth the direst of consequences.


Then there are those areas of research forbidden to men, no matter what means they use. Such areas include the creation of life, the boundary between life and death, and inquiries into immortality. No matter how noble their goals — and many who trod these forbidden paths do begin with the best of intentions — their works will inevitably turn to ill, harming the intrepid scholar and innocent bystanders.


Last is the mixing of technology with black magic. These two sources of power, when combined, can achieve great things. Terrible, appalling things, but nonetheless great things. The most awful and repellent devices are those that rely on the dark powers.


Like the more mundane — but no less offensive — sins, such transgressions bring dire consequences in the form of curses. The more grave the offense, the more severe the consequence.


More about these curses, next message.

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Dire Curses.

[Victoria, pt. 6]


Steampunk is all about the inventions: the subs, the airships, the mechs and robots and computers and "linestreamed" coal-powered, black-smoke-belching race cars. It's about gears and levers and boilers and pipes and gauges and dials and turnwheels.


It's about the mechanics of an alternate form of technology. But the metaphysics of the time were also mechanistic.


There were laws, immutable laws, the breaking of which caused strange weather, ill fortune, and the dead to walk the Earth. These curses are the consequences for immoral behavior.


Superstitions, Curses, Omens


Curses are incredibly straightforward, and we all know how they work. Walk under a ladder, get bad luck. This "bad luck" is a curse. Black cat crosses your path, get cursed. Hang a horseshoe upside-down, curse.


Their opposite is a blessing. 4-leaf clover found, blessing. Hang a horseshoe right-side up, blessing. Find a penny, pick it up...


Omens are classical, and very, very easy to understand. Ever had someone say "It's a sign. We shouldn't go."? They've seen an omen (or thought they did). Omens can foretell blessings or curses. Nearly anything can be an omen, but the stranger the event, the more portentous the omen.


A bowl falls in a room with no people in it? Possibly an omen, but not so serious.


Birth of a 2-headed calf? Serious omen. Something bad is going to happen. The omen reading skill allows characters to read the omens, and deduce why they are happening. "This two-headed calf means the queen's newborn son will die before a fortnight has passed."


Omens, blessings, and curses are all part of my new Magic axiom. The difference between other cosms and Victoria is what triggers them.


In most cosms, curses and blessings are the result of mystically significant activities. Breaking a mirror, for example. The mirror reflects you, including your soul, so breaking it has a negative effect on you.


In Victoria, they come about because of breaking the specific moral laws of the universe. The more serious the transgression, the more portentous the omens and the more severe the curse.


Gothic tales are filled with omens, like strange sights or sounds, deformed births, bizarre weather. These indicate a curse, and allow those who can read omens to deduce the nature and cause of the curse. (See the next World Law, "The Thrill of Discovery" for how this fits into the larger Reality.)


Curses can bring bad luck on a sinner, causing them to suffer spoiled milk, torn trousers, or a mysterious illness. More severely, they can cause miscarriage, a withering disease, or financial ruin. Transgressions by a patriarch or noble can blight a family line or region (sometimes for generations). Rulers who violate natural law can bring ruin upon whole nations. (This is known as the Mandate of Heaven in Ch'in). These curses can be expiated, but this requires unearthing the sin and (somehow) setting it right.


Game Terms


Characters who are generally moral (GM's call, but generally fitting the description of a "good guy" in the action-movie sense (as opposed to a "bad guy")) gain a benefit from their decency. Once per Act, they can roll Up on a single roll of their choice (gaining a free roll-again).


"Bad guys" become subject to curses. In game terms, a cursed transgressor will suffer a Setback during any confrontation (including all round-play). This Setback is in addition to any that occur because of Initiative line results or Non-Combat Interactions.

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Vile Monsters.

[Victoria, pt. 7]


Many cosms boast magical creatures, among the Invaders Aysle and Tharkold being the most notable. Victoria's Magic axiom is far too low to support magical beings, but the second World Law (Dark Secrets. Dire Curses. Vile Monsters.) allows them to exist, and even be created, under certain circumstances. (Despite being created by this World Law, their existence is supported in any cosm with a sufficient Magic axiom.)


Victoria has no magical races, like elves, dragons, or harpies. All magical beings in the cosm are monsters, and all were once human.


There are vampires, most embodying the classic blood-drinking archetype, werewolves, ghosts, and many others. All were once human, all were transformed. Some were transformed by black magic, some by blasphemous steamtech inventions (sometimes by accident, sometimes deliberately). Many monsters are created by curses (almost always a very severe one, often one blighting a family line or a region). Dying, while under a severe enough curse, often causes the accursed to rise as a monster. Many monsters can pass on their monstrous state to their victims, as ghouls can.


The archetype for Gaea's monsters is the biblical Cain. The first murderer, the first parricide, he was cursed by God with both immortality and a Mark. This Mark transformed Cain into something inhuman. Cain has (it is said) wandered the world since then, a hated outcast whom no one dare harm (for fear his curse will fall upon them). Every other monster on Victoria has followed in his footsteps.


By long habit, monsters hide themselves away from the populace, in distant lands, small villages, remote manors, or by mimicking human shape and habits. To reveal themselves, or to be revealed, usually means death. As with the dark secrets and dire curses of the cosm, this is fertile ground for a Conundrum (see the next World Law).

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Adventure in a Steampunk World

[Victoria, pt. 8]


The last theme of this Reality is Adventure. Action, in movies, is primarily combat (gunfights, sword duels, fisticuffs), car chases, and other immediate activities. Movies with a lot of action are, no surprise, Action movies.


Adventure, on the other hand, is usually less frenetic and often involves the natural world. A mountain climbing movie is Adventure, as is escaping a burning building, or fending off a wolf pack's attacks (though the last shades into Action in places). Movies which combine the two are, obviously, Action-Adventure.


There are three Realities that explicitly focus on Adventure: the Nile Empire, the Living Land, and Victoria.


The Nile Empire mixes Action and Adventure, and isn't concerned with any one type. Whatever happens, the Nile only asks that it be fast and intense. (The Nile likes to combine fast paced Action with pretty much everything else.)


The Living Land focuses on dangers that arise from the natural world, Perils of dinosaurs, of weather, of terrain, and so forth. The World Law "The Perils of the Natural World" makes these a part of every module in the Reality.


Victoria adventures, in contrast, are concerned with discovery, exploration, and invention: finding new things, exploring new places, encountering (or making) new devices, and similar endeavors. Each of these is known as a Conundrum, and adventures in the Reality focus on encountering and solving them.


I'll talk about the World Law itself, including rules on Conundrums, next post.

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The Thrill of Discovery.

[Victoria, pt. 9]


"Come quick, Inspector, I'm afraid there's been a murder, a nasty one. It's the Lord Mayor's bastard." Conundrum.


"It looks to be brass, sir. It just sits there and whistles. Everyone's afraid to touch it." Conundrum.


"We found this in Scrimshaw's sea chest. It's a map to an island I've never seen on any chart. It's labeled 'The Isle of Kublai Khan'." Conundrum.


"The villagers are afraid. It's the cats, you see — every cat in the entire village turned white overnight." Conundrum.


"Seven locked boxes in seven colors and seven keys engraved with seven mystical symbols." Conundrum.


"The traditional remedies won't work this time, Stewart. This one's immune to garlic." Conundrum.


Big or small, critical to the module or an interesting diversion, Conundrums drive adventures in Victoria. Be they mechanical, geographical, scientific, mystical, criminal, cryptological, anything else, or a combination of the above, in this cosm there is always a mystery to be solved, a dark secret to discover, or a puzzle to decipher.


The Thrill of Discovery.


Gaea is a cosm of exploration, inquiry, and deduction. Conundrums offer opportunities for players to explore, investigate, and discover.


A Conundrum is something hidden, lost, or undiscovered, and therefore unknown to most people, which presents a problem that must be solved. Some general examples:


• Puzzle to decode

• Location to explore

• Mystery to solve

• Riddle to decipher

• Person, item, or place to find

• Secret to uncover


At least once a Scene, players should be given one of these to deal with. It might be an incidental problem, it might be a significant Subplot, or it might be the central challenge of the entire scene. Conundrums can be isolated problems, or a string of related Conundrums, one leading to the next, might form the backbone of the entire adventure.


As a reward for solving a Conundrum, each player can discard a single card from their hand and draw a replacement from the deck. Players with no cards can draw one.


Conundrums are a challenge to player's wits. They must search, gather clues, and puzzle out the solution. Skill Challenges can give them information, an Alertness help uncover an overlooked clue, and an Idea card can provide a hint, but in the end it's all up to them. This process of being mystified and challenged, followed by working towards a solution, then a sudden insight when they discover the solution, that's the Adventure of Victoria.


GM Advice for Conundrums, next post.

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Conundrum GM Advice

[Victoria, pt. 10]


Make It Exciting. Sometimes a Conundrum is a murder mystery, with the players collecting clues, searching rooms, and analyzing blood spatter. But it could just as likely be landing on a previously undiscovered island, exploring a cool tube (that descends miles into the ground), or figuring out how to sabotage an enemies' airship.


Conundrums bring Adventure, of many different kinds. It's not always about the Sherlocking.


[Note: Investigating or solving Conundrums should also bring an element of danger or risk. I'll make that clearer in the next revision.]


Mind the Scenery. The first rule of GM'ing Torg is "Spue Forth Scenery", that is, always remind the players they are in an alien Reality by highlighting alien facets of the Reality. This holds equally true for Conundrums. For the sake of scenery, many if not most Conundrums should somehow tie into something unique about the cosm — culturally, technologically, mystically, or all three.


The other two World Laws will, as a side effect of their normal mechanics, generate Conundrums for players. Mysterious new invention? Conundrum. Mayor hiding a dark past? Conundrum. A new monster terrorizing a village? Conundrum.


Don't Panic. GM's shouldn't overthink them. Every single module ever written has featured door puzzles, murder mysteries, or new locations to explore. Every single one.


Victorian adventures (or adventures where people pass through Victoria) offer them more often (once per Scene), but they need be no more elaborate or difficult than those you customarily use. Do what you've always done, maybe a bit more often or a bit more intensely, and your adventures will fit the Reality just fine.

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Making Mysteries Exciting

[Victoria, pt. 11]


Here's the quote to remember: "Adventure. Excitement. A player craves these things."


The point of having an Adventure World Law is that it helps add mystery and excitement to the game. Conundrums may be maddening at times (think of all the classic puzzles from video games, like 7th Guest), and all should demand some level of intellectual effort and engagement, but all of them should also involve some form of tangible danger and the players should know this.


This is not the Miss Marple tea cozy mystery cosm, this is the cosm of danger and problem solving. Less A. Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes, more Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes. Mysteries, yes, but mysteries mixed with danger.


Here's an example:


There's a gang of toughs and hoods, the Rust Street Rateaters who're all uplifted great cats. They all mustered out of the Queen's service at the same time (during the drawdown after the end of the Deep War) and found themselves living in the slums of New London (the skycity above Singapore). They make their living shaking down shopkeeps and hiring out as bodyguards or bludgers.


The New Worlds Consortium is the trading company conducting the Invasion of Core Earth (no Royal forces are part of the incursion, all soldiers and so forth are company employees — the company has its own private army). One official of the Consortium, the Chief of Security in one of the skycity's floating districts, has been embezzling funds, hoping to cover losses in a failed investment. He's been hiring the Rateaters to help him intimidate creditors, so they won't call in his debts and force him into bankruptcy.


One night he's confronted by one of his creditors. An argument breaks out, and the creditor ends up slain. In his panic, the Chief tries to pin the murder on a Rateater. (Not the wisest of courses, but he's desperate.)


The players come in on the case. Maybe they're a friend of the deceased, maybe they needed some information he had, maybe they're hired to investigate by the head of security himself. In any case, they're in the mix and in over their heads.


Where does the danger come from? Let me count the ways.


1. Rateaters. Each of them is a veteran of the Deep War, each a practiced criminal, and collectively they can be quite dangerous, even to Storm Knights. A scarf from the leader of the Rateaters was found at the murder scene, and questioning will reveal who they are and how dangerous they can be.


2. The Security Forces. The company official assumes he can manipulate the investigation, feeding the party a mix of true and false information. The players may not be so obliging, and if they begin to look into things not properly their concern, and cannot be led away, the Chief may opt to eliminate the troublemakers.


3. Company Soldiers. New London is the capitol of the colony of Majestic. In addition to the policing Security Force, it has real soldiers, trained, disciplined, and many also veterans of the late unpleasantness. Not all are upstanding, and players who cause a ruckus in the city (now or in the past) may find the Army called in after them.


4. Wildcards. GM's can feel free to throw in other streetgangs, an ambitious underling trying to get dirt on the Chief (and his flunkies and thugs), unusual steamtech weapons the Chief or Rateaters have access to, or even a Black Magic practitioner. The Chief knows everyone in his district, and his authority gives him leverage enough to compel their help.


In any case, the point is this: Conundrums are less about sitting around, trying to decipher obscure clues written in Latin and more about trying to decipher obscure clues written in Latin in a book chained to a desk while the library itself burns to the ground around them. If it isn't exciting, it isn't Adventure, and "The Thrill Of Discovery" is all about adventure.

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You Were Lied To

[Victoria, pt. 12]


My first caveat, when presenting campaign material to players: "You are about to be lied to."


There are secrets baked into each of the Realities of Storm Knights, and for every secret there is a host of lies that hide it, obfuscate it, and misdirect the players. Not everything I tell them about the world background is a lie, but enough is that I can surprise them with revelations of the truth.


Which is the point: each campaign involves the players stumbling on, being told, or flat out figuring out the secrets behind all the lies they were told. Every time they figure it out, there is a sense of accomplishment, of satisfaction as a reward for clever play. Players like that, and it makes for a compelling campaign.


Then there's the dynamic part of the campaign. Unearthed secrets give the players power, and the players can change the campaign world for the better.


Torg was about winning by ripping up stelae. Storm Knights is about winning by defeating the High Lords. Yes, by accumulating Glory Points (as I've talked about before), but also by unearthing secrets that give them leverage.


So, how have I lied to people when talking about Victoria? Well, one lie was about the "force-evolved" animals, the ape-men and cat-men who served in the Victorian army, navy, terra corps, and skynavy during the Deep War.


I'll talk about what is known — the lie — and what is true next message. The truth is a great example of how all three World Laws work together to implement the paradigm of the Reality.

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Physical Laws of the Cosm of Gaea

[Victoria, pt. 13]


Before I start lying, let's tell some truths. This may seem esoteric, but trust me, it matters.


Gaea is much like Core Earth, but not identical. The same basic continents, a very similar history, and quite recognizable cultures and languages. Much is the same, but where it differs, it differs greatly.


Gaea has no continental plates. Its crust is one continuous shell over the mantle. As a result, there are fewer earthquakes, as nearly all the planet is tectonically stable.


It does have volcanoes, however, where magma plumes from hotspots have punched through the crust and emerged on the surface. The Sandwich Islands, in the North Pacific, were formed by just such a volcano. (Iceland, unlike its counterpart on Core Earth, was as well.) Between the crust and the mantle is a thin, discontinuous layer of heavy, molten dark gray metal called aetherium.


Ether, or aether, is the medium from which Gaea's universe is made. If String Theory is correct, all matter in our universe is tiny filaments of energy, vibrating along strange, curled up dimensions. (These filaments themselves being made of Possibility Energy, ultimately.) In Gaea, all matter, energy, and space itself is aether (which itself is ultimately made up of Possibility Energy).


Particles are knots in the aether, and energy is waves propagating through the medium. There are no subatomic particles, as atoms are indivisible, and hence no particle radiation (E-M radiation, being photons, works just fine). Atomic energy and the atom bomb are literally physically impossible, as the laws of physics are different here.


Aetherium is a peculiar material. It both responds to movement in the aether, and (when properly used) can create knots and waves in the medium. Using aetherium properly, one can literally create particles and energies at will, with a great deal of control over their physical properties. Taken to its logical extreme, a great many incredible applications could be devised. But aetheric science is not so advanced, so its current applications are few, and poorly understood.


Aetherium exists only at depth, far below the surface of the planet (3 to 6 miles beneath, to be exact). But where a pool of aetherium meets a mantle hotspot, it can travel along with the magma, and eventually be expelled onto the surface.


One such event happened in May, 1783, on Iceland when the volcano Laki erupted. This eruption killed, directly or indirectly, most of the islanders. The Victorians (fresh from their victory over rebelling colonists in North Columbia) conquered the troublesome pirate haven and established a base there. It was on this island, in 1787, that aetherium was first discovered.

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