Friday, June 26, 2009

Character Sketches! Ratcatcher and Lightkeeper

Well, this has been an exciting week for me. Concept art is rolling in and I just found out that the first parts of the web comic are coming together. The next month looks to be extraordinarily exciting.

Tony Hicks, our comic guru, has done concept sketches of both the Ratcatcher and the Lightkeeper. These are just too cool to keep to ourselves.

Ratcatcher Concept by Tony Hicks

Tony did a really great job of combining the conceptual stuff we'd been talking about with the realized Lightkeeper costume created and worn by Liz Spain at Maker Faire in the Bay area this year.

Lightkeeper concept sketch by Tony Hicks

Thursday, June 25, 2009

AEROPLEX ! Sketches from Jordan!

I, like everyone else have been waiting until I could put some of this stuff up for people to see. I've only just seen these myself and may I say, AWESOME! These will also be posted in a larger form on the website and in the gallery.

This is one of the initial sketches that Jordan did to kind of rough out some of the overall visual ideas for the St. Louis Aeroplex.

This is a more detailed study of the lower half of the Aeroplex including some adjacent buildings for scale

This is one of the first overall sketches the was worked with between Jordan, myself and some of the other artists and associates of the project at our Monday night Steampunk meetup in Seattle.

<= Note the airship landing configuration sketching. We were trying to fight out how large airships would dock to the upper airpark of the structure.

This sketch incorporates many of the earlier concepts and idea as well as one of the newest ideas for dealing with the large airships that would dock at the Aeroplex.

Simply awesome stuff!



Well, after a few surprise emails from Desz and Ray, it looks like they are going to be rolling out the minimal rules set we have for test games in Iowa and Canada. Once I have more confirmation on the rules, I'll be putting out the word for our first Seattle beta game.

Be looking for the first game around mid July.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who are we afraid of? Who is the enemy?

Although this isn't something that will have direct effect in our games and the world, it's a very present thing in the minds of the citizens of the British Empire.  Not unlike sudden discussions of Iraq, North Korea or Iran popping up in our present world.

The British Empire is fighting proxy wars in several areas of the world.  Unlike twenty years ago when these were full blown hot wars, they are now not quite cold wars, but are being fought by proxy in several areas of the world.

The two primary adversaries are the Ottoman Turks and the Chinese.  They both threaten India, the Ottoman's in the West and the Chinese in the East.  The Ottomans have been held to Afghanistan by the British proper and Afghan tribesmen being supplied by the British.  Not unlike the current wars the US is fighting in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan, the Ottoman advance into India has been held in these same brutal passes.  This is one of the most challenging fronts in the entire British Empire with the lines shifting dozens of miles literally overnight.

In the East, the Chinese have been held at the Irrawaddy Delta.  Backing the Kingdom of Siam and supplying troops from Burma, the British have been fighting the Chinese to a standstill through the Siamese.  A treaty of mutual protection has served both well to halt Chinese aggression in SE asia as it pushes west.  Attempts by the Chinese to make military forays across the Himalayas have been stopped with heavy casualties in manpower and equipment.  The Chinese have largely abandoned attempts to fight their way across the mountains in the last decade.

There are some notable things which have solidified the Chinese and Ottoman Empires as the primary enemies of the British Empire.  While territorial interests are part of this, despotism and inhumanity are some of the things that  underpin the Empire's battle with these governments.

The Ottoman's use of "War Ghuls" is one of the most despicable acts in the history of warfare.  The use of these Ghuls is the reason why the Afghan tribesmen are strongly allied with the British.  The first report of these terror troops being used was after the Afghans had pushed the Turks out of tribal areas.  During this time, the Afghans were largely equally disposed to both the British and the Ottomans, they would trade and negotiate but at the end of the day they did not want either force in their areas.  That all changed when the Ottomans deployed the War Ghuls.  Afghan prisoners and civilians were intentionally exposed to the Æster and then these Æster mad men, women and children were driven down onto other Afghan villages.  The ensuing chaos was predictable.  This tactic was used again and again by the Ottomans without remorse.  It was this tactic that caused the Mullah's to declare Jihad against the Ottomans.  This forever changed the balance of power in the region.  Afghan tribes became allies of the British and the Ottomans thereafter were unable to hold territory for very long in tribal areas.

The Ottoman's have also bred the Janissaries.  These soldiers grow up breathing a mixture of Æster and opiates.  When in battle, the Janissaries are not Æster mad but have many of the benefits of the Æster mad; this makes them almost unstoppable.  Reports of them continuing to fight with limbs hacked off and literally tearing opponents apart with their hands have made them legendary.  If captured, they quickly die when their breathing media runs out.  Attempts to replicate the formula they breathe have failed utterly and so no attempt is made any longer to take Janissary prisoners.  To kill them outright is kinder than the slow horrific death they would suffer as a result of withdrawal from the Æster opiate concoction.

The Chinese have similarly taken to using inhumane tactics in their attempts to expand.  While they do not intentionally expose their own troops to the Æster, they have been reported as marching entire villages of their own people into the mountains where Æster exposure is almost certain.  The reason for these activities cannot be directly determined, but investigation points to studying the effects of Æster exposure on those people.  The use of Æster warheads by the Chinese is something else that is common knowledge.  These warheads have been devastating against the Siamese.  International outrage has accompanied reports of the use of these warheads against troops. 

The Ottoman Turks and the Chinese pose the greatest threat to the British Empire and way of life. 


The St. Louis City of Light

I'm really glad I'm as into this idea as I am or I would have gone mad long ago.  Some folks say I'm nuts to even be doing this, so I'm not sure the application of sanity to what I'm doing is relevant any more.

Between the real job and this, I'm working two full time jobs, one that pays the bills and the other that sucks the money away from them.  Well, actually, I work a full time job and live the other one.  Rise of Æster pretty much consumes the rest of my life.

Much of the time that is eaten up in my life by this project is being funneled into making the St. Louis City of Light a living, vibrant place.  This is the place our story and games will take place initially and, as such, it needs to be as fully fleshed out as possible.

Since the cities of light are built by initially stripping the ruins of their predecessor, it allows us to build what we want with the appropriate Steampunk flair about it.  Historically significant structures will be left in place because the people that build these cities make decisions having to do with maintaining the historical context of a city.  For instance, when we begin developing the London City of Light, the London Bridge, Big Ben, etc. will be left in place while other structures of historical significance might be sacrificed.  Likewise in Paris, the Eiffel Tower would be left behind along with Notre Dame, but other places will be torn down for parts.

The cities of light exist as concentrators and industrial hubs.  St. Louis is the gateway to the Great Mississippi bay and thereby the Caribbean.  So, a tremendous amount of traffic in materials and finished goods passes through there.  Rail cars are offloaded onto ships bound for British possessions in the Aureus, airships are loaded with cargo from ships that they will carry to the Denver City of Light, etc.  A massive industry in meat, hides, leather and fur goes on in St. Louis as hunters bring their goods in from the darkness of the central plains.  Dyers, weavers and clothiers run another huge section of the city as yard goods and materials come in by ship to be turned into clothing and finished goods which are then distributed by ship, rail and airship.  Spinners and weavers turn fiber from the heavy fur bearing animals living in the dark and cold into thread and cloth for local use and export.  Massive smelters and remanufacturing facilities turn materials brought into the city by the Scavenger Guilds into new iron and steel construction materials, reclaimed brick and everything from new radiators to glass windows and spectacles.

Outside the city walls enormous farms occupy the areas outside.  These gigantic green houses grow all the staple foods for the city.  Unlike the city itself where the lights never go out, you can tell the time of day by which of the farms are lit.  The plants would die if they were not given periods of darkness and so various farms are dark at different times.  Specially bred and trained raptors hunt through these green houses policing them to prevent rodents from gaining a foothold; owls and hawks call out from their rooks in the upper clerestories of these buildings. 

We will be posting some of the initial City of Light and Aeroplex sketches soon so that you will be able to see what we are working on and the development of the ideas as we go on.

Cities of Light, Coffee, commerce and economics

We are working on adding more depth and interest to the cities of light, specifically to St. Louis.  Parts of this have to do with the day in and day out economics of how one of the Cities of Light operates.

We've chosen to run British America on the Pound Sterling which means we can use colloquilisms like "Bob" for a Shilling and "Quid" for a Pound.  The quick and dirty on the Pound Sterling
1 Pound (£) = 240 pennies or pence
1 Pound (£) = 20 Shillings
1 Shilling (s) = 12 pennies or pence
1 Penny or pence (p) = 1/20th of a Shilling
1 Guinea (gn)(or Gentlemen's Pound) = £1 1s 0p

"Sixpence" = 1/2 a Shilling - This will get you a beer, wine, pot of coffee or tea or a meal
"Tuppence" (two pence) - This will get you a cup of coffee or tea or a scone or loaf of bread

One Shilling will generally get you a meal and a beer or wine. The "Blue Plate Special" at a local pub or eating establishment will generally get you a meal and two beers for the same price.  This beer is generally what we would consider "small beer", a light lager or pilsner.  The cheap stuff on draft.

People in the cities of light get paid better than those living the life of luxury in the Aureus.  This works out in a couple of ways.

1)  Workers in the cities of light get paid in Guineas instead of Pounds, so a worker making £3 in the Aureus would be getting paid 3gn instead.

2)  Because of the finite footprint of a city of light, housing is an issue.  This is entirely another subject to be dealt with.  However, what it means is housing is subsidized for residents.  Those living in a city of light don't pay rent unless they wish to live in better accommodations than they are "billeted", which most do.

3)  Basic food and health care are subsidised.  This means that staple foods are provided, this is usually root vegetables, beet sugar, and a broad spectrum of mushroom edibles.  This is primarily what the farms outside the city of light produce.  To keep the close-packed population of the city of light healthy, basic medical care is part of the daily life.  Most people do not live on only their food alotment.  Luxuries such as coffee, tea, citrus fruit, cane sugar an all manner of other things are generally added to the household budget of the residents.

So, you have a population that is higher paid, has their housing subsidised, and doesn't pay the average 1/4 of their income for food that was common during the Victorian era and still is for much of the world.  The result is, that you have people who can put away a very tidy nestegg or live a lifestyle well above what would be considered their normal means if they were living in the sun along the equator in the Aureus.

Certain things that we consider very common today would be expensive or hard to come by in the cities of light.  Citrus fruit is not grown under the Æster with the exception of the areas on the close to the equator and even there it has to be assisted.  Most citrus fruit comes from the Aureus and as such is very expensive.  There is almost no such thing as "fresh" fruit in a city of light.  The fruit flown in on fast packet ships to maintain freshness is only for the very wealthy "Still Warm from the Aureus" is a common slogan for this fruit and paying over a Pound for a single orange would not be uncommon.  Coffee and Tea are much more expensive (over double the cost) in the cities of light compared to the Aureus and other areas.  For instance, a pot of tea or coffee in the Aureus would cost a tuppence vs. a sixpence in a city of light. 

Your average laborer in a city of light is going to make somewhere between 4 and 8gn a month.  A skilled laborer such as a machinist is going to make between 7 and 10gn a month.  Crews on Æster vessels make more more due to the danger of their work.  Since there are no unskilled laborers working in the Æster as there is a minimal amount of training mandated for the work, like people who work on off shore oil rigs, the average base pay is between 8 and 12gn a month.

Jeff and I have been working over the economics of the Rise of Æster world to try and give folks a way to break out of the real world mindset when playing in the world.  This is a reason for the choice of Pounds, Shillings, Pence and Guineas.  Besides, it's very Victorian to tell someone you paid "Three Pounds Fifty" or "5 Quid" for something.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Where we are now

So, the last few months have been busy, well more accurately, insane. This insanity has bred some truly extraordinary ideas for the Rise of Æster world.

I've been writing like a madman trying to flesh out the world and give people a good feel for what we are doing and creating.

We rolled out initially at Norwescon here in Seattle, made an appearance at Maker Faire and are targeting Gencon and Dragon Con and will have our first full up game at Steamcon.

All of this is has been happening amidst development of the world, the game, and the artist community.

Maker Faire clearly pointed out that the artist community that I am wanting to create as part of the Rise of Æster is not only possible but will be a vibrant and dynamic part of the creation of the world, community and the game.

Right now we are getting spooled up to run our first Beta Test games. We have the first draft of rules in process and will be rolling those out to the test groups within the month. We intend to have these rules available at Steamcon so that people can go home and begin running games for themselves.

So, there is a tremendous amount in work at this point that is going to be very exciting.

I've finally decided that the only way to keep people abreast of what we are doing is through having a central blog so that folks can keep up with me and the larger group, so here we are. I hope this blog will give people some insight into the madness that is creating something like this.

So, I'll be putting up thoughts, ideas, concepts of where we are going and what we are doing. So, here we go.