Saturday, January 2, 2016

Astulae the Roleplaying Game

In today's post, I am releasing part of the first chapter of my own roleplaying game, Astulae. Its just a "taster". I hope that you like it; questions and comments are certainly welcome.

Roleplaying games have a long tradition of using dungeons – often vast underground locations that are filled with monsters to slay, potential treasure to acquire, traps to be disarmed, and glory to be sought. As playing groups mature, questions about such dungeons grow. Why were they built? What is the ecosystem like? How can so many inherently evil creatures live side-by-side without any friction whatsoever? One stock answer to these kinds of questions leads to concepts such as powerful wizards controlling everything inside their dungeons. But this is not without its own issues either. What is the motivation of the powerful wizard? Madness, or some grand master plan?

Astulae is one coherent answer to these questions, using a unique type of dungeon format. In a nut-shell: imagine that your dungeon is not a series of rooms connected together with cobweb-ridden corridors deep underground, but instead, it is a collection of pocket dimensions gathered together from many parallel realities that are inter-connected by a labyrinthine system of portals.

Additionally, Astulae is a nod to mega- dungeons that appeals to the hack and slash style of dungeon exploration of yore. But it need not be used in the typical “adventurer seeks treasure and dragons to slay” manner (although there is, intentionally, a dragon sitting on a pile of treasure in one particular location to cater to this). There are many plot hooks scattered throughout this work and these may play the primary driver behind any Astulae adventure. With a friendly player group, the GM can provide many hours of entertainment within the Astulae exploring many possibilities.

Finally, Astulae can be used in combination with almost any other setting. Since it explicitly connects to many realities, almost any campaign setting can logically find an entry or exit to this novel mega-dungeon.

Astulae (a plural) is Latin for “splinters”. At a basic level, each “room” in Astulae is a splinter of reality taken (and sometimes frozen in time) from across a grand ensemble of possible parallel realities. Somewhat akin to pocket dimensions, each Astula (singular) can have its own laws of physics, its own peculiarities, and sometimes: its own denizens – some benign, some deadly, and some incomprehensible. In some Astula, magic and technology can coexist side-by-side, and in others both are strongly suppressed. Further, many Astula appear to be in a state of decay: slow, or otherwise. In turn, each Astula is connected to another via a (two-way) portal that ultimately creates a large ensemble of “rooms” to explore and navigate between – a mega-dungeon in many respects, but not a traditional one. But the configuration is not stable. Portals can be re-routed to other Astula. And new Astulae are added to the ensemble over time to create entirely new pathways and loops through.

Each “normal” Astula typically contains three or more portals (sometimes referred to as windows, gates). These can take many forms: literal doors, small gaps that only polymorphed (or size-changed) characters can fit through, and even hidden gateways (e.g., built in to a set of drawers). Frequently, they appear as swirling vortices of black, purple and blue colours (the colours are not meaningful unless the GM determines otherwise). Other times, they are just “normal” doorways that the PCs can see through into the next Astula. Some are simply a circular gap in space – not until they step through such a gateway will the existence of the portal become obvious. In almost every case, they have well-defined boundaries (such as door frames, or the branches of a tree that curve back on themselves to form an oval) that defines the extent of the portal.

In normal circumstances within a given Astula, one door will lead back to where the player characters (PCs) came from. The other two (or more) doors will lead onward to new Astulae. Which ones they lead to are up to the GM. As a suggestion, the choice of a portal to the “left hand side” (whichever orientation that is!) of the PCs will lead to an Astula that is thematically similar to the one that they are in, whilst portals to the “right hand side” head to more deviant Astula. PCs are encouraged to pay particular note to the orientation of left and right (through making note of which portal they came through in to a particular Astulae), so that they don’t get confused.

Uncommonly, there will be many more Astulae leading off from a given Astula, each using a different portal. These are noted in their descriptions, but the GM is free to improvise on existing Astulae. Many of these extra sets of three portals are at right angles to the other ones. For example, there may be a vertical set of three portals, and a horizontal set of three portals. The vertical ones can be employed as ways in which to translate to a different theme of Astulae.

Etiquette around portals between Astulae natives – the collective term for the people that exist within the Astulae – is mixed. Most groups realize that if they want to freely use portals, then they must allow others to do likewise. Therefore agents of the Mandated Cabal faction (described elsewhere) rarely prevent Brown Clerics (another faction) from using portals in Astula they’re interested in, so long as their own opera- tions go undisturbed. But both would likely be opposed to agents of the Red Telepath wanting to destroy the self-same portal. In the case of flickering portals (those that only open for short periods during the day), Astu- lae natives will sometimes gather in groups nearby waiting for them to appear and gos- sip about the news of the day. In some cases, portals are closely watched. Other portals have been taken over by small conglomerates that charge PCs to use them.

In principle, the Astulae setting can be used as almost any genre desired. The GM is free to use only a small subset of the Astula described in this tome; hence it could be totally restricted to a traditional high fantasy ideal, with a good versus evil meme scattered throughout. Or it can be played as a modern era psychological drama to great effect. That said, Astulae is principally intended as a multiple reality and parallel worlds gaming journey. It has some darker undertones scattered throughout, and tensions bordering on outright conflict between various factions (both real and perceived). Further, facets of horror, insanity, control, manipulation, strangeness and conspiracy feature in an array of the locations described. Of these, the sense of being the “outsider” is one of the chief memes associated with this setting. It will show up again and again to the PCs as they frequently look out of place compared to the Astula they enter and their abilities and knowledge appear highly strange and disorientating to others.

1 comment:

Kraggi said...

Hmmm sound interesting.

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