Thursday, December 3, 2009

Outer Space

I've always been intrigued by the possibility of fantastic space travel, i.e. traveling to other worlds by means of magic or non-scientific/technological methods. I suppose I like Jack Vance's "Morreion" a little too much or something. In principle, I thought TSR's Spelljammer could have been cool, but, as it turned out, it was just silly. In my Dwimmermount game, for example, it's well established that elves are the scions of the otherworldly Eld, whose home planet of Areon once had more regular contact with the campaign world. The same is also implied about the Green Planet, Kythirea, but there's much less direct evidence of it. Nevertheless, "interplanetary" travel is a fact, even if it's a somewhat obscure one to all but the most knowledgeable sages.

Now, this hasn't yet come up in the game, but there's a distinct possibility it might in the future. Dwimmermount is full of gates to other places and (again) it's a known, if obscure, fact that the Eld invaded the world to acquire its azoth, large quantities of which can be found within the ancient mountain-fortress. Azoth is, of course, the liquid form of ether, which fills the space between the worlds. So I'm giving some thought on how I might handle space travel when it comes up and how it meshes with the overall cosmology implied by OD&D magic.

Once you add Supplement I, you get the Ethereal and Astral Planes and they both work somewhat like and somewhat differently than the way I'm conceiving of "outer space." That means I need to consider whether to include those two planes as written, eliminate them, or modify them. Each of those decisions has consequences; my goal is to think about those consequences beforehand, so that I'm not caught unprepared later.

20 comments:

  1. I've never really included enough outer space/alternate plane stuff in my games in general. Even in my superhero campaigns, I kept things generally down to earth. I think I'm afraid of the scope of anything other than earthly adventures.

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  2. Well, the ether is gaseous, then travel through it might be roughly equivalent to air travel with much greater travel times, with gigantic aerodynamic gliders (or wing-flappers) built out of a forest's-worth of wooden planks.

    On the other hand, if azoth is merely bits of ether that have come to rest on Dwimmermount's world, and the ether between the worlds is *also* liquid, interplanetary travel could involve something very much like submarines.

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  3. Argh. That 1st line should be "Well, IF the ether is gaseous..." Oops.

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  4. I ran a game a long time ago in which the demons of the setting came from the moon.

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  5. It's Lovecraftian psionics/dream-bubbles all the way for me.

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  6. In Anne McCaffery's Pern books, the folks on Pern turned out to be settlers from another planet (earth?) and the trio of ships they arrived in are still in orbit. The dragons could teleport, and they eventually pop up and check them out. One of the caracters also teleports out into space to a comet or something like that.

    Perhaps a bit of magical space travel is in order after all, eh?

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  7. As I recall, your campaign has some Lovecraftian elements to i, so perhaps you could borrow the idea of "space mead," a drink that would permit them to survive the rigors of travel through the ether while riding the backs of dragons/demons/byakhee/whatevers.

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  8. I love Speljammer's premise, but the way it actually worked out is quite retarded.

    I like the idea that Azoth is liquid ether. Perhaps you could use an idea from Aristotelian Cosmology - ether is constantly moving in circles resembling orbits (i hope that makes some sense). That assumed, spaceships could be a kind of submarine-cgalleons that would have to catch different ether "currents" in order to move across space.

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  9. Take just the Spelljammer core boxed set, strip out the gnomes and giff, and what's silly about what's left?

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  10. Way back in the hoary mists of time (early 1980's, I think), White Dwarf ran a couple of articles on space travel. It's been so long it's hard to recall the details, but if memory serves, it had something to do with an idea of either H.G. Welles or Jules Verne; some sort of anti-gravity metal that, when properly "shuttered" allowed one to make a capsule that could navigate through space.

    I believe one of those articles was accompanied by a terrific illustration of a lens-shaped planet; one that was round but still had an "edge" that one could fall off of.

    It's been a while, but tracking down those articles might be fruitful.

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  11. My current campaign is about to deal with time and space travel using biological symbiotes that graft to the host. There are already three individuals (serpent men from Mars) that utilize the method antagonizing the PCs right now. They've pretty much figured out the method already but I haven't given them the proper incentive/push to jump down the rabbit hole. I expect it to happen in the next couple sessions. My campaign world has a very similar background in that respect, serpents traveled a few thousand years ago to Earth and set up their own civilization in Africa. The PCs have been busy over the last few months mucking around in serpent affairs and things are coming to a head.

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  12. H.G. Wells. Material was cavorite. The First Men In The Moon

    (Verne, when asked about Wells's story, was very critical. Verne was of the opinion that cavorite was fundamentally unscientific. In that, he was much the forerunner of John Scalzi criticizing the "red matter" in the Star Trek movie.)

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  13. How is this possible? Grognardia starts a Wells/Verne discussion and Kate Beaton already has it cartooned!

    I cobbled together a hybrid of Jorune's crystal-cavorite and Space 1889's liftwood for my Flash Gordon game, and wrapped it in the Imperial religion: you can only get liftrock in the form of government-supplied Ming shrines - so flying galleons and spaceships both work "by the grace of Ming." The shrines come with a built in, remotely-activateable defeat switch (this was years before the Kindle thought of such a thing) so that if you get into a fight with an Imperial rocket, the admiral can switch off your lift. Telexcommunication, as it were.

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  14. I remember ERB HPL and REH all did unusual space travel in their works. ERB had John Carter and Tangor (from Beyond the Farthest Star) teleported naked through space. HPL had people transported through space by a Byakhee, after downing "space mead." Yag-Kosha from Howard's The Tower of the Elephant, had traveled to earth after flying here on avian wings. Not of it makes any sense, but logic is so overrated!

    There are ways you can approach this. You could have small alien artifacts that can magically store a good number of people and cargo in a non-dimensional state, which can move freely through space. You could have a network of interconnecting manors, castles and crypts that is spread throughout the universe (like Sigil, but not so centralized).

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  15. I never liked the AD&D definitions of Ethereal and Astral as separate planes. They just didn't make that much sense to me.

    To me ethereal and astral are modifiers to your existence.

    Ethereal simply means you are out of phase with the rest of the universe and therefore react to it differently (you can slide through physical matter). Theoretically there could be lots of different ethereals as people occupy different "vibratory modes" - in practice though, this is a needless complexity.

    In Astral, you create an astral body that becomes the seat of your consciousness whilst your physical body remains behind, comatose. This body was entirely composed of Thought. It meant for example, that the astral body could travel at the speed of thought (if you knew where you were going you could teleport instantaneously; if you didn't, you travelled at the speed of the description being given). It could also be undetectable if the magic user wished it to be, unless the observer had the ability to view the astral.

    Whilst my game had many other worlds, they were all reachable by magical gate. [Too much World of Tiers, I suppose.] An astral body would be ideal to do the space exploration thing (and even place the other end of the gate on a new world, although most magic users simply used clairvoyance to fix the other end of the gate in place. It was safer.

    [An important aspect of my games was that it was impossible to reach the so-called Higher Planes of the Gods, since I had no direct divine intervention. Even the Underworld was decently clothed in Cosmic Censorship.]

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  16. if you have space, why have an astral plane and visa virsa? Aren't they one and the same? On a side note, I don't like the idea of globes either; it makes the nomenclature of "planes" at odds with reality.

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  17. Aliens should exist in every ODND campaign that deserve that name! (along with Aliens' artifact, Temple of the Frog anybody?).
    For which concern the ethereal plane thing, I've always run it in the exact same way as per the old horror movie "From Beyond", a terrible alien world just a step away from our own, and too easely reacheable...

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  18. Areon? Kythirea? Does this mean there is a samll planet named Turms orbiting closest to your sun? ;)

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  19. I never really liked planar travel as a mode for high level D&D campaigns. Space travel is so much more entertaining.

    Especially in a steampunkish setting like mine. After all, what's a PC tinker gnome to do after he reaches his level limit? Quest for immortality? I don't think so! Solve quantum gravity and build a warp drive is more like it.

    And if outer space is relegated to high level play (I like to implement space travel for Lv36+ parties, instead of using the Immortals Set), it can feel very pulp-wahoo, like DC comics mixed with Dragonball Z.

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