Thursday, January 29, 2015

Technological Levels and Empire

This is a subject I have to confront while writing The Necklace. The Necklace is a setting so vast and spread out that distance is a defining limit for cultures. Any culture can govern an area at maximum reachable within time period X of informational travel. Slower than that, and the area will fragment away, because the dialog is too slow to be responsive, and decisions made on the spot will be far superior because of current knowledge of events. The faster the informational flow, the more tighly the area is bound to the central area. For my purposes, I have defined time period X as equal to two weeks standard.

This means, in the Necklace, that cultures with a Technological Level that predates radio cannot expand beyond their home area. This is why Carnivales cultures are so different from each other, and why the largest political division is the City-State. When the nearest spot of habitable ground is 100,000 kilometers away, informational travel times, when your fastest sailing ships travel perhaps 170 km per day, make colonization and control of that area effectively impossible. Almost every Carnivale settlement is a thing of its own, different from every other, and sovreign.

Rasi settlements, on the other hand, differ only in detail. Their Tech Level encompasses and goes beyond radio and television. Their light speed communitcations are time lagged by at most a few seconds. Culture can be transmitted, and central control sustained, with that kind of time lag, even if it takes a few days to physically travel from either side of the Rasi nation to the center.

Since all Altisherpas live in The City - no mater that they frequently "go nomad", they too have light speed communications, and their nomad camps are never more than a few light seconds from The City. Cultural information travels easily and quickly from the center to the vast periphery, and Altisherpas are one people.

So, yes, the reason the Carnivales have such a low tech level is because I love them and their crazy myriad cultures. With better tech, they would all blend into one, and the Necklace would be the poorer for it.


Ceabeleia is the name of the sky whales of the Necklace. These are great creatures, filter feeders of the air and water. They apparently have no limit to their size one they reach the zero-G parts of the Necklace. They naturally spawn in the bubble seas, and when the fry get large enough, about 1.5 to 2 meters long, they break out with a leap and fly through the air forever after.

When the builders constructed The River, the ceubaleia entered it to spawn, as if it were a bubble sea. Unfortunately, they were trapped by the gravity, and could not return to the air, try as they might. They could live in the river well enough, but their natural place is the free air, and they are prone to leap out of the water to try and find a way back.

Schools of immature ceubaleia swim the currents of the river, breaking the surface on their siphon jets, and gliding over the surface on their great pectoral fins, like flying fish or flying squid of earth, before slipping back once more into the River.

On the thin threads of the Loops, which swing up to the captive asteroids and back, the speed of the ceubaleia is enough to break them free, particularly in bends where the loop suddently changes direction. At that point, they can, with a mighty leap, break free of the lesser gravity of the loop and spring off into space. This is the source, too, of many bubble seas.

Ceubaleia are important food fish in their immature state, and are hunted as adults if they become stuck in the River. As for hunting the great adult ceubaleia who roam the zero gravity skies of the Necklace, that is a dangerous sport indeed! Collisions with these vast beasts have crumpled speeding airships many times, and even a glancing blow at speed can spell disaster.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Unfortunate and Insidious Word Choices

When Hit Points were first envisioned, the point was that they represented luck, fortitude, and energy; with a small core component of actual flesh and blood. Damage taken was a whittling away of that luck, fortitude etcetera to finally get at the good red meat of the core. Until that point, successful attacks didn't draw blood. It was only the last one or two attacks that actually bit deep.

At some point, this changed in the popular perception. Each successful attack was a wound. The inflationary Hit Point Model began to look ridiculous - how could anyone take that many hits and keep standing? Various new models of damage began to be floated about in games - separations into different damage tracks, armor penetration, bruising and wounds.

All of this was a change necessitated by one poor word choice in the initial D&D game. That single word was "Hit".

"I swing my sword at the knight! I hit!"

"Roll damage!"

"A six! plus one for the magic sword and one for my strength is an eight!"

"Your sword bites into her, but she has a lot of hit points left, so that is just a flesh wound.:

That exchange, when pictured in the minds of the players, was - perfectly reasonably - seen as causing a wound. You hit, didn't you? It also brought in the visual perception of two people standing there a pace apart, whaling on each other until one dropped.

This mis-match of the word used and the effect, over a short period of time, brought about the change in meaning where the concept of Hit Points became aligned with the concept of hitting. if you hit, blood was going to flow.

If, instead, the word used were "success", that can mean a lot of things. A successful attack might be a hit, but it might just as well be gaining a positional advantage, or knocking the enemy's guard down, or tripping the foe, and making a dent in the armor. In other words, eroding the luck, fortitude, and energy of the enemy.

The exchange above might be very different:

"I swing my sword at the knight! Success!"

"Roll damage!"

"A six! plus one for the magic sword and one for my strength is an eight!"

"A six! plus one for the magic sword and one for my strength is an eight!"

"The knight - in eluding your sword - loses her balance slightly and wrenches her knee in getting her balance back. You've got a small advantage there!"

A very different picture indeed!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Underwater Bits of the Iceberg

When I am designing a setting, an enormous amount of research goes into things that are not actually in the game book. An example - I have a spreadsheet here from my co-writer, Albert Bailey, for the Necklace. It looks at the amount of sunlight which actually gets through the vegetation of the gas torus based on various densities of vegetation, treating vegetative clumping as oases in an effectual desert of air. This in turn determines the productivity of these regions, and the carrying capacity of people and animals. Now this will never actually be in the game book. It's Too Much Information. But we do the research for ourselves, and the results of the research colors the rules in the book. It is abstracted and integrated into the game without the gaming group having to think of it. This is the part of the iceberg that is under the water. Thought this might be interesting to some of you out there. :D

Friday, January 9, 2015

Overview of The Necklace

An overview of the setting for my current project, the Necklace, which is a StarCluster 3 game.

The Torus and the Necklace

The Necklace is the thickest part of a gas torus around a neutron star, itself a part of a close binary with a hot F-type star. The neutron star is in orbit 4 - approximately the orbit of Mars in our solar system - and there is nothing inwards of the Neutron star as it has swept up everything. In orbit 7 - about Saturn’s orbit - there is a gas giant with two large moons - Java and Hermes - along with many smaller moons.

The gas torus was formed when a gas giant orbiting the neutron star was slowly stripped off its enormous atmosphere. The gasses stayed in a ring, quickly orbiting the neutron star. The torus changed as life spread into it. Life begets oxygen, and oxygen begets life.

The inspiration for the setting was from Larry Niven’s Integral Trees/The Smoke Ring setting, filtered through an article I found online at

The Necklace is the inner, denser part of the gas torus, which is breathable for normal humans and earth animals. There is no hard and fast boundary - the air just gradually gets thinner and thinner. This area is about 20 thousand kilometers in diameter. The area the Altisherpa and their modified animals can live in is about twice the diameter, about 40,000 kilometers across. The entire torus has a thickness diameter of about 2 million kilometers, and an overall diameter of 9 million kilometers.

The Necklace has a volume of 9e15 cubic kilometers. So the mass of the ring is about 0.006 Jovian masses. Very different from a planetary surface; Malthusian limits effectively don't exist. Room for lots of native and alien species without ever managing to encounter them. The torus is full of life adapted to zero G.

The PC Cultures/Species

Pucks: These winged creatures are native to the earth-sized core of the gas giant, now a mostly water world. Their wings are formed like a pterodactyl's - or Smaug's.

Carnivales: These were the first human settlers from earth, arriving after more than a millenium aboard slow boats about 500 years ago. Their ship broke apart while trying to land, and they were spread apart without access to their tech. They live in scattered settlements along the river, with tech levels from stone age to renaissance, and are frequently found in Rasi cities.

Altisherpas: These were the second wave of human settlers, arriving about 400 years ago. They adapted themselves to zero-G life - Altisherpas have hand-feet, are cold tolerant, need far less partial pressure of oxygen in their air, and do not suffer from calcium erosion in zero-G. They live in one great city, and often flake out for a nomad life. Their culture is extremely good at the biological sciences, and do not concentrate too much on physical sciences.

Rasi: These are the last wave of human settlers in The Necklace, arriving 150 years ago. The Rasi live in towns and cities spread along the river from their original settlement. The Rasi make in their own artificial gravity devices, and aggressively graviform free-floating asteroids they wish to colonize.

There are also the Javans and the Hermeans, human cultures who have settled the two large moons of the outer gas giant. Both are frequent visitors to the Necklace, and sometimes stay.

The River

The River is an artifact, constructed with unknown tech by the Builders. It never crosses, or even gets near, the orbit of the planet, instead looping and corkscrewing around that area in the center of the Necklace. It is a gravitational artifact, with the water clinging to the curved line of the gravitational anomaly to a depth of 10 kilometers, making The River 20 kilometers in cylindrical diameter. Rocks - asteroids - have been placed into the river, some entirely submerged, making shallows and reefs, and others protruding above the water. Gravitational pull at the surface is approximately 0.86G, gradually fading into zero G as one gets farther from the source. The slope is steeper than natural gravity, but much more shallow than human-created artificial gravity, which is based on the weak force.


Sometimes relatively slender loops of water only a kilometer or two across arch up out of The River to nearby asteroids and back down. It is possible by these means to visit much of the real estate of the Necklace by boat - if one were immortal. The asteroids these arches lead to have all been graviformed by the Builders long ago. More recently graviformed asteroids - colonized by the Rasi - have no arches leading to them, and the gravity is of the sharply sloping Human type.


There are rafts of vegetation in The River, some of which stretch for kilometers. They are thick enough to grow trees and crops on, and they are sometimes settled, by both Carnivales and Rasi. One cannot built too high on a vegetative mat, or it might prove too heavy for the raft.

Builder Ruins

The Builders left behind many settlements, cities, and buildings throughout The Necklace. Many have been eroded by time to nothing. Others have been settled in by Carnivales. But some remain largely intact, and unexplored. Who knows what interesting and valuable things were left behind?

The Zero-G Zone

There are plants and animals adapted entirely to life in Zero-G, like the Altisherpas. There are jungle balls, plants growing in no gravity into spherical jungles, each with it’s own ecosystem, with many interconnected plants, animals, and fungi inside. Bubble seas, from meters to tens of kilometers across, replete with fish and plant life, float out there in The Necklace. They can be terribly dangerous if you run into one unprepared. Many flying creatures live in these outlands, though somehow non-flying creatures still end up in jungle balls.

The Outer Limit

This is the area where Altisherpas can live, but other humans can’t. The weather here is cooler, ranging to cold in the outer reaches of the zone. It freezes in winter, when the torus is edge on to the hot sun, and life here is not as lush as in the warmer Necklace. Life still thrives out here. Animals tend to be bigger here, as being larger conserves heat, and their coats are lush and thick.

Winter and Summer

A year on the Necklace is the 32 hours it takes to rotate once around the neutron star, but that is not a usefully differentiated time period. The neutron star revolves around the main star once every 706 standard days, but winter comes twice in that period, as the torus is edge on to the main sun twice in that time, once on each side of the sun. So locals refer to the 353 days between winters as a half year, which is a useful time period. In the inner ring, The Necklace, winter is seen and felt as a dimming of the light and a slight coolness. In the Outer Limit, winter can turn things very cold, as the thin air does not retain heat as well.

The Inner and Outer Stations

There are also 12 huge space stations in the plane of the Necklace - six inside the edge of the torus, and six outside. The inner ones travel faster than the torus, and the outer ones travel slower. They are all large graviformed nickel iron asteroids.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Thinking About Illustrating

I have decided not to use the previous illo as a cover. It does not work for me. In fact, as time goes on, I am less and less satisfied with my illustrative efforts. My earliest games were full of illos. Lowell Was Right!, a recent game, had, I think, three. I am seriously leaning towards no illos at all for the Necklace and everything going forward. Not even for the cover. Why? I don't know. My own efforts fail every time. I can't achieve the effect I was going for. Every illo I paint fails. It just takes up space. Most of my illos end up in the trash. The most recent one briefly enthused me, but the more I look at it, the less I like it. That thing is wrong. That bit is bad. That effect just doesn't work. That element doesn't show what I was trying to show. Painting was once pleasurable. Now I dread it.

My games just don't sell enough to be worth the effort - or the expense of paying someone competent what they are worth - and I won't take advantage of someone either. That's just wrong. Am I hypercritical? I don't know. I don't think so - still, how would anyone know? All I know is there is no joy or peace for me in painting any more. I'm quite happy with my writing and my game design. I enjoy the hell out of playing my games. I write and write, and I feel good about the time I spent writing. It feels productive. Not my painting. That's all just a waste of time, and I haven't got a lot of time left.

Maybe that's it? I started out in life with nothing but praise for my artwork. I won awards and competitions in my youth, but gave it up to pursue music, then other things happened. I didn't start painting again until I was in my late forties. Maybe I just think to myself that I'm almost sixty, and I should be much, much better than I am. I should be able to do this *right* by now, and I can't.

Thanks for listening, empty internet! :D

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Possible Cover for The Necklace

I painted a possible cover for The Necklace yesterday. I was attempting to show something about the game on the cover - The differences in technology, the fact that there is no horizon, the sense of both isolation and openness, the primacy of the river - all are important in the game.