Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Volcano Kings of Antarctica

The ancient Earth is drowning in the frozen cosmic night, its once staid orbit radically precessed by a long forgotten interplanetary mischance. The last refuge of mankind is a twilight continent grasping at feeble rays from a mortally wounded sun. All else of the old globe is blasted and entombed in shadow and ice, haunted by mad monsters, remnants of interstellar infestations. But upon the auster pole, enough warmth still falls from the erratically reeling sun to let water flow, and upon this sparse foothold the Volcano Kings have built their stalwart realms. Masters of primordial geo-sorcerous power, the Kings were able to draw up energy from the utter depths to warm their lands, build their cities and drive back the freezing monstrosities. Of course, their rule is not harmonious, as the Kings each hold their realm jealously and crave to add all the others to their own. Barbarian tribes prowl the frontier, calling up inhuman spirits to pursue war amongst themselves and boiling forth to raid the volcano-cities. Within those lava-illuminated city walls it is no more tranquil, as the noble-minded, the ambitious and the merely greedy (and more than few of the outright mad) all maneuver against each other, hoping to seize advantage in this last bastion of humanity.  And from the outermost dark the cold monsters still come, with ever growing boldness savaging and slaughtering, and plotting with what some see as a distressingly developing intelligence.

Volcano Castle by JamesHillGallery, Devinat Art
I was skimming through GORE last night, a open source iteration of "Basic Role Playing," wondering what use the rules could be put towards, when the above campaign context took fast form in my mind. I can see myself putting together a 40 to 60 page text out of this with a slimmed-down version of GORE as the rules base, a fun little sword & sorcery setting in the "dying earth" milieu.

The title "Volcano Kings of Antarctica" has actually been sitting around in my idea bin for a while.

My initial version was more pulpy, set in the 1920's in a jungle cavern-world beneath the polar continent, populated by Lemurians (the titular Volcano Kings) sealed off from the outside world since prehistoric times and with giant insects filling all the ecological niches. The starting point would be a contemporary university expedition literally dropped into this setting, only to discover the harsh-but-stable society of the ancients in an uproar due to a WWI German submarine and its crew who had been similarly drop-punted into the troglodyte lands half-a-decade or so earlier. The Germans, led by their sinister scarred and be-monocled Captain have used their technical expertise to ally with the cruelest Volcano King, pushing for war so they can seize the secrets of the miraculous volcano-science from all the other Volcano Kings and then use it to return to the outside world ... and conquer it all! 

I had some notion of a subtext of tension between innovation/discovery used for tribalism versus the general betterment of humanity, but mainly it was a blood-and-spectacle Pellucidar-pastiche allowing for a variety of characters in a sandbox-style campaign (I'd never specify how many people are in the initial expedition, and set up the initial entrance point as the "base town"). I was looking towards a hack of OD&D/S&W White Box to run it.

Honestly, I still think the pulp version of VKoA is more unique, but I didn't manifest the enthusiasm to develop it like I have for the S&S version. I suspect largely because settings feel more limiting the closer they get to chronicled history, even if they're off  in a Lost World. I just feel an obligation to make a token effort to acknowledge historical facts ("this character is a veteran of the Ottoman campaign ... what battles would he have likely experienced, what languages would he have been exposed to?") and that's, well, effort rather than fun. Likewise, with the German engineering as a central theme, I'd feel the obligation to make my descriptions of geothermal plants and steel mills at least passably realistic, something I don't have to worry about when I get to focus more on mood and invention.

Oh, my opinion on GORE? Mixed at best. The Chaosium house system has never been my first choice (I tried hard to get into Elric! back in the 90's but it didn't take, and my experiences with Call of Cthulhu and Runequest have always been frustrating). And GORE itself is terribly organized; for instance, rules necessary for character creation and combat are spread throughout the text, despite both those subjects having chapters dedicated to them. So as a game unto itself, I wouldn't recommend it. However, as an open source repository it has utility, since all that data can be easily remixed and expanded to suit one's purposes, and BRP is a thoroughly tested role play system. I can remove out all the modern-day rules, aggressively reorganize the remaining parts then add on new setting-appropriate systems and Volcano Kings of Antarctica would be a game anyone with any sort of Chaosium experience would recognize.