Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On creating a campaign setting

While I'm finishing up the basing of my first forces, I've been thinking hard about the campaign setting I'll be gaming in. The story has taken shape, and I thought I'd speak to just how it formed itself.

It started with the miniatures. Some years ago the local gaming group began playing Alien Squad Leader, a fantastic set of platoon-level rules (see the links section on this blog). The rules include an army list for alien bugs, inspired by Starship Troopers, I'm sure. I wanted a bug army, and started collecting suitable miniatures. A few dozen Necromunda Milliasaurs, Tyranid Adrenal sacks, old school Tyranid Rippers and assorted others later, I had my critters.

And then they sat in a box for some time. I dug them out of storage recently, when I wanted to paint again. I wanted to do Sci-Fi skirmish games, something like Space Hulk, using different rules. So I painted up the bugs, and added some converted MechWarrior Kanazuchi Battle Armor figures for the "Terminator" opposing force. To these, in order to provide a little variety, I added some other MW battle armor for power-armored infantry, some Peter Pig Israelis for light grunts, and a spare robot or two.

I started thinking about terrain, and printed a bunch of Space Hulk tiles. That was fine, but I wanted something much more urban. Something more frontier. Something more gritty. Blade Runner meets Serenity. I found some paper models of ramshackle hovels and shanties, and that set the tone nicely. I'll still build those some day, but I also had this huge bits box full of pieces I'd collected over the years, with the intention of turning them into 28mm Necromunda terrain. Lots of industrial bits in there. And I read an interesting article in a recent Wargames Illustrated article about urban terrain, and using a modular approach to yield different layouts with each game. A few small paper mache boxes from a craft store later (to serve as the shells) and I was on my way to creating some nice buildings to fight around and over.

So, there are hard-shelled alien beasties. A small force of well-equipped humans. And a shanty-filled colonial world to fight over. Some of the alien critters (Tyranid spore mine figures) resembled floating bags of...something. Combine that with inspiration drawn from Aliens and Dune, and you get desert-dwelling bugs with acidic bodily fluids. Why acidic, though? Ah. Corrosive alien chemistry in their native world, where the colony has been established. But why establish a colony in such a hostile environment? Resources. Chemical compounds and rare minerals in the soil and water supply. Other, biologically interesting chemical compounds in the alien creatures themselves. The competing interests between those of the bugs (stay alive, breed, defend) and those of the chemical company (harvest, collect, exploit) provided conflict and a reason for wargames to be fought.

This brought the chemical company and mining interests into the scene. And suddenly I had a reason for my brightly painted human military figures (remember, I was putting them together for Space Hulk before...they're not subtle): they'd be uniformed security and harvest teams working for the chemical company.

On a whim, and out of thin air, I made up a name for the planet: β-Ariadne-4. I checked the web for anything about a constellation called Ariadne, expecting to find nothing, but found something far more interesting. There is no constellation Ariadne. But there is one named for Ariadne's Crown (Corona Borealis). It's β star is an extremely interesting binary pair, made up of very rare and peculiar (literally...the "p" at the end of their class designation stands for "peculiar") stars. These stars are loaded with rare elements. This, honest to goodness, was just a very happy circumstance, fitting very nicely into my early thoughts on the campaign planet. These stars would have influenced the composition of the planets around them, and that soup of caustic and rare compounds seemed to fit the biology of my imagined bugs and the interests of the chemical/pharma company very well indeed.

I wanted arid, but alien. I bought some 18" linoleum tiles with adhesive backs (dirt cheap...like $3 each) printed with an interesting organic, rocky, grey/tan/green pattern, and I had the color scheme for my world. Some of the bug miniatures I have are clearly tunnelers, which was the genesis of the subterranean fauna and loose soil composition on the planet. And...I'm a big Star Wars geek...I've always loved the idea of the Tatooine "moisture vaporators." So, a desert, but with water in the air. The loose soil a tunneling ecosystem would need, and the moisture vector, brought to mind the possibility of an entire ecosystem evolving to subsist on underground aquifers, with no standing water at the surface. The binary star brought instability and periodic flux into the picture.

And there had to be colonists. I've always loved the rough-and-ready, gritty feel of Necromunda, especially the Ash Waste gangs and Ratskins. So the colonists would be miners, chemical workers and the vast array of star port dock workers, transport drivers, merchants, bar owners and other small business people required to keep a colony alive on a planet where nothing edible will grow. And there would be loners. People willing to colonize a planet like this, to raise a family there, would be tough minded and independent, or desperate. Plenty of the kinds of folks who, occasionally, would go off the reservation and look for a little piece of security all their own. So, smaller settlements outside the colony towns and industrial areas.

And those caustic chemicals just can't be good for you. So, birth defects and infant mortality are tragically common. Some of those birth defects create viable mutants, and some of those mutations are actually beneficial. Enter the Scavvies/muties/monsters/outcasts.

Finally, three other factors introduced an alien race, or what's left of it, to the world. First, I had a number of large scale robots, droids, etc. Pieces too big to really use on my vision of the 15mm battlefield, but too cool to throw away or sell off. They would become featured terrain items; the remnants of ancient conflicts. Second, I fancy a nice underground spelunking adventure now and then. A reason to fight those Space Hulk-inspired battles that started this whole thing off. And finally, it's just a cool idea. I mean, come on. Relics of an alien race far more advanced than even our star-faring descendants? How could I resist.

Lastly, I found some REALLY inspiring artwork out there on the web. I did all kinds of searches using Google's Image search engine, and found those pictures you see in the campaign setting article. None of them are EXACTLY what I picture Nusakan to be, but they inspire me greatly. I was particularly surprised to find the picture of the Final Fantasy Sand Worm. You'll see how closely it matches both the models I use for my bugs and the paint scheme I chose. To the best of my recollection, I'd never seen a picture of those creature before I'd already painted my bug force. I swear.

You'll see more of Nusakan, and learn more about it's inhabitants and their struggles, as I post photos and descriptions of the figures, terrain and battles. For now, I hope you found this article a helpful guide to the creative process behind Nusakan, and my campaign setting.

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