Monday, December 15, 2008

The Big Preview

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Things have been as chaotic and unpleasant in my personal life, but that’s pretty much my status quo, so I just go with it.

I’ve been working intently on the Otherverse America campaign setting, as Guide to the Known Galaxy readies itself for release. I expect to have Otherverse America out my early spring. I would like to release the setting on January 22nd, 2009, which seems a pretty damn appropriate date to release a cyberpunk supers setting focusing on anti-abortion terrorism. (And if you don’t know why, Wikipedia it, kids.)

However, I probably won’t. Gathering the art resources necessary takes time, and I don’t think the art will be complete until mid February, at the earliest. By my current estimate, I think you can expect Otherverse America at all the usual sales locations by the first of March. I’ll probably release a big preview or some Free20 Supplemental material on Jan 22nd, though, just to take advantage of the date.

At this point, Otherverse America is over 325 pages of dense….very dense… content. It’s a fully realized world, and that’s its greatest strength. The premise might piss off a lot of people, but it’s fully explored and much different than other D20 Modern sci-fi options out there. It’s an interesting setting that doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence, which I’m hoping is enough to make it a moderate success. As the setting nears completion, I’ll be adding some more preview images and some preview text here.

This image here is a fairly standard “Choicer” infantry troop. I’m including him here to give you an idea of the costume design for the setting. One of the hardest design challenges I’ve faced is making the Choicer army not only look battle-ready and appropriately futuristic, but also recognizably pagan. Usually a stereotypically ‘pagan’ look has a sorta medieval aesthetic, which I wanted to avoid.

I’m a huge fan of military sci-fi and first person shooters like Halo, Gears of War and Rainbow Six. I wanted all the troops in Otherverse America to feel like they belonged in a plausible, hard sci-fi environment like that. Plus, when designing for sci-fi, its all too easy to design something you think looks cool and alien, but really looks ri-cock-ulous- Lord Vakko’s hybrid mullet/high n’ tight in Chronicles of Riddick is the prime example in my mind. I think I’ve avoided the obvious pit falls, what do you think?

Early on, I had decided that the Choicer faction would be primarily decorated in reds, browns, golds- warm colors, with a rich, blood red (which symbolizes menstruation, important to a matriarchical culture) dominating. The design challenge of that, of course, is designing red and gold superheroes that don’t make you instantly think of McDonalds. Darkening the colors, adding browns and bronze highlights helps A LOT.

The obi-sash combination he’s wearing ended up becoming a standard part of the Choicer field uniform. Adding a low-tech, hand crafted touch like that to the otherwise standard battle armor he’s wearing really gave me the ‘pagan’ feel I’m going for. The symbol on the sash is an extreme stylization of a standard ‘female’ symbol, which the Choicers use as their sigil.

By contrast, I wanted to dress the Lifers in dark colors. You’ll laugh when you read the reason why. Sure, purple has always been used to denote royalty and religious power, but I picked purple and black armor for the Lifers because of the Transformers cartoon. The Insecticons, the coolest looking soldiers in the Decepticon army sported purple, black and gold deco, and that color scheme has always stuck in my mind as an incredible look for hardcore villains. Even better, you’ve got an immediate visual contrast between the two factions, something important if I ever have the resources to put out a minis line in support of Otherverse America.

I wanted the Lifers to have a lower-tech look than the Choicers. They have worse supply lines, and have to make do with jury rigged or stolen equipment and weapons. There really isn’t a standard Lifer field uniform; each soldier just wears whatever works and what he’s got available. The second Lifer preview image- of Ghost Boss- was also used in Psi-Watch, which is intentional. Most of the characters illustrated in Psi-Watch were Otherverse America NPCs (and former PCs) first and foremost.

Something else I wanted to do with the designs is to incorporate text, jokes and propaganda directly into the costume design. You’ll notice a lot of stuff written on t-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers stuck on mecha, things like that. Scars and tattoos, as well as elective cybernetics, are also a ssssbig visual motif. As a guy with 7 ½ tats himself, I’m fascinated by the concept of changing your body in accordance with your will and beliefs. You could pretty much sub

title the Otherverse “Hot pro-choice chicks with scars and guns”…… basically cybered up Suicide Girls (swoon!).

Finally, I’m including a few random excerpts from the manuscript itself. What follows are descriptions of two major Choicer holidays, from the chapter dealing with Choicer/ Covenant of the Goddess Universal culture. I’m including them here to give readers an idea of how the setting’s political realities have altered the way 2107’s neo-pagans celebrate some ancient sabats (holidays). Also, they’re just neat, and I’m sure you can find a bunch of plot hooks in ‘em. Enjoy.

Samhain (October 31st): Samhain is celebrated at the same time as Halloween, the holiday it inspired. In contrast to the costumes and candy of mainstream society, the Covenant celebrates Samhain as a somber festival that remembers and honors the revered dead.

Samhain has become a highly politicized holiday among the Choicers. Those slain during the War are remembered, as are all witches throughout history who have died in the name of religious intolerance. Bastian politicians take the opportunity to push for a more aggressive stance towards Christian America and expansion of the Choicer military. Television and Mesh ads and Bastian blogs run short propaganda clips extolling the heroism of Choicer martyrs. Violence and street brawls between Bastians and Christians are common in the nights immediately after Samhain.

At sunset, Choicer cities go dark to celebrate Samhain. Homes and businesses turn off lights and electronics and are lit only by candles and ceremonial lanterns. From space, it is an eerie sight, as whole portions of cities go dark, and remain nearly lightless until sunrise the next morning. Only the cool blue light of the force domes lights Choicer cities.

Slow candlelight processions wind their way through the darkened, silent streets. Families and covens visit Covenant cemeteries to lay flowers and pour wine on the graves of the honored dead. Police and volunteer metahumans are deployed into the streets, keeping a close eye for everything from pickpockets working the night-shrouded crowd to Lifer suicide bombers.

After the processions, family and friends gather in private homes and sacred spaces, sharing food and wine. Pumpkin dishes, especially pumpkin pies and jack o’ lanterns are a common part of Samhain gatherings, in half-remembered imitation of Christian Halloween traditions. Children are usually allowed a cup or two of wine at Samhain gatherings, and many traditions use hallucinogenic drugs and oracular object philosophies to allow believers to see and speak to the honored dead.

Ostara (Spring Equinox, usually the week of March 20th): Ostara is a mid-spring festival, traditionally celebrated as a time when the God returns from the underworld of winter and reunites with his consort. Ostara and its antecedents have been a fertility festival since ancient times, and is still primarily celebrated as such. Newborns and young pagans, taking their first steps into the faith, are introduced to the community at Ostaran gatherings, and the month of March is considered an especially auspicious time for Choicer mothers-to-be to perform the Prayer of Awakening.

Choicer cities are decorated with symbols of fertility and life. Garlands of flowers, genetically engineered to survive for weeks after being plucked, decorate doorways and street lights. Stores and schools are decorated with traditional Easter symbols: cardboard and paper-mache rabbits, decorated eggs, reclaimed from the Christian tradition. Marriage vows, commercial partnerships and unit bonds are reaffirmed. Military reenlistment ceremonies, even if the actual reenlistment occurred months ago, are officially celebrated during Ostara.

Over the years, Ostara has taken on a new and surprisingly militaristic role. Ostara has always been a time of renewal; in olden days it was considered bad luck to wear new clothes before the holiday. Glamorous new outfits were unveiled at Spring celebrations. That tradition continues into the 22nd Century, and in recent years, Ostara has become one of the most important military holidays for the young Choicer nation.

The Choicer nation provides its troops with their annual clothing and uniform allowances at the end of March, and troops are provided with scheduled upgrades around this time. New weapons systems and power armor designs are unveiled on Ostara, and the purchasing cycle for new defense contracts closes the week of Ostara. Military analysts (and stock market players) across the world have good reason to pay close attention to the Choicer military and its weapon systems towards the end of March.

The following text is an excerpt from a chapter on Lifer culture and media, and shows a softer, more benign side of the terrorist nation. Again, I just think it’s kinda neat, and something you usually don’t see in sci-fi gaming. Enjoy.

Super Dolfie Loves Mommy”

“Super Dolfie Loves Mommy” is the highest rated, most successful Lifer-themed kid’s cartoon on the Mesh, breaking every conceivable previous rating and sales record by an order of magnitude. The award winning series is based loosely (very loosely), on the early adventures of Lifer metahuman Miriam “Dolfie” Black, a Lifer-aligned Innocent (from the D7ACU line) whose combat drones took the form of children’s dolls. Decorated multiple times for her courage under fire, Dolfie Black was equally respected by her Choicer adversaries for her genuine commitment to pacifism and use of minimum force. Unlike many War-era Lifers, Dolfie concentrated on saving the lives of innocents caught in the cross fire, and minimizing civilian casualties during her combat cell’s rescues.

Today in her early seventies, the grandmotherly combat-veteran has started a second career as a children’s entertainer. She writes, produces and stars in Super Dolfie Loves Mommy, providing the voice of the show’s CGI star.

Super Dolfie is targeted at much younger audience than traditional Lifer children’s fare, and lacks most of the propaganda common to the genre. Aside from urging viewers to “thank mommy for having me!” at the end of each episode, Super Dolfie has little content that would offend even the most sensitive Choicer. The show’s cast even includes “Lady Naomi and Billy”, cartoony versions of a Neo-Witch Midwife and her toddler son, who are portrayed as lovably flawed, and occasionally greedy, but not irredeemably evil. This inclusiveness has made the cartoon an unexpected cartoon hit, and Super Dolfie Loves Mommy is a pre-school staple, even in Choicer homes.

In addition to the Otherverse America setting, I’ve got several more installments of the Thinking Races series on deck, including an incredibly cool new release featuring lots of art from Amanda Webb, The Thinking Races: Inhuman Beauty. I also pulled together a bunch of material originally designed for Louis Porter’s abortive Secret Agent Monthly which never got used into a military tech book: Mil-Tech ’09. Look for two those, as well as The Thinking Races: Core Revisions, with my take on elves, dwarves and hobbits, not to mention several new advanced class releases over the next few weeks. There’s also another Free20 product on deck, so keep an eye out for that.

At last count, I have a total of 15 releases complete and ready to be released, not counting Otherverse America and my freelance stuff. It’s a pretty good number for a first year start up company, and I plan to have more even releases in 2009. After I release Otherverse America, I plan to follow it up with an additional faction book, focusing on APEX and the role the American federal government plays in the conflict. I cut this material from the Otherverse America core book for size, and because it’s big and complex enough to stand on its own as an independent release.

So enjoy your Christmas, (or Yule, if you share my faith), or whatever your holiday of choice is,


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