Sunday, September 19, 2021

On The Deities Of The World Of Greyhawk

Images of Some Greyhawk Deities

For the purposes of this article, I am going to stick (mostly) to the so-called "Gold Box" release of The World of Greyhawk. In part, this is because I like 576 CY campaigns and the freedom they give for the individual DM to develop the setting as they see fit. I also take the events in the Greyhawk's World series of articles found in Dragon magazine from 1981-1982—and to a lesser extent the Deities & Demigods of the World of Greyhawk series of articles (and Gods of the Suel) that appeared in that magazine from 1982-1984—as mostly canonical, though I reserve the right to change anything in those articles to suit my purposes. So, I suppose you can call it a 578 or 579 CY campaign. One of the more obvious elisions in this article, then, will be the Elder Elemental God, Zuggtmoy, Lolth, and so on, except of course for Iuz. I'm also going to skip over the demihuman and humanoid pantheons as they are mostly disconnected from the main subject of this article.

Pretty obviously, the list of gods in the Guide divides the gods into four main "ethnic" pantheons (though, as we will see, things are not so cut-and-dried): the Oeridian, the Suel, the Flan, and the Baklunish. A number of the gods from each of these pantheons are also included in what is termed the "Common" pantheon, which we can imagine is the pantheon of gods imagined by people who aren't particularly connected to any of the particular religious expressions in the Flanaess—the gods of the common people, if you will. This Common pantheon includes all of the gods of the Flan, most of the gods of the Oeridians, a very few of the gods (to be exact, two goddesses) of the Suel, and the lesser gods of the Baklunish. In addition, the Common pantheon includes a number of gods unconnected to the other pantheons, and for the most part not to each other except for their inclusion in the Common pantheon.

It is important to note that Gygax noted that the "Greater" gods see very little actual worship, being too big to be credible in responding to the needs of some shepherd in the Hestmark Highlands or whatever, so most of the religious activity of those who are not actual clerics or the great nobility is concentrated on the so-called "Lesser" gods and the demigods.

The Flan pantheon consists of nine gods, four "Greater" gods, four "Lesser" gods, and the Demigod Iuz. The four Greater gods are Beory, the Oerth Mother, Pelor, the god of the Sun, Nerull "the Reaper", god of Death and the Underworld, and Rao, god of Reason and Serenity. This is mostly the typical "pagan" pantheon envisioned by neopagans in the real world today with the addition of a god of Reason. We can perhaps envision a central myth similar to the "Oak King-Holly King" one that developed among neopagans in the 20th century, where a great Goddess is alternately wed to a God of summer and a God of winter, changing at the equinoxes or solstices (or perhaps at the midway point between an equinox and solstice) when each God meets the other in combat and the winner takes the bride. That is, a typical seasonal myth. It's up to the DM how they might want to envision this myth as a rite, perhaps varying from place to place in the Flanaess.

The "Lesser" gods of the Flan include two who are connected to the world and two who are associated with social behavior. The two worldly gods are Berei, goddess of the home and agriculture, and Obad-hai "the Shalm", god of nature and the wilderness. The social gods are Allitur, god of ethics and proper behavior, and Zodal, the god of mercy and hope. Iuz, of course, is a demigod whose machinations drive the overarching action hinted at in the existence of the land named for him as well as the opening moves described in the Greyhawk's World articles and of course the events in such classic adventures as The Village of Hommlet.

The Oeridian pantheon is much larger, but has only two "Greater" gods, Procan, the god of oceans, and Zilchus, the god of power, prestige, and money. I envision the former as the god of the physical world, which the Oeridians must understand as arising from the surrounding ocean, while the latter is the god of actions, understood as the powers of the nobility to command, the "invisible hand" of the market, and so on.

Similarly, the "Lesser" gods of the Oeridians can be divided into gods of the physical world and gods of mental states that drive actions. In the former case we have the gods of the four winds and their associated seasons, Atroa, goddess of the east wind and spring, Sotillion, goddess of the south wind and summer, Wenta, goddess of the west wind, autumn, and the harvest, and Telchur, god of the cold north wind and winter. In addition, there are Celestian, god of the stars and wanderers, Fharlanghn, god of the horizon and travel, and Velnius, god of the sky and weather. Pholtus "of the Blinding Light" stands, perhaps, in between the physical world gods and the mental gods, being god of light but also of law. To a certain extent, Pholtus seems to have developed as a nearly monotheistic god, jealous of other deities, at least in the early material about him.

The rest of the Oeridian gods include Delleb, god of reason and intellect, Erythnul, god of hate and envy, the very similar Kurell, god of jealousy and revenge, and the opposing pair of Heironeous, god of chivalry, honor, justice, and valor, and Hextor, god of war, discord, and massacres. Finally, there is the demigoddess Rudd, associated with both chance and skill. Of these gods, only Delleb, Velnius, and Kurell do not make the leap into the Common pantheon, perhaps because Kurell is difficult to differentiate from Erythnul, Velnius seemingly duplicates the four wind gods, Pholtus, and Celestian, and Delleb is maybe seen as a lesser version of Rao.

The Suel pantheon is commanded by three "Greater" gods, Kord, god of athletics, sports, and brawling, Wee Jas, goddess of magic and death, and Lendor, god of tedium and the passing of time. This suggests a culture that values on the one hand physical activity and on the other the uncanny, but considers all other events to be merely wasting time.

The "Lesser" gods of the Suloise include an interesting mix that deserve some contemplation. There are four goddesses, Bralm, goddess of insects and industriousness, Lydia, goddess of music, knowledge, and daylight, Beltar, goddess of caves and malice, and Syrul, goddess of deceit and lies. In addition, there are seven "Lesser" gods, Fortubo, god of metals, stone, and mountains, Llerg, god of beasts and strength, Norebo, god of gambling and luck, Phaulkon, god of wind and clouds, Phyton, god of beauty and nature, Xerbo, god of the sea and money, and Pyremius, god of fire, poison, and murder. Of all of these gods, "Greater" and "Lesser", only the goddesses Bralm and Lydia are to be found in the Common pantheon.

The Baklunish people hold Istus, Lady of Fate, to be the greatest, and under her are two "Lesser" goddesses, each pointing the way to a different way to meet fate. On the one hand is Xan Yae, goddess of stealth and shadows, but also mastery of mind over matter, and on the other is Geshtai, goddess of rivers, lakes, and wells. The one demigod of the Baklunish people mentioned is Zuoken, associated with physical and mental mastery, who maybe can be understood as the consort or son of Xan Yae, or perhaps her devoted follower. Of these, only Istus is not widely worshiped in the Common pantheon. My own take on this pantheon is to draw parallels to medieval Islam, with its focus on fate being previously written, and the "Lesser" goddesses being representative of an appreciative and aesthetic approach to meeting fate, and an approach to fate of mastery, suggesting a Sufi-like mysticism or, alternately, cults of assassins exerting their will.

Anyway, this has gotten long, so I'll save the rest of the gods, unassociated with any particular pantheon, for another time if there's any interest. That's where you'll find St. Cuthbert "of the Cudgel", Boccob "the Uncaring", and the nearly-Lovecraftian Tharizdun, among quite a few others.

Monday, August 16, 2021

[Obscure Games] Flashing Blades


Fantasy Games Unlimited was notorious for publishing excessively complex games like Chivalry & Sorcery, Aftermath!, or Space Opera, but in fact they just as frequently published games of normal complexity, like Villains & Vigilantes or Psi-World. Some of their games, like Bunnies & Burrows, were on the much less complex side of the hobby. And that is where we find ourselves with the swashbuckling game, Flashing Blades.

Character creation is fairly straightforward, with a few stats each rolled on 3d6, a number of figured stats including a hit point pool, the choice of several character backgrounds that give varying access to skills, giving different skills a cost of one, two, or three points each, and a number of skill points to pick up those skills. In addition, a character can learn how to fight in various ways, from picking up the skill on the mean streets to formal instruction in a fencing salle. Finally, the character can have any of a number of advantages or be burdened with a secret that gives story hooks to the character.

Non-combat skills are easy to use, simply rolling against one of the character's stats if the skill is possessed, half the stat if it isn't, and getting bonuses for a couple of levels of increasing mastery. In addition, mastery of a skill should cause the Referee to call for rolls less often, only for situations of increased difficulty.

Combat isn't much more difficult, being a process of figuring the chance to hit on a d20, rolling for hit location by picking a target, rolling 2d20 and using the result that is closest to the target location, and doing damage that is reduced by armor rating.

But a swashbuckling game would be remiss if it didn't provide a way to rise in society, and in some ways the heart of the game is found in the social status and careers. Characters start with a social status based on their background and possibly their advantages if those provide them with a position at the start of the game. They may use their skills and background to enter into any of various careers, whether in the army, the royal bureaucracy, the Church, the banking system, or a number of other possibilities. Each career starts with a low-level position, such as a minor bureaucrat, law student, or priest, then provides opportunities for advancement as the game progresses, potentially advancing as far as Pope of the Church! Of course, most characters will not make it so far in their careers, but even a Town Mayor or Provincial Tax Collector has significant clout. There are also minor careers that can be pursued, such as rising as an official within a Gentlemen's Club. The most active characters might even pursue careers in several directions. Holding a number of positions can increase the character's social rank, after all.

Most of the supplementary materials for the game simply provided some adventures to undertake, but High Seas in particular expanded the game by providing for life in the Caribbean instead of France, and opened the possibility of playing a pirate, with information on how that sort of a career could be pursued.

Designer Mark Pettigrew was only 19 years old when the game was published in 1984, but its clean design and sophisticated approach to a lifetime career speaks to a solid understanding of how those could work in a gaming environment.

In the end, it's an excellent game. You can still buy it in print or PDF. PDFs are available at DTRPG, while the print game can be ordered from Fantasy Games Unlimited directly. I do not get any kickbacks or anything from those links, I am only providing them for your convenience.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Let's Talk About Game Design


A long-time project of mine has been to update the old RPG Fantasy Wargaming, a game which was never properly developed or even well-edited. Different authors had different chapters, and those portions of the game weren't very well integrated into a cohesive whole. In addition, the people involved had very little collective experience at game design, though of course some had more than others. Further, the game was based on very early designs like D&D and Tunnels & Trolls and so had few models to examine to provide the best ways of approaching different parts of the game.

Even with all of those flaws, though, some of the ideas incorporated into the game verged on brilliant. I still haven't seen religion, especially polytheistic religion, handled quite as well (I'm  not sure that there's any other game which included the idea of appealing to a Power to intervene on the appellant's behalf with another Power and make it meaningful), and magic drew on then-cutting-edge ideas current in the so-called "Chaos Magick" movement that was happening at the time in England. It wouldn't be until Mage: The Ascension was published a dozen years later that similar ideas would be seen again in game design.

As I sit down to turn my notes into a playable game, I find myself thinking about things that I haven't seen discussed in game design before. For example, I am thinking about the relationship of the player, the character, and the setting. Some games treat the character as a mere extension of the player's desires, allowing an absolute control and decoupling the character from any setting-based relationships. This is a reflection of the purely individualist conception of a person that prevails in a lot of Western cultural contexts, but most especially as a very American attitude toward the person. I want to encourage a more social understanding of the character within the setting, so I am looking to models like Pendragon and Lace & Steel to examine elements of a character that constrain the omnipotent control by a player over the character usually assumed in RPGs. Factors like emotions, attitudes, and so on should be included in the game I am conceiving. These ideas were included in a rough form in Fantasy Wargaming, of course, in the systems related to Temptations and the resisting thereof, in the Leadership and Social Class rules, and so on.

As I'm conceiving the metaphysics of the game, as it were, I see the player as representing the soul, giving purpose and direction to the character. The character, though, has a history within the game setting, and this affects the attitudes and assumptions of the character that might run counter to or align with the will of the player. Fears, desires, hatreds, and devotions mix with personality traits like Honesty or Generosity to influence the decisions the player might make, for good or ill. Getting those personality elements to align with the player's preferences is part of the psychological work that the character and player might embark upon. In addition, social traits like Social Class and Leadership value have their effects on how the player approaches the game as well.

In Fantasy Wargaming, the personality traits were mostly expressed as the negative pole of the trait, so that they were described as Greed, Selfishness, and Lust (there's also Bravery, but that served as both fearlessness and anger). I am reversing that, so that those three traits are Temperance, Generosity, and Chastity, respectively, and I'm adding two others, Honesty and Stability, while the final personality trait, Bravery, I am leaving largely as-is. Stability is sort of the odd man out here, since it isn't involved with many Temptations, but it does allow the player to choose to temper the excesses of the character's passionate emotional reactions. I might choose to make it a regular attribute of the character instead.

In regard to more prosaic game design issues, I am still struggling with whether I should retain the odds tables of FW or re-figure things so that the game produces simple target numbers to roll on a d20. I am almost certainly going to replace "hit point" style damage pools with descriptive injuries, simply because that is a major aesthetic preference of mine. I am certainly going to keep the character levels approach, divided into the three types of Combat & Adventuring, Magical, and Religious, but instead of 1000 experience points of the appropriate type per level, it'll be 1000 for first level, doubling for every level after. That does mean that most characters won't be rising much above 6th or 7th level over their whole adventuring career, and rising above 14th level will be nearly impossible, but that's well within the parameters I want to see anyway. It also means that players who have to start a new character won't be really left that far behind their fellows and can catch almost all the way up fairly quickly.

Anyway, just some initial thinking about how to approach the game. In some ways, this is also related to JB's thoughts on fudging dice rolls, in the sense that we are both exploring what it means to be playing a game as opposed to just playing around. I'm not, of course, saying that JB would necessarily agree with my thinking here, only that we seem to be exploring the same questions of purpose.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Ten Years Of This Nonsense

 I've scheduled this post to go up at 12:01AM my time on the 27th of May, because that is the tenth year that this blog will have been in existence. Unlike at that time, I do have a regular game, but only the one right now. It's Call of Cthulhu, which I don't think of in the same terms as most other games.

The first actual RPG I talked about on this blog was Dungeon Crawl Classics. I didn't have a whole lot to say about it then, as I hadn't seen it and really knew little about it, other than it used some new funny dice and maybe that there was something about every magic spell having a table of varying effects in an attempt to keep magic from feeling drily mechanical.

I've been doing some prep work for a GURPS game that is inspired by the Malazan books, the Ōnin War at the beginning of the Sengoku Jidai in Japan, the Wars of the Roses at about the same time in England, the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Stephen King, Clive Barker, In/Spectre (aka Kyokō Suiri or Invented Inference), Princess Mononoke (aka Mononoke-hime), and some other things. Not sure who will be playing it, how I'll be running it, or a number of other logistical things, but I do know that I want to have it ready when I do get those things worked out.

As of two days ago, I am fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the two week period for the vaccine to get up to speed having finished up on the 25th. And you know what? I'm still going to wear a mask in public, regardless of what the CDC guidelines say I can do, because I have looked at the effects of the precautions against COVID have had on the flu, and how many lives that could save each year, and I care about the people who live around me. And yeah, I'll be judging people who don't wear a mask on that basis. Do the bare minimum for your neighbors, at the very least. What does this have to do with gaming, you ask? Gaming is fundamentally a social activity, which as we all should have learned over the last year-plus makes it a matter where the most unsanitary of us risks all of us. Unless we're doing it over the internet, in which case do whatcha like you filthy animal.

I've been gazing longingly at games set in the Solar System, with no FTL drives. Made for gaming settings that I have access to include Transhuman Space, Tales of the Solar Patrol, and GURPS Terradyne in the GURPS ecosphere, High Colonies (the original, not the newly-Kickstarted one), Rocket Age, Space 1889 (again, the original, not the recent reboot), and Jovian Chronicles. In addition to those, Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling provides an interesting setting for gaming. There's also Lowell Was Right!, but it's exhausting considering learning a new system, teaching it to the players, and also creating a setting. Learning and teaching or creating a new setting, not both thank you. Anyway, I'm more interested in something like The Expanse without the aliens.

My first project on the blog was the WRG Ancients-based game, inspired by a Jeff Rients challenge. I didn't get any further with that, which in the end is fine since it was mainly an exercise to see for myself why certain decisions were made in the early days of roleplaying games. I've gotten what I needed from that. It did provide me with some interesting ideas for future use.

I realize that the blog is currently creaking along, but I am trying to focus more on it. I'm afraid that I'll drop back into theorizing, and that does nobody any good. I need to be running something, playing in something less constrained than CoC, and maybe ideally playing in more than one genre of game. I'd especially like to be playing in an occult conspiracy sort of game, something like Majus or Nephilim. I'm afraid that I'd have to run such a thing if I really want to see it happen around me, though.

In summary, after ten years, I'm back more or less where I started. One game, thinking about a fantasy game, wishing for solar system and occult conspiracy games that I'd probably end up having to run. I have a 146-entry list of potential campaigns, which I've pared down to nine or so "high priority" possibilities, though I need to think through some things and adjust those lists since I haven't really updated them in the last month or more. If you've made it this far, I salute your fortitude in powering through my self-indulgent yammering. Here's to the next ten years, may they be better.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Traveller: Roads Not Taken

It's pretty well understood, I think, that Traveller started out without an explicit background setting, then developed one over time. There were some implicit setting assumptions, to be sure. In the 1977 edition, it was understood that there were shipping lanes along which it was easy to purchase a ticket or Jump navigation tapes to a destination, but outside of which travel was more difficult. There were Air/Rafts, which were some sort of anti-gravity sled, and in fact which were taken wholesale from the Dumarest of Terra series of pulp sci-fi novels (a while back, I discussed the structure of Traveller play; what I didn't note at the time was that basic structure was strongly rooted in the stereotypical Dumarest plot, in which the protagonist arrives on a world, broke and in need of passage to the next world to continue his lifelong quest, gets involved with some figure who can provide the necessary cash in exchange for some adventurous task, and then completes the mission*). This implied a system of such shipping lanes. Then there were things like the Travellers' Aid Society, membership in which would provide monthly tickets for travel. Some of these have been retained in the current canon of the Third Imperium, sometimes with subtle modifications, but others have been dropped quietly and ignored. Sometimes that is for good reason—the shipping lanes of the 1977 edition are great on paper, but I dare you to generate a subsector using the procedures given. Frankly, just the number of lines on the paper are unwieldy even if using a lower density of star systems, say 1 in 3 instead of the rule given of 1 in 2. Once the Referee expands their setting to more than one subsector, the space lanes become nearly impossible to manage (though I can imagine a computer-based system that might work, such things were not practical in the 1980s, and aren't even well-supported now).

Anyway, let's talk about some of the setting assumptions that were dropped from canon, why they were dropped, and what they could bring to a non-3I setting. I'm not going to rehash "death during character creation", since it isn't really a setting element, per se, and anyway it has been discussed repeatedly elsewhere. Maybe I'll discuss it another time.

For starters, there's a big one, Jump Message Torpedoes. First introduced in Adventure 4 Leviathan, I believe, these were communications torpedoes that a ship could send through Jumpspace to carry messages. These were never well defined, not even being given a Jump rating to indicate how far they could go, much less a cost, mass, or any other factor that might indicate their limitations. Presumably, like all Jumps, their travel would take a week. Given the Jump range of the starship at the center of the adventure, they probably were capable of at least Jump-3. Probably. However, in the end they ran up against two factors that did become canonical for the Third Imperium setting: a Jump drive could only be fitted in a hull of at least 100 tons (remembering that a hull "ton" is a measure of volume somewhere around the volume of 1 tonne of liquid hydrogen), and the implicit assumption that for some undefined reason a conscious, sapient being must be in control of a vehicle entering Jumpspace—though later canon did allow for computer artificial intelligence to be "sapient" in this way, but the robots and computers of the main Third Imperium setting are not sophisticated enough for this purpose; adding artificial intelligences to the setting was part of the long-term intention behind Virus in The New Era. If not for these factors, the Imperial network of X-Boat couriers wouldn't be necessary and the Navy would have limited use for its courier vessels.

Next is the association of Marines with Cutlasses. In classic Traveller and in MegaTraveller, a character wielding a Cutlass is capable of causing meaningful damage to a character wearing Combat Armor or even Battle Dress (powered armor). This was because the source material, pulp sci-fi stories, often depicted space marines fighting space pirates with melee weapons during boarding actions, and the game rules followed suit. This also resulted in the Marines career (and others) being likely to give a character melee weapon skills, and in the case of Marines, specifically Cutlass skill. Starting with Traveller: The New Era, this capability was reduced to match perceived reality, so that muscle-powered weapons simply weren't able to penetrate advanced armor being worn in a battlefield context. From TNE onward, Marines were no longer given skill in Cutlass as part of basic training, since it was no longer part of how the setting was understood, except that, for whatever reason, the first Mongoose edition of Traveller provided Marine recruits with the option of gaining Melee (Blade) skill, presumably in imitation of the Cutlass skill in the earliest editions, though the MgT system makes melee weapons useless against advanced armor like the other later editions. That lack of thinking things through is one of many, many reasons that I am not fond at all of the Mongoose edition, though to be fair I have not seen the second Mongoose edition.

I was going to discuss double-Jumping, the process by which some of a cargo hold is filled with liquid hydrogen in order to allow a second Jump without refuelling, usually done when a ship, due to distance limits of the Jump drive, has to Jump to empty space and then make a second Jump to reach a distant star. This is most often done when a Jump-1 ship needs to get across a 2 parsec distance. However, I'm pretty sure that this is canonical now. There was a time, a road not taken, when a Jump drive could not Jump to empty space in that manner. Jump-1 ships therefore weren't able to leave the so-called "Mains", stretches of star systems that can be reached with a 1-parsec Jump. I'm not sure that limitation was ever actually written into the game, but was instead a holdover from the board game Imperium that was a predecessor of Traveller, and was also, I think, related to the origin of the shipping lanes I mentioned toward the beginning.

What are some other roads not taken in Traveller as it developed, ideas that maybe seemed good at the time, but were dropped from the game as it became apaprent they didn't fit in with the setting as it was developing? Obviously, there's the "split timeline" phenomenon in which the official setting still includes the Rebellion and Virus, while some campaigns take place in timelines where the Rebellion never happened, or perhaps just that Virus never did, but I'm thinking less of story-oriented, "metaplot" concepts and more in terms of setting elements.

*In many of the more recent editions of Traveller, it has been an article of faith that adventuring groups should nearly automatically have access to a starship, and so mechanisms to enable this are presented such as "ship shares" or whatever, but this assumption was not present in earlier editions.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Request For A GURPS Expert

 I've been playing GURPS, off and on, since the late 1980s, when a friend convinced me to get involved in a playtest for GURPS Cyberpunk. That turned out to be fun, and I slowly warmed to the system. However, I never became an expert in it, and due to circumstances beyond my control I was away from gaming from about when 4th edition came out until maybe 2008, then was pulled away again in 2011 or so, when I was forced into reading games more than playing them. As a result, I've never really gotten how some of GURPS works on a deep level. For that reason, I like to see examples of cinema explained in GURPS terms, such as the author of GURPS Technical Grappling, who has described the Black Widow fight in Iron Man 2, among others, or the author of the GURPS Tactical Shooting supplement describing various movie gunfights in GURPS rules (there are more than gunfights from movies under that tag, but unfortunately I don't think there's a tag more specific to that genre of post at his blog).

When one of the YouTube channels I follow, which is about stage combat among other things, posted the following video about the Max/Furiosa fight in Mad Max: Fury Road, it occurred to me that there are a number of useful and somewhat complicated elements in that fight which would come in handy for a GURPS GM to know how to portray in the combat rules for that game. So, I'd like to ask that someone who can write up such a thing please describe that fight in GURPS terms. If someone would be so kind, thank you in advance.

Friday, March 12, 2021

[Obscure Games] Lords of the Middle Sea


I am sure managing to keep up with this blog, aren't I? Better than six months since the last post, you'd think that I'd just give it up. But no! I am stubborn! Perhaps I should say persistent, to not be so hard on myself.

Let's look at a game that hardly anybody has heard of, except perhaps recently, though I have mentioned it in passing a few times in this blog. That is the point, sort of, of this series of reviews of obscure games after all. This time, we'll look at Lords of the Middle Sea, a wargame put out by The Chaosium back in 1978, around about the time that they were putting out their first roleplaying game, RuneQuest.

The scenario is loosely based on a 1963 short story by Allen Danzig published in GALAXY magazine titled "The Great Nebraska Sea". The story, which can be found [Edit: in an abbreviated version; further edit: here is the complete story] in the forum thread at the link along with an impression of what the map might look like, is a travelogue-style description of life around a great sea created in the midwest of the US when the Great Plains collapse at some point in the future. The game's scenario starts with that premise, implying that extraction of helium (and, presumably, other related resources such as natural gas) result in a massive collapse across the midwestern states as far north as the southern parts of North Dakota and as far west as the eastern portions of Colorado and Wyoming. This sets off a chain reaction resulting in increased volcanic activity, followed by cooling temperatures due to the volcanic ash, then ultimately a massive greenhouse effect that warms the planet and causes sea levels to rise as much as 30 feet per year at one point.

While the temperatures are cooling, populations flood south from Canada and the US into Mexico, creating massive social disruptions. Just for good measure, the remaining nation-states of the world exchange nuclear weapons, ending the dominance of nation-states and triggering the rise of local city-states.

During this time, apparently, the continental shelves sink somewhat, causing sea levels to end up around 1000 feet higher than previously, in addition to the Nebraska Sea, but this isn't really discussed in the background information. An important terrain feature in the game is the Godwall, a huge cliff, over a thousand feet high, along the western edge of the Nebraska Sea, which only dirigibles can pass (though there is one break in it, at the Mexican location of La Barrera).

In Mexico, a conflict between the traditionally Catholic Mexicans and a new sect of "syncretic versions of pre-Conquest Meso-American beliefs" push Mexico north as a new Nahua Empire rises. Mexico comes to hold most of what was the US and Canada, along with parts of northern Mexico, except for the islands that remain of the eastern portion of North America. This gives them control of the great storehouse of helium that was collected in the Rocky Mountains, and will eventually give them the ability to build dirigible airships.

Over time, the northern regions of this new Mexican state split off to become the fiercely independent Transwyoming, comprised to a great extent of horse nomads and related groups. Meanwhile, the Wardoms of the eastern islands eventually consolidate into a larger polity. In addition, there are the Centerline Confederacy on the island that surrounds what was once Lake Superior, beaten down to a minor state by the time of the game, and the Salvaree Council, composed of the great Arks that ply the sealanes. Originally raft cities formed as the seas rose, they eventually learned to build steam engines and control their drifting, becoming for a while the arm of decision and the dominating factor in trade in the Middle and Nebraska Seas, as well as along the western coast of the continent. With the final consolidation of the Wardoms as they incorporated Treanor (the person credited with Conception is Dennis P. Treanor) on the Ozark Island, the Salvaree Council was broken and reduced to squabbling individual Arks which hired out their services to the mainland nations. (Note that there are two centers of the former Salvaree Council on the map, the eastern Salvaree, located on the Ouachita Island just south of Ozark, and the western Sol Salvari, based in the island ruins that used to be San Francisco and the Bay Area.)

The game is divided into a Basic and Advanced version, the primary differences being that the Advanced version adds a monetary economy to purchase units, along with more fluid rules regarding alliances between the four factions, further uses for Arks (such as sending divers down into the depths to find caches of goods and materiel stored in protective plastic to aid in the competition between nations; in the Basic game, Arks are used mainly for transport and to ferry troops in addition to their considerable combat abilities), an experience advancement system for Rulers, allowing them to become Hero-Kings or Sorcerer-Kings with special abilities related to movement and combat (in addition to changing their combat strength and movement rate, the list of abilities a Ruler can display includes Mountaineer, Sailor, Diplomat, Speech-Maker, Master of Disguise, Warrior, Tactician, and Strategist, with Hero-Kings selecting one ability and Sorcerer-Kings being able to deploy them all), the ability of Rulers to Quest for lost Libraries of information, militia to help protect cities and farms, and rules for tracking the success of wars in an extended campaign game.

Combat works by a CRT (Combat Results Table) that compares the relative strengths of each side as a ratio (1:1, 1:2, 1:3, etc.), with results given as a number of counters for each side to lose. This prompts a bit of a balancing act as a player wants to maximize strength in the counters allowed in a hex ("stacking limit"), but losing a greater amount of strength in each individual counter if they are all of a high value. It helps to have some weaker counters to lose so that your strength doesn't drop precipitately. Even so, though, if you can completely maximize your strength that is best, since everyone has the same stacking limit.

Turns are in seasons (three months), hexes are 70-odd miles across, units are of various sizes, from 1200-3000 for infantry Gangs and Levies, 600-1000 mounted cavalry Hordes, 600 elite guards for Rulers (though Rulers can also travel incognito, with no guards), 10-15 large combat ships plus support vessels, or 5-7 dirigibles. The economy of a nation is represented by Cities and Farms (each major nation starts with four Cities and seven Farms) which produce money in the Advanced game, accounted in Cruzados, a large gold coin used to regulate large-scale trade, apparently.

There is discussion in the rules about the assumptions of the game, such as what Cities and Farms mean, how units are armed and an overview of their tactical doctrine (it's a mix of primitive weapons and more advanced ones, resulting in an unusual method of battle).

Because of the extensive notes on the background, this setting could be pretty easily converted for use in a roleplaying game. I tend toward GURPS since most of the work is already done, just needing to be plugged into the setting, but pretty much any game capable of a postapocalyptic setting (no mutants or other gonzo elements) could handle it, and of course with effort a Referee can adapt anything to any system.

Here's the work in progress cover art
by Ossi Hiekkala for the RPG,
 as pointed out in the comments.

Unfortunately for me, my current copy is only partly playable since it is missing one counter, which disrupts the counter mix and makes one of the four nations unplayable. I made a replacement, but because it is easily distinguished from the rest of the counters, it isn't actually usable (counters are supposed to be selected randomly from their type due to differing combat and movement factors). Maybe someday I'll find a replacement counter sheet for less than the hundred-plus dollars that copies of this game often go for. I occasionally have dreamed about buying the rules and background from Chaosium and reprinting the game, or expanding and publishing the background as a roleplaying setting, but that is more money than I have access to. Also, as I was just now Googling around for more information and pictures to illustrate this post, I learned that Chaosium has already been working on a roleplaying version of the setting, using the Basic Role-Playing system naturally. Well, I will certainly be picking that up.

(Edited on 3/15/2021 to add RPG cover art work in progress)