Monday, November 28, 2005

Fudge Social Combat

by Douglas Weber (infornific @ aol .com)

Why let the sword swingers and gunmen get all the screen time? With the Social Combat rules, you can Bluff, Charm, Intimidate, Impress, and Persuade your way through the world with all the detail and suspense of physical combat.
Standard Fudge rules allow for detailed outcomes from physical combat - Skill, Strength, armor and chance all play into a well-defined outcome. Social skills on the other hand are not so well detailed. Often players and gamemasters choose to simply act out social interactions, but this can handicap shy players. If a slow, clumsy player can play a lightning-quick, expert swordsman, why can't a shy player run a charming con artist? Fortunately, the standard Fudge combat system can be adapted for social interaction. For the purpose of this system, I'm going to define three attributes, but other attributes may be substituted to suit the gamemaster's tastes.
Wit - A measure of mental agility and speed
Confidence - Presence and mental force
Ego - Mental and emotional toughness
Social skills as you might expect replace combat skills. The above Attributes are used as Offensive and Defensive Damage Factors (ODF and DDF). The various injury outcomes -- Scratch, Hurt, Very Hurt, Incapacitated -- have different definitions depending on what the character is attempting to do -- Bluff, Charm, Impress, Intimidate, or Persuade. The different social techniques include suggested Skills. Players should be encouraged to come up with creative uses for Skills, as long as they can describe a plausible effort. Alternately, the GM may simply use Bluff, Charm, Impress, Intimidate and Persuade as Skills. Choose an appropriate defensive skill based on the attack skill. For example, an attempt to Intimidate using Sword skill might be resisted by a Sword or other weapon skill. If there seems to be no appropriate Skill, simply set difficulty at Fair. As with combat, clever tactics and roleplaying should be rewarded with bonuses. To successfully use a social technique, the attacker must roll higher than the defender, just as in regular combat. In addition, the attacker must roll at least a Poor result. A failed attempt with a social technique doesn't necessarily have negative consequences. However, a roll of Terrible or worse should have repercussions. An effort to Charm offends, an effort to Impress does the opposite, etc. A failed effort to Intimidate always causes a hostile reaction. Add degree of success to ODF, and subtract DDF. If the result is positive, calculate the standard Fudge damage (Scratch, Hurt, etc) and check against the specific technique for the result.

Social Techniques


As the name suggests, a Bluff is an effort to fake something, carried out through sheer force of will. While Persuasion may depend on logic or cunning, Bluff relies on confidence and chutzpah. Outcome depends in part on how plausible the bluff is and in part on how much risk the target takes in believing the bluff. Bluffing your way into a high-security base is difficult in part because the guards will face severe penalties for letting someone through unauthorized.
Skill: Acting is appropriate for pretending to be someone. Courtly Manners or similar skill for pretending to be a noble, appropriate academic skills for pretending to be a professor, etc.
ODF: Confidence
DDF: Wit
Scratch - The target will believe a plausible bluff, if there is no risk to the target.
Hurt - The target will believe the character's implausible bluff if no risk is involved or a plausible bluff if minor risk is involved.
Very Hurt - The target will believe a plausible bluff even at major risk, an implausible bluff at minor risk, or an absurd one at no risk.
Incapacitated - The target will believe a plausible bluff at severe risk (life and limb), an implausible bluff at major risk or an absurd one at minor risk.
Near Death - The target will believe an utterly ludicrous bluff.
Example: Jolene the Fair attempts to crash a noble's party by pretending to be an aristocrat. Met at the gate, she haughtily declares a noble title and demands to be introduced. Jolene is well-dressed and has a noble's manners, so the bluff is plausible. However, the doorman is at some risk in accepting Jolene's word, so the gamemaster decides a Hurt result is needed for success. Jolene has Courtly Manners at Great, while the doorman has the same skill at Mediocre. Jolene's Confidence is Great, the doorman's Wit is Good. Unfortunately, Jolene rolls a -1 and the doorman gets a +1. This gives Jolene a Scratch result - the doorman thinks she's a noble but insists on getting confirmation.


Charm means an effort to make someone like you. It can be helpful in avoiding trouble or helping set up a roll to persuade. An effort to Charm is likely to take some time, unlike other social techniques.
Skill: Seduction or similar skills are appropriate for romantic efforts. Carousing is appropriate for parties, Courtier for high society, and so on. DDF: Confidence
DDF: Wit
Scratch - Target will be mildly more congenial. Efforts to Persuade are at +1.
Hurt - Target will be significantly friendlier than before. Efforts to Persuade are at +2.
Very Hurt - Target is likely to be friendly, even if initially hostile to the character. Efforts to Persuade are at +3.
Incapacitated - Target will be (temporarily) friendly even if the character is normally an enemy. Efforts to Persuade are at +4.
Near Death - Target is putty in the character's hands. Efforts to Persuade are at +5.
Example: Buddy the Cat is trying to convince his human owner to give him some food. He decides to use his Purring skill to Charm his owner first before making the attempt to Persuade. Buddy has Good Purring and Great Confidence. The owner has Mediocre Animal Handling and Good Wit. Buddy rolls, -2 for a Mediocre Purring Effort. Fortunately, his owner rolls -1 for a Poor Animal Handling result, and Buddy just barely succeeds. Adding his Great Confidence and subtracting his owner's Good Wit, Buddy gets a Scratch result, giving him a +1 to Persuade the owner to hand over people food.


Impress is an effort to awe or inspire someone. This could be dramatic oratory, a command in battle or any other similar effort.

Skill: Oratory for speeches, Leadership for commands. Other skills may be used to impress in limited contexts -- a minstrel might use skill with a harp to Impress a potential employer.
ODF: Confidence
DDF: The best of Wit or Confidence
Scratch - The target is mildly impressed.
Hurt - The target is moderately impressed.
Very Hurt - The target is very impressed with the character's abilities.
Incapacitated - The target is awestruck.
Near Death - The target is struck speechless with awe at the character's prowess.
Impress can be used as a complementary technique to Charm or Persuade, as described below. For dramatic speeches, check Persuade for results.
Example: Joe meets Jane at the high school prom and tries to Impress her with his Dance skill. Unfortunately, Joe has only Mediocre Dance skill, but Good Confidence. Jane has Good Wit. The gamemaster sets the difficulty of the attempt at Fair. Joe rolls a +1 for a Fair result -- not quite good enough to get a positive result, but at least he hasn't made a fool of himself.


An effort to Intimidate is like an effort to Impress, but with the deliberate attempt to frighten an opponent. If successful, it may handicap the opponent in combat. Unsuccessful efforts will lead to hostile reactions. This is the preferred social technique of tough guys and angsty superheroes dressed in black.

Skill: Anything that can be used to threaten. Weapon skills could be used to display combat prowess, Courtly Manners to imply you have powerful social connections, Streetwise to suggest friends in low places, etc.
ODF: Confidence
DDF: The best of Confidence or Ego
A character with a significant and obvious combat advantage should get a +1 to Skill, +2 for a Large advantage (for example, ogre vs. normal human). Likewise, a character at a significant seeming disadvantage should receive a -1 or more(a halfling attempting to intimidate a human for example). The advantage or disadvantage must be obvious to the defender.
Scratch - Target is mildly unnerved and will hesitate. If attacked, he will fight normally, but if attacking first, will be at -1 for the first round.
Hurt - Target is frightened and will be reluctant to attack. He will be at -1 in combat.
Very Hurt - Target is very frightened and will not attack first. He will be at -2 in combat.
Incapacitated - Target is terrified and will be at -3 in combat.
Near Death - Target is completely cowed and will either surrender or flee.
If using Intimidate to interrogate, check Persuade for likely results.
Example: Old West gunslinger Deadeye Crane finds himself confronting the self-named El Paso Kid, son of a man Deadeye killed many years ago. Deadeye doesn't want to kill the Kid, so instead tries to Intimidate him with a display of marksmanship. He points to a distant apple tree, draws his pistol and shoots away the stems of two apples. The GM decides that Gun skill is used for both attack and defense skill. Deadeye has Legendary skill (that's why they call him Deadeye) and Great Confidence, for an ODF of +2. The Kid has Good Gun skill, Good Confidence and Fair Ego. Since his Confidence is higher than his Ego, the Kid uses his Confidence for a DDF of +1. Deadeye's RDF is +1. Deadeye rolls a +1, giving him a result of Legendary+1. The Kid rolls 0, for a result of Good. Deadeye's degree of success is 4, +1 for his RDF, gives a result of +5 or Very Hurt. The Kid is badly shaken by Deadeye's display and will be at -2 in any combat.


An effort to Persuade involves coming up with a logical, pseudo-logical, or otherwise cunning argument to convince the target to provide information or follow a certain course of action.
Skill: Diplomacy and Fast Talk are both appropriate. Other Skills may be used depending on the player's imagination and gamemaster's discretion.
ODF: Wit
DDF: Wit. However, if the attempt to Persuade goes against the character's principles, use the best of Ego or Wit.
Scratch - Target is willing to cooperate, if it's something he's likely to do anyway
Hurt - Target will cooperate with suggestions that involve no significant costs or risks, or actions he wouldn't mind doing.
Very Hurt - Target will cooperate with suggestions that may put him at minor risk, involve minor cost, or that he would normally be opposed to doing.
Incapacitated - Target will cooperate with suggestions that may put him at major risk or involve major cost, or that he is strongly opposed to doing.
Near Death - Target is completely bamboozled and will cooperate with truly ludicrous suggestions.
Example: Ragnar the Reckless is trying to talk a town watchman into letting him go after he was caught out after the city curfew. Ragnar hints that he is willing to pay a bribe to get out of trouble. The gamemaster decides this makes the suggestion one that the watchman is inclined to follow, and so Ragnar only needs a Scratch result. Ragnar has Fair Fast Talk and Great Wit. The Watchman has Fair Guile (used to resist Fast Talk) and Fair Wit. Ragnar gets a +1 and the watchman rolls a -1, giving Ragnar a result of Very Hurt. Ragnar gets away with breaking curfew, at a reasonable price.

Repeated Effort and Complementary Techniques

A player may attempt the same technique on the same target, but at a cumulative -1 per effort. Alternately, a player may follow up one technique with a different one. If the first technique is successful, the player might get a bonus to the second technique as follows:
Scratch: +1
Hurt: +2
Very Hurt: +3
Incapacitated: +4
Near Death: +5
For example, if a player gets a Hurt result using Charm, he may follow it with an attempt to Persuade at +2. In the example above from Impress, if Joe had gotten a Scratch result he would have been at +1 to Charm Jane. It is up to the gamemaster to decide whether a given technique is complementary. On the other hand, a failed attempt gives a -1 penalty to a complementary technique. With these rules, social combat can be as detailed as physical combat. Why let the sword swingers and gunmen get all the screen time? This system certainly isn't necessary for Fudge, but can add a lot of detail for diplomats and con artists.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Fudgemon: Pocket Monsters

by Morbus Iff (morbus @ disobey .com)

Pocket monsters, or "mons," are quite literally what you'd expect: tiny, living, breathing, and other... natural... bodily functions, that are small enough to fit in a pocket, palm, or purse. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What good are they besides increasing your tab at the local tailor due to their blasted little claws? They barely talk, don't eat lint, and usually cause rashes or worse. A warning to guys in the audience: never forget to feed your mon!

Pocket monsters, or "mons," are quite literally what you'd expect: tiny, living, breathing, and other... natural... bodily functions, that are small enough to fit in a pocket, palm, or purse. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What good are they besides increasing your tab at the local tailor due to their blasted little claws? They barely talk, don't eat lint, and usually cause rashes or worse. A warning to guys in the audience: never forget to feed your mon!

They Didn't Come From Storks, Bub

Where pocket monsters come from is entirely dependent upon your game world as well as how realistic you want it to be. They could be magical constructs, alchemical or created beings, natural inhabitants, aliens, or simply mutated and tinier versions of existing beasties. Possibilities include:

  • Similar to helper monkeys, your pocket monsters could simply be intelligently designed robots. Originally developed for altogether different purposes, such as spying on foreign embassies, eating up oil spills or providing video relay of a dark pipe, they became perverted from their initial intent by enterprising hackers. Today, with programmable robotic vacuums, crazy metallic dogs, and road signs that call out marriage proposals or the crowd favorite "0wn3d", we're not that far off.
  • Magical pocket monsters, however, could also fall under intelligent design. Whether it's a wizard, warlock, or witch scratching an itch with a custom-order familiar, or a fakir and illusionist creating the appearance of a tiny elephant from a ball of dried clay, there is still a singular intent. Unlike robots, however, familiars and fakir-golems can often be destroyed by killing its creator(s). On the other hand, dragons, trolls, and slimes aren't "created" in most back stories, so why should magical mons? They simply exist: as recognizable as faeries and as hard to catch.
  • No magic, no technology, no problem! Pocket monsters are the platypuses of your world: bastard mixes of multiple animals with no rhyme, reason, or intelligible forethought. They could be rare and secretive like the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker, or communal and protective like a town of prairie dogs. Alternatively, your mons were accidentally created, whether by ingestion of sewage or other chemical waste (mutation), through creeping development (evolution), or strong community belief (legend).
  • Ok, so they did come from storks. I dunno what kinda storks are living in your world, but they may have brought pocket monsters from a foreign land during migration, are crossbreeding fools whose every new birth is an entirely new phylum, or who were deemed the dominant life, abducted by aliens, and returned a wee bit "off". Don't worry about the science. The concept of pocket monsters, at the outset, is rather ridiculous, as are talking swords, a missile coalescing from dead air, or the incredible capacity for an inn to be a plot device (how many adventures have YOU started from the local coffee house?)

Representing mons within your game, physically, is quite easy and cheap. Unlike creating embarrassing cardboard swords or forcing your players to wear a Halloween costume, suitable mon designs can be found in pewter game figurines, M.U.S.C.L.E.™ toys ("Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere!"), or already painted models from games like Mage Knight™. These work best when you're not already using same-scale figs for combat or dungeon-delving purposes.

Mon Rarity, Desirability, and The Collectors

Besides the standard traits available in your game, each pocket monster has two additional measures: Rarity and Desirability. The Rarity, ranging from Poor to Superb, is indicative of how common the mons appear in your world. A mon with Poor Rarity is quite common, and you'd be able to find or buy one with only a few hours of searching. Mons with Superb Rarity, however, are extremely "short packed"* - waiting outside a known nest, or even having someone on the "inside" keeping an eye out for you, doesn't guarantee a victory. Often, you'll find yourself paying exorbitant prices, trading a mon of equal value, or going on lengthy and difficult quests. Traveling carnivals or sideshows may occasionally have the most desirable mons, but only locked away behind many layers of glass and protected by a number of condescending guards.

The other trait, Desirability, indicates whether the Rarity actually means anything. Some mons may have Great Rarity because of Poor Desirability: they may be too cranky, have too many faults, are impossible to handle without special consideration, or are simply variants of another strain (an always-blue Retrievimon, for example). A Poorly Desired mon with Poor Rarity, on the other hand, may be as common as a tribble: once they're everywhere, they're quite boring, easily foiled, and merely a nuisance.

Regardless of Desirability or Rarity, there are groups of people, collectors really, that care little for discussions about either trait. To them, every mon has Superb Desirability, and Rarity is merely a measure of how fervent one should be pursued. Their goals of collecting every pocket monster available, Legendary or otherwise, can often be considered a Fault (Obsessed, Devotion, Greedy, etc.), and is usually complemented with a Gift of Tireless, Unfazable, or Wealthy. Collectors will connive, steal, trade a fake (a self-painted blue Retrievimon), or lose sight of the big picture (leaving group combat to run after an escaping mon).

Pocket Monsters Love Pocket Monsters

And not much else. Sure, they like the idea of being fed, petted, and hauled around to locales that their little feets, wings, or wheels could never take them, but it is a bit degrading to be roughly grabbed and displayed to any onlooker at a moments notice. For that reason, some mons deliberately try to avoid hunters, and a GM should assess a +1 or +2 penalty to that monster's Rarity for the purpose of capture. This penalty should NOT be applied to collectors, due to their experience at tracking and the familiar, soothing smell of the dozens of mons probably on their person at any one time.

Pocket monsters communicate with each other in a series of unintelligible noises that are usually specific to each individual type. While every pocket monster can understand every other pocket monster regardless of their sound or type, we've yet been able to determine what they're really saying. Mons are expressive, however, and it is very easy to tell how they're actually feeling, be it sad, angry, ecstatic, etc.

Mons can and do mate with each other (which inevitably creates a new breed of some sort; if this child does not continue the line, Rarity jumps to Legendary and it earns a Gift of Unique) and can occasionally be violently territorial. Many a pocket has been destroyed due to a mon accidentally placed in the wrong location with the wrong companions at the wrong time. Thankfully, there are usually outside forces that cause this behavior, and careful attention to training and team-based mon interaction can reduce this threat.

Some Example Mons

Herein lies the rub: why would anyone want to keep a tiny little monster, full of animal, mutant, or electronic thoughts, tucked away in a pouch as if it were a stick of gum or copper piece? For every negative aspect of a filthy beast calling your linens home, they make up for it by their very nature: they're small, easily hidden, easily forgotten and, for enemies, nearly always a nasty surprise. Here are three examples of the veritable hundreds available:

  • Retrievimon (Fudgedex #24; Rarity: Good; Desirability: Good; Gift: Faithful; Fault: Irritable Hook Syndrome). The chameleon-like Retrievimon suffers in the Desirability department because, for full effect, you really need at least five to accomplish much of anything. At rest, the Retrievimon is a flattened globe, like a piece of wrapped sampler cheese. Put enough pressure on either of its flattest sides however, and up will pop a barbed hook which impales the intrusion. A number of Retrievimon scattered on a walkway will impale the foot of the first person to step on one, which usually causes the person to fall forward onto the rest of the mons scattered about for further entanglement. Being Faithful like a dog, the Retrievimon will dutifully return the "stick" to their owner (which is why quantity is important: the more mons, the quicker they return). Unfortunately, their Irritable Hook Syndrome causes sudden and involuntary flexes of their stabber which can cause quite some consternation to the owner of a pocket who has been impaled.
  • Splitbeemon (Fudgedex #138; Rarity: Great; Desirability: Good; Gift: Stinger; Fault: Unreliable). So dubbed because of the Split Bee Troupe, the team that first discovered and trained the mon, its ferocity is hard to beat. Once instructed, the Splitbeemon will slam itself again and again into its target, using its sharp Stinger to inflict small amounts of damage in large quantities. Each successful sting injects a tiny amount of tranquilizer - individually, the amount is harmless, but combined with hundreds of payloads, is enough to cause a grown man to be lulled into a sense of complacency, unwilling to stop further attacks or circumstances. While incredibly effective, the user can expect absolutely nothing roughly half of the time: the same venom that causes indifference in its victim runs through the veins of the mon as well. Be sure to have a backup plan ready when your Splitbeemon just isn't willing to perform.
  • Frlockmon (Fudgedex #176; Rarity: Great; Desirability: Superb; Gift: Eats Wood; Fault: Untrainable). When it comes to feeding mons, there can be nothing better than finding one without the picky tastes so many collectors and trainers have lamented. The Frlockmon eats, nay, devours, wood which is naturally and readily abundant. It also is an excellent lock picker, able to slide its spindly arms into the smallest orifice, manipulate the tumblers, and unlock a door or chest in comparable time to any master thief. Insanely Desirable by any but the most principled adventurers (and many justify their ownership with "concerns" about being locked out of their own homes and treasure), the Frlockmon has one big problem: in most cases, locks are surrounded by wood. Wooden chests, wooden doors, wooden boxes, wooden what-have-you. Combined with its Untrainable Fault and uncontrollable appetite, you'll be able to unlock doors with a minimum of fuss... with the difficulty of concealing the fact that the lock itself has fallen to the floor due to consumption of the surrounding wood.

Episode Guide

What follows is a partial Now Playing (from Carnivore Games) episode guide for the show "Fudgemon-o-theism" on your local cable network. Oddly, the show takes its mature cue from Japanese animation and, though bubbly and humorous, deals with complicated themes not normally suitable for children.

  • 101 - The Hatchling. A team of well-liked investigators discovers an egg in the middle of a pasture, with a human female claiming to be its virgin mother.
  • 102 - Can or Able? Faced with the apparent suicide of a pre-teen child, the team has nothing to go on until another egg is found. The virgin mother returns, holding a newborn mon and claiming the second egg as a gift from above.
  • 103 - And Baby Makes Three. The two mons, now hatched and each three weeks old, mate. A third egg is laid and begins to hatch. Whither the virgin mother?
  • 104 - Exsanguinating Circumstances. The baby, appearing unlike either of the two mother mons that laid it, cuts it own throat. Instead of blood, forth hundreds of mons do swell.
  • 105 - Frightened New World. The virgin mother returns, and is carried to the east by a cadre of Retrievimon piercing every few inches of her body. Facing downward, her blood leaves no trail, and our team is called out on other duties.
  • 106 - Invasion, Part 1. With dozens of unaccounted mons, our team of investigators is sent to catalog and collect each one for further study.

Fudgemon-o-theism is currently awaiting word from above regarding its future.


* - "Short packed" refers to the inclusion of a low number of collectable items (such as action figures) shipped to stores, in comparison with the quantity of other figures from the same collection. If a company shipped out ten each of Ratman, Sparrow, and The Poker in every case, but only included three Piddlers in expectation of lower sales of that figure, then the Piddler was "short packed."

Monday, August 29, 2005


by Brian York (briany @ uvic . ca)

There is fire among the stars.

The soulless machines of war which humanity unleashed upon itself have been extinguished. Yet still, there is fire among the stars. Colony clashes with colony. Alliance rebels against empire. The age old struggle of wills continues on, to build empires, or to defend freedoms, to take what you want, or to keep what you have. There is fire among the stars, and it is the fire of Humanity, its evils and its hopes. Its dreams of what may come.

Politician, trader, diplomat, warrior. Whatever fate may hold in store, may your fire burn brightly. Welcome to the universe of Jumpstrike.


The Jumpstrike setting is a semi-hard science fiction setting. While there are no aliens, there are a wide variety of human cultures, with plenty of room for customization. The overall feel of the setting might best be described as "classical Greece in space", but the setting is more than a direct translation of ancient Greece. Politically, there are four major powers and many other minor powers and independent colonies. Diplomacy and international relations are critical to the setting, and even a simple merchant might be called upon to represent his or her home colony, simply by being in the right place at the right (or wrong) time. This article contains a brief history of the Jumpstrike setting, an overview of the technology and society that has grown up in the Jumpstrike universe, and a description of the major (and a few minor) powers, along with possible themes based around them.


  • Pre-Burn
    • Late 21st Century: Jump drive discovered. First colonies founded.
    • Most colonies are left to themselves, and try to develop a primitive, but self-sustaining, technology base.
    • Advances in artificial intelligence lead to the use of unmanned intelligent warships by the Earth and the most advanced colonies.
  • The Burn
    • April 17, 2341: A war starts (for unknown reasons), and, with the combination of AI-controlled warships and couriers, quickly devastates the Earth and spreads to the nearby colonies.
    • The use of autonomous artificial intelligence becomes forbidden as the knowledge of the Burn spreads through the colonies.
  • The Reconstruction
    • Most colonies are completely cut off, without the ability to repair their starships or build new ships.
    • The New Earth Empire and the Core Worlds Alliance are formed around colonies with shipbuilding capabilities.
    • Colonies begin to re-discover shipbuilding.
  • The Present Day
    • Interstellar travel and trade once again becomes fairly common.
    • The Far Stars Republic begins to expand.
    • The Hellenikan League is formed.


The setting was designed as a deliberate homage to classical Greece, with its proudly independent and constantly squabbling city-states (poleis). The reference is particularly appropriate because star travel makes the universe much like a group of islands -- there are no restrictions on where you go except for the distance involved, and the time required to cross that distance. Governments resemble Athens' League of Delos far more than Sparta's Peloponnesian League, although only the Far Stars Republic and the New Earth Empire are especially close to the League of Delos, and even they are not especially close. The diversity of governments was also taken from classical Greece, mostly because it provides an opportunity to be creative when making up your own colonies.

The society of the Jumpstrike universe centers around the colony, the planet, and (for a few colonies) the government. Even for members of one of the great powers, the local planet is more important than the central government, and the colony itself vastly more important than either. Although millions of people live and work in space, most people never leave their home colony, much less their home planet. Colonies prize their independence, and the members of the major powers usually see themselves either as "allies" or "conquered," rather than as members of a larger group.

Every inhabitable planet discovered, except for the Earth and Magna Gaia (BD+05 3993-IV) has isolated island chains and subcontinents, with an independent colony on each island chain or subcontinent. The center of a colony is its Akropolis, usually a defensible site which holds the colony's spaceport and center of government. Colonies also tend to have a few smaller villages, and plenty of wilderness. Most colonies have a population somewhere between 75,000 and 10 million, with an average of about 5 million.

Colonies tend to be governed by some form of representational government. At one extreme are colonies like Eire (24 Iota Pegasi-II), with a direct democracy including every citizen and resident of the colony. At the other end are colonies like Cordova (BD+61 195-III), where citizenship is limited to the descendants of the first settlers, and only 175 people, out of a population of over five million, have voting rights. Colonies may or may not have a head of state or council supplementing their citizen body.

Colonies tend to have fairly large militaries specialized in defensive operations. Warfare is much more common than it was in the 20th century, although "total war" is rare. Instead, wars tend to be fought to gain specific advantages or concessions. A colony is likely to fight most of its wars against neighbors on the same planet, since transporting large numbers of troops is difficult even for the major powers. Since space warfare is uncommon, most colonies have only a few warships, usually purchased used from one of the major powers.

Small alliances are common, but don't tend to last very long. Only four major powers exist, the New Earth Empire, the Core Worlds Alliance, the Hellenikan League, and the Far Stars Republic. The Empire is essentially a group of close allies led by New Earth (Iota Persei-V). The Alliance is a group of large independent colonies who have interests in common. The League is a diverse group of allied colonies with a central government that delegates most of its authority locally. The Republic is a central world (Magna Gaia) which has conquered a number of colonies and rules them by force.


The Jump Drive

Starships are able to exceed the speed of light by means of "jumps" during which the ship disappears from one location and appears at another. Jumps must be calculated precisely, and longer jumps take longer to calculate. The effective speed of a ship depends on how far it jumps and how fast it can calculate its jumps, and the change in gravitational potential between the starting and ending points (jumps must be shorter near stars and planets). Merchant ships take somewhere around two days to travel one light-year, generally in either one or two large jumps. Military ships are about twice as fast. The most that almost any merchant can travel without resupply is five parsecs, which works out to around a month's worth of travel.

Military ships are also built to make tactical jumps, which happen on the order of seconds instead of minutes. Each jump is shorter, and the overall speed is less, but tactical jumps allow ships to avoid incoming fire. Ship-to-ship weapons are also based around jump drives, and any ship without a military jump drive is essentially helpless in combat. As a result of a recent rise in piracy, most commercial ships have at least some tactical jump capability.

Mass Conversion

Military starships generate power using the direct conversion of matter to energy. This process is exceptionally efficient, but each jump still requires a considerable amount of power. Conversion chambers carry the danger of a runaway reaction (where part or all of the mass of the ship is converted into energy, with obvious negative consequences for the crew), but runaway reactions are extremely rare, and the few that have happened have all been the result of battle damage. Mass conversion is also at the heart of most ships' normal-space drives, albeit in a less potentially dangerous form.

Gravity Manipulation

Gravity manipulation allows ships to reduce their effective mass, especially when near planets. The overall effect of this is to allow starships to land and take off from planets without requiring specialized equipment, and also to allow interstellar shipping costs to be low enough to support large-scale trade (even if only in luxuries).


Nanotechnology allows stronger materials to be built, although the construction times are increased. Nanoassemblers, while unable to replicate, do allow the quick construction of small items, if given the proper raw materials. Medical nanotechnology allows drugs to be tailored to the individual metabolism, and microscopic robots capable of limited surgical operations. In general, nanotechnology allows better quality, whether in manufacturing or in medicine, but at the cost of increased time, money, or both.


Space combat occurs at incredible speeds, with battles often lost or won within seconds of the initial engagement. With ships operating at faster-than-light speeds, conventional weapons, even lasers, are too slow to use against military ships, although pirates do use them against merchants (and, sometimes, merchants against pirates). Instead, military weapons are equipped with their own jump drives.

Lances were the first form of space weapon able to attack a ship capable of tactical jumps. With a specially designed jump drive, a lance will jump thousands of times in its two-second lifespan. If it approaches close enough to a ship, the lance detonates, either damaging or destroying the ship. While lances are seldom used now, a smaller version, known as Interceptors, are used to attack approaching Strike Pods before they can detonate.

Strike Pods use the same tactical drive found on ships. They have the same jump distance but a somewhat higher cycle rate, thus allowing them to move approximately twice as fast as ships in combat. Strike Pods are sent out from the firing ship in an attempt to get close enough to a target ship to attack. Pods attack by deliberately overloading their conversion chamber in order to damage nearby ships with the blast. Some strike pods even carry small lances, potentially allowing them to make multiple attacks.

Ground combat has changed much less than space combat, although the tools used are different. With the high cost of interstellar transport, the large-scale warfare of the past is almost entirely gone. Instead, the attacking force tends to be a small, high-quality force intended to fight in urban environments and take over important targets, such as space ports.

Infantry weapons are more advanced than in the past, but still based on the same principles. Projectile weapons are more likely to use linear accelerators than chemical propellants and lasers are used in specialized capacities, but any member of the infantry from the 20th century onwards would be able to pick up and use even the most modern weapons with only minimal instruction. The main improvement in weaponry is in non-lethal weapons, now used by most police departments and, in special circumstances, by military forces.


The New Earth Empire

The New Earth Empire is located between the core worlds and the Far Stars cluster. Because New Earth, the home of the Empire, was far away from the core colonies, it was able to survive the Burn with only minimal disruption. As one of the only colonies with shipbuilding capabilities, New Earth was attacked from all sides by colonies hoping to seize its shipyards. The Commonwealth won these battles, and conquered a number of its former attackers.

The New Earth Commonwealth was always dominated by a small aristocracy, and its expansion concentrated the power further. By the time Susan Northwald was elected coordinator of the New Earth Commonwealth in 2402, it was effectively a hereditary monarchy. In 2580, John Northwald, the fourth ruler of the dynasty, was officially granted the title of Emperor by the General Assembly of the New Earth Commonwealth, now the New Earth Empire.

The current emperor is John Northwald II, who ascended to the throne in 2613 at the age of 32. The emperor serves until his or her resignation, usually at around the age of 100, although some past emperors have ruled for life. Advising the emperor is an elected body, the Imperial General Assembly, and presiding over the Assembly is the Imperial Executive, a hereditary aristocracy. Members of the Executive also serve as representatives of the emperor in the Empire's other settlements.

Adventures and Themes

The New Earth Empire is a group of allies dominated by New Earth. Although most of its member colonies were originally conquered, the Empire's expansion has been based on diplomacy for centuries now, and all of its colonies have full citizenship, with their aristocracies integrated into the Imperial Executive. The Empire is home to diplomats, merchants, soldiers, courtiers, and any other type of character imaginable. The Empire currently has two major problems: the lack of an heir to the throne, and the threat of the Far Stars Republic.

Since John Northwald II (see below) is childless, various factions have arisen in the Imperial Executive attempting to get their own candidates declared as the heir. Northwald has recently married a second wife in an attempt to produce a legitimate heir, but the future of the Northwald dynasty is in doubt. PCs could be involved in this struggle either as members of the Imperial Executive, employees or members of one of the Executive households (or the Imperial household), or as employees of the government or the military. While the intrigue in the Executive has so far remained strictly an internal matter, the situation could become a civil war at any time.

Since its founding, the Far Stars Republic has expanded rapidly. With the Hellenikan League apparently too strong to attack at the moment, the Republic has begun testing the Empire's frontiers. While the Empire has managed to retain control over its colonies so far, the Republic has shown no sign of giving up. PCs could become involved in the tension between the Empire and the Republic either as soldiers, diplomats, or merchants, or even as citizens of either side caught up in a border war.

Aspect Level
Dedicated [ ] (Fair)
Getting Old [ ] (Fair)
No Heir [ ][ ] (Good)
Emperor [ ][ ] (Good)

Emperor John Northwald II

Emperor Northwald was born Christopher John Northwald in 2581. He took the throne when his mother, Susan Northwald IV, retired in 2613 at age 83. Since his accession, he has attempted to maintain the Empire's position through diplomacy, although the Empire has fought several times against the Far Stars Republic. Now 72, John Northwald II is struggling to maintain control over the Empire. None of his wives have produced children, and the Imperial Executive is pressing him to name an heir from another family. Emperor Northwald is unlikely to be encountered in person unless the PCs are members of the Imperial Executive, but his influence is felt throughout the Empire.

Aspect Level
Bureaucrat [ ][ ] (Good)
Drives a Hard Bargain [ ] (Fair)
Likes his power [ ] (Fair)
Annoying Voice [ ] (Fair)

Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts is a staff member at the Imperial Trade Representative on Alphonse (Gl 436-III), the Empire's major contact point with both the Hellenikan League and the Core Worlds Alliance. His job is to make arrangements with small traders to allow them to bring goods into the Empire. Any group of merchant PCs who wish to trade with the Empire, or Imperial PCs who wish to trade beyond its borders, might need to negotiate with Roberts to get their cargo into, or out of, the Empire.

The Core Worlds Alliance

Although most of the older colonies were affected by the Burn, a few were far enough away to shut down their AI fleets, or primitive enough to be still relying on crewed ships. These colonies depended on their trade lines with the rest of the core worlds, and the Burn threw their economies into disarray. In response, most of these surviving colonies began to trade with one another, eventually uniting into the Core Worlds Alliance.

The Alliance now includes fifteen colonies, of which twelve were founding members. These colonies have mature economies based around interstellar trade. The colonies that make up the Core Worlds Alliance retain a great amount of independence, with the Alliance providing little more than an internal free-trade zone and an agreement on military cooperation. The Alliance is formally governed by the Advisory Council, which includes a single member appointed from each colony, along with representatives of the major shipping guilds and corporate interests in the Alliance.

The Alliance's emphasis on interstellar commerce makes it the New Earth Empire's major competitor, while the Alliance's status as the "protector" of the worlds devastated by the Burn has sometimes led to conflict between the Alliance and the Hellenikan League. The Far Stars Republic is too far away to seriously threaten any of the Alliance's territory, and no independent colony is powerful enough to threaten the Alliance.

Adventures and Themes

The Core Worlds Alliance is intended as a trading power, and as a remnant of the old pre-Burn society. On good terms with all the major powers (except, occasionally, the Hellenikan League), the Alliance's merchants travel everywhere, and the power of the Alliance keeps them relatively safe from piracy along the way. The Alliance is also a very conservative society, with a voting age of 45 and a constitution that gives the founding members almost complete control over Alliance policy.

For characters interested in making a living through trade, the Alliance is fighting an economic war with the Hellenikan League over access to the colonies devastated by the Burn. While the Alliance sees itself as the protector of these colonies, it also sees them as captive markets, and a number of recent attempts by Hellenikan traders to establish direct agreements with these colonies has prompted the Alliance to subsidize its own merchants to offer better deals to colonies in the core stars. Since the core stars also have one of the highest piracy rates in known space, the combination of armed traders, pirates, commerce raiders, and the occasional warship makes the area an exciting place.

Aspect Level
Loyal [ ] (Fair)
Idealist [ ] (Fair)
Stubborn [ ][ ] (Good)
Politician [ ][ ] (Good)

Coordinator Natalie Dumont

A native of Alphonse, Dumont was first elected as the Alliance's coordinator in 2641. Coordinator Dumont is currently sponsoring legislation aimed at giving the Advisory Council the ability to tax Alliance citizens directly, something which was last tried (unsuccessfully) eighty years ago. Dumont is an idealist who believes that the Alliance will slowly lose influence unless it is able to unite together, and that the Advisory Council is the only body that can hope to overcome the desire of the Alliance's member colonies to retain as much independence as possible. Characters might encounter Dumont if they are active in Alliance politics, either trying to unite the colonies or maintain their current autonomy.

Aspect Level
Devious [ ][ ] (Good)
Tactician [ ] (Fair)
Leadership [ ] (Fair)
Arrogant [ ] (Fair)

Fleetmaster Robert Johnson

A native of Stracher (BD+36 2219-IV), Johnson was an early supporter of Coordinator Dumont, and she has rewarded him by putting him in charge of the Alliance's military presence in the core worlds. Due to the high incidence of piracy there, most of the Alliance's merchant shipping is armed, which places it under Johnson's extended command (although he seldom exercises this authority). Johnson is also in charge of anti-piracy patrols, which he combines with some discreet commerce raiding against the Hellenikan League. Any character who spends time on a starship in the core worlds will likely be affected by Fleetmaster Johnson, and any Alliance character could encounter him directly.

The Hellenikan League

The Hellenikan League is an amalgamation of a number of smaller alliances, formed mostly in reaction to the growing power of the New Earth Empire and the Far Stars Republic. The founders of the League were determined to prevent the League from becoming another expansionist power, but were unable to keep it from growing quickly as the independent colonies tried to avoid being absorbed into the other major powers. Individual colonies in the League do have a great deal of autonomy, and the League has a wide variety of internal styles of government and codes of law.

The League's government was designed to give its member colonies, and its citizens, as much independence as possible. The head of the League is the Archon, supported by the Boule, which is divided between elected members, hereditary members, members appointed by the Archon, and members appointed by the League's colonies. Although the Archon and his or her representatives are able to wield considerable power in emergencies, for the most part they hold a ceremonial role. The primary exception to this rule is the Strategoi, a group who act as both soldiers and diplomats, holding power in the name of the Archon, but nominated by the member colonies and ratified by the Boule.

The League's society is chaotic and diverse. Although the League has a set of overall legal standards and rights, these apply mostly to League citizens, a position held by only a third of the population. Most League residents are instead citizens (or non-citizens) of one of the member colonies, and are subject to the laws and customs of the colony in which they reside. The only universal laws in the League are that any League resident has the right to apply for League citizenship and, if accepted, must be treated as a citizen in any League member state.

Adventures and Themes

The League is the new blood of the setting. As a new power, the League has very little stability, and even its form of government is still changing as time passes. The only constants during the League's 138-year history have been the Archon, the Strategoi, and the Boule, which were inherited from three of the League's founding members: Albion (GJ 1148-I), Nattara (43 Beta Comae Berenices-III), and Menast (Alphonse, Gl 436-II). Although the League has a fairly short history, it has managed to integrate the traditions of some of its members into its own identity, which has helped to provide some stability.

Like the New Earth Empire, the Hellenikan League offers almost any type of adventure. The League's chief threat is the Far Stars Republic, which has been attempting to eliminate the League since its founding. While the League has fought wars against the Republic in the past, recent history has seen only minor skirmishes, with as much diplomacy as violence involved. Characters could be involved in defending the League, taking the fight to the Republic, negotiations between the two, or convincing independent colonies in the New Stars cluster to ally themselves with the League.

Another source of adventure lies in the core stars, where the League has been trying to secure allies and trade routes. This has brought the League into conflict with the Core Worlds Alliance, although neither side has used military force, at least not officially. Finally, there are many possible adventures inside the League's borders, attempting to turn a loose alliance of diverse colonies into a functioning government. While the League itself is over 100 years old, more than two thirds of its members have joined within the past twenty years, leaving the League's government and military struggling to cope.

Aspect Level
Old and Wise [ ][ ] (Good)
Old and Tired [ ] (Fair)
Leader [ ] (Fair)
Suspicious [ ] (Fair)

Archon Martin Holm

Archon Holm was confirmed as Archon in 2595 at the age of 53. Now 105 years old, Archon Holm is looking forward to his retirement, and the accession of his heir, 38-year-old Ryan Laskell, currently serving the Boule as First Citizen. Over his career, Chancellor Holm has seen great changes to the Hellenikan League. At his accession, the League was strongly isolationist. It was only under Chancellor Holm's direction that the League opened up diplomatic relations with the Core Worlds Alliance and the independent colonies. When the Far Stars Republic attempted to conquer Liberty (GI 793-IV), it was Holm who led the League's military in their defense. Archon Holm does his best to be available to any of his representatives, so any character in the League government, such as a strategos, could encounter Archon Holm, or go to him for assistance.

Aspect Level
Machiavellian [ ] (Fair)
Strategist [ ] (Fair)
Diplomat [ ][ ] (Good)
Lonely [ ][ ] (Good)

Strategos Johann Chengalur

Strategos Chengalur was appointed by Archon Holm to manage the League's network of alliances in the New Stars Cluster. A gifted strategist who made his reputation commanding small fleets of ships, Strategos Chengalur has also shown a talent for political manipulation. Thanks to his efforts, the League has been able to base its military forces with a number of allies, some of whom are on the same planet as Republican colonies. The League's network of alliances has prevented the Republic from directly attacking League territory for the past decade. Any character acting as a League strategos, or other military officer, could encounter Strategos Chengalur, and might end up under his command for a mission.

The Far Stars Republic

Originally, the Far Stars Republic was the Kingdom of Kharybdis, one of the colonies established on Magna Gaia, but it has now grown far beyond the bounds of a single planet. The Republic's government has three major branches and a complex interchange of powers. The First Minister heads the executive branch and must be a member of the Senate, but is elected by the People's Forum. The Senate controls the judicial branch, serving as magistrates in the court system, and elects its own members for lifetime terms, although the First Minister has the power to veto Senate appointments. The People's Forum is the legislative body and is elected by popular vote every five years, with one member for every electoral district on Magna Gaia. Each Senatorial district includes 20 Forum districts. Laws passed by the People's Forum do not take effect until ratified by either the Senate or the First Minister.

In 2550, the Expansionist party won 154 of the 301 seats in the People's Forum and selected Anastasia Korolov, one of two Expansionists in the Senate, as the First Minister. The Expansionist party began a shipbuilding program and quickly went to war with independent colonies in several nearby systems. Due to their lack of experience with space warfare, the Republic lost most of the space engagements, but, thanks to the skill and experience of their ground forces, was able to conquer Diamant (BD+03 3465-II) and Paradise (BD+05 3409-III). With the success of their initial assaults, the Expansionists entrenched their hold on the Republic. While they have recently lost their majority in the People's Forum, the Expansionists now control the majority of the Senate, and are thus able to control the laws passed by the People's Forum.

The Republic's expansionism caused few problems in their wars against independent colonies in the Far Stars cluster, but their recent attacks on the Hellenikan League and the New Earth Empire were costly and embarrassing failures. Many of the remaining independent colonies in the Far Stars cluster have sought protection from either the League or the Empire, and the Republic's potential for future expansion is limited unless they can defeat one of the great powers. The Republic has also faced rebellions in many of its new conquests, especially since the People's Forum is unwilling to allow voting representatives from any planet other than Magna Gaia.

Adventures and Themes

The Far Stars Republic is caught in a trap. Instead of governing a prosperous and reasonably peaceful planet, it now controls most of the New Stars Cluster, but its conquests are rebellious and the remaining independent colonies are allying against it. The Expansionist party has built its reputation on successful military campaigns, and a recent attempt by First Minister Joyce Laporte to temporarily halt the Republic's expansion cost the Expansionists the 2560 election, and Laporte her position as First Minister. The Expansionists will lose more support if they extend citizenship to conquered colonies, but without some self government the colonies will continue to rebel.

Republican characters might be involved either in working to maintain the status quo or working to reform or undermine the Republic. Reformers might be members of one of the minority parties in the Republic, soldiers convinced that the Republic's military is overextended, or rebels on one of the conquered colonies. Supporters of the Republic might be colonial governors trying to maintain order, Expansionists struggling to retain control of the government, diplomats trying to keep the peace between the Republic and the other major powers, or soldiers fighting against rebels in a conquered colony. Whatever happens to the Republic, it will provide a fertile ground for adventures.

Aspect Level
Patriot [ ][ ] (Good)
Indecisive [ ] (Fair)
Paranoid [ ] (Fair)
Coalition-builder [ ][ ] (Good)

First Minister John Masters

Masters was a compromise candidate, selected to bring the Development party into a coalition with the Expansionists. Since his election, Masters has tried to keep both the Expansionist party and the Republic from falling apart. Masters' attempts to find a diplomatic solution to the rebellions on the conquered colonies have led some of the Expansionists to break away and found a new party promoting a hard-line approach against both the rebels and the Hellenikan League. For now, though, the Expansionist-Development-Populist coalition still has a slight majority in the People's Forum. Masters could be encountered either by conservatives or reformers, either as an ally or an opponent.

Aspect Level
Diplomatic [ ] (Fair)
Inspires Loyalty [ ][ ][ ] (Great)
Pacifist [ ] (Fair)

Governor Erin Lockhart

Erin Lockhart is the most successful of the Republic's governors. Assigned to the colony of Diamant, which was captured in 2551, she has managed to bring the populace under control without excessive bloodshed. Instead of governing by an appointed council from Magna Gaia, she has given Diamant considerable self-government, and refused to implement some of the harsher penalties in the Rebellion Acts. This has made her popular enough with the coalition government that a recent attempt to recall her was treated as a vote of confidence, and failed by seven votes. Governor Lockhart would make a useful ally for Republican reformers, or an obstacle for natives of Diamant determined to start an open rebellion.

Minor Powers

There are dozens of independent colonies and small coalitions, most of which are either near the solar system or in the fringes of the Far Stars cluster. These powers are a diverse assortment, with almost every imaginable type of society. Most smaller powers are poorly defended, often with only a few obsolete warships sold off by one of the major powers. The powers described here are a sample of the independent colonies in Jumpstrike.

The New Solar Union

The New Solar Union was formed in the wake of the Burn from a number of international relief organizations. After the Burn, the Earth was devastated, and starvation and disease killed many more people than the orbital bombardments. The relief organizations led a global response to the Burn, and eventually formed the nucleus of a planetary government. Since the Burn, the Earth has managed to exist peacefully with a unified government. Although a minor player in most ways, the New Solar Union is the most populous government in existence, with over 1.5 billion citizens spread throughout the solar system.

The New Solar Union has concentrated on the defense of the solar system, and has taken advantage of the recent rivalry between the Core Worlds Alliance and the Hellenikan League. Both sides have contributed ships to the New Solar Union, and the Union's capabilities were recently demonstrated when a strike force from the New Earth Empire, attempting to acquire a base in the Sol system, suffered a humiliating defeat. The New Solar Union has recently begun its own shipbuilding program, and some of the new classes are comparable to the ships of the major powers. The government of the New Solar Union is based on a combination of direct democracy and a representative council. The Council handles urgent problems, but its decisions are subject to a review by the entire citizen body of the Union.


Ephidites, one of four colonies located on Rhodos (BD+45 2505-IV), was one of the last colonies founded before the Burn. Within 5 parsecs of three League colonies, 4 Republican colonies, and one Imperial colony, this strategically important location has led to Ephidites being courted by both the League and the Republic.

Ephidites has a small citizen body and a larger number of residents with limited citizen rights. Most of the citizens support Archon Martin Chengalur, who tends to be sympathetic towards the Hellenikan League. Many of the residents, and a few citizens, support Exarch Brian Smith, who advocates an overthrow of the citizen government for more inclusive franchise. Smith has recently approached the Far Stars Republic for backing in his attempts to take over the government of Ephidites. If both sides gain support from the major powers, Ephidites may become the focus of another war between the Hellenikan League and the Far Stars Republic.


Korkyra is an independent colony on Merrod's World, the same planet that houses Stracher (the current capital of the Core Worlds Alliance). Korkyra was founded fifty years later than Stracher, and was a young colony at the time of the Burn. After the Burn, Korkyra survived only because Stracher and Heritage, another older colony on Merrod's World, were at war with one another but at peace with Korkyra, making Korkyra the only legal trade conduit between the two powers. Since that time, Korkyra has survived as a free port close to the League, the Alliance, and the Empire.

Korkyra's citizenship policy is extremely loose, with both foreigners and citizens eligible for full voting rights. The only distinction is that only citizens may serve on the Legislative Council, and foreigners pay slightly higher taxes. Only those adopted by a citizen or born to two full citizens are eligible for full citizenship, and Korkyra has many foreigners whose families have lived in the colony for hundreds of years.

Map of the Colonies

The starmaps come from the HabHYG database by means of Winchell Chung and his star maps web site. I wrote a script which drew the maps, and I played around with which stars actually had habitable planets until I had a map that I liked. The assumptions that I used are extremely optimistic, but that's the only way that real starmaps can be used for game purposes.

This map shows all known star systems with inhabitable planets as of 2653 (although essentially no new surveying has taken place since the Burn). Lines are drawn between stars 5 parsecs or less from one another (that being the maximum distance that most merchant ships can travel, and the maximum distance that a warship can travel without being stranded at the far end). Although some stars are marked as belonging to a major power, most have many colonies, including some neutral colonies.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Primitive Fudge

by David Jaquith (davidjaquith @ gmail .com)

Imagine a world with ice walls from coast to coast, so high you could never hope to climb them. Where you must survive attacks from lions nearly as big as a horse while you hunt for woolly mammoths. A world where you must hunt and gather for all your food because there simply isn't a means for growing your own. This is the world of the Wisconsin glaciation, the last ice age to occur in North America.

Imagine a world with ice walls from coast to coast and so high you could never hope to climb them. Where you must survive attacks from lions that are nearly as big as a horse while you hunt for woolly mammoths. A world where you must hunt and gather for all your food because there simply isn't a means for growing your own. This is the world of the Wisconsin glaciation, the last ice age to occur in North America.

There are many books and even a few RPGs that tell the story of the last ice age in Eurasia while there are precious few books and hardly any RPGs that deal with the last ice age in North America. The glaciation that lasted from 70,000 years ago to roughly 10,000 years ago created an America that is so different as to almost be an alien land when compared to the modern landscape.

Since there is so much material to cover, the scope of this article has to be limited. This article will cover the Tioga ice age, the last period in the Wisconsin glaciation. The Tioga ice age lasted from 30,000 years ago till around 10,000 years ago and was the least severe ice age in the Wisconsin glaciation. This article will include many facts, and where facts are used links will be included in the bibliography. There will also be quite a bit of non-factual material included, both to make the article more interesting and because there simply isn't a lot known about the Wisconsin glaciation.


The setting is North America, approximately 12,000 years ago. It's a landscape completely different than the current one. There were many types of animals that no longer exist and cultures that modern man can only wonder about. It is a place where anything is possible and very few facts are known.


The terrain of the Tioga ice age was completely different than it is today, with most of North America under ice and the weather greatly effected by that. Somewhat like modern times, there were forests to the northeast and to the northwest of what is modern America, with a drier climate towards the southwest. Unlike modern times, the seasons were much different. Winter lasted much longer than it does in modern times, and Summer was more like the modern Spring.

Ice Sheets: A giant sheet of ice covered most of Canada and came down somewhat into what is currently the United States. This sheet of ice was caused by a global drop in temperature, but overall this was mild because the Tioga ice age was the the turning point towards a warmer climate. The gigantic glacier greatly effected the landscape due to the weather conditions produced by it. The glacier absorbed all the moisture, so the landscape was actually fairly dry and snow-free close up the ice. Further from the ice, snow could be quite heavy and everywhere the wind was very strong.

Rivers: The water coming off the glacier as it melted caused rivers that provided a clean water supply for animals and for the humans who inhabited North America. Many early cultures developed close to rivers, so it makes sense that rivers should play a big part in the setting of an RPG based on primitive cultures.


There is an almost infinite variety of animals in ancient North America. Described in this section are just a few of the more common ones.

Primitive Modern Animals: Many of the animals we see in modern America were present in ancient America. Just about any animal seen in the wild today would have been encountered by primitive Americans, with the exception of introduced species. Some examples include wolves, bison, and bears.

American Lion: This was one of the largest cats ever to exist on Earth, comparable in size to Europe's Cave Lion. The giant cat was an average of eleven and a half feet long, with the males weighing a quarter of a ton and the females weighing about two-thirds as much as the males.

They resembled a larger version of the modern African lion, except that they had longer legs and possibly had stripes. Due to their longer legs it is possible that they could have sprinted faster than modern lions, though nowhere near as fast as the modern cheetah.

With the largest brain-to-body ratio of any lion ever to have existed, they may have had more complex social structures than modern lions. This may have contributed to the fact that there are fewer lions than other predators in the tar pits.

American lions were most common to the southwest, but may have spanned all of America, though no remains have been found to the northeast. They likely used caves for shelter in the winter and may have lined their dens with grass and debris, much like the Siberian tiger of modern times. They also likely hunted deer, bison, and young mammoths and mastodons.

Mammoth: The mammoths of America were actually the largest species of mammoth. These were called the Imperial Mammoths and stood thirteen feet tall. They had very large tusks and a long trunk. They were covered in thick fur, consisting of a heavy overcoat and a fuzzy undercoat, providing the elephant with extremely efficient fur. They thrived in cold weather, though its likely they didn't do well in heavy snow. They might well have migrated with the season changes, coming north towards the glaciers in the Winter, where snow wouldn't be deep, and south during the Summer where the feed would be good. Like modern elephants, they were herbivores.

Dire Wolf: This animal is closely related to both the grey wolf and hyenas, though it is not the direct ancestor of any modern animal. It was about five feet long and weighed a little over 100 pounds. It co-existed with the grey wolf and lived all across America.

It had shorter legs than the grey wolf, which suggests that it might have been a poor runner and thus was probably a scavenger, but would likely have hunted any slow herbivores or wounded prey animals.

The dire wolf had much larger teeth than the grey wolf and likely used these teeth to crush the bones of their prey as they ate.

Glyptodon: These creatures were a very large, very heavy version of the armadillo. About the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, they likely could only move one to two miles per hour, as they weighed between one and two tons. Glyptodons had an armored shell, consisting of more than a thousand one-inch plates. They didn't have the ability to hide their heads, instead they had a hard bony shell on their skulls. They may have had a trunk to make getting food easier (they probably ate the plants found around rivers and lakes), but there is little evidence to support that theory. Most predators would have had trouble turning the glyptodon over to reach its unprotected underside.

Mastodon: The mastodons were very similar to the mammoths, only about four feet shorter than the Imperial Mammoth and with teeth more suited to leaf-eating than grazing.

Giant Sloth: Also known as the ground sloth, the giant sloth was found mostly in the Midwestern area of America. There were four species of giant sloth in America, though they were all very similar. They reached heights from around three to eighteen feet, the largest having the bulk of a bull elephant. They had large claws that might have been used for digging for roots or for harvesting food from trees.

Arctodus: Also known as the short-faced bear, Arctodus were the most powerful predator in America during the last ice age. While they were likely scavengers, they could have easily hunted just about any creature in North America. One species, Arctodus simus, was the biggest bear ever to have existed, standing five feet at the shoulder, though the most common Arctodus was merely four feet tall. They were extremely strong and had very powerful jaws.

Smilodon: Also known as the Saber-toothed tiger, the Smilodon was a species of cat best known for its rather large fangs. These big cats weighed more than seven hundred pounds and were about the size of a modern African lion. With seven inch long canine teeth and jaws capable of opening a full 95 degrees, their fangs were likely used to puncture their prey's neck, quickly killing any animal.

The Smilodon species that existed during the Tioga ice age were not good at running and likely hunted in packs to overcome this. Though its legs were not good for running, they were very strong and could likely hold down most prey.


Modern man inhabited North America during the Tioga ice age. These people were known as the Paleo-Indians and were very similar to the Cro Magnon people found in Eurasia. They hunted with spears and had stone tools.

Little is known about actual societies in the Tioga ice age, so most of the following is fictional.

Hunting and Gathering: The Paleo-Indians had to struggle to get food. With the major prey animals migrating and the short warm season limiting the available food, much of the ancient Americans' time was invested in gathering food and storing it. These people likely hunted just about any animal they could get their hands on, either for food or for tools. While the men hunted animals, the women likely gathered what plants they could, which ranged from mushrooms to grain to roots.

Shamanism: The Paleo-Indians likely had a form of shamanism, much like modern Native Americans. In this shamanism the spirits of the ancestors, the animals, and a few major gods were worshiped. Whether it was true or not, the Paleo-Indians really believed that the spirits and gods shaped the world around them. It is up to the person running the game to decide whether the spells that a shaman casts are real or not, but it is important that Paleo-Indians characters believe that the spells are real. A simple system for shamanistic spells follows this section.

Social Structure: The Paleo-Indians had a hierarchical structure. There was the leader, often the oldest and wisest of the tribe. Then there were the elders, the men who were too old to hunt but had years of experience. Below the elders were the hunters. The hunters were respected because they provided the most food for the tribe and were also responsible for keeping the tribe safe from predators and competing tribes. Below the hunters were the women and the men incapable of hunting and without elder status. These lower people were the ones to gather vegetation for the tribe and often made most of the non-weapon tools. At the bottom of the social structure were the children.

Equipment: Many things were used in the daily life of the Paleo-Indians, though not all of them can be mentioned here.

  • Baskets and Backpacks: Baskets and backpacks made from woven reeds and grasses or leather were often used to carry raw materials from a gathering site or to carry food and tools. The backpacks were attached to a wooden frame, making them sturdy and strong enough to hold heavy items.
  • Clothing: The clothing of the Paleo-Indians was made from leather and decorated with animal fur and simple beads and even some feathers. Their clothing was much like modern Native-American clothing.
  • Shelter: Many Paleo-Indians lived in caves or under rock outcroppings, but many also lived in man-made structures such as tepees. What the Paleo-Indians lived in was mainly determined by their habits. A nomadic tribe would likely use tepees, while a tribe that never moved would live under a rock outcropping or in a cave.
  • Tools: The Paleo-Indians were stone knappers. They shaped flint into tools, such as spear points, knives and hide scrapers. These tools required skill to make and were fragile, so areas with flint deposits were highly prized and were likely the cause for many territorial battles.
  • Spears: The spears of the Paleo-Indians were unique. They were made using wooden shafts about five feet in length, but it is the tips that made them special. They had a stone point, known as the Clovis point, that was designed to break off in the target, keeping the wound open. These spears were used for hunting small animals, such as ducks, and also for larger animals, such as mammoths.

Shamanistic Magic

A shaman should have the Gift "Respected by the Spirits," the Meditation skill, and several skills related to areas of magic, as noted below. This system uses a word system for casting spells, using nouns for the target of the spell and verbs for the actions of the spell, each noun and each verb being a skill.

The nouns are as follows:

  • Water: Refers to any liquid, from rain to rivers, and even things like soup. It can also refer to snow.
  • Fire: Refers to energy, of which Paleo-Indians only knew of lightning and heat.
  • Earth: Refers to any stone or soil, but can also refer to any solid, such as bones.
  • Wind: Refers to the unseen force of the Paleo-Indian world. It includes both air movements and air itself. It can also refer to sound.
  • Spirit: Refers to the spirit world in general, from the ancestors, to the animal spirits, to the Gods. It can be used in both good and bad ways.
  • Man: This refers to any human and any body part thereof.
  • Animal: This refers to any living thing that is not human or plant yet is alive.
  • Plant: This refers to anything that is alive but doesn't move on its own.

The verbs are as follows:

  • Summon: This brings something from afar to nearby. It does not create things.
  • Banish: This makes things nearby go away, it does not destroy things.
  • Shape: This alters the target, for good or bad.

To cast a spell, a shaman must first meditate and then combine a verb with a noun. To meditate, the shaman must roll his Meditation skill against a difficulty set by the gamemaster. The gamemaster should choose a base difficulty based on how easy it is to contact the spirits in her game and should modify this difficulty based on several factors. If the shaman is in good standing with the spirits, the difficulty should be lowered by a level or two. If the shaman is in bad standing with the spirits, the difficulty should be raised by a level or two. If the shaman takes something like a hallucinogen the difficulty should be lowered a level or two, as it is easier to reach the spirit world when in an altered state of mind. If the shaman is distracted, the difficulty should be raised by a level or two.

If the shaman successfully reaches a trance state through meditation and thus has contacted the spirits, the shaman must state the goal of his spell. The GM will decide the appropriate nouns and verbs and set a difficulty based on how difficult the spell should be to cast. The shaman rolls against this difficulty using the lowest involved skill.

If the roll is successful, the spell is cast and the shaman remains in the trance and can attempt to cast further spells. If the shaman fails the roll by more than -2, he comes out of the trance. If the shaman rolls a natural -4 the spell automatically fails and the shaman is stuck in a trance for at least a half hour, seeming to be in a coma. After a half hour the shaman can attempt to come out of the trance, rolling against the same difficulty used to go into the trance. A roll of a natural +4 gets the shaman out of the trance automatically. If the shaman fails to come out of the trance, he can try again every half hour, the difficulty lowering by one level every try.

An example casting of a spell: The shaman attempting to enter a trance, rolls his Meditation skill of Good against a difficulty of Great. He rolls a +2 and easily enters the trance. He then says that he wants to banish the evil spirit that is causing the little girl of his tribe to be sick. The GM decides that that spell requires the Banish verb and the Spirit noun. The lowest of these skills is at Fair and the GM decides that the difficulty will be Fair because the evil spirit isn't very strong. If the shaman rolled a Fair or above, the spirit would be banished and the girl would get better and the shaman could try casting another spell or could come out of the trance at will. If the shaman rolled a -1, he'd only fail the spell by -1 and thus the spell would fail but he could try again or try a new spell. If he rolled a -2 or below he would fail the spell and would automatically come out of the trance but he could try entering a trance again if he wanted. However, the shaman rolls a -4, which not only fails the spell, but gets him stuck in a trance. After a half hour he can try to get out, having to roll a +1 or better because the original trance difficulty was Good. He fails the roll, and after another half hour he tries again and gets a +4, instantly dropping him out of the trance.

Scenario Seeds

The following are short scenario descriptions to get a gamemaster going with this setting. If you intend to play as a player in this setting, you should not read further.

The Mammoth Hunt

The mammoth hunt was one of the more exciting moments in a Paleo-Indian tribe's existence. In short, it involves scouting a mammoth herd, hunting the herd, and finally killing a mammoth and then defending the kill from large predators.

Since there is a lot of work involved in hunting a mammoth, the entire tribe will go on the hunting expedition, though only the hunters are likely to go anywhere near a live mammoth.

The Scouting Party

The player characters are told by the chief to scout ahead for the mammoths. It is fairly easy to follow the trail of the giant mammals, as they tear a path of destruction through the vegetation as they go. All is fine until the scouts have to scare off a rogue Dire Wolf. If they successfully scare off the wolf without spooking the herd, the mammoths shouldn't be too hard to spot. If the mammoths are spooked, they will be harder to find and the scouts may have to return to the tribe to tell them the bad news, which will lead to hardship as another scouting party has to go out looking for the mammoths, possibly with help from the shaman.

The Hunt

Once the mammoth herd is found, the rest of the tribe stays behind as the hunters try to get the elephants to run into a trap, preferably a valley with only one entrance or a cliff wall. When the elephants go towards the trap, the goal is then to separate one from the herd and then plunge as many spears as possible into it without getting hurt. Even if successful, it is likely that a few hunters will be badly hurt or even killed.

The Aftermath

As the women and the others butcher the mammoth, the hunters must stand guard. They are likely to have to fight off many predators, as the smell of a large dead animal is enough to draw in nearly all nearby carnivores. By now it is likely getting dark and the predators may still try to steal the meat despite the fires. The hunters will have their hands full and there is a possibility for several exciting fights.


This scenario shows what can be done with a little imagination and a little stretching of the truth. It has a strong horror element and should be kept scary if at all possible. It involves a small Paleo-Indian tribe having to fight off the cannibalistic Neanderthal tribe that's doing whatever it can to avoid extinction due to starvation.

The Build-Up

The scenario opens with a hunting party returning. This party should have a dramatic return, such as two hunters carrying a wounded third hunter into the camp when the original hunting party had at least ten members. The returning hunting party should tell the story of monstrous humans attacking them in the night and stealing their kill after killing most of the hunting party. The monstrous humans should also be described as having taken away the dead bodies of the attacked hunters.

The Discovery

The shaman, horrified that the fallen hunters won't be put to rest with honor, demands that the chief send out a party of hunters to attack the monstrous humans to get the bodies back and to exact revenge.

The chief picks the player characters, the best hunters in the tribe, to go find the monstrous humans and to do what it takes to get the bodies back.

The player characters are told where the attack took place and it is very easy to find. There is blood everywhere and the smoldering remains of the hunting party's fire. Blood trails and footprints can be found leading towards a swamp. The player characters, if they go into the swamp, will discover an empty village made from primitive straw huts. There are bones everywhere, most of them belonging to animals, but some also belonging to humans. If the hunters search the huts they will find one with the dead bodies of the hunting party, in various stages of being butchered. The details should be made as gruesome as possible to convey the feeling of horror the characters would experience.

The Battle

Shortly after the discovery of the butchered bodies, the Neanderthals arrive back at their village, having gone hunting some more. The Neanderthals will attack the player characters. The battle should be harsh and long, but the Neanderthals lack the technology and resources to be much match for the player characters with their comparatively advanced weapons and techniques.

Sample Characters

The following are example characters using this setting. The first is a hunter, the most likely player character choice. The second is an example of making non-humans an important part of the story.

Paleo-Indian Hunter

Name: Thunder Voice

Tribe: Hunters of the Wolf

Background: Thunder Voice is named after his very loud voice, and he is quite proud of it. His people, the Hunters of the Wolf, worship the wolf spirit and model their hunting behavior after this sacred animal. Thunder Voice is a hunter, and a very experienced one at that.

  • Attributes
    • Strength: Great
    • Agility: Fair
    • Intelligence: Fair
    • Constitution: Good
  • Skills
    • Spear: Good
    • Knife: Fair
    • Hunting Tactics: Good
    • Leadership: Fair
    • Tracking: Fair
    • Rituals: Mediocre
  • Gifts
    • Respected by his tribe.
  • Faults
    • Afraid of drowning.
  • Equipment
    • Clothing: A leather tunic, and leather pants, both with wolf fur decorations.
    • Weapons: A spear with a bone tip (+3 ODF) and a flint-blade knife (+1 ODF).
    • General: A leather tent with tent posts, a fire starting kit, and enough food to last him through a month.

One-Eyed Wolf

Name: One-Eyed Wolf

Background: This wolf has been the bane of the hunter Walks with a Whisper. The wolf came and attacked his family while they were bathing in the stream after a hunt. The wolf was a rogue and was very hungry. He mortally wounded Walks with a Whisper's wife and her child. Walks with a Whisper fought off the wolf, managing to take out its eye with his knife. Since that day, Walks with a Whisper has been hunting this wolf to get revenge.

  • Attributes
    • Strength: Fair
    • Agility: Great
    • Constitution: Good
  • Skills
    • Hunting: Great
    • Stealth: Fair
  • Gifts
    • Wolf: +2 to all sensing rolls (except sight), natural weaponry (+1 ODF teeth), and can run for fifteen or twenty miles non-stop.
  • Faults
    • Rogue: This wolf has been kicked out of his pack and must start one of its own.
    • One-eyed: -1 to all sight rolls.