Double Proficiency

by Jakub Wisz

It’s time to make some creatures!

With that lengthy and overly elaborate introduction, welcome to the third part of Blazing Aurorae’s worldbuilding blog. In previous blogs, I covered the conditions in the comet’s tail, as well as the spark of life itself. Today, I’m going to create the basis for all the future fantastic beings that will populate the mists’ vast emptiness.

There are many ways in which cellular life could adapt to exist and thrive in the void-like environment, and I think it’s not fair to choose one over the other – which is why we’ll have all of them.

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Looking to scratch that hard sci-fi strategy itch? Well, the projectaphelion.com is up and running!

We’ve just added some basic world lore and the mechanics, including a nice and slick, fully laid out PDF of The Absolute Basics. It looks great, we’ve made it.


What’s gonna be there? Oh, let me just quote:

It’s been almost two years since the work on Project Aphelion has started. Now, after writing the rules, the setting, a novella, and a full-sized novel, the universe of Project Aphelion is ready to be explored.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be talking about the lore and the mechanics of this hard sci-fi strategy roleplaying game, sharing the science behind it (both the astronomy and the game design bits!), and making sure that the experience of Project Aphelion is as fun for the players as it is to us.

Project Aphelion: Phase 2 blog post

In short: go check it out, we’ll be doing tons of quality things over there, and we’d love to hear what you think!

by Anna Urbanek

Imagine that: I’m 20% done.

Well, not really – but I’ve finished twentieth plant entry from the planned hundred, and I think it calls for a celebration. Or, at least, for noting it in a blog post for future reference.

If you haven’t heard of the project, Herbalist’s Primer is my pet project: an illustrated guide to real-world magical plants. It’s a guide for beginner herbalists, magicians, witches, and alchemists. It’s an exercise in whimsy: a mix of honest-to-science botany, even more enjoyable ethnobotany and folklore, the modern occult, and a completely fantastical resource for tabletop roleplaying and writing fantasy novels.

I like my hobbies eclectic.

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by Jakub Wisz

In the previous blog, I set up the conditions in the primordial world of Blazing Aurorae. It’s time to get some life going, baby. The conditions we have to start with are a bit difficult for life to arise.

To reiterate – aurorium dust creates fierce, magnetic storms throughout the comet’s tail, generating enough heat for liquid water and oxygen to exist in the form of mist suspended in a vacuum, dragged along with the comet.

For organic life as we know it, this is not a friendly environment – far from impossible, however. For extremophile bacteria and even some multicellular creatures on Earth, like tardigrades, this is just a normal Monday.

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by Jakub Wisz

As a hard-scifi writer, I rarely get to venture out into the magical realms of fantasy. To make a long story short, I intend to change that. Consider this blog post an announcement of my next creation after Project Aphelion and Incitatus, Blazing Aurorae. It’s going to be a fantasy novel and maybe a tabletop RPG as well, set in a world very much unlike our own.

It’s going to be a tale set in the cold darkness of open space, in the tail of a comet full of life, civilizations, and wonders. Full of people living their lives on islands of rock and ice suspended in the icy clouds of the comet’s tail, loving, fighting, and exploring space on wooden ships thanks to the magic and technology of their ancestors.

The universe of Blazing Aurorae is far from your run-of-the-mill fantasy pot of tired old tropes and stories. It’s an unusual world with unusual creatures, but I want them to be intuitively understandable and relatable. There are magic elements and impossible conditions throughout; nonetheless, I aim to build it in accordance with known physics and biology. I believe it’s entirely possible to create a fantastic universe based on our real-world reality. In fact, I believe that a world created that way will be much more engaging, consistent, and original than a complete abstract based on nothing but desire to create something fantastic.

In this and the next blog posts, I’ll go through the process of building the setting step by step as I create the world.

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If you, like many people in tabletop roleplaying circle, are waiting for the newest expansion for Dungeons & Dragons to land, you already know you’ll be probably spending some months around Icewind Dale. Arctic adventures are on multiple schedules this year, and there’s nothing surprising about it. After all, Rime of the Frostmaiden promises the players an opportunity to boldly go where snowman has gone before.

Let’s go on an adventure!

If you’ve read my previous post, you know we’re big fans of player agency in this house. If you haven’t – go give it a read. I assure you, it will make it obvious why I’m suggesting some of the solutions and not the others.

All of the advice below applies to running arctic adventures, whether or not you want to have them in Forgotten Realms. We acknowledge and support everybody’s right to not play D&D.

Do you want to make your traveling through the arctic tundra fun, engaging, and memorable? Well, read on, because we’re just about to embark on a journey. From prep to random encounters, we got you covered here.

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I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anybody because I tried to be nice, even though it was the wrong choice. Should have gone for helpful instead.

Lately, I’ve watched a plethora of YouTube videos with tips and tricks for Game / Dungeon Masters that will engage the party and give the players the hooks they need to latch onto the adventure. So many words spent on ways of ensuring the players will not go and destroy your carefully planned campaign. And before you think I have a bone to pick there: they’re not wrong, and their advice is helpful.

But their advice is mostly applying patches to a system I find inherently flawed.

The Game Master is not the only person responsible for everybody’s fun.

So let’s talk about player agency and responsibilities on both sides of the table.

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We’ve been extremely busy in the past month. We’ve jump-started several projects, moved houses, wrote and designed a ton of things, started Aphelion’s playtests, set the ground for a couple of exciting new things, drew some plants, and cleared out a part of the garden. Not that the last one has any bearing on you, but it’s definitely keeping me happy and grounded.


Project Aphelion

Jakub is working on updating the alpha rules. We’ve had the first playtest already, and I have to admit, the core mechanics work like a charm! They cover social interactions, sneaking, hacking, combat – it’s all equally easy-to-learn but complex enough to motivate the players to employ tactics and thinking.

And the game comes complete with an interface. Yes, it’s a thing, and it saves a ton of time on tracking resources. And there are no hit points. It’s all sleek and glorious.

See the playtest here!

Jakub is now fleshing out the character creation – which is going to be a minigame all of its own! A narrative-based step-by-step process, establishing your character’s aspirations, background, attributes, skills, and resources. At the end of it, you’ll have a ready-to-play character with all the stats, backstory, and connections you will need to start the game. And it shouldn’t take you more than 15-30 minutes!


Herbalist’s Primer

My flagship is sailing. Far and wide. If it’s the first time you’re hearing about it, it’s a system-agnostic book on real-world magical plants, thought as an in-world guide for players, game masters, and characters. I write more about it on the project page.

I’ve been more writing than drawing lately (arthritis flaring up messes up the drawing process a bit) but I’m making progress and getting the hang of the digital watercolors. They are so much fun to use! I could never find enough patience to get properly into conventional painting but the digital seems to be working for me.

We have a Patreon now, and in early July our Patrons will get some more plant spreads from the book, as well as a second set of collectible reference cards. Here’s a sample of what they got in June!

In more news, I even got a publisher! Thanks to Exalted Funeral, Herbalist’s Primer is gonna have a professionally handled Kickstarter, print and distribution. It’s happening, y’all!


Incitatus

Incitatus is done! Or its first draft, at least. Jakub’s working on the second draft (and is, apparently, about 50% in), and then it’s pitch time! If you want to read this space horror ahead of time, I’d suggest joining our Patreon this month. You’ll be up for a treat! Megacorps, ghost ships, intrigue, biodrones, mercenaries, and a mummy that’s definitely not looking like a human.

Also, look at this absolutely glorious cover art by Holly Humphries.

Incitatus cover art by Holly Humphries

Other projects

I love Project Aphelion mechanics so much, I’m making a fantasy hack of it. Yes, Jakub is going to make his fantasy game but I need a generic fantasy ruleset to live my life to the fullest. With more things to do in a game than just go through combat encounters.

And this is all I’m gonna show you for now.


Graphic-design-wise, I’m working on a cool project with Hydra Cooperative, and I’ll let them dictate what I can say about the subject:

It’s an awesome project, and I can’t wait to actually play in the Hill Cantons.

There’s a couple of really exciting projects I’m on as a graphic designer too but I can’t tell you about them yet. But I will. SOON.


Jakub is writing a ton of things for Earthdawn, RPG Kitchen, and some secret projects – and we’ll share the details as soon as we can. But it’s all hush-hush for now.


Personal stuff

We’ve bought a house, y’all! This was probably the busiest we’ve been, finding the time to work between house-hunting, childcare (two preschoolers!), the move, some medical issues (I got officially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and started the chemo treatment, so I’m no longer in pain 24/7)…

But hey. Look at my home office view now.

I need to cut down that spruce at some point.


We’re looking at quickly approaching July with hope for some quieter time. It will not be quieter, though, as we’re soon to get back to our Shadowrun campaign, and the Aphelion playtests, and book writing, and design, and gardening, and new secret projects…

But busy is good. We like busy, as long as it leaves enough time for a coffee break.

Our hard sci-fi tabletop RPG is finally in the play-testing phase! Jakub has been hard at work for months writing and polishing the rules for Project Aphelion, and now they’re ready to see the light.

What is Project Aphelion?

If you haven’t heard about the project before, here are the basics. It’s an tabletop RPG introducing elements of a 4X strategy (EXplore, EXpand, EXploit, and EXterminate, see here). It’s clear, streamlined, efficient, and easy to learn.

We’ve play-tested it last Saturday in a team of four; some of us never played RPGs before, some mostly know D&D, some play RPGs for years, some (me) have been with Aphelion since its beginning. Nevertheless, it was the first time any of us played it, and it took barely any time to start using the system intuitively.

It’s based on d10 only and has zero exceptions, yet manages to stay easy and complex at the same time. Crunch? Yes. Three days of character creation? No. (I’m looking at you, Shadowrun).

The alpha rules and the recording of the first play-test (explaining exactly how to play the game and use the interface) are for now available for our Patrons. Why not join them?


The featured image is in Public Domain: The planet Jupiter from the Trouvelot astronomical drawings (1881-1882) by E. L. Trouvelot (1827-1895). Original from The New York Public Library.

When I made a character who wanted to be an arcane researcher, one thing was obvious: custom spells. However, Shadowrun is not D&D 5e or Pathfinder, and third-party content is neither supported nor really created, leaving the mages with a rather limited spell list, most of them geared towards shadowrunning.

As I like making life hard for myself, I made a character who doesn’t want to be a shadowrunner.

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If I was ever glad I became a freelancer, it’s in the middle of the global pandemic.

It’s been quite a ride these last couple of weeks. As I write those words, watching Mary Popping Returns with half an eye (the movie really doesn’t warrant a whole eye on it), it’s been over four weeks of Finland on lockdown. Working as a full-time freelancers was a bit of a challenge for both of us, between two preschoolers running around and me catching the virus and being definitely worse for wear for almost a month.

Regardless, as I’m sipping on strawberry milkshake, I’m happy to declare that the spring has finally arrived in Finland. No snow for a week, almost! The cats are delighted, the dog less; she likes digging in the snow. The things are looking brighter already, especially as I can finally breathe like a human being should be able to do.

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We’re seriously behind on the blog. (This is not news.)

Both Jakub and I have been working lately on about a dozen of projects, all of them cool, exciting, and board game- and roleplaying game-related, but about half of them is still covered in NDAs, and most of the other half is still on my pile of ‘need to write a portfolio entry about that’.

Between the writing, designing, and pushing pixels around for other people, we’ve been hard at work on Project Aphelion, Incitatus novel (Jakub is just finishing the second chapter of the second draft, and the plot very much thickens), our Shadowrun campaign, and a new zine for a fantasy RPG audience.

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