Sunday, June 28, 2020

Last Planet Campaign Primer

Time, once thought ineffable, is hurtling toward an end. A massive, sentient, hyper-intelligent black hole known as Ultima Zero has opened at the center of the universe and is slowly consuming our reality. Inevitably, all we know will meet its singularity.

The world we find ourselves in is old, like everything else. It has gone through more names, more suns, more eras and epochs and eons than anyone cares to count. The face of the planet has reshaped more than the surface of an ocean during a raging storm. The gods have all died ages ago. Utopias, apocalypses, and everything in between have come and gone.

One could say the current era, which very well may be the last, is a dark age. But the ghosts of the old world are restless, and the terrible artifacts of the past have a way of being found again. People stay tightly clustered in their towns and cities for fear of the unknowable wilderness beyond.

No one knows exactly when things fell apart, except that it was somewhere in the misty haze of the "long ago" when Ultima Zero was born. The legend goes that the nations of the world united to form the Eternal League, a coalition devoted to countering the insurmountable threat of Ultima Zero. Yet something went wrong, and the League fell to internal conflict (or perhaps something else). The nations of the world descended into chaos.

When the turmoil reached its peak, one of the remaining countries left the planet. Stories differ on the details but it is understood that the people of the nation of Valia, one of the founders of the Eternal League, seceded from the planet and went off beyond the sky.

No one knows what means the Valians used to leave the planet, yet from the dregs of history depictions have been recovered showing Valians climbing onto the backs of giants that leap out into space. No other evidence has been found to further elucidate the mystery, and many believe the story to be only a myth. Still, though, some swear to have found remnants of these giants buried in the dark recesses of forsaken land.

It is now indeterminate millennia later. Those who seek it understand that power can be found through covenant with the detritus of the restless past. Others look toward the lore of the ancients, for so many minds have come and gone from this world that one could only imagine what great secrets lie forgotten. And some merely strive to make sense of the world through study and contemplation amidst the calamity Ultima Zero has wrought upon space and time.

Society is reforming, and new nations are just starting to emerge. The greatest of which was the city-state of Zenonia. The megalopolis was built around several ancient megastructures and securely located on the coast of the inhospitable Black Desert, accessible only by sea or sky. But today it has been destroyed.

Three giant air-fairing vessels in the form of massive whirling heads appeared above Zenonia. No one alive saw how they approached. From the totems' mouths spewed countless insectile creatures that laid waste to the city, dropping bombs the size of boulders that explode in flashes of light and heat so great everything in their radius gets instantly vaporized. Zenonia was painstakingly constructed over the course of centuries, only to be returned to the ashes upon which it was built in a matter of hours.

Few survived, and even fewer who surveyed the attack knew what it meant: the Valians have returned. And they seek to resurrect the Eternal League by whatever means necessary.


This is a primer on the campaign I am currently running. If you're at all familiar with the influences then they are probably obvious to you. I'm borrowing liberally from the Dying Earth, Gundam, Moebius' Edena saga, and a bunch of other things that would typically be considered "science fantasy" or "gonzo." 

The first session was the destruction of Zenonia. I had set it up to be a pretty tight flowchart-style succession of scenarios and by the end of it the players had escaped by airship and but were stranded on the Cerulean Valley, where I intended for the first part of the campaign to take place. We're only a couple sessions in so far but the players have already decided they want to set up a trading/delivery/smuggling operation and find their coin by moving goods. 

This seems like a fun idea, even if it was not what I was expecting when I was putting the campaign together. I had so far only skimmed Luka Rejec's Ultraviolet Grasslands since it seems like it was influenced by the sort of stuff I was taking inspiration from but now I better read it again to harvest more material from it to graft unto my rapidly bloating campaign since it has some rules and mechanics that are undeniably relevant. I probably ought to re-watch Firefly too. 

So a lot of this cosmic universe-ending stuff is mostly in the background. I don't really intend for it to come up much on a session-to-session basis, since there will be plenty of other stuff for the players to deal with. I mostly just wanted a plot device to justify obvious anachronisms and time-fuckery and give me a broad enough field of hooks to draw on later should the need arise. Plus I've always been interested in near-apocalypse settings but never had the chance to do one myself. 

The apocalypse is probably never going to happen, in that Ultima Zero will likely never swallow the planet over the course of play, but the threat still needs to be there looming just out of sight. After all, we know the sun is never going to explode reading Jack Vance's stories but the fact that it might makes everything else that much more poignant and absurd. 

One of the concepts I'm most excited about exploring is the Valiens, who at the outset I had intended to be the Elf equivalent. I read Seveneves by Neal Stephenson last year and while it definitely was not his best work I was really fascinated with how he portrayed the last remaining humans rebuild and revive their species in space after the earth was made inhospitable. 

Stephenson went about it in his typical fashion, meaning that everything plays out as realistically as I could possibly imagine—if some time in the near future the moon explodes and breaks into pieces small enough to plummet toward the earth in a world-ending catastrophe, I will certainly find myself seeing the efforts made to get off the planet and thinking "ah yes, this is exactly how Stephenson put it." 

The experience of reading about the changes humans underwent after the [spoiler?] 5000-year time skip was just one of those things that stuck with me long after the other details of the plot started fading from memory. The Valians left and were forced into survival mode, meaning genetic modifications and Zardoz-style society of strict adherence to the common cause. 

I haven't decided if I want to do play reports yet but I envision that much of the stuff I put on the blog in the future will be in some way related to this campaign. So LOOK FORWARD TO IT while you STILL HAVE THE TIME. 

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