Did somebody say we were wrapping up? They were lying. We’ve got a fourth interview today, extending our stay in Otherworld quite a bit.
Ryan Maggio is a small step away from the other interviewees we’ve had thus far. While just as much a fantasy storyteller as the other folk, Ryan’s main focus has been on his project, Living Eclipse, which is going to primarily be used as a campaign setting for a tabletop game. Before I start going over the interesting details and spoil everything, I’ll let the interview speak for itself.
Tellest: Ryan, what can you tell us about Living Eclipse?
Ryan Maggio: Living Eclipse is an in-progress work at creating a fictional universe primarily intended to be used as a fantasy campaign setting for a tabletop roleplaying game (most likely Pathfinder), but which bucks the trends of normal fantasy by not working from the premise of humanoid races.
T: Are there any races that play the good guy that you gravitate toward? What about villainous races that you just love to hate?
RM: There are no real “good guy” races in this setting, primarily because I’m going for a neutral ground sort of idea. The concept behind the entire setting is that each race is different, very different, and each have their own particular cultural mores associated sometimes with actual physical differences. So, while some races are more mammalian-based, and therefore have a similar view towards ideas of romantic love and sex, others are based on arthropods, and therefore have a much different take on the entire thing. I’m working very hard on trying to make the races themselves interesting, from abstract psychology to actual physical manifestations, so as to create a particularly fleshed out, communal sort of racial interaction. The entire setting is an experiment of sorts as to whether interesting, non-human races can be created and put together so as to avoid the common issue of “Star Trek races.”
T: You mentioned the issue of “Star Trek races” – do you mean the concept that somehow every alien creature out there is humanoid in appearance, and essentially very close to us in presentation?
RM: Exactly that. I find it difficult to believe and somewhat annoying that every race seems to be humans dressed up silly, with a liberal dosage of stereotypes thrown on top. I wanted to avoid that sort of set up with Living Eclipse.
In my own creations, I have three major areas that I’ve focused on. The most obvious is the races themselves, because they form the cornerstone of the entire setting. I’m working on them as primitive creatures up into more complex cultures, including different cultures amongst the same race (to avoid the “all dwarves live underground” issue), but also working up towards a more global history, so as to avoid the concept of all the races living in strictly segregated communities.
The second area I’ve focused on is the world itself. I wanted something different than a simple Earth-clone world, but I also wanted to avoid the cliches of one-biome worlds (a la Dune), while still grounding my world in a realistic, Euclidean geometry (meaning, no mobius strip worlds). The result was a planet orbiting a Hot Jupiter, locked in a Galilean orbit. This allowed me to create a unique physical setting, without automatically resorting to “it’s magic” arguments.
The third area I’ve focused on, however, IS magic. In particular, I’ve always loved the concept of multiple supernatural systems existing side by side. While unifying forces is fun, conflicting dynamic forces is equally intriguing, and seeing how they interact lends itself to the kind of multi-cultural philosophies which I’ve been trying to base this setting on.
T: How many races total do you think you’ve created for Living Eclipse? We’d love to know about some of the races that you particularly find interesting.
RM: As it stands now, there are 12 major races in Living Eclipse. Each one came from some sort of physical basis, usually a specific kind or group of animal, but sometimes more abstract things. One thing I tried very hard to do was to “evolve” each creature up to sentient status. One of the major theories of the development of consciousness is that the use of tools drove certain aspects of human evolution, so I had to make sure each race had some way to wield tools.
As a quick rundown, the 12 races are (and remember, names are subject to change):
Cariolai – A race descended from avians, but which have lost the ability to fly (but have a sister race, the Craelel, which can still fly, but which have no tool-using appendages);
Celrus – A race of sentient mold, the Celrus grow on bodies of weakening immune systems and then slowly replace the nervous system, taking over control of the body;
Daavanar – A personal favorite of mine, the Daavanar are spider people, with four arms and four legs each, which experience a particularly extreme sexual dimorphism, where the females are often as big as horses, while the males are often as small as sheep;
Maodao – A race descended from mammoths, the Maodao stand on all fours, but have developed a highly sensitive trunk which can hold and manipulate objects like a hand;
Oolnobaaltoo – A race descended from cephalopods, they are now primarily land creatures, but still possessed of great color changing abilities;
Ooltor – A race descended from reptiles, the Ooltor resemble tiny dragons;
P!ain – (Yes, the “!” is supposed to be there. It is a symbol used to represent a click of the tongue.) The P!ain are a race descended from scorpions, becoming almost tauric in appearance;
Piccione – A race based heavily on pigeons, they are an avian race which is highly adaptable to different environments;
Sarinoi – An insectile race of my own creation, they are socio-biological, meaning their perceived place in society influences their physical appearance, sometimes in drastic ways;
Tockitick – A race descended from ground squirrels, the Tockitick are the closest race to humanoid in this setting, in that they are mammalian creatures which have two legs and two arms;
Triskels – An extremely different race, the Triskels are creatures which developed trilateral symmetry rather than bilateral, leading to them resembling triangles in appearance;
Velpæ – A race descended from crocodiles, they are somewhat more of a mix between velociraptors and crocodiles.
This is obviously a very short description of each race, but it gives an idea of the distinct nature of each race.
T: Even there, though, you can see that a great deal of effort was put into making Living Eclipse a versatile, well explored setting. Being that this is likely to be used for tabletop, are each of these races free to be played by the players?
RM: Honestly, it would depend on the game.
The races are intended to be semi-balanced to each other. I say “semi-balanced” because, while I understand that game balance is a serious thing to think about in any medium, I also think that the distinctness that each of these races represents comes with its own playing difficulties which cannot be easily categorized into game mechanics.
This in mind, different games can accomplish different things. The first kind of game which comes to mind to me is a sandbox sort of game where anything goes, so long as it makes sense within internal game logic. But, I could also see a game of exploration, with the Storyteller intending to explore a particular race, or intending to use a particular race as a primary villain.
In short, the races as such are all intended to be playable. I do not intend for any of the races to be “evil races,” separate from the others.
T: Since it is going to be tabletop, and the world is so distinct, I imagine class archetypes have a chance to be thrown on their heads. Do you have any ideas about that?
RM: Most definitely. While I thoroughly enjoy the narrative and historical aspect of world settings, I am also a gamer at heart, and I love to work with new systems, as well as to take things that I like and try to work them into my usual systems. Having grown up on D&D 3.5, I usually default to the d20 system, but I’ve tested quite a few others in my time, and even tried my hand at making my own systems.
As it stands now, Living Eclipse is being written with Pathfinder in mind, likely with custom classes created, mostly because the myriad supernatural systems do not fit perfectly with standard Pathfinder.
T: You and I have spoken a bit about the world, and you’ve mentioned the scientific specifics of the planet. What would you like to tell readers about the setting? If someone was to be plucked from Earth and dropped on your planet, what would be the most surprising things they’d see?
RM: While I don’t want to entirely bore people with the exact details of the world, I do want to point out that the basics of the setting are entirely possible in theory.
Were a human to be dropped on the world, the most immediate thing that would stand out would be the massive object in the sky. Like a moon, but taking up almost the entire sky, the object is a swirling maelstrom of blue and green hues. While somewhat deep in color, it also radiates a bright light from the edges, providing an ambient light which is dimmer than on Earth, but more than enough to see by.
As the day progresses, the blue-green object descends into the horizon, revealing two other objects floating in the sky. While both are noticeably smaller than the first, they are also much smaller than the Moon is on Earth. Stranger still, one of the objects is slightly behind the other, but as the night progresses it moves into its own place in the sky.
However, this is all assuming that it is the cold season. Were it the hot season, things would be much different. First and foremost, no one would be out during the day, because the direct rays of the sun would instantly sunburn even the darkest individual. More than an hour in direct sunlight would kill a human, cooking them alive from the massive radiation. While the giant blue-green object blocks some of the light, what little bit slips past is blinding and toxic, a poison altogether foreign to humans on Earth. Worse still, massive monsoons and hurricanes would tear across the countryside with disturbing regularity, requiring quite a bit of preparation to keep safe from.
Now, for a bit of an explanation for those who care to understand (it will be full of some scientific terminology, so you might need to look up some terms to understand it fully), the main planet that Living Eclipse takes place on, Xini, is a fairly normal Earth-like planet, except it is orbiting a Jupiter-sized planet named Elsi. In fact, Xini is a moon of Elsi, set in a Galilean orbit with two other moons, Aoi and Sonaiv. What this means is that Xini, the world most action takes place on, gets pushed and pulled by Aoi and Sonaiv, occasionally pushing it out into direct sunlight. This is a problem because the entire planet-system is very close to their sun, resulting in the sunlight being far stronger and far deadlier.
The reason that Xini can survive this close to the sun is because it is tidally locked to Elsi. In the same way that the Moon always has one side facing the Earth, Elsi is always in between Xini and the sun. The only time this is different is when Xini’s orbit gets disturbed by Aoi and Sonaiv.
Of course, there are many, many more moons orbiting Elsi. Just like Jupiter and Saturn in our solar system, gas giants have a tendency to pick up all sorts of satellites.
T: As readers will obviously see from here, you’ve put a lot of effort into making not only an interesting setting, but one that is ultimately plausible as well. You have a history for your races, but how far into the future do you see this setting going? In a lot of ways, it feels like sci-fi, which leads me to wonder if we’d ever see what’s going on with Aoi and Sonaiv, and if there’s any mystery to those moons.
RM: This is actually one aspect which is intimately tied to the setting. While the planet system is wholly grounded in possible science, there is one aspect which is entirely supernatural, but which helps me explain the many differences in creatures on Xini.
The major idea is that there is a planet, a moon really, orbiting the gas giant which has a natural tendency to produce portals. I use the term portals in the same sense as the Portal video games: connections between two points in space. In this case, the moon, Usam, is regularly struck by meteors and other debris, sending pieces of itself out into the rest of the planet system. When these pieces are energized, often by the powerful sunlight, they can create portals to other pieces broken from the same major chunk.
As such, life is well spread out to the many moons of Elsi, but the portals will not always be active. In fact, a major concept behind the planet of Xini is that, while it possesses many such portals to other moons, they are rarely both energized at the same time. In most cases, both “sides” of a portal must be energized in order to open a portal. Since the most common form of energizing is direct sunlight, which Xini only has for short periods of time during the Hot season, portals to the planet are rare. But, there are ways to power the pieces manually, and a powerful enough charge on one end could, potentially, open the portal anyway (leaving the possibility of invasion stories).
Just to wrap it up, the idea for this entire planetary system is that Xini used to be an Earth-like planet in the goldilocks zone, and life developed fairly well by itself. Then Elsi came hurtling in, captured Xini into its orbit, and moved closer to the sun. With the planet Usam opening portals to all sorts of different moons, microbes from Xini were able to spread to many of the different moons, developing independently in a variety of different environments.
Xini itself has only one indigenous sentient race, the Velpæ. All the others came via portals and got stuck there, forming their own societies.
T: How would this setting affect the elements of the game when players sat down to enjoy it?
RM: First and foremost, it should be noted that most of the races on this world have adapted to the dangerous sun and are able to stand it for short periods of time. Unlike humans who would be cooked alive, the other races all have different defense mechanisms against its rays.
That said, this setting is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar. The lack of a normal sun makes it somewhat strange, and also has impacted myth and legend in many ways. There is also no moon around Xini, which means that tides act much stranger (relying on Aoi and Sonaiv to produce them). The ambient light is less than on Earth (though the races don’t notice that), and there is much more landmass on the world than on Earth (more than 50% of the planet is land, unlike Earth which is on 30%).
But, at the same time, there are large trees dotting a plant-covered landscape, animals do their best to survive, and civilizations thrive. Sure, all of the different races are very different from one another, but the basic premise is quite the same.
T: Humans have embraced conflict for as long as we’ve been on this planet. It’s part of our nature. With so many sentient races, there’s sure to be some conflict on Xini as well. Are there race rivals? For instance, would we see the Velpæ and the Ooltor in constant battle?
RM: Because each of the races came from a different world, each race has their own shared history and cultural mores. Hence, each race has their own histories of warfare and the like.
That said, yes, there are definitely territorial disputes and tendencies for racial hatred. A particular example is the Oolnobaaltoo and the Daavanar. Octopuses and squids often eat crabs that they find, and so it is natural for the Oolnobaaltoo to hunt the Daavanar, even though the Daavanar are sometimes much larger than the Oolnobaaltoo. While civility and recognition of sentience can overcome natural tendencies, old slights often are hard to overlook.
Another example would be the Celrus, which reproduce by infecting otherwise healthy individuals of all the other races. As such, they are fairly universally rebuked, and forced to fight for their very survival.
Much like the real world, I intend conflict to drive a great many interactions between races. Those same interactions are also what I expect to be one of the more interesting aspects of this setting.
T: How do the dynamic systems (environment and magic) play with each other in Living Eclipse?
RM: When I make settings, I always try to start from a scientific, physical frame of reference and then add magic to the mix. One thing this setting is very much not is a medieval Europe clone. The history of the setting is very extensive and filled with sudden changes, from new races being introduced, to catastrophes occurring. Each of the races possesses their own cultures and subcultures, and in areas where the races mingle entirely new cultures germinate.
That said, I love magic, I love supernatural aspects, and I bring that to the table with Living Eclipse. For me, magic is something which should be fun and complicated. I usually like to come up with a basic idea of a magic system, then work out mechanical rules for the system, before adding it back into the setting. The mechanical aspect lets me have a more concrete representation to fall back on, which I can then add fluff to however I want.
At last count, there were 10 or so different magical systems active in Living Eclipse, each with their own rulesets, mostly created by myself with help from friends. Each system is separate and distinct, made to work both mechanically and narratively different. In many cases, different races came up with their own kinds of magic, while some were only discovered when different races came together.
The major aspect I always try to get across in this setting is complexity and shades of gray. Whereas many settings have distinct “good guys, bad guys,” Living Eclipse is very much a gradient, an experiment into how roleplaying something vastly different from yourself can be very interesting.
T: And you certainly look to be hitting that note. Living Eclipse looks incredibly interesting indeed!
RM: And I certainly hope others enjoy it!
Thanks again to Ryan for sharing his story with us. We’ll keep you up to date on Living Eclipse as details unfold!
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