Blueshift: Introduction

Blueshift is a gaslamp/“aetherpunk” setting that I’ve been working on for the past month or so.

Origins

During the first half of this year I GMed an ongoing game of “Living Dungeon World”, a massively-multiplayer tabletop RPG involving somewhere between four and six GMs, and around twenty five players1. The game used the Dungeon World ruleset, which provided an old-school D&D feel while keeping the mechanical fluidity of a Powered by the Apocalypse game. A lot of the setting was determined on an “as-required” basis, generally by asking the players questions about their character and their characters’ specialities:

PLAYER 1: I’m going to commune with my god.

GM: OK, tell me a little bit about the god you worship.

PLAYER 1: Well, I said my god’s domain was healing and restoration. So I think my god is some sort of nurturing nature-spirit type god.

GM: Cool. Player 2, why don’t you trust followers of Player 1’s god?

PLAYER 2: Oh, because they sacrifice newborn humans.

PLAYER 1: That’s a lie! We only sacrifice newborn humans on select ceremonial occasions.

Unfortunately, with approximately thirty people all contributing to the world, we ended up with a large amount of “design by committee”: a somewhat homogeneous, traditional fantasy world2. I also quickly burned out on a couple of the elements of the dungeon crawl game that most adventures turned into (and, frankly, that a good portion of our player-base was looking for). In no particular order:

After several years of playing mainly Powered by the Apocalypse games, I feel like I may finally be burning out on the system as well.

When the original set of GMs for LDW decided to retire, I found myself without a regular game. I started thinking about how I could run my own one-GM persistant world, where individual one-shot adventures changed the landscape in slight ways, where you could launch future missions off the results of your last mission, but where the mood and tone of the game was more controlled to provide a more unique experience.

The result of this was the basis of Blueshift.

Main themes

Originally, I thought of Blueshift as a new setting/hack for Dungeon World. It was influenced heavily by Lady Blackbird and Inverse World, but also by the high fantasy/space opera elements of the comic series Saga. Since then it’s grown considerably as I’ve mulled over elements, until I think it’s finally its own beast.

Saga’s fantastic, vaguely classical or mythology-themed races, were one of the inspirations for having such a diverse range of races in Blueshift. Incidentally, Saga is pretty awesome. You should check it out.

Blueshift takes place around the star Behir. Habitable worlds are called islands, and orbit Behir at various distances. Most Islands are formed of a substance known as lodestone, a mineral which tends to draw matter towards it. Aggregates of lodestone naturally pull more rock in, forming spherical or pseudo-spherical worlds on which plants and people can grow.

Most islands, even small ones, accumulate an atmosphere of breathable air. Outside of these pockets, the universe is filled either with noxious gasses or the material known as ether. Ether is lighter than most gasses, and fills the void between islands. While ether is poisonous to all known races, it also allows for the existence of ships that travel between islands.

The races of Blueshift aren’t yet fleshed out fully, but the current plan is for them to be:

The level of technology of Blueshift is somewhere around Renaissance/Industrial Revolution. People (at least, qualified people) understand technology well enough to make ships work, so some equivalent of the steam engine obviously exists. I feel like technology is inherently unreliable, although this conflicts with the requirement that people travel between islands on ships, which are primarily technological.

Magic exists, although it is neither formulaic nor commoditised. A lot of the details on magic haven’t worked themselves out in my mind yet: for example, I like the idea of elementalists/“benders” (a la Avatar) who are able to harness the power of natural forces, but I’m unsure of how they would affect day-to-day life.

I’m also aware that with the majority of “nations” being on floating bits of rock in orbit around a star, things like politics, travel, trade, and war will all be heavily affected. While every world-builder is afforded a little hand-waving to ensure a good story, one of the things I would like to focus on in this world is keeping things as “authentic” as possible. By which I mean: if you can logically point out a way in which some feature of the world should affect some day-to-day activity, that should be taken into account.

There’s plenty of this I want to discuss with myself, and I’m sure some of it will make its way onto the internet here.

The Owl, from John Harper’s Lady Blackbird. The idea of enclosed ships, a cross almost between starships and submarines, comes from here.

Status

As it stands, Blueshift is heavily in early alpha stage. What I have currently consists of a few pages of notes on various things that’ve caught my attention. I hope that as more and more of it coalesces I’ll be more able to pick out what needs work, and to flesh out that particular aspect of the setting.

It’s also currently systemless. Originally I was planning on having this thing Powered by the Apocalypse, but I’m finding myself more and more drawn to FATE-based games. I recently did a read-through of The Shadow of Yesterday, and I feel like this would fit the setting quite well. Even FATE Core wouldn’t be a bad fit, although I feel a need to replace compels with some form of Key and stunts with something akin to TSoY’s Secrets.

Conclusions/Future Work

The plan is to keep working on this indefinitely, until I have something worth showing off to the world. I have made a semi-serious deal with myself to have something playable by June 2014, which is our local annual big convention. I’ll consider it a success if I have something runnable by then, and I get some feedback on it.

In addition to my own private writing, I plan on using some friends as bouncing boards for ideas as I make them concrete. When something is ready for the world, I will likely post it on here.

You can expect more news as this thing develops.


  1. Eventually, I will write something about this. It’s something that should be documented outside of the Facebook page we used to organise the thing. 

  2. This is not to say that the whole world was traditional: some particularly driven (and awesome) players and GMs provided some excellent story elements. But these were the exceptions rather than the norm.