Cover Illustration by Olli Juutilainen
I have not written too many blog posts in English (yet), but as we are getting the English translation (by a professional translator) finally done and the Indiegogo launch is getting closer, I’ve decided to post a few articles about Astraterra. Yes. I know, we were supposed to release the game during the summer already, but unfortunately we were not ready for that and we did not want to rush the game out.
But, back to the topic at hand.
As I cannot really rewrite the dev blog I did for the Finnish edition of Astraterra, and there is no point in translating them either, I decided to start a series of articles telling the story behind Astraterra. But, before moving to the actual topic of this first article in the series, a few words about Astraterra RPG.
So, what is Astraterra?
Astraterra is a tabletop role-playing game of wondrous adventures for all ages. The game is set in an amazing fantasy world with steampunk and science fiction elements.
This pretty much summarizes what Astraterra is about and you can find more about the setting and the game mechanics on this website, but at first I would like to tell you the story behind Astraterra and later I will tell you a bit more about how we shaped Astraterra to its current form.
When we started playing the first prototype of Astraterra with my three oldest kids in 2013, the idea of the setting had been there for awhile already. Some time in 2007 or 2008 I came up with an idea about a world where a ringworld had been shattered into pieces and there would be solar sail ship’s traversing the void between the shards of the broken ringworld. At that time the game was supposed to be more serious with an anime flair, but that idea did not quite fly.
After a few years, in 2013 I got an inspiration that the setting could be used as a base for a children’s RPG and I wrote a short, simplified version of the original concept. My oldest son (11 at that time) read the concept and he liked it. That was when I decided to make a quick prototype of the game.
I wanted to give us (me and kids) a framework for the setting (a broken ringworld, ships, islands and continents flying in an infinite sky), but otherwise I gave the kids pretty much free hands to decide what their characters were, what equipment they had and so on. Basically the kids set the tone and style of Astraterra at that point. After that we just built on that and a bit by bit the pieces started to come together.
The most important piece, however, was the moment when I understood that Astraterra is not just for kids. It started as a children’s RPG and it is developed together with my kids, but when we started playtesting Astraterra with my friends and with a small beta playtester group, it quickly became apparent that Astraterra had a quality that interested players of all ages. After realizing this I stopped referring Astraterra as a kids’ RPG. It’s not just that, its an adventure RPG for all ages.
We had already established that the player characters were explorers, who explored the remote islands and strange alien and ancient ruins found on those. In the beginning the players were a crew on an exploratory solar sail ship, but handling all the other crew, traveling and such matters felt too much for the youngest in the group (the youngest player was 5 back then) and we needed to streamline it a bit how the players got into an adventure – and we were missing a clear motive for it too. That’s when we came up with the fargates.
The fargates are the remnants of an ancient teleport network built by the Ancestors, who also built the ringworld of Astraterra. Usually the Fargates comprise of two black pillars resembling some kind of stone-like material. The pillars have weird symbols engraved on them and when they are activated the symbols start to glow faintly. If a person walks near a fargate glowing holo-runes appear in the air in front of the pillars. If the runes are pressed in correct order a teleportal opens up. A teleportal is a bright glowing disc floating between the pillars. Arcs of light, very much like the electrical discharges from a tesla coil, connect the teleportal to the pillars. Most fargates can produce a teleportal that fits a grown person and maybe a small beast of burden like a mule, a pony or a goro-lizard (the typical substitute for a horse all around Astraterra), and the portal stays open only for a short period of time, before it shuts down and must recharge for 4 to 24 hours.
The Gate Guild and the Teleport Explorers’ Society
The fargates were dead for thousands of years, but roughly a decade or two ago they have activated again and no one really knows how or why. Soon after the re-activation of the fargates, the Gate Guild was formed. And soon after that the Teleport Explorers’ Society. The Gate Guild handles the technical side of figuring out new gate codes and the maintenance of the gates, while the Teleport Explorers’ Society provides enough courageous (or greedy) explorers for the teleport expeditions. Both of the organizations are independent and do not take sides in the politics of Astraterra. All of the great empires of Astraterra (the Kingdom of Escalon, the Malorian Empire and the Arkadian Dynasties) have contracts with the both of the organizations. Although all empires of course have their own teleport exploration efforts also, but the Gate Guild seems to have an uncanny understanding of how the fargates operate.
Now that the ringworld was broken, the network is all messed up and no one really knows where each of the gates lead. The Gate Guild hires teleport explorers to investigate what’s on the other side of the gate and to activate the power source at the destination (The “hibernating” gates can be reached only through a gate with a working power source. If the central pillar is not brought back online, the network cannot be expanded any further). The deal is usually simple: The right to use the gate belongs to the Gate Guild and the explorers can keep all the treasure they can carry home from their expedition.
The fargates proved to be a perfect solution for our problem. It provided us with a fast means of getting straight to the adventure and a clear goal and motivation for the players. Of course the characters could have other goals and motives than just the treasure, but that is another matter.
Next: The World of a Thousand Flying Islands