Monday, 6 January 2014

Filling the Galaxy: Announcing Xenopedia & Mercenary Breed 2e

I am the Warden!!

It's official. I can now talk about my latest project.

Behold the press release from Mystical Throne Entertainment, posted this morning!

Aaron T. Huss
Mystical Throne Entertainment
Mystical Throne Entertainment Announces Mercenary Breed 2.0 for Savage Worlds 
SHAKOPEE, MN JANUARY 5, 2014 – Mystical Throne Entertainment is pleased to announce the development of the second edition of Mercenary Breed for Savage Worlds. 
Mercenary Breed originally made its debut in 2012 and was received well. This original edition provided a compact toolkit and sandbox setting for space opera adventures and campaigns. Mercenary Breed 2.0 promises to considerably expand on these original principals by growing from its original roots, providing a considerably more complete toolkit and sandbox setting, but embracing all aspects of sci-fi tabletop role-playing including space opera, military sci-fi, sci-fi fantasy, and more! 
Mercenary Breed is the first Mystical Throne Entertainment product to exhibit a new development format consisting of three core setting books: a player’s guide, called the Mercenary’s Handbook, and GM’s guide, called the Galaxy Guide, and a universal bestiary, called the Xenopedia. Additionally, the Xenopedia can be utilized across all Savage Worlds sci-fi settings as it doesn’t require the Mercenary Breed setting for use. This new format means players will only need to purchase the Mercenary’s Handbook and GMs can choose which aspects of Mercenary Breed they wish to utilize in the Galaxy Guide and Xenopedia. Also, those playing in other sci-fi settings can pick-up the Xenopedia without having to get the full Mercenary Breed set. 
Mercenary Breed 2.0 is a considerable expansion to the current edition, which comes in around 32,000 words. The Mercenary’s Handbook alone comes in around 62,000 words! This new series is being co-authored by Aaron T. Huss, the original creator of Mercenary Breed, and line developer, The Warden. The Xenopedia is being illustrated by Andrew DeFelice with each xeno entry having its own character portrait. “It’s kind of likeTraveller for Savage Worlds,” said Aaron. “You get a very flexible sci-fi toolkit and a sandbox setting filled with opportunities!” The Warden adds, “This is an exciting opportunity for both existing fans of Mercenary Breed, but new players and GMs as well. We’re taking the open-ended sandbox options of the original edition and helping GMs by filling in some extra details for them to pick and choose as they see fit. It’s a bit galaxy and there’s plenty of room for interpretation – that’s our goal.”
Mercenary Breed 2.0 is due for release in Spring 2014 and blog previews will be found at the Mystical Throne Entertainment website:
Mystical Throne Entertainment is the publishing and creative outlet for Aaron T. Huss. He currently holds licenses for Savage Worlds and Colonial Gothic and is a third party publisher for Legend. 
The Warden is a regular freelance writer for Mystical Throne Entertainment, president and owner of Broken Ruler Games, and creator of the ENnie Award winning Killshot RPG.

Cover for the 1st edition of Mercenary Breed.
For the past three months, I've been working on designing new aliens as the author for Xenopedia, the Savage Worlds alien guide working in co-operation with Mercenary Breed's 2nd edition, which I will acting as co-author and line developer. From the very beginning, Aaron and I have been working on getting this product together with the same intentions and purpose of the previous iteration with the energy and direction of the new edition. Through Xenopedia, we can introduce the possibilities of MB's expansive and open-ended setting, allowing any Savage Worlds campaigns to dip into and borrow from as much as they wish, while simultaneously welcoming existing Mercenary fans to something bigger and better.

I've done a lot of work for Aaron over the past couple years, particularly through my Under the Hood column and a couple of articles published in his Savage Insider magazine. When he contacted me back in September with this project, he gave me a chance to read through MB's first edition to get an understanding of its theme and goal. It was a sandbox campaign setting, providing GMs with the tools to complete their own planets, aliens, and corporations suitable to whichever style of sic-fi they wanted to play: pulp, military, space opera, or whatever. What Aaron wanted to produce was a detailed setting complete with everything GMs and players would need to pick up the game and enter the cold, danger-ridden exploits of corporate mercenaries operating in a galaxy full of threats.

Xenopedia is the perfect means for a designer to enter an existing project - by creating new and completely original material for an freshly revised setting/concept. I had free reign on my designs with help from the interpretive and simplified rules of Savage Worlds and a single directive: a lot of cool alien races that don't fit into standard sci-fi tropes and aren't ones you've seen for the past 30 years. And no more humans. Truly original aliens.

Scheduled to launch in Spring 2014, Xenopedia will be the first release for the new edition and it's time to start promoting this sucker. Promoting is what I do and the race begins, starting with the very foundation of this project. Over the coming weeks, I'll take you through my process of filling a galaxy from the core up. Oh yeah, and art previews. What kind of alien previews wouldn't eventually include preliminary sketches? Not these ones.

Phase I: Defining the Guide

I've been a casual fan of deep space research since I was a kid. Nothing to the point of studying it to any degree, but on Discovery Channel and all their many science spin-offs (particularly Discover Science). I guess casual science has been a hobby of mine and a lot of my recent viewing has been with a specific goal in mind: to boost my writing/game design skills. To create believable fictional races, species, and creatures, one should have a basic understanding of biology, behaviour, and ecology. Planet Earth, Blue Planet and Human Planet in particular were incredibly helpful in this project.

I was always a fan of the classic D&D ecology articles and the detail put into Monstrous Manuals from the beginning. I would never use a monster unless its ecology fit the adventure's location and there was documented proof their motivations and aggression would match the event. Not because I needed those pieces to fit, but it was the challenge of adventure design. Someone went to all that trouble to conceive and write it down all the way to publication; it should be recognized and used. 

Both of these statements were forefront on my mind when virtual handshakes were made and it was time to start making xenos. I wanted to draw from what I learned from all those documentaries and National Geography specials and give it the spirit of the classic D&D bestiaries and the flavour of science fiction. Ensuring I could meet these demands, I needed to determine this book's focus. Don't worry about the details; what did this book need to feel like when it was done?

Creating aliens existing in planets millions of kilometres apart provokes an exponential increase in the variety required to not only pull off the publisher's goal, but my own demands on myself. If everything looked and acted like they were neighbours or lucky enough to drift through space conveniently aligned with some kind of shifting intergalactic highway, the breadth required for Xenopedia would immediately collapse. They had to fill many roles for many different reasons; there had to be enemies and allies, the bizarre and the comfortable, as well as the unknown and terrifying. It needed to have something for everyone and it had to fit within a certain number of pages and a fixed number of entries.

The central force behind Mercenary Breed's setting, the Argo Galaxy, is the House of the Alliance. Acting as the United Nations of galactic proportions and run predominantly by the gemini, the Alliance and its allied territories are considered civilized space populated by intelligent, artistic species acting as the middle of the galaxy. To help provide a teaser of the Argo Galaxy and simultaneously keep the Alliance out of Xenopedia enough to make it a stand-alone product, I came up with the Academy. Or the Academy of Interstellar Studies and Ecologies, a non-profit organization acting outside of the Alliance (yet within their reach) solely for the interests of science, geography, and history. 

The Xenopedia is a resource for travellers hitting the dark realms of space, be they military, civilian, or corporate. A kind of traveller's guide to dealing with aliens for the first time, complete with detailed stats on an average member provided in terms that co-incidentally match the Savage Worlds system. (Let this be a lesson to you kids out there; the future will soon acknowledge SW as having scientific merit.) Listing the thirty most common alien species encountered in open space, the Xenopedia offers a detailed alphabetical entry on its society, origins and environment, as well as example citizens, rebels, and leaders with every entry. To preview MB's 2nd edition, certain entries will have suggestions for integrating the entry into the Argo Galaxy and the setting's core races will be represented. 

Writing a supplement "in character" helps with the design process and helps keep essential elements in check. It worked out surprisingly well in Killshot and there's no reason to stop now. Besides, some of my favourite supplements were ones you could actually hand over to players during a game while doubling as a visual aid, such as An Explorer's Guide to Barsaive from the Barsaive boxed set for Earthdawn's 1st edition. Brilliant supplement. That's my goal with Xenopedia.

Next: Each entry came with a list of demands from the publisher and the challenge became finding shortcuts to condense each alien effectively as a society and individuals. 

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