Vanadis-13NE is a manned space station in orbit of Neptune. It’s main purpose is to scan for information about Neptune and it’s moons, but also to pick up radio signals from space and monitor astronomical phenomena in the Kuiper Belt and beyond. It was built by the Swedish Space Agency in 2090 and deployed shortly after, it is currently the only earth construction in Neptune’s orbit.
Vanadis has a crew of four scientists who typically serve for 24 months on overlapping rotations. It can host another 10-12 people in temporary quarters when needed, and other earth ships may dock to replenish supplies and get help with repairs. It get’s lonely out there, so the crew of Vanadis-13NE are happy to welcome guests whenever possible.
Please Note: Termination Shock is a work in progress and an ongoing project, it is updated every once in a while when I’m in the mood for. It is meant as a setting concept for Old-School Renaissance games and early versions of D&D.
Termination Shock is not about grand scale, travelling the galaxy and meeting alien civilisations. It’s about mankind’s attempts of taming the great, untamable frontier. That is not to say it’s not a grand adventure! It’s about setting off into space to repair the wreckage of our space infrastructure, and to explore how petty our first steps into the unknown are.
Background – Setting the stage
It’s 2114, and we are the masters of our solar system. A breakthrough in nuclear science made it possible for us to build small fusion reactors suitable to power starships, and discoveries within the field of electromagnetism led us to invent magnetic propulsion technology that could send us through space faster than ever before. Far from the warp travel of science fiction of course, but still fast enough to be able to reach the Kuiper belt at the edge of our system in a year’s travel.
We built star ports and space stations. We put permanent science outposts on Mars and on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. We mined precious metals on Mercury and in the asteroid belts. Radio relay beacons made instant communication possible between earth and the motley armada of commercial and governmental starships setting off to explore the vast darkness of space. It is earth’s second great age of discovery, and a time where great heroes are born.
We have not yet landed on Orcus, so for sometime yet we do not know Hell.
Then all went silent and dark. A few months ago a particle storm suddenly swept through the solar system and wiped out almost all of our sensitive electrical components. The radio beacons broke, starships lost their propulsion and the heroes of mankind found themselves dead in the water, millions of kilometers from home. Earth managed quite well, the atmosphere withstood most of the storm although the inhabitants got to experience the greatest aurora borealis in the history of the planet.
Here begins our campaign. The player characters make up the crew of one of the few starships that survived the storm. They will set off into space against a backdrop of a solar system gone dark, where hundreds of drifting starships, millions of kilometers away, are either cold, floating tombs or small beacons of flickering life, their crews slumbering in life-support pods. On planets and moons and asteroids mankind’s earliest space-colonists waits to be rescued, or at least given a proper burial.
Is space crowded?
Well, no. Hundreds of starships are out there, drifting, as well as several large space stations, satellites and other constructions of mankind, but keep in mind that the solar system is almost unbelievably vast. When this campaign starts, Pluto is 7.37593 billion kilometers from Earth. The likelihood of bumping into another soul when traveling the solar system is microscopic unless you are actively trying to rendezvous. During the course of this campaign, the heroes will at times feel very small and very lonely. Space is dark, silent and often utterly terrifying.
And that’s true even before we land on Orcus.
Are there aliens?
Well, yeah. There are probably things that lurk in the darkness. There will be some insidious space goo and other scary stuff like mind-controlling bacteria. The characters might even pick up an alien radio signal hidden in the static or something similarly strange. It’s not Star Trek or Wars, though. There will be no fraternizing with intelligent, human-like alien civilizations.
Don’t land on Orcus, though. Seriously.
The things we build for space is rugged. There are no smart phones or other delicate electrical gadgets. Keyboards are mechanical and goes “clunk” when you hit the keys. Computers are built to do very specific things, we do not waste processor power on graphical interfaces or color screens if we don’t have to. Screens are black with green text.
We like nuclear energy, because it almost never needs refueling and most of the time it doesn’t explode. Our ship’s engines create magnetic fields, and we surf them at incredible speeds. We can reach Mars in weeks. We have built weapons that can shoot rays, but most of the time we prefer things that say bang.
We have built robots to help us with menial tasks. Some of them show signs of eerie intelligence though, as if our AI-blocking protocols isn’t as safe as the manufacturer’s claim them to be.
Starships are very, very expensive. They are built and commandeered by corporations, governments and eccentric billionaire adventurers.
For the last hundred years or so, cosmic phenomenons, radiation fields and electrical storms has increased in our system, and it has made communication over vast distances much harder than it used to be. We now rely heavily on a network of radio relay satellites to facilitate transmissions between planets, stations and ships. Bandwidth is low. We cannot submit video, and images arrive distorted. Since the storm, all of these satellites needs to be repaired.
How is life on Earth?
Pretty much like it’s always been. Humans are quite often assholes to each other, and we pollute our planet. It’s not apocalyptic, but could be better. We still desire fame, money and power. The rich are very rich, and the poor are very poor. Kids in shit countries die from diseases that can be prevented. The middle class has a pretty decent life, most of the time. But little of that really matters to the players or their characters, because this campaign is not about earth.
The “Danse Macabre” is an artistic genre from the late middle ages. It usually depicts skeletons or skeletal figures dancing, and is meant to symbolise the universality of death. I was really inspired by the danse macabre for this illustration of an undead skeleton dancing on top of it’s own grave.
If you are as fond of the undead as I am, check out some of my undead-themed dungeon maps, perfect for horror-fantasy adventures!
As Dungeon Master you’re responsible for making up interesting and rememeberable non-player-characters (NPCs). It’s easy to focus on the most exciting ones – evil villains and mighty heroes. However, I think it’s really important to also present mundane NPCs to your players.
Creating some friendly and likeable townsfolk can really bring another layer to the adventure. Give the player characters something to protect. Not all adventures needs to be about finding gold and treasure (although that is certainly important as well). If you can get the players to feel for the common folks they will get more invested and put themselves in harm’s way to keep them safe. Can you get them to embark on adventures without any other reward than the gratefullness of the village?
The Spudfields are just those kinds of NPCs. Warm and welcoming, truly friendly an honest people. They don’t have anything more to offer than their friendship and a warm meal – but sometimes that might be just what the adventurers need.
In early editions of Dungeons & Dragons (as well as in many of their modern day OSR clones) one of the goals of the game is to advance in power and wealth to the point where you can build a stronghold. The type of stronghold your character can build depends on his class; clerics build temples, magic-users erect towers, thieves establish guilds, etc.
In D&D B/X from 1981 (as well as in it’s outstanding modern clone “Old-School Essentials“) the fighter is the only class save the halfling without a level restriction for establishing such a stronghold, although they still need to raise the funds somehow. This is my vision of a typical fighter keep, this one located in secluded Dunkelmoor which is a backwater part of my campaign world.
The holy water sprinkler is a mace-like weapon that can be used to sprinkle holy water when fighting undead monsters like zombies, vampires and ghouls.
In real medieval times there existed a mace-like weapon called the “holy water sprinkler” because of it’s resemblance to the aspergillum used in the Catholic Mass. It was of course just a club, but I wanted to pursue the concept a bit further (although I’m sure I’m not the first one to think of this).
This fantasy version of the holy water sprinkler has a hollow mace head with a screw-on lid. It can be loaded with a vial of holy water that breaks on impact, splashing (or rather sprinkling) holy water on the target.
One vial contains enough water for three strikes, however it will deal a little less extra damage for each hit as the water is dispersed (1d8/1d6/1d4). Base damage for the weapon is the same as a mace (1d6 in B/X). Reload time is three rounds.
This is obviously the perfect weapon for anyone on the hunt for the undead. It even comes complete with a zombie-dispatching brain-spike on the top!
For some reason I’ve never outgrown weapon illustrations in roleplaying games. As a youngling I usually flipped right to the equipment chapter when picking up a new game, fantasizing about gearing up for adventure.
Some of the early versions of D&D (as well as some of it’s modern clones) sadly lack weapon illustrations. Therefore I took it upon me to hand-draw a chart for dungeon masters to print and hand out to their players.
I hope you will enjoy this onepager, illustrating all the weapons in the equipment list of D&D B/X, released in 1981. Of course it should serve as inspiration for any quasi-medieval fantasy roleplaying game. I myself intend to use it for Old-School Essentials which is an amazing B/X close.
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Forget the romantic idea of thieves as roguish scoundrels, daring swashbucklers and charming tricksters. The townhouse of the thieves’ guild is a sombre place, it’s labyrinthine hallways filled with tragedy, deceit and greed.
There is no honor among thieves, only ruthless ambition and a long trail of suffering. Sooner or later this trail always lead to the House of Withered Flowers.
The Blacksand Bastion is the main stronghold of the Emerald Edge mercenary company. Experts at desert survival, the Emerald Edge is the only free company in the Ossuan desert. They are regularly employed as guides and caravan guards by rich merchants. The company are also able to muster larger battlefield formations when such a contract is secured.
The stronghold of the Emerald Edge is named after the region of the desert where it is located. Blacksand is a stretch of desert known for it’s coarse, volcanic sands and rocky terrain. It is an almost lifeless wilderness and the Blacksand Bastion is located on top of one of the few sources of water. While the Opal Trail runs through Blacksand, few caravans stop here to make camp unless absolutely necessary.
The Blacksand Bastion consists of two main structures: the keep and the tower barracks.
The keep houses the leadership of the Emerald Edge company; the Ra’id (major, company master) Abbad, his chief lieutenant Hazem and the master-of-arms Salman Salim. The company train new soldiers in Blacksand so there are usually around 20-50 recruits stationed in the ground floor of the keep. The keep also houses the company armory, commonly refered to as “the thousand spears”, as well as kitchen, library and treasure chambers. There is a large bath house in the keep cellar.
The fifty men of the elite Qalb unit is permanently stationed in the tower barracks. They are lead by veteran lieutenant Sol-Zaluum nicknamed “the Scorpion” by the Emerald Edge and “the Death Stalker” by their enemies.
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