Happy 2’sday, folks. Today we’re going to talk about two things near and dear to my heart: QT Games’ Cosmoverse and why I like my campaign settings large or per the title, why I like livin’ Large (or as was said on SpongeBob, “Living like Larry!” Ahem…). So, in a nutshell, I’ll be taking a peak at Cosmothea through a wide-angle lense folks. Sound like a plan? Still here? Great. Let’s get started!
Part 1: The Cosmoverse
Recently, I was chatting with a friend and was trying to think up how to refer to Cosmothea. It’s not really a multi-verse as I’ve called it before, because there’s just one reality. But it is multi-dimensional and it is crazy huge! My friend suggested I call it the Cosmoverse and I rather liked the sound of that! Even so, it occurred to me that someone might not quite get what a Cosmoverse is, so I thought I’d go into it a bit here!
I’m working on a ginormous (amazingly, that became a word in 2009) map. It doesn’t cover every square inch of the Cosmothea Campaign Setting — no single map could, but at 24” x 36”, it does cover a heck of a lot of area! Obviously you can only cover so much and I’ll die of old age before I could describe but a fraction of the Cosmoverse, so I picked a fraction that is 160 parsecs x 260 parsecs and I’ll focus on that for the remainder of my days.
(For years, I’ve been using hand drawn maps of the Cosmoverse. The image above is part of a large, more detailed map I’m making to reflect more of the areas that appear in some of the stories written over the years and includes some popular trade and military jump routes).
The bulk of the larger map (not shown here) covers a region of space called the Pantara Galaxy. The part of that galaxy shown on the map includes: The Humanus Republic, Interstellar Alliance, Hordaq Imperium, the Xynyx Hive, Dred Space, the Mynax Empire, The Cragg Federation and a sliver of the Hexzyroth Sovereignty. Maybe one day I’ll show more of the Pantara Galaxy, but I’ve got my hands full already! The Cosmoverse map also displays a tiny, but important sliver of the Ruun and Omidar galaxies and includes a cosmology schematic of the dimensions that managed to survive the GodStorm.
Now, if you’ve been following along with the blog or read much on Cosmothea, then you know that the “multi-dimensional reality known as Cosmothea” or… the “Cosmoverse” is slowly falling apart due to an epic event called the GodStorm. The gods still wince when they think about it; a lot of gods died during the GodStorm and have never returned. A fair number of dimensions are gone forever now too. Life is hard in the Cosmoverse and bound to get harder still the way things have been going.
I’m in the process of doing some major updates to life in the Pantara Galaxy in particular, but I’m planning on offering the map as part of our upcoming Arcane Synthesis Kickstarter Campaign.
Hopefully one day I’ll get a chance to write books on the topic, but for now, let’s just say the Cosmoverse is in a world of hurt and there are distortion zones, areas that were permanently damaged by the GodStorm here and there. Such areas are difficult to navigate with starships, sometimes crazy difficult, and in those areas, magic has done some weird things to life in the area, altering things. Sometimes the end result is fairly painless: A planet might be hard to get to, and all the magic-wielding types might have glowing eyes or skin that’s “just not natural!” At other times, life is a bit more warped. I’ll leave it at that for now.
Part 2: Livin’ Large
I thought I’d take a moment to discuss campaign settings in general, and why I chose to create the monster that is the Cosmoverse. I hate to even call Cosmothea a campaign setting as most people think too small when that term comes to mind, and there’s nothing small about Cosmothea. Now, I didn’t set out to make it “the biggest setting ever” and there might be others that take up more parsecs – size wasn’t my goal so much as theme and scope (and yes, there’s a difference). After all, anyone can just add more parsecs and toss on more planets so they can say theirs is the biggest one out there if they want. That wasn’t my goal. And I’d like to think I put a lot more time and attention into Cosmothea than that, besides.
I still have room to reassign themes, using special GM worlds I put on the map, and I’ll give people a chance to theme them later. Every region has a story and I’ll continue fleshing out and describing various regions as the years roll by, but want there to always be areas for GM’s to flesh out so they can make Cosmothea their own. But even where I left a world for a GM to alter, even their location usually has special meaning as I tie in regions of space to particular themes and storylines. So, a GM can easily take one of these specially designated worlds and instead of, or in addition to there being possibly a starbase for repairing and fueling ships, a mining colony or military base, the GM could make it one of their homebrew worlds. I think they’ll appreciate that flexibility.
A GM can take any of these worlds and make them their own without having to add a planet to the star map. But there are many, many other worlds that are detailed and “adventure ready”. And before the map is published, I’ll also give some people a chance to name and flesh out a few, which I’m hoping they’ll find fun, seeing their own world become published. But even without all those worlds, the adventuring possibilities are more than even the most devoted gaming group could explore in a dozen lifetimes. And that’s just the way I like it.
I don’t like to feel cramped in on one world or theme or genre, no matter how fun that world is. Of course if someone wants to just play on a single world, I’m sure they’ll have a blast. Just because I like a big, multi-dimensional reality, not simply a world plus a “high level dungeon mentality” set of dimensions, doesn’t mean it’s the only way to roll. I loved Planescape. Of course it felt and was bigger, so that’s understandable.
Why don’t I just play using Planescape? Heh, well for one thing, I like my campaign settings very thoroughly blended and besides, I’m very passionate about creating stories and worlds. And of course I already had my all time favorite place to play when Planescape came out – the Cosmoverse, and it remains my favorite! But I do like Planescape a lot. It’s not blended-genre, but it is fun. Heck, Shadowrun is fun too, and it is blended-genre, though a very small campaign, and I prefer my own blend. I liked some aspects of Spelljammer too, but it wasn’t what I was looking for either, and Cosmothea is more than a campaign setting.
Like most folks I know who play roleplaying games, I have read many campaign setting books and have played in many, like the Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Greyhawk, Eberron, Ravenloft, Kara-Tur, Al-Qadim and Tékumel back in the day. All of those settings were cool in their own way, and I really liked some of them quite a bit, for what they were trying to be. But to me, those settings always felt really small, and as you know, I LOVE how Cosmothea offers such diverse genre options, so there’s really no turning back at this point for me.
Now, I know some of them were bigger than a single world, and offered up their own cosmologies, but again, those dimensions largely felt very separate, almost added on so that high level characters would have a place to play when they are too powerful for their own world. To players, life was all centered on a single planet. Sure, some went to other worlds, and thanks to the Spelljammer, and much more notably Planescape, they managed to make the playing field feel bigger and more alive. But by and large, most gamers I’ve met consider a campaign setting to be “a world… and of course the dimensions.”
Again, the focus is often small, but the dimensions are always there for those that are restless. And they are for high-level action, unless you do some elbow grease to modify them. Any campaign setting can be modified. That philosophy never sat well with me though. And it seemed too narrowly focused. There’s nothing wrong with it per say, but I’ve always imagined a much, much larger playing field with more options. A world is just a world. There are loads of them, and while there are some that I’m very passionate about in Cosmothea, such as Adara and Cathor, well, quite a few actually, I like the idea of hopping around from one world to another, whether we’re talking primitive cultures passing through ancient gates or jump drive cultures in starships and using stargate generators.
That’s just the way I am. I like livin’ large, so that’s how I made the Cosmoverse. It would have been far easier to just make one world like ShadowRun did and focus on it. To their credit, I think they eventually put out a book that delved into the rest of the system, but that’s only 1 system! And one that we are all so familiar with. Well, as some of you know, I get much more excited about going beyond the Sol system than in doing anything that’s restricted to just one star and the few planets spinning around it, which is probably why near future stories aren’t as appealing to me.
I have focused a lot on certain worlds, but there are so many cool things you can do in a much bigger campaign setting like Cosmothea. And nothing feels tacked on, because nothing was tacked on. The way I designed it (and yeah, I’m always fleshing out more and more regions and still expanding too – and always will be), I made it so that there are several themes that run through the entire thing, which really helps to make everything feel “meant to be”. Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying Cosmothea’s the hottest thing out there (heck and it’s not even “out there” yet, since I’ve not published it), and I’ve read some books and seen some movies with amazing worlds and themes), but yeah, I’m pretty fond of it. Even when I have two worlds that are wildly different than each other, there’s still a strong connection and overriding storyline that runs through everything and affects everything, though sometimes it may come off as unrelated on the surface. Sometimes the players may not be aware of it, but the decisions the GM makes will be affected by these overriding themes, and they will enable GM’s to interact in interesting ways that make things feel connected. And the game mechanics help support this, as there’s just one set of mechanics to run everything, so the players don’t have to keep juggling multiple sets of rules in their heads for when they want to run a superhero or a mage or a space marine or whatever.
I’ve spent a lot of time putting this giganto puzzle together (Ok, now “giganto” isn’t a word — yet), and while it’s still not finished, and never will be by its very nature, it’s been a fun ride and I hope to be able to share the setting with everyone before I get too many more grey hairs in my head! Keep an eye out for the Cosmoverse when our Arcane Synthesis Kickstarter starts up in less than 2 months!