All In - Part 2: Story and Factions

Author :Knight Errant
Category :World Designing

All In - Part 2: Story and Factions

You now have your idea and your map, and hopefully these have in turn generated more than a few notions of how you are going to 'populate' your setting, so to speak. It is now time to set down the framework in the form of the general story or mythos of your setting, and the major factions which are involved in it. To me, the story of a setting has three distinct stages; the universe, the background and the campaign.

The Universe

This is the general mythology of your setting. Here, you define the 'rules'/'parameters' of the universe which you are creating. In this example, the main parameters are that it is an alternate future diverging at the 1860s mark, that space is not a vacuum but an aether, that an Antichthon has been discovered and that technology is pursuing a dieselpunk path. Defining your parameters is especially important if you are wanting to open your project up for collaboration or as a game; if others don't know how the world works then they are less likely to perceive your ultimate vision and conform to it. For example:

It is the 20th Century, but not as we know it. Decades of war between the United States and Russia has led to a global arms race, pushing technology into hitherto unexplored realms. As airships stalk the skies below, mighty Aetherships venture out into the interstellar medium, looking to expand national boundaries beyond the surface of their mother planet. In doing so, they have discovered the legendary Antichthon, Earth's celestial twin balancing her orbit on the other side of the sun. This New World is a land ripe for the taking, and so the colonial powers of the Earth have ventured out across the void to stake their claim on the planet of the future.

Pretty clunky, I know, but you can always improve your opening patter later on. This'll do us for now.

The Background

It is now time to focus the lens a little, so to speak. If your Universe tract is an overview of your whole setting, then the Background section should focus in on the sequence of events which led to the 'present' situation of your setting. In this case, the background is that of the colonial landings on Antichthon and the initial campaigns waged. This is also a good time to introduce your setting's factions. Don't worry about going into meticulous detail; just outline the major players for now (you can always add in others later) and their interactions leading up to the present situation. In this setting, the main factions are the warring U.S and Russia (taking the opportunity to emphasise the alt-history aspect by having it as Imperial Russia; i.e no Bolshevik revolution...yet...(and here we already have a potential plot point going forward)), plus the other major colonial powers (Britain, France, Germany etc; lesser focus on these as the U.S/Russia dynamic is the central theme of the background) and maybe an unexpected exotic one (let's say...China).

Now we detail what these factions have been doing up until recently in our timeline, using our map as a starting point. We know from our past musings over the map that the Germans fought the British in Mordecai Bay to the south, so that gives us an idea of contended territory and colony locations for these two. Looking at the map again, some more interesting ideas can reveal tp us the locations of the other nations and a little of their history. There is a mountain range which splits off from the main run and becomes the chain of seamounts and islands across the mouth of the northern gulf. That range provides a ready geographic barrier, and we can use that to determine that there is a geographical barrier between the southern coastal plains and their northern counterparts. That means that we can keep the secondary nations to the south and the two focus nations isolated in their nothern arena.

Further to this, we can now make some decisions about the balance of power and how this originated from our backstory. I have a mind to give the Russians most of the northern coast but have a U.S colony on the opposite peninsula. This could signify that the U.S has (so far) been losing ground to the Russians but is mustering across the water to renew the fight. I also gave them the island at the gulf's mouth; again, this gives plenty of scope for the history of the setting: did the Americans always hold it, or has it been the centre of a running battle between airborne infantry squadrons doing battle in zeppelins-of-the-line? As an aside, we'll give the Germans a fair chunk around Kessel and Mordecai bays, a sliver of Frenchmen to their south and the British in opposition to the north with the Chinese minding their own business beside them (for now, anyway). Thus we have the map setup and the inklings of a backstory.

We can now begin to figure out this backstory. Again, this is more a draft copy than a fully refined piece:

Although the U.S were the first to discover Antichthon at the beginning of 1931, Congress was slow to redirect funding from the Californian Front to the new Pan-Solar Mission. The Russians were eager to capitalise on the opportunity before them and began to assemble a colonial armada to found a new outpost on the surface, but in the event it was the British who first set foot on Antichthon. The wealthy members of the Royal League of Scientific Societies, otherwise known as the Societarians, had re-chartered their private exploration Aetherships for a voyage to the new world and one Doctor Eoin Mordecai was the first person to touch another planet's surface on the banks of the bay which bears his name. They soon left to explore the wilderness, however, and the Germans laid claim to the bay with the British landing on the northern shores of the Kessel. Subsequent British attempts to claim the southern shores met with varying success; Sir Howard Bromsby's 98th Fusiliers took the West Shores but the Grand Fleet of the Antichthon was famously defeated at the Battle of Mordecai Bay. To the south the French pursued their own agenda, while to the North the Chinese delved into the hills in search for a strange glowing mineral called Anbarium.

When the Americans did arrive, General Solomon P. Robertson discovered that the Russians had already established a sizeable military base at the southern end of the continent. An expedition on foot found that they had also shipped in some of their best rail engineers from the Californian Front to construct a network of railways for troops, supply and the passage of their armoured rail-wagons. General Robertson pushed south with his own railway lines, and after a brief infantry action at the forward railheads the Americans were able to connect their own lines to the Russian rails and push forward with their fleet of battle-trains. The 22nd Armoured Rail division brushed aside the Russian garrison at Volga, but at Dobry Zemlya they were halted by the onslaught of the elite Moskowa Rail Guards Armour, whose Tsar Nicholas wagons destroyed three General Sherman wagons and pinned down the Americans' supporting infantry division. The Russian rail engineers fortified their wagons' sidings overnight, and by morning the Americans were facing an entrenched position bristling with machine guns and field artillery, and had no choice but to fall back to their own defensive positions a mile and a half up the track. The Russians launched a low-level airship attack, hoping to dislodge the Americans and force them to yield, but the Americans held for two hours until the USAS Macon arrived with her complement of P-36 Sparrowhawk fighters and initiated a fierce air battle which raged throughout the afternoon. Despite drifting into close-quarters gunnery with three heavier airships and suffering an envelope breach near the tail, the Macon managed to stall the aerial assault and, with the help of the General Sherman wagons, drove the Russians away from the rails. The situation, however, was deemed to be untenable and the next day the American rail divisions pulled back to the nearest defensible sidings at Fort Omaha, a hundred miles to the north. The Russians quickly moved in and claimed the intervening land as their own.

Elsewhere, at Robertson Island, a fierce air-to-air battle took place as the Americans narrowly managed to land an infantry division on the island and then countered every Russian attempt to do the same. After the battle of Dobry Zemlya these attempts subsided, but aerial reconnaissance indicates that the Russians are mustering their forces to begin the attacks anew.

The Campaign

Phew, that was a lot of background. Now it is time to focus the lens even closer still, to the subject of our particular campaign. By campaign I mean the particular time, place and progression of action which your figures or RP or story will cover. You can set out several campaigns within the broader background of the setting, allowing you to focus upon different events, armies or characters within the canon of your world. from the get-go we have several options for a campaign in this setting: we have already established that there is a fierce war raging over land, sea and air between the Russians and the Americans, so we can set out to make some trains or airships or write about the next sequence of events in the history of the war; we have a milder colonial struggle to the south between the minor nations so we could do the same there; or we have that big, tempting wilderness to the west which is just begging for exploration, so we can make smaller, more character-driven parties of explorers as they delve ever further into the unknown. I suppose that the choice depends on what you want to achieve with your particular campaign; some people might be looking for grand action and thus focus on the war to the north, but I feel like covering the forays into the western ranges so I can put together some interesting characters and make use of my techno-Mayan idea from earlier. A side-effect of this is that the continuing war in the background could affect my characters in the foreground, whether by the cutoff of their supply lines, the treachery of a double agent or a perilous encounter with an enemy patrol. At any rate, the war is still there if I want to cover it later. Therefore, this might be the description for the campaign within the greater story:

As the colonial war falls into a lull following the Battle of Dobry Zemlya, a party of explorers sets out from Fort Omaha to survey the unknown expanses to the west. Headed by two American army officers, Captain Grant Hollis and Lieutenant Jeremiah Powell, and their military escort, the group also includes three members of the League of Societarians, a French botanist, a German geologist and four other civilians. One of these is Rick Boone, a former railyard worker who took on a job as a civilian pilot after most of the professionals had been transferred to military duty. Having found himself flying supply runs between the civilian colonies on Antichthon, he was soon co-opted into working for the expedition as a sort of glorified porter, carrying some of the scientists' supplies and guiding the group with his knowlege of the area and his six-shot revolver in return for immunity from military conscription. Little does he know that the war behind him will soon be the least of his worries...

Okay, so this speaks a bit more of a story/RP focus as opposed to a figure-making focus, but we've now set up the premise of the work to follow in breadth (the universe), depth (the background) and detail (the campaign).