Friday, July 8, 2011

Terra Incognita - An Introduction

As promised, we now enter a new and hopefully diverting chapter of this blog. There is a campaign I ran several years, ago, one that I adapted into a television pilot script during my stint at film school, that I still think is really cool and worth revisiting. The problem, the reason this blog wasn't about this campaign from the start, is that it's not a complex and dense world filled with mysteries and infinite possibilities -- it's an episodic concept, a series of adventures and explorations with a logical endpoint.

And then I had a thought, not too long ago -- why not publish it that way? As a series of adventures, capable of being run independently but designed to go together in sequence and have a metaplot. So I'm going to give it a shot -- you will watch as I attempt to flesh out the first adventure I ran in this arc into something someone could play without my input. What happens then, I'm not sure -- maybe it stays on this blog, maybe I publish it somewhere else online for free, maybe I try to do some desktop publishing and try to sell it for a couple bucks per pdf. We'll see.

So, to begin, let's introduce you a bit to the basic premise of Terra Incognita.

The year is 1575, in the reign of Elizabeth I. All of Europe is eager to find new lands, new sources of fame and wealth, and belief in myth and legend is still alive. TERRA INCOGNITA will tell the story of Her Majesty's Ship Veritas, Captain Terence Blake, and a crew gathered from the furthest reaches of known geography. Their travels take them to lands that no-one has ever recorded: islands made of living rock; the country of the mythical Amazons; the Cyclopes' caves; and even sailing down the river Styx.

The mood of Terra Incognita is one of high adventure and exploration, a fusion of classical mythology, swashbuckling action, and Star Trek on the high seas. However, along with the explorations come dangers, primarily in conflict with the tyrannical kings of Atlantis, who have ruled over many hidden mythological lands for millennia. The ship itself is not free from conflict, as religions, cultures, and sexes clash onboard at the rise of the modern age. 

Elizabeth I was a monarch of a nation hobbled by political infighting and the sad state of the Royal Treasury. In an age of exploration and expansion, she was able to do little to expand her Empire. And this is where Doctor John Dee and Lord Francis Walsingham enter. Dee was the Queen’s Astrologer and Mystical Advisor; Walsingham, her Spymaster. Together, they conceived of a hidden mission to explore the lands of myth and legend and claim them for the crown—a plan which, if successful, would bring England untold riches, and if a failure, never officially existed. Terra Incognita is about their venture.

Terra Incognita is a series about the truth. Even the name of Captain Blake’s ship, Veritas, is Latin for Truth. Its purpose is to uncover the secrets hidden by the Kings of Atlantis, who are, in essence, the ultimate liars. They are both reminiscent and diametrically opposite to our own parents—where Mom would tell stories about Santa Claus, cloaking ordinary things in the extraordinary, the Atlanteans do the exact opposite. They cloak the extraordinary in the mundane. Like The X-Files, Terra Incognita seeks to find the truth. However, in contrast, Terra Incognita will also deal with the dangers of the truth, the question of whether humanity would be harmed by knowledge of the supernatural creatures in their midst—and whether the supernatural can survive contact with humanity.

Terra Incognita is swashbuckling with a brain, fantasy with a grounding point in reality. Every adventure should keep a sense of fun for the players, a new amazing world to discover, but it is all deadly serious for the crew of the Veritas. This is not to say that there will be no humor, but the tone of Terra Incognita is closer to Battlestar Galactica than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The visual style is lavish and fantastical, but grounded in the dirty, grime-filled reality that was the real 16th century.

Next time, we'll explore in brief the premise of the first adventure and what kind of game system(s) this is appropriate for.