Day Six of #RPGaDay is ‘Favourite RPG you never get to play’. I’ve loosely interpreted this as ‘that setting I always wanted to run but never have’. I’ve already talked about Blue Rose, which premiered the True20 system, a simplified version of the D20 system used for 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. When the True20 book came out, I bought it on my birthday. The thing I came away with (apart from a few grumbles about what they’d changed from Blue Rose) was that the Lux Aeternum setting in the back was really, really cool. It is still one of my favourite settings. Hell, when Black Wyrm Games, who wrote the short version of the setting in True20 brought out an expanded setting book, I bought it so quickly that they hadn’t yet had time to put up the link to the product and I e-mailed tech support in confusion. Thus, I must have been literally one of the first people in the world to buy the Lux Aeternum Expanded Setting Guide. I’m going to be a bit indulgent today and talk about why Lux Aeternum, this barely-known game that comprises a tiny part of the Green Ronin True20 range of books is so darn cool. For a start, Lux Aeternum has a certain level of inherent cool. It’s a sci-fi swashbuckling game with a shades-wearing musketeer wielding a power-rapier on the cover. But to understand why this setting, of all settings, has stuck with me for so long, I’m going to have to delve beyond the aesthetic. In fact, I will make this a two-parter. Today I’ll talk about why this particular setting is so great, and tomorrow I’ll talk about what makes a great setting book in more general terms (it fits tomorrow’s challenge, you’ll see). In brief, Lux Aeternum is based around the idea that in the future, humans have turned Earth into a toxic waste dump. An alien race called the Xyr turn up and offer to take a chunk of people to a new galaxy where they can do better. The Xyr stop interacting with the humans halfway there and the automatic systems of the ship, called the Ark, bring them safely to the new binary system of the Nexus sector. There, they meet humans who are descendants of people taken from Earth centuries ago, who still keep the aesthetics and customs with updated technology, as well as a few other alien races who were also brought here. There are new worlds to explore and politics to navigate, and alien cultures to have massive diplomatic incidents with.
Looking back at my printed-out copy of Lux Aeternum (henceforth referring to the Expanded Setting Guide), I remember from the copious annotations I made that, actually, it’s a fairly unfinished setting. It’s rough around the edges, not well thought out in places. I want to rewrite it heavily, which I have. It’s also fairly old-fashioned, art-style-wise, very far from the polished pages of 4th Edition D&D or World of Darkness, or even the original True20. However, there is something about it that makes me want to hop in a ship and go exploring. For a start, while the short treatment in True20 gave a system map and not much else, Lux Aeternum breaks down every single planet in the system, giving even barren moons a couple of paragraphs. One of the things that appeals to me so much about Lux Aeternum is that you can run an entire campaign just on one planet. And yet…and yet…the sections on even the most important planets in the system are brief and a bit dry. I have expanded the 4 paragraphs on Hades, a small mining planet, into an interconnected mass of wiki posts on my Obsidian Portal account, but I had to invent political, social and economic tensions to make it a place that lived and breathed enough to set a game in. As a setting, Lux Aeternum is simultaneously filled with promise and constantly disappointing. Wow, this turned into kind of a downer post. I suppose I should get all my gripes out of the way to start with: marrying the concepts of sci-fi and swashbuckling is surprisingly awkward, certainly sci-fi as Lux Aeternum does it. There is just something that doesn’t gel about the two in my head, no matter how many pictures of musketeers with force swords I look at. The only way I’ve been able to do it so far is to go via pulp space opera (Guardians of the Galaxy for the band of roguish heroes) or Star Wars for the political fantasy-action-sci-fi. I think the majority of sci-fi I’ve seen has taken itself very seriously (obviously there are exceptions), whereas part of the style of swashbuckling is to take everything lightly while dealing with big political ramifications and lofty ideals like honour and freedom. So that’s another reason that I haven’t run it yet (well, except for a solo one shot!). Just comparing the Lux Aeternum book with the buzz I get from looking through the Swashbuckling Adventures book by AEG (another strong contender for this post) shows me that there’s just something missing from the way Lux Aeternum is presented, or maybe just how I’m reading it. However, despite all of my complaints, I still look back on Lux Aeternum as the one that got away. It’s the setting that I feel the most disappointed I’ve never run, and I’ll keep expanding ridiculously detailed wiki pages about the planets, but there is so much potential. The mysterious wild planets that have been revealed recently in the setting are filled with new and exciting frontiers, and the ancient ruins from alien races long dead provide plenty of tomb-raiding fun. The politics of the setting is interesting but a bit flimsy, and yet it has the seeds of some really exciting stuff. The planets may be barely described, but their names are exotic and the details we do get are tantalising. Plus, despite the fact that it is a fairly generic sci-fi setting, there isn’t anything that is quite the same out there. It’s just a shame that it needs so much work to make it what I want it to be. Links: Black Wyrm Games, who did the setting in the original True20 and the setting guide.