Drekavacs, the Scurriers

“A door was left ajar. And through that door, darkness poured out.”

Shattered Earth - Drekavacs - Concept ArtConcept art by Marco Caradonna

As the last of the day’s light winked out from behind the trees, Iosif closed his door and set the latches. There was a chill in the night, he thought; the snows would come early this year. He took up the lantern and carried it through into the main room of the cabin, setting it down on the centre of the wooden table. He fetched his pipe and tobacco from the inside pocket of his jacket, and began to pack the small clay bowl. The light from the lantern flickered slightly, casting unusual shadows against the walls. Iosif stopped momentarily and sniffed the air. The moment passed and he set to packing his pipe again.

The sudden gust of wind nearly knocked Iosif off his feet, scattering books and ornaments and taking the pipe from his hand. An orange light flew across the room and died against the wall as the lantern shattered. The wind was followed by the strong, acrid smell of meat left too long on the spit. As Iosif steadied himself and his eyes adjusted to the near-darkness inside the cabin, he caught sight of a dull grey-green light spilling out from his bedroom. Pulling himself upright, he made his way out through the doorway.

What greeted him was a sight he could scarcely believe. Where his bedroom had once stood there was now nothing – a vast hole had been carved out of the surrounding material, as if a massive sphere had simply deleted whatever was there before. In the centre of the sphere, suspended several metres above the ground, was a pulsing greenish ball of what looked for all the world like electricity. As the ball pulsed it cast strange shadows across the broken earth, shapes that made Iosif’s mind reel, but he could not comprehend the source of these penumbra.

Making the sign of the cross, Iosif began to back away. It was then that he heard the first terrified scream, followed by another, then shouts of alarm and the sharp crack of gunfire. He turned to run and was suddenly engulfed by many limbs, barbed and hooking deep into his flesh, dragging him down into the wet dirt. His own scream soon joined the others, but was cut short, dying in his throat as the darkness enveloped him.

Sculpting by Glauco Longhi

In Slavic mythology, Drekavacs are said to be the souls of unbaptised children cursed to roam the world forever. In Shattered Earth, they are the lowliest foot-soldiers of the Deathless. Whether the old myth is true or not is largely irrelevant; whatever ‘role’ they once had has now been largely forgotten. Instead, ‘Dreks’ as they are called by most of humanity were the first beings from the immateria to set foot on Earth after the Breaking of the World – the herald of what was to come.

They manifest as small bipedal creatures, more bone and sinew than most Shadow-aspected Deathless, their smokey-skin stretched tight across their forms. They are utterly alien, devoid of reason save for the instinct to hunt and kill, swarming over their prey and tearing them limb from limb. On its own, a single Drekavac poses little problem for a trained soldier, but in numbers they can decimate the unprepared.

Constructive Criticism

As I have not worked in manufacturing or an industry where I produce tangible physical products, most of what I have ‘delivered’ in my day-job for the last 15 years has been a service or a presentation or written report. In managing staff who have (usually) provided their own services, I have often been in a binary situation where something is right or wrong; an application is either behaving as expected or it isn’t. So when a user can’t log in to a system or a financial transaction has gone through but nothing arrives in a client’s account, it is very clear what our end result should be.

Getting used to how it works in the games industry while interacting with our artists and sculptors has taken some time. I’ve been looking for the best way to offer constructive feedback to people who provide a physical finished product. There are rarely objective rights and wrongs when it comes to art or design and so all of our discussions have been discussing small, incremental changes to reach a goal that is not at all explicit, being as it lives in the heads of Simon and myself.

We have been incredibly lucky that the talent of all our collaborators is so obvious and the quality of their work so fantastic. Their skills seem almost alien to me, the ability to create drawings and models with such great detail and character, simply from the descriptions and feedback that we provide over email and instant message. It has sometimes been difficult for me to tell them when I’d like things changing. I feel like I, with my utter inability to draw, paint or sculpt, should have no right to question these hugely talented artists. I worry that suggesting changes is insulting their skills.

Thankfully, all of our collaborators are very secure in their own abilities and more than happy to engage in active discussions on the direction of their work. They have been extremely receptive during the conversations about the modifications and changes of directions that we have requested of them. This has made my job very easy and confirmed our opinion that it is worth paying for the best, most professional collaborators. Not only is the standard of their work high, but interacting with them is a pleasure and the process of design very much a collaborative effort.

It also makes me realise how sometimes products come to market that are less than stellar. They might not simply be a case of bad or lazy design; there may have been less experienced people involved or corners cut on materials. Perhaps the brief wasn’t clear or maybe people were simply too polite when it came to offering criticism, and they held their tongue when they should have pushed back. Either way, I hope I know what to do if I experience one of these tricky situations but my preference would be to keep hiring the best people so that I never have to.

Coyote Assault Troopers

“Give me soldiers who can think and I will give you victory.”

Cpl Maria Perez lay flat at the top of the bluff and peered down through the early morning mist at the target building. From their vantage point, Perez and her fellow Coyotes had a clear view of the former school that UNM intel revealed to be a forward operating base for the Cult of the Dragon. They had observed the structure for twelve hours now and, although they had not witnessed any movement or signs of life, Perez noticed that the walls were pockmarked with the signs of a recent firefight. The Ether readings from the nearby village were also off the chart, so she knew that this was exactly the sort of location that she would expect to find the Cultists lurking.

“All units, ready up”, Perez ordered over the closed loop comms system, and was aware of dozens of hidden bodies rising to their knees, ready to move on her command. “Sharp eyes, CATs, it’s gonna be pretty tight in there. I want everyone in, two by two, standard CQC. If these Cultists really are here, you know what to do. Weapons ready, let’s move”.

The CATs fell immediately into their well drilled formation and made their way quickly down the hillside, weapons pointed at the school’s main exits, their eyes darting from window to window as the building filled their field of vision. Halfway through the 300m sprint, there was still no movement in front of them as they fanned out and slowed to a quick march. As they drew to within throwing distance of the front wall, the silence of the previous minute was broken by the shattering of glass as a dozen tattooed and snarling Acolytes burst through the first floor windows and hit the ground running full speed towards them.

Perez grinned to herself as she dropped to one knee and fired a burst through the chest of the leading cultist; “All units, weapons free! Let’s send these bastards back to school”.

Coyote Assault Troopers (CATs) are an amalgamation of U.S. Marines, Canadian Army Rangers, and Russian Rifle Troops. They are the work-horses of the UNM military, moving into previously-scouted areas in large numbers and with well-drilled effectiveness. They move mainly on foot, covering ground quickly, and are experts at finding and holding strategically important points on the battlefield.

CATs are lightly armoured and, due to the effectiveness of their lightweight composite armor, they have a great balance of defensive strength and maneuverability. They carry mid-range automatic, projectile-based weaponry – mainly assault rifles – which can project a solid offensive force whilst maintaining flexibility. In addition they all carry a machine pistol sidearm and a trauma pack. Whilst all CATs are bio-engineered, they have few visible augmentations. Reflecting the overall ideology of the UNM, most advanced or Ether-based technology tends to be worn or man-portable.

Lt Mitchell Ward, Veteran Coyote

“Death carries no burden but duty weighs heavy on the soul.”

Shattered Earth - Lt Mitchell Ward - Concept ArtConcept art by Anthony O’Donnell

Now a veteran soldier, Lt Mitchell Ward was part of the first class of post-event trainees at the newly created Special Future Tactics (SFT) Advanced Training Facility at Fort Bragg. He rose through the ranks when the U.S. fought alongside the European Socialist Collective (ESC) in numerous battles against the Deathless, against violent religious proselytizers, and in skirmishes against the early Cult of the Dragon cells.

A valuable leader of the US Special Forces at the time of the founding of the United Nations of Mankind (UNM), Mitch immediately became one of the UNM’s most crucial battlefield assets. Despite feeling comradeship for some individual soldiers of the Children of the One True God, and having empathy with some of the more progressive political ideas of the Humanist Rebellion, he remains a loyal UNM soldier. He knows that the chain of command is sacrosanct and that the Earth’s best hope of wiping out the malevolent forces from the immateria is with a strong UNM guiding the way.

Shattered Earth - Lt Mitchell Ward - SculptSculpting by Seth Nash

Although having enough experience and respect to hold a senior strategic position within the UNM Army, Lt Mitchell Ward is a particularly strong leader of soldiers and so chooses to remain on the front line with them. He is at his most effective leading by example, his troops lifted by his steadfast manner and his calmness in the face of horror. On the battlefield, Mitch is a force to be reckoned with. He is a veteran Coyote Assault Trooper, and packs a number of additional upgrades beyond the standard Coyote loadout.

He favours the tried and tested over the latest available equipment, his armour and Ether Matrix having seen him through countless battles, and his cybernetic exoskeleton guided him over thousands of miles. He carries a rifle with underslung shotgun, advancing on his enemies until he can look look them directly in the eye whilst sending them to their grave.

Acolytes of the Dragon

‘Sometimes fire must be fought with an inferno.’

The Cult of the Dragon rose to power through the blood and sacrifice of its unwavering Acolytes. Where once Lee Kyong-Min had commanded legions of adoring fans, he now led an army. These are the devoted servants of the Dragon, dedicated to spreading chaos and entropy – ‘do as thou wilt’ taken to its chilling conclusion.

Deployed on the front lines, the Acolytes of the Dragon are a fearsome and deadly opponent. They experiment with technology and body modification, enhancing their human abilities and turning themselves into ‘living weapons’. Oftentimes these enhancements are unstable, causing massive neurological damage and shutting down their hosts’ pain receptors.

The Acolytes of the Dragon wield vicious cybernetic implants, each one a unique and personal creation. Forearm blades, powered gauntlets, even razer-sharp scythes where legs once were. They attack with extreme aggression, engaging the front ranks of the enemy and causing chaos and panic. They eschew defence in favour of all-out attack, working themselves into a frenzy of blood and steel.

Whilst capable of rational thought, once they are engaged in battle it is often difficult for Acolytes to react with any tactical awareness; to this end, and despite their numbers, they are utilised primarily as shock troopers. Each Acolyte has sworn a blood oath and would rather die than be captured. In a barbaric symbol of their zeal, each one carries an implanted explosive device, activated in their death throws as a final devastating attack on their enemies.

Czernobog, the Black God

“All that awaits is oblivion.”

Czernobog - Concept ArtConcept art by Marco Caradonna

The Deathless arrived without warning. Creatures of nightmare, beautiful and terrifying, they fell upon us while we were still struggling to comprehend what was happening to our world. The loss of so much life, the landscape forever altered, the vast tears in the fabric of reality bleeding Ether like raw wounds; we were not prepared.

In the remote northern territories between what was once Russia and Scandinavia, the isolated pockets of survivors living there stood no chance. Fighting for their lives against an enemy they could not even comprehend, they were wiped out within hours. The Deathless had taken first blood, and it would not be long before the rest of humanity learned of this new threat.

Since time immemorial they have watched our world through our own eyes. And they have shaped the thoughts and feelings of many; from gifted artists to deranged killers, all have been at the whim of the creatures from the realm of dreams. Clear motives are as difficult to ascertain as the personality of any single Deathless. That is to say, we simply do not know. What we do know is that the Breaking of the World has shattered whatever fragile peace existed between the species – and humanity is under siege.

Shattered Earth - Czernobog - SculptSculpting by Glauco Longhi

From what humanity has uncovered, it appears there are different ‘aspects’ to the Deathless, almost a distinct ethnicity. Where mankind has divided along cultural and geographical lines, each aspect of the Deathless is reminiscent of certain personalities or creatures from human folklore, usually from a particular region or culture. To date, the two aspects most frequently encountered by humanity are that of the Shadow and the Beast; the former resembling creatures from Slavic mythology, the latter closer to Western European paganism.

Czernobog, literally the ‘Black God’, is the de facto leader of the Shadow Deathless. He was first across the breach, leading an army of shadows in an inscrutable crusade. Manifesting in the physical world as a large winged creature resembling a demon of some kind, he is the nightmare vision of mankind’s destruction.

Like all Deathless born of Shadow he is almost intangible, like smoke coalescing into solid, physical form. His very nature, along with that of all Deathless encountered thus far, is anathema to modern machines and technology. For humanity’s frontline soldiers, this presents a unique challenge. Sweeping in under a cloak of shadows, Czernobog and his followers strike without warning, devastating their foes and leaving behind no trace but for the corpses of their enemies.

Letting Go

Now that the game is public knowledge, I have had the odd but very satisfying experience of seeing it mentioned on gaming websites and blogs. It has been a real pleasure to see that people we have never met seem excited about what Simon and I are working on and are looking forward to playing the game and handling the miniatures that we’ve created.

This of course also comes with an additional level of responsibility, as we are no longer working just for ourselves but for a public audience. It also comes with the knowledge that we no longer ‘own’ the conversation around the game. Sure, we can try to steer it in the direction that we prefer but, going forwards, people will be less likely to get their information about the game from us directly and rather from website writers, reviewers, bloggers and the commenting public.

This level of public scrutiny is nothing new for Simon, who has gone through it countless times on big video game releases, but it is not something I have any experience with. The work I do in my day job will generally only directly affect a few dozen people and I know who they all are, so the whole concept of an unknown audience is taking some re-adjusting on my part.

Of course the whole purpose of starting the company was to create games that will reach a wide audience but, until now, only a few friends and family members have known what we are up to. So the best we can hope for is to try and enjoy this transition to having hundreds or even thousands of people read our words and view our art. After all, if the game is a success, this is the last time we’ll be in this position.

Jormungandr, the World Serpent

“I am Jormungandr, master of the ocean and poisoner of the sky. I am the World Serpent, and you now belong to me.”

Shattered Earth - Jormungandr - Concept ArtConcept art by Iwo Widuliński

During the Breaking of the World, where the land cracked and splintered, and the continents were reformed, the barrier between the material world and the immateria was at its thinnest. Breaches began to appear across the globe, leaking Ether and altering reality, with one of the largest opening a great rift near Alta in northern Norway. Curiously, the vast crack that formed stopped at the base of a single ash tree, leading some to believe that the tree was actually Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

After years studying the occult and his subsequent search for power, Lee Kyong-Min was well aware of both the breach’s location, and its significance. He knew that a great destiny awaited him there, so he travelled west across what was once northern Russia, now controlled by the UNM, with a small band of elite warriors.

For the entire journey there, Kyong-Min hallucinated with visions of Ragnarök and the battles between the gods that were foreseen to take place. He felt the World Serpent calling to him in his subconscious and he followed the voice to its source. The Ether around the breach was so strong it straddled the boundaries between the physical and the immaterial, warping reality and preventing any human from approaching. Any human except for Kyong-Min. In an enraptured state, he stepped past his followers and entered the rift.

No one is sure what happened to him whilst inside but, when he emerged, he was no longer entirely just Lee Kyong-Min. His appearance had changed giving him an almost glowing quality, his outline a kind of haze and his voice cracked and much deepened. Somehow he had merged with a being from the immateria, an ancient creature of dream and thought. And it had a name: Jormungandr, the World Serpent.

Shattered Earth - Jormungandr - SculptSculpting by Seth Nash

There is a certain unpredictability when using the Cult of the Dragon, and Kyong-Min himself does not have full control of his own soul. On the tabletop, he is represented by two models: one of himself, and one of the mighty serpent god Jormungandr. Throughout the game, certain rules and battlefield conditions will determine which model is in play, representing Kyong-Min’s internal struggle for control of his own mind.

When enough blood has been spilled, the World Serpent is called forth, bound to Kyong-Min’s soul and tethered to reality by his will. The beast’s jaws can rend even the thickest armour, and the ancient Norse god has an almost peerless mastery over Ether. Able to call forth a poisonous rain to weaken his enemies, Jormungandr can tear through multiple foes in a single attack.

But it is Ragnarök that gives Jormungandr his most devastating power. With enough Ether siphoned from the nearby breaches, he is able to tear apart the very fabric of reality, and destroy the minds of those caught in this fell conflagration.

Different Factions, Different Methods

We’ve officially announced! The name of the game is now public and some of the details of the factions are out there, with much more to come. We can now be a little less vague with the blog updates and look at something more specific each week. As the first character we revealed is Lee Kyong-Min, it seems appropriate that I cover how we came up with his backstory, and that of the Cult of the Dragon.

Kyong-Min originally had another name that I created from an amalgamation of K-Pop artists; I forget what it was but when Simon edited it I didn’t argue, so it obviously hadn’t been great. The brief I had from Simon’s original concept was that he had been an entertainer and now he ran a global cult. There was one other major detail about him that makes him one of the most interesting characters in the game, but I’ll save that for another time.

Before I started on the faction background pieces, Simon and I spent a while discussing the behavior, ethos and aims of all the different factions so that the fiction would match the game rules and inform the artwork. As mentioned in a previous post, the initial pieces flowed quite easily as there was no canon yet and so I was able to get down a few thousand words during a very long taxi ride across London.

All of our key characters are obviously important to their individual factions but none more so than Kyong-Min, who is the central figure of the Cult of the Dragon, having founded it. This gave me a hard time deciding what to include in the faction history and what to include in Kyong-Min’s character background piece as there is so much overlap between the two. In the end, whole sections were moved between the two pieces as Simon and I edited them, and I have a feeling that we’ll need to do further edits as we refine the backstory based on the events that unfold during the first book’s fiction pieces.

As I’ve created all the different characters and their histories and relationships, I have developed a few personal favourites. Some are more loyal, some more conflicted, and others more singular of purpose. Kyong-Min, he’s the most, well, intriguing…

Lee Kyong-Min, the Voice of the Dragon

“There is a natural order to things – every system falls into chaos eventually. Why struggle against the inevitable?”

Shattered Earth - Lee Kyong-Min - Concept ArtConcept art by Iwo Widuliński

It was his eyes that set him apart. His eyes had a deep blackness that burned into the camera lens. Meeting him in person left people awed at his presence, and this charisma transferred over the airwaves to the millions of teenagers convinced he was speaking directly to them and them alone each night. In the years before the Breaking of the World, Kyong-Min had risen to become one of the most recognisable pop stars on the planet, with his own devoted army of followers.

But his eyes held a deeper darkness. Throughout his rise, Kyong-Min kept secret his obsession with the paranormal, the occult, and the ancient Gods. He read copiously on Greek and Nordic mythology, on Wicca and folk religions. He studied Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, the history of Mesopotamia and Antiquity, and read about the magi of the Renaissance all the way up to the present day. He was looking for something – staring into the abyss and waiting for something to return his gaze and answer his questions.

By the time the first disasters struck, Kyong-Min was fully immersed in his own belief system, a construct of unexplainable powers and the worship of unknowable ancient Gods and legends. As the world crumbled and Ether began to permeate, Kyong-Min sought out these breaches between the real world and the immateria as others ran from them, terrified. And where he led, his army followed. The cult of celebrity had been transformed as the world itself changed, and Kyong-Min took on the mantle of a prophet, his fans now acolytes of this new religion.

Shattered Earth - Lee Kyong-Min - SculptSculpting by Seth Nash

Lee Kyong-Min is the leader of the Cult of the Dragon, and perhaps the most infamous personality in the world of Shattered Earth. He is a gifted orator and carries about him a strange charisma – the kind that psychopaths seem to uniquely possess. His devoted army of followers – once fans, now soldiers – were galvanised in a violent political coup that destroyed the Pan-Asian Alliance (PAA) and allowed the Cult to take control of the Pacific Archipelago.

On the tabletop Lee Kyong-Min is a gifted swordsman, and his heavily-augmented body, utilising the most cutting-edge Cult technology, has allowed him to maintain his youth over countless decades. He espouses the core ideology of the Cult, and sees the only future for humanity in chaos and anarchy. He leads by example, manipulating Ether to rile his own soldiers into a battle-frenzy, and charging into combat with his Ancestral Hwando.

But there is madness in those deep, dark eyes. At times Kyong-Min appears in the midst of an internal struggle, fighting to maintain control over his own body. Despite his pre-eminent position within the Cult, there are those who wonder at the bargain that was struck, when a man became a God. What price was paid to the Dragon?