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?

Shattered Earth Closed Alpha Playtest

Shattered Earth is the new tabletop skirmish game from Massive Awesome, and we are looking for a few good men and women to help us make it the best game it can be. Alpha is the point during development where the rules are functionally complete, and the refinement and balancing work can begin. The Closed Alpha playtest will include access to our private forum, where you can download the latest rules and discuss the game directly with the design team.

If you would like to take part in the Closed Alpha playtest, and help to shape the future of Shattered Earth, hit the Sign Up button above and fill in your details. As this is a closed playtest, sign-ups will only be available for a short period of time, so make sure you register early to avoid disappointment.

If you are part of a club and would like to run your own field test for Shattered Earth, please email us directly at [email protected] and let us know the name of your club, where you are based, and how many people you would like to take part.

See you out there, survivors.

Welcome to SHATTERED EARTH

Shattered Earth - Logo

Earth, 50 years from now. An unprecedented series of seismic events, gigantic earthquakes, and terrifying volcanic eruptions have reformed the continents. Within a few years, the world became unrecognizable, the landmasses torn apart and altered in a way that meant life for its remaining inhabitants had irrevocably changed.

As humanity’s survivors form new alliances and fight over scant resources, they must harness the power of Ether, a mysterious and frightening new energy source bleeding into our world from the realm of dreams and nightmares – and they must also deal with the creatures that follow in its wake.

This is SHATTERED EARTH, the new tabletop skirmish game of wondrous technology and existential horror.

Shattered Earth - Arabic Landscape - Key Art

The old power structures of the time before the disaster were mostly dismantled during those intervening years. New agreements seemed to form and collapse with alarming regularity, but some factions have survived to stake their claim on this new world. In the currently known populated areas, there are several major human powers – and something else entirely.

Born out of a necessary co-operation between the USA and Russia, the United Nations of Mankind (UNM) are the largest of the human factions. They have the biggest population, the safest cities, and the most guns. They believe in the values that drove humanity’s evolution prior to the disaster, and seek a return to those days.

Shattered Earth - Jormungandr - Concept Art

They are opposed by the Cult of the Dragon, formed in a political coup that wiped out the Pan-Asian Alliance (PAA), and led by the charismatic Lee Kyong-Min. Their unhindered experimentation with Ether and flesh-grafting has created singular monstrosities, each one a work of grotesque genius. Though they may lack in numbers, their zeal and determination – not to mention a complete disregard for their own safety – has proven a stern challenge to any that oppose them.

But even they could not imagine what followed in the years after the Breaking of the World. Since time immemorial the Deathless have watched humanity through our own eyes. And they have shaped the thoughts and feelings of many; from gifted artists to serial killers – all have been at the whim of the beings from the realm of dreams. They are entirely alien to most of humanity, and clear motives are difficult to ascertain. Regardless of their ultimate aims, one question above all has plagued those who dare to think it: did we dream them into existence, or did we dream about them because they existed?

Welcome to 30 A.E. Welcome to SHATTERED EARTH.

Age of Sigmar is Pretty Great

I’ve been a professional video game designer for 15 years. I’ve studied countless other games, read essays and listened to talks, and continually tried to improve my craft. I’ve also been a hobby gamer for almost 30 years. In that time I’ve created my fair share of house rules, and complained loudly about many more. Hobby gaming was something I understood from the outside looking in, and I thought that my professional experience gave me a better perspective when designing rules. It turns out I was only half right: writing a war game has been like going back to school.

I’ve always believed that good game design should be a process of simplification, reducing core mechanics down to their essential components. That doesn’t necessarily mean that games should be simple, only that any complexity should derive from the interactions between rules rather than the rules themselves.

When I first read the rules for Age of Sigmar, Games Workshop’s new skirmish game set in the venerable Warhammer universe, I was pretty shocked. Only four pages long? Given that the previous edition of Warhammer is the largest rulebook I own at just over 500 pages, you can probably see why. I’d read the forum posts from other concerned gamers and echoed a lot of the same concerns myself – but none of us had actually sat down and played it yet.

Earlier this week I had a demo of the game at my local Games Workshop store. And do you know what? Four pages is apparently all you need. So whilst the title of this post may have a faint whiff of click bait about it, Age of Sigmar is actually pretty great. Yes, I still feel like there are some issues that need addressing, the most notable being the lack of composition (no matter what Jervis says, even a casual game is improved when the sides are in balance). But the core rules – the real nuts and bolts of the design – are beautifully simple. They have followed the process of simplification to the point of removing entire sections of the rules that are otherwise ubiquitous in other war games.

This idea of challenging conventions is why Age of Sigmar deserves consideration. It may not be our intention at Massive Awesome to simplify the rules to this extent – as I mentioned above, I’ve been playing war games for nearly 30 years, so a little more depth is always welcome – but there is a modern, video game design philosophy at work here. In hindsight, my career as a video game designer had clearly put me on the right path, but it took a war game to make me realise that.

Feels Like ‘Work’

At first the writing came easily, words falling onto the page almost as quickly as I could conceive and then type them. After years without a real creative outlet, I think it was just a case of opening a tap and letting them pour out. Because of the huge size and scope of the universe that we’re creating, I could look in any direction and find fertile ground to go and wander in, creating structures without fear of contradicting canon. Of course at that stage continuity wasn’t an issue as nothing had come before.

As I’ve covered in a previous blog post, I did plenty of background planning, sketching the very broad outlines for the factions and main characters, and prioritizing the best order to tackle them. This still left plenty of room in each individual piece however, enabling me to just write, sometimes for hours without needing to stop and check the details. This was also very convenient for my haphazard way of writing: ten minutes on the tram here and half an hour after the kids have gone to bed there, able to just pick up where I left off the previous time.

Now I’m covering events that interact with previous writing and characters who’s timelines need to match up with each others’. This stifles the free-flow of thoughts that characterised my earlier pieces and that is, well, annoying. I guess this is more like ‘real’ writing. It certainly feels more like work. It also lends itself to more sustained periods of preparation and writing, with each session needing ten minutes of prep time where I look at the history tracker and the short guides to get prepared. When those ten minutes are followed by an hour of writing, that’s no problem, but when they’re followed by only ten minutes of actual writing and I need to repeat the same process the next day, the ratio of time spent working versus the end product produced is getting lower.

So to combat this I guess I have a couple of options: I could just write whatever comes into my head and rework it later, editing the details on future drafts, or I could pre-plan each piece more thoroughly, plotting the points I should hit and details I should include ahead of time. I’ll probably give each one a try and see which feels right. Of course there is the third option: when stuck, save and close the fiction piece and write a blog post instead.

Foundations Laid

So now the proper work starts. Simon and I decided early on to spend much of our initial effort doing groundwork before getting to the more interesting aspects of the creative process. With him, it has been the huge task of setting up the business and sorting out myriad contracts and official bits of paperwork. For me, it has been the more mundane tasks of deciding on a process that fits around my life and schedule; where and when to write (on my iPad while travelling for the most part), how to decide what to work on next, and whether to slowly go for a first pass finished product or knock out quick, rough drafts and constantly iterate.

There are also practical decisions like how and when to best communicate with Simon, when to be proactive versus when to discuss, and whether or not to stump up the cash for professional tools that enable direct uploading to our project server. Which reminds me, Simon also had to set up our server…

I have spent a good few hours preparing faction histories, story timelines, and a master work tracker, as I know from experience that without these tools, I’ll start going in a million different directions at once. My project management background means that I definitely find splitting writing up into discrete, smaller chunks keeps focus and motivation high, and ameliorates the panic that can appear when starting out on a huge new activity.

The five Ps of Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance have always been true, and the size and complication of building a viable business from the ground up only magnifies the importance of getting your house in order and being prepared for every eventuality before getting stuck into the fun creative stuff.

Now that we have a centralised area with the ability to track work and keep a tight hold on canon, all that remains for me to do is to write tens of thousands of words of gripping, original, and exciting fiction. But that’s the easy part, right?