One of the highlights of the recent NTRPG soiree for me was finally getting a chance to play in Kyrinn Eis's world setting, Urutsk. Like a number of people, my glimpses of this richly, detailed “science fantasy” (really it defies a straight genre label) world and matching game systems have been limited to reading her blog, The Grand Tapestry.
Her Urutsk projects seems to be building up to the next stage of launching out into the public sphere. When I met up with her she was lugging around a prototype copy of the boxed set complete with Peter Mullen-drawn cover, full-color world map, Euro game components (for the domain-level play), and a satisfyingly granular set of multi-level rules to go with.
Kyrinn graciously granted me a chance to get some of her and the project's backstory, of which I will be running parts of in two sections as an interview.
Hill Cantons: The immediate thing one notices about your project is the dense layers of worldbuilding richness. Curveball question time: how would you describe your world setting to a newcomer in three sentences or less?
Kyrinn Eis: From my blog: “Multiple catastrophes temper survivors into flinty men and women who distrust others, and struggle to survive ancient horrors, faltering reality and decaying time, with glory.”
Although there are elements of the fantastical and sci-fi missing from the 25 words above, the heart of Urutsk is one of human struggle in the face of a cosmos that suggests a grand design, but with an apparently mute creator at the wheel; where animals, people, and forces of nature oppose civilisation and decency, but where humanity is often its own worst enemy.
The parts that are most outwardly alien in the setting arise from my mixed ancestry and exposure to ancient things as well as other cultures (European and Ottoman, Gentile and Jewish, and Moslem, Hebrew, Occult and Secular, etc.). Within each of those are interesting stories, crests, inventions, mysteries.
For instance, it looks as if my maternal grandfather's [German] line was derived from a Crusader's henchman, who may have received land in Albania. On my paternal grandmother's [Turkish] side, in then Ottoman Albania, my Jewish ancestor named Yakov. Another Ottoman ancestor was clockmaker to Sultan, and I have been told that I am related to Rumi the Dervish.
HC: In comments here on HC you described your worldbuilding process as not completely “top down” despite its vast store of details. You said that Urutsk built up organically over many years of play. When did you start and what did the world look like back then? How has it changed over time?
Kyrinn Eis: At age twelve I was given Moldvay Basic [D&D] by my older sister after she found it too rules-intensive and micro-managerial for her tastes. Within two-weeks, after a few boring sessions run by a more experienced player, I was GMing. Not just GMing, mind you, but tinkering with the game. Adding in the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio were the least of it: chainsaws, multi-armed snake-men, laser guns and the like.
By the time I got my hands on Gamma World, however, I largely put Basic D&D to bed. I was drawn into that game instead by the media I was exposed to: all the Planet of the Apes stuff (including the cartoon), Star Trek, Space: 1999, ARK II, and Damnation Alley.
Shaped by these influences, I had by 13 the foundation of what would later be recognised as Urutsk, although the name wouldn't come into existence for roughly another decade.
Around '85 (15-16 or so), I was turned on to Tunnels & Trolls 5th edition by a frienemy and that forever altered my gaming palate. I had previously favored Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying system over the D&Ds, etc., and had written a lot on a world then known as The World of Larid Zeeth, using a mash-up of AD&D, Runequest/Stormbringer, and T&T5.
It was during this time I wrote a Sci-Fi version of T&T for Ken, using polyhedrals and lots of new psionic powers, like “Blood From a Stone” and “Leaping Lizards”.
HC: That sounds promising, but what the heck is that?
KE: Oh, um. Blood From a Stone allowed one to sacrifice hitpoints to squeeze water from a stone, and Leaping Lizards was a weird little spell that allowed the recipient 3x normal leaping and bounding--although what “normal” entailed was never addressed.
The title was...[mumbles]...
HC: What's that?
KE: [loud sigh]… Lasers & Lightspeed. Yeah, I know...
I had the first space proto-Urutsk game set upon the Ralinsgard space station, at the LeGrange point between the planet and the moon. Their job was to await scout-seeder ship pilots who were hundreds of years overdue to return to the star system in question. The folks had limited supplies, cannibalism was part of the punishment for certain wastrel crimes, and they used sodium bicarbonate as a flavoring instead of salt.
That somehow tied into the planet below, which had suffered a battery of catastrophes (nukes, pollution, weird chemical releases causing mutations–all that '70's stuff), and was largely devoid of folks, but filled with giant plants and weird critters (some were alien).
A trip to New Orleans resulted in Chrysalis City (I was listening to a lot of Jethro Tull back then, and they were on Chrysalis Records), which later morphed into Kryssan City.
Kryssan City was the hub of the post-apocalypse supers game I was running, first with Heroes Unlimited, and later, with yet another homebrew.
HC: These were heroes, right?
KE: Reluctant heroes. Mutant-stigma is great in Vrun society, more so than in the Marvelverse in general. One NPC, what would now be Tshuk, was Completely Invulnerable. One time, they had to use him as an tank shell by flying him speedy-like into an APC. Tshuk was a computer programmer.
One character, though, Cynthia ABC, was one of my anti-hero types, and her powers were Possession and a few other mental powers that travelled with her when she spirit-wandered, possessing enemy guards and killing their compatriots. Team mates did not like her, let alone trust her, and the PCs were non-plussed, too.
She became Kynkrea Ays, one of my most gamed, written about, and illustrated characters– featured in my first book, Dawner of the First Light. That'll stir somethin' somethin'.
By now, I was deeply into Bill Willingham's The Elementals, having left behind the X-Men as my favorite comic. Along with Elementals I was reading Grendel, Mage, GrimJack, Whisper, John Sable, MARS, Dynamo Joe, Puma Blues, some b&w zombie title (zombies were my fear and fascination), as well as re-viewing the old DC John Carter Warlord of Mars, and the most wonderful Marvel Killraven titles of my sister's day.
Somewhere along the way, the combination of Gamma World, The Morrow Project, Twilight 2000 and all of the prior media resulted in my talking about corporate security forces deploying out of Jeep Cherokees (irony that I would go into High Risk Armed Security decades later) and keeping youth gangs under control so the geriatric rulers could try and figure out where to go that would be safer/more pleasant than the abandoned and economically crushed urban sprawl of their defeated nation.
The adult population from 15-45, male and female, had been decimated in the decade-long, unpopular, Vietnam-like foreign war, fighting Communist cyborgs. The final straw was when the vets returned, and an unknown agency delivered the coup de grace to the Western Alliance nations via biochem cruise missiles with differing payloads designed to induce madness, dis-figuration, and the collapse of the national identity (above and beyond crippling the means of recovery). Of the Western Alliance, only the Western Isles Concordance was spared (a miss offshore).
This, despite the lack of the name, was Urutsk.