Published on December 3rd, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Sailing The Vast Aether Sea
Evil Hat Productions has been busy lately! Ever since the exceptional success of their Fate Core crowd funding campaign, the roleplaying game company has expanded its product lines and has even licensed its IPs out to other designers to make tie-in board games. Evil Hat’s flagship property is their new setting agnostic roleplaying game system, Fate Core, and its younger sibling Fate Accelerated Edition.
Fate Core is a rules-medium, story-heavy system that reinforces large action and genre emulation. To achieve these design goals Fate Core leaves out some traditional RPG rules assumptions such as tactical combat and strict ability lists. Fate Core also has a popular mechanic called Aspects which allow you to use a short phrase to customize the theme and attitude of your character in the context of the story. Fate Accelerated Edition is more simple than Fate Core and is designed to be taught and played quickly for people with little experience in tabletop RPGs.
For more detailed info on Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE), please see my full review. Both of these role playing games are available on a “pay what you like” basis at DriveThruRPG, so you can read them before purchasing them.
The Aether Sea is a recently released, free setting supplement for Fate Core and FAE that takes players on a fantastic adventure through space. Aether Sea (EE-ther not AY-ther) is 44 pages long and presents some bare bones of a space fantasy setting along with a couple story hooks, interesting locations and a simple adventure to get you started.
If you are familiar with the old TSR setting for Dungeons & Dragons called Spelljammer, then you’ll know what general themes to expect in Aether Sea. The tl;dr version is that a typical D&D fantasy world was tearing itself apart by war, wrecked the planet with magical WMDs, so the refugees made magic spaceships to colonize space. All of the fantasy races (species? we’ll get to this) are now fighting over resources in space instead of on their Homeworld. Goblins, Orcs and Trolls as well as Elves, Dwarves and Humans are all in conflict- cue the drama.
While this all seems very typical on the surface (especially the species list) it’s worth pointing out that the author is using some common tropes as a way to highlight class and culture conflicts in the setting. One of the things that stood out to me while reading Aether Sea is how the text uses in-setting reasoning to call attention to real world issues. For example, this sidebar in the intro to the “races” of the setting:
I guess “ethno-cultural group” is a bit too much to use every time, isn’t it? I personally like the word “culture” to denote which customs and traditions a character may identify themselves with, but “folk” is fine too. Honestly I’m just glad someone finally decided to call out the use of the word “race” in fantasy settings as being inaccurate at best, and then went with an alternative that is simple and works.
More than that, Aether Sea is also written with a kind of genre-punk (steam-punk/cyber-punk/gothic-punk) approach. By that I mean that the status quo as given in the books tends to paint a large disparity of wealth and the rich are on top mostly by right of having bigger guns, rather than any legitimate reason. There is a central empire that requires extensive registration and de-culturalization of anyone doing business with it or in it, and it seems expected from the text that your characters should find that offensive.
Aether Sea’s setting is rich because it doesn’t just leave room for players to conflict with the oppressive setting systems, it invites at least personal rebellion. The text doesn’t go anywhere dark, but the obvious digs at political power and the in-setting narrator’s clear mistrust for authority makes things clear. I like how the tones was able to stay light-hearted throughout, even when handling some hard subjects like class warfare and race identity.
Aether Sea was a great read. It gave me a ton of new ideas for running a fantasy game set in space, and the slightly variant rules for Fate Accelerated that came with it (mostly the species aspects) were a welcome addition. The setting isn’t very detailed, and at 44 pages it never could be, but it gives you more than enough to start off with and is enough of a frame that your group should be able to fill out the rest. Plus, it’s free, so there’s no reason not to pick it up. Aether Sea is available to download at DriveThruRPG.