My work for Dark Horizons Universe was done by contract for Max Gaming Technologies, a video game company in Aurora, Ohio.
At the time, they had already written a large science-fiction, pencil & paper role-playing game but wanted an additional race included in it. I was hired to create this race and seamlessly integrate it into their game world.
The information I was given for this desired new race was this: a mysterious alien race of unknown origin called the Irritus. They needed to be a tribal, warrior-race and one that very few people had encountered. Most people believed they were myths.
As a creator I find I work best with parameters. When I have restrictions, I am able to use the elements given to craft something which fits. For instance, if told ‘create an animal,’ I can do so, but it may be a more generalized concept of an animal – ‘A fast, four-legged creature with membranes of skin between its limbs which it uses to glide once it is moving fast enough.’
However, if I were given parameters such as ‘Create an animal able to breathe underwater, which prefers to be at the bottom, and is only intelligent at night,’ it is easier for me to come up with something neat.
This process is called ‘synthesizing’ and pairs well with imagination.
In this example, I would create: ‘A heavy animal with hard, interlocking scales so heavy it cannot swim but instead moves along the bottom of the water. It secretes a mucus from its nose which forms a clear ‘bubble’ of breathable air around its head. It is very dumb, but a small, highly intelligent creature lives in its brain, forming a symbiotic relationship with it. This smaller creature is nocturnal, and upon waking takes control of the larger, unintelligent one, thus making it intelligent. This creature is known as a Noculus.’
My Initial Work
The very first thing I did after getting my parameters was to brainstorm any ideas that immediately came to mind. I then read through the Dark Horizons material given to me to better understand the world: its factions, technologies, planets and the like. Knowing all the races in the book also helped me determine where my new alien race would fit.
Once I had a handle on the details, mood and feel of the Dark Horizons world, I then outlined what I would need to create for this new race. They needed backstory. They needed stats. They would need a description as to their physical appearance, their personality, and how the rest of the universe saw them. I would need to create everything a game master would need to introduce them to players in a role-play setting. Having been a game master for many years, this came very naturally to me.
How would I introduce such a character? Probably mysteriously, giving players little detail on the race so as to keep its mystique (I believe the shark in Jaws was so terrifying more so because of what you didn’t see as an audience than what was shown).
So I decided, since this race was to be more legend than everyday fact to the people of the Dark Horizons Universe, I would describe them from an outside perspective. More on this below.
Next, I set out for inspiration. As I said, my brain likes to synthesize ideas more than come up with them. I traveled to that huge dwelling of tomes called a library and did some digging. I sometimes prefer to go through physical pages than web pages. There are things in books one cannot find on the internet.
Perusing a variety of books, such as ones on ancient Earth civilizations and mythologies, I came across some things that seemed to ‘fit’ this new alien race I was creating. I discovered some African tribes and felt that their look had elements I liked for this project. I made some digital scans and moved on.
The reason I scanned the images was two-fold. First, they would be useful as I wrote. Second, they could help future artists who might work on the race, giving them ideas regarding the tribal/archaic designs I imagined for the race’s helmet and armor.
They could also pass on what I had in mind for theme: the overall look and feel of the Irritus’ claws, weaponry, etc.
After this, I headed home and brainstormed some more. I already had scenes playing in my mind as to what an encounter with an Irritus might look like and so, as I did with my novel The Last Child, I wrote down what I saw.
Here is part of what I wrote for the Irritus backstory. There is a lot more that I gave to Max Gaming Technologies, but that additional information was ‘behind the curtain’ details not to be included in the role-playing book. These included the details of how the Irritus technology worked, their race’s origin and true identity, their real motivations, and other secret detail.
All work copyright Max Gaming Technologies.
In this age of instant, intergalactic communication, surprisingly little is known about the strange beings who call themselves Irritus. Only recently has their existence been made known, through happen-stance encounters or by way of scout ship sightings near colonized areas. Their motives are unknown, making them unpredictable and possibly very dangerous.
Those who have encountered the Irritus report unexplainable technology mixed with an almost animalistic pack-structure to their seemingly tribal social groups. They seem fiercely loyal to others of their kind, and have been known to form pacts and alliances with members of other species. What those agreements consist of is still uncertain.
The Irritus are a giant race, standing nearly 9 feet in height, and their strength appears to greatly exceed that of even biologically altered humans. Their unusual full-body armor is suspected to be a combination life-support system and defensive shell, which some believe necessary for oxygen environments. No Irritus has ever been seen without it.
Adding to the mystery are the strange similarities found between the Irritus and ancient artifacts excavated from Martian sites.
Where they come from, what their intentions are and whether they are hostile or not is still unknown, yet they do seem to receive orders from somewhere.
Some of the traits I created for the Irritus race.
Frightening and otherworldly, the Irritus carry with them a mysterious and dangerous presence, making anyone seeing them for the first time fearful and uncertain. Anyone finding themselves within 15 feet of one suffers penalties to all actions, including skills. These penalties decrease over time the more one becomes accustomed to the Irritus. However, anyone entering combat with an Irritus for the first time suffers extreme penalties.
African armor and helmet used for inspiration
Irritus technology is as mysterious as it is dangerous. Those who have pierced their armor find they have ruptured a type of fluid interior, or at the very least a layer of such fluid, similar to liquid nitrogen. Soldiers attempting to retrieve or use the energy weapon carried by some Irritus have had their hands burned off by a form of energy feedback. Also, their rod-like weapon, which in the hands of an Irritus is incredibly powerful, becomes inactive when held by those not knowledgeable in its use.
Those Irritus shot at, or especially hit, by contemporary weapons seem to immediately know the exact origin of the attack. Even snipers brave enough to fire at one have found themselves quickly engaged, regardless of how well they may be hidden.
Some of the gear and weaponry I created. In the overview I state that: Irritus weaponry is still mostly unknown, but some definite characteristics have been identified.
This one-handed weapon appears to be made of wood, or perhaps ivory of some kind, and is extensively carved. It is nearly 5 feet in length and surprisingly thin for the impact it makes. When it strikes it creates a powerful concussive blast accompanied by a deafening boom. It is enough to knock a suit of Plainsman Advanced Powered Armor off its feet.
Wooden African tribal staff used for inspiration
The Irritus have retractable claws, either natural or part of their armor, which behave similarly to the substance Crysanium. These claws have pierced some of the hardest armor and have a small port along their top ridge through which a highly caustic acid can be secreted. In addition, these claws allow them to climb straight up vertical walls of stone and even metal. Like the Concussive Rod, they too are intricately carved.
Carved ivory tusks used for claw inspiration
Very little is known of this device. It appears to be a generator of some kind, held from above, which fires a constant stream of energized particles. It seems to be adjustable in its output, since the same weapon can both char a vehicle and cut it in half.
Recently, in the Nanedi Valles canyon, a military convoy was attacked by two Irritus, resulting in the deaths of 36 FAF soldiers and the disentegration of their cargo. A large blast accomplished much of this, and is thought to have been caused by the detonation of this device.
Tabletop role-playing books like Dark Horizons Universe and my own book, Shard: The Realm of Possibility, are pretty limitless. By that I mean they are not restricted by budget or frame rate as movies and video games are. Like with my novel, The Last Child, I could create whatever I dreamed up.
That is great for a creator, but at the end of the day, whatever final work ends up on the page is what’s important. That is what players are going to experience.
This is one of the reasons why I included all the backstory and inner-working details when I turned in my work to Max Gaming. I felt they needed to know what wasn’t on the page, and I think that is a skill: to know what to share with players and what to keep reserved. I guess it’s the difference between ideas and executing those ideas.
I really enjoy the imaginative work and especially collaboration on any creative project, and I look forward to continuing to create awesome experiences for others.
Dark Horizons Universe © Max Gaming Technologies