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Last month I put out a new product called Hard-Boiled Empires: Solara. This was a project I started last year for One Bad Egg before they closed up shop. The supplement was already written and edited when OBE closed, and they offered to give it back to me if I wanted to self-publish. I decided to do that, and I got it laid out and ready for February release.

Solara is based on the Hard-Boiled Cultures book that OBE had put out earlier in 2009. This was designed by Fred Hicks and Jonathan Walton based on an idea someone put out there on Story Games, I think. Hard-Boiled Cultures is a step-by-step way of creating cultures that feel dynamic and alive.

Real cultures are not monolithic, overarching creeds that define every single member. Individuals and sub-cultures break from the mainstream and create little pockets of different traditions, regional cultures, and countercultures. This is how the real world works, but most fantasy world-building treats an entire race or nation as a single culture. Digging deeper makes the culture more interesting, and exploring sub-cultures counterpoints the mainstream culture and makes it more interesting as well. This is what Hard-Boiled Cultures does.

As you can see by my gushing about the PDF, I was inspired when I read Hard-Boiled Cultures. I was in the midst of running a 4E game at the time, and I had made a brief sketch of my campaign world, a pseudo-Roman setting where there was a disintegrating human empire. Since many of my player characters were dragonborn, I had decided that the dragonborn in my setting were a sort of Praetorian Guard for the Imperial family, combined with the idea of slave-soldiers like the Janissaries. The dragonborn were not slaves any longer, but they had originally been brought in as slave guards. From this kernel, I started to apply Hard-Boiled Cultures to my world.

It made me take a close look at all of the player character races (from the Players Handbook 1—the only book available at the time) as well as orcs, since I had determined that the orcs and goblinoids were the equivalent of the barbarian tribes of the late Roman Empire. This also made me expand my horizons a bit and helped me define races like the halflings that I had not really thought about before since there were no halfling characters in my game.

The end result was Hard-Boiled Empires: Solara. If you play 4E and are interested in a new take on the setting and the core races, check it out. I’d love to hear back from anyone who has played using the setting. Contact me either here, or by e-mail from the Galileo Games web site.

If you are interested in Hard-Boiled Cultures, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Hard-Boiled Empires: Solara can also serve as an extended example of how to take the concepts of HBC and apply them to a game world. I’d be eager to see how someone used HBC in any game world, even one that is not in the 4E rule set.