Sunless Skies is set among the stars, in the vast, glorious night of the High Wilderness. As with all our work, we want it to feel deep, dark, and marvellous – so we set to work identifying the things that made it different from a traditional ‘space’ setting, and the things we wanted to keep the same. Here are a few glimpses.
Be warned! Everything discussed below is in its early stages. We might revise it, change it completely, or knock it over the head in a back alley, throw its corpse into the river and never speak of it again.
The High Wilderness is not:
- Empty: it isn’t a vacuum. There’s air, though it’s thin and occasionally toxic. Strange winds blow through it. Some of the winds speak in old, lost voices. Some are hot with the embers of forgotten suns. Some are hungry. Nor is the Wilderness unpopulated. Ports speckle the unlikely geographies of the firmament: Pan; the Floating Parliament; the Honeysuckle Chapel. Sometimes their inhabitants are recent colonists from the Neath. Sometimes they are other, older beings.
- Subject to physics as we understand it: the laws that govern the High Wilderness are determined by the stars. To each thing its place. For all that thinks, a name. For all that lives, a death. These laws can – given the right circumstances – be reprieved, bent, or overturned. What holds true in our bijou corner of the universe may not be true everywhere. An example: beyond our solar system, planets are rare. They are places of expression and experimentation for the bright regents of the heavens; warded, prized, inviolate.
- Easy: just like real space, traversing the High Wilderness is hard. It wasn’t intended for us, and our presence there is considered an act of aggressive hubris by the celestial powers. We are not welcome, here.
The High Wilderness is:
- Cold: enough to kill you in about a quarter of an hour if you’re outside your vessel without insulated clothing. The locomotives that travel the skies use piped engine-heat to warm their cabins, and enforce communal mealtimes to share warmth and companionship in the wide, chilly night.
- Wonderful: and not always in a good way. This close, the light of the stars has a dangerous allure. Too much exposure can cause sky-madness. Skyfarers fit stained glass in their locomotives’ portholes to filter the light, and pad their brigs so an afflicted crewman may be confined in safe isolation until they can be offloaded at port.
- Divided: the Wilderness is carved into domains. Once, each was the authority of a star, but now that situation is muddied. Each region of the Wilderness has its own character. The Empire’s high territories of Albion are mannered, authoritarian. The Reach is verdant and untamed, its throne empty. Eleutheria is sumptuously dark and riotously pagan. The Blue Kingdom is populated by the dead.
And because seven is the number, a final additional tit-bit. Experienced secret-hunters who have scoured Fallen London and Sunless Sea may find more primal incarnations of familiar mysteries in the High Wilderness. For example: wells.
Wells are Sunless Skies’ version of black holes. Wounds in the world. Fathomless. Hungry. Well-winds, flickering with candle-flames, push unwary captains into their pull. Certain unspoken cults gather at their rim to perform distressing rites. If an enemy is too inconvenient to kill, the courts of the heavens consign them to a well. Do not stray too close. Ignore any voices within.
A note for readers: Sunless Skies is coming to Kickstarter on 1 February 2017. This was posted in December 2016, during pre-production. Any details in this blog are subject to change between now and the Kickstarter, in Early Access or after release.