I hadn't realized that I hadn't posted on this yet. I did finally come up with a new theme idea that I liked. I previously had all these ideas about doomsday or a sinking Atlantis-type island, but none of them quite hit the mark. Then, I talked to my old roommate and personal muse Mike, and he suggested combining them. The best way I can think of explaining it is just by copying the new introduction. It's exciting, because this theme really finally feels right.
No one is really all that surprised by what Illeria has become. Why should we be? The very creation of this island was an act of evil. It has been home to the most horrific acts in living memory. I can only imagine that this is God's way of punishing us.
The Island of Illeria was created by Emperor Balthazar, a man who could frighten the Devil himself, as a prison camp. Criminals, revolutionaries, POWs, and other deviants of society, all were sent here. We spent our days doing hard labor, having information extracted by whatever means necessary, or acting as the test subject for new forms of warfare. Sometimes it felt like we were being tortured for no reason other than the entertainment of our guards. No one escaped. Illeria was not an inn or a dungeon, it was a grave.
Balthazar wanted to experiment with a new form of warfare, by allowing his soldiers to tap into the power of the spirit world. He knew that tearing a hole between the real world and the spirit world could be dangerous, and feared that this could have terrible consequences. Not only was Illeria far away, but also already had a small military base. Soldiers and wizards were brought to Illeria to learn how to focus their energy in both worlds, and in how to tap into the mystic powers of the spirits. As an unfortunate side effect, many of the prisoner learned as well.
Shortly after the rift between the worlds was opened, strange creatures began appearing on the island. We called them "phantoms." They are hard to describe, they just look like something not of this world. It very quickly became clear that they were not happy with what we had done. Battles with the phantoms often proved extremely bloody, so our wizards searched for ways to contain these monsters. Eventually, they developed a type of magical crystal. We placed these crystals around the island, and they controlled the influx of phantoms, at least for the most part. Illeria was able to grow, more permanent settlements were built, and the population of both soldiers and prisoners continued to increase.
But such a fragile defensive system was not meant to last. The wizards designed the crystals to protect against even the strongest attacks from the phantoms. They never expected the attack to come from natives of the real world. When the prisoners rioted, many of the crystals were shattered, leaving the flood gates wide open for invasion.
With Illeria being overrun by phantoms, order broke down. Soldiers and prisoners alike factioned into small groups, trying to improve the chances of their own survival. People quickly discovered that shards of the crystals still granted a modest amount of protection from the phantoms, who now roamed the island in numbers too big to control. The only hope that anyone holds anymore is that they might survive long enough for the monthly supply ship to arrive.
Other than that, basically same old same old, wishing I could playtest more, and friends always being too busy. I'm going backpacking with my dad next week, and have another trip planned before the end of the summer, so I'm not sure how much more of this we'll get to. Oh well I guess, hopefully I'll have a little free time in grad school (maybe?).
PS (after thought, edited) I had someone on www.bgdf.com say something to the effect of me putting too much energy into this, and that it's more important to create a good game than a good story. I don't know, that wasn't a concern on The Forge (and RPG site). Maybe it's just coming from the perspective of boardgamers (I mean seriously, how much of a story is there to, say, Monopoly, Risk, Go, Othello, Settlers of Katan, etc?). I mean, could you do a wargame like this without a rich background? I have trouble thinking of military games that don't include a good deal of mechanically useless backstory in their books (well, except for really abstract ones, and those based on historical battles). I don't know, perhaps idea was that the game should come first, and the story should follow (although, at The Forge, they kind of have the opposite idea, that you need a good story, or your game won't have an aim).
Either way, I don't really think I'm doing anything wrong (I'm certainly not going to throw my story away once I've bothered to come up with them), and I doubt that a game has every been hurt by too much story. I guess I'm just thinking out loud here.