Almost two years ago I wrote my first post about a sci-fi setting I had in mind. I plan ahead for my campaign so I knew I wanted to run some sci-fi and began to put together some ideas about what to run. I posted a first draft here in the blog, talked with my players, the majority was excited about the prospect, listened to the comments the first time around, and have been tinkering with it ever since.
In the meantime I wrote about designing aliens (and some wonderful readers offered to help with the design, I never took you up on it because just what the aliens looked like had not really solidified in my mind, but if the offer is still good I’d love to work with any artist willing to help!) and wrote the end of the campaign for a ConCurrent game I ran, both at a Geeknic and online during the con (the links to part 1 and part 2).
So coming back full circle, here is the finished background to my sci-fi game. I already discussed it with my players, and they seem to be on board. Some elements remain undeveloped, but that is a purposeful decision because my players have agreed to develop specific elements of the campaign. I love that idea and look forward to their input.
So, without further ado, Wanderers of the Outlands! (I’ll be back after the background to discuss some specifics of the campaign…)
Wanderers of the Outlands
“Everybody expected the war to be short. When the conflict dragged on and millions of people started dying the mood certainly changed. Lines were drawn and thus began the long war of attrition. No one was prepared for it. You have to understand, this was the first truly interstellar war, there had been regional conflicts, but this was the first large scale conflict where the great capital ships and their devastating weapons were put to use. Where millions of soldiers would fight over pieces of rock located in key hyperspace routes, fighters would clash while skimming the atmosphere of densely populated planets and their wreckage rained death on the population. In the end when the Union declared victory, they might have created new stellar nations and boasted of change and reform, but few of us felt victorious. When soldiers returned home citizens were suspicious of them, those that had homes to return to… Governments failed to live up to their promises. Some of us just left it all behind and travelled here, to the fringes of Union space, to the Outlands. Some seek adventure, others riches… Me? Well I just want to forget.”
Ricardo Wuhall, veteran of the Great Galactic War
The history of mankind’s diaspora to the stars and the Great Galactic War
“When mankind left earth the transition was difficult. After colonizing the solar system and beginning a program to explore nearby stars with massive generation ships we made first contact. Or more accurately they made contact with us.”
Manalla Banjeera, Dean of the Galactic History at the University of Baillur
A damaged Cerdiallian ship limped into the Sol system with their non-FTL engines. The encounter was auspicious, the Cerdiallians were humanoid enough so that their technology and Human first contact protocols bridged the gap and rudimentary communication was established. After repairs were made and means of future contact arranged, the Cerdiallians left. Soon after Kerdans in pursuit of the Cerdiallians covertly entered the Sol system and upon detecting the presence of Cerdiallian technology assumed the Humans were allied with their enemies and attacked, unexpectedly drawing Humankind into their border skirmish.
Kerdans destroyed the generation ship space docks in Neptune and attacked the gas mines of Uranus. Despite heavy losses the Humans destroyed the Kerdan flagship and crippled the escorts. As they attempted to escape ships from all the governments in the solar system gathered and defeated the Kerdans.
The captured aliens and their technology offered a unique opportunity to any government in the solar system that possessed it. The secrets of faster than light, or FTL, travel were now in Human hands. In an attempt to avoid conflict over the spoils a commission was created to study the technology and share any discovery and intelligence with all parties. Thus was created the Trans-planetary Commission on Galactic Technology or TCGT. The TCGT would take on greater responsibilities as the technology was soon used for the creation of defenses against Kerdan retaliation.
When a coalition of Humans and Cerdiallians defeated the Kerdans, Humanity entered the greater galactic stage. Three other intelligent races were soon contacted, but all seemed to the Humans to have no ambitions beyond their home systems. Besides the Kerdans and the Cerdiallians few other intelligent species had established extensive colonies beyond nearby stars and mostly out of necessity for natural resources rather than expansionist ambitions. On the other hand Humanity saw great opportunities as the galaxy opened up before them and soon began the race to colonize any newly discovered life sustaining planet.
Coordinating communications became a major endeavor undertaken by the TCTG. While ships now had FTL capabilities, there was no way to communicate across the vast distances of space beyond the messages that ships could carry. Under TCTG direction a courier system was established in human colonized space to facilitate the flow of information between settlements. The TCTG eventually took over administration of the Sol system’s resources as the former governments began to carve out their holdings in the stars. Other groups began colonization efforts as well, ambitious entrepreneurs, fringe political groups, religious groups, as well as many corporations.
The most successful non-corporate space nations emerged from the remnants of old solar system nations. The Eire-Indo-Nippon or EIN Triumvirate established the largest presence in near Sol life-sustaining systems, followed closely by the Freeholds of Alpha Centaury a governing body created after the dissolution of the American Alliance following the Brasilia Talks.
Smaller local governments and settlements often confined to a single planet or system dotted the star maps. These groups often had little contact with neighboring systems, comprised of trailblazers, scientists and isolationists. Places where great social experiments were set in motion, where religious groups sought the freedom to create communities governed solely by their beliefs, and forbidden experiments were carried out.
The third major player in this galactic drama, large corporations, often referred to as mega-corps of hyper-corps, had the most success in these endeavors. Conglomerates with business interests in many and varied markets settled their own systems, no longer under the regulations and governance of national or stellar governments.
As this expansion into the stars was taking place, the average human faced increasing hardships and many failed to reap the rewards promised by this great adventure. The disparity between the very wealthy and the working class grew larger every year. Corporate systems became increasingly rich and powerful, often recruiting the citizens of other stellar nations into their workforce for extremely low wages. Despite this fact, the masses that saw few options swelled the ranks of the corporate workforce. These entities in turn, without any oversight or regulation, exploited the workers.
The Euro-Pacific, or Eu-Pac, Corporation was perhaps the worst offender. Forerunners in terra-forming efforts based on the reverse engineering of alien technology found in various archeological sites, Eu-Pac exposed their workers to unsafe or outright hostile working conditions, many forced to work in dangerous ecosystems. Accidents in terra-forming operations were common and Eu-Pac executives saw the loss of life as an acceptable risk of doing business, after all there were more workers where the deceased came from.
The revolt against the Eu-Pac Corporation was the first spark in a larger conflict to come. After a quarter of a million workers perished as part of a terra-forming disaster, a fledgling labor union, fiercely prosecuted in corporate systems, abandoned their peaceful intentions and regrouped as a revolutionary organization. The Rukta Workers Consortium eventually united diverse labor unions and worker support groups, managing through sabotage and revolt to defeat the Eu-Pac Corporation and established itself as a new stellar nation. The Rukta Workers Consortium began a fierce anti-corporate campaign that gained many sympathizers among other stellar nations.
Other corporations, fearing a similar revolt among their workers reacted. While a few took the route of improving worker’s conditions and greater freedoms, the vast majority cracked down on dissidents, expanded their own private armies and armed their fleets. Conflicts came to a head when various corporate governments declared all their workers solely under the corporation’s jurisdiction, even those citizens of other stellar nations, and claimed all control over their movements and actions. Other stellar nations soon accused the corporations of slavery and abusing their power and responded in kind by raising large armies and directing their resources to the creation of ships and weapons of war.
Thus began the Great Galactic War…
“At first there was a sense of pride, an opportunity to serve one’s stellar nation, to fight for our ideals. There were queues at recruitment centers and the citizenry lined the streets as troops marched to the spaceport, cheers of victory when the holos transmitted images of new warships leaving the spaceyards. We marched to liberate our brothers and sisters, to put an end to the tyranny of the hyper-corps. No one was ready for the rationing, for the blockades, for the funerals of the beloved with no body to put to the ground. No wonder they resented us that returned so much. We reminded them of all the others that did not come back!”
Piotir Amandazar, retired officer of the REC (Rukta Engineering Corps)
There were many small skirmishes during that time. Different scholars argue which actually marks the beginning of hostilities and more than one monument in so many planets honors their fallen as the heroes of the first ballet of the Galactic War. However the renowned historian Manalla Banjeera identifies the Battle of Leviarius as the conflict that initiated the war.
A convoy of transport ships belonging to the GeoHarvest Corporation was detained by ships of the Bishopric Authority of Leviarius under claims that the corporation was holding their citizens against their will. GeoHarvest ships were boarded and their cargo confiscated, despite the claims of existing agreements between Papal authorities and the corporation. A flight of GeoHarvest warships supported by two Eu-Pac capital ships blockaded the fifth system of the Leviarius system, seat of Bishopric authority, and demanded a total surrender. When planetary defenses were used against them the Eu-Pac capital ships began orbital bombardment and decimated the population of the planet.
An alliance of Papal State ships with support from three other small stellar nations and the Freeholds of Alpha Centaury soon arrived and engaged the GeoHarvest warships in Leviarius. The allied ships followed the retreating ships into the GeoHarvest home system of Jimdall and retaliated. The Rukta Workers Consortium offered them support and soon declared war against GeoHarvest and Eu-Pac. Other mega-corporations responded in kind and soon most of the governments of the human diaspora were embroiled in the conflict.
War spread quickly across all systems. Fighting was vicious and unforgiving. Corporate workers were forcibly drafted into military forces and different stellar nations recruited their forces in different ways, from drafts to conscription. While the Rukta Workers Consortium joined the conflict wholeheartedly, seeing it as a chance to finally destroy the corporate states, the EIN Triumvirate and the Freeholds of Alpha Centaury were more cautions, offering support but pulling back from major conflicts.
Spurred by the Rukta Workers Consortium many diverse and different stellar nations fought the corporate forces in bloody conflict, and lost. Corporate armadas proved to be devastating, deploying the latest most advanced weapons with terrible efficiency. Ground forces were less effective, mostly composed of conscripts who fled the battle at the first opportunity. Thus began the application of a scorched earth strategy by most corporate states.
Rukta advisors among the smaller and independent stellar nations goaded them on despite losses, and many began to believe their advisors were willing to sacrifice every last one of them to achieve their goal. Following the rout at New Ganymede a group composed of the most influential independent stellar nations called for a secret meeting in the Persephone’s Blight Nebula. There the participants agreed to form a Coalition to coordinate their actions and to establish new strategies to counteract the corporate onslaught.
The Coalition agreed to scale back Rukta involvement and to establish their own priorities and attack plans. The Coalition pulled back from direct conflict and instead focused on raids and guerilla tactics, cutting supply lines and stretching corporate forces thin. Corporate armies began to feel the strain of a long war as profits plummeted and the Coalition slowly began to win battles.
Despite their wins, the Coalition was also in a precarious position. Despite supply raids and captured ships they remained outgunned and their citizenry back home was experiencing terrible wants and needs. As the mega-corporations became entrenched in their systems the war seemed destined to fall into a stalemate.
The Rukta Workers Consortium, The EIN Triumvirate and the Freeholds of Alpha Centaury, whose involvement in the war had been mostly contained to their border systems after the Coalition push, recognized the opportunity and acted. The three formed the Union and pooled their military and financial might into a final campaign against mega corporation forces. Joining the Coalition, the Union spearheaded the attack ending in the abdication of the wartime corporate boards and the dismantling of the mega corporate stellar holdings.
The worlds of the Coalition celebrated their triumph, but their joy soon turned to sorrow. The Union not only disposed of corporate holdings but restructured stellar maps, forcibly annexing nearby systems, restructuring states into new entities and forced the members of the Coalition into the new Union sphere of cooperation. Where they resisted the Union used its new military might to crush resistance and establish its control over human space.
The aftermath of the Great Galactic War is a time of reconstruction. The winners are reaping the rewards of victory. Under the control of the Rukta Workers Consortium, EIN Triumvirate and the Freeholds of Alpha Centaury, the Union has created a sphere of cooperation and the long suffering Coalition members are their client states, forced into a common economic and political structure, whether they want to or not.
Soldiers returning home found a populace weary of war, hungry for any stability, unsympathetic to those who had sacrificed so much. Many found their worlds a burnt out husk, the survivors relocated, maybe destined to never see their loved ones again. There is finally peace, economies stabilize, and a new zeal for exploring the frontier catches the fancy of the masses. The long abandoned fringes of settled space, the planets barely terraformed, are now staging grounds for exploration beyond into unknown space, here in the Outlands of Union control the dregs of society congregate, people looking to leave behind the chaos and destruction of war, soldiers with no home, criminals with no scruples, and Coalitions members who feel the Union betrayed them.
Campaign Background & Planning
(I wrote the following for my players as part of the planning for the campaign. I think of it as a blueprint for developing the game together. I’ve created a private group in Facebook to work on this.)
Here are some notes on the concept and ideas behind the campaign. What I had conceived and where I thought it could go, and some questions I would like to discuss with all of you.
CONCEPTS & IDEAS
Mood & Feel – Seeks to emulate a feeling of the frontier, homage to the Firefly TV Series and Serenity movie. The political situation of Union space is akin to post World War I in Earth.
Setting – The Outlands, a combination of the 19th century US western frontier and the far-east post World War 1 in space. The technology of the Outlands is NOT the technology of the central Union systems; it’s not even the second best generic stuff of the client states and border areas. In the Outlands people make do with whatever is at hand, the remnants of the Galactic War, equipment repaired too often, or black market goods produced in illegal factories operating without Union patents.
There is NO FTL communication. There is a courier system based on the old TCGT system that has run uninterrupted for centuries, even during the war. They travel to the Outlands, only it is infrequent and time consuming. The small and fast transports of the old TCGT Courier System are commonly referred to as the “ponies”, since the original model for the ship was a light scout manufactured by the Polodian Shipyards designation P0N13s. Many couriers now use other ships, but the term is part of common slang by now.
Space travel is more akin to sea voyages in the era of exploration. Travel time between systems in the Outlands can take days or maybe weeks; travel to the central worlds in Union space is a multi-month voyage with various stops. In system travel (i.e. inside a solar system) is a matter of hours or days if one is travelling from near-star to far-star destinations.
Space battles occur in system, ships typically detect the approaching enemy from afar and prepare for the engagement, and fighters are typically heavily involved in battle.
FTL engines (still don’t have a name for them or the process) work optimally outside the gravity well of a solar system, navigating the gravity wells inside system is not impossible but highly dangerous and most ships slow down, or exit hyperspace, or whatever the effect, outside the system and travel in with regular propulsion. What sort of propulsion is used for this can also be determined. Possible source of inspiration – Spacecraft Propulsion Wikipedia article:
Equipment – I would like for characters to have access to a ship, travel and exploration, maybe business opportunities, would be facilitated with a ship. A ship would be a great plot hook and facilitate the game moving along.
Weapons, well I want it to feel sci-fi so I guess lasers are ok, but with some slug throwers still in use. Things to consider: Will weapon use inside a ship be an issue?
Are mechs and powers armors necessary? Can they be a background detail rather than available to players?
Psionics – Should they be included in the game? That is the question! Are they an option for player, background detail or plot device? Are they widespread and codified or mysterious and feared? (My players actually answered this question rather rapidly. They would like for psionic powers to be mysterious and dangerous. They exist but are not an option for players. This answer surprised me but I embraced it…)
Aliens – The story presupposes the existence of aliens and previous civilizations in the galaxy. The default assumes they are not too prevalent, with the exception of two that live among humans, but still in very small numbers (10% to 15% or population). The role these, or others alien races may play is still to be determined.
Only two playable alien races:
- Catlike being with a rich culture, warlike, honorable… Their once verdant home world was devastated by pollution and war; they took to the stars out of necessity. Too cliché? Possible names? Preferably something guttural as to NOT sound too catlike.
- Six legged carbon based, mammalian, creatures with a very different social structure when compared to humans, both male and female sex organs and capability for reproduction, but their emotional relationships are very different from humans.
NPC alien races:
- Light beings, singers, the choir, live in space
- Cerdiallian – Bipedal generally humanoid
- Kerdans – Bipedal, insect-like, viviparous
- Perhaps one more, aquatic for the visual element…
What about possible rule systems? (While my system of choice was Savage Worlds, or Stars Without Number some players expressed a reluctance to both and some suggested adapting the Star Wars Saga Edition rules, or even Pathfinder. I would rather not use a D20 system, even suggested FATE. I am leaning towards Savage Worlds right now, but the decision is not final!)
So dear reader that’s where my sci-fi campaign stands right now, I appreciate any feedback or comments. Also if you want to help illustrate the aliens in the story, contact me! Thanks for reading…
Hi! The setting background looks great. I’ve been trying to start a SF campaign myself for some time now, so I’ve been reading several SF games in order to get a sense of what I’d really want to run.
As for the questions:
When you take into account weapons in a SF setting, there are two things to consider. First, most tradicional firearms won’t work in vaccum, since there is no oxygen available for chemical combustion. Gauss or Coil weapons are a nice alternative, magnetically accelerated slug throwers that could shoot over greater distances than regular combustion firearms.
Secondly, the danger of hull breaches and atmospheric decompression means that, inside a space ship, hand-to-hand combat is preferred, so typically soldiers would be trained for close quarters fighting rather than regular cover fire techniques (at least for boarding platoons that would be true).
Some things you didn’t mention but bear some consideration in your setting are: IAs, cybertech, nanotechnology, communications networks, eugenetics, post-scarcity economies, virtual environments, body modifications, uplifted species, nanofabrication, teleportation, memory backups, types of space habitats, energy sources, aganathic techniques, etc. Of course some of those things may be left for filling up later for your players. Just my two cents.
Looking forward to read more of it!
Javier, thank you! I am glad you liked the background…
With regards to weapons Gauss and Coil weapons would be a necessity on whatever system we would end up using, but since I imagine the player living in the fringes where not the best tech is available so maybe they would only have slug throwers commonly available.
Of the list you mention there are definitely things the players would fill in in the concept of the game. There are a few I don’t think fit MY concept of the campaign, but since I want to accommodate player input I am open to discussion. The things I did not conceive as part of the campaign are: teleportation and uplifted species. I definitely don’t envision post scarcity economics in that setting.
Again, thanks for the feedback! Have a great weekend.
I’m looking forward to hearing more about this settng. I may “adapt” some of it for an SF game I’d like to run using either Stars Without Number or X-Plorers.
Jeff I intend to update with the decisions that come out of working closely with my players. Adapt to your hearts content, I’d love to know what you adapted. I LOVE SWN but my players are not so keen on the OSR vibe, plus psionics is such an integral part of that system, and the players DON’T want psionics as a player option I might not use it.