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Old October 31st, 2016, 03:45 PM
deathbymeteor deathbymeteor is offline
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Default my non-canon, MgT1E(c), hard sci fi Traveller universe

I dislike the canon Traveller universe. I prefer hard sci fi, myself, and to me the canon universe has always seemed too Fantasy, with its many aliens, psionics, grand imperium, and Ancients. So when I picked up MgT1E recently to start a campaign for my buddy's son, I decided I had to start from scratch.

But I didn't want to start *completely* from scratch, as there's a wealth of existing material that can be adapted. I wanted a world with more Corporate influence, no Grand Empire, no psionics or alien sophonts (that the PCs know of), and less powerful handwavium antigravity tech.

In order to contrive a "world somewhat similar to ours now" so it's recognizable and playable, and without resorting to a galactic Empire at high TL, I decided on these key backstory elements.

After discovering Jump tech humanity settled Barnard's Star and the Centauri systems.

Around the time humanity reached TL 12 (Jump 3) the megacorps sent 100 colony ships (10k hand-picked NON-transhuman colonists each) to the Spinward Marches (which I'm adopting and adapting out of the canon universe) since by then that area was known to have a high density of possibly habitable exoplanets.

The selection of explicitly non-transhuman colonists for that endeavor fueled a conflict between mundanes and transhumans, which led to a war, which resulted in the destruction of First Sector (Sol and the nearby stars) not long after the 100 colony ships departed. They discovered this when they tried to send courier ships back to inform the core systems that they'd made it to the Marches.

With colonists already somewhat mixed genetically and ethnically, and with Sol/Barnard/Centauri systems destroyed, humanity would be starting with a completely blank slate in the Marches. All historical grudges, all squabbles over land, "holy" or otherwise, resources, national identities, past damages, etc., were gone.

Transplanted Humanity was free to create new conflicts. But they started off with the decision to outlaw both transhumanism and "true" AI, and to severely limit nanotechnology. The people saw those as technologies humanity could not understand or predict, and the corporations saw them as factors they could not adequately control.

Having learned the lesson of biosphere fragility, humanity spent the next 122 years in a frenzied drive to increase population and spread to many locales. With life and labor being highly valued, there was little in the way of major or organized crime at first. For a time, almost everyone shared a common vision. They moved as one...for a while. Penal codes were not incarceration or capital punishment oriented but instead re-established explicit endentured servitude and eventually slavery.

But after that first century of sometimes forced reproduction and later on a swell in the ranks of the endentured and enslaved, the pendulum of human nature swung back the other way. People started to realize they had achieved the goal and would no longer stand for the mindlessly traditional reproductive and expansionist drive, or the all too easy and corruptive trend toward slavery. Similarly, after enough worlds became developed, the Interstellar GigaCorporations (IGCs) found themselves itching to switch back to a wealth oriented business model. They were no longer motivated to subsidize large scale exploration and long term colony establishments for future profits, preferring instead to optimize short term profits among the existing developed worlds.

Routine transport routes appeared between developed worlds, but worlds that were still in a frontier state became at least economically sidelined. That has led to the Fair Trade Movement on the frontiers, with its problematic violent fringe and foreign entities fueling the fire.

I actually ran population growth numbers to get that 122 years - it took my initial number of colonists that long to reach the population levels in the canon Spinward Marches.

It's in this backdrop where the PCs generate their characters. It's a transition we can refer to when play begins, something they saw develop during their careers. In this world, one example of a pendulum swing against culturally forced reproduction is the growth of an androgynous subculture - people are tired of being expected to marry and reproduce, so the androgynous subculture resists by making it difficult for outside observers to determine their gender. [Also, in this world the full range of gender identities and sexualities does exist, despite all the original colonists being chosen for heterosexuality with the expectation of the need for colony population growth. The range exists here for the same reason it exists at all - it's just a random genetic variation that comes up, just like all the other random genetic variations that come up.] A couple of my PC/NPCs are androgynous types - I hit the web and found some pics to use for all of my PC/NPCs, to give them a little bit of life. I don't want to go hog wild with pics, as imagination is key with in-person RPGing, but for the "main party" it seems to really breathe life into them. They should seem real, not stereotypical.

I chose to focus on Querion subsector because it's on the frontier AND it's in between three canon interstellar polities - Zhodani Consulate (recent human colonists, not seeded there by Ancients), Sword Worlds Confederation, and Darrian Confederation. I knew it could be a good backdrop for both "developed/corporate vs. frontier/folk" stories as well as interstellar politics/spying/war stories, not to mention straight space exploration spinward of the left side of the subsector. There I'm building new worlds from scratch rather than using Foreven Sector.

I also decided to use Stuart Ferris' "Heaven & Earth" program. I really like how it generates full star systems, with some details I can choose to use, like orbital periods and surface temperature ranges, not to mention nice hex maps of planetary surfaces and linear-distance maps of the entire system. With the H&E data I'm generating, I'm really tailoring the Querion Subsector, too. It helps to work out ahead of time what a planet's environment is like, what are all the other bodies in the system, where might there be other settlements (free or otherwise). With this level of detail, you can run an entire adventure in one star system and still have plenty to do, especially if you decide upon the phase angles of the slow-moving outer bodies ahead of time, establishing travel times and light/info lag times ahead of time as well. With H&E data fleshed out thusly, a single star system can house many interesting activities beyond just the ones you might imagine on the main world. In Querion subsector one of the frontier worlds is Xhosa, which has a very low population. Using H&E data to flesh out the rest of that solar system makes the Xhosa System a much more interesting place. Another example is Querion, which is a high law level world. High Law Level can cause its own problems, so with the rest of the system in hand I'm not limited to just the one high law level planet in that system.

So with individual star systems fairly well fleshed out, to the point where you find yourself naming individual settlements and creating the top dog NPCs at those settlements, it just becomes a lot easier to turn designed or random story hooks/encounters into fleshed out, organically believable sandbox situations. And that means I don't *need* a grand imperium, let alone want one. [In my universe, the Zhodani Consulate is merely what amounts to a corporate trade partnership, providing arbitration and some naval support, but not a top-down government per se.] Hell, I expect most of the action in the first adventure of this campaign to take place in one or two, maybe three star systems, each with populations and governments tailored to the Spinward Marches history described above. In the end it isn't all *that* different from canon, but it's more cellular, which I think gives me more freedom. It's also more isolated/alone, and in a hard sci fi universe you (well, I) *want* that sense of being out there, with almost no safety net. It makes even mundane activities dangerous and that makes them more fun.

Over weeks of development time I've also built up my requisite spreadsheet of calculations, random things, resources (like names, etc.), game calendar, money tracker, etc. I'm using a piece of software I created 18 years ago, Electronic Cardboard, that still works well for game board simulation (e.g. for combat on deck plans). That reminds me - for ground combat I'm using Snapshot rules with some house modifications, and for space I'm using a very tailored approach with vector movement. I don't expect to have huge space battles managed to the level of individual weapons fire, hits, and damage. That's not what my campaign will be about.

I'm currently waiting for a scanned copy of the character records my buddy and his son created with my assistance a couple of weeks ago, which will allow me to finalized PC-PC-PC/NPC Connections and to weave in their backstories as appropriate before starting actual play.

To me this fulfills the promise of Traveller, which was to enable roleplaying in whatever far future you wanted to simulate, from the very Star Wars-esque fantasy canon universe to whatever floats your x-boat. Many thanks to all those who have been developing ships, deck plans, graphics, etc. for Traveller all these years and for making them available online.
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