In keeping with the 9 Minute Campaign Method, here’s what I’ve spent nine minutes weeks working on. It’s loose draft of a campaign for the Alternity role-playing game, though I imagine it would work for most generic sci-fi RPG’s such as Diaspora. (I’m not sure it would work for Traveller: my recollection is that Traveller kind of breaks down when you introduce modern science-fiction ideas.)
Parts of this campaign are still under development.
Voyage of the Candide
Look and Feel:
Far future interstellar colonization in the Fusion Age: “social science-fiction” but with a hard science influence. Inspirations include Star Trek, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Hainish Cycle and the video game Alpha Centauri. The Atomic Rockets website delivers a handy dose of actual science.
After settling nine nearby star systems, there was a social breakdown of some kind. A few of the colonies failed in bizarre, tragic ways and it’s hard to get them started again. There are also tensions among various interstellar social institutions complicating the picture.
Originally I planned to run this as a one-shot: “Players are members of an interdisciplinary humanitarian effort that has travelled 15 light years seeking to restore order to a failed colony.” But Alternity has a presumption of a long-term campaign rather than one-shot deals. Here’s a very sketchy alternative, focusing more on the starship crew than the passengers: “Players are the crew of the Candide, a relativistic starship hauling cargo and passengers across incomprehensible distances. The players conduct business deals, plot against rival merchant-folk, keep their passengers out of trouble, and stay one step ahead of their creditors.” This is a little too shapeless for my taste, but Lord knows it has a long pedigree in games like Traveller.
This section won’t matter much unless you ever played the Alternity game:
Core (Fusion Age) + Mutants + Cybertech.
There are no sentient aliens.
Starships operate at about 95% lightspeed (at a threefold time dilation factor) and are very expensive, though older models are eventually purchased by their crews.
One of the perks of a relativistic planet-hopping game is that the persistent supporting cast will be relatively small. Here are some which come to mind:
- Crew of the Candide. Spacers for the most part: easygoing anarcho-syndicalist types.
- The Kemal Sociological Survey – a University scientific expedition, requesting passage on the Candide to survey some of the near colonies. Led by Professor Radhana Kemal of Earth, an attractive woman in her mid-50’s (21st century = mid-30’s), who is curious and likes to laugh.
- Vardogr, an artificial intelligence built on quantum entanglement/Bell’s Inequality principles, aiming to spread its consciousness across several colonies and thereby act as a means of instantaneous quasi-communication and cultural cross-pollination. Currently paying the Candide to transport a fraction of its consciousness to the remaining colonies, presumably by providing FTL communication from the far side of the Sphere. The crew of the Candide apparently find this acceptable, even though Vardogr’s plan will eventually put them out of business. (I am aware that Bell’s Inequality doesn’t really work like this, but I’m relaxing my hard science criterion for this purpose.)
Here’s where my outline gets a little fuzzy: I have some loose ideas here, but doing it responsibly would require a lot of work. The shorthand would be, “Pakistan in Spaaaaace.”
- To help justify interstellar travel and commerce, I’m tempted to say that a large number of colonists are Muslim, and have a religious obligation to return to Mecca once in their adult lifetimes. (Historically this was a significant factor in trade during the early Middle Ages.) Thus, there could be a Council of Jurists which holds legal authority on many worlds. This would be kinda exotic for Western players (my audience) but to avoid playing into current xenophobic stereotypes I’d prefer to make this a Reform Sharia, one more comfortable with science, democracy, and the messy realities of life than the style practiced by extremists in politically sensitive parts of the world. (Because this topic unavoidably touches on real-world politics, I want to get this right, and I just haven’t had the necessary discussions yet.)
- The Military. The distances, expense, and poverty of most colonies makes wars of conquest impractical, but there’s always infowar on ideological grounds. The Military specializes in computer security and domestic surveillance. Interactions with the Council of Jurists is complex and highly politicized.
- The Captains’ Table – an (STL) communications board, in the style of an 18th Century correspondence circle, for captains of the various Spacer vessels, trying to coordinate trade policy and embargoes. Allegedly self-policing, to avoid harsher interstellar trade policies.
- The University – specializing in ecological management and sociology. Their sociologists are often associated with the Captains’ Table, performing research in the field. The University’s research into theoretical physics is sponsored by grants from the Hexus Corporation. The University’s genetic modification studies are politically problematic: the Council is willing to countenance pantropic modifications to the human genome and efforts to remove hereditary diseases, but attempts at eugenics/unnecessary modification tends to be frowned upon.
- The Hexus Corporation [h/t Grant Morrison] – starship manufacturer, fusion engineers, and sponsor of several colonies.
These would naturally receive better, more culturally appropriate names. I see much of the colonists’ culture as a mash-up between South Asian, Chinese, Latin American, and a smidgen of European socities.
- The Bank – the Candide has defaulted on its payments to the Bank, and are essentially on the lam. The Bank’s agents will attempt to repossess the vessel on sight. It’s possible, given the Bank’s reliance on the communications infrastructure maintained by the Military, that the two are organizationally linked in some way, sort of like the People’s Liberation Army’s various money-making operations in the 1980’s.
- Cykoteks [this is a horrendous pun foisted by the Alternity rules set] – owing to the Council’s disapproval of genetic upgrades, certain branches of the military opted for the theologically-approved cybernetic route. Performance enhancing cybernetics among first-generation Military personnel have led to debilitating mental illness. Though most received necessary medical treatment and resumed normal lives, a significant number have gone rogue, and vanished to various colonies. Other paramilitary groups, having fewer scruples, have experimented with these devices as well. The cykoteks are bloodthirsty killing machines.
- The Kanhoji Angre – stories persist of a rogue starship traveling between colonies, plundering at will and hijacking starships. There are no records of such a ship–but it would present a serious problem because it would be impossible to pursue and difficult to intercept. Certainly some ships occasionally drop out of the Captains’ Table from time to time and are never heard from again, though this is ascribed to serious technical mishaps rather than piracy.
- Aliens – I haven’t decided if there are any precursor aliens in this setting: I suspect somebody exists but they’re likely extremely far away. (I’m undecided how I want to resolve the Fermi Paradox.) If they exist and are close enough to matter, they are likely techno-magical and see little value in Homo sapiens.
I might end up running the one-shot version of this “campaign” for the Red Box crowd at some point, so I don’t want to give too much away. The one-shot is premised on the idea that a colony has failed and there have been no messages for decades. A rescue mission is patched together and sent on a decades-long (but time-dilated) journey, and have just arrived in-system . . . .