Your Obedient Serpent (athelind) wrote,
Your Obedient Serpent

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The Hoard Potato on Games: Complete Stranger Theory

Back in 1993, I ran a GURPS Space game for my local gaming group. A local BBS -- remember those? -- was the organizing center of our social activities in those days, and it was common practice to use it to schedule games and distribute material.

I came up with a simple premise for a setting, wrote up a quick history to give everyone the basics, and set it up so that the players themselves could create the planet and the culture from which their characters hailed.

When we sat down to play, I found that most of the players hadn't bothered to read the background post.

These are people who would memorize setting information in stacks of published material.

normanrafferty calls this "Complete Stranger Theory": players are more willing to accept the work of a complete stranger than they are that of the person sitting in the same room.

(Since Rafferty designs tabletop games and uses his local group as playtesters, you can imagine how frustrating this must get for him.)

This came to mind because, yesterday evening, I leafed through the Russian Doll file structure of my hard drive and found, nested in Archive folders two or three deep, the files from that time-lost game.

Both normanrafferty and rodant_kapoor asserted that they would have read it -- so let's test that, shall we?

This is just a rough outline of the Future History of the Troubleshooters campaign. Further detail will be fleshed out on an ad-lib basis as it becomes important to the game. This is actually going to be a little =more= knowledge than most 20th century Americans have about =real= history, so if your character didn't pick up the History skill, you have no cause to bitch.

It should first be noted that the campaign is set in the year 2443. This 450-year time frame is =very= different from the original "millennia of isolation" idea that I'd initially proposed. There =are= many human-colonized worlds, and there =are= a few variant human races, but the role of deliberate genetic engineering is now far more important than that of genetic drift.


Humans in the 25th century look upon the Industrial Age in much the same way that humans of the Victorian Era looked upon the "Dark Ages." The 20th Century, for the most part, is looked upon as being the ultimate, catastrophic manifestation of this period. At the same time, however, the 20th Century is the source of many important literary and artistic classics, as literature moved away from simple text and art moved away from simple static depictions. Still, the general impression is much like that of the last days of Rome: a decadent and self-destructive society capable nonetheless of producing magnificent art.

The 21st Century is the era of "cleaning up the mess." Many long-term projects designed to reverse the damage of the Industrial Period commenced, and toward the end of the century, had progressed fairly well. There was still quite a lot to be done, however. Global Warming was still increasing at the turn of the century, and the ozone layer was still fragile and prone to gaps. Broad hats, sunglasses and sunblock were de rigeur. Nonetheless, sufficient progress had been made that attention was once again turned outward.

The 22nd Century was the era of expansion into the Solar System. Self-sustaining colonies were established on the Moon, on Mars, and, in the latter half of the century, in the Asteroid belts and on the moons of the outer planets. Colony clusters at the Lagrange points provided stable, artificial biospheres to shelter species that were too fragile to survive on the Earth's still-damaged ecosystem, yet still needed some degree of "free range" to thrive.

In the 2060s, an intense push was made to construct a colony ship, stocked with frozen embryos of various Earth species, to a group of potentially-habitable worlds that had been discovered orbiting a nearby star. On July 21st, 2169, this first vessel was launched.

On September 13, 2178, a massive Solar Flare tore across the Solar System.


In the course of a few blazing hours, several long-standing debates were resolved. The source of the periodic mass extinctions recorded in the fossil record (including that of the dinosaurs) and of the regular reversal of the Earth's magnetic field had been found.

Not that anyone was paying much attention to the implications at the time.

The flare ravaged the Earth's already-unstable ecosystem. Countless species were lost. Earth's human population was decimated. Even worse, the Lagrange colonies were overwhelmed. If Luna City had not been built largely underground, it would have been destroyed as well--as many smaller Lunar settlements were. Across the Solar System, Humanity watched helplessly as the Mother Planet was seared.

Twelve years later, the first workable prototype of the Gravity Drive cracked the lightspeed barrier.

The 23d Century marked Humanity's expension to other stars. The "k-level" gravity drive offered far greater speeds that were possible in ordinary, "c-level" space, but these speeds were only a few time the speed of light--enough to make interstellar travel possible, but not to make interstellar commerce practical. For roughly two centuries, Humanity sent out colony expeditions to the surprising number of habitable worlds found by automated probes--colonies that were then left to develop in relative isolation.

In the middle of the 25th Century, the "q-level" gravity drive was perfected. Suddenly, vessels could leap across the void at thousands of times the speed of light, covering parsecs in days. The twenty-parsec sphere of Human Space, which had once taken decades to span, could now be crossed in the matter of a month or two. Worlds which had long been independent and isolated were now part of a Galactic Village.

They did =not= all get along.

Within a decade of the discovery of q-level drives, an exploratory mission of the fledgling Star League of Unified Worlds made First Contact with Galactic Culture. Galactic Culture views the species as the significant level of organization--the internal politics of a species were its own affair.

Suddenly, the Unification became vital. The Star League was transformed from a loose affiliation of a few worlds into the ruling body of human space.

With member worlds ranging from the feudal and the corporate to the democratic and the outright anarchic, this is far from a simple task...

I've said "four pages" in relating this story over the years; it actually comes out to less than a page and a half, as originally formatted.

It's evident what I was reading at the time; there are bits in there obviously cribbed from Phil Foglio's Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, and some obvious influence from David Brin's work, especially Earth.

The general framework, however, is pretty good: Humanity colonizes worlds using "slow FTL", develops dozens of cultures in comparative isolation, and then, poof, the discovery of "fast FTL" drops everyone in each other's back yard -- and First Contact.

There, okay, I just summed it up in one run-on sentence. But really, was a page and a half that onerous?

Tags: fandom, game design, gaming, hoard potato, rpg

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