At Saturday night's brainstorming session for the sandbox SF setting I've been working on, This Empire Earth, we started wide and worked our way down to more narrow items. The first thing we discussed was the empire itself. I described the setting as I have envisioned it up to now.
The Terran Empire is an overwhelmingly powerful presence in the galaxy. For more than five hundred years it has subjugated the weak, conquered its peers, and subverted the mighty to its own ends such that today none stand as equals to the awesome puissance of the Terrans.
"Terran" no longer means "human." Those who many would call "alien" call themselves Terran. Terran citizenship is a cherished prize in the Empire. In fact, the great success of the Empire is its willingness to absorb the cultures of not only its allies, but also the conquered.
The Empire is ever changing.
In its core worlds, the empire is civilized, wealthy and technologically advanced. There is almost nothing that is beyond the reach of a wealthy citizen dwelling within the heart of Terran space. Even virtual ageless immortality is within the grasp of those with sufficient resources.
The question then, Josh was the first to ask, where's the conflict?
Imagine the width and breadth of the Roman Empire at the height of its glory. Despite its laws and arts, its military prowess and standing in the world, Rome was beseiged by internal political conflicts both dark and deadly amongst the noble houses. Enemies from without tested mighty Rome's borders and its conquered peoples were one riot away from rebellion.
The Terran Empire is not dissimilar.
Just like the open seas of the ancient days of Rome, the enormous spaces between the core worlds, the colonies, and the border worlds are frequented by slave traders and pirates. The Imperial Navy can't be everywhere, after all.
Along the border or on the frontier, conflict is present as well.
One major border is shared with The Eparchy of Iker, a theocracy built on a foundation of cultural purity. The Eparchy was founded by human pilgrims fleeing humanity's continued "corruption" by alien cultures more than four hundred years ago. The Eparchy has grown to a prosperous nation in its own right, fiercely protecting its borders, yet freely sending "missionaries" into the Empire.
The Empire has declared Ikerianism as an outlaw political organization. Those found to be practicing their faith are arrested and,
if when found guilty, put to death for treason.
Ikerianism is not a religion, according to the Empire, it is sedition.
The Empire is ridiculously wealthy, but that wealth usually flows back to the core worlds. The frontier is generally poor in cash and operating on early generations of current technology. The further you move out, the less "Imperial" the culture. People move to the frontier for opportunity, for liberty, to get away from their past.
When I described the setting, two things in particular snagged the players' attention:
- Noble houses; and
- Frontier opportunities.
The prospect of playing members of warring noble houses (ala the Dune novels) got some imaginations running. I described great houses and minor houses, once great houses now in decline, great houses at the edge of a fall, minor houses on the rise... There's a lot there to play with.
The guys agreed earlier on that they'd like the first session to be set on the frontier, the players assuming the roles of Rangers. Like those Texans of the 1880s, these Rangers are the law of the frontier. More on this later.
The guys asked a lot of great questions about the empire assisting both myself and them to visualize the universe we're creating. While this was the one area where the boys didn't have a lot of new ideas for the setting, their inquiries were infinitiely valuable to me. There's a real benefit, I think, in just talking about the setting without the pressure of having to also squeeze in four hours of gaming. Verbalizing things for them was a great exercise for me. The leisurely stroll through the game world allowed me to show off what I've been building and gave them a chance to kick its tires.
Tomorrow, we'll talk about the badass player character race they created for the game.
It's freakin' cool.
Twitter + AronHead
Twitter + AronHead
Original artwork provided by Jake Ekiss.