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5th Contact – Setting History

July 13, 2012

Today I’m providing the back story/setting history that was used in our Burning Empires: 5th Contact game. I also provide how some key concepts ie: Technology were dealt with regarding BE vs. Diaspora.

A New Age – The Rise of the Terran Imperium

Over 2000 years ago, Earth was in crisis.  Immense population growth coupled with waning resources led to devastating wars.  A small elite of military, corporate, and religious figures that had prepared for such an eventuality emerged as the only powers from these conflicts.  They unified the surviving population under a single planetary government.  The elite promptly adopted noble titles, elected a nominal Emperor, and the resulting planetary union became known as the Terran Imperium.

The Imperium rapidly expanded into the remainder of the solar system, seeking resources to rebuild Earth and sustain its growing population.  The strength of the Imperium was unquestioned, and a time of peace (the Pax Imperium) allowed for science and the arts to flourish.  Finally reaching the borders of the solar system, the means to traverse the distances between the stars was finally discovered.  The existence of so-called “slipstreams” (actually flaws in the fabric of space-time that are essentially wormholes) between various stars was discovered.   The race to fill the stars was on.

Full of Stars – Expansion of the Solar Imperium Humanitas

Humanity embraced what it saw as its manifest destiny to dominate the stars.  The now renamed Solar Imperium Humanitas exploded into the local cluster of systems linked together by the slipstreams.  Over the course of the last 750 years, exotic alien worlds have been discovered and populated.  Systems were at first governed entirely by scions of the Terran noble houses, but the relentless expansion made it clear that such direct rule was unsustainable.  New nobles were elevated from the general population on the basis of their wealth, achievements, military prowess, or cunning.

As time wore on, the discovery of new slipstreams (and thus new systems) grew less and less common.  The last discovery of a new slipstream path was almost 200 years ago.  The resulting drop off in expansion led to new difficulties.  The current nobility could no longer easily grow its wealth and influence, while the commoners no longer had any ready avenue to hopefully distinguish themselves and work their way into power.  The Pax Imperium was finally nearing an end.

End of an Empire – Foundation of the Commonwealth of Worlds

As the last worlds became settled in the terminal system 120 years ago, the nobility awoke to the fact that the only way to grow was to take that which other nobles possessed.  The Imperial Navy and Army had been reduced to minimal levels during the Pax Imperium.  The most powerful nobles conspired to see an incompetent Emperor elected to the throne, and promptly set about settling a variety of grudges and seized as much power as they could.

The nobility, however, failed to realize that the most ambitious and skilled commoners were now at loose ends.  With no further systems to seek out, explore, and populate, a legion of scientists, artists, bureaucrats, and professional military officers had lost their way to power.  As the nobles turned on themselves, these ambitious men and women realized they would be next.  It remains unclear who turned on who first, but history repeated itself in a series of resource driven civil wars.  The majority of the Outer and Fringe systems of the Imperium promptly disposed of Imperial overlords and were largely forgotten, as various factions vied for control of the truly rich systems.

Only after 60 years of conflict was any equilibrium reached in the eldest and most technologically advanced Core systems.  The surviving factions in the Core systems controlled most of the Imperial Navy and Army’s resources, and recognized that further conflict between themselves was not in their best interest.  They swore common cause against the failed Imperium and the Terran Nobles they saw as the cancer at its heart.  After a brief but bloody battle against the few remaining Imperial loyalists, the Emperor was deposed and executed.  The eldest Terran Noble houses that had instigated the end of the Pax Imperium were also dissolved.  The mixture of new powers (mostly made up of system nobles, high priests, and mercantile oligarchs) controlling the military, then declared the formation of a new Commonwealth of Worlds.  A nominal president from the Core systems was elected, and the new Commonwealth Navy promptly set out to re-establish order in the Outer and Fringe systems.  Faced with the best technology of humanity, the more remote systems promptly acceded to membership with the Commonwealth.

The Core systems remain tightly controlled by the Commonwealth to this day.  The Outer and Fringe systems have been more or less left to their own devices, each governed by the terms of the treaties under which they joined the Commonwealth.  Occasionally, a system or planet fails to pay their membership dues and service levies, prompting punitive action by the superior Commonwealth Navy.  The early examples set by the Commonwealth Armed Forces as to how such lapses in payment are dealt with ensure that such open dissent is rare.

Each system is responsible for raising its own Naval and Ground forces, and enforcing system law (as well as the very limited range of Commonwealth laws).  The only common element is that all systems must pay their fees, and provide personnel to serve with the Commonwealth Bureaucracy and Armed Forces.  The means by which the personnel levies are fulfilled are left up to the systems themselves.  In general, even in systems where the levies are decided by fiat, such service may be avoided for the right price.  However, the attention paid to potential or current electors of the Commonwealth Council makes Commonwealth service effectively mandatory for societies elite.  The compensation for such mandatory service is that the positions of such august personages are commensurate to their planetary rank, and that it offers the opportunity to possibly enter the ranks of the Core system nobility.

About Religion in the Commonwealth (Maintained from BE with colour accents)

Early in the reign of the Solar Imperium, a new religion emerged and was rapidly embraced as the state religion of the Imperium.  All other religions were brutally suppressed.  Founded by the charismatic Prophet Ahmilahk, the Church of the Mundus Humanitas is strictly hierarchical.  Even with the rise of the Commonwealth, admission into the higher ranks of the Church remains reserved for the nobility.   However, various cults and sects have emerged in the wake of the lessened central authority of the Commonwealth.

In BE See pages 30-31 (regarding the Kudus Theocracy), pg 43 (Theocracy Government form), pg 45 (Cult Churches), pg 50 (Theocratic Institutions), and the various traits tied to Theocratic lifepaths in the BE book for more information about the Mundus Humanitas and other religious movements.

About Technological Development (Tech scales for planetary systems use BE not Diaspora Definitions)

Technological development was rated in the Solar Imperium on a ten-point scale (pg 374 BE).  The Core systems were traditionally high index systems, while the Outer systems were borderline high to low index (pg 37-40BE).   Unfortunately, the civil war that preceded the formation of the Commonwealth resulted in the loss of most of this advanced technology.   Today, the Core systems only retain a vestige of high index technology, while the Outer systems range from low index to zero index.

Key Technology: The Crucis (Maintained this concept from BE)

Certain pieces of advanced technology in the Commonwealth (including the helms of Hammer vessels, and the powered armour known as Iron) are operated by way of a cybernetic interface.  The cross-shaped interface is known as the crucis, and is implanted at the back of the head so as to interface with the occipital lobe of the brain.  In accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth, only the nobility (the Lords-Pilot) are permitted to have a crucis.

About Psychology (Maintained with colour additions for our specific setting from BE)

Psychology as a skill is generally used to understand a person’s emotions and personality.  This includes discerning character traits.  However, Psychology is also used to refer to the abilities of a gifted few that are potent telepaths.  Through considerable training, they are able to use the Psychology skill to harness their power to read minds, influence others, and even control others thoughts under select circumstances.

For more information on how Psychology can be used to influence people, see pages 575-588 of the BE book.

About Slipstreams (Core Concepts from Diaspora adapted to allow the players to define the Outer and Fringe worlds)

 The systems that make up the Commonwealth are connected together by a series of wormhole like gateways known as slipstreams.  These flaws in the fabric of space-time allow for near instantaneous translation from system to system.  The systems connected by the slipstreams are scattered throughout the Milky Way, with the connections between two given systems being entirely independent of their actual physical proximity.

As a result, two systems that are close to together by slipstream may be quite distant spatially. This lack of correspondence between relative slipstream position and actual physical location has one important practical consequence.  The stellar sphere around each system is radically different, and no point of reference exists for comparison.  Therefore, determining the position of any given system relative to another would be extremely difficult.  Moreover, as such information is seen as having no practical benefit, virtually no effort is expended upon such research.

Making use of a slipstream requires a skilled pilot, advanced drive technology, and a means for dealing with massive amounts of waste heat.  Construction of slipstream capable ships is therefore only possible in systems with Low Index or higher technology (Adaptation from Diaspora to BE).  Low Index ships rely upon delicate drive systems and arrays of advanced heat sinks.  High Index ships have more robust drives, and can make use of energy shielding to deal with waste heat.  In either case, the complexity and bulk of such systems generally preclude them from being incorporated in fighter-craft/assault sled sized objects, such that slip-capable carriers must carry any small craft into battle.

The termini of slipstreams in each system are typically referred to as “slipknots”.  The distortions in space-time are readily observed using low index sensor technology.  Slipknots are typically found at the gravitationally stable points in a star system, with most being located either above or below the plane of the ecliptic poles of each system – a point on the axis of the barycentre (the point around which all bodies in the system revolve).   A ship relying upon Low Index technology must come to a complete halt in normal space relatively close to the knot before translating.  However, a High Index ship can make a translation at speed and at greater distances from the slipknot.

No one knows how to create slipstreams.  Even at the peak of the Imperium, the scientists of the High Index Core systems did not comprehend how such flaws in the fabric of space could exist or let alone be created.  In the Commonwealth, what limited research carried out to understand the alternative physics of these holes in space has largely become forgotten.  The Commonwealth by and large retains the technology to make use of the slipstream network (with the Commonwealth Navy itself occasionally making use of energy shielding rather than heat sinks), but no open research is conducted to comprehend the slipstreams.

Next entry, to discuss Planetary System creation as a Hybrid of Diaspora and Burning Empires (the setup crunch)

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