Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the eighty-eighth issue of The Guild Companion.

Our Universe As We Might Know It

Tintamar (ICE's house setting for HARP SF) is not set a long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away. Instead it is set in our own galaxy some five centuries in the future. Of course, we don't know very much about which stars have solar systems, let alone Earth-like planets or alien civilizations, so the Tintamar universe is a possible version of our cosmos. I'll be very surprised if any of my speculative world building turns out to be accurate; conversely I won't be at all surprised if some astronomer discovers a whopping gas giant exoplanet where I've placed a key human world!

(One of my less pleasant tasks will be trying to match up the human colony worlds outside our solar system with real stars that might have suitable planetary systems. The good news is that a lot of people have worked on programs to map the existing known stars of the galaxy. I'm still expecting to spend some time getting my head around the star catalogs.)

Space is Big

Some conservative estimates place the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy at a hundred billion stars; others place it at three or four times that number. Within eighty light-years of our own Sun, there are some two thousand known stars. Within a hundred parsecs (326 light-years) of the Sun, there are twenty-two thousand known stars.

Only two small portions of the Milky Way have been explored and colonised by either humans or aliens in the Tintamar universe. The Human Sector of space is a very rough sphere centered on Sol that extends outwards up to ninety light-years to the distant colony of Tantallon. The Nexus Sector is a volume of space some hundred and fifty light-years in radius centered on the Nexus star system and encompassing the home worlds and colonies of all the other known species. The Nexus system itself is 400 light-years from Sol. Nexus is the jumping off point for human explorers and traders who wish to interact with alien species.

Strange New Worlds

Seven worlds/systems of the Nexus Sector have been written up for the manuscript chapter on the Tintamar setting. Five of those worlds are the home planets of the alien races (the Gorsivans, the Madji, the Krakuren, the Silth, and the Tricerans). The Runcori claim that their home world (a planet-sized moon orbiting a gas giant) was destroyed and (at least some of) their seedships fled to the Nexus Sector, constructing orbital habitats in the Corilon Belt (which is detailed) and other hitherto uninhabited star systems. The final described system is naturally the Nexus itself.

Time for a genuine preview of the manuscript:

The Nexus solar system comprises one Mars-sized planet (The Graveyard) orbiting in the biozone, a medium-sized gas giant (Nexus itself), two smaller gas giants and a sparse Kuiper Belt. A savage war was fought in this system perhaps a million years ago. The Graveyard lost its atmosphere, its oceans and its entire biosphere. If a civilization had made its home there, all signs have been obliterated. Elsewhere there is evidence that the conflict reduced a dozen or more moons into rubble. None of the nearby star systems show any signs of similar battles, increasing the mystery.

The Grand Alliance constructed its first and only multi-species habitat (Centralia) on the largest remaining moon of Nexus, named Primus by humans. Additional smaller domed cities have been built with environments tailored to the particular needs of individual species on both Primus and Secondus, including the human habitat of Farpoint on Secondus. Farpoint was financed by a consortium of megacorporations. It is administered by the Terran Federation by an appointed governor. The fifty thousand human residents and transients are protected by a battalion of Starsoldiers, a squadron of AstroNavy starships, and an unknown number of FedPol Investigators and Agents. Centralia itself is governed by a Council with one delegate per species. Leadership of the Council rotates on a (Nexus) yearly basis. The Terran Federation currently has observer status only on the Council.

Take us back again to the homes of men

... on the cool green hills of Earth, the domed cities of Luna, around the shores of the new seas of Venus, in the man-made wilderness of Mars, and in the space habitats of the asteroid belt and Jupiter. Mankind has spread outward from Earth to the newly terraformed worlds of the Solar System and beyond. The Solar System remains at the heart of human civilisation and Earth is still the most populous human-inhabited world. The first and so far only greater portal discovered orbits in the Asteroid Belt. Expeditions are assembled by megacorporations at the Tintamar bubble world and dispatched through the portal to the Nexus Sector and elsewhere.

Players who want their characters to hail from Cosmopolitan or Belter backgrounds will probably be from Sol System. Time for another preview of the manuscript:

The Jovian Confederacy was founded by a cartel of lesser megacorporations and Belter organizations, originally to mine Jupiter's atmosphere for hydrogen to supply the energy demands of the other worlds of the solar system. The invention of faster-than-light travel provided the impetus for their expansion into the Leading and Trailing Trojans. Portal travel has seen the pendulum of power return to the shielded cloud cities such as Olympus, Zeus and Caelestis, floating high in the Jovian atmosphere, far above its biosphere where the exotic hydrogen-breathing "gasbag" life-forms live. The Trojan settlements have shifted from supporting extrasolar commerce to emphasizing mining and manufacturing industries. They are also the home ports for two-thirds of the Confederacy defense fleet. The four Galilean moons (Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede) are sparsely populated and have relatively minor influence in the Confederacy. The Europan settlements are more scientific bases than true colonies, researching the life forms living within the world ocean beneath Europa's icy surface.

The founding corporations of the Confederacy have remained politically active. As nearly every citizen is either employed by or is a shareholder in at least one corporation, corporate influence is undeniable in every aspect of Confederacy society. Belter individualism and the failure of any single megacorp to become preeminent have ensured that the Confederacy has not become a true corporate fief like some extrasolar systems (e.g. El Dorado).

Beyond the solar system, humans have settled over a hundred worlds. The extrasolar wave of colonization, known as the Second Exodus, has created many distinct societies. Many of these communities are determined efforts to maintain distinct ethnic and cultural identities that seemed doomed to be lost in the creeping homogenisation of Earth. In game terms, the combination of the solar colonies and the ten extrasolar worlds provides human characters with the complete range of cultural backgrounds - and the chosen worlds have been deliberately selected to ensure this.

Name that Planet!

After much dice rolling and consulting of my draft notes for planet generation, I have created ten star systems, one for each of the ten selected worlds/cultures (Eden, El Dorado, Freiland, Khayyam, Meiji, Newton, Pasteur, Poseidon, Shangri-La, and Valhalla). So far, so good. Each star system also has a number of other planetary bodies, some colonized, some important only as locators for the Lagrange Points that allow entry and exit to hyperspace. As a bit of fun, I've decided to open the naming of some of those worlds to you, the fans, and have created a thread on ICE's HARP discussion board to facilitate this. Look for "HARP SF: Name that planet/moon" and see what you can dream up.

Farewell for now ...

Time for me to return to finishing up the HARP SF manuscript. We'll be back in July, but until then...

Keep gaming and have fun,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion