Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the eighty-fifth issue of The Guild Companion.

A Universe for HARP SF?

The rules of a fantasy RPG can rely on medievalism and the familiar stereotypes of mainstream fantasy literature to provide a basis for concrete examples for races, cultures, etc. Science-fiction RPGs have a much more difficult time as there are so many different types of science-fiction, and in many cases, the setting can dictate the necessary rules. Where HARP SF needs to provide GMs with concrete examples, the Tintamar (sometimes called the Portals) universe is invoked to supply the requisite details.

I should be clear that you can run HARP SF in many other universes. At least one playtest group used the Firefly/Serenity setting as their playground, while one of my players would like to use HARP SF to run Stargate SG-1 (or more correctly Stargate SG-GB!). So HARP SF will not tie you into the Tintamar universe, which is a good thing as no one has yet been assigned by ICE to produce the Tintamar sourcebook. Until such time as someone does get "on the case", I intend to provide quasi-canonical essays and articles on the universe so that potential GMs have something to play with.

Tintamar - Where, When, and What?

The first question is perhaps the easiest to answer. Tintamar is our own universe as it might be in the future. Indeed it is our galaxy and our part of the galaxy, not somewhere in a galaxy, far, far away.

The second question is a trifle harder as GMs may choose to alter the starting date of their campaigns, perhaps beginning prior to First Contact or the Silth War in the timeline. The notional starting year is 2473. Cue a group rendition of the theme tune to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Now that we've got that out of our collective system, the time-frame is indeed the twenty-fifth century so the setting is significantly far future but not vastly distant.

The third question arises from a query on the ICE forums as to the type of sf setting as the poster rightly commented that "Battlestar Galactica vs Star Trek vs Star Wars....they are all sci fi settings but very different". Tintamar is not "Star Wars" in that it is not a science-fantasy with the same mythic backdrop of good versus evil, an all-pervasive Force, a galaxy-wide empire opposed by a heroic rebellion. Tintamar is a science-fiction setting where we do pay attention to the science and the technology - no one will be making the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs! However, Tintamar is not a really hard sf setting in that it does have faster-than-light travel, psionics, and other fun stuff.

Tintamar is also not "Star Trek". Technology is not overwhelming. There are no transporter beams to get characters on and off-planet. If you want to land, take your ship down if it is atmosphere-capable, take a shuttle, or if you want to visit Earth, ride a space elevator down from Ring City like civilized sentients. Characters won't be able to solve all their technical problems by routing the transporter or the holodeck through the deflector shield. As I've mentioned previously, our aliens are not humanoids who differ from mankind in the physiognomy of their heads. Campaigns also do not have to be about space exploration.

Tintamar is not "Battlestar Galactica". OK, I'd better caveat this by saying that I've only seen some of the episodes from the original series, not the current remake. There is no single over-arching story that will dominate every campaign set in the Tintamar universe. Robots and AIs do not pose a clear and present danger to the survival of the human species. That's not to say that there isn't a fleet of rogue von Neumann machines or a hostile machine civilisation intent on exterminating every biological life form somewhere out there in the galaxy.

And Tintamar isn't "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" either. Stop humming!

Less Negativity, More Information

I've said a lot about Tintamar is not, so it's time to look at what Tintamar is.

It is a moderately far future setting in terms of milieu. It is also interstellar in scope. Conventional faster-than-light travel in the Tintamar is at a rate of one light-year per day. Humanity has possessed the Lagrange Drive since 2206 and used it to explore the local neighbourhood. Over a hundred extrasolar colonies have been founded, most within fifty light-years of Sol. In more than two centuries of exploration, only the ruins of other races had been found.

Until 2451 and the discovery of the first "portal", an advanced alien artifact orbiting a derelict plant known as Methuselah. Three years later, probes followed by manned scoutcraft travelled through the portal, exiting via another portal in a star system (later called Nexus) some four hundred light-years from Sol. Portal transit is fast - starships move through the portal at one light-year per minute and are not limited to exiting at a portal, though getting home from distant systems that lack a portal is likely to be a very long trip.

The discovery of the portals led to First Contact with several peaceful alien starfaring civilisations and an eventual war with the xenophobic and expansionist Silth - the first "foreign" peril faced by the Terran Federation and still an ongoing threat to human interests in the wider galaxy. Humanity has diplomatic and mercantile interests in the Nexus Sector, but extending human influence in that region of space through colonisation projects has been prohibited by the Federation for security reasons.

But hold on, there's a Federation? Like in Star Trek? No. The Terran Federation is a human-only organisation. Membership in the Federation is mandatory for human worlds. It was founded in 2210 by Earth and the other solar governments to provide mutual assistance and united defense against domestic and foreign threats. It has (mostly) kept the peace among the member worlds since its foundation and the various planetary and asteroidal governments enjoy substantial autonomy. Some colonial worlds have undergone Interdiction, renouncing interstellar travel and active membership in favour of complete self-rule.

The cosmography of the Tintamar universe allows GMs to choose between human-only campaigns centered in human space and human-and-alien campaigns, possibly set in the Nexus Sector. With First Contact only a couple of decades prior to the notional starting date of 2473, GMs can set their games just before the portal discoveries without having to rework all the technology!

The tone of Tintamar is optimistic. It is not a cyberpunk dystopia, although on some corporate dominated worlds, life could be bleak indeed. It is not a utopia, however. People still have to earn their living, honestly or otherwise. Planetary autonomy means that governments range from fully participatory democracies to despotic regimes - and the Federation does not intervene in internal affairs unless a member state becomes a threat to interworld security. The megacorporations wield as much or more influence than some planetary governments; many companies will pursue any means to achieve their goals including outright violence against competitors. Not all aliens are friendly and the Silth have not abandoned their goal of conquering the galaxy.

Farewell for now ...

I'll have more inside information on Tintamar next month. We'll be back in April, but until then...

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