I have, partly through my own efforts, and partly from the efforts of friends who have lost the means or will to store such things, acquired shelves full of various RPG supplements. Many times I have stared at this wall of dead trees and for the most part abandoned projects and wondered if all of this could be combined into a single universe.
This would give me a means to cover a wide range of scenarios in a relatively high level of detail. Different regions or cultures or time periods would just reference different game settings.
I have done this at the Fantasy level. When I used to run Atlantis in the ancient bc (before children) there were five different schools of magic, each drawing spells from a different fantasy RPG setting. (The common rule system was home-brew) (Not GAFT) I also used those setting to fill in various professions and equipment availability. But that was one place and one time and only about 5 different systems.
Can I do that on a cosmic scale – and use all of these books?
Can I create a detailed universe while making hardly anything up?
Let’s explore that for a while, because otherwise I would have to write about useful things.
So first a few meta-assumptions:
- In order to do this, I have to brazenly ignore copyright and licensing, so this will never be an actual product that anyone could buy. It exists mostly as a thought exercise, and mostly on this blog.
- Relatedly, I am going to do my best not to include anything I myself have made up, unless I made it up only for a RPG game I did not write.
- This is not about integrating game mechanics. This is about settings. I could make all of this work in GURPS if I wanted serious detail, Savage Worlds or even Traveller if I wanted medium resolution, and RISUS or any of the other pamphlet RPG’s if I just wanted to get on with it. I’m not making any of those decisions here. This is about setting.
- Or I could do it in Go Action Fun Time, but because I intend that as a commercial project, I dare not tempt myself.
- This will end up looking a lot more like a comic-book universe than anything else. Comic-books, especially the two or three lines that publish many titles in a shared universe have that anything-goes approach that comes with multiple writers trying to appeal to large fan-bases.
- If you want anything more specific, or more realistic, you have to limit the scope. So pick a game and stay with that. We are doing the opposite here.
- You must abandon fundamentalism in regard to canon I have found a big box to shove ideas into – we’ll get to that – but we still have to bend some corners and leave out some parts to make it all fit.
- This is going to be skewed towards very popular franchises and games I actually own.
- This is a warning to the various adults who have left their game library at my house: I am treating it as mine. Since I moved it from the old house, I have lost the ability to track ownership of most of this material.
- We are going to pass over settings placed on modern or historical Earth.
- Connecting parallel universes seems like cheating, so we are going to avoid that. How many games can I cram into a single universe? Let’s find out.
Traveller – with two L’s.
The scaffolding onto which we construct the Multi-Fantasti-Verse [MFV from now on] will be Traveller. Which version? All of them. One of the best things about Traveller is its scope both in space and in time. Even given this scope, it has gone into remarkable detail, especially since it has been a living game, in various incarnations since 1977.
If you know nothing of this game, behold the Map: https://travellermap.com/
Most RPG settings have a fixed start time and are a snapshot of their world at that time. “It is year 1000 of the Imperial calendar, and dark forces loom on the horizon…”
Traveller has published several settings (under several different publishers) over the years, each set in a different time period. This works to our advantage as some of the settings I would put here would only make sense in one time period or another.
There is no other published product that comes close in either scope or detail. A few others get better detail (Star Frontiers comes to mind) and the GURPS supplements on this subject do not want for scope. But neither can touch the hoary old game where your characters can infamously die in character creation, and which Word unfailingly flags as misspelled.
Now that we’ve praised it, let’s kill it.
Traveller has a serious, hard-science tone that works for a small percentage of non-Traveller products out there. We will have to loosen it up considerably.
Traveller also has some underlying technology assumptions that we will simply abandon. Traveller supposes, for example, that FTL communication is not possible, but flight is. We can’t abide by that. There will be a portion of the setting where FTL communication is undiscovered – but other parts will have it. There’s a long list like this.
Canon Traveller has five major races meaning distinct species that firmly control a hundred systems or more: Humans (three different branches) Hivers, Aslans, K-Kri (aka centaurs) and either the Vargr or the Droyne depending on where you draw the line and how. We are going to add at least two more.
Traveller proposes a version of Panspermia – a long -established SF trope that explains why the galaxy would be full of humanoids when that seems statistically impossible. I note here that I personally hate this trope, but many of the settings I want to include, including Traveller itself, rely upon it.
In particular, Humanity in Traveller is one of three distinct lines of human beings who achieved space conquest prior to ever meeting each other. This has some conveniences when plopping in other settings. It still makes my brain itch.
I am further adding, on my own, the general assumption that civilizations tend to become more advanced Coreward and less advanced Rimward. This is for off-the-map denizens. The various polities of Traveller are more-or-less on equal if shifting footings, as, on a galactic scale, they are still near neighbors.
Another assumption is that it is easier to modify species to fit a planet than to modify a planet to fit a species, and this is the approach of any space-faring species that considers ethics or (more reliably) economy. Thus you can have a lot of variations within a species depending upon which planet they adapted to.
A quick guide to the major factions on mainstream Traveller, and what I might add or change:
- Solomani are Us. Any setting that has a clear history tying it to Earth wants to go here if it can fit. Most of the published histories are conveniently vague, so this can happen more often than you think.
- Aslans – which might as well be the K’zin of Larry Niven’s known space, but they didn’t have that license, so they became a vaguer species of war-kitty. You can throw Klingons in here too, and we will.
- Droyne: an ancient race that is a shell of it’s former dominance, mostly because they basically gave up trying to run the galaxy. Droyne have Done Things that they no longer clearly remember – or so they claim. You can hand-wave many inexplicable things by blaming it on the Droyne.
- Hivers: the turtle-like aliens unique to Traveller. There is no particular trope these are based upon, and they mostly sail through as written.
- K’Kri – These are big, centaur things who are on the edge of Traveller’s charted space. If you include Marvel things, you could call them Kree, but that’s a stretch. We’re not there yet.
- Vlani – The neighboring human species with galactic ambitions. There are actually several settings that do not have humans originating on Earth (perhaps because they didn’t want to take responsibility for predicting our nearer future). Star Frontiers has that conceit, though not the scale.
- Vargr – uplifted dogs. Yes. This is a thing in Traveller, and they control a lot of space.
- Zhodanni – Psionic humans who are upright and up-tight. I am going to flesh them out with my GURPS Lensemen supplement, since that seminal space opera was a clear inspiration for them. Also, this is where Lanterns of any color would come from.
To which we add:
- Space opera is full of lizard-folk, enough that we can imagine them controlling many star systems. This is where you go to find Vesk or Gorn. Saurians are Spinward of the Great Rift.
- Space Elves -who do not call themselves that at all. These are somewhere between Star-trek’s Romulans and actual elves – with a little B5 Minbarri thrown in. The Space Elevs separate Solomanni from the Vlann.
- Bugs – a race of insect like things right out of Starship troopers – or rather the RPG based upon it. These are due Rimward of the Aslan Hierarch.
- We reserve the right to add others.
Traveller has a lot of Pocket Empires, polities that cover a dozen worlds or so, and a lot of settings fit into that.
We will add a category of Mauraders – predatory forces that conquer worlds, strip them of anything useful, and then move on.
Yes – I’m doing this. And when we come back, we’ll start with the big shiny lens-flare on the bridge – Star Trek.