Not Even Traveller: The Sohl Cluster Campaign
Welcome to the Sohl Cluster Campaign. This is a science fiction role playing game setting, with a loose rules system which takes elements from Traveller and other gaming systems. The feel is intended to be something like Traveller’s, but the setting is unlike that of the Third Imperium.
Ordinarily, in a Swords and Sorcery game, any experienced role-player has a pretty good idea of what the game world will be like. With Science Fiction games, there seems to be a broader range of what is considered "normal"; with cyberpunk, Star Trek, and Star Wars marking three particular reference points.
The Sohl Cluster Setting
The Sohl Cluster is a group of twenty-eight star systems all within a few dozen light-years of one another, with a substantial gulf between those systems and the next nearest stars. The world Urth, in the Sohl system, is the birthplace of the human race in this universe. This is not quite our universe; Urth is not Earth, and Sol is not Sohl, but there are great similarities, and humans in this universe are much like humans here.
A faster-than-light "warp drive" was developed by the human race approximately 180 years ago, and mankind began exploring and colonizing the cluster almost immediately. They did not get far before encountering three intelligent alien races: the Lin, the Alain, and the Kali. The Kali are very alien in their form and thinking, to the point of frequent miscommunication with humans. On the other hand, humanity is able to get along quite well with the birdlike Alain and the quasi-mammalian Lin.
Humanity has now colonized every star system in the cluster except for those which were already inhabited by intelligent species. All but a few of the human worlds belong to a loose interstellar Confederation, established originally to stop the enslavement of the Kastle species by the renegade human colony on Shin. The Confederation taxes its members and imposes legal guidelines; among the primary guarantees of the Confederate Constitution are certain familiar rights (life, liberty, free expression of ideas, etc.) for all intelligent life-forms. This puts it in direct opposition to the Shin nation, which is xenophobic and has stated its intent to rule over or destroy all non-humans.
Certain technological developments are fairly commonplace within the worlds of the Confederation. As a reference point, the level of technological advancement is slightly less than what is seen in Star Wars: faster-than-light travel and anti-gravity, but no light sabers, and no hand-held blasters. Also unlike Star Wars, there is no plethora of intelligent alien species; thus far mankind has met only a handful of their peers. Unlike Star Trek, there is no faster-than-light communication (other than by carrying a message via a starship), no teleportation, no "holodecks", and no faster-than-light weaponry.
The most obvious important technology is the warp drive, which allows interstellar travel at 50 times the speed of light or more (meaning that neighboring stars are only weeks apart, and travelling across the whole cluster can be done in a few months). However, communication is possible only at the speed of ship travel, yielding a network of courier fleets which carry messages between the stars in much the same way as the Pony Express of the old West. Comparisons can be made to the late 19th century, when travel from Europe to the Americas was expensive and slow, but reasonably safe and, for some, "routine". Colonies far from the mother country had to be governed locally in almost all things, with the seat of empire setting broad policies and attempting to correct only the most grievous governmental missteps.
Privately-owned starships are rare, but commercial, military, and paramilitary vessels are commonplace. Starships are generally referred to by their size (measured in metric tons) and their mission; hence "200 ton trading ship", "500 ton patrol corvette", and the like. Artificial gravity, safe and compact fusion power plants, highly advanced computers, lasers, guided missiles, particle beam weapons, and deflector screens are other standard features of starships found within the Confederation. Since warp drives cannot be used in close proximity to planets, stars, and other massive bodies, sub-light maneuvering is relevant as well, giving rise to both piracy and police in space.
Personal weapons technology has produced some man-portable laser weapons, but they are bulky and expensive; for the simple killing of humans, the chemically-propelled bullet is still the most efficient and affordable way to go. However, the Confederation frowns upon murder, and as a result, most of the Confederate worlds outlaw some or all forms of firearms, and some restrict other weapons as well.
Artificial gravity and fusion power, mentioned above in the starship context, have had an effect on most other walks of life as well. Air-cars are common; floating cities are rare, but they do exist. The destructive environmental effects of lower technologies are not completely forgotten (Urth in particular will show her scars for another thousand years), but the newer technologies are certainly a step in the right direction.
Computer technology has advanced from modern-day Earth, of course, but the hard part is still knowing what questions to ask and what data to use. Computers are not held in such awe as they were in the first century of their use, largely because their limitations are now better understood by the average citizen. Varying degrees of artificial intelligence have been toyed with, with no really satisfactory results: the truly "intelligent" ones seem to be vulnerable to all the frailties of organic minds, while being not much faster. Robots of many sorts do exist, but cannot generally pass for human.
Lab-grown organs for transplants are fairly commonplace, and medical technology in general has advanced to the point where most humans live between 100 and 120 years and are productive well into their seventies or eighties. Cyborgs exist, but the technology is expensive and there is a cultural bias against those who flaunt their mechanical parts. As a matter of policy, the Confederate armed forces do not use military cyborgs, but some local armed forces do so, on a strict volunteer basis. The big exception is that neural interfaces to computer systems are common among professionals who need them, and so are not stigmatized. There is a "cyberspace", or rather there are many on any given world, but it’s not all that exciting, really, as the speed of light remains a severe limitation on computer networks.
Humans being humans, crime exists to some degree nearly everywhere within the Confederation. The degree and form of crime varies greatly. The Confederation and its armed forces itself are pretty clean – the citizens of the Confederation worlds keep a pretty good watch on what happens with the tax money sent to Urth. Unfortunately, local governments frequently don’t live up to Confederate standards. That being the case, the Confederation maintains a force of investigators to ensure that local governments are at least meeting the minimum requirements set forth in the Constitution. This Confederation Auditing Force – colloquially called the Upholders – has no equivalent in today’s United States; they can challenge planetary governments and hold those governments criminally accountable in a Confederate court for attempting to subvert the laws of the Confederation.
In addition to the Confederation’s cluster-wide forces, most of the Confederate worlds maintain their local armies and a local naval patrol force – a Coast Guard of sorts – which is primarily involved in combating piracy and smuggling.
More background information does exist, but has been omitted in the interest of brevity. If players have questions, they are encouraged to ask them.
Author: Russell Bornschlegel, email@example.com. Last revision: 1999/10/12.