Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ad Astra: Introduction and Future History

Traveller: Ad AstraA Campaign Setting for Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller Role Playing Game

Ad Astra (“to the stars” in Latin) has been my private space opera for two decades now. I have linked my science fiction adventures together over the years, producing the fairly lengthy and tumultuous future history of the universe. Ad Astra is a universe which begins with a near-future world of dark conspiracies and alien visitations, turns in to a not-too-distant tale of expanding humanity and two-fisted tales of hard-science adventures on the frontier of space, and eventually expands to a galactic tale of space opera and far-future politics among powerful alien empires. The intent of the setting is to insure that you, as GM, can run it in any particular vein you like, linking adventures in different eras together over time, as a grand plot that transcends the generations slowly unfolds.

The historical timeline of Ad Astra allows for a grand overview of the progress of man spanning several hundred years. It provides some details on the overarching plots and themes that develop over time, especially the gradual expansion of man in to foreign space and humanity’s first contact scenarios with the greater universe. The theme of the Harbingers and their eventual threat is also important, as is the mystery of such beings as the Byzanti and the Gundari Wraiths.

I’ve run Ad Astra in multiple role playing systems. Ad Astra grew out of an explanding metaplot I would develop with each opportunity to run a new SF campaign. The system was usually the hot game of the hour. Traveller, Megatraveller, GURPS, Alternity, Hero System, Savage Worlds and Tri-Stat DX have all hosted Ad Astra as the underlying system, and I’ve provided some online details for a couple of them. Most recently Mongoose Publishing released a new and very polished edition of Traveller, and so it is my pleasure to bring Ad Astra back to the original system from which it was first conceived. The adaptation that follows will include specifics on how to use Traveller as the default Ad Astra game engine with a minimum of fuss. In fact, pretty much the entire body of rules for Traveller will work just fine as-is with Ad Asta; all you’ll need from this setting are some specific details and statistics to go with it all.

Traveller Conventions:Ad Astra employs all of the rules for characters, ships and worlds as outlined in Traveller. Transgenics are also common in Ad Astra and less restricted than in the standard Traveller universe. Psionics exist in the Ad Astra universe as a barely-understood force linked to the quantum flux. It is believed by many mystical agencies that psionics are the first step of a conventional physical being in to a larger, incorporeal universe. The Harbingers, Wraiths, and other species have all developed this potential to some extent, but mankind as a whole remains largely uninvolved with psionics until Phase III and beyond. Finally, simulants and anageni are all affected by transgenics to one extent or another, the specialized weird science focusing on genetic modification.

A Future History in Four Phases The history of mankind in space begins before Sputnik, and may indeed have begun before man had left the stone age. His future history goes on for many millennia, but the four phases of expansion in Ad Astra deal with a period from the twentieth century in to the twenty-sixth.

Dawn of the Interstellar Age
Mankind’s first encounters with the galaxy at large did not begin in space, but in fact dates back to many early occurrences of alien contact. First contact may actually have happened multiple times over countless millennia, but some famous known examples include the following:

In 1947, the first documented modern contact with aliens occurs when a Gundari slave ship crashes near Roswell. Survivors reveal the millennial practice of harvesting humans and other lesser species for Gundari thrall armies before escaping. The havoc caused by the surviving shape shifters leads to the formation of MJ-12, a covert government agency designed to respond to alien threats.

In 1997, Nommosi remnants stranded on Earth from a crash-landing in the Cretaceous era are awakened when one of their poly phasic artifacts are discovered and activated. The surviving Nommosi attempts to create a chrono-phasic wormhole to return to the past and stop the disastrous crash, but in so doing begins dragging that period in to the near future. Fortunate intervention stops the irreparable damage to past and future.

In 1998, As a side effect of the Nommosi awakening, stranded T’Kazzt criminals are motivated to seek escape, and attempt to convert human listening stations in to FTL transmitters to call for help. Federal agents intervene in conjunction with MJ-12. Variable periods in history have revealed trans-phasic incursions by beings moving through poly-dimensional wormholes, most notably the so-called “Stick Men,” who have been with humanity potentially for several thousand years. Likewise, there is a suspicion among mytho-historic scholars that apocalyptic accounts of floods and disasters in human legends suggest a period in which the Sol System might have come in to a near-contact with one of the Harbingers (near-contact because direct contact would have led to the harvesting and extermination of Earth).

Phase I: 2048-2150

First Contact and STL Expansion Period
Mankind has developed a sophisticated future society and begun development of the solar system. In this period, humanity experiences a period of future shock, which is slowed only by the outward expansion in to space over time.

2048 marks the time in which a period of continuous global conflicts and escalating warfare over diminishing fuel resources are almost completely eliminated due to the unexpected development of cheap, almost unlimited fuel through the manufacture and development of anti-matter. The Klausman-Zabrinski Particle Collider and highly effective magnetic bottling methods make the exploitation of total energy-to-mass conversion through anti-matter dirt cheap and accessible to all. In less than a decade, humanity is lifted from the brink of destruction in to a new renaissance.

In 2052, The nations of the world are united and commemorate the new era of peace with the launch of the Orpheus Project, a multi-national effort to promote the furtherance of space development with the first anti-matter interstellar space explorers. Orpheus I, II, and III are set to launch on completion in orbital stations in 2056, and begin their journeys to three likely star systems displaying possible terrestrial planets according to new advanced telescopic imaging stations established in the Kuiper Belt Research Stations. Daedalus III will reach Alpha Centauri, closest binary star system to Sol, in approximately 50 Earth years acceleration and deceleration time. It will be the first vessel to arrive. Orpheus II is sent to Wolf 359, and Orpheus I is sent to Tau Ceti. Each Orpheus vessel carries an experimental wormhole receiver gate with it to be assembled on arrival. The current wormhole project holds that a two-way connection is required to operate the wormhole by utilizing the two openings to force the hole open with a web of complex hyper dense particles. Again, particles made possible using new accelerator and bottling technology.

In 2076 the first functioning self sustainable two-way worm-hole is created in the Kuiper Belt Research Stations. Technology has superseded itself here, as the means of exploring worlds still to be reached by the Orpheus project can be done in spite of issues of relativity. The new system allows a ship to be fired, virtually, through an accelerator 200 km long through a worm-hole entry which is momentarily flung open by a massive burst of heavy exotic particles from adjacent interactive accelerators. The ship arrives at a destination where it can then utilize it’s onboard equipment to mine and manufacture a receiving end which can create the sustainable wormhole. Plans are immediately put in place to make use of the new Gateway-1. By 2082, multiple avenues of research are underway and the first explorer ships are out.

In 2079, a monumental discovery is made by Kurosawa Mining and Development in the ice fields of the Titan moon when they detect a large artificial object trapped in the moon’s ice flows. The first and earliest Dragoons (cybernetically enhanced humans) are brought in when the initial research teams are lost, and discover that the vessel is of alien origin and infested with unknown, hostile organisms that strike at the genetic structure of their targets and take control of enemy organisms. This is humanity’s first contact with the Cerr’K’Ta. Later, when the infestation is eliminated, what is left of the vessel leads to more mysteries, many not answered until centuries later. Unfortunately, Kurosawa does not share it’s discoveries with other members of the Commonwealth.

In 2082, the first fracturing of the Solar Commonwealth is experienced when the Jupiter Faction breaks away, due to an artificial intelligence which becomes motivated to become exclusive caretaker of it’s willing society. The rampant acceptance of neural networking and biotech advances which have lead to the creation of biomimetic powers in the human mind are blamed for this bizarre cultural revolution. This cultural revolution slows interstellar expansion as the First Stellar War is fought, but it leads to the first idea of the Slingshot drive, locally constructed accelerator stations which can open smaller wormholes to fire a ship to another region in the solar system, making local travel times much shorter.

2086, The first phase of the interstellar survey teams has unexpected results as a team stumbles on a Dotari Habitat. The Dotari lash out violently to the xenobiological intrusion, and then send armed forces to Sol, where they begin a systematic annihilation of wormhole capabilities. The existing warfare makes things worse as the first contact with a present alien species proves overwhelmingly hostile, and the xenophobic, poly dimensional Dotari and their manufactured subjects are too alien to rationalize with. The First Stellar War ends with the Dotari domination and subjugation of human space forces on all sides in 2092. Confident Terran space development has been stopped, the Dotari leave. Unknown to them, factions of the Solar Commonwealth have survived with Kuiper Station technology intact, by moving key wormhole capable vessels to other systems, including Alpha Centauri.

In 2087, after a close engagement with unknown hostiles monitoring the system the human remnants are saved by a Founder trade ship which aids them. With the assistance of the Astratan Founders, the Solar Commonwealth contingent returns to the Kuiper Belt of the Solar System. Confident that the Dotari are gone, a methodical plan to restore humanity to the stars begins. Aided by the Founders, who seek to aid those injured by the Dotari threat to gain new allies, the reconstruction will take approximately three decades before man’s presence in space is fully restored. During this time, a great deal of effort is placed on careful, methodical, and quiet interstellar survey teams seeking to assess the neighbors, both hostile and friendly, in the local region of space. This is the foundation of the Interstellar Survey Corps.

2106 is the year Orpheus III makes it’s arrival at Alpha Centauri, only to discover a civilization on the hospitable world which has collapsed, and evidence of much warfare and many subsequent visits from other species. A game of cat and mouse begins with a being known only as the Survivor, a member of a forgotten species which was trapped by the automated protection systems which were put in place to protect the system from further incursion, or warn off visitors. The tools of biotechnic warfare abound in the system, and it appears that many of the visitors sought the technology out as a means of using it for their own purposes. Orpheus III discovers the first direct evidence of sleek, faster-than-light ship remnants employing warp drive to fold space. It then seeks to establish contact with humanity and builds it’s return worm hole, after finding a message left behind by the visitors of the Commonwealth.

Phase II: 2175-2300

The FTL Outward Expansion
Phase II is considered to have officially begun with the christening of the Rendezvous I, the first self-sustaining, wormhole-equipped FTL ship. At just under 3 km in length, Rendezvous I was meant to be humanity’s first great fortress of the stars, a vessel capable of operating indefinitely with a crew of several thousand and room to hold whole colonies. As much a space station as a ship, Rendezvous I included dozens of research, survey, and exploratory vessels attached to it’s hull along with a dozen well armed warships utilizing newly developed weapons technology employing gravitic weaponry as well as anti-matter missiles. In the years preceding the build-up, alliances had been made with the Astratan, Anageni, and Grupnar as well as several minor species in predicaments much like humanity’s. From this unity emerges the Human Federated Commonwealth, and an alliance between multiple species called the Interstellar Union.

2176 marks the founding of the first full human colony in interstellar space on the uninhabited terrestrial world of the Betelgeuse system. Within a decade, under the Rendezvous project, twenty two worlds and moons are seeded with colonies and terra forming development stations. Dozens more are equipped with stations, and key locations are established with developing wormhole station facilities.

In 2199, the first Commonwealth Marine Defense forces are put to use in protection colonies from another Cerr’K’Ta threat.

By 2215, the HFC has laid claim to 100 star systems and colonies are spread far and wide in the safe zones established by the ISC teams of previous decades. Likewise, humanity’s allies in the Founder Worlds and Anageni space have helped to established Amber Zones, where unknown or risky civilizations are known to exist. The interstellar star charts are starting to look complicated. During this time, expansions of the original Rendezvous project are undertaken, and new self-sustaining colony ships are created. Among the controversial ship lines are the new Mars project vessels, battleships in space to serve as a threat deterrent against anticipated hostiles. The first Mars ship, the American Star, begins it’s tour of duty in 2212 along the Amber Zone borders. Later vessels include the Musashi, Meru, Churchill, Bradamante, and Challenger.

In 2221, under the command of Captain Harrison Hannibal, the American Star comes in to a brutal first contact experience with a fleet later later attributed to the Byzanti Alliance, and to the horror of the Commonwealth Navy it is discovered that the Gundari are a part of the alliance, and have harvested an army of biotech-modified human beings and other aliens for their thrall forces. Most frightening of the Byzanti forces is their callous disregard for the bodies of their thralls as anything other than expendable troops, and their absolute domination of their region of space. Praektorian military allies of the Byzanti forces complicate matters, as Praektorians are a diaspora encountered on many worlds, but regional Praektorians appear to serve a strong military presence to the Byzanti.

In 2230-2256, constant military conflict in the Amber Zone quickly escalates to war as Byzanti forces seek to attack human worlds. The first true interstellar conflict of the HFC begins, and a strong commitment to military defense is employed. Highlights of the war include a Byzanti assault in the Sol system in 2249 using nanotech weaponry, and the almost complete annihilation of the Praektorian homeworld in 2253 through orbital bombardment. The conflict will eventually lead to human control over much of what was once Byzanti territory, and the destruction of the Byzanti machine after HFC scientists unlock the secrets of the Alpha Centauri relic weapons, and develop a sophisticated nanotech virus that disables the byzanti thralls. The Byzanti surrender is followed by decades of ultimately unsuccessful disarmament and reformation, eventually given up in favor of regular patrols and limits on the use of arms and armament in space by the occupied Byzanti colonies.

Phase III:

The Future and Beyond
Many events are plotted and suggested for this period of the timeline, but await further extrapolation. Some interesting examples include:

2318, the first human contact with Harbinger space, and the new threat that results from this cosmic threat.

2446, in which The Slip Drive is first perfected, allowing for instantaneous space travel through the manipulation of cosmic strings. Unfortunately, the use of this mechanism involves an energy component greater than most galaxies produce. The mechanism for meeting this requirement involves exploding new quantum parallel universes out of the cosmic fuzz. By around 2500, this has attracted the attention of ominously powerful entities from completely different quantum realities, who realize the damage being done to the structure of the quantum universes in this manner.

2512 marks the first period in which a Harbinger assembly approaches settled human territories. This initiates the First Interstellar War of Territories, and proves very nearly to be the downfall of the entire Federated Commonwealth.

All text Copyright 2011 by Nicholas Torbin Bergquist, all rights reserved

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