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Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Twilight and the Long Night
Though the damage began almost immediately, the Second Imperium was a vast and resilient polity, and took two and a half centuries to completely collapse - its death throes are generally recognized as ending in -1526 Imperial when the last remnant state claiming to be the Rule of Man splintered and broke apart. This period of Twilight was followed by a fifteen hundred year period of chaos commonly referred to as the Long Night, which only ended when Cleon transformed the Sylean Federation into the Third Imperium and declared himself Emperor in the year 0.
During the Long Night, interstellar trade was reduced to trickle in most regions of the former empire. Remnant states arose in some places, while in other regions some systems were cut off from galactic society by stellar geography or mere neglect. Many planets, lacking regular shipments of Imperial products, regressed technologically, descending into pre-industrial societies. Others, deprived of essential commodities and unable to meet their needs with domestic production, simply died off. Where interstellar travel was still possible, successor states that came into contact with one another began warring as often as they began trading. Miniature empires rose, prospered, and fell throughout the Long Night, and in many cases, surviving records are fragmentary or entirely missing. One of the great endeavors of academia in the Third Imperium is unearthing and understanding information about this period.
Despite the chaos and uncertainty of the Long Night, it was also a period of growth and expansion for humanity. Unfettered by the cumbersome bureaucracy of the First Imperium and the military rule of the Second Imperium, humanity expanded far beyond its former borders. Solomani made contact with the Darrian strain of humaniti - and after receiving the jump drive from Solomani traders, the Darrians achieved (and lost) technological capabilities as yet unmatched in human history, including the infamous Star Trigger. Humaniti made contact with the K'kree, and established stronger relations with the Aslan. In addition, while the areas formerly occupied by the Imperium had descended into chaos, other regions of the galaxy had not. The Zhodani Consulate never experienced the Long Night and grew to its present size during that era. The Vargr and Aslan experienced some of the greatest surges of expansion in the racial histories. In the case of the Aslan, their push into human held regions of space resulted in the first in a series of border wars that spanned nearly fourteen hundred years and didn't end until the nascent Third Imperium finally organized resistance to the incursions.
The ending of the Long Night was set into motion with the founding of the Sylean Federation, an interstellar state founded in the Sylea system in what is now the Core Sector in -650 Imperial. The Federation had a tightly controlled, highly centralized government, and thus it too nearly six centuries to grow, mostly by using its dominant trading position to draw several surrounding systems into itself. The typical Sylean method of expansion was to establish a trading relationship with another system, arrange for their trading partner to become dependent upon Sylean goods, and then use that dominant position to force the system to agree to join the Federation. In -30 Imperial, Cleon Zhunastu took control of the industrial consortium that was the real power in the Federation and set about expanding its borders. Over thirty years of flexing Sylea's economic, diplomatic, and military might, Cleon had vastly increased the size of the Federation, extending it to encompass nearly all of what is now the Core Sector.
Cleon envisioned a dominion that extended well beyond a single sector, and realized that the heavily centralized Sylean government was not suited to such a task. Through intense political maneuvering, Cleon's allies convinced the Grand Senate of the Federation to propose that the Imperium be revived and that Cleon should be crowned the first Emperor of the Third Imperium. This claim was made plausible due to the fact that one of the last claimants to the throne of the Rule of Man during the Twilight years had used Sylea as his capital. Thus, Cleon was able to trace the legitimacy of the Sylean Federation itself through this petty emperor to the Rule of Man, and consequently to the original Vilani Empire. In a somewhat perverse way, the primary proponents of the legitimacy of the Ramshackle Empire as the legitimate heir to the First Imperium are the Emperors of the Third Imperium, as their claim to rulership is based upon that connection.
Given that Cleon had instigated the political maneuvering that led to him being offered the crown, Cleon, of course, accepted immediately. 651 years after the Sylean Federation had been founded, it was dissolved. Cleon declared that the year of his ascension to the Imperial Throne to be a Holiday Year to mark his coronation, proclaiming it to be Year Zero of a new calendar. Though most of the galaxy didn't know it yet, the Long Night had ended, and the Third Imperium had begun.
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Thursday, March 11, 2021
Second Imperium: The Rule of Man
The discovery that they were not only not alone in the universe but that the aliens they discovered were also human sent shockwaves through Terran society. The stories the Terrans heard of the Imperium's size staggered them. The fact that most worlds more than a few parsecs away from Terra were already claimed and inhabited was a source of consternation. Even so, joint international expeditions met with Vilani representatives and explored nearby star systems. In 2110 A.D., the Terrans launched an effort to colonize Barnard's Star even though Vilani prospectors were already working on the system's primary planet. This rush to colonization almost inevitably led to conflict between the upstart Terrans and the Imperials.
Things came to a head in 2113 A.D. (-2405 Imperial) when a caravan of Vilani vessels ignored Terran traffic signals, resulting in a confrontation that became the spark that ignited the First Interstellar War. Although this resulted in what was ostensibly a Terran victory in 2121 A.D., the Imperium didn't even really know it had been in a war. Because of the Imperial Bureaux system devolved so much responsibility for managing local affairs downward to provincial governors, the first war was fought with only the resources available in the region. Because being unable to handle such matters without help from the Imperial throne was seen as a failure for a provincial governor, resulting in a loss of prestige and personal power, there was significant reluctance on the part of the Vilani provincial authorities to seek help from the central authority.
On the Terran side, the war, although a victory, exposed command and control issues resulting from having fractured forces drawn from multiple nations. After much negotiation, in 2122 A.D. most of the nations of Terra signed the Treaty of New York, placing their space-faring forces under the centralized control of an empowered United Nations. In 2123 A.D., most of the off-world colonies were invited to join the compact, and by 2130 the organization was formalized as the Terran Confederation, placing all Solomani possessions under a single governmental authority.
Over the next one hundred and eighty years, the Terran Confederation and the First Imperium fought a series of wars, although the exact number is subject of some debate among historians. Due to the slowness of interstellar communication, no consensus can be reached as to when the later conflicts began or ended due to the array of armistices, ceasefires, and relatively rare periods of peace. In many cases, conflict would begin in one region before news of a peace accommodation could reach the local area or the respective capitals, sparking a new conflict. Although most scholars generally count seven interstellar conflicts between the Terrans and the Vilani following the first, there is much disagreement as to when each one began or ended, and some scholar maintain that there more or fewer wars than this number. As a general matter, academics have mostly agreed to simply refer to the wars between the Terran Confederation and the First Imperium as the "Nth Interstellar War", with proper accounting requiring that the specific dates of the war being discussed to be defined by the speaker.
The Second through Seventh Interstellar Wars were back and forth affairs, mostly confined to the Dingir and Sol subsectors, fought between the Terran Confederation and the Vilani provincial authority. It was not until the Solomani seized Dingir itself in the Eighth Interstellar War that the Vilani Emperor took notice and dispatched a sizeable fleet to the theater of operations. Unfortunately, by then the Terrans has developed the Jump-3, which gave them a strategic advantage so great that they were able to crush the Imperial forces, forcing them to relinquish control of the Solomani Rim. From that point on, the Terrans were on the offensive. The Treaty of of Ensular, signed in 2299 A.D., ended the war with the Vilani ceding all territory rimward of Vega to the Terrans.
Primed by centuries of decline, corruption, and decay, the Vilani Empire collapsed almost immediately after this defeat. The Terrans, emboldened by their victory, fell upon the former territories of the disintegrating empire like wolves, with the Terran Confederation setting out to swallow an opponent hundreds of times larger than itself. The entire Terran officer corps, more than one hundred thousand strong, was dispatched to the former Imperial domains, but even that was not enough. Junior officers found themselves thrust into positions of authority far exceeding anything they were prepared for: Ensigns found themselves commanding entire space stations, lieutenants found themselves acting as planetary governors, commanders were placed in charge of entire subsectors. The Vilani Empire had been vast and unwieldy even with the massive Imperial bureaucracy, and the Terran Confederation simply didn't have the manpower to effectively assume control of it. For fifteen years, the Terran forces tried to impose military rule upon the remnants of the First Imperium.
In 2317, the Terran Secretariat voted to transfer control of the conquered territories directly to Terra, a move that would have wrecked havoc across the former dominions of the Imperium. Admiral Hiroshi Estigarriba, commander of the Terran Navy, realized the cost such a transfer would impose, and moved to install himself as regent of the Vilani Empire and protector of Terra. The personal loyalty the officer corps held towards Estigarriba smoothed the way for this takeover, as did the fact that the Terran forces had integrated Vilani military assets into their own ranks. The Terran fleet headquarters at Dingir became the capital of the new Imperium, but the administrative hub remained on Vland. The Terran Confederation was simply dissolved.
What might have been a temporary situation was transformed into a permanent shift when Estigarriba died and his chief of staff succeeded him, crowning himself Emperor Hiroshi II. For the next five hundred years or so, the combined Solomani-Vilani Empire dominated interstellar politics. This period, known either as the Rule of Man or the Ramshackle Empire, depending on how the speaker feels about this period, is officially referred to as the Second Imperium. Hiroshi II transferred the government from Dingir and Vland to a centrally located world named Hub by the Terrans and Ershur by the Vilani, and the capital remained there for the next four centuries.
Depending on who one asks, the Second Imperium was either a period of innovation and progress following the stagnation of the First Imperium, or a time of chaos and growing instability. Solomani migrated from the Terran dominions and spread throughout the new empire, brining with them their ambition and exuberance. The rigid Vilani caste system was swept away by the new regime, opening the way for a newly dynamic society to emerge, but also creating an uncertainty alien to the denizens of the First Imperium. The Terrans swept aside the old system, unleashing an era of invention and devlopment, but weren't able to come up with a replacement that allowed them to effectively manage such a vast domain.The First Imperiums caste system and heavy economic control had been cumbersome and employed a bloated bureuacracy, but the system of military rule employed by the Second Imperium wasn't any more effective, and in the end it proved to be just as brittle.
In -1776 Imperial or 2742 A.D., the Second Imperium faced a financial crisis that marked the beginning of the end for the regime. The treasury at Hub refused to honor a monetary issue from the Imperial treasury at Antares, resulting in a monetary crisis that shattered the confidence in interstellar trade and effective governmental power. Though the Rule of Man limped on in some form or another for the next two and a half centuries, the writing was on the wall: Eventual collapse was inevitable. The Twilight had begun.
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Tuesday, March 2, 2021
A Brief Overview of GURPS
GURPS is a skill-based system that uses a non-random point-based method for character generation. The fundamental game mechanic is "roll 3d6 and try to get a result under your skill". When making a skill check, a roll of 3 or 4 is always a success, and a roll of a 17 or 18 is always a failure. This is basically about 90% of the game system. The rest is pretty much details and tracking how each character's particular skills are determined.
Because GURPS is skill-based rather than level-based, characters don't level-up as they gain experience and wisdom. Instead, characters are usually rewarded with character points - the GM guidance recommends between 1 and 5 points per session, with an average of two or three per session. Points can be spent to improve abilities, buy some advantages, buy off disadvantages, improve skills, or gain wealth, at the player's option. Awarded points can be spent as they are handed out, or "saved" so the character can make a big point buy at a later date. Characters can instead be rewarded with gained advantages determined by the GM - such as gaining a new patron or ally, or obtaining military rank or social status.
Characters are built using a point buy system. Basic attributes, advantages, disadvantages, quirks, and skills all have a point value and making a character consists of deciding what the player wants to spend their available points on. The standard campaign (which I will use for my Third Imperium campaign) gives each player 100 points to build their character and permits them to take 40 points of disadvantages and 5 points of quirks. Disadvantages and quirks cost negative points, which the character can then use to purchase additional abilities. In effect, a standard character is a 145-point character who uses 45 points of disadvantages and quirks to bring their total value down to the 100 point limit.
Because it is a skill-based system, characters do not have character classes or other limitations. Almost any combination of attributes, advantages, disadvantages, and skills is possible, although there are some attributes that might be limited to certain races, or might be limited due to cultural or legal requirements. In extreme cases, very unusual characters may have to take the "Unusual Background" advantage at some point level as determined by the GM. Although there are no character classes, the rule books include a variety of "character templates" providing suggested distributions of points for certain character archetypes.
Characters have four basic attributes. The baseline for all four stats is 10, which is the starting value for a normal human character. Players can spend points to raise stats, or gain points by reducing stats. As a general rule of thumb, an attribute of 6 or lower would be considered a crippling disadvantage, and an attribute of 15 or higher would be considered amazing. The basic attributes are:
Secondary characteristics are a set of derived states that all characters possess. They all use one or more of the basic stats to calculate them. One can raise or lower many of these secondary attributes by spending points to increase them, or by gaining negative points to lower them. So, for example, if you wanted to play a low-IQ character with exceptionally string Will, one could purchase ranks of Will by spending points to do so. As a general rule of thumb, raising or lowering a secondary characteristic costs (or grants) fewer points than raising or lowering the basic stat it is derived from. The secondary characteristics are:
Advantages are benefits a character can buy that are not either increases to their base abilities or skills. Advantages can cover an extraordinarily wide range of abilities, ranging from physical appearance, to social status, wealth, military rank, administrative rank, or even allies, contacts, or patrons as well as more esoteric benefits like Absolute Timing, Alternate Identities, or Danger Sense. Effectively, anything that has the potential to help a character out as they make their way through the world is classified as an advantage. Advantages all have an associated point cost, ranging from zero to as high as the benefit warrants.
There are a whole host of advantages - such as Brachiator or Constriction Attack - that are generally only available as racial advantages. In a science fiction setting, however, it is possible that bio-engineering or cybernetic enhancements could provide such enhancements. Within the Imperium, there is a social stigma against cybernetic implants or other body modifications made for purposes other than to replace but not augment missing body parts, and these are generally not commercially available. That said, most advanced societies within the Third Imperium have the capability to make such devices, and may do so covertly for a variety of reasons, most notably to enhance military or intelligence agency personnel.
Note that psionics exist in the Third Imperium setting, but require an Unusual Background and open use of such powers in many areas carries with it negative reaction modifiers from the social stigma against psionics in the Imperium.
It is possible, under certain circumstances, to acquire certain advantages during play. In those cases, the player would simply expend a number of accumulated points equal to the cost of the advantage and then add it to the character. Some advantages may require a character train to object them or (in extreme cases) undergo surgery or other body modifications. In some cases it is possible to acquire an advantage at a particular level and then later increase it. For example, the Ally advantage includes a frequency of appearance. If the player initially selected "quite rarely" for their Allies' frequency of appearance, they could later expend points and raise that to "fairly often", meaning the Ally would show up to help the character more often. As a good rule of thumb, a character who wishes to acquire a new advantage during play should consult with the GM first.
Disadvantages are the flip-side of advantages. Where advantages cost points, disadvantages "cost" negative points, reducing the point total of a character. Where advantages represent benefits that can aid a character as they make their way through the world, disadvantages represent hindrances that limit a character. Some things can be either advantages or disadvantages - high social status, for example, is an advantage, while low social status could be a disadvantage. Other things, such as Clueless, Colorblindness, or Combat Paralysis, are simply disadvantages. A disadvantage doesn't have to be a negative trait for a character, just one that limits what a character can do. Honesty or a Code of Honor is a disadvantage because it limits what a character is willing to do. A dependent is a disadvantage, because the character is required to spend time and effort to take care of them, while an enemy is a disadvantage because they might show up an inopportune time to cause trouble for the character.
In general, disadvantages are things that give characters flavor and make them interesting. Perfect heroes get dull, and heroes that have flaws or limitations make for fun role-playing. Players should endeavor to play their disadvantages when they are applicable and not try to evade them. So, a character who has a Code of Honor against killing shouldn't try to figure out ways to kill his foes by accident, but rather should role-play that character's refusal to kill their foes. In extreme cases, it would be appropriate for a character to penalize a player who consistently refuses to play his character's disadvantages - either by limiting the rewards that character gets for adventuring, or by requiring the player "buy off" the disadvantage. by spending points.
Players can voluntarily "buy-off" disadvantages during play using a similar process to that used for buying advantages. The player expends a number of accumulated points equal to the disadvantage and then discards the disadvantage. Just as with advantages, if a character has a disadvantage that has "levels", they can partially buy off a disadvantage, reducing the hindrance it causes. For example, if a character has the Enemy disadvantage and that enemy is specified to appear "quite often", the character could expend points and reduce the frequency to "fairly often", meaning the Enemy will show up more rarely. In many cases, a GM will require a character to fulfill some sort of in-campaign goal before they can buy off a particular disadvantage, so a player should consult with the GM if they want to do so.
Quirks are minor character notes that give one negative point. They are not intended to be as debilitating as regular disadvantages, but are rather little habits or traits that a character has that impact how the player role-plays a character. A quirk might be a very minor version of a regular disadvantage - for example someone might have a quirk "never kills insects" which would be a minor version of the pacifism disadvantage. There are a variety of quirks suggested in the GURPS rulebooks, but the list of possible quirks is by no means limited to those. Almost anything that is a specific behavior, dislike, like, preference, or other attribute of a character that will affect how the player plays the character could count as a quirk. Some quirks, such as Alcohol Intolerance, Dreamer, or Nervous Stomach, can have mechanical game effects, but they are minor and likely come up only infrequently.
Just like disadvantages, quirks can be "bought off" by spending accumulated points to do so, although it is often recommended that players don't do this, because quirks are often a large part of what give characters their individual personalities.
Skills are things a character knows how to do. Basically, almost any kind of action a character could take that could be trained is represented by a skill. Skills are all connected to one of the four basic attributes, and a character's aptitude for that skill is heavily affected by their relevant ability score. This means that a character who has a high DX will be better at a DX-based skill than a character with a low DX, even if they both spend the same number of points on that skill.
One important concept in GURPS is "defaults". Many skills have defaults, which is what a character rolls against when they try to use a skill they have not studied. For example, a character with a DX of 10 who has no points invested in the Acrobatics skill can still attempt to make an Acrobatics roll at the default value, which is DX-6, or 4, meaning they would have to roll a 4 or lower on 3d6. Some skills have multiple defaults, such as the Interrogation skill, which defaults to IQ-5, Intimidation=5, or Psychology-4. In the event a character is trying to use a skill with multiple defaults, they use the best default value. Some skills have no defaults, such a Karate. For skills with no defaults, a character cannot use the skill unless they have spent points studying it.
Skills are rated as being Easy (such as Brawling), Average (such as Driving), Hard (such as Chemistry), or Very Hard (such as Computer Hacking), which affects how much benefit a character gains by spending points in those skills. Easy skills require relatively few points to raise to a high level, Very Hard skills require substantially more.
Some skills have prerequisites. Basically, this means that the character must have the prerequisite - usually a particular ability with another skill, but sometimes a particular advantage - in order to put points into that skill. For example, the skill Physics requires that a character spend points in Mathematics (Applied) at TL5+ first. In short, you cannot learn Physics unless you learn Applied Mathematics first.
Some IQ-based skills are defined as being for a particular tech level. So, for example, a character spending points on the Mechanic skill would need to define what tech level their skill applied to. The default is that it applies to the tech level the character is native to or in which they trained the skill. So, for example a character from the modern day (TL8) who trained in the Mechanic skill would be capable of using that skill with no penalty on a car from TL8. If they were called upon to make repairs to a car from World War II (TL7), they would suffer a -1 penalty to their mechanic skill when doing so. If they tried to work on a car from a TL9 society, they would suffer a -5 penalty. Greater variations between a the tech level a character learned a skill at and the subject of the skill, the greater the penalty.
Finally, some skills permit or require specialization. In these cases, the skill represents a range of endeavors, and the character may (and in some times must) choose a specialty within that skills. For example, the Driving skill has several specialties that a character must specialize in including Automobile, Construction Equipment, Hovercraft, and Motorcycle (among others). Basically, this sort of thing reflects the fact that the ability to drive a car doesn't really translate very well to being able to drive a bulldozer. Note that a character can put points into skills with specialties multiple times and learn multiple specializations. So a character might put points into Driving (Automobile) and also put points into Driving (Tracked), giving him the ability to drive both.
Skills can be raised (or learned) after character creation by spending the appropriate number of points required to raise them.
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- Strength (ST): Strength is a character's physical prowess and bulk. It determines how much a character can lift, how much they can carry, how much damage they do in unarmed combat or with weapons like swords and axes, and how much damage they can take.
- Dexterity (DX): Dexterity is a combination of agility, coordination, and fine motor skill. It is the key attribute for most athletic, combat, crafting, and other skills involving physical activity. Dexterity also goes into determining a character's Basic Speed and Basic Move.
- Intelligence (IQ): Intelligence measures a character's brainpower, broadly including creativity, perception, intuition, memory, and other mental abilities. It is the key ability for science, engineering, social interaction, and any other skill involving mental capability. In campaigns that use magic, it is the key ability for magic skills. Intelligence also determines a character's Will and Perception.
- Health (HT): Health represents a character's stamina, resilience, resistance to poisons, diseases, and other ill-effects. Health determines a character's Fatigue, and goes into calculating their Basic Move and Basic Speed.
- Damage: This is based on a character's ST, and comes in two flavors - thrusting damage, which measures the damage the character does with a punch, kick, or rapier, and swinging damage, which measures the damage the character does with a swinging weapon like an axe or club. For example, a ST 10 character does 1d6-2 thrusting damage, so if they punched someone and connected, they would roll 1d6 and subtract 2 for their damage. If that same character was using a spear, which has listed damage of "thrust+2", then the character would roll 1d6 on a successful hit.
- Basic Lift: This is based on ST and measures how much weight a character can lift over their head with one hand in one second. This value is used to determine how much a character can carry before becoming encumbered. The basic lift for a human with ST 10 is 20 pounds.
- Hit Points: This is based on ST and represents how much damage a character can take before becoming unconscious or dying. Effectively, a character has as many hit points as their ST score.
- Will: Will is based on IQ and represents a character's ability to resist mental stress including fear, hypnotism, seduction, torture, and so on. In the Traveller setting, it is important to note that Will is used to resist psionic influence. In a fantasy setting, Will is used to resist some magical effects.
- Perception: Perception is based on IQ and represents a character's general alertness.
- Fatigue Points: Fatigue Points are based on HT, and represents a character's "energy supply". A character expends Fatigue points when they engage in strenuous activity. Disease, heat, hunger, and other similar issues can sap a character's Fatigue Points as well. Losing Fatigue Points can slow a character down or cause them to fall unconscious. In extreme cases, loss of Fatigue Points can result in death from overexertion.
- Basic Speed: Basic Speed is determined by a combination of a character's DX and HT, and measures a character's reflexes and physical quickness. Initiative in combat is based on a character's Basic Speed, as is a character's ability to dodge attacks.
- Basic Move: Basic Move is based upon a character's Basic Speed and represents how many yards a character can move in one second. Encumbrance can modify a character's Move.
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