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Building a Better World, Part 1: Introduction - Cephus' Corner

Building a Better World, Part 1: Introduction

July 31st, 2013

fiction-writing-world-buildingAs everyone knows, I’ve been roleplaying for a very, very, very long time, but I’m also a writer and generally a creative person.  Whereas lots of GMs will create a multitude of game worlds to play in, even within a single game system, I’ve never been that way.  Although I’ve GM’d a lot of different games in a lot of different genres, when it comes to science fiction, at least for the past 30 years or so, I’ve maintained a single game world and it has grown into a very detailed and immense place which has overflowed into my writing and my general consciousness.

It started as a world based on the anthropomorphic RPG Other Suns, which came out in 1983.  It was back when I was running in that crowd, I knew the creator, I knew tons of people who played it and while a lot of the people I played with, especially the group that would eventually come to define the game universe, were entirely disinterested in furries, the idea that there were a bunch of aliens based loosely on Earth animals was something they could handle.  However, Other Suns didn’t have humans in it and that’s something that just wouldn’t do for the majority of my players so I set about expanding and modifying the game for my particular gaming group.

STAR-FRONTIERS-I initially drafted the Terran Empire alongside the entirely furry L’Doran Hegemony, as a somewhat smaller and less technologically advanced group, but considering the OS rules said the Altani and other aliens had been starfaring races for thousands of years before man, I figured that was only fair.  Science fiction is chock full of stories of mankind learning from more advanced alien species and therefore, I’d take that path as well.  However, as time went on and the universe continued to expand, the role played by humans, especially since my players were often loathe to play anything else, grew exponentially.  I continually created new species and even “borrowed” a few, such as the races from TSR’s space RPG “Star Frontiers“, many of whom were creatively re-imagined as a minor empire within my own universe.  Today though, they have evolved to such a degree that they are really not identifiable from the original source material.

We played in this universe almost weekly for close to 15 years.  Whereas the original Other Suns detailed perhaps a thousand years of game history, stopping perhaps a few hundred years in our future (I don’t have the game books in front of me so I could be wrong), my own group extended the timeline several thousand years into the future, far, far beyond anything imagined in the original game.  In fact, there’s really very little connecting the original source material to what the game ended up becoming, with the exception of the L’Doran Hegemony, which still exists, and the original races found in Other Suns.  Otherwise, it’s an entirely new game and an entirely new universe from top to bottom, including the entire mechanics.

But even after I stopped playing the game, due to the group breaking up and a general lack of time, the universe that we created was still interesting.  I had detailed hundreds of species, all with unique histories, political systems, languages and technologies.  I had maps, massive and detailed maps, that hung on the back of my door in 2.5’x7′ sections that, if laid out as they were intended, would probably have covered an area 17.5’x42′ and thousands of stars and tens of thousands of worlds.  I think at the end, I had nearly 20 major stellar empires, detailed trade routes, you name it.

Of  course, most people have never seen any of it.  When I got the crazy idea to do some serious writing, my first idea was to adapt that universe from gaming to literary purposes.  How I would handle it was odd, I admit, even my agent said so, but I was going to write wholly independent stories in a single universe, building upon what had come before without directly referencing it to give people an understanding of the larger universe.  I might write a war story, and in fact, I wrote a 1800-page trilogy detailing the last great war and it’s catastrophic final battle.  Then I might write a story that takes place 200 years later, in an entirely different part of the universe with entirely different characters and species.  However, if you read the first story,  you’d have a better understanding of how one  group thinks or the political system of another group or how space travel functions.  These things build up over time, the longer a reader continues to read, the better grasp they have and they may pick up things in earlier stories they didn’t even know to think about before.  I  thought it was a great idea, my agent agreed, but it turns out that I’m just not the kind of guy who wants to put up with big publishers.  That’s largely a story for another article, but I want to write.  I don’t want to advertise.  I don’t want to sit in bookstores and read to people.  I don’t want to go to conventions and make appearances in front of crowds.  I don’t care about fame.  I just want to write and the modern day big publisher world doesn’t really permit that.

But hey, I may re-write some of these books someday and put them out as e-books on Amazon.  You never know.

In any case, I want to take some time and talk about the universe we created.  It’s far too expansive to go into a lot of detail but I think it’s a fun place to hang around and think about, I hope you agree too.

Next:  I take a look at the changes the human body has gone through in the next several thousand years.  Stay tuned!

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  • Niall Shapero says on: December 4, 2014 at 2:34 am

     

    Actually, humans were in the original OS game rules (and in my local campaign). It was just that more people were interested in running non-Humans (hey, we “play” humans in real-life, RPGs were something in which we wanted to play something else…:-))

    • Cephus says on: December 4, 2014 at 2:27 pm

       

      Well yeah, they were on the cover of the box, but where you had people who wanted to play non-humans, I had people who weren’t into furries who really didn’t have much interest in playing them. They’d play a lot of non-humanoid characters but mostly, they wanted to see where humanity went and it was only natural for humanity to move to the fore in such a group. I’d played OS with a lot of people who went the other way and humans were never even mentioned in a game because they were trying to get the whole furry vibe.

  • Niall Shapero says on: December 4, 2014 at 2:38 am

     

    Also, if you look back at the rules, the history as given there starts from (then) present day and runs on to ~1800 “AE” (Atomic era) or over seventeen hundred years into the future. And I’m still running my campaign (after some 35 years), so the local campaign history extends “just a little bit” beyond the time set for the “campaign start” in the books…:-)

    • Cephus says on: December 4, 2014 at 2:18 pm

       

      All of my players always wanted to know the ultimate outcome of their decisions, what came after the end of the game, what were the future implications of the decisions they made in the “present”. We just kept leapfrogging into the future to see what happened, sometimes by decades, sometimes by centuries, so people could see how what happened in a particular campaign would influence the larger world in the future. Of course, when you get out that far, the future world looks very, very little like the original campaign setting.

  • Niall Shapero says on: December 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm

     

    In order to “leap frog into the future” to see what the results were, you might have also considered a “smaller scale” campaign that used sub light speed ships only (with high relativistic velocities). That way, the player characters could “live for centuries”, while only having a normal life span. And they could experience first hand (well, second hand, really) the consequences of their actions and decisions…

    • Cephus says on: December 6, 2014 at 11:56 am

       

      Except it was never a one-time thing, they wanted to keep seeing the result of their actions. I could easily slow-boat them once or twice, I even tried giving a short summary at the beginning of the next game session what came of their adventures, but as soon as I did that, they all wanted to play in the new sandbox, with the new technology, like the things that developed were part of their ever-expanding legacy. But since time isn’t particularly linear in an RPG and there’s nothing to stop you from playing in the far-future this week and the distant-past next week, it really didn’t bother me that much.

  • Niall Shapero says on: December 6, 2014 at 9:02 pm

     

    I’ve run into a problem with the “far future this week and the distant past next week”. I’ve set the two campaigns up as separate timelines at this point (the histories are WAY too divergent). One is my original campaign (started in 1978-79 during the first playtest of the OTHER SUNS rules), set in the 19th century of the atomic era. The other is a campaign started in the late 21st century with a few changes to the history (since the world has changed since the timeline was laid down for the first campaign in the 70s).

    Something about the Soviet Union disappearing in the late 20th century, no WWII between a Soviet-American Block and a Sino-Nipponese Block, biological advances made that I hadn’t counted on, and … well … you get the picture.

    The average man projects the future as “now”+a few conveniences, the average scientist projects the future as an “S” curve, leveling off a decade or two in the future. The average science fiction writer projects the future on a linear basis from now (basing the start point a few years in the past and doing a straight line projection). Reality seems to be an exponential curve…

    • Niall Shapero says on: December 6, 2014 at 9:03 pm

       

      I meant to say WWIII there…forgive my typographic error.

      • Cephus says on: December 7, 2014 at 3:42 pm

         

        And what if I said no? 🙂

    • Cephus says on: December 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm

       

      Most of my players never really had an interest in jumping back which is why we kept moving forward, there were some smaller games that we did play in the “past”, with the understanding that they wouldn’t be big universe-changing stories because the “future” was already set. There were certainly games where we’d play on the periphery of larger events though, doing things that wouldn’t change the overall outcome but which could still be fun to experience.

      As I’ve done a bit of writing in my universe, I have no problem moving back and forth through the timeline because it’s really “set” and I know what leads to what and what has to happen in the future so nothing is all that fluid. That’s another potential line of dominos altogether because you have to be thinking about what your story might impact in the future and have to have a very good understanding of what links to, or potentially links to, what.

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Cephus' Corner

A Place to Share my Geeky Side With the World. Comics, movies, TV, collecting, you name it, I indulge in it.