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Future History

May 11, 2007

One of the things that’s always irked me about science fiction — mostly of the literary and RPG varieties — is its obsession with pages upon pages of history, as if someone living in the 57th century really cares about the ins and outs of Earth politics in the 22nd century. Stories set in the present day don’t spend a lot of time talking about late Roman imperial politics and RPGs set in the same time period don’t have a history chapter whose first entry is in dynastic Egypt.

Now, yes, it’s true that science fiction, when set in the future, particuarly the far future, needs to provide some context to its “present.” That’s fine. Certain historical events will always be remembered and that’ll be no less true in the future. Likewise, RPGs need to include details about their game settings’ pasts when those pasts take place in our future. I have no objection to any of this. I just dislike the fetishization of history chapters in science fiction (and even fantasy) RPGs and vowed I’d never follow suit in either Fourth Millennium (set in the 31st century, oddly enough) and in Thousand Suns (set … when exactly?).

That’s the thing I’m doing differently with Thousand Suns (or 1K* if I were being trendy and coming up with a latter day hieroglyph for the game): the setting’s history does not explicitly map on to our current dating system. Since the Federation/Empire uses the New Calendar, we know it’s been 500 years since Foundation, but whether Foundation was in 4007 or 8007 I will not say. I do this for several reasons, chief among them being flexibility. I like letting individual GMs tailor the meta-setting of Thousand Suns to their own specifications. In addition, one of the big dangers science fiction always has is being overtaken by real world events, such as the unexpected fall of the Soviet Union or the development of RAM chips greater than 640K. Sure, this is a space opera setting but, even so, why get bogged down in details like this?

At the same time, there is an internally consistent backstory to Thousand Suns. I’ll post on that later on, but I won’t ever specify precisely when the Dale-Ohlmhorst Map was discovered on Mars or when the Thirty-Hour War took place except in reference to Year 0 of the New Calendar (I am unashamedly swiping this one bit of Traveller brilliance — seems to me Marc Miller and company nicely squared the calendrical circle that past calendar reformers never quite could). So, the War occurs not in 2050, but in -1790, which is to say one thousand seven hundred and ninety years before Foundation. I leave it to each GM to decide when -1790 is in relation to the current day.

As an aside, my personal preference is for a somewhat far future timeline, at least two millennia in the future, but not much farther. Too far and I find it hard to imagine a society with technology and a culture intelligible to a 21st century person. Earlier than that and I find it somehow less “epic” than the type of SF I want to emulate. But these are my preferences and I have no intention of enforcing them on GMs or players who disagree with me.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2007 10:56 pm

    Man, I wish I had known about your development a while ago. Sounds like some nice things going on here.

  2. James Maliszewski permalink*
    June 26, 2007 8:18 am

    The game will be released in February 2008 and playtesting of the final phase of the rules will occur later this summer and into the fall, so it’s far from too late to get involved.

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