I tried to write a one-page single-spaced backgrounder on the “Deeps of Lyrae” universe with the idea that I would give it to my players. (To catch up on the campaign concept, see the one-paragraph description in my first blog post, the character-creation prompt, roles and traits for characters, or the campaign planning form.)
However, after I finished writing it I realized (partly by talking with my players, many of whom are new to RPGs) they don’t really want to do any background reading like this. In the end I’ve kept it for my own information. This text is adapted from GURPS: Traveller.
I ended up reading the last paragraph of this aloud during the first game session, and this was useful. The rest I summarized or tried to convey in other ways. Here it is:
The time is thousands of years in the future: 1105 Imperial Era. The Third Imperium is a far-flung interstellar government of over 11,000 worlds. It has ruled this territory for 11 centuries and looks to continue for many more. The Galaxy is at peace.
Known space encompasses hundreds of thousands of star systems, many of them inhabited. Dazzlingly advanced technology exists, but the vicissitudes of history have led some worlds to regress while others advance.
Each member world of the Imperium is free to govern itself as it desires. Neighboring worlds may have different customs, laws, and technologies. However, the area between worlds is governed centrally. The Imperial Navy uses fleets of advanced starships to project the will of the nobility, keep the peace, and enforce Imperial (space) laws.
The key to the stars is the jump drive. Without it, the space between systems takes lifetimes to cross. The jump drive makes it possible to move between two “jump points” in a period of about 7 days. This week is spent in jump space, which has no interaction with normal space. With the fastest possible ship, a pilot might journey from the center of the Imperium to its edge in 44 weeks.
Only the wealthy or those who are duty-bound ever brave interstellar travel. Miners, freighters, yachts couriers, and liners circulate throughout every subsector. Frieghters range from scheduled, government-subsidized supertankers (“subs”), to tiny independently-financed tramps (“free traders”).
There is no method of information transfer faster than jump drives. Ships can carry messages, but radio still lags at light speed. As a consequence, the Imperium is bound together by a network of express boats (“Xboats”) resembling the Pony Express. An Xboat is a small, fast ship that plies a designated route at jump-4 (four parsecs in a week).
Far beyond the Xboat network and the scheduled freight lanes there lies a quiet pocket of Coreward Beta within the Deeps of Lyrae. In this “blue water” (weeks from anywhere) colonists established the planet known as “Family Whee” centuries ago to be a future crossroads. However, no important routes ever materialized. Nor did any valuable minerals—or important historical events. Whee is run meritocratically by a democratically-governed welfare state of little note. It is Earth-like, with a single uninteresting continent the size of Australia. Whee has almost no crime and almost no deprivation, but little wealth either. “City,” the single city, contains 500,000 humans that live boringly in conditions that resemble suburbia in the mid-1970s. The “spaceport” is an empty stretch of pavement and a shed. The inhabitants have seen exciting things in the movies.
(Image Coda: A public domain image of the Milky Way produced by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.)