Thread: Flat Black
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Old 08-15-2009, 05:44 PM   #6
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Join Date: May 2005
Location: Oz
Default Re: Flat Black

FLAT BLACK is an SF setting that I designed in 1988. I had two basic design goals that drove the original design:
  1. First, I was reacting against the features I disliked about Tonio Loewald's ForeScene, which was the standard SF setting for ForeSight SF games then.
    • ForeScene was a preachy utopia, and quite aside from the fact that I disagreed with Tonio's utopian ideas this meant that actual adventures had to take place outside the area described, in the Beyond. I decided that my setting was going to be thoroughly riven with conflicts and nastiness, so that adventures could take place right there inside.
    • Tonio's "Federation" and its "Department of Justice (covert/wet)" were God Mode Sues: not just better than PCs, but Good-er. I decided that my Empire was going to be feeble or at least constrained in action, uninterested in a lot of things typical PCs would care about, inclined to solving problems in ways typical PCs wouldn't care for, and cold and prickly.
  2. Second, I was uninterested in space opera, but rather I wished to support a long series of rationalised planetary romances in the manner of Jack Vance. I wanted to keep planetary societies isolated from mutual cultural influences, and that meant allowing only narrow streams of travellers. That was incompatible with PCs having private spaceships, which was no problem since I was not trying to support space opera.

I toyed with the idea of an evil Empire, but decided that it was trite and would distract the players into heroic rebellion plots. Then I bethought deconstructing Spock's Axiom: when an Imperial Officer says "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one" he or she is not necessarily contemplating self-sacrifice. Rather, he or she is thinking of sacrificing you and everything you treasure to save two people you have never met. Logic is not ahimsa, philanthropists are not necessarily cuddly.

Imperial officers were seeming rather driven, not to say obsessed, so I gave them something to be obsessed about. Their homeworld had been destroyed. Earth had to go anyway to prevent it from exerting a dominating social and political influence. I took Mayflower as well. And then to put an edge on it I decided that the Empire's forebears had retaliated for the destruction of their world by destroying another. (We still had MAD back in 1988.)

I had been thinking for a while about Larry Niven's The Deadlier Weapon and Kzinti Lesson, and (following Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) about the dangerousness of re-entering spacecraft if they were used as weapons. It occurred to me to suppose that an high-tech vehicle is a weapon, of devastating effect proportional to its effectiveness as a vehicle. A car can kill a person, an aircraft can destroy a building, an interplanetary spaceship can destroy a city: I need planets destroyed, perhaps an interstellar drive can do that.

Next, I bethought Alfred Nobel, and his attempts to use the wealth he earned from inventing dynamite to make up for the harm he felt it had done. What if the founders of the Empire were the inventors of the interstellar drive, and were using the wealth generated by that to assuage the guilt of having made the device that killed whole planet-fulls of people?

And finally, I thought about the alleged Jesuit saying "Give me a boy until he is seven, and I will answer for the man", Dawkins's "V" meme, and the likelihood that psychology would make a lot of progress in the next five hundred years or so. If the people of the future understand how the environments they raise their children in contribute to the characters of those children, there will emerge an engineering discipline designing pedagogies for effect. There will also emerge in at least some circles a feeling of parental responsibility for the character and behaviour of children. People who feel very strongly that large numbers of preventable deaths are very bad, and that it is a moral imperative to do what you can to prevent things that are very bad will raise their children to feel the same.

From there it designed itself. A monopoly on space travel is in the hands of the descendants of the survivors of a society of which the population was wiped out using an interstellar drive as a weapon. They use the profits to prevent war, starvation, pestilence and plague as they can, and are doubly motivated to keep very tight restrictions on other people getting hold of such drives. And they raise their children to succeed them as ruthless fanatics and well-meaning philanthropists. Typically self-interested and corrupt governments on the several colonies strive mightily to resist Imperial meddling, knowing well that bad and corrupt government, unfreedom, and lack of a free press are major contributing factors to poverty, starvation, civil war, and death.

COPYRIGHT 2009 by Brett Evill
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copyright Brett Evill
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Last edited by Agemegos; 08-15-2009 at 11:58 PM.
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