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Old 08-15-2009, 11:44 AM   #1
sir_pudding
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Default Flat Black

Since a lot of recent threads have incited interest in FLAT BLACK and generated a bit of off topic posting about the setting in general, I've decided to start this thread.

From here:
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Originally Posted by Figleaf23 View Post
One thing I don't understand about this setting is the Empire's inexplicable prejudice against mass death.
Inexplicable? Are you joking? I'm not sure an aversion to the deaths of billions is a prejudice. It seems to me to be good moral sense. That said, the Eichberger Foundation has a specific historical reason to feel this way: the destruction of Earth, Mayflower and Orinico with CT weapons (although Earth may have been an accident).

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Old 08-15-2009, 12:53 PM   #2
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Thanks, sir_pudding. Not only should this allow for the other discussion(s) to go on less-impeded, I now can finally find out what the heck the Flat Black setting is (previous searches, albeit only preliminary, showed up a lot of paint).
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Old 08-15-2009, 01:07 PM   #3
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Default Re: Flat Black

Quote:
Originally Posted by sir_pudding View Post
Since a lot of recent threads have incited interest in Flat Black and generated a bit of off topic posting about the setting in general, I've decided to start this thread.

From here:


Inexplicable? Are you joking?
Yes, in a way.

Quote:
I'm not sure an aversion to the deaths of billions is a prejudice. It seems to me to be good moral sense.
There's that prejudice again. ;-)

Quote:
That said, the Eichberger Foundation has a specific historical reason to feel this way: the destruction of Earth, Mayflower and Orinico with CT weapons (although Earth may have been an accident).
So Flat Black presupposes some shared sense of a value of human life? Interesting variant.
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Old 08-15-2009, 01:56 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Figleaf23 View Post
So Flat Black presupposes some shared sense of a value of human life? Interesting variant.
Huh?

The only people who appear to have to value the lives of others for this to work are the Empire policy-makers. They don't seem to be asking anyone's permission to prevent planetary annihilation events.
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Old 08-15-2009, 02:36 PM   #5
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Huh?

The only people who appear to have to value the lives of others for this to work are the Empire policy-makers. They don't seem to be asking anyone's permission to prevent planetary annihilation events.
Indeed not.

They have to ask permission from the Imperial Senate when considering Interventions to remove a particularly inept or corrupt colonial government (and since the Senate consists of a Senator from each colony, this permission is rarely given except in the most egrerious cases), but the Empire definitely makes no excuses for the fact that given a serious CT threat, they regard it as an Imperial prerogative to end this threat. With any means at their disposal.

The evils of mass death are drummed into native-born Imperials from birth with TL10 psychoengineering and mostly they turn out with a fanatical hatred for weapons capable of snuffing out large numbers of human beings. About half of the Imperial service is also made up of colonial recruits, carefully selected with psychoanalysis to make sure that their personalities and motivations are in harmony with the Empire's central Mission (as well as being honourable and trustworthy enough to warrant being given responsibility).

The 'race' of Imperial Servants makes up about 0.0002% (slightly less shortly after the Treaty of Luna, slightly more later) of the population of the setting. And they are like nothing we know in our world, in that each and every one of them tends to be utterly trustworthy, selfless and dedicated to a higher purpose with single-mindedness approaching obsession.

A majority of Imperial Servants are aid workers, development economists, technical advisors, etc. They seek to help the less advanced colonies to manage their affairs in such a way as not to fall into one of the failure modes of colonial economies and consequent mass deaths from famine, disease, civil wars or pogroms. Colonies are free to refuse help from the Empire, unless the Senate passes an Intervention Act, but most prefer to get the free technical assistance, even at the price of some well-meaning political and jurisprudence advice.

A significant minority of Imperial Servants work in either the two revenue-making industries of the Empire (Eichberger Spaceways or Eichberger Realty Corp) or in supporting service or manufacturing sectors which allows the continued running of these industries, of the Residencies (embassies) and other Imperial Direct Jurisdictions (where Imperials live) and the other branches of the Service.

Then there's the Imperial Navy. A powerful force of warships controlled by honourable fanatics dedicated to ensuring that humanity does not have the means by which to destroy itself. The Imperial Navy in its entirety is a significant fraction of the Imperial manpower and Naval Intelligence is almost as large as the Astronautics branch (those who actually drive armed spaceships). It is the responsibility of Naval Intelligence to watch any research that might lead to weapons of mass destruction with the aformentioned gimlet eyes, that and ensure that no situation likely to end in massive deaths develops without the Empire being aware of it.

The Marines are smaller than the Navy and trained and selected much more like a special operations force like to-day's SAS or Delta Force than shock troopers. Each Marine has to be versed in anything ranging from Meteoric Drop assaults inside the largest city on a TL10 world to counter-insurgency in the jungles of a TL0 colony, with hostage rescue and urban counter-terror operations being their most common task. Responsible for the safety of Residencies, which can be a formiddable undertaking, as Imperials tend to attract a lot of attention from anti-social elements on some colonies.

In later periods, the Imperial authority to enforce the Imperial Crimes Act becomes more than a theoretical possibility with the establishment of the Independent Commissioner for Justice. His Imperial Marshals have authority to enforce Imperial law anywhere, but they have to get their warrants from the local Imperial Magistrate, who is appointed by the colony in question and tends to be about as fond of the Empire muscling in on colonial business as the average pimp is of a customer who claims to be a male prostitute and demands that he be paid for that bit of business. Their cases are also tried in courts staffed with colonial appointees.

The whole rigamole is then controlled by the Imperial Office, where you can find more impartial, honest and sensible public officials than you can shake a stick at. The psychoengineered, créche-raised Imperial Heirs are paragons of wisdom and Imperial virtue and only the best of them eventually join the Board of Trustees. Each and every one of them is a ruthless philanthropist who will allow no human emotion to interfere with his selfless service to the human race. The wishes of individual humans don't even register in the vast and incomprehensible calculus that underlies the hard decisions that must be taken by those cool and dispassionate intellects.
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Old 08-15-2009, 06:44 PM   #6
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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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Old 08-16-2009, 03:39 PM   #7
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Default Re: Flat Black

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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.
Does this parental sense of responsibilty extend to other people's children as well? Who does "quality control" on the pedagogies? I can imagine some real horrors resulting from "home schooling" programs designed to the customers' specs.

In the Cordwainer Smith story "Think Blue, Count Two"; one of the characters had a dirty secret: he was raised by his biological mother.
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Old 08-17-2009, 08:01 AM   #8
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... From there it designed itself.
Ah! You mirror one of my own GMly aphorisms --

'A universe will design itself, if you let it.'
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Old 08-15-2009, 07:36 PM   #9
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Then there's the Imperial Navy. A powerful force of warships controlled by honourable fanatics dedicated to ensuring that humanity does not have the means by which to destroy itself.
The Imperial navy could destroy humanity quite handily. The logical conclusion is that you don't consider them human. (I realize this is one of the more common reactions to the Empire.)
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Old 08-15-2009, 07:38 PM   #10
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The Imperial navy could destroy humanity quite handily. The logical conclusion is that you don't consider them human. (I realize this is one of the more common reactions to the Empire.)
Good point.

And as I made clear in the same post, no, the Imperials are not like any of the humans we see today.

It's perfectly valid to consider them a different species. Homo imperialis? ;)
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