by Stephen Kenson
Art by Derek Stevens and Dan Carrol, colored by Phil Reed
It's the dawn of the 26th century and humanity has spread out into the stars, establishing powerful stellar nations that rule the destiny of thousands of worlds. After two terrible wars between these titanic powers, there is finally peace, albeit an uneasy one. Once again, the stellar nations are turning their attention towards new frontiers, and opportunities await those daring enough to travel into the unknown.
About Alternity and Star*Drive
Alternity is TSR's science fiction roleplaying game, published in 1998. The Alternity RPG serves as a game engine for science fiction settings of all kinds, much in the same way Dungeons & Dragons serves as a game engine for fantasy settings of all kinds. The core rules of the Alternity game are found in the Alternity Player's Handbook and the Alternity Gamemaster's Guide.
Star*Drive, also published in 1998, is the first campaign setting for Alternity. It describes the dawn of the 26th century and the stellar nations founded by humanity. Its focus is on the Verge, a relatively new frontier on the edge of known space. It offers a vast space-opera universe for heroes to explore and adventure in.
Although designed for use with Alternity, the Star*Drive setting works perfectly well with any science fiction game system, including GURPS.
A Brief History of the Galaxy
By the early 22nd century, humanity expanded throughout the solar system. Colonies and bases were established on other planets, and fusion-powered ships traveled between them. On July 17, 2124, humanity made first contact with an alien species. . . or, more correctly, they made contact with us.
The fraal were interstellar wanderers, who'd long since lost track of their original home world. They traveled the galaxy in vast city-ships, moving at slower than light speeds. Attempts to contact humans a thousand years before resulted in many human legends, but little else, so the fraal lurked at the edge of the Sol system for centuries, watching for signs that humanity had improved. When humans moved out into the solar system in force, the fraal tried again. The second contact was more successful. The two races entered into a working partnership, trading technology and information.
A combination of human mass-reactor technology and fraal gravitic technology resulted in the discovery of the stardrive in 2160. With the first stardrives, explorers traveled to nearby star systems, and the race for the stars was on. By 2250 the Terran Empire claimed a thousand different colonies, but lacked the power necessary to truly govern them. The new colonial governments chaffed under the control of the Empire for decades.
Finally, in 2298, the Thuldan colonies seceded and formed the Thuldan Empire. This set off a wave of secessionist fever, and other colonial governments followed suit. The Terran Empire sent military forces to suppress these uprisings and the First Galactic War began. It ended in 2312 with the signing of the Treaty of Earth, which recognized the sovereign rights of the former colonies and formed the Union of Sol to replace the now-extinct Terran Empire.
For the next thirty or so years, the new stellar nations consolidated their power, explored and claimed new territory, and kept a close eye on their neighbors. One region in particular received considerable attention. Known as the Verge, it was a large concentration of stars outside settled space, on the edge of the Orion Arm. Numerous colonies and settlements were established there.
Then, in 2346, an uprising of mutants on Tau Ceti in the Union of Sol set off the Second Galactic War. GW2 was long, bitter, and bloody, lasting over 100 years and dragging in all the stellar nations before it was over. Finally, several of the stellar nations realized the war could not continue. Sooner of later it would destroy all civilization. These leaders met in secret and forged the foundations of what would become the Treaty of Concord. Signed in the Orion League in 2472, the treaty established a neutral nation, the Galactic Concord, to act as arbitrator, peacekeeper, and watchdog over the twelve stellar nations that survived the war. The Concord has proven a success thus far.
In 2496, the Stellar Ring reestablished contact with the Verge after nearly a century of silence. Cut off from the core worlds during the war, the Verge colonies had to survive on their own. Now the new Galactic Concord moved in to help re-integrate the Verge back into civilization. Some Vergers welcomed them with open arms, while others remain suspicious of the new "arrivers."
Now, in 2502, the Concord struggles to maintain the peace and aid the worlds of the Verge while the stellar nations work to further their own agendas, both openly and behind the scenes. The Verge is a focus for all these activities, with limitless opportunities for those willing to take the risks.
The Stellar Nations
The settled region of space known as the Stellar Ring extends in a radius of some 1,000 light years from Sol. Old Space is the region within 200 light years of the mother-world, containing the oldest settled worlds of humanity, some of them almost entirely covered in giant cities. Outside Old Space lies the second-generation colony worlds, followed third-world planets and new colonies.
The Stellar Ring also contains the homeworlds of four alien species discovered by humanity: the Mechalus, the Sesheyans, the T'sa, and the Weren. Each of these species, with the exception of the t'sa, had not left their own star system when humanity encountered them. They have, for the most part, been incorporated into the society of the stellar nation that claims the space around their home system.
The Stellar Ring is divided between twelve stellar nations. The Galactic Concord claims and maintains three regions of the Ring, designated Concord Prime, Concord Taurus, and Concord Sagittarius.
Austin-Ontis Unlimited is a combination interstellar corporation and rough-and-tumble frontier. The nation is best known for its arms-trade business, which remains brisk even since the Treaty of Concord. The Austins themselves are a bit gun-happy, and affirm weapon ownership as a vital right.
The Borealis Republic would prefer to stay out of conflicts in the stellar ring. The Borealins are a nation of thinkers, artists, and romantics. They are renowned for their education and knowledge. They are also well known for their cloning technology, half the Borealin population is made up of clones from some 100 "elite" genomes.
The Hatire Community is a nation that denies the value of technology on the one hand, while employing it to sustain themselves. The Community is a theocracy based on worship of the Cosimir, an alien deity. The Brethren focus on human achievement, and disdain technology that alters the human body, claiming it also corrupts the spirit.
Insight was originally a division of the powerful VoidCorp before it seceded and went its own way. Insight originally served as the corporation's Grid programming division, and Inseers still produce the most advanced computer hardware and software in the Stellar Ring. The Grid and virtual reality actually forms the basis of their religion, which seeks enlightenment in pure intellect.
The Nariac Domain calls for equality and opportunity for all people. It has taken up the age-old cause of "the workers" and seeks to maintain a society of complete equality. One of the ways it does so is through cyber-implants to monitor the populace. The Nariacs make considerable use of other cyberware and robots.
Formed by several former stellar nations, the Orion League represents a broad heritage. Orions retain their desire for independence and individuality, and strongly support the Concord as a means of maintaining it.
The Orlamu Theocracy was founded by one of the scientists involved with the development of the stardrive. He claimed to have a vision while traveling through drivespace, a revelation that drivespace is in fact the Divine Unconscious, the mind of God. The Orlamu faith embraces science as a path to understanding, and their knowledge of drivespace and stardrive technology is second to none.
The Rigunmor Star Consortium maintains the equality of all people, and their right to pursue profit. The nation holds profit and financial gain up as the highest goals, and its citizens are well known traders and deal-makers.
The StarMech Collective develops advanced technologies for the combined goals of profit and the pleasures it brings. They rely heavily on robots and similar technologies, freeing the people to think, plan, and party. They balance technical brilliance with a tendency towards hedonism.
Instigator of the First Galactic War, the Thuldan Empire remains a galactic powerhouse. The Empire rests on a vision of "advancing" humanity through eugenics and their medical and genetic technologies remain the best in the Stellar Ring. The Empire seeks to unite all human civilization under their guidance, and have no doubts that they will eventually succeed.
The Union of Sol sits at the center of the Stellar Ring, the cradle of humankind. Solars tend to view themselves as the cultural center of civilization as well as the physical center. They are known equally well for their love and preservation of old cultures and environments and their arrogance as the "oldest nation" in old space.
The watchword of VoidCorp is order, and the star-spanning megacorporation maintains a complex bureaucracy to control every level of its culture. Advancement through the ranks is uppermost in the mind of every employee (citizen) of the nation, and VoidCorp is known for its ruthless business practices, which make it the most powerful corporation in the Stellar Ring.
Between and above these nations stands the Galactic Concord, charged with keeping the peace and furthering the cause of civilization. The Concord's task is not an easy one, but it is aided by the vast resources of the Galactic Bank, and backed up by the Star Force, the Concord Defense Corps, and the Concord Marines.
The Verge is a large concentration of star systems near the edge of the Orion Arm, hundreds of light years from the Stellar Ring. It is home to some 5 billion sentients, cut off from Old Space for 100 years during GW2. Many Verge worlds value their independence and welcomed the stellar nations back into the Verge with mixed emotions. While their old patrons brought new technology and resources, they also brought with them their political conflicts and intrigue. A strong separatist movement encourages independence from the Stellar Ring.
The Verge is something of a cause celebre for the Galactic Concord, the first real test of the Concord's ability to get the other stellar nations to cooperate. In many ways, the Verge is a micocosm of the forces at work back in the Stellar Ring. Concord vessels, like the massive Lighthouse, travel the Verge and assist in resolving disputes between worlds and factions.
The Verge also faces challenges in the form of new species. Known collectively as "externals," these races come from outside known space. They include the Klicks, insectoids responsible for the destruction of the Silver Bell colony at Hammer's Star; and the Kroath, mysterious raiders known to attack ships in the Verge. Vergers are willing to accept aid from the Concord Star Force and the other stellar nations against these threats, but so far little is known about their true nature or intentions.
In GURPS terms, the technology of the Star*Drive galaxy is roughly Tech Level 10, with some more advanced TL12 gravitic and contragrav technology, courtesy of the fraal.
The technology that enables the existence of interstellar civilization is the stardrive, a combination of human and fraal technology. A powerful mass reactor powers a gravitic inducer, stressing local space enough to tear open a rift between normal space and drivespace. The ship's tachyon emitter establishes a link to the ship's destination, and the vessel "falls" through drivespace towards it. This is known as "starfall" and is accompanied by a bright swirl of multicolored light.
A starfall lasts 121 hours, regardless of the actual distance the ship travels. After this time, passing through the featureless black void of drivespace, the ship makes "starrise" at its destination. Modern astrogation techniques are accurate enough for a vessel to starrise within a few thousand kilometers of a precisely chosen location. After a starfall, a vessel must wait for two to five days in normal space for its drive systems to recharge.
The distance a starfalling vessel travels is dependent on the power of its stardrive. The most basic stardrive carries a ship up to five light years in a starfall, while the most powerful stardrives, found on the massive fortress ships of the stellar nations, have a range of 50 light years per starfall.
Starfalling ships create resonance waves that propagate through drivespace. Special drivespace detectors can pick up the resonance waves preceding a starfalling ship 11 hours have the ship starfalls. This gives systems warning of incoming ships 110 hours in advance or the ship's starrise. If the vessel is unauthorized or a potential invader, the system has four and a half days to prepare its defenses or call for help.
Most 26th century ships use gravity induction technology for normal space maneuvering. This creates a smooth, reactionless thrust in any direction desired. Treat a gravity drive as TL10 reactionless thrusters. Some less-advanced areas still use fusion powered thrusters for maneuvering.
Weapons & Armor
Most of the TL10 weapons from GURPS Ultra-Tech are available in the Star*Drive setting. Lasers and stunners are common sidearms. Lower TL slugthrowers are also available. Advanced gravity technology makes weapons like force beams available as well. Masers and X-ray lasers are not available.
Most Star*Drive melee weapons are based on gravitic technology. The power cestus is similar to the TL9 power glove, and the gravmace uses gravitic force to deliver crushing blows, adding 1d (2) to the damage of a normal mace. Monowire blades and stun wands are also available.
Reflect and monocrys "softsuit" armor is the most commonplace, with powered armor "bodytanks" available. TL10 reflex armor is unavailable. Deflector belts are also available using gravitic technology, found in belt form as well as amulets, bracers, and similar adornments.
Communications & Sensors
Communications within a star system use mass transceivers, devices that use gravity waves to carry signals, similar to Ultra-Tech gravity ripple communicators (p. UT37). This makes communication within a star's gravity well virtually instantaneous, but only out to about 100 AU for a typical G-type star.
Interstellar communications rely on drivesats, satellites equipped with a limited stardrive, enough to shift them into drivespace for the transmission and reception of signals. Drivespace signals travel 50 light years in 11 hours, where they are picked up by the receiving drivesat. A message from the heart of Old Space to the edge of the stellar ring takes approximately nine days to traverse the drivesat relays.
TL10 computer technology is widely available in Star*Drive, although AI technology is legally restricted. Most people wear portable TL10 computers as gauntlets, with sensors on the palm area, controls in the fingers and arm, and a holographic display located on the back of the hand. TL11 implant computers also exist, along with interface jacks for accessing other computer systems.
Computers are linked together in a network known as the Grid. Mass transceivers make Grid communications within a single star system effectively instantaneous. Grid communications between systems rely on drivesats and suffer from transmission delays. Virtual reality technology is a common means of Grid access, particularly for those with neural interfaces, and TL10 cyberdecks, known as "gridcasters" manifest a virtual icon of the user, known as a "shadow" in the system. The mechalus and Inseers are particularly adept Grid users and programmers.
Medicine & Biotechnology
The presence of TL10 medical technology has greatly extended human lifespans. Aging rolls begin at 110 and increase at 130 and 150 years old. Many humans life to be 200 or more. Anti-agathic drugs do not exist. Cloning technology exists for reproduction and the production of medical transplant organs, but braintaping technology does not exist.
Genetic engineering can produce variant human (and, to a limited degree, alien) genotypes, commonly known as "mutants." The Mutant Uprising of Tau Ceti left a strong prejudice against mutants in interstellar society. Outside the Thuldan Empire (which uses gengineering extensively), the genetically enhanced have a slight Social Stigma, moreso if they have very obvious alterations. The TL9 enhancements from GURPS Bio-Tech are fairly commonly available.
Like biomodification, cybertechnology is viewed with some measure of suspicion from most of the stellar nations. TL9 cybertechnology is commonly available, and more advanced cybertech is TL10. Mechalus cybertech is at TL11. The most common cyberware is an interface jack or a computer implant. Prosthetic limbs are also fairly well-known, although not as common as cloned organic replacements. Military and offensive cyberware is, of course, restricted on most worlds.
The Nariac Domain makes regular use of cyberware, including tracer implants to keep track of their population. It is this popular image of cybertech as a means of government control that makes other stellar nations like Austin-Ontis dislike it. The Hatire Community considers cyberware an abomination that pollutes the human spirit.
Psionic abilities exist in at least some segment of the population of every known species. The fraal are all telepathic, and most understanding of psionics, or "mindwalking" as they call it, comes from them.
All stellar nations require mindwalkers to register with the government, and psionic aptitude testing during primary school detects 99% of latent mindwalkers. Most nations at least tolerate mindwalkers, while some revere them. The Orlamu Theocracy and the Hatire Community both consider mindwalkers spiritually gifted, and often recruit and train them. Telepathic Hatire "mind knights" are well-known throughout the Stellar Ring. The Nariac Domain requires its mindwalkers to wear psionic restraining implants, allowing the state to control their abilities.
The following psionic powers and skills from GURPS Psionics are available in the Star*Drive setting. If desired, the GM can make other powers and skills available by charging a suitable Unusual Background cost (around 10 points is appropriate). A limit of Power 10-12 in any one ability is recommended.
Electrokinesis: Cyberpsi, Lightning, Photokinesis, Surge
ESP: All ESP skills are available.
Healing (the -50% Limitation "psi takes damage when healing another person" is mandatory): Healing , Metabolism Control.
Psychokinesis: All Psychokinesis skills are available.
Telepathy: Emotion Sense, Illusion, Mental Blow, Mind Shield, Mindsword, Psi Sense, Suggest, Telereceive, Telesend.
Psionic detectors exist in the Star*Drive setting, as do psionic impeders from Psionics (p. P74), but other forms of psi-tech, including artificial psi-shields, are unknown.
Humanity has encountered a number of alien species over the past five-hundred years, and some of these new species have become members of the galactic community; somewhat against their will, in some cases.
The fraal are tall, thin humanoids, with large, dark eyes and delicate facial features. In the 26th century most people realize the fraal were the source of stories about "grays" on pre-space Earth. Fraal are naturally telepathic, and often have other psionic abilities, particularly ESP and telekinesis. For tens of thousands of years, they have traveled through the galaxy aboard vast city-ships, so long that even they do not know the true location of their homeworld. They are a peaceful race, preferring to observe other species, but rarely interfering with them.
Fraal are highly social and prefer the company of other fraal. In fact, extended separation from telepathic contact with others of their race put fraal into a deep depression, and can even drive them insane.
Racial Template [22 points]: Fraal are ST -2 [-20 points], HT -1 [-10 points], IQ +1 [10 points]. They have the racial advantages Extra Fatigue +4 [Only for Psionics -50%, 6 points], Strong Will +2 [8 points] and Telepathy Power 6 [30 points]. They have the racially-learned skills of Telesend and Telereceive at IQ [8 points]. They have the racial disadvantage Telepathic Addiction [-10 points].
The mechalus are humanoids that make extensive use of cyberware. Their gray skin is covered with a fine network of circuitry. "Mechalus" is a human name; their true racial name is Aleerin. They come from the planet Aleer, a small, cold world in Rigunmor space. Earlier in their development, the Aleerins were quite warlike. On their first explorations into space, they encountered another intelligent species in their home system and wiped them out in a terrible war. Out of shock at what they'd done, a reform movement swept Aleer, turning most of the race towards pacifism and away from dangerous, primitive emotions. A small rebel faction advocates a return to their old, warlike ways.
The mechalus are excellent computer programmers and hackers. Their pacifism does not extend to activities in the Grid, although they prefer programs that do as little actual harm to Grid-users as possible.
Racial Template [25 points]: Mechalus are IQ +1 [10 points] and have racial advantages derived from standardized cyberware. All Mechalus have Combat Reflexes [15 points] and "interface tendrils" that provide an Interface Jack usable with any computer device [10 points]. They have the racially-learned skills of Computer Operation and Computer Programming at IQ [5 points]. Mechalus have Pacifism (self-defense only) [-15 points] as a racial disadvantage.
The sesheyans were originally primitive arboreal dwellers from the forest moon of Sheya. They were discovered some two hundred years ago by VoidCorp, which arranged a contact placing all sesheyans in the company's service... in perpetuity. In the generations since, the sesheyans have learned the visitors to their world were not gods or spirits, and that they have been unfairly enslaved. Some have chosen to rebel and escape to other worlds.
Sesheyans average 1.5 meters tall, with green skin and six limbs. The upper pair of limbs are arms, the lower pair legs, while the middle pair of limbs is a set of wings, allowing the sesheyans to fly on worlds of 1G or lesser gravity and Earth-normal atmospheric density. Their head is oval-shaped, with eight small eyes, giving them enhanced night vision, but sensitivity to bright light.
Racial Template [20 points]: Sesheyans are ST -2 [-20 points], DX +1 [10 points]. They have the racial advantages Claws [15 points], Flight (Winged) [30 points] and Night Vision [10 points]. They have the racially-learned skills of Flight and Free Fall at DX [3 points], as well as one racially-learned melee weapon skill at DX [2 points]. Their racial disadvantages are Light Sensitivity [-2 to all skills in normal daylight without eye-protection, -10 points] and Subjugation [-20 points].
The t'sa are a humanoid reptilian species from the planet Taasa. They average 1.6 meters in height. Their skin is covered with tough scales, giving them natural armor, and they have slim, whip-like tails. T'sa are fast-moving and skittish, evolved from a species preyed upon by larger reptiles on their homeworld. They breed only once per year. The female t'sa lays a clutch of eggs and cares for the hatchlings. T'sa reach physical maturity in only three months, after which their mother has nothing more to do with them. T'sa family bonds are between members of the same egg clutch rather than parent and child.
The t'sa have a fairly peaceful history of technological development. They achieved space flight early, but did not discover stardrive on their own. They received the technology from their first contacts with humans, still a sore point among the t'sa, who think it was just "dumb luck" that humans discovered stardrive first. Even without stardrive technology, the t'sa managed to settle other star systems using vast cryogenic "sleeper ships." The T'sa Cluster was already an interstellar civilization when they first encountered humans. The Cluster currently lies within Concord Prime space, and is the only non-human independent nation in the Stellar Ring.
Racial Template [30 points]: T'sa are ST -2 [-20 points], DX +1 [10 points]. They have the racial advantages of Combat Reflexes [15 points], Early Maturation (3 months) [25 points], Scales (DR 2) [6 points], Sharp Teeth [5 points], and +1 with all Technical Skills [6 points]. Their racial disadvantages are Attentive [-1 point], Curious [-5 points], Proud [-1 point] and Short Lifespan [-10 points].
Weren are tall, bipedal humanoids covered in thick fur. They have tusks and sharp, retractable claws on their hands. When discovered by the Orlamu Theocracy, their homeworld of Kurg had achieved a late-Renaissance level of development. The Orlamus do their best to maintain Kurg's native culture and development, guiding the weren along the path to enlightenment, and allowing modest emigration from the planet to other worlds.
Weren are fiercely warlike and deeply philosophical. A weren who embraces a particular philosophy becomes nearly fanatical about it, and weren arguments tend to degenerate into brawls. Weren often find employment as soldiers and mercenaries, particularly in the Orlamu military. They have no difficulties learning to use advanced technology; a gun is a gun, even if they don't understand how it works.
Racial Template [35 points]: Weren are ST +2 [20 points], DX -1 [-10 points], HT +2 [20 points], IQ -2 [-20 points]. They have the racial advantages Chameleon +2 [14 points], Extra Hit Points +2 [10 points], Fur (DR 1 and keeps warm) [4 points] and Sharp Claws [25 points]. They have the racially-learned skill of Brawling at DX [2 points]. They have the racial disadvantage Primitive [TL4, -30 points]. Codes of Honor and Fanaticism are very common.
Using Star*Drive in a GURPS Traveller Campaign
Gamemasters running GURPS Traveller campaigns may wish to use Star*Drive material in their existing campaign. There are several ways to do this.
The first is introducing Star*Drive aliens and background material into the game. The Traveller Imperium holds some 11,000 worlds, and the states surrounding it even more. Any of the Star*Drive species could easily become minor races, particularly the sesheyans, the t'sa, and the weren. The mechalus could be a variant human species transplanted by the Ancients, or a true alien species, remarkably similar to Humaniti. Maybe the fraal are the source of "grey aliens" in the Traveller universe as well. They would make interesting allies for the psionic Zhodani.
The various stellar nations can be adapted into "pocket empires" inside or outside Imperial space, or branches of Humaniti seeded by the Ancients. Their cultures can be adapted for different planets or societies inside or outside the Imperium. Planetary systems from the Star*Drive book or sourcebooks like the Star Compendium can be dropped into the Traveller universe. Star*Drive adventures also adapt fairly well to the Traveller setting.
The Star*Drive setting could also be a parallel or alternate world for Traveller characters to visit. A misjump or an encounter with an Ancient artifact could send the characters into the Verge. They have to deal with the circumstances that sent them there and figure out a way to get back (if they want to go back). Perhaps one of the precursor races from Star*Drive, like the Glassmakers or the Stoneburners, interacted with the Ancients, or perhaps they were the Ancients, traveling across dimensions as well as space.
The Star*Drive Campaign Setting book from TSR provides a complete and in-depth description of the setting, including history, the stellar nations, the Galactic Concord, and an extensive look at the Verge and its worlds. The Alien Compendium covers a number of alien life forms (intelligent and otherwise) while the Stellar Compendium described six additional systems of the Verge in depth. Threats from Beyond updates the Verge setting and provides adventure hooks and ideas. The Dataware accessory describes computers, robots, and the Grid, while Starships does the same for ships of all kinds. Adventures for the Star*Drive setting include The Last Warhulk and Planet of Darkness. Two introductory adventures, Black Starfall and Red Starrise, are available for free on TSR's website.
Dragon Magazine has regular article for Alternity and the Star*Drive setting, including a series of in-depth looks at the different alien races, and the companion piece to this article in issue #270 (on sale now), which provides information on using the Traveller universe as an Alternity setting.
Star*Drive support can be found online at TSR's web site, including free downloads, sample chapters, and programs, and a Star*Drive e-mailing list.
Article publication date: April 7, 2000
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