This article originally appeared in Pyramid #1
Saga of Pliocene Exile, by Julian MayShort Reviews of Gameable Fiction
Review by David J. Hayes
It's a familiar setup, with a different punchline.
You're a citizen of the Galactic Milieu, an interstellar organization of five diverse alien races, and a life of intellectual adventure and quiet contemplacy lies before you -- much to your chagrin. You are a rascal, a con man, a poet and a hopeless romantic, and living in the stodgy Milieu has become far too boring for you. You want adventure.
What are your options? Few. But there is a place you can go, on Earth, in France. A Professor Guderian has developed a machine -- a novelty, really -- that allows one-way travel to the same spot on the Earth, six million years in the past, and an era known as the Pliocene. The dinosaurs are gone, it's between ice ages -- a practical Eden. But it's a one way trip, in Exile from everything you know.
The rules are: you can't take any high technology with you that could be used as a weapon, and you can't go at all if you're one of the metapsychics, beings who carry the genes responsible for highly powerful, operant psionics. There are many latent psychics -- you may be one -- but no technology exists in your time to open your mind to such abilities.
You take the chance, and what you find on the other end of the Gateway is not exactly what you expected. Two alien races, conservative rebels from another galaxy, are also in an Exile of sorts, marooned on Earth and scheming for each other's destruction.
Exotic, complex and fascinatingly realistic, the world of the Exile is rich with adventure possibilities. It's almost tailor-made for roleplaying, featuring a unique blend of psionic, ultra-tech, fantasy and time-travel elements. The Saga chronicles, specifically, the lives of a group of future misfit explorers, Group Green, who leave the Galactic Milieu of 2110 A.D. and, in general, the global lattice of action and reaction that molds the futures of two worlds.
There are four novels in the series: The Many-Colored Land, The Golden Torc, The Non-Born King and The Adversary. They were released through the early to mid-1980's, and have gained an amazing following.
When Group Green passes through the portal they expect to find a lush, pristine wilderness where primitive skills will be critical to survival. Their greatest fear is that some of the 100,000 individuals who have already passed through the gate have banded together to exploit the vulnerable new arrivals. As events unfold, Group Green discovers the tall, beautiful Tanu and their monstrous cousins the Firvulag. The exotics have inhabited Pliocene Earth, which they call the Many-Colored Land, for over 1,000 years and now dominate the epoch. Throughout the series, we are pointed to a number of clues that imply that both races are responsible for racial memories of fairies, elves, dwarves and other fantasy creatures. They are susceptible to iron and drowning, they have powers of illusion and coercion, and they are both wholly monstrous and breathtakingly beautiful.
Humans have few avenues of escape from the contempt of the exotics. The Firvulag kill humans for sport, and the Tanu enslave them through subtly powerful devices called torcs.
All Tanu, and a few gifted humans, wear gold torcs which activate their otherwise latent metapsychic powers. Some humans who display latent psychic talent are given silver torcs, which make them operant metapsychics, but contain all the control circuitry of a gray torc. Servants, slaves and concubines wear gray torcs, opening up their pain and pleasure centers to manipulation by gold and silver torcs. Humans whom the Tanu consider useless are not torced. These individuals are nicknamed "barenecks," and are accorded the lowest possible social status.
Until a group of bareneck rebels discovered a method of removing torcs without killing the wearer, torc slavery was inescapable. In fact, the extreme pleasure which a gray or silver torc can produce tends to dissolve the desire to escape from all but the most strong-willed wearers. Until the early events of the Saga, torc-slavery was a successful venture.
By the time of Group Green's arrival, the Tanu have become totally reliant on humanity in their constant war against the Firvulag. Prior to the arrival of humans, the Tanu were slowly losing the ability to maintain even the limited amount of ultra-technology which they had brought with them. Now, only human expertise allows the Tanu to pursue the indolent and hedonistic lifestyle they prefer.
The Firvulag, however, have resisted the siren song of humanity, despite the costs of the policy. When Group Green arrives in the Pliocene, the Firvulag have again lost the annual Grand Combat, the focal point of social and spiritual existence, to the human-aided Tanu -- as they have for the past forty years. They live primarily underground in low-tech conditions, scheming with, and occasionally betraying, the small band of human bareneck rebels living in the woods.
The use of humans by Tanu is decried by the Firvulag as a heresy of their shared battle-religion. This battle-religion demands eternal conflict between the Tanu and Firvulag as manifested in their bloody annual combats. Mutual adherence to this way of life caused them to flee their home galaxy in the first place, rather than abandon their beliefs.
The actions of three powerful Group Green latent metapsychics eventually brings an end to their ancient customs. The struggle between the races is so fantastic that it alters even the face of Pliocene Europe, and ominously foreshadows eventual human domination of Earth over the next six million years.
The land which proves to be such a surprise to Group Green, France's Rhone River valley, is very similar to the France which many of them know, but also subtly different because of an ice age Earth has not yet experienced, not to mention six million years of erosion. Some geographical aspects of Pliocene Europe are radically different from Europe of the Milieu -- most notably the absence of water in the Mediterranean Basin. This geography lets the GM retain a wilderness environment familiar to his players, but which can be altered to keep his campaign varied and full of surprises.
Unlike the geography of Pliocene Europe, which Group Green finds familiar, the fauna of Exile is decidedly different from that of modern Earth. The characters confirm this almost immediately when they encounter the heroically proportioned bear-dogs, or amphicyons, used to guard Castle Gateway.
The least of their problems with the local animals concerns what to do with the local groups of H. australo-pithecus, busily evolving towards true humanity.
All campaigns thrive on conflict: man vs. nature, PCs vs. NPCs, good vs. evil. Tri-racial Pliocene Earth is abundant with conflict, and players can easily become embroiled in the thick of the action. The abundance of detail given in the novels supplies the GM with several exciting campaign settings and plot possibilities.
Traditional "before, during, and after" story options are the easiest options.
"Before" is intriguing, because the GM can set aside the events of the Saga and cast the party in the role of potential saviors in place of, or before the arrival of, Group Green.
The "during" option has some potential pitfalls. If the GM wishes to keep the Saga's ending and the book's characters the same, any player who has read the novels will be able to anticipate the future. Or the adventurers will be relegated to no more than a support role in the climactic events of the Saga.
The third option, "after," places the campaign in the time period following the events of the Saga. Rather than give away events in the late novels, be assured that there is plenty of room for future adventures. Of all the options, "after" really provides the GM the most flexibility in developing his own great ideas.
This just skims the top. Julian May has also created a future society, the Galactic Milieu, just as detailed, and exotic, as that of Exile. You can find details of it in the coverage of the Metapsychic Rebellion in The Adversary; the "prequel" to the Exile series, Intervention; and the first Galactic Milieu novel, Jack the Bodiless.
Regardless of the campaign setting, the world of Pliocene Earth is mysterious and full of adventure. Players and characters alike will enjoy their campaigns in the future -- or the past -- in Exile.
Article publication date: June 1, 1993
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