Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 14: Meta-Setting

Way back in chapter 10, James Maliszewski laid out the basic thematic components of Imperial fiction. In chapter 14, we finally get the meta-setting which as so far only been hinted at piecemeal up until now. Yes, there is some implied setting built into the rules, but mostly we’ve just gotten a look at the alien species, the default equipment lists, and a few heavies. I was initially suspicious of the whole idea of a meta-setting when we first started here… so now that I see it, I can finally tell you how well it stacks up as compared to Traveller and GURPS Space.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the dates in the history section for the pre-Concord events are all left blank. Yep. If every GM fills in his own numbers, he never has to worry about reality overtaking his future history. (Interestingly enough, the first edition of CAR WARS took a similar approach with all the dates being in terms of “n years ago.”) Each period of history is briefly sketched out and then notes are provided on how to tweak them to fit your own particular vision. This is followed by two options for developing the Terran State, each with their own dials. These are pretty comprehensive, and I’d be surprised if potential Thousand Suns game masters don’t immediately see one that jumps out at them as being exactly the thing to fit the adventures they have in mind.

There are two more things that I will call out from the rest of the meta-setting information. The first is that the “ancient precursor races” of this game are called “The Travelers.” This is a fitting tribute to the grandaddy of all space games. (Even better… there is no “referees only” section that gives away everything about these mysterious folks.) Secondly… the Encylopedia Galactica Foundation has a significant place here as well. This is a double tribute to Isaac Asimov who, for my money, is the grandfather of Imperial Science Fiction. The details of each of these premises play right in to the classic themes of forbidden knowledge and arbitrary prohibitions. I think that this is exactly what to do if you want to capture the awesomeness and majesty of some of the best science fiction ever written. And incidentally… it explains some of the quirks of the setting that are maybe a little bit more difficult to deal with in Traveller.

If rolling your own universe from scratch with the ultra-generic GURPS Space was too daunting for you… and if digging through all of the mountain of facts and census data of the Official Traveller Universe makes your eyes bleed… then this approach to space role playing games is what you’ve been waiting for. There is a good synergy here between the meta-setting information, the themes that were previously outlined for typical Imperial adventures, and the quick-playing adventure-oriented flame-war-neutralizing world and creature generation systems.

There’s a lot of savvy design choices here. Referees of my decidedly un-epic ilk are just so much less likely to look at this and say, “what do I do with this?!” Of course, it is very much a rules light, bare bones game– but it is a complete space role playing game in one book. Once you’re up and running, of course, there’s nothing stopping you from cherry picking the best from existing GURPS and Traveller works. Game mastering a universe is such a big deal, I don’t know of anybody that uses just one system or edition to do it anyway. Thousand Suns, though, is probably about as good of a jump point as you’re going to get for diving into an epic space campaign.

“This is Jeffro of Jeffro’s CAR WARS blog… and I approve of this game.”

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2 responses to “Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 14: Meta-Setting

  1. RogerBW February 2, 2012 at 8:38 am

    First edition has a timeline of everything relative to The Concord, but divorces it from AD dating. I like the head-of-state archetypes (and this style of SF does tend to say “as above, so below”), but the repeated use of “we had a war where the losers used this technology, so we don’t use it any more” feels a bit clunky.

    There are some lovely ideas, but for my money too many holes for me to be comfortable. I’m still much more prone to come up with a universe from scratch and run it under GURPS. Still, if we all liked the same things it would be profoundly boring…

  2. John E. Boyle November 8, 2016 at 3:36 am

    I already have a great deal of my campaign set, but this chapter has some interesting ideas. I’ll be going with Federation rather than Empire for the background, and I’ll be using Andre Norton’s Forerunners rather than the Travelers, but they are effectively the same thing. I like the idea of the EGF, and will use that rather than my half-formed Zacathan Scholar’s Guild. My timeline will be completely different, but my players will wind up in a place very similar to the Thousand Suns. (I had forgotten all about 1st ed Car Wars divorcing itself from the calendar that way) I might use the Limzano Zone for the occasional idea or planet now and then, but these first 14 chapters are what the game is about and I like it.

    I’ve said before that I like the feel of this game; yes, it has holes, but what I’ve got planned as background plugs those holes fairly well, and still leaves some open spaces for my players to fill. This game is clean, simple and FAST, and the older I get, the more I like fast.

    ***”Thousand Suns, though, is probably about as good of a jump point as you’re going to get for diving into an epic space campaign.”

    “This is Jeffro of Jeffro’s CAR WARS blog… and I approve of this game.”***

    Agreed. Thank you for pointing me at this game, Jeffro, and for taking the time to walk me through your readalong. Much appreciated.

    JEB

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