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Seven Worlds Designer Diary: The Campaign is Epic!

“It is quite conceivable that 36,000km will prove the limit of human ambition. It is equally conceivable that the fantasy-made-reality of human space flight will return to fantasy. It is likely that the Space Age is over.” --The Economist magazine, June 30th, 2011 (Earth Calendar)

Dome Battle

As explained in the original announcement post, Seven Worlds was conceived from day one as a "campaign-first" RPG. The goal was to have the players feel their actions have a real and lasting impact on the universe around them. This setting was definitely not going to be "reset" to its initial state at the end of the campaign!

Now, there are many challenges with creating a story-heavy campaign, not the least of which is the dreaded railroading syndrome. Although there are some great solutions for this, such as the Savage Worlds' beloved Plot Point Campaign concept, they don't apply the same way to all settings and stories (as Shane Lacy Hensley, creator of Savage Worlds, says in the foreword to the updated version of 50 Fathoms).

So, what did we do in Seven Worlds?

  1. We wrote a daring, epic story. The story avoids railroading as much as possible, but at the same site embraces those parts of the story that need more direct guidance from GM to players. And it creates many opportunities for side-adventures and player-driven story pacing where appropriate.
  2. We built the setting around the story, rather than the other way around. The setting was designed to enable the story, while at the same time standing on its own for those groups that don't want to run the main campaign.
  3. We empowered the GM and the players to do a great job adapting the campaign and setting to their own group's needs and preferences.

What is the Seven Worlds campaign about?

Seriously, can't you guess? It's an epic science-fiction story! This means it involves space exploration, new technologies, the impact of new customs on society, space battles, a few aliens, several mysteries, and of course: A Great War™; A Fight Against Overwhelming Odds™; and a team of heroes that Find a Way to Turn the Tide™.

Disabling Ship Lock

A better way to answer the question is what properties is Seven Worlds based on?

  • The Babylon 5 TV show: One of the main influences for the campaign. If you are old enough to have seen this 90's low-budget TV show, you already have a great idea for what the Seven Worlds plot holds in store for you! If you haven't seen it, or don't have any idea what this old-timer is talking about, you can either check this Gizmodo summary of the show, or just think about what would happen if you crossed The Lord of the Rings with Casablanca… and put the result in space!

  • The Dragonlance Series: The 80's original Dragonlance modules by TSR were one of the first episodic campaigns for our hobby. The 80's modules became so intertwined with the novels that they set a new standard for RPG storytelling. Of course, they also had several defects such as lack of testing and extreme railroading. So, an inspiration but also a lesson and a warning.

  • 2300AD: This classic role-playing game from the creators of Traveller is one of the first, if not the first, to take a hard SF approach to the genre. The 3-D map is particularly amazing, and a direct inspiration for Seven Worlds' 3-D starmap (more on this in a later post).

  • The Star*Drive Campaign Setting.

  • The 2003 Battlestar Galactica reboot.

  • The Riyria Revelations book series.

among many others.

Disabling Ship Lock

Ok, good pedigree, but are you gonna tell me ANYTHING about the plot?

No plot spoilers here, sorry. Instead, what I can do is share a short overview of the setting that underpins it. Surely it holds clues to the plot…

  • The year is 2217 and Humanity has reached the stars. Besides Earth, humans have settled six other worlds. We also have several space stations orbiting important stars around Sol (the formal name for our Sun).

  • Two organizations have shaped the history of the last two hundred years: The Circle, created to expand Humanity’s reach into space; and the Psion Brotherhood, dedicated to the integration of Psions into human society. Psions are humans who have developed amazing mental powers called Psionics, such as the power to lift objects (Telekinesis) and to communicate with thoughts (Telepathy).

  • We have discovered one alien species, or rather, they have discovered us. They call themselves the N’ahili, and are by all appearances vastly older and more powerful than we are. The N’ahili have provided us with the coordinates needed to colonize space, and have given us useful, advanced technology. However, even now, more than a hundred and twenty years after meeting them, they are as mysterious and unfathomable as ever. We have given up hope of ever understanding them, why they are helping us, or what their true intentions are.

  • Even with technologies that allow us to “jump” to other star systems in a matter of seconds, it usually takes one week to travel between jump points in two neighboring star systems. Some of the farthest planets, such as Nouvelle Vie, are seventeen jumps away from Earth. This means a trip from Earth to Nouvelle Vie takes around seventeen weeks, or a little more than four months! However, communications technologies such as the Stellar Communications Network allow sending messages between planets in hours, or days at the most.

  • The Internet of the 21st century has evolved into an Augmented-Reality environment called V-World (for Virtual World). Using AR glasses, lenses and screens, we are always connected to V-World and can see and browse information at will. We can enter full-3D virtual environments to work, have meetings or just to have fun.

  • Friendly digital Assistants help us organize our lives and do many of our chores for us. Behaving like a digital sidekick (with a personality) that lives in V-World, Assistants can do many things for us such as controlling the physical environment around us, help us find important information, and even support during combat situations.

  • As the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Circle and the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Concordia approach, tensions are mounting between forces in one of the frontier planets, Nouvelle Vie. We have explored all the star systems the N’ahili have given us coordinates for and have found no new planets to settle. Some wait for the N’ahili to give us the next batch of coordinates; others frantically search for undiscovered jump point membranes to other star systems; still others suggest that we should just focus on what we have achieved and forgo expansion for some time.

  • And strange reports have been arriving from stellar miners and explorers in Nouvelle Vie. Reports of mysterious sightings and weird energy readings. A few ships have also been reported missing…

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