ICON Oxford University Role Playing Games Society
ICON
Introduction


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ICON - An Introduction

The purpose of this document is to provide a rough guide to the next Society Game, to start in Trinity term 97. It will be replaced with full background information before the start of the game.

Firstly, the GM team is:

With special thanks to Warlock and Ralph for helping out, and to Dom for destruction testing.

Since the genre is Space Opera, it seems reasonable to start with a description of...

The Galaxy

The Galaxy is a very large place, and there are a lot of different people in it, with different customs, values, and aims. It is difficult to communicate and co-operate across vast distances, or across barriers of lack of information, and alien cultures. In one region of space, the so-called 'Civilised Core', this is possible thanks to two pieces of technology. The Jump Gates and the Matrix are the legacy of a long-gone race referred to in the legends of many species as 'Elders' or 'Gods'.

Jump gates do not physically appear as portals, but are regions in space from which it is possible to transport instantly to another jump gate. This allows interstellar trade on a grand scale, for the 'jump drives' possessed by many races are far less accurate, and have much shorter ranges. Most inhabited systems have a jump gate either in the system or within jump drive range: those which do not suffer badly from lack of trade.

The Matrix is essentially a computer system which spans the entire CivCore. Information transfer across vast distances is almost instantaneous, so simply by 'logging on', anyone can retrieve data from anywhere else on the system. Information can be passed throughout the CivCore very quickly, and it is only this fact which allows the various races to co-exist and co-operate.

Well Known Races

The Illisthians

Tall and attenuated, they live in tall attenuated buildings with skeletal pinnacles and naked spires, in cities of gleaming metal as clear as glass. The Illisthians are reputed to have a miraculous culture, in which an Illisthian needs do no more than make a request of the walls to have whatever he desires delivered instantly. They also have the best known communications systems.

The Illisthians have never gone to war, but might be fearsome warriors. Perhaps they have something to hide within that gorgeous, highly defended planet of theirs.

The Aamei

The Aamei Empire occupies many systems as conquerors and administrators. They claim to bring civilisation and technology to their conquests although to the subject races they seem to do so at the price of tax after tax and heavy incontrovertible laws. The Aamei are the most hated, most feared people in the CivCore, with a culture that will last for millennia
The Empire has fallen. The Helyans, a subject race which learnt better than others the administrative and technological lessons of the Aamei, rose in rebellion, seizing the resident Aamei fleet and eventually destroying the home world of the Aamei. Adapting to the new ways, the Aamei are now interstellar traders based in a giant space-faring building from which the finances of worlds are controlled. No-one knows if the Aamei are happy in their new role: they rarely speak of the past.

The Helyans

The Helyans, who span a system and whose home world is the lush, tropical planet Hel, were until a century ago a subject race of the Aamei Empire. They claim that their past has given them a full understanding of the horrors of war, that their vast fleet is for defence only and that their all-consuming interest in interstellar affairs is merely one devoted to peace.

Cross-Core Organisations

The Grand Mercantile Guild

The GMG is a very old association of independent traders throughout the universe. Each trader has a small fleet of ships, which travel the Jump routes of the CivCore, and beyond...

Traders have access to large warehouses of the GMG at major jump gates, and can exchange goods with other traders for their clients. The services of the Guild are essential for all systems, and they try to be as impartial as possible, supplying everything for everyone every time. The GMG also owns factories, where valuable luxury goods are produced. However, not all members of the GMG are truly traders: some are mercenaries, while others have a small, multi-system industrial empire.

StarMerc

The Merchants To All Stars was the major trading house within the GMG, until it decided many cycles ago to leave the GMG, to become even greater. StarMerc has operations in almost all systems, and some remarkable resources. Its agents are powerful and respected people, having great power behind them. On the other hand, it is an old, bureaucratic organisation, rich beyond all imagination. The GMG and StarMerc are not what one might call on friendly terms with each other.

As a player, you can be either a system agent for StarMerc, or someone from CentralAdmin. If you are a system agent, you should have some influence on your system government [see character creation]. You could also be a scientist, running a laboratory for StarMerc, or one of their Star Captains, in which case you might have a jump ship.

The CivCore Forces

The CCF is a major military power in the CivCore, not affiliated to any race, indeed, their years in space make it impossible to compare them to any other known race. Wherever an unjust, unwanted war begins, the CCF sends in a fleet, which will sail between the opposing fleets, stopping any attempts for a battle. They do not however stop every war from happening, only those which will cause major harm to civilians, or important space installations.

As a player you will be a ranking officer of this almost religious order. The aim of the CCF and its members is not to conquer or control planets, but to protect and improve all life in the CivCore.

The Holy Church of Pure Data

Members of the HCPD worship information as the highest good. The Church is the only religion spread widely across many species, and indeed has members in most races. The Church has an organised information-gathering network, and is often able to advise individual governments on what may be the best course to take, but their political influence is limited due to the wide range of interests of individual members.

The Game Worlds

The Algol game worlds use cutting edge technology to create almost any gaming experience players may desire. Although most games are conducted via the Matrix, the most prestigious are in the Muat-Tien Battlegrounds, which are used as a relatively safe forum for the settling of differences, and also for commercial gladiatorial combat. Regular winners of these public tournaments become household names.

Outside CivCore

The Imperium of Zhan

The Imperium of Zhan is a vast empire, right on the borders of CivCore. It is powerful, but technologically less advanced than the best of CivCore, and very isolationist. The only representatives of the Imperium ever to make contact with CivCore are members of the Xenite race, who govern the sector of the Imperium closest to the Core. The Xenites have a reputation as natural organisers: they insist on proper procedure at all times, and cannot stand disorder or 'sloppy thinking'. The Imperium as a whole seems to have little interest in CivCore.

The Rest

There are also unexplored areas in and around the CivCore. Adventurous individuals will occasionally head off into the unknown, and may well discover something of interest: natural resources, a previously unknown race, or even a piece of ancient, 'lost technology'. So-called 'Arco-scientists' specialise in this field, combining the roles of archaeologist and experimental and theoretical scientist.

Technology

Different races understand science and technology to wildly differing degrees. It is of course possible for individuals to use devices of which they personally have little or no understanding. Due to the necessity for repair and maintenance, however, it is not usually practicable on a planetary scale. It is often the case that the ruling classes for a particular society will have technology orders of magnitude more advanced than that available to the average thing-on-the-street.

The following general principles are widely know of, if not understood:

Transport

Jump Ships vary in range and accuracy depending on the quality of the engineering, however, accuracy is never particularly good, especially over long ranges. It will often take several jumps to reach a point close to the intended destination, after which ordinary ships engines will take over.

Each Jump Gate is connected to several others, forming a web across the CivCore. Occasionally, a new connection will be discovered, either creating a shorter route between two places, or leading to a previously undiscovered gate.

Communications

By Matrix (fast)
The rest (slow)

Weapons

Vary wildly from society to society: some have energy weapons, others prefer projectiles. Some have swords.

Medical

Most societies have a fair understanding of the physiology of their own race, but medical techniques, drugs and poisons may have wildly different effects on different species. For this reason, there is very little sharing of medical resources.

Creating a Character

There are two things to do once you have a character concept:

1) Decide upon a race. There are three races described in this introduction: you may find that your character fits into one of these. Otherwise, you will have to create a race of which to be a member. Being unknown is an advantage which has already been accounted for in the race generation system.

2) Design the individual character, using the rules below.

Bear in mind that these rules are provisional, so you may well get your character back with a point difference here or there, or be asked to rework certain things.

Races

A great deal of the game background will be defined according to the races created by players. For this reason, we ask that any player who wants his own race should have completed a basic description, along with stats, by Sunday of 9th week (16th March). There is no guarantee that race descriptions received after this date will be looked at by the GMs before we make certain critical decisions which will severely limit what is possible.

If small groups of players want to get together and jointly design races, they are welcome to do so. Similarly, if you are willing to have other players join you, make this clear in your initial race description. For example, there is no great disadvantage in having an Ambassador, a General and a businessbeing all members of a particular race, since NO PLAYER WILL HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL OF A SOCIETY. The rule in Inferno was that anything not opposed by a player would work if at all possible. This will not be the case in ICON.

So, in the example above, none of the three players would have their power diminished by the presence of the others, unless specific attempts were made to interfere with him. In this case, the likely result would be that the race as a whole would be weakened by the power struggle. On the other hand, all three could gain some benefit from presenting a united front to the government.

It is conceivable that a particular character will have little responsibility for or even interest in the welfare of his race as a whole. In this case, you should either:
1) Adjust your character to fit into one of the main races
2) Find another player designing a race into which you could fit
3) Say that the race is 'unremarkable except that...', and allow the GMs to determine the details.

The purpose of this policy is to hold down the number of races, and to prevent players abusing the system by putting 'special' up to 35 to gain fantastic powers...

Races are defined in terms of 10 attributes, described below. The scale for each is roughly 1-10. Values can be categorised as:
Low (1-3)
Medium (4-6)
High (7-9)
Excellent (10)
Insane (11+)

A player has 50 points to spend on racial attributes, with each point of attribute above 10 costing double. In order that things not be too extreme, we require that at least 4 stats be in the range 4-6.

The Racial Stats

1) Planetary Technology: (Ordinary Tech) The Tech level understood and constructed by the race. Hence this is the level of technology widely produced and used by ordinary members of the race.

2) Space Technology: (Special Tech) Space-faring ability, and also the tech available to the ruling classes. Ships capable of interstellar travel will always be rare compared to, for example, personal communicators, so are regarded as special. Note that it is almost always possible for an individual to 'cadge a lift', especially if the 'Trade' stat is not too low.

It is possible for space tech to be lower than planetary tech. This indicates that although the race has very well-developed technology on their planets, they have little in the way of transport, and no ready access even to moderate quantities of imported gadgets.

Both tech stats can be evaluated on the following scale:
0 Prehistoric
1 Renaissance
2 Industrial revolution
3 Modern day
4-5 Fairly near future
6-7 Supertech: all kinds of nifty gadgets available on demand.
8 Biotechnology and genetic versions of the above, and Artificial Intelligence.
9 Better than Cyberpunk. AI is at least as good as the real thing.
10 Better than that. Limit of generally known-about tech, as produced by the Illisthians.
11+ The race possesses some special technology and effects totally incomprehensible to anyone else.

3) Military: An absolute measure of military might. In a stand-up set piece battle, the higher military stat wins, irrespective of technology, efficiency or anything else. On the other hand, most generals will be trying to swing the conditions to their advantage.

Low: Pacifist or just plain weak. Trouble defending against random raiders and pirates.
Medium: Secure. Well defended.
High: Militaristic, powerful, probably aggressive.
Excellent: A military power respected by all [see why we can't write the background yet?]
Insane: Gosh.

4) Resources: The excess resources available to allocate to unusual projects, such as rebuilding lost military power, special construction projects, road-building schemes or whatever.

Low: Struggling to get by: any lost assets are hard to replace
Medium: Surplus income, insurance against disaster.
High: Very well off, with much more productive capacity available than is strictly needed.
Excellent: Very wealthy, with huge excess income at the disposal of the government.

5) Adaptability: The ability of the race to deal with changes in its environment. This is partly to do with ingenuity, partly to do with attitude to change.

Low: Stagnated, degenerate or otherwise resistant to change.
Medium: Reasonably flexible, able to cope with some degree of alien culture intruding.
High: The society is able to assimilate new concepts easily, and to make the best of any situation.
Excellent: Able to adapt completely to almost any difficulties.
Insane: Able to evolve three times over lunch.

6) Trade: Extent of interstellar trade, hence how able a race is to obtain scarce or specialist items. A high trade stat may be due to the possession of some natural resource, a favourable location near to a well-connected jump gate, or simply a natural ability to haggle. The GMG is always mindful of the trading reputation of a race when dealing with members of that race.

Low: Very little interstellar trade goes on.
Medium: Some interstellar trade.
High: An economy based on, and reliant upon, trade of goods or services.
Excellent: Vast trading empires.
Insane: Able to sell frozen methane to Vlargs.

7) Intelligence: The abilities of the race's own information gathering network. Thus how well informed the government is, and how able to react to changing international affairs. This stat also determines how good a nations spies are, and how well the government knows its own people.

Low: What's a Vlarg?
Medium: Of course we know what Vlargs are. Here is a study of their culture.
High: ...and a breakdown of their military capabilities.
Excellent: ...and a list of all known Vlarg sympathisers.
Insane: ...and what each of their governmental officials had for breakfast this morning.

8) Efficiency: How professionally and effectively the race as a whole can act. General competence at getting things done. Lack of vagueness. Members of races with wildly different efficiency often don't get on.

Low: Either buried in red tape, totally disorganised, or just plain dumb.
Medium: Properly organised.
High: Able to achieve remarkable things if well-motivated.
Excellent: Ruthlessly organised, and able to deal with every last detail of a situation.
Insane: I don't want to think about it.

9) Enthusiasm: How easily the general populace can be persuaded to put their support behind a project. Also, the less questions asked of the government.

Low: Lazy, stubborn or unthinking.
Medium: The population is able to back a good cause.
High: The people are always willing to back a good cause.
Excellent: The people are always crusading for one thing or another.
Insane: 'Charge!'

10) Special: Points allocated to pay for special abilities possessed by the race. This will vary wildly, but less than 5 points will be pretty inconsequential. When buying this stat, define precisely what you want it to do, and allocate points to it. We will get back to you and tell you what it really costs. Bear in mind that we expect most races to have a special value of 0. None of the three pre-defined races have a Special rating.

It is also worth devoting at least a couple of sentences to each of:

Remember that you are trying to sell us your race: the better the description, the more likely we are to let you define a big chunk of the game universe.

Characters

Without wishing to reveal too much too soon, characters must be people who would be willing to attend an interstellar meeting of assorted people. Motivation for this can be anything: socialisation, or to trade, exchange information, represent your species, sell your services etc. However, we don't want heads of government: there was quite enough of that in Inferno.

Characters are described by attributes and powers. Each character has 25 points to divide as desired. We may be awarding additional character points to members of the pre-generated races: these rules are currently being tested.

Attributes describe certain traits of a character: each character must have a value in each. An attribute of 3 is 'galactic average', but the technology exist to push people well beyond the natural capacities of their race. Values above 5 are awesome, and 8 is the maximum possible value for an attribute: in the case of Body and Reflexes, this is the best on offer from the finest experimental cybertechnology labs. Powers indicate to what resources and abilities a character has access. Maximum here is 12. Some indication has been given of their uses: hopefully this is obvious for the attributes. Players are asked to define exactly what they want their power stat to do.

As well as defining attributes and powers, we would like you to provide some character description before the game starts. This should consist of at least the following:

You could also write history, psychoanalysis, stories, family sagas, anything you want to pad that character sheet out to a satisfying 2kg.

Attributes

Powers

Here are a few character archetypes and ideas. Make of them what you will. That is all we are willing to tell you for now. If you have any questions, all 4 GMs will be happy to tell you that it is someone else's responsibility. In particular, in order that we don't have to do any work, we ask that explorer types don't talk to Corinne, anyone to do with science or religion doesn't talk to Steve, and commercial types don't talk to Philip. Anyone interested in the Muat-Tien should give Ralph a wide berth. If your race idea is totally off the wall, for heaven's sake don't tell Robin about it: he might OK it before we have a chance to stop him.

However, you can all safely talk to Warlock, because he is nothing to do with anything, and won't be able to help you. If you would like to bring a character into ICON from a previous society game, please report to Indigo Prime for immediate termination.