It's been a while since I've posted an update about the Sublight universe. Or a crazy idea for something in the story or game. And while I've been side-tracked on 3d printing lately, I haven't forgotten about it.
My plan is currently to release a total of three series of books, and three matching tabletop games. The tabletops will all use the same basic rules, but the lore material will be sufficiently spaced apart in history to allow for independent stories to take place.
The first series will take place in the Solar System in a parallel-present alternate reality. It's a world where history split from ours in the late 18th century. Technology incorporated elements of magic and the occult, and thus by this point humanity is has mastered fusion power and is rapidly trying to evacuate the Earth. Partly because widespread use of magic has rendered the world dangerous to human life. Or ... at least that is the cover story.
The second series will take place on one of the many generation ships that is slowly slogging its way between the Solar System and a potentially habitable star. Humans aren't looking for new planets to conquer. Their experience in the Solar system showed them that mining asteroids and exploiting solar power are the better way to go. Of course, it was impossible (given the distance) for anyone to know exactly what the ship was going to find at the other end of the journey. Most of the stories will focus on people trying (to limited degrees of success) to stay sane and safe on a ship full of magic users with varying levels of magical power, empathy, and enlightened self-interest.
The third series will take place in the dozens of star systems that make up this first wave of human expansion. Each will end up developing its own culture after decades to centuries apart from the home system of Sol. At this point, nobody knows if there is even still a civilization around Sol. While some ships arrived in star systems with a bounty of resources, others arrived to find a barren system.
Over the centuries several intelligent life forms have been discovered, each also stuck with the limitations of slower-than-light travel. Each race's civilization tends to be dominated by one of my 12 archetypes
Homo Sapien (Hedonist): An intelligent species of semi-aquatic rodents. Their psyche is dominated by the sensation of pleasure. Their sense of vision is extremely dull by most standards, limited to between 380 and 700 nanometers. They can see, at most, three primary colors. They make up for near-blindness with a highly developed sense of hearing, though this sense dulls dramatically with age. Even their writing system reflects the patterns (and downright oddities) of verbal communication. They even have an odd form of entertainment that involves causing pleasurable vibrations in air. Everything is pleasure with them...Wongtentrem
The Wongtentrem (Caregiver): a race of intelligent herbivores. Their society is highly regulated by taboos and conformity. They have a overly aggressive response to threats (real or perceived). Also: They declared Homo Sapiens to be an existential threat upon learning that they shelter Ngeru, and (worse) use domesticated animals for food. To homo sapiens, the Wongtentrem resemble large wingless chickens.
Wongtentrem technology is essentially cargo culted copies of captured Ngeru technology. In their zeal to liberate enslaved races, Wongtentrem lack the living computers, slave labor, and live test subjects to carry on the depths of research that would allow them to surpass the Ngeru. It also doesn't help that Wongtentrem tend to live by the mantra of "If it ain't broke don't fix it." Not to mention an entire society build around "don't break it."Apis
The Apis (Artist): A race of social arthropod-like creatures with no sense of hearing. They communicate via visual displays and a hyper-developed sense of touch in their extremities. While individual Apis are only semi-intelligent, several working together form a collective emergent consciousness. The mechanism is believed to be telepathic in nature, and it's not unheard of for a collective to include members of other species.
Like the Wongtentrem, the Apis did not originally develop spaceflight on their own. They reverse engineered Ngeru technology following the fall of the Empire. For some technologies they have managed to scale objects down. For other technologies, such as reactors, their performance is degrades exponentially with size. As such Apis ships tend to have tiny little accommodations on a vessel that seems to be all engine. The crew themselves make up much of the control system, with the entire vessel acting as one hive mind.Zombies
Zombees (Wright): Long ago, the Ngeru began to enhance the Apis with cybernetics. And by "enhance" we mean euthanize the organism and replace their innate humanity with that of a machine. The cybernetic architecture builds on the innate telepathy of the Apis, and requires fresh infusions of living creatures to replenish numbers. Their original purpose was to act as a robotic workforce, and as such Zombees excel at repair work... and sabotage. They are also excellent intelligence gatherers as their small size and telepathic matrix make for a nearly silent sensor platform.
Zombee hives are built around a Cthluhu who acts as the mastermind and central point of control. In the times of the Empire, the Ngeru controlled the the Cthluhu, and the Cthluhu controlled the Zombees. The Cthluhu itself is immobilized in a life-support pod and fed intravenously. It's only sensory stimulation is a virtual reality created by the control harness for the Zombees.
After the fall of the Empire, the Zombees went rogue. They raid Apis shipping for live organism. They raid everyone else for parts and technology.
The Ngeru (Ruler): a race of intelligent carnivores. They also have a bit of a history with the surrounding star systems after running an empire for a few thousand years. An empire that committed quite a few atrocities in its quest to maintain absolute control. They live in hiding after a rebellion (and subsequent genocide) lead by the Wongtentrem. Homo Sapiens simply regard the Ngeru as household pets.
The Zhìchǎng (Explorer): A race of intelligent plants. They experience time at a much slower rate than most intelligent life. They also have never actually developed much in the way of technology. Several have been collected from their home world, usually as seeds, and have been cultivated on other worlds. They have an innate ability to perform complex chemistry. Provided, of course, that you can communicate to them what exactly you are looking to accomplish.
The Cthulhu (Rebel): An intelligent species of shape-shifting cephalopods. As they live in water, and are aggressive (to the point of cannibalistic) hunters. They never developed much in the way of either culture or technology. They are fiendishly clever as individuals, though. Individuals are sometimes "recruited" bo other species to perform specialized tasks, or stow-away to escape the chaos of their home ocean world.
And of course, one of the ships stumbles onto a race of intelligent herbivores. Who promptly vow to wipe the human race out from existence after discovering what steaks are made of. And they've managed to reverse-engineer human technology (and the charts for where human colonies were going up) after vanquishing the "primates" and liberating the livestock and artificial intelligences on board.
The high concept is that despite having magic, material beings are stuck with the speed of light as the upper limit of causality. Even if you teleport, you can't arrive any faster than 3e8 m/s. Which makes the question "what exactly does one breathe?" while stuck between dimensions for that 30 second trip between the Earth and the moon, let alone the 38 minutes between the Earth and Jupiter. Assuming someone turns you to stone first, and there is someone on the other side to turn you back, trips between the stars are even possible. You'll just have to accept that by the time you arrive at a star system 50 light years away that everyone you know back home is probably dead. Or will be by the time you make a return trip. Also your clothes will have gone in and out of fashion several times.