Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Grand Cluster and the Moment Drive

Back in Late 2021 I ran a game by the name of "Called from Exile". It was a high-powered game with sweeping scope, in a setting designed to accommodate homages any science fiction franchise I wanted. We had a lot of fun with that game, and I loved the resulting setting... or settings, as the case may be.

Here, I share the Faster-Than-Light system, which is key to making the setting work, and the broad brushstrokes of "The Grand Cluster"

The Moment Drive

There are untold trillions of people in existence, and untold millions of communities, separated by space and time, small islands of civilization in a vast void. Traveling by conventional means between stars is a stupendous effort taking at least a generation to accomplish, and is likely to leave the travelers more isolated than before they started.

The Moment Drive connects these places. At specific places and times, or "moments", the drive allows worlds to visit each other. These moments come more or less frequently for various worlds. Some worlds are tightly bound, able to send ships back and forth every hour or so. Others are connected only rarely, such as the mysterious planet Leviathan, which has a single connection only once every two years. Other communities have no connection, and develop isolated from the influence of the greater universe. These connections are only somewhat stable, changing their behavior through the ages.

Using the moment drive requires a moment star drive, a pilot with some sort of psionic sensitivity, and the time and location to be right. The moment drive will then take any ship with an active drive in the right moment (time and place) to the new location. Moments tend to be near settlements of some sort, usually in orbit around a planet, and only taking a few hours of maneuvering to enter once in space... though exceptions exist.

Clusters of the Cosmos

Worlds reliably connected to each other are called clusters. How easy it is to travel through a cluster is called its “tightness”. Large clusters are typically made from a number of smaller but tighter clusters. Political entities are usually confined to a cluster. Worlds in a cluster often have similar culture and technology, but not always, and the looser and newer the cluster, the less similar neighboring worlds will be.

My game was set in the Grand Cluster, which includes multiple empires and probably stretches farther than any one person has traveled.  Humans and human derived people are by far the most common form of intelligent life. The Grand cluster, has many smaller, tighter, clusters in it.

Consequences and Analysis

As you can probably guess from the fact that I'm sharing this, I really liked the system. A few things I noticed:

  • Chokepoints and border crossings are really easy to implement and enforce
  • Arbitrary travel times for plot reasons are fairly easy to do, as long as you haven't actually drawn out a complete map
  • My players quickly grasped which parts of the FTL were hand wavy (why is this going to take four hours) and which parts were not (we can see which ships are following us because we all have to be in the moment together)
  • Tracking ships is a matter of observing their location when the moment happens, or talking to someone who saw it. This is nice because its simple, but it also lets me throw in social encounters.
  • Explaining weird space borders is easy: 'The moments used to keep these parts together, but now some connections are a lot slower."
  • This gives an excuse to privilege organic civilizations and crazy psi-stuff in the setting while still having monstrous Kardeshev-2 ultra-tech entities and grey goo disasters: if you don't have psis, you can't leave.
  • Making a simple map is easy, its just a bunch of world names with lines connecting them, and times for how far apart the moments are.
  • Working out the consequences of the simple map can be quite complex.

 I like the moment drive, and I like the Grand Cluster. In fact I'm revisiting it because I anticipate running another game in that setting. I hope find it useful in your games and when you think about how you will set up your FTL. Happy Gaming!

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