Friday, 10 December 2010

History of the RimWorlds #3 – Vanished Empires

Image borrowed from Eli's 'I See Lead People' blog, who sourced it from DeviantArt

And then we come to this entry in the chronology:

103Thongaloros Empire falls to the Outrim Barbarians.

A single line of text that manages to say both much and nothing at the same time. “Outrim Barbarians”, by the way, was an early term used by me to describe non-Imperial peoples living beyond the Imperial frontier. This term is similar to one that appears in early GDW Library Data and which is used to refer to Zhodani and Vargr in particular. As with the GDW term, “Outrim Barbarians” has fallen out of favour as I continued to develop the RimWorlds.

By the time I was constructing my website, I had expanded the one line reference above to a Library Data entry that read as follows:

Thongaloros Empire
Stellar Empire that extended through much of the Rimworlds sector and which collapsed in 103. The dominant sophonts of the Empire was a hexepedal reptilian race called the Tsalur. Small pockets of Tsalur survive on Xcothal/Nolgor and in the Hand of Ssra'ka Aissr in Cabria Subsector. Artifacts and ruins from the Empire still turn up from time to time.

This entry actually drew together two threads of RimWorlds development.

During the initial Traveller campaign I ran, which centred on my friend John’s ex-Scout character Ezra Weinbach, I introduced the Tsalur Minor Race. The Tsalur Warriors were a hexepedal reptilian people living in caverns beneath the surface of the nearly airless planet Xcothal in Nolgor Subsector, and were actually based on a 25mm Fantasy figure I had inherited.

At about the same time, the chronology entry concerning the fall of the Thongaloros Empire was made. Shortly after that, I began to wonder about this early Empire – who were the people (probably not human as 3rd Imperium humans only showed up in the RimWorlds some 400 years after the Empire had collapsed, and any earlier human populations were refugees or sublighters, and in fairly small numbers)? How big had this empire been? Why had it collapsed? What traces had it left? Was I entirely happy with the name of the Empire (the answer to this question is ‘No’, but it is a name that Imperial researches have tried to extract from the records of a dozen different Minor Races, as well as Empire inscriptions, with no apparent surviving pronunciation guides)?

The linking of the Tsalur to the Thongaloros Empire was a bit of an inspired joke on my part. What if researchers discovered records of a vanished stellar empire? And what if different researchers discover and study a fairly primitive and aggressive Minor Race? Would they necessarily link the two together, particularly if the Tsalur Minor Race is only extant on one planet within Imperial space, and the ruins of the vanished Empire are only found on a handful of worlds along the Imperial border?

I saw no need to DGP the situation to death. Not knowing all the answers is part of the fun of being a Referee. When you come to write a scenario, the process of mapping it out, and then running players through it, serves to answer the questions for you.

In Classic Traveller, the Ancients tend to get blamed for everything, from population movements to Rosette systems. In the RimWorlds, the Thongaloros Empire did do some impressive stuff, though only using Tech Level 13 or 14 technologies – they had a pretty forthright labour policy, for example, and were not shy about shifting fairly massive population numbers about as required for various projects. They also controlled all Jump Drive technology within the Sector for a period of at least 500 years – restricting subject races to non-Jump capable ships that were carried between systems on gigantic Carriers. This explains some of the unusual population distributions within the Sector, the fact that there are fairly substantial Minor Race populations mixed together on certain worlds, and the fact that some Minor Races no longer know for certain what or where their system of origin was.

As to the fall of the Empire, the basic explanation would appear to be that a thinly spread, technologically advanced master race-society crumpled and collapsed when fresh, Jump-capable migrants moved into the Sector and refused to accept the status quo. Aslan ihatei had settled Yuwe/Lymethius some two hundred years before the fall of the Empire, and Yuwe is deep within the Sector. If the ihatei had been rewarded with land for services, it may have been deemed advisible to move them as far away from the Coreward Whisp as possible to reduce the temptation for them to side with any newcomers, especially if the Tsalur had not realised that settled Aslan will drive off incoming ihatei as a matter of course.

So, the identity of the destroyers of the Empire is still unknown – it may have been an alliance of Minor Races rising up to pull down the oppressors, it might have been newcomers coming up the Whisp from the Spinward March, it might have been a combination of the two. Suffice to say, the Tsalur survive as savage primitives on Xcothal/Nolgor and as a fairly powerful Pocket Empire in the Hand of Ssra'ka Aissr in the Cabria and Entorth Subsectors. The Thongaloros Empire is no more, but occasionally tunnel systems are found on certain out of the way planets, and strange starships are discovered orbiting barren moons, and odd step-pyramids are located deep in the jungle. Teleportation devices have been found, and strange plasma weapons, as deadly now as they were a thousand years ago.

In short, a secret box of puzzles and plot-hooks.