Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

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eleazar
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Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#1 Post by eleazar » Mon Aug 04, 2008 6:52 pm

:arrow: Note: As revised and improved, the latest version will be on this Wiki Page.

From a game-design standpoint the current official backstory has a couple problems:
  • 1) we don't know how it ends, and the one person who does has left.
    2) the story is utterly disconnected from gameplay, it doesn't "set the stage" for play.
    3) it centers around "the Orions" which makes it seem derivative no matter how much else is original
So, rather than try to graft onto a foundation i didn't build and don't really understand, I will present my own ideas as the design for a future Mod or Campaign. Hopefully at least some of the ideas will be found useful as a narrative framework to build the game content around. As we are currently dealing with game aspects that effect exploration, for now i'll focus on the bits of the backstory that effect exploration:
Some ideas have been adapted from Drek's expansion of the backstory, which had some similar motivations.


Big Picture:
Instead of the Orions & Antarans there seem to be several ancient highly advanced races/civilizations that once inhabited the galaxy. These "Precursors" possessed the ability to travel between galaxies, and seem to have simply left the gameplay galaxy.
Each game is understood to happen in one of the untold number of galaxies effected by the Precursors, thus each game can be different, but belong to the same reality. Thus the general content descriptions can work for a wide variety of campaigns. Various different campaign stories could be built on this foundation, for instance perhaps some unfriendly Precursors are coming back, or the Upstarts could fight to summon their favorite precursor civ, or help one against another. Which of these is the case could be determined by random chance unbeknownst to the player, so that, for instance they wouldn't know if there is going to be an artifact corresponding to the Orion planet in a particular game or not.

All the playing species were all placed in this galaxy about the same time as a non-technical but sentient species. Some may have a mythical/legendary account of this while other's may believe they lived on their home planet forever. As the game unfolds the players may uncover clues that they were purposefully placed here, and the reasons for doing so (not necessarily the same in every game/galaxy), and to the identity of some of the Precursors.


How the Game Starts:
The game opens when a "monolith" falls the the surface of all the playing species' homeworlds. When deciphered, it provides the secret to Star-lane travel, something so mathematically arcane, that they otherwise could not expect to discover it for millennia. The Monolith provides no information on the identity or intentions of the monolith-builder, but comments that other monoliths are falling on other worlds in this galaxy.

Thus it is plausible that all the player species would start the game at approximately the same tech level at the same time.


Exploration:
But the commonality between all games is that all the Precursors seem to be gone, and they left a lot of stuff. There's no better way to enhance the exploration X of the game than including lots of useful, interesting, and unique stuff for the player to find.

Basically the galaxy is riddled with the leftovers of absent civilizations far in advance of the starting player species. The starlane system itself is believed to have been constructed by some of them. Also there are:
  • Archives revealing tech,
    Local Star-charts,
    Stasis-chambers: containing monsters, useful units, or even lesser species
    Mothballed ships (sometimes superior to what the player can build,
    abandoned colonies (some with advanced buildings, or still active defensive weapons),
    Gaian planets, (of various kinds),
    Planets ruined by lingering late-game weapons.
    Stockpiles of various resources,
    Planets with useful "native" Indigene species
    And perhaps clues to the identity of some of the Precursors and/or their plans for this galaxy (if any)
Some of the most interesting/valuable discoveries should be examples of late-game tech (like the Gaians) this way the player gets a small taste of the cool stuff he may be able to do by the end of the game, and thus the player species may come (close?) to taking it's place among the powerful Precursors.


...More later.
Last edited by eleazar on Sun Nov 23, 2008 11:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: clarification

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#2 Post by Skaro » Mon Aug 04, 2008 7:12 pm

That's a good setup, the history of the game should slowly unfold as the game progresses.

Also, a number of different endings should be possible, like these for instance:

Victory: All enemies were beaten, no specials were unlocked.
Ascension: The player manages to ascend his/her species to higher beings.
Race specific: Each race has a backstory, the ending could very well tie into it if certain scenarios have come into play.
Civil War: Victory over your enemies has caused a civil war, your empire has split into pocket empires (the game goes into a second campaign at this point).

Just some ideas, I suppose that I don't want to make the story too linear.
A sucking chest wound is Nature's way of telling you to slow down. --Murphy's war laws

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#3 Post by pd » Mon Aug 04, 2008 8:23 pm

eleazar wrote: There's no better way to enhance the exploration X of the game than including lots of useful, interesting, and unique stuff for the player to find. [...]
  • Local Star-charts,
    Stasis-chambers: containing monsters, useful units, or even lesser species
    Mothballed ships (sometimes superior to what the player can build,
    abandoned colonies (some with advanced buildings, or still active defensive weapons),
    Gaian planets, (of various kinds),
    Planets ruined by lingering late-game weapons.
    Stockpiles of various resources,
    Planets with useful "native" Indigene species
    And perhaps clues to the identity of some of the Precursors and/or their plans for this galaxy (if any)
I strongly agree with this. The galaxy should be full of useful and not so useful but possibly dangerous things.

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#4 Post by igrok » Tue Aug 05, 2008 5:35 am

I think a lot of depth would be added to the game if there were alien artifacts spread throughout the galaxy. There should be mystery and unexpected things when you explore an unknown part of space.

I'd also recommend alien objects that can be reverse engineered (boosting research points) and possibly even strange techs not listed on the Research tree.

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#5 Post by utilae » Tue Aug 05, 2008 7:12 am

I also agree with the direction of this thread.

* I really like the idea of having the story revolve around ancient races that have since left the galaxy.
Babylon 5 was a good scifi show that dealt with this idea. Also other games often use this idea, eg in Mass Effect there is an ancient race that existed 50,000 years ago but mysteriously disappeared (the race left behind tech called mass relays which allowed all other races that came to exist to travel through the space over great distances).

* Being able to find ancient alien relics and artifacts would be awesome. Perhaps at the very least you get a little bit of back story about the ancient race when finding the relic.

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#6 Post by Kharagh » Tue Aug 05, 2008 8:21 am

I like this idea a lot, as it will make exploring the galaxy much more eventful and exciting.
Finding ancient and superior tech or an abondoned colony of a mysterious race will add a lot of mystery and flavour to the game.

It also gives a good reason why all races start at roughly the same level and leaves a lot of room for all kind of differrent campaign settings.

I say go for it!

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#7 Post by Josh » Tue Aug 05, 2008 3:00 pm

Thank you. I've been saying for a long time how I've felt the story aspect of FO could use improvement, I hope I haven't finally gotten under your skin with my pestering ;) .

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#8 Post by eleazar » Wed Aug 06, 2008 5:36 am

Skaro wrote:Also, a number of different endings should be possible, like these for instance:
....
Ascension: The player manages to ascend his/her species to higher beings.
Stargate-type ascension doesn't exactly mesh with the concept, though i think the Precursors should be left as somewhat mysterious entities. It's likely you never meet one directly. They are at least in some sense "higher" beings, and some player-race level beings could believe they have mystic, god-like powers. And they can travel the void between Galaxies (something inconceivable for the player-species, even at the end of the tech tree.) But they are still involved in the physical universe... It just happens they aren't around the player's galaxy for most of the game.

Skaro wrote:Just some ideas, I suppose that I don't want to make the story too linear.
There's a place for strongly story-oriented campaigns, where the sides are set up in unfair, but very interesting ways, and scripted "story events" are frequently triggered. While these could easily share this backstory, for now i'm just concerned with the "normal" play mode, where all empires get the same chance and have a similar start.
But, even then the key story elements need not always be the same in each game. Depending on which Precursors were randomly determined to have been involved in the player's galaxy you might or might not find major things like an Orion Planet with Guardian, and/or an Antarian Invasion.

igrok wrote:I'd also recommend alien objects that can be reverse engineered (boosting research points) and possibly even strange techs not listed on the Research tree.
The mechanic we've planned for spy-stolen techs, is that it gives you a big boost, but it doesn't give you the whole tech outright. Probably something similar could apply to ancient tech. It would probably be too powerful if finding a moth-balled ancient super-boom-weapon gave you the weapon, and the ability to build them. But a bonus to researching super-boom-weapons could be reasonable.

utilae wrote:* I really like the idea of having the story revolve around ancient races that have since left the galaxy.
Babylon 5 was a good scifi show that dealt with this idea. Also other games often use this idea, eg in Mass Effect there is an ancient race that existed 50,000 years ago but mysteriously disappeared (the race left behind tech called mass relays which allowed all other races that came to exist to travel through the space over great distances).
Yeah i thought about those examples and others. I wanted to avoid, however imitating too closely anybody else's story-line. Since, generally you have 1 or 2 ancient uber-races, i went with several, instead.

These ideas (and a few more i haven't put down yet) have been floating around in my head for a long time. But they were not very relevant to development until we started talking about changing visibility/fog-o-war to enhance exploration. Since a big part of this is an rationalization why there are lots of interesting things to find in the galaxy, it was time to put it down. No pestering was involved.

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#9 Post by Skaro » Thu Aug 07, 2008 7:48 pm

eleazar wrote:
Skaro wrote:Also, a number of different endings should be possible, like these for instance:
....
Ascension: The player manages to ascend his/her species to higher beings.
Stargate-type ascension doesn't exactly mesh with the concept, though i think the Precursors should be left as somewhat mysterious entities. It's likely you never meet one directly. They are at least in some sense "higher" beings, and some player-race level beings could believe they have mystic, god-like powers. And they can travel the void between Galaxies (something inconceivable for the player-species, even at the end of the tech tree.) But they are still involved in the physical universe... It just happens they aren't around the player's galaxy for most of the game.
I hadn't even considered the Star Gate beings when writing my post, I was aiming for the Galactic Civilizations technology victory.

http://galciv.wikia.com/wiki/Technology_Victory

At any rate, the game shouldn't just have the "last man standing" victory condition.
A sucking chest wound is Nature's way of telling you to slow down. --Murphy's war laws

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#10 Post by tzlaine » Sat Aug 09, 2008 5:34 pm

I don't have much to add, but to say that i really like where this thread is going.

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#11 Post by Tortanick » Sat Aug 16, 2008 2:45 pm

Of all the possible threads to start while I was on holiday :(

eleazar wrote:There's a place for strongly story-oriented campaigns, where the sides are set up in unfair, but very interesting ways, and scripted "story events" are frequently triggered. While these could easily share this backstory, for now i'm just concerned with the "normal" play mode, where all empires get the same chance and have a similar start.
The story-oriented campaigns are the ones that interested me, and I'd rather write the back-story with them in mind, "normal" mode doesn't need a story at all IMO it can be considered a non-canonical mash-up of the story campaigns that exists for fun, after all thats how every strategy game with a story treated random maps or skirmish mode right back to Command and Conquer (I don't think Dune II had skirmish mode)

While I would like to discuss this fundamental diffrence of opinion I'll try to mostly stick to the current train of thought (I hate being late to a thread)
eleazar wrote:The game opens when a "monolith" falls the the surface of all the playing species' homeworlds. When deciphered, it provides the secret to Star-lane travel, something so mathematically arcane, that they otherwise could not expect to discover it for millennia. The Monolith provides no information on the identity or intentions of the monolith-builder, but comments that other monoliths are falling on other worlds in this galaxy.
From a race design point of view that's problematic firstly it limits creativity by forcing race histories to include this event, and secondly because it clashes with some existing races. The Eaxaw for instance reverse engineered a cashed spaceship to get the secret of space-flight and presumably star-lane travel (the ship had to get there somehow)
eleazar wrote:But the commonality between all games is that all the Precursors seem to be gone, and they left a lot of stuff. There's no better way to enhance the exploration X of the game than including lots of useful, interesting, and unique stuff for the player to find.
I like the explore and find a lot of stuff angle, from a gameplay view its good. From a story point of view there is a problem: what dose it say about the Precursors if they are the sort of people who build peaceful teraforming tools to remove unwanted moons, then leave them where anyone can find it? Unless we explicitly want the Precursors to be criminally negligent I suggest finding an alternative explanation.

My prefered suggestion is one that only works for story-oriented campaigns, and then only if we do something like Battle for Wesnoth and have campaigns in a relitively concentrated area but over a huge timespan (I hope we do). Basically every now and again the races manage to knock themselves a peg or two down the tech tree, when they start rebuilding they find "Precursor artifcats" that they themselves built before they lost the tech.
This has three advantages over generic mysterious Precursors:
Firstly the story actually explains how it got there and why the "precursors" didn't clean up after themselves.
Secondly its always conveniently not to far ahead of your current research, that's good for gameplay and its more believable than being able to understand a devise of literal dues ex machinia power.
Finally it was built by a race you understand, either your own or one you've known for a while, I don't know how hard xenoarchology would be in reality but this sidesteps the problem

It dosn't work for random maps, but as I said I don't think you really need a story for them.
utilae wrote:* I really like the idea of having the story revolve around ancient races that have since left the galaxy.
Babylon 5 was a good scifi show that dealt with this idea.
I disagree, firstly Babylon 5 was never about ancent races that left the galaxy, it was about ancient races that didn't leave the galaxy. That's a hugely important diffrence. If the story revolves around an ancient race that's left the galaxy then you've got to have a really good answer to the mystery of why they left, after spending half the game searching something like "we moved on to give you a chance to grow is a huge letdown to the players"*. Creating a good answer to a Precursor mystery is hard, I know I can't do it, if someone else can then great, problem solved :) but I'd want to have a good answer lined up before we put in work to create the mystery.

The other thing is I'd sooner put the younger races in focus simply because they're the ones your playing. (BTW that's all the younger races with the spotlight shifting between different story campaigns)

* It works for Babylon 5 precisely because the Ancients were only a plot point and never the focus.
Josh wrote:The idea of multiple galaxies in FO is a recurring theme on the forums. What's the word on having multiple alternate galaxies in single game of FO? Every time someone suggests this, I think of Arcanus/Myrror world in Master of Magic.
Arcanus/Myrror was a nice gameplay feature, but this is a backstory thread not a gameplay thread.

From a purely story point of view I'd sooner go for a bigger galaxy than multiple galaxies, if you have two galaxies there is a clear line drawn between them, these stars are part of galaxy A, these stars are part of galaxy B. This campaign is in galaxy A, that campaign is in galaxy B. If you have one large galaxy with sector A and sector B, then you can have a campaign covering the east of sector A and the west of sector B, its a more flexible system.

I must point out that this point is only reliant to story oriented campaigns, not random maps. And off topic for a second, you can fake multiple galaxies by having chokepoints and deliberately placed stars so they look seperate. If that's not enough just make them require high exploration to find the starlanes between "galaxies" or use a subclass of starlanes that requires a special tech to unlock.

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#12 Post by utilae » Mon Aug 18, 2008 7:44 am

Tortanick wrote:
utilae wrote:* I really like the idea of having the story revolve around ancient races that have since left the galaxy.
Babylon 5 was a good scifi show that dealt with this idea.
I disagree, firstly Babylon 5 was never about ancent races that left the galaxy, it was about ancient races that didn't leave the galaxy.
Such a pointless comment. Babylon 5 revolved around ancient races. They have since left the galaxy (as of mid season 4). In anycase, you are right about the fact that any detail or mysteries about precursors must be well thought out.
Tortanick wrote: From a purely story point of view I'd sooner go for a bigger galaxy than multiple galaxies, if you have two galaxies there is a clear line drawn between them, these stars are part of galaxy A, these stars are part of galaxy B. This campaign is in galaxy A, that campaign is in galaxy B. If you have one large galaxy with sector A and sector B, then you can have a campaign covering the east of sector A and the west of sector B, its a more flexible system.
But one galaxy as sectors is less flexible then two or more galaxies. With two or more galaxies you are able to put in a requirement to travel between galaxies using special drives. With galaxies as sectors, it's just drawing a line and nothing more.

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#13 Post by Skaro » Mon Aug 18, 2008 8:51 pm

I think that my galaxy idea has somewhat derailed this thread. Maybe I should have posted it in the brainstorming forum like pd pointed out.

At any rate, let's get back to a alternate backstory like eleazar intended.

The Babylon 5 route could be a way to go at it. Instead of Vorlons and Shadows we could have the Orions as the race that stayed behind to guide the younger races. You could either work with them or work to overthrow them.

This could give rise to a number of different scenarios where you work with them to establish a diplomatic victory through peace or through a allied victory. Or you could go the renegade route and conspire with some old enemies of Orions if you have planets near the edge of the map (which would enable you to send out a signal to them).

Though the most often picked route would be to conquer all the other younger races and finally take down the Orions when you have a high techlevel.

As for a story idea, I had the following in mind.

The progenitors/elders/ancients/first ones/whatever used to inhabit the current galaxy and were building vast empires. Though many of them fought wars against each other from time to time none were actually victorious. After thousands of years the progenitors felt like they had outgrown their conflicts and their galaxy, so they went out to discover more distant galaxies, other dimensions and different layers of reality.

With all that they had learned from the centuries of conflict they felt like they had a obligation to teach new races that would follow in their footsteps. The Orions volunteered for this task since they always saw themselves as a teacher race (though some of the other races saw them arrogant and selfcentered).

The Orions monitored many planets and manipulated many races to evolve into more intelligent species (though this conflicted with what other races would have wanted). The Orions engineerd many shemes to allow younger races to quickly achieve the ability to travel to the stars. All of the worlds they perceived as promising received monoliths to help them understand the concepts of starlane travel. Though some less favored races managed to achieve this by reverse engineering crashed starcraft or received tech from a few progenitors that stayed behind to watch the Orions.


Any other ideas on this?
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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#14 Post by Tortanick » Tue Aug 19, 2008 6:02 am

I have to say, your Orions are a bit too close to the Vorlons, I'd also rather the precursors leave rather than stay behind and manipulate things, I've always favoured a story that's more a series of "a day in the life of a galactic empire" to one that revolves around a specific event or problem. One campaign might have you conquered most of the galaxy, then the next one is set 100 years later on the borders of the empire you built last time, or 1000 years later after its fallen.


As for how we have multiple active space fairing races at the start of the story, I'd like to propose an alternative to monoliths: when the precursors were active there was a 1st-world / 3rd-world political map, the precursor races are flying around twisting the laws of physics and generally being precursors, at the exact same time you have younger races with their small dozen star "empires". The relationship between the precursors and the younger spacefairing races could be something similar to the relationship between America/Europe and Africa. Then when the precursors vanish the younger races imediately start to expand and grab the now empty worlds left behind.

Not all races have to be active at the beginning, over the course of the story some can go extinct or vanish, and new races can discover spaceflight, or nomads can wonder into the galaxy, etc.

Outside the story campaign we don't need any explanation, two races that never meet eachother can start on turn one with a single homeworld, no one will care.

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Re: Alternate Backstory (with an eye toward Gameplay)

#15 Post by eleazar » Mon Sep 01, 2008 5:17 pm

Tortanick wrote:
eleazar wrote:There's a place for strongly story-oriented campaigns, where the sides are set up in unfair, but very interesting ways, and scripted "story events" are frequently triggered. While these could easily share this backstory, for now i'm just concerned with the "normal" play mode, where all empires get the same chance and have a similar start.
The story-oriented campaigns are the ones that interested me, and I'd rather write the back-story with them in mind, "normal" mode doesn't need a story at all IMO it can be considered a non-canonical mash-up of the story campaigns that exists for fun, after all thats how every strategy game with a story treated random maps or skirmish mode right back to Command and Conquer (I don't think Dune II had skirmish mode)
Well, sure we could make is a senseless "non-canonical mash-up", but that's rather lazy and uninspiring. After all, this is the "normal" way to play, not a sideline to the "real" game as the "skirmish mode" examples you brought up seem to be. I don't think you can argue that it would be better if it was a mash-up without a backstory.

Alpha Centari is a good example of the use of a strong backstory that integrates into gameplay, helps everything make sense, but is still a random universe with few dramatic constraints, where all empires have a fair chance at winning. That's the kind of thing i'm trying to accomplish, (without perhaps all the large chunks of text).

Tortanick wrote:
eleazar wrote:The game opens when a "monolith" falls the the surface of all the playing species' homeworlds. When deciphered, it provides the secret to Star-lane travel, something so mathematically arcane, that they otherwise could not expect to discover it for millennia. The Monolith provides no information on the identity or intentions of the monolith-builder, but comments that other monoliths are falling on other worlds in this galaxy.
From a race design point of view that's problematic firstly it limits creativity by forcing race histories to include this event, and secondly because it clashes with some existing races. The Eaxaw for instance reverse engineered a cashed spaceship to get the secret of space-flight and presumably star-lane travel (the ship had to get there somehow)
This point is true, but i don't think it's important.

1) This backstory implies that the Eaxaw (and all other player species) have been seeded to multiple galaxies. Thus only the Precursors know when and how the Eaxaw first got into space (individual Eaxaw empires may think they know, but most of them are wrong)

2) How the Eaxaw first got into space isn't very important to their story anyhow... what is important, story-wise, is why they decided to go, their motivation... This backstory does not change that, or anything important about the Eawax.

Tortanick wrote:
eleazar wrote:But the commonality between all games is that all the Precursors seem to be gone, and they left a lot of stuff. There's no better way to enhance the exploration X of the game than including lots of useful, interesting, and unique stuff for the player to find.
I like the explore and find a lot of stuff angle, from a gameplay view its good. From a story point of view there is a problem: what dose it say about the Precursors if they are the sort of people who build peaceful teraforming tools to remove unwanted moons, then leave them where anyone can find it? Unless we explicitly want the Precursors to be criminally negligent I suggest finding an alternative explanation.
Remember the Precursors are not a homogenous group. They are a bunch of super-tech empires united only in being much more powerful than the player at the start.

The leftovers could suggest many things about the Precursors, and more than one of these things are true:
  • 1a) The builder forgot about it
    1a) The builder doesn't consider it important
    2a) The builder doesn't care if anyone else finds it, or if they destroy their world with it
    2b) The builder hopes someone else will find it and destroy their world with it
    3) The builder left it their on purpose, to see what someone would do with it
    4) The builder left it as a gift to the future
    5) The builder meant to get it, but was prevented (probably by other Precursors)
    6) The builder is extinct
    7) In the case of encapsulated stuff, the builder didn't expect anybody to be able to advanced enough to break their simple lock
Other reasons probably could be added to this list.

Of course, i want the player to wonder why all this stuff is laying around, and through playing some of the answers will be provided.
Tortanick wrote:My prefered suggestion is one that only works for story-oriented campaigns...
This topic isn't about the specifics of story-oriented campaigns. Though i have given a lot of latitude for very different campaigns to take place within the same reality.

Skaro wrote:At any rate, let's get back to a alternate backstory like eleazar intended.

The Babylon 5 route could be a way to go at it. Instead of Vorlons and Shadows we could have the Orions as the race that stayed behind to guide the younger races. You could either work with them or work to overthrow them.
... You mean the alternate backstory without Orions, that specifically avoids having only one Precursor Civ?!?

I'll post my current ideas for Precursor civs when i get a chance to look over my notes. (see next post)
Last edited by eleazar on Tue Sep 02, 2008 6:15 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: spelling

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