The Beginnings of Ad Astra

We have played many science-fiction games, and have read many more. None, however, were the game that we really wanted to play: a mid-future game of solar-system and interstellar colonisation. The nearest we could find was 2300 AD by GDW.


2300 is an excellent game in many ways, but one in which we just couldn`t believe. The game was deficient in a number of areas:

There would seem to have been almost no technological advance in 300 years, and certainly none that has had any noticeable effect on society. For example, handheld computers in 2300 have 10Mb of memory and use 200Mb disks (consider that 10 years after the game was designed we have 5.2Gb DVD-RAMs and even my poor old Amiga has 18Mb of memory). The only exceptions to the low-tech ambience are the beanstalks and the stutterwarp drive, which is an isolated, semi-magical breakthrough.
Culture, Politics and Society
Three hundred years have passed, and yet all that has changed is that corporations have become rivals to small nations, America has declined and France has emerged as the dominant nation. There have been no major new ideologies, political systems or cultural movements. The Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook explicitly states that even popular culture and fashion are dominated by nostalgia for the 20th century. It is striking that if the setting were changed so that the stutterwarp effect was discovered next week, then the game could have been 2030AD with minimal modifications; although 2300's technology will probably be laughably primitive by 2030.
Internal Consistency
The history of interstellar colonisation is just absurd. Stutterwarp ships can travel light years per day and have been relatively common for 150 years, yet humanity has only explored out to a distance of about 30ly. This is not even because there are so many systems that can be reached within this region: stutterwarp trips must be less than 7.7ly, so there are relatively few accessible systems. Even worse is that there is an implacably hostile starfaring species just two systems beyond an established human colony (i.e. several days travel), and yet it remained entirely unknown. Even worse, that species has been starfaring for 150 years before humanity, but never reached Earth for no apparent reason.
Extreme Coincidences
Humanity has encountered six intelligent species. Two are starfaring, one was 10000 years ago, and another was on the verge of becoming so when contacted. As noted above the Kafers have had stutterwarp drives for 300 years. This is just unbelievably unlikely to occur. There is no reason for all these species to be at about the same level of technology now, at least in the available background. Furthermore, starfarers have been active for millions of years in our region of space, and yet none has left even the slightest trace in the solar system. It seems unlikely that GDW even considered any of this to be a problem. It is a problem for an ostensibly realistic game.
Imaginative Scope
Perhaps the problem underlying all of the above is that the imaginative scope of the game is so small. The setting seems to have been constructed to be cosy and (Kafer war aside) quite dull. Certainly there is little trace of science-fictional sense-of-wonder, especially not that hard-sf thrill that the future might actually be this way


Despite these shortcomings, we still liked 2300AD, mostly because it was actually trying to be the game that we wanted. The aliens were among the best-conceived in any role-playing game that we had seen, and some of the colony worlds (especially Aurore, a tidally-locked moon of a brown dwarf) were similarly interesting. And then there was that massive Kafer assault on the French Arm that was so brilliantly outlined by Invasion, "Lone Wolf" and "Three Blind Mice" (one thing that catches the attention of many role-players is a big impressive war, especially one on just the right scale, and with such cool ships blowing each other up!). Dave and I therefore decided that it might be relatively easy to retrofit the setting with more advanced technologies and a more realistic backstory. This soon became our 2310AD project (Dave and I always seem to seize on grandiose schemes; the other members of our role-playing network have always been much more sensible).

Ad Astra

After a lot of thought and a little actual writing, it became apparent that we wanted to change so much that 2310 would be an undertaking of enormous scope. Moreover, some of the flaws in the 2300 were so deeply embedded in the background. In particular, it seemed unlikely that we could rationalise the Kafer menace, which we really wanted to preserve. We finally decided that we wanted to modify so much of the background that we might as well start from scratch. This would give us complete freedom, as well as avoid any legal problems with GDW should we eventually go commercial. Thus, in the early summer of 1994, Ad Astra was born. The initial sketch of the Ad Astra future history was developed over the course of a single afternoon in that summer. The new game looked nothing like either 2300AD or 2310 save for the approximate date of the 'current day', the interstellar colonies, and the presence of a few alien species.

The future of Ad Astra

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