When it comes to science-fiction roleplaying games, Traveller is granddaddy of them all, and it has it’s own setting (the Third Imperium) that’s been around from day one. Outside role-playing (but supported by several different games over the years) you have universes such as Star Wars, Star Trek and, more recently, The Expanse. But what other “universes” are there out there for adventuring, what kinds of stories might they inspire, and what RPG systems suit their particular style of story telling.
The Hyperion Cantos is a series of science fiction novels by Dan Simmons, set in the 29th Century: Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, later supplemented by Endymion, The Rise of Endymion, and a number of short stories set in the same universe. The first two books are set on the planet Hyperion, the home of the Time Tombs (mysterious monuments which appear to be travelling backwards in time) and their guardian, the cyborg killing machine called The Shrike, while the second and subsequent books are set in the wider universe.
History-wise, Old Earth was destroyed long ago by the Big Mistake, the creation of a black hole which slowly consumed the Earth, with mankind evacuating during the Hegira to colonize other worlds and form the Hegemony of Man.
The Hegemony is a society of over 150 billion humans across more than 200 worlds, ruled by a legislature consisting of the All Thing (a consensus-based public forum accessible to all members of the Hegemony via neural implants), the Senate, and a Senate CEO who fills the executive role. Communication is in real-time across the entire Hegemony, thanks to Fatline Transponders and the WorldWeb, and travel between worlds uses a network of Farcaster Portals which join two points in spacetime together. Farcasters can be of almost any size, from the 200m high “military grade” portals allowing trains or even rivers to move between worlds, to those no bigger than a doorway that allow single buildings to be spread out across the entire Hegemony. Starships equipped with a Hawking Drive can be used, but carry a relativistic “time debt”, so most real space travel is conducted in cryogenic suspension.
Fatlines and Farcasters are made possible by The Void Which Binds, more commonly known as Planck Space - an invisible and intangible domain which permeates the known universe; as its name suggests, it is a plane which unifies all existence, unlimited by space and time. While its precise nature is poorly understood, it is used by various entities in the universe for travel, communication and even habitation.
A major player in the Hegemony is the TechnoCore, a conglomerate of Artificial Intelligences that have achieved self-sentience and act as an organization, society and race ostensibly allied with Humans. There are also the Ousters; groups of latter-day Humans who have colonized the fringes of known space, adapting through extreme genetic modification to the point where some are barely considered human any more.
Then there are the Templars, the Brotherhood of the Muir, a quasi-religious organization, independent culture and ethnic group among the human societies of the Hyperion universe that can trace their heritage back to the Hegira. They play an important role as a force influencing mankind’s destiny, and are also the builders of the kilometre-long Treeships - massive living organisms harvested from the island of Hokkaido on God’s Grove and then made spaceworthy through the use of atmospheric containment fields created by the serpentine Ergs.
Finally, we have the Catholic Church (yes, that one) which has survived the Hegira and become for many the de facto religion of the Hegemony, and the Church of the Final Atonement or Church of the Shrike, a religion founded on the worship of the inhuman killing machine on Hyperion, which features heavily in prophecies of the Fall and salvation of humanity.
The last two books are set 274 years after the first two, at a time when the Farcaster network has fallen, taking civilization on most planets and the Hegemony as a whole along with it. The known worlds are now ruled by the Catholic Church and their military forces, the Pax. The church has developed new technologies which make resurrection possible for anyone infected with the parasitic organism known as the Cruciform. Senior church members, the Pope in particular, are virtually immortal.
Developed in this period, the Gideon Drive is a starship drive that allows for instantaneous travel between two points in space. It functions similarly to Farcaster technology, making use of The Void Which Binds. However, unlike farcasting, use of the Gideon Drive by a starship is invariably, violently fatal for human passengers, as the forces and acceleration generated by the device will pulverize organs and tissue. As such, only passenger vessels with Pax Resurrection Creches are equipped with Gideon Drive technology.
Outside of the characters in the books and their adventures, little is made of the universe as a whole, although the stories are driven by a complex interplay between the various factions, which I won’t go into here because… spoilers.
At the time of the first books, the Hegemony is on the verge of war with the Ousters and maintains an uneasy truce with the TechnoCore; plenty of opportunity for combat and diplomacy driven campaigns. There are also numerous Outback worlds which have no fatline or farcaster installations and can be reached only by relativistic travel (Hyperion is one of them) that have many mysteries to explore; it’s entirely possible these worlds will have more Builder artefacts, or perhaps be part of the hidden interstellar tunnel system known as the Labyrinthine Worlds which may still be functional despite the loss of the Farcasters in later years.
The River Tethys is a massive interplanetary waterway comprised of many sections located on different worlds and connected via farcaster. It, along with the Grand Concourse, is considered one of the greatest tourist attractions in the Hegemony. Sailing the Tethys might be considered an adventure in itself.
Aside from becoming involved in the Hyperion/Endymion stories themselves, or the events surrounding them, the Hyperion universe is ripe for any of the kinds of adventures you can build with most science fiction RPG’s. As with the books, it’s the interplay of the various factions and technologies that create the sense off wonder and allow for some truly off-the-wall, science-fantasy-like stories to be told.
Cypher’s array of character types and abilities can easily cover the kinds of characters we see in the Hyperion universe, and it’s more way-out abilities would be suited to Ouster characters. If players wanted to play particular roles, such as a Catholic Priest infected with the Cruciform, there may need to be some bending of the rules to allow for that without requiring it as a focus - paying extra XP to acquire the Regenerate and/or Restore Life abilities as a long-term benefit, for example.
Given Cortex Prime’s extreme flexibility in terms of characteristics and game mechanisms, Hyperion characters would be straightforward to build given reasonable choices for the mods used. Values and Relationships should almost certainly play a part, since Hyperion characters are most often driven by their personality and relationships than anything else. Powers and/or Abilities could be added to account for any Ouster characters.
As a distinctly narrative game system/toolkit, FATE (like Cortex) can be moulded to support the types of stories you want to tell. No special tweaks to the basic rules really need be made.
Before we start, I’m going to try to avoid spoilers by giving only background information and not storylines from the books, but if something sneaks in: I’m sorry, I tried. ↩︎