Star*Drive was a campaign setting put out for Alternity, TSR's ambitious but clumsy science-fiction RPG. Much in the way that Greyhawk is considered the standard world for Dungeons & Dragons, Star*Drive attempted to do the same for Alternity. They incorporated all of the player races, cybernetics, mutations, equipment, and psionics mentioned in the Player's Handbook, and put them against a Space Opera backdrop.
While Star*Drive won't win any points for being particularly original or avant garde, it nonetheless a well-done and entertaining setting. Star*Drive has humanity using the titular engine to burst out of the Solar System and begin interplanetary colonization. They accomplish this with the fraal, a race of The Greys with psychic abilities (which humans are also starting to develop).
Humans being what they are, peace didn't last. The First Galactic War erupts, with the increasingly wealthy and powerful colonies on one side, and the ossified Terran Empire on the other. The colonies win, known space is divided into a number of different stellar nations. An uneasy peace lasts for a while, until the Second Galactic War breaks out. Bigger, badder, and longer than the first, the Second Galactic War devolves into a shifting three-way conflict between the various political alliances.
While the stellar nations blast each other into oblivion, the distant colony regions (the Far Reach, the Orion Frontier, and especially the Verge) must struggle to survive without any help from their parent nations. Fending off pirates, rebels, aliens, and each other, some of these colonies manage to prosper, though they rarely extend beyond a single solar system.
The Second Galactic War ends in a stalemate, once the participants realize they can no longer afford to keep fighting. A new UN-type force (emphasis on force) called the Galactic Concord works to keep the peace. The surviving nations are now looking to the abandoned frontiers, sometimes reasserting their dominance, sometimes just trying to reconnect. Needless to say, the reaction in the frontier worlds is decidedly mixed.
This is where the players come in. Most of the game's books are devoted to the frontier region known as the Verge, a chaotic place with all the action one expects from a classic space opera.
Tropes in this setting:
- The Alliance: Both the Freespace Alliance and the Profit Confederation fall under this category, though they spent a lot of time fighting each other as well as fighting the Expansion Pentad.
- Apocalypse How: A class 0, though on a stellar scale. Both Galactic Wars saw the destruction of inhabited planets.
- Asteroid Miners: Common throughout the setting, especially in the Verge. It's risky (duh), but profitable enough that people will do it.
- Bio-Augmentation: Players have the options to play genetically altered mutant characters. Genetic engineering is extremely popular in the powerful Thuldan Empire, and could almost be its hat. The otherwise tolerant Union of Sol, however, is hostile to mutants. Mutant travelers in the Union are in danger of being lynched, at least in remote parts of the nation. Some of this antipathy stems from the Empire and Sol being the oldest rivals in the setting (it probably didn't help that the triggering event for GW 2 was mutant riots on the Sol world of Tau Ceti).
- Bug War: The fight with the klicks in the Verge. The klicks, in addition to being aggressively hostile and quite dangerous, are the only alien race known to have created its own version of faster-than-light travel. There could be much more where they came from.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Series I biochemistry is the familar water-drinking oxygen-breathers. Everything else belongs to Series II-VI (or Series VII for unique exceptions), each more extremophilic than the last; Series V and VI are silicon-based.
- Casual Interstellar Travel: Relatively casual. A stardrive jump always takes exactly five days (presumably of Earth time). The distance covered by the jump depends on the power of the engine.
- Cloning Blues: Averted. Clones make up a big percentage of the population in the Borealis Republic, and apparently suffer no health problems or social stigma. For some reason, no one else uses clones. One gets the feeling that TSR just shoehorned in the concept of human clones for the sake of completion, and forgot about it afterwards.
- Cult Colony: Some of the stellar nations started out this way. The Hatire Community began as people seeking a simpler life away from the dense cities of Earth (though that was originally more of a philosophical stance than a religious one; the religion came later). The Orlamu Theocracy started with people seeking the Divine Unconscious in drivespace. Some even consider the Thuldan Empire to have begun as a Cult Colony, the cult revolving around the personal vision of founder Gregor Kent.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Cybernetics are an accepted part of life outside of the Hatire Community. However, overuse of some cybernetic enhancements (typically black market in origin), can turn the bearer into a cykotek. Cykoteks start out Ax-Crazy, but they gradually calm down and become more reasonable. Even in this stage though, they're much more machine than human.
- Death World: Quasi-averted. While many of the planets in the Verge are quite hostile (Corazon de Fuega, Yellow Sky, and others), human technology ameliorates the worst of the effects. Living there isn't easy, but can be done. Given enough time, the Death World aspects can be completely overcome. Naria, the capital of the Nariac Domain stellar nation, started out as a Death World, but is now one of the most developed planets in Old Space.
- Dirty Communists: The Nariac Domain. Dirty cybernetic space communists, to be specific.
- Dystopia: VoidCorp. Some would argue that the Hatire Community, Thuldan Empire, Nariac Domain, and Rigunmor Star Consortium fulfill this trope. There's also Lucullus, in the Verge.
- Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Or at least the geographic center of known space.
- The Empire: The Thuldan Empire is the most obvious example, though the entire Expansion Pentad could be considered as such. There's also the defunct Terran Empire.
- Expy: VoidCorp is described as having split off from an old Earth megacorporation called MicroTel. You do the math. The nation of Austrin-Ontis Unlimited might also be an expy for the Deep South, or at least for Texas, consisting of gun-crazy space cowboys. Their flag even looks like a puke green Confederate flag.
- Fan of the Past: This pretty much describes the entire culture of the Union of Sol. There are fans for just about every place and era in pre-stellar human history, even going so far as to dress and act in accordance with the customs of this time. This is only done within reason of course; people reenacting the height of Aztec culture wouldn't start practicing human sacrifice. It's more like an elaborate cosplay/RP on a multi-planetary scale.
- Forever War: The Second Galactic War lasted over a century, and still rages in the Verge system of Algemron. Algemron boasted not one, but two habitable planets, making it a shoo-in for colonization. Austrin-Ontis Unlimited took the humid world of Galvin, while the Thuldans settled the cooler planet of Alitar. The two planets ended up fighting during the Second Galactic War, and continued long after the conflict's end. Neither one is getting all that much support from their parent nations. Galvin is winning, but considering its stretched supply lines, this may not last much longer.
- The Greys
- The fraal, a race of psychic aliens that can't find its homeworld. They set up shop in our solar system for quite a while before revealing themselves in the 21st century. This turned out to be a good thing, since a combination of human and fraal technology created the faster-than-light Star Drive, enabling both races to expand throughout the cosmos.
- There's also the thaal, who for the duration of the canonical story remain unknown to humanity. The similarity in name to the fraal is not a coincidence — they're also referred to as dark fraal, and are the leaders of the Exeat, the interstellar polity that is invading the Verge with the above-mentioned klick Bug War.
- Humans Are Special: Largely averted. Humans are unquestionably the dominant species, but they owe a good deal of their success to fraal technology. Most aliens are clients of human nations (the seshayans to VoidCorp, the mechalus to Rigunmor, the weren to the Orlamu, and the t'sa to the Galactic Concord). That said, there are always those nasty klicks out in the Verge...
- Innocent Aliens: The primitive seshayans, enslaved en masse by the human stellar nation of VoidCorp, can be seen as falling into this category.
- Mega-Corp: This describes a number of stellar nations: Austrin-Ontis Unlimited, the Starmech Collective, the Rigunmor Star Consortium, and VoidCorp. Especially VoidCorp (which is strongly hinted to be a descendent of Microsoft). The nation of Insight may also qualify. Some of the defunct nations that did not survive the Second Galactic War may also fulfill this trope, like Sothvec Industries and CHOAM, Inc., though very little is known about them. Although for some of those it is more a matter of old trappings than a practical matter. Austrin-Ontis, for example, acts somewhat more like a republic, with voters being called "shareholders" and the president being "the CEO", than a true Mega-Corp.
- The Men in Black: The gardhyi are an alien version, with a stat block very similar to Dark Matter's MIBs.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: A common attitude in Old Space.
- Neglectful Precursors: Some of these inspired the Hatire religion, though there's nothing suggesting that this was due to a deliberate attempt on the precursors' part.
- No Campaign for the Wicked: In Polyhedron magazine #139, the RPGA (Role Playing Game Association) declared that its "Living Verge" campaign would not allow Player Characters who possessed the moral attitudes Despicable or Unscrupulous or the trait Amoral. In other words, they weren't allowed to be the Star*Drive version of evil.
- Penal Colony: The prison planet of Lucullus, in the Verge. A former Union of Sol penal colony, it overthrew the remnant of the colonial government during the Second Galactic War.
- Planet of Hats: Most of the Stellar Nations.
- Austrin-Ontis Unlimited: Texas... In Spaaaaaace!
- Borealis Republic: Ivory tower academics and philosophers.
- Hatire Community: Space Amish... sort of.
- Insight: The nation of the Playful Hacker, with a bit of The Cracker thrown in to give it an edge.
- Nariac Domain: Dirty Communists with an interest in cybernetics.
- Orion League: Basically The Alliance in national form. Democratic, peaceful, and diverse, they seem to be the most "normal" nation.
- Orlamu Theocracy: For Science!! Probably the least theocratic theocracy in existence, they're actually pretty similar to the Orion League, except for their religion. Orlamus who do not follow the state-sanctioned faith still enjoy most of the rights everyone else has, though the highest levels of government are closed to them.
- Rigunmor Star Consortium: Super capitalists, whose government is literally a plutocracy. Nothing could really please Ayn Rand, but the Rigunmors would have probably come close.
- StarMech Collective: The Hedonist on a national scale. Their constant parties are enabled by (presumably) non-sentient robot servants.
- Thuldan Empire: The Empire, but with mutants.
- Union of Sol: In a weird way, their entire gimmick is Planet of Hats. The Solars are in love with the cultures of old Earth, so many of them dress and act like the peoples of time past (though only within reason; they still use modern technology). Going through Earth, you could walk through reasonable facsimiles of ancient Egypt, Tang China, the colonial United States, and '60s San Francisco, among others.
- VoidCorp: Mega-Corp.
- Precursor Killers: The Stoneburners and Glassmakers were a faction of, respectively evil and good, precursors. The Stoneburners wiped out the Glassmakers in a massive war, but were themselves mostly killed off by the war. At which point, the I'krl, a servant race of the Stoneburners, took them out and became the new Big Bad of the setting.
- Resurrective Immortality: Thuldan warbeasts, unleashed on a number of planets during the Second Galactic War. Kill one and it reforms itself within hours, more resistant to whatever killed it. Some of them have been around for more than a century, and are impervious to anything short of weapons of mass destruction.
- Silicon-Based Life: Dungeon magazine #68 adventure "Convergence". The alien race known as the Rakon are "silicates": their biology is based on silicon instead of carbon.
- Series V and VI biochemistries are both silicon-based, and both evolved in the Lucullus system because they're the only ones that can survive in its trisolar hell.
- Single-Biome Planet: Often averted. Most worlds feature a mix of biomes, though there are some planets that are predominantly desert or ice. Then again, we've got some of those in the real Solar System too, so it's arguably justified.
- Space Amish: The Hatire religion, as well as the Hatire Community, the stellar nation in which it was founded. They're kind of a mild example, however; they use most of the same technology as everyone else, and are a significant power. The only technology they really despise is cybernetics, and even then the book implies that they tolerate it if used for medical purposes. Genetic modification is another sore spot with them, though they don't seem as concerned with it. This might be because their closest cultural and political ally is the mutation-happy Thuldan Empire, which has many devout Hatires in its population.
- Starfish Aliens: Literally, in the form of the ke'kekt of Antigua. The hostile klicks provide another example, though more spidery.
- Transplanted Humans: Inverted, and with aliens instead of humans. The independent seshayans of the planet Grith claim that the spirits lifted them from their homeworld before VoidCorp enslaved their race. Thus, VoidCorp has no legal right to the Grith seshayans. This isn't quite true, however; the Grith seshayans actually escaped VoidCorp captivity through conventional means, and cooked up the story to avoid returning to VoidCorp control. Only the oldest Grith seshayans know about this; the young ones are brought up with the lie, and genuinely believe it.
- Wretched Hive: The prison planet of Lucullus, in the Verge. A former Union of Sol penal colony, it overthrew the remnant of the colonial government during the Second Galactic War. Now its divided between the Jamaican Syndicate, the Picts, the Free Trade Guild, Union Penates, the Supervisors, and the Techno Spiders.