Flat Black is intended for adventures and campaigns which involve the PCs coming as [often cosmopolitan] outsiders to a [series of] exotic planets with peculiar and parochial human societies, there striving to cope with the bizarre social and political oddities as they pursue some goal. The whole interstellar framework of history, institutions, and FTL travel is designed to justify the the existence and continued peculiarity of a sufficient variety of societies, while allowing groups of PCs to travel between them with a variety of goals and missions that are not rendered either impossible or redundant by powerful and well-staffed institutions.
The first version of a hand-out for players, distributed as a slim sheaf of photocopied pages in 1987, relied on the star system and society generators in ForeSight to imply the variety of planets, and concentrated on setting universals. Only about 760 of its 9,900 words were devoted to general remarks about the colonies. Perhaps it was fateful that the first campaign was a considerable success and involved the PCs working as Imperial servants — that led to a good deal of attention falling on the environment and society of Imperial habitats and the organisation of and conditions of service with the Empire. The second campaign was for PCs who were colonials, but was less influential.
Then there have been a lot of discussions of Flat Black over the decades, with players and with other readers, which have driven me to revise weaknesses and to commit to specific justifications for setting features. These have for one reason or another concentrated overwhelmingly on setting universals and the history that justifies them. The result is that I have written an awful lot of detail about the globalisation of society and culture on Earth in the next 350 years, the technical limitations of the just-as-fast-as-light technology by which the primary colonies were founded, the motivations of colonists in the Age of Colonisation, the economics of emigration, the economics of immigration, the effects of the destruction of Earth on the colonies in the Age of Isolation, collapse, recovery, and economic growth, the economics of the invention of the Eichberer drive, the behaviour of the pirates in the Age of Piracy, the ethics of the Fleet’s conduct in the Formation Wars, the plausibility of those wars ending in a stalemate, the negotiations at the Lunar Conference and the details and plausibility of the failure of the Treaty of Luna, Imperial revenues, Imperial budget expenditures, political factions in the Senate, the demography of Imperial Direct Jurisdiction, the pay and pensions of Imperial servants, promotion rates in the Imperial Service, Imperial security, childhood and schools in IDJ, the numbers and age structure of the Imperial Council, the names and reigns of the presidents of the Imperial Council, the organisation of Imperial Marines units, marines training, promotion, and after-care, the proportion of time that marines spend in different kinds of operations, Imperial decorations and honours….
I suppose that sounds like a complaint. But I have enjoyed the process, and I am grateful for the care and effort that my interlocutors have lavished on this pet of mine. And I am pleased with, perhaps inordinately proud of, what I have created through this process.
On the other hand, it doesn’t all belong in a description of the setting for actual players. Not only is there way too much of it, it is the wrong sort of stuff. Detail draws attention, and nearly all this detail is in the interstellar framework, whereas I want the players’ attention focussed on the colonies. I want players who read their guide to get the impression that Flat Black consists of a trillion people living on a thousand worlds, not of fifty million people staffing an interstellar regime.
So my resolution for the new version I am working on is to say a lot more about the colonies, and include actual examples, and to say a lot less about history, the Empire, and interstellar affairs. The killing floor will be knee-deep in darlings. I comfort myself with the thought that there may one day be a Flat Black: player’s guide to Imperial service in which some of them are restored to life in new, perfect bodies.