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Flat Black is a setting for science fiction role-playing games. Within that gamut it is specialised for rationalised planetary romance, which is to say for adventures in the vein of Jack Vance’s Oikumene, Gaean Reach, and Alastor Cluster stories, Poul Anderson’s Polesotechnic League material, Ursula Le Guin’s Hainish cycle…. In the typical campaign or adventure the player characters will be comparatively cosmopolitan people who come for a purpose to an isolated planet that has a strange, quirky, or even bizarre society and culture. The planet’s social oddities will be at first an enigma and an obstacle to the PCs’ goals: to achieve their objective they will have to engage with the locals, learn about their customs, and figure out how to circumvent or even exploit them.

Parties of PCs in Flat Black may be explorers, adventure journalists, charity workers, spies, clandestine operators, private effectuators, field researchers for Lonely Universe Tourist Guide, antiques dealers, art thieves, corporate troubleshooters, travelling salesfolk, mercenary cadre, revolutionary agitators, or even Imperial agents: whomever they are, where-ever they go, whatever their job it is to do, nothing ever goes smooth.

Players’ Introduction to Flat Black (2019 version)


A brief overview of the setting in 9,700 words, including thumbnail sketches of twenty colonies.

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Proleptic reminders

Flat Black is not space opera

Most adventures take place on planets, a few in orbital habitats; those that do occur in ships seldom involve commanding them in combat. The adventures usually involve conflict on a personal scale and for modest stakes, not the grand stakes, huge scale, and interstellar scope of space opera.

Flat Black is not hard SF

This is for SF adventure, not scientific idea stories; technical details will seldom be important. Apart form the faster-than-light Eichberger drive and the planet-wrecking CT bomb the technology is all pretty realistic (as far as I know), but that’s not a matter of hard SF purity: it’s so that the technology will be limited.

Flat Black is not soft SF

In one sense “soft SF” means sociological idea stories and implies realistic psychology and sociology, like hard SF of the soft sciences. Flat Black is for SF adventure, and it doesn’t matter if the bizarre societies are based on dodgy economics and sociology, so long as they aren’t unfathomable.

In the other sense “soft SF” implies transporters, replicators, force fields, body sleeving, psionics, time travel, “scanners”, “stunners” and so on, and is the opposite of “hard SF”. Flat Black omits those things, not because they are unrealistic but because they tend to overwhelm everything else. Flat Black should be about sneaking around, fighting, verbal fencing, and trying to figure out what the crazy locals are up to — not using a replicator and a transporter to circumvent difficulties.

Flat Black is not futurism

In no way is Flat Black meant to be a projection of trends or a prediction of developments. It’s not likely at all. It’s a set-up for planetary romance adventures.

Flat Black is not a utopia

The land of adventure is turbulent, uncomfortable, and unjust, leaving much for the player characters to do. In particular, the Empire is not the good guys. They aren’t the bad guys either, but the Empire is is undemocratic and decidedly illiberal, harsh and high-handed, smug and culturally insensitive, and it is simply not interested in a lot of issues that the PCs might care about. It keeps the spaceways open and conquerors in their pens, but even PCs who work for the Empire won’t want to leave everything to the Empire.

Copyright © 2019 by Brett Evill