The Warring Ages, Part 1

The Warring Ages, Part 1

by Tim Bancroft

Note that the general timeline can be found in the Universe guide. Most of these articles were published on the Warlord article site, so we’re reproducing them here in a more condense format.

Antares undergoes periodic collapses and rebuilds where all its gates disappear. There have been many before the panhuman ages, the starfaring K’Kwii and the remnant Askar warriors both being survivors of once-great civilisations from previous ages.  The Antares as we know it is currently in its 7th Age – there have been six collapses whilst panhumanity has been connected.

Some of these previous ages have been relatively peaceful and prosperous, whilst others have been stricken with continual war between factions and empires. Here, we expand upon one of the most worrying and fractious times in Antares history: the Warring Ages, the 5th Age of PanHumanity on Antares.

You can start from the overview, below, or jump straight to one of the following sections:

Fifth Age Overview  

The Fourth Collapse 

The glory that was the Xon Empire collapses at the end of the Fourth Age and, once more, the worlds of Antares are isolated from each other. Settled worlds, whether human or alien, regress to a state of barbarism, most likely due to the loss of the frequent inter-system traffic that was a feature of the Xon Empire. Without the trade in advanced technology, knowledge and off-world resources, many previously hale planetary civilisations succumb to natural disasters, disease or war and nothing but ruin remains.

The Fourth Collapse becomes the most devastating of all the collapses so far.

Despite the widespread disruption, the more advanced systems try to eke out what resources they have, hoping for a quick reconnection. Ultimately, many are disappointed: the local time to the gates regeneration is especially uncertain and the variance between each system particularly high. What records survive suggest that the elapsed time for a gate reconnection is about fourteen hundred local years, a period often referred to by many as ‘The Long Centuries’. 

Isori, one of the few worlds to maintain a high degree of technical capability throughout this time, was not reconnected until local year 709 after disconnection – but around 1250 years into the Fifth Age.

The Fifth Age

The Fifth Age proved to be an era of unremitting warfare that the worlds of the dominant federation – the Ascendency – refer to as The Time of a Thousand Suns. The name refers to the numerous empires that rose and fell during a period on unrelenting warfare and political instability. The Fifth Age is unique in so far as it is the only age during which the technological culture of Antarean space made no real progress and in many cases even declined. 

Given this fractured and tumultuous history, the timeline has had to be amalgamated from different sources, though the Isorian records dominate much of the later surviving records. It appears, however, that the Fifth Age lasted just over 2000 years before Antares collapsed once more. 

For a Seventh Age student’s perspective, key to an understanding of the Fifth Age is the time for inter-system travel. For a G2 star system, trading ships might take 9 days to travel from the gate horizon to habitable planets and even combat ships would take half that time as opposed to the two days a Seventh Age ship would take. In contrast, Antares surface travel is not as badly affected due to the limitations of Antares and Obureg, with inter-gate travel time on Antares surface only increasing by around 50%, depending on whether the ship was military or a bulk trader.

For those looking at using the mapping system to create their own, 5th Age Antarean maps and campaigns, travel between subhexes is somewhat longre than in the 7th Age. A Concord cruise liner, for example, takes 6 hours subjective time, around 1.4 days real time, whilst a 5th Age cruise liner (not that there were many!) would take around 10 hours subjective, and 2.3 days elapsed. A Concord military vessel takes around 5 hours per subhex (1.1 days elapsed) whilst the average, high-end 5th Age equivalent would take 7.5 hours subjective (1.8 elapsed) or longer.

Transit time, of course, remains the same as in the 7th Age: Antares itself does not change!

The Fifth Collapse

Observers on Isori record a trans-dimensional shadow cast from the Isorian system gate immediately before its collapse. This is identified as a null-space intrusion into primary space-time. Disruption to nano-based technologies produces a cascade of system failures that almost destroys Isori and its heavily-populated space stations around Isor. The most calamitous outcomes was the death of all but a handful of Isorian NuHu – the only survivors were those in orbitals who quarantined themselves early. Elsewhere, on average the Fifth Collapse was particularly long, around 2500 years.

Fifth Age People & Civilisations

Conflict and Scarcity

The 4th Collapse was harsh to panhumans almost everywhere. Though it lasted only hundreds of years for many, those systems which were not well-established or which lost the import of advanced goods and resources found themselves rapidly sinking into barbarism and losing their technological advantages. A few of the more advanced systems managed to retain their technology but in many others energy weapons were replaced by mag weapons, mag was replaced by chemical or pressure weapons, and on the harsher worlds – those that were not fully terraformed – humanity regressed to barbarism, reliant on more primitive electricity or even regressed further back to become reliant on nature, water and wind for power.

Even fossil fuels were hard to come by on those worlds that lacked the millions of years of local evolution. More than any other age, the Fourth Age collapse drove home how many settled worlds had been terraformed in some fashion, not just by panhumanity by in earlier ages, whether by a previous, long-lost civilisation or even the Gatebuilders.  On many worlds, what technology was retained became precious items, carefully maintained or jury-rigged by those engineers that survived; on some, the engineers, or those who controlled the remaining, precious resources, grew to be an elite. 

Fleets of spaceships were mothballed, the systems having little need or appetite for interstellar travel, focusing on transports to maintain the mines on moons, asteroids and similar facilities around their system. Orbitals were abandoned as the lack of maintenance made them hazardous, though it was rumoured a few of the largest with access to mineral-rich planets were able to survive the long centuries of isolation.

For others, it was the lack of knowledge, training and equipment that forced their regression. This was  especially keen where databanks collapsed due to lack of power or the knowledge to keep them in operation. Across the many worlds of panhumanity it was a long, dark struggle, where technology regressed and local feudalism grew. Those few living on moons and orbitals who were still able to retain spaceflight and maintain their habitats considered themselves lucky, but even they found themselves regressing after equipment – perhaps inevitably – irretrievably broke.  Such systems kept a close eye on the gate horizon, ever hoping that they would be reconnected to Antares, but never knowing where or when the gate would appear. 

Survivors and Mutatations

Mutations and adaptations become a feature of this collapse and led to much of the variety in panhuman morphs we see in the 7th Age. The Krasz are said to have evolved – or been evolved – during this time, some pointing out that the prehistoric planet of Kras was the home of a Xon Empire research and genetics laboratory.  Being isolated for several thousand years helped the mutation and growth of the rough-and-ready Krasz culture though was not conducive to the frail NuHu! There is also strong evidence to suggest that the 4th Collapse was when the Algoryn were forced to mutate (or consciously adapt) to cope with the output from their twin suns, Enbris and Onebris. It appears the Gyohn appeared during the 4th Collapse as a result of an infection created by the NuHu of the successor Xon states: it was intended to create hardier soldiers but failed to get a firm foothold before the collapse. The isolation fixed the adaptation into the Gyohn genes across the planet, though it appears the original infection was deliberately engineered to have a short life.  

The only panhumans who, as a whole, appeared to suffer less than others were the NuHu and the Boromites. The children of Borom, with typical stoicism and forbearance, settled in the systems in which they found themselves and exploited all the resources they could mine. But even the Boromites were hard-pushed to develop their technology beyond that of the 4th Age. Like others, they were deprived of vital elements and manufacturing facilities and focused on maintaining what ships, habitats and technology they had carried with them.

The NuHu found their power enhanced by the lack of technology around them. Though in many places they suffered without immersion in a nanosphere, their expansive memory capacity and ability to see into a problem meant they became the keepers of knowledge. Even when retained or heralded as advisors, those worlds with a clan of NuHu considered themselves fortunate, even when the NuHu were the real power behind the ruling dynasties.

The Reopening – the Fight for Survival

Gates were slowly reopened at the start of the 5th Age, as if Antares were and Obureg were struggling to reopen the gates.  No-one knows exactly which systems were first reopened as, with no nearby neighbours, those worlds lacking spaceflight would not be discovered until sometime later.

Of course, amongst the millions of systems connected to Antares, not all regressed. However, those comparatively few systems retaining spaceflight found themselves forced to make long journeys to find gates and even they were desperate to find resources and people. Almost inevitably, the systems who had regressed found themselves easy prey to the starfarers: unable to prevent the exploitation of their system and unable to resist the military might of the off-worlders, the locals were forced into servitude.  In a pattern that was to be repeated in subsequent ages, those worlds who did not have the wherewithal to pay for off-world goods had to trade what little they had – chiefly people, much like the Ferals of the 7th Age.

A few of the more civilised worlds tried to establish mutually-beneficial political relationships, but with the backward worlds so far behind, it was often a one-side relationship. Within a century, even the benevolent systems were becoming stretched in defending their less-fortunate members and adopted a mutual-defence model that insisted on all resources – even panhuman – being used in the defence of the small empires that they had become. In many cases the more advanced empires were led by NuHu enclaves or families who still dreamt of re-establishing the dominance they had experienced in the Xon Times.

But co-operation between such powerful centres of civilisation was minimal and expansion, with the lack of civilisation, slowed. It seemed that Antares was focusing on merely reconnecting those systems that contained panhuman life, not those systems that might have plentiful resources.

So the battle between the empires for control of resources and personnel intensified, becoming increasingly bitter for over 600 years. Countless minor empires and fiefdoms rose and fell, each based largely on a feudal model of subservience. The more benevolent empires included numerous protectorates, the Gethdereh Trade Federation, the Alzanthan Alliance (a precursor to the 6th Age Alzanthan Federation), and the NuHu-dominated League of Ha’Ruul; the notably more harsh empires included the Kerodh Despotate, the Kingdom of Ehren-Tze led by the tyrant NuHu family of the same name, many minor empires – Senn, Idess and Yohm being the most barbaric – and the military dictatorship disguised as the Saviours of Teveron.

In addition, there were dozens of raider fleets that plagued on benevolent and despotic empire alike.  These existed by constantly moving, never staying in a system more than the time required to make repairs, and even resorting to node piracy – the waylaying and capture of shipping at low-velocity nodes such as planetary destinations of gate horizons.

Why Empire & Feudalism?

As mentioned in in the last article, Fifth Age intra-system travel is much slower than that of the 7th Age. Even the reasonably well-maintained ships were limited (if that is the word!) to usable thrusts of 6G. Further, without the extensive shields and drive fields of the Isorian drive, the ships were a little smaller than 7th Age ships. 

For a G2 star like Old Sol, trading ships might take 9 days to travel from the gate horizon to habitable planets and even combat ships at between 12G to 18G would take half that time. On the Antarean surface, a 5th Age cruise liner (not that there were many!) would take around 10 hours subjective, and 2.3 days elapsed to travel from one subhex to another – a little less than average gate distance – whilst a high-end 5th Age military ship would take 7.5 hours subjective (1.8 days elapsed). Added to this was the transit time (time within the gate) which, in the Warring Age had a tendency to be longer than in other ages, with 2-3 days not being uncommon.

It is thought the length Transit time was due to the strange way that Obureg behaved at the end of the Xon Times.

This lengthy period of at least two to three weeks from an inner planet to another in the closest system imposed a communications limit on co-ordination.* The lack of an IMTel, incompatible technology and often no nanosphere meant communications and control over a distance was severely limited. Hence this was a time of much devolved responsibility, where pledges of aid – or pacts of trust – were given in return for fealty, taxes and the provision of military assets when needed.

And in the Warring Ages, military assets were in great demand.

* 9-18 days intra-system travel, plus a total of 4 days in transit within the two gates, plus 2 days travel between the gates – if adjacent!

Return of the Vorl

The first Vorl were noticed around 610 years after the gates began to reappear. Initially, they were widely scattered around Antares and were regarded as little more than a nuisance – nothing like the threat they had been at the end of the Xon Times. Those who encountered them noticed a difference: the Vorl had taken a step back in technology and weaponry. Whether this regression was a conscious decisions or was due to the same problems the humans experienced was unknown.

During the 7th century the individual Vorl Ordo expanded in their usual fashion, picking on an alien or panhuman world, razing it of its inhabitants, and then taking time to establish a dependent clade of the Ordo. Where they encountered each other, which was rare, it was notable that co-operation was distinctly lacking, perhaps – again conjecture – due to the pressing shortage of resources. 

The Ordo continued their expansion and by the mid 8th century the Vorl were starting to form larger concentrations, either due to a stabilisation of resources or because their internal conflicts had produced a dominant Ordo. Their attacks on the human empires began to be more focused, requiring a larger military commitment to defend and forcing the merge of the smaller empires. For two hundred years the human political landscape was one of consolidation.

Only then did the Vorl redouble their efforts. Surviving accounts suggest that a swathe of newly connected systems were Vorl controlled. These, coupled with the gradual domination of a single Ordo – the Third Claws – added significant military resources and the less advanced or poorly protected human worlds fell.

The pressure began to fragment and by the mid-tenth century, the various protectorates, empires, kingdoms and alliances. Worlds broke away from one federation for the promise of protection by another – only to find their new masters strip their planet of resources ‘for the war against the Vorl’ and send the conscripts to a front line. Except the front lines were often against other panhumans!

The Vorl continued their expansion until, round about 1100, a vast swathe of panhuman worlds across the equatorial regions decided to form the defensive confederation, the Ascendency. It is only now that the Vorl are kept in check and whilst the Ascendency sometimes wanes, in general its growth continues for over 600 years. In 1700, the Ascendency switches to a total war footing, turning its alliance into a military dictatorship, and by 1800 the Vorl find themselves pushed back. The dominance of the Third Claws Ordo collapsed and, once more, inter-Ordo conflict arose.

Ironically, it could be said it was the Vorl who brought stability to the panhuman worlds of Antares in the Warring Age. The stability was not to last very long: shortly after the Ascendency attacked the most advanced civilisation on Antares, the Isori, the Nexus suddenly collapsed!

Icohex void and focused geopolitical map of 5th Age Antares c.1100-1350

Fifth Age Early Factions

Key to the understanding of the Fifth Age is that there are no factions like those in the Sixth (Trisapient) and Seventh (IMTel) Ages: there is no PanHuman Concord, no Isorian Senatex, no NuXon Empire and no coherent presence of aliens such as the Vorl Extents. Even the vast alliance of the Sixth Age’s Human League had no real match in the Fifth Age, though the merchants and manufacturing centres of Alzantha were highly active as a trading hub. A way to picture the empires of later Fifth Age would be to imagine numerous smaller empires like the Algoryn Prosperate. Even the largest, the Ascendency, never exceeded more than 30,000 active member systems (though it had as many Vorl-devastated worlds).

5th Age Faction Overview

The Fifth Age can be seen as being comprised of a number of different phases in which the number of factions varied widely: 

  • firstly, a period of expansion and acquisition that saw the rise and fall of many Vorl and panhuman Ordo, empires and fiefdoms; 
  • secondly, with the gates becoming more numerous, an age of internecine warfare leading to The Time of Treachery, fewer stable factions and an increase in isolated systems or small, 5-10 system alliances, and the more rapid expansion of the Ordo; 
  • the third stage is the rise of the Ascendancy, its initial successes against the Vorl and a consolidation amongst the other, smaller empires – this culminates with the Ascendency’s first attack on Isor; 
  • the fourth stage sees the resurgence of the Vorl and the near-collapse of the Ascendency with the corresponding fragmentation of the other, smaller empires into pockets of resistance – though the Vorl are now weaker than in previous centuries; and 
  • the last stage is triggered by the merge of NuHu talent that leads to the final overthrow of the Vorl, the rapid expansion of the Ascendency and its associated systems, and the final attack on Isor by the Ascendancy that triggers the Fifth Collapse. 
The Predecessor Factions

In the early stages of the Fifth Age, there was a broad spread of empires, fiefdoms, federations and leagues supporting political, military and mercantile alliances. As ever with panhuman culture during times of need, the governing tone of these varied from loose co-ordination to over-zealous dominance. 

The more benevolent empires included numerous protectorates, the Gethdereh Trade Federation, the Alzanthan Alliance (a precursor to the 6th Age Alzanthan Federation) and the NuHu-dominated League of Ha’Ruul; the notably more harsh empires included the Kerodh Despotate, the Kingdom of Ehren-Tze led by the tyrant NuHu family of the same name, many minor empires – Senn, Idess and Yohm being the most barbaric – and the military dictatorship disguised as the Saviours of Teveron which was known to use a few legions of Algoryn. 

In addition, there were dozens of raider fleets and smaller squadrons. During the first millennium of the Fifth Age these are a plague on trade and the smaller systems, ravaging worlds and merchant shipping for goods, ships and personnel. These are first opposed by the Gethdereh Trade Federation (GTF) but the patterns of patrolled routes and convoys spread amongst other, smaller empires and federations forcing the raider fleets to either break up and attack the weaker systems or to consolidate and face down the navy of one of the panhuman systems or Vorl Ordo.

A typical Spill fiefdom of the early years might comprise 5 to 50 systems in close proximity to one another. The prize systems along the borders of each would suffer constant raids, whilst their capitals and core systems – typically at the centre of the nation’s area – would be heavily protected. The Kingdom of Ehren-Tze, for example, was ruled by a small NuHu family who had originally fled the Ha’Ruul after being exiled and grew steadily to encompass around 120 fully-occupied and dependent systems before encountering a powerful Vorl Ordo. Ehren-Tze was famed for the experiments carried out on its oppressed, ‘feral’ worlds, the strict, caste-laden culture it imposed on those it conquered, and soma-technology inspired fanaticism in its warriors. 

In a similar vein, and a prime example of the rise and fall of the Spill empires, is the tale of the Kerodh Despotate. Its policy was one of harsh suppression to those who resisted its attempts at annexation, but instead of imposing ruling families from afar, it provided ‘Guidance Councils’ that gave advice to a powerful, local rule. In practice, the Guidance Council’s ‘advice’ were commands and the local leaders quickly found themselves extremely unpopular with their citizens. The Despotate then hired the disenfranchised and disillusioned locals as soldiers in its armed forces, arming them with cheap, easily-produced but outdated technology and relying on numbers rather than technology or tactics. 

Kerodh grew to around 380 systems – one of the largest empires – before finding itself fighting the legions of the Saviours of Teveron on its western flank, the almost impossible-to-conquer Ha’Ruul worlds to the east, and two new Vorl Ordo expanding to its north and south.  Whilst the Ha’Ruul could be ignored and the eastern war be allowed to become a stalemate, the disciplined Teveron military slowly gnawed away on its western flank and the Vorl cut a swathe through the Despotate’s claims. Unable to face up to its defensive responsibilities, the Despotate fractured into several, smaller fiefdoms, each of which could focus on one enemy.

Alzantha had retained much technology but was resource-poor by the time it reconnected during the Fifth Age. Mimicing the approach used by the Gethdereh Trade Federation approach (see below), it established a protectorate focused on ensuring free trade across a wide swathe of the Antarean surface. With its loose commitments, this alliance attracted many independent systems and small (5-10 system) empires. Whilst the trade protectorate benefitted the Alzanthan trade hub enormously, the commitments proved too loose to survive the Vorl resurgence and the Time of Treachery. Alzantha’s glory faded from around 950 onwards until it eventually took up with the Ascendency and once more became the influential trading and manufacturing centre it was capable of being – though this time in support of the Ascendency’s military might. In the Sixth Age, Alzantha was to become one of the Trisapient power-brokers.

What’s Next?

In the next article we run through the rise of the trade federation of Gethdereh, the militaristic imperium of Teveron, and the influential technological elite forming the League of Ha-Ruul – all founder members of the Ascendancy.

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