Precursors
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Basic Information

Precursors are a speculative fiction trope that functions as a narrative device and sometimes even appears as a character. The Precursors refers to one or more intelligent species that predates mankind. In ancient times, the precursors spread throughout the universe, possibly seeded the galaxy with life, and then vanished.

Species which have managed most of the above, except for the vanishing bit, tend to be sufficiently advanced aliens or a Elder Race.

Naturally enough, they also created any precursor artifacts - whether for good, evil or mystery. How long ago the precursors vanished will determine whether or not such artifacts are remarkable merely by their survival or not … and of course, what the precursors intended them to be used for, and what they are actually used for may be two very different things.

An outside possibility may also be that the precursors are still around but have transformed into a state in which they are no longer recognised - perhaps by regression into primitives or by uploading their consciousness into computers. An existing involved species - sufficiently advanced or otherwise - may have a secret group of precursors under their care somewhere1.

It should also be noted that "we" can be our own precursors - setting a campaign after-the-end allows a fallen civilization of the same species to have created all of the mysteries and miracles required of precursors. This is standard drills for most fantasy settings (if their precursors weren't human, they were often some other playable species like elves) but would also apply to our ancestors … or at least, such of them as squatted in the ruins left behind by the Romans (or other fallen nations) wondering what manner of gods had made these wonders.

Multiple layers of precursors are also acceptable - a campaign in which the characters are "Dark Age" primitives wondering at the ruins of the Roman Empire can also have Atlantean or Valusian mysteries buried a little deeper.

Precursor types:

Abusive Precursors
Ancient Astronauts
Benevolent Precursors
Elder Race
Energy Beings
Neglectful Precursors
Sufficiently Advanced Aliens
Reptilian Humanoids are also a solid choice … not to mention even less human things.

What happened to them:

Ascend To A Higher Plane Of Existence
Gotterdammerung

Things associated with Precursors:

Artifact
FTL
Genetic Engineering
Imported Alien Phlebotinum
Stellar Megastructure
Lost Technology
MacGuffin
Panspermia
Sufficiently Advanced Technology
Wormhole

Sources

Bibliography

Game and Story Use

  • Precursors make a great source of plot devices and magic items. They can have all sorts of superscience technology or magic and powers, capable of doing anything. Since it's so advanced, the PCs will be unable to duplicate or repair such devices, and they won't be available for purchase at any old Ye Olde Magick Shoppe. As a result, the GM has the ability to fine-tune how much uberpower is available in the campaign.
    • On the other hand, some care needs be taken to keep things fun for the players. Some players really enjoy the scavenger hunt of gathering up precursor artifacts, while others may be annoyed that the best toys are so tightly controlled by the GM.
  • As the Battlestar Galactica reboot pointed out, all of this has happened before and will happen again - precursors can be used to point up a cyclical nature to reality.
  • The superiority of precursors is not often subverted - consider, however, a precursor empire that serves the role of the historical Chinese Empire: initially it is a daunting, overwhelming power that all of the emergent powers must (literally) kow-tow to and treats them with contempt. It has, however, stagnated and fails to account for the rise of the emergent powers until, after a few centuries after contact the former precursors are now on the back foot to powers that they have alienated in the past, eventually to the point that they eventually become, essentially, a vassal state. A Sino-Japanese conflict arc with one of their own former vassals optional.
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