The Puppeteer's technological civilisation has existed for at least a 500,000 years, and quite possibly much longer. During this time, they have developed a large trading empire. Because they are motivated by fear for their survival, which overrides every other consideration, the Puppeteer Government has evolved into a dangerous manipulative force. They would not think twice about meddling with the affairs of other species, up to and including extermination of that species, if they thought there survival was at risk.
Puppeteers have two different and nearly opposite political factions: the Conservatives and the Experimentalists. The Conservatives are unimaginative and cautious, believing that the Puppeteers must remain unknown by other alien races to maintain their safety.
The Experimentalists usually take power when some crisis threatens the Puppeteer race, such as the advance of the Kzinti empire, or the discovery of the galactic core explosion. The Conservatives maintain their rule longer than the Experimentalists, who are usually deposed once they have acted and eliminated the threat.
The two factions have the safety of the Puppeteer race in mind, but have different solutions, one believing in noninterference, the other total control. The factions constantly bicker as to the guidance of the race's destiny.
The Puppeteer herd instinct of survival and protection influences every aspect of their lives. This "turn from danger" instinct leads them to the view that leadership is best provided from the rear, the area of greatest safety and wisdom. The supreme executive of Puppeteer government is called the Hindmost, or "he-who-leads-from-behind". Hindmost is also a term provided to the leader of any Puppeteer group or expedition. The current Hindmost has a strong personality, unlike the majority of the Puppeteer race, who act strongly only when they perceive a danger that can be avoided and have a means to force aliens under their command to act. This is typically the case with manic-depressive Puppeteer emissaries. The Hindmost's actions are often unpredictable.
It is theorised by Known Space scientists that the greatest problem faced by any advancing civilisation is not economics, health, or safety, but heat. Heat is produced by any suffienciently industrialised race in great amounts, and eventually the heat threatens the ecology of the planet, which in turn threatens the lives of everything on the world. Expansion to other systems is not a solution since the heat problems are merely carried from world to world.
The Puppeteers faced this dilemma early in their star-faring history. A Conservative faction ruled at the time, and they were forced to hear insane proposals from the Experimentalists. The Conservatives relinquished control of the seat of government to the other party. The Puppeteer homeworld was moved away from its sun to dissipate the heat, and four farming worlds were terraformed, seeded, and placed in convenient orbits.
The Puppeteer planet had escaped its danger. The Experimentalists were immediately removed from power by the Conservatives, who maintained control for centuries. However, the Experimentalists were still a strong force in Puppeteer government and took control for brief periods to expand the commerical interests of their financial empire. The General Products Corporation was formed by the Experimentalists to allow the Puppeteers control over the advance of alien species and as a medium for initial contact.
The Kzinti threat brought the Experimentalists back to power after six centuries. It was their monumental egotism that influenced the development of both mankind and the Kzinti Patriachy during the Man-Kzin Wars. The Experimentalists ensured that the humans would be able to buy an Outsider hyperdrive shunt, ensuring military disaster for the Kzinti and killing our generations of aggressive Kzinti warriors; this left more tractable Kzinti to breed and control the government.
The General Products Corporation gained enormous profit from trade with Known Space. It was at this point that the Experimentalists began directly manipulating the destiny of man.
The history of mankind is littered with near-misses and escapes that could easily have spelled disaster for the entire species. Nuclear war was a constant threat for many years, while pollution, corruption, and economic difficulties were capable of laying waste to the population in ways more subtle but equally absolute. How has humankind avoided disaster, well into the future of Known Space? According to the Puppeteers, the answer is luck.
Luck is, apparently, the stongest and most desirable trait in humans. The Puppeteers, under the Experimentalist faction, began to systematically breed humans for luck through bribery and blackmail of the officials in charge of Earth's fertility laws, created to control Earth's overpopulation. The law limited the people of Earth to one child. People with a genetic defect or aberrant behaviour, however, are allowed none at all. The Birthright Lotteries however, allowed winners to have multiple children.
The Puppeteer Experimentalists believed that the decendents of winners of the lottery would inheret genetic luck. They selected the sixth generation Lottery winners for their experiment in the hopes that their luck would assist on Nessus, the Puppeteer who led the first expedition to the Ringworld and perhaps shield him from danger.
The experiment was a resounding failure, at least from the Puppeteer's point of view.
The Puppeteers cautiously studied the Kzinti for hundreds of years. They concluded that the Kzinti were a dangerous species, who would attempt to take the Puppeteer homeworld and make slaves of the inhabitants if given the opportunity. Though there was little possibility for the relatively unsophisticated Kzinti even learning the location of the Puppeteer homeworld, let alone accopmlishing such a goal, the Puppeteers were unwilling to accept the risk. Instead, they created a plan to exterminate the entire Kzinti race and were ready to begin implementation when the first Man-Kzin war provided an alternate solution.
The new stragegy involved a great deal of debate over the threat of the Kzinti. Experimentalists factions said that the Kzinti might provide a useful buffer against possible attacks from other species. Conservative factions argued that the species should be exterminated simply because they were too dangerous. The Experimentalists were coming into power at the time of the debates and their arguements prevailed. The result was the decision to conduct a selective breeding experiment that would produce Kzinti who would be more docile and open to negotiations rather than fighting.
The Kzinti ships were better armed and more maneuverable than the Earth fusion ramships, but the Puppeteers realised that giving humans superior technology would lead to Kzinti defeat and result in the deaths of most of the first generation of warriors from the Kzinti populace. The Puppeteers used a starseed lure to draw an Outsider ship into Human Space, where the mysterious race sold the mayor of the planet We Made It the secret of the Quantum I hyperdrive shunt (on credit).
The effect was dramatic. The Kzinti ships could never hope to outdistance or catch a hyperdrive-equipped vessel. The war immediately turned against them and they were pushed back, planet by planet. As predicted by the Puppeteers, the most fierce and dangerous Kzinti were killed, assuring their stock would not pass on their aggressive genes to the next generation.
Defeat was not a concept the Kzinti were familiar with, and revenge provided them a strong motivation. The Kzinti re-staged their attack against the human-held planets in the Second Man-Kzin War. Of course, the humans had learned their hard lesson. General Products Hulls and thrusters significantly improved the human defensive fleet. Number Two Hulls were often converted from their original use as survey ships to attack vessels, while the huge Number Three Hulls were made into battle cruisers equipped with reaction-less thrusters, fusion drives, and the Quantum I Hyperdirve. The Kzinti ran straight into Earth's new warships and quickly collapsed. Several of the Kzinti-held worlds were annexed and the slave populations released.
The Kzniti were not willing to let another defeat go unpunished. They attacked again and were repulsed more and more easily. After the fourth attack they and finally gave up, the empire they had built over thousands of years was drastically reduced.
In each attack over the centuries, Kzin had lost two-thirds of its fighting population and was unable to recover the original fighting spirit. The population of the non-sentient females had been untouched by the ravages of the war and the Kzinti's numbers grew again, aggressive, but not dangerous enough for the Puppeteers to feel the race required extermination.
The Kzinti reluctantly opened diplomatic relations with other species. Speaker-to-Animals, later known as Chmee was one of these "Diplomats".
The Known Space, the stars within the core of the galaxy are packed together very closely. When a star flares or goes nova, there is a chance that other stars will also be affected, flaring or going nova too, causing a chain reaction. The Puppeteers hired Beowulf Shaeffer, a human scout pilot, to use the first Quantaum II Hyperdrive ship to investigate the the galactic core.
Shaeffer discovered that the core had undergone a cataclysmic explosion, and the radiation wavefront was going to reach Known Space in 20,000 years. The Puppeteers immediately panicked, in fear of the "impending" disaster. The Conservative government fell and the Experimentalists came to power, and at once orchestrated a extragalactic migration.
They bought a drive from the Outsiders capable of moving the Puppeteer worlds through space at near light speed, rather than risk hyperspace. The five worlds are heading towards the Lesser Magellanic Cloud some 200,000 light years away. Artificial suns keep the four farming worlds' biospheres alive, while the last world is solely lit and warmed by the lights of streets and the waste heat industry and one trillion puppeteers.
A few humans have been allowed to settle on one of the farming worlds. Conservatives use the humans to investigate dangerous regions in the path of the migration.
The Puppeteers vanished entirely from Known Space, with the exception of a handful of courageously insane, mainly left behind to handle unfinished business and to keep an eye on the developments in Known Space.
The Experimentalists belive they have chosen the safest possible method of travel. Flying five worlds through space is dangerous.
Once the exodus was under way, the Experimentalists were deposed and the Conservatives took power. The Conservatives want nothing more to do with the Ringworld. Experimentalist factions have their doubts; they believe it will take approximately 87,000 years relative time (180,000) light years to make the journey. The Fleet isn't efficient enough to maintain itself that long without outside resources. The Experimentalists believe that the Puppeteers will have to migrate to a new home, and the Ringworld would be an excellent choice. The Ringworld could even serve as a refugee ship.
The Experimentalists are also determined to learn who built the Ringworld. They feel it would be important for them to know if there is a need to defend the Puppeteer race against the Ringworld Engineers.
The Outsiders sold the Puppeteers the location of the Ringworld in 1733 A.D. Searching for a way to expand trade at no risk, the Experimentalists immediately sent robotic probes to determine the feasibility of an expedition.
The Puppeteers mistook the City Builders to be the Ringworld's engineers and become suddenly afraid to encounter so powerful a species. The Puppeteers examined the Ringworld's superconductor material and created a technophytic bacterium to seed the Ringworld and destroy the superconductor. The strategy was to follow the probes with trading ships and come to the profitable rescue of the City Builders. However, the Puppeteers soon realised that the City Builders could not possibly have created the Ringworld, and discovered several Pak artifacts. The Puppeteers feared the Pak above nearly all other threats.
The Conservatives took control of the government and the Ringworld project was abandoned. The Experimentalists regained power under the threat of Kzinti expansion and decided that a manned expedition to the Ringworld might reveal treasures worth the risk (especially if they could convince others to take the risk for them). When the decision was made, the plague had reduced the Ringworld to barbarism, destroying thousands of years of civilization.
Sources Consulted: The Guide to Larry Niven's Ringworld by Kevin Stein