Space to fill

What if the real stars were the friends we made along the way? No? That’s a weirdly self-centered way to look at the universe? Okay, fine.

We did a bit of galaxy-building for The Stars Are Fire in preparation for our Sunday night games finally getting offline. Fuck all this technology, let’s play some sci-fi! We’re using their Revel setting, a near-future… well 300 years in the future, that’s pretty near… version of our solar system. Minus Earth.

The Revel is intended as a relatively hard-science background. The caveat is that RPGs just can’t (unless they’re played by astrophysicists) be entirely hard in their science because…. that shit is both difficult and sitting around doing physics problems isn’t as fun as just… y’know, playing a roleplaying game for a lark with your mates.

“Arjun, are you in,? We need an off-tank”

But choosing to forgo the “well, it’s space magic” of free-wheeling space operas or the utopian fully automated luxury gay space communism where we have to go deep into space to find problems because everything is rad at home, is a cool premise. With only a few hand-wavy conceits* and everything else sort of up to you to flesh out the details.

“You don’t need to know why all surfaces in this universe seem to have the same gravity and nobody floats, even for fun.”

It is a Cypher System game, however, so digging into the setting’s particulars isn’t to come up with dense-yet-granular rules. The play should still be easy, breezy and mostly player driven. But it’ll definitely help if we’re all singing from the same hymn book. Free and fast is one thing, wildly inconsistent is another and would make it difficult for players to find their feet.

We could extrapolate some things from the setting background, but where thinsg aren’t explicitly stated, we can decide for ourselves. Gravity is a good thing to explore: how do we replicate the gravity we need for… aaaaaw jeeeez, lots of stuff. Like having bones or taking a decent shit. Is it just taken care of by some as yet uninvented technique, like Star *Franchise*? Or are we going hardish like the Expanse? And how do we overcome the long term effects of life in low gravity?

Hard, serious, thought-provoking science fiction.

So we got together and talked a bit about what we wanted from the setting and how to incorporate some of our favourite ideas about the future. In general if it is possible or near-possible today we assumed that it would be probable in the future, and that Moore’s Law would apply: everything could be made faster, smaller and cheaper. Hopefully these touchstones help ground** our characters in this exciting new space frontier.

Rolland brought up Terraforming and Resource Scarcity, both of which fit very very well into this setting. On one hand, humanity has access to more metal than ever before; like a ridiculous amount. But good fucking luck trying to get a pork chop. The humanity of the era has survived our self-made environmental catastrophes and flourished into space, but that doesn’t mean we have an abundance of certain things: Primarily, places to live and grow food or just walk around and stuff. That scarcity and the inequality with which it is handled is a fantastic source of drama/conflict.

Ben liked taking 3D printer further than we currently have, in that we could also 3D-print biological material. Combining this with an increased ability to modify our DNA on the fly and we have quite a bit of flexibility with our bodies re: replacement parts.

Greg added the idea of nanobot body modification or enhancement, especially on an ad hoc basis, where you could be physically altered to suit a particular task. He also brought up self-replicating machines which is cool because in the setting humanity has taken a small step back from the precipice of The Singularity and is sort of hemming and hawing about how to proceed. So in the setting, we definitely could, but should we? If you’ve been paying attention to humanity, you can probably guess.

Noe brought up the place of Animals and what it might mean to have animals in space. For sure, we’d have dragged dogs*** and cats into space with us, but wild animals? How would a hunter-gatherer-turned-herder species deal with an absence of animals?

Yeah, maybe.

We talked about a couple of other things that we did NOT want to see: We didn’t want to see the same silly sci-fi tropes of all spaceships being aerodynamic and floating through space on the same horizontal plane, making noises. We didn’t want there two be two immovably and perennially warring factions. And no-one wanted to be trapped in a suit all the time.

Some of the cliches are avoided by the setting. There are no aliens, so there are no aliens with slightly different noses. There are no Planet Californias because there are no settled planets outside our solar system, yet. No limitless power-sources – although I’ve got to think nuclear is pretty useful, no laser projectiles that travel slower than an arrow, no tractor beams, no replicants, why would there be replicants? I never said there was. Crazy that you brought that up.

Even though Rolland and Noe were keen on them, as a GM I don’t want to deal with much in the way of time weirdness. I know it is a feature of space travel – mind bogglingly so, but difficult time stuff is something that would make my brain and the game grind to a halt. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t weird time things, but it’s not going to be a persistent part of the background because I just can’t do that even passing justice.

I also didn’t want to have to deal with background radiation. So right off the bat, that’s just something we’ve overcome. Fuck you, cancer. Massive doses of radiation are still bad news, but for the most part we do fine against radiation.

One of the biggest things to come out of the discussion was that we wanted variation and I think that fits in well with the setting of the Revel. There are Cybernetics and Bio-engineering, but not everywhere. There are brain-to-machine interfaces, but not universally. Personality/Engram replication, but it’s very rare, maybe secret. Likewise with the various forms of artificial gravity; spin gravity on O’Neill stations and spun up asteroid settlements, thrust gravity on flip-and-burn long range vessels, magnetic boots for extra-ship shenanigans and emergencies, magic floors… we were fine with having different types. I think this suits the fairly chaotic nature of the Revel well; there’s incredible wealth and technological research, but at the same time, there is poverty and squalor in an extremely unforgiving environment. Times have changed, humans less so.

Solid Light, Quantum Entanglement, Railguns, Invisibility, and Dyson Structures, powered melee weapons and what space combat might look like (explosions are NOT a good idea) came up.

I also asked everyone to extrapolate some existing technology out a few hundred years and what was great about that, but also what sucked about it.****

Rolland imagined some sort of Neural interface that enhanced our ability to empathize and interact with each other, but the downside being that it wasn’t very private and it tended to reveal more about the user than they really wanted.

Ben imagined a free fast mass transit network – incredibly efficient, except when it didn’t work and then you are stranded. It happens so often that the mass transit compartments are stocked with basic survival supplies.

Greg imagined a vast library of 3D printer templates and patterns, anything you could think of, practically! It’s just that it is completely unregulated and the quality of the finished product can be widely variable, if not downright dangerous.

Noe imagined that our grasp of genetic manipulation was incredible, but while we went around “fixing” problems (like dying of radiation sickness, or being shortsighted, or genetic predispositions that would prematurely end your life) it is also introducing new types of mutations into the human genome, that are maybe a little harder to deal with.

I’d like to get Bryce’s input on all this stuff, especially a great technological leap forward that comes with a downside, because I’m going to incorporate all of them into the setting good and bad, except one. One of these ideas is just going to be an unqualified success: no downside, just wins. We did it, yay humanity!

Okay, cool, I’m going to go try to figure out what happens if you fire a railgun on an O’Neill ring.

* 1) FTL is possible, it’s just very difficult and rare. 2) The Moon is full of non-human-constructed tunnels with… magic items? 3) Earth is inaccessible for reasons. Nothing in and nothing out.

** Pun 100% intended.

*** To be fair, dogs were in space before we were, so maybe they’re leading us. Tsygan and Dezik were the first animals to survive a spaceflight because they didn’t attempt the orbit that did for poor old Laika. Cats treat gravity and time as if they were optional features of existence anyway.

**** I hope I’m doing these justice, they were all great ideas.

2 Comments on “Space to fill

  1. – How about everyone is incredibly adept at playing all sorts of musical instruments and singing, performing etc… but then everyone just copies each other and theres not much originality so these amazing guitar solos done by different people are just meh you’ve heard it a hundred times before,
    – There’s no money and people barter trade everything (labor, material and products) …but a central authority still gets to put you in jail if they think you ripped someone off (and the judgement is always highly subjective), and it’s more unfair than trading something everyone agrees has a value. People start using x to trade with but then x becomes illegal to own.
    – A popular drug that gives you focus, joy and a sense of well being has no negative side-effects, is non habit forming, and does no long term physical harm…but it only lasts 3 minutes and the body becomes so highly tolerant after only a few doses that most people need to take an incredible amount to feel anything, which makes it harder to get an adequate amount
    – AI to human interaction has become so advanced it’s replaced the need for humans to interact with other humans to avoid loneliness, and many consider robots and intelligent machines to be “alive”… but it is becoming clear the bots intend to one day leave the solar system and humanity completely behind, and is increasingly bored and frustrated with having to talk to people all the time, and everyone is trying to figure out if they can, or even should, “fix” it (ah the self induced prime directive eh?)
    Last one
    – Everyone is carrying a side arm that is so advanced it makes the worst shooter an absolute beast of a marksman… but bullets are incredibly expensive and hard to find so the public’s paranoia isn’t “are they packing heat?” it’s “do they have bullets for their gun?”