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Old 09-15-2013, 06:24 PM   #1
Seneschal's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Pula, Istria, Croatia
Default Nanofabricators, DRM and Forced Scarcity

So, I've decided to pause a TL10-11 sci-fi campaign that I was GM-ing; it had been written long ago, without player input or any real goal, so now when we dusted it off and tried to populate it with PCs, it didn't hold up. Namely, it was difficult to envision who the characters could be, what they had access to, and what the relationships between the factions were; every planet/habitat seemed to be floating in a separate reality from the rest, and it was difficult to derive any tension when the world felt decentralized and tenuously connected. I'm currently rewriting it to be less broad and hodge-podge.

A particularly problematic element were nanofabricators, which were introduced due to pure cool-factor (and because biotech/nanotech were supposed to be TL11 while everything else was TL10), which kinda reduced all space trade to automated bulk shipping of raw materials. I didn't consider this a problem at the time, since I thought that information, ideas, media, and art becoming the only valuable commodities might make for an interesting setting.

But the players decided to play a crew of space pirates.

I told them that, if we didn't change technological assumptions, their space piracy operation would look more like "bank robbers/art thieves/kidnappers that also happen to have a ship," and they seemed fine with it. But now that the setting is getting a full rewrite, I asked them how we could build it from the ground-up with space piracy in mind (without slipping into retro-space-opera).

One player suggested nightmarish digital rights management: most things can be fabricated in one's home, but large companies (or a single consortium) control all blueprints and artificially inflate prices. Blueprints are licensed, heavily encrypted, cannot be copied, are limited to a number of uses, tied to a device or an account, and regularly check with home office to make sure the user isn't up to anything funny. Maybe they aren't ever really downloaded - they either go to a dedicated terminal on the nanofab, or delete themselves after fabrication is done. (I think you can guess what recent piece of tech the player was inspired by.)

So space pirates would be of the copyright-infringing variety this time. They'd use ships to intercept tight-beam data transfers, copy blueprints, programs, music, invids, slinks or whatever, get the data to a kind of Port Royal for cracking, and resell it as "hassle-free" data (or give it away for free if they get their funding from some kind of infosocialist government).

So, how many holes can you people poke through this? Is such a system sustainable? Are there easier ways of doing it (both stealing and protecting data)? What kind of adventures would you give to such a party? What would the ramifications be on society? I'd greatly appreciate any help I can get.
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