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Old 10-31-2015, 02:37 PM   #1
Arith Winterfell
 
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Default Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

I’m working on a sci-fi setting but find myself having trouble constructing a clear idea of the setting in my mind. I generally have a sense of it being Tech Level 10 or maybe late TL 9 sci-fi. The central element I want to go after is a setting with various factions who are all engaged in intrigue centered on various individuals who have natural psionic powers. Part of my inspiration for this is things like Vampire: The Masquerade/Vampire: The Requiem in the sense that it focuses on intrigue among “more than average human” characters who live in the shadows of secrecy influencing the mundane peoples world in secret.

Part of my problem I think is that I’m having trouble visualizing the feel of a TL 10 world and what an average person’s life would be like.

Secondly I’m trying to figure out how to construct the sense of intrigue and plotting among various factions as I largely have my experience with RPGs coming from things like D&D and haven’t really played in games like VtM/VtR in style, but am intrigued by the ideas but feel unsure how to approach designing my campaign in sci-fi and GURPS.

[Added Note]

Later in the post, I shift away from sci-fi, toward Victorian steampunk style setting with other elements remaining the same largely.

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Old 10-31-2015, 02:42 PM   #2
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Default Re: Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

Are the psionic individuals the leaders of the factions? If so, you need to work out what they can do, why they need minions, and issues what they are contending over. A political game needs, first of all, a clear idea of the causes of its politics.
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Old 10-31-2015, 02:57 PM   #3
Arith Winterfell
 
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Default Re: Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

Hm. While I think some of them are faction leaders (of what factions I'm still trying to come up with). I imagine many of them are actually struggling pawns in a game of various minions. Again I'm having trouble coming up designing factions and individuals in part because I'm having trouble visualizing the sci-fi world itself. Unfortunately its sort of a bit of writers block and I'm drawing a blank. : /
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Old 10-31-2015, 03:13 PM   #4
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Default Re: Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

For the feel of things an important factor are among other things:

How Transhuman the setting is, that is are there Intelligent AIs everywhere? Are people playing with human genes to build variant races and such?

How Cybertech it is? Is cyberware everyday thing people use to become better or just advanced prosthetics?

Is there immortality/very long lifespan? As in life extension drugs/rejuvenation and similar. And if there are how common/cheap/safe they are?

Can you take backups of yourself? As in your memories/skills and such that can then be easily transplanted somewhere.

Is there FTL travel and/or FTL communication? If there is how easy/cheap are they? IF you have ftl travel but no communication you will end up with a different things than if you have both. Also the different types of FTL travel cause totally different feels.

Is there gravitic manipulation? and again how easy/cheap if there is?

Is the overall world a bright utopia like like the Federation in Star Trek or Dysopian like cyberpunk

And so on, there are a lot of questions you need to ask yourself and based on the answers you can start to form the feel.

If you want a possible suitable hard science, but transhuman background then Transhuman space makes a good TL 9/10 setting with fairly much explanation of how the world seems to people living there. It could also be fairly easily adapted to secret struggle setting by having different factions controlling the major corporations and countries, it is a suitably balcanised setting to allow for many such factions to be placed.
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Old 10-31-2015, 06:42 PM   #5
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Default Re: Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

Well privacy will be a huge issue because of the internet, even in TL8, its hard to keep secrets as one camera shot from a phone to straight to the internet is a few clicks away, in TL10, I would image everyone have glasses that are as powerful as today PCs, they can just look, say "Take shot and sent to "insert social site or chat" and there you go, exposed. If you are in a busy street, everyone would be looking at you, pointing and saying "Take shot and sent to "insert social site or chat", and telling their friends to stare or get multiple views by the streamers that are streaming their daily lives just to see the psionics live in action. There could also be sneeky spy drone, high quality satellite imagery with various types of sights like X-Ray and infra-red, and easy tracking through mobile devices.

Assuming the PCs are the psionics, they will have enemies ranging from watchers that want the latest news of your actions to hunters that want to capture them and learn their powers, possibly doing illegal and fatal experiments on them and their appearance roll would be high because you are so exposed on the internet.
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Old 10-31-2015, 07:24 PM   #6
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

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Originally Posted by Arith Winterfell View Post
Part of my problem I think is that I’m having trouble visualizing the feel of a TL 10 world and what an average person’s life would be like.
What kind of world do you want?

If you want a realistically extrapolated TL 10 setting, then you're going to get something like Transhuman Space, something that is very alien and unfamiliar to your players (and to yourself) due to having a very high delta-W.

Or you can scrap realistic extrapolation and go for something much more familiar, much more recognizable, much lower delta-W, something more like typical written space opera settings (or movie settings), such as the Traveller RPG, Poul Andersen's Flandry/Falkayn/Van Rijn novels and novellas.

Or you can go for retro-tech, with is raising delta-W by going in the opposite direction, e.g. data storage densities is low, a few megabytes per tape casette instad of several gigabytes per tiny flat disc (on a fraction of the amount of cubic millimetres that a tape casette takes up), computing power being scarce, data transfer rates being slow (and you can only make long-distance calls from phone booths - although they might have low-rez video screens) and so forth.

This option also scraps realistic extrapolation, although you can attempt to justify either that or the previous one, through various means. If you want to. Probably (I haven't bothered justifying the retro-tech of my mildly silly space opera setting. It just is, and from its premises everything is internally consistent).



GURPS Space, either 2st or 3rd or 4th (and almost certainly also 1st although I've never read or owned that) Edition, also poses some other questions, that you'll find very useful, regarding the availability of FTL physical travel vs FTL radio, as I touch upon myself in this blog entry (but don't let that deter you from buying GURPS Space - the hardback 4E if you can find it at a good price, as the colour illustrations are unusually nice for a SJ Games publication).

GURPS Space also asks the worldbuilder questions about the abundance or scarcity of solar systems with habitable planets, and travel distances, and a few other important parameters (and it talks about why you might want to have a world featuring only feeble computers - unless that analysis was in GURPS Ultra-Tech).

GURPS Space is highly recommended. Please let me and the others in this thread know if you already own it, or plan on buying it, or won't be getting it, so that we can help you best.
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Old 10-31-2015, 08:03 PM   #7
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

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Originally Posted by weby View Post
Is there gravitic manipulation? and again how easy/cheap if there is?
How difficult is it to get into orbit? That's a question whose importance is almost always underestimated, to an extreme degree, by worldbuilders who aren't schooled in written science fiction (especially script writers for movies and TV shows, and of course those novel writers who can only write soft science fiction).

Today at TL8, it's very, very difficult, very, very expensive, and quite dangerous to get into orbit. And actually not notably improved relative to mid TL7.

Any kind of gravity manipulation, or any kind of reactionless drive, is going to make is a lot easier, a lot cheaper, a lot faster, a lot safer, and a lot less uncomfortable, to get up into orbit.

And I beleive it was Heinlein who said that once you had gotten from the ground up into orbit (especially from sea surface Earth up into low orbit) then congratulations - you're aleady half-way to anywhere.

Does the OP want his setting to have CasualInterplanetaryTravel?

Is intersteller travel casual? In my long blog entry on possibilities, I touch upon the vastly different emergent consequences of different FTL travel dynamics.

I have a personal fondness for settings featuring hibernation technology, e.g. the 1980s movies such as "Outland" and "Alien" (or the novel "Heart of the Comet" by Brin and Benford - not that I think that blog entry of mine is particularly good, to be honest).

Part of the reason is that I tend to see it as an attempt at a using a sub-genre marker (there's a blog entry, or partial blog entry, in there, but I haven't written it yet), on behalf of the writer, especially movie/TV script writers, to signal to the audience that their setting is an aversion of the casualness of Star Wars where you just push the big button and then the ship flies to where you want to go.

"No, no, this is a serious setting, It's gritty and ... stuff. If you want to go somewhere, then that's a serious endavour."

The same method probably works on roleplayers. If they become aware of "hypersleep coffins" or widespread use of "hibernation tech" then they'll get more of a Traveller'ish vibe than a Star Wars/Star Trek vibe. They'll probably understand, on some level, that going places will take time and cost resources. It won't be trivial. It won't be casual.

That their characters will be much more bound to the place they're in, at least in terms of a solar system, and quite possibly even in terms of planet or moon - every time I think about it, in terms of my own space opera setting (the mildly silly one) I realize how much time it takes to get from any planet to any other planet. You're not in a solar system. Rather, you're in a particular place in a solar system. And that place is very particular. You can get anywhere else, sure, but it'll take days or months.



Which probably leads to the biggest question of all: What's the setting's conflict or conflicts about? What is there to fight for?

At higher TLs, if you extrapolate realitically, the answer tends to be "not much".

Iain M. Banks describes it well in "A Few Notes..." how once you get up out of the "gravity well", and if you have the technology to make your machines make more machines for you, then you can break away from the society you came from and set up on your own, fairly easily (that's how the "Culture" came to be, but it's obviously something that happens often in that setting - they're unique or nearly unique for reasons other than that).

So, to use a Danish phrase, if you don't like the smell in the bakery, you can just leave. It's possible to leave. You don't need to be 10 million people to pack up your stuff and leave.

If religious groups think that there's too much atheism, bans on circumcision of males under 18, e.g., then they can leave (and if they manage to take their kids with them, then there's really nothing atheist society can get to get those kids back, or even if atheist society were able to protect the kids, the religious people can just some new kids once they've left the atheist society).

Or if the religious guys win, then the atheists can go off and live somewhere in the Oorth Cloud, on their own, and have the kind of freedoms that they ascribe value to.

So why fight? When you can just part ways and go live in separate corners of the solar system?

There are plenty of asteroids, plenty of hydrogen, plenty of solar influx.

It's non-trivial to find something to actually motivate large groups of people to fight each other (even indirectly with unmanned drones - those still cost resources to build and run), once you get past a certain TL. Unless you go retro-tech.



I've opted for what GURPs terms Limited Super-Science in my mildly silly space opera setting.

It's optimistic about fusion torch drives and anti-matter torch drives, and fusion-pellet drives (and the radiological impact is surprisingly small, meaning many of those drive systems can be used to take off from the surface of a densely populated terrestrial planet), but there is no gravity control, and no reactionless drives. There's no real super Super-Science. To use superheroes as an analogy, you can get something like Spiderman, but no Superman, nor the Fantastic Four.

Anti-matter is also rather expensive to produce. Still thousands of times cheaper, probably even a lot more than thousands, than for us here and now, but that doesn't mean it isn't expensive.

One polity in mysetting, the Lazian Empire, somehow has access to large amounts of AM, probably because they've found a gigantic pre-Interregnum cache of it, or maybe a large facility to produce it, and they use that to expand their sphere of influence drastically, since it's basically cheap for them because they found it, whereas everyone else has to produce it.

Fortunately, for everyone else, they're not a united empire, but rather defined by large clans engaged in perpetual rivalry ("Lazian" comes from one of the seven hills of the ancient megapolis of Rome, not incidentally), so they're not as big a threat as they could be. And they're not even nasty conquerors, either. A bit more interfering than Traveller's Imperium, and anyway in the grand scheme of things it's just one small polity, in a huge galaxy.

So the "theme" of this setting tends to be the recovery of civilization, trying to climb back up the "Tech Level" ladder (of course I don't use GURPS' TL system - it's not as if Sagatafl's TeL system is particularly well defined above the renaissance levels, but it is a bit different) after yet another galaxy-wide "civilisational collapse" into a dark age of barbarism and primitive technology (I think GURPS Space tends to call it "The Long Night", whereas Asimov called it the "interregnum" in his "Foundation" trilogy - which by the way like Star Wars most definitely has no prequels or sequls).

That setting lends itself to a wide variety of adventures, but no grand quests to save the entire universe (let alone a mere galaxy), so the world is really more of a background for intrigues or action-adventuring, as opposed to the much more active "thing" that my Ärth historical fantasy setting is. And it's also Ärth I intend to use for RPGs. The space opera one certainly can be used for that too, but I've built it as a setting for novels and novellas to write, not for interactive fiction use.
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Old 10-31-2015, 08:06 PM   #8
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

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Originally Posted by Arith Winterfell View Post
Part of my problem I think is that I’m having trouble visualizing the feel of a TL 10 world and what an average person’s life would be like.
In terms of "visualization", what visuals do you like? Out of the science fiction novels you've read, or "science fiction" movies or TV shows you've watched, which ones did you find to have inspirational worlds, or inspirational "visuals"?

Star Trek? Star Wars? Space Above and Beyond? Outland? Minority Report? Aliens? Avatar? Startide Rising? Heir to the Empire? Blackcollar? The Stars My Destiation?

Sometimes it's just superficial visual style without importance. But it might still provide a useful clue to what turns your subconscious mind on.
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Old 10-31-2015, 08:12 PM   #9
Arith Winterfell
 
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Default Re: Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

Well I’ve also been seriously considering an alternative option that of leaning toward Victorian steampunk again with elements of hidden supernatural powers and politics similar to a VtM/VtR game. Indeed the social and political conflict seem to be the main “core” of my setting ideas. I was struggling with sci-fi actually, and some of the issues raised here (that of privacy, etc) have helped push me a bit more toward the Victorian flavored steampunk.

Generally however my premises remain the same, secret societies in conflict. This setting would probably be more Victorian flavored rather than historically focused. I suspect I may be using some sci-fi ideas even filtered back through steampunk tech.

The question raised what am I looking for exactly in the setting, and that’s a good question and it might help me then to list some of what I guess you would call setting fragments. Sorta things I see in my head that spark my imagination and creative energy when I think of them. So here is some framework I’ve come up with so far.

1.Victorian industry flavored fantastical Arcology. A self-sufficient layered city with recycling processes and dark industrial lower levels. Built due to biological and chemical warfare devastation due to the Great War that laid waste to the countryside.

2.Public scientific progress vs. Hidden psychic and/or magical secrets. Generally I like the idea of technological progress in the public eye (which “everyone” knows is real and true) vs the secret societies that work from the shadows engaged in a shadow war among themselves using psychic powers or magical powers. I’m not sure which one I want to focus on yet. I know GURPS has an array of magic systems which I could use for such a setting.

2a. An example of the technological process is the use of Aether crystal which can be imprinted with light, leading to tech such as animated photographs (akin to the early silent films, but in a picture frame). Supposedly this type of photography can “capture images of ghosts” but they are vague, and there are vocal skeptics on the matter.

2b. An example of the hidden secrets are said Aether crystals do (if properly treated and prepared) do allow one to perceive spirits. This is of course one of many kept secrets by hidden paranormal groups.

3.The possible presence of supernatural creatures also hidden in the “mundane” world such as vampires, fairies (alien fey creatures), etc.

4.The presence possibly of a Shadow World, which exists alongside the mortal world and is its shadowy double where sinister creatures and reclusive members of secret groups hide.

Really at this point I’m divided as to if I should use just psychic powers OR go full magical route (in some flavor) OR go one step further beyond that and have players who can be vampires etc.
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Old 10-31-2015, 08:25 PM   #10
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Setting building help with intrigue and sci-fi

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Originally Posted by Peter Knutsen View Post
Which probably leads to the biggest question of all: What's the setting's conflict or conflicts about? What is there to fight for?

At higher TLs, if you extrapolate realitically, the answer tends to be "not much".

Iain M. Banks describes it well in "A Few Notes..." how once you get up out of the "gravity well", and if you have the technology to make your machines make more machines for you, then you can break away from the society you came from and set up on your own, fairly easily (that's how the "Culture" came to be, but it's obviously something that happens often in that setting - they're unique or nearly unique for reasons other than that).
Banks' essay is very good, and all of it is somewhat pertinent to the hugely important issue of worldbuilding, but it's a very long text, so I've identified the most important part of it, very roughly something like 8% to 15% of the entire essay, which I'm quoting here:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain M. Banks
The Culture, in its history and its on-going form, is an expression of the idea that the nature of space itself determines the type of civilisations which will thrive there.

The thought processes of a tribe, a clan, a country or a nation-state are essentially two-dimensional, and the nature of their power depends on the same flatness. Territory is all-important; resources, living-space, lines of communication; all are determined by the nature of the plane (that the plane is in fact a sphere is irrelevant here); that surface, and the fact the species concerned are bound to it during their evolution, determines the mind-set of a ground-living species. The mind-set of an aquatic or avian species is, of course, rather different.

Essentially, the contention is that our currently dominant power systems cannot long survive in space; beyond a certain technological level a degree of anarchy is arguably inevitable and anyway preferable.

To survive in space, ships/habitats must be self-sufficient, or very nearly so; the hold of the state (or the corporation) over them therefore becomes tenuous if the desires of the inhabitants conflict significantly with the requirements of the controlling body. On a planet, enclaves can be surrounded, besieged, attacked; the superior forces of a state or corporation - hereafter referred to as hegemonies - will tend to prevail. In space, a break-away movement will be far more difficult to control, especially if significant parts of it are based on ships or mobile habitats. The hostile nature of the vacuum and the technological complexity of life support mechanisms will make such systems vulnerable to outright attack, but that, of course, would risk the total destruction of the ship/habitat, so denying its future economic contribution to whatever entity was attempting to control it.

Outright destruction of rebellious ships or habitats - pour encouragez les autres - of course remains an option for the controlling power, but all the usual rules of uprising realpolitik still apply, especially that concerning the peculiar dialectic of dissent which - simply stated - dictates that in all but the most dedicatedly repressive hegemonies, if in a sizable population there are one hundred rebels, all of whom are then rounded up and killed, the number of rebels present at the end of the day is not zero, and not even one hundred, but two hundred or three hundred or more; an equation based on human nature which seems often to baffle the military and political mind. Rebellion, then (once space-going and space-living become commonplace), becomes easier than it might be on the surface of a planet.

Even so, this is certainly the most vulnerable point in the time-line of the Culture's existence, the point at which it is easiest to argue for things turning out quite differently, as the extent and sophistication of the hegemony's control mechanisms - and its ability and will to repress - battles against the ingenuity, skill, solidarity and bravery of the rebellious ships and habitats, and indeed the assumption here is that this point has been reached before and the hegemony has won... but it is also assumed that - for the reasons given above - that point is bound to come round again, and while the forces of repression need to win every time, the progressive elements need only triumph once.

Concomitant with this is the argument that the nature of life in space - that vulnerability, as mentioned above - would mean that while ships and habitats might more easily become independent from each other and from their legally progenitative hegemonies, their crew - or inhabitants - would always be aware of their reliance on each other, and on the technology which allowed them to live in space. The theory here is that the property and social relations of long-term space-dwelling (especially over generations) would be of a fundamentally different type compared to the norm on a planet; the mutuality of dependence involved in an environment which is inherently hostile would necessitate an internal social coherence which would contrast with the external casualness typifying the relations between such ships/habitats. Succinctly; socialism within, anarchy without. This broad result is - in the long run - independent of the initial social and economic conditions which give rise to it.
...Just as a service for those who don't want to read the entire essay right now.

Note, though, that Bank's "Culture" is TL12, in GURPS terms.

With optimism, fully self-sufficient small space habitats (mobile or not) can be achieved at TL9. More reasonably at TL10. I think it might be just barely defensible to postpone full self-sufficiency to TL11, though, and that is roughly the case in my space opera setting.

There, you have a particular class of space-navy cruiser or carrier able to fly on long sorties, lasting several years, without needing to re-supply (or at most needing to re-supply from a small fleet of tender ships that travels with it - it doesn't need to return home at all during those years), 3 or 5 years or perhaps 10 or 15, they can repair their auxiliary craft, even modify them a bit, but can't build new ones, nor can they fully maintain a population with baby day care, kindergardens and so forth, although they can and do educate their crews while out to a much larger exten than present day naval ships do.

TL-wise, well I don't use GURPS' Tech Levels, but it's somewhere 9-10'ish, although with Technology Path modifiers as described in GURPS Ultra-Tech (and in the old Ultra-Tech 2 for 3rd Edition), higher TL for some things, and much lower TLs for some other things (such as computers).

Eventually, these strategic cruisers, and strategic carriers, will have to return home, to stock up on spare parts, and rare earths, and so forth, and to discharge some crew and take in new crew. I think a strategic cruiser which flies on its own can probably be out for 3 or 5 years, maybe a bit longer with a really good quartermaster (or if they have some pre-Interregnum tech - that's a thing, in the setting), while a strategic carrier flying with its task force of smaller ships, including tenders carrying additional supplies, can be out for 7-8 years, maybe 10, or if it packs cargo for it, as long as 15.

Most space navy ships, most navy task forces, don't go out on such long sorties. Strategic ships are unusual, and somewhat rare. Theyre' ship classes designated as "strategic", as opposed to normal cruisers, carriers, destroyers and smaller ships which aren't, and where not visiting a space dock for 18 standard months would be unusual and would start to get uncomfortable ("french fries and tabasco turkey for dinner again? WTF?!?! I'm going to contact the union about a class action law suit! For reals this time!!")

(The Lazians don't use frozen replacement crew much. If they did, that'd change things somewhat, but in a time period of fairly rapid technological change, anyone who is frozen for more than a couple of decades is going to experience serious culture shock, and therapists aren't cheap. The Traveller RPG setting is an example of much slower technological change, and there is makes much more sense to put crew into hibernation for decades or sometimes the better part of a century, without that causing more than minimal SAN loss.)
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