Thursday, December 16, 2021

TTET: EVEN MORE HOMINIDS

𐤆 - ZAJIN

Giant and physically powerful omnivores adapted to cold habitats with extreme variety in size depending on diet and geography; occupy a similar niche as brown bears (but social).  Thick body hair; fully bipedal but occasionally a knuckle-walker.      

𐤇 - HET

Long-limbed sprinters; knuckle-walking gallop.  Originally adapted for low gravity plains; behaviorally similar to homo sapiens; convergent evolution back to the plains ape niche.  Make up a number of moderately sized-unaligned low-orbit polities.  The first to develop the Werewolf chimera in the war against the Monument Builders (and the reason for it's distinctive but effective gait)     

𐤈 - TET

Tiny climbers who have returned to an arboreal niche. Gregarious and clever with large social groups.  In the early years of the ancient Monument Builder empire, they were a major part of several powerful spacefaring polities; nearly a thousand years later, their population hasn't recovered.  

𐤉 - YOD

Almost completely aquatic; favoring open water and capable of deep dives.  Return to land seasonally to raise children and make tools.  Distributed among many habitats by other hominids.  Their societies generally lack advanced technology and was largely unaffected  by the conflicts in the skies above except to the extent of their neighbors were.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

VERY SMALL 13-ITEM INVENTORIES

It's not easy being a 2 kilogram uplifted pouched rat. These are some inventories and also a gear list.  And remember: you just have no effective defense against rats with antimateriel gyrojets. They can go anywhere and kill with impunity.  Really, if they lived past 25, uplifted rats would outcompete hominids in a technological society.  

Rat Uplift: By Swampgirl (Sigmacastell)

INVENTORIES:

The Teamster:
You do honest work (mostly).
  1. Koenig KSD-32 portable computer (backpack sized for you) with solid state memory cartridges and a series of adapters strung on your belt like a cowboy's lasso; this is an expensive machine but you have to bring it with you in very small spaces (even a microtape is too big). The keyboard was handmade. 
  2.  Assistive speaker -- you can yell about as loudly as a person with this (or play some great pranks on bigger coworkers)
  3. High visibility vest; hi-viz yellow.  It's important not to be mistaken for a regular rat.
  4. Extremely concentrated bear spray; you made the aerosol dispenser yourself.  The local stray cats leave you alone now.   
  5. Combination wire stripper and cutter
  6. Very Small union membership card (Telecoms and Electrical Workers Local 0454)
  7. Human-sized boarding pass for an in-system flight to a nearby asteroid mine; rolled up into a scroll and carried sticking out of your backpack.
  8. Backpack-mounted soldering iron and several sticks of solder.
  9. Very Small pencil (a mechanical pencil lead coated in plastic) and a notebook; rat-sized pens are very very expensive and not at all practical.
  10. Patch: "Fat Ludovico's Countercultural Pizza"
  11. Keys to a spaceport storage unit (the rules say you can't live in a locker but you pay the manager 50cr in rent per month to ignore the rules)
  12. Moisturizer for hands and feet.
  13. Sunflower seeds (in the pocket of a web vest).

The Explorer:
You go places others don't dare and return with wealth and knowledge beyond anybody's wildest dreams.  
  1. Rat-sized pressure suit; costs almost as much as human-sized ones because of the delicate thermal pipework and masterful assembly required to make something so complicated so small.  
  2. Contact lenses; you don't have eyesight like an ape's.  These help a little and also automatically dim in bright light.
  3. Plastic dental floss dispenser (100m value pak); you've looked everywhere for good rope but sometimes it's hard to beat the local convenience store.  Dental floss can support 10-15kg and comes in a convenient, tangle-free dispenser small enough to carry at your hip or in a backpack.
  4. Mini protein bar (PB&J); not actually a very efficient way to carry calories (only one day worth of food) but good food is the key to good morale.
  5. Packet of roast cashews (extremely expensive for a spacer but you don't need much).  
  6. Two mysterious black marbles from the Deep (Gradient Descent p. 62).
  7. Handmade LED flashlight connected to a watch battery.
  8. Patch: "Science?" (white rat in a maze).
  9. Utility knife/prybar combination -- it's not much but it's better than not having a lever at all.
  10. Miniature digital camera and compact memory card (incredibly expensive).
  11. Black credit card (stored in backpack)
  12. Several single-use fast-acting tranquilizer mini-syringes. 
  13. A crop-sprayer drone converted for use as a rat-sized passenger aircraft.  Not cheap but you aren't hard-up for cash.   

The Mercenary:
You've made a good career of sneaking into places and killing people for your corporate employer. 
  1. .50 caliber gyrojet launcher and four reloads carried on your back; kills just as effectively as a smart rifle (and is also guided); high performance propellant for a short acceleration distance. 
  2. Replacement tooth wetware; your natural teeth were already harder than iron but that's not always enough; a Horizon implant seeds them with titanium nanostructures.  You need to gnaw very hard objects or file your teeth to keep them at a sensible length.
  3. Binary nerve agent in sealed applicator. 
  4. Patch: Midsummer Night's Dream Free Port Flag
  5. Specially formulated ration pellets and titanium supplements
  6. Collapsible drag device -- you can safely fall about 50 feet without it and from any height with it.
  7. Miniaturized code-money wallet loaded with 100kcr in scrip.
  8. Very Small flask of whisky.
  9. Matchbook (nightclub branding on the cover)
  10. Night vision goggles (cost a fortune at this size) 
  11. Fullerene cable; used as rope or as a particularly cruel trap.
  12. Lockpick set and box of ultra lightweight screwdriver heads
  13. Hotel key (human-sized room with a king bed, 24-hour room service).


Friday, December 3, 2021

I AM VERY SMALL AND I HAVE NO MONEY: PLAYING EXTREMELY SMALL CHARACTERS IN MOTHERSHIP

This is post on Rat Teamsters is inspired by the Discord chat.  This is a silly thing to do but presents some very interesting adventure opportunities; being 2-4kg creature is not easy but at least the Alpha Gaunt will mostly leave you be (watching as your teammates get eaten will cause its own problems, of course).  Imagine an adventure in the Deep from the perspective of a Rat Teamster (does MONARCH make infiltrator rats? Probably.).

Very Small characters and society 

You are Very Small.  In space, this is an extremely useful trait -- an electrician that weighs 2kg and fits into tiny vents is really useful.  It's also very easy to manage labor disputes when the strikers fit in your palm.   You excel in the knowledge economy, some trades, and can find employment with any unsavory people who need a small and smart pair of hands (spies, thieves, corporate death squads, etc.).  Adjust stress distribution to reflect lack of agency at critical moments.

Depending on your appearance, you run the risk of being mistaken for regular vermin. 

Rules for playing Very Small characters

  • Roll your stats normally.  
  • You always fail strength checks for normally sized characters 
  • You generally make opposed speed checks against normally sized characters at advantage
  • You have "Mini HP" -- 10 MHP equals one regular HP (round down)
  • Your hits do not "blow through" (you're pretty tough to hit)
  • Most normally-sized enemies will ignore you unless they're naturally disposed to searching for small prey or you get their attention (an Alpha Gaunt will leave you be but a Gaunt Hound might not).
  • Very Small characters may play any class except Marine.

1d10 Very Small characters 

  1. Uplifted Rat -- derived from the Gambian pouched rat -- which was trained for EOD work in centuries before the Mistake.  You're a bit bigger than your un-uplifted cousins (2-2.5kg) and have bigger hands.  Once the corps got the hang of working with smaller brains (the baseline Gibbon uplift suffered for later successes).  
  2. Second Generation Gibbon Uplift -- first generation uplifts derived from the Saimang are odd and not very bright -- you're also odd but with fewer mental issues and the same social issues as your bigger cousins.  Derived from the Lar gibbon (about 4-6kg)
  3. Corvid Uplift -- Weird outlook on life and no opposable thumbs.  An unethical corporate science fair project to prove that uplifting corvids was possible.    
  4. Uplifted House Cat -- this was not a smart or ethical thing to do but some bastard corpo did it anyway.  Most felid uplifts are (ostensibly) sub-sapient but you aren't.  Society doesn't recognize your legal personhood because you're a lab experiment or the "pet" of a very terrible rich person. 
  5. Cat Android (due credit to the Hive Mind) -- no doubts about your sapience; often designed by the corps as a spy; maybe your housecat is an android...
  6. Rat Android -- if you can uplift it you can brain scan it...
  7. Dwarf Arthrocanis Uplift -- the common spider dog is a spacer's best friend and the first alien uplifted.  Your non-sapient relatives are about as smart as a dog and are popular microgravity adapted pets.  You're a born spacer (about 5kg).
  8. Horizon Whisper -- Meat Horrors come in Very Small packages.  You're a lovely combination of elephantine skin, polymer tissues, and incredibly venomous teeth; enough to kill an adult human quickly and horribly. 
  9. Deiyi STS --  Chrome also comes in Very Small packages.  You're a lovely collection of branching fractal limbs and membranous "skin."  
  10. Bat Fascist -- You're a small, angry alien disease reservoir.  Mostly biocompatible with humans, unfortunately.  Who let you past the blockade anyway?  You're probably not toeing the party line if you're hanging out with humans but you've got a much less developed sense of self than most.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

FREIGHT RATES AND WHAT THEY MEAN FOR YOUR SETTING

 To go back to a favorite topic of mine, let's talk about what the implied freight rate says about your setting.  Hopefully by putting something that feels abstract and not particularly meaningful in very concrete terms this post can provide a good framework for thinking about how your setting works.  It definitely informs what is and isn't being shipped. 

Before we begin, a note about assumptions -- a Mothership credit is worth between $1 and $5 depending on a lot of things.  As in my previous posts on starship economics, I've settled on about $4 per credit based on a basket of PSG and APOF items and services that aren't likely to change much in value in a retrofuture setting.  Other baskets may get a lower value.  So there's a bit of an error bar when you connect this stuff to the numbers in the PSG.  Relatedly, I assume (with a very strong basis) that shipping costs roughly reflect energy costs.  The ability to light a fusion torch implies other things about the economy (like how expensive fuel is).  Whatever number you pick has implications elsewhere. 

Also, remember that your freight rates are only a potion of whatever something costs.  The size of that portion is extremely variable and rests on a lot of boring economics but the short answer is that if it's cheaper to pay exorbitant shipping rates than set up a widget factory at the destination the widget will be shipped.  Colonial economies probably have some really bizarre price distortions as a result.  For example, if shipping costs are high and substantially exceed other costs you won't see much difference between luxury foods and regular imported foods (anyone who can afford not to eat locally produced algae glop will be eating lobster, caviar, and fancy steaks).

And now, examples:

OUTRAGEOUSLY LOW

$0.01-0.10/kg: This is not Mothership.  This is not even the Culture or Orion's Arm.  If you're shipping things over interstellar distances at the equivalent of one hundredth of the price of US mail, you are dealing with something unlike any society we can conceive of.  In any event, such a society can and will ship anything it wants for really stupid reasons.

$0.10-1.00/kg: This is also a really extreme situation outside of the realm of most fiction.  10x less expensive than utterly preposterous is still preposterous.  There's really no comparing a society like this to real life and again with the amount of energy involved, this society is going to be post-scarcity.  At cents per kg a person will travel for the cost of a short haul airplane flight or a particularly pricey bus ride. 

VALUES YOU SHOULD ACTUALLY CONSIDER:

$1-$10/kg: This captures a lot of campy soft science fiction settings (and is within the range of postage rates).  If ships are small and cheap (closer to IRL trucks or boats in cost), you may see something like Star Wars.  If ships are large and expensive but shipping is cheap, you'll see something like Warhammer 40k.  Regardless, a passenger ticket will cost between $250 (250kg at $1/kg) and $5,000 (500kg at $10/kg).  The higher end of this category is probably the minimum rate that makes sense in Mothership.  You're making a choice not to to extrapolate a lot of complicated consequences but if you own that or find a way around it you're set.  Regardless, at this price, certain things simply won't ship (bulk goods like grain, iron, aluminum, etc.).  Large scale colonization is very viable and large numbers of people can be moved.  Moving a person and ten tons of stuff only costs $100,000.  

$10-100/kg: This is probably your setting! Most people probably fall on the lower end.  I fall on the higher end.  Regardless, bulk goods will not ship at this price.  Colonization will be viable but nontrivial -- but within the range supported by an indenture contract (or if you're a rich eccentric).  Even at the very high end, manufactured goods like guns, drugs, electronics, and complex machinery will definitely be shipped.  On smaller colonies there will be a serious shortage of nonessential heavy machinery (cars, etc.).  A truck will get shipped if it's necessary but the markup will be brutal (people do pay brutal markups for cars though -- just look at Singapore).  Most non-luxury food won't ship (hope you like algae goop!).  This is also the highest price you can plausibly get while having space truckers. Anything higher and you'll see commercial crews that look more like real-life 21st century astronauts.  Why?  Because crew weigh something.  And when payroll expenses are less than cost per kilogram you will prefer elite crews because they're more cost effective.  At most, passenger tickets will cost $25,000 to $50,000 (less if you skimp on weight).  Business travel is feasible at these prices (barely) but most people won't leave the planet they're born on except once as a colonist. Corps may prefer thin employees to save on expenses and the pre-flight scale will be as significant as the one before a boxing match.  I'll expand on this category in a follow-up post.

$100-1000/kg: This is the outer bound of settings in Mothership.  A colonist and the things needed to start up a colony will cost as much as $10,000,000.  If you cut weight aggressively the price goes down to something affordable in exchange for greater risk of colony failure and very perilous setups.  Most goods won't move at all but small colonies will pay obscene markups for essentials (or revert to barbarism).  For what it's worth, it costs about $1,400/kg to launch something on a Falcon Heavy.  You won't see much trade and colonies will probably require heavy subsidies.

VALUES THAT ARE PROBABLY TOO HIGH:

$1000-10000/kg: This is comparable to the cost to launch something into orbit.  If you're a human, you'd better be worth spending two to five million dollars on.  Change "Teamster" to "Payload Specialist."  This isn't entirely outside the realm of playability.  With very rich sponsors or very strong pulls, there is stuff that can profitably be traded at this price.  Avatar is the easiest fictional example, but all sorts of exotic drugs (or better yet, just the knowledge of them).  Valuable data will also ship (because a jar of SD cards is very cheap).  Certain very expensive foods ship too!  Saffron costs $10,000/kg and a further 50% markup is not out of the question.  While the ability to engage in large scale space travel probably means that metal prices are a lot lower than real life if they aren't for some highly unlikely reason, gold and other similarly rare metals are worth moving at this price.  

$10000-$100000: Certain very, very unusual cases might support trade.  But this is probably the outer bound for any kind of interstellar exploration.  If somebody has a magical antimatter well, trade makes sense.  Likewise, exotic biologics and scientific data may be profitable (but better to send back the information).   Cynical corporations may prefer to strand people (in the name of science!).  Return shipping probably isn't worth it.

 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

TEN THOUSAND EMPTY TOMBS: HOMINIDS

 This post should be equally combatable with Mothership and GLOG -- there's not much numerical content.

And also, a brief but important disclaimer about race/species in science fiction and fantasy.  It's a touchy issue and rightly so.  It's also an issue that's tightly wound up in actual play culture and the implied fiction of different games (e.g. whether your characters are presumed to be exceptional or drawn from a random cross section).  This is not a post discussing any those things (but I'm always receptive to sensitivity concerns).  

Each group of people in TTET gets a letter in the Phoenician alphabet as a name -- because they are distributed between more than a dozen planets and moons and thousands of habitats that have in many cases developed in cultural isolation for hundreds or thousands of years it's impossible to find a demonym everybody would agree on.  This also isn't a post about culture -- there are too many cultures to describe.


𐤀 - ALEP
Small, dark and very radiation tolerant, hairless, make their own vitamin C, ear canal adapted to centrifugal gravity. Bonus on saves against radiation hazards.

One of the most common groups of hominids and one that has for various reasons (mostly luck and geography) wielded outsized influence over the past millennium and into the present day.  The polity that became the Monument Builder Empire was 𐤀 as are the Philosopher Kings and many of the Great Merchant Houses.  

𐤁 - BET
Pale, webbed hands and feet, short but thick oily body hair suited for extended periods in the water, very strong lungs, strong preference for carnivory. Can hold breath for around 10 minutes and swim as long as you can walk. 

Another common group of hominids (and the most common down a gravity well) -- many paraterraformed moons in the system are covered entirely in shallow oceans with floating Gardener megastructures, volcanic islands, or reefs providing habitable surface area.  Before the Monument Builders, there is evidence of an ancient spacefaring empire that spread 𐤁 from a single world of origin.  

𐤂 - GIML
Tall, long-limbed, and lightly built.  Full range of hair and skin tones found in homo sapiens.  Adapted to very low gravity.  Constant bone density -- no adverse effects from extended time microgravity.  Very good at climbing, leaping, and maneuvering in microgravity.  Can't run for extended periods.

Origin traced to a single large de-spun rotating habitat but contact with the Monument Builders spread 𐤂 to many smaller habitats in the Low Belt.  𐤂 makes up a plurality of the peoples of the Great Merchant Houses.  Behaviorally very similar to 𐤁 (and homo sapiens).

𐤃 - DALET
Heavyset and very large (100-150+kg), strong but not a great long-distance walker compared to homo sapiens.  Full range of hair and skin tones found in homo sapiens.  Strong preference for herbivory, many behavioral adaptations favoring larger group cooperation (for better and worse).  Reroll strength and take highest.  You will likely live to 100 with modern medicine.  Can't run for extended periods.

Adapted to agrarian life on an evolutionarily significant time scale (there have been uncountably many hominid civilizations and their evolutionary influence is substantial),  Widely distributed in many different habitats.  𐤃 differs from most hominids psychologically; better at coordinating in slightly larger groups with less in-group violence and more out-group violence.  Disposed to very hierarchical social groups (like many nonhuman primates)

𐤄 - HE
Long white (or rarely blond or light brown) body hair traps heat; blue-black skin; adapted for incredibly thin atmospheres and extreme temperatures.  Can breathe at altitude without supplemental oxygen.  Body hair as heavy winter clothing.  May experience respiratory issues in high oxygen environments.  You can jog like other hominids walk and run like other hominids jog.

A rare group of hominids confined to two moons and a handful of habitats.  Can survive in borderline Martian conditions.  Many miscellaneous health problems as a result of very extreme specialization.  Behaviorally similar to 𐤀 (and homo sapiens) but extreme environments often lead to extreme cultures. 

𐤅 - WAW
Solitary, highly intelligent, obligate carnivores.  Short, coarse grey or black body hair with powerful jaws, strong limbs, and excellent eyesight.  You can see in moonlight as well as a typical hominid sees in daylight and your unarmed attacks are effective as weapons. Reroll intellect. Your ability to process complex social situations is limited but you assess body language well.

Like Neanderthals, originally sophisticated ambush hunters.  To the extent general intelligence exists as a measurable thing 𐤅 are substantially smarter than most other hominids.  Psychologically adapted to life in smaller family groups but that has not stopped spacefaring technological societies from cropping up (though more rarely than some varieties of hominid).  




 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

TEN THOUSAND EMPTY TOMBS: VARIANT ZOUAVE (OR JUST SETTING BUILDING)

 It's been a long, bloody revolution -- a century of bloodletting -- and back in your day you've seen it all.  Now, for whatever reason, you've picked up a dusty weapon and strapped the old plate carrier on again.  There are no rebels now; they're just the government.  Kids who were born after the War are soldiers now and people are already forgetting.      

This is a set of variant Zouave backgrounds and kit.  Use it with the other Zouave features except the B template probably needs some work to fit in a modern setting (no duels here).  But you were a badass revolutionary and people do take you more seriously as a result.


TALL TALES

Back in the day you:
  1. Defeated an Imperial exomarine in single combat (half true): One servo was broken and he didn't have a gun.  But you caught him under the arm with a compressed gas knife while you got pummeled by a mechanical fist.  You get +4 to hit with light weapons while you are being grappled.
  2. Fought alongside Old Man Rat in the siege of Face 54-K01 (true): The worst campaign in a century long war.  You met the legendary rebel in his later days -- still fighting at the front. Hand-to-hand fighting in tunnels barely big enough to wriggle through.  1-in-6 chance you can't sleep through the night without pharmaceutical assistance.  But you are at home below the ground and can spot most spelological hazards and avoid them.  You are also totally unafraid of claustrophobic spaces and can fight effectively in implausibly tight quarters. 
  3. Stormed the Governor General's palace (and obliterated his gold-plated toilet) (true): You're really good at looting.  It takes you half as long to search rooms and you can appraise most mundane loot to a reasonable degree of accuracy. 
  4. Lost in the mountains in the Plateau War (true): Stranded with just one tank of supplemental oxygen, you managed to scavenge what you needed to survive for several weeks until the seasonal storms receded.  +4 on saves against environmental hazards.  You're harder to trip than a mountain goat. 
  5. Hot drop with a defective heat shield (half true): The shield only gave out at Mach 3. It was still a really bad time.  You're that person who takes the controls in any aerospace disaster.  Doesn't matter that you aren't a pilot.  You'll land safely (but maybe not intact).
  6. Survived a gas attack (true): You can don armor 10x quicker and can sleep well enough in a pressure suit or heavy armor.   
  7. Stranded at sea in the Long Campaign (false):  You were stranded for a few hours but you managed to fix the life raft's electric motor and spent a good few months on a very nice tropical island.  The psychological effects of isolation don't bother you much and you're unsettlingly lucky when living off the land.
  8. Tutored by a Reborn Sister (true): You are totally unafraid of death.  Not suicidal.  But willing to consider acts of heroism sane people would not.  You also have +4 on saves against fear.
  9. Took an Imperial tank on a joyride (true):  You can steal any ground vehicle or crude aerospace craft with the stuff in your pockets and operate it well enough to cause some problems. 
  10. Survived a suborbital exfiltration after the battle of the Red Mare (true): Being caught in midair by a spaceship is nerve-wracking.  There's only one shot and if they missed you'd have tumbled down to the surface and left a big red crater.  Your sense of timing is impeccable.  If you need to do something at the same time as someone else, you always do.  You are also very good at judging distance and can make ranged attacks against very fast targets with no penalty.

KIT:

A souvenir from your past:
  1.  An exotic power cell made of tightly-wound Gardener superconductors.  With a day's work you can configure it for use with a single portable energy weapon.  Twenty times the capacity of a regular high performance battery (no other mechanical changes).  If it explodes everything nearby will have a very bad day.
  2. Precious fullerene cable.  100m of rope in a container the size of a large cigarette lighter (dangerously sharp but with proper protective equipment that you don't have you can do stupid things like rappel with it).
  3. Gardener repair hive -- A porous spongelike structure made of durable ceramic the size of a fist.. Restore all your HP once per month.  1 in 6 chance you will be killed or turned into an uncontrollable Meat Horror (player's choice).  The latter effect is what it was used for in the Revolution. There is a further 1 in 20 chance that you retain enough of your mind to control the Meat Horror. 
  4. Monowire sword -- very fragile (likely to break if used against armored targets) but incredibly sharp.  Retractable and fits in a compact package).  It's still possible to get new blades for these but very difficult and expensive.
  5. Lucky boarding axe.  Reroll any critical fumbles.
  6. Imperial signet key -- this opens all sorts of weird stuff (you're not sure what -- try it on everything!). 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

TEN THOUSAND EMPTY TOMBS REVISED: ANSWERS TO 10+20 SETTING QUESTIONS

Archon's Court and Throne of Salt have laid out a very useful resource for building setting efficiently.  Instead of item lists, here are the answers to for the current iteration of Ten Thousand Empty Tombs, a hard SF Mothership (or GLOG) setting in which humans live among the detritus of a vanished Kardashev Type II civilization and the shadow of other human civilizations that have risen and fallen in the distant past.  The media list is as wide-ranging as it is predictable (Diaspora, Known Space (and especially Ringworld and Protector), K6BD, Cowboy Bebop, Planetes, and many, many old-timey SF classics as well as elements shamelessly transplanted from my Default Implied Mothership Setting and placed into new and strange cultural contexts.



0. What do PCs do?
Crimes, exploration, and archaeology with extreme prejudice. In a very geopolitically complicated world filled with old ruins and Really Old ruins, there's a place for people willing to dig into old habitats sealed for millennia or even just collecting relics from the collapse of the Monument Builder Empire (toppled after well over a century of brutal wars).

1. What's the setting's scale?
One big star system with an unreasonably thick accretion disk and many, many medium-sized bodies.  Multiple ~Mars-sized worlds terraformed or parateraformed by the Gardeners. Many mega-scale habitats.  Two large, asteroid belts filled with secrets, hidden habitats sealed for hundreds of thousands of years, and crazy belters.  Everything interesting can be reached in days to months by tether-assisted chemical or nuclear-thermal propulsion.

2. What level of tech will PCs generally have?
Smartphones, guns, and really good batteries.  Some characters may be human brains transplanted into chimeras made using of Gardener high-energy carbon life and regular terrestrial Meat with the scary Gardener bodyjacking war machine bits lobotomized.  (Useful) lasers, room temperature superconductors and Really Weird medical technology are available but probably too expensive for PCs.

3. What's the highest level of technology?
For humans, brain transplants into a Meat Horror, cybernetics (difficult, experimental), and bulk fullerene production. Whispers of human-to-human brain transplants and extreme cybernetic enhancement. Gardener technology is built around bespoke biochemistries, extremely advanced wet nanotech, and continent-sized megastructures. 

4. Are there any psychic abilities, superpowers, etc.?
A Meat Horror might be regarded as superhuman but their powers ultimately stem from being big, durable, made from sturdier materials than humans, and a very high-energy hydrocarbon biochemistry.

5. How do I improve my character?
Life experience (to a point).  Or irrevocably abandon your human form and share a consciousness with a posthuman horror that eats plastic and drinks kerosene. 

6. What's the most important faction in the area?
The largest extant polities are the Philosopher Kings who are Very Hard theocrats with a Very Okay human rights record who fought a century long rebellion in the dark places beneath the surface of many large cylinders and were (and still are) instrumental in stamping out imperial remnants and the Great Merchant Houses who are powerful belt mining concerns that sprung up after the Empire's stranglehold on metal extraction was broken.  But these groups usually maintain an effective monopoly of force.  Characters exist where state power is weakest. Other large polities are planetside and not as interesting.  

7. Where can I get normal equipment?
Any wholesaler or on the black market if permits are an issue.  Nobody wants for guns.  

8. Where can I get illegal / dangerous equipment?
Really dangerous equipment and Gardener technology is only available through powerful groups (states, large organized crime groups, very powerful businesses).  Or you can find some yourself.

9. How do I heal myself?
At the hospital.  Cloned organs and grafts are common.  Cybernetics are very rare and very expensive.  Risky Gardener technology is available illegally but might overwrite your brain, hijack your body, and turn you into the Alien.  

10. What miracles (clear deviations from what is possible in reality) exist in the setting?
None.  Even the scariest Gardener technology abides by the physical laws of the universe and -- as K2 technology goes -- it is pretty comprehensible to humans.

11. How do people get from A to B? What is it like in terms of speed, scope, accessibility?
By public transit in a hab (accessible, about as fast as a regular bus). By chemical-fueled spacecraft accelerated by tethers between habs and worlds (about as expensive as a first-class plane ticket on a long-distance flight, takes between days and months depending on the destination).  

12. Where do people live, in general?
A substantial majority live in large cylinder habitats left by the Gardeners. Most of the rest live on terraformed or paraterraformed planets.  A small proportion (mostly working professionals and the people who support them) live in smaller habitats, asteroids, or aboard spacecraft.  

13. What is the average quality of life like?
Variable -- the Monument Builders maintained control over habitat-bound populations by restricting space travel and controlling metal extraction; leaving most of their subject in medieval conditions.  Hab-bound populations consume much less than somebody in a wealthy IRL industrialized nation but conditions range from agrarian paradises to tyrannical social control through rationing and measures that would be familiar to the Monument Builders. Planet-bound cultures have lifestyles within the range of terrestrial people but tend to be slightly richer in terms of consumption, are more insular, and lack many of the most extreme social organizations made possible (or required) by the idiosyncrasies of life in a megastructure. 

14. What are the points of conflict in this society?
What to do about the incredibly persistent imperial remnants.  How to equitably distribute metals, radioactives, and other essential stuff.  Who gets to boss who around in space.  How to maintain fragile closed ecological systems and also not be absolutely terrible. . . .

15. What are some commonplace technologies players will interact with?
Mostly similar to the modern world but you're more likely to see common, affordable space technologies and can expect somewhat better medical care if you have the means.  Weirder stuff is always looming in the background but it's not commonplace

16. What's something that technology has fucked up?
Biotechnology was the only way to resist an empire that controlled access to metal, computers, and radioactive.  Things are getting weird fast and society can't keep up.  

17. What's something that technology has fixed?
Extractive industries no longer blight planets and habs.  All that stuff happens in space; there are no hideously toxic mines and refineries and the people doing the mining are generally skilled, professional, and have decent working conditions.  

18. What are the most valuable goods and resources?
The Gardeners' biological waste and leftover creations.  Exotic materials like room temperature superconductors and degenerate matter composites.

19. What are the most valued personal beliefs?
Highly variable.  Humanity is even bigger and more diverse here than on Earth and it's impossible to generalize.

20. What goods / behaviors / beliefs are banned?
Traffic in Gardener technology, garden variety crime, etc.  Imperial sympathizers can expect to be criminally sanctioned among the Great Merchant Houses even in the absence of any subversive activity.  They can expect to be executed after a very thorough trial by the Philosopher Kings (if you kept unearthing secret Nazi moon bases a century after WWII you'd be pretty pissed too).  

21. Who enforces the structures of power?
Mostly state actors. Even just and equitable space-based polities demand very high levels of social control and humans inevitably chafe under such restrictions.  

22. Can PCs own a ship normally, or will they have to steal one?
Yes.  But it'd be a pretty shitty ship.  If it's provided by an employer or the PCs are very rich it'll be slightly less shitty. People with the resources of a PC can't even operate a non-shitty ship.  Because travel requires constant contact with civilization through tethers and refueling stations stealing ships is impossible.

23. Does alien life exist? What's its scope? Microbial? Rare, common, exotic? Sapient?
The Gardeners and their creations.  Various alien ecologies.  The system's binary companion orbiting at about 300 AU has alien life (the White-Feathered Species).  Humanity hasn't managed to collect enough nuclear warheads to get a ship there to say hello in person.  The dominant polities of the WFS have just developed the radio and seem curious about their strange (but rather violent neighbors).  

24. Can AI be made or become conscious?
Making computers too complex seems to annoy the Gardeners (or whatever they left behind).  AI research and even excessively powerful computers have had a number of carefully covered-up incidents.      

25. Is it possible to digitize and upload a mind?
If you can build a powerful enough computer without being killed, yes.  It's possible to transplant a brain into a Meat Horror (which is pretty easy because the Meat Horror connects all the little bits for you).  There are whispers of human-to-human brain transplants (which would be quite hard because they involves manually connecting lots of nerves) and would also require growing an anencephalic clone (not hard but very slow) or scooping out somebody else's brain.  Surely massive collections of people kept in medieval conditions would never be used as some rich bastard's second body.

26. Who counts as a person?
  • Anybody with a human brain unless you're a real shitbag. 
  • Humanity is a pretty big tent with many different human-descended hominids (that all get the label "human").  There are some genuinely hard cases with apes and their relatives and hominids that are smarter than apes but not as smart as a human (all major post-Imperial polities protect the rights of these species in theory but may not recognize them as full legal persons).  
  • Meat Horrors are usually regarded as monstrous people (they have a human brain, after all) but the chimera's own mind is usually not regarded as a person (there is some debate here and reasonable minds differ).  
  • The intelligent aliens hanging out around the system's distant binary red dwarf are also people by most peoples' definitions (again, unless you're a real shitbag). 
  • The Gardeners are not "people" in any meaningful sense and probably don't even have a concept of personhood.      
27. Who is this future for? Who survived, who benefits?
The future is for the states and groups that were able to pick up the pieces after the fall of the Monument Builders.  While most people benefit to some degree from not living under a truly horrific regime, some benefit a lot more than others.  Anyone with the influence to maintain complicated space-based infrastructure is a winner.  Large space-based powers are on the rise, enforcing their will with proxy wars and orbital bombardments.  

28. Who has been excluded? Who suffers, who is exploited?
Downwell populations that did fairly well under the Empire are disintegrating and unrest is on the rise in once-powerful states.  Terrible polities and rogue states that weren't affiliated with the Empire persist; but even peasants trapped in an artificial system of desperate rural poverty are technically doing better -- they just aren't doing well and the exploitation continues.  Increased commercialization and deregulated trade also brings its own set of problems.  Refugees and displaced populations are also still integrating -- the century-long conflict has resulted in tremendous movements of people. 

29. What's the overall tone like?
Optimistic but anxious.  It's a new world.  Freer.  Full of strange new technologies and opportunities.  But under the specter of great power conflict and a coalescing new order that might one day rival the Monument Builders. Also, full of gaps.  In the absence of a brutal, totalitarian super-state that ruled by restricting access to the resources and technology necessary for modern life there are many gaps left unfilled.