Sunday, November 21, 2021


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.

1 comment:

  1. I am being bullied by this post into filling out my own questions.