A Whole New World: Some Brainstorming

As mentioned earlier this week, I had a great idea for a new gaming setting, a cyberpunk-like setting that takes place on a foreign planet. Here’s what it looks like so far:

Humans travelled there by spacecraft: My conceptual idea was to have an unmanned spacecraft travel to an inhabitable planet, do some moderate terraforming, and then decant some humans. The first generation of humans may be hobbled by their artificial upbringing, but the game would take place far enough after the first generation died out that this wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, there could be some interesting social artifacts left from this start to add flavor. The main problem with this is that the spacecraft would represent a massive repository of advanced technology, potentially more advanced than the technology the colonists are using. Therefore, some sort of believable plotline about the ship being inaccessible or turning itself off must be included. A potential solution is that the power source used to propel the ship was left in orbit, while the landing colony modules had other methods of extracting power, like solar cells.

Genetic engineering is easy and accessible: As a consequence of decanting colonists, changes to the genetic code are fairly easy, including some that may take place instantaneously and not require introduction at birth. This needs to be fleshed out significantly to be balanced, fortunately there’s GURPS Bio-Tech.

Cybernetic augmentation exists: A Cyberpunk staple, couldn’t leave it out. Current thoughts are to include a Unusual Background type advantage called the “symbiosis trait” which would unlock the ability to have cybernetic augmentations and (if they’re included) plug-and-play genetic augmentations. Cost of this advantage is not yet decided on.

Civilization is centralized around cities: There will be large, dense cities as well as large, relatively uninhabited areas. This is a result of how energy is available, and was available. With no fossil fuels, efficient travel was limited to rail and low-range personal vehicles. As such, cities got very dense, and resource collection occurred within a small radius around the city. As electricity storage got more efficient, the radius got larger, but there were still limits. Now, hundreds of years after the first colonists were decanted, transit is no longer a severe limiting factor, but the course of development was already set.

Electricity storage perfected: The one ultra-tech item of great importance in this setting is a perfect storage capacitor. Without risk of energy simply depleting, it can be stored and made fungible. As such, energy is the primary currency. It is worth noting that perfect transmission may not exist, limiting radial growth as noted above.

City-state the dominant political entity: There is a limit to how dense a city can be and still efficiently provide services, and one can assume that the early colonial technology allowed growth to outstrip either efficient city parameters or resource availability. As such, multiple cities were founded, and the remnants of this expansion will probably result in 3-6 large, dominant cities, and 10-15 smaller, less dominant ones.

System is highly capitalist: The colonial system was based on an AI planning the infrastructure in the earliest  parts of the planet’s inhabitation. Each colonist had an “energy debt” to the AI computer, representative of how much energy it took to transport them to the new planet and keep them alive. The colonists were required to work toward the AI’s planning goals, absolving themselves of some of their energy debt for each task they completed. Once the colonists had worked off the entire energy debt, the AI declared the first stage of the colonization process complete, and shut itself off. At this point, all infrastructure was available for sale at a minimum price of how much energy it initially took to build it. People started buying up housing, farms, and solar collectors, and the privatization process began very quickly. The prices of goods are no longer based on their energy costs, though energy costs create a de facto price floor. Prices can be very volatile, but energy storage has alleviated this somewhat.

The only heavily regulated industry is power generation: Thanks to ubiquitous networking, most products are torn down and analyzed for the whole planet to see relatively quickly, making safety regulations somewhat redundant. The networks themselves mostly offer their services for free in exchange for having access to any usage data generated by the consumer. Private browsing is available for a fee. The power companies are regulated because the energy they generate is also currency. The one economic safety net is “guaranteed wattage”, a guaranteed level of power hookup available to every dwelling place. This is usually more than the dwelling’s electricity costs (as energy is not a scarce resource), but rarely enough to cover rent above that. When housing prices drop low enough to make the dwelling effectively free (that is, rent + utilities is less than guaranteed wattage), it’s officially a “housing glut”, though demand for housing rarely drops enough for this to occur.

Scarce resources are food, space, heavy metals: The cities are very dense, and require a large amount of food to feed them. Though hundreds of years have helped, the planet was terraformed, so agriculture is time-consuming, space-consuming and expensive. The space issue also limits expansion outside the cities, making dwelling space yet more expensive. Heavy metals are mined for all manners of electronics, but also to make storage capacitors, which are needed to keep power distribution up and running in the mostly solar-driven economy.

Energy banking is not a business: The computer that housed the colony AI is now used to run the central energy bank. The bank system is completely transparent, and the computer also manages a stock exchange for companies that wish to be publicly held.

City-States aren’t at war, but corporations can be: Real Estate companies use a variety of tactics to acquire property, be it land for mining or farming, or housing. Similarly, other companies use unsavory tactics to aid in their competition with each other.


These are my initial ideas, I’d love to hear more. Tomorrow, a profile of a new GURPS character I’m writing. Friday, a retrospective of my rereading of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.


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