Thursday, May 14, 2020

Weird Revisited: Scavengers of the Latter Ages

I think I might right another follow-up to this post, so it was worth revisiting from the distance past of 2018...

Art by Bill Sienkiewicz

Here are some further refinements/elaborations on the idea I presented in a previous post for a 5e (or any sort of D&D really) game that was actually far future science fiction replicating fantasy.

  • The Distance Future: Millions of years certainly, though exactly how long is obscured by the mists of time and the humankin's fickle devotion to data storage formats. It is possible that biologic humanity even disappeared at one point but was resurrected by its nostalgic offspring. Scholars are aware that more than one civilization has come and gone and the Height was long ago.
  • A Neglected Garden: Earth was once an intensively managed paradise, maintained by nanotechnology and AI that were integrated into the natural world. Most of the animals were heavily modified by genetic engineering and technology, and some were of exozootic stock. Even humans were integrated into this network, and everyone born still carries the nanotechnological  system within them. Though technological spirits and godlings still live in nature, they no longer heed humans on any large scale, at least in part due to the fact that few humans can activate the necessary command codes.
  • Diverse Humankin: Through genetic engineering, different clades of human-descended biologics have developed. The reasons for the modifications from baseline seen in these "races" may not always be apparent. Perhaps some were just art projects for some creative god?
Art by Laura Zuccheri
  • The grist: Commoners speak of "magic users" in dim memory of the fact that everyone of Earth is a "user" in the computer science sense, but wizards know there is no such thing as magic, only grist (or maybe mana), the shells of nanotechnology that envelope the world. Everyone uses it to a degree, but few have the aptitude to develop the skill to employ the grist to work wonders.
  • The ether: The underlying grid of spimes and metadata, which supports the nano and once integrated it with the internet, is known as the Etheric Plane or Ether. Wizards and other magic users are aware it plays an important part in their spells and also in the powers of gods and incorporeal intelligences, but they are like mice within a palace, ignorant of its total function and potential.
  • The Outer Planes: Civilization at the Height was not confined to the Primal Earth, but extended through the stars. Some of the posthumans that went to other stars disassembled planets to convert to computronium, then huddled close to stars for power. Their civilizations sometimes became very strange, perhaps even went mad. Many of their networks still connect to Primal Earth through ancient but robust relays. Humankin of Earth are often in grave danger when they venture into such places.
  • Treasures Underground: Earth's current society is built on the detritus of millennia. Current humankin seek to exploit it in rudimentary ways, and more advanced civilizations of earlier times sought to do so in more advanced ways. The tunnels they dug still exist, but so do the guardians they put in place and the dangers they encountered.

3 comments:

Anne said...

I wonder if you were thinking about this because of your current Masters of the Universe thought experiment?

If you haven't seen it yet, you might like to check out the new She Ra series. The world of Etheria is very much a neglected garden.

The full extent isn't obvious at the beginning, but by the end of the first season, you realize just how much "First Ones" technology has been integrated and networked into the planet itself - and how much the magic that the princesses use draws on that technology.

One challenge of this kind of setting, I would imagine, is how to communicate it to the players without it tipping fully into fantasy or fully into scifi. I have a sense that books (and movies and tv) may have it a little easier than RPGs for doing that, but I could be wrong.

Trey said...

Oh yes, I've been digging the new She-Ra series.

The point you raise about communicating this to the players without "spoiling the game" is one I mused on in Discord this morning. There may be a blog post in that, I don't know.

Anne said...

I'll have to double-check your musings.

I just read the "Brass Sun" comic, and it reminded me so much of "Sun of Suns" and "Ventus" that I think there's almost a standard set of solutions among them for a low-level medieval fantasy character to realize they live in an epic scifi universe.

- Encounter with a monster who turns out to be a robot
- Get shown a glorious alien vista that inspires awe through its sheer magnitude
(Both of those imply "builders" who have a much higher tech level than the protagonist's society)

- Meet a human outsider who's from a more in-the-know society
- Hear the "spirits" talking to you
(Obviously these both involve more didactic information delivery, and so probably need to be used sparingly)

- Discover that you possess previously unknown magical powers, and start learning the rules of those powers
- Find a tool or tech item you can use
(So by this point, we've got show, tell, and do.)

One caveat is that a lot of these stories seems to involve the protagonist encountering something that looks/reads cool, but is totally overwhelming, and then running away from it. It's probably okay if that happens occasionally in an RPG, but I suspect it gets boring if you have to first look but not touch, then run away from, every single cool thing you encounter.

Joan Vinge's "Snow Queen" follows a similar plot structure, as does the original "Star Wars" actually, except that The Force is obviously non-technological. A dying sun or broken moon is great for visually communicating the far-future-ness of a setting too.

Thanks for posting this, it's a nice topic to discuss!