Friday, September 27, 2013

[Dreaming Stars] A Sample World, Part 2

Continuing with our sample world ruled by an art-obsessed theocracy as well as the further categories of the Arcana Wiki Random Nations generator, we come to:

Major Political Issues

The generator lists 10 different political issues. Let's pick the more interesting (we should not feel obligated to use all of them - the generator is supposed to be used for inspiration after all, and if some entries don't fit it is okay to discard them):
The first entry refers to religious groups 'which were dedicated with not seeking out the truth, but with obscuring facts and only presenting their own narrow world view as "the Truth"' I don't want to paint the entire state religion in this vein - but perhaps there is a subgroup which attempts to manipulate the current theology for its own purposes? Perhaps which emotions are "bad" (and thus need to be banished into artwork) and which are "good" has changed over time thanks to the machinations of this group (perhaps including sexual desire, which would explain the current views on it). Which implies that determining religious dogma is not the sole job of the Veiled Prophet, but of some kind of religious council. So what is the role of the Veil Prophet? Maybe he is basically the Head Oracle - someone powerful in the psionic discipline of ESP, in particular precognition.

The other two entries hint towards the geneticists attempting to create human-animal hybrids - possibly animals of the feline kind. But why cats? Hmmm... cats sleep a lot, so maybe the geneticists attempted to create a new species of powerful Dreamers - that is, beings with strong aptitude in the psionic discipline of Dream Control, which after all is necessary for moving to the Plane of Dreams and back again, which makes interstellar travel possible. But maybe their experiments got loose, and now most of the cat people joined with the Dream Pirates - which in turn has caused the church (and thus, the government) to consider banning further experiments and persecuting the geneticists.

Major Projects

Which the geneticists are attempting to stave off by claiming that they have a new genetic construct planned which will make dream travel easier than ever before, allowing fast transition and even faster travel within the Plane of Dreams once they have worked out a few final bugs. What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, the religious splinter group mentioned above is attempting to "retranslate" the holy texts of the faith to make them fit their own agenda. Oh, and the Veiled Prophet has uttered a cryptic prophecy about a "Winter Without Snow" - to make it remarkable, let's make this world colder than average. Furthermore, only one hemisphere should be heavily inhabited as otherwise you'd have to wonder which hemisphere's winter he was referring to.


Now it gets interesting. Robonomics implies a fairly high tech base, as well as a certain amount of dedication that everyone's needs are taken care of - society seems to have a strong altruistic impulse, which may even be genengineered into the population (remember - this world, like all the others in the setting, is inhabited by a variant of the human species, not "baseline" humans as we know them). "Just-in-Time Socialism" implies that the government can fairly accurately predict future needs of society, whether long term or short term - another hint that this human subspecies has an aptitude for ESP and precognition.

So where does the Colonial Economy fit in? Well, given that societies where people have to work for a living are presumably rather rare among the Dreaming Stars, this world might see a lot of immigrants - especially since the state religion is also sending missionaries elsewhere. But what to do with all those immigrants? Well, maybe there are a few less settled continents on the planet, so the newcomers can be put there - and since the social welfare infrastructure isn't as developed there, these regions often end up as "company towns" with some merchant house or guild controlling all local affairs (possibly with the pseudo-Rosicrucians attempting to establish their own power base).

To be continued...

[Dreaming Stars] A Sample World, Part 1

As the goal of the Dreaming Stars setting is to have a huge variety of cultures among the colonized planets, it seems highly appropriate to use some sort of random generator for the different worlds.

Fortunately, I have one available - the Random Nations Generator at the Arcana Wiki. Let's try to come up with a sample world using the generator...


The first three results are:
So the world seems to be controlled by a representatives of a huge council of organizations and special interest groups - merchant houses, crafters' guilds, professional organizations and perhaps distinct social classes - but it's really controlled behind the scenes by an all-powerful church. Interesting...

Powerful Organizations

Picking the more interesting results from the list, we get:
So maybe this world has ongoing problems with pirates - let's make them "Dream Pirates" who strike out of the Plane of Dreams for raids and return there to their safe havens. The International Peace Mission Movement doesn't strike me as a model for the entire Theocracy, since a real theocracy needs to be a bit more worldly than that - but maybe it's an influential wing, or a "reform movement" or splinter group.

In the hands of a Theocracy, a highly trained and efficient disaster relief organization like the Technisches Hilfswerk also becomes a good missionary/propaganda tool, and they can likely be found on neighboring worlds. As for the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program... maybe the religion exalts art in all its form (which would make for a nice difference to the "religions as killjoys" stereotype) and seek to preserve art from the instability on other worlds. And, of course, such art becomes prime booty for our Dream Pirates.

An equivalent to Rosicrucianism could spring up among the various crafters guild and other less religious organizations - as a form of resistance to the all-powerful church. Finally, the church could be led by a "Veiled Prophet" whose identity is unknown to anyone else - effectively, the prophet's identity is erased as soon as he or she puts on the Veil. Possibly there is an order of blind priests with strong precognitive powers who seek out the next Veiled Priest when the old one dies...

Important People 

I'm not sure we should go into individual personalities for our world descriptions, but let's do this section anyway. Here the first three results are:
So first we have a high-class courtesan who was charged with witchcraft. Well, our setting does have psionics, so what kinds of psionics would be seen as evil by the Theocracy? The Psychic Vampirism discipline, possibly. But Psychic Vampirism can also be used for "good" ends, such as draining away negative emotions. Perhaps the dominant religion sees all emotions as being gifts from higher powers, and sees their negation as a sin? Of course, negative emotions must still be dealt with in another way - so the church encourages its faithful to channel them into art and thus "purify" the emotion. This would explain their obsession with collecting art and also mean that the world may be infamous for some really disturbing artwork as the believers express their darkest thoughts through such works...

Next we have a Soviet-era scientist who attempted to create human-ape hybrids via artificial insemination. Tricky. Perhaps there is a small enclave of ultra-tech geneticists on the world who create human-animal hybrids? Perhaps they were created as slave labor as the church does not recognize them as "real people"...

And the third entry is another high-class prostitute. Tying in with our religious focus, she was at first denied burial on consecrated ground by the "respectable" people of her town. Perhaps the theocracy frowns on prostitution - perhaps it sees sex as a necessary evil for procreation, but sexual urges are seen as negative emotions which need to be expressed and purified via creating artwork, not satisfied via visiting prostitutes. In fact, perhaps only negative emotions are supposed to be purified via art - possibly the emotion is "caught" in the artwork, and as long as the art exists that particular emotion won't attach itself to another person and trouble them. Thus, the Art Collectors of the Church concentrate on rescuing and safely storing artwork depicting negative emotions, while artwork depicting positive emotions is destroyed to release the emotional energy. And the faithful are strongly encouraged to hand over their artwork expressing their bad urges to the church for safe storage - which also gives the church plenty of insight into the psyches of their followers.

To be continued...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Technology among the Dreaming Stars

In my previous post, I outlined a science fantasy setting called Dreaming Stars - scattered colony worlds, each with their own unique human subspecies and cultures, which are now linked again by psionics capable of transporting people to the Plane of Dreams and back again. As noted, the setting is heavily inspired by Talislanta - but it is still a science fiction setting, and thus the question arises how to deal with science fiction technology while still evoking the general feel of Talislanta.

High tech and ultra tech devices can evoke a sense of wonder and thus have an important role to play in such a setting. But they shouldn't dominate the setting, either - or else the setting becomes about the latest toys and not about the scattered branches of humanity's descendants. There is no unified technological infrastructure - the various colony worlds had many, many centuries to diverge technologically as well as culturally, and even though travel between the worlds is once again possible, even traveling to fairly close worlds can take weeks and bulk trade in goods is tremendously expensive. And as there is no unified interstellar empire, no standards have developed.

Thus, while researchers and engineers from one high-tech world may understand the principles of devices from another and even eventually be able to replicate them, these devices won't necessarily work with their own gadgets - and the higher the tech level of the device, the more difficult it will be. Ammunition sizes will be different. Power cells will be different. Connecting plugs will be different. Programming languages will be different.

Thus, whenever the PCs acquire some type of high-tech gear, they should note the world of origin. When attempting to combine it with other equipment, it will only work automatically with devices from the same home world. It may be possible to make it work with devices from other worlds, but that might require days or even weeks of tinkering - which the PCs either need to do themselves, or pay someone else to do it. Attempting to fix a device with replacement parts from the wrong world will run into similar problems.

The goal here is not to deprive the PCs of all their toys, but encourage them to make use of more rugged low-tech devices as much as possible, apart from a few important "signature devices" where their benefits to the character outweigh the maintenance problems they will cause.

As for what kind of technology is available in the first place... well, in GURPS terms (which happens to be my favorite RPG), the most advanced worlds manage a solid Tech Level of 9, which is comparable to mid- to late 21st century. Some manage to be more advanced (Tech Level 10) in particular fields of technology, and a very few are able to create a limited number of Tech Level 11 items - but each high-tech world has its own specialties, and none is better at every field of technology than all the others.

But there is a wide range of Tech Levels. Those who meaningfully participate in interstellar trade tend to have at least Tech Level 5 (Industrial Revolution - remember, you don't need starships in this setting to travel from world to world...), and the planetary elite will accumulate more advanced technology to help maintain their rule. But there are worlds that have collapsed all the way back to the Stone Age, and anything in between. Of course, the lower tech worlds tend to attract the more adventurous outworlders, especially those who want to carve out their own emperors - but psionics may be the great equalizer in this.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dreaming Stars - A Setting Idea

I've been reading through my old Talislanta 4th edition book again. Talislanta, for those who don't know it, is a long-running and rather fascinating fantasy setting which is especially noteworthy for its multitude of fantastic races - none of which conform to the "standard" fantasy races such as elves, dwarves, or even humans. Instead, each region of the world has its own unique race with its own unique culture. There is no dominant "baseline" race which you can compare the other races to - just a huge variety of idiosyncratic societies with their own cultural quirks. (You can freely download much of the game line here.)

And I was thinking that you could do something similar to Talislanta as a science fiction setting - not replicating the Talislantan races and cultures, but using the same basic principles in setting design. Here is how I would do it:

Let's say that Earth colonizes a large sector of space and settles it throughly. Human genetic engineering becomes very common, both to adapt humans to the various environments they encounter (often melding the DNA of native species into their own), and for general human enhancement purposes - or just for reasons of fashion, alternative lifestyles, or even attempting to mold humanity for particular political or philosophical ideologies. Humanity effectively splinters into innumerable subspecies. Psionics are also discovered and become widespread - also thanks to human genetic engineering.

Then something happens to destroy the stargate system, which also destroys much of the technological and industrial infrastructure of the colonies. They are forced to survive in isolation for more than a thousand years, though some sublight travel between the stars is eventually done by especially daring cultures. As a result, the different subspecies of humanity diverge further, and by the "default" time of the setting there is no longer a recognizable "baseline" humanity - each colony world has its own distinct subspecies of humanity (and possibly several).

Techology largely declines among the settled worlds, although a few of them maintain to cling to higher tech levels. Then someone figures out how to use psionics (which didn't decline as much, and largely takes the place of "magic" in other settings) to physically move to the Plane of Dreams - a parallel world of our own, but where space and time are more fluid - and actually travel to a different colony world, as no life support is needed in the Plane of Dreams and dream travel can exceed the speed of light. Eventually, powerful psis learn how to transport entire caravans or ships to the Plane of Dreams and back again, allowing interworld trade even with fairly primitive technology. It turns out that the transition is easier when one is far away from other people, as the dreams of sapient beings cause disturbances while moving into and out of reality. Thus, caravans have to travel to fairly remote regions to make the transitions, while ships can simply sail out to sea. Spaceships have it even easier (though their size and cost still makes it difficult) - although not if they are too close to the stars, which tend to be surrounded by especially tempestuous and alien dreams (which would imply that they are inhabited, somehow...).

Anyway, there you have it - numerous different worlds, each with its own human variant, tech level, and its own unique culture. Travel is common enough to make it feasible for typical adventuring types, but dangerous and strange enough to be exiting, and slow enough to prevent interstellar monocultures. Each world is thus a new world of adventure.

Your thoughts?



My name is Jürgen Hubert, and I am a geek.

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