Vir's Archive

Sunday, September 1, 2013

An Earth More Beautiful and Less Free (Content)

So, what does Earth look like?

I’ve spent some time defining the politics (a mess of competing powers between the Hegemonies, the UN, and the independent blocs), and to a lesser extent to socio-political landscape (a stable, near tyrannical order built on the fear of another population crash), but we don’t know what Earth really looks like in TDE.
Earth is beautiful.  It has recovered from the Malthusian Crash nicely – though at great cost to freedoms modern humans would take for granted. The skies are blue.  Cities are modern, with ever-larger sky scrapers pushing the boundaries of the Earth/Space divide.  SpaceShafts dominate the horizon, since any city of any size will have at least one dedicated SpaceShaft. Expansive parks with large growing plots are ubiquitous.  Arable land is cultivated ruthlessly – not in the sense of overuse, but in the sense that every square millimeter is cared for and expected to produce.  Desertification is on the decline.  Clouds are bountiful.  Toxic emissions and pollution are considered major crimes by every nation.  Food and energy are generally adequate for most societies (with a few notable exceptions).  Greenhouse gasses are managed closely… its a paradise of sorts. 

Jutting out from the equator and poles are four magnificent SpaceElevators, who tower majestically over their numerous SpaceShaft brethren.  Goods, supplies and energy are transported into and out of LEO cost-effectively - making the stratosphere a very busy place with massive elevators and transport craft moving about docking with, decoupling, and servicing the great Elevators and Shafts.  LEO is even busier, with thousands of satellites performing an intricate dance as they weave around each other.  Larger relay satellites orbit just above LEO, transmitting beamed energy from Mercury and Jupiter. 

Cities have grown even more important than they are now.  Each city serves a downport for space traffic as well as the more traditional role of resident and business hubs.  Many of the cities in Europe and North America have expanded into each other’s borders, creating an urban sprawl that is pockmarked by expansive greenery and parks. 

Technology is dizzying.  Biology, physics and the social sciences have created a series of societies that are rapidly moving to post-scarcity and singularity (but we aren’t there yet).  Custom vat-grown bodies are common.  Disease is much less a problem/threat than it is today.  Cybernetics and biologics are commonplace.  Entertainment is transmitted directly into the brain.  Drones and robots are everywhere.  

People work, eat and love.  Many hold jobs, but a large portion of he developed world lives exclusively off of social welfare - which has developed to support a the large middle-class.  In nations that are still recovering from the Population Crash, are still developing, or face other challenges (like being irradiated) - the social welfare system is much less robust and everyone is expected to work.

The wild places of the planet are gone - replaced with farmland, or, occasionally, carefully managed preserves that exist as a legal afterthought and historical artifact.  Atmospheric scrubbers have replaced the need for large biospheres of jungle to convert CO2 into O2.  Even the remaining deep Amazon is heavily monitored and pruned - making its wild nature nothing more than a facade.    

If you look at Earth in 2100+ closely, you see a vibrant world with a lot of positive energy – but it comes at the cost of overtly agreeing to the tyranny of petty authoritarianism (or, in some cases, outright dictators). The economy is booming and people are usually fed/happy.  The cost?  Having children is a major undertaking – the unlikely intersection of wealth and a lucky strike in the population lottery.  Socialism de rigueur, with heavy taxes to keep people at a steady middle class, indirectly reduce on freedom of movement, and support a massive state bureaucracy.  Democracy exists, but in reality the state machinery has created an inertia for itself that a simple thing like a vote really couldn't change.  The state can own people de facto, if not de jure.  Laws and regulations are ubiquitous – no

matter where you live – everything from what foods you are approved to eat, to the size of your personal vehicle, to what biomods you are allowed, to what job you can hold are regulated by mandates, laws and ordinances.  Its a good time to be a lawyer.  

Like everything else in TDE – I don’t want Earth to be easily categorized.  Its not good and its not bad.  People generally live well and comfortably, though they have abdicated some critical choices about their own destinies.  The economy is strong, but partly as a result of quietly exploiting the planetary colonies.  Conflict is rare, but when it does erupt it is vicious. 


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Unity in Diversity: the SCEs (Content)

Often, the simplest answers are the best.

In the case of SCEs, I think what makes them unique is their diversity.

Okay, so I have really been thinking about Sovereign Corporate Entities and what they bring to the table in The Difference Equation (per my last post).  I asked for a couple idea on what I could do to make my Corporations different than all the others out there in transhuman and cyberpunk games -- and the suggesitons I got were fantastic.  Thanks to Ben, Jason and Sootch.  They each game me an idea, and each was quite different.  Initially I waffled back and forth on which one to adopt - and then the easy answer hit me - why adopt just one?

The map has changed... 

One of the problems I see with the corps in Shadowrun and Eclipse Phase is that they feel very monolithic - which makes sense for those settings.  In both cases, the authorial voice wants you to believe the MegaCrosp are bad things, or at the very least, sleazy.  I don't want to automatically evoke that same sentiment with the corps of TDE.  Instead, I want the corporations to be rogue actors that operate outside the bounds of conventional power politics.  They have seats at the table, sure, but it doesn't mean they are playing by the same rules or even striving for the same goal.  Similarly, and importantly, no two SCE will look quite the same.

One corp is going to be an integrated hive-mind with distinct personalities embedded into the various branches.  Another is going to be a para-statal, with ambitions to develop the same power and influences of the traditional states.  Another will test the boundaries of what it is to be "family."  In every case, they will have very different approaches to pretty much the same endgame - survival and the accumulation of wealth.

The thing that binds the SCEs into a distinct group is the fact that at some point in the history of TDE each one of the SCEs garnered enough influence to demand a seat at the UN.  Nothing would have been given to the SCEs, especialy not at first.  Instead, they would have had to bribe, cajole, and intimidate the traditional member states of the UN into allowing a very different actor the same rights and responsibilities of the rest of the group.  I imagine this was a tumultuous and very controversial decision - and probably only reasonable in the wake of major social upheaval -- perhaps something like a major population crash?  Perhaps.

So, thats it.  In the wake of the massive human dieback, the first one or two SCEs had the resources to make some major contributions to stabilizing the ecosystem -- and eventually get humanity on an upward trend (not in terms of population, in terms of general social development).  At a time when the States and their allies were weakest, a handful of corporations were strongest.  At that point, when the States and the UN apparatus had the least ability to say no, the first SCEs demanded new rights and representation -- and the nation states would not have been in a position to say "no."

Thus was born the new sovereign entities.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Defining Corporate Greed for the 22nd Century (Musings, Collaboration)

I need a bit of help. 

My corporations are painfully boring.  

I’ve been putting off diving into the most blatant omission in the TDE setting – the Sovereign Corporate Enterprises (SCEs).  Part of the reason I have been reluctant to define them is the simple fact that I cant really think of anything new to do with them.  SCEs right now are a little too recognizable and tread upon a very well-worn path that models the hyper-zaibatsu/chaebol popularized in cyberpunk fiction.  SCEs are big and diversified – though with a specialization that makes them stand out from their competitors.  

From interesting movie background element,
to all encompassing corporate evil.
As it stands, the System is host to about 15 SCEs that all have official representation in the UN as observers.  There are another 10 or so wannabe SCEs that don't have the last bit of power to push them past their own political inertia to take their seat at the UN's rarefied table.  BR/BP Distribution is known for energy production and delivery (growing from 20th C. oil and mining corporations).  IntraSys is known for interplanetary transport (and made its fortune shuttling Earth refugees to Mars after the eco-crash).  Orbital Inc. makes its living mostly through operation and expansion of skyhooks and beanstalks.  The Access Group does banking and futures.  ViaAgro LLC is all about the agriculture (as are a number of other wealthy SCEs).  Caliban Systems is known for its military wares.  They are all rich, powerful, extraterritorial, and complete bastards when it comes to the bottom line. 

And all that?  Its been done before.  Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, Battletech, Eclipse Phase… the worlds I respect because of their depth and detail all seem to have the same conclusions – giant multinationals that rival the traditional nation-state in power, influence, and legality.  Cinema has done it to death as well; Weyland-Yutani, Tyrell, Umbrella (okay, not originally cinema, but still…) – again, this isn’t new territory at all. 


Dammit Ash - we are gonna get screwed again, arent we?

I look back at Mars and Mercury and even Earth and I like what I see.  Earth, in particular, stands as a nicely complicated political entity.  Likewise the UN.  Having been away for a bit, there was time to reflect on TDE and decide if I liked where it was going.  Happily, I see where TDE is going and smile.  But the SCEs wipe that smug smile off my face.  

Its 150 years in the future and follows a major humanitarian and ecolo

\gical disaster of nearly unimaginable scale.  These two facts about the setting along make me think that the nature of corporations, with their parochial demands on intellectual property rights and data control, would likely be a thing of the past.  There would be something new, something just as powerful as the MegaCorps of Shadowrun, and just as influential as Weyland-Yutani of the ALIENS franchise – but that would operate in a fundamentally different way.

So, in my head I have point A and I know I want to get to point B – but that necessary straight line connecting the two is damned elusive. 

So, anyone out there seen an approach to sci-fi corporations that you felt was compelling or particularly interesting?  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Consular Security Corps - Diplomats Doing Naughty Things (Content)

Saturn does things differently.  Its kinda their thing.  

As discussed before, its hyper-progressive insomuch as it is a libertarian’s and industrialist’s wet dream.  In that crucible of low regulation, environmental pressures, and an intrepid sense of exploration a lot of the Solar System’s significant (and dangerous) technological jumps occur.  Saturn government is similarly odd, only performing the most basic of functions and often operating completely aloof from the rest of the planet’s many settlements and stations.  The times the Saturnine government does become involved in internal affairs, the issue has gone long past simple dispute resolution and likely has major implications for the other settlements.  Likewise, the Saturnine government doesn’t often get involved in the affairs of the other planets, and when it does, it is often for reasons either blatantly obvious (like a system-wide threat that everyone agrees must be dealt with) or oddly inscrutable (like a obscure Martian-Earth patent disputes). 

Saturn thinks outside of the box, including in the makeup of their military and diplomatic corps.  In this case, the two are combined into one service – the Consular Security Corps (CSC).  The Consular Corps is the smallest of the military services, focused on defense of Saturnine installations, regional resource interests, and its diplomatic presence throughout the System.  At the top of the hierarchy is the Senior Ministers of the Diplomatic wing of the CSC – they make the policy decisions for the entire CSC, including the military wing.  By both tradition and legal stipulations, Saturn will not allow a uniformed servicemember to outrank a civilian in the same responsibility chain.  What this actually means is that many of the most bright and ambitious service members often retire mid-way through their careers and take on prestigious and well-paying civil service jobs with the intention of making their way to the highest ranks of the CSC or any other Saturnine government job. 

The makeup of the security wing (which includes the Saturnine Federal Police as well as armed forces) focuses almost exclusively on the space forces, with a small but well-equipped branch of Marines who serve as the standing security for static Saturn facilities, dry army (when needed), and, of course, assault force.  Though it has not always been so, the diplomatic wing currently works closely with the security wing lending a unity of purpose to much of Saturn’s foreign policy. 

Saturn's intelligence service also has significant assets working withing the CSC - making the Coprs a one-stop shop for forming foreign policy and the tools to execute that policy.  

While the Vienna Convention (as revised) still dictates the norms of diplomatic niceties and privlidges, and things like armed diplomats is still a very big “no-no” – that doesn’t mean Saturn cant arm the support apparatus for their diplomats to the teeth.  Other officials and diplomats from the other planets have noted their discomfort working with Saturn’s diplomats – not only because many of Saturn’s diplomatic corps have undergone radical surgeries and cyber/bionic upgrades, but also because the diplomats are often backed up (usually literally) by a detachment of Marines. 

Scary, mutherfukin’ diplomats. 

Okay, yeah, it’s a bit of a Mary Sue if you know my profession – but I indulgently think it’s a cool idea for a different type of military.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Real Life Railguns (Research)

Railguns are one of the core weapons in TDE.  Well, looks like they may be a mainstay of the battlefield sooner rather than later.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Emergent Gameplay via Parenting, Tabs for 2y/os, and Other Musings...

Lets take another break from Sci-Fi to take about gaming and parenting. 

In the last couple months, as my daughter’s coordination and speech have improved by leaps and bounds, so has her capacity to engage in games.  

My eldest daughter is rapidly approaching 3 y/o and hitting the first stages where she and I can play “real” games beyond itsy-bitsy spider and singing BINGO.  It’s a great age.  Lots of work, but I find that I enjoy this stage of her development a bit more than when she was a little, little baby.  As a new-ish parent, I am reminded of the standard platitudes often – that you will be amazed at their development, that you will love them more than you knew – that stuff.  I am here to say that all those platitudes are not correct.  Love, attention, and fascination hit us all differently and we will all get our energy to keep up with our kids from differently places.

Not surprisingly, I have found I become really engaged and excited when my eldest wants to play a game.  At this age, its fascinating to see the cognitive and competitive parts of her thinking come together.  Just a few months ago we tried to play hide-n-go-seek and it was a sad failure.  My daughter didn’t quite get the idea of having to wait to count nor did she understand the idea of hiding as a game. Now?  Just a few months later, we are not only playing a number of common games, we are making up our own.  

Physical Games

I can see her mind processing games all the time – including at inopportune points.  Lately, E has started to run away from my wife and I when its time to go out.  This is a form of game play, simple tag in this case, with a captive (and increasingly frustrated) audience.  When I saw her doing the run-away thing a couple times, it was an easy transfer of those skills to the playground where we play “Tiger.”  For whatever reason, chase and tag don’t resonate with her.  I tried to explain the simple catch games to her – “I chase you, you run away.  If I catch you, you chase me,” but that was too esoteric for her. So, I switched it around and told her I was a tiger and would chase her.  She immediately understood that, and now “Tiger” is a staple of our outside play.  I introduce complexity once in a while such as her friends also being tigers or, most recently, safe zones where the tiger cant go.  Since safe zones were introduced, E has learned how to taunt. 

We are also working on Hide’n’go’Seek. Standard Hide’n’go’Seek is a bit beyond her right now, though.  When she hides (sometimes with the help of her mother) she is so tickled and excited she cant but help to announce “here I am, daddy!” after 10 seconds or so.  She is much better at counting and then coming to find me, but the symmetry of me hiding then her hiding hasn’t quite developed. All that said, I always smile when I see some squiggles coming from under the blanket as she cant help but help me out by telling me “Daddy!  Here!”  Her heart is in the right place. 


Playing "pretend" is just roleplaying without polyhedrals.  

We are also in the early stages of roleplaying together.  I imparted my love of dinosaurs on her, and so we really enjoy playing dinosaurs, which involves us pretending we are dinosaurs by stomping around, making fierce faces and making our best roars (she is a champion roarer).  My daughter also has an inexplicable love for robots.  So, one of the variations on “Tiger” is “Robot” where I stomp around stiff like a robot and make tickle “attacks.”  E has evolved the game on her own and introduced her own rule variations, demanding that as a robot I have to say “mi-churd.”  I don’t know where “mi-churd” came from, but it sounds suitably robotic, and I am happy to play along with her rules.  I think it empowers her to know that her rules are just as valid as mine.

(Mi-churd”, BTW, is an example of the truest form of emergent gameplay.) 

E has also started mimicking TV characters on her own.  During a game of Tiger she unexpectedly changed the rules to make herself Mike the Knight and me the Dragon.  She demanded I roar and “fly” (hold out my arms).  As “Mike the Knight” she added a rule where she could now touch me with her hand, which was now a sword, and make me stop.  We have now played Mike the Knight a couple times, and the rules have stayed consistent. 

I guess that may have been our first game of Dungeons and Dragons.  Huh. 

We havent hit dressup and pricess yet with E, I expect that is around the corner.  


Traditional games like Chutes and Ladders are still a bit beyond her, as is Hungry Hungry Hippos.  She really, really wants to play Hungry Hungry Hippos, and we own a little travel version, but the detached concept of boardgames still don’t quite mesh.  However, her language capacity and reasoning skills are growing amazingly fast – so fast I notice the improvements day to day.  I expect abstract concepts like simple boardgames are only a few months away.   


TV helps.  In the last couple months I saw E start to respond to prompts on the TV.  When Dora asks a question, E will eagerly respond.  I think she sees it as a game.  I know some parents are down on TV, but I have seen some amazing jumps through educational programming.  E probably watches too much TV, but so do I.  So there you go.

Space Pango!  Pro tip: this is an app you should nab.  
The really amazing stuff in terms of gaming is, not surprisingly, with the aid of computer technology.  We all know kids are getting more and more capable with technology, and E is no exception.  We has an ASUS Ee-pad that we bought, in part, as an entertainment center for the many long overseas trips we have to take.  My eldest took to the tablet almost immediately, and since she has been about one and a half, it has been a staple of her day’s entertainment.  I have been selective of the apps I download for her, trying to find ones appropriate for her hand-eye and cognitive control.  Its been a bit hit-and-miss, with more hits and misses.  The tablet and its near infinite variety of games and puzzles have been great for her.  Not long ago she would struggle with e-puzzles, now she is a pro.  The tablet has helped develop her brain in all sorts of gaming ways, from virtual playhouses (imagination), to memory games (retention), to alphabet challenges (word play).  As she gets older and the games get easier, I present her with new challenges. 

(Incidentally, if anyone wants suggestions on good, age-appropriate gaming apps for little ones, drop me a line.)

The tablet has been great for fostering a love of books as well.  Interactive e-books are amazing tools.  They are also great for quieting a fidgety toddler on planes.  If you have a child, and don’t own a tablet of some sort, change that immediately.

Boo for me.  
To my chagrin, I made the mistake of letting her see me play a simple side scroller called Zombieville USA.  E immediately took to it, even though zombies eating people is wildly inappropriate for that age.  Her mind clearly wants to go more advanced with the dynamic animation and bright colors – even if she isn’t quite ready for it.  


So, there it is.  Just over 2 and a half, and we are already playing games any adult would recognize.  This is a great age and really has me excited for the next couple years. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Divisiveness of the Human Condition vis-a-vis Space Lasers! (Content)

I need a war. 

Pew! Pew! Pew!

Something I really want to drive home in TDE is that Earth is not united.  United Earths are boring and unrealistic.  Even if a hypothetical outside power were bearing down on all of Earth, there would be factions within factions with competing interests – even if it (likely) meant our doom.  Humans are a tribal people, and while we can present a united face against a larger threat, in times of peace, where no such threat exists, I think it highly unlikely that the world would unite under one government.

So, I have a number of challenges before me in order to avoid giving the reader the inaccurate view that the UN is the world government.  Its not.  Its as close as humanity has ever come to a united government, but the UN is still very much just one political player among many.  The UN still gets its resources and bureaucrats from member states.  No one is a UN citizen, even the high mukety-mucks in the UN of TDE still call nation-states of SCEs their home.  The UN likes to play at being the world’s government, but the Hegemons, in particular, aren't interested is conceding any more power than they already have.  For them, the UN is a useless organ that has little purpose now that the Population crisis appears to have passed -- an artifact of a different time and a different crisis.  The UN doesnt see it that way, and still see a number of crucial missions it needs to accomplish.  They see themselves as the one government that can speak with authority for all of humanity, not just Earth.  So, the UN and its constituent parts play a high-wire act with trying to impose its will on its member states, while still going to them for funding and resources.  Neither side really has an advantage.  

There needs to be other factors, I think, that drive home to the reader that Earth is not united.  Part of the problem is going to be that the Hegemons all look very similar in terms of policy and goals.  They all want power, riches, and stability – they just want it on their own terms.  They tacitly agree that the Earth governments should be the lead players in the political stage of the Solar System, and that the colonies should know their place as the support engines for the function of Earth.  However, how the colonies should behave and just how much political autonomy they should have is a major divide among the factions of Earth. There is also the fact that certain colonies are more aligned or confrontational with different Hegemons and SCEs which, in turn, define how they react to the allies and enemies of the Earth factions.  Friend of TORA?  You may not get along with the European Union because of outstanding political rivalries.

This brings me to a conclusion - I need a war.  Okay, maybe not a war, but a conflict... 

I need a war to drive home to the reader that Earth is not a happy family.  They are driven together by Earther-chauvinism and the desire for profit, but once you scratch the surface, the divisions outweigh the commonalities. 

I look at the major Hegemon blocks; TORA, the EU, Ansar, The Russian Commonwealth, the Imperial Chinese State, African Alliance as well as the SCEs and “non-aligned” actors like France, Brazil and India and I see a lot of chances for conflict.  In the year 2191 a lot will have changed politically, so burying the cause for the conflict on passing political divisions simply wont due.  However, I would like the conflict to harken back to issues faced in the modern day.

This leads me to the EU and Russia.  I am thinking that resource rich Russia would still be a major trading partner and energy provider for the EU.  Similarly, despite the move to the planets, the EU’s energy situation could still be quite precarious.  Add to that continuing trends by the EU to demilitarize while the Russians retain a strong martial tradition, and you end up with significant policy divisions along a potentially volatile border. 

To make the Russian energy stance ever more powerful, the Russians have been very canny and smart with promoting SCE and traditional business opportunities in Low- and Near Earth orbit.  Russia and its close political allies control a sizable portion of the energy trade both on and off Earth (this would likely make them players in Mercury and the gas giants as well).  The EU has focused its business efforts elsewhere, and while it controls its own energy assets, it has traditionally turned to Russia to help supply its shortfall. 
Something happens.

I don’t yet know what, but I think some sort of political turmoil will make it so the EU demands more and more resources from the Russians – resources the Russians cant/wont give.  The EU feels they are being starved by the Russian monopoly, the Russians feel they are being bullied by the EU who stands in a position of weakness. 

Even with Jammers kickin' ass,
 it may just come down to a really big tank, dammit.
The conflict between the EU and Russian Commonwealth wont be a shooting war – at least not at the beginning of the game (again, that’s for the GM and PCs to decide).  Instead, for years leading up to 2191, the EU and Russians have been playing a very vicious game of espionage and proxy battles.  Just enough deniability has been able to mask the belligerents and their actions, but it is no real secret that the two sides are taking pot-shots at one another using clandestine resources.  The rivalry, I think, would extend to the planets, colonies, and ultimately, to the halls of the UN.  The impact on the UN should be significant, again showing the competing interests of its members can force the body into inaction, or worse, policy schizophrenia (where competing policies are being pursued at the same time). 

The end result is yet another gameable event, and a reinforcement to the reader that, no, not everything on Earth is hunky-dory. 

Yes, there are very deep divisions on Earth - deep enough that a war on Eden is a very real possibility.  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Fist of Mars! (Development, Art)

Introducing the Nowruz - Pride of the Martian Navy.

A Nowruz on manuvers near the Belt escorted by an Imbloc.

Jeff Cram and I have another ship for TDE to show off, this time a Strike Carrier, specifically the Nowruz Class Martian Strike Carrier.  Its one of the most powerful ships I envision for the setting - enough to lay waste to planets.  It is well armed, armored, and carries a large complement of Jammers, Drones, and Nanites making it very versatile.  The core mission of the Nowruz is not unlike modern-day carriers -- to project power and take the fight to the enemy.  Considering how delicate most planetary biomes are, its doubly important to fight when and where you want to.

Nowruz are state of the art.  They mount vectored magnetic rails to launch Jammers, torpedoes, and combat mass.  They boast multiple missile launchers, rail guns, and point defense systems.  They are defended by thick armor, electronic countermeasures, and extensive nanite swarms that orbit the ship and create a thin (but powerful) physical shield to serve as maneuverable physical shields and active chaff.  Specialized nanite swarms are also piloted across the ship"s hull to perform rapid repairs when damage does occur.  Its comms array and integrated systems are second-to-none (useful when patrolling deep space).

Aboard the ship are Jammers, planetary assault pods, dropships, pinnaces, and, other specialized vehicles depending on the mission -- including fighter-interceptors and/or ground vehicles (to augment the onbord marine expeditionary contingent).  The standard contingent of secondary vehicles support the Nowruz"s assault mission - including boarding hostile ships or taking/holding planetary points.

Unlike modern day aircraft carriers, the Nowruz is designed to operate on its own.  The combat doctrine for these ships is to have them constantly on patrol, often at high G, and just at the range that makes the other guy uncomfortable (but no closer - dont want to provoke a war).  In the event of a shooting war, the Strike Carriers strap their crew into acceleration couches and drives for the enemy, knowing full well that they are likely to be some of the primary targets.  Its not talked about much, but the other goal of the Strike Carriers is to drive the enemy's attention away from Mars.  Allowing the enemy to wage war in your near orbit is welcoming catastrophe.  So, the sailors, marines, and pilots that serve on Martian Nowruz Strike Carriers understand that it is destroy or be destroyed.  Survive the first crucial days of combat and the Nowruz could shift the initiative.  Die, and it is that much less enemy ordnance available to attack Mars.  Either way, CAID believes the fleet of Nowruz serves a valuable purpose just by existing.

Each Nowruz is home for hundreds of crew members and requires a number of specialized career paths to keep it operating at peak performance.  Besides standard living quarters and support facilities, the Nowruz calls boasts a large hab ring near the engine housings that can rotate to produce a number of different gravities.

Mars only has a handful of Nowruz in its inventory, but as things destabilize in the Gravity Well, they are looking to ramp up production at the few orbital industrial sites that can handle these beasts.  Time will tell if the Nowruz will be a difference maker or simply a giant pork-project of money better spent elsewhere.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tricked-Out Cybered-Up Mossad Is Some Badass Shit (Content)

As I mentioned previously – I want TDE to embrace some hard questions – including religion.  Too often S-F settings brush off the importance of religion or distill it into boring platitudes.   I can’t count the number of settings that just assume that as technology advances then humanity will, for some unexplained reason, just leave religion behind and become a culture of atheists.  Those same settings usually leave religion as a plot point for throwback cultures.  This is boring and insulting. 

TDE will deal with religion, warts and all – and I am working with members of the faiths I plan to highlight in order to do the various belief systems, ideologies and motivations justice.  I am sure I will get something wrong along the way, but I don’t want to avoid the issue of religion for fear of offending someone.  So, I am going to venture forth and if I get something horribly wrong – have the grace to admit I messed up and correct it.  In the meantime, I hope to develop some cool setting opportunities for the PCs.

That brings me to one of the great faiths of the modern (and ancient) world, Judaism.  Jews in TDE have been through yet another rough time.  Iran lived up to its threats and to the horror of the rest of the world, trucked in a number of dirty nukes and irradiated much of the holy land.  It was a catastrophe the likes of which the world had not seen in millennia.  Tens of millions died – Jews, Muslims, Christians and others.  Those who survived had to be evacuated – Israel and Palestine (and portions of Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan) were no longer habitable. 

The repercussions were severe for Iran.  It became a political pariah, and in short order a coalition of nations, supported by a UN Security Council mandate* invaded Persia and forcibly ended the Ayatollah’s reign.  In the modern age of TDE, Iran remains a UN-administered holding.  Officially it is independent, but it lacks representation in any of the major international forums, and an uneasy coalition of bureaucrats

If history has taught us anything it is that the Jewish people are resilient and determined.  In TDE they wont let a thing like the irradiation of the Holy Land stop them.  In the wake of the Iranian attack, the remaining diaspora mounts a massive rescue operation with the support of much of the UN member nations.  The effort saves only a fraction of the Israelis (Jewish, Christian and Muslim alike), but it is a symbolic victory.  Again denied a home, the diaspora begins preparations for a new home, one where they can coordinate the reclamation of the Holy Land.  The displaced Israelis (and Palestinians) remain in a very murky legal status, but both continue to claim residence in the irradiate wasteland of the Holy Land. 

The latest great diaspora migration sees many displaced and sympathetic Jews move to the Hilda asteroids of Jovian space.  The Hildas were long neglected and ignored as too far away and yielding too few high-utility resources, perfect for the hard-nosed displaced Israelis to make a new home.  Over the decades, the conglomeration of Jews along with like-minded Muslims and Christians a “new” Holy Land in the Hildas.  The lack of exotic and valuable resources holds the New Holy Land back from becoming an economic or trading center, but do yield enough valuable commodities to provide the tools for life (including some trade).  Remittances and donations from sympathetic faith-based communities and individuals scattered across the System lend a not-insignificant amount of resources to the New Holy Land.  So, despite being material poor, the Hildas build a thriving (and surprisingly advanced) community. 

Quietly, the New Holy Land has moved from hard-scrabble, to thriving, to a center for advanced construction – especially if you want that construction done outside of the prying eyes of the inner planets.  Business, banking and advanced agriculture (especially for non-terrestrial environments) are major industries as well.  The New Holy Land is quickly becoming an economic force and manufacturing innovator to be reckoned with.  It is starting to turn the corner for a debtor nation into a creditor – with much of its newfound profits being poured into time-intensive processes for scrubbing Israel/Palestine. 

The New Holy Land* has also begun to flirt with creating its own navy.  Small but powerful (and advanced) ships are starting to come off the line and instead of going to fill the military needs of other nations, are staying put.  Rumors persist that tech teams from the New Holy Land have delved farther than other researchers into creating “stealth” technology. 
Trojans, Greeks and the lesser known Hildas... 

The rumors are true.  Recently, researchers in the New Holy Land figured out how to drastically increase the permissible temperatures of superconductors to serve as hyper-efficient heat sinks.  The technology is still very new and untested, but as the setting is about to kick off (potential energy) the shake-down voyages of the New Holy Land’s stealth ships are about to commence.  If/when discovered, the technology could very well upset the balance of power throughout the System. 

Oh, and Mossad?  Mossad is definately there.  In a game about mecha and special forces, of course Mossad is there. 

*Any Hebrew speakers out there are welcome to suggest a new name – if you could transliterate “New Home” or “Dislocation” into English that might work.  I am open to suggestions as well.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Little Robots, Big Setting Issues


TDE is set in 2191, and considering that time point its necessary to think about nanites and their impact on the setting.  Nanites are a bit of a problem, I think.  I want to keep TDE grounded in the real world, and as I have mentioned earlier, just shy of transhumanism and the singularity.  Nanites could potentially break those goals - especially if taken to the conclusion other SF has flirted with.

Often in SF, Nanites are the stand-in for magic. They can do literally anything and represent unlimited possibilities.  They are presented as a technosoup panacea to the setting's ills.  To give credit, a lot of SF authors and writers explore some really challenging aspects to society using nanites as the leverage.  There is some cool stuff that has been done in SF, but my concern is that nanites can and would overpower TDE's other tech if allowed to run rampant as in other SF settings.

There is also the problem that I just don't see the unlimited possibilities of nanites.  I do think they will be a powerful tool -- but a cure all?  No.

The problem with nanites is their dispersed nature.  For nanites to be really useful, they will have to network with one another at a bare minimum, and likely still need wireless communication to a larger memory core to operate.  In civilian situations, this wouldn't be a problem in most cases.  Industrial and manufacturing applications seem especially likely to use nanites.  Medicene would alos really benefit in TDE with advanced nanite intervention -- heck, anything that involves lots of delicate work would be good for nanites.

For TDE, where the focus is on the military and espionage, nanites are less than ideal.  Nanites would be vulnerable to outside intervention - just like modern bluetooth is ripe for hijacking.  nanites would be too small in most cases to have the robust operating and system requirements to function only on on-board/internal processing.  As a result, nanites would have to be in near constant communication with each other to create a dispersed or hive-mind processor that builds on the community to make it more powerful than the isolated processing power of a single (tiny) nanite.  Nanites would also likely need outside communication with other computers to do ost advanced missions and applications 

In a hyper-connected world like TDE, having the equivalent of bluetooth serving as the communication process for millions of microscopic robots is a recipe for really bad news.  Nanites would be very vulnerable to malicious hacking.  Since I expect combat hackers to be a core mission for some of the PCs, the utility of nanites would be limited in a combat environment.  They would just be too vulnerable. Even non-combat applications like industry and manufacturing are probably very aware of how vulnerable nanites are to outside intervention and limit their exposure to outside contact.

With those limitations in mind, I've been brainstorming what the applications of nanites would be in TDE.  This is what I am thinking:

- Surgery: Fusing even the smallest bio-connections like nerves would be pretty routine.  Just about any wound, no matter how severe if serviced by a trained surgeon with a full suite of technology - could be solved.  Biomods and advanced cybernetics - anf complete body rewrites would all be possible due to nanites.
- Field surgery: An aerosol can full of nanites that can communicate with a portable med database would be super useful.  Really nasty wounds would still be difficult to solve in the field, but with enough time nanites could at a bare minimum stabilize the nastiness of combat injuries.
- Construction: Most industrial construction would use nanites.  They would be particularly helpful in reinforcing any defects as well as detecting those defects in the first place.
- Field repairs: If someone isnt in the middle of a firefight, nanites would be useful to help with any basic repairs.  Spray some on a broken rifle, go and do something else (like return fire) and come back a minute later to see the rifle repaired.  The key to this is to understand that in a firefight the nanites might be hacked and the rifle might not get repaired -- which is an acceptable risk for most soldiers.  Nanites would be especially useful in this application for vehicles, who could have nanites deploy to repair damages as they occur.
- Recon: Chances are at some point using nanites for reconnaissance is going to fail due to passive defenses (ECM, Black IC, active hijacking) -- but the risk/reward is pretty high.  In a situation where the recon must happen, nanites would not be the preferred tech.  Instead, hardened drones would be preferable.
- Shields.  Yup, shields.  I was thinking that capital ships would use nanites for all sorts of passive defensive applications - including orbiting around the ship to interdict incoming fire.  As combat draws close, the utility of nanites would decrease exponentially as hostile combat hackers and ECM could interdict the wireless comms needed to operate nanites.  But from a distance?  Yeah, nanites would be wonderful for reducing the ability of weapons to do damage.

The conclusions I come to reinforce the use of capital ships.  Capital ships could and would house a lot of specialized nanites, processors, and comms equipment to really make those nanites kick ass.  Between active shielding and combat repairs, capital ships would also have the resources to make nanites really useful at the large scale.  Teleoperation of nanites would maximize their utility - which would best be served aboard capital ships where multiple teleoperators could be housed and protected behind armor and long-range antennas.

So, the bottom line for nanites in TDE is that they would be super useful tools, but in combat they would have limited utility.  As an offensive weapon they would be severely limited, but in passive support roles they would come into their own.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Where we at? A Summary of Content.

A lot has been going on behind the scenes - some art, lots of discussion, and way too much Playstation (when I should be writing).  So, as things evolve, its time to recount where the setting stands (I am doing this to loud, angry music... so this might be a little aggressive):   Sorry in advance, this is going to be a wall of text....

The Planets:

Mars (the Martian Democratic Polity): The titular good guy.  It is the largest (in terms of size) single political entity in the System.  It commands a large military, a sizable economy, and a vibrant political landscape.  Mars recently won its freedom from the UN and Hegemon interests and now stands as the first planet in the system, outside of Earth, that controls its own destiny.  Now that things have started to settle down from the war that won its freedom, Mars has a lot of economic and political issues to contend with -- a deeply divided political system, a demagogue-to-be in a leader, an economy that must struggle to find equilibrium, and a series of hostile governments all around it.  Despite it all (or maybe because of it),  Still, the march of history seems to be on Mars' side.  

Mars is ready to take the fight for freedom and political self-determination to the other planets.  There are many throughout the System that were sympathetic to Mars' war with its Imperial Masters.  Pockets of resistance sprang up as Mars and the hegemons fought, and for the most part, those resistance movements and political alliances were ruthlessly put down by the OCRI crimson helmets.  However, those movements bought Mars the time and space to fight the superior forces of the Imperialists by distracted its enemies and redirecting critical resources elsewhere.  Many non-Martians paid for Mars' freedom with their lives -- its time for Mars to repay its blood debt and return the favor.  

Earth (a series of nation states and hegemonic alliances): Earth has been through some rough times, and emerged difficult and angry.  Not long ago, the population of Earth crashed in the most devastating loss of life since the bubonic plague, leaving the planet and the people a wreck,  It recovered years ago, but the demands it places on its colonies to support the people of Earth are increasingly difficult to manage.  Earthers are known for being affluent and prone to excpetionalism - usually at the costs of the colonies.  

Earth is not united, but it is powerful.  It is a mosaic of nation states and competing interests held together by custom and procedure (in this case "procedure" refers to the UN).  Many of the most powerful nations banded together into like-minded blocs to help exploit the riches of the solar system.  These blocs became the Hegemons, and have been the driving force towards colonial settlement of the planets and, ultimately,  the rapacious demands of the Earther economy.  

Earth has no one central government, though the UN passes for something similar (but much less efficient).  

Luna (The Lunar Colonial Administrative Zone): Until recently the moon was nothing more than a backwater - an industrial hell of mass drivers, stand-along servers and broadcast centers, and low-grade He3 harvesting.  Luna never got the attention Mars did, and served as the forgotten stepping stone towards colonization of planets further out.  

That all changed when the war with Mars erupted.  Suddenly, the economic engine that made Earth function was cut off.  Agricultural and industrial supplies from Mars cut off rapidly, leaving the Earth economy teetering on the brink of disaster.  The conservative and risk-adverse leaders of Earth decided to play it safe, and rather than wait for the Mars crisis to settle down, they started to use Luna to fill the gap left by Mars.  Its been an imperfect bootstrap effort, but it has paid significant dividends for Luna -- the up-and-comer of the System.  

Luna is quietly ruled by an OCRI Colonial Administrator   

Mercury (The Papal State of Mercury): Mercury is a political oddity born of a number of unlikely events.  Long story short, Mercury is owned by the Vatican and administered as a holding by the Holy Catholic Church.  It is the engine that powers Earth - with significant resources and installations dedicated to collecting and beaming solar and fission energy to Earth where it is recovered and utilized.  Mercury is also the hub for the small, lucrative, but heavily regulated trade in antimatter.  

Oh yeah, Mercury also has evidence of extraterrestrial life.  The Church has thus far taken a hands-off approach to the research of the fossilized extraterrestrial life, but that may not last.  

Luna is managed by a Vatican-appointed Cardinal that is quietly supported by a pro-Hegemon mercantile cartel.  It is formally an OCRI colony.  

Saturn (The Saturn Colonial Administrative Zone) : Saturn is the home of the avant garde of the Solar System.  Once in competition with Jupiter for the lead in the volatile trade, it eventually lost out to its Jovian rival.  This was for the best it turned out, since it forced the Saturnine factions to turn to alternative economic models to keep up its once robust growth.  Now, Saturn is the home to the influential Commonwealth of Interstellar Interests (see below) and the home of a number of powerful SCEs that push the boundaries of science and economics.  If it can turn a credit, its probably happening on Saturn -- with alarming little regulation or oversight even on the most dangerous projects.  

Saturn isn't a single political entity outside of the dominant Commonwealth government.  Saturnine space is populated by dispersed habitats, homesteads, and moon settlements - the largest of which, Titan, is the defacto capital of the planet (and home to the Commonwealth).  

Saturn has an OCRI-sponsored Colonial Administrator, but he has little real power. 

Jupiter (The Jupiter Protectorate): A confusing collection of petty kingdoms and isolationist communities.  Jupiter's settlement is actually nowhere near the planet, with all the habitats clustering around the Trojan, Hildans, and Greek asteroid clusters (conforming to the stable Lagrange points).  This makes "Jupiter" the most dispersed of the polities in the System.  

Jupiter was, at one point, the center of economic activity and energy production - back when chemical rockets were the primary mode of transportation   Those heydays are gone, however, and now Jupiter plays host to those communities that either could not leave, or did not want to.  The most notable exception to this is the large Jewish diaspora habs in the Hildas - serving as the new Israel since Israel proper was destroyed in a nuclear exchange with Iran in the Mid-21st C.  

Jupiter serves as the lesson to the rest of the System about the dangers of crossing OCRI and the Hegemons.  Before the war with Mars, the skirmishes and battles between OCRI and the Hegemons with various Jovian independence factions proved the might of the Imperial governments (even if it came at a high cost).  

Jupiter has a Colonial Administrator that serves as the closest thing to a central government.  Many Jovian habs remain under martial law.  The Jewish Hildas are very vocal in their refusal to recognize the OCRI Administrator and have not submitted to martial law.  

Venus (The Venus Colonial Administrative Zone): Venus is complicit in advancing the Imperialist agenda.  The planet is ruled by the iron first of its Colonial Administrator, a woman known to have committed significant human rights abuses upon her own people.  Venus is a active opponent of Mars, to the point where Venus hosts the recently ousted Martian interim President.  

Venus and its administrator gets away with its horribly oppressive and eccentric government (even in the eyes of many Earthers) because it is happily raped by Colonial interests.  Workers rights rarely get in the way of profits - and with corruption at an all time high, anyone with interests in Venus is getting paid handsomely.  Thus far, the opponents of the Venusian administrator have yet to get the needed traction to overcome Venus' economic inertia.

That may all change, however.  Two nomadic dwarf planets, nicknamed the Huns, are transiting into the inner system.  They were originally thought to travel wide of any of the planets - with the biggest disruption being to the tidal movements of Earth's and Mars' oceans.  The estimations were wrong, and the Huns appear on a direct collision course with Venus.  A massive evacuation program began once the calculations for the impact were confirmed into the 80% range.  That orderly departure is quickly braking down, turning into a full fledged humanitarian crisis as many desperate Venusians clamor for space on overloaded colonial cyclers.  

Ceres (The UN Administered Zone of Ceres):  Ceres is under strict military control of the UNSC and OCRI.  It is a mystery to much of the system with little known besides the fact that the Imperial fleet is home-ported at Ceres.  

Key Organizations:

UN/OCRI (The UN Organization of Colonial Rights and Integrity): A UN body given a large budget and wide latitude to operate and administer the off-Earth colonies so that they remain stable and profitable.  OCRI's mandate has steadily expanded over the years as it has become more difficult with each pasing year to manage the colonies.  OCRI now manages a giant bureaucracy throughout the System and an elite military intervention force.  OCRI is the default bad guy of the setting - ruthlessly opposing Mars' goals while advancing the rapacious interests of the Imperialist Hegemons.  

UN/SC (The UN Security Council): The UNSC is populated by members of the Hegemons, with each Hegemonic bloc maintaining a permanent representative and also rotating on members every four years.  The Security Council is the policy body for the UN Peacekeepers, a standing military force of notable size.  The Peacekeepers are the equal of most Hegemonic space forces and the enforcement arm of the UN and, more generally, colonial interests.  When the problem is too large for the elite forces of the OCRI Crimson Helmets to handle, the UNSC's Peacekeeper behemoth steps in.  

CAID (The [Martian] Complexity Analysis and Intelligence Directorate): The very cutting edge special forces/intelligence body of the Martian government charged with forecasting the future and ensuring that future reflects Martian ideals of freedom and self determination.  CAID fuses sociology, predictive economics, and fuzzy analysis to develop the policy goals of the MDP - and has its own in-house special forces units to execute the missions required to ensure Mars' safety.  CAID is known colloquially on Mars as "Fatewatch."  Outside of Mars it is called a thinktank for terrorists.   

MIS (The [Venusian] Ministry of Internal Security): A hybrid Ministry with expansive policing and security responsibilities.  It is the enforcement arm of the Administrator and legendary for its ruthless (and brutal) effectiveness - against offworders and Venusian citizens alike.  MIS and its considerable military sub-ministry are major rivals to CAID and Mars.  

The Commonwealth: A loose confederation of polities, nations, and corporations tied together by the mutual desire for profit.  The Commonwealth is often confused for Saturn's government, and while its' HQ and many members are located in Saturn's well, it is not official government of Saturn.  The Commonwealth has members throughout the System, with allies and economic fronts on every planet and moon with a notable population.  Slow to act, when the Commonwealth does make a decision, everyone in the System pays attention since its economic edicts and sanctions can virtually destroy their targets.  Many Hegemons consider the Commonwealth a dangerous and unpredictable factor in Interplanetary politics.  


Flirting with Dominion -- The Trans-Oceanic Republican Alliance (TORA): What was once the US, UK, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Iceland/Greenland, Singapore, and Japan.

Whats Old is New -- The Ansar Community – Progressive mostly-Sunni alliance hemmed in by the irradiated wasteland that was once the holy land and a UN-puppet that plays at being Iran.

The Oldest Guard -- The European Union – They finally have a real currency and stable polity - though Iberia and France left in the 2090s.

Playing at Hegemon – The Commonwealth of Independent States (CoIS): Pretty much just Russia pretending to be a hegemonic bloc – of course, Russia is BIG (and aggressive), so it can sorta get away with it.
Direct Action – The Chinese Imperial State (ChIS): China, the Koreas, much of SE Asia and large parts of C. Asia.  Corporatist and strong rivals of the ANCS.

Petite Bourgeoisie – The Africa Natal Community of States (ANCS): Violently anti-SCE.  Kenya and the Congos, southward.

Sovereign Corporate Entities: 

BR/BP Distributions Inc, Orbital Inc, The Access Group, Tata Lunar, Direct Intervention Ltd, Mercurial Power Inc, GrainFlowMars, Primary Source (Pvt) Ltd, Generalized Products, Deep Space Media, Saab Near Orbital, MGM/VGM Holdings, others... 

The Huns:  The Doom That Came To Venus.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Brains on the Mind (Content)

I am finding that a lot of the setting development I work on focuses on just how far I am willing to allow the brain to be exploited.  As I stated earlier, TDE is a pre-singularity setting.  AIs are (mostly) nonexistent, and non-destructive uploads of cerebral activity is likewise limited to GM fiat.  Thus, one of the defining aspects of technology is just how far technology will go in allowing the brain/digital interface.


In TDE, if you want to do some crazy biological stuff, whether its a cyborg, bioborg, or something else entirely, you have to build it around a brain.  This is the genesis of AIHs - which are, basically, child soldiers in the body of 'roided out Schwarzenegger.  Child soldiers are really terrifying in real life.  Yes, there is the moral and ethical aspect of using children to do the fighting - but what makes them so desirable to really bad people is that the younger you get the more they are sociopaths with guns.  They don't have the world experiences to 1) think they can die and 2) care about other people.  That makes them horrifying on the battlefield.  For TDE, that makes the AIHs and their use very interesting plot elements.  What it means for the brain is that you have to allow the psyche to mature normally   Sure, the Martians augmented the proto-AIHs with VR and AR training, but the bottom line is that time was still required for the brain (and body) to develop (albeit at an accelerated rate).

For Saturn, their Moreau shock troopers are similarly limited around the need for a "normally" developed brain.  Since they cant just upload memories and training into a brain, it has to be grown - and in a form radically different than the human body, the Suturnines discovered that implanting the brain and allowing it to grow with the body is the best way to get a combat effective soldier.  Even then - even after having a human-origin brain grow organically in a non-human body - there are... complications.

Brain transplants are possible.  I figure they are a very common occurrence- and in some quarters, a booming business.  A vat grown brain, raised and trained, can be useful in some circumstances - especially if trained with AR - but it will still be limited

Information in the brain is stored chemically as well as electrically, so complete replication of a psyche is impossible.  Further, the sheer amount of data in an active brain is enormous - and in TDE, downloading all that information stretches the limits of most data storage devices.  Because the science in TDE has an incomplete understanding of the brain, attempts at uploading the brain (even with chemical augmentation  must upload all of the data in the brain - neuroengineers simply don't know which information in the brain is necessary and which isn't - so they have to try to capture it all.

With the brain, there just aren't many shortcuts.

One other plot element I want to introduce is "cemetery ships."  These will be a development of one of the Hegemons with a large space presence -- ships that are loaded with thousands of vat grown and artificially trained disembodied human brains.  The ship is stuffed to the gills with these brains that are linked in to a series of teleoperation systems.  The other thing on the ship?  Guided missiles and drones.

Instant 'zombie' spaceforce.

How bad would it suck to be one of those brains?  Bad enough a terrorist / freedom fighting organization has sprung up with the intention of sabotaging the use and production of the "drone-zombies."


Next up?  Militant neo-zionists with the closest thing to stealth spaceships.  Yeah, I am going there.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Unbridled Science and More Supersoldiers, Dammit (Content)!

I've still be seized with Saturn - even after about a week of hiatus due to travel and general exhaustion.  Its time to catch back up.  

Saturn is becoming more and more of the avant garde location for TDE - the place where anything goes - as long as it generates a profit.  That makes them both predictable and unpredictable   Predictable in the sense that much of Saturn's movers and players goals are easy to anticipate.  If there is profit, and an easy way to get to that profit - they are in.  Point "A" to Point "B" - pick the shortest line and you have the Satrunines.  

I want Saturn to be a very tricky entity.  Its more unified than Earth and Jupiter, an economic powerhouse, and probably embraces the best and worst the setting has to offer.  On the surface of it, I think Saturn would be a solid opponent for the PCs to face off against - but thats too easy.  Mars needs an ally.  Saturn, I think, should become an uneasy ally of Mars - a relationship of convenience.  Still overseen by an OCRI Administrator, the Commonwealth has grown strong and rich.  The Administrator is corrupt and complicit in the leeway Saturn enjoys from its U.N. masters.

While not in open rebellion, the Commonwealth is very sympathetic to the Martian cause, seeing a System that holds Martian ideals dear as a more profitable (and unbridled) field for its members to advance their goals.  The U.N. and Hegemons stymie Saturn and the Commonwealth's growth - and if Mars offers an alternative, then the Commonwealth's board is willing to invest a reasonable amount of resources to hedge their bets. 

At the same time, their pursuit of profit and security has led the corporate council of the Commonwealth to approach to a number of creative solutions to their problems.  Where the rest of the System is uncomfortable with experimentation on AIs and digitizing the brain, there is bound to be someone in the Commonwealth (and likely in Saturn's orbit) doing some very freaky experiments -- looking for that competitive edge that simple cutthroat business acumen just cant compete with.  Saturn is the place for really freaky stuff (at least by the System's standards) - including uplifts.  

Now, there is a reason this stuff is shunned by the rest of the System.  In the case of AIs the implications are simply too dangerous for most of the system to be comfortable with.  There is a very heated moral debate going on in the System, and the conservatives are (so far) winning the argument.  The nail in the coffin (for the time being) is that the best scientists and programmers have come close (they think) to awakening an AI, but have not been able to to cross the threshold into full sentience.  The same discussion involves uplifts.  Bioengineers can do a number of creative processes with the flesh - copying designs found in nature, improving upon them, and developing entirely new processes.  However, the secrets of the brain remain elusive.  Copying/transferring full consciousnesses is impossible (despite a number of very well funded projects).  The farthest science has made it in 2131 is Direct Neural Interface (DNI) - a process where the brain can interface with digital media - and the key to the success of the JAMOR-V project.  As close as DNI comes, its not quite capable of making the leap to fully digitizing brainwaves and maintaining them in an artificial environment.  That last part of that last sentence is particularly important - the reality is that science, through the DNI has digitized the brain, but has not discovered how to keep brainwaves maintained outside of grey matter.  When removed from their natural housing (the brain) the brain waves rarify and dissolve, leaving a jumbled mess of static.  

While every major power (and minor ones) want to unlock true brain digitization, its Saturn thats exploring the various peripheral processes.  

I nabbed this pic from a site - credit to Max Elmbeg Sjoholm Emin.
Hope he doesnt mind.     
What does this lead to?

Saturn's answer to the AIHs?  

Dr. Moreu-like bioborgs, controlled by vat-grown human brains, of course.*

*okay, not "of course" but you get the idea.