Vir's Archive

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Stymied Growth - The Lunar Commonwealth (Content)

Alright, so now that we have some of the technology defined (Jammers, AIH Clones), I think it is time to get back to the political beasts of the setting.  Doing a quick wordcount, I see that I have just about 8,000 words written.  Thats about an eighth of my eventual goal - but its a good start.  Of those 8,000 words and 20+ entries so far, notably absent are the primary "protagonist" and "antagonist" -- Mars and the U.N.  I find that fascinating - its not for lack of thought or definition that they haven't been written up yet, its that other ideas pop in my head and I rush to get them into the catalog.   Further, I am finding that as I fill in other details about the setting, I am also defining the peripheral facts about Mars and the U.N.  There is a lot going on in this setting (potential energy), and a lot of it hooks into the brewing conflict between the U.N. (which is desperate to reassert its authority and quiet the questions about its ability to project power) and recently independent Mars (which sees its best defense against Earth as a strong offense that undermines its off-planet interests).  So, I heed Orson Scott Card's advice and sit on my ideas to allow them to ferment and germinate.

An example of defining the U.N. and Mars through the other entries is Luna.  It was developed, in part, as a quick thought exercise of each stage of Lunar colonization -- exploration, then mining, then as a vector for material movement, then as a colony profitable on its own, then as a tax/financial haven, and finally as a sophisticated society that can stand on its own (though, because of political considerations, doesn't .

Luna is also a good example of the complexity I want out of the setting elements.  I want every entity to have good and bad points to it.  I want conflict.  I want dynamism - I want the writeups and descriptions to paint a picture of societies in motion -- moving, evolving, and changing.  The content entries are supposed to be snapshots - and with Luna we have a colony that has hit its natural limit of subservience.  For it to keep growing it will have to make a hard decision - continue to be stymied by prioritizing Earth interests  or try to cast off the colonial shackles and go it alone.  Comfortable status quo or the lure of even bigger profits of change.  Invest in steady blue chips or a promising start up?  And as much as the SCEs control Luna, they will need the support of the people on whatever path is chosen.  Of course, freedom for Luna isnt necessarily a guaranteed paradise - in fact, the way the government and social support is structured, independence may be a very bad thing for the residents and citizens of Luna...

The Financial Axis – Luna:  Luna is the home of the Lunar Commonwealth, a corporatist government that has built its success by bending over backwards to serve the Sovreign Corporate Rntity (SCE) agenda.  Luna was originally settled as a more convienant launching base for further exploration and colonization.  Additionally, the relatively large amounts of Heluim-3 in the regolith made harvesting a profitable endeavor for the handful of corporate interests that had the resources to establish a permanent presence on the moon.  Over the years and decades, the population of Luna grew - starting with a few homesteaders and eventually blossoming into a full fledged population.  

As the population grew and stabilized, so did Lunar economic interests.  Mass drivers were created to help move valuable materials across the inner system.  High powered lasers and masers were established under Lunar corporate oversight to help power the early growth of the solar sail trade.  In time, these material interests yielded to digital interests, with Luna leading the way in financial, solar web, and broadcasting interests.  Where once there was the moon of scientists and miners, there is now one of the most savvy and sophisticated societies on the System.  

In 2131 the Lunar Commonwealth is powerful, not due to its unity of purpose (it has none) or its military (which is laughably small) -- the Commonwealth is filthy, stinking rich and only getting richer in the current age of uncertainty.  As of 2131, the Commonwealth includes most of the Lunar city-states as well as a majority of habitats based in Earth’s L1 nd L2.  

Citizenship and due process in the Lunar Commonwealth is a tricky thing.  The Charter and subsequent legal codes that formed the Commonwealth was drafted over a decade, with competing interests constantly working to get their own loopholes codified.  Everybody had to get their share.  The end result was a document that falls just short of “hideously complicated” and “disastrously vague.”  However, the complicated legal and governmental structure serves the various corporations and their allies well, since they have the budget to hire the army of lawyers required to parse the various legal codes of the nation.  Its not surprising that with that sort of confused birth, the Commonwealth remains disorganized and politically schizophrenic.  

Citizenship in the Commonwealth is secured through paying a minimum amount of taxes.  All people that live in a city-state or habitat that has formally joined the Commonwealth is taxed by the Commonwealth, but only those that voluntarily increase their taxes beyond 50% of their income are granted suffrage.  Similarly, to qualify for the Commonwealth's extensive social welfare program, a member has to pay at least 30% of their income in taxes for five years.  This means that while the Commonwealth claims over 400 million members, less than a quarter vote and less than a third receive social support.  Still, the quality of life in the Commonwealth is generally quite high, meaning there are strict intake rules for the many prospective immigrants.  

The government of the Commonwealth is composed of 15 “seats” held by the taxpayers who pay the largest amounts.  This means, of the 15 seats, 13 are held by the leaders of corporations.  The Prime Minister position, which selects the government, is voted on by the Council seats.  Since a simple majority within the Council can oust a Prime Minister, government changes are frequent.  This leads to the schizophrenic reputation Luna so rightly deserves.  

Complicating things further is the fact that the Commonwealth acts, for all intents and purposes, as a sovereign state but still is technically administered by the OCRI with an appointed Administrator.  However, with the amount of money that flows through Luna, and the fact that everyone seems to have a direct stake in ensure the situation remains stable (and profitable), OCRI is under unstated orders to give the “colony” wide latitude in its own dealings.  One area where the Commonwealth's status as a colony is glaringly apparent is that it is only allowed to maintain a small self defense force and host a handful of OCRI bases (most of those bases are, not coincidentally, located near the many mass drivers located across Luna).  To their credit, most Lunans (and ‘Grangers) stifle their lingering resentment of the Crimson helmets.  The Commonwealth's status as a colony also precludes it from a seat in the United Nations and most inter-Solar bodies.  


Next up, I think its time to talk about influences and priorities.  What do I hope to get out of the setting   What issues do I think need to be discussed?  I'm open to any feedback so far before I jump into dissecting my own motivations - so please, comment away!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Social Implication of Supersoldiers - AIHs (Content)

Okay, next up are the clones of the setting.  Once lauded as war heroes, they are quickly becoming an expensive and uncomfortable social burden on the society they helped create.

The AIHs (see below for the acronym) are a good example of the type of elements I want in this setting.  I want there to be hundred of plot hooks that are presented as "potential energy" -- events that, once the campaign starts, could rapidly change the face of the world.  At the point where the GM says the first couple of sentences establishing a new game, I want the setting to already be changing.  Each setting for each group should be radically different - especially if it is due to the PCs.  For the AIHs/clones - their world is close to exploding.  They are an under appreciated forgotten people, struggling with who they are, what they are, and where they are supposed to fit socially.  They are change just waiting for a catalyst.

It was a way better movie than it had any right to be...
When someone tells you all about their character - I want it to mean something.

There are major social and political implications of creating masses of semi-human soldiers, and I don't want to shy away from that discussion.  Just as importantly for the game, AIHs provide some really fascinating (and challenging) roleplaying options -- and, yes -- if a player wants a kickass supersoldier, look no farther.  

... And, in case it has to be said, if all the GM is looking for are supersoldiers to use for a plothook or all the Player wants is to play someone that can kick some major ass -- and both want to ignore all the social rigmarole I am embedding in the setting, that is not a problem.  You are not playing it wrong.

This entry is going to be more raw than the rest - I wrote it last night and haven't given it even the rudimentary pass I gave OCRI and the Jammer entries.  So, apologies upfront.  Don't judge me too harshly on the spelling and awkward turn of a phrase.

Bottled Soldiers -- The Initiated Aging Process (IAP):  As early as 2100, Martian scientists were exploring the use of clones as alternatives to labor-intensive careers.  Despite a number of predictions that humans would no longer be required for physical labor, 2100 still saw many humans involved in a number of physically-oriented careers (though those numbers were the lowest they had ever been in human history).  Warfare, in particular, still required humans for many key roles -- especially on the battlefield and to pilot the various full-sized and teleopertaed vehicles.  Automation and digitization of the world marched along, but humans were still needed to perform a number of key jobs.

In 2099 the Erinyes Doctrine outlined the process by which the Martians planned to free themselves from Earth’s dominion - and a key part of the Doctrine was to acquire large numbers of physical troops to overwhelm the C-in-C of Hegemon and UN forces in the Martian well.  Thus, Mars needed troops.  Lots of troops.  And Mars needed to make sure Earth interests were not alerted to the troop buildup.  

Erinyes initially called for 1.5 million troops at the outset of war - with a stead increase in numbers as each tear of combat ticked by.  Mercenaries and recruitment of native Martian forces could provide 500,000 of that number, but even the most generous statistical analyses from the CCFD had Martian leadership fall short of the targeted number.  Initially, the Martians enacted a crash-course of trying to digitize consciousness in the hope that they could transfer their experienced soldiers into synthetic warforms, but, like all similar experiments, the human mind refused to remain coherent away from a physical brain.  In time, the Martian executive turned their focus on to a parallel project -- the exploitation of clones.  In secret, the Administrator Sugiyama charged the Department of Defense to grow and train two million clones - and for those clones to be ready by 2100 for potential hostilities with Earth.  

The shortcut the DoD was forced to use was Initiated Aging Process (IAP), which doubled the speed by which the human body developed.  Within 10 years, the DoD had, amazingly enough, a secret army of hale 20-year olds.  Unfortunately, the psychological and sociological pressures the the IAP process placed on the the clones was enormous.  Suicide rates for the clones were staggeringly high, and burnout was similarly astronomical.  By the 10 year deadline, more than 500,000 clones were dead or evaluated as combat ineffective.  

DoD researchers used every trick they could to prepare the clones for the upcoming war.  Military discipline and training weren't a problem - the young minds of the clone soldiers easily absorbed and processed their lessons.  DNI was experimented with as a way to impart advanced combat and piloting techniques - with some notable successes.  However, for all intents and purposes, the clones were mentally only 10 years old when they took the field.  

The deployment of the Martian clones (Artificially Initiated Humans, “Ayes”) had the desired effect of the battlefield.  Earth and UN forces had carefully plotted their numbers stationed on Mars to counter known Martian forces.  When the Free Mars movement revealed nearly two million unaccounted-for soldiers, the colonial forces were immediately placed on the defensive.  The UN and Hegemons never recovered the initiative, and eventually were forced off of most of Mars.  The initial battlefield successes of the IAP and its AIH shocktroopers prompted the Martian shadow-government to increase the numbers of AIHs in development - swelling the ranks of the Martian forces by the final stages of the war.  All told, over 60 million clones were created, trained and processed; and an estimated 40 million of them survive to this day.  

During the height of the Martian independence war, the UN spitefully passed Security Council Resolution 4161, condemning the use of AIHs and cloning as a tool of war.  The nascent Martian planetary government ignored the resolution and the Earth-side condemnation it spawned, instead turning back to the vats and developing the next iteration of cloned soldiers.  The UN noted significant moral challenges to the use of AIHs, and soundly condemned the routine savagery of the AIHs during, and after, combat.  Truthfully, the Free Mars movement regularly had trouble reigning in the excesses of the AIHs, though the Movement, and its successor the MDP, never admitted to mishandling the brutality of the AIHs.  

Today, Mars has a growing problem on its hands.  The MDP has millions of former soldiers, struggling to find meaningful work, who suffer from significant anomie, and of which many have sociopathic tendencies as a direct result of the mental stresses placed on them by the state.  These same dispossessed clones have skills best suited to combat and confrontation.  Many turn to crime, piracy or mercenary guilds to earn cash and find meaning.  The AIHs are also rapidly aging - creating entirely new mental pressures on the clones as well as precipitating a social services crisis.  

Mars knows it owes a steep debt to the AIHs - it just doesn't know how to repay them - or if it really ready to pay the cost.  


I want AIHs to be a tough setting element for the game.  All too often, major issues like the implications of genetic engineering and wartime expediency are ignored - in literature and in games.  Time to change that.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

JAMOR-V "Jammers" (Content)

More Mecha...

I'm exhausted tonight.  Got some writing in on clone soldiers and the war for Mars, which is good.  However, I dont have much left in me to pontificate on the nature of the game and why I made the choices I did.  So, in an effort not to think too much, I see that the OCRI entry is getting the most hits, so I figure give the people their bread and circuses and post some more content...

Not a Jammer - but one of the images I use for inspiration (from Front Mission)

The Future of Warfare -- Joint Atmospheric Maneuver / Orbital Regression Vehicles (JAMOR-V or “Jammers”):  Jammers were created in a joint venture between Australia and the United States, with the Aussies taking the lead.  As both countries developed colonial assets farther and farther away from Earth’s immediate orbit, a new class of vehicle was mandated for a series of very diverse missions.  The original design challenge was for a vehicle that could fight effectively on land, sea, air, orbit and the deep void of space while also being as fuel efficient as possible to allow long deployments.  Not surprisingly, when the media got wind of the design demands for the proposed vehicle, both the Australian and American militaries were humiliated.  

In what can only be called a fortuitous development, the program was not scrapped.  In part, this was due to both governments being focused on the population crash of the ‘80s and neither legislature getting the time to simply axe the experimental program.  So, despite a considerable cloud hanging over the project, requests for concepts were solicited.  Two proposals came back, one of which made it to the design stage.  

BAE Systems Australia in partnership with Lockheed-Martin proposed creating a war machine based on the human form, using a number of innovative technologies to ensure it could operate in just about any environment.  Two core technologies proved to be the key to the operations of Jammers.  The first was the creation of the Wibe True Gyroscope, and the second was the use of Spaulding-series of Direct Neural Interfaces (DNIs).  Both technologies were used for the first time in conjunction with another to allow for a large, mobile, humanoid form.  

The advantage of building a humanoid machine were enormous.  Tests showed that pilots that operated humanoid exoskeletons using DNI learned faster and generally reacted faster for longer periods of exposure.  This meant the prototype Jammers required relatively little initial training and allowed the pilots to operate at higher degrees of difficulty at later stages of their career.  The Spaulding DNIs also allowed pilots to subconsciously use energy-saving techniques by tapping into autonomic responses that maximized the output of the their own bodies.  Rather than need to invest considerable energy to building vectoring units across an entire craft so that it could maneuver in a war-time environment, the pilot only needs to shift the weight of the Jammer to get the same results - with much less energy wasted.  Better yet, each pilot already had a life’s worth of training by the time they interr’d  into the Jammer.  

A Jammer’s humanoid form allows it to effectively and efficiently transit each of the original design demands - land, sea and air (though, admittedly, aerial and void/space techniques normally require extra training).  Looking back, the 2090s are considered the beginning of the era of the Jammer.  The early part of the decade saw the battles of Valparaiso Downport, the Mare Imbium insurrection, and a host of minor conflicts in NEO and UEO.  Time and again, Jammers proved their worth, particularly in the running battles of Valparaiso and Mare Imbrium which both involved combat shifts through radically different environments.  Historical records show that from 2090 to 2100 Jammers were used in successful contacts on all the inner planets, Ceres, and the Jovian L4.  

It should have come as no shock to a student of human society or pop culture that once unveiled, Jammers and their pilots would prove to be enormously popular.  Holovids quickly grabbed on to the merging of man and machine and glamorized the process.  In short order, Jammer pilots were romanticized as daring warriors harkening back to a bygone age of action and adventure.

Truth is stanger than fiction, because while the Holovid industry was getting ahead of itself portraying Jammer pilots as devil-may care superstars, the real Jammer pilots were inadvertently proving the entertainment industry correct.  The first handful of engagements by OCRI Jammers and traditional combat vehicles operated by insurgents and pirates proved the worth of the Jammer concept.  The Holovids got it right, to some extent.


... In other news, I have an artist in the wings.  We are finishing up another project and will then start talking about doing up some art for the Game That Has No Name.  Jammers will be at the very top of the list of things that need visuals, stat!

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Outer Edge of the Permissible (aka Why mecha?)

One of the challenges that this setting is going to give me is reconciling my vision of mecha-centric space combat and the hard-ish SF elements I want to feature.  I feel that adding elements of realistic politics is complemented nicely by realistic technology -- it creates an overall feel of being grounded in the possible (rather than the fantastic).

So.  Mecha.  Yeah.

You see mecha, I see possibilities!  
Thats going to be my conceit.  Mecha will be in the setting.  They will play an integral role.  In fact, the default PC will be a mecha pilot.  Mecha will set the very outer edge of what makes sense in terms of the science of the setting.  I plan to set parameters by walking backwards from mecha in terms of technology.  If it is less advanced than humanoid robots powered by DNI, then its probably permissible.  In this way, the technological setting element I just cant do without (and which might break the setting) will serve as a useful tool for defining other setting elements.

So, theres no getting away from Mecha.  Now, if I am going to ground the setting in what seems, at the very least, plausible then I have some work ahead of me (and probably no small amount of handwaving and demanding that Dorothy ignore the man behind the curtain).  I need to present mecha in such away that the reader finds them an organic extension of the setting -- and that means a lot of thought into what they look like, how the perform, and their background.

This will be my attempt at that.  I am very open to suggestions about how to improve the presentation and/or development of mecha in the setting.

Oh?  And why wont I get rid of mecha?  Because they are awesome.  Full stop.  They might not make perfect sense, but they are too cool not to feature in the setting.  Plus, I can do a lot of things to give PCs agency by using mecha.  Want to play in a military-style campaign?  Sure.  Want to play in a medical SAR-focused game?  Okay.  Want to fight in space?  No problem.  Want to fight underwater?  We can do that.  Want to do a kickass spinning kick while underwater while planning to blast into space to fight the forces of the colonial hegemons?  Yeah, thats possible.

No.  No they dont transform.  Thats not possible.  Sorry.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tool of the Imperialists -- OCRI (Content)

Okay, so lets jump right into some of the content I developed for the game that has no name (yet).  A little background first, since I think insight into my decisions will help clarity why I chose certain design elements.  

I am writing entries into the master document a little like the entries in Dictionary of Mu.  I don't know why I chose this process, but there it is.  I went back and looked at the content written in this format a week ago and decided I liked it.  It adds a sense of immediacy and reader involvement - almost like reading a wiki-analog in 2131.  That, BTW, also led me to a couple other overall goals in the game - immersion through text (but that is a discussion for later). 

The SF game was born of a number of musing I've had over the years and am only just now putting to paper.  Orson Scott Card once advised to never write down an idea that comes into your head.  Instead, wait, and let it germinate   If you immediately forget it, it probably wasnt a good idea.  However, if you sit on it and mull it over for weeks/months.years - when it finally does get to paper it will be all the stronger for the consideration you gave it.  This setting is a result of that process.  There are ideas embedded into the Solar System that have been years int he making.  One of those ideas was the design decision to feature a Mars/Earth conflict where Mars wasn't the underdog.  The idea of a brewing conflict between OCRI (below) and the hegemons of Earth (to come later) against a recently liberated Martian polity was the catalyst for me to finally but my idea to paper.  

So, here is OCRI, the core antagonist of the setting (do be warned, this is still very and hasnt yet seen a good grammar or content editing pass):  

Despotic World Government, Just Add Black Helicopters!  
Civilization at the End of a Gun -- OCRI:  The Office of Colonial Rights and Integrity (OCRI – colloquially pronounced “Ohs Ree”) is a U.N. body empowered with a seeping mandate to “maintain peace and security in the Solar colonies.”  The UN charter in 2083 gave the High Commissioner for the OCRI the ability to call in support from standing UN security forces during crises or force majeur.  In the modern day, the High Commissioner of the OCRI is one of the most influential people in the System – with the ability to order significant member state and UN Peace Keeping forces to intervene in just about any situation. 

In 2131 OCRI is the single most powerful entity in the System.  Since its mandate was expanded in 2083, the OCRI now maintains a small but elite standing body of forces ready spread across the System ready to respond to contingencies (known, simply enough, as Contingency Forces).  When these OCRI “Crimson Helmets” aren’t enough to deal with the problem at hand, the High Commissioner can put out a call for the support of member states.  This support can come in a number of different forms, from financial to material – including the loan of personnel.  When member states provide support to OCRI, the resources come under direct control of the High Commissioner until such time that the emergency has passed.  Unfortunately, the (once again) broad and ill-defined mandate of the OCRI charter means that it has sometimes retained control of ships, personnel, and equipment for longer than the member state preferred, leading to some tensions.

The original charter for OCRI charter was relatively limited in scope and charged the standing Contingency Forces to patrol the port areas and gravity wells of the inner planets.  In certain cases, the Contingency Forces were given special dispensation to range outside of the wells and into the outer planets to track and engage pirates.  At the time, however, this was a rare occurrence, requiring Secretary General approval.  Not surprisingly, approval from the SecGen was only ever secured when the intelligence was undeniable.  The handful of instances when the Crimson Helmets did venture past the wells did not often turn out well.  Asking glorified customs agents to fight a shooting war with hardened pirates was a recipe for disaster.  It was the handful of high-profile failings that led, in part to the 2096 revision of OCRI’s charter.  The actual process was slow and highly politicized, and resulted in a drastically different OCRI.

Besides its current mission to respond to contingencies and emergencies and keep the peace, OCRI has an extensive bureaucratic and investigatory arm.  The “Rights” portion of the OCRI apparatus was originally created as a concession to the colonial lobby in order to ensure the OCRI had a role in protecting the rights and interests of the colonies.  “Rights” was only added to the original “OCI” moniker after a number of colonial-sympathetic member states refused to ratify the charter in the General Assembly.  The result of the intense negotiations and rewriting of the charter was the creation of the Deputy Commissioner for Colonial Rights, a position second only to the High Commissioner and legal status on par with the Special Representative for the Secretary General (PeaceKeeping).  The Deputy Commissioner’s office has a wide range of enforcement and investigatory powers to ensure the living conditions and legal rights are on par with Earthers.  In reality, the ORCI Rights sub-office has withered into little more than a rubberstamp for the more aggressive actions of the Crimson Helmets.

In the modern Solar System, the UN’s OCRI is a tool of the major Earth hegemons and is used as a tool to keep the various colonial independence movements marginalized.  This inevitably results in a directly antagonistic relationship with the United Martian Government, which is increasingly active in its effort to support and encourage sovereignty movements in the colonies.


Comments and criticisms are very welcome - as are ideas that riff or add to the above.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A New Start

To Boldly... wait. No.  Move along.  

Its been a while, no?  

Time to start the blog again.  This time with a very different goal.  Rather than touch on the various gaming shiny objects that catch my attention (of which there are a lot), I'd like Vir Triumphalis to serve as a sounding board for me to share a hard-sih Sci-Fi setting I am working on.  

So, what is the setting?  Right now, its mecha (called "Jammers") + year 2131 + hard politics + hegemons + no FTL + revolutionary mindset + Action SCIENCE!  Things are still very fluid and unfolding as I keep adding to the setting - but those are the core aspects that appears to be resistant to the various changes I keep throwing in.

The pitch:  Hard-ish SF coupled with Hard-ish politics.  A nuanced look at modern power politics as seen through the lens of space forces clashing on the Solar stage (100+ years in the future).  One part top gun with mecha, one part Hans Morgenthau, one part war-time journalism.

The game, which I have yet to name*, is my ode to Jovian Chronicles and Transhuman Space.  I look at those settings and see what aspects I want - an ability to embrace real-world science, technology, and politics and extrapolate them into the future - and know that you don't have to throw in psionics, magic or aliens to get gripping stories.  

I plan to use the One Roll Engine for the game.  If it was good enough for Monsters and Other Childish Thingsm its sure good enough for my little homebrew.  


* okay, thats not true.  I have named it.  I have named it about eight times - and cant come up with something that I like.  Right now, its working under two titles:  "The Vir Triumphalis Initiative" and "Sol Invictus."  I want a title that conveys the core aspects of the game while also telling the reader the game is about doing stuff... about being right there, in the shit, changing the world (Solar System).  I havent quite found that perfect name, yet.