Vir's Archive

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Busy, Busy (Maintainance)




Sorry for there not being many updates lately - I was in Germany for a long weekend and I fly out to Maldives tomorrow for a couple days.  Its meant the blog has gone kinda fallow - but that doesn't mean I haven't been working on TDE.  In fact, being stuck on a plane for 10 hours with no family to distract me let me pound out more of the rules.  I have a pretty good working schematic now - stats, a combat flowchart, what to spend sacrifices on -- I'll do an update shortly.  I am pretty excited, though - there are a lot of interesting things going on with the mechanic, and it looks like it will promote some very colorful narratives along with some tough decisions about what actions to take and with which dice.

The other thing I have been working on is Saturn.  I am really taken by the idea of the planet and what it will bring to the TDE setting.  Right now, besides being home to the economic powerhouse that is the Commonwealth, I think it is going to be the faction that is most avant garde in exploring what is possible with tailored genetic engineering.

See, in TDE, republican (small "r" republican) ideals of identity won out.  Self determination is the default.  But on Saturn, they are starting to revert to a heavily stratified caste system - where individuals are tailored made in utero to fulfill certain demands of the state.  Its anathema to the rest of the System - the idea that an individual is forced into a particular career path.  But the Saturnines think it is yielding justifiable advantages and efficiencies.

I really need to do a wrapup for the various factions.  Hmm.

Expect a couple big updates later this week.

Friday, March 22, 2013

From Concept to Form (Art)



An "Imbolc" class Martian patrol destroyer  in colored glory!  

Okay, lets talk about art development.  This, I have discovered, is one of my favorite parts about developing a game.  Its not cheap, but it is loads of fun to work with talented artists and feed off each other's visions.

I found Jeff Cram on an advert off of rpg.net.  I shot him a blind email saying I liked his stuff and inquired if he would be up to doing some SF work.  I told him I didn't need a lot of full color cover pages, mostly development art.  Many artists, for whatever reason, don't like to do development/concept work.  Probably because it doesn't pay the same as the really detailed stuff and doesn't add to a portfolio like the expensive stuff does.  That said, my budget cant handle a bunch of large pieces, so the initial prices Jeff quoted me were more than reasonable and clearly showed he understood what I was looking for.  The formalities fell into place.

Next up was a quick note from me to Jeff outlining what I was looking for -- an oneill-like torus in the center of the ship was one of the core concepts I wanted to see put to paper.

Below was the first draft - which was a lot of Jeff riffing and seeing what he came up with:




I liked the start, and it gave some stuff to work with.  I didn't like the bridge/tower thing and asked him to pull that off and assume the bridge is buried safely in the bowels of the ship.  I did like the guns on the side - which game me the idea that they shoot Jammers (for a lot of reasons  but one of them is that a gun that shoots Jammers is cool).  I also asked him to beef up the areas around the cylinder to make it a little less exposed. 

I also shared with Jeff some art I liked to point him in the right direction.   

Jeff went back to work.  



I think of this one as the "train ship" - for obvious reasons.  I really didn't like the front - a result of not being clear to Jeff what I was looking for.  I liked that Jeff was playing with lines and angles on this one more than the first iteration, so I wanted to encourage that.  But the cow-catcher had to go.  I made some other suggestions - mostly about the front and asked for more development around the engines.  This was also the first pic where Jeff started to get a feel for how much I like arrays as an aesthetic design choice.  I shot a concept picture of the Zumwalt class destroyer to Jeff and asked him to pull some design elements from there to add a bit of future-realism to the design.  





Ah, ha!  This is the pic where I knew we were really on the right track.  I specifically asked for the fins on the back, but a buddy of mine who saw the pic was adamant - "no fins!"  Okay, no fins.  Jeff did great with this one, lots of little details here and there that really make the ship come alive.  Jeff pulled in the Torp/Jammer cannons, and I much prefer this length for those guns.  He and I worked up the torpedoes in the front - which is what really pulls the pic together.  He also beefed up with habitat.  

I debated about asking to move the canon so it was more centered, but ultimately decided against it.  At this point, Jeff was sending me a bunch of iterations of the pic and, frankly, I didn't want to keep sending small changes when it looked like we were close to done.  Part of my decision not to ask had to do with this being the first art Jeff and I have worked on together - and I didn't want to annoy him too much with fiddly changes (though I am now sure he would have been cool with it).  The reality is that I am still not sold the ship would look any better centering the canon, so I let it go.  




And the final (after inks).  This is where Jeff brought it all together.  The blocky-things between the thrusters were originally supposed to be ejectable fuel supplies.  But when I saw them, they looked more like magnetic housings -- which sealed the deal that mil-spec ships in TDE use antimatter.  Thats part of the reason I like doing art this early in the design process, seeing the vehicles and making some intuitive jumps from what the artists come up with is another form of collaboration.  

Jeff did a great job.  We are on to our next design - the big brother of the Imbolc.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

As the System Turns (Content, Collaboration)



I love this picture.  


I had a skype session last night with a member of one of the boards I frequest (hi Alexander!) who had some thoughts on TDE.  The session was quite productive, and as I went to bed I made a couple of decisions that are going to shake up the setting as it stands.

First off, Alexander pushed me to think a bit more locally and figure out the level of tech and connectivity the average person has in TDE.  I thought this over last night and this morning and the more I think about it, the more I think that cybernetics, augmented reality, and biomods will all be fairly commonplace.  This gets us to a very wired society, but without having to push into transhumanism or the singularity.  I'm starting to get a feel that the technology of the setting is a bit like cyberpunk, without the 'punk or dystopia.

Alexander asked about artificial intelligence.  On the whole, AI does not exist - its all augmented human brains and "smart" programs doing the heavy programatic lifting.  There will be one notable excpetion to this rule - another source of potential energy to break the setting.  We will get into that later.

Then Alexander noted that he felt Mars would be the jumping off point for colonization of the System, not Luna.  Thats fascinating.  I can see where the argument comes from - the major effort for getting to Luna is to escape the worst parts of Earth's gravity well and overcome the friction of the atmosphere.  Once you are to Luna, its mostly a matter of a little extra reaction mass and time and you are at Mars -- which has a lot more resources and a real atmosphere to play with.  The best Luna offers is proximity and some supplies of He3 and limited supplies of ice.

I'm really starting to lean towards Alexander's point on Mars vs Luna.  What I think I am going to do is pick the Commonwealth, whole hog, out of Luna and plop it onto Titan/Saturn.  Luna becomes a backwater for most of TDE's history - a place for military bases, mass drivers, and some He3 harvesting.  Mars was the jumping off point for colonization - which is why it was rapidly built up the way it was.  However, once Mars got its independance, Earth lost a lot of its infrastructure resources for maintaining its colonies and has embarked on a crash program to make Luna "the new Mars."  This adds a bit more tension to Mars/Earth and makes Luna a bit of a boomtown in 2191 - lots of construction and optimism.

The other historical conflict that came out of Alexander's points was the Jupiter/Saturn conflict.  Alexander felt that Saturn was a better location for mining volatiles back in TDE's past.  Again, I can see his point.  Distance is a problem for Saturn, but its radiation and gravity wells are siginficatly less onerous than Jupiters'.

So, building from that, I think there has been a historical economic rivalry between Jupiter and Saturn.  Both were settled in the relative early days of colonization with an eye to getting volatiles and rare elements back to Earth and Mars.  Different companies and different interests threw their lots in with Jupiter or Saturn depending on their priorities, processes, and resources.  In the end, Saturn "won" in the sense that the Commonwealth was formed with Saturnine entities at its core (the Commonwealth will still include stations and polities from around the System, but it is most populous and headquartered around Saturn).  Jupiter volatile interests have dwindled as fission and antimatter have become more commonplace - leaving the hundreds of colonies and stations around Jupiter balkanized.

Saturn is where people go to make money.

Jupiter is where people go to get away from everything else.  

+++

I really like these developments -it gives the System of TDE a bit of a dynamic history, while also providing some good ideas for campaigns.  Alexander's ideas are really good and pushed me to rethink some of my assumptions - merci.

Monday, March 18, 2013

An Earth Less Ordinary (Content)




Earth, like Mars and Ceres, has been difficult to write.  The vision I have for Earth is the anti-unified government.  I'm tired of seeing the fractious nature of humanity glossed over for a literary convenience.  Frankly, unified Earth governments are boring.  I want an Earth that barely hangs together, with myriad of competing interests driving the powers-that-be apart.  I want the things keeping the motley band of Hegemons and Corporations together is the bureaucratic inertia behind the UN and the fact that the one thing the Hegemons can agree upon is how much they hate the idea of colonial Independence.

The problem with such a wonderful complicated political and social landscape is that you actually have to define that complicated relationship and give a unique face to the various powers.

This is my lame attempt at a start.  This is supposed to be Earth - I need a lot more content and detail to do it justice.

Humanity’s Cradle -- Earth: Earth is the most developed and populated planet in known human space.  It is the cradle of humanity and boasts the largest, most affluent, and most educated population in the Solar System.  Currently, the planet hosts just under 50 billion people, a number closely regulated by strict laws about population growth.  It also boasts the most diverse, and some would say, Balkanized population in the System.  Earth is home to 71 independent countries, eight Trans-National/Hegemonic blocs, and 17 corporate entities that have secured a special independent status for themselves.  These varied interests are often at each others’ throats, both on earth and off.  

Earth is dominated by a number of large political and economic entities that span much of the globe.  The many Trans-National alliances create a club of hegemonic blocs that dominate much of the planet’s territory.  Land ownership by individuals is a rare right offered in only a few of the smaller countries, with the nation states, and by extension the hegemonic blocs owning and regulating most of the land resources of the world.  Thus, despite the relatively advanced state of political theory and identity politics, the nations of earth are still very much tied to the land they claim.  The blocs, along with their member states, operate the largest militaries on the planet, able to project power into humanity’s home like none other.  The nations and blocs have also been the traditional lead in the colonization effort, and many operate and maintain extensive off-Earth holdings.

Earth is also home to a number of Sovereign Corporate Entities (SCE) that have the same rights and responsibilities as their nation-contemporaries.  These 17 corporations are often more liquid than the nation-states.  They operate their own, usually small, security forces and have seats within the UN and its committees just as any traditional nation does.  The SCEs can also grant citizenship – usually to its employees and their families.  Like the Hegemonic Blocs, the SCEs maintain off-world colonial holdings.

The third pillar of the political and social sphere of Earth is the United Nations.   Despite numerous existential crises over the decades, the UN remains the premiere venue for multilateral affairs.  Over time, it has seen some of its powers grow, especially in regards to the colonies.  Similarly, in Earth affairs it has seen its role and scope retracted as the Blocs and SCEs have maneuvered the polity to serve more as their own tool for securing their interests.  However, the UN still maintains a sizable political influence on Earth, and while difficult, still does intervene on the behalf of the General Assembly or Security Council in Earth affairs.

Earth is a mess of conflicting goals and shifting alliances. The times they do come together is against Mars or to pool their exploitative resources off-world... and even then, there are a number of on-world interests that are ready to take advantage if the Hegemons drop their guard.  While the Hegemons dominate, they do not act with impunity.  Even small states have a vote in the UN’s General Assembly and the renaissance of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a direct result of failed attempts by the Hegemonic Blocs to bully countries like India, Argentina, and Nigeria.  In fact, many in the NAM are sympathetic to the anti-colonial movement off-world (if only because the successes of the colonies come at a cost of Hegemonic power), and a handful of independent aggressively advocate for increased colonial independence.  While much of this maneuvering is simply a balancing of powers, some nations really do believe in the morality of self-determination and are willing to make principled stands against the Hegemons and the subservient UN.  


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Next up will be some expansion of Earth, I think.  That or a redefining of the term "diaspora."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Agents of Violent Change (Content, Mechanics)


Getting back to what the PCs do (and building off THIS post),, one of the really good pieces of advice I got from a writing buddy of mine is that I need to keep the setting focused.  Rather than just present a detailed setting, there needs to be a clear "this is what you, the player, is supposed to do."  Obviously, the setting will allow for a whole lot of options for the PCs, but I think my friend is right.  I have been working on a setting element that can facilitate the type of play I think TDE is built for.  I want to highlight cinematic action set against the backdrop of a realistic (and dynamic) Solar System.  I want the PCs to affect change.  I want them to pilot kick-ass mecha in the form of Jammers.

Sorta like this guy.  But with a big ass robot   
To all those ends, I am planning on the default campaign style to be that of futuristic CIA-like operatives.  I recall a few years ago I watched a show on Discovery that was stroies about the Afghan and Iraq wars before hey became full-on wars.  In that series (whose name I cant remember) it followed a number of CIA  and special forces operators as they laid the ground work for the invasions or tracked down terrorists/insurgents.  It was fascinating stuff (and probably sensationalized quite a bit).  Thats what I want out of the PCs - to be the very tip of the spear of whatever is going to go down.  I want them to have all the cool toys of a full-on military, without the restrictive hierarchy.

Enter CAID (aka "Fatewatch")..

CAID is patterned a bit after the crisis analysis organization in Peter Watts brillant SF Rifters Saga.  As always, rough draft, spelling errors, blah, blah, blah... 

Vanguard Social Science -- The Complexity Analysis and Intelligence Directorate (CAID): CAID is an elite and very specialized Martian intelligence organization that works to anticipate the development of chaotic events by calculating and statistically analyzing the likelihood of natural disasters, social upheavals, conflicts, and other major events.  It is also empowered to eliminate those threats.  CAID pulls on the best and brightest of Mars, and aggressively recruits throughout the System.  CAID researchers, scientists, and engineers are provided with generous budgets and support staff to facilitate their projects.  However, the core mission of CAID remains the correct prediction of threats to Mars and its people - and an unsaid aspect of that prediction is to do so far enough in advance of a catastrophe to be able to enact meaningful change.  

CAID is colloquially known as the “Fatewatch” and usually referred to simply as “Core” by CAID’s field agents and paramilitary wing.  For most of CAID;s existence, it was simply referred to in official Martian government documents as “Antevortia” -- a simple placeholder for budgets and bookkeeping.  “Antevortia” is still used by many in the Burt administration, and “Antevortian” is a common pejorative term throughout the System to refer to anything that involves an unbelievable or complex conspiracy.  

The resources at CAID’s disposal are significant.  To aid in forecasting, the Directorate has over 200 supercomputers, most of which are integrated, running statistical analyses and regression techniques to identify threats at various points in the future and apply percentages to the likelihood of the threat’s outcome.  From there, CAID’s researchers and analysts review the data and work up reports that draw on history, social and physical sciences, and good old fashioned logical hunches.  The reports are used throughout the Martian government (and, in rare cases, its allies) to identify the threat, its severity and its possible outcomes.  Its not quite a science, but its damn close.  

CAID’s operations cell is particularly feared - rumored to both enact events that CAID predicted but have not come to pass as well as prematurely end any events CAID fears it cannot control.  This often leads to the Ops Cell eliminating seemingly innocuous politicians or destroying “random” space debris that forecasting identified as particularly problematic for the future foals of Mars.  Fatewatch’s forces are staffed by the best and more experienced that Mars has to offer.  CAID operates a sizable Jammer fleet.  Jammers have proven their utility time and time again for the diverse set of missions Core demands.  CAID also operates a number of interplaetary assets -- including a handful of spec ops cruisers, frigates, an extensive array of detection and comms gear spread throughout the system, and even a full-sized carrier.  

In those times a threat is too large to be dealt with by CAIDs elite, but small forces, it can request aid through the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of External Intelligence, Ministry of Home Affairs, or just about any government organization.  The fact that CAID operates under the Administrator’s office and is funded by a special line-item in the Martian budget means that it has considerable latitude and high-level support when it requests aid.  

The Directorate has had its fair share of notable successes and abysmal failures.  They did not successfully predict the dangers the Huns presented - only realizing the threat to Venus after astrophysicists in the public sector revealed their findings.  This oversight still serves as, a major black mark they are seeking to correct through enactment of the Erinyes Doctrine.  On the other end of the spectrum, CAID successfully anticipated the Jovian L4-L5 War as well as predicted the level of involvement of TORA and OCRI.  Its notable that while it is publically acknowledged that CAID predicted the L4-L5 War, what, if anything, it did clandestinely about the war is unknown.  Another feather in CAID’s cap was its prediction of the 2188 Martian executive election.  CAID’s leadership, at the orders of Administrator Sugiyama, worked up a detailed analysis of the likely outcomes - and noted their belief that Sugyama would narrowly lose the election (with a 65% likelihood).  Sugiyama ignored the analysis, believing that the data confidence was still quite high.  History proved him wrong when the analysis was later revealed in a bit of a scandal after Burt took office.  


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Truckin' right along.  We've done game theory  setting design, mechanics... its starting to fall into place.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Diplomatic Tool (Art)


Concept art for TDE - by Jeff Cram.  This is likely a Martian patrol frigate (its def. a frigate, though not 100% sure this will stay with Mars or if it will shift over to one of the Hegemonic powers).  Jeff did a great job - I had a number of changes from the original draft, and he made each one of them work.  


When diplomacy fails...

The goal was to have something that establishes its own aesthetic, but also stands on its own and is able to portray its mission by its look and weapons loadout.  

I'll go into more discussion on how this particular ship came to be.  For the time being, just enjoy.  

Its nice to finally have some art.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tweaking the ORE for TDE. FTW! (Mechanics)


Its time to talk about the baseline mechanics.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I plan to use the One Roll Engine (ORE) for TDE.  Tehere are a lot of things to like about the ORE.  Its a dicepool mechanic, with an upper limit so the dice and thee math never get too crazy.  Its a tried and true system, applied to a number of setting and genres.  Its also tied to a couple games I dearly love -- Monsters and Other Childish Things and Godlike.  Its also the house engine (to some extent) for Arc Dream Publishing -- which is home to some of my favorite people int he gaming industry.  So, all in all, using the ORE just feels right.

I am about to jump into some very weedy stuff on the ORE and its background mechanics.  If you are familiar with the ORE and how it works, check it out HERE

Of course, I can't leave well enough alone.  While I feel that the ORE is a very solid mechanic, there are parts that I don't like.  I don't like that the quality of a success is the most random part of the roll.  The Height of a roll is the part the character has the least control over.  Improved stats and skills lead to things being done quicker, not really done better (thats note entirely true, but its safe to say that the speed of an action is improved faster than the quality as stat+skill improves).  I strongly feel that as a character gets better at something, they should reliably improve the quality of their successes.

This leads me to a fairly drastic rules change (its no longer a tweak) - switching Height and Width and what they mean to success.  What I am exploring is the idea that a longer width means the quality of the success is better, and the Height dictates the speed by which something is accomplished (10 being fastest).  I;ve floated this idea to some people smarter than me, and the switch seems mechanically sound.  It does play with the probabilities slightly, and modified how Hard Dice and Wiggle Dice play with the results, but I can live with that.

So, thats our baseline mechanic.  Stat + Skill dicepool.  No more than 10 dice rolled at a time.  The gal is to get a pair.  Anything beyond a pair gives the roller (GM or PC) the ability add "extras" to the result (stuff like extra damage, a particularly skillful result, making something enduring, gaining back an expended resource -- whatever the roller can come up with that is appropriate to that challenge).

If you get a pair, the task was successful.  If the player gets two pairs (or more) - they can choose which matching set they want to use.

From here , I have a lot of ideas.  Complex challenges will remove dice from the dicepool along something like this:

No Roll = Easy Task
+1 die for an Easy but Dramatic Task
No Modifier for a Difficult task (this is the baseline modifier and assumption of challenge)
-1 die for something hard
-2 die for something really hard
-3 die for something that only an expert can complete, and even then with a good change of failure
-4 die for something extremely difficult, even for a veteran
-5 Hail Mary!

+++

Other ideas I am kicking around is that the players can voluntarily remove dice from their pool before a roll to get other advantages (called "benefits" or just "benes").  Remove (or "sacrifice") a die to add +1 to the final Height (including pushing a result over 10 on the Height).  Remove a die to attempt multiple actions (in this case, you pull out a die for each action you want to attempt and hope you get more than one pair).  Remove 2 dice to get a free Savvy Die (SD) starting at 1.  Add more Savvy dice to add another die at 2... and so on (so, 6 dice spent on a roll can give three SD - one at 1, one at 2, and one at 3).  No more than one SD for each value.  You might also remove a die to improve your defensive stat.

...stuff like that.

Then, when its time for action, all the players and GM pick up their dice, secretly remove their dice they want to spend on "benes"

Oh yeah, the kicker to Benes?  You dont have to declare before hand what you are spending your sacrificed dice on.  You can see the result of the dice and then decide what you spent the sacrifices on.  If you sacrificed 3 dice and the results weren't what you were looking for, you can change your plans and use those three sacrifices any way you want.

So, f'rex:

I have a dicepool of 7.  I initially decide I want to buy my first SD (a value of 1).  I pull out two dice from my dice pool (the sacrifices) and set them aside.  When the GM calls it, I roll the remainder of my pool.  The results come up 2,2,5,8,9.

Okay, so I didn't get a 1 and so that SD I was planning on is useless.  Instead, I decide to use the two sacrifices to improve the Height of my pair - moving the pair's Height to a 4 (rolled a 2 + 1 sacrifice + another sacrifice).  The GM looks around the table, identifies the highest pair - and asks if anyone is going to beat that pair's Height with spent sacrifices... my 4 is no where close to that result  so I wait for my turn.

If I had rolled a 1,1,3,5,6.  Then we are talking!  The SD matches the 1s - not only giving me a pair, but a triple Width match.  Though slow, whatever I tried to do I did quite well.  When it comes to my turn I tell the GM I had two sacrifices and use them for a SD.

Of course, you dont have to use your sacrifices if you don't want.

+++

These changes are pretty significant and range from tweaks to outright punches in the face of the ORE.  There is still a lot to consider mechanically, but so far, the baseline of switching the Height and Width seem to make sense.

Stay tuned, I got some more ideas up my sleeve.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Antimatter Matters (Development)


In one of the comments on an earlier post, Cutnose asked about the role of antimatter and matter in the game - specifically as a source of thrust.  My answer, frankly, wasn't the best and mostly danced around the question of the prominence/role of exotic power sources.  It something I have thought a lot about - especially today (Cutnose's question pushed the issue to the fore).  I'm still not sure how I want to deal with propellants and power sources.  Spaceships are going to play a critical role in how the setting is going to function as well as how the worlds are going to look.  The type of power source is going to dictate how fast ships move, how far they can go, what they will look like, and even how destructive their weapons can be -- all important stuff for a game that has aspirations of focusing on military-style campaigns.

I need to hash out what, if any, role antimatter will play in TDE.


The Case For Volatiles (aka Chemical propulsion):

Volatiles are the safe way to go (and BTW, "volatiles" is code for chemical propulsion right now).  They are what we use today to propel spacecraft -- and pretty much all other vehicles save for some navy ships.  Its a common and understandable technology.  Its plausible and easy to understand.  Its cheap.  Volatiles and the like are great economic macguffins.  If TDE is going to have a plausible economic view of the setting, and Volatiles will play an important role -- especially if they are the primary (or sole) way to move interplanetary ships.  Plus, Volatiles are found in a lot of interesting places int he solar system - providing a useful excuse as to why there are colonies in the proverbial ass-end of space (especially for Venus, Jupiter and the Belt).  Volatiles would also be useful as radiation shields - serving double duty of protecting the crew as well as providing delta-V.

The Case Against Volatiles:  

Volatiles as a power source are inelegant and a little boring.  The tech, by 2191 is going to be ancient and implies a level of technological stagnation I am not sure I am comfortable with.  Ships that rely exclusively on volatiles for delta-V will require some very bulky structures to make sure there is some plausibility to how much reaction mass is available to move some big ships.  I'll admit that I am not a big fan of the modern NASA aesthetic... and the realistic ships that build off that aesthetic aren't very appealing.


Boooring.  

The Case For Antimatter:

Antimatter is sexy.  Its plausible for the timeperiod -- more than 150 years in the future (especially since we can already manipulate small quantities today).  Giving Antimattter a prominent role in powering ships (and maybe more) frees up a lot of physical and aesthetic/design space.  Ships wont need those bulky fuel tanks since antimatter (AM) supposedly can yield upwards of 90% energy dividends when smashed against matter.  It gives ships longer legs and faster speeds as well.  Oh, and it makes for a good reason to get out to Jupiter and Mercury.

The Case Against Antimatter: 

Its expensive.  Antimatter may be a little too sexy in that it pushes some boundaries of plausibility.  If volatiles are somewhat implausible to still be the primary fuel source 150+ years from now, antimatter is somewhat implausible for only being 150+ years int he future.  I also dont fully understand the dangers and benefits AM presents -- which requires more research (what happens if a ship gets the crap blown out of it and it has an antimatter drive?  A big boom, most likely... but how big?  What about other commercial uses?).

Suck it Earth!  This is my playgorund!  

...and the Nuclear Darkhorse:

I also need to consider nuclear fusion and fission.  Its a known technology (fission moreso than fusion).  Its speculated to be quite efficient (though not as efficient as AM).  I think its plausible we could safely create and harness fusion as a power source.  They provide a nice medium between archaic chemical propulsion relying on volatiles and the Star Treky antimatter option.  Nukes really aren't a dark horse -- they will be a core propellant, but I thought the title for the section suitably dramatic, so I kept it.

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Right now I am leaning towards major military ships and some very advanced private/corporate ships using AM.  Most civilian ships use a combination of volatiles and nukes.  Jammers?  Jammers I am not sure of yet -- though I am leaning towards managed fusion.

Whatever the decision - the final setting will involve a number of different options.  Volatiles, AM and fusion/fission will all have their places - its just a matter of percentages and what mil spec ships will use (and Jammers, for that matter .  Likewise solar and magnetic sails will have a role to play.

The devil, as always, is in the details.

If anyone out there has a strong opionion one way or the other, please let me know.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Personality Politics Pt 1 (Content)


Revolution Comes With a Price...
I'm happy to report we are on our way to some art.  I have contracted an artist that can work with my budget and help add form to the swirling chaos that is floating around in my mind.  Hopefully in the near future we can have some original art on the blog -- something to help define the visual style of TDE.

Until then, lets talk about NPCs. For anyone that knows me,it will not be a surprise that I base the planets and the people that populate them on my travels.  Usually, the personalities of TDE are gestalts of various peoples from North America, Africa, and Asia... but sometimes not.  Sometimes they are the creation of people I think should exist - in terms of real world politics and society.  Certain social movements, or political events seem to have an unseen hand behind them.  In many parts of the world, people don't want to accept that policy and major decisions are made through happenstance and mistakes - they prefer seeing connections where there are none.  Its a more interesting and simpler world if its all the fault of some shadowy agency or clique.  South Asia, in particular, loves conspiracy stories.

The said (or maybe not so sad) fact is that the world isn't run by complicated conspiracies.  Its just not.  However, in the world of TDE I can mix real world experiences with real world crazy conspiracies to come up with personalities just plausible enough to be believable.  My gol is to populate TDE with a number of interesting NPCs and personalities to prompt the GM's creativity and campaign design, and the player's desire to explore the setting.

Here are two NPCs that help define TDE's setting for me:


Jacob K Sugiyama (Mars/Venus): The former OCRI Administrator of Mars.  Once considered little more than a tool of the Hegemons, his progressive ideas, fiery personality, and aggressive political tactics brought him fame and popularity - on Mars and throughout the System.  OCRI and the Hegemonic powers lost control of Sugiyama along the way, and Sugiyama morphed into the lead agitator for Martian independence.  His successes brought him even more notoriety and what has now become an inner circle that is more a cult of personality than a loyal set of advisers.  Sugiyama is considered by most of the Solar System as the father of Martian democracy and the current anti-colonial movement.  He is also corrupt as hell, and unexpectedly lost in Mars' first Prime election.  He seethes with anger and resentment privately, but publicly vows to "recapture the heart of the Martian Democratic spirit from the usurper."  Sugiyama lives on an aerostat in Venus, in part because he believes Martian forces loyal to his rival, Jeehan Burt, will assassinate him if they get the chance.

Jeehan Burt (Mars):  Jeehan is the first Martian Government's Prime.  He rose to power as a grassroots organizer, and for a time, worked with Sugiyama's Free Mars movement as a young advocate.  Burt became disgusted with Sugiyama's centralized decision making, and lost faith in the movement.  That Sugiyama's direction turned out to lead Mars towards its freedom, came as a major shock to Burt, who reconsidered his choice to drop out of politics.  When the first Martian elections arrived, Burt came out of retirement  spent a veritable fortune, and traded on his reputation as a successful lawyer for Martian rights to propel him to a shocking victory.  Now, Burt, whose main political experience is organizing protests against the types of leaders whose position he now fills, must struggle with the leadership role demanded of him.  Thus far, Burt has defined himself to the Martian people by claiming he is a fresh break with the autocratic tendencies of Sugiyama.  It remains to be seen if Burt can define his administration on its own merits and accomplishments. Worse, a number of powerful Earth political and economic entities lost significant assets during the Martian war for independence  and the last couple of years as the planet asserted its identity.  Now, those same Earth powers want their stuff back, and see Burt as less decisive than Sugiyama.  The powers of Earth smell blood and the sharks are starting to circle.



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I really need to pound out some words on Mars over the next couple days.  If you don't see me tomorrow - its because I am struggling with the marginal protagonist of the setting.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dwarf Planets, Giant Problems (Content)


Something I talked about earlier - and I will talk about again - is the idea of "potential energy" for the setting of TDE.  What I mean by the phrase is that I want the setting, as written, to be a snapshot of a very dynamic place with a lot of things going on.  TDE should be a setting in motion once the players are introduced.  Like a held drawstring, there is a lot of energy waiting to explode once the right catalyst is added -- and the right catalyst should always be the PCs.

So, here is an example of that potential energy: the Huns.  The Huns present the PCs with a number of heroic (and challenging) things to do.  There is a looming natural disaster, a refugee crisis, and while not mentioned int he entry below -- some very dire political machinations that could mean social upheaval on Mars.

Its up to the PCs to resolve one or more of those crises -- for good or ill.


The Huns: Venus, which is the most recently settled inner planet, was just starting to hit its stride in 2126 when it was positively identified that a massive collection of migratory asteroids are heading right for Venus.  The asteroids, nicknamed the "Huns," were originally detected in the Oort cloud as early as the 2080s -- slightly off the ecliptic.  The significance of the discovery was not, at first, identified.  The odd behavior of the distant Huns was attributed to an eccentric orbit around the sun.  In the end, it was their unusual positioning helped mask the Huns until they began transiting close to the core system.  The danger the Huns present was finally confirmed late 2180s when scientists revealed that the Huns would travel into the inner system.  Numerous trajectory analyses were made, with most indicating that the Huns would miss the inner planets or possibly hit fast-moving Mercury.  Scientists were initially more concerned about the Huns’ gravitic influence on settled space.  Further study as the Huns started to transition past Pluto raised a number of concerns, as newer trajectory estimates had the likelihood of the Huns hitting Venus jump into the more-likely-than-not range.  

The primary Huns (Genghis and Attila) acts as sweepers for smaller planetary objects like asteroids and comets -- which are called "kith-warriors."   The leading theory on the appearance of the Huns is that they were larger planets that were ejected from a supernova explosion.  Their expulsion, many millennia ago, put them on a trajectory near to the Sun, which captured them and brought them into its gravity well.  

As of 2191 the Huns are between Jupiter and the main belt and continuing to head in-System.  There are about 4 years before the intersection of Venus and the Huns.  Thus, the System now struggles with a growing refugee crisis as a large number of Venusians seek new homes.  Of course, Earth doesn't want them (it maintains a very carefully controlled population numbers) and Mars/Mercury/Jupiter can only absorb a certain amount.  Cue low-level conflict by the desperate refugees, food shortages, looting, and whatnot on selected stations and aerostats.  


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I want a lot of bits of potential energy seeded throughout TDE.  Wars, political crises, hostage situations, peace keeping, social upheavals... they will all be in there.  I want to give the PCs and the GM a lot of ideas on what they can, and should, do with the setting.

Oh, and Canada? Where you at?  Since I am basically an honorary Canadian by now - more of you should be reading this blog.  Over the weekend I think I got 3 total pageviews from your great country.  Booo.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Deciding What the PCs Do. (Mechanics)


What do the PCs do in TDE? 

This is a pretty common quesrion when I end up talking about the setting with some of my friends who have designed games.  Its one of those core questions that good designers build their game around.   Jared Sorensen, who is a bit like the mafia don of the indie rpg movement, has done a lot of thinking on what makes a good rpg.  Some of his conclusions can be found here:  http://memento-mori.livejournal.com/288677.html

Each test, a challenge.  
Of note are his “3 Questions?”  These questions, once answered, help hone a game’s concept to a razor (and playable) edge.  What does the game do?  Why does it do this?  Is it doing what it is supposed to? 

When designing and exploring other games, I have struggled with Sorensen’s three questions – which is reflective of the quality of my ideas rather than the utility of the questions.  To be frank, I haven’t done a lot of thinking about the three questions in regards to TDE.  Instead, I focused on the depth and plot points of the setting.  Now that the setting is taking on a life of its own, its high time to runt to Sorensen’s three questions.  It’s time to really think about the PCs, their role in the game, and how to build the game to support my goals.

The thing about the three questions is that it really focuses on the “game” part of roleplaying games.  RPGs are composed of a number of elements, but the mechanics and setting are the two foundations.  

I am favor setting over mechanics.  Ever since  I got into rpgs back in the late 80s, I defined games not by their mechanics, but by how much I liked the setting.  Good setting could trump crappy mechanics in my book.  My focus on setting makes the three questions a bit of a hurdle for me – the answers they prompt do not come as easily to me as for others.  That said, the best rpgs are the ones where mechanics and setting support one another.  So, just because its hard, or I don’t get the essence of the questions in my first answers, doesn’t mean I can shy away from the questions.

One important caveat (and CYA) before I get into it – answering the three questions is an ongoing process.  It’s a thought exercise that can, and should, continually evolve as the game takes more shape.  So, my expectation is that I will need to revisit the three questions from time to time. 


Q: WHAT IS YOUR GAME ABOUT?
Jared Says:  If you write a D&D clone, your game is not about "adventuring in a medieval fantasy world." Your game is about characters advancing in efficacy in order to meet greater and greater challenges.”  Do not confuse the genre, setting or color details with what's most important: the premise and structure of the game.

A: What TDE Is About:
The game is about characters (Jammer Pilots) using ever more advanced technology – black ops and experimental stuff – while being given tougher and tougher missions in order to affect positive and significant change in the setting. 


Q: HOW DOES IT GO ABOUT THAT?
Jared Says:  If you're designing that D&D clone and you put in a lifepath system as part of character creation, what does that accomplish? In order to fufill the requirements set by the first question, you must "put your money where your mouth is" with the discrete game elements. If that lifepath is purely cosmetic and doesn't affect the character's abilities or the game mechanics, then why is it in there?

A: How TDE Gets There:  
TDE will use the One Roll Engine as the baseline.  Its is mechanically sound, easy to learn, quick to execute, and offers interesting modification options.  Building from the ORE, TDE will create mechanics that allow the players to “requisition” advanced technologies to tailor their equipment loadout to the mission at hand.  TDE will offer the GM and players opportunities to mechanically change setting elements. 


Q: WHAT BEHAVIORS DOES IT REWARD AND/OR ENCOURAGE?
Jared Says:  The obvious game element to focus on as a "reward" is some kind of character advancement system. But this can go the other way as well; what behaviors does the game punish and/or discourage? If the ultimate goal of Call of Cthulhu is to die or go insane, does the game encourage this? Do insane characters get special abilities? Or is running/fighting rewarded and encouraged (as it is in Dungeons & Dragons)?

A: What Behaviors TDE Will Reward:
I want TDE to encourage cinematic moments. I want the system to encourage players to have their PCs take chances – and go for the big win – the type of win that shakes the foundation of the Solar System.  

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I need to do some thinking about the mechanics, me thinks.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Join the Party -- The Utility of Jammers (Content)

A Wanzer, from Front Mission -- an inspiration for the Jammers. 
One thing I have discovered about my writing is that I do my best stuff when I am working with someone.  I find new energy when I can bounce ideas off of people, and my prose is more direct when someone else can call out my crazy ideas and pull them back.  Part of the reason I am doing this blog, and airing my ideas for all to see, is that I am hopeful a handful of you out there will see merit in The Difference Equation and decide to help out.

Luckily, I have had a number of people step up so far and help.  I pitched my core setting concept to a bunch of friends, and they gave me initial feedback.  Since then, I have asked a couple published rpg writer friends to look over the core catalog and timeline to see what they had to say.  The setting has evolved considerably since those first few collaborations, to the point where I think many of the original group would be surprised to see how far things have progressed.  Its a better, more exciting setting specifically because of those first key pieces of feedback.

...and now there is Brandon.  Brandon is a buddy I met on the Dream Pod 9 forums.  I am convinced he is responsible for at least half the hits that come in to this blog -- and he single-handed carries on a conversation over on G+ that pushes me farther and farther into the setting and forcing me to make smart and critical decisions about the direction I am taking the game.

Brandon has been so helpful, he went so far as to start tentatively writing some content.  His stuff is really good.  Real good.  I am happy to have him and his insights on board.

So, I'd like this, the last content post for the week, to focus on one of Brandon's contributions.

The Best of Bad Options: Jammers in Modern Warfare:  The few major capital ships built by the SCEs and major powers of the Solar System are often leviathans that carry firepower strong enough to cause major damage to colonies and enough reaction mass for sustained combat burns.  Their downside, however, is their enormous mass and detection signature.  In space, it is nearly impossible to hide a ship due to the advancements of sensor technology.  Mass detection devices are used regularly by every colony and ship as a means of observing asteroids, comets, and other debris that might come dangerously close to impacting with stations.  The tremendous velocities of these naturally-occurring projectiles makes them a viable threat to all. The mass detection devices are also used by the powers to montior each other's naval shipyards, allowing nations to be made aware within hours of when a ship is departing from a specific area.

For this reason, any unannounced departure of capital ships from their dockyards is tantamount to an act of war by all powers concerned, and the space command structures often announce at least a day prior of any patrols in order to avoid provoking an international crisis.

With this current state of affairs, Jammers have become a vital necessity for the powers.  Their small mass allows them to be transported aboard most any ship available, and it is not uncommon for them to be given specialized ships designed expressly to be innocuous-looking, even ragged in appearance, while actually housing an entire team of Jammers and the facilities needed to maintain them.

Due to Newton's Third Law of Motion, mass-drivers and railguns using kinetic energy projectiles are limited in distribution among space-based Jammer squadrons, and their ammunition typically includes a self-destruct mechanism contained within their spikes so that if they do miss their target they do not present a threat to innocent travelers in the area surrounding a hot zone. Missiles, while slower on initial launch, are also safer, and include the same self-destruct mechanisms, often made tamper-proof so that industrious pirates do not attempt to retrieve the weapons after they have been armed and launched.  Lasers, meanwhile, have become the long-range weapon of choice, but their enormous power requirements typically mean that a Jammer must be equipped with an auxiliary power system to maintain the weapon for prolonged skirmishes.  To offset this, Jammers will also carry aerosol chaff that can be used to diffract the laser's intensity and lessen its pinpoint killing power.

Space-based Jammer squadrons on deep space missions typically use a highly-reflective armor skin, like silver, which helps to avoid visual detection when further away from the sun's light. Nearer to the gravity wells, this is changed for a brighter color scheme allowing visual recognition from friendly units and also from civilian ships passing in the area. Planet-borne Jammer squadrons will typically use a mimetic skin that can be charged or heated to change and adapt its colors to the surrounding terrain.  Due to the enormous firepower carried by most Jammers, deep space combat is short and vicious, with pilots using stealth and surprise to overwhelm their opponents. Any engagements that last longer usually occur near stations and other large objects that provide cover and concealment and also mask the mass of the Jammers from enemy sensors.


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Awesome, right?  I edited a bit, but not much.  90% of the above is his - and is the result of some very smart and intuitive mental leaps on his part.

If anyone else out there has ideas they want to contribute, please do so -- here, over email, or on G+.  If I can get this setting and game to a point where it gets published, I promise you will get the credit you deserve.  This isn't me just trying to steal other people's ideas -- this is me trying to open up my playground so other people can play on the jungle gym.

...and selfishly, like I said, the more interaction with others I have as I hash out ideas, the better my stuff becomes.  So, for that and many other things, welcome aboard Brandon!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Consummation Of Empire and Others (Inspiration)


Now, for something different.  Inspiration.

The Difference Equation (TDE) was born of a number of inspirations - from a lot of different media.  I studied political science in college and practice a form of it in my day job.  So, of course politics and the study of politics would play a big role (and you can see it in the types of things I focus on while developing the setting).  Music has also been important - I turned to edgy, experimental stuff that is a bit out of my comfort zone in a couple instances to see what emotions they brought on and where it would drive my writing.

And art.  Obviously paintings/illos and graphics are an important part of the inspiration process.  When I am stuck at work and need some time to myself, I often lean back and explore what the Jammers and ships and planets of the setting look like.  Similarly, I will pop on DeviantArt, find a pic I like, and follow the links to see where it takes me.

And art.  There are a series of painting by Thomas Cole - some of my favorites really.  They depict the rise and fall of the an empire though the lens of an ancient civilization through the lens of American-centric sentiments.  Its wonderfully complicated, with imagery and themes that fold in on themselves.  Its an imaginary city - not unlike Tarshish or the remnants of smoldering Haifa.  It also depicts the roll of time, and a critical aspect to the Difference Equation where the introduction of the PCs to the setting should have immediate and significant consequences that unfold over time.

The setting of TDE is an exploration into a lot of things -- power politics, the ascendancy of economics, dominance, identity, ethnicity, the cost of independence, hope, the march of history, unintended consequences... and more.  These are things, I believe, the Course of Empire series deals with - and when I look at them, they inspire me to new directions with the setting.  If you can, take the time to view each in the Course of Empire series and see if it draws out the same thoughts/ideas/emotions in you.

The series, in order:  The Savage State, The Arcadian State, The Consummation of Empire, Destruction, and Desolation.

The Savage State
The Arcadian State
The Consummation of Empire
Destruction 
Desolation 



Want to know a bit more about the series or Thomas Cole?  The wikipedia article is
here:  The Wiki Entry 

Next up, lets do a bit more on the Jammers.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Defining Moment of a Future History (Content)

Lets move on to a bit of history for The Difference Equation.  I'm designing this setting from the gorund up - starting with the modern day and advancing it to 2191.  I'm a detail and history guy, so burying into the details is where I like to work. That said, I got some great advice from a writer friend of mine that told me not to get too buried in the minutiae of the project -- too much detail will stymie the players creativity and, at some point, too much detail yields diminishing returns.  So, my struggle is to focus on generating new content for the setting and ignore my burning desire to go into the monthly updates of the future-history.

I've seen a lot of timelines as a roleplayer, and many of them leave a lot to be desired.  History defies easy categorization - so when I see a timeline that arbitrarily has one major event per year - the historian in me reels back in disgust.  Likewise, too many events bunched up and appears like the writer got lazy.  There is a happy middle ground out there, and the middle makes a lot of sense.  Why some rpg designers ignore history class and their instincts to create wonky timelines I will never understand.


Where does that leave me?  It leaves me working on the broad brushstrokes of the setting, and dropping hints here and there of the deeper history (with the intention to get back to it later - if all goes well).  That said, there are a handful of periods where I treat myself and dive in - spending some time to detail the specifics of the hows and whys.

One of the most important events in the future-history of The Difference Equation is the devastating Population Overshoot of the 2090s.  Looking back on how the setting has come together, the Malthusian Crisis is the major event that defined the future of The Difference Equation.  The legacy of that event lasts well into the starting date of the game, and provides a useful macguffin for the colonization of the System.

Without further adieu:

The Population Overshoot of the ‘80s:  In the end, Thomas Malthus was (mostly) right.  The rapid population growth of the 2060s and 2070s brought with it a sudden catastrophe in the 2090s as food stores and crops proved insufficient to maintain the population level.  Anagathics and improved medicine made it so fewer and fewer people did.  Much of the world focused on the financial impacts that the "Methuselah" generation created, and few paid attention to the handful of scientists warning of a pending ecological disaster.  With estimated yearly growth worldwide of nearly 5%, the estimated census recorded the population at just over 20 billion people in 2099 -- about the maximum the planet’s food and water resource could handle.  Unfortunately for humanity, it had to learn the hard way the upper end of the population that Earth could support.  

For the first time in over 1600 years, the world’s human population drastically retracted and decreased in a few chaotic years.  Along with the amazing strain placed on the environment, numerous animal and plant species, once thought relatively safe from environmental pressures, died off in mass extinctions – further endangering the biome.  All told, mass starvations and unchecked diseases claimed over 3 billion lives from 2099 to 2116.  It would be two more decades of concerted effort by numerous organizations to stabilize Earth’s environment.  Many cultures and ethnicities that had survived into the new millennium died out - unable to cope with the rapid planetary changes.  Still to this day the UN maintains a strict vigil over the environmental and agricultural resources of the planet and each nation and independent corporation employs strict financial and legal penalties for exceeding family growth quotas.  While the devastating threat of the turn of the century is no longer, its legacy lives on in a much more conservative mindset.  Interestingly, this Malthusian Crisis led to an increase in the reputation of farmers, nutritionists and pharma experts.

Another unintended effect of the Population Crisis was the rapid acceptance and advancement of off-world colonization.  Colonization is now seen, at worst, as a necessary process to relieve the population stresses on the planet.  In fact, more than any other single effort, the standardization of off-world colonization and the eventual affordability for much of the population was critical in drawing down the Earth population and giving the biome time to heal.


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Next up? I think its time to talk about inspiration. Its about to get heavy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Title- At Last!



The Difference Equation



There it is.  Thats the name of the setting-that-had-no-name.

I wanted something that emphasized the nature of the game - grounded in mundane science fiction, but surrounded by a plotline and vibrant world that is anything bu mundane.  A Difference Equation, according to wikipedia is:

"In mathematics, a recurrence relation is an equation that recursively defines a sequence, once one or more initial terms are given: each further term of the sequence is defined as a function of the preceding terms."

The Difference Equation RPG.  

Difference Equations are the root of Fibonacci numbers, and is a process used to calculate populations, digital communications, and economics -- all of which play a central role in the setting.

"Difference Equation" also harkens to a related term "Differential Equation" -- which is the hart of all sorts of maths that would make the setting go.  Physics, propulsion, engineering, biology, economics...

But, most importantly, is the inclusion of the word "Difference."  As I envision it, that is what the PCs are -- the difference between a static world and a dynamic one.  The difference between chaos and order, activity and entropy.  The PC's very existence is what will kickstart the setting into overdrive.  Ready/Steady/Rock!

So, yeah.  Love it.

There it is.

Finally.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Fires of Faith and Science -- Mercury (Content)

I meant to stay away from the Blog one more day - to give myself some time to recharge.  But I can't.  I had a couple good writing sessions this weekend and I figure I should keep the content flowing.

Battered and Bruised, Mercury Still Has a Few Tricks Left...
So, next up is Mercury.  I really like Mercury and how it will play a pivotal roles in the politics of the Solar System.  The concept behind Mercury was developed partly as a reaction to the disservice too many other SF games give faith and religion.  I don't want to ram anything down anyone's throat, but all too often SF games simply do away with religion as a relic of the past.  Just as disappointing, many SF games decide to replace religion with science -- making it a zero sum game of belief.  I don't see it that way.  Discarding faith as point of an SF setting is boring, lazy and unrealistic   More importantly,keeping elements of faith and religion make for some wonderful plot elements to use for some challenging and fascinating stories.  Anything that helps drive good storytelling stays in this setting.  Done deal.

Just like any other element in the setting, I wont shy away from the bad and the good - and that includes faith.  Its a tricky subject, for sure, but I have never been one to back down from a creative challenge.

The closest planet to the sun has a lot going for it.  Its an amazingly tough place to live, but the rewards are enormous as well.  Heavy metals, antimatter, and harnessing solar energy have all played a role in making Mercury an economically attractive place.  How it became the second home of the Roman Catholic Church was due to an odd series of circumstances.  Now, the Church, which considered its introduction onto Mercury as a bit of a windfall, is discovering that nothing comes without a price.

So, we have Mercury, the new Vatican (of sorts).

The Fires of Faith - Mercury:  Mercury is an isolated polity, dominated by a number of small and isolated mining and research communities that either stay in the planet’s shadow, huddle in the shadow of the polar regions (with its dwindling water reserves), or embedded well into the crust.  Many of the communities are examples of innovation married to cutting edge technology - the result of existing in such an extreme environment.  The largest city, Tarshish, is built on what amounts to huge rails, and travels along the sun-line eliminator at a leisurely 14 km/hr, staying within the very narrow band of hospitable temperature ranges.  

Tarshish has a population of about 100,000, well in excess of the next largest community which is a habitat in orbit in mercury’s umbra.  Tarshish serves as the nexus of Mercurian trade and society and is the only large downport that can handle bulk Trans-A freighters.  The history of Tarshish, and much of modern Mercury, began with a series of small venture mining firms who established a presence in the Mercurian well.  While most stayed conservatively in orbit and the poles or only set down on Mercury for a few hours at night to harvest heavy metals and trace He-3, the Moors Company successfully lobbied and purchased a large band of land circumnavigating the planet’s equator for a relatively inexpensive price.  

Plans were put in place for a traveling city that would serve as Moors’ headquarters for their expanding planetary interests.  However, shortly after the tracks were laid, Moors went bankrupt and the rights to its territory passed legally to the OCRI Administrator who would serve as trustee and arbiter on which bids would assume ownership of Moors’ Mercury holdings.  In a wholly unexpected move, the Administrator transferred the Moors’ land rights to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).  Despite numerous legal suits against the Administrator personally, and OCRI in general, the transfer stood (largely due to the sweeping powers Administrators were granted by OCRI and the General Assembly).  

While the RCC had put in a bid as a pro forma exercise, it did not expect to win the Moors’ holdings.  Mercury had, through happenstance, a disproportionately large number of active Catholics and Catholic-friendly Orthodox Christians working the mines and research stations (which is theorized part of the reason the Administrator made his decision).  With the rights to the region, the RCC contracted the CSE BR/BP Distributions to continue construction of the Moors facility.  In 2085 the new city, Tarshish, came online and almost immediately became a significant economic windfall for the ailing Church.  

Besides the booming He-3 trade, Mercury enjoys a number of other economic windfalls.  It's the ideal place to build a near-solar power system.  Huge microwave antennas and solar-powered lasers clutter the space in Mercury’s umbra - beaming light to solar sailcraft and microwaves/radiation directly to the inner planets for ever-increasing energy demands.  Mercury’s close orbit is also a major strategic issue for OCRI, as the huge microwave antennas and powerful lasers could do some damage in the wrong hands.

During the fall of 2028 Tarshish-based geologists announced they had found evidence of fossilized life buried deep in the mantle of Mercury.  In 2030, biologists and paleontologists from four different Earth-based research institutions, sponsored by the Vatican, confirmed the recovered rocks did carry what was clearly bacterial and nematode-like extraterrestrial life.  

In 2031, Tarshish is a veritable boom town of scientists, the curious, and watchful priests.  back on Earth, the Vatican closely controls access to Tarshish, the fossil records, and the Moor’s holdings.  Thus far, despite significant efforts, no other fossilized records of life have been found on Mercury.  Tarshish also serves as the central hub and frequent downport for off-planet trade - especially in the increasingly valuable antimatter trade (for which Mercury is the largest supplier).  Successful large-scale testing of antimatter powered capital ship drives has recently driven up anitmatter prices particularly for antihelium.  
 
Notably, despite controlling access to one of the most profound scientific discoveries of all time, the RCC has refused to officially comment on the discovery of extraterrestrial life.


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I think I finally have a name for the setting.  I will sit on it for another day, to mull it over - but I think, finally, we have a winner.  Stay tuned.