Vir's Archive

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.


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