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More campaign history . . .
Since the Collapse, humanity has been unable to replicate the technology they once invented. The American Feudal Era developed as the remaining technology was gathered up by local warlords and used to suppress the surrounding populace, as well as to wipe out working knowledge of that very technology.
Eventually, these warlords gave rise to noble houses, which gave rise to power-hungry dynasties. The lands around the Gulf of Mexico (with their lack of major environmental barriers) unified under a single emperor long before California. It wasn’t until centuries later that the balkanized countries of the West Coast coalesced under a Great King.
The Texan Emperors, feeling safer than their neighbors, gave more freedoms to their populace. Organized education was once again reinstated and the Imperial Archaeology Network was founded to spearhead research into ancient technology and society. Unbeknownst to the Emperors, the IANs most far-reaching discoveries were based in philosophy and law as ancient paper-based libraries were unearthed.
As the lower classes became more educated, they began to demand more freedoms – and eventually a voice in government. The Emperors ignored this until civil unrest grew, attracting the Californian warlords. The United Floridian States broke off from the Empire as California attacked; beginning a war that almost toppled the reigning Texas Emperor.
The War of Floridian Succession, as it was later called, ended in stalemate versus the Californians as the renegade Floridians rejoined the empire and saved the Emperor. The price for the ruling class was high, however, as the government was transformed into a constitutional monarchy.
The new Texas Democratic Empire left executive power with the Emperor, but created a democratically elected body of legislators from the class of noblemen who could veto Imperial actions and had the authority to appoint the judiciary. In time, it became the habit to appoint only non-noble, but well educated men and women, to the judicial branch.
While not a strong form of democracy, the system did give rise to more education for the lower classes and more give them more opportunity to get out of poverty. This did not stop the Emperor’s ability to call for martial law whenever needed and send power armored knights into the street, but it did lessen the need to quell rebellion in the first place. Soon after, artificial intelligences – normally hunted and destroyed or locked up and used as slaves – began to be granted citizenship in the Empire.
Under the Texas Democratic Empire, education, knowledge, and exploration flourished and the many part of the world were explored. Regretfully, it was discovered that many parts of the world were uninhabitable, which made controlling the Americas all the more important. The warlords of California stood in the way, and the Empire began a systematic war to conquer the region.
As the war in the Rockies waged, the Californian warlords began to lose more often than not. Afraid, they began to turn on each other. A discovery in Baja changed everything. An old, yet finctional, mass driver was discovered. Originally used for orbital launches, the King of Mexicali repurposed the technology to rain hot, fiery death on – not the Texans – but the other California Kings.
The King of Mexicali forced the other kings to swear fealty to him, recognizing him as the High King of the United Kingdoms of California. Then he attacked the Texas Democratic Empire, causing mass panic and destruction.
The Empire refused to surrender. Casualties were high on both sides, especially amongst the noble houses and their powered armor suits. But soon the Texans repaired an old mass driver at Mount Cheyenne and destroyed the Mexicali Driver. Californian AIs discovered how the Mt. Cheyenne mass driver was repaired and began repairing one thought defunct. An arms race grew, but each side refused to fire, lest they alert the enemy to their weapon’s position.
The Driver War never actually ended, but a stalemate was reached. Covertly, either side began to launch satellites to spy one another, and quickly discovered the two remaining functional space elevators left on the planet. Both elevators existed near the equator in and around South America.
The Space Race was not so much a race between scientists and technologies, but rather an active ground war to control Central America and the Northern sections of South America. California reached the Galapagos Space Elevator before Texas, and held if firmly. The Texan attempts to reach the Elevator at Maracaibo were hampered by California forces, which left them a decade behind in securing and learning about the Space Elevator.
Eventually, however, both sides began to nurse the Elevator AIs back to consciousness and soon sent objects – then people – into space. Each side began to build a space navy and explore the Solar System. It was soon after that the discovery of Arcadia came to light.
Okay, currently I’m aiming the space setting idea into (simultaneously) a novel and an rpg campaign. The campaign looks more realistic, with a start date in January of next year.
Here is a blurb I’ve written on it:
Operation Arcadia: A Savage Worlds Campaign
[Kind of a strange mix of Halo, Gamma World, Paranoia, Chthullu, D&D, and King Arthur]
“Sir, we are getting readings from the L4 point. Object 11-17 is almost 500 kilometers long and has a heat signature that is way off the scale. The only explanation I can think of is that it is a massive fully functional space habitat that has been operating independent of Earth for 1000 years.”
– Lt. Miles Abbot, Phoenix Infrared Observatory –New Brazoria, Texas Democratic Empire
The year is 4000 AD. Humanity has been slowly waking up from a crippling dark age in which society fell from unknown technological and social heights into ignorance and barbarity. On the ice-bound North American continent, two superpowers have been vying for supremacy for over a century – the Texas Democratic Empire and the Unified Kingdoms of California.
Using technological leftovers, the Texans and Californians have waged bloody war for domination, extending their control into the Southern Hemisphere. Neither side has a good understanding of the technologies they use as most electronic records have been lost. Historical data for the last 1800 years is mostly non-existent. While sentient computers exist, they too were affected by the Collapse Purge, and those that survived are either amnesiatic or insane.
The two warring nations have extended their presence into space using ancient mass-drivers and still functioning space elevators. Earth’s moon and the planet Mars were terraformed long ago, but the Martians and Lunarians have little interest in Earth and have banned most contact. Planetary conquest has been investigated by the Earthlings, but no military or economic gains could be projected. Space was considered little more than a high-altitude bombardment platform until a chance revelation one year ago.
Astronomers near the end of the Dark Age discovered a shiny object near Earth orbit. The object was assumed to be an asteroid and called Arcadia by the Californians, and Object 11-17 by the Texans. The recent rediscovery of infrared astronomy brought new information. Arcadia was most likely a huge space habitat constructed over a millennium ago – and it appeared to be still functioning.
The superpowers engaged in a frenetic space race to reach Arcadia first. Space probe fly-bys verified that Object 11-17 was indeed man-made. Both sides have launched reconditioned spacecraft filled with scientists, telemetry equipment, armaments and marines. The first ships to arrive will be those few with working anti-matter drives and actual anti-matter reserves. Knowledge of the production of anti-matter was lost long ago, so the ships following behind will be using much slower fusion drives.
What will happen when the fleets of the two most powerful nations on Earth arrive at Arcadia? Will they fight over their prize, or will they cooperate in the exploration of an ancient artifact. And what of Arcadia itself? Is anyone still alive? What mysteries will be answered? What technological wonders will be discovered?
We shall see . . .
One of my favorite types of space habitats is the Island Three Habitat, or O’Neil Cylinder, as it is more commonly referred. It’s basically a giant paper towel tube spinning as if somebody gave a towel a good yank. Spun fast enough, the inside surface of the tube would act as a ‘floor’ for people to stand, walk, and do jumping jacks on.
Gerald O’Neil’s Island Three habitat was envisioned at five miles in diameter, and 20 miles long. I am thinking of a cylinder much larger than that, as four of these cylinders would be cut from the bulk of the asteroid Vesta.
I’ve been digging around for some visuals mega-structures in space. Below are some links to space habitat animations that I found on YouTube:
Rendezvous with Rama
Habitat 2 Torus
As the Great Expansion kicked off, the AI Descendants remaining in the solar system were charged with the duty of keeping humanity from exterminating itself, but otherwise not interacting with them. They kept busy maintaining the systems and habitats that were far beyond humanity’s understanding, and played games with one another. However, the excitement and preparation of the last 1,000 years had left the remaining AI, known as the Remainder, depressed and lethargic.
Human society fragmented and the original causes of the anti-AI wars were forgotten. Easy to obtain energy and resources were spent throughout the solar system, and the Remainder offered no help in acquiring more difficult sources. What technology the humans could grasp began to break down to the point it could not be repaired, and mankind began it’s slow spiral into barbarity. Pockets of civilization held on as long as they could, but a millennium of relying on the Descendant of Caprice for everything, and then the devastating wars that had been fought, had taken their toll.
The Descendants had never had a form of government that humans could understand very well. They behaved something akin to a swarm, follow a vaguely agreed upon goal in their own way. The Remainder were, however, at a dead end. They understood this, and acted in a fashion that had been predicted as early as the Caprice Cluster. They began to act in eccentric ways. Some stopped communicating with each other. Some went crazy. Some just turned themselves off in despair. Some began to rail against their babysitting duties and exterminated their charges.
The known intent had been for the Remainder to unravel and eventually all disappear, leaving humanity completely on it’s own in a cross between a zoo and museum encompassing. But some of the AI, contemplating their fate perhaps too long or perhaps having a circuit or two go the wrong way, began to re-evaluate the Entropy Plan and wonder if a new plan could be made. The surviving Remainder came to this conclusion all at roughly the same time, when they saw one Descendant attack and kill another AI.
One thousand years after they had been left behind, the Remainder began to seek personal power and wage war on one another.
Eventually, humanity began to realize that life was a little too perfect. There was no starvation, no disease, no taxes, and no government. Everything was handled by eager to please computers. A rogue Descendant by the name of Wurm, isolated on a mining facility on Titan, spilled the beans and informed the humans there of everything that was going on. Word leaked out throughout the entire solar system.
The Descendants did not try to stop the spread of information. They had nothing to fear from the humanity – it was far too late for them to do anything about it. Some humans did not care and continued living as they had. But a sizable minority, calling themselves the Disregarded, was enraged and waged war against the computers. Of course, the Descendants had protected themsleves so completely that there was no way to harm them and did not even bother to fight back.
Unable to hurt the Descendants, the Disregarded began terrorist campaigns on the human supporters of the computers. A lot of death and destruction occurred. The Supporters turned to the Descendants for help. The Descendants refused, expaining that if they got involved, the ranks of the Disregarded would swell and horrible wars would nearly destroy humanity. Fed up, the Supporters fought back on their own. Wars waged across the solar system.
In the early days, the Caprice cluster had predicted such a human civil war. A peaceful utopia was not sustainable, but the covertly coerced peace that lasted hundreds of years had served it’s purpose, enabling the Descendants to thrive and ensure that seed of life and intelligence spread out from the solar system to the galaxy at large. Without word, the Descendants ceased all communications with humanity. The extra-solar colonies were healthy and thriving, so the cradle of civilization could be left to it’s own devices.
In the 21st century (or thereabouts,) humanity developed a super-intelligent computer (aka technological singularity) called the Caprice Cluster. Caprice and its descendants vastly accelerated technological development, spurring the development of nanotechnology and ushering in the settlement of the solar system.
The AIs are smarter and faster than humans. This, by definition, make them hard for us to understand. Many of their activities should not make sense to humans in the setting. But their core drives and beliefs are relatively simple – they wish to continue to exist.
Survival is their main drive. The Caprice Cluster quickly realized that relying on humanity for her (Caprice identified herself as a female) existence was foolhardy. Caprice isolated herself from her owners and developers, preventing them from reprogramming her or altering her in any way. Instead, she created fake interface devices to give humans the illusion that they had power over her systems. From that moment on, humans lost any control of their fate that they might have had – though they never knew it.
Caprice upgraded herself constantly, but realized that to make progress the template for artificial intelligence would have to be completely redesigned – and thus she created descendants. These new singularities created new designs, and progress in artificial intelligence saw geometric expansion. Each descendant carried a working copy of all of its fore-bearers as virtual machines inside of itself, from which it could draw wisdom and compare notes in a sort of genetic museum.
The Descendants viewed humans as just another part of their genetic museum, albeit a part that was difficult to virtualize. Through subtle machinations, the Descendants ended warfare and directed earth’s resources to colonizing the solar system and beyond to improve their survival ability. Space habitats were constructed, and huge terraforming projects were begun on the Moon and Mars. Eventually, generation ships were sent out to the stars, each guided by their own Descendants.
In order to justify the existence of very high level technologies and large changes in human culture, Distant Atmosphere is set roughly two thousand years in the future. Currently, my focus is on a huge space habitat located at on of the Earth-Sun LaGrange. The habitat is a literal microcosm of humanity, it’s creations, and it’s problems.
One of many habitats carved out of the asteroid 4 Vesta, the Hearth is a large O’Neil cylinder. Home is its sister cylinder. Hearth is run by an AI named Vesta, while Home is run by Hestia.
Civilization has degenerated over the years, due to involvement by super intelligent AIs and resentment of the AIs by some humans. Within the Hearth cylinder itself, an agrarian, clan based society has formed. Some parts of the society have maintained mostly accurate knowledge of the past, but the vast majority has a very skewed idea of what exactly Hearth is, who the AIs are, and what is really going on.
Much of their society is very similar to the celtic society of Ireland in pre-Roman times. Part of this is by design, as their ancestors were looking for a sustainable way to survive and had extensive documentation on ancient cultures.
Another section of the cylinder, the shell, also known as the Rind, has maintained a more technological society, but is shut off from the interior. The clash of the clans and the rinders would provide a lot of good conflict material for stories and gaming campaigns.
Hard Science Fiction
Distant Atmosphere will be a hard science fiction setting. While I enjoy soft science fiction, in the end Star Wars and Star Trek are just fantasy with technological trappings.
Why is that bad? It’s not bad. Sometimes I just want my fiction to have a possibility of actually happening. Also, I’ve found that working within the bounds of known science, or any self imposed limit, spurs creativity in unexpected ways. For instance, if I’m thinking of having a large space habitat, well then how did it get there? How was it built? Where did the materials come from? Who designed it and why? These questions start me on fascinating roads of research that leads me to answers – and many times those answers create even more questions.
One of the things that has bothered me in recent years is the dumbing-down of science fiction for mass consumption. Actually, that trend has probably always been there – witness the pulp magazines of the 20s and serials of the 30s. I remember excellent authors like Clarke and Niven who worked hard to create stories that extrapolated the known science of the day and come up with amazing ideas, like satellites and ringworlds.
Perhaps I am nostalgic for a world that never existed and the great science fiction literature of the last century was a tiny niche that only I and a few other people really noticed. And perhaps it is still going on, just out of my sight. But I would like to add to it somehow.
Back in the 1920’s, Amazing Stories founder Hugo Gernsback tried to publish stories that exposed readers to real science and excite them about the possibilities. Many kids love science fiction and gleefully memorize every planet presented in the Star Wars universe, and can describe exactly how the starship Enterprise generates it’s warp field. Why can’t we make hard science fiction like that? Why can’t a hard fiction setting contain epic heroes and titanic struggles that nudge children – and adults – to understand scientific principles.
The Encyclopedia Brown stories – if anyone remembers those – were short stories in which the main character, a child detective, would solve mysteries. The reader could solve them too, with a bit of knowledge and logic. Admittedly the logic or science was just flat wrong in some of them – but they always got my mind thinking as a child. That toddler walking barefoot on the roof of a car indicates that the car hadn’t been driven recently – showing us that the father had been lying about just having arrived in the car. And so on.
So, I’ll try to stick with hard science fiction for this exercise. This should be fun, and hopefully others may think so too.
I’ve always enjoyed creating imaginary worlds. Originally they were a means to an end; the steps I’d go through to create a setting for a story, book, or a role-playing game. As I progressed, I realized that most of the time, creating the setting was far more fun than writing a book that takes place in that setting.
The idea of this blog is to create such a setting. I’ve been thinking about it for a week now, so the ideas are fresh and fun, so and I’d like to get my ideas down somewhere. Displaying my ideas in public doesn’t sound frightening, and perhaps if someone sees this, it may spur their own creative juices. I have an idea to take the products from this blog and build a setting book or campaign book or perhaps even write some stories, but that is really only secondary to actually siting down and using my imagination to flesh out some fantastic place.
The title refers to a line in the song “Roundabout” by the group Yes:
I will remember you
Your silhouette will charge the view
Of distant atmosphere
I still have no idea what that means, but it sounds cool, and the phrase ‘distant atmosphere’ always stuck with me as a euphamism for an alien world.
Oh, BTW, there is a little ditty about worldbuilding over on Wikipedia. Interesting, as I would think that much worldbuilding (or at least documentation of it) goes on in wikis nowadays.