Inscrit le: 19 Sep 2009
Dim 18 Oct - 13:31 (2009)
The Transcendentals have limited temporal bandwidth. There are many thousands of messages they’d want to send backwards through time, but can’t, because other things are more important. Sometimes there are even major disasters that they don’t tell themselves about. When such disasters are technologically oriented, the Patent Office investigates, and sends humanitarian aid.
When the Transcendentals do have information about a disaster, it sometimes includes the most dreaded phrase in the Patent Office lexicon: “disaster relief is not your task.” That means that the Inspectors are to do just that: inspect, and nothing more. This should be a heart-wrenching experience for a new Inspector, knowing that their job and possibly the lives of thousands of people depends on them ignoring the suffering of others. The big question then becomes, “Why is it important that we not interfere? What happened or is going to happen that makes that so vital?”
If you ever want to make the Transcendentals look evil, perhaps the best way to do it is to have just one of these missions not pay off in the end.
To give you an idea of what Inspectors do, here are a small stack of typical missions. These are presented as if straight from the Transcendentals’ mouths, with all the detail or ambiguity that Inspectors can typically expect.
• A stringtech researcher in the Alliance of Independent Worlds is working on a source of electrical power: plunging one end of a wormhole into the center of a star and using the immense heat at the opposite end to drive reactors. He thinks he has the proper shielding figured out. He doesn’t. Go keep him from killing himself and his entire planet. Remember that you have diplomatic status but no law-enforcement powers in the Independent territories, and that they do not appreciate our assistance (which they term “interference”).
• Because of our neutrality in their affairs, the Eternal Masquerade and the Tao of History have asked us to mediate one of their disputes over the ownership and use of a newly discovered inhabitable world. You have been chosen to represent us at this event.
• The Cognitive Union will soon discover a way to create nanomesh-weaving microbes which can survive for a moderate amount of time outside the human body. This will allow them, in a year or so, to create contagious cyberslave implants. Stop them. Remember that, as a non-slave, you have no legal status in the Union.
• A Cargo Cult has uncovered a nanofactory whose intellectual property enforcement code is corrupt. They can create anything in the factory’s library at no cost, including nuclear weapons and inversion beams. You must insure that this abuse of technology does not spread.
• A Tao memetic engineer has built a memetic sequence capable of unlocking the Cognitive Union’s cyberslave implants. Distribute it as best you can in their territory before they devise a countermeasure. Do not attempt to block the creation of the countermeasure; its existence will be important in 360 years.
• A Spacer ship will report, in half an hour, that they are under attack by unknown forces. Psychohistorical projection indicates a 78% chance of an internal dispute between Spacers and rogue factions of their civilization this year; please wormhole to these coordinates and observe. You may intervene if desired, but do not employ overwhelming force.
• The Rationalist League’s senate is debating the merits of breaking ties with the Patent Office. Please convince them otherwise by peaceful means.
• Please wormhole to the following coordinates. Bring first-contact gear appropriate for a medium-level nanotech-focused Cargo Cult.
• An individual is using an illegally-produced hydrogen bomb to hold a Replicant city hostage two days from now. You will need to travel to the city, which is under a wormhole interdiction field, secure a location for yourselves near the city hall, and defuse the situation without undue loss of life. Under no conditions should you attempt to intercept the bomber before 6:37 AM two days from now (Replicant local time).
• Your presence will be necessary at a Stardweller art gallery, soon to enter orbit around the planet Uniphor. We have procured invitations to the grand opening for you. We regret that we have no other information for you at this time; you will be updated in situ.
• Travel to the 17th anchorage of the Disciples of the Void. Be sure to activate your mesh’s cultural guidebook so that you do not offend them. Report to us on what you find there; it will be important to us. When we receive your message we will either dispatch a second team or keep you in position.
• An overly-helpful branch of the Hospitaler’s society has found a way to override the intellectual property enforcement code on a neuron-knitter. While we applaud their humanitarian aims, their actions are nonetheless illegal. Dissuade them from their course of action. You are authorized to bargain on our behalf. We advise against violent action; the Hospitalers are a well-loved group, and, in addition, all members of this particular group are fully-enhanced Mechanicans.
• A Roamer encampment is demanding that the Patent Office intervene in what would seem to be a problem for local authorities. Someone has broken into one of their tents and made off with one of their elders. None of their surveillance nanotech caught the slightest record of the event, even after a hole was slit in the elder’s tent and he was dragged out through the back.
• Two groups have filed a patent application for the same device at the same time. The designs are totally identical, so one of them is obviously a forgery — but which one? The Transcendentals haven’t sent themselves the information on this one, so it’s your job to go figure it out.
• The Logicians have their own version of Psychohistory, which is protected by the Office with a patent of unusually long duration and a cost so high as to be prohibitive even for an entire civilization. The Logicians have reason to believe that someone is using it against them, and they certainly haven’t received the money that someone would have to pay to use it. Is this a patent violation, or has someone figured out a different method for conducting subtle metatech warfare? Could this be an internal struggle within the Rationalist League itself?
• A group of Stardwellers have so altered themselves that they claim to qualify as a separate species from humanity. They are demanding recognition as a separate political entity from the Stardwellers.
• Please travel with all due haste to System 882349, which contains a biotech-oriented Cargo Cult. Gravity-wave readings indicate that a group of Skotadi have wormholed a very large amount of dark matter into the system, sufficient to destabilize planetary orbits. This cannot be a mere accident — they can detect our planets as well as we detect theirs. The Cultists are unable to detect the problem. You should recommend a course of action.
• A group of Stored have made a minor breakthrough in computer technology. Naturally, they have patented it; they requested (and we set) a high price for its use. Other Stored have recently learned of this, and are demanding that the improvements be released so that their general public can benefit. This could turn into a public relations fiasco for the Office; please go and mediate their dispute.
• In fifteen minutes, at WormCom Nexus #4, an unauthorized nanophage will be set off. WormCom Nexus #4 is a communications hub connecting fifteen different planets in Masquerader, Tao, and Mechanican space. The nanophages are small enough to fit through the communications holes. We will alert the governments; you will investigate. We must stress: disaster relief is not your task in this incident.
• Wormhole to the planet Uxten in Independent space, at the folowing coordinates. It is vitally necessary that one of your group receive an open wound at this location. You may then seal the wound. Pickup will be at the same location in no less than three days. We have no other information for you at this time.
There are certain stories that are much harder to tell in Sufficiently Advanced than in other role-playing games. Some of them are much-beloved standbys of both fantasy and science fiction, so it’s worth mentioning them before you try to use them. Some are merely difficult to use; others become all but impossible to tell.
A story about a journey through unknown places is exceptionally hard to do. Players often have access to wormholes, and those that do not usually have a replicator available, which which they can make motor vehicles, ultralight aircraft, or other transportation. To tell a story that involves a lot of travel by foot, you’ll need to strand the characters without access to a replicator or the infosphere, and that’s not easy.
Instead, consider making exploration the important part. Rather than merely passing through, the characters need to find an important object, or follow a poorly-made map, or just figure out what’s here and whether it’s important (or dangerous). The characters can get from place to place trivially, but don’t necessarily know what they’ll find there.
Space-travel stories are likewise hobbled. Presuming wormholes are not an option, travel within a solar system takes days, weeks, or even months, but most of that time is just boring waiting. Interstellar travel is either instantaneous or takes centuries of waiting and careful maintenance. Space is, for the most part, incredibly empty.
Murder mysteries require a great deal of work to make them believable. The amount of informationgathering that the average team will have at its fingertips is astounding — someone with Nanotech 7 and some Police skill is, on their own, the equal of any crime lab on Earth. High levels of Cognitech will be able to calculate bullet trajectories even without infosphere access. Characters with significant Metatech will intuit the relationships between the victim and his friends (and enemies) with minimal effort, quickly narrowing down the possible suspects. For a whodunnit-type murder to be a big deal, it has to be nearly impossible to figure out what happened and pin the evidence on them. The Comprehension Theme can slice through this kind of problem like a hot knife through butter. This doesn’t mean that using murders as plot elements is a bad idea. Far from it, in fact. It just means that 99% of those who murder will be counting on being caught.
Running an action-oriented game is very dangerous if some people have neither Plot Immunity nor combat skills. They should be warned to stay far back from the mountain-leveling explosions that will be tossed around by the other characters. Again, it’s not that you can’t do it — you should make the players aware of the reprecussions.
Other kinds of stories are made easier by the setup of the game and its mechanics. Ethical dilemmas, conflicting objectives, romantic plots, and the “stranger in a strange land” story are all well-supported. One might run a “super-powered” game, with the characters always facing off against other high-tech opponents while the surrounding “extras” are lowtech folks. This works well for a first-contact kind of game, bringing cargo cults back to civilization.
Black-ops and diplomatic games are also easy to do, and we find it particularly rewarding to run a single game with both elements. The Patent Office is quite interested in maintaining good relations with other civilizations, and in keeping the peace. If negotiations fail, the Transcendentals know that some of their agents aren’t above the occasional piece of blackmail. It’s also a good way to have a little bit of party conflict without having it balloon out of proportion: the black-ops team and the diplomats both have the same goals, but they would likely argue over the right methods to use.