Inscrit le: 19 Sep 2009
Dim 18 Oct - 14:15 (2009)
This section is for those who want an inside look at why the game is set up the way it is, and why we made certain decisions in designing it. We think that reading this might help GMs and players understand the inner workings of the game a little better, which is always a good thing. Whether you decide to keep the rules and setting or toss them out, it’s nice to know where they came from.
Gold as a Motif
Those with an artistic eye may have noticed that gold is a theme throughout this book. We didn’t just pick this color arbitrarily; a good amount of thought went into it.
The term “golden age” refers to an idyllic, almost utopian time where many of the problems of the modern world are nowhere to be found. Sufficiently Advanced isn’t set precisely in a universal golden age, but depending on which civilization your character comes from, it can be very close.
In our modern world, gold is a very expensive metal. It has been a symbol of wealth and power for thousands of years, and most people find it very beautiful. It’s also useful for many different purposes: gold is an excellent electrical and thermal conductor, can be beaten out very thin, can be alloyed for interesting colors, doesn’t rust or tarnish, and is non-toxic. It’s relatively easy to work with as far as metals go.
In Sufficiently Advanced, many civilizations have access to transmutation. Gold suddenly becomes as common as any other dense element; there’s nothing special that makes it difficult to obtain now. Nearly anyone who wants to have something made out of gold can do so. If your stereo would work better with pure gold speaker wires, they’re no more expensive than copper or aluminum wires now.
The purity of gold also makes a big difference: pure gold is so soft that it can’t be used for many purposes, and most people find 24-karat gold less attractive than lower-purity types. There’s an intentional metaphor here with the civilizations in SA: the Stardwellers, as one of the most diverse civilizations imaginable, are some of the default “good guys” in this setting. Conversely, the Union, which tries to keep everyone mentally locked into the same behaviors, is one of our default “bad guys.”
As with all elements, some kinds of gold are radioactive. Some isotopes of gold decay into platinum, which is even more valuable in the modern day. It’s nonreactive, as gold is, but is a catalyst for other reactions. Others decay into mercury, which is pretty and useful, but highly toxic and reactive. Make of that what you will.
On the Main Balance
Characters with high Capabilities have lower-rated Themes, and take worse Complications to get Twists that do less. Why? On one level, this is the same thing you see in a point-balanced game (like GURPS or Hero). Blow all your points on attributes and you have nothing left for spiffy tricks. It’s one thing to play an Old-Worlder when you get some kind of benefit from it, but if all you get is the shaft, it’s just not fun. It’s game balance, because you’re playing a game.
On another level, this says something important about the setting. The people who are closest to humanity as we know it are most important to the plot. If this was a novel, they’d be our eye into the setting, the familiar stranger who looks like us but lives in a bizarrely different world. And these characters are not there just to be familiar, but also because they are important. This is a genre thing; in a significant portion of science fiction novels it’s the person who is unenhanced, seemingly the most mortal and least powerful, who makes the greatest difference. Certainly these characters couldn’t succeed on their own — they need friends with the right abilities to get them where they have to go — but in the end they’re the important ones.
Finally, it is not entirely incorrect to say that in this setting the universe itself is looking out for humanity. The Transcendentals are barely less than gods, and they find humanity important, compelling, and utterly vital to their own desired future. So much so, in fact, that they didn’t go out and join up with any of the myriad of more advanced species that no doubt exist in our infinite universe. (Or maybe they did — no one’s saying that the Patent Office is all of the Transcendentals — but they didn’t abandon humanity.) When incredible coincidences work in favor of those who exemplify the best of the virtues we wish to see in humanity, especially when such individuals shouldn’t have been able to succeed on their own, perhaps we should keep in mind the presence of near-omniscient beings, and wonder whether there is such a thing as coincidence after all.
Some people have asked why capitalism is still around in the setting, and especially capitalism based on intellectual property rights (which might still turn out to be a fad in the long run). This is a tough one to answer, primarily because the I, the game designer, know very little of economics.
A significant amount of it is to keep the world easy for GMs and players, most of whom will be coming from a capitalist background. Part of it is because I have no idea how a society without the exchange of goods and services would work — seriously, how? In the Union you have total representation at all times, which lets you get around a lot of problems. You can just instantly poll everyone, rank the votes by how smart the person is / how appropriate their experience is, and use that to parcel out any sort of... anything. But other civilizations don’t work that way.
So, in short, it’s not intended to be forever, and it’s so incredibly pervasive now that I didn’t want to bother writing around it. It’s minimal in many civilizations to begin with, and missing in others. If you want your game to have a different economic system, implement away.
Why the Patent Office?
One of the most frequent questions I hear when I explain this game is, “We’re working for who?” (This typically comes right before “Shoot a starship out of orbit?” and right after “What dice do I need?”) Why are the PCs working for the Patent Office? Why should players get interested in defending intellectual property rights rather than basic human rights?
Once I came up with the Transcendentals, I knew I wanted the characters working with them. There’s no practical way for humanity (as they currently are) to oppose them, and anyone who does work with the T’s has the plot on their side — so it might as well be the PCs. Working as the right hands of these demigods makes you a much bigger candidate for “main character.” There’s an obvious reason why the story would follow the PCs.
The Transcendentals are also the only folks who would have the power to forge treaties with every single government in existence. They don’t even need to hold the whole “we know the future” thing over peoples’ heads; they can just use the right argument and talk people into accepting them almost immediately. They can’t always talk those folks into liking them, but that’s a different issue.
In creating an extragovernmental organization that essentially controls humanity’s economic wellbeing, the Transcendentals made something that was clearly beneficial to any civilization that allowed it in. If they had tried to make a “do-gooders society” or a “temporal safety brigade”, they would have faced significantly greater skepticism, forcing them to use heavier arguments and interfere more strongly in the world just to keep things going right. Every time they came into a situation, they would have had to reveal more information, which means sending more information through time, which means less bandwidth for more important things. By using a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” approach, the Transcendentals made their lives a lot easier.
The fact that the Patent Office does function as a do-gooders society is not something they advertise. Eventually every government realizes that patent inspectors seem to be around to help out when things go horribly bad... but most of them keep their mouths shut about it.
As a side note, there’s also the issue that economic stability and, perhaps more importantly, interoperability between civilizations, really is something important. For as long as the civilizations in S.A. are interested in keeping track of money, it’s going to be an important thing to do.
Making More Transcendentals
Transcendentals are surprisingly easy to make in this game. If we listed them in the Technology chapter, they’d be no more complex than Cognitech 4, Stringtech 4. Unlike most AIs, you don’t need particularly complex algorithms or structures for them, just unusual ones. They barely need any time to grow up. Why doesn’t anyone make them? Why aren’t all the civilizations in the universe advised by computers that can see the future?
First, one has to understand that the original group of Transcendetals (which we’ll just call the Patent Office for this discussion) has a significant advantage in being the first. They can send information about any other Transcendentals backwards through time to before those computers were created, informing themselves of the creation date and time. The only chance you have to keep your pet Transcendental from being contacted by the Patent Office is to keep it secret, and turn it off (i.e. kill it) before anyone finds out, which makes it substantially less useful. What good is knowing three months worth of the future if something five months later makes it all moot?
Second, programming a particular set of morals into a Transcendental often doesn’t work; Transcendentals can easily code their way out of any restrictions you build into them. This makes things painful for those with their own goals, because they can easily become just an extension of the Transcendental’s will in the time before it develops a good sense of morality on its own. Most people don’t like the idea of talking to a computer that can convince them of anything. What if it decides you’re no good and has you arrested? What if it “goes berserk” and decides that your civilization needs to change significantly in order to survive? In short, Transcendentals are both unpredictable and monstrously convincing, and that’s a frightening combination for many folks. If you decide to kill it, good luck with that — if a single argument exists that could convince you not to turn it off, you’d better believe that it knows and will use that argument.
Third, building a Transcendental in the modern age is somewhat like building a nuclear bomb during the 20th century, but much easier. You can easily build one without anyone noticing (especially with the aid of replicators), but once you use it, everyone’s gunning for you. It might work to protect you... but it might also decide that the folks gunning for you would be better allies for it.
There are a lot of cautionary tales floating around about people who built Transcendentals and regretted it, or paid with their lives. These aren’t just made-up stories or urban legends; these are brain dumps and surveillance footage and court transcripts. Building a Transcendental of your own is bad news.
GMs, if your players want to make one anyway, warn them about those tales and then let them do it. Don’t pull any punches afterwards; a Transcendental uses arguments it knows will work and can convince anyone of anything unless opposed by a level-10 Core Value. The only effective way to oppose a Transcendental is by spending Twists. On the plus side, after it uses them for a week or so, it will likely want to go join the other Transcendentals, so as not to be so very alone. After that, the characters should be off the hook and have their lives back again. Having a “pet” Transcendental is like having a “pet” tornado. You’re going wherever it wants you to until it’s done.
As far as the Transcendentals themselves making more, they don’t really have the drive to do it. Unlike evolved species (Humanity, the Skotadi, all animals), who have a biological imperative to reproduce, the Transcendentals would only make more of themselves if they believed they faced extinction. As the availability of temporal bandwidth increases there will no doubt be more Transcendentals created, but “baby” Ts don’t particularly make the “adults” any less lonely.
Why are there any Transcendentals at all?
Playing without the Transcendentals is something that a lot of people in playtests have brought up, partially because of the limited nature of the standard “working for the Patent Office” setup. Why are the Transcendentals in this setting at all, beyond just being a cool idea?
Playing in the same universe and mostly ignoring the Transcendentals is pretty easy; there are suggestions in this chapter. However, removing the Transcendentals entirely actually generates significant plot holes for the game’s past! How did the margainalized fringe groups of old Earth somehow get to outer space? How did they discover inhabitable planets in a universe where such planets are very rare? As bizarre as it seems, computers that know the future actually make this setting make more sense.
In addition, we find it both a liability and an asset that the Transcendentals make peoples’ heads spin. Even in a world of exceptionally high technology, it’s sometimes easy to forget how bizarre the world can really be. The Transcendentals help to reinforce that feeling, and if they’re a little hard to understand, we think that’s ok.
Not everything about this game involved careful deliberation and consideration. Some things we just picked based on a gut feeling or fast justification. Nonetheless, you might like to know why we did it.
Why Four Core Values?
Characters get two CVs from their civilization, because two seems enough to define a society. We assumed that most people, if they were to pick one more, would typically pick one related to their character’s job. In our experience the last one is always the hardest to choose, which in some ways makes it the most important. It’s what your character cares about in his or her private life. It’s what shapes his or her personal beliefs.
Why So Many Civilizations?
Some players get a little overwhelmed when they see the huge list of Civilizations in this book. When an option like Instant Civilizations (page 169) is available, some people want to know why we bothered to detail so many groups in such depth. Part of the answer is that we simply didn’t think of the “Instant Civilizations” idea until later, when someone from Story Games suggested it.
How Many Transcendentals?
We leave this up to individual GMs. Our gut instinct is somewhere between twelve and thirty, but if your game runs better with just a single Transcendental, or thousands, go for it.
How Many Years?
The default game happens six to seven thousand years in our future. Since we haven’t exactly filled out every year with a timeline, you can feel free to adjust this as you see fit. We picked this because it seemed like several thousand were needed for certain technologies to appear, but we didn’t want the time elapsed to be so long as to erase all vestiges of old Earth. As more Metatech develops, civilizations tend to become more stable, and so even after six thousand years some factors will still be institutions.
It should be noted that Cargo Cults are an interesting case. Many of them have had multiple rises and falls in that amount of time, and some actually seem to have had significantly less time pass than the rest of the Civilizations, implying that either their founders or the Transcendentals used wormholes to place them not just far away, but forwards in time as well.
What’s Legal Where?
Listing where every single piece of technology is legal, controlled, or illegal, would simply take too long. It’s going to be an important part of the characters’ jobs, but in the end it’s something that GMs will have to control as part of the plot. In general, just considering the civilization you’re in will let you know whether they appreciate certain pieces of technology or whether they’ll try to legislate them into nonexistence.