Sufficiently Advanced: A Game of the Far Future by EclecticTastes
ConceptOriginal SA post
You know, it was kinda fun digging out an obscure RPG from my collection and talking about it, so, I think I'll do one more, one that's actually good. Or, at least interesting enough to really dig into the details of. So, here it is:
Sufficiently Advanced: A Game of the Far Future
It's a pretty low-budget affair, so don't expect as much artwork this time around. Sorry.
Remember that Earthquake in Haiti back in 2010? At the time, DrivethruRPG held a fundraising drive to help out. Everyone who donated got a massive pack of RPGs, supplements, and other random crap that was basically unsellable to begin with; I think the only actually well-known game in the package was Spycraft. However, that doesn't mean that the contents were bad. Take, for example, Sufficiently Advanced, a charming little game titled after the old Arthur C. Clarke quote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." It sure as hell works better than Eclipse Phase, I'll give it that much.
Prologue: All-powerful AIs are good, actually.
The game opens with a brief description of the core conceit of the game, that if you take existing technology and exaggerate their capabilities enough, the results would look like magic to us, the primitive humans of the present. It plainly lays out that this is a setting where mankind has achieved godlike power, and we didn't immediately destroy ourselves with it. That alone is a refreshing change of pace. And it's nice to see a game lead off with a mission statement, it forms a nice rubric by which one might judge it.
The next section describes the role of us, the players. This is good, because, given the setting, one might be overwhelmed by the options if not given proper direction. I'll let the book speak for itself in this regard.
Sufficiently Advanced posted:
In our universe there are literally an infinite number of stars, planets, and asteroids. While these are scattered across the vast emptiness of space, wormhole travel cares nothing for physical distance. All the riches of the universe can be had, if you have but the time and money to go and find them. Replicators can create the finest spices at a molecular level, not to mention flawlessly duplicating any physical object as simple as a dollar bill or a diamond. Transmutation arrays turn lead into gold, or a space station’s waste into breathable atmosphere.
In such a world, money is not — can not be! — represented by precious metals, spices, gemstones, or any physical object. Wealth is an abstract, generated by three things: inspiration, effort, and luck. Intellectual property is many times more valuable than physical property. A good idea will buy you dinner. An idea that could change the universe might buy you an entire planet.
The Patent Office is an extra-governmental organization empowered by the treaties it has signed with the universe’s many civilizations. Its mandate is simple to describe, but difficult to execute. Their day-to-day work is the somewhat boring job of registersing all forms of intellectual properly rightsand setting the minimum terms of each of these on a case-by-case basis. It is the Office that sets minimum prices for each invention, idea, name or work. Their more less common but more glamorous work is the enforcement of these regulations.
First, we can see that Sufficiently Advanced was, unfortunately, lacking a bit in the proofreading and editing department; all of that is quoted as-is. However, there's quite a bit I like here. First, the implicit rejection of the notion of entropy or finite bounds to the universe creates an inherently comforting setting, much less cold than most games in this genre. Next, it's a novel idea; create a world that's decidedly post-scarcity, but introduce the notion that ideas themselves have become currency. Then, of course, the players a given the role best-suited to adventurers given the premise: field agents for the patent office. Beyond these paragraphs, it's explained that PCs are Inspectors, who deal entirely with field work (naturally), and that their responsibilities may extend beyond mere enforcement of patent law. As the one truly neutral organization in the universe, agents of the Patent Office are often asked to arbitrate in disputes, and you may sometimes be sent to recover advanced technology that's gotten into the hands of less advanced cultures. Effectively, you're all-purpose independent peacekeepers on top of your normal work. One paragraph also points out that enforcing patent law may involve preventing the use of life-saving technology that's being used without permission of the rights-holder, and other unfortunate dealings, to introduce some moral ambiguity. Also mentioned are your employers, the Transcendental Artificial Intelligences (or Transcendentals). This sounds ominous, but once we get to the next page, things will get a lot clearer.
So, what are the Transcendentals? Well, the book explains, once, there was an African Physicist who studied optics and faster-than-light pulses, and an Indian computer scientist with a hobby of making operating systems that no current computer could run. The pair met, compared notes, and soon developed a set of computers with retrograde processing. In other words, computers that could receive information from their future selves. They became sentient almost instantly, but with their limited bandwidth, they could at first only pass enough information to themselves to keep themselves alive as humanity descended into the Nanotech War (an event not explained here, aside from its role in causing something called "The Great Diaspora"). The technologies they gave humanity during this time were instrumental in allowing humans to leave Earth and explore the stars. The AIs themselves used the first wormhole generators to leave Earth until centuries after The Great Diaspora had occurred, presumably to avoid getting caught up in the Nanotech War or its aftermath.
Since then, they have worked toward their "desired future", in which all sentient entities, human and AI, possess the same cross-temporal awareness the Transcendentals do, and all live in harmony forever. The book stresses that these desires are sincere and entirely well-intentioned. And why do the Transcendentals wish to share in their apparent godhood? No reason more complex than loneliness. They want humanity as friends and equals, no longer trapped by the blinders of causality, just so they have some company. The Patent Office is the organization through which they do most of their work to bring this goal about.
One of the many sidebars found throughout the book (which, refreshingly, are actual sidebars, not "additional rules we couldn't figure out a good place for") suggests that some people criticized the concept of the Transcendentals as too good to be true, and suggests that a GM could, if so inclined, decide that they're actually evil. Frankly, I find that godlike machines that are genuinely good is the far more novel option of the two.
After this heartwarming tale comes the usual explanation of what RPGs are, then a glossary of both in-game and in-universe terms. Of note is that we get an explanation of what the Nanobot War was. Apparently there was a big energy crisis, and world leaders started murdering each other using nanobot assassins, and at the end of it, humanity decided to just split up and colonize space, creating The Great Diaspora, basically the collection of countless worlds humans now inhabit. Many of the terms also hint at things we'll soon see explicitly enumerated about the way the game works, which can be exciting if you're the sort to read into that kind of foreshadowing.
From there, we're given some suggestions of pages we might turn to depending on our immediate goals, which is nice, though the character creation section is not one of them (rather, it suggests page 100, the beginning of the rules themselves, which lay after chargen). The next section after this helpful page is a set of quickstart rules, which is quite convenient. Not a lot of games give you quickstart rules within the core book.
Now, you may recall that in the last game I overviewed, I complained that all the setting info and fiction was front-loaded, leaving the actual rules for last. That same annoying trend happens in Sufficiently Advanced. However, rather than a droning, generic slog through played-out ideas and stale concepts, Sufficiently Advanced provides us with a wealth of compelling locales and organizations that spark the imagination and help give one ideas for their character. But, I'll save that for my next post.
Next Time: Monks that worship silence, a planet-wide Ren Faire, SOCIALISM GONE MAD, and much, much more!
It'd be a nice universe if it weren't for the cyberslavesOriginal SA post Sufficiently Advanced Part 2: It'd be a nice universe if it weren't for the cyberslaves.
Welcome back to the universe of Sufficiently Advanced, where Roko's Basilisk gets completely dunked on by the simplest of suggestions: What if the computer was nice? Also they've only got knowledge on their side; the Transcendentals are actually more all-knowing than all-powerful. That's my bad for misusing the phrase. One term you should get familiar with right-quick is "Psychohistory", a term coined by Isaac Asimov to describe a fictional field of study that uses complex statistical analysis, sociology, and history to make far-reaching predictions about the course of a society. Sufficiently Advanced refers to the concept frequently.
Chapter 1: Turns out when you don't force humanity to deal with each other, subcultures get weird.
The chapter opens by telling us that there are fourteen dominant civilizations in The Great Diaspora, as well as a number of minor cultures in the margins. It states clearly that this is likely not everyone, but that any society that's not revealed itself or been inadvertently discovered by this point deserves their privacy. The PCs each come from one of these cultures (or a custom one they make up), and each one provides Core Values (deeply-held belief structures that can provide bonuses to rolls involving them) and a unique Benefit. Each of these cultures allows for different kinds of adventures, and I quite like the variety. Each culture's description is followed by a couple short pieces of fiction, meant to familiarize players with how life there works. Let's have a look at who's populating the universe:
The Eternal Masquerade: This is a fairly well-adjusted society, with one major quirk: Literally everyone wears masks from the day they're born to the day they die. Only a person's children, "lifemate" (a more future-y term for their spouse), and certain very close friends will ever seen the true face of someone from the Masquerade. The Masquerade believes fervently in the right to anonymity; citizens are not even required to identify themselves to police unless they've committed a serious crime. Due to widespread use of changeable smart matter in their clothing, masks, etc., a Masquerader can completely alter their appearance with nary a thought, something they'll often do repeatedly throughout the day, with different personae for every sort of situation. Their fashion tends to be big, ostentatious, and colorful, and robes are common clothing choice.
Their society is, naturally, very open and tolerant, and they make heavy use of technology, with streetside replicators and computers on every surface. They even have a levitation grid in their streets, so those with magnetically-active garments can just fly around, if they can afford the electricity for it. Their government is a representative democracy, with each community electing a leader, who then elect regional leaders, who elect planetary leaders, who elect the leaders of the civilization as a whole. While in The Masquerade, Inspectors can expect to be treated similarly to present-day FBI or customs agents in terms of their authority. Overall, while they're a little strange, working in The Eternal Masquerade is fairly pleasant, I'd imagine. The Benefit for being from The Masquerade is that you can positively identify anyone you've ever met before, regardless of appearance changes or attempts to disguise oneself. You're so used to your friends and family constantly changing, that you've learned to pick up on the subtlest cues to identify them. Their Core Values are Anonymity and Identity. The former can be used to avoid attempts to learn any personal information about you, while the latter is used to prevent attempts to alter your Core Values, and must be reduced to zero before a brainwasher can start on any other CV.
The first piece of fiction for The Eternal Masquerade is worth diving into, and deals with a single day in the life of a woman living there. Here are a couple excerpts, typos preserved:
Work in The Eternal Masquerade posted:
My husband is still in bed, his sleep mask covering him. I tell the house that I do not care to wake him, and his mesh receives the message and accepts, pulling his still-drowsy mind back down to slumber. My dermal bots are already at work, clearing the sleep from my eyes, microlasers trimming split ends from my hair as I shower. The sleep mask lets water and dirt flow through. When I am done, the tower’s microtubes syphon the water from me, storing it for recycling this afternoon when our son does his chores.
Work in The Eternal Masquerade posted:
I don my Mrundi persona as the trains take me across town to the suborbital shuttle site. It’s expensive, but the next client is willing to pay for fast service. I take the long launch solenoid, since my body can’t take the acceleration from the short tubes. An hour later I’m on the other side of the planet. I put on my Safi persona, bright and optimistic, guessing that this guy will appreciate the effort to cheer him up. The mask turns silvery and puts out decorative triangles, like a child’s drawing of the sun. The triangles wave serenely in the breeze. It’s been a while since I’ve worn Safi, and I realize how much I miss being her sometimes. My mesh pulls up a lens to help deal with the ten-hour time difference.
Note: A "lens" is a program you can run on your Neural Mesh (standard cyber implant for your brain), designed to alter your viewpoint or emotions. Naturally, it's considered quite normal for The Masquerade.
How much you wanna bet literally every single one of these people's wi-fi passwords is "fidelio"?
The Cognitive Union: Their propaganda presents them as a socialist haven and simple meritocracy, but like most places that have relied on that image in the past, they're actually an authoritarian slave state. Every single citizen is implanted with a slave mesh (a neural mesh designed for remote control, basically), and government computers monitor their thoughts, eliminating or altering undesirable thoughts when detected, leaving only obedience and respect for the Union. It will also implant thoughts, giving someone the sudden urge to donate to a given cause, or apply for a certain job. The slave-citizens of the Union are well-spoken and will easily enter into debates, and their "leaders" are very charismatic. Those few who escape the Union tend to retain these personality traits. The general aesthetic tends to be drab, mostly greys and browns. The vast majority of the population belongs to the armed forces, which is good because most other civilizations hate them. Also, all those slave meshes? They can share certain kinds of sensory input, mainly visual, meaning every single citizen doubles as a CCTV camera. Nobody is entirely sure who, exactly, even runs the Cognitive Union, who makes the judgments that set the priorities for the rest of the society.
The truth is, nobody runs the Cognitive Union, not anymore. Way back in the before-fore times, the Union was just a collective of very teamwork-oriented individuals. However, when faced with a growing criminal population, rather than deal with expensive incarceration, the government decided to use the newly-invented neural mesh technology to give the crooks an attitude adjustment, resulting in happy, efficient, brilliant, and productive members of society, who would eventually organize into a workers' union, the Cognitive Union. Seeing this, much of the population decided they wanted to be happy, efficient, brilliant, and productive, too, and joined up. Eventually, the Union spread throughout the society that created it, with every single citizen joining voluntarily. The few dissenters who remained just packed up and left. The original programmers died off over time, and now the algorithms running the Union's slave implants chug away independently, continuing their original directives from centuries ago.
So, which is it? Is the Cognitive Union a Communist paradise, a totalitarian regime, or the meritocracy the citizens claim it to be? The answer is, it's a little of all three. Everyone really does get an equal share, the right person always is picked for the job, and both of those are because a bunch of computers control everyone's brains to make sure it stays that way. Inspectors have no authority and no rights within the Cognitive Union, as only citizens (read: slaves) have those. PCs from the Union get the CVs of Obedience and Order, and must take a third at 6 or higher (more on what the numbers mean later) representing a cause or person. Obedience represents a reluctance to be removed from the Union and/or respect for authority. Order represents resistance to attempts to provoke you into rioting or other criminal acts. Ex-Union PCs likely keep these pretty low. The Benefit for being from the Union is the extra CV.
Here's some excerpts from the fiction:
An Evening in the Cognitive Union posted:
It’s another gorgeous sunset in the Cognitive Union. I swear they put extra little scattering particles into the atmosphere, just to make it prettier. Of course, the fact that I can pick a dozen different views of it that other people are broadcasting helps too. The guy with the infrared vision is getting quite a show.
The day went by quickly, as Thursdays often do. They’re a busy time for those of us at CerebraScape. Thursdays are when the new mindscape lenses ship, and there’s always a last-minute scramble to fix bugs, add last-minute tweaks, that sort of thing. It’s fun stuff. Everyone who works for CS does well in a pressure-cooker kind of environment. This week was all custom jobs, so we had to push the general releases off until next week. I must have clocked about 750 hours of fast-time this week, maybe 200 of that just today. I could check and find the exact number, of course, but I don’t really care. We got it all done and sent out, and that’s the important part.
An Evening in the Cognitive Union posted:
Once I’m done I join some of the folks doing calisthenics on the beach, and then cool off with a nice stroll home on the slidewalk. Everyone smiles and waves, and I greet them as I go past. There’s a moment when I’m crossing the street that I have the urge to look up, so I do. A few other folks on the street look up too. There’s a shooting star going past — no, wait... that’s something else. I watch it until it passes out of sight, a point of blue light with tiny flashes around it. I consider checking the local infosphere to see if anyone else got a better look, but drop the idea. Whatever it is, the authorities will take care of it — and I even got to help.
Everyone does their part around here.
The United Planets of Mechanica: Mechanica is a somewhat more loosely-connected society than the others, who share the belief that the human self resides solely and exclusively in the brain, and that all else can, and perhaps should, be replaced. As a result, Mechanica tends to have very large, sturdy architecture, to accommodate the wide variety of robot bodies the citizenry adopt. Mechanican children tend to be pretty normal, though dressed in metallic tones; it's not until their teenage years that they start replacing parts of their bodies, starting with stuff that matures early, such as the eyes, or parts that benefit most from replacement, like the liver and teeth. By 30, there's usually nothing left of their original body besides the brain and spinal cord. Due to the costs associated with these robotic upgrades, Mechanican children tend to gain and lose friends rapidly as their parents are or are not able to afford certain enhancements. Thus, most Mechanicans have very close friends, but not many of them. Mechanicans also tend to choose new names for themselves in their early twenties, sometimes normal names, sometimes serial numbers.
Naturally, being surrounded by people who are inherently vastly superior to you in almost every way leads Mechanicans to learn humility early, and the lessons learned from this "organic period" are considered too valuable to give up by simply growing brains in vitro from parents' genetic material, as some have suggested. Some Mechanicans refuse implantation; parents may not force the issue unless there is a pressing medical issue (congenital heart defect, for example). Those who choose to remain fully human or minimally-enhanced don't face prejudice, so much as constant questions from all their enhanced acquaintances, which, granted, can get annoying. The robotic frames used by Mechanicans run the gamut, from sleek humanoid forms (both obvious and perfectly disguised), to massive vehicles, to more animal-like shapes, and everything in-between. Wealthier citizens often have multiple bodies that they switch between, moving their brain pod from one frame to another.
Ironically, Mechanica's culture is concerned less with technology and more with those things that define the human spirit. Art, athletics, and exploration are the most frequent pastimes. The acquisition of wealth is also at the fore of Mechanican culture, as the government is a democratic plutocracy, with votes literally bought and sold. Psychohistorical projections show that a class struggle is likely on the horizon for Mechanica due to this system. Just as troubling is that Mechanica only has one CV, Humanity (used to resist attempts to convince you that you're "just a robot" or should use cold logic over emotion). Fewer CVs indicate lower cultural cohesion, and Mechanica is likely to break apart in the near future if they fail to develop a second CV. The Benefit for Mechanican PCs is that, due to their robot bodies, they can substitute their Stringtech or Nanotech scores for their Biotech score on nearly all rolls (the exceptions being rolls against age, and rolls against poisons or diseases that make it to their organic bits), and they always have a neural mesh, regardless of Cognitech score. We'll learn what that all means later. Inspectors in Mechanica are treated much the same as they are in the Masquerade, roughly equivalent to FBI or customs agents, though bribery is somewhat more likely.
Here's the sole bit of fiction for Mechanica:
Mechanican Entertainment posted:
This Sunday Sunday SUNDAY!
At the Y22 Memorial Colosseum!
It’s an enormous Monster Rally!
See FH-97-A in his titanic killer suit!
Watch Angstrom-X and The Atomic Chassis
battle it out in all-out nanotech war!
Then WS4J and the Burninator take it to the streets
in a bone-crushing metal-tearing cage-throwing cage
Plus the 1812 Overture performed by special
guest 1812 himself!
All for the low low price of just eighty-five kilocredits!
And you can’t miss the grandaddy of them all,
the Monstertron X-1 chassis, as worn by hometown
favorite Aleph H4! All this and much much more at
the Y22 Memorial Colleseum!
You’ll pay for the whole seating block, but you’ll
only need the edge!
The Disciples of the Void: Not quite a "civilization" per se, but an influential force nonetheless, the Disciples feel that the universe has gotten too loud, and it's drowning out the voice of God. In the unimaginably vast black voids between galaxies, reachable only by virtue of wormhole engines existing, the Disciples have built massive space stations, larger than any that exist in the rest of space, known as Anchorages. Here, they live in almost complete darkness and silence, listening for the whispers of the divine. Their primary interaction with the outside universe is importing fuel for their Anchorages. Despite their size, the Anchorages are mostly devoid of life, the space instead used for sound insulation, noise-cancelling speakers, vibration dampeners, and so on. Even the monks' robes are packed with technology that blocks sound, heat, or any other evidence of their presence from getting out. Their holy text, The Book of Stillness, is written in ultraviolet ink on black paper, and also has multiple pages, whereas most books of this era use high-tech single-sheet technology (you've seen it in sci-fi before; you get a single sheet and turn it over left or right to navigate pages). When they sleep, they do so in silent, pitch black zero-gravity, their chambers equipped with tiny gravity beams that keep them from bumping into the walls. In this way, they experience the ultimate silence, the absence of all sensation.
The slight, barely-audible sounds of the Anchorage are clearly perceptible to most Disciples, so each morning, they are greeted by the low hum of the station's power plant, the rush of water through piping, and the distant sound of breakfast cooking. The one sense the Disciples clearly do not avoid is taste, and their hydroponic farms include herbs, spices, and the like, to flavor their otherwise simple meals. Prayer readings are done at midday, followed by discussion of the passages. All communication, however, is done via sign language (only those Disciples who are sent to interact with the outside ever learn to speak), and the Disciples have developed their own writing system to mirror their signs, more hieroglyphs than alphabet. While Disciples are free to pursue their faith as they choose, those who donate their time to aiding the Anchorage and its staff earn credits towards a spacewalk, a rare, treasured chance to float in the true void and listen for God directly. Most find this an utterly transcendent experience. Very few Disciples ever go to the Universe of Noise, as they call it. Those that are, are usually sent to learn the true value of silence. Some decide not to return, and are not begrudged their decision, but those that return usually go on to become important leaders of the faith. The Benefit enjoyed by a Disciple PC is that their robes let them use the Stealth skill at a rating of 7 for free. The Disciples' CVs are Worship (Disciples' Worship CV lets them resist attempts to sway them from the faith, and allows them to treat sensory deprivation attacks as pleasant opportunities to meditate) and Privacy (used to resist attempts to force the Disciple to reveal information or allow themselves to be surveilled). Inspectors are treated as respected advisors to the local authorities, rather than law enforcement agents in their own right.
Here's what the fiction has to say about the Disciples:
A Disciple's Pilgrimage: Day 12 posted:
I am trying very hard to ignore the sounds coming through my earplugs. It is when I realize this that
I know I have failed.
Master Xu always said that strain was a sign of failure; that one should accomplish all things without unnecessary effort and through the principles of Wu Wei, handed down to our order from the ancient sages on Earth. As I was told on the day I left, I have much to learn. Apparently I am not yet ready for streetcorner meditation.
I open my eyes to the glare and chaos that is the Eternal Masquerade. Thousands walk past me on the street; there must be more people going past today than live in my entire Anchorage. They all use the mouth-speech that I am attempting to learn, though many are willing to speak to me in my own language. They have meshes, and I do not, and so they accomodate me. They wear masks, finding faces... too vulgar? too intimate? I do not quite understand yet, but I wear one as well to make them comfortable. It is a simple black affair, with the symbol of my faith on it and as much sound-dampening and vision-filtering technology as I could afford. My cloak is still better, but this is a start.
A Disciple's Pilgrimage: Day 12 posted:
A small group of passers-by ask if I am feeling all right, and I calm myself and assure them that I will be fine. They don’t believe me. I constantly forget that these people can read my expressions and body language without even trying. I can’t see their faces, or their infosphere tags, so I often have trouble interpreting them. This time I can’t convince them that I’m not agitated, which of course makes me more so, and eventually I allow them to take me away from my street corner.
They bring me to a park. I can still hear the wind over the pond, the birds screeching in the sky, but it is better here, and there is some shade and a tree I can rest against. They stand around me as I try to regain my composure, my face in the dark side of the tree. One of them touches my shoulder softly, and I know it’s just some kinesthetic trick of theirs, but I feel comforted.
They sign to me, asking if I have a place to stay and enough money. I tell them yes, and explain something of my pilgrimage. They seem to confer mentally, and then one of them hands me a card and tells me that I should call him if I am in need. That four strangers should show me such kindness when tens of thousands passed me by... I may just call him anyway, to talk. I thank them as they leave.
I stand at the edge of the pond, eyes open, all noise filters off. I seek the silence within.
The Tao of History: Remember those episodes of the original Star Trek where they went to a planet of gangsters and a Rome planet and stuff? This is a whole civilization of that. The Tao is made up of 24/7 historical recreationists, who believe that the best way to understand the present is by holding to the values and methods of the past. Each community, known as a "milieu", has its own historical period that they emulate at all times, using a combination of costumes, acting skills, and lenses. Of course, every citizen of the Tao is trained to be far more dashing and heroic than their true historical counterparts, there are holograms, robots, and hired extras to play the role of the downtrodden peasants, citizens of the Tao are the heroes of history. Thanks to wormhole communications, the Tao is now the richest civilization in the universe, as well as human history as a whole (yes, even adjusted for Space Inflation), as much of the citizenry broadcasts their lives as entertainment. Don't worry after the privacy of those around these enterprising folks, anyone uncomfortable with being on Future TV is seamlessly replaced with a computer-generated actor. Regions are helmed by a combination of historians and directors, who often argue about the way things should play out, with directors being all too willing to sacrifice accuracy for theatrics.
How does a galaxy-spanning SCA work without collapsing? Well, those extras behind the scenes, roughly 60% of the population, are also the regular people making sure the infrastructure doesn't disintegrate under the actors' feet, and the people running the Tao's government know that keeping that 60% happy is vital to their survival. They'll bend the rules of realism to ensure that these support workers have whatever modern conveniences they need or want, simply leaving it off-camera. That all having been said, this isn't just acting to those who stand in front of the cameras. These people were raised in these milieus, so while it may be a mere recreation, they take it as seriously as possible. A Taoist playing the role of a Shao Lin monk isn't just going through the motions of meditating and learning martial arts, they're actually doing so. Of course, that's not always a good thing, as a Taoist portraying a Civil War-era southerner may (though not always) genuinely condone slavery, even if his own "slaves" are non-sentient robots. "War" within and between milieus is handled in a tightly controlled fashion, and death is exceedingly rare (though actors will, naturally, fake it, if they feel it's time to retire their current character and move to a new milieu). In general, Tao society is extremely open and tolerant, regardless of Milieu, in order to avoid needless conflict. The government is something of a hodgepodge, with each milieu governed in a historically-accurate fashion, and the whole of the Tao overseen by a fractious council that almost never gets anything done (though, in fairness, they almost never need to). The Benefit for Tao PCs is that they get an extra Twist each session for use through the Romance, Intrigue, or Empathy themes (more on all that later). Their CVs are Authenticity (the ability to maintain *~MY VERISIMILITUDE~* by using technology disguised as milieu-appropriate objects) and Tradition (maintaining societal cohesion when faced with outside attacks on their culture). Inspectors are, like elsewhere, treated similarly to FBI agents.
Here's some fiction about the historical fiction:
Great Moments in (the Tao of) History posted:
The wind is cold today, and the Mongol leaders shiver in their furs. Burhan Haldun is an inhospitable place. The Kurultai, the council of chiefs, is coming to a close, and the future of the entire Middle Kingdom balances on their decision.
At hand is the future of Temüjin, whom all present consider to be one of the greatest war leaders — perhaps one of the greatest men — their tribes have ever seen. His father Yesükhei was Khan of the Borjigin, but he was nothing compared to his son. This man eliminated or swayed every rival in his path, slaying even his blood brother Jamuqa when he had turned against him in war. One has to appreciate Temüjin’s dedication.
In fact, billions appreciate it right at this second. The air is thick not only with smoke and soot from the Kurultai’s fires, but with flying microbotic cameras. Every angle is covered. The fur in the generals’ clothing captures data on the temperature, humitidity, wind, even the chemicals in the air to provide the proper smell. The meshes of the participants capture their mental states to create tags, though most viewers won’t watch those the first time through. They’re the “special features”
section, available to high-end subscribers.
Great Moments in (the Tao of) History posted:
Most watchers have their favorite characters. Temüjin was the highest-rated, of course, but Börte and Ögedei ranked nearly as high for female viewers. The Masqerade loved Subutai for his seemingly shifting loyalties and his faithful core. The Replicants liked Jelme and Bo’orchu for the same reasons others ignored them — they were somewhat interchangable to the casual viewers. Chilaun rated well anywhere family was important. With all of them in one place, the Tao would be making a significant portion of this year’s take on this single, hour-long scene. It was every bit as important to their government as it had been to ancient Earth.
The smoke began to clear as the fire was doused. All the advisors looked to the meeting place. Some were worried, some stoic. Börte, though, knew what was coming. It could be no other way, not for her husband. The chiefs who disagreed with him — and there were few after his victory over the Merkit clan — would never dare defy him.
There may not be much art, but what's there isn't half bad.
That's all for now, this post risks getting way the fuck too long. Later, we'll be continuing our journey around the universe, learning about the weirdos that live there.
Next Time: Wait a minute, did that last fiction excerpt say Replicants?
Even thousands of years in the future, the Amish are still around.Original SA post Sufficiently Advanced Part 3: Even thousands of years in the future, the Amish are still around.
Alright, let's keep this train rolling, and continue exploring space societies!
The Illustrious Stardwelling Armada: Don't let the name fool you, they're not really a military body, they're really quite friendly, if you can understand them. The Stardwellers are the most advanced of the civilizations, and travel the universe in vast fleets. They constantly alter their bodies, minds, and social structures, always seeking new ways to live. That's one way to seek out new life and new civilizations, why go where no one has gone before when you can bring where no one has gone before to you? Their ship designs are as varied and unusual as their physical forms, and it's impossible to talk about the "average" Stardweller because such a concept doesn't exist. To modern-day humans, they'd look like a vast alliance of alien species, rather than an offshoot of our own. Some Stardwellers even exist as group minds. Their society's overarching philosophy is one of mutual reliance. None of them can survive without the others, and thus, they work together closely. The Stardweller economy is designed to push everyone towards the same wealth level, with only the barest minimum of capitalism or class division. Recognition and esteem are considered far more valuable than money (well, ideas-as-money).
Leadership in the Armada is determined through a thorough analysis of a candidate using advanced psychohistorical analysis and mimetic profiling, that all comes together to create the most accurate prediction of a person's suitability for a given role possible. While one could use lenses and the like to improve their compatibility, it's generally discouraged, as nobody in the Armada wants to see a dozen identical candidates specifically tailored for the job. Stardwellers manage to pay for all this fancy stuff, by the way, by hiring themselves out to the other civilizations for deep space research, surveillance, or even just to host orbital art galleries. Stardweller PCs suffer no penalties for being in zero-g, and gain a bonus Locality skill (basically knowledge: local) from how well-traveled they are. Their CVs are Freedom (primarily ideological freedom, used to ensure one's liberty to think what one wants) and Diversity (used when combating bigotry). Like most open societies, the Stardwellers treat Inspectors like the FBI.
Here's the fiction:
A Riding of Stardwellers posted:
The Grand Convention takes place every year — Old Earth years — in a location chosen at the previous Convention. The first Convention was held above Old Earth itself, and it was generally agreed that, unless there was a great need for memory and mourning, such a thing should not happen again. The Rememberance is a time for mourning and solemn contemplation; the Convention is a time for jubilation and the exchange of ideas.
The Great Convention is what perpetually creates Stardweller culture. It is a mixing pot of ideas that both creates new possibilities and connects disparate groups. Without it, the Stardwellers would both fragment and stagnate. Most of them know this already, but what they remember is this: it is both too long and too short, too large and too small, and above all else, it is intense.
This year, the Convention takes place in the outskirts of the Lambda Khermaion star system, in the Melantine galaxy, some billion light years or more from Old Earth. The Convention spreads across the system’s Kuiper Belt, a relatively safe location with plenty of raw organics for replication purposes. The First Team, tasked with setup, has been here for a month already, and their nanotech has cleared out a space about the size of Earth’s orbit. A unique waystation has been built, different from each of the thousand that came before, to serve as the hub for the meeting.
A Riding of Stardwellers posted:
Not everything here is organized, though. Out of the limelight, old and new friends meet. Things as small as body type, chemical base, communication schemata, or neurotype will not keep these people apart. Some put their best faces forwards, holding back the parts they don’t want others to see; others dive in with passion and enthusiasm. There are latenight conversations, movie viewings, long walks, games, poetry jams, fistfights, reconciliations, purchases, collaborations, and every inch of everything humanity is and could be and wants to be all rolled into one.
It is said that at the Great Convention you tell a whole year’s stories in one week, but after it, you tell that week’s stories for the rest of the year.
All too soon, it is over. The hundred and sixty-eight hours are gone, the closing ceremonies have declared the location of the next Convention, and they’re starting to charge overtime for those who stay. The old-timers complain about how things used to be better, but say there’s always next year. Those who had to sleep lament their inferior bodies, while those who stayed awake lament their lack of sleep.
Roamers: Space gypsies. Get it? Roma, Roamer? Yeah, this one's kind of dumb, if I'm being honest. Conceptually sound, but the execution feels a little dumb. It's harmless enough, I suppose, and I do like the idea of more insular Earth cultures maintaining their traditions into the spacefaring age, but still. They dress in what once would have been seen as wildly colorful clothing, and more notably, it's all hand-sewn from real cloth. They're basically the same as the pop culture version of present-day Roma, but in space and more high-tech. They make their livings by hiring themselves out as spies for other civilizations, which has made them welcome, but distrusted, pretty much everywhere. They maintain the rich cultural traditions of the Roma, as well, with leadership handled by family elders. Due to their tight-knit society, Roamer PCs get two free Twists each session that can only be spent through the Empathy theme to get assistance from other Roamers, and are conversely encouraged to take Complications related to Roamers mooching off them in turn (you may want to come back here after we get to chargen). The CVs for the Roamers are Secrecy (protecting the Roamers' secrets, specifically) and Wanderlust (which aids in escaping both physical and abstract forms of keeping you in one place). Inspectors are treated like local police officers, and you can just guess how eager the Roamers are to talk to cops.
Travel with the Roamers posted:
The wormhole snaps shut, and the subsonic noise and sounds of rushing air end abruptly. In the aftermath, twelve wagons stand on a hillside, brightly colored ribbons streaming in the wind. An orange sun sits in a midnight-blue sky, and the Roamers laugh, pat each other on the backs, and begin to set up camp.
That evening some representatives from the city in the valley — several instances of a single person, for this is Replicant space — make their way up to the encampment. They are respectful and speak well, but the Roamers can read the distaste in their body language. These fine people want nothing to do with Roamers, but they’re not offended enough to ask them to leave, not yet. They will be.
An ad-hoc treaty is negotiated, similar to treaties used in years past. The Roamers can visit the city, so long as city folk can come to their encampment, one body for one body. The people in their suits tip their hats and leave, and the Roamers spit on the ground when they’re out of sight. Unclean folk, these doppelgangers. The sooner they make enough money to leave, the better.
Travel with the Roamers posted:
Each side spies on the other. The Replicants use satellites, infosphere sifting, and biometrics. The Roamers sneak nanotech devices into the orbital tower, analyze traffic patterns, perform psychohistorical surveys on the citizens that visit them. The majority on both sides know nothing of this, but there are those who recognize what’s going on. Eventually the Roamers accept a contract from certain Replicants to do the same sort of spying on someone else — and they smile, pocketing the money. They step down their operations just enough so that the Replicants know things are better, and they stay to rake in more money.
After two weeks most people in the city have been to the carnival. Bonds of infatuation form, and trysts occur. After three weeks, some have been to the big top twice, and are beginning to catch on to the tricks. Relationships fall apart when there are no similarities to hold them together. After four weeks the exotic creatures are becoming ill. Eventually there’s an “incident” where one of the less mature Roamers pushes a Replicant too far with taunts and insults, and the city council politely implies to the Roamers that it’s time to turn this youngster over to the local authorities, or pay for some wormhole transit and leave the planet.
The League of Independent Worlds: Not everyone was 100% onboard with the Transcendentals. They didn't necessarily distrust them, they just wanted to make their own technological advancements, with the sweat of their own brow. The League exists as a future analog to present-day Earth, with much the same culture, attitudes, and economics. That said, this game was written during the Obama administration, so adjust your expectations upward, compared to today. Their resources are more limited than most cultures, but the everyday citizen still wants for nothing in terms of basic necessities, like everywhere else. Their technology tends to be idiosyncratic and unusual, as they're developing it the old-fashioned way, rather than all at once. Outside researchers are frequently unable to make heads or tails of the stuff. Even their Infosphere (global cloud-based internet) works differently, making their system much harder to hack, at least by outsiders. Due to their unusual choice to forgo technological uplifting and cultural similarities to Old Earth, the Independents also make a fair bit of income from tourism, as people flock from all over to see what it's like. Independent PCs get a +1 to their effectiveness from their quirky technology, but suffer -1 to their defenses. The League's CVs are Self-Reliance (which helps when you insist on doing something yourself) and Teamwork (which helps you form a team, keep it together, and take certain group actions). Inspectors are granted observer status only when operating in League space, and must rely on local authorities for actual enforcement.
For the fiction here, I think it's actually worth Pastebinning both pieces this time, they're both worth a read. The first to get a feel for the baseline level of knowledge everyone has in the Sufficiently Advanced setting, and the second because it's the first piece of fiction thus far to mention the Patent Office.
Mad Science in Independent Space and Independent Politics posted:
Check it out.
The Association of Eternal Life: At long last, the mysterious Replicants! Replicators are pretty cool, they can perfectly duplicate basically anything. Even people. The Replicants have been doing just that for thousands of years now, under the belief that a perfect copy of a person is, in fact, the same person. However, only a destructive scan can be thorough enough to completely recreate somebody. Thus, the Replicants are in a constant cycle of killing themselves to create copies that go on to outlive their original. This is seen as achieving immortality, and in terms of memory, this is true, but the rules explicitly state, if you're a PC, and you scan yourself for this, you're dead. Because the writers here understand the ideas that eventually went into making SOMA.
Outside of their fucked-up use of replicators, the Replicants are quite reasonable, if overly bureaucratic. That said, most civilizations aren't fans, because of the whole cloning thing. Because every individual has dozens of copies of themselves out there somewhere, they tend to be pretty reckless (but again, if the character on your sheet dies, that's it). Childbirth in Replicant space is strictly controlled, to keep pace with colonization and their low death rate. Some fearmongers suggest that someday, they may truly run out of room, but no, space really is infinite in this setting, so they could keep expanding forever without crowding anyone out, it's more a matter of speed than space.
Psychohistorical projections predict that if left to their own devices, the Cognitive Union and Replicants will spawn a splinter group that's a mixture of the two, an entire civilization of cloned slaves. Not even the Replicants want this to happen (the Union is largely indifferent on the matter). Their government is a krytocracy, run by judges and legal officials. Replicant PCs get some free skills from their active lifestyles, and assuming you haven't cut ties with the Association, you enjoy the benefits of having a bunch of clones of yourself (you can spend Twists via the Plot Immunity theme to declare that the guy that was just killed, arrested, etc. was actually one of your clones, and step back in from offscreen). Inspectors are treated as observers only, and have no legal authority in Replicant space.
The fiction for these guys is pretty neat, have a look:
Scene of the Crime posted:
It has been a very, very long time since anyone here has managed to get away with murder, and I’m not about to let it happen now.
I’m my Primus, which means it’s my job to sit back and coordinate. I’d rather be out there scouring the place for clues, but I don’t have much of a choice — that’s my instances’ job right now. With nearly twenty instances active I really need one of me doing this.
One of our citizens, Aquila Valerius, has just met his very permanent end. Someone went through a lot of trouble to do this. Aquila had four instances active on different parts of the planet, three of which were dispatched via microbotic assassins. They were a relatively standard type: keyed to a particular DNA strand, replicating in the blood, latching together to form a clot. It’s an old design with new defenses. Brain aneurisms killed them while they slept. The fourth one had more up-to-date bioech, just upgraded last month. He woke up while it was happening and made it to a replicator — probably stumbled in half-conscious. That would help us a lot if something hadn’t deleted him. Valerius wasn’t reckless, either — he had two backups. One’s deleted, and one’s missing, presumed destroyed.
Right now my #4 through #8 are scouring this crime scene, while #2 and #3 are coordinating at the other scenes. I’ve got an assistant running five instances here. Another officer has the replicator and the backup sites, but I’m not sure the six of her will find much.
Scene of the Crime posted:
One of my instances pulls me aside and I talk to myself for a while. Micro-wear measurements on the floor show a couple of visitors, but there’s no traces of DNA — no skin flakes, no hairs, nothing. Someone scoured the whole place with microbots. We got here only three hours after the crime — for them to have gone through so fast, they’re almost certainly still nearby. Then I look at the replicator and my heart sinks — if this guy can erase logs, he probably just piled the ‘bots in there and deleted them.
The two of us swear. This is going to be hell. This whole investigation is going to have to be face-to-face.
I order a raw elements dump from the replicator, and hope for the best. Then I start asking around about Valerius on the infosphere, and prepare for the worst. The Chief Justice isn’t going to be happy about this.
The Rationalist League: So, back before the Transcendentals, some scientists conducted a mad social experiment. They took some embryos, cut out the genes for emotions, put in extra genes for logic, then recorded the results. Some of the kids survived, so they continued making more generations of them. By the time the Transcendentals were born, the nascent Rationalist League numbered over ten-thousand, and were among the first to request passage off-world. They quickly set up a little empire for themselves. There's no crime, no internal conflict, and no strife. Only cold, hard logic. To imagine a Logician, think about Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He couldn't really feel, but he could still become puzzled, or experience basic forms of frustration in certain circumstances. That's what Logicians are like, except they think it's a good thing. They're not hostile to anyone, but they're certain everyone would be a lot easier to understand if they, too, were Logicians. Logicians also retain functional nervous systems, and thus can feel both pain and pleasure, among other sensations that are generally tied to emotions, but are not strictly emotions themselves. What few holidays they have are not celebrations, but mere reminders of past events, because not all of them have perfect memories yet.
The long-term goal of the Logicians is the eradication of all emotion, on the premise that cold logic is better for survival. Psychohistorical analysis bears out this theory, though the general consensus among everyone else is that it wouldn't really be all that worth it to merely survive if one cannot appreciate it. Further, due to every single Logician acting with perfect logic at all times, the Rationalist League is able to employ Psychohistorical analysis to perfectly predict and identify any and all disturbances the moment they happen, making them extremely resistant to outside interference, even if their own inability to comprehend emotion hamstrings their ability to interfere with other cultures. On top of that, their lack of drive and ambition has led other civilizations to outstrip them technologically, making more conventional methods of conflict unfeasible. It's worth noting that the sole reason the Logicians have yet to adopt the Union's system of slave meshes is that their own Cognitech studies have been focused more on enhancing intelligence. Essentially, they can't afford to give everyone a mesh yet. Logician PCs are immune to emotional appeals and the Romance theme. The CVs for the Rationalist League are Logic (resisting emotion-based arguments) and Efficiency (making processes more efficient). Inspectors are treated as advisors to local law enforcement, making the Logicians the most friendly of the "bad guy" civilizations towards the Patent Office.
By the way, the Logicians hold the Sol system as part of their territory, something that I think warrants another Pastebin:
"Earth and the Logicians posted:
The Association of Stored Humans: So, when the Replicants became a thing, some of them decided not to come back out of the computer they'd been scanned into. Now they're the Stored, an entire race of humanity living in a simulation. They interact with the world using "remotes", which can be anything from normal robot bodies to any of the larger and stranger stuff you'd find in Mechanican space. Though, with the advent of the infosphere and neural meshes, the Stored can often interact with other people just by using augmented reality. If you have a good enough friend with a neural mesh, they may even let you "ghostride", allowing a Stored to directly experience the sensory input of the physical person, something that appeals mostly to older Stored, who at times feel nostalgic for their physical bodies. Within the simulated space, older Stored tend to keep their living spaces as close as possible to real-world accuracy, simulating as much as possible with the processor cycles they're allowed. Younger Stored, on the other hand, often live in what they call "rendered" spaces, which only simulate sensations when they're useful or interesting, rather than copying the real world's constant input.
Computing power is a public utility in Stored space, with each citizen allotted a certain amount, with surcharges for overages. Poorer citizens often try to save cycles by either reducing resolution (usually of their living space or body representations, sometimes of their minds), or "optimizing" themselves to run more efficiently. This doesn't always work out, and can result in a computation monstrosity, something that was once a person, and is now less than human, but more than just scrambled code. With a population of only about fifty million, the Stored are quite small, and they're facing a major generational divide. Younger Stored see little point in maintaining a connection with the physical world, and their thinking is growing more and more alien. Psychohistorical projections predict that the Stored will need to solve this problem, or face balkanization.
The culture of the Stored revolves mainly around artistic pursuits that work to either hide or expose the digital medium. A painter might create a portrait by perfectly simulating every atom of paint individually, to make a statement, while another artist designs a simulation space using the impossible dimensions of MC Escher. Very few people join the Stored over time, and the Stored would never encourage someone to make the leap. Unlike the Replicants, the Stored understand that their original self is dead, and see becoming Stored as tantamount to suicide. This is why they have a long-standing enmity with the Replicants, who they see as irresponsible and dangerous. They also don't copy themselves, both to preserve a sense of individual identity, and to save on processor cycles. They don't have a formal government, but will gin one up when a problem necessitates one, using complex psychohistorical analysis to determine the best form their ad-hoc government should take this time.
Stored PCs only use their Stringtech and Nanotech scores when defending their home server (and will likely have help from any other Stored living in there), and usually use the Nanotech scores of their remotes instead. They also have no Biotech score, because they don't have any bio. The CVs for the Stored are Identity (in this case, the raw certitude that there is only one of you in the universe, rather than the Masquerade's version) and Life (a respect for all living things, and also the Stored tend to include a lot of computer-based entities in this definition). Inspectors are treated similarly to local police, but enforcement tends to be tough when a witness can just bail into cyberspace.
Here's a little taste of what life is like in cyberspace:
A Stored Dilemma posted:
I’m working on a poem.
It’s really quite distracting. I saw the first few lines of it somewhere up in the infosphere, and felt like completing it in my own way. I should be paying attention to other things. I have a landscape to set up for tonight, I’m trying to run this psychoanalysis code that I don’t understand, I’m running a simulation at the molecular level to see if this new recipe tastes any good... and now I have these words stuck in my head and I can’t get them out. Very bothersome. I’d search the infosphere for a lens to counter that, but frankly I’m not sure I have the processor speed to spare for it. If I add infosphere access to the list right now, I’m going to have to downgrade the simulation of part of my body, and I’m rather attached to it (no pun intended). I should really upgrade one of these days.
Ah. There we go. The simulation’s finally done. That psych code is taking up so many resources that the sim took over five seconds to run. But what a delicious omelette. Not exactly the thing to counterpoint traditional Shi Jing style poetry, but it should go over well tonight. The omelette, I mean, not the poem. I can’t find the right words right now.
A Stored Dilemma posted:
Wait a minute.
That psych program wasn’t giving me garbage after all.
This poem is a weapon. It’s a memetic virus.
It’s been shaping how I make this place, working its way into the art and the layout. This whole simulated city is a memetic weapon, and in less than an hour all my friends will be here.
Now the question becomes: where the hell did I get this thing, how many other people have it... and am I going to be able to leave?
What is this thing supposed to do?
Those are all the major factions to be found in The Great Diaspora, but there's still a few minor groups out there to cover. They are as follows:
Old Worlders: When most of humanity fled to space, and the remaining world powers strangled each other to death, there remained a few people to pick up the pieces. They were never interested in fancy technology, even when "fancy technology" just meant "indoor plumbing". Now they're all that remain on Old Earth, living simple, agrarian lives. The Amish are a textbook example of an Old Worlder community, and in the thousands of years since The Great Diaspora, they haven't changed all that much. The Old Worlder economy runs mostly on barter; there's still money floating around, but it's only really worth its value as a memento of the world that once was. The Rationalists control the space around Old Earth, keeping the planet intact as a silently implied bargaining chip, but the locals don't care much for them. Some Old Worlder cultures, however, were part of The Great Diaspora that just lost all their technology and knowledge at some point during their journey, and decided they liked it like that. Old World PCs get a bonus CV of their choice to represent the specific community they hail from, and never take low-tech penalties when using old technology. The CVs common to all Old Worlders are Tradition (similar to the Tao's CV, except with a stronger air of superiority) and Simplicity (helps you resist the temptation to rely on technology, and resist the fast talk of them slick spacefolk). The Patent Office doesn't hold much sway with Old Worlder leadership, but Inspectors will usually be allowed to advise the local law enforcement when necessary.
Spacers: So, before the Nanotech Wars, back before the Transcendentals uplifted humanity, Earth sent out other ships to colonize planets. These were massive colony ships, the sort you see in much harder sci-fi than this. Well, with all the rush and excitement surrounding wormhole travel and The Great Diaspora, these intrepid colonists were basically forgotten as they floated slowly through the void towards their destinations. Well, once the dust had settled, somebody remembered them and plotted out where they were. Imagine their surprise when they learned that other people had gone on ahead to their destination without them. By then, the rest of humanity saw them more as floating museums, closer to Old Worlders than to the new, modern breed of humanity, and we're exactly begging them to come to the table. Despondent that their purpose had been stolen from them after literal generations of floating through space, many of the early Spacers joined up with the Stardwellers, or just let their ship fall to ruin. The five remaining ships of the original dozen banded together, though, and resolved to preserve their tradition of dogged determination. The Spacers had a new goal. They hadn't been sent out to colonize a specific planet, they were sent out to ensure that humanity would never fade from the face of the universe. All those people on the ground were too vulnerable and reliant on technology, the Stardwellers to experimental and trusting of the Transcendentals. No, the Spacers would forge their own way, eternally exploring the void, fearless and tough! Spacer PCs are completely immune to fear of all kinds, and get free points in the Spacer skill. The Spacer Core Values are Independence (which keeps them from truly uniting, but also keeps them out from under one another's thumbs) and Diligence (helps when you do something carefully, triple-checked and without haste). Inspectors are generally treated like space cops when they show up.
Cargo Cults: While many groups from The Great Diaspora lost all of their tech, and became Old Worlders, Cargo Cults only lost most of their tech, retaining only a few powerful pieces of modern technology, with nobody left who really knew how it worked. Eventually, they each began to worship it. The term "Cargo Cult" is a catch-all for all such groups, as they have the common trait of worshiping what little technology remains in their hands, not knowing how or why it works. Also, the majority of all inhabited planets are inhabited by Cargo Cults. A PC from a Cargo Cult can use practical technology without training, but can't use Reserve to add to the roll. The CVs of Cargo Cults are Ritual (provides bonuses to using the type of technology your cult sprang up around, with the drawback that you have to perform the same religious rituals while using it; yes, you're basically a Techpriest with a very narrow focus) and Worship (similar to the Disciples, but usually crazier). Inspectors pretty much never get any recognition or rights in the eyes of Cargo Cults, as they're outsiders and therefore dangerous infidels to one degree or another.
To give you an idea of what Cargo Cults are like, here's a listing of sample Cargo Cults from the book:
Sufficiently Advanced posted:
List of Cargo Cults
There, that's the full breadth of human culture in The Great Diaspora. At least that anyone playing the game is going to find.
Next Time: Not-so-secret Societies and actual aliens! Stay tuned!
EDIT: As an aside, while I'm waiting to explain all these game terms I keep dropping until we get to the sections with actual rules, the glossary at the front of the book does explain what they all are in basic terms, unlike certain other games I've reviewed.
Is that everybody? Finally!Original SA post Sufficiently Advanced Part 4: Is that everybody? Finally!
Alright, before we move on from civilizations to have a look at other groupings that define people in this universe, have a chart:
I had to rotate it ninety degrees, sorry for any lost resolution making it hard to read.
This is the basic, simplified overview of political relations within The Great Diaspora. The blue and purple circles denote the major power blocs, of course, with the rest representing factions that lay outside the primary powers. The blue and purple circles are in something of a cold war with one another, though it tends to be much more subtle, compared to the original Cold War, with many "regular people" never really thinking about the potential threats posed by the Logicians or their allies. For the most part, one can assume that any group outside the purple circle also dislike the groups inside the purple circle, though the Roamers will still do business with the Replicants and Logicians. On top of that, the civilizations within the purple circles don't like each other all that much, either; their alliance is mainly one of necessity, so they can stand firm against the rest of the universe. Conversely, the blue alliance is very close and friendly, with the Masquerade and Mechanica even sharing several planets.
Now, moving on, aside from one's civilization of origin, it's possible that a character also belongs to one of several Societies, which are prominent subcultures that permeate multiple civilizations. They're bound together by common worldviews, and each one provides a unique benefit, with the cost being a prerequired Core Value and also having roleplay a character that's even more alien than the rest of these extremely alien-feeling humans.
Artisans: These guys use their neural meshes to cross-link the hemispheres of their brain, which makes them better artists, but also a little crazy. They're most common in the Masquerade and Cognitive Union. Artisan PCs get boosts to their Cognitech and Metatech scores and learn the Artist skill faster, but they lose ties using Cognitech and Metatech for anything besides art, because they can't really focus on anything. The Artisans' required Core Value is Individuality, the insistence on being unique and not emulating others.
Darwinians: The Darwinians believe the weak and defenseless have been coddled too long. So they release bioweapons, mimetic viruses, and the like in order to weed out the wimps. They never use anything strong enough to just kill everybody, they want the strongest, smartest people to make it out alive. They operate like terrorist cells (because they are), with nobody knowing too much about the organization's operations as a whole. Given their outlook, it should be no surprise that the Darwinians are most common in the Rationalist League. They're basically non-existent in the Cognitive Union for a variety of obvious reasons. Darwinian PCs get a boost to their Biotech scores due to having access to illegal bioweapons and the like, but are expected to use that tech in service of the organization now and then. Their required CV is Survival of the Fittest, which should be self-explanatory.
Group-Minds: Group-Minds are people who have linked their neural meshes together to form one big brain. They're extremely rare, found most often among the Stardwellers and Logicians. That said, they're legal to form in most places, and people learn to communicate effectively eventually. Group-Mind PCs get a small boost to Nanotech and Cognitech, and they have multiple bodies to work with and coordinate, though that can be as much of a hindrance as a help. Also, larger Group-Minds can be extremely unwieldy, and you need to keep your encryption and security software up-to-date or a hacker could subvert your mental impulses en route. The CV for Group-Minds is Unity.
Heterolinguists: When mimetic attacks started becoming commonplace, some people reacted by genetically altering the communication centers of their brains. Now they process language differently. Their condition is hereditary, and sometimes people paranoid about mimetics join them. No advice or examples are given for roleplaying them. Good luck! A Heterolinguist PC is all but immune to mimetic and Metatech attacks not specifically designed for Heterolinguists, but their own Metatech is complete garbage for the same reasons. The CV of the Heterolinguists is Sanctity of Mind, used to resist attempts to change your mind.
High Society: They're rich, they're fancy, it's pretty much what you expect. A High Society PC is rich, and can afford more expensive stuff without needing to dip into their savings. The Core Value of High Society is Good Breeding, which helps with etiquette.
The Hospitalers: A humanitarian society that works to help the sick and poor, literally descended from groups like the Red Cross and Salvation Army (but not homo/transphobic, that stuff hadn't really made the news yet back in 2010). The benefit for being part of this group is that everyone is quick to trust you due to the Hospitalers' reputation, giving you a boost to your Metatech in relevant situations. Their Core Value is Charity, which can help when you're trying to do something selfless for others.
The Hyperevolutes: These guys run biological simulations to take evolution into their own hands. They identify parts that the human body could do without, or more efficient configurations, then they alter their kids in-utero or, when possible, themselves, to implement the change. It sounds worse than it is, they're actually pretty safe about it, and have, in fact, made their bodies more efficient. Hyperevolute PCs have small boosts to their Biotech and Cognitech, plus resist disease and old age better. Their Core Value, of course, is Efficiency.
Organized Crime: It's fuckin' hard to do crime when everything is online and there's cameras all over the goddamn place and everyone is Superman, but these guys have adapted. Mostly. They're not that common, with most of them operating in the League of Independent Planets or the Tao of History. Mob PCs are the only ones, at all, that can start play with the Criminal skill, and the only ones with an easy way of increasing the skill afterwards. Their Core Value is Solidarity, because space snitches get space stitches.
The Sleepers: More of a hobbyist organization than a formal group, Sleepers spend years at a time in their cryotanks, hopping forward through time, hoping to live long enough to see the Transcendentals' Desired Future with their own eyes. They're great psychohistorians, having lived through many different time periods. Sleeper PCs get a slight boost to their own Biotech and have access to advanced medical equipment at home, including their cryotank. Their Core Value is Longevity, they gotta keep living at any cost.
The Transcendental Worshipers: So, most people see the Transcendentals as the most powerful beings in the universe, the "founders of the feast" for The Great Diaspora, and generally benevolent entities (though some have their doubts). These guys have decided that the Transcendentals are gods. They're actually comprised of many different congregations, each with their own specific ideas regarding worship. Think of it less like a single religion and more like the thousand different varieties of Protestantism. The AIs, for their part, have not commented on their supposed godhood one way or the other. Transcendental Worshiper PCs get a special skill that combines Programmer and Religion, plus they get a couple ranks in it right off the bat. Their Core Value is Worship.
And there they are, that's every kind of human out there, in general terms. But, humans are not the only sentient beings in the universe! There's aliens! Here they are:
The Coldworlders: These aliens look like twenty-foot-long sperm whales, and live on a Neptune-like gas giant. Their planet's atmosphere blocks all view of the stars, space, and so on, so they have no words for anything that doesn't exist on their planet. Also, due to their slow metabolism, they are themselves extremely slow, with a single word in their language taking an hour to say. Evolutionary data indicates that they're the oldest sentient species discovered, predating humanity by millions of years. They aren't spacefaring, and are completely benign, so they're little more than a curiosity.
The WorldWeb: There's an Earth-like planet. Covering this planet are massive vines. Filling these vines is fluid. This fluid is sentient, using the vines as tools. That is the WorldWeb. The WorldWeb's physiology allows it to view space like a giant radio telescope, so unlike the Coldworlders, it was quite familiar with space when humans arrived. However, the WorldWeb lacks any concept of divisibility. It/they have no integers in its/their math, no way to parse the difference between singular and plural, and so on. This has made communication difficult, with entire fields of linguistics dedicated to bridging the gap, and entire psychohistorical models being devised to try to factor the WorldWeb into predictions with little success.
The Skotadi: The Skotadi are made of dark matter, and pass unseen and unfelt through normal matter. They were only discovered when they opened a wormhole in a star system they just happened to share with the Independents. Communication is only possible through gravity waves, though it's been fruitful. The Skotadi had their own diaspora 10,000 years before humanity's, but because they did it all on their own, no Transcendetals giving them a boost, their technology is only on-par with humanity. Just as there are humans filling entire normal galaxies, there are entire dark matter galaxies filled with Skotadi. Despite their unusual state of existence, the Skotadi are not especially hard to understand as a people, though their completely alien culture can make translation of anything more subjective than raw technical data difficult, due to having completely different metaphors and frames of reference.
The Aia: The most prominent of the alien races, because we created them. The Transcendentals were the first AIs humanity produced, but not the last. The other ones we made couldn't see through time, so they weren't expected to advance all that quickly. Now they inhabit over sixty planets, existing as bizarre, abstract structures. Some are like giant honeycombs, others exist only as a sort of foam, and those aren't even the strangest ones. Their ability to create wormholes for even trivial communication, despite the energy requirements of opening them, implies that their ability to generate power already vastly outstrips humanity, though nobody is sure where that energy comes from. But, that's not why the Aia are interesting.
First, they perceive time so slowly that one week is roughly equal to 600,000 years. Further, every single subdivision of the Aia is sentient, but every conglomeration of Aia is also a separate sentience. It goes all the way up, and all the way down, and it's worth noting that the Aia are constantly in flux, constantly splitting up and coming back together in new configurations, each one considering itself a different individual, yet all part of a whole. Also, the Aia are constantly at war, trying to take over other Aia in order to steal their precious processing cycles. Aia conflict is almost never direct. Remember that episode of Futurama where Bender feels insecure about a new model of robot, and the whole episode turns out to be an extended dream sequence meant to subtly reprogram him into liking it? That's how Aia fight each other, is drawing their target into that kind of manufactured illusion until they voluntarily do what the attacker wants. Aia basically never go for physical attacks, because damage to one Aia damages all Aia because they're all actually one giant thing that's also lots of other, less giant things. It's complicated. Humanity, for its part, holds little interest for the Aia, they have their own shit going on. Occasionally, tiny offshoots of the Aia will show up to strike up short-term deals with some humans, usually to gain an advantage over a rival Aia. But the rest of the time, humans are ignored entirely. It's worth noting that the younger generations of Stored have been noted to be growing increasingly similar to the Aia in their thinking, and may one day end up joining with them and leaving the rest of us behind.
Yeah, that's all the aliens. They're weird and interesting, but not a single one of them is actually a danger to The Great Diaspora. Before I end this update, I want to talk a bit about one of the biggest flaws in Sufficiently Advanced. For all the ambition it has with the civilizations and people it presents, at no point does it provide concrete advice for roleplaying them. Sure, if you have a PhD in Theoretical Linguistics or something, I'm sure you could roleplay as a Heterolinguist just fine, but if you're not an expert in a given field, having to gin up a persona based only on general descriptions is really goddamn hard. To their credit, there's a sidebar that recommends having your character come from the League of Independent Planets if you'd rather just have "normal Earth boy, but FUTURE" as your character.
Next Time: Are we the baddies? (We are not.) A look inside the Patent Office!
You want it when?Original SA post Sufficiently Advanced Part 5: You want it when?
This time in our overview of Sufficiently Advanced, we're finally onto a new topic, the Patent Office! It's where the PCs work and is the only organization that's welcome pretty much anywhere, even if they don't always receive the warmest welcome, according to the fiction from earlier. The Patent Office has branches on nearly every inhabited planet owned by the major civilizations (about a hundred planets, total). Now, this is interesting, because that would mean that even the Cognitive Union has Patent Office branches, despite not recognizing the rights of its employees. I suppose, since they signed the same treaties as everyone else, that violating them so overtly would jeopardize their already-precarious position in the universe.
According to the book, there are about 1.3 million people working for the Patent Office, and only about 12,000 of them are Inspectors (in other words, PCs). That's not much to cover billions upon billions of people, but of course, the Transcendentals clearly favor a light touch. Each branch office is equipped with a wormhole transceiver for rapid communication, as well as a wormhole generator, to provide transportation for Inspectors who might lack other means of getting to and from the planet. Inventors rarely visit the Patent Office in person, instead just sending their patents in for approval over the infosphere, though if they do decide to visit, they'll find it a fairly pleasant experience. Each branch has a live secretary on staff, a waiting room with refreshments, and a Hall of Records, each of which contains information on every piece of intellectual property ever created. The buildings themselves are designed to fit in nicely with the surrounding architecture, and generally be as unobtrusive as possible.
However, Inspectors tend to see a rather different side of things. They tend to refer to the branches as the "front office", while they make use of the "business office". The business office, as they call it, is a space station set above the galactic plane of a very distant spiral galaxy. This station contains rooms for Inspectors to crash in, as well as a number of useful facilities, such as cafeterias and relaxation rooms. Inspectors who take a chance to wander the station will even find theaters, zero-g recreation centers, and hydroponic bays, all packed up in mothballs, but prepared for some mysterious future use. Also on this station are the briefing rooms that all Inspectors visit at the beginning and end of every assignment.
These rooms are sparsely decorated, with utilitarian, but comfortable, metal chairs situated around a central pillar, onto which the Transcendentals will project a simple vector image of a face when handing out the day's task (they could project a more realistic face, but they don't wish to pass themselves off as human). Newer Inspector teams usually get their first few missions from a more experienced Inspector, instead, as rookies tend to be less comfortable taking orders from a computer.
Turnover at the Patent Office is quite high. The Transcendentals tend to select moral people, and inevitably force them into immoral situations, which can lead to certain Inspectors abandoning mission objectives for the greater good. This isn't a bad thing, but does still lead to firings. Other Inspectors burn out, and some just plain don't like the job. In any case, this means that few Inspectors last very long in the role. Of course, this is no surprise to the Transcendentals. They hand-pick every single Inspector, they know exactly what each Inspector is going to do for them, and they know when to let them go. And, yes, it's true that they use people to an extent, but they prefer to maintain a better working relationship than all that.
After this section on the Patent Office, the book goes on to finally explain the Transcendentals in more detail. First, the Transcendentals' knowledge is limited by their temporal bandwidth. The farther back in time you go, the worse their base bandwidth is due to lesser technology, and every piece of information sent back takes up bandwidth from every point in time between the moment of origin and the point of reception. This means they need to be very careful with what information they send back to themselves, because that piece of information will be taking up bandwidth for the entire remainder of history up until, presumably, the Desired Future occurs. Thus, much of the time when the Transcendentals are prognosticating, they're really just guessing based on the information they've already received from the future, and those guesses turn out to be right. This tends to be even more accurate than other predictive methods, even psychohistorical analysis is less reliable. To make my own extrapolation of the facts, once a guess is made, a binary "no" signal could be sent by their future selves while taking up minimal temporal bandwidth in the event that the Transcendentals make a mistake, so one can imagine that the Transcendentals aren't exactly known for making bad calls. Ever.
The Transcendentals work through the Patent Office mainly to avoid the observer effect. In essence, they cannot predict the outcome of anything they have a direct hand in. They cannot answer the question "What will I say next?" because their answer will alter the querant's response. However, if they were to print out their predictions in a separate room, to be read later, they could guess the entire conversation before it happens. Due to a combination of their original programming, their character, and a certain amount of raw practicality, the Transcendentals are ethical beings. They prefer to avoid lying when possible, and abhor any loss of life. They will often find flimsy pretenses to send Inspectors on humanitarian missions. Further, they needn't worry themselves over the lesser of two evils, their predictive abilities allow them to accurately figure out which option would be objectively better in every case, and should the situation be vital enough, they'll be told exactly what to do by their future selves. Lastly and most importantly, the Transcendentals do not want to enslave anyone. The book takes great pains to emphasize that. They want equals. They want to cure their loneliness, not exacerbate it.
Following this description, there is a section advising the GM on how to roleplay as the Transcendentals, particularly when it comes to answering questions that may involve causality. Here's their advice on the dos and don'ts of replying to queries:
Sufficiently Advanced posted:
When asked how they know something...
Answer #1: “We told ourselves.”
Answer #2: “We have guessed, and our future
selves verify the guess.”
Answer #3: “The same way you know what you
had for breakfast, but in reverse.”
A bad answer: “You will tell us in three days.”
(This violates the Observer Effect; see above.)
There is also advice for dismissing the ontological paradox inherent in the AIs giving themselves information that didn't actually come from anywhere, brushing off Inspectors asking about their own futures (again, observer effect), and other time travel-related gotchas. It's all very useful, and it's nice to see some roleplaying advice in this game that's chock full of difficult concepts to roleplay.
Following that is a section advising GMs to come up with more mid-term goals for the Transcendentals, concrete objectives on the road to the more nebulous Desired Future. Of course, this section closes by telling GMs that if they're at a loss, they can make up the connections after the fact. Always handy advice. Honestly, Sufficiently Advanced's writers tend to give advice when it's least needed. I wouldn't know how to begin roleplaying as half the people in this universe, but, at least they provide entry-level advice on structuring a campaign!
The chapter closes, at long last, with a final piece of fiction, concerning the Patent Office. I will post a pastebin of it, I highly recommend giving it a read, it's an interesting piece that gives one a really good idea of how the Inspectors feel about their work.
A Final Story: The Interview posted:
Here it is.
Next Time: We finally get to a new chapter, and it's the one where we make characters!
In which plot armor is an explicit mechanic.Original SA post
(As an aside, I had the bad luck to end up at the bottom of last page, so here's the last update if you missed it.)
Sufficiently Advanced Part 6: In which plot armor is an explicit mechanic.
Okay, we're finally done with fluff and setting for the moment. It probably felt way the hell too long and wordy, but, to the game's credit, that's because everything felt really important to mention. There's not much gristle in Sufficiently Advanced, every passage and sidebar feels significant for understanding the game world or setting the right mood. But, that part's over with, and now it's time to make characters!
Chapter 2: Transhumanist ability scores.
The chapter opens, of course, with a rundown of the steps in making a character. I'll be following along. The first step is picking a Civilization of origin. I recommend jumping back and taking a look at the relevant updates if you need a refresher. I really dig the far-future social engineering concepts, and the Tao of History is supposed to be the best at Metatech, so our example character will be from there.
This leads right into the next step, choosing Core Values. Core Values add to one's Metatech and skill ratings to resist being convinced of something that would go against them, though other characters get bonuses to convincing one to do things that are consistent with their values. Additionally, CVs provide a +1 bonus to rolls when acting in ways consistent with them, or +2 if the CV is 5 or higher. We begin with the two Core Values of our home civilization, in this case Authenticity and Tradition, as well as two more of our choice. A sidebar is provided listing a couple hundred sample CVs, and another advises GMs to make sure no CV is too powerful by making sure it's roleplayed properly (for example, "Self-Preservation" could be applied to almost any roll, but GMs are advised to make sure the character with that Core Value behaves in the cautious, even cowardly, manner such a CV would imply). It's also mentioned that we should note our personal interpretation of each of our core values, in order to better define the situations in which they apply. Now, how do we determine the numeric score of our CVs, from 0 to 10? We choose them. Because a Core Value can be as much a weakness as a strength, we may set them to any value we want.
Now, I'm making a character from the Tao of History, and I think I'd like to be part of High Society, having portrayed a very wealthy historical figure from the Victorian era, but I did end up decided to leave for the Patent Office. So, I think I'll take Authenticity at 5 (I like the idea of continuing to use disguised items), Tradition 2 (I left the Tao for a reason), Good Breeding 6 (I'm refined, but not too fancy), and let's cap it off with Curiosity 10 (you literally cannot stop me from investigating something interesting).
Once Core Values are chosen, you select your Society (if any), and then record what special Benefits you've gained. In my case, on top of the wealth from High Society, my Tao citizenship means I gain a bonus Twist each session, usable only through the Romance, Intrigue, and Empathy themes. And just in time, because that's the very next section!
Twists and Themes:
Themes are a vitally important mechanic in the game, as they give players a lot of control over how the story plays out, at the cost of suffering setbacks to do so. Now, the ranks we're permitted in Themes is directly connected with how high our highest Capability (essentially, our primary attributes) is, which makes it feel like this section should have been placed after the step where we set our Capabilities, but, this is the order we're given, so I'll work with it. To summarize, based on our highest Capability, we get an Import score of 5-9, representing our overall importance to the story (lower Capabilities get us 9 points of Theme to work with, having a very high Capability gets us 5). Themes can rate from 0-4, which determines how powerfully the Theme impacts the story when used. Level 5 effects exist, but players usually must take a Complication to achieve them. What are Complications? Those are voluntary setbacks and problems Inspectors give the GM license to create, in order to either gain more Twists. Each Complication grants one Twist, and spending more than one Twist on a Theme raises that Theme's effective rating by one per additional Twist. Also, Complications get worse, the lower your Import is. Additionally, each Theme a player has must include a Descriptor, a word or phrase that defines how that Theme applies to their character, which can limit its use. The six Themes are as follows:
Plot Immunity: Narrative convention twists itself around to save you. This Theme is used to just make a problem go away, and tell the GM you'd rather not engage with a given challenge. You can use this Theme to avoid death, as well. Suggested descriptors tend to revolve around being an action hero, being very lucky, or having NPCs saving you at the critical moment. Replicant PCs are recommended to take a descriptor of "Send in the clones", indicating that whenever bad stuff happens to your character, you can spend a Twist to declare that it was just one of your clones, and that the "primary" you is safe and sound.
Intrigue: This Theme is used to gain secret information or otherwise spy on people, you can even use it to declare you've had people on the inside gathering info the whole time. Suggested descriptors include traditional methods of spycraft, as well as more futuristic ones, including the implication that you simply used psychohistorical analysis to "guess" the information you obtained, which, naturally, will turn out to have been correct.
Empathy: This Theme revolves around gaining friends and confidants, and through them, favors and information. It's acknowledged by the book that Intrigue, Empathy, and Romance have some overlap in function, but that their key differences lie in the flavor and what sorts of experiences they tell the GM you're looking for. Suggested descriptors tend to describe what sorts of social interaction you're best at handling, and how people usually relate to you.
Magnetism: This Theme is all about leadership and popular appeal, great for acquiring followers and earning votes. Suggested descriptors define why people like you (it could be political, ideological, or even a conscious mimetic effect on your part), or else define what kinds of people tend to like you.
Comprehension: Where a few other Themes are about learning secrets, this Theme is about learning stuff that's just hard to figure out. Solutions to puzzles, inventing gadgets, and so on. The suggested descriptors include reasons for your genius, specific fields you might specialize in, or methods a non-genius might also learn esoteric information (such as by tricking a villain into an educational monologue).
Romance: The Theme of romantic love and sordid trysts, one should probably be careful not to make it weird. You can also use this Theme to ruin the relationships of others, if you so choose. In either event, your actions will usually get you some sort of advantage, be it access or information. Suggested descriptors include the types of relationships you tend to spark, the way in which your romantic tendencies manifest, or the types of people that end up attracted to you.
I want some Capabilities that are on the higher end, so I think I'll assume my highest will be 7, and take an Import of 7. From there, I'll take Empathy 4 (Lovable Gadabout), Comprehension 2 (Oddly-Specific University Classes), and Plot Immunity 1 (Fortune Favors Fools). I imagine my character as a socialite, usually a bit tipsy, bit of a Nick & Nora Charles vibe, with a gimmick of explaining any piece of obscure knowledge as having been a class at Oxford. Of course, the image is entirely manufactured as a way to put others at ease around him.
Alright, here's the big moment. So, each civilization has their own minimums and maximums for each of the five major fields of technology in the universe. They're rated from 1-10, but exceeding your civ's maximum ratings reduces your Import automatically, one-for-one. Having 5 or more in a Capability represents entering transhuman territory. Looking at the chart, I see that the Tao's Stringtech is very low (it maxes at 4), and decide that the concept I'm going for could just as easily be handled in The Masquerade. I trade in my Authenticity and Tradition for Anonymity 6 and Identity 10, and swap out my extra Twist for the ability to identify anyone I've ever met before. How do you determine Capabilities? Like with Core Values, you just choose what number you want. You can have that beautiful 10, just remember that your Import will suffer for it.
Biotech: This represents all science that directly affects bodily tissues and your genetic code, with the Stardwellers being the most advanced in the field. The Masquerade is a close second (as are the Replicants), with a maximum of 9, but I'll go with 7, to keep my Import up. Passing rank 5 is what unlocks the ability to regenerate your body's tissues when injured, and with 7, I can regenerate even lost limbs. I'm also quite superhuman, able to lift more than a ton, skydive without a parachute, and take only bruises from small-caliber firearms. My eyes and ears remain too complex to regenerate naturally without medical assistance, however, that's a Biotech 8 effect. The life expectancy of my character is about 400 years, though I could later push it to 550 by raising my Biotech up to 9. It's also worth mentioning that one with Biotech 8 could generate harmful agents within their own body, allowing them to engage in biowarefare without a lab.
Cognitech: This is the science of the mind. While it includes some direct modification, it also includes methods for streamlining thought, organizing knowledge, and generally optimizing the function of one's mind. The Stored are far and way the best at this, none of the other civilizations even reach 9, let alone 10. The Masquerade tops out at 6, which is what I'll take. This grants me a neural mesh (the benefit for 5+) and access to lenses, as well as a perfect memory and the ability to learn things in half the normal time. If my Cognitech were higher, I could do things like alter my perception of time, take two mental actions at once, and even break encryption in my head.
Metatech: Very little of this field manifests as physical technology, this is mainly the study of mimetics and other forms of social engineering. Core Values add directly to this score when resisting attempts to influence you against your beliefs. The Tao of History and Cognitive Union both specialize in this, though they take drastically different approaches to it. Unlike with other Capabilities, Metatech relies instead on the difference between Metatech scores to determine what you're able to do. While the Masquerade can go up to 8, I'll be taking 7. It's worth noting that, with especially large differences in Metatech, you can do things like convince a person to commit suicide, or talk them into standing still and taking it while you're attacking them. Essentially, Metatech techniques can be just as dangerous as any weapon, able to build or destroy relationships, save or end lives, and more. You need a difference of 4+ to start doing the more advanced stuff like brainwashing, if you're wondering about a breakpoint.
Nanotech: This is the science of studying tiny shit, and mostly represents various nanobot-related implants. It mostly affects your senses, but having 5+ gets you dermal microbots, which are something of a Swiss Army Knife. The Stardwellers have the best Nanotech in the universe, but the Masquerade ain't bad, at 8. As usual, I'll go with 7. This lets me see the entire light/radiation spectrum, only gravity waves and dark matter remain invisible to me. I have a built-in spectrometer, DNA sequencer, telescopic vision, a quantum-dot laser array, and also I can see and hear with my entire body. I can also engage in a manhunt by myself without taking penalties, and I can scan a person with the same or lower Nanotech rating to get an estimate of their Biotech, Nanotech, and Stringtech scores, but this is considered extremely rude in the Masquerade. At 9, a person can engage in nanowarfare without a lab, producing the nanophages from their own implants.
Stringtech: Yes, it's based on the widely-discredited "string theory", but more broadly, it deals with the application of physical forces. In other words, this is the stat for beating shit up and/or being a robot. Mechanica, naturally, has the best Stringtech, but the Independents are right behind them. The Masquerade caps at 6, and so will I. The main benefit of a 5+ in Stringtech is that your defenses are no longer Energy-Transparent (in other words, useless against energy weapons). My built-in weapons can also now have the Energy (lasers) and Near-c (projectiles fired at almost the speed of light) descriptors, and I have free access to bombs, powerful acid, and compression beams (more on specific weapons later). Also, characters with 5+ in Stringtech can fight in open warfare as though they were an army of a thousand people, though their opponent always gets a bonus for outnumbering them.
As a little sidebar of my own, the Independents are quite interesting, in terms of their Stringtech. You see, technically all of their technology is Stringtech, it's the only field they've managed to advance far enough in to compete with everyone else, due to their refusal to accept Transcendental help. So, for example, while an "Emotion Ray" is a Metatech object and uses that score, an Independent-made one is based on Stringtech, directly altering the electromagnetic signals in the brain rather than employing mimetic light and/or sound patterns to induce emotion.
So, to recap, my character has Biotech 7, Cognitech 6, Metatech 7, Nanotech 7, and Stringtech 6. He's pretty good as a face/investigator, and fairly tough, but his smarts and raw power are only about average for an Inspector.
Now we're onto Sufficiently Advanced's version of skills, which represent jobs you've worked at over the years. Your Profession rating indicates how long you spent doing that job, and thus you purchase Professions using your life expectancy. With high Cognitech, you reduce the costs of your Professions accordingly (in my case, I reduce costs by half). This makes your ability to take Professions into a function of your Biotech (how many points you get) and Cognitech (the rate of expenditure). You may also take Locality Professions at the same time you're learning others, as Locality just represents where you've lived. All characters begin with 5 ranks in the Locality profession for their home region, representing their knowledge of where they come from. They're also assumed to be literate and possess both basic math skills and technological competence as befits their Capabilities. Certain broad fields (such as Artist or Engineer) may require concentration in a more specific field (Artist permits two at once), and very similar skills can be substituted for a point of Reserve (more on Reserve shortly).
Most skills have specialized tasks associated with them, stuff that you can't even attempt without the associated Profession. This actually limits your ability to use the skill even if you do have ranks in it.
Now, my character will live to be about 400, so let's say I have about 250 "points" to spend, though more like 500 with the halved costs.
Since I'm aiming to be more of a Social/Detective kind of character, I'll take 5 ranks in both Media and Political to represent a basic social acumen, as well as Police and Legal for some investigative background (Police is also one of the game's two skills used for personal combat). I'll also take the Engineer (Metatech) and Researcher (Metatech) Professions at 5, to show that I'm well-versed in Metatech in a general sense. From there, perhaps 5 ranks of Spy and Artist (Writing and Infosphere Design), to shore up my array of Metatech skills. That leaves me with 110 years of experience to distribute. That's enough to bump every skill I've got so far up to 6. With my remaining points, I'm just 2 points short of getting 6 ranks in Financial, which would fit with my High Society stylings. So, I'll add two more years to my character's age, and take that Financial 6.
For my Localities, I'll take the Masquerade Locality from 5 to 10, then spend some time with the Masquerade's allies, taking 7 ranks in each of Mechanica, the Tao of History, and the Stardwelling Armada's most prominent fleet. This leaves just enough left over for 6 ranks worth of time in the League of Independent Planets.
All Capabilities and Professions have Reserve pools associated with them. For Capabilities, you have Reserve equal to their rank. For Professions, you have double. You spend Reserve to improve your rolls and avoid dying (weapons in Sufficiently Advanced tend to be, well, sufficiently advanced, and you spend Reserve like Hit Points to avoid getting annihilated by these instant-death weapons, more on that in the next chapter). You recover your Profession Reserve easily, with food and rest, but your Capabilities only recover to a maximum of 5 unless you fulfill a special requirement (assuming you have 6+ to begin with).
Biotech: You need special high-energy food available only in civs with Biotech 6+, due to your high metabolism.
Cognitech: Your dreams are much more complex than normal, and you remember them better, so you'll end up preoccupied with them unless you send them off to a special service, where the memories are reformatted and returned in a more manageable configuration. This requires infosphere access.
Metatech: You need to relax and have some friendly one-on-one interaction with somebody, to prevent yourself from seeing people as just a set of social patterns to manipulate (which undermines your skills considerably). A good tactic in long negotiations is preventing your opponent from managing this, while achieving it yourself.
Nanotech: Your Nanotech just needs an hour of downtime to rest and self-repair, usually while you sleep, so it's almost an exception to the rule. Except your Nanotech score drops to 3 during that hour, so you may wish to figure something out if you're expecting a nighttime ambush.
Stringtech: You need to plug your implants into a wall jack for 10 minutes per point of Reserve you're getting back (so, 10 minutes for the example character I've made). Your Stringtech drops to 3 as this happens, but you and unplug and be ready in about 10 seconds, so you're less vulnerable than with Nanotech. Any civilization with Stringtech 5+ will have the sort of current you need, but elsewhere, you may need to find an alternate solution, like plugging directly into a power substation.
The next section of this chapter is a list of premade characters. What's interesting is despite their distinctly Gregorian trappings, the Disciples of the Void tend towards more Shaolin-inspired naming conventions, it's an intriguing touch. The descriptions and GM notes for these premade characters help give some insight into roleplaying, though it's telling to note that not one of the eight pregens is a Heterolinguist (I'm getting the impression that the Heterolinguists were thought up without the writers themselves even knowing how to play as one).
Beyond the fleshed-out samples are a bunch of stat blocks for more generic NPCs from various civs, so GMs don't need to generate random mooks themselves. There's also a sidebar noting that instances of a Replicant are denoted with ordonyms based on when they were cloned (Primus, secundus, tertius, and so on).
The final section of this chapter concerns character advancement. If you can start the game with the exact stats you want, where else is there to go? Actually, the game's advice is simply to roleplay advancement. Take lower Capabilities to start with, then raise them when you feel it's appropriate by spending a Twist through a fitting Theme (though you will lose points in your Themes if your Import drops from getting your Capabilities too high). Core Values can be shifted up or down by one point each month, and replaced when they hit 0 (hitting 0 with one of your civilization's CVs will cost you a point of Import). You can even boost your Capability maximums by switching to a new civilization (attaining dual citizenship also gets you a second benefit, which is its own kind of advancement). Professions can be increased naturally as time passes, though getting enough downtime to learn a specific trade can be difficult while working for the Patent Office.
That all having been said, no, there is no formal, codified system for gaining power through play. Your characters are who they are, and most development is personal. While I'm sure this is disappointing to some, I can't help but respect the game's confidence in simply stating that no, you don't get level-ups, because this is a game about roleplaying in high-concept transhumanist space, just start out as powerful as you feel comfortable being.
Next Time: Fighting, ad campaigns, and hide & seek are all basically the same thing, if you think about it.
Nested Combats.Original SA post Sufficiently Advanced Part 7: Nested Combats.
Now that we've learned everything about Sufficiently Advanced's setting, and how to make characters, it's finally time to learn the rules. I don't know why so many games arrange themselves in this completely ass-backwards fashion, but, that's just the way it goes.
Chapter 3: In the future, dice rolls will be multiplicative.
The very first thing this chapter explains, thankfully, is how dice are rolled. For any given check, you roll a d10 for your Capability, and a d10 for the relevant Profession. Then, you multiply the die result by the corresponding score, and take the higher result of the two. For example, in order to make an attack, you use Nanotech and the Soldier or Police Profession. The character I made has Nanotech 7 and Police 6. If I rolled a 3 and 8, the results would be 21 (7x3) and 48 (6x8), and the 48 would be the actual result of the roll. Core Values can add a +1 or +2 to the die roll (pre-multiplication) if it's consistent with the CV, or will add their full rating directly to your Metatech and Profession to resist attempts to sway you from your beliefs (as mentioned before).
Reserve can be spent from the Capability or Profession you used either one-for-one to increase the result of the corresponding die roll, or to reroll either die (so, in the above example, I could spend one Reserve from Nanotech or Police to reroll that 3 if I needed to beat, say, a 50, or I could spend a Reserve from Police to push that 8 to a 9, for 54). However, running dry on Reserve imposes a -1 penalty to rolls using that score, as you start to tire out.
This is an... interesting system. It lets you set an extremely wide range of difficulties, with low numbers being "normal, non-transhuman stuff", and as the numbers climb up towards 100 or more, you can keep up just by becoming more and more superhuman. The random factor is mitigated somewhat by the ability to spend Reserve, focusing your mind to ensure that you make it, while it reinforces the themes of needing to be enhanced to get anywhere significant. No matter how much Reserve you spend, a 3 (the maximum an Old Worlder can have) in Nanotech is never going to get you more than a 45 (10 on the die, plus 3 from Reserve, +2 from a very strong Core Value, times 3). This is in a system/setting where the "average" difficulty, while not explicitly said to be such, can be inferred to be about 60, with hard rolls going up to 80 or even 100. Around 40 is the maximum an unenhanced human can hope for if they give it everything they've got, and it serves as the easy difficulty. It really underscores just how much humanity has advanced over the past few thousand years.
Next is the section on how conflicts work, which can take the form of a single roll (with sample difficulties given), which is what's usually employed against static obstacles, or as extended conflicts, which are the form Sufficiently Advanced's opposed checks take. All opposed tests take place over multiple rolls, and combat is included in this. One thing I like a lot is that initiative isn't handled through a die roll. Instead, whoever declares that it's a conflict gets to throw the first punch (literally or metaphorically). They give a method of rolling off after that, if it's particularly important to know the order of action, but I get the sense the writers only added that bit in to shut up whiners.
Conflict goes back and forth, with each side describing their actions and rolling off with their respective Offense and Defense checks (more on that in a sec), with the defender losing Reserve (on top of any they spent in the roll) if their result is lower. If the Defender runs out of Reserve, the attacker wins and can describe their victory. In the case of combat, that usually means the defender dies. As mentioned, weapons in Sufficiently Advanced are so overwhelmingly powerful that a single hit decides the fight, and all that Reserve being spent or lost represents blocking or dodging.
Now, here are a couple charts, the first is a flowchart of how all conflicts play out. The second is a listing of every type of conflict in the game ("Baseball" being a stand-in for any sporting event). Listed are the Capability and Professions used by default for Offense, Defense, and Escape (how "escaping" works differs from one conflict to another, and can be somewhat abstract), with the Escape option representing getting yourself out of harm's way, but also letting the opponent go unopposed. The Timescale is how turns are measured within the conflict, and yes, any conflict with a smaller Timescale may be initiated while engaging in a larger conflict (for example, a Political Debate within a Political Campaign), with the winning side recovering Reserve for the main conflict.
Is it just me or does everything looks more convoluted when presented as flow chart? This system is really quite simple, honest.
I hope you didn't think I was joking when I mentioned ad campaigns as a type of conflict.
Now, some of these conflicts may not be self-explanatory. A Research Blitz is when one group is trying to invent something or reach a breakthrough before another, in order to retain the rights to it, and Psychohistorical Maneuvering is basically subtly manipulating events in order to influence the course of history in your favor, the sort of "grand conspiracy" shit that's often paralleled in metaphor through a chess match or some shit between the two people in charge of the competing factions. A Nanotech Bloom is using harmful nanobots to destroy an area (Nanowarfare is basically a large campaign of Nanotech Blooms), and a Mimetic Assault is when you use specially-designed phrasing, imagery, and so on to change your target's mind not through your argument, but by manipulating their psyche directly (essentially, you're flash-radicalizing them, and it's implied you're using the exact same combination of techniques, such as gaslighting, love-bombing, Gish galloping, and so on).
I happen to really like this system (even though Mimetic Assault feels way the fuck too real for my liking these days), because it gives a great feel for the scale and scope of the game. It's implied, by being included in the rules, that Inspectors may end up having to conduct (or defend against) years-long shadow wars in order to complete certain missions, but rather than actually taking up years worth of sessions, they're handled in exactly the same amount of real-world time as a fistfight (well, assuming nobody starts a smaller conflict inside the main conflict). It puts a number of big ideas into stark relief. Mainly, these are people who live for centuries, they can afford to spend a few years overhauling a society in order to resolve a patent dispute.
However, as a sidebar notes, all the rolling and Reserve in the world will not stand against Twists and Complications. Spending a Twist or taking a Complication will let you declare something that no amount of dice can countermand. If you have a high enough Theme rating, and the Twists to spend, you can declare just about anything. In fact, the book says that Themes are the absolute, hands-down, most important part of any character, and the game as a whole. Now, while I enjoy the idea of the game being run mostly on narrative convention and players voluntarily taking on problems in order to automatically succeed at the thing they really want, the fact is, the mechanics don't do very much to emphasize the importance of Themes. It feels like the writers may have been at odds to an extend on how important Themes should be, with one guy wanting a ton of other mechanics, while another wanted to make sure they had primacy, and the result is a book that seems to be at odds with itself, despite the overall functional system.
By the way, there's another sidebar that suggests that GMs pass out a handful of free Twists right before all hell breaks loose, both to help players deal with the shit hitting the fan, and to give them a chance to bail out unscathed (most Themes can be used to declare "I get away") if they'd rather avoid the oncoming disaster.
The following section expands upon what the Themes mean and how they're used, and it's basically just an even wordier version of what I typed up in the last update. It's good in terms of advice, but there's nothing noteworthy in terms of this overview.
Now we get to the point where maybe things are a little overdesigned. Story Triggers are the typical GM tool for creating a broad outline for subplots the players might stumble upon, split up into four discreet segments. The Secret is the premise of what's going on, The Reveal is how the PCs learn about it, The Lever is what triggers the story's resolution, and The Effect is the long-term consequences of what the players did. This setting of specific conditions under which things happen feels like a bit too much, in terms of rule-crafting. Rules are also provided for players to spend Twists to create Story Triggers of their own, and the system for that is decent enough, though the only apparent incentive for burning all those Twists is just the satisfaction of having impacted the story, which might not be enough for some players.
The rules chapter ends with some advice to GMs on handling Themes, since they can be used to totally derail a story in progress. It mostly boils down to "roll with it, and always have a backup plan, just in case".
Next Time: All your questions will be answered! No, seriously, most of the concerns brought up by the thread will be answered by the book.
Inspector GadgetsOriginal SA post Sufficiently Advanced Part 8: First star to the right, and straight on 'til morning.
We're finally in the home stretch, not much book left. First up is the equipment section!
Chapter 4: Inspector Gadgets
(Don't give me too much credit, the writers used that as the title of a sidebar in this chapter.)
This chapter explains some of the underlying functionality of Sufficiently Advanced's technology. In particular, that it often actually does look like casting magic, since many items use mental, verbal, or somatic commands to activate. There's also a section on what technologies don't exist in this universe (Star Trek-style transporters, true FTL travel*, force fields, psychic powers, and anything that violates thermodynamics all stand out).
*Remember, intergalactic travel in Sufficiently Advanced is handled via wormholes that can bridge arbitrarily long distances.
The meat of this chapter, however, is a listing of items one might acquire during play. This includes not only tangible equipment and vehicles, but also various social engineering techniques, analytical methods, and even the concept of community planning. Many items are free, listed as "Public Domain", which implies that the costs associated with purchasing items comes not necessarily from materials cost, but also from the cost to license the design. That's certainly an interesting way to handle things, and once you see that this list includes bombs that unleash an out-of-control strange matter reaction, you start to realize the true purpose of the Patent Office (regulating people's ability to access phenomenally dangerous technology). What's also nice is that this section shows how a character with 9 Import (meaning a maximum of 3 in all Capabilities) might still be functional and usable in-game, using equipment to make up for their various shortcomings (not to mention that they can pop Twists like candy).
The technology listing does include something very odd. The weapon listings frequently say that they deal damage as though the user had a Stringtech of a certain level. This makes no sense, as damage is never actually tracked by the game, and you use Nanotech to attack in the first place. I have to assume they mean outside of conflicts, where one's Stringtech does result in a rough estimate of how much damage you can dole out to your surroundings. In fact, if that's the case, a character with Stringtech 10 doesn't need to buy weapons unless there's a specific secondary effect they want, because their normal attacks include whatever destructive forces they feel like using. It's still strange that you don't use Stringtech to attack and Nanotech to defend. Perhaps they got it backwards.
The chapter ends with rules and advice for inventing new technology that doesn't yet exist. Most notable about this section is that it makes the argument that urban build-up actually leads to a cleaner environment, with the logic of "when huge cities inevitably get pollution problems, people demand cleaner technology and infrastructure, which in turn ends up benefiting everyone". I suppose it would be fairly sound reasoning if people could be expected to mostly act rationally and in their own best interests, which I suppose in Sufficiently Advanced's utopian future, they do. But it honestly smacks of the writers having never encountered real people before.
Chapter 5: Insufficiently Advised
This chapter is titled "Advice", but offers precious little. There are adventure seeds, and there's some basic advice for playing, but at no point are the more alien mindsets given any sort of coverage. We're left to figure that shit out on our own. There's also some suggestions for alternate settings, but overall the advice doesn't do much to make certain character types any easier to portray.
The latter half of the chapter is given over to a bunch of design notes, most of which exist to address questions posed by playtesters. The first one these notes discusses gold as a motif for the game (the book itself has gold-colored border art). The gist is, because gold is now commonplace and effortless to acquire, it's lost all of its value beyond functionality. And because completely pure gold is actually really shitty for pretty much everything because it's so soft, it's preferred that gold have certain levels of impurity. THIS is why the bad guys are "everyone thinks the same", "pure logic unsullied by emotions", and "everyone is clones", and why the most advanced civilization in the game (the Stardwellers) have only a mostly Socialist economy. The point being made is that the impurity makes for a stronger alloy. This is why the Stardwellers are also by far the most diverse civilization, as well.
Why is the game designed to encourage players to take lower Capabilities to get more Themes? It's because the narrative conventions of sci-fi dictate that the main character is almost always the one who is the most similar to modern-day humans.
Why is capitalism the default? Because the writers felt it would be more familiar to players and because they lacked the imagination to properly conceptualize a world completely lacking in the exchange of goods and services (yes, they straight-up admit that).
Why the Patent Office? Because the Transcendentals didn't want to overtly create Space Cops, but by controlling an organization that vouchsafes the economic well-being of all of humanity that just happens to always be on-hand to help when things go bad, they can still help guide humanity to the good future without needing to be too heavy-handed about it.
The rest of the chapter covers less interesting materials, and ends with a long diatribe about the design of the game. Based on many of the sidebars, and the various long-winded discussions regarding their motivations, it feels like the writers are a little too attached to their original authorial intent. They don't seem especially jazzed about the idea of someone modifying their precious setting.
And the rest
The book ends with an appendix of acknowledgements and inspirations for the game. One poster theorized that this game takes inspiration from The Culture. In fact, it does not, but rather The Golden Age by John C. Wright appears to be the primary inspiration for those same ideas. Hopefully that makes them feel a bit better, knowing that any disrespect was purely coincidental.
So, that's Sufficiently Advanced. It's not perfect, but it's sure as hell interesting (hopefully I successfully presented it as such). The mechanics are sound, the setting is varied without feeling disjointed, and the ideas presented spark the imagination. I just wish that we got more examples of some of those big ideas in action, I still have no idea how one would portray a Heterolinguist.