Some notes on running Great Ideas Grand Vision in Alternity
First, the setting need not be run in the Alternity system. I have deliberately tried to separate the setting from game mechanics to make it portable. It should be easy to convert to any other system such as GURPS.
Overall, I tend towards a somewhat loose gamemastering style, so I have not emphasized rules and dice rolling much. When I ran the champaign, it was nearly diceless. While this works well for me and my gaming group, it also means that I have not developed the rules and scores for everything in detail - I am more interested in what a drone weapon can do than figuring out its action check score (overall, I tend to find combat one of the most boring parts of any roleplaying game). So if you find my writeups lacking in rule detail, feel free to expand on them on your own.
One problem with running BIGV in Alternity is that Progress Levels are a crude tool. The future I have described is solely based on my ideas about a "likely" future (actually I think I’m far, far too conservative – the real future is going to be much wilder!) and hence doesn’t neatly fit into levels like the Fusion Age. Tech Levels overall, regardless of the system, tends to assume that technology advances in a linear manner. I would rather say it branches out like a tree, and how far different branches will go is a matter of discovery, economics, chance and social pressures.
The professions will have slightly different meanings in this scenario. First, Combat Specs are extremely rare on most worlds, likely rarer in most cases than in peaceful nations on Earth today. Most colonies have no need for armies, and a low population density makes criminality less of a problem.
Technology is usually so common that even a fairly nontechnical person knows practical computer skills that would impress a current programmer. The number of Tech Ops is likely fairly small since much of the systems can maintain themselves or repairs done in a highly automated manner. Remember that once most of the population were farmers, but today less than 2% work in agriculture. Currently the number of people in manufacturing (Tech Ops, more or less) is decreasing and will likely also end up at that level. In the end only services and information jobs will remain – until the AIs appear. After that it is anybody's guess what people will be doing.
A lot of people are really Free Agents – on many planets there are weak or no central powers, and people work as consultants or independents. Diplomats are the largest group of all; people skills and decisions are still important.
I came up with this scenario before I saw Stardrive. To my delight there were some similarities, but also some major differences. It was very interesting to compare them.
The basic difference is simply the kind of setting: Stardrive is more space opera, while BIGV is more hard sf even if both move in the uncertain borderland between the genres. This of course leads to different dramatic constraints: Stardrive is built to provide a lot of classic adventure among the stars, BIGV is more cerebral (even if there is doubtless great potential for swashbuckling and intrigue in many places). Stardrive needs humans to be rather human, so technology and human enhancments are limited; BIGV deals with a transhuman world.
Perhaps the most important difference is that Stardrive doesn’t try to think about the consequences of everything (after all, it is space opera). Just the presence of the Net (not to mention an interstellar Grid) will cause changes in how economics, politics and society works that makes the world unrecognisable (just look at economics today with the Internet). If the T’sa have nanotech good enough to make diamond armour, it also means they can just as quickly build buildings and consumer goods out of diamond, creating a nanotech economy – with no need of the ubiquitous mining outposts so popular in science fiction. If you introduce psi in a setting, you have to consider that large nations might employ groups of psionicists doing precognition and then analysing their glimpses using the best available analysts, AIs and computers, getting continuos tips of the future (and if there are billions of people, even very rare talents will occur in large numbers – there will be hundreds of thousands of IQ 150+ minds in such a population). Everything will have an effect. BIGV may not succeed in deducing all the implications of the assumptions (it is very, very hard to do) but at least I have tried to work out some of the nontrivial effects. That is the challenge and delight of hard sf.
I think it is important to create a world that stimulates both the gamemaster and players to think further. It should encourage it, even if that means they will discover new things that the originator had never intended. The acid test of any scenario, be it a novel or roleplaying game, is whether it can not just withstand but flower when readers/players question and explore it – or if the underlying logic of the world will unravel when somebody pokes at it.
There are some superficial similarities between Stardrive and BIGV. Many people would probably compare Atlantis to a mixture of Austrin-Ontis and Rigunmor. The societies are however fundamentally different since the latter two are based on the idea of a state (with taxation powers!) while Atlantis is an attempt at anarchy mediated through trade. Gaia may have been colonised by back-to-nature people, but it is not the Hatire Community (one is an expansionist religion, the other is the result of a deliberate and slightly failed experiment in constructing a sustainable society). While Mary might be an Orwellian nightmare, it is not a small VoidCorp (It is amusing to note that the most perfect socialist society in Stardrive may not be the Nariacs, but VoidCorp). While some may say the Trahans have similarities with the T’sa, I would beg to differ – in Stardrive the T’sa are a small (but independent) part of the human sphere. In BIGV the Trahans are a major force, something that humanity needs to come to terms with: just because you don’t have advanced technology doesn’t mean you are harmless, the Trahans could possibly overwhelm and trahanify all of humanity through sheer numbers and cultural strength. And they are serious about it.
Perhaps the most central differences are the scale and the economy. Stardrive has a world with thousands of planets inhabited by trillions of people, but the game focuses on just a small, manageable corner: the Verge. It is simply not possible to go into detail on thousands of planets. In BIGV there are just a dozen colonies, but it is possible to describe them all in much more detail.
The economy in Stardrive is essentially industrial era; it is telling that there is no listing for information/software trade in the trading section, despite the existence of an interstellar Grid and AI. At the same time a great deal of the economy is about agricultural products and raw materials. BIGV is post-industrial, while there certainly are a demand for agriculture and mining, they form a much smaller part of the economy than the service and knowledge sector. This creates a huge change, not just in what people make money from and trade in, but also how organisations, companies and states work. The kind of organisation that works in an industrial setting is completely absurd in an information economy - and vice versa. Atlantis would have been quite more difficult to enact in the 20th century, and Arcadia completely impossible.