Ex Machina – A Whole New London

So I started running a cyberpunk setting game using Ex Machina (Tri-Stat). It has to be said, I’m not a huge fan of Tri-Stat. Making up characters and powers and options and things in the system is good fun, so far as character creation goes, but in execution it all feels a little bland and Ex Machina’s way of working damage is a little intrusive and annoying. The three-stat reductionism is also more than a little annoying, even though it makes things relatively simple.

Still, the setting is the thing though and while the settings in the book (the bulk of the book) never really roused my interest they do comprise a good toolkit for putting things together of your own with examples and some statted up NPCs, guards, cybernetics and so on.

My setting is set at some point around/after the 2050s and incorporates ideas liberally lifted from Doktor Sleepless, Augmented Reality speculation, Maker/Fabber speculation and Peter F Hamilton’s earlier cyberpunk setting books (such as The Nanoflower) along with my own ideas which I’ve been developing for some time either for personal games or for Genesis Descent (which will hopefully actually get greenlit at some point).

My setting is London, some time after 2050, and it’s a London much modified by climate change (flooding) and energy starvation issues. The key points of the setting are:

  • Ubiquitous Augmented Reality: Pretty much everyone is wired in with contact lenses or glasses that give an augmented overlay to the world. Your social networking is connected to your personal transponder and distributed processing and gestural detection fields surround you. Almost everyone is wired in 24/7 and has a wealth of personal data available to anyone who cares to check. Police and other groups have more advanced versions of this and can even flag people for the general public to notice. Some sentencing involves displaying special HUD info, like, say ‘Sex Offender’ over your head. Almost everyone has ‘opted in’ to a near total surveillance culture.
  • Unobtrusive Enhancement: Prosthetics have reached the point where they’re equal to or better than flesh-and-blood but actually chopping off a limb to get enhanced is crazy or fetishistic. Veterans or cripples may get these fitted and end up enhanced but regular people? No. Nano and biological enhancements or hidden/cosmetic enhancements are the order of the day. Cybernetics and Bionetics are subtle and hidden. A lot of enhancements are pure software, apps and expert systems loaded into your AR suite.
  • Environmentalism: Everything, everywhere is concerned with environmental impact. Buildings are covered in a living coat of algae or moss and have roof gardens. There are incentives to have window-boxes or hanging window gardens and most buildings have one or two windmills or solar power/heating arrays. Cars are almost all electric, a lot of people cycle or walk and there are new tramways, light rail and monorails (corporate owned) replacing the crumbling London Underground (much flooded and hard to maintain).
  • Corporatocracy: There is still a government but it’s a toothless rump, completely in the thrall of the corporations. Global turmoil following The Great Recession replaced many governments but the money was still in the company coffers and able to corrupt whoever was elected or to fix subsequent elections. Voting, protesting, none of it makes any real difference and you can’t depose a multinational through revolt. Companies own whole zones, set their own laws and regulations and ignore what remains of the government in any case.
  • Energy: Lack of sufficient investment in alternative energy sources has caused a massive shortfall. Fusion has been cracked but requires massive powerplants that are much less efficient and much more expensive and difficult to run than nuclear reactors. Nuclear has such a bad reputation hardly anyone uses it though exhausted Middle Eastern nations continue to try to develop nuclear power. The Russian Confederation is one of the last major fossil fuel exporters and that’s drying up. They’re investing heavily in space resources. Remaining oil, gas, coal and other resource areas – particularly in Antarctica – are flashpoints for diplomatic incidents.
  • Space: Pretty much entirely ceded to private enterprise, save by China which continues to gain space supremacy as a nation. Two consortia, one Russian/Eastern, one Anglo/Western are trying to make profitable means to harvest Near Earth Asteroids. Mining does go on, but is hideously expensive. It provides rare earths and important metals to Earth Industries but is barely profitable and intensely competitive.

What do players do?

With government and police almost entirely irrelevant there’s little to hold companies back and, hence, a huge amount of potential for PMCs, freelance industrial espionage and so on. Players are likely criminals, social networking engineers, people off the grid or otherwise capable of ‘doing things’ for important players.

The Advent of Physical ‘Piracy’

It’s a WWI Mark IV. Don’t claim ‘unique’ and ‘distinctive’.

I’ve already made a few comments about this story on Twitter, Facebook and G+ but I think it’s really worthy of a full on blog post. The short version, if you don’t want to follow the link, is that some people are already using fabbers to make copies of physical objects or to produce models similar to those produced by certain companies.

 

Yet again, as with ebooks, gamers seem to be a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new tech, but companies it seems are still lagging behind.

We’ve been through this before with MP3, we’re going through it with ebooks and movies and the same mistakes are being made over and over again. It sickens me to see companies refusing to learn from history and getting into the same, pointless, expensive, litigious, good-will burning cycle over and again.

The music companies did the absolute wrong thing in going after music ‘pirates’, suing little girls and trying to shore up a broken business model. Until the apple store came along anyway. Even now they’re still trying to stop the various streaming and radio-alike services and yet again, all it’s doing is making people resent them.

We’re still seeing it with films, but the better solution – Lovefilm, Netflix, on demand movies, that’s coming around slowly though companies still seem too keen on doing staggered releases which only feeds piracy as people get frustrated waiting for their favourite shows or films to come out.

Ebooks? We’ve still not quite gotten to the iTunes or Netflix stage there, though it’s coming. Book publishers still seem intent on over-charging for ebooks and, again, doing the frustrating, staggered release model that, again, feeds piracy. Wizards removing their old PDFs from the market is a prime example of a ‘Wrong Move’ in this arena.

Now we see GW making the same mistake only with physical objects. What you have here is not a threat, but an opportunity. GW has had some… questionable business practices over the last twenty years or so (since 1990) and has a bad rep. Here’s an opportunity to fix a lot of that damage and steal a march on competitors like Fantasy Flight or Privateer Press who have been gobbling a chunk of GWs business.

Engage with your fans. Put your patterns up FOR SALE at a reasonable price. Go through your back catalogue of designs, all the way back, scan your old figures. 3D printing doesn’t wear out moulds. You have decades of great designs and games and you could make a bundle off the patterns for playing pieces from all the old greats. Gamers would go nuts for it and you’d get a huge amount of good will and be able to create a trusted space in which hobbyists could share their own conversions, modifications and figures.

If you don’t, somebody will. A company less hidebound, more forward thinking, agile enough to innovate and take a risk with a view to the long term.

Not that anybody ever listens to me…