I often come up with ideas for new campaigns. Some of these are rubbish and discarded almost immediatly; some get saved, stored up for when I might need them; but most often they just get thrown away because I have no hope of ever using the idea. One such concept came to me recently, and rather than throw it away, I decided that I would give it away to you, our readers here at Campaign Mastery…
NB: Most of what is written below (except for the initial chain of logic in sections 1, 2, 3, and 4) came to me in one singular moment of inspiration. A little has been added in retrospect. And I apologise if the premise seems politically incorrect. It’s just a game, guys!
1. Global Warming
No-one can deny a global trend towards higher average annual temperatures, a phenomenon known as Global Warming. What is not so certain in my mind at this point in time is the extent to which the phenomenon is attributable to human activity and the extent to which it is caused by Geologic evolution.
The range of annual average temperatures that appear to be “normal” according to the geologic record are more than wide enough to accommodate the variations that have been documented thus far.
It was while pondering the potential alternative causes that the concept for this new scifi campaign arose, due in part to a confluance of this notion and other sources of inspiration.
2. Magnetic Polarity
It is well known that from time to time, the polarity of the earth’s magnetic field flips. As I understand it, this is because the the molten core of the planet is not some amorphous evenly-combined mixture, but is differentiated in various ways into “rivers” of different temperature and density – and magnetic characteristics. These are spun by the rotation of the earth, generating the magnetic field in a similar manner to the coils rotating in a motor. Solar radiation, which includes tremendous electromagnetic energies, interacts with the magnetic field of the earth to produce the Auroras Borealis and Australis.
But I havn’t read much of energy flows in the other direction and their possible effects. It seems awfully convenient to assume that ALL the energy of the solar radiation is consumed in putting on a pretty light show, and that no energy from the planet’s electromagnetic field is consumed, AND that no energy makes it’s way back into the rotational characteristics of the planetary core.
In fact, it’s my understanding that some energy DOES flow back into the rotation, either speeding it up or slowing it down, and changing its rotational vectors with respect to the axis of planetary rotation, and that this is the cause of magnetic polar inversions.
3. Terrestrial Climatic Impacts
But the earth rotates in more than one way. In addition to the rotation about it’s axis that gives us day followed by night, there is the 23.5° axial tilt that defines the severity of the seasons, and the energy of earth’s orbit around the sun. Is it so unlikely that neither of these can be affected – even just a little – by this solar energy transduction?
Statistics says that over time, such effects – if purely bi-directional and random in nature – will average out; but also that there will be occasional long runs of results trending in one direction or another.
What we have here is a mechanism that says that sometimes the earth orbits just a little closer to the sun, and sometimes just a little further away. And sometimes the seasons are just a little more extreme because of a slight variation in the axial tilt, and sometimes, are just a little milder.
In the real world, I havn’t applied the mathematical treatments necessary to analyse these factors and effects and determine just how big a role they might play. This is science-fiction, and it’s a plausible-sounding theory – that’s good enough for a game.
4. Systems In Equilibrium
So many of the physical systems which come together to form the world we see around us exist an equilibrium state between two competing influances of some form or another, it can easily be seen that even a small-but-temporarily-consistant sustained variation could add up to pronounced climatic changes, changes in ecosystems, and so on.
This campaign premise will accept that this is in fact the cause of Global Warming, and that the current trend lasted for about 30 years before abruptly reversing and going to the other extreme, producing a new Ice Age – simply because it’s more effective for creating a dramatic setting for the campaign.
5. The Habitable Belt
That was about 40 years ago – a time chosen so that the very elderly will remember the world before the Global Warming scare, the middle aged (ie the authorities) will have grown up in the Hot Years and been in junior management positions at the time of the Collapse, and only the young, including the PCs, have truly acclimatised to the new conditions of Ice and Snow. This puts an inherant generational conflict in place to divide and distinguish all three age groups from each other. To any given situation, there will be three different interpretations and three different social perspectives.
They will need somewhere to live. While a few tens of thousands might survive in underground cities beneath the snow and ice, the majority of survivors will be found in a ‘habitable belt’ around the equator, where conditions will remain temperate. There hasn’t been enough time for the ecosystems to adapt, they will still be in a state of profound shock. Animals that are not native to these ecosystems will have invaded them, driven by the freezing temperatures; entire species face competition on an unprecedented scale. If it lives, its place in the ecosystem is under threat from a new rival.
It is a truism that behaviour changes far more quickly than biology. Some formerly tame creatures have become wild and savage, while others have found that food and mates are more accessable if they become more passive, mild, and cooperative. Those who cannot change will either die out or become dominant in their ecological niches – or change evolutionary directions in a hurry.
The exception, it would appear, is the human race – an exception we’ll come back to, later.
6. The needs of survival
Human society has also evolved, and will metamorphose amongst the survivors in response to the obvious needs of it’s members. Of course, everyone agrees on what the best answer is… no? Not likely!
Everything from medieval peasantry to extreme capitalism would arise. Dictatorships are always popular (amongst the dictators) in such times. Society would have fragmented, but the most extreme results have since been overthrown – or are unstable, political dynamite waiting to explode. Internal political instability would be rife, even if the overall political structure has been settled and become established; it would not be a question of whether or not any given group is at war at any given moment – it would be “who are we fighting this week?”
Against this backdrop of anarchy, the same old needs have to be met: Food, water, energy, shelter, and protection.
What this means is that something new, politically, is always coming out of the woodwork, that everything old is new again somewhere, and that whatever role the PCs are going to occupy in the campaign should be chosen to take advantage of this political instability.
In turn, that means that at the start of play, we will only need to fully define the society and political structure to which the PCs belong, but that others will be needed in the course of the game – and that the consequences and infrastructure of each political system will need to be analysed in terms of how they meet those needs. This in turn will define the current internal status of the society in question – what its needs are, its strengths and weaknesses, and its vulnerabilities.
Since we will want the opportunity for the PCs to lead active lives, and still get involved in the delicate political relations in question, the best genre for a campaign would be some sort of super-spy agency, tasked with the protection the PC’s society and the advancement of its political agenda.
Whether or not this “agency” reflects the dystopian surroundings, or contasts with it, remains to be determined. I like the notion of contrast, because it provides more scope for conflcts with the world beyond, as well as with the very government which the agency protects, but actually making this decision final is premature at this point in time. On the other hand, a ruthless, dystopian agency, willing to do whatever is necessary, would make for a very different flavour of campaign.
Of course, such a ruthless agency (or even a hidden branch of the agency which employs the PCs) would make a great source of rivals/enemies for the good guys…
7. A technological paradigm shift
Modern industrial society is increasingly built apon the principle of dispose-and-replace. During the Hot Years, this would have been somewhat replaced with recycle-and-replace, but the general principle of “disposable techology” would have remained. This pattern is currently replicated from top-to-bottom throughout the manufacturing process; the tools, and even the workers, are treated as a replaceable commodity.
The Collapse which accompanied the onset of the Ice Age would have changed all that. The new design imperatives would have been endurance and reliability, not disposability, because there was no longer sufficient infrastructure to treat componants and tools with such a cavalier attitude. The modern trend toward smaller and flimsier devices would have quickly vanished, replaced by more modular designs; if something breaks, you replace the damaged componant and return it for repairs, or even repair it in situ – in many respects, a step back to the 1970s and even the 1950s.
Hmmm… this is beginning to sound more and more like a psuedo-pulp setting – big tech, not small, and reliable/repairable, not disposable. Call it 1950s sci-fi. That’s a definite clue to the game system that will best translate the campaign concept – the more space-opera-ish, the better.
8. Biotech: the new cutting edge
That’s not to suggest that knowledge would have been abandoned – the technology may retreat in portability and gain in reliability, but functionality would have been the last thing to be sacrificed.
The approach of the glacial cold – and the glaciers themselves would not have advanced very far as yet, not in only 40 years – would have seen urgent efforts to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of arctic conditions over the most arable land of most major countries. New standards of crop density would have required, and the technology of genetic manipulation would have led the charge toward solutions. Cold-resistant crops; bovines designed to consume vegetable matter other than grasses; greater crop yields with less-intensive technologies (many of which are already being researched in places like India); agriculture would have been radically transformed.
If it comes right down to it, biotechnology in general would offer tremendous advantages in terms of reliability simply because it is self-maintaining. Instead of a Massey-Ferguson tractor, a Massey-Ferguson Tractor-Beast might be used to plow fields, plant crops, and gather the harvest.
Not everything would have gone according to plan. And some of these failed experiments would inevitably escape into the wild, under such extreme conditions and urgency. There will be strange beasties lurking in the wilderness! – which is in keeping with the “pulpish” flavour identified earlier. There would definitly be some crazed creatures and unnatural mutations inhabiting the forests, jungles, and swamps.
Would the human being himself be ignored? Maybe in some places, but certainly not everywhere – humans with specialised limbs, even (perhaps) cybernetic enhancements – these devlopments would not be all that unexpected within 70 years, even given the dramatic change in conditions.
9. The Deep Spacers
I can’t see the human race retreating from space, especially under these circumstances, which would make certain developments like microwave power transmission from space both more practical and more useful. The military and intelligence applications alone would mandate a continued presence ‘out there’, and it would not long escape people that space can provide resources that are increasingly hard to extract from a frigid earth.
There would undoubtedly be an increasing subpopulation that intended or expected to remained in space for their entire lives. Space Miners, Strategists, Weathermen, and Intelligence analysts would be the front wave – but entire ruling elites would recognise that life aboard a (reliable, self-contained and safe) space habitat would be far superior to an cramped, insecure, vulnerable existance under the ice and snow.
Nor would it take all that long for those living and working in space to realise that many of the authorities on Earth were becoming completely dependant on their labours. The inevitable result has been portrayed in SF many times – from Larry Niven’s Belters in the Known Space series to Robert Heinlein’s convict labourers in “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”.
Many of those dictators and would-be dictators that I discussed in section 6 would no doubt construct “palaces in the sky”. In a way that it has never been, previously (despite the rhetoric of many world leaders of the past), space would be “The High Ground” – and this would not be lost on any military leader, strategist, politician – or Intelligence Agency.
The likelyhood of trouble coming from space would be greater than anywhere else in the entire solar system. Whole new branches of existing agencies would be set up to monitor and control the situation – another referance to check out, in this context, is “Circuit” by Melinda M Snodgrass.
10. Visitors From Space
The timing of a first-contact situation couldn’t be better. Or couldn’t be worse, depending on your point of view. Which makes it the most interesting possible timing for one, in a game context! Who are they? What do they say they want? What do they really want? Are they responsible for the climatic shift? Can we afford to turn down any assistance they offer, regardless of the terms? Can we afford not to?
If these “Strange Visitors From Another Planet” simply show up one day and start extracting rusty girders and refined metals from abandoned cities now buried under fifty feet of snow and ice, how would we react?
It retrospect, it might be better to establish the campaign first – and have this be a significant plot development a year or two in (with hints and warnings ahead of time).
Where to from here?
This is just a campaign premise. It’s nowhere near ready to run yet. Factions and Politics and Societies need to be spelt out. The nature of the organisation that the PCs represent needs to be settled, as does it’s name. A more detailed history is required. A game system must be chosen, and key NPCs created. Maps would not go astray.
With those things in hand, a briefing package for the players can be compiled, and the opening scenarios written. That’s when you have a campaign.
So there it is – a scifi campaign concept rife with possibilties that’s a little bit spies/action-adventure, and a little bit pulp, and a little bit Aftermath – with a touch of paranoia and cyberpunk thrown in for good measure. Feel free to use it for whatever purpose you see fit…