Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Near-Future World Building Through Brainstorming

I have three new campaigns this year, two of them new arcs for or returns to previous campaigns. The third, Ocean City Interface, revisits an earlier premise with significant changes. I posted an overview of the campaign earlier (and earlier than that some thoughts on the challenges it presents). Short version: the characters take roles in different worlds, called portals, to solve problems. In between those they act in their near-future real world trying to uncover the nature of these portals. 

We just finished out the first portal arc, Sellsword Company, and next session will be the first in the "real world." This should establish the characters and let me roll out the premise further. This week I sent the group a simple list of 23 Things About City of Ocean to get them in the right mindset. Some of these set up hooks for the character backgrounds, some hints at plots, and some can become aspects later. 

I wanted to confine my world building to one, relatively modest, document. I wrote this up in a couple of hours- cutting myself off when I hit 23 points. I think it should be enough to run from, figure out rules variants, and give interesting flavor for the players. 

  1. After the Chronus Incident of 2031, authorities severely restricted and curtailed Tier 3 and above artificial intelligences. This includes controls on self-modifying and procreating technology, and extensive limits on work done in the field.
  2. Automation, online delivery, and other shifts severely impacted the labor market. The underground economy has grown- both online and off. More workers have multiple, partial jobs. Some have moved to fully online employment- desperately following micro-tasks for money. Many shops have employees who don’t actually make decisions or perform conventional work. They’re consultants, offering someone to talk with about decisions or to simply to make a shop seem full. Larger-scale manufacturing has shifted to the Corporate Free Zones (CFZs) in City of Ocean (COO). Smaller scale companies exist, but continue to feel the pinch.
  3. The bandwidth available in City of Ocean has made it the center of VR and HD Online game production in the world. The rise of popular casual and sim MMOs boosted gaming industry as a whole. Most major game developers have facilities here. Each year COO hosts the OGDC (Online Gaming Developers Conference) which also acts as a trade show for new virtual entertainments
  4. City of Ocean has several Corporate Free Zones (CFZ). These are modified free trade zones for Corporate entities. This means limited regulations, taxation, and monitoring within those areas. Corporations can carry out business as they please, so long as they don’t adversely impact surrounding COO zones and territory. CFZs usually have a decent buffer area to allow room for certain kinds of manufacturing. In recent years they’ve also begun to establish residential and commercial zones within the CFZs, creating enclaves. Local authorities, such as police, have to liaison with corporate officers when investigating crimes related to a CFZ.
  5. Conspiracy theorists claim that the COO Police maintain a secret, off-the-books, investigative department devoted to cases they want kept out of the public eye. Accounts diverge as to what kinds of things are being covered up: celebrity crimes, high-level corruption, alien infestation, corporate brainwashing, etc.
  6. COO has followed the lead of other metropolis and installed massive systems of video surveillance and monitoring. Authorities conceal that such systems lead to almost no crime reduction or increase in arrests. The systems- video, online, and biometric- have led to an ‘arms race’ between authorities and so-called Jammers who spoof monitoring. These range from simple disruptions to blanking out to false images. Crimes committed while using a ‘jamming’ system (loosely defined) carry add-on penalties.
  7. Despite the canals and ocean-side location, City of Ocean contains a surprising number of underground areas. Some of these came from an earlier failed attempt at a subway system, some of the paranoia shelter panic of millionaire Nathan Throne in the 1950’s, some from earlier buildings left from the fire of 1928, and some are said to date back to even earlier Native American settlements.
  8. Despite the transparency of city government- with nearly all meetings available for viewing and all live transcripts of public officials’ daily work and emails, many believe corruption still exists at the highest levels. Just as hackers and jammers have found ways around surveillance and prevention systems, the amount of money involved has developed creative responses. However this has been countered by online media and agents who have repeatedly exposed such activities. Every month brings some kind of expose- even if it is just of a minor office. Event translators are a growing online profession- sifting through and summarizing documents, meetings, and events.
  9. The destruction of several food crops, including bananas, led to several shifts. Conservation agriculture has become a new boutique industry- attempting to maintain lost plants and develop new means of sustaining them. Scientists continue working on ways rebuild bee infrastructures after several near colony collapses in the last decades. Biotech plants and meats have increasingly become an alternative- battling with organic backers  to gain public acceptance.
  10. Electronic currency- whether from smart phones or credit cards- has gradually pushed out standard currency. Cash has a stigma to it now- the tool of the old or the criminal. In an effort to crack down on criminal activity, the government has lowered the value of cash transactions which have to be reported. However many have found ways around this- turning to online barter & swap systems, reputation-based service trades, alt currencies like BitCoin, and most importantly Gift Cards- especially refillable ones. Brokers trade in these and have networks of cut outs to load up cards. Even more important has been the trade in items and currency generated in the most popular virtual entertainments and games.
  11. Everyone has a computer on them nearly 24/7. In most cases that’s some form of smart phone or connected implant. Ocular computing allows powers users to project directly onto the retina without the need for external devices like glasses. Such users can be identified some their distractedness and unfocused gaze. Most users have some form of wearable computer or device connected to a vocal response system. Some employees and agents must use a company-issued device, which acts as an additional monitoring system.
  12. Following some unknown signal, City of Ocean has become the 21st Century center for new age theorists, retro-cultists, conspiracy theorists, and fringe scientists. Shifting political attitudes in New Mexico drove many out after the millennium, and many resettled here.
  13. The mid-21st Century has seen an increase in the number of artificial animals, called ArtiComs or artificial companions for home use. While the uncanny valley still remains for humans, designers have been able to create lifelike animals. The development of the telemetric field keeps organic animals from reacting negatively to them. Though expensive, such animals have multiple uses. Ranchers and livestock corporations use them to monitor and control animal populations. Cities use them to gather data and act as monitoring devices. Parks and indoor nature facilities keep them as unobtrusive climate controls and troubleshooting devices. Some facilities use them for security. Only the wealthy use them as actual pets.
  14. Nearly anything can be sponsored in City of Ocean. The government has spearheaded the movement to allow corporate interests to back, advertise in, and even have a say in nearly every aspect of life- from education, to health care, to public assistance, to city planning. Most of this remains innocuous- advertisements and naming rights. But some aspects of life have become hotly contested, leading to bidding wars and corporate battles.
  15. Parallel and connected systems of rapid transit make City of Ocean one of the least congested major cities in the world. Smart phone connections and suggestions help shift the load throughout the city. Select a destination and the central system slots you into the fastest approach which balances load and density. Subways, moving walkways, light rail, buses, water taxis, and automated cars combine to create an amazing system. It is however, one requiring a great deal of upkeep. Crashes and breakdowns can create amazing snarls.
  16. The rebirth of City of Ocean began with a commitment to technical infrastructure. Nearly every building is wired, high-speed internet access in considered a personal right, and the system as a whole has been connected together with an eye to increasing efficiency and using data to make decisions about services, power, and daily life.
  17. The region around City of Ocean contains some amazing landscapes- from micro-forests to mountains to near-deserts. A good deal of this has been artificially developed. The beaches to the north of the city remain pristine, while those to the south have suffered in the last decades. Authorities have only partially cleaned up the landfall of a portion of the Pacific Ocean garbage island. The city itself hosts a number of large and amazing parks- plus several corporate sponsored environmental habitats.
  18. The rise of Technoscopophobia, fear of technological observation, is of particularly concern in City of Ocean, a highly monitored society. Recent years have seen several high profile incidents in which a suffered had a psychotic break and did serious damage to themselves and others.
  19. San Diego’s collapse and destruction sent refugees across the state. City of Ocean made a concerted and coordinated effort to bring skilled elites and technicians from there to the city. State authorities also required major California cities take in a certain number of refugees. Many San Diegans came to the city with a profound distrust of accelerated technologies and automated systems. They’ve formed the core of a movement against the city’s expanding systems of control.
  20. Sister-city Kyoto has important ties to City of Ocean. In particular family connections between COO’s Oyama International and Kyoto’s Asaka Practical Systems remain strong. COO has a significant and rising Asian population drawn from across the region, but the Japanese-American contingent is particularly well-organized and active.
  21. Though practical full-form cloning remains some time off, genetic techniques have been using to treat diseases, modify body-forms, and allow for some amazing physical enhancements. In Vitro tailoring, still seen as an aberration by some, lies in the hands of the wealthiest. Some draw from specialty genetic material. Cloning for supplemental tissues, emergency blood, and replacement limbs ranks higher on the list. Many believe industrial biotech will be the next great breakthrough for humanity.
  22. Twain Power Center 3 remains a major source of contention within the city. A revolutionary and expensive Thorium-based Nuclear power facility, many still have concerns about the potential dangers. The Throne Energy Consortium have invested heavily in other power production systems- solar, wind, etc. in an effort to offset these concerns.
  23. While the city has sports teams, it has no major franchise. This dates back to the 1980’s when within the span of two years the city ended up stuck with a new basketball arena and a renovated football stadium but no teams. City officials passed ordinances preventing major teams from locating here. Instead COO has turned to minor league teams and franchises including hockey, basketball, football, soccer, and baseball.