Rules on Civilization Design , Chapter 14 - who'da'thunk it? in Rules & Errata
James_Nostack Nov 2 2009, 03:38 Group: Heroes, Schismatrix GM Quote Post
Following my earlier post on campaign design, I came across the section on cultures on pages 203-207 in Chapter 14 of the Gamemaster Guide.

It's a section of the GMG I never used in my campaigns--I was always too busy rolling up star systems. But it's actually kind of sharp!

I don't have a lot of stuff to add to this, because it's fairly tight and focused. I'd add, though, that there ought to be an additional question on page 203:

"What would we find surprising about the way this culture lives? What would they find surprising about us?"
James_Nostack Nov 2 2009, 04:01 Group: Heroes, Schismatrix GM Quote Post
Here's an example I cooked up for a campaign I'm working on.

The Spacers aren't intended as the primary focus of the campaign: they're just some guys in the background of the setting, so the focus isn't on "adventuring" per se, just describing part of how the world works.


1.What do the people eat? What do they wear? Where do they live? (I.e., how do they meet their basic needs?)
Each spacer group lives in an enormous relativistic starship, which makes the (time-dilated) journey of 5-15 years between systems. I'm guessing like 50-100 crew? Something like that size. Some of them have permanent homes aboard the ship; some of them live in personal pods that they bolt onto the exterior of the vessel and then disengage later when they get in-system to literally jump to another vessel.

They wear clothing that is relatively tight around the waist, wrists, and ankles, but can be kind of billowy and fun in low grav. Their work-outfits are pretty tight-fitting, like mechanics' overalls. These are often highly distinctive from ship to ship, to foster a sense of identity.

The spacers have trouble with agriculture, because animals and plants don't work well in zero gravity! So a lot of their food is chemically processed glop, but they also work with molds and lichens that grow on bulkheads and like library-stack sheets in a foggy mist. During long flights between stars accelerating at 1 earth gravity, they engage in micro-agriculture on certain decks and try to stockpile for their seasons in a star system at low-grav. They are strictly vegetarian by necessity, but meat and fresh fruit are rare delicacies.

2.What is the physical geography of their homeland?
The spacers live on large starships, which determines so much about their civilization. I'm not sure how the starships function right now, but the engineering details are less important than the broad concept.        

3.What are the primary industries or resources of this place?
The spacers' most important resource is their ship. They make money by ferrying passengers and cargo to other places.

4.How much contact do the people of this society have with other nations or worlds?
The spacers are in constant radio contact with the colony worlds and other starships, but they're also in direct physical (and often sexual) contact with the colonists. Though spacer communities are small and insular, they're also cosmopolitan by definition.

Spacers and their passengers often live and mingle together aboard the ship.

5.What is the primary form of government?
Ship-board dictatorship. Captain's in command, followed by first mate, followed by the section chiefs. It's not a rigorous chain of command, since you live with these people as well as working with them, but things need to operate correctly or there will be a disaster. (A mutiny at 90% light speed isn't in anyone's interest.)

There's probably some kind of union between the different captains, so that they can communicate and make culture-wide decisions about which planets to embargo and set certain trade policies and swap news. But this association is entirely voluntary and non-coercive.

6.How much leisure time do they have, and what do they do with it? What do they consider art?
The spacers work fairly hard at certain parts of the journey, but once they've reached cruising velocity they lead pretty indolent lives. They learn a lot, both from books and from their passengers, who become de facto teachers on the multi-year journeys.

They also have a fair amount of sex with their passengers, to maintain genetic diversity. You can generally get laid on a starship. Spacers are also pretty good storytellers and conversationalists--you're cooped up with the same couple dozen people for years if not decades.

Spacers admire and practice bonsai ecology, and they've developed some very complicated zero-g dance moves. They have an interest in large-scale sculpture, as they seldom have that much space on their ships--it's a sign of prestige. They find landscape paintings and photography rather comical and boring.

7.What personal traits do these people admire? What traits do they abhor?
Spacers are open-minded, curious, methodical and handy. Although they're pragmatic because the ship's resources aren't unlimited, they also prize getting a job done right because the environment is insanely dangerous. They generally dislike people who are ideological, quick to anger, or sloppy with their work. They also like people who are funny and creative, because it helps pass the time.

8.How strong are the forces of law and order? Does the government enjoy popular support?
Hmm: 50-100 people is just enough for there to be some crime. But generally everyone knows everybody else, and the ship's vital systems are usually under surveillance. The popularity of any particular captain varies from ship to ship: mutiny is usually not an option until it becomes so widespread that the captain has no chance to operate the ship at all, at which point the captain has to step down.

If there's a problem with government, people jump ship at the next port of call. If it's the captain who's the problem, people usually buy him out once they reach port, but she'll have a hard time finding another gig once her reputation spreads: a captain without a ship is considered a bad omen.

9.Who are the enemies of the state or world?

Spacers have it easy: if someone doesn't like them or their starship, they pick up and leave—and maybe impose an embargo, because the spacers try to stick together. This doesn't always work, because news of an embargo might take years or decades to reach other spacers.) But generally local planets don't have problems with spacers: they're just the sailors, it's the cargo and passengers that are the problem.

I guess someone might try to threaten or bribe the spacers not to go to a specific world, but that's a dicey proposition if the spacers take your threat the wrong way.

There's also the problem of local law enforcement trying to confiscate contraband, but spacer ships are pretty rare and the local business community probably wants the starship to carry their own goods out of system--so there's a balancing act here.

10.What is the role of the heroes in their home state or world? How much clout do they wield?

This population is too small and too utopian to harbor much need for "heroes" under normal circumstances, but a lot could still go wrong. Mutinies, plague, food shortages, sabotage, murder, smuggling, hijacking . . .

Heroes would likely be section chiefs or particularly enterprising passengers.
James_Nostack Nov 2 2009, 04:14 Group: Heroes, Schismatrix GM Quote Post
Oh, I stupidly forgot my own question:

"What would we find surprising about the way this culture lives? What would they find surprising about us?"

We'd be surprised that an ancient tribal village can exist inside a futuristic starship. They would be awed by the sheer vastness and variety of our society, not to mention how much room everyone has.
uncle_jimbo Jan 9 2010, 08:10 Group: Grid Cop, 5éme Corbin Quote Post
Author (James_Nostack @ Nov 2 2009, 14:38)
"What would we find surprising about the way this culture lives? What would they find surprising about us?"

That almost sounds like applying some of the techniques of Shock to campaign design, which I suspect could work really well.

I might run these guidelines over one of my groups from various projects.

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