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Lloyd Dupont

Setting conundrum: future utopia and political agenda

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Hi,

I am working on my scifi setting... and I want the initial condition, at least, to be quite ideal... as in a very successful hyper advanced future, one could easily dream to live in.

Now my conundrum is I don't think the current status quo is the image of an ideal society... I was thinking to add universal income! Year free money! (like Star Trek! it's not just me! :P )  Free spaceship in only 4,165 sessions! 😛 

On the other hand I want to avoid any political message, it's usually detrimental to good story... Further we usually have poor tracking of player expense, so do I really need to add money on top?!

Anyway, long story short, how could I make the initial starting condition look (socially) like an idea place to be, without becoming political, or add pointless book keeping...

Edited by Lloyd Dupont
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Couch the UBI in game terms. The UBI covers all of your basic expenses- housing, food, ammo, fuel...all the stuff that is tedious to track anyway. This cuts on both edges.

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Well you could just gloss over the economic aspects of things, like Classic Trek did,  and just focus on whatever task the characters have to deal with. Give 'em some MagikTek (TM)  food producers, and a 90% efficient solar cell generator to power it, more stuff like that, and assume that the basic necessities of live are so cheap and easy to produce, everyone has them. It really shouldn't be a political issue  in game if everyone is well fed, has clothing shelter, and decent medical care as long as no one tries to make it so. 

If you wanted to you could do away with money entirely and just assume that whatever organization the players work for foots the bill. Maybe give the PCs a budget they are supposed to work within.

It mostly comes down to how much importance you place on wealth in the setting, and in erms of character goals. Some games make accumulating wealth a major goal of the campaign, and you'll need to make sure you players understand that won't be the case with this campaign, and give them some other goals to work towards.

 

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If it's an 'ideal' setting. Then it's post-scarcity.

The concept of currency exchange is only necessary if things are in scarce supply and there needs to be a method of ranking desire for a thing. (By all means sidestep any concept of how valid that system of ranking desire is to leave politics out of it, because that won't matter in your setting)

 

Maybe money is only necessary when dealing with barbarians (like C21 Earthlings)?

Edited by Al.
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37 minutes ago, Al. said:

If it's an 'ideal' setting. Then it's post-scarcity.

Ooh, good point. I've seen  a interview where someone noted that one of the reasons why it's so hard for economists to to predict things now is because economic theory was based on scarcity of product, and that's not really the case anymore. 

37 minutes ago, Al. said:

Maybe money is only necessary when dealing with barbarians (like C21 Earthlings)?

Cash on the Barrelhead! 

 

I kinda wonder, if a society ran on debit cards, but no one kept track of the debts, could it work? I mean if people acted responsibly and did buy 18 cars, 42 big screen TV, or some. In Trek people all have what the need and want, but no one seems to be greedy and grab stuff they don't really want or need.  

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Yeah, in "post scarcity" one doesn't attend to the necessities of life... they are free like breathing is (yes, even in vacuum & toxic-atmosphere environments, if post-scarcity).

It's the niceties and the luxuries and the "human factors" that are valuable.

It's like a games rulebook...  How much more valuable is a RQ rulebook if it's signed by Greg Stafford?  CoC signed by Sandy Petersen?  D&D signed by Gygax and Arneson?  Well... in terms of added rules, better-quality paper, etc... there's nothing of any substance that's "more" than any other copy:  they've only added a few micrograms of ink, and the value-added is nil; but in human terms, the value added is immense.  I'm sure there are people on this board who, if I offered them $500 for their signed copy, they'd laugh in my face... then carefully put it back on the shelf, kick me out, and lock the door (then hide the signed copy elsewhere, just in case).

 

Edited by g33k
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8 hours ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

Now my conundrum is I don't think the current status quo is the image of an ideal society...

Ever the Utopian moving target -- define "ideal". [Note: Did you know that the etymology of "Utopia" means "no-place" and not "perfect place"?  Thank you for that little bit of cynicism to brighten our day, Sir Thomas More.]

Even in a pre-post-scarcity world, current social and economic idealist thinking is looking more seriously at provision of basic necessities as part of a social compact.  Guarantees of at least survival levels of the essentials of housing, sanitation, water and nutrition, health care, transportation, and education, and a discretionary UBI (universal basic income) as mentioned above.  If you're an abiding member of the society, these guarantees will be provided by the governing administrative body as a baseline minimum standard of living.  If one aspires to more, either in accumulated property, or luxury services, or educational and/or professional pursuits, one has to engage in more formal programs that assign reward according to effort.  No one is penalsied for simply existing, though, and for "not contributing to society."

This can be done even without "replicator" technology that eliminates scarcity.  But still, using Star Trek as a model, bear in mind that the members of Star Fleet are the exceptions of general UFP society, people who've opted for more ambitious pursuits and proven their merit to earn positions aboard starships, at science academies, and at exploratory outposts.  Their reward is the opportunity to do something more.  Most citizens of the UFP presumably walk around in their pajamas, engage in AR social media, and eat nutritionally-supplemented processed snack foods, and maybe do a volunteer-funded hobby personal interest project for a while (sounds familiar, amiright?).

!i!

Edited by Ian Absentia

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6 hours ago, hix said:

Couch the UBI in game terms. The UBI covers all of your basic expenses- housing, food, ammo, fuel...all the stuff that is tedious to track anyway. This cuts on both edges.

Emphasis mine.  I was with you up to this point.  If we assume that bearing arms is a requirement of participation in a society, then a basic allotment of ammunition is in order.  Same goes for fuel.  Ultimately this boils down to how a baseline "citizen" is defined.  If our player characters are freebooters charting their own course, and not operating under some letter of conduct, then things like ammunition (and weapons for that matter), fuel (and vehicles for that matter), and such will be "luxuries" that they'll have to earn.

!i!

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8 hours ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

...

Anyway, long story short, how could I make the initial starting condition look (socially) like an idea place to be, without becoming political ...

I will suggest to you that you cannot do this; it isn't possible:  A "utopia" by its very nature is a socio/political commentary on the current state of affairs.  You are saying "this other thing over there (that we don't have) is a much better than this thing here that we do have."  The best you can hope for is to gloss over it and hope folks who disagree about the RL implications don't care enough about the in-game implications that it is un-fun for them (I mean, that kind of compartmentalization in RPGs is pretty do-able -- nobody actually wants to live with medieval sanitation, but D&D is the most-poopular RPG by far; but AFAIK there's no clamor for an Outhouse Splatbook... ) .

If a libertarian/capitalist sort takes a good hard look at post-scarcity, they mostly HATE it:  "capital" (in a monetary sense) is largely meaningless, and much of the setting looks rather like some sort of communism or socialism.

A nice well-regulated society with a solid, functioning capitalist economy tends to look, in fiction, an awful lot like early-mid 20th-Century, and we know that was rife with sexism and classism and racism &c, that people were mostly too polite to address.  Remember that it was exactly 100 years ago (1920) that women in the USA got the right to vote -- so for more than half of this country's lifetime, women were 2nd-class citizens at best -- and it came only after a long and bitter campaign!  Most other nations have a not much better record, and some much worse (UK & Germany, 1918; Denmark & Iceland, 1915; France 1944(!); in Canada, women of Asian & First-Nations heritage couldn't vote until 1960!!!).

Eclipse Phase has done this hypothetical socio-political setting... the EP setting is quite fragmented, with different social & political & economic ideas each having largely free reign in different parts of the Solar System.  There are places where capitalist Hypercorps dominate, and much of those places look kinda utopian on the surface, glossy and "perfect," but have an ugly underside of indenture & peonage, the "clanking masses" who don't even own their own bodies, but are given low-grade mechanical droid-bodies when they are even allowed out of the virtual info-verse at all...  These societies are clearly "bad guys" (not the worst of the problems, but not "good").  Other places are anarcho-communist where artistic & other (human) talents are the medium of exchange; they look kinda messy and sloppy on the surface, but mostly lack that ugly underside -- info-space is less differentiated, and people move freely between bodies and virtuality.  EP has become well known for wearing its politics on its sleeve!  But the authors & devs are REALLY talented, and have put out a stunning product... and they put their money AND their game where their mouths are -- the entire product like is free...  Like, Creative Commons CC-ANSA free:  text, art, everything (I think there's like, 5 pieces of art not covered).  You only pay what you want, unless you want the hardcopy books (which are conventionally priced).  And it's GOOD stuff.  Recommended, if only to mine it to develop your own ideas.

And EP is clear enough about their socio-political leanings (including explicitly telling racists and sexists to F*** off (and take their money elsewhere too) that some players are offended, and won't play that game...  So there's that.

 

Edited by g33k
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In addition to Star Trek, check out the movies "Things to Come" (1936), "The Time Machine" (1960), "Planet of the Apes (1968) and "Logan's Run" (1976)," all presenting post-scarcity societies where "life keeps getting lovelier and lovelier."  You never need to worry about where your next meal or your clothes are coming from, living space is free, no difficult decisions to make.  Life is just one big party for the self-actualized.
 

Oh, what about those dark tunnels or those brawny fellows in sable spandex?  We don't talk about them.  Look over here!  Oooh, shiny?

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Lookee -- it's a domesticated thread-shitter.

Now, back to the discussion of a "Utopian" social baseline, which, in the classic tradition of social theory and science-fiction tradition, may have logical holes that render it imperfect, and how the active game world might diverge from it.

!i!

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In terms of reading, have a look at the Culture by the late lamented Iain M. Banks. Post-scarcity, and it brings up interesting points about the meaning of life when there is no struggle to make ends meet (hint: there is more to life than "an honest day's work" for The Man), and A.I. can do everything better than humans or aliens. And there is plenty of scope for conflict (read: adventure) with other cultures as well as within the Culture. The benefit of post-scarcity gaming is that you don't need to worry about resource-tracking. The drawback is that there is no need for resource-tracking. 😜

I agree that you can't separate politics from SF gaming - nor Fantasy, but the latter is sufficiently different to our own that it rarely results in forum flames. SF politics are usually an extrapolation of the real world, or a parody thereof (remember what was going on in the Real World during the original run of New BSG?). I've run and played in very politically-charged games. There's little you can say about them on public forums, but at your table whatever your group can handle, goes.

Edited by Vile Traveller
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Yeah the reason Star Trek is set in a post-scarcity society is mainly because of the existence of replicators, so having that kind of technology widely available would help sell the "utopian future" thing. But really, IMHO there's a basic flaw in the OP:

9 hours ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

On the other hand I want to avoid any political message, it's usually detrimental to good story... Further we usually have poor tracking of player expense, so do I really need to add money on top?!

Trying to make any kind of narrative work while avoiding any political message is doomed to failure: everything is political. You may not put anything political on purpose in there, but it will definitely transpire. For example:

  • Is your ideal society providing universal income? Great! So there's still money? Markets? Is it really capitalism with a dose of democratic socialism?
  • Is your ideal society based on the democratization of replicator technology? Great! People can create their food and nobody is starving! Well, maybe? How common is the replicator technology? As common as a fridge? So there's still a small part of the population who don't get one? Why? Do they refuse? Or does the government only give replicators based on some criteria? Can you use a replicator to build a house, or can it only build small things? If so, how do people buy houses? If you still need to pay somehow for a house, are there still homeless people, but it's just that they don't starve because they have a replicator to create their food? Where do they plug it in? Is there free electricity, or self-regenerating power cells, or what else? So maybe the homeless people do starve?
  • Etc...

I'm obviously going way too much into details here but this shows how there will be a political message somewhere. Heck, I even disagree strongly to how political messages are "detrimental to a good story". Every well-known story out there, from Star Trek, Star Wars, the X-Men, Superman, Harry Potter, Totoro, and whatever else is strongly political at its core. If you can't spot the political message in these stories, you didn't get these stories. So I would actually recommend that you embrace whatever political message you feel the most strongly about.

Now it doesn't mean that you need to make everything political. For instance, Star Trek vastly glossed over anything regarding the consequences of replicator technology, doesn't go into too many details about how society works without any money in it, etc. Heck, it's possible the Star Trek setting was vastly designed out of convenience to avoid having to explain too many things, and only made an unintentional political statement there (but if you know Roddenberry, you very much know it was intentional).

Which leads me to the last point: do you want to make things simple to keep the mechanics simple, or to keep the world itself simple? For example, you mentioned money: you don't have to eliminate money if you don't want to.... you can have a world where money exists, but is inconsequential to the players and their characters:

  • It could be that your game's premise is that everybody is wealthy! Boom, done.
  • It could be that your game's trading mechanics are high level... for instance, check Call of Cthulhu 7ed's Credit Rating rules, where you get a "cash threshold" that basically says: if you're spending less than this amount, it's peanuts for your character so don't bother tracking that.
  • It could be that your game hides the minutiae of economics under a layer of gameplay mechanics that are a lot more interesting to your players. For example, if you fly a certain spaceship, the expenses for maintaining that spaceship (and its crew) are all bundled in mechanic that is maybe not even about money: it could be about completing enough missions of a certain "Danger Rating" every year or something (and this translates to earning enough money for everyone to be fed and entertained and taken care of on board).

So, err, anyway, sorry for the long message, hopefully it's helpful.

Edited by lordabdul
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mm... this look like a difficult topic...

I got an idea though... the player will be the typical spaceship traveller outsider type... so play as usual... but if they ask.. I'll tell they can always go to register to local government office for free goodies... which include food, a small basic flat and an hoverbike... and one could do that on most well developed planet... seems like vague and mild enough....

and also free internet where it is available! ^_^ 

and maybe some attractions, like holosimulator (think star trek virtual reality room) could be free! (but not the extra popcorn!)

Edited by Lloyd Dupont

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25 minutes ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

mmm... this look like a difficult topic...

Politics and worldbuilding? Difficult? Nah :D

Quote

I got an idea though... the player will be the typical spaceship traveller outsider type... so play as usual... but if they ask.. I'll tell they can always go to register to local government office for free goodies... which include food, a small basic flat and an hoverbike... and one could do that on most well developed planet... seems like vague and mild enough....

How big is the universe? Vast stellar space opera factions like in Traveller? Or hard sci-fi limited to a solar system or two, like in The Expanse?

  • For a big space opera universe, the usual trope here is that every planet will have different politics anyway... you'd have your usual "fringe systems" that are basically anarchist or communist or weird feudal totalitarian or whatever. You'd have the obligatory cyber-empire with some semi-immortal Transcendence Pope at the helm, or something like that. Then some dying Republic faction. And so on. In this case, unless you can justify that hundreds of solar systems can all have the same society (hint: you can't, unless you make FTL travel super super awesome), there's frankly no point trying to define a single utopian society. Unless the premise is that all characters are from the same world.
  • I assume you're more in a hard sci-fi setting where only parts of the solar system are colonized, or the setting is somehow focused on one system somewhere in the galaxy, with some plot device to explain why everybody's trapped there (maybe this is a system that was colonized by a Generation Ship that arrived in the time of the characters' parents). In this case take a look at The Expense and Coriolis and so on. For example, in The Expanse, the Earth, while far from a utopia, does have universal income and housing, farming communes, and etc. The Martians on the other hand consider the Earthers lazy, having everything handed down to them... that's because Martians are more or less forced to serve in various "useful" roles in their society, which is some kind of engineer-driven communist state that is entirely focused on making their planet livable and sustainable. And Belters have their own micro-societies in various asteroid or moon colonies... so the Expanse Martian model here could work if you're in a setting where everybody is centered around a recently colonized far-away world: everybody is taken care of, but everybody has to work for the communal goal.
Edited by lordabdul
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For a smaller universe setting, check out vintage Buck Rogers strips.  Action is limited to the Sol system -- but every large planetary body is inhabited by somebody, usually several somebodies, so there are plenty of potential foes and allies to encounter, lots of weird critters and exotic habitats, even ancient generation ships that got lost en route to someplace.

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it's Master or Orion.

Players will be denizen of a (soon to be fragmented) space empire that is 100 light years wide!
With FTL ship crisscrossing it at 500 times the speed of light!

not sure how exactly the "boundary" works though.. I am still wondering about that... Obviously there will competing space empire.. and maybe a void between galactic arms.. (spaceships only have about 9 parsec ranges without refill, or 14 by stretching it.. although I guess it could make sense to really stretch it to 30.. though I plan to add space travel damage, so perhaps not...)

Edited by Lloyd Dupont
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31 minutes ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

I got an idea though... the player will be the typical spaceship traveller outsider type... so play as usual... but if they ask.. I'll tell they can always go to register to local government office for free goodies...

Back in the day, I used to hate the notion of playing a "subsidised merchant" in Traveller.  Freedom!  Yeah, then I got a job and saw how liberating the scenario was.  You have a patron, they provide you with missions and baseline operating expenses, and you get to fill in the details during the several weeks between reporting for updates and resupply.  Luxury, if not resulting from frugal bookkeeping, came from side jobs that didn't interfere with the company mission.  My players actually loved it.

So, TANSTAAFL, yeah, but at least the bread and meat are complimentary -- you supply the condiments.  In that instance, the company is the "administrative body," but it could be a government as well (or a private finacier).  The political aspect is who's footing the bill and why.

!I!

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1 minute ago, Ian Absentia said:
44 minutes ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

I got an idea though... the player will be the typical spaceship traveller outsider type... so play as usual... but if they ask.. I'll tell they can always go to register to local government office for free goodies...

Back in the day, I used to hate the notion of playing a "subsidised merchant" in Traveller.  Freedom!  Yeah, then I got a job and saw how liberating the scenario was.  You have a patron, they provide you with missions and baseline operating expenses, and you get to fill in the details during the several weeks between reporting for updates and resupply.  Luxury, if not resulting from frugal bookkeeping, came from side jobs that didn't interfere with the company mission.  My players actually loved it.

So, TANSTAAFL, yeah, but at least the bread and meat are complimentary -- you supply the condiments.  In that instance, the company is the "administrative body," but it could be a government as well (or a private finacier).  The political aspect is who's footing the bill and why.

I had that has a vague idea.. but you took it to the next level with some added clarity! :) 

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I bow to the wisdom of Game Designers Workshop, who, for all their Midwestern, late-Cold War sensibilities, didn't shy away from entertaining a broad spectrum of sci-fi scenarios.

!I!

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11 hours ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

Now my conundrum is I don't think the current status quo is the image of an ideal society... I was thinking to add universal income! Year free money! (like Star Trek! it's not just me! :P )  Free spaceship in only 4,165 sessions! 😛 

 

No it is not just you, Canada is looking at this as well!

9 hours ago, hix said:

Couch the UBI in game terms. The UBI covers all of your basic expenses- housing, food, ammo, fuel...all the stuff that is tedious to track anyway. This cuts on both edges.

That's the one, could not remember UBI,  Thanks

 

8 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

If you wanted to you could do away with money entirely and just assume that whatever organization the players work for foots the bill. Maybe give the PCs a budget they are supposed to work within.

 

And how do you feel about phasers and the colour red?

6 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

Cash on the Barrelhead! 

 

In God and Samuel Colt we trust, all others pay cash!

3 hours ago, g33k said:

D&D signed by Gygax and Arneson? 

I’ll take two!

1 hour ago, lordabdul said:

Trying to make any kind of narrative work while avoiding any political message is doomed to failure: everything is political. You may not put anything political on purpose in there, but it will definitely transpire. For example:

  •  

Sadly lordabdul, you have a point.

1 hour ago, lordabdul said:
  • Is your ideal society based on the democratization of replicator technology? Great! People can create their food and nobody is starving! Well, maybe? How common is the replicator technology? As common as a fridge? So there's still a small part of the population who don't get one? Why? Do they refuse? Or does the government only give replicators based on some criteria? Can you use a replicator to build a house, or can it only build small things? If so, how do people buy houses? If you still need to pay somehow for a house, are there still homeless people, but it's just that they don't starve because they have a replicator to create their food? Where do they plug it in? Is there free electricity, or self-regenerating power cells, or what else? So maybe the homeless people do starve?
  •  

Interestingly ST did look at aspects of greed, crime, unfulfilled need, addiction and prostitution, all in the Federation. Wrong planet, wrong time, government collapse and/or corruption and the Federation begins to show a little tarnish in its shine.. If this is a direction a game maker wanted to go, having a look at ST might be of use. here.

1 hour ago, lordabdul said:

So I would actually recommend that you embrace whatever political message you feel the most strongly about.

 

Wanted to find criticism here, but unable to. There was only one book SF book I can think of that tried to sidestep politics and move even beyond an ideal Bakunin style anarchism was Olaf Stapleton in his book Star Maker. Been decades since I red this so it is possible I misremember but it seems the quest of the book was to transcend humanity and trivialities of politics... become enlightened. perhaps.... or become stardust, golden as Joni Mitchell might say

1 hour ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

and also free internet where it is available! ^_^ 

 

Yes please, where do I sign?

46 minutes ago, Ian Absentia said:

Back in the day, I used to hate the notion of playing a "subsidised merchant" in Traveller.  Freedom!  Yeah, then I got a job and saw how liberating the scenario was.  You have a patron, they provide you with missions and baseline operating expenses, and you get to fill in the details during the several weeks between reporting for updates and resupply.  Luxury, if not resulting from frugal bookkeeping, came from side jobs that didn't interfere with the company mission.  My players actually loved it.

 

The folk of the Serenity wishes they had that!

 

Well that took a while to fix...

.

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47 minutes ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

I had that has a vague idea.. but you took it to the next level with some added clarity! :) 

I also can't recommend it enough that the game premise includes a common "patron" for all the player characters (government agency, private mining company, military, "politically neutral" trading organization that spans the entire universe, etc). Not only is it liberating, like Ian said (because a lot of stuff is just given to you), it also greatly simplifies character creation and other Session Zero activities, because now the players have a baseline to work from, and will form a much more cohesive group.

Edited by lordabdul
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