söndag 20 mars 2011

Cities on the Edge, notes for the gamers


Finally, Cities on the Edge for Transhuman Space written by me and Anders Sandberg, has been published by Steve Jackson Games.

It took quite some time, and while the book was in production a great deal of changes were brought on by GURPS 4th edition. Thanks to Phil Masters' effort, Cities on the Edge made the transition to the new edition quite well.

One of the issues Transhuman Space has encountered since the start was the difficulty for players to understand and visualise the world. Ninety years is quite a long view into the future these days, given the current rate of technological, social and political developments. ”Interesting setting, but what do I do with it?”, was the complaint we needed to address.

We made it our priority to weave adventure seeds, interesting places and things to do into every description, without explicitly pressuring the players to follow a particular course. We actually removed some rather nifty concepts from the final text. The reason was that they may have felt good on the drawing board, but did not provide players with enough plot hooks.

Another issue in Transhuman Space regarding the world in the year 2100 is it's lack of well-defined 'bad guys'. Sure, you could certainly use the Islamic Caliphate, the Transpacific Socialist Alliance or even uploaded French bureaucrats as the flavor-of-the day villain for the characters. However, Transhuman Space's realist theme provides a challenge to this approach. It also breaks the mood of the setting's ”meme meme”; people are motivated by the ideas they have adopted and actively shaped. This often makes the adversaries in the complex setting comprehensible.

Cities on the Edge introduces adversaries on the local scale. The same adversarial person, organization, societal trend could possibly be the characters' ally depending on their point of view. This infusion of meaning is prehaps one of the biggest differences between a post-cyberpunk game like Transhuman Space, and the now rather pedestrian dark future city with its ”for a few yuan more” mercurial attitude.

To achieve this, the setting needed to 'live with a life of its own' in the background, and not just tick when the characters look at it.

History in Transhuman Space is a potential problem, players might become much more interested in how the world actually reached its state in the year 2100. Thankfully, Steve Jackson Games did not use the metaplot format for Transhuman Space (despite it being so popular back when the game was launched). The canon's fixed date of January 1st 2100 easily becomes an end date, though, not a start date. By using the local level in Cities on the Edge we were able to introduce some story seeds that could be developed into bigger story arcs about the Transhuman Space setting's future. If you like them, fine, if you do not like them just let them stay local and in the background.

Why Stockholm? The reason is partially that I and Anders Sandberg know the city quite well, but gaming reasons played an important part in the choice. We could certainly have explored larger, more important or more technologically advanced Fifth Wave cities (Brussels, the capital of the European Union, was briefly considered) but it would have immediately run into the ”Interesting setting, but what do I do with it?” - problem. Stockholm shows the full glory of a fifth wave city, while being manageable. Stockholm is relatively familiar territory for most American and European players, while being distant enough to play around with without feeling out of line. The city can be depicted as a fun ”on the edge” playground, as well as an insecure poser with a decidedly darker hint.

Cities on the Edge is here, best of fun!

Waldemar Ingdahl, Stockholm 20110320


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