The transhumanist SF FATE RPG Nova Praxis is a very welcome addition to the FATE family! It's going to become my go-to system for near-future transhumanist stories with conspiracies and intrigue.
Mike McConnell of Void Star Games made a name for himself a couple of years ago with Strands of Fate, a complete generic/universal rebuilding of the FATE system. I do believe you can run anything with it, from Clan of the Cave Bear to Call of Cthulhu to Battlestar Galactica. While I haven't yet run something using Strands of Fate, I admired Mike's effort to create a generic, gearhead-friendly implementation of FATE, my favorite game system. Strands is a game for building other games.
Which has now happened.
With the upcoming release of Nova Praxis, Mike McConnell's new transhumanist SF game, we now have a complete RPG powered by Strands of Fate. And no fears, you don't need to buy Strands to play this: Nova Praxis is a complete RPG with a rich setting and a streamlined version of the Strands system.
Even better, it's a game I want to play.
Mike McConnell was kind enough to share a Beta version of the game with me. Today, we'll look at the setting. Wednesday, we'll come back and look at the system itself and at character generation. We'll round out our exploration of the game on Friday.
Let me say for starters that I have followed transhumanist RPGs for a long time. The first one was Phil Goetz and Anders Sandberg's Men Like Gods, which was published for free in the mid-90s online. That game was very inspired by the two thinkers that gave birth to the core concepts of transhumanism, physicist J.D. Bernal, who authored the seminal transhumanist work "The World, the Flesh and the Devil", and philosopher and science fiction author Olaf Stapledon, author of The Star Maker and many other works with a grand SF vision.
Next in the lineage was GURPS Transhuman Space. With its stunningly beautiful art by Christopher Shy, Transhuman Space painted a near future setting with corporate and political intrigue in our solar system. Next came Eclipse Phase (another near future game with stunning art), an explicitly left-wing game with a catastrophically ruined Earth, numerous factions and conspiracies, and a much darker feel. As a counterpoint to this we have Sarah Newton's FATE-based Mindjammer (with a second edition on the way in 2013) with an incredibly far future, relatively optimistic setting inspired by Stabledon and Cordwainer Smith.
All of these games are strong offerings. But, in contrast to the fields of fantasy, horror, and space opera gaming, if you want to run a transhuman SF game you have only a few options. Having another option helps open the field a bit! And having two different transhumanist FATE games is great, as the mechanics can cross-fertilize.
But back to Nova Praxis.
The game's present day is 2140. Earth is no longer habitable; it has been contaminated by a nanoplague called a "technophage": essentially a runaway weapon released in 2112 by one of the two great powers of 21st Century Earth. It was an intelligent weapon that - oddly enough - refused to switch itself off. As a result of the devastation unleashed by this weapon and the war that preceded it, some 3 billion people have died. Fortunately, millions of humans made it off world - thanks largely to the actions of corporations that stepped in when governments didn't. Humanity has been forced to adapt (thus the "Nova Praxis" title, which means New Practice or New Way of Doing Things) - and it has.
But let's back things up a bit. The world got interesting around 2042. A singularity occurred in the form of an Artificial General Intelligence - a self-aware machine that began to evolve and innovate, exponentially. This machine, interestingly enough called Mimir, developed the material basis for most of the technology that followed over the next century: nanotechnology, compilers (molecular assemblers), Nano-Swarms (nano clouds that can configure and reconfigure themselves to create smart objects), the Mindset (which converts the human brain into a network of nanomachines that can be backed up, leading to Apotheosis or virtual immortality), the ability to download and back-up the Mindset, Sleeving/Resleeving (downloading the Mindset into a cybershell or bioshell), and more. In short, everything you'd need to develop a post-scarcity society.
But things aren't that simple. Unfortunately, Mimir inexplicably shut down permanently only a short time after emerging and leaving humanity with all the new technologies. Are there poison pills among the designs? The players will have to figure that out!
And then there's the Coalition, the new post-Earth, post-war government uniting many different space habitats and planets. Although everyone in the Coalition has a guaranteed minimum standard of living, not everyone in Paradise is happy with it. That's because the price for a post-scarcity society is the need for constant personal Reputation management. You gain access to greater social resources by doing things that other people rate as of social value. Your Rep can go up or down, and there are PC mechanics for this that regulate access to social resources and more.
In the Coalition, you also have to make peace with living under constant surveillance from AIs. And when you look under the surface of things, there are factions and competing agendas everywhere, including:
- Purists who are opposed to transhumanist technologies;
- Purifiers who use terrorism to advance the Purists' objections into practice;
- Apostates who reject the post-scarcity social contract of the Coalition, in exchange for a more dangerous and libertarian life on the margins;
- Government by corporations called Houses, whose employee-elected representatives serve in a Senate. The Houses put up a front of unity, but are constantly fighting with each other behind the scenes for advantage, power, and resources;
- Remnant forces representing the former belligerent powers behind the war that destroyed Earth;
- Posthumans, also known as Aberrants (ahem!), who seek to transcend the limits the Purists have imposed on transhumans in order to avoid the emergence of a post-homo superior;
- A variety of religious factions, including surprisingly relevant Cartesians (my call on that!) called Astralists, and even a sect dedicated to the Artificial General Intelligence Mimir.
As should be obvious by now, the history and setting are complex and take some digesting. The information is presented in different ways, including essays, a historical timeline, and profiles of the planets and space habitats of the solar system, as well as descriptions of exoplanets (the setting is near-future SF but humanity has made it to the stars), and various factions. This is all front-loaded; the mechanics don't start until page 72! All-in-all, plenty going on in the world of Nova Praxis, and plenty of conflicting agendas and conspiracies for PCs to get caught-up in!