Monday, September 17, 2012

Nova Praxis Review - The Setting

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! 

Join us on Wednesday, when we look at system and character generation!


  1. Sounds interesting. We'll be reading this series with a keen eye to how well this can be used as a foundation for one of our own projects...

  2. You've piqued my interest as well. This sounds quite cool.

  3. Hey guys, if you want to learn more about the setting, check out the "Aspects of Nova Praxis" articles found here:

  4. Very interesting - since I like FATE (why would I be here otherwise) and transhuman RPGs (THS, EP and now I have to get NP).

    I would also like to say, that I really like your blogg - SF and FATE - the best of the best, and it's also very useful as we (Fria Ligan) have just begun to convert the Swedish RPG Coriolis to the FATE system- or at least something very very inspired by it.

    Have a look at: or

    Thank yet again for an excellent blogg!

  5. @Kosta Kostulas: Thanks so much for your comments.

    I will take a look at Coriolis!

    My first reaction when I looked at Nova Praxis was "Finally, a system to run Eclipse Phase!" And you could.

    But the game is an interesting setting in its own right! We'll see how the folks in my game group feel about it soon!

  6. @Kosta: Coriolis looks pretty neat. Beautiful art, I must say. And I like generation ships A LOT so when I see anything dealing with them that is of course a big plus to me.

  7. While this is another interesting work and is somewhat transhuman, its clearly not transcapitalistic, and in many ways not post-scarcity.
    The "apostates" and others outside the main society should really have access to compilers. Its really hard to believe that they don't.
    One could go on, but I think the basic problem is references. Cyberpunk and Firefly are really bad references for transhumanism. OTOH, Iain Banks or Neal Asher are nowhere on the references.

  8. @Carsten: The Coalition in NP maintains very tight control over resources like Compilers, and is willing to use kil-sats and things of that nature to maintain their monopoly over them. Since only the AGI Mimir understood how to build one from scratch, the Apostates - when they do get a hold of one - keep that a secret. Compilers are also difficult to steal, as they shut down outside Coalition-governed areas.

    As far as Coalition society goes, it is post-scarcity for all intents and purposes. There is a guaranteed standard of living which is a much better material standard than working people today have. If you want more, you need to work for it. I think the system is closer to a corporatist version of social democracy than post-capitalism. But it is post-scarcity nevertheless.

    The Apostates choose to live outside that system, so post-scarcity conditions apply to them. I have been thinking quite a bit about whether I would want to live in RL inside the Coalition (a panoptic society but one - unlike ours -that provides for people's basic needs) or live as an Apostate (a much more anarcho-libertarian society in which nothing is guaranteed).

    1. The first sentence, third paragraph should have read "The Apostates choose to live outside that system, so post-scarcity conditions DO NOT apply to them."

  9. The references to Cyberpunk and Firefly come mainly from the sorts of things PCs will generally do in this setting.

    While certainly not the only way to play, the assumption is that the PCs will form a crew that runs shady jobs for influential patrons. They might have their own ship, or maybe they operate in a single city. Either way, they lie, cheat, steal, smuggle, and sometimes kill for their patrons (depending on the morals of the PCs).

    Again, you can certainly play in other ways. But that's sort of an assumed default.

    And like Firefly, the Coalition (Alliance) is the source of technology and "civilization", where the apostates live on the fringe using what they can find to get by. Though while some apostate enclaves may adopt a "western" theme, it's not the norm.

    Regarding Compilers...

    As John mentioned, there are a number of limitations that keep compilers from working for apostates. Still, it's not impossible and at least one apostate enclave mentioned in the book has a functional compiler. It has to be ran by a Savant, and is kept secret. If word got out that they had one, they'd be target #1 for Coalition forces and any other apostate faction who felt they had the means to take it for themselves.