[Ideas Needed] Despotic Sci-Fi Terran Empire

CWalck93

Doom Priest of Peace and Happiness
Validated User
So this is a brain worm that I've had in my head for a few days and I just am looking for ideas. I really don't need systems or games that can handle it because I'm not worried about that. I'm looking for ideas on the setting and see if my mind can develop something from it.

I'm looking at ideas for a Despotic Terran Empire which has decided to move beyond its own sphere of influence and out into the galaxy. I guess it would be a cross between Starship Troopers and the Mirror Universe from Star Trek. They don't view themselves as evil and the majority of the people believe in the actions of the Empire because it protects them and feeds them and all that fun stuff. Who needs freedoms right?

Without retreading the basic tropes and settings (cited above along with the Empire from Star Wars), do you have ideas that could work for a setting like this and charge my creative batteries? I would greatly appreciate anything people could come up with.
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
So this is a brain worm that I've had in my head for a few days and I just am looking for ideas. I really don't need systems or games that can handle it because I'm not worried about that. I'm looking for ideas on the setting and see if my mind can develop something from it.

I'm looking at ideas for a Despotic Terran Empire which has decided to move beyond its own sphere of influence and out into the galaxy. I guess it would be a cross between Starship Troopers and the Mirror Universe from Star Trek. They don't view themselves as evil and the majority of the people believe in the actions of the Empire because it protects them and feeds them and all that fun stuff. Who needs freedoms right?

Without retreading the basic tropes and settings (cited above along with the Empire from Star Wars), do you have ideas that could work for a setting like this and charge my creative batteries? I would greatly appreciate anything people could come up with.
If you can find the pdf, I recommend Book of the Empress for the Hero System.

Besides being an excellent character study of one of the best master villains in the setting (and a good transplant for a noble in your empire), it is also an exploration of how a highly advanced always expanding empire works (with the caveat that it's still a comic book-there's a reason Istvatha calls herself the Empress of a Billion Dimensions, and yet she somehow is capable of being an autocrat). It puts the spin on it that said empires aren't always blatantly oppressive, and in fact can be socially enlightened in a way that helps their consolidation of power. The Empress hates racism and poverty, for instance, so she has engineered at least one revolt against a victorious Nazi Earth and keeps the bread and circuses flowing.

It also keeps in mind the fact that invisible oppression is still oppression. It's made clear that the Empress has some unexamined privilege issues (her species always gets the jobs they want in her beaucracy, for instance) and is quite capable of petty ambitions (the reason she is always planning to invade Earth is that her pride can't tolerate that they actually beat her the first time).
 

CWalck93

Doom Priest of Peace and Happiness
Validated User
If you can find the pdf, I recommend Book of the Empress for the Hero System.

Besides being an excellent character study of one of the best master villains in the setting (and a good transplant for a noble in your empire), it is also an exploration of how a highly advanced always expanding empire works (with the caveat that it's still a comic book-there's a reason Istvatha calls herself the Empress of a Billion Dimensions, and yet she somehow is capable of being an autocrat). It puts the spin on it that said empires aren't always blatantly oppressive, and in fact can be socially enlightened in a way that helps their consolidation of power. The Empress hates racism and poverty, for instance, so she has engineered at least one revolt against a victorious Nazi Earth and keeps the bread and circuses flowing.

It also keeps in mind the fact that invisible oppression is still oppression. It's made clear that the Empress has some unexamined privilege issues (her species always gets the jobs they want in her beaucracy, for instance) and is quite capable of petty ambitions (the reason she is always planning to invade Earth is that her pride can't tolerate that they actually beat her the first time).
I actually may have that PDF somewhere in my pile of files that are on my computer. I will take a look at it.
 

Tricksy and False

Social Justice Murderhobo
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I am a big fan of Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky. Two human space-faring polities encounter each other for the first time over an alien planet. The despotic Emergents pull several dirty tricks to ensure the cooperation of the free-market Qeng Ho in exploration of and later exploitation of the alien world. All-out conflict in space is a waste of hard-to-replace resources (especially human talent), so they find ways to deceive, subborn, and coerce the other humans into working with or for them.

Spoiler: Show

Various techniques include:
Tampered media: The Emergents turn many Qeng Ho against a resistance group by spoofing communications
Mindrot virus: Basically a mind control parasite
Blackmail: By holding captives, other Qeng Ho are forced to cooperatate or risk losing loved ones.
 

Ikselam

now featuring transbearency
Validated User
I guess one thing to consider is that the empire would almost need to have an overwhelming technological advantage. Imperialism works best when you can just show up and inform the locals that all your base are belong to us, and they can't really do anything to stop you.

You'd also want to think about what motive the empire has for subjugating other planets. Do they want resources? If so, what kind of resource could be so valuable that it would make sense to ship it in from other solar systems? Do they want to start colonies? Gain a strategic advantage against another interstellar nation? Spread the Gospel to all the stars in the heavens? Spread democracy to all the stars in the heavens, by incorporating them as provinces of their enlightened republic?
 
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ikeinthemed

Registered User
Validated User
The first thing that springs to my mind is, this Empire needs an enemy to keep up the excuse of curtailing liberties in the name of security. Since the Empire is interstellar, its enemy(s) must be as well. This could be an ET that has interstellar capabilities, or mere colonial systems that have declared independence. In any case, the Empire will likely have claimed the threat to be worst than it is to keep up morale and justify curtailing liberties and its giant budget deficits.
 

Craig Oxbrow

Ah, y'know. This guy.
Validated User
What are the empire's social structures like? Does the empire have an emperor or empress, or another kind of ruler of rulers? The not-always-despotic Imperium in Traveller is feudal and dynastic, and home to multiple noble families who would like the throne, while big enough to contain a variety of local governments. The not-all-bad Alliance in Firefly has a parliament in the rich and comfortable central planets and poor, formerly independent outer colonies. The brutal Termight in Nemesis The Warlock is a theocracy with purging aliens as its first commandment.

Who are the PCs? Agents of the empire fighting its enemies inside and out (and discovering its dystopian depths) or people living under its rule, plucky rebels, aliens in danger of being invaded?
 

Chogokin

Registered User
Validated User
This is an idea I've had for a setting of my own, which I shall share. It's not particularly new or unique. It has been addressed in various classic science fiction stories, it was a subtext in the Blade Runner film, and a major theme in Gattaca. It has also, more and more, become a real concern in the real world. And that, of course, is the concept of genetically engineering our children. Who wouldn't want to be tall, thin, good-looking, intelligent, etc., etc.? The progression is obvious. The wealthy will be the first to employ it, when the technology is bleeding edge, and that first generation will not only have wealth, power, connections, and the societal presumption that they deserve it because they are better, they will literally be genetically superior to people who don't have access to genetic editing. Over time, the technology will become cheaper, more reliable, and more readily available, but the cutting edge will always belong to the most powerful, and they will see the greatest benefits.

Where might this go? One direction might be to carry out a sort of Social Darwinist/Eugenicist extermination war, pitting a society of genetically enhanced ubermensch against all the people too poor to afford improvement. However, I think that a more clever direction would be to offer free or low-cost enhancement to everyone, but have the budget version of the enhancement package include reduced fertility and increased compliance. With patience, in a few generations the problem of the unwashed masses would largely take care of itself.

It might wind up looking like this: at the very tippy top, you have the rulers of the society, the cream of the 1%-ers, who have benefited from the very best genetic engineering technology available. They are virtually immortal, possess a flawless physical beauty surpassing modern supermodels, genius-level intelligence across many areas of endeavor (social, musical, mathematical, etc.), physical prowess surpassing modern top athletes. A very interesting question though is how sociopathic are they? There is already a lot of suspicion among us hoi polloi that elite members of our society (politicians, CEOs) attain their rank because they are sociopathic. Is that true? Would sociopathy be a genetic trait maintained in genetic enhancement for the wealthy? What would a society ruled by immortal sociopaths be like?

Anyway, below the elite, you have groups of people who need advanced traits to excel in their jobs - these would include scientists and doctors, military leaders, social organizers, etc. Below that, you have the mass of society, people filling their jobs, all beautiful, happy, compliant citizens. There might be some genetic editing technologies to make them better at a particular job - increased physical abilities and aggression for soldiers, empathy and patience for public service types, etc.

There are a lot of ways to spin this. Personally, I see this society as being a post-scarcity society, largely because they have cleverly eliminated billions of human beings without engaging in open mass murder. Any job that can be automated is automated. Every person that exists has a function in this society, because they can do something that can't be more easily done by a robot, and with genetic editing, they can change their function to suit society's changing needs. A more cruel version of this society might use genetically-engineered subhumans instead of robots for menial jobs, but that would seem to me unnecessary.

From the outside looking in, I can see a lot of people who comprise the losers and lower classes in more traditional systems actively wanting to join an expanding Genetic Empire. Most people want better things for their children than they have for themselves. If you could ensure that your children grow up physically and mentally perfect, emotionally happy in a society that seemingly values every member, wouldn't you do that?

I think I'll leave it there for now. There are a lot of questions to consider about how a Genetic Empire would operate as a despotic galactic empire, but I'll leave that up to the interested reader.
 

DarkStarling

Brilliantly Crazed
Validated User
I think the key to doing this well is remembering that Rome was a despotic, expansionist empire for major chunks of it's existence. You need to keep most of your population, if not happy, then at least invested enough in the status quo that they don't want to flip the table. So you'll never have a voice in the government, you'll never get an unaltered account of history, and you'll never have privacy from State Sec. But if you toe the line, keep your head down, and respect your betters you'll be able to make a living.

So for bread, that's fairly easily accomplished with high technology. There's guaranteed public food and housing for everyone, because it costs the state so little to provide: what are Arcologies for but housing the masses efficiently? You'll still be at the bottom of the heap, and a family scraping together enough money to move out of the arcologies, or even to a privately owned apartment instead of public housing, is a big deal. And lets not go into the quality of the processed fungal products and fish that form the bulk of basic daily rations. Or the fact that they come from waste processing. But in the terran empire, whatever else happens you at least won't starve or live on the street.

For circuses, there's alot of potential with high technology. And I think the most basic is that the Government also provides Datasphere access as a free public utility. The datasphere isn't like the internet of the modern world, more like Ender's Game. It's heavily moderated, and you need official authentication to access more than the local network, which is managed on a reputation system. But it is ubiquitous. And there's a major exception to the local access rule: MMORPGS. The government actively encourages the development of new games, and allows them to cross data zones. It may even provide grants for content development, or subsidize subscription costs for especially popular games. This makes MMORPGs a major social mixing place, and a major location of public discourse and conversation apart from any actual gaming that takes place.This is deliberate, since it puts most socialization in a sphere that is easily monitored.

Meanwhile the elites. Outside of the arcologies, there is a middle class of high class businessmen and middle-to-upper management. Government bureaucrats will be found here too, and the managers of the ubiquitous robotic labor force. Oh, yes: programming and the like is blue collar work now, manufacturing as a job for humans simply doesn't exist anymore. Even most stores are highly automated, the only humans being greeters and sales assistants. The closest you'll get are the maintenance technicians for the arcology systems themselves, who need to make decisions and diagnose problems too complex for the simple minds of the robots. And even then, most of the physical work is performed by specialized robots or more general-purpose personal assistants.

The middle class area outside the arcologies are what in the modern world we'd think of as mansions: neighborhoods of big fancy houses. They aren't even gated: everyone you'd want to keep out lives in the arcologies, even the servants are robots. But these aren't the upper crust.

The true blue blood, upper crust nobility own most of the planet. And when you have so much money, the best way to really keep score is land. The estate of one of the nobility is basically a private national park, complete with multiple private mansions and 'rustic' lodges that get used a few days a year. There is fierce competition to buy up the best, most scenic terrain. And geoengineering is a well understood science at this point. It's not unknown to release particles into the air to improve the sunsets, manage the weather for dramatic effect, or move entire forests to improve the view. There have even been mountains completely reshaped into elaborate sculpture, including one where the entire peak was carved out to form a cathedral.

This isn't to say the nobles spend all their time on their estates. The real seat of power is the imperial city. The best analogy would be a cross between Versaile and Las Vegas: an elegant court for the seat of government surrounded by a city dedicated entirely to decadent, extravagant entertainment. And we mean extravagant, in the most over the top sci-fi sense of the word. You want a personalized, genetically engineered companion custom crafted for your visit? A full body swap, to change sex for the evening? To see the live battle between Mordraxa the Lizard Queen, her 100 Young, and an Annihilator 9000 combat android in the Grand Arena? You can have it.
 
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