[Sci-Fi Setting Riff] Counting to Infinity

Bailywolf

bwakbwak
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#1
Inspired by the ship in Reynolds' Revelation Space...

Counting to Infinity

The ship… Counting to Infinity is a little over four kilometers long- a needle in a cosmic haystack. It’s diameter varies from a few dozen meters to a couple of hundred. Sections are rigged for rotation simulations of gravity. Others arranged and aligned along the axis of flight, so the constant acceleration provided by the Singer engines can create the sensation of gravity for passengers. Counting to Infinity is old. It has changed hands dozens of times. It has been modified, repurposed, damaged, repaired, expanded, and streamlined. It has vast storage spaces, filled with the unknown- possibly unknowable- lost cargos of previous owners. The ship’s control automation is run by a somewhat geriatric AI, which has become stranger as the ship itself has become stranger. The ship was once crewed by hundreds, and could carry thousands more. Now, only a handful of cladistic panhumans ride inside it across the dark between stars. Strangers. Weirdos. Rejects. People running from their pasts. From their memories. From their crimes.

Counting to Infinity travels the regular routes- and sometimes, the less-traveled paths- between the scattered worlds of the Human Diaspora. It carries trade in information, technology, and precious tangle boxes filled with quantum entangled particles… the only way to communicate faster than light. A t-box contains a finite number of entangled bits and its twin somewhere else contains the matched set. Red a bit, and it’s state fixes. On both ends, it can then be read. Used for coms, this can allow the exchange of lots of text, less audio, still less video, and anything really info-dense (like a mind emulation or a really nice feely porn virch) eats tangle like nothing going. Tangle is one of the most valuable commodities in the panhuman universe- varying in value based on bit-density and the location of the tangle-twin. Counting to Infinity used to be able to manufacture tangle-box sets, but that function has long since failed, and nobody knows how to fix it. T-forges are godtech, not unlike the Singer engines.

The Singers allow the ship to accelerate at astonishing rates, fueled by a cough of cosmic hydrogen scooped with a million-kilometer magnetic field. Salvaged from a Singularity- a surge of runaway AI and intelligence augmentation which typically leads to a culture merging with its technology, and evolving into a vast, fast, supermind. In an eyeblink on the cosmic scale though, these world-minds wink out, victims of their own processing speeds. They race to the halting problem. They count to infinity. They think themselves to death. Most don’t last long enough to toy with the exotic physics used to build wonders like the Singers, but those which do are invaluable sources of such super-technology before they inevitably implode. Immortality is possible, but isn’t compatible with godhood. The Rapture of the Nerds is in the end, extinction.

Nobody has figured out how to create s stable, traversable wormhole yet, but in many ways it’s the holy grail of the treasure hunters and high impact archeologist that raid the ruins of posthuman civilizations and strip them for useful tech. Godtech tends to be another commodity- most GT devices are poorly understood, even if they can be made to perform their functions (like the Singers)- handle with care. Opening the case voids your warranty. And likely your life. A wormhole bus that can shuttle network traffic without the harsh limits on throughput imposed by tangle-box coms would be invaluable, and could connect systems separated by incalculable distances, likely putting luggers like Counting to Infinity out of business.

But there’s another reason that this might not be super-keen. Panhuman dataspace is a fucking mess. Too many singularities spewing too much hegemonizing crap. Too many post-hoc splices of alien systems. Too many clades trying to make their com protocols the standard. The larger the datapsace, the messier. There are things lurking in networks, in archives, hidden as distributed sleeper aps, things that wreak havoc with network integrity. Most organizations maintain strict data-hygiene and network security. Dataspace is filthy. Anything that computes can become corrupted. Smartmatter- once the vogue- has fallen out of general use because of how easily a software glitch can become a real physical flesh-ripping assimiliating demon-glitch stalking your starship’s corridors. Much grunt computing is handled with microbabbages using nano-mechanical inputs and outputs. Anything housing actual minds (be they AI or Emulation) are the data equivelant of clean rooms, with tiny heavily firewalled channels for external access. The dream of uploading and mind-immortality hasn’t crashed as hard as Singularity, but it isn’t all it was cracked up to be. Most people won’t drink from open sewers, and much of dataspace has about the same affect on infomorph life. Its full of rogue memetic hacks and self-aware evolving disinformation campaigns. The internet is polluted, corrupted, dangerous, and still full of porn. But now, you can catch a fatal STD from cybersex.

Augmetics, genemodding, implanted interfaces… all these things are common, but the utility is somewhat limited in many situations, and the benefits often less than imagined. Yes, you can have a cyberarm. Yes, it can be chrome. No, you won’t be cool. Most people will look at is as the bizarre fetish it is. The flesh is easily repaired, easily enhanced with nanodrugs, its frailties mended with genfixing. Age doesn’t kill any longer, except statistically. Across an infinite timeframe, everyone dies eventually. But backup to a secure server often, and you might come back.

So there you are- aboard the Counting to Infinity, full of broken down wonders and strange cargo and other malcontent spacers with personality problems the size of a galaxy. Lugging through space at a hunch under C, fifty years in cold sleep, a few in orbit, and then back into relativistic isolation for another half cen. Skipping into the future, stuck in the past.

-B
 

Bailywolf

bwakbwak
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#2
DAMAGE

The ship is damaged- it is old, it needs repairs. The ship needs someone with care and time to work it over, end to end, and put it back together again. To make hard decisions, to discard some broken things, to fix others. The ship needs love. The ship is damaged.

The crew are damaged- they are worn, travel weary, and there is no end in sight. The crew needs someone with care and time to work them over, end to end, and put them back together again. To make hard decisions, to call them on their own bullshit, to make them face facts, make choices, change. The crew needs love. The crew is damaged.

Damage is the core of the game- each character has Damage.

Damage defines you- be it emotional or mental scars, wounds, festering sores, or amputations. Damage gives you strength. Owning your damage is powerful- it brings clarity and self awareness, even if it doesn’t bring actual healing. But what genuinely healthy person would chose to crew the Counting to Infinity in its aimless meanderings across the human sphere?

Damage comes in two types…

Wounds- this damage is still fresh, still bleeds, and your heart still speeds up when you think about getting it. Wounds drive action right now. Be those actions to strike out, to curl up, or to run away. Wounds can Heal, sometimes leaving a Scar or they can get Infected. An Infected Wound consumes you, and takes over your life, and always leaves a Scar.

Scars- the ever-lingering remains of Wounds long past. Mostly healed, but still rough and insensitive. Scars are the opposite of Wounds- they resist change, allowing you to stay the course, resist coercion, and stand down fear… but they also inhibit your growth and flexibility, they limit health change as much as unhealthy. Once you have Scars, it takes something radical to get rid of them- psychosurgery, alien empathy, a taste of transcendence.

-B
 

Tardigrade

oso de agua
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#3
I love your description (and now I must check out its inspiration), but I'm at a loss as to what to do with it. It's almost too open. System-wise I think it'd work best with something relatively freeform like FATE, given that every character could be from a different world. The default assumptions suggest a strongly episodic game, though that would depend on how long the ship stays at each destination.

I'd thought of something like the tangle-twins; independent creation means it's good! I'm not sure about the "god-level" tech required to create them, though, as it seems feasible within about 20 years of current tech. If you assume the entanglement never breaks, allowing easy twin creation would mean aggregate bandwidth across populated space would always increase, but the inherent hostility of the dataspace would prevent populated space from becoming one big network. If entanglement can fail, at even a small rate, regular trade would be required to keep civilizations joined to the galactic community. If the traders stop visiting you, eventually you disappear.

You could start with a small group fleeing onto the ship together, eventually joining the crew. That'd give you a smaller initial world-creation scope, and a failry homogenous one from the POV of the ship, which you could expand gradually (or quickly).

EDIT: You posted more while I was typing this post. The damage theme suggests a strongly personal game, even if you stick to high adventure while repairing the ship. Are there actual aliens, or just wildly modified humans?
 
Last edited:

Bailywolf

bwakbwak
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#4
I love your description (and now I must check out its inspiration), but I'm at a loss as to what to do with it. It's almost too open. System-wise I think it'd work best with something relatively freeform like FATE, given that every character could be from a different world. The default assumptions suggest a strongly episodic game, though that would depend on how long the ship stays at each destination.

I'd thought of something like the tangle-twins; independent creation means it's good! I'm not sure about the "god-level" tech required to create them, though, as it seems feasible within about 20 years of current tech. If you assume the entanglement never breaks, allowing easy twin creation would mean aggregate bandwidth across populated space would always increase, but the inherent hostility of the dataspace would prevent populated space from becoming one big network. If entanglement can fail, at even a small rate, regular trade would be required to keep civilizations joined to the galactic community. If the traders stop visiting you, eventually you disappear.

You could start with a small group fleeing onto the ship together, eventually joining the crew. That'd give you a smaller initial world-creation scope, and a failry homogenous one from the POV of the ship, which you could expand gradually (or quickly).

EDIT: You posted more while I was typing this post. The damage theme suggests a strongly personal game, even if you stick to high adventure while repairing the ship. Are there actual aliens, or just wildly modified humans?
The limits on Tangle are pretty pie-inna-sky. A pair of tangled bits can communicate 1 bit of data once and when read, they 'collapse' into one spinstate or the other. They aren't like transmitters... more like quantum postage stamps able to send data once and only once per q-bit. So a mass of a few terabytes of these things could transmit a shitload of text, about a thousand times less audio, about a million times less video, and for really massive datafiles like minds... even less. The trick is to create stable tangleboxes, and that's where the godtech comes in. It's a black box operation. And... I like it to be rare, expensive, and valuable.

I see a pretty episodic game, and a very personal one. A list of questions gets people started.

"What's your damage?"

"Why are you crew?"

That kind of thing.

Episodes would start with some kind of in media res situation- arriving at a new world. Being emergency-thawed to klaxons and warning bells. Dealing with a critical breakdown on the ship. Being horrible to each other to pass the time.

There are aliens, but they are very very alien. There are heavily modified people, and some of them are even more alien, and dealing with them is to take a long walk through the uncanny valley. Hell is other people.

-B
 

Brad J. Murray

VSCA
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#5
It seems obvious reading this that you're familiar with Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. On the off chance you're not, however, you might want to go and look them up as they provide an elegant way to limit high end technology from dominating everything and a rationale for its breakdown.
 

Pilgrim

Ironborn
Validated User
#6
DAMAGE

Damage is the core of the game- each character has Damage.

Owning your damage is powerful- it brings clarity and self awareness, even if it doesn’t bring actual healing. But what genuinely healthy person would chose to crew the Counting to Infinity in its aimless meanderings across the human sphere?

Damage comes in two types…

Wounds

Scars
Hmm. I like this evocative. Thought provoking and probably deeply uncomfortable for the players as well as the characters.

Owning your damage sounds like a variation of Bringing the Pain from The Shadow of Yesterday. It could probably be handled in a similar manner.

I'm stuck in trying to figure out how to handle Wounds & Scars. Something like FATE with the ability to harvest points by giving into them instead of overcoming them might be the way to go.
 

Bailywolf

bwakbwak
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#7
Hmm. I like this evocative. Thought provoking and probably deeply uncomfortable for the players as well as the characters.

Owning your damage sounds like a variation of Bringing the Pain from The Shadow of Yesterday. It could probably be handled in a similar manner.

I'm stuck in trying to figure out how to handle Wounds & Scars. Something like FATE with the ability to harvest points by giving into them instead of overcoming them might be the way to go.
To be entirely honest, I'm a little vague on it myself. But the ship-as-metaphor really demands something like this.

I'm almost considering a sort of decision cycle mechanic, where you roll not to determine whether you succeed or fail at something, but to determine your character's mindset and available reactions. Based on how a situation hits you... do you react rationally? Do you revert to instinct? Do you fall back on training? Or does it hit you where you're Damaged provoking a really unhealthy course of action. Sort of like SteveD's Walk the Line as a front-end to a point-based buy-your-success-perhaps-at-your-detriment kind of ...In Spaaaaaaace! thing.

Like, the characters encounter some kind of alien presence on a disused deck full of dead trees from some long-past owner's botanical garden. Based on the traits assigned it by the GM (my head's aswim with Aspects from SotC right now), you roll a certain dice and use a certain column on your decision matrix (like, the "Shock" column). If you have Damage related to Xenophobia, it will skew the results in favor of reaction based on your Damage.

That kind of thing.

Vaaaaaage right now, but that's where I'm going with it.

-B
 

Monster Manuel

Vacillating User
Validated User
#8
I'd thought of something like the tangle-twins; independent creation means it's good!

Chalk up another mark on the "I also thought of Tangle boxes" post. It's a solid idea. One of my several failed novels used the idea. Tangled particles were the most important commodity in the universe, allowing capitalism to hold on for just that much longer in the diamond age.

Bailywolf- I love the universe you're coming up with. More, please.
 
Last edited:

Pilgrim

Ironborn
Validated User
#9
To be entirely honest, I'm a little vague on it myself. But the ship-as-metaphor really demands something like this.
Fitting. After all it is just a setting riff right now.

I'm almost considering a sort of decision cycle mechanic, where you roll not to determine whether you succeed or fail at something, but to determine your character's mindset and available reactions. Based on how a situation hits you... do you react rationally? Do you revert to instinct? Do you fall back on training? Or does it hit you where you're Damaged provoking a really unhealthy course of action. Sort of like SteveD's Walk the Line as a front-end to a point-based buy-your-success-perhaps-at-your-detriment kind of ...In Spaaaaaaace! thing.
Hmm. I've got to admit I'm not very familiar with this (yet), but it does make a sort of sense.

Like, the characters encounter some kind of alien presence on a disused deck full of dead trees from some long-past owner's botanical garden. Based on the traits assigned it by the GM (my head's aswim with Aspects from SotC right now), you roll a certain dice and use a certain column on your decision matrix (like, the "Shock" column). If you have Damage related to Xenophobia, it will skew the results in favor of reaction based on your Damage.
-B
Urgle. Nasty tricksy matrices. Hiss. I'm not sure I like that because you can easily outpace it with the sort of free form character creation this system seems to require.

I'm trying to find enough information about Walk The Line to see if I can understand what you're talking about there (or if there are other options besides a matrix).

Ultimately though, a crew member's fate should be to leave the ship or be overwhelmed by their Scars or infections, adding to the damage on Counting to Infinity.
 

Bailywolf

bwakbwak
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#10
Ultimately though, a crew member's fate should be to leave the ship or be overwhelmed by their Scars or infections, adding to the damage on Counting to Infinity.
Yup.

Leave the ship (under your own power... or some other way), self-destruct, or self-destruct and leave some of your damage in the ship.

People come, people go, but the ship keeps on... well... Counting to Infinity.

Episodes about addressing the ship's Damage are also about addressing character Damage.

Walk the Line used matched opposites with a slider between them to measure how much you favor one or the other (and to determine how likely you are to act in one way or another). I was thinking of a two-axis thing, where you have modes of action on one axis, and types of stimulus on the other. Roll based on the situation, find out how your character reacts to it, and then once in that mode, play the scene forward. Expend resources to buy success (or to buy "says me!" rights), perhaps going into hock in the process. Each mode of action in some way focuses the kind of narration (and action) you can narrate. Hinky... half-baked... but somehow I like the core of the thing being a question of "how will I react to this crisis?" and then the role playing is done within the frame this mechanic provides.

But I'm way off from the setting...


More on the ship, the larger universe, and the kind of things characters would actually do in it.

-B
 
Top Bottom