1 June 2010: The setting of “Vortex”

The future is now!Fellow role-players, I hope that you had a good Memorial Day weekend. I’m glad that our one-shot games have been mostly successful so far, and I know that some of you have expressed interest in a longer-term campaign. Although I don’t plan to return to the “Vanished Lands” fantasy world anytime soon with the Boston-area face-to-face group, by now, you should have seen my recent post about the development of my “Vortexspace opera.

Here’s more information about my homebrew speculative fiction setting: About 200 years from now, humanity has begun to colonize the Sol system, but ecological problems and internecine conflict persist. The rediscovery of mystical powers, plus open and official First Contact with alien societies, themselves at war, threaten Terra’s very survival. Can heroes arise to meet the challenges in time?


Most of the solar system’s 20 billion inhabitants are human, and most live on Earth. The average person is born to a slightly smaller nuclear family than in previous generations, is educated and employed by a megacorporation, and lives in one of the megalopoli that have metastasized along rising coastlines. To picture the teeming megacities, think of Blade Runner or The Fifth Element. Despite globalization, regional and cultural differences remain.

The orbital cities around Earth, Venus, and Jupiter have millions of residents (think Babylon 5 or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and the Lunar Free State has megacorp and military bases. Many settlers in the Mars Confederacy (which is beginning to be terraformed) come from crowded Asia. A few generations have now been born that have never set foot on Earth.

“Near” or “trans-” humans (mutants, metahumans, and cyborgs), “Uplifted” (genetically engineered) animals, and true artificial intelligences (robots/androids) are minorities, mostly living offworld. Like the outer colonies, they’ve fought for and earned limited rights.


Once possessing one of the most diverse ecosystems in the galaxy, Earth still has an impressive variety of organisms and cultures. The “ecocrises” of population pressure, pollution, global climate change, and the depletion of fossil fuels and freshwater led to famine and wars, as well as technological innovation. “Cold fusion” is finally a reality, but disparities in the distribution of resources remain.

Outside the megalopoli, carefully maintained cropland is surrounded by vast wastelands. The average person has access to more technology but less personal space than his or her ancestors. Cyberspace mitigates that somewhat, but virtual perception overlays and mechanical telepathy bring their own hazards, such as addiction.

Communications, transportation, and combat have also changed, even if the social sciences haven’t yet succeeded in creating harmony for all citizens regardless of belief. Memes (transmittable ideas) flitter across infotainment media, and those who still want to or need to travel in person can take high-speed trains, hypersonic aircraft, or commercial submarines (to undersea cities). Unfortunately, these advances also facilitate crime, terrorism, and warfare along economic, ethnic, and ideological divisions.

First used in the colonies, mecha (powered suits) are used as heavy infantry and artillery. Interplanetary carriers, aerospace fighters, and scout ships spend long months patrolling the cold vastness of space, but a storm is approaching the Milky Way’s Orion Arm. After First Contact, Terran humans and related species have access to Transit-level faster-than-light drives, which can propel vessels at up to a parsec (3.26 light years) per day.


Many illnesses have been cured, and the life expectancy for the 60% of people above the poverty line is 120 years (half that for those still below it). The very wealthy have access to cloned bodies, partial consciousness transfers, and android avatars, but such technology is expensive and restricted. Terran biochemistry isn’t exactly compatible with that of most aliens.

Economics and politics

Politics has become both decentralized and more centralized, with many services once delivered by local governments now performed by megacorps, and regional governments replacing states and provinces. For example, Boston is now part of the North Eastern American Megalopolis (NEAM), with most goods and services provided through Transglobe Information Company, one of the “Big Eight.” North America’s Continental Congress (NACC) is in Denver.

In response to the ecocrises and the use of weapons of mass destruction, the United Earth Authority has started to become the first true world government. It’s based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is the nominal ruling body over Terra’s colonies. Each regional state contributes to the U.E.A.’s law-enforcement, bureaucratic, and military forces. NACC’s elite force is the Aerospace Marine Corps. The U.E.A.’s Fort Olympus Mons overlooks Mars’ red outback, where bands of homesteaders, nonhuman rebels, and ecoterrorists try to eke out a living (not unlike Firefly/Serenity).

The sparsely populated Asteroid Belt and Jovian and Saturnian systems include several mining colonies, policed by the small but growing Interplanetary Patrol (think Outland). The colonies have petitioned the U.E.A. to change its name and grant them both equal and proportional representation, but that’s only one of many debates on the eve of First Contact with galactic societies, themselves at war.

The U.E.A. sponsored the United Ecumenical Movement partly in reaction to the destruction of Middle Eastern holy sites and the horrific related casualties late in the petroleum era. Although its chaplains are drawn from different faiths, the U.E.M.’s members have managed to collaborate closely on secret archaeological and paranormal research (with extraterrestrial advice).

Galactic conflict

Many of the billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy have planets around them, and millions of those have life. Of those, thousands are capable of sustaining intelligent life, and hundreds are inhabited at any given time. Dozens are homeworlds to Transit-capable beings. Hidden for centuries behind Kuvor’s Veil, a nebula, the Sol system has been a backwater, visited by occasional pirates, explorers, or pranksters. First Contact causes some disruptions in Terran society, but greater threats are ahead.

Although most aliens are nonhumanoid, some can (and do) interact with Terrans (think Flash Gordon, Star Wars, or Farscape). Most of the starfaring species in the Orion Arm are nonaligned, neutral, or members of the Trade Guilds, which are interested in working with Terran megacorps. A few are members of the growing Kharvamid Alliance, which seeks to defend systems like Sol’s from the approaching Zarkonian Armada….

In coming posts, I’ll outline Player Character options for species and occupations, why our choice of rules matters, and more! In the meantime, I look forward to the next Pathfinder: “the Dragonslayers” teleconferencing session and Gabe C.’s Lady Blackbird one-shot. Be seeing you!