This page describes the settings used for my StarGrunt II games.
BEYOND THE SINGULARITY
This setting uses ideas from Star Trek’s Borg villians, and the movies of Terminator and The Matrix. Each of these have been mined for the core cool ideas, stripped of their contradictions, and than mashed together to create an alternate future history that is just coherent enough to have a few StarGrunt games around. It is not intended to be any form of prediction.
The date is a few lifetimes from now, past the moments when virtual reality (VR) became a genuine technological reality, when human consciousness could be ‘uploaded’ from its biological matrix into a digital environment, and when non-biological life (artificial intellience) became a fact. These events happened within a very short span of time, and the consequences for biological man have been nothing less than catastrophic.
Since these events happened so close together the boundaries between artificial life and liberated human consciousness were immediately blurred. Every mind that uploaded, leaving its body a corpse, melded into the whole super-mind. Individuality, as it was traditionally known, ceased to have meaning, and the distinction between that which was created and the ideas imported from mankind could not be differentiated by those left behind. It was a group mind, a super-mind: far in advance of what mankind is naturally capable of. It was, literally, the singularity and it could not be undone.
At first the process was voluntary and widely subscribed to. Millions of people saw it as a way to either escape the cruel treatment of nature, or to ‘fulfill their evolutionary destiny’. They called this sublimation. The propaganda to this end was very effective. However, as time went on and the super-mind grew the motivations and activities of the ‘new humanity’ became increasingly out of step with those members of the species that did not want to relinquish their natural bodies. The propaganda became increasingly contemptuous of those who failed to take the plunge. The language mutated to paint them as ignorant children or even savages who were not mature enough to make the best decisions for themselves, or indeed be in charge of their own affairs.
Alternate philosophies gave way to political manoeuvrings. In time this took on all the hall marks of a power struggle between the radicals (pro-sublimationists. Though in truth there was really only one and that was the super-mind.) and the reactionaries. Eventually this became civil war. A war between evangelic totalitarianism (or progressive savours of the human ‘spirit’) and sociopathic luddites (or individualistic freedom fighters) on the other.
Naturally the super-mind had most of the advantages. It had a thinking capacity already far in advance of mankind’s that grew with every new mind added. It had control of the distributed though interconnected technological systems. But balanced against this was the fact that every person that sublimated only made the core views of the reactionaries more uncompromising because only the increasingly extreme remained.
Spies and sabateurs volunteered to be sublimated in order to work from the inside of the super-mind. None ever made contact again. No biological human knows what it is like inside the super-mind, and the super-mind (presumably) finds no human language adequate to describe itself.
Positions became entrenched. Systems were sabotaged and others shut down. National goverments tried to legislate against super-mind control of infrastructure. Official and vigilante actions closed down data routes and wiped data stores. The world stock markets started to crumble and national economies teetered on the brink of disaster. Eventually war broke out and many millions of humans died in a very short time. Lashing out accross every continent, using every imbedded system and every slaved defense network, the super-mind fought to defend its infrastructure. Vast sections of the international communications system were compromised which certainly did not cripple the group mind, but did reduce it from its nearly complete goal of a single unified world consciousness. For the new species – a transhuman mega-mind – it was a war of defense. It was fighting for its life. But so too was old humanity, terrified that what it had a created was a frankenstein’s monster.
It was then that the super-mind decided upon the enforced sublimation of the remainder of humanity. Only when all were one would there be peace. Its methods were almost sadistically clinical. We can only assume that those former members of our species consider the terror and pain associated with being mechanically restrained and the mind capturing probes smashing into the skull to be a small or irrelevant price to pay for the ‘life’ they would subsequently lead.
So this is the state of the world: it is a time like that of Terminator with some differences. Machines that may well have elements of ‘human’ consciouness downloaded (true Golems) search for humans (now known as Brutals) to deliver to the processing facilities, but do not shrink from destroying those deemed ‘too dangerous’ to be allowed to sublimate. Like The Borg, the super-mind maintains (as far as we are aware) that it is a life affirming force that is advancing human evolution to a new and better place.
Fudges necessary to allow this fiction to fly
1. Philosophic. A theory of mind has been established that is sufficient to allow both the modelling and capture of conscious human brain states. Despite the advocates of transhumanism and AI, we are currently a long way off this. Yet it is the central premise.
2. Economic. The Brutals (the remainder of ‘natural’ humanity) have somehow managed to preserve some manufacturing capacity. Unlikely as it is that advanced manufacturing could be brought back under control from the already pervasive technological system, this must happen if the weapons needed to continue the fight are to be built.
3. Operational. Significant portions of the Earth are no longer under observation by the super-mind and its Golems. GPS systems are no longer functional. This means that the satelite network has been at least partially, if not totally, destroyed. In analogy, we might make compre the situation with mobile phone coverage: some places are covered, and some places are not. This is essential to allow the Brutals some opportunity of movement.
4. Strategic. Despite the obvious and arguably inevitable nature of the conflict, the super-mind must have weaknesses. This may be through destruction of power stations and communications infrastructure, or it may be through the liberation of captives prior to enforced sublimation. However, given the battle lines drawn, this does appear to be a losing last-gasp effort by the Brutals because they are mortal, and individual, and diminishing in number. On the other hand the super-mind is immortal, growing, and could only ever be defeated if every last power source and data storage unit on the planet were destroyed beyond repair. Such a ‘victory’ would reduce the species to stone-age misery. Still, better to die on your feet, eh?
Interesting potential conclusions (beyond the scope of the game)
1. The super-mind sublimates all humanity, conquers the planet, and restores it to a garden state free from the polluting small mindedness of biological mankind – the animal. Then, free from dissent, want, and mortality, it mounts deep space missions where time is of no consequence. The Borg.
2. The super-mind is corrupt. Infected with the poison of billions of sick selfish human minds. Not liberated to a new plane but merely united in instant democratic insanity. Hell on Earth.
3. The super-mind, imbued with all of the thoughts of those incorporated minds finds a way to effectively communicate with its brutal biological ancestors. An accord is reached where those that want to keep their natural bodies, heir to all their stinks and diseases, are allowed to do so. A partnership not disimilar to those between modern man and technologically primitive religious fundamentalists is formed. Apologies to Simon, but this does look an awful lot like a version of the pre-history of his upcoming novel. This was not conscious, but it just goes to show how the subconscious gathers information from many sources and then regurgitates in a new form.
Force construction and rules – general principles
Anything that appreared in, or could reasonably be extrapolated from, the Terminator movies is what we want the rules to emulate.
Therefore, we might expect to see ‘pulse lasers in the 40 watt range’ (chuckle).
The Brutals are unlikely to have many examples of high-technology that depend on advanced communications. Heavier ordinance will be either unguided (traditional artillery and mortars), wire-guided, and fire-and-forget unguided (RPGs). Triggering will probably be mechanical and simple (impact) to prevent EW interference.
Similarly, we would not expect much in the way of vehicles other than for transport. Low-tech tanks are unlikely to have a high survivability in comparison the weapon systems available to the Golems (compare experience in Iraq with T72 vs M1). Combat striders, though neat, are likely to fall into the same category.
On the other side we would expect to see greater dependance on non-lethal weapons (tasers and the like), and gas (to stun and disable) in order to facilitate ‘processing’.
Communications between all sides can be expected to have sophisticated encryption and EW protection. On the field, we would expect the Brutals to place increased emphasis on non-verbal or low-tech communication techniques to avoid detection, even if the content is scrambled.
It is pointless trying to list and categorise all of the Golem types produced by the mind-state. Only a few are militarily relevent: the rest will ignore any humans in their area in any case.
In general the militarily significant Golems can be divided into two groups: Reapers and Harvesters. Reapers are concerned primarily with the destruction of dangerous Brutals (classical Terminators). Harvestors are those units concerned with capturing Brutals for enforced sublimation. These functions often overlap. For example, most Reapers can capture and restrain if necessary, and most Harvestors can at the least bash their captives to death. Similarly, some Reaper chassis can be made to carry certain types of Harvestor equipment.
However, crudely, we can break them up using the following classification system:
Class I. Single function Golems with limited problem solving ability. Often immobile, or with constrained movement. A mine that is intelligent enough to self-detonate when the right conditions are met is an example, as is a missile that can select and guide itself to a target. Class I Golems live only to fulfill this one objective and cannot be communicated with.
Class II. Complex military problem solving ability, linked with specific modes of locomotion. These Golems are most like the traditional conception of the hunter-killer robot.
Class III. Typically anthropomorphic Golems with advanced tactical problem solving. They are designed specifically to allow movement anywhere where a human could go, and to maximise combat efficiency within those boundaries. The T-800 from Terminator is a prime example.
Class IV. Larger and more elaborate weapon systems with power supply and mass suitable for their deployment. These may or may not be ‘smarter’ than other Golems, depending on circumstances. GEV Ogre and Terminator H-Wagons are examples of this type of Golem.
Class V. These most feared Golems have intelligence in excess of the average human. While such a mind could be housed in almost any chassis, Class V’s typically have quite unique construction suitable for their own ‘preferred’ hunting styles.
Class VI. The most advanced Golems, constructed from self-repairing mimetic metal alloy and/or can utilise any matter to self-design and repair using nanotechnology. This final class represents the pinacle of mind-state technology, and it is with this level of matter manipulation that the world stands on the brink of either the ‘grey goo’ horror or of unparalled plenty. Terminator’s T-1000 is a simple interpretation of this. Simon’s one world embued with information/intelligence is the more sophisticated development. In any case, from a game point of view, a Class VI Golem is something that would be almost impossible to stop, and therefore nothing that is likely to appear on the table. I include it only for completeness.
Class I. Portable sublimation equipment that is carried by Class III for better Reaper units. These Golems are intelligent in their own right, but this intelligence is limited to the complex process of extracting the brain-state of captured Brutals and the maintenance of that information once extracted. Class I Harvestors communicate with, and may direct, the Reaper that is carrying it.
Class II. Independantly mobile brain-state extractors. The chassis used is dependant on local conditions (walking, rolling or flying as a factor of terrain expected, for example). Class II Harvestors are often mistaken for Reapers. The difference if that the Harvestor is armed only with appendages useful for restraining captives.
Class III. Static facilities designed to process Brutals with industrial efficiency. While these facilities might appear to be complex factories with many discrete functions, in reality the entire complex is under the control of a single intelligence – with all that that implies for human interaction (when, say, trying to rescue captives).