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Blue Planet

S. Ben Melhuish • Tuesday, February 16, 2010 • filed under shelves, settings

Picture this science fiction RPG setting: There is a distant planet, an ecological paradise compared to the abused Earth. This planet is suddenly the subject of a gold rush, as megacorporations race to mine a rare mineral. The natives naturally fight their homeworld’s exploitation, while the planet’s ecosystem itself may hold the secret of driving off the invaders.

Naturally, the parallels aren’t exact, but if you didn’t know that James Cameron’s ideas dated back to 1996, you could be forgiven for thinking he stole ideas from 1997’s Blue Planet RPG.

In the RPG’s setting background, a traversable wormhole was discovered beyond Neptune’s orbit, leading to the outskirts of a Sol-like system which held a remarkably Earth-like water world. An initial colony on Poseidon, of 5000 humans (surgically and genetically modified for an aquatic lifestyle) and 500 uplifted dolphins and orcas, was abandoned by Earth after the Blight struck down nearly all of our world’s grain production. One hundred years later, a recovered Earth reestablished contact and discovered two surprises: First, the colony, though fallen back to a preindustrial lifestyle after their fusion reactor failed, was thriving. Second, scientists discovered deposits of a mineral which vastly simplified genetic manipulation. These xenosilicates, called Long John after the longevity treatment they enabled, immediately became the subject of a gold rush, as the incorporate states of Earth struggled to extract the most of this precious resource.

Fifteen years later, Poseidon has many obvious RPG hooks. Though it’s easy to portray the incorporate states as villains, the game easily supports a more nuanced view; likewise, the noble natives' resistance range from the arguably acceptable sabotage of mining equipment to the difficult-to-justify terrorist acts against civilians. And rumors persist that some of the planet’s native life, the rarely-sighted “aborigines”, may be sentient, and perhaps even hostile to humankind. Possible player roles range from native resistance, to scientists trying to figure out just why Poseidon’s lifeforms use exactly the same DNA and proteins as Earth’s, to sheriff-and-judge-and-executioner Marshals trying to enforce some kind of order on the lawless frontier.

The game is, by my standards today, woefully setting-heavy; the bulk of the books is text with little to no game stats. (That’s fine, as the included system is eminently forgettable; I’d probably use HeroQuest if I were to run a game today.) Given the above background and a bit of setting (the capital city of Haven, the world map, and a couple of incorporate states like dastardly GenDiver and pragmatic Hanover Industries), it’s straightforward enough for players and GM to flesh out the setting to their own needs. If players need inspiration, I’d probably fall back on an idea that Ken Hite described from Weapons of the Gods: letting players buy something like a Lore Sheet, each of which might describe (say) an incorporate state, a settlement, or maybe something about the aborigines.

I think I’d have fun running Blue Planet. The underwhelming system, overdeveloped setting, and requisite hard sci-fi gear fetish can be easily overlooked for a compelling framework for stories that reflect on modern concerns.