Friday, June 6, 2008

The 500-word campaign setting: Dust to Dust

Ben challenged me to hammer out a 500-word campaign setting. What follows is a little bit longer than that, and it's inspired by a few disparate sci-fi elements I've been chewing on lately: the recent Phoenix Lander Mars mission, the new Mutant Future D&D setting and my own musings about what might happen if a Traveller crew ever settled down somewhere. Feel free to let me know what you think.


“Dust to Dust”

One hundred years from now, humans reached the stars, clawing hungrily into the heavens and leaving behind a cracked, ruined Earth. In the waning days of the n ext century, technological advancements ground to a halt as petty resource wars erupted on the planet’s blasted surface. Colonization was the only hope of a dying planet, and so various factions, guilds, governments and groups sped through the cosmos toward dozens of carefully mapped destinations.

These star systems, chosen by desperate scientists, offered the best hope of yielding up Earth-similar planets for colonization. Such was the urgency of the humans’ departure that the candidate planets were chosen based on telemetric data; no satellite observation was conducted. Years passed, and eventually the refugees’ massive fusion-powered spacecrafts arrived in orbit around their destinations. At that point, they were quite literally scattered throughout the galaxy without hope of ever contacting one another again. For all intents and purposes, each colonization ark was on its own, carrying in its swollen belly all the necessities for settlement: agricultural equipment, energy generators, prefab buildings and simple vehicles.

The human cargo, however, varied by each ship; some vessels launched with only a skeleton crew, hoping to birth and rear a new generation in transit. Others were full to the brim with the determined masses, each desperate soul willing to sacrifice everything for a chance at a new life. Still others made landfall after a plague or famine swept through the city-sized starship, leaving only a few grief-stricken survivors to begin anew.

As expected, the myriad planets the colonists found were largely inhospitable. Bereft of all but the hardiest life, these planets were wracked by dust storms and scoured clean by extreme weather and temperatures. Slowly, arduously, the exhausted colonists made landfall and unpacked their terraforming equipment. They had known this was coming; it was too much to hope that the planets might embrace their arrival with open arms. But no matter: The colonists were prepared to seize their future, to yank it from the dusty soil of their adopted home…

“Dust to Dust” is a campaign setting about terraforming efforts on a frontier world in the near future. Players and the GM should sketch out the specifics of “their” world – the environment, the geography, the weather, etc – as well as the look and feel of their colony ark. Was it a large ship that landed thousands of determined settlers over the course of many years? Was it a smaller relief vessel lacking some basic, important terraforming tool? Did half the colony crew die during a botched landfall attempt? Players should flesh out key characters and factions unique to their colony world as well. Influential families, corporations and organized crime could easily have taken hold in the burgeoning colony.

In game terms, the colony is assumed to be brand-spankin’-new, probably fewer than three months old. That way, the PCs are thrust immediately into the daily struggle for survival on the frontier world. Machinery breaks down regularly and replacement parts are in short supply. Political factions struggle for influence over the colonization effort, each convinced that they can help this tiny human toehold achieve sufficiency. Scientists make daily forays into the wastes looking for much-needed resources; some never return. At night, the masses huddle inside their prefab shelters and listen to an alien wind howl.

The most important character in the game is the planet itself and the mystery it represents. It can be both the savior and executioner for the squalid colony.

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