Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Fantasy Transhumanism Setting

So, I've been thinking about trying to write up my own setting for a while, and wanted to do something a bit different (and not in the "They're like Orcs, only they're tree-hugging hippies like Elves!" way). So I got to thinking about other genres that interest me, and how I can transfer themes from those into a fantasy setting. One of the ones which struck me was Transhumanist Sci-Fi.

For those not in the know, Transhumanism is a movement concerned with how technology will affect humanity's development - how we will use it to change our bodies, consciousnesses, and how this will affect society and the individual. It's a pretty interesting philosophical area, and has generated a large amount of literature over the last decade or so.

Something a lot of people overlook is that even in Dungeons and Dragons, most "vanilla" of all fantasy RPGs, transhumanism is pretty commonly touched upon, but not greatly expanded on. Your character uses sorcery, magic items and esoteric training to do things others can't - you become something post-human by the time you hit levels with double figures. You can (in theory) survive things that should outright kill lesser men, by virtue of how great a warrior you are. Face it - a twelth-level fighter isn't "normal" by any stretch of the imagination.

To go into more fantastic realms, Lichdom is a sort of transhumanism - altering your physical state to deny natural processes like death. In sci-fi, this would be something like transferring your consciousness into a mechanical body or computer system - here, you utilise necromantic magics to the same effect. Similarly, options exist to gain grafts from magical creatures, add Warforged (fantasy robot) parts to yourself... D&D is pretty transhuman, in a way. But it doesn't focus on how these things affect people.

So I wanted to explore what a truly transhumanist fantasy setting would be like, where people use magic to change their bodies, consciousnesses, etc. on a daily basis, not just as "great heroes" - and how these changes affect individuals as well as society.

So, some of the basic ideas I had floating about:
  • Needs To Be High-Magic - magic must be something everyone knows about, and can to some extent utilise (in the way that D&D characters have the skill Use Magic Device). Maybe in the deepest, darkest far-away corners of the land, people will still be superstitious and wary of magic, but otherwise, it should be a part of everyday life. This, in turn, means that a lot of problems that normally plague a Dark Ages world no longer apply - frex, scarcity of food isn't a problem when Clerics can whip it up, neither is disease for similar reasons.
  • Should Be Focused - D&D is about world-(sometimes, universe)spanning adventures. As transhumanism is focused on the people, not the tech, so must this setting be people-focused. This might mean (at least at first) limiting the action to one country, maybe even a single city or group thereof.
  • Players Are Still Special - yep, being in a place where everyone has some form of crazy magic working on them is likely to make the players feel that their crazy magic isn't as awesome as it should be. There will be few chances for the players to leave peasents agog at their unique control of the mystical and arcane, but I want to ensure they still can.
  • System - well, I think D&D might be useable here, but at the same time, it might not. I'll try and keep things a bit more system-free until I work out some more of the setting.
  • Cannot Just Be Ghost In The Shell with Wizards (Regardless Of How Brilliant This Idea Would Be).
More to come!


  1. David Cook made Ptolus, a massive city that is all about magic. It's pretty entertaining, and the idea of a high magic world can be really interesting.

    It helps me to know where the magic comes from (life force of others, relic talismans) and what effect magic has on the world.

    White Wolf's Mage is an awesome magic setting, if not a tad confusing initially.

    Cool ideas though!

  2. I also thought of Mage - in fact, the whole World of Darkness does a really good job of keeping humanity and its loss as a main theme, while allowing a lot of freedom to explore it as a theme - it doesn't hem players into "Always Angsty, All The Time!", but allows the themes to occur naturally.