Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Future Ain't What It Used To Be

As indicated in previous posts, there are generally two types of Psi World campaign; the fist type featuring psis oppressed by normal society and the other type where normal society is threatened by terrorist and criminal psis. Other than the presence of individuals having psionic powers, “background 'chrome' has been kept to a minimum,” the adventure book tells us, “to allow the GM the most design freedom possible.” While kept to a minimum, the standard background intended by the authors indicates a near future setting with technology...

...that is slightly more advanced than the present-day technologies. Regular shuttles service both space stations and lunar bases. The near planets and asteroids have been visited by manned probes. Giant solar collectors beam energy back from space to power an active society in which both software and hardware technologies are well advanced.

Evidently, the authors felt this “background information,” presented in the first paragraph of the introduction, to be a necessary component of any Psi World campaign.

Given that Psi World was published nearly thirty years ago, “the not too distant future” is now. We cannot chide the authors for an inaccurate prediction of the future, but it is interesting to see what the future might have held from the perspective of the 'old school' era. Even so, in those far gone days the extent of space exploration and settlement posited by Psi World seemed to me – a mere lad at the time – somewhat optimistic. Ah, but the shuttles – those were a different matter. When Psi World was written, the age of the Space Shuttle was just beginning. It was an exciting time, full of promise. Shuttle launches were a big deal; important enough that schools would forgo the usual lesson plan in order to watch them on television. Perhaps we can forgive some degree of optimism. Alas, the fruit borne by such optimism has been scant. The shuttle program has been retired without a successor, we have no lunar bases and only two modest space stations.

Anyway, in the authors' campaign, there are “space platforms...orbiting factories and...the lunar research station.” It should be remembered that these advances occurred despite a period of pronounced political upheaval. These space settlements do not have a direct influence on the campaign, but they do serve as a refuge for the “lobos.” The punishment for severe or repeated psionic crimes is a 'psionic lobotomy,' which leaves the recipient without any psionic abilities but which has no effect on the recipient otherwise. Such recipients are lobos, disdained by both normals and psis. Because of their status as pariahs, lobos tend to “migrate” to the space settlements. Realistically, I don't think that people with criminal backgrounds would be permitted in such positions, but it creates an interesting situation in the authors' campaign. Given that psionic abilities are hereditary, it is likely that lobos will produce psionic offspring which may lead to an eventual concentration of psionic individuals among the space settlements.

Other than space technology, the only 'futuristic' advances present in the Psi World rules concern weapons, specifically a couple of items which seem to have come from the Star Frontiers armory. “Tangle weapons” fire pellets that expand and “form a strong webbing which will cover an area of five feet by five feet and is extremely sticky.” Mag-Jet weapons fire gyro-jet projectiles accelerated by strong magnetic fields. There are also gyro-jet needlers, but no tasers.

With regard to the equipment list, “all prices are listed in US dollars and that all prices are roughly those one would expect to find for those items in the current day.” According to this site, $1.00 in 1984 had the same buying power as $2.23 does in 2012. Let's look at some Psi World (i.e., 1980's) prices with this in mind.

Candy Bar
Cigarettes, pack
New Car, Average
Gasoline, gallon
Home Computer (64K)
Hand-held Computer (16K)
LCD Watch

Check out the memory on those computers!  That was considered 'well advanced hardware technology.'  Also, I like how they specify that the watch is LCD.  Of course, there's no mention of mobile phones – back in the day, only doctors and drug dealers had those.  Why would it be any different in the future?

1 comment:

  1. This post noted the same inconsistencies in the setting that occurred to me as a kid in the 1980s, too; though you've presented them here in significantly greater detail and with more nuance. A very enjoyable read.

    The continuation of manned space exploration following a near total collapse of the world's governments struck me, even 30 years ago, as particularly unlikely.

    But the suggestion in the game's background detail that many of the first "psis" to emerge might attempt to set themselves up as terrorists, dictators and/or master criminals (as opposed to super heroes) was novel and intriguing to me when I first read it all those years ago.