So, we’ve talked before about what we hope to accomplish with 2050, but one thing that we keep going back and forth on is the setting itself. After the OGL rules are released, we are going to crunch hard on the core rulebook, which will include a campaign setting.
Dad and I have gone back and forth on this a bunch. This is unsurprising, though, as nearly every aspect of 2050 has an implied setting behind it. Whenever we talk about computers, we have to decide just how much like Neuromancer or Ready Player One they are. When we talk about vehicles, we have to decide how ubiquitous self-driving cars are and how advanced the tanks get. Cybernetics? You bet. Magic? Well, of course!
So, there are always a few points that we come back to, and I’ll briefly talk about them here.
Familiarity = Comfort
One of the things we have been pretty set on since the beginning is that we plan on using Earth as the geopolitical setting. Yeah, I know this is less fun than coming up with a whole new world, but it’s also far less fidgety. A brand new homebrewed world requires a lot more tweaking and balance, and will never have the wealth of information and readily available backstory that our own already has and for free.
Need a campaign hook? Hell, you can just start surfing Wikipedia. Need a perfectly fleshed out city map? Google Mpas has you covered. In a macro sense, the layout of the world hasn’t changed to much in the last 30 years, so we can expect that it’ll stay roughly similar for the next 30 years. Yeah, buildings get bigger, and new walking parks get put in, but the streets stay about the same. I live near Philadelphia, and most of those roads haven’t changed in the last century.
The biggest appeal of using Earth as the setting is that players already know it and can draw on personal experience. If I take the party to the grand capital of Faerun, I have to spend a lot of time describing it. That’s doesn’t just mean how it looks, I have to also explain how city life is in this medieval fantasy city. Do ships look like I expect them to? How about the places of government? Are there libraries? Are they filled with just scrolls? Etc.
But! if I tell my party, “you’re in Philadelphia, only there’s a lot more flashy ads on flatscreen around,” everyone immediately has a good mental picture of what that looks like. There’s no guesswork to it, the whole party has the same idea and play progresses unhindered. Instead of blowing an hour of the session holding a god damn press conference regarding the intricacies of life in this city, we’re instead knee deep in actual plot and adventuring.
Time well spent.
Hahaha… it’s MAGIC!
So we run into the obvious problem when we talk about using the real world as our setting: reality ain’t got no magic. 5e, however, does have magic, and so will core 2050. How are we going to jive this conflict?
The popular way to do it is to say that magic disappeared at some point, then hit a resurgence in the recent past. This is how Shadowrun does it, and it works pretty well. This lets the setting use the history that everyone already knows without any asterisks or caveats. Great.
The only problem is that this is the easy way out and already employed by the biggest game in the cyberpunk biz, Shadowrun.
Another big option, which we see most often in the literary world, is the so-called “secret history” method. In this way, we say that magic and the supernatural have always existed, but they were kept secret from the world to varying degrees of success throughout history. Here we can use the history we know, but with a huge asterisk in that everything we know is not entirely accurate. This is seen in books like the Iron Druid Chronicles and Harry Potter.
We’re not planning on this method, though it does have its advantages.
The third way to handle this, and the one we’re going to employ, is to say that magic has always been around, but is so rare that the world’s history is roughly the same as the supernatural only had little influences on the micro level, but left the overall picture about the same. It’s also evenly spread throughout the world, so the wars of the past would still have had roughly equal results as the balance of power was still the same.
This generates some awesome scenarios. Maybe there were platoons of sorcerers employed in the US Army during WWII. Maybe some advanced SEAL teams in Nam were druids and rangers. Sweet.
The key, though, is rarity. Magic is rare. This may seem anathema to the general D&D setting, but I’d say that’s because players are already the 1% of the 1% of the population of any given campaign world. Yeah, a party of adventures may be half composed of magic users and be decked out with an arsenal of magical gear. However, to the typical farmer, they may live entire lives never seeing a magic effect. And that’s not unusual, that’s probably 60% of the world’s population. Another 30% probably see one convincing magical effect in their entire lives. This goes further and further down. The total population that either sees a lot of magic all the time or is an actual caster is probably about .01%. Remember, in a world of seven billion people, that’s still 700 thousand people on Earth who are casters or adventurers. That’s a lot of people.
The final setting topic I want to discuss here is the variety of the world. Despite their grandiose scope and the square mileage of their maps, the vast majority of campaign settings feel about the same no matter where you are in the world. Eberron (shudder) feels high fantasy super mystical all over its campaign map. Forgotten Realms is standard high fantasy wherever your character travels. Dark Sun is gritty survival all around.
For us, it’s the D word. No, not “dick,” “dystopia.” Whenever fictions starts breaking into the future, there is often a tendency to create dystopic environments. Not that this is a problem for me; I love a good dystopia. However, whenever I mention cyberpunk to Kio, he groans in pain. He has a distaste for gritty urban dystopias.
So, in Earth 2050, we can accommodate everyone. It’s a big world, with lots of political entities. Maybe the US has descended into a corporate dystopia. Maybe Switzerland is a clean and white utopia. Maybe Australia is an untamed wilderness. Maybe Africa is run by an oligarchy of rival warlords. We can have it all!
A good chunk of the 2050 core book will be establishing the campaign world. Obviously we can’t detail every single city and town, but we’re definitely going to have some examples which will be helpful to DMs. That way, they can flesh out whatever they like.