I am working on making a default ready-to-play setting for Karma in the Dark. Other design projects have been put on pause while I jump fully into this revision.
This is something I've been considering for over a year but put off for various reasons. The rulebook will continue to support making your own world with the world creation chapter, but that will be optional rather than required.
I've been turning around ideas about the default setting for a long time. I want to hold onto touchstones of a dystopian, oppressive world counter balanced by fantastic magic and technology. Perhaps the biggest (and maybe divisive) choice was to leave earth for the default setting. I've felt restricted by concepts of traditional cyberpunk and want to explore similar themes in a different way. That suddenly became easier when I stepped into the broader speculative fiction space.
Below is a draft of the current concept. It is still open to significant change and reworking. (For example, this write-up has already been redone three times today).
Our planet was one of the first to successfully complete the terraforming process. A toxic rock was transformed into a New Earth with lush rain forests, enriched mountains, and fertile plains. Advanced genetic fabrication replicated familiar animals and plants. Every multinational corporation competed in the bidding war for settlement rights; six were chosen. New cities were founded, filled with families sponsored by the multicorps.
At first everyone left us alone. The planet was terraformed, we offered the typical resource tax to the Interstellar Union in exchange for the fabrication tech, and we lived our lives. Then they wanted more from our planet. They increased the tax, so we increased our work. It became impossible. But they didn’t want to hear it; they wanted their products.
We cut corners. We loosened regulations. We did what we had to do.
It was one mistake. One sample placed in the wrong terraform fabricator. It created the Red Fever, a plague that wiped out half of our population.
The Interstellar Union declared a quarantine. And they flipped the kill switch: the engines in our space ships self-destructed, our AI shut down, our fabricators imploded, and our astrotech archives locked. We were trapped. Even as we were dying from sickness, they stripped our colony of the technology that sustained us.
When the plague ended, the IU sent their Overseers to enact quarantine protocols. They declared their authority over our planet. They said we couldn’t be trusted after the Red Fever. We needed to be more educated, retrained.
First they made a deal with multicorps executives: they revoked land sponsorships and consolidated families into the now defunct fabrication factories. More efficient, they stated. And necessary to reorganize now that we could no longer rely on robots for labor or fabricators for food.
When they learned about our magic, they blamed it for the Red Fever. They initiated re-education programs. Children were taken from their families and placed in boarding schools. You couldn’t leave until you passed the registration exams. Once you were licensed as “safe”, they gave you a choice. Some went home. Many chose to accept a corporate or IU sponsorship instead.
During the re-education era they established regulations for magic. They made licensure programs. Some of the Overseer families tried to learn it. They developed their own tradition, twisting it into a form of control and power. That’s when they learned that even machines are alive, running on the Echo of the ones who create them.
They took that, too. Paid Planetborn to work for them, using the Echo to spy on those who break regulations. With it, they expanded their surveillance, their inspections—their fees for infractions.
They still make us promises. They write up instructions for what we need to do to lift the quarantine. But somehow we keep failing. Somehow, what seems so black and white in the regulations becomes opaque when we bring them our progress.
Our parents tell us to keep following the protocol. They spent their life trying to meet the conditions it set out.
As for us? We know that will never work. So now we need to find a new way to resist.
The basic premise of the game remains. PCs are people without power, irrelevant to larger faction politics that define their world. They start the game as idealists, dedicated to a better future. But they will have to decide exactly what that future looks like, and what they're willing to sacrifice to get it.
Stuck on the fringes, their life is controlled and stripped of value by the regulatory system stacked against them, and their only chance at success is by making themselves useful to those with more power. So they become mercenaries, taking on the jobs too unpleasant or dangerous for those with more means.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.