Please do not read this if you are participating in the "Debugging" campaign.

Mankind Will Endure: Character Generation

Roger Burton West
7 March 2009

Table of Contents

Mankind will endure. In twenty years the world will belong to man again; even if it's only to a couple of savages on the tiniest island... that'll be a start. And as long as there's some small beginning, that's fine. In a thousand years they'll have caught up to where we are now and then surpass even that... to accomplish what we only dreamed of.

-- Karel Capek, R.U.R. (1920)

1. Background

1.1. A future in space?

Things were looking good, for a while. The Liberty space station was finally completed in 2009 ("if it had been delayed any more, we'd have had to cancel it"); a resurgent China established the first lunar base, Shang Ti, in 2024, and America followed with Tranquillity in 2025.

Meanwhile Africa finally started to pull out of its postcolonial slump, with the formation of the African Union in 2017.

The global environmental crisis was slowed by technological fixes such as engineered pollution-eating bacteria and electric cars, but things continued to deteriorate. Damage to the ozone layer was being reversed, but deforestation, overfishing and air pollution were worsening. Prominent among new extinctions were dolphins, tuna and elephants, although DNA was preserved in hopes of cloning replacemcnts. Rising sea levels affected coastlines and coastal towns, but Japanese breakthroughs in engineering technology saved many cities.

1.2. The Megacomputers

Xotech Corporation wasn't trying to build a sentient computer. What the multinational's board of directors wanted was a product that would let them regain the share of the mainframe computer market they had lost to the expanding Chinese computer industry. It took eight billion dollars in research funds and left the company teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. But in 2026 the board got the breakthrough it wanted: the first megacomputer.

An order of magnitude more advanced than any previous mainframe, Xotech's megacomputers were built around the company's XoT 7000 neural-net processor architecture. Neural-net systems were nothing new, but Xotech's was the most advanced ever produced, its sophistication rivaling the human brain. Almost self-programming, the XoT 7000 neural-net's capabilities surpassed the expectations of its designers.

In its eagerness to recoup its massive initial investment, Xotech's board of directors rushed the XoT 7000s onto the market. As was natural with such a hasty design, bugs showed up almost immediately, mostly in the operating system software. However, Xotech had built the XoT 7000 with an unprecedented degree of self-diagnostic capabilities. When problems occurred, the XoT neural-nets literally rewrote their own operating systems, making them even more efficient than before.

The XoT 7000 was eagerly purchased - or pirated - by governments, multinational corporations, and major research institutes. By 2030 there were nearly a hundred megacomputers in use around the globe, all using some variant of the XoT 7000 architecture. With undroamed-of processing capability at mankind's tlngertips, there were predictions that the megacomputers would lead to bold new advances in science and technology. They could completely map the human genome, handle weather and ecological management schemes, even make the holy grail of nanotechnology a reality. They could reshape the earth.

The megacomputers did everything Xotech promised... and more.

1.3. War on earth, illwill to men

Indonesia and the Philippines went to war in 2029 over oil. In 2030, a joint Chinese-Japanese-Korean mission to Mars set out; China was the leader in space technology, followed by "America" (Brazil, USA, Canada, Mexico) and Japan. There were several undersea mining operations, too.

As predicted, virtual reality and the Internet had had a large impact on society. Work hours were cut back drastically in developed countries. Office work all but vanished, and school and jobs as diverse as construction work, security guarding and prostitution were all performed by people in VR rigs controlling robot drones from their home consoles.

Fusion power became practical, but alternatives were still cheaper. Genetic engineering and nanotechnology started to produce a few minimal results, but protest and bureaucracy made progress very slow.

The major points of international tension were in Central Asia and the Asia-Transpacific regions; in particular, the reunification of Korea, the rise of China as an overt superpower, and Russia's attempts to find a new identity. The aggressively expansionist African Union both caused and cured problems on that continent. Venezuela and Brazil made great economic strides, and began to assert themselves on the world stage.

Then things went really wrong.

1.4. The Apocalypse Plagues: 2031-2032

Cattle shipped out of California were infected with an especially virulent strain of anthrax-B.

Supplies of artificial blood bound for blood banks throughout Asia were found to be laced with a mutant, fast-acting strain of HIV.

In Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo, the water supply was contaminated with a Hanta virus superflu variant that spread rapidly by human contact, creating the pandemic that would become known as Pan-Asian Flu.

Across Europe, 5,000 volunteers to test a new antibiotic somehow received a variant of the lethal Ebola Zaire virus, which would later be called Ebola Zaire B.

In Mexico City, a totally new contagious retrovirus spread to humans through contaminated food stocks. Transmitted rapidly by skin contact or exhalation, it attacked the brain, causing madness, and was 75% percent fatal. Survivors were left sterile.

A dozen other plagues struck a score of cities. Within a month their effects began to be felt.

As the outbreaks of disease spread. Earth's governments grounded air travel and sealed their borders. But the plagues' international dispersal was so widespread that few nations escaped infection. A handful of countries (such as Switzerland) with elaborate biological defence programs fared better, but no nation went unscatlied. By Christmas of 2032, the plagues were pandemic across every continent and more than a million people were dying every month. Death tolls grew exponentially. Refugees fled the dying cities, spreading disease and disorder through the countryside.

1.5. The Spasm: 2032

Some nations blamed others for the plagues, or attempted to use nuclear weapons to sterilise their borders or settle old scores. On October 21, 2032, Algeria, Pakistan, India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Greece, Turkey, the African Union, Israel and lran launched or retaliated to supposed attacks with nuclear strikes. Anti-ballistic missile defences soaked up some warheads, but cruise missiles and "suitcase nuke" sabotage devices got through. Several cities were destroyed, with an estimated six million dead. The Spasm did not spread, but firestorms and fallout added to the world's misery, and the fear of nuclear apocalypse drove many more out of the cities. Survivalist enclaves blossomed across the world.

1.6. The Rise of the AIs

The megacomputers involved in advanced biological research were soon nationalised, to help search for cures to the various Apocalypse Plagues. Now part of government, the AIs quickly discovered cures for some of the plagues - but not the worst ones. The AIs said they needed more computing power to deal with those. Frightened governments granted their every wish.

1.7. The Bad Years: 2032-2034

Meanwhile, panic and disease spread like wildfire. Poorer nations with unsophisticated health-care systems were devastated. Cities were shattered by riots, fires and looting. Everywhere, fragile govemments and societies began to collapse under the strain. In North America, developed Asia and Europe, central governments remained intact, but the fear of plagues and nukes emptied the cities. With much of the work force dead or fugitive, strategic factories were almost entirely automated. The megacomputers asked for control of production, and got it.

Bands of urban refugees, most hungry, some plague-ridden and many armed and dangerous, moved through the countryside, fighting with residents of rural towns who refused them food and shelter. Govemments imposed martial law in a vain attempt to keep order. Scores of soldiers and police died to protect the installations of the megacomputers they still hoped would save them. In the USA and many other nations, the food distribution system broke down in the winter of 2032. For the first time since the end of World War II, starvation stalked the developed world.

As human troops became scarcer - and less willing to operate in plague-infested areas - the production of prototype combat robots increased. Soon the citadels of the megacomputers were defended by their own robot security forces, and patrol and interdiction of plague zones were increasingly entrusted to robots programmed and designed by AIs. With government approval, armed robots began moving into infected areas to restore order, herding the survivors of plague-stricken areas into "quarantine camps" for "treatment". Some people resisted. Many were forcibly interned or fled.

Perhaps two out of three people on Earth were dead by the winter of 2033. But the worst damage had been done to urban areas; many rural towns that blew bridges, barricaded roads and refused access to refugees had survived. Humanity had been shattered by the magnitude of the holocaust, but people were growing used to the horror. Cures had been developed for a few of the plagues, although distribution was slow. Some dared to hope that civilisation might be restored.

1.8. The Final War: 2034-???

In the spring of 2034 the first exterminator robots emerged from the citadels of the AIs. Their priority targets were those military bases and government enclaves that were not already under AI control, as well as nations such as New Zealand and Switzerland that had survived reasonably intact and resisted AI infiltration. The early exterminators were copies of warbots, security robots and cybertanks developed by the United States, Europe, Brazil, Korea, China and Japan...

Those on the Tranquillity moonbase had more immediate problems...

2. General rules

The points budget is 250, with up to 100 points of disadvantages (though it should probably be much less).

You are very strongly encouraged to start with a template from GURPS Action 1: Heroes. In particular, Cleaners, Demolition Men, Hackers, Infiltrators, Shooters and Wire Rats will all have significant parts to play. Other roles can also be accommodated.

As far as character concepts go, anyone who might have been on the Tranquillity moonbase in 2034 is an acceptable character. This could be astronauts, military personnel, researchers, or even tourists. Note that the action-hero template you take needn't necessarily be related to your official job - a Shooter with a few points in Housekeeping and Cooking gives you the cook who just happens to remember all his old special-forces skills...

This is very much a cinematic campaign.

2.1. Required traits

Every character must have these. For skills, put at least one point into them.

2.2. Recommended traits

Everyone is likely to have English as a native language.

The cutting edge of tech was getting into TL9 before things fell apart. Any Guns skill may be taken as Beam Weapons instead, though note that even TL9 beam weapons aren't all that wonderful - they tend to be used in specialised roles such as microgravity combat.

2.3. Discouraged traits

In general, avoid traits that require you to be part of a functioning society: Wealth, Contacts, Enemy, etc. (or at least check with the GMs). Similarly, equipment (based as usual on 20% of your starting Wealth level, so $6,000 if you've gone for normal Wealth) should be restricted to what you'd reasonably expect to carry or acquire on a trip to the moon.

3. Play style

Put on a good show, and Fate will smile upon you.

Be boring, and you're dead.

For further suggestions, read the Feng Shui RPG. I am.

4. Recommended reading/viewing

(though there will be no time travel in this game)