Over the past few months I’ve been reading The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter and it has piqued my curiosity to see what it’d be like in an RPG.
The premise for The Long Earth is that there an infinite number of worlds aribtrarily labelled East and West from our own. The concept is that, given an infinite space with infinite possibilities, what would happen to humanity?
(Or, how long till we fuck it up?)
To move between these worlds, people use a device called “a stepper” that lets them move between worlds. (Though there are those who can do it without the aid of a stepper and those who physically cannot move at all).
And, just to throw a wrench in the gears, iron cannot step. No guns, no tools, no cars, boats, planes or weapons of any modern standard.
The books follow the cast of characters as they discover worlds with intelligent life, stepping creatures and how humanity adapts to this “endless frontier”.
Using the Those Who Play system, I’d like to see these elements brought into an RPG in a meaningful way.
So here’s the breakdown;
1) Stepping Mechanics
2) New Economics and Social Structures
3) New Equipment
4) Random Generation
The single most important aspect of The Long Earth is the ability to step, this is usually accomplished by using a stepper but it is possible for characters to be natural steppers. This is a premium trait which costs 3 points out of your Traits. Costly, but worth it.
It is also possible for someone to be a Phobic but for player characters, this is highly disadvantageous and would make for a rather pointless Long Earth campaign. Someone cannot be both a Phobic and a Natural Stepper.
The other new skill is Knowledge (Soft Places) but requires the Natural Stepper Trait to take.
Soft Places are shortcuts through The Long Earth that allow people to skip a few dozen to a few million worlds in a single, difficult step. Having this skill allows players to reliably find these Soft Places (As long as there are any nearby to find). There is no process to finding them, more a feeling in the gut of Natural Steppers.
Now, how does this work in game.
Stepping works much the same way as magic does, in that it costs energy. Though it depends on the person. From how it is described in the books, I’d place it around 1 or less points of energy for normal people, with the cost increasing with any injuries or illnesses the player has.
Small cuts No effect
Large wound + 1
Cancer (Or other life threatening illness) +3
During combat, a stepper box user would use their action to flip the switch and move East or West. They can prepare an action to use as they step but consider how disorientating it would be to suddenly have the world change around you.
With this in mind, I’d say stepping and attacking would be a Difficult Task (25), with stepping and firing a ranged weapon an Impossible Task (40).
For Natural Steppers however, this would be slightly easier as they are attuned to The Long Earth and needn’t worry about juggling their stepper and weapon. To a Natural Stepper, a step attack is the same as any normal attack.
If your target isn’t moving and you can track their exact position in a stepwise world. Then stepping in and attacking would have very fatal consequences. To prevent against this, most politicians or important people tend to conduct their public affairs either raised above the ground or below the ground as steppers keep their height when they step.
“He built a scaffolding tower in a stepwise world, appeared right out of nowhere and tried to stab the Pope.”
– Rough quote from The Long Mars
Like most things in life, ingenuity is key. It is very possible to dig a hole and step into someone’s bunker, as long as you can estimate it perfectly.
New Economics and Social Structures
If you could leave your home behind right now and go claim an entire world as your own. Live your own Tarzan live in the forest, mountains, beaches or fields. Would you?
I would and The Long Earth agrees that most humans possess the pioneer spirit. Constantly pushing further out as they carve their own part in the world(s).
Economics quickly changes from money to trade-able goods. Food, raw materials and Long Earth compatible technology (Copper, ceramics, and many other materials still step, it just takes a bit of thought to work around our iron dependency). These become the most important aspects of the Long Earth pioneer’s lives.
Now consider, if you worked by yourself to create a home, a community, would you pay taxes? Would you still consider yourself British, American, European? Would you even consider yourself to be a citizen of Earth anymore? (Datum Earth (Our Earth (Earth 0)))
That’s up to you, but when running a Long Earth campaign, remember that everyone has different ideals at heart. There is no 50/50 split on these matters.
For social structures, look at our modern world and the sociological ideals of our past.
Democracy – democracy is an important aspect of humanity, we’re social creatures at heart and most of us want to have a say in how things are run.
Dictatorship – a sad truth that one person can control a number of others but history is littered with dictators. As wrong as it sounds, you can have a bit of fun coming up with dictatorships in an infinite world.
Perhaps there is only one habitable world in a thousand world wide belt of arid wastes and to land anywhere in the region of England is to run the chance of being brought before “The Archduke of Greener Pastures” and having your stepping box confiscated.
Or maybe there is a missing world and the only way through is to serve in the “Liberation Tax” in order to earn passage through.
Meritocracy – Social standing is based on achievement rather than birth or wealth. Great hunters may be given the best equipment and praise from the community or great inventors may be given first choice of food and trade.
Communism – Everyone is equal and treated equal. Goods are given based on need and equipment is made available to any who needs it.
Nomads – The Long Earth is fruitful, why stop moving? Nomadic society harkens back to the days before agriculture and with food available every step of the way, why bother to farm at all?
There are many types of sociological views and in the infinite, you’ll likely find anything. Cults, parody societies and decadence can make for interesting stops but remember, these are real people and many people want what’s best for them. So don’t over do the cults and decadence.
In the novels, some of the governments try to keep control over their stepwise neighbours by enforcing laws and taxes and keeping a military presence wherever they can. This can create tension and is even explored in the books themselves.
Would you be comfortable with the military stomping up your world?
As mentioned before, the stepper box allows people to move stepwise at will, but there are other devices in the Long Earth.
The Mark Twains – The Mark Twains are dirigibles that are designed to be able to step without any effort on the crew or passenger’s part. Thousands of worlds can be travelled this way and they are often used by the governments of the Datum Earth to police the Long Earth.
Outernet – Not so much a new device as a needed recreation of an existing device; The Internet. The Outernet is the Long Earth equivalent to the Internet, the Mark Twains download data from each inhabited world they pass that has an Outernet connection and then uploads it into the next, constantly transferring information back and forth across The Long Earth.
Troll Call – As mentioned before, there is intelligent life out in The Long Earth and the most prevalent of them are the Trolls. A species that communicates through a multi-faceted song called “The Long Call”. It is much like the Outernet but organic and much more complex. The Troll Call allows humans to talk to Trolls.
Weapons – Weapons are no longer made of iron or steel. Instead, blades are now made of steppable materials (Pretty much everything except iron or steel) and guns are comprised of copper, ceramic and a few other metals. The homegrown nature of The Long Earth means that a person’s weapon is as much an identifying characteristic as their hair or clothes. That said, there are many mass produced weapons available to government officials and those with ties to the Datum.
There are hints to ancient, dead civilisations that had advanced weaponry in the novels, so don’t be afraid to create. They don’t have to work, they can simply be relics of a failed attempt.
Here are a few creations made right now, from nothing;
Charge Helmet – A peculiar helmet made for creatures slightly larger than humans but wearable with a bit of adjusting. The helmet has hollow horns (Possibly sheaths for the horns of the creatures that wore them) and a strange embeddings around the skull plate of the helm. When hit against another metal object, these helmets produce bright sparks and refuse to break. If the embeddings are filled with gun powder, the helmet explodes outwards at its target, without damaging the wearer. Made of a copper like material, can be stepped with.
Hornet’s Nest – A primitive fragmentation grenade with a dangerously large radius. The race that created them likely lit the fuse, dropped the ball and stepped. Only returning once the damage was done. Can be stepped with.
Grounding Dart – These iron darts, shaped much like ticks, bore into the skin of the target and push their sharpened tip into the muscle of the target. Stepping with one of these inside leads to muscle being torn and sometimes death if it hits deep enough. Made from iron, cannot be stepped with.
The Long Earth is infinite, each world being slightly different from the last with Joker worlds (Very Strange Worlds) laced amongst the otherwise banded infinity.
It would be rather infuriating to roll for a world every time the player’s step so here is a useful table for your use.
1-60 The trend continues for D10 x 5 worlds
61-80 The trend changes suddenly. Roll on Trend Table.
81 – 90 A joker world appears. Roll on Joker Table
91 – 100 You discover a small community
1-30 Same as Datum counterpart
31 – 50 Heavily forested
51 – 70 Rolling fields
71 – 100 Ice age conditions
101 – 120 Jungle conditions, pre-historic jungle
121 – 150 Oceans have risen, otherwise same as Datum
151 – 170 Oceans have risen, rolling fields otherwise
171 – 190 Desert, arid waste
191 – 200 Previously populated by intelligent life
1-10 Higher oxygen levels, bugs are massive, trees bigger
11 – 20 Heavier gravity, harder to walk, weak metals bend
21 – 30 Ozone stripped away
31 – 40 The Moon is gone
41 – 50 Solar radiation left world scorched
51 – 60 Meteor collision, ash cloud for sky
61 – 70 Ocean world, no land
71 – 80 Dry world, no ocean
81 – 90 Non-human, intelligent life, still here
91 – 95 No world
96 – 100 Roll again and add together
You may want to add to these tables to make a more versatile generator for your own Long Earth campaigns but, there you go. A basic generator to make your life a bit easier.
If you enjoy Terry Prachett or Stephen Baxter, you should read The Long Earth, it is a great science fiction series about the effects infinity would have on mankind and feels real even when it talks about talking wolves, kobolds and elves.
It has great potential for a game setting and I’d love to hear if anyone plays using it or wants to!