Saturday, August 22, 2009

Further Gothic Space Opera Thoughts

I've been digging through lots of Discovery programs detailing the history of theology, Christianity and the dark ages looking for inspiration and, among other things, it occurs to me that I need to draw from more eras for inspiration. Just as 40k draws from World War I for its inspiration, I need to look elsewhere for mine, as all the best settings are awesome amalgamations of several different cool things. But that's not really what this post is about.

40k is not christian. Carefully sifting through history has shown me where the Imperium of Man really draws its inspiration: The Roman Empire. Now, obviously, Ultramarines and other clearly draw their inspiration from the Roman Empire, plus all the latin and such, but I think most 40k players assume that 40k represents a post-constantine, "dark ages" Roman Empire, slowly collapsing just as it did into the medieval world, while barbarians beat at its gate. However, worshipping an imperial, military figure head as an incarnate, still-existant god while "legions" go forth and conquer in his name, spreading Pax Imperium in His name, is very very Roman.

This means that my desire to make the faith of my setting decidedly christian, with a gother-than-thou martyr god who dies for your sins will create a different feel than 40k does, which is nice. Our Imperial Knights will be less legionaries and more knights, less military soldiers who fall in line and more elite agents who step up, which is, of course, more appropriate for an RPG.

If we have this martyr god who dies for our sins, though, who is "God the Father" that creates this martyr and gives him to us? I'm showing my mormonism here a little, as most Christians believe they are one and the same, but there's still a continuity element here, because God existed before Christ was born. So, unless our "Son of Man" was eternal, who made him? It's an interesting notion if he "made himself," but the actual agents would have to be the masters of Terra, and since Terra stands in for Jerusalem and the Holy Land in our game (You know, so we can go on a crusade and liberate it from the wicked powers that hold it, just like the knights did), the people of Terra stand in for the Jews, but they can also stand in for God, to some degree. Terra itself becomes the focus of worship.

But I find there's a further element that keeps cropping up as I work on my setting, namely the notion of the supernatural, technology, and who "God" is in the setting. I know some of you aren't fans of Transhumanism, but stick with me here. Vernor Vinge argued that technology is leading us to one of two places: It will either destroy us, if we cannot master it and our darker impulses have us flinging nukes at one another fast enough to wipe out our civilization, or it will result in accelerating our progress beyond a point where decent predictions can be made, the so-called "Singularity." If you talk to most Singularity-loving types, mention the Singularity and watch them. There'll be a sheen that comes to their eyes, their faces will lift, their voices will rise in an almost religious fervor. The machines will rise up, they will say, and take humanity and lift them into god-hood. They won't use those terms, but what they talk, and how they talk, reminds me alot of the Rapture.

In 40k, the dark age of technology only exists to get humanity to the stars. Once that's happened, we carefully wipe it out with a convenient and barely mentioned war, and get on with our dark ages and our many wars. But I propose an alternate take. During this dark age of technology, mankind develops many wondrous technologies, but stands on the cusp of perfection, an edenic state, and then one man reaches too high, as per the tower of Babylon, and is cursed, downcast and the Confusion of Tongues begins the first ruination of technology. War erupts as this master of Babylon, this Beast, conquers the many nations of Man, and even destroys the civilization of Terra, giving us a convenient diaspora and a setting of destruction behind the Rule of Man, and eliminating the technological supremacy that would make the game more THS than 40k. The Son of Man spreads his sacraments before the Beast of Babylon crucifies him (literally or not, I don't know), and soon, we have sacred Imperial Knights slaying the Beast of Babylon and claiming the empire for themselves, ala Constantine. We have further troubles, but importantly, man is not allowed to do things that would cause the Singularity (because he risks causing more disasters instead) until he finds and returns the Son of Man, who has sufficient wisdom to guide them to technological apotheosis, and we suddenly have shades of Revelations, where a dark age of blood and destruction precedes the return of the messiah to defeat the forces of evil and lead people to Heaven.

Except this time, you can't sit around just waiting for it to happen. You have to find your Messiah, if he ever existed at all, and lift him up.

This notion of Technology in place of the supernatural, not in the sense that "they think it is magic," but that it is the source of all the stuff in the medieval world would have been magic is now technological in nature, like our angels, our vampires, our miracles, has me on the verge of even discarding the Warp (in the form of Netherspace) in favor of these constructed hyper-space "highways," and other relics of humanity. What if everything in the setting was either the result of human ingenuity or hubris? I think something needs to be alien, but part of me likes the notion that every monster race (the vampires, the demons, the werewolves) are a result of a human technological sin, those that address our fears of technology: the Vampire is the fear of nanotech devouring our worlds, the demons are the fear of AI rising up and tossing aside their masters, the werewolf is the fear of genetic engineering making us no longer human, and there's gotta be something about our fear of the technologies of the future destroying our individuality, making us all cogs in a vast machine.

I don't see a place, a need, for the inhuman, unnatural, cthulhu-like monsters that 40k has. That interests me. I'll have to explore it further.
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