It’s been a long, somewhat harrowing week, but I’ve still found a little time to work on The Legacy of Eight and that interest survey I sent out. Sleep is for the weak, after all. As I move on with the project, I want to make sure that I’m increasingly transparent: I don’t have incredible readership, but I want to make it clear that I think about things before I do them, dangnabit, even if they turn out worse on paper than they did in my head.
And man, is post-scarcity economics in games a difficult thing to do well.
First, let me say one thing here: Eclipse Phase is awesome, and y’all should go check it out. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I’m gonna be a little less nice.
Post-scarcity economics are hard, and nobody’s really done them well. Eclipse Phase is a game that I love, I think it might honestly be my most read and most discussed game (albeit maybe not so much here as in my friend groups), because it’s cool and treads interesting ground for a science fiction game. And the economics really aren’t so good.
There are a few issues, when it comes to putting economics into a game, that haunt everyone. First, you don’t necessarily want bookkeeping in lines with realistic economic features. Even Shadowrun, which I love but which has a bit of a complexity addiction, doesn’t go to the extent of itemizing lifestyle expenses.
And my game design sucks at economics. Street Rats was a burning chaotic mess, Othenar is sitting and waiting while I decide what to do with its money system (and I’m seriously tempted to throw just throw gold pieces in there when I get back to working on it after TLoE is pushed along to a “release” state).
The Legacy of Eight is set in a worse place than Street Rats for economics; with people who can conjure raw materials—and sometimes more—out of thin air, and many important services being as simple as a quick spell or arcane technology being activated with a button press, it’s difficult enough to have a reason to make anything terribly expensive. Add in the fact that most people in The Legacy of Eight could ostensibly live forever (but don’t typically do so, something I need to talk about at some point), and you’ve got a real mixture of things.
Making matters worse, the Successor Empire is hugely fond of compulsory magical education—barring places where magic is unpopular or forbidden (e.g. the Prefecture of Nova Canterbury)—though only a handful really get to the point where they can actually start casting spells. At the very least these people are familiar with the operation of magical tech that can make lives a lot easier and a lot better.
And that’s where the rub comes in: you have immortals dealing with infinite resources and infinite time, and you need to find a place for plot.
Now, if TLoE were a narrative game, I think that would be lovely: a game about transhumans plotting, finding love, and fading away amid schemes that unfold across millennia.
That’s not what TLoE is about. TLoE is about exploring boundaries, pushing limits, the day-to-day action of people entering the supernatural world and figuring out how to reconcile their experiences. It’s about high-octane combat, artful deception, pushing technology to its limit, and experiencing transcendent magic.
There are really two things that need to be considered, then, to a transhuman: availability, the readiness at which something can be found, and capacity, the ability of a character to actually keep stuff on hand.
Now, transhumans have a lot of availability relative to their lives, but the protagonists of The Legacy of Eight don’t necessarily have that advantage. While one can eventually manufacture almost anything with raw materials easily conjured by a trained magician, the problem lies in getting them into a finished shape. Magical conjuration is dependent on the complexity of the item: the magician might be locked away for days just to complete the spell’s casting, much less figure out how to actually make a piece of gear that they need.
Likewise, a civilization like the Eastrise Alliance, which is less magic dependent than the Empire but also has a large interstellar reach relies on technology more than magic. Magic is always an inefficient way to supply economic needs; it cannot harness bulk or specialize, as a spell that conjures something will always conjure an identical copy barring interference.
Industrial mining and smelting of the sort the Eastrise Alliance does is not necessarily permanently sustainable, but it lasts long enough, and between smart materials and high-efficiency processes an Eastriser can easily make things themselves in an evening that it would take an Imperial magician a month of study to attempt. Of course, every once in a while your machines break down, your design can’t be found, and the guy who’s wasting his time to make a single piece of gear that you could almost mass produce is instead going to get it first.
The solution to this is that TLoE treats gear as part of the leveling process, and wraps its acquisition into a system called Standing. While Standing should probably be a post on its own, Standing determines how much capital a character has at their disposal, both social and material.
Because of the way that Standing works, characters are allowed to get pools with which to purchase gear, and they can act on this every once in a while to get new gear. Between those times they need to watch their Standing and resources; they can get more, but only by calling in favors that will need to be repaid.
Availability is another issue. TLoE allows a character to store a limited amount of gear in a digital inventory, a sort of hammerspace storage powered by magic. A character simply activates a command and they have whatever they need on their fingertips (this means, as well, that someone can be walking around with body armor available to them, then activate it as combat begins to pull a ruse off).
This storage is limited by complexity: as a magical system, the digital inventory requires complicated interactions with the material it is storing, and without a limit on how much stuff an inventory can store it would eventually start to degrade the quality of its contents, something that is not a good result when the Creation Matrix is involved.
Next week (or before, if I get time,), I’ll go into more depth on standing. For now all it’s important to know is that I think I have a somewhat elegant system to balance the economics, but I wouldn’t be too cocky about it.