Altered Carbon as a campaign world
Those that have not watched this Netflix series should stop reading this now and watch it.. While I am going to avoid discussing the plot directly, some of the technology and its implications may in fact act as spoilers, so leave now. I’ll wait.
The basic premise of the AC world is that through alien technology mankind can digitize their consciousness. This allows the following:
Consciousness can be transferred from body to body - referred to as Sleeves and is contained within Magic Alien devices called Stacks. These Stacks are durable, but not indestructible.
Consciousness can be transferred between planets again via alien technology, so interstellar travel without FTL ships is possible. It is possible to upload your consciousness though the equivalent of the internet locally as well. You do, of course, need to have a sleeve waiting and ready for you there.
You can have backups taken of your consciousness, though apparently this is ruinously expensive and considered the domain of the Meths( From Methuselah) stupid rich and powerful elite who can essentially live eternally by sleeve replacement. You can have more than one 'active' copy of your consciousness as well, though this is considered to be a High crime punishable by True Death - destruction of all of one's stacks.
Standard Science Fiction here. We have good old slugthrowers, Gauss pistols/rifles, flechettes, lasers, particle pistols, etc. No lightsabers that I have seen, but vibro weapons would not be out of place.
Seem to be about Star Wars tech level. Shuttles can take off from small launch pads without immolating acres of space and reach orbit. Flying cars are commonplace. Starships are present, but are superceded by Needlecasting (Long distance transmission of one's consciousness into a new sleeve)
Cloning exists, big time, along with the ability to 3D print clones. Presumably growing clones is cheaper than printing them, but would require much more time.
Normal humans, Transhumans and Freaks are all present. ‘Sleeves’ can be genetically modified to have upgrades to them, people can get upgraded sleeves if they can afford them or are rewarded by those who can.
Genetic freaks are also created, some for gladiator style games. These can resemble standard fantasy races if desired, but really with the level of tech in this world, just about anything is possible.
It is apparently possible to be resleeved in non-human bodies though it does not appear to take well in the few examples presented in the show. It could be presumed that any creature with sufficient brain power could be used as a sheath. It was not touched on on the series, but it could be possible for humans to transfer their stack to an Alien sheath. It works in the reverse.
Transhuman sleeves could be a later campaign option for players. Freaks could be available at the start, with the standard caveat that they would be treated poorly in that form.
AIs could play a part as well, at the very least as supporting characters. However, while it has not appeared in the series so far, I don’t see why an AI could not become resident in a stack and ‘become’ human.
The Precursors. Angel-like (in an Aliens-ish kind of way) with very high tech levels. While they do interact in the series, they do so in a very singular way that would preclude their inclusion in a lower profile campaign. They are a good source of super powered alien artifacts - such as the stacks, and dormant(?) orbital defense systems.
Due to the existence of cloning and 3D printed body parts, medical intervention is extremely powerful, with the final option of simply removing the Stack and obtaining though some means a new Sleeve. Short of that - especially if resleeving is not an option due to religious/ethical grounds, there are very good cybernetics which run the gamut from pure mechanical to blended bioengineered/mechanical. The limits are mainly on how much money the victim (or their associates) have.
You’ve got megacities, Archaeologies, private islands, other planets, orbital facilities,etc. Its wide open. But of course Money is all important, and corruption is everywhere. With enough money, you can have clones spread around the galaxy and then Needle Cast yourself into one of these.
Staying away from the show's plot lines, it should be clear that there are lots of options. There is the perpetual battle between the haves and have-nots, religious conflicts, anti-stack technology terrorists, political unrest, etc. Its really a pretty wide open world for gaming if you don't really want to follow the
When gaming in this world it would make sense to clearly delineate your mental abilities, which transfer unaltered from sleeve to sleeve, and to physical abilities which are sleeve specific.
Sleeves can be easy, they can be short lived. Your character gets shot up beyond repair? Just grab one of your enemies’ sleeves and steal it. You get that sleeve’s baggage, at least until everyone learns you’ve been resleeved. PCs get lots of money? They can buy a backup sleeve and then pay for maintenance. Just like a lich’s amulet, it needs to be protected. Stop paying? Well, the backup company will just format the sleeve and use it for another customer.
Want to play a second character? Clone yourself and copy your stack - and hope you don’t get caught.
Based on my own experiences, Shadowrun and Spacemaster (especially with Cyberspace added) would seem to be good fits at different ends of the complexity spectrum. Perhaps even old school Star Wars D6 could work
In all, I found it a very interesting series, and think it would make for some great roleplaying!
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this is pretty much the setting of the game Eclipse Phase, but the sleeve options are much more dramatic, and there are still ships and things in orbit, not everyone can afford needlecasting into a new sleeve as a mode of travel.
Haven’t watched the show, but read the article anyway :) Fun game world!
I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right Altered Carbon would make a great RPG setting. A personality held in an immortal stack is concept that would be well served by exploration in the collective story-telling/basic theater medium of an RPG table. I didn’t finish the first season of the Netflix show (my own lack of enthusiasm for TV not a failing of the show), but I did read the novel about ten years ago or so. Two things I’d like to explore more in an RPG setting would be the themes of the setting and the personality and mystery inherent in the sleeve conceit.
First, I loved the setting. The novel was your classic hard boiled detective yarn that pushed my genre buttons from the plot packaged with the line “I’d like you to solve a murder Mr. Kovac’s….my own.” The Altered Carbon world lends itself to a crimestory theme, where the players take on heists and investigation in a complex and sophisticated society. The concepts of the stacks could be applied to a lot differently themed settings (the comedy sci-fi RPG Paranoia comes to mind) but Alter Carbon wasn’t just about the stacks/sleeves. They were a great gimic in the novel but not what the novel was about. It was about identity, materialism, authenticity, the nature of human connection, style, violence and wish fulfilment. Thus, I’d argue that an Alter Cabron game should also strive to explore those concepts.
The second thing I’d put in the setting is the baggage the sleeves bring with them. In the book at least, Kovac’s is attracted to the detective when he is in the body of her former lover. The bodies carry with them pheromonal and chemical connections to other places and settings. Latter when Kovac’s is in the ninja body, he doesn’t feel the same way about the detective. I’d explore this in the RPG, have the history of the sleeve be important to the plot and alter the way you give information to your character dependent on the sleeve they are in.
Finally, system wise, I think something like Star Wars d6 would be the easiest fit for this setting. You’ll never get a perfect simulation, but in star wars d6 your rolls are an additive combination of your skills and attributes. The Stack could bring the skills and the Sleeve the attributes. Your character could be brilliant scientist but get sleeved into the body of a GED holding grounds keeper or factory worker with a low intelligence/knowledge attribute. The character would still have all the knowledge but he not be as quick to access and apply it.