Thursday, April 10, 2014

[Cthulhutech] Rewriting "Mortal Remains", Part II - Government & Politics

Politics always makes for grand drama. I should know - where other people watch soap operas, I follow American politics (despite being German). And this kind of drama makes for good role-playing fodder. With this in mind, let's delve into how the government of Cthulhutech's New Earth Government is run.

From this section of Mortal Remains, we learn the following things:

The Lower House of the Earth Parliament, the "Hall of Commons", is restricted to 2,000 representatives, and has three major parties: The "Federalist Party" ("Conservative", for balance between state and federal level), "Unification Party ("liberal", for a strong, centralized government), "Social Democrats" (a smaller "Labor party", which can often play the two other parties against each other). There is also a "Senate Council" ("Upper House") for which each member state selects two representatives, with a "Security Council" subcommittee analogous to the UN Security Council which provides additional checks and balances. Elections are every four years, and once the "majority party" is determined, the Senate Council asks it to form a government.

What this section does not explain how precisely the Representatives of the Hall of Commons are elected, which is rather important for political drama. Given that the combined population of humans and Nazzadi is 4.3 billion, there is about 1 Representative for each 2.15 million humans. Has NEG territory been divided into 2000 voting districts where the winner of a simple plurality within the district will be chosen as the Representative, analogous to the American "first past the post" voting system? As much fun as this would open up for the politics of gerrymandering, I think not. Given the vagaries of the Arcanotech Wars where entire regions could be depopulated within short time spans, it would be very demoralizing to end up with Representatives without living voting districts (*cough* China *cough*), and before the following elections you'd have to redraw the voting district maps all over again - and who has time and energy for that, in a time of total war?

Instead, I suspect, we will see "party lists" like they exist in many parliamentary systems. Basically, the parties come up with a numbered list of candidates. Then, after the elections, they get a number of seats proportional to the percentage of the vote they have received - so if they get 40% of the vote, they will get 800 seats out of the 2000 seats in the Hall of Commons. These seats are filled up in the order of their party lists, so candidates #1 to #800 on that party's list all get seats, while #801 is out of luck (so close...). Additionally, to avoid hopelessly splintering the Hall of Commons with fringe parties, there will also likely be a minimum percentage of votes a party needs to get before it can enter the Hall of Commons (Germany, for example, requires at least 5% of the vote).

There you have it - a fairly simple, straightforward voting system which should work fairly well for a world government with highly fluctuating populations and territory.

"But wait!", you say. "How are the party lists created?"

A good question, and the process likely involves some kind of intra-party primaries. Now, a simple method would be to just start with a very large pool of would-be candidates and let all party members - or all people who have "registered" with a certain party, as it is customary in many US states - to vote on them, giving the #1 spot to the person with the most votes, the #2 spot to the person with the second most votes, and so on.

But that's boring (and thus anathema to adventure), not to mention unrealistic given the evolution of the NEG.

After all, the NEG was formed only 27 years ago - and when it was formed, it needed parties capable of operating on a global scale in a hurry. These could hardly be created out of whole cloth - instead, they needed to be built out of existing parties around the world, so that the new global parties could use the regional parties' existing voter base and party organizations.

And the negotiations involved were likely very protacted and difficult - and many of these parties, especially the ones in larger nations with huge voter bases plus the ones in rich nations which had lots of funds, likely negotiated special privileges for themselves. For example, if India represented one-fith of the world's voters, then a major Indian party joining a global party might have demanded one-fifth of all slots on the party list (i.e. #5, #10, #15 and so forth) be reserved for Indians - and the nascent global party might have aquiesced out of fear of losing Indian voters to another global party. Of course, by 2085 large parts of India have been lost to the Rapine Storm, reducing the number of Indian voters - but the party bylines still state that one-fifth of all seats must be reserved for Indian candidates, and any attempts to change that would provoke an outcry among Indian voters and possibly even mass defections to other parties.

Such rules can be different for each party and also tie the parties more to different regions - the more candidates on the party list come from a particular part of the world, the more support it will likely have from the local voters. The party leaders will likely try to support candidates who can maximize votes in the different parts of the world, but creating an optimal list will be difficult. Meanwhile, the would-be candidates compete fiercely among themselves for better (and thus more "secure") spots on the list...

While all state governments are now determined by free elections, this does not necessarily mean that they all have the same parties as on the global level. In countries with long traditions of multi-party elections, the local parties will likely have retained their traditional names as well, though they may be "associated" with one of the global parties (and thus have access to that party's networks and influence). In former one-party states, the former government party will likely associate with one of the global parties and do its best to remain the dominant force in local politics - which, given its extensive networks, it is in an excellent position to do so. In states that didn't have any official parties whatsoever, the "new parties" associated with the global parties will likely be formed out of the various power blocks of the old government (the miltary, the intelligence agencies, and so forth). Their committment to democracy may be less than convincing - which of course makes it more interesting at the global level, as even the former henchmen of brutal dictators demand their seat at the party tables.

As a final note, I would alter the section on monarchies and note that all remaining monarchies have purely ceremonial functions - they exist, and they are funded at a state level, but they no longer have any formal government powers. Thus, they serve as a symbol of tradition for their states, and little else - but in times of war, many people will find comfort in tradition.

To be continued...

[Cthulhutech] Rewriting "Mortal Remains", Part I - The Basics

I always liked the idea of Cthulhutech. Turning the Cthulhu Mythos into an alien invasion scenario, and fight it out with Mythos beings with huge mecha? What's not to like?

However, as the setting was expanded I felt that it did not live up to the potential of the premise. Too many setting elements seemed implausible, and too often adventure and story potential were restricted rather than enhanced. In my view, one of the most problematic examples of this was Chapter Two of Mortal Remains, which details the New Earth government and its people and territories. Therefore I will be going through this chapter section by section and analyze what I would do differently. For this, I have the following design guidelines:

1. Plausibility

"One cannot, except in immature pulp charlatan–fiction, present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions. Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to overcome, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel."

Cthulhutech obviously has quite a few "marvels" - that is, "out-of-the-ordinary" setting elements which can break suspension of disbelief. There is the Cthulhu Mythos itself, the mechas, the occult and the psychics, the Aeon War itself... These form the core of the setting and must remain. Yet to make horror possible, anything outside of these core concepts should be presented as plausible as possible. If the heroes are to be defenders of a society on the brink of extinction, they have to feel, at least during the game, that this society exists and is worth defending - which is difficult if various setting elements feel implausible.

2. Making full use of Earth

"That's why, for the longest time (and still), my fundamental setting design policy was: "Use Earth." It's better mapped, better documented, and just plain weirder than anywhere else."

Earth, with all its history and diversity of geography and cultures, is an amazing world - truly "the most detailed game setting there is". And one of the main reasons for using Earth as the base for a published setting is that game masters can tap into all this diversity to come up with new story and adventure idea. Any setting description should therefore pay homage to this diversity - it doesn't neet to provide exhaustive detail, but it should inspire ideas and give the game masters ample motivation to research the region and expand on it beyond what the "official" materials cover. This diversity should not be removed without good reason.

3. Compatibility

There are quite a few people who want to rewrite the setting from the ground up. I am not so ambitious - I want to make any changes fairly self-contained. The fundamentals of the setting should remain as they are, changing in presentation rather than substance, and more radical changes will only be on a lower, "local" level in order to avoid invalidating other material for the game.