Voidcrawler: The Knowledge Economy
This is part of a series of posts outlining optional rules for Cairn to fit the science-fantasy setting of Insidious Bloom, my forthcoming adventure planned for ZineQuest 2024. Previous posts covered an introduction to the setting and weapons and armor.
I'm gonna dip my toe into that argument our hobby just can't shake and say that system matters in the sense of the incentives offered to players and how that shapes the gameplay, at least the gameplay as intended by the author. That's why I've been thinking a lot about the economy of this setting and how to differentiate it from the gold- and treasure-seeking motivations that drive the characters. I want to emphasize exploring and learning new things about the galaxy as the primary goal rather than something that happens while pursuing a different goal.
And so we come to the knowledge economy. In the disparate systems of the known galaxy, myriad substances serve as currency in towns, regions, or entire planets, but almost nothing is valuable everywhere you go. Shiny metals, rare gasses, beautiful shells, and exotic salts can buy you a lot in certain places, but only knowledge is accepted everywhere. Specifically, knowledge units (KUs) are issued by the Encyclopedia Galactica, the premier body gathering and organizing knowledge of all things in all places, in exchange for new information in any subject: new species of plants of animals, new chemicals, new landscapes, new planets. KUs are then used as units of exchange, accepted by merchants in all but the most remote corners of the galaxy. Because information must be brought physically to the central Encyclopedia office on the core world, trade for KUs typically goes through knowledge brokers, who accept new information for immediate payment in KUs from their own supply and handle bulk shipments of information to the core for large payouts.
Voidcrawlers—those brave enough to risk the dangers of space travel—often devote their short lives to gathering information in the hopes of caching enough KUs in a few years of dangerous exploration for an early retirement. They use tools such as reality capture devices (RCDs), cartographic drones, atomic analyzers, universal sample tubes, and stasis orbs, to gather as much information in as short of a time as possibly, hopefully avoiding being eaten by a creature they're attempting to collect or overrun by a new type of extreme weather. In general, samples of new materials and organisms yield a higher payout than observation-only data.
RCDs - Reality capture devices capture immersive audio, video, and smell recordings to be played back in virtual reality devices. The crudest are shoulder mounted units weighing 20–30 lb., while the most sophisticated are neural implants collecting data directly from the users senses.
Cartographic Drones - Drones capable of flight or sea travel to map new geographic features. Simple systems are the size of a small aircraft and require manual control, while advanced systems can be 12–24 in. long and operate fully autonomously.
Atomic Analyzers - Machines capable of breaking down any substance into its component atoms and analyzing its composition. Briefcase-sized units weighing 50 lb. require large samples and take an hour or more to analyze, while 8-10 in. cube analyzer can work small samples in a matter of minutes.
Universal Sample Tubes - Advanced glass containers capable of safely holding any substance regardless of volatility. Come in various sizes.
Stasis Orbs - Orbs of energy projected from a small disc can hold a live organism safely in stasis for deliver, so long as you can get it inside the orb.
That's all for now. I haven't had time to work out the value scale for KUs, but I wanted to share this now, and I'll update later when I do figure that out.