The Setting of Freelancer

Overview

The game of Freelancer takes place in a world that has been devastated by wars, pollution and overexploitation. Society is falling apart, shattered by divisions in wealth, religion, beliefs and lifestyle. People have grown distant to each other, and barely even live on the same planet. The weak are ruled over by the strong, and the strong are slaves to their own greed.

Technology is spiraling out of control, and humanity is forced to change its very nature via cybertechnology to even just survive in this world.

The players take on the roles of independent operators, so-called Freelancers, who live in this chaos and desperation.

These Freelancers work as agents for hire for corporations, political activists, private citizens and sometimes even the police or intelligence agencies. Their work is as diverse as their employers, and they might do corporate espionage this week, free a kidnapped spouse the next week and eliminate a rogue agent or solve a murder-mystery after that.

The players will have to prove their creativity, intelligence and determination to thrive and survive in this dog-eat-dog world. And they will have to decide whether to ride the spiral downwards or try to turn it around.

An imaginary World

The setting is inspired by the real world we all live in. But it consciously differs from that in many aspects.

The goal of the game is not to simulate reality, but to present a somewhat plausible and credible, but in the end fantastic world. Just as a distorting mirror isn’t meant to show your true face, Freelancer is not a replication of the real world or projection of its future, but a twisted image supposed to amuse or horrify, teach or entertain us.

The natural laws, geography, geology, history, technology and humanity are similar to those in our own world, but differ in many minor and major details.

Technology in the World of Freelancer has taken some different roads than it has taken and will most likely take in reality. People who drove innovation in our world may never have been born or killed in a war that didn’t happen in our world, and others that didn’t thrive in our world took their place an shaped the world according to their ideas.

As a player and as a Gamemaster, one should embrace this divergence. It makes no sense to argue if a laser could penetrate a metallic armor in our world, if a software could get as smart or would be as dumb as in Freelancer, if the laws of this country or another are different in reality.
All that may be the case in the world we live in and experience, but the point of the game is not to replicate what we already see each day, but to bring us to a different, a somewhat magical place.

Scars on the face of the World

Climate change and environmental destruction have transformed the world into a vastly different place. Sea levels have risen and drowned many coastal regions, which has turned whole populations into homeless refugees and destroyed many industrial centers.

The ozone layer is gone, and the sun has put down her disguise as a source of life and hope, showing her real face as a radioactive, burning eye in the sky. Under a merciless sun, many regions have been turned into dry, dusty wastelands which consumes all life stupid enough to venture there.

Urbanization was forced into extremes due to environmental and economic changes. Agriculture in its classic form has become impossible in most regions due to soil erosion, contaminated water sources and lack of water.

A dwindling supply of fossil fuel has sent the costs of transportation skyrocketing, which devastated decentralized economies and made small-scale industrial plants economically unviable. This has taken away the economic basis for rural life, and forced people to migrate to the cities.

Wars and economic crisis have displaced more than half of humanity. While some welcomed the mingling of populations and saw an end to racism and national egoism, the opposite came true. Closeness bred hatred, and racial segregation has become the norm again.

Practically all people live in mega-cities now, with shining skyscrapers in the center and sheer endless slums at its fringes. The cities are covered by a constant dome of smog. Acid rain slowly eats away roads, buildings and skin. A black, slimy dust covers everything. The only living beings are humans, mutated rats and cockroaches – no birds, dogs or even trees can survive in in this inhospitable concrete jungle.

Dissolution of Society

Society has fallen apart. The social contract, the glue that held together the rich and the poor, the rulers and the ruled, has dissolved.

The rich and powerful live as if on another planet, surrounded by luxuries, while the poor and disenfranchised suffer in the slums. Between that, a shrinking middle class tries to survive, never able to reach the heaven above, and always threatened by the hell of poverty below them.

Culture has been diversified so much that even people of similar background most likely have no common frame of reference, no cultural coherence that allows them to communicate and socialize. Whereas colleagues or neighbors bonded over a discussion of the recent sports results or fashion, they nowadays have no common interests and stay strangers to each other. Individuality has brought freedom, but that freedom only gave social isolation.

Technological Divergence

In general, technology is much more advanced than in our reality in most aspects.

In some areas, technology is beyond our current capabilities, such as cyberware, portable laser weapons and colonies below the sea and on other planets. Some advances may very well be beyond what the laws of nature will ever permit, and others may take much, much longer than assumed in the timeframe assumed here.

Other technologies are less advanced than ours is or will be in the near future, and things not foreseen at the time of this writing may radically transform our world while it didn’t happen in the Freelancer setting.

Technology gone mad

Humanity has created technological marvels far beyond of what it can control.

People regularly augment and even replace their body with artificial implants, so-called cyberware, and genetically designed organs, so-called bioware. Money can make you stronger, quicker and even smarter than man was born to be. But it hasn’t brought the wisdom to use this increased strength and intelligence.

Through augmentations, the distance between rich and poor have been deepened even more. While some have to content with what nature and evolution has given them, others have advanced into superior beings that barely feel like a part of humanity anymore.

To them, a natural human compares to an augmented human like a slab of stone to a statue. The one is just the raw material from which true art is created. Only the latter deserves admiration and recognition, as stones are just as worthless and numerous as the poor masses.

The Failing of States

Historically speaking, civilization went hand in hand with the establishment of government and states. Rulers, even the despots, sought for stability, strove to protect their holdings from their neighbors. The edicts of despots evolved into laws that not only brought order, but also reigned in the power of government.

But all of that has failed. The world became to chaotic, too complex for states to regulate. Society is evolving into a state of anarchism, where no law rules and only strength gives power. The police have lost its grasp on crime and public order in most nations, and people rely on private security and vigilantism to enforce their rights.

Democracy has become a lifeless shell. Elections decide who is in power, but have little impact on what direction politics will take. Politicians and spiritual leaders buy votes with promises of hope, justice and equality, but those are just lies in the name of the only god they truly worship, mammon.

Introduction to Role Playing Games

What is a Role-Playing Game?

There have been many, many attempts to explain what a pen and paper role playing game (RPG) is, none of them really showing how the games works out once you get into it.
Anyhow, we shall give it a try. The world being as it is, let’s assume that you’re familiar with computer RPGs, like Fallout, The Witcher or World of Warcraft.
Now imagine that a human – the so called Gamemaster – plays all “monsters” or non-player characters (NPC’s), tells you what your character sees and hears and develops the story you experience. Other humans – the players – take the role of companions with which you experience the world.
Instead of using a mouse and keyboard to control your character, you use words. Instead of computer generated graphics and sound, you use your imagination. Instead of pre-generated stories written for the lowest common denominator, you and your gaming group will invent your own stories, your own world.
Gaming this way not only improves the enjoyment, but gives incentive to learn and think about life and morality, technology and history, politics and emotion.
Pen and paper role-playing games, as a concept, do not require a gaming company to run, and thus make you independent of other’s commercial interests, often lackluster story writing skills as well as balance and difficulty problems that plague most computer games.
One can spend money on commercial publications such as rule books and adventure books, but one doesn’t have to. What you don’t buy, you can create yourself with little effort or formal skills needed and actually have fun while doing it.

Why “Pen and Paper”?

Why is it called “pen and paper”? Because, at least in the past, it was played like any board or card game, sitting around a table, using pens and paper to keep record of the game, draw maps, develop tactics in fights and so on. The name stuck, even though many players today don’t actually use pens or papers or even sit around tables anymore.
The game can be played via internet, using voice and maybe video communication or one of several whiteboard applications just as well. Some additional information on that is given on pages 280 and following.

What will I experience?

With a human instead of a computer playing the NPC’s, the game world is much more flexible, plausible and rich in detail than any computer game could manage.
If you ever got frustrated because a computer game didn’t allow you to do what you wanted, you’ll see what makes pen and paper RPGs so great. If you want to sneak instead of fight, or attack that one really annoying NPC, or just blow up the building instead of killing all the guards one by one, you can do that here.
Also, getting creative together usually sparks a lot of good jokes that’ll keep you chuckling for years.

How does the game work?

The freedom and creativity a RPG allows doesn’t say that one will succeed with every approach. Just as in most computer games, your character has stats to display his or her abilities, the game world has rules – similar to laws of nature – of how it works and reacts. These are the game rules.
Game rules differ from game to game, such as Dungeons & Dragons™, Vampire™ or Shadowrun™. Certain concepts are common to most game systems, such as using dice to determine the outcome of uncertain events like shooting at someone.
Freelancer tries to keep the mechanics simple and fast paced. This is to reduce the amount of research and busy-work necessary to run the game.

Why “Role-Playing”?

Playing with humans instead of the computer allows to truly play and flesh out your character – and have him or her act accordingly.
The decisions your character will make should be based on the character’s knowledge, background, abilities and motifs. This will be an enjoyable challenge, and you’ll train your ability to put yourself into some else’s position and see the world through another’s eyes.
Facing a dystopian world, the players and character will face controversy on every turn. Both players and characters will have to decide how to deal with moral dilemmas, and you’ll probably learn more about yourself.
The second major aspect is a bit of acting. Most players like to give their characters a fitting voice, speech pattern, favorite expressions and so on, and do a little acting while impersonating the character.
That usually doesn’t include getting dressed up or showing up with a gun to the gaming group, but is a fun opportunity for some playing “pretend” and actually learning how to control your voice, your behavior, your appearance. Many role players get pretty good a putting up different “faces” as needed, and playing the tough guy in negotiations, the sly guy when explaining a plan and so on.