The Emberverse – an RPG Background


The Emberverse has become the name for S.M. Stirling’s series of novels set in a post catastrophe world. The catastrophe, referred to as “The Change”, is that all modern technology simply stops working. It occurs to me that the post-Change world would make a good setting for a fantasy RPG.

In the post-Change world, electronics no longer work. Explosives from pre-Change weapons simply fizzle. Even steam engines do not work – pressure does not build up when a pressure vessel is heated. All these suggest a change to physical constants yet the change is so finely tuned that the sun still shines, wood still burns and biological functions still continue. The inescapable conclusion is that the Change has been deliberately engineered. Opinions vary as to who is responsible. The various hypotheses can be summed up as God Did It, Satan Did It, The Old Gods Did It, and Aliens Did It. Interestingly, nobody has advanced the view that our world is merely a computer simulation and the programmers have changed the parameters.

Whatever the cause, the result is the total collapse of late Twentieth Century society (the Change occurs in 1999). Survivors are those who live in remote areas, those who have knowledge of pre-Industrial Era skills, those who realise early on that the Change is as near permanent as makes no difference and the adaptable.

I say “as near permanent” because it occurs to me that this is not necessarily the first time a Change has occurred. Previous Changes might have changed the natural laws that allowed what we now call “magic” to work. Because most people in times past were not intimately acquainted with magic in the way moderns are acquainted with technology, most people did not notice when the magic went away and priests and shamans began bluffing. There was no escaping the consequences of the failure of technology.

It is increasingly obvious in the novels (particularly the later ones) that some form of magic now works (and that spirit/demonic possession happens). This will be discussed in more detail in a post on post-Change religion.

The death toll from the Change is huge. In North America, 95% of the population is dead with in a year. In the desert states from California to Texas, everybody dies. The great cities of the East Coast are now also death zones inhabited only by cannibal bands known as Eaters.

In the UK, virtually the entire population dies except for 300,000 inhabitants and refugees on off-shore islands. These include the Royal Family and go on to found the successor state of Greater Britain. The death toll is total in mainland Western Europe (this is a little implausible in my opinion). In Norway a group of towns near a NATO base live through the first Change Year on its food stocks and found Norland.

On the other side of the world survival rates are high in largely rural Tasmania and New Zealand’s South Island. No-one has survived in Australia’s major cities but the situation in the small towns and Aboriginal reserves of the Outback is unknown.

Across the world, people are struggling to survive and trying to relearn old style agricultural techniques and medieval weapon skills. Enter the lethal world of the Emberverse.

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