Setting Idea: Sixgun and Planet


(approx. 600 words)

This post originally appeared on the Pen and Paper Games Forum. Only some markup (markdown) has changed.

For those of you who don’t know what “sword and planet” is, it’s science fiction in which our lone Earthling hero is thrown onto an alien planet with generally low technology and must fight to survive. Examples include Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom series (A Princess on Mars, etc.) and some of Jack Vance’s work (particularly the Planet of Adventure series). The excuse for swords being the weapon of choice varies from decaying cultures to alien oppressors.

Recently I’ve been thinking about what I’ll call “sixgun and planet”, basically the same premise but the available technology is closer to the Old West’s. Examples abound, from the anime Trigun to the short-lived TV series Firefly. The question remains, though, why is technology stuck at that phase.

One answer I came up with a long time ago: electronics simply don’t work on the planet’s surface. (My original idea was for a fantasy planet, but this is more interesting.) Any device that relies on an electrical current will malfunction and then stop. Even electric lights and arc welding don’t work. Oddly, though, other electromagnetic phenomena function normally: light transmission, chemical bonds, and nerve impulses, to name three. This has some amusing consequences:

Part of my interest in this setting is figuring out what would work and what wouldn’t. Also one can imagine social stratification based on available technology, from the city-folk who get Babbage engines and the best bio-tech medicines, to the frontiersmen who have only a Winchester, an axe, and an oil lamp. Throw in alien aborigines, ultra-tech artifacts from a forgotten age, and mysterious ultra-terrestrial entities that might be responsible for the anti-electronic field, and you might just have something.