In many ways, the world of Altered Carbon is classic cyberpunk. There's flying cars, the rich in cloud cities, the poorest at ground level. There's designer drugs and sophisticated technology, crime, corrupt cops and megacorporations. There's off-world colonies hundreds of light years away, and very few traces of alien civilizations. There is a rich and sprawling cyber realm that feels like real life for the most part. The twist is, that everyone lives at least two lifetimes (barring destruction of a device called the stack, which is a repository for human consciousness.) The ultra-rich (meths) are functionally immortal, thanks to cloned bodies and remote backup of their consciousness.

Social Hierarchy

The technology of the stacks was a mixed blessing for humanity. On one hand, everyone could have at least one second chance (unless their stack was destroyed) and geniuses could live to their fullest potential. On the other, it's allowed those in power to solidify their power and influence to the point that it's extremely unlikely there will ever be a big shift in the social order. Upward mobility only goes so far because you hit a wall erected by the meths. It's nearly impossible to become a meth, but one could end up in their pocket and enjoy many benefits. However, that position is always precarious and status is not guaranteed in perpetuity.

This has had the effect of stagnating civilization. Someone who went on ice a hundred years ago would recognize much about the world after they were re-sleeved. When the old never cycle out to make room for new ideas, and those in power never retire, things stop changing to any dramatic degree. Sure, there's small but measurable improvements in technology, but the pace of progress is very slow.

Law and Order

On paper, the cops do try to keep the peace. They chase down suspects accused of organic damage (damage or death to the sleeve) and investigate real death (destruction of the stack.) They do for the most part, try to serve and protect all levels of society. In reality, the meths wield enormous power. They can blackmail and bribe authorities to get away with things no ordinary citizen ever would. There's a few straight arrow cops who rankle against that, but they tend to end up with their stack blown out.

There exists an organized Guild of Professional Private Investigators that often fills in the gap of work that the police or unwilling or unable to take on.



All of the religions that exist in our world exist in the world of The Stack. The largest difference is with Catholics, now termed Neo-Cs. Neo-Cs do not believe that Stacks house the human soul, and therefore are against being spun up into new sleeves. Neo-Cs have religious coding that prevents them from being spun up, even in the case of murder - where they would usually be spun up to testify against their murderer. The group is very small but vocal, and often protest outside resleeving facilities. Once you are spun up once, you cannot be a Neo-C, which means the pool of the devout gets smaller and smaller with each successive generation. It also means Neo-Cs do not exist on the colonies, as stack storage and needlecasting are required for offworld colonization. It should be noted that Neo-Cs are not exempt from being implanted with a stack. All humans, without exception, are implanted with a stack at one year of age.

Other religions have changed to greater or lesser degrees to accept or reject stack technology. New religions and/or philosophies have sprung up, in particular a cult-like fascination with Meths and a belief that they are the new gods. Many forms of Christianity exist that have adapted their system of belief to accept stack technology.


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Crime and Punishment

Crime is rampant in Bay City. This ranges from petty crime to organic damage and sleeve death. Callousness to violence has risen dramatically in the generations since the introduction of stacks. When sleeve damage and death is treated as property damage, the value of human life reduces as a result. Violence is a part of everyday life for anyone below the middle class. Even those who enjoy a relatively privileged position are not immune to the effects of a civilization that places little value on bodily autonomy.

Most crimes, with the exception of a few capital crimes, are punished by going 'on ice.' A person's stack is removed from their sleeve and they're stored away for a period of years. Sentences range from a few months to multiple lifetimes. If a person's family has the money, they can pay for the storage of the criminal's sleeve via a lease. Otherwise, their sleeve gets sold or rented off, often to pay restitution or legal fees. At the end of a sentence, a person will be housed in whatever sleeve the government happens to have available. These sleeves are often sub-optimal and belonged to other criminals who have yet to serve out their sentences.

It is fairly common for female criminals to be spun up into male bodies at the end of their sentence. This is due to the relative proportion of male to female inmates and general severity of the crime and length of sentence. Female sleeves are also more likely to be sold off to sleeve dealers to pay for restitution and legal fees, especially if they are young and healthy.

Victims of crimes that cause sleeve death will be re-sleeved at no cost to them provided the person's lawyer can prove liability. Like criminals, the victims have no choice in the sleeve. It's not uncommon for the sleeve to be wholly unsuited to the victim. Then it is up to a family to find and pay for a more suitable sleeve.

Sleeves and Stacks

See Sleeves and Stacks


Bay City

Bay City is a megalopolis that grew out of San Francisco and the primary setting of The Stack. It is home to tens of millions of people and is the economic and governance heart of Earth. More meths live in Bay City than anywhere else on the planet.

The Ground

As Bay City is literally stratified, the bulk of the population is referred to (derogatorily by the rich) as Grounders. The 'ground' refers to anything below 70,000 storeys. Those with their feet on the actual earth are the poorest and criminals. It is a perpetually neon-lit world that is dirty and dark. Things brighten up as you ascend. The middle class is literally in the middle, and the richer people (company CEOs, lawyers, bankers, doctors) actually get to see slices of sunlight.

The Aerium

The meths of Bay City live in The Aerium - extreme penthouses located above the cloud line that obscures the masses below. Very few people ever see the view from the Aerium. The upper class of lawyers, bankers, etc, are the only Grounders who get a glimpse of this other world inhabited by the immortal ultra-rich.



There exist several satellite stations in near or far orbit around Earth. Some of these are research outposts, others are needlecast facilities, Houses, or private residences for Meths. Others are space stations or refit stations for interstellar crafts. They can be reached by way of commercial or private transport. Although most operate within the law, some take advantage of their removed position to conduct illicit activity.

The Protectorate

The United Nations Interstellar Protectorate (referred to just as the Protectorate) is the united government of all humanity on Earth and on colonial worlds. Individual nation-states and colonies all answer to the Protectorate. Problems with the meths holding power aside, it is a democratic, representative government with varying levels of corruption depending on which nation-state and which colony you're referring to.

Harlan's World

Harlan's World is a small colonized world approximately 80 light years from Earth. It is smaller than Earth, has three moons, and the surface is 90% water. The planet was settled by the Japanese using Eastern European labour, so the majority of the population descends from one or both sets of stock. It was the seat of a failed rebellion led by Quellcrist Falconer called the Unsettlement. Their goal was to remove the meths from power by wiping out remote backups and setting a hard lifetime of 100 years on stacks.

There are several inert Martian gun platforms in orbit around Harlan's World. These devices will fire if anything is built above a hundred storeys or so. No one has been able to get aboard or disable the satellites. No one knows why the platforms were placed there. Between the platforms preventing upward growth and the ocean covered world, the planet is very unique.

The Colonies

The Protectorate encompasses a dozen other worlds at varying levels of habitation and colonization across the galaxy. Digital consciousnesses and sleeves are stored separately for the long journey that can take hundreds of years. Once the colonists arrive and set up a base, then visitors from offworld can needlecast into sleeves to help further colonization efforts. Each colony reflects the culture of the original colonists and the geography of their new worlds.

There are, at any one time, a series of armed conflicts or all-out war in the colonies. These are most often between the Protectorate and a rebel uprising of some sort. Some of these conflicts have been going on for decades. There are currently no colonies that have broken out from under Protectorate control, but a few have come close. The Protectorate stays more or less intact over fear that the Martians - the aliens whose technology can be found on many other worlds - are still out there somewhere.

The influence of the meths decreases the further you get from Earth. Culture, social change and cultural shifts are much more prominent on the fringes of the protectorate than they are on Earth. Colonists who visit Earth for the first time often find it staid, stagnant and rusty.

(Players are welcome to make up their own original colonies for their character backgrounds.)

The Martians

Stack technology was created by salvaging ruins from an ancient alien civilization. Dubbed the Martians because the first traces of them were found on Mars, their detritus can be found all over the Protectorate. In fact, stack technology would not have been possible without an alloy discovered in the first ruins. Entire industries have sprung up around finding and salvaging Martian technology. Their tech is more a commodity like oil than a scholarly pursuit. Archaeologists in the colonies then, are more akin to geologists who tell big corporations where to drill for oil.

Very little is known about the Martians, other than they were avian and probably predatory. Their thought processes appear to be so different from humans that it makes understanding their culture (if there even is a unified one) extremely difficult. Most people, even experts on the Martians, prefer to gather up what technology they can make sense of and then move on, rather than to make a comprehensive study of the beings themselves.