Orchestra originally launched as a "setting-light" game, with an emphasis on more of a framework for setting than deep political backgrounds and a in-depth world, but it has since matured (even over the time before its release) into a game with a full setting that keeps expanding rapidly.
Orchestra takes place in a devastated world- Governments ran into issues with their economies when one of the major superpowers ran so far into debt that they collapsed, and the governments, corporations, and individuals that had been depending too heavily on its debts being paid wound up peniless. It was revealed that several nations were lying about the actual extents of their natural resources and stockpiles, and the financial collapse was met with a lack of resources. The world burned. Several corporations took advantage of the chaos to become nation-state grade entities or perform previously proscribed experiments. Measures taken to make continent cities viable have drained the world of water resources, superweapons unleashed by rogue states prior to the formation of the World League (including the states that went on to form the World League) have devastated the natural landscape, creating islands consisting of some nations' entire former coastlines. Resources are scarce, and those who have them hold onto them with a death grip.
The world finally settled back into order, with the World League taking control from various individual states with relatively little resistance alongside several Corporate Private Areas and a handful of patches of good old anarchy. The World League rules with an iron fist, taking on many of the mistakes of the previous superpowers and lying through its teeth about the state of technological advances. People enjoy high confidence, but life expectancy actually has dropped (despite falsified studies) due to waning health coverage. The World League loses many men in conflicts against anarchic and corporate interests, and the veteran population is often plagued with poorly remedied war wounds, both psychological and physical. To top it off, the World League turns some rural areas under its control into ''hot zones'', artificially irradiated zones used to hide illicit testing. The inhabitants of these zones were proclaimed lost whenever the supposed nuclear incident occurred, but they were used by the World League for human testing or sold off to corporations for a variety of nefarious purposes. World League mega-cities span continents and suffer from massive overpopulation, disease, and famine, though the average citizen lives a decent life.
Corporations form totalitarian states next to the World League's iron curtains. The best worker is one that the corporation completely controls, after all. Using any means available, the corporations forge onward with progress, at a great human price. Even more totalitarian than the World League, corporations exert their influence on almost everyone remaining on the planet- odds are that everyone uses at least some mass produced products. That said, corporations are less land hungry than the World League. Corporate citizens live better than those in the World League- but even the draconian World League is more lenient than corporations when their interests are challenged, and if you're born in a corporate enclave you may never be able to leave. Imbedded identification chips and checkpoints keep workers in line and prevent them from organizing or escaping. In return, corporate citizens enjoy unrivaled security. Outsiders in a corporate enclave are easily noticed, and may be treated with suspicion.
Anarchists control a good part of the world not controlled by the World League. Geographically they have more territory than the Corporations, but they lack any central leadership and their population is less dense. Anarchists range in terms of philosophy and ideology- some form small towns that almost resemble a governed area (legal enforcement is done by surveillance and sousveillance as opposed to a government), others rove the lands in packs of bandits kept together only by a desire to maximize looting and profits. Some anarchists feel that government is wrong inherently, while others just think it gets in their way, and while the two sects get along decently, political debates often turn violent.
The last of the major elements is the Swordsman Foundation. The Swordsmen believe that the World League either has to go through massive reform (Reformist) or be scrapped and replaced with a new government or group of governments (Separatist). While they vary immensely on actual methodology, Swordsman members are militant and willing to die for freedom. The Swordsman Foundation is, naturally, illegal in the World League, but they find shelter in run-down areas of the continent cities and in Corporate enclaves or barren wastelands in the Cataclysm Zones.
Of course, not everyone is a member of a faction. There are many unaffiliated individuals who have risen to fame in the public eye. Similarly, typically in poorer or more remote regions, it is possible to find traditional nation-states as well as towns and cities with no affiliation with the five major factions, serving as reminders of how the world's sociopolitical structures used to work as a general rule.
Background (Swordsman Foundation):
The Swordsman Foundation is a small group of men and women dedicated to exposing the World League's lies and propaganda, as well as genuinely benefitting the inhabitants of the world. They often suffer from being attributed with various terrorist attacks (sometimes exacerbated by more radical elements), and while they have military assets, they keep them secret for fear of reprisals.
And that's what the Anet says about us, but don't take all your knowledge from them. The anarchists believe that the World League proves that all government is bad. We believe that the World League proves that the World League is bad. We see the truth; we're moderate, we don't overreact, we just see a model and try to fix it.
You see, brothers, the World League is hopelessly corrupt. The time has come for action, before more lives are stolen and lands are burnt. We act now, we act fast, and we act hard, and we will change the face of this world, and cure its illnesses with the fires of reform. It doesn't take a world war to change the course of mankind. We just need appropriate force in appropriate places.
Mild: There is no harm in restructuring society.
Moderate: I must do what I can to help those who are in need.
Extreme: Society is committing suicide, and we need to show it the light.
Background (World League):
Springing from the ashes of world nations, the World League has restored a standard of living and technological advances that were thought lost during the first half of the twenty-first century. From the failed individual nations, several leaders arose and built up a stronger, international coalition that has become the World League.
With equality and justice for all, the World League provides unrivaled opportunities for citizens and immigrants alike, with socialized medicine and cutting-edge technology available to the masses. Poverty is obsolete within our borders, and famines are a thing of history.
Spanning every continent, the World League is a hope for tomorrow, pushing back the anarchic free states, the corrupt Corporate Private Areas, and outsmarting and neutralizing the threats of the Swordsman Foundation.
Mild: There is no harm in building a new order.
Moderate: I must do what I can to keep society in one piece.
Extreme: Society is committing suicide, and we need to bring order at any cost.
We are the order behind the scenes. Say what you will, despite the World League's rhetorical and military attacks upon our enclaves, everyone depends on us. From the lowest egoist to the president of the World League, we supply the majority of resources and goods to the world.
Without us, there would be nothing, we'd still be living in the Stone Age, hunting animals with rocks. We're the light on the horizon, ignore the World League. They haven't actually come up with anything new in a long time. We're the ones who came up with the kelp and soy we all eat, and the alternative energy that won't be depleted within a few hundred years.
We are progress. We're not the backsliding of the anarchists, or the stagnation and politics of the Swordsman Foundation and World League. We are the future.
Mild: There is no harm on making a dollar here or there.
Moderate: I must do what I can to keep afloat.
Extreme: Society is committing suicide, and I want in the will.
Hey, you're in the right place. Come on over and have a seat. Outside these walls, I'd probably shoot you for that coat you have, but I don't feel like shooting in the bar. Maybe tomorrow I'll catch up with you and take your shiny things. Of course, I've got liquor for a while after a heist from the corporations, so I may not be out shooting for a while yet.
I live for myself, and you'd best too. Life's too short to care about others or what they think. I mean, maybe your friends or family, but that's not always great either. Us Egoists? The government kept us down. We've risen. Come with us, and see what you can do for yourself. Not what some guy in a fancy suit can.
Mild: There is no harm in my own benefit.
Moderate: I must do what I can to get what I want.
Extreme: Society is committing suicide, and I'll finish it off.
Ignore him. He's just upset because the truck he stopped had soft drinks rather than guns. Not all of us anarchists are bad. The whole bomb-throwing stereotype is really mis-attributed. We're better than average, if you ask me. Why?
We've got our own rules, but we don't have written law or even common law. We have the laws of popularity. Believe it or not, we're actually much stricter than the World League on crime and corruption. There it's money. Here, it's your name.
We have this database with names of everyone who's registered to live in our areas, voluntary, of course, but highly recommended. We don't have currency or police or governments. We have reputation. You get reputation from how people think of you. They like you, they bump your rep. Each point adds up until you hit certain ratings. And you don't just get “I like this guy” points, you get points for your actions. Not just for performing on a hit television show, you have to actually do stuff. Points are categorized. Fraud is one of the biggest crimes.
We live in order and peace, but nobody reigns over us but God. As author and professor J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, we are ''philosophically understood'' anarchists, not ''whiskered men with bombs'', and we are looking for the ''abolition of control''.
Mild: There is no harm in freedom.
Moderate: I must do what I can to prevent oppression.
Extreme: Society is committing suicide to return itself to a natural state.
Now you've heard from the top five political factions on what is now Earth. Sure you may find the occasional theocratic or despotic group in an otherwise anarchic zone, or old Wild West like settlements, but if you wanna join up with a group of power players, those are your options. For the most part, none of them lie. The Swordsman Foundation is focused on taking down the World League due to its numerous frauds. The World League is trying to restore order and progress to the world, despite its internal flaws. The Corporations are turning a profit and actually helping people, albeit for their own benefit. Egoists are… egoists. When the end came, they saw an opportunity to help themselves. Neo-Anarchists are distrustful of government, but recognize the need for order and rules, so they have established a reputation network that protects them from grievous offenders.
Pick a side. Any side. If you don't, you will be left behind. You can find their representatives anywhere. Even the worst hell-hole has someone who adheres to the World League, and the shiniest city or Corporate Private Area has a few Egoists wanting to make the world their playground.
The World League's predecessors were on the verge of a new type of warfare that would change geopolitical boundaries forever by crippling nations. Part of the ability of the World League to foster was caused by the Cataclysm Weapon Test, which was an experiment with a weapon that would be able to cause seismic-scale destruction. It created great wastelands that the World League mostly ignores. These regions have been plunged into a technological dark age- even if the minds are there to restore modern society, the resources usually aren't. These are pockets where the Swordsmen, corporations, and anarchists are dominant. The borders are set in stone, and there's not much transition between the two worlds.
There's a great call for hired hands and rented guns, either in the towering World League cities, or the bleak anarchic wastes, or in the few places in the Cataclysm Zones where civilization struggles to return. The borders are rife with conflict- the World League officially welcomes and ''rehabilitates'' wasteland dwellers, but the truth is less friendly. Border crossings are dangerous underground affairs involving hidden tunnels under massive concrete walls or a prayer-filled plane ride. Only the richest corporations have the pull to ship people and materials between the two areas. While it is true that the majority of the world's commerce is done in the World League's territory, the Cataclysm Zones hold hordes of unfortunates looking for a better life.
Updated 9/5/2011 from Orchestra Core.