So if you read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and thought...

"You know, HPMOR is pretty good so far as it goes; but Harry is much too cautious and doesn't have nearly enough manic momentum, his rationality lectures aren't long enough, and all of his personal relationships are way way way too healthy."

...then have I got the story for you! Planecrash aka Project Lawful aka Mad Investor Chaos and the Woman of Asmodeus, is a story in roleplay-format that I as "Iarwain" am cowriting with Lintamande, now past 1,000,000 words.

It's the story of Keltham, from the world of dath ilan; a place of high scientific achievement but rather innocent in some ways.  For mysterious reasons they've screened off their own past, and very few now know what their prescientific history was like.

Keltham dies in a plane crash and ends up in the country of Cheliax, whose god is "Asmodeus", whose alignment is "Lawful Evil" and whose people usually go to the afterlife of "Hell".

And so, like most dath ilani would, in that position, Keltham sets out to bring the industrial and scientific revolutions to his new planet!  Starting with Cheliax!

(Keltham's new friends may not have been entirely frank with him about exactly what Asmodeus wants, what Evil really is, or what sort of place Hell is.)

This is not a story for kids, even less so than HPMOR. There is romance, there is sex, there are deliberately bad kink practices whose explicit purpose is to get people to actually hurt somebody else so that they'll end up damned to Hell, and also there's math.

The starting point is Book 1, Mad Investor Chaos and the Woman of Asmodeus. I suggest logging into ProjectLawful.com with Google, or creating an email login, in order to track where you are inside the story.

Please avoid story spoilers in the comments, especially ones without spoiler protection; this is not meant as an "ask Eliezer things about MICWOA" thread.

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Is the forum format important, with the separation between posts and the profile pic and info on the side of each post? Cause if not I would love to have an epub version of this so I can read it on my kindle, might even find a way to create it myself if it doesn't exist yet.

https://github.com/rocurley/glowfic-dl

I liked how the epub strips out unnecessary UI from the glowfic site, but downloading and moving epubs around is a pain...

So I built a web reader on top of this code! Check it out here: https://share.streamlit.io/akrolsmir/glowflow/main

It'll work for any Glowfic post actually, eg https://share.streamlit.io/akrolsmir/glowflow/main?post=5111 Would probably be simple to add a download button to get the epub file; source code here.

Oh, huh!  I can see that format potentially being preferred by a number of people.

I hope so! I myself bounced off of Mad Investor Chaos twice before because the formatting was too hard for me to read... but after implementing this reader, spent 2 hours last night reading through it.

Thanks so much for writing this Glowfic!

This is pretty great. One remaining issue is that it seems harder to hold onto your place if you stop in the middle of a section and then reload the page.

Thanks! I tried splitting into smaller sections (half the size) so that we don't have this issue as much; not sure what other solutions look like.

Ah thanks, that was helpful.

Nice!

I'd love a download option, but for now I'll use your reader to read it. I saw there's an option to make the text window wider, which is nice. Is there a way to make the text background dark?

Your wish is my command - dark mode added!

Awesome! Thanks!

One more thing, currently the box doesn't fully fit on my screen vertically when it's open (I'm using a laptop that doesn't have a high resolution). Is there a way to make the open box fit on the screen?

Hrm, I think I could code in a way to specify the height of the box... lemme look into it.

Thanks for all your suggestions, btw!

I have a kinda-opposite problem. There's a "wide mode" but not a "tall mode", and for reasons beyond my understanding the box with the actual content in it is about half the height of my browser window. I can understand why you wouldn't make it full-width by default -- very wide text can be hard to read -- but I can't think of any reason for preferring less than (full height minus reasonable margins).

Personally, for width I would prefer something intermediate between normal and "wide" (given the actual dimensions of my browser window, which occupies half of quite a large monitor) and for height I would prefer All The Pixels. Would it be difficult to have a "manual control" mode where you can set width, height and font size arbitrarily?

Done! Thanks for the feedback. Hoping 2000px is plenty but it's easy to increase lol.

(Having too many options is sometimes a symptom of bad UX design, but it seems reasonable for a web reader to support these all of these.)

Nice!

I see it's some way behind the current state of the story. Is that because there's some background thing that fetches only every so often, or because there's a cacheing layer that might be stale, or what?

[EDITED to add:] I guess it's reading from the epub on Dropbox?

Yeah probably a stale caching layer, what fic were you reading? Glowflow doesn't read from an epub, it's reading html from the site itself.

Lemme try rebooting to see if that refreshes. That's obviously not sustainable... I didn't expect people to actually use it for a live, updating fic lol.

Edit: added a "Clear cache" button, hope that solves it!

Currently some way behind again; clicking "clear cache" does do something that looks like reloading but doesn't make it not be some way behind.

[EDITED a couple of days later to add:] No change to what the reader is showing since then even though there have been updates on glowfic.com. The "clear cache" button doesn't appear to help. Forcibly reloading the page also doesn't appear to help.

I was, unsurprisingly given context :-), trying to read the latest Planecrash: https://share.streamlit.io/akrolsmir/glowflow/main?post=5930

Right now, what happens when I go there is that I get "Oh no. Error running app. If this keeps happening, please contact support." (In both Firefox and Chrome, on Linux. It was OK earlier today. I have Firefox configured to disable most Javascript but have whitelisted the domains I think the app actually needs, and again it was working OK earlier today, and Chrome doesn't have any of the JS-blocking stuff.)

The only possibly-useful-looking thing in the Javascript console says "INITIAL -> (10, 0, undefined) -> ERROR".

Sorry about that - had some configuration issues. It should work now!

Yup, all working (and apparently up to date) now. Thanks!

This is how it looks now when I increase the width. The outer box doesn't widen together with the text and background, and the text doesn't stay centered. Also, dark mode seems to have stopped working.

dark mode seems to have stopped working

 

Hm, do you have "dark mode" toggled on the sidebar? (There's two settings unfortunately due to how Streamlit is set up):

 

The outer box doesn't widen together with the text and background, and the text doesn't stay centered

Yeah unfortunately this is mostly working-as-implemented. The box size isn't a thing I can change; "Wide Mode" lets it the box be big, otherwise it's small.

Text centering might be possible if you're in "Wide Mode" -- I'll look into that.

Text centering should now be live!

Somewhat. The profile pic changes based on the character's emotions, or their reaction to a situation. Sometimes there's a reply where the text is blank and the only content is the character's reaction as conveyed by the profile pic.

That said, it's a minor enough element that you wouldn't lose too much if it wasn't there.

On the other hand, it is important for you to know which character each reply is associated with, as trying to figure out who's talking from the text alone could get confusing in many scenes. So any format change should at least preserve the names.

Would a play format work? e.g.

"Iarwain (languidly): I don't know that I am much interested in your family life, Lintamande"

Someone would have to translate the various profile pictures into emotions, but I would expect there to only be a handful of them per character.

Planecrash has 307 images at the time I made this comment, for context.

So perhaps the character names could be kept, maybe the pictures too (though I don't know if there's a good way to include so many pictures in an epub format, it's not exactly built for having small images beside the text, as far as I know), but not the authors names. Cause though it's nice knowing who wrote what, it's also confusing because everyone uses special usernames and I don't yet know which name is the author's name and which is the character's.

The author's (user)name is always the final line of the inset box. If there are three lines in that box (e.g. "Carissa Sevar // to-let-you-in // lintamande"), then lintamande is the author, Carissa Sevar is the character, and "to-let-you-in" can be ignored (it's some sort of thematic tag for the character).

Authors other than the main two don't appear for an extremely long time so I'd worry about that after getting that far :)

"Iarwain" is Eliezer, "Lintamande" is his co-author, and IIRC that's basically it for most of the story.

If you don't want to bother using the glowfic downloader yourself, here's the epub so far. My intention is to update it every day, but no guarantees.

I'm also thinking about writing such a script. Beautiful Soup is the perfect lib for the job.

One way to preserve the pictures and the general format while making the story more easily readable is simply converting the books into PDF. At least you could read them on a tablet, which is easier and less distracting than PCs. Tablets' screens are also much better for reading than PC monitors, even if they aren't as good as Kindles. It would be a good compromise, I think.

Tablets' screens are also much better for reading than PC monitors

Oh, really? What's the difference between them? I did notice that I like reading on my tablet better (I use it as my kindle) but I thought that it's because I'm using a black background.

Small screens emit less light and consequently less of the blue light that tends to disrupt a proper sleep cycle than large screens do.

Yes, the smaller size of the tablet is cancelled out by the fact that people tend to hold it closer to the eye with the result that just as much of the light coming directly from the screen enters the eye, but in the case of the larger screen viewed further away, there is much more indirect light (e.g., light that has bounced off the walls of the room) entering the eye.

(As the amount of light entering the eye increases, the pupils constrict in compensation, but at the intensities used for reading at night, the compensation is only partial if my experience and careful observation of myself is any indication.)

Also, many on this site are nearsightedness (because nearsightedness is correlated with intelligence). Nearsightedness would be my guess as to the cause of his/her belief that "Tablets’ screens are also much better for reading than PC monitors".

I don't get much out of the glowfic format, but I'd be interested in posts that basically excerpt out the parts that are like "here's how Dath Ilan works and why it's good", or that impart particularly neat rationality/coordination lessons. Some people have already been doing that, but I wanted to flag my own appreciation.

here's how Dath Ilan works and why it's good

It does not seems like there will be straight answers to that:

It's the story of Keltham, from the world of dath ilan; a place of high scientific achievement but rather innocent in some ways.  For mysterious reasons they've screened off their own past, and very few now know what their prescientific history was like.

There's actually quite a bit about dath ilan exposed in planecrash-- they've screened off their history from their citizens, not from readers. Also many of the ways dath ilan is good doesn't depend on its history, and many of the rationality lessons in planecrash aren't directly about dath ilan.

There are a few principles I'd be interested in people extracting, but two things I'd be particularly excited about (minor spoilers):

  • "Lawfulness" and its facets: Bayes, expected utility, the ability to coordinate and trade, etc.
  • How Keltham analyzes everything to try to understand it as an equilibrium between rational actors, whether this works in real life, and how to do it (partially covered in Inadequate Equilibria)

Does anyone know if there's work to make a podcast version of this? I'd definitely be more willing to listen even if it is just at Nonlinear library quality rather than voice acted.

I strongly agree

How much of the story and world-building was developed in advance, and how much arose through the process of telling it? Do the co-authors currently plan things out together off-forum, or is what we read both the story and the process of creating it?

As I understand it, the setting of Golarion and Cheliax is Lintamande's take on the world from the Pathfinder RPG system. She'd already written lots of glowfic stories in that setting by the time Planecrash came to be. Meanwhile, Eliezer had already written about dath ilan in some other places (like the original April Fool's post, and later on in some shorter glowfic threads). So there was definitely lots of pre-existing worldbuilding.

But whenever the story demands it, the world is further fleshed out. Eliezer even occasionally posts Twitter questions on things like "what's the best way to do X" as inspiration for dath ilan's Civilization.

Do the co-authors currently plan things out together off-forum, or is what we read both the story and the process of creating it?

I wonder this too. My impression is that it's some of both.

Thank you very much! 

As I understand, a part of the enjoyment from reading this kind of creative work is to observe the interactions between the co-authors. Thus, the forum format. 

Nevertheless, I predict that many readers (myself included) would prefer a plain-text book, devoid of the usernames, forum formatting etc. 

If there is a plain-text rendering, please kindly provide a link. If there is no such rendering yet, I think I may be able to automatically generate it.

I would prefer plain text, or at least dramatically more compact.  I find glowfic, including this one, to be borderline unreadable because of the format.

It's not just the format for me. Glowfic is really diluted and lack direction (as expected in a collaboration/improvisation). Consequently it tends to say in 10^6 words what could have been said in half as many.

I tend to think that when your novel is twice the length of the Lord of the Rings and counting it is probably a bit too long.

When something is a million words long, you should probably be thinking of it like a series rather than a single novel.

But it's not crazy for a series to be that long; for comparison, that's about the length of Harry Potter (the original 7-book series, not HPMOR).  A Song of Ice and Fire is up to around 1.8 million (and counting).

Darn, there goes my ability to use Iarwain as a really unusual pseudonym. I've used it off and on for almost 20 years, ever since my brother made me a new email address right after having read the LOTR appendixes.

...sincere apologies.

Heh, no problem. At least I changed my LessWrong username from Iarwain to my real name a while back.

May I ask what the copyright status of this work is? This could be relevant if someone wants to publish a spinoff or something set in the same universe. (to be clear, I have no plans to do that, but it seems worth asking)

Was Pathfinder only used for worldbuilding, or did you actually roll dice as part of generating the story?

We rolled dice on a few special occasions, but mostly it was worldbuilding.

Semi related question: If I want to read up on whatever the usual pathfinder setting is like before getting rationalfic’d, is there a particularly efficient and/or fun way to do that?

I'd also like an EPUB version that is stripped as possible. I guess it might be necessary to prepend the characters name to know who is saying what, but I find the rest very distracting. I find it makes it hard to read.

Here is an alternative for generating the epubs, adapted from a version I wrote a few weeks ago. The format is similar to Glowfic, but with images/characters to the right. This way (imo) the text flows better, and the image hints at who is talking in the corner of the eye without having to read their name.

I would be up for setting up the planecrash posts to be added and auto-updated in the repo above for easy downloading if the authors want that.

A note for anyone else writing scripts: Glowfic has an API, you can check the linked code or their repo for specifics.

 

There are a lot of interesting ideas in this RP thread.  Unfortunately, I've always found it a bit hard to enjoy roleplaying threads that I'm not participating in myself.  Approached as works of fiction rather than games, RP threads tend to have some very serious structural problems that can make them difficult to read.

Because players aren't sure where a story is going and can't edit previous sections, the stories tend to be plagued by pacing problems- scenes that could be a paragraph are dragged out over pages, important plot beats are glossed over, and so on. It's also very rare that players are able to pull off the kind of coordination necessary for satisfying narrative buildup and payoff, and the focus on player character interaction tends to leave a lot of necessary story scaffolding like scene setting and NPC interaction badly lacking.

If your goal in writing this was in part to promote or socially explore these utopian ideas rather than just to enjoy a forum game, it may be worth considering ways to mitigate these issues- to modify the Glowfic formula to better accommodate an audience.

The roleplaying threads over at RPG.net may provide some inspiration.  A skilled DM running the game can help mitigate pacing issues and ensure that interactions have emotional stakes.  Of course, forum games run with TTRPG rules can also get badly bogged down in mechanics.  Maybe some sort of minimalist diceless system would be worth exploring?

It could also help to treat the RP thread more like an actual author collaboration- planning out plot beats and character development in an OOC thread, being willing to delete and edits large sections that don't work in hindsight, and so on.  Maybe going through a short fantasy writing course like the one from Brandon Sanderson with other RP participants so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to plot structure.

Of course, that would all be a much larger commitment, and probably less fun for the players- but you do have a large potential audience who are willing to trade a ton of attention for good long-form fiction, so figuring out ways of modifying this hobby to better make that trade might be valuable.

We are both experienced authors not in need of this advice at this level.

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