The RPG Thread

by Raw_Power1 min read27th Jun 201146 comments

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I thought maybe playing RPG's might help us get to know each other outside meet-ups. Specifically, I found this particular game of interest to this community: it is in many ways the antithesis of everything we stand for... which is why I think we rationalists, of all people, would appreciate it the most. It might also be a useful tool for elaborating collective thought experiments in a playful way (among many other things, it's one of the few gaming systems where roleplaying an artificial superintelligence trying to break out into the real world would be a perfectly plausible and context-relevant and plot-justifiable scenario), and help us expand and explore our idea-space further and deeper. Anyone interested in starting a game somewhere?

Other RPG's and suggestions are of course absolutely welcome.

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Eclipse Phase is a sci-fi RPG dealing with AI, nanotech, biotech, mind copying, and other far-future issues, all played in a straight manner. By default, characters are part of an organization created to fight against existential risks, after they've become all too real.

That sounds freaking awesome! One question though: how loose is it? As in, how much breaking-the-rules-of-physics and going-beyond-the-impossible-kicking-reason-to-the-curb does it allow?

Also, are there "strictly legal means" of getting that for free? EDIT: It even has a legal torrent! Nice...

I created a few characters using the system, read through most of the book, and it's fairly loose with what you can accomplish. It seemed more limited by what a GM might allow than game rules, since characters have access to things like nanofactories, the ability to switch bodies, etc. Most of the in-game limitations are resource constraints, the lack of stats for large weapons platforms, and the pure strength of existentially threatening baddies. I get the impression you're supposed to die a lot while playing...

And yes, the content is Creative Commons licensed to allow the entire rulebook to be legally downloaded.

It also has SIAI (named "Singularity Foundation") in the backstory.

Of course, any Hard Sci-Fi work should have at least that much. What I'm worried about is the role we'll play there... The vanguard of the new era, a ragtag bunch of pioneers whose work wasn't very fruitful in itself but tore open the path for greater endeavors, a plain old dead branch in the tree of science evolution... or harbingers of DOOM?

From the book (technically from the GM-only section, but not really a spoiler for most campaigns):

The Singularity Foundation—formed at the dawn of the 21st century—was dedicated to the creation of safe articial intelligence software, while raising awareness of the benefits and dangers AIs represented. A fervent believer in the singularity doctrine that technology would move towards a single explosion of advancements that would forever reshape humanity, the Singularity Foundation was a strong advocate for creating friendly AIs that would help protect humanity from an uncontrolled, dangerous singularity event. This group was significant in that it secretly succeeded in creating a group of friendly seed AIs before the Fall. These Prometheans were indispensable in protecting transhumanity and countering the TITAN threat during the Fall.

("Seed AI" is a term Eliezer coined, in case it isn't already obvious that the writers have been reading the SIAI website.)

Actually, if I understand the setting right, the Earth itself ended up under the control of Unfriendly AI (the TITANs), so technically "the world" was not saved - although plenty of people were.

I have run a game of Eclipse Phase at an RPG convention in Sydney. I found it to be a very cool game, the setting in particular is very interesting and varied however the rules are a little complex for people who want to just try it.

There are a lot of bits which don't quite fit into hard sci-fi - aliens, psychics, nanotech that works like magic. However, it's pretty easy to leave these out, except it's difficult to know how realistic nanotech would work. I doubt we'll ever use it to create mundane things due to energy constraints, but I guess in the context of the game it works.

Where the game really shines is in dealing with mind uploading, "re-sleeving", virtual worlds and psychic surgery - you can copy minds and re-merge them, even edit them to some degree. It gives a lot of scope for games that work with meta-levels of reality and manipulation of minds. I would like to explore possible transhumanism using it if I ever get the time to.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I'd be interested to playing this via google+ meetups or posts. Anyone else?

Anders Sandberg wrote some campaigns for Eclipse Phase. There's even one about gur evfxf nevfvat sebz n fhcrevagryyvtrag benpyr negvsvpvny vagryyvtrapr.

Yvain is working on a version of Dungeons and Discourse that might fit in, but I would guess it's still far from completion.

Have you seen FreeMarket? It's an explicitly transhumanist game set in a post-scarcity region of space-time. A computer intelligence (the Aggregate) guides the community (and it's not Paranoia) through a reputation-based economy; cooperatively making a pie and giving it away is a fun activity and gains you points in the fiction, whereas deathing someone with an awesome display of parkour is a fun activity and probably costs you some points in the fiction, depending on if enough other people (maybe including the one deathed) thinks it's awesome enough. (Also "deathing" is not permanent 'cause the Aggregate's got your clones all ready and waiting, though you may lose a few hours of memory.)

This is a utopia, and it's not boring. In the main, it follows the 31 Laws of Fun according to one of the authors Luke Crane.

Shock: Social Science Fiction seems interesting, but I've never read the rules or played it myself.

My friends and I started trying it a couple of weeks back. The first part of the game, the worldbuilding, is awesome - different players 'own' different parts of the world, so while you throw a lot of ideas back and forth, specific players have final arbitration over which details do and don't get included. The character building is also interesting - you collaboratively pick a couple of axes that the characters will vary along. For our session we picked corruption/integrity as one axis and personal responsibility/lack of as the other. Then each player creates a character that will explore the theme/issue that the person to their left owns, deciding where they fall on each axis and some details about their character for other players to work with. Then the person to their left creates the antagonist for that character who will oppose their goals.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time after that, so I can't really comment on the mechanics of the actual roleplaying, only my impressions from skimming the first couple of chapters of the manual. The dice rolling mechanics seemed a little clunky, a poor attempt to incorporate randomness into a framework that's really all about the collaboration.

Dogs in the Vineyard leaps immediately to mind; from what I've read, it seems to consist mostly of throwing ethical dilemmas at the players and letting them decide what to do.

The author of Dogs in the Vineyard just posted this on his blog:

Designing Philosophical Arguments

Ry asks:

How do you take a philosophical argument that's very, very important to you and express it in a game - without being pedantic?

(like you did with compassionate and uncertain vs. judgmental and certain in Dogs)

Well, wow. Mostly I fail!

I want to say that I don't try to design games that way, but it's not true. All the time I'm writing things in my notebook like "so, Vincent, compassionate vs judgmental, right? How?" But it turns out that when I approach a design that way, nothing ever comes of it. Ever! It's not fruitful for me.

When it works, it works because I ignore the philosophical argument and design the realities of the situation instead. What circumstances can a character find herself in, what can she do, and what can come of it?

At least, that's how it seems to me this afternoon. What do you think? It's a good topic - do you want to ask or say more?

I'm going crazy with how awesome this'd be, but I'll probably not be able to play due to timezones and lack of time. And also because I tend to get to fall into all SORTS of failure modes when trying to roleplay online and ruin things for everyone. :( Fuuuuuuuuuuu

If you can find a way that works regardless of timezone and that keeps things slow, I'll be all over this. Some other suggested play by post, which might work but don't tend to work well with systems intended for face-to-face.

P.S: damn you for linking TV tropes

The current provisional plan is for you, me, Raw_Power, and Konkvistador to play a game of Shock: using Play-by-Post.

Sounds awesome!

Where? Spamming LW with it doesn't seem like a good idea.

I'm trying to set up a play-by-post with Konkvistador. Care to join?

Am I also invited?

Certainly! Everybody who wants to play is invited up to maybe 5 or 6 people. More than that and it will get unweildly quickly.

I have the desire to join this, especially if it's slow. But if there are more interested I will opt out.

I've heard Google Wave, if it's still available, is excellent for internet RPing.

Welcome to the game! I'll PM you a link to the forum we're playing on.

I have RPed on Google Wave, and it was indeed excellent. However, it is dead. :(

Why? It seemed fairly redundant at the beginning, but I'm fairly certain it could ahve come on its own and supplant silly Facebook...

yea, wave was great... but sadly technical excellence and innovation is not sufficient for something like that to succeed.

Count me in on any game that gets started. I'm more likely to be available for play-by-post than IM, but I've been wanting to start up RPing again for a while.

[-][anonymous]10y 2

Same here. I'll be available for IM from early fall 2011 onwards.

Will you be able/interested in play-by-post? You, me, and Armok_GOB can start something along with anyone else interested, but he and I are in radically different timezones. If you don't like play-by-post, IM might still be worth a shot.

What are your preferences for rules systems? I'm equally interested and inexperienced with all the ones mentioned so far.

[-][anonymous]10y 2

I would not mind play-by-post, have never done it actually. I have played IM and live. The systems are unfamiliar to me, but most of them seem interesting enough to try.

I've done play-by-post before, and I may still have access to a forum one of my friends made for the purpose. As for systems, FreeMarket looks awesome but it's expensive. Eclipse Phase is nearly as cool and available for free, so I'd vote for that.

I think that Future Shock thing would be the most convenient to play post by post, in that it doesn't require GM-ing. It only requires one Agonist until he's countered by Another, becoming Prot- and Ant- at that time.

Genius, being White-Wolf-style, is heavy on GM-ing, so besides aesthetic reasons that I'd say it's suboptimal.

Those are good points. I forgot about future shock in my earlier post. It's not like anything I have experience with rules-wise, but it will be fun to figure out as we go along.

Resources, put here so I and others can find them:

Here is somebody's review of V1.1.

Here is a transcript of one of that guy's games.

If we can get 4 people to agree on a game of Shock, it's available as a PDF here for $13.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

So eh, what happened to that?

[-][anonymous]10y 0

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I'm a pretty huge fan of the Transhuman Space series of rpg books. It's a mostly hard science fiction setting with lots of biotechnology, terraforming, and artificial intelligence. There is no faster than light travel, psychic powers, or aliens. One of the things I love about it the most is the way it presents a wide variety of future viewpoints, it doesn't try to thrust the values of the game creator onto you. I would highly suggest it just for reading value, but if you can find people to play with that's awesome (I'm in a game right now, its pretty dang sweet.

Sounds like a game I'd like to play, but I don't think there are many other potential players around Paris (and I'd not be very interested in a play-by-post, I spend enough time in front of a computer already).

RPGs can be done online. There's play-by-post D&D (I do it on Mythweavers) and there's stuff like micronations (if you want in on that, tell 'em I sent you and I get fictional currency!). Freeform RP of random varieties is reasonably well suited to an IM format.

Due to time constraints, isn't it better to play post-by-post?

Did anything come of this? I for one would love to play an RPG with a group of rationalists and make cool new friends in the LW community, although I've never been able to keep interest in play-by-post games -- I prefer real-time chat using a MU* or Maptools.

Would you like to GM, for the first round at least?

Are there still people willing to take on another player (me)?

it is in many ways the antithesis of everything we stand for... which is why I think we rationalists, of all people, would appreciate it the most.

I'm not sure you understand how appreciation works.

Appreciation:"the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value", "clear perception or recognition, especially of aesthetic quality", In order to appreciate rule-breaking, you must first know the rules. That's why a cultured person might have fun contemplating an abstract work and sharing the in-joke with the artist (I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE) while Average Joe will only see a doodle and will ask for figurative Art, perhaps of the sort that involves naked women and ceramic jars.

The charm of a role-playing game allows you to do what you couldn't do otherwise. The impossible. The more knowledgeable you are about why something is impossible, the more you can appreciate the escapism of playing a simulation of doing.

This is why a rollerblader would enjoy Jet Set Radio Future, a skater would have great fun with Tony Hawk, a climber or parkourer will enjoy Assasin's Creed or Mirror's Edge more than average-sedentary-joe: they know that if they tried that in Real Life, they'd break their own fingers... at the very least. It's why an actual soldier will enjoy the less realistic shooters, a racing pilot will have crazy fun with Burnout, and architect would get their mind blown by Bioshock, many types of Engineer will be greatly entertained by Steamboy....

And a rationalist, especially a scientist one, will be greatly entertained by a game about Mad Science, where you build all those technological Wonders you dreamed of as a child without all the frustrating constraints you have been discovering as you pursued your dreams as an adult. "No, you can't build that complicated yet beautiful contraption. Well, actually you can, but here's a thing that does the same function, is lots cheaper, and much more reliable. It's made in China." or "No, you can't build a general AI yet, and no, it won't arise from "complexity" or "No, your unification of physics using quantum gravity is and has always been bullshit" or "Time travel is impossible. Period."

And in this game... all that stuff... for the duration of the campaign... you can pretend it was possible. You get your jetpack. You get your raygun. You get your Chocolate Factory. With Pure Imagination, you can forget about the hard limits of reality and dream dreams of unlimited human and transhuman potential... for a while.