Periodically people link to "rationalist" stories (or comics that are not really rational at all, that just happen to be vaguely related to AI), so I was a bit surprised to find not a single reference to Erfworld on a Lesswrong search. 

Erfworld is a webcomic that essentially tells the same story as Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Regular (but very smart) guy is transported to magical world. He systematically tries to understand the rules of that world and accomplishes all kinds of awesome stuff as a result. I feel like I've read the story a bunch of times, but HP:MoR and Erfworld are the only ones I recall that really did it justice on an epic scale.

While in many ways it's almost identical, it's playing with a different set of rules than Harry is, and the jokes and philosophical questions are playing around with different material. The main character is a strategy war gamer, and he finds himself summoned into a world that runs on Turn Based Strategy Rules. People can only take certain actions on their own "turn." Everyone has "stats", gain experience and level up. At first the whole thing seems like a silly gimmick, with the protagonist benefiting from genre-savviness. He starts out asking basic questions about the rules. Later on he starts challenging those rules - what is an actual law of the universe and what is merely convention that the inhabitants follow. Eventually he starts grappling with questions about how the morality of his old world plays into the morality of a world where everyone is tied ideologically to the side that they were created to serve, and people are not born - they pop into existence as adults as soon as their commander pays for them.

I think it does a better job of showing how a "real," "typical" smart person would try and understand a new, strange world. Harry is awesome, but he strains credibility in regards to how much he knows at the age he knows it.

Book 1 is done, and is a very solid, complete work that I recommend on its own. It features what is, to my recollection, the best use of the F-word in a work of fiction.


Book 2's still in progress. You can start reading here. 


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I've been reading Erfworld since it started, but for some reason it never occurred to me to think of it as rationalist fiction. Good catch.

Well, I recently read through Erfworld because I'd heard it compared to MoR, and to be precise, Erfworld is not rationalist fiction. Erfworld is Munchkin fiction.

Wait, you have fiction reading time?

Consults hero-stalking memory bank parts of mind

... Anime? High downtime requirement? References of it sneaking into MoR... Oh, does that mean it's fair game trying to get you to watch MLP:FiM without it taking away time from saving the world?!

I'm curious what about this story makes it 'stealth rationalist', lots of rationalists read it without associating it with rationality until it' pointed out.

Maybe because it's based on a domain in which narrow rationality skills are expected?

Like, I would expect for Hamster to think tactically, think about what resources are available to him, and test out the limits of his rule set. That's how good tabletop wargamers play. So it just seems normal.

Seeing a young wizard decide to do the same in a setting in which it wasn't explicitly encouraged or expected seems rationalist because he wasn't by default going to act particularly rational.

I've now read Book 1, and I can understand why this story did not jump out to people as a 'rationalist story'. I'm not sure it really shows a special amount of rationality.

It's not a story that showcases rationality in a way that will introduce concepts to you and turn you into a rationalist (very few stories are or should be designed to do that). It's a story about a character who happens to be pretty rational and responds rationally to a new, strange situation. (This is surprisingly rare in fiction. And only slightly less rare in real life).

Were the rationalists rationalists when they started? I started reading it prior to Less Wrong. I didn't think of it as "Rationalist" until I started reading HP:MoR, and then at some point thought about them both within an hour of each other.



Ditto to me too.

Ditto here.

Same here.


I'm a little embarrassed that this is one of my most (and fastest) upvoted posts. Also a little amused that my hypothesis of "somehow no one on Less Wrong had heard of Erfworld" was disproved in favor of "somehow no one on Less Wrong realized that Erfworld was rational fiction."

I just finished reading through the whole thing. Awesome comic, many thanks for the recommendation.

Your welcome!

For the lazy and non-spoiler-averse, this strip offers more or less a braindump of the main protagonist's approach.

So, I'm a little ways in, and I run into Ender's Game references - just like MoR. I suspect I will like it.

EDIT: archive-binged it. I like it so far although I find it strange that Hamster has not figured out how to remove Stanley.

EDITEDIT: See my later comment on the rest of the strip.

Have YOU figured out how to remove Stanley? (Bear in mind that he's under thinkamancy that forces him to serve, which presumably means not to try and figure out a way not to have to serve).

Thinkamancy is specified to have a loophole where you can seek their 'higher good', as exhibited already by what's-her-name.

For Hamster, it's really obvious that having Stanley in control is seriously endangering Stanley's project of world domination. On a more philosophical ground, he's failing to grow and is becoming unhappier as his limits become obvious even to him. That's two ways in which Stanley's removal is an improvement.

How could he remove Stanley's control? The thinkamancy could be undone by a turnermancer (like the one recently introduced, working for Charlie) and there's apparently a -mancy which specializes just in undoing other -mancies (one example given being undoing a flying bonus). Or heck, he could just ask his mathamancy artifact; I mean, if it can answer questions like 'will Charlie regret blowing all his calculations on question X?', it should be able to answer a question like how to undo his loyalty.

It doesn't matter if he could escape if he wanted to, because he couldn't want to escape unless he already had done so. Friendliness is stable under self-modification.

Edit: I managed to type that whole thing without quite realizing how perfect Parson is as a lay-accessible model for what an alien intelligence looks like. The perversity of his ingenuity, stemming from the fact that he doesn't share the prejudices of the people around him, is a major part of what people fail to anticipate in AI.

I initially read "I archive-binged it" to mean "I'm using Archive Binge to read it at a reasonable pace" rather than "I just binged my way through the whole archive", and was annoyed to see apparent spoilers in the reply. (I wasn't spoiled -- I'm caught up -- but thought you would be.)

(Turns out Erfworld isn't offered by Archive Binge.)

I thought it was a reference to Bing, the search engine, and was thoroughly confused. Thanks for the clarification.

I initially read "I archive-binged it" to mean "I'm using Archive Binge to read it at a reasonable pace" rather than "I just binged my way through the whole archive", and was annoyed to see apparent spoilers in the reply.

Well, where do you think Archive Binge got its name from? 'archive-binging'.

Well, where do you think Archive Binge got its name from? 'archive-binging'.

Yes, I realized that afterward. :/

Not to mention the TV Tropes definition of "archive binge"...

I loved Erfworld Book 1, and a few months ago I was racking my brains for more rationalist protagonists, so I can't believe I missed that.

I was originally following it on every update, but there was a lull and I stopped reading for a while. When I started again, Book 1 was complete so I read it straight through from the beginning. As good as it was as serial fiction, it was even better as a book. Anyone else experience that?

Definitely. The whole thing is well planned out, and the last section of the book simultaneously ties plot threads together, answers some philosophical questions yet asks even bigger ones.

Erfworld started out a bit slow, but it got really interesting after a while. It's currently one of my favorite webcomics.


I started reading it after following a link from here perhaps a year or so ago, but I don't remember who posted that link and in what context.

Ty for the link Alicorn and Raemon, and i think that harry has different circumstances then elfworld ^_^