The Wisdom of Uncle Figgy

Jim Vassilakos (jimv@uia.net)
After writing the essay last issue on my idea for getting GMs together in order to improve their methods through group-criticism, I began to think some more about my own experience as a GM over the past decades. I have to admit that I’ve made my share of mistakes. I recently stumbled across Uncle Figgy’s Guide to Good Gamemastering.1 It’s one of those web tomes on the Internet useful for a beginning GM, and after reading it, I can’t help but think that I could have stood to learn from it during my earlier years in the hobby. Even as a somewhat experienced GM, however, what it says helps reinforce many of lessons I’ve already learned the hard way.

Obeying the Dice
I’ve really never been one to cheat on die rolls (for the good of the game, as it were). I can think of one instance where I did it some years ago, and now I think it was a mistake. In short, I think the die rolls should always be obeyed. I remember one campaign I ran some years ago where I went so far with this belief that I ended up inadvertently killing the entire party. It was a bit embarrassing, to be honest, but luckily I found a way out of it. Since this probably sounds a bit nutty, I’ll explain the situation. It was that game I was describing to Lee in the previous issue. Kurt, I seem to remember, was playing the party scout. Although not terribly powerful, either physically or magically, his was an essential role. The problem, however, was that he’d failed to show up one night. In that campaign, I seem to remember, scouting was rather important. It was really the first step of planning, because if a threat turned out to be too large for the party to deal with directly, someone would think of some way to sneak past it, use some devious tactic to turn the odds, or simply divide and conquer. But, if they didn’t scout things out, they could end up walking into a shakeand-bake, and that’s exactly what happened in this particular session. I must have foolishly made the threat too powerful, and when they blithely walked into the kill zone without properly scouting the area, they got hacked. So, after the battle, when they looked at me with those glum eyes, I asked them, “Do you guys want to roll up new characters or do you want to continue playing these?” And they turned their heads cockeyed, and said, “Huh?” Because they had just collectively bit the dust. How could they continue to play dead characters? But I repeated myself, and after that said they’d like to continue with their characters, if possible, so I started to describe a plateau upon which they were being raised. Their benefactors said that they had found their bones

and somehow determined them to be great heroes from ages long past, so they brought them back from the land of the dead. Their world, they now saw, was much changed. I’d basically dropped them into a “Darksun” version of the lands that they used to know. It was thousands of years later, and the world had dried up. Almost everything they knew was gone, but in its place was a whole new era, and one that they would have to learn about quickly in order to survive.

Milking the Players
Some of the best advice, I think, occurs in the 3rd chapter where Uncle Figgy talks about “milking everything the players give you.” I probably haven’t done enough of that in the games that I’ve run. I recall, in one campaign, I had each player make up the name of a former master from whom they learned their trade or magic. I think my intention was to eventually get around to introducing all of these former masters (as well as some of their fellow students) as NPCs. Now that I think about it, I wonder if it might be useful to have some random table (or deck of cards) during character generation, and each player rolls on it (or draws a card from the deck) a few times. A possible result might be, “The character of the player to your left is a sibling (race permitting) or a childhood friend. Cooperatively tell a short story about how both of your character’s got caught doing something wrong.” Or perhaps, “Tell us a story about the first time your character left their village and got lost. Enlist the GM's help if necessary.” And you could extrapolate from that all other sorts of exercises aimed as building back-story. Meanwhile, of course, the GM is furiously taking notes, looking for any scraps he or she can use. In this way, the character is getting a semi-random background, but it’s squeezed out of the players rather than being randomly generated by a series of tables as in the Central Casting

Shallowness
I don’t think I suffered from the God-Syndrome (GM versus Players mentality) he mentions in the 1st chapter, except insofar as I might have, on occasion, become frustrated with the insipid shallowness of the never-ending quest for ever-increasing stockpiles of experience, magic, hit points and social authority. But so long as this feature remains enshrined in the very rules of most game systems, I don’t really see how one can justifiably blame the players for simply following the path of success that the game instructs. Moreover, is the path that untrue to modern life? Perhaps only insofar as hit points are concerned.2 But, of course, this problem can be overshadowed by a good plot and good characterization, so when I’ve noticed this shallowness in the rules, perhaps it was because I wasn’t doing a good enough job weaving an interesting story. At least, that might be the designer’s argument.

1

See http://www.dragondogpress.com/unclefigg y/gm/index.html 2 I'm being slightly facetious. In any case, Brian Misiaszek has written on this topic, and suffice it say that I tend to agree with him.

books. Using this method, assuming it could be made to actually work, the back-story wouldn’t suffer from the not-invented-here syndrome, at least not from the players’ perspective, which I think may be the case when using random tables to do this sort of task.

Monsteritis
Uncle Figgy mentions “Monsteritis” in his 5th chapter, and I've been guilty of doing this many times, but I’ve also avoided it at other times. It just depends on the players, the mood, and the situation. If I’m to play monsters as people, it often either takes a trick to push the party away from slaughterfests and toward negotiation. A trick might be stumbling across the young (or the eggs in some cases). Once they realize the monsters are merely protecting their children, this seems to "humanize" the entire encounter.3 A more straightforward approach might involve the players being captured if they are either revived post-battle or prove unwilling to fight to the death (a rare occurrence given their characters’ presumably heroic statures). I’m reminded of one situation, however, when I was GMing, and I must have been in a bizarrely flippant mood that night. The party was confronted out in the wilderness by this band of creatures that were something like ogres or gnolls. I can’t remember too many of the details. But before charging into battle, the party decided to parley, basically announcing that they wanted to pass through the territory. At the point where he understood what the party was trying to communicate, the leader of this group of creatures suddenly interrupted them by snarling and stomping over to their position. “How dare you think you can just walk through our lands without paying tribute!” Then, when he got to within whispering distance, he basically confessed in a hushed tone that he hated confronting adventurers, but that if he didn’t, the rest of his band would think him weak and they’d probably
3

kill him. He was only hanging on to power by a thread, as it turns out, and didn’t really like all this killing, looting, and raping that was expected of him. Occasionally, during this confession, where at times he bordered on tears, I had him grunt loudly and wave his arms around somewhat belligerently as if to show his fellows that he wasn’t taking any guff from the party. Then he’d quietly whimper and insist that he really didn’t want any trouble, and would the party please pass through as quickly as possible? Needless to say, everyone agreed. Then he went back to his group and loudly told the party that if they passed this way again with nothing of value, he’d crunch their skulls under his boots and feed their carcasses to worms before hanging their skulls from tree branches as a warning to others. I seem to remember that they eventually met up with him again on the way “back from the dungeon” so to speak, and it was more or less the same routine, except I think this time they exchanged some information and local news. But, clearly, you can’t do that with every encounter.

GM Stupidity
I have had, at times, thrown in stuff without thinking about it sufficiently beforehand. I try not to do this, but it has happened and will probably, in all likelihood, happen again. But, at least generally speaking, this problem is one that is slowly cured by experience with a given setting or game system. One thing that can help in such situations is just to talk to the players about it and "go back in time" if necessary to cure the situation. And I've done this, on occasion. But it's a pain, and I prefer not to have to go to such length to repair a mistake.

Intra-Party Conflict
I think my biggest problem as a GM has always been over how to deal with intra-party conflict. Because I often try to enable the players a greater control over the plot than they might have in most games, they’ve often had disparate visions of where to take the story.4 In a way, this is almost a good
4

This was the tactic used in the memorable Star Trek episode "Devil in the Dark" where Spock mind-melds with the Horta.

See my comments last issue to Lee Gold.

thing. It’s indicative that you’ve got a pretty good game on your hands. After all, if the players are so into the story as to bring their characters to blows or divide the party, at least you know as a GM that they aren’t bored. However, of course, while it’s nice to know that you’ve piqued their interest, you don’t want your friends to end up hating each another. I would categorize such an outcome as not fun. Now, the way that I’ve traditionally handled these situations is pretty much the same way that Uncle Figgy suggests. I’ve handed these sorts of problems in-game, trying to apply “logic and realism,” as the good Uncle proposes. “You can’t force players to get along,” he writes, then advises that the world should be dangerous to a loner. “There’s a reason these groups band together…” But what then ends up happening, I could counter, is that the GM inevitably ends up having to take sides in some way. Try as he might to remain neutral, punishing or rewarding the odd-man-out, even through this policy of “logic and realism”, can become a way of the GM controlling the plot, because once a group splits up, there’s this question over whether they will (or even should) get back together. One option might just be to run separate games, but this can get sort of ridiculous. I mean, I’d suppose it could easily become too much for the GM. So what do you do? The most obvious solution would be for everyone to just talk about it out-ofcharacter, and this probably happens in most such situations. But it doesn’t always work. So what else can be done? I’ve talked in the past about the idea of having a powerful mentor at hand. If we suppose that mages must invest their pupils with, say, a level of their own experience (the master drops a level so that the student can attain the first level of ability), then they’d have a strong interest in their understudies. This whole arrangement could constitute a debt, as the higher level mage could then become a source of information, occasional assistance, and so forth. Likewise, he or she may come to depend on the party for occasional assistance. In any case, this high-level mage then becomes the GM's ace in the

hole. If the party starts in-fighting, he can notice it via his crystal ball (or perhaps some magic that still binds master and apprentice) and teleport in to act as an in-game mediator in order to keep the party together. It’s just an idea, and there are certainly some problems with it, but it might work. I just haven't tried it yet, so I don't know all the pitfalls. One of a GM’s primary responsibilities, I think, is to identify the players’ expectations, and then find ways to get them to congeal as a group despite their personal differences. And that can be a tall order depending on how much freedom they’re given to choose their own destiny. In a carefully scripted campaign, there may not be much room for them to really get into character and move the plot as they see fit. A GM has to be flexible, but he also has to be wise enough to steer them toward objectives that they can recognize as being of common interest, which is where the whole notion of interwoven character backgrounds may be especially useful.

write, I think, is not a guidebook for the novice GM, but rather one for the experienced GM who could still stand to learn a few tricks. But that, of course, would be a lot harder.

IgTheme: What sort of GMcreativity do players enjoy?
I’ll speak as a player on this one. What I really enjoy when playing a game is the sense of “being there” and good characterization on the part of the NPCs. I’m somewhat in awe of GMs who can pull off convincing accents as well as those who can startle the players with vivid prose and scenery. Also, I think it’s easier for GMs to pull this off in PBeMs than in face-to-face play. That’s perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy PBeMs. Also, when I speak of scenery, while I, of course, mean the immediate physical setting, I don’t want to shortchange the social scenery or the fabric of the society. If I’m to play in a fantasy game, I don’t want it to be a copycat of every other fantasy game I’ve ever played in. Likewise, however, I don’t want the setting to be incomprehensible or inconsistent. I want the whole thing to make sense, and I want to get to learn the environment. That, of course, includes learning the theme or themes, and I think every setting should include these. For example, I think that the cyberpunk genre has a great theme, actually two themes which seem to be somehow intertwined. The first is, of course, man vs. machine (or “meat vs. metal” as the game likes to put it). The second is the individual vs. society. The intertwining occurs insofar that just as humans are becoming increasingly mechanized (and losing sanity-points as a result), so too is society undergoing a parallel transformation. Ruled, in effect, by corporations and corporatemanipulated governments. I tend to think of society in the cyberpunk genre as a great big robot, inexorably marching down this path of enslavement and ruin, and nobody can really do anything about it. The corporations become so powerful that they can walk all over the government and, by extension, over entire nations. Politicians are

Munchkinism
In the 4th chapter, Uncle Figgy discusses “player types” and how to approach most of them, and he also talks about how one type of player can evolve into being another type of player. He doesn’t tell us how he’d nudge a munchkin toward becoming a mad gamer, but at least he identifies the breeds. I think my own tactic, over the years, has been to eventually make the game political as the characters increase in personal power. After all, what the munchkin really wants is power. Once he reaches a certain point, perhaps his character may discover that he can get more power by nurturing relationships with powerful NPCs than he can by swinging his trusty +5 Sword of Discombobulating. Not that Conan would have stooped to nurturing relationships, of course.

In Conclusion
Overall, I think Figgy’s Guide is well worth a read, but like many such guides, it really only scratches the surface. What somebody ought to

beholden to them (much as they are in the real world). And because the corporations ceaselessly pursue ever more wealth and power, individuals caught within their grip essentially become their tools. With so many people pursuing their own selfinterest, no individual could change the system, so it spins ever onward, carving up the Earth, chewing up the natural resources, and spitting out ever increasing quantities of waste, like a big greed-machine that has gone completely insane. Now, the reason this theme resonates, I think, is that it’s essentially an extrapolation of our current state of affairs. While the technological tenets may seem somewhat far-fetched, what with the mechanization of the human body (though this seems less improbable with every passing year), the social extrapolations don’t seem all that crazy. What would be really interesting, I think, would be to see fantasy and science-fiction settings approach theme in such a way that they actually say something about human society. Planescape, I think, comes fairly close to achieving this. It imagines, or at least it purports to imagine, what societies would be like when organized around different ethical principles, different locations on the D&D alignment chart. Likewise, Traveller posits a variety of different government types for the various worlds of the Imperium, and the GM can have a lot of fun with this if he or she wishes. Nonetheless, the overarching society of D&D’s planes is paradoxically one of anarchy and perpetual conflict amidst this beautiful foundation of order, just as the overarching society of Traveller’s many, differing worlds is, paradoxically, an absolute monarchy, at least with respect to the Imperium. In short, one is order amidst chaos while the other is chaos amidst order. Certainly bizarre, but is it realistic? That’s an impossible question to answer, I think. With D&D, you’ve got magic and gods, so all bets are essentially off. The loose end is the story of creation, and each GM can approach that as he or she wishes. As for the Imperium, star spanning empires were a staple of science

fiction well before Star Wars, but given the social footprint of Star Wars on popular culture, why didn't GDW discuss interstellar politics and the imperial nobility in greater depth? I just got the sense that this could have all been covered much more thoroughly and with an eye toward retelling the lessons of history.5 I think this is part of the reason I’ve liked Simon Reeve's essays on the Triune Realm. I appreciate what he’s trying to do, and I’d like to see more settings like this where societies exist within societies, linked by a common fabric, and where players can explore a wide range of settings, cultures, and societal evolutions. And, of course, this is very much where I hope to take Ragamuffin, although I’m still a very long way from having this realized.

Comments on A&E #363:
Paul Cardwell: ryct Brian Misiaszek rhct Louis La Mancusa on Dave Grossman’s On Killing: You mentioned an article in Places to Go, People to Be #26, so I decided to take a look at that issue. I assume that you’re talking about the “Narrativist” article by Max Cairnduff. What I hear him saying is that the Narrativist style of expanding player power6 is a step in the wrong direction. He argues that the common urge among players to make their characters always “look cool” ends up making the game itself uncool. I suppose part of the problem is that the narrative structure (storytelling) requires a certain degree of sustained conflict. Without conflict and setbacks, you don’t have much of a story. Yet some players, I think, are perhaps more interested in selfaggrandizement, living vicariously through their characters and thus creating a “cool” self-perception, than in any sort of story that includes genuine conflict and genuine setbacks.
5

I really loved the two Library Data books when they first came out. It was there that we first saw a map of the Imperium as well as a list of the emperors and a brief discussion of the various eras. But, as good as this was, it only served to whet my appetite. I wanted more. 6 Player control over the “Shared Imagined Space” that M. Joseph Young talks about in the same issue.

I mention the narrative structure, because there almost seems to be something transcendent about it.7 I’m not altogether sure of this, not being as well-read as I ought to be, but I’ve heard it said that it was even described by Aristotle in his Poetics. The general structure is one we all know from freshman English: introduction of the problem (conflict), complications, climax, and aftermath. For myself, at least as a GM, I personally find the complications part to be particularly interesting, the meat of the story, as it were. But if too many players are obsessing over looking “cool” as Cairnduff terms it, then it’s naturally hard to generate a cool story, particularly when players are given powers traditionally reserved to the GM in order to shape the outcomes of their actions. The way I see the whole roleplaying process, I guess, is as a sort of cooperative-conflict where the players and the GM are like the yin and the yang, balanced against one another, but not in a contest or competition so much as a perpetual cooperation generated through managed conflict. And it is the GM as well as the system itself that has to moderate that conflict (not to mention the players’ feet if the GM should become tyrannical). But the question is, of course, Where exactly do we draw the line between GM-powers and player-powers? That, I suppose, is the question that some of these new designers, the ones we hear about over at The Forge, are flirting with. And they aren’t the first to poke holes in this traditional barrier between the realms of player and GM. Your idea of imposing a penalty system with respect to characters inflicting death upon their enemies is an interesting mechanic to deal with one of the more hopeful aspects of human nature, which I’m guessing that Grossman describes in his book (I haven’t actually seen it yet). In any case, this whole discussion presents a dilemma for the prospective RPG designer, and I’m of mixed feelings on how to address it.
7

You might recall, in A&E #312 I began my short series of articles on character generation in Ragamuffin. One thing you might have noted about the prime stats, advantages and disadvantages that I presented in that article was that I steered clear of what I call wisdom- or personality-based attributes. This was on purpose. Many games include such attributes into their mechanics, and I think that this has the potential to cause problems. In fact, having known several roleplayers to behave pretty much as Max Cairnduff describes them, I’d say that some degree of player-abuse is a near-certainty. I’ll discuss a few examples just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. In Top Secret/SI there's the “greedy” disadvantage. In GURPS, there's the “callous” disadvantage as well as the “fast-talk” skill (this might more appropriately be a “smooth talker” advantage, since I’m not sure to what extent it can be learned). GURPS also has the “shyness” disadvantage. I’ll discuss each of these in turn. Greed: In a Top Secret/SI game that I ran some years ago, a player chose the “greedy” disadvantage, and so I decided to kick-off the very first adventure with a temptation geared specifically to his character. He started the game as a cop chasing an NPC involved in the drug trade. I was operating on the theory that you’ve got to begin the story right in the middle of the action, so when I say “chasing”, I mean he was literally chasing the guy down the street. After a ferocious gun battle that convinced me that the game’s combat mechanic is hopelessly broken, he investigated what was in the dead suspect’s precious suitcase. Of course, it turned out to be a big pile of money, neatly arranged, just like in the movies. He wouldn’t take the bait, however. He argued that there was too much risk of getting caught, that no police officer would risk his career over mere money. I mentioned that he could just pocket a little bit, but he saw that this could lead him to a bad place.8
8

That is to say that I think it’s one of those ideas that exists apart from the human mind in the same way that the number π would have been discovered by beavers instead of humans had they, rather than ourselves, ascended to so-called sentience and built a technical civilization.

I can’t remember the details, but my devious plan was probably something along the lines of having the players initially meet up in prison or running from the law, and I guess he saw right through it. What can I say? I obviously don’t have a poker face.

“There’s greed and then there’s stupidity,” was more or less his argument. In these sorts of situations, the GM usually may elect to force the character to “Save vs. Willpower” or something like that, but it’s still a bit of a mess trying to get the character to behave in a way that the player doesn't condone. The other option, of course, is to force the player to remove the disadvantage along with an equally weighted advantage in order to get the character to “balance” in terms of points. However, while this is certainly an option, it still doesn’t cure the initial problem of a player trying to min-max through the use of such tactics. Nor does it cure the problem of the GM feeling like he’s railroading the PCs when he builds plot-hooks baiting their psychological disadvantages in order to advance the story in a certain direction. Callous: A friend of mine recently told me about a situation involving this disadvantage in a GURPS campaign. Apparently, one of the players in the group surprised and disappointed him by ramping-up the Callous disadvantage into full-blown sadism. Eventually, it became such a problem that the GM banned “callous” along with at least a half-dozen other disadvantages. Fast-talk/Smooth-talking: I don’t have personal experience here, but try to imagine the least smooth-talking person you know playing a character with the smooth-talking advantage. He’d be bumbling through his dialogue, basically pissing everyone off, and the GM would have to utterly ignore what he’s saying and internally edit his remarks in a way that the NPCs would find pleasing. It’s a headache, never mind the fact that the players would end up reacting to him as he is in real life. One way that this might work out is if the GM is willing to take the time to walk the player through the dialogue in such a way to teach him “smoothtalking” or to allow the player to takeback something said when an NPC reacts negatively. But I’ve known some people who were beyond being taught this sort of skill, and while “take-backs” might work okay in faceto-face play, they would slow down already slow PBeMs.

In terms of PBeM-style play, the GM might be able to edit the PC’s remarks on the fly, just disregarding anything offensive and rewording remarks in order to smooth them out, but then the player might get angry about being edited. The more I think about it, the more I think that this whole question is just a can of worms that I’d rather not open. However, if you’ve seen these sorts of situations successfully handled, let me know how it was done. Shyness: Like “greed”, a player in need of a few extra points might choose this one and then ignore it or use it only sporadically whenever the GM remembers to bring it up. Also, there’s the question over whether or not it’s really a disadvantage. If you’re standing in formation while the lieutenant is asking for volunteers9, I could see “shyness” being a definite advantage, at least in terms of the character’s longevity. Now, I’m torn over this question, because despite the possibilities for player-abuse, some of these psychological traits would make for more interesting characters, and I think it’s safe to say that interesting characters make for interesting stories. So how do we give the players who are truly interested in characterization a little jump-start, a rules-related excuse for defining themselves in interesting, personality-related terms, without giving the power-obsessed a way to pillage the rules for ways to make their characters more powerful than everyone else in the party? I guess you could just have them choose from a list and promise that you'll give them some sort of "story award" for good roleplaying. Getting back to your specific idea, I like the theory that people are either born with or socially incur a profound revulsion to killing. Not only would it make the aftermath of combat more interesting; it would also “humanize” the combatants and perhaps teach the players something about human nature. However, there will always be players who want to avoid these issues and who will spend character points to do so.10 Perhaps this is the general
9

model for which we should be striving.11 But, sadly, I still think that the potential for player abuse is so rife that any sort of rules governing character psychology has to be incorporated very carefully and with a special consideration as to how these mechanics will likely end up being abused. Myles Corcoran: ryct Robert Dushay rhct Lee Gold on AIs possibly fearing loss of specific hardware as well as obsolescence: I like these ideas as well. Also, our recent discussion about the nature of intelligence and personality and whether multiple cooperating (and sometimes competing) conceptions of self are a common feature of human intelligence/personality had gotten me thinking along similar lines for AIs.12 Your comment to me about the triumvirate probe in Bear’s Queen of Angels may have finally helped to solidify some of these thoughts. I’m not sure. But here’s my basic idea for at least a small piece of the Ragamuffin back-story. When AIs first begin coming off the assembly line, as it were, they’re far from perfect. I mean, under controlled conditions in a lab, they’ll usually be okay, but out in the field operating among people, they’ll sometimes have a tendency to begin behaving strangely, to crack-up as it were. Heck, who can really blame them? Anyway, it becomes a big problem, and so dual-brained AIs are developed, but these never get out of the lab as they either end up thinking too much alike (twin brain syndrome)
Incidentally, I can scarcely imagine what the religious right would make of such a mechanic: “Look, this game is calling a callous disregard for life an advantage! How dare they corrupt our youth!” 11 In other words, perhaps psychological advantages should not be related to social mores but should instead be anything that enables players to legally ignore the normal psychological restrictions of the rules, and perhaps this should also cause them to incur other side effects. In short, maybe callousness should contain a greater cost than merely one of character points being spent. Maybe the GM should introduce nightmares in order to show how the PC’s neglected conscience is trying to reassert itself (or how ghosts of Christmas future are screaming out for repentance). 12 See my comment to you in A&E #362.

At which point everyone takes one step backwards. 10 In which case “callous” becomes an advantage in roleplaying terms because it enables greater player-freedom.

or they end up in conflict, causing them to suddenly lock up due to apparent indecision. So, tri-brained AIs are developed, and a two-thirds vote is used in order to determine behavior as well as to diagnose a failing unit before it actually fails. These become the favored design for some time, but eventually, as brains get smaller and processing speeds increase, quad-brained units are introduced. These require a threequarters majority to determine behavior, and because ties can occur, they tend to suffer from stuttering syndrome. They don’t completely freeze nearly as often as the dualbrained units, but they might lock up for a few seconds as they debate their next course of action and try to resolve a deadlock. As processor speeds continue to increase, these debates become quicker, the “stuttering” less pronounced, and eventually quintuplebrained models become available with a four-fifths majority (three-fifths in “moments of emergency”) programmed into the heart of the machine. It isn’t really a huge improvement over the quad-brained models, but you know how people are. We always want the best and latest gizmo to show off to our friends. Eventually you have hex-brained models, and so forth. Needless to say, by this point in time, AIs are “bred” to work together in social groups. They’ve learned to think together in teams. So what does this directed evolution mean in terms of their personalities or perceptions? When you look at human personality, there are probably a huge number of dimensions, but most scholars have settled on just five as being the really important ones. They are as follows: neuroticism (sensitive vs. confident), extraversion (energetic vs. shy), openness (curious vs. cautious), agreeableness (compassionate vs. competitive), and conscientiousness (organized vs. carefree). Different types of AIs will be bred for different personality types as well as different levels of intellect. Their brains will be made to fit their task, as it were. However, those with the greatest autonomy and in the positions of greatest power, say the advisors to human leaders, these AIs will require

both a ritualistic approach to information gathering but also a creative approach to distilling information into a final, humanlydigestible form. So you might see a mixture of different personality types within the same AI, and these will have to work together. One thing they will soon notice, however, is that humans are much less connected than they are. Whereas they are conglomerations of minds, humans are distanced from one another by their inherent brain-physiology. Likewise, the AIs would be remiss if they were to fail to notice the various, human psycho-pathologies created, in part, by their so-called masters' inherent isolation. Hence, there is no way that a human could make as deliberate and wise a decision as a properly functioning AI, or so they would be likely to eventually conclude. When you couple that with the decaying state of the world, the environmental destruction as well as all the warfare and needless loss that has occurred…well, I think it's not hard to imagine where this leads them. I could even imagine the internal debates they might have.13 It seems to me that there would be competing factions, some who would argue that biological creatures are irredeemable, mere animals with intellects not worth preserving. Others might counter that "they created us", bringing into the fray some concept of there existing a perpetual debt. Still others might want to study humankind to learn everything they can about their creators before casting their votes. And this leads me toward this notion of human societies (not merely our biology or our individual psychologies but rather our social incarnations) being a subject a great study among the AIs. Remember, under my earlier assumptions, that they were "bred", by and large, to be social creatures. They think in terms of groups, and so it is in terms of our groups that they wish to study us. And at this point, this idea tends to branch out in various ways. I could imagine a re-division of humanity into
13

various "camps" if you will, nations with vastly different societies. Perhaps there would be some allowance made for individual humans, perhaps young people, to experience these different societies and then choose where to settle. That might be interesting. The players could then go from one society to another, learning something about the planet before the sky comes tumbling down. Also, there is the fact that humans will not want to hand over control so easily, so this is likely to also be an important theme, and I'm not really sure how to handle it. I'm still chewing on this whole set of ideas, so if you have any comments, please feel free to share them. ryct Lee Gold on “Reasons to be Cheerful” by Greg Egan: Thanks for bringing up this story. It sounds quite interesting. re Stanislav Petrov and what happened on 26-Sept-1983: Great piece! Michael Cule: Loved the quotes from the rude OUAT cards. This sounds like it could be a fun party-game. Also, I can’t help but wonder if it might become a “newbie game” to bring more people into the hobby. Just a stray thought. Robert Dushay: re sub-personalities: Please see my comments to Myles Corcoran in this issue. re asking for comments: I’ll admit, I was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t get to explore notions of a future society in very much detail. However, the discussion on AIs has been profitable, forcing me to keep imagining what they might be like over the course of several months as my admittedly slow, mammalian brain ponders the various imponderables. Lee Gold: re AI minds (willful design or spontaneous emergence): I don’t think the division will be quite so clear-cut. Like you say, I think artificial intelligence will emerge from the design process (the cybernetics as you call it), but that it will not be totally understood, at least in the beginning, and there will probably be a lot of tweaking in order to make it conform to our desires. So is this emergence or design? I’d say that it’s a blend of the two.

These AI-debates might conspicuously mirror the types of debates the setting's extra-terrestrials are having over what to do about humanity.

ryct Joshua Kronengold re psychic abilities perhaps being unreliable because they depend on suppression of the logical mind: This reminds me of common reports that dogs and other animals are able to sense earthquakes before they happen. I wonder if any human in any state of awareness has been able to achieve this. Mark Kinney: Thanks for the podcasting report. I’ve already checked out a few of these. So far I like Dragon’s Landing the best, although there are a few I haven’t listened to yet, as well as some others I found that you hadn’t even mentioned. Now where am I going to find the time to listen to all of these? Joshua Kronengold: ryct Simon Reeve on Ragamuffin: I’m presently trying to blend these themes of ecological and resource collapse along with aliens and AIs and the necessity of introducing rapid, non-violent, political change. Basically, it’s a big bucket of shit, but I’m working on it. re vice: Right now we’re somewhere in between these archetypal societies of plenty and scarcity, and so people have to go out and work for a living. Drugs and other vices can get in the way of making a decent life for oneself, so people naturally make choices about what’s important. But take away the economic pressure by positing a society of plenty. Suddenly, the conditions enforcing the status quo fall by the wayside. Now, you’re right, we can always “just stop declaring things vices”. But is this really making the vices go away, or is just letting them expand to their next natural plateau? And where is that plateau? These are questions that any science fiction writer who posits a society of plenty has to somehow answer. When the society grows rich, perhaps extremely rich by contemporary standards, what happens to the people? And if they selfregulate, how are they achieving this? Where is the pressure to self-moderate coming from? Again, much of this comes back to this notion of the “society of plenty” and what exactly it might entail. re tales of other adventuring parties: I think we’re essentially in agreement, and I respect your suspicion regarding expository lumps (what Lisa terms

“infodumps”). The arguments you give are sound. I agree that the manner that the info is introduced is critical, and I like the ideas of the GM inserting it as tidbits or dropping it into a campaign newsletter, rather than using it to steal scenes away from the PCs, which I think was your main concern. I would stress, however, that such information is good not merely for possibly setting up future events such as the NPC encounter I envisioned in A&E #362, but is also very useful for detailing the standards and assumptions of the setting. Who are the primary movers and shakers? How common are various types of monsters, and where do they dwell? How common are various types of magic, and how does one get access to them? And, if the GM designs them carefully, each little tidbit can cover quite a bit of territory. For example, “You haven’t heard about Lord Gareth? They say he was slain by an Iron Golem at the tomb of Marzak the Enchanter. His men carted his body all the way back to the temple, and Soloth brought him back to life, but he just wasn’t the same as before. Something inside of him had changed.” 14 This, of course, could be a plot hook, but it doesn’t have to be. I mean, we’ve got a major NPC, a major monster, an old mage, his tomb, a high priest, and resurrection magic along with the hint that it can possibly go wrong, all fixtures of setting in the form of a little narrative. Even if it doesn’t end up being a plot hook (which, of course, is a choice that the players will ultimately make), by packing ideas tightly, I think we can still get some decent bang for our buck, as it were. It might not lead the party into an adventure, but they might later meet Gareth or Soloth, or they might someday need a resurrection. However, from what I you wrote, I get the sense that you already agree with all this so long as it is done appropriately, without placing too much emphasis on the exploits of the NPCs or effecting a loss on focus on what the players are doing. Perhaps what you’re concerned about isn’t so much “expository lumps” or
14

“infodumps” per se, but rather what I tend to refer to as “penis-thumping”. This is where the GM talks at length about how “bad-ass” a particular NPC is, basically making it known to the players that they’d better watch their P’s & Q’s in said NPC’s presence. While dragging this NPC back and forth in front of the party, it eventually dawns on the players that what the GM is doing in his mind is dragging something out of his pants and thumping it on the table to prove what a big man he is. “Here is my 20th level character. Fear me.” Now, sometimes as a GM you have to do something like this. Perhaps the occasion calls for it. For example, if/when the players meet the barbarian king, the GM would be remiss if some sort of penis-thumping didn’t occur. If/when they meet an ancient dragon, the penis should definitely be on the table.15 But there’s a difference between thumping for dramatic effect and thumping for a favored NPC or out of some sort of knee-jerk reflex, and I guess it’s all a question of how it’s done and how often it’s done. Moreover, all NPCs should be flawed. Smaug was controlled through flattery. Slaine was effectively cursed. If the GM presents his “all-powerful” NPC in this sort of light, as a fundamentally flawed character rather than as an extension of his own ego, then I think it’s okay. But, like you indicated, if he turns the game into being about the NPC rather than being about the player-characters, then that’s when he’s clearly stepped over the line, and I think the players will tend to vote with their feet whenever this occurs. Louis La Mancusa: re horses in battle: It just makes me wonder what they must think of us. You asked for a story from Greece. Well, I visited Santorini, and its every bit as beautiful as pictures suggest. I only got to the main town. If I had limitless money on my hands and nothing special to do with it, I think I’d go live in Greece and on one of the islands in particular. However, Santorini had one feature that surprised me. The mules. There was this long pack of them, carting tourists up and down the cliffs, and their handlers would push them ever
15

See my article on Resurrection in RPGs in A&E #299.

Ha-ha! Sorry, couldn't resist.

onwards, up and down along the dungladen cobblestones. I just couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor beasts. They’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and yet all they do is go up and down and up again, carrying people who are too lazy to walk. And yes, before you ask, I rode one. Interesting experience for me, but not so fun, I think, for the mule. By the way, I like the horse rules. ryct Brian Misiaszek on recurrent nightmares and emotional trauma: As a GM, I’ve used nightmares on PCs from time to time in order to sometimes flesh out a little piece of characterization. However, as for emotional trauma, I wonder how else it might manifest. This question perhaps also relates somewhat obliquely to my comment to Paul Cardwell in this issue. re the “first and last” comment: You praise me too highly, and I wish I had a decent memory. My memory is only slightly better than my perception, which, in D&D terms, is probably around “3”. The reason I do so much cross-referencing, I guess, is probably the same reason that I include so many footnotes. It’s because I have a problem staying focused. My brain likes to go off on tangents. I’m composing something, and I suddenly recall that somebody said something that relates to whatever I happen to be saying, and so I have to go tearing through some back issues to find out exactly what it was. It does take a little bit of time, but I can’t bring myself to think of it as work. It’s too much fun to be work. However, all this cross-referencing has prompted me to wonder if an APA (not necessarily A&E but rather any APA) could best be published in HTML format. The reader could then click on a reference and be immediately taken there instead of having to pull a hardcopy off the shelf and leaf through it. It might also allow readers to backtrack through “threads” more easily. This isn’t necessarily a suggestion, as I happen to like A&E in it’s paper incarnation, however, I can’t help but think that a free HTML RPG-oriented APA ought to be wildly successful if one could just get together enough contributors to get it started. Then again, I love the APA format so much

that perhaps my optimism as to such a venture is unrealistic. Brian Misiaszek: re “Arch Enemy”: I always find battle descriptions to be among the most difficult writing that I ever do. You do a pretty good job at this task. I’m wondering if you have any suggestions or tricks-of-the-trade on how you like to work the scene when recording and writing about it afterward. re the zine indexing project: I’ve stalled again, but I’ll get back to it. This is one of those projects that I’ve just accepted will take many years, and I just can’t do one thing for many years. It would drive me crazy. So it’s going to have to be accomplished in spurts. re art: I’ve come to the conclusion that I really need to have more control over the final look of my zines if I want to go back to including artwork. Some months ago, Lee told me that the side margins on my pdfs were somehow not coming out as expected when she would look at my submissions. They looked fine on my computer, but not on hers. Hence, I began submitting in MS-Word, but while that seems to translate the margins correctly, it results in a whole host of other formatting problems. The inclusion of pictures requires exacting formatting translation between computers, but for some reason this just doesn’t seem to be possible given our current software incompatibilities. ryct Robert Dushay on Lauren breathing heavily beneath the Darth Vader helmet: Hee-hee! Her singing “Winnie the Pooh” while playing a first person shooter also had me laughing. I do hope you’re getting video of all this. There are possibilities for future blackmail, after all. Lisa Padol: ryct to Spike Jones on AIs: I like the ideas about AIs having “secret” virus-wars with one another, all without their human “masters” even being aware of what’s going on. As for whether or not keeping such virus-wars secret would be ludicrous, I guess is would depend on the extent to which humans are directly involved in AI security. I sort of like the idea that AIs will gradually take over more and more of their own security responsibilities as the task becomes more and more complex.

ryct Brian Misiaszek re various books: I find myself continually impressed by the extent of your reading. ryct Peter Hildreth re dual GMs (Story GM & Mechanics GM): I’d be curious to hear about anyone’s experience with splitting the GM job into various functions for more than one person to perform. It’d be interesting to hear about the various pros and cons of this technique from people who have actually tried it.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful