News:

Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Roleplaying Higher (posthuman?) Beings

Started by DevP, May 13, 2004, 03:45:24 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

DevP

So I'm looking at how to develop over at Orion's Arm, since the possibility of playing (or at least dealing with) higher level intelligences is a big deal.

Check the relevant article about higher level beings in the setting... So how does a player go about *ROLEPLAYING* a higher level being if, by definition, their thinking is beyond our understanding? How should a GM play out their interactions with these very real godlike entities that are similarly alien and unknowable?

Method 1: Analogize to how greek myth describes the relations between mortal men and the pantheon.

Method 2: Play it mostly humanlike, except GM'd beings are "aloof" and have a lot going on that they don't let on; while ascended PCs have major powers, and meanwhile should be more or less overwhelmed at their scoped.

Generally speaking, I'm not sure quite how to do it. Am I overdoing the alienness of unknowable beings? After all, we ascribe humanlike motivations/emotion to even inanimate objects. (Who hasn't cussed out their computer?)

Green

A very interesting topic.  I'm not sure if I buy into that model of consciousness, but it's still interesting.

As far as your question regarding the alienness of nonhuman beings, you may be overdoing it a bit, depending upon how you envision it.  The model you give seems to do well with their rational cognitive abilities, but what about the other elements?  What are the psychological natures of these beings?  What are the humanlike qualities they can identify with?  If these creatures interact and communicate with human beings at all, they must be able to relate to them on some level.  What level is that?  Basically, I think you have to figure out what makes these alien creatures so alien and then figure out how that would affect their actions and thoughts.  Do they lack empathy?  Are they primarily intuitive as opposed to rational?  Are their physical forms assumed at will?  In a roundabout way, I almost think you're going about it backwards.  Going from the top-down approach, it may seem impossible to work with, but if you try the bottom-up method, you may get better results.

I'll give an example.  Consider fey.  In almost all roleplaying games that make them something other than a bunch of Tinkerbells, they are described as alien in their motives and thought processes and seemingly random in their actions.  As I thought about it further, I wondered what it was that made them so alien, so "other."  The conclusions I reached will color how I portray fey in my own games.

xiombarg

There's an easy, tho slow, way to be superhuman. Have more than one person involved in playing the character. That way you have multiples humans worth of effort being "cherry picked" into the character's actions.
love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT

M. J. Young

I can't remember where I suggested this, but one way to enhance the apparent intelligence of such characters is to give them the chance to have anticipated a move by an ordinary character.

In one context, I've suggested that a walled castle might appear vulnerable to a tunneling effort; but the players don't know that there aren't underground defenses against tunneling, such as fragile waterpipes which if broken will pour water from the lake into the tunnels, or underground stone walls constructed below. As long as the players don't know that those things are not there, the referee can incorporate them at the moment they would matter.

Most of us think it's unfair for a character to suddenly be able to respond in a prepared fashion to something the player (or referee) did not expect or anticipate; but if the character is smarter than the player, such retroactively incorporated preparations are quite natural and acceptable. If there's fear of the referee overusing it (as in a gamist context) a roll against a probability that the action would have been anticipated makes it functional.

--M. J. Young

DevP

Mike: I think I'm totally on this wavelength. Given that there is a scale of logarithmic more awesome levels of intelligences, so too could I create powers that enact retroactive changes/"anticipations" in this way.

QuoteConsider fey.
This does in fact bring up another way of looking at the difference. When talking about Puck with a friend, she explained that Puck isn't a "bad" person, and is rather moral - in dealing with other Pucks. Humans just don't register as morally relevant on its scale (and a child destroying an antihill isn't a mass murderer), so it might be helpful to have the text introduce this idea of capital-O Other. (Of course, it's unclear how to really get this across in the game design, except in some explicit essay on the minds of trancended beings.)

Callan S.

Ergh, that 'doesn't register on my radar'...does that mesh with anyone? I mean humans lobby for animal rights. What up with these higher forms that they can't see some level of sentience in a creature that wears clothes, users tools and uses infrastructure. If they can't even treat such a creature as that creature treats animals, that isn't a lack of moral identifcation, that's just evil. It all sounds like the 'a wizard did it' cliche to explain any non sensical magical event, except in this case its a 'a higher intelligence did it...and its beyond critique'.

Sorry, I'm just trying to say its too easy to use 'higher intelligence' to prop up any sort of behaviour.

On the retroactive effects side, I'd suggest a sort of mechanic. Each time the intelligence employs this ability and its had its effect, declare openly that one point of intelligence effect or whatever name has been used. The intelligence, based on its int can only do a certain amount per week. This way the players feel the bad guy has used up a resource rather than just being able to kill all their plans whenever it wants and make their coming to the table to play, irrelevant. For gamist games, this one.
Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>

Rob Carriere

Noon,
No, it doesn't mesh with me, but it might well be realistic. After all, ants use tools and infrastructure and so do termites. Look where it got them in us recognizing ant/termite rights...

Of course I want to argue that there's a huge gap between an ant and a human and that I don't want to recognize this argument as valid, but I never can quite shake the feeling that somewhere, somethings that are as far beyond us mentally as we are beyond termites are having the exact same discussion, using us as the example.

M.J.,
I did the super intelligence = ret con trick in my Six Powers campaign. It worked fine, even though several of the players were on to what I was doing. One thing that helped against any feelings of unfairness was that the six powers were, in effect, balancing each other out very cleverly, leaving the PCs more or less free to act.

SR
--

simon_hibbs

Ok, there are a few different topic under discussion here.

Modeling Uber-Inteligence Abilities

This question answers itself. I don't have to be a genius level mathematician to be able to play one. All I need is a character with a super-high Mathematics skill. Superhero RPGs might be a good place to look for ideas on this since I imagine they have to handle this sort of thing all the time. Since INT and skills are just game mechanical abilities, it's fairly easy to model them in a game.

Uber-Inteligence Morality

There's no obvious reason to suppose that superhuman inteligence is likely to make someone any more or less moral than normal people. Certainly inteligence (however you measure it) in humans doesn't seem to correlate very well, or at all, with moral values. Even very dumb animals can exhibit altruistic behaviour (given suitable evolutionary incentives for doing so).

A science fiction author Larry Niven has written several stories featuring Pak Protectors, a hyper-inteligent race who's behaviour is completely dominated by their instincts. His point is that inteligence itself doesn't give to any goals or moral direction. Inteligence is simply an evolutionary feature or tool such as hair, claws or colour vision. Even if you disavow the scientific view, in religion the fallen angels are a morality tale that teach us that even the greatest of beings can fall from grace.


To in conclusion I don't think there are any insurmountable problems in playing such beings, or representing them in RPGs so long as the game system scales to the required level.


Simon Hibbs
Simon Hibbs

DevP

QuoteErgh, that 'doesn't register on my radar'...does that mesh with anyone?
If I got my "CYNICAL NOW" hat on, I can talk about how we feel about deaths in the US vs. deaths elsewhere, and so on... To be clear, it doesn't speak well of Puck that he doesn't see humans as morally relevant, BUT it shows a difference between a malevolent actor and a fundamentally aloof one.

I think morality has come up because it's a good gague of how to roleplay, socialize, deliver dialgoue, etc. We're not talking just about superintelligence, but actually more complex (various degrees of godlike, really) levels of consciousness. I suppose if a given human personality transcended, I would sit down with the player to construct this new personality: "So you are basically X, but consider the fact that now you percieve the world about 10% faster, and that you have 20 terabytes flowing through your subconsciouss at all times, and you can detect your own instincts a mile away. How are you going to act differently now?" This might be the only workable thing: take a human psych model, and just add in the consequences of uberpower.

(It's been suggested elsewhere that I just might be overthinking this. <g>)

Scourge108

I think playing someone with superhuman intelligence or other mental capacities beyond mortal reasoning is actually a lot easier than many people realize.  Just fake it, and do whatever.  If people question your motives, remind them that there is no way their feeble brain could possibly understand their true intentions, and they should not question things beyond their ability to understand.  To explain your line of reasoning to a mere human would be like explaining calculus to a lemur.  That excuse can work for anything.  It's all in the presentation.  Mad geniuses are my favorite characters for that reason.
Greg Jensen

contracycle

I don't think we can really play anything too remote from our own experience; we lose the capacity to identify with the character IMO.

Our experience of such entities is/would be akin to a completely alien unfathomable external Threat (as I believe similar entities were called in Vernor Vinge's 'A Fire On The Deep', but I may be misremembering the source).

IOW, such characters should really be represented by some sort of random system, IMO.
Impeach the bomber boys:
www.impeachblair.org
www.impeachbush.org

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

simon_hibbs

Quote from: contracycleI don't think we can really play anything too remote from our own experience; we lose the capacity to identify with the character IMO.

I think it depends what we're talking about. This discussion potentialy covers a whole range of different subjects. If the subject is just inteligence, I don't think this is a big problem. Super-inteligent beings with basicaly the same motivations and emotional lives as us are IMHO quite comprehensible. Their superior intelect can be modeled by high ability scores and the ability to think faster, perhaps involving fast reaction scores and reduced task times where appropriate.

The problem I have with so-called 'transcended' beings is that I've yet to actualy hear a usable description of what 'transcended' actualy means. It seems to me that it's a self fulfilling prophecy. In fact as humans we have very little dificulty understanding many things are are completely different from us - machines, plants, insects, etc, etc. We can even construct theoretical models for completely alien beings, many SF writers have done so. The only cases in SF where I've come across 'uninteligible' beings is cases where the author simply decided to write about beings that are uninteligible. That hardly constitutes proof that we will actualy be unable to understand any beings we do encounter.


Simon Hibbs
Simon Hibbs

wicked_knight

Quote from: simon_hibbsThe problem I have with so-called 'transcended' beings is that I've yet to actualy hear a usable description of what 'transcended' actualy means. It seems to me that it's a self fulfilling prophecy. In fact as humans we have very little dificulty understanding many things are are completely different from us - machines, plants, insects, etc, etc. We can even construct theoretical models for completely alien beings, many SF writers have done so. The only cases in SF where I've come across 'uninteligible' beings is cases where the author simply decided to write about beings that are uninteligible. That hardly constitutes proof that we will actualy be unable to understand any beings we do encounter.

I think your looking at this from the wrong point of view. Being the human, yes we can understand the concepts behind machines, plants and animals. However, I for one could not go walking up to a monkey and expect to hold a meaningful dialogue.  I may understand that the monkey is intelligent, I may understand that it has some form of rudimentary language. But it really won't help me that much.

Likewise my blender is kinda boring when it come to philosophy.

I'm assuming that a transcended being would be one that does not have a common frame of reference with us. If, for some reason, it wanted to communicate with us it may have had to study us, or be taught by one of it's fellows. It may say things inappropriately, in a bad accent, it may have to have a device (or being) that it has to speak through as a translator.

And if it is anything like humans and how we interact with animals it may get frustrated when trying to communicate ideas - "What do you mean you don't understand the connection between a beggar dying in the streets on San rafel 3 years ago and the assassination attempt on the president that will occur tomorrow. I explained to you already that the beggar was wearing blue!"
Jason

neelk

Quote from: simon_hibbs
The problem I have with so-called 'transcended' beings is that I've yet to actualy hear a usable description of what 'transcended' actualy means. It seems to me that it's a self fulfilling prophecy. In fact as humans we have very little dificulty understanding many things are are completely different from us - machines, plants, insects, etc, etc. We can even construct theoretical models for completely alien beings, many SF writers have done so. The only cases in SF where I've come across 'uninteligible' beings is cases where the author simply decided to write about beings that are uninteligible. That hardly constitutes proof that we will actualy be unable to understand any beings we do encounter.

One fun way to play this is to start with a basically human chaacter, and then add, one by one, capabilities that touch on the core issues of self and identity until you're playing a character who isn't very human at all.

For example, start with someone like yourself. Now, imagine that through drugs and cybernetics, you can a) recognize what your emotional state and drives are, and b) change them. Unsatisfied with your level of diligence, bravery, honesty, cynicism, or whatever? Reprogram yourself and edit your personality. This gets weird very fast, because all the old narratives we have (dating back to Homer) about people struggling against their passions no longer apply. You are, in an important sense, whosoever you want to be. That's weird, and very neat. You can do this without any strong mechanics, but I would be interested in trying this with something like Heroquest, with the codicil that the players can adjust their PC's personality traits at will.

Now, add the capability to manipulate your memories -- eidetic recall is the most obvious example, and so is the ability to edit and recode the emotional valence of memories. I have no idea how to mechanize the latter, but one thing you can do to help with the first is to play the game in a chatroom or IRC. Then, the players can search the game logs whenever they want to help get the feeling of superhuman memory.

Toss in the ability to spawn new processes -- make copies of yourself that go off and do their own thing, possibly reintegrating at some later date. This, of course, is just playing a gaggle of characters, something that GMs do all the time. Improv experience would likely be a big help, too.

I suggest avoid worrying too much about the mechanics of the game's technology -- accurate portrayal is less important here than stretching the boundaries of your imagination. Orion's Arm contains many great examples of this technique: tying things like the archilect AIs to archetypes is a really cool way of suggesting that the archilects behave according to rational reasons that humans can't comprehend, because the tropes of archetypal figures generally make emotional sense but not logical sense.  I suggest taking that allusiveness as your model -- focus on things the players can do to help get in the mindset and feeling of an alien consciousness.

If you try to do too much initially, things will just be too weird for the players to engage. But if you add strangeness one step at a time, then you can steadily extend the limits of what you find playable, and eventually you can talk about your game and the rest of us will go, "Whoa! I have no idea even how to think about playing that!"
Neel Krishnaswami

Dauntless

simon-hibbs-
What you suggest forgets the fact that we can only understand things from our point of view and frame of reference.  As human beings we are constrained by our intellect, our emotions and our needs.  Superior beings, even with needs and emotions may have an underlying set of behavior that we can't comprehend.

Take for example differences between cultures and their own views of what constitutes 'reality'.  For the western mind, we have been brought up to believe in empiricism and objectiveness.  Even the notion "Cogito Ergo Sum" points to the belief that our 'self' is our mind.  But this does not refelct for example how easterners feel.  To the eastern mindset, thought is more than intellect or reasoning ability, it is also the ability to directly experience or intuit something.  The 'self' is an illusion created by the ego because it is full of doubt and has forgotten its true nature.  Even concepts like Yin and Yang are misconstrued by many westerners (they are not complementary opposites, but rather polar extremes of one thing..the ebb and flow of oneness).  Even our language constrains how we think because within our language lies the framework of our understanding (at least to the western mind).  This is why many eastern cultures believe that truth can not be explained but can only pointed at and experienced.  As an old Chinese saying goes, "Doing is understanding".

If there can be such wide discrepancies even between humans (and the difficulties of one culture trying to understand the other), how would we be able to fathom the mind of something that can think in multiple dimensions, that sees time in a different fashion than we do, that does not have language to communicate, has no desire for pro-creation or self-preservation, or does not have any dualistic notions?   At best we can only guess.

Our point of view restricts what we can possibly imagine and know.  For example, while Heisenberg proved that it's impossible for us to know both the position and velocity of an atomic particle, is it impossible for all sentient creatures?  If it is not, then what?  We can not even begin to imagine what the thought processes of a being like this would be.  It would be nothing more than guesswork...guesswork which falls within the domain of our own understanding and imagination.

I agree with contra_cycle.  I think that playing super-intelligences as players is probably not a good idea simply because it's beyond our understanding and more importantly it's harder for the player to relate to.  While you can always fake it, I think that one of the major benefits of roleplaying is to allow the player to connect with and learn from their character.  How do you relate to something that is very likely extremely alien to our own thought processes and emotions?  Even aliens themselves (who are not super-intelligent or transcendent beings) can be difficult to play for this reason.  I generally see non-human races as foils for the human race in general.  They help illumine our own society in some way, even if by being portrayed as the exact opposite.