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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 38 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: "Solid" things and Sorcerer, or, how is a fighter-jet-AI-spaceship a demon?  (Read 3418 times)
Hans
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« on: April 21, 2008, 05:40:52 AM »

I think I can help with everything you wrote starting with "What about Lore" with a pretty basic idea: that Lore, in Sorcerer, is never certain at the metaphysical level. Even if the demon is bright red, has a pointy-tipped tail, speaks Hebrew or Coptic or something, reminisces about Solomon, and seems obsessed with the character's immortal soul, that doesn't mean all the occult and Biblical references from which this stuff is drawn are established as true in the game setting. In this game, nothing can be so established, as far as Lore (and sorcery, and demons) is concerned.

Nor does the character's certainty about any of it mean a damn thing either - in fact, the descriptor Belief System was chosen in order to characterize such certainty and to emphasize that it's a feature of personality rather than a key or window into what's "really out there." That's also why there is no Lore descriptor called True Knowledge; the closest thing to it is Mad, and I hope that makes my point about that.

I will discuss how this concept applies to fighter-jet-AI-spaceships and similar 'solid' things later. Right now we will stick with Kult.

This is me pleading with Ron not to forget the above bolded comment, and asking for more information.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2008, 06:27:53 AM »

Hi Hans,

Thanks for the reminder. Fortunately, the answer is very easy.

The "demon" doesn't apply to the hunk of metal that is the ship. It applies to the relationship between the ship's capabilities and the person who's bonded with it. I used "bonded" in the informal, personal sense which is what the game terms Binding and Bound are formalizing.

So how does one Contact a ship of this kind? Summon it? That might be best understood as a montage of the ship being built and the character walking by it, establishing a relationship by observing and appreciating it, or responding emotionally as the little lights flicker on as he passes by.

A related, usable interpretation can be found in Charnel Gods, in which Contacting and Summoning are narrated as physical quests which end with finding the weapon.

In either case, although the item is experienced as a physical thing that was born or built in the imagined setting, one must examine the way it is presented and its thematic weight. A giant sabre-tooth cats, in the relevant Conan story, is not merely a big mammal - it is a freak, an anomaly, "evolution run amuck in a welter of fang and talon." It is not supposed to exist, and that applies whether it is a single individual or if there is an unseen population of the things off in the forest somewhere. If the same applies to an AI fighter-jet craft, then it doesn't matter whether it was built by a factory - you'll notice, in the relevant source material, that such crafts are rare and valuable, and that their inventors do not really grasp the depth of their personality. It's when the pilot understands that the ship has an agenda of its own, and enters into a relationship that treats that as a potential source of trouble, that the interesting story begins.

Sorcerer & Sword provides a vocabulary for talking about this issue, calling such demons "Immanent" to express their physical solidity in reality - but uses all the same rules and concepts for dealing with them as the base rules, on the logic expressed above. One might do this with the space ship idea quite easily.

Last year, I think, a fellow posted here in a state of some confusion, because he wanted to play in a setting composed of high-tech effects using low-tech imagery, what some people mean when they say "steampunk." He wanted to know how to build, say, high-resolution goggles using the demon abilities. With some discussion, we discovered that he was not actually talking about Sorcerer at all. The widgets and gadgets were only widgets and gadgets, and as such, could easily be handled as bonus dice or perhaps with some application of the damage tables. There wasn't any "demon" to them.

Does that make any sense?

Best, Ron
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Hans
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« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2008, 06:39:23 AM »

Thanks Ron, this mostly makes sense to me. 

To elaborate somewhat on the idea, though...lets take the coptic spouting red skinned horned creatures from the quoted text, above.  Is the "immanence" of those beings something that can be left up to the individual play group, or do you think there is a necessary difference between those beings and the spaceships for the game to work as intended?  In other words, what are the implications of treating the "supernatural" demons as "solid" things?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2008, 07:14:03 AM »

I still think you're getting distracted by the hunk of metal aspect of the space-ship. What matters is its volition - it wants something, it will do things to get it, and it will obey or disobey rather than simply respond to the buttons that the pilot pushes. The pilot realizes (a) that this ship is not merely a tool, (b) that gaining access to its formidable capabilities requires a dynamic relationship with it, and (c) that he or she is actually ready to do this, with a potential loss to oneself.

That's all that matters. In other words, the ship as conceived here is already just like the traditional "demon," not the other way around. If you want to make the traditional demon more like the ship, it only makes it more like itself, i.e., no change.

Best, Ron
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Hans
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« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2008, 10:13:29 AM »

The volition of the demon/spaceship/whatever is, I think, the bit I understand.   It makes total sense to me.

Its the necessity that, as you said in your quote, "Lore, in Sorcerer, is never certain at the metaphysical level."  I'm trying to get my mind around why that is so important.  The contrast of the classical devil and the AI spaceship seemed to be a way for me to get at that understanding.  My question was targeted towards that issue. 

Because the volition of the "demon" seems to be independent, in my mind, of the uncertainty associated with Lore and exactly what demons are.  What would be the downside of players taking as a certainty the Hellish origin and fallen angelness of classical devils in the same way they take the physical structure, warp drive, plasma cannons, or whatever of the spaceship as a certainty?  Those devils are still volitional creatures, just like the spaceship, the same basic question still applies; what will my character do for power. 

Trying it from the other direction, what must be "uncertain" in the AI spaceship example for Lore to function the way it should?

That's the reason why your emphasis on how important uncertainty about what Lore and demons are confuses me.  I'm not getting why the issue matters. 

Is this issue really about avoiding slavery to source material?  Is it really about never telling anyone "No, that's not the way the world works!"?  Is your emphasis of this point more in trying to avoid the alternative than in it actually being important in and of itself?   If that is the case, then I get it.  I understand that Sorcerer is not supposed to be about the underlying details of setting, cosmology, all that kind of thing.  It's about people and their relationships, and what they would do for power. 
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2008, 12:31:29 PM »

That's fair and clear.

The overall, social and creative issue that you mention is indeed important, or even, I suppose, the most important thing.

However, I do think there's a good way to discuss your concern with the AI jet-fighter space ship on its own terms - which is that, and here I think I am being faithful to the source material, the ship's volitional capability exceeds its designers' plan. The ship isn't merely "smart," like they wanted it to be and like the pilot expects. It's scary-smart. That's why I described it in terms of agenda instead of merely performance. It not only sees, knows, and processes stuff (as intended), it also judges and wants things, and is willing to subordinate the pilot if necessary to get them.

You wrote,

Quote
What would be the downside of players taking as a certainty the Hellish origin and fallen angelness of classical devils in the same way they take the physical structure, warp drive, plasma cannons, or whatever of the spaceship as a certainty?  Those devils are still volitional creatures, just like the spaceship, the same basic question still applies; what will my character do for power. 

I think this reveals the crux of my point: that the players may take the physical structure, et cetera, of the ship as a certainty (that's the hunk of metal) ... but that they cannot and should not take the intelligence of the ship as such a certainty. For them to say, "Oh, it's a programmed AI," as an explanation is exactly like saying, knowledgeably and smugly, "That's a type 12 Bubbzegorr demon from the fourth circle of Gehenna," or something like that. Such statements may carry useful content, they might be correct, and they're good enough to function as a Lore score ... but they really can never be stated as 100% certainty. A character may be rock-solid certain about it, in which case the Will descriptor Belief System is practically obligatory, but that's all it is.

So the ship's intelligence and volition and agenda are metaphysically exactly the same as the red-skinned demon's intelligence and volition and agenda. The hunk of metal that constitutes the ship is merely a detail - and in fact, potentially a very misleading one because it provides a very strong illusion of certainty regarding the ship's demonic qualities. Implicit in the term AI is, "it's only a machine." Sure ... like the sabre-tooth cat in Beyond the Black River was "only an animal." It wasn't only an animal. Conan had no chance against that thing, and he knew it.

For a machine to be an effective demon in terms of playing Sorcerer, it must partake of the terrifying, off-human but not-machine quality of HAL-9000. It can be reasoned with, sort of. It can be manipulated using specific arcane knowledge, especially for banishing purposes. But it can't be merely controlled as a human controls any ordinary tool of whatever complexity. Its existence should provide a prickly reaction, of "geez ... this thing is a lot more than what I thought it was."

I'm enjoying the conversation and I hope this post doesn't seem as if I'm simply repeating myself. Your post gave me a clear idea of just what you're asking, and my aim was to answer with equal focus. Let me know how I'm doing with that.

Best, Ron

P.S. A side point: the basic question for Sorcerer is not "what will my character do for power?", as often mis-stated. The question is rather, "you have power - can you handle it?"
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Hans
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Posts: 576


« Reply #6 on: April 21, 2008, 12:49:12 PM »

If I understand what you are saying correctly, then that post completely answers my questions. 

To rephrase your words, to demonstrate my understanding...focusing on the intelligence and volition of the "demon", whatever form it might take, is the key.  The base uncertainty should be about what demons want, and how they will behave, and what their ultimate goals are.  In that sense, an AI spaceship is just as inscrutable as a 12 bubbzegorr devil, and rightly so.  This is what makes them both appropriate as demons.   

Other things may ALSO be uncertain (is that devil really an honest to god biblical fallen angel?  Is the AI spaceship really and AI spaceship, or a hunk of metal inhabited by extradimensional Cthuluish intelligence?) and the more of this uncertainty there is, probably the better the game will play.  But that base uncertainty must be present for Sorcerer to work.

Does that sum it up?   If so, I agree completely, and thank you for your time in clarifying.  If not, help!  *grin*
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2008, 02:02:59 PM »

You have it perfectly, Hans. Many thanks for the careful reading and writing.

Best, Ron
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lachek
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« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2008, 09:43:48 AM »

Very informative conversation, thanks!

Quick question while we're on the subject -

As demons want to hide their existence from the general public, would it be appropriate in the fighter-jet-AI-spaceship example to say that:
* the general public is perfectly aware of advanced fighter jet spaceships;
* they know the jets are piloted by specially trained pilots;
* and they may even know they are controlled by sophisticated AIs;
* but they do not know the full extent of the AI's volition, independent agenda, or relationship between AI and pilot?

That is, the public is aware of the metal, and the mechanistic intelligence behind it, but not the volition behind that intelligence?
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2008, 11:20:52 AM »

That is, the public is aware of the metal, and the mechanistic intelligence behind it, but not the volition behind that intelligence?

As I've been watching this thread, I keep thinking about the EVA units in Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you've ever seen this anime, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. If not, it's worth checking out. Just take a look at the relationships of the pilots to the EVA mechs that they pilot. I mean, there's even a Binding...er...synchronizing that the pilot does with the EVA....
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
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