Dungeons and Discourse implementation

post by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-24T10:37:21.127Z · score: 24 (25 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 56 comments

I've been working on an unauthorized implementation of Dresden Codak's Dungeons and Discourse, a fictional role-playing game that combines philosophy and high fantasy. You can find a very error-ridden, but possibly usable, rough draft of it at http://www.raikoth.net/Stuff/ddisplayer.pdf. Yes, obviously this is crazy and I have no life. There is no need to point that out further.

I'd like to try to run a campaign. It would be maybe an hour or two a week on IRC, and subject to my schedule, which is terrible and can include disappearing for months at a time (in particular I probably won't have internet access in August). Still, I would like to at least gauge interest and start some preliminaries now. And if anyone wants to run a campaign IRL at a meetup group or something, I can send them the file with the campaign walkthrough, though I'm not sure how much I would recommend it at this point.

Anyone who's interested in participating please let me know (especially if you have philosophical beliefs wildly different from the standard Less Wrong hive mind, or if you know any interested parties who do, since the game would be dreadfully boring if everyone agreed on everything or for that matter anything). Also, I suppose if people want to record the errors and contradictions and non sequiturs and exploits in the manual you might as well post them here so I can fix them.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-24T13:45:13.460Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Gah, denial of service attack detected! Roll for willpower or lose two hours of your life! ... Failed, dammit.)

Very nice. I remember an older attempt at a D&Dis system soon after the comic came out, but yours is much more unified and internally consistent. And all classes have lots of nice spells and the pun level is adequate. Looks fun.

Before reading, I thought, "Hey, let's try to roll a Discordian!", but then I wondered what I have to choose to cast "dispel colonialism". I guess I'll have to enter the dreaded halls of the continentals.

(This is a bit of a pet peeve. Don't take this as serious criticism. It's not even representative of the whole work, but if I go continental, I might as well quote-mine, summon the subtext and cast Wall of Text to further my own agenda.)

Logic is the purest of the disciplines, and does not permit alternate opinions; all students of logic learn the same spells regardless of their beliefs.

Dialetheists would like to have a word with you. (And its not just an obscure position. Many Mahayana philosophers have fully embraced it for centuries.)

Asians may follow non-dualist philosophies like Buddhism or Taoism that eschew the material world.

First of, Asian? The bloody European traditions get 3 out of 5 races, but Asian philosophy gets one?! The Confucians, Vedantists, Jains and whatnot really appreciate being lumped with the depressing Buddhists and crazy Taoists. Ancient Indian philosophy alone already had all the other classes (well, maybe not Objectivism). If you mean non-dual, just say that.

(And Hades, throwing the Greeks together also just... makes my eyes twitch. I'm really not a fan of lumping philosophies by whatever geography made it most prominent (in the West). "Anglo-American" and "Continental" is fine, as both have a fairly unified attitude and there are no better labels. But Greeks and Asians are way too diverse, especially when you identify them with one example that has nothing in common with other, equally important traditions. "Aristotelean" and "Non-dual" or something like that would be better.)

And Taoism is not really non-dual. I can see why you would mention it, as some branches are (particular the visible western ones), but it has the frigging yin-yang as its symbol for a reason. Also, Taoists have spent most of history trying to become physically immortal and to have as much fun in the process as possible. They are outright (physical) hedonists. There is nothing about renunciation in Taoism at all.

Greeks are the original philosophers.

As someone learning Akkadian, I'll put on my philosophy hipster hat and would like to remind you that, as a rule of thumb, everything is Older Than You Think. "Archetypal" philosophers, alright. They really made the profession cool. But "original"?

(Loving the Elves, though.)

If Theist: Catholicism | Protestantism | Syncretism |Fideism | Evidentialism | Serve God | Serve Mammon

I understand that this list is not meant to be complete at all, but theism = Christianity? At least a token polytheist or something? I'm way too underground for this Jesus stuff, I totally want a Heavenly Court or some dragons. You cannot be good without dragons.

In D&Dis, Absolutists get -2 morality, and Anarchists get -1 phronesis.

It's nice to see that in Sophia, the Anarchist scare is over.

Cast during an argument between a player and the GM over a rule interpretation. You analyze the rulebook for hidden meanings that may be opposite to the apparent intent of the text, ensuring victory to your favored interpretation of the rules. GM can nullify this spell at his discretion if abused. Starting an argument over otherwise clear rules just so you can use this spell is definitely an abuse.

So you favor a totalitarian GM, a gatekeeper of the Truth? Any criticism can be dispelled as attacking a "clear" rule (ignoring that the existence of the attack and the viability of an alternative interpretation question this "clarity")? What, exactly, did this GM do to gain privileged access to Truth? And what constitutes "abuse" depends on the abuser and the abused and their socio-cultural frameworks. Simply silencing an interpretation as "abuse" is an exertion of power, not an argument. Any power must be questioned. You are clearly including this exception so you can protect your pet weltanschauung and existing power structure. Your subtext speaks louder than your text. Also before, Nietzscheans are the only ones to summon dragons, without which you can't be good, so you give away your immorality. That you give Absolutists a -2 morality is clearly just signaling. You imperialist. (Am I doing this continental thing right? Do I need more being?)


But... how do I know who I can cast this on?

Looking through your item list, I'm kinda divided. On the one hand, it makes sense, is funny and represents all the branches I wish would constitute philosophy. On the other hand, I see only a single continental book. There really should be a Heidegger or Hegel. How else am I to cast confusion, negate any spells into their synthesis or get into a greater state of dasein?

Materials are not priced like other items: the exact price of an object depends on the size of the object, the quality of the material, and the purpose to which it is being used. The price mentioned here is only a guide for the DM to determine context-appropriate prices for these objects - if you can find them at all!

You mean the price depends on the amount of labor that went into their production, right?

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-25T04:38:59.534Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most of the races were taken straight from the comics, but I endorse them. It's like how D&D has a race "elf", even though experts can distinguish betweeen the Calaquendi and the Moriquendi and so on.

I agree a lot of the options are very limited (you didn't even protest the division of morality into Kantian vs. Utilitarian! That's the worst!) because I wanted to create separate game mechanics and possibilities for each choice. If there were many different religions included, I don't know how the Apologist class would look, but it would have to be pretty different from any of the other classes, and much more complex. And I wanted to make the system resemble the debates that most potential players would be a part of, and those are more likely to be Christian vs. atheist with a little bit of Zen Buddhism or something on the side than Mahayana vs. Theravada, or Gelug vs. Nyingma. And if I were to put in Gelug vs. Nyingma, I'd have to put it into the campaign somehow, and that would confuse 99% of people. So yeah, it's very much western philosophy, and simplified Western philosophy at that.

...and as for the Continentals, I just don't know enough about them to give them justice, even enough justice to mock them. I was going to have Heidegger's Being and Time as a book with the power to Confuse every character within a certain radius, but then I realized I would give anything by Hegel exactly the same power, and so on.

...maybe you should write the first expansion book.

I'll see if I can respond to some of your other issues at more length later.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-25T15:12:04.012Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

you didn't even protest the division of morality into Kantian vs. Utilitarian! That's the worst!

Meh. I'm so far into moral relativism and nihilism territory that I didn't really care.

...and as for the Continentals, I just don't know enough about them to give them justice, even enough justice to mock them. I was going to have Heidegger's Being and Time as a book with the power to Confuse every character within a certain radius, but then I realized I would give anything by Hegel exactly the same power, and so on.

I feel your pain. I've read the manifestos of paranoid schizophrenics that made more sense than Hegel, but he really oughta be there somewhere. Maybe you can read Philosophy Bro's summaries of Heidegger and Hegel for some inspiration. PhiloBro does the impossible and makes them kinda comprehensible.

So yeah, it's very much western philosophy, and simplified Western philosophy at that.

Understandable. It's probably not very fruitful if you have traditions that don't even agree upon what the important questions are or that none of the players really care about. It's just... a total retcon of philosophy. I mean, the mere fact that some of the classes work at all is problematic for others. But then, Sigil) somehow manages to survive, so maybe a Bayesian and a Postmodernist, or an Atheist and a Shinto Priest can get along, too.

Oh, and. (All values kinda arbitrary.)

Knowledge of Predetermined Fate (Spell, Calvinist): The GM rolls 5 times, writes down the result in order and hands it to the player. Whenever the player has to make a roll, they instead take the first value from the list as their roll and then remove it from the list. Once all values have been used up, they roll as usual.

"His way is mysterious no more."

Unity of Knowledge and Action (Spell, Confucian): For a day, all of the player's changes to Righteousness based on acts are doubled. However, their Righteousness can not be changed based on arguments.

"If you want to know bitterness, you have to eat a bitter melon yourself."

Vow of Poverty (Feat, Apologist): Wealth level must always be Prole or less. +10 Righteousness.

"If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor."

First Noble Truth: All Is Suffering (Spell, Buddhist): Cast on any square of 5. No healing spells or items work for 4 rounds.

Second Noble Truth: Attachment Causes Suffering (Spell, Buddhist): Target suffers 1d6 damage for each of their level of control, including those in other creatures.

Third Noble Truth: Suffering Can End (Spell, Buddhist): Target takes -5 mental damage from attacks for 4 rounds.

Fourth Noble Truth: The Eightfold Path Is The End Of Suffering (Spell, Buddhist): Target's Righteousness is added to their mental hit points. (Negative Righteousness becomes damage.)

Doctrine of Two Truths (Spell, Buddhist): -2 Rationality, +2 Phronesis for 1 day.

Corpse Viewing (Spell, Buddhist): Reminds the target that they will die by mentally showing them their own corpse. Deals 5 mental damage, double against Hedonists and Transhumanists.

"If a monk sees a corpse dead one, two, or three days - swollen, blue and festering - he should think: 'My own body is of the same nature; such it will become, and will not escape it.'"

Freedom From Samsara (Feat, Buddhist): Permanent -2 from mental attacks. May never come back from the dead.

Temporary Cessation (Spell, Buddhist): Target becomes paralyzed for 1d6 rounds, but is also immune to mental attacks.

Permanent Cessation (Spell, Buddhist): Target has to make saving throw or becomes p-zombie.

Karma's a Bitch (Spell, Buddhist): For one day, any temporary change to target's Righteousness is applied as physical damage as well. (Positive changes heal, negative ones damage.)

One With Everything (Spell, Buddhist): Cast on any square of 5. Any mental damage or healing dealt to one being within area, is also applied to all other beings at half value.

Prayer Wheel (Item, Buddhist): Negates a temporary Righteousness change once a day.

A dragon also told me the specs for a Shingon class, but unfortunately has sworn me to secrecy. But trust me, it's really neat.

(puts "play Buddhist offensive mage" on bucket list)

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-07-25T05:29:07.128Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like you. You're fun. :D

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-25T15:12:14.468Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why thank you!

comment by Carinthium · 2011-07-25T00:06:16.585Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe variant rules should be used? Yvain's a rationalist- he'll probably take any good suggestions.

comment by gjm · 2011-07-24T22:25:17.811Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am reminded, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who's read (all of) Yvain's handbook, of an email signature I see every now and then on a mailing list I frequent. "It is very dark, and after the year 2000. If you proceed you are likely to be eaten by a bleen."

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-07-25T05:37:57.709Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

::does a little Googling::

That's pretty clever.

comment by Bongo · 2011-07-24T16:14:10.740Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know how much sense the real-world tropes of skeptical atheists and fervently faithful theists make in a world where you can literally bargain with God to get your dead friend back from Heaven. In the D&Dis world, it really is atheism that requires faith!

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-25T04:41:09.328Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the campaign, the atheists are trying to fight/destroy the gods, who they believe are false gods distracting from the worship of the true gods Truth and Wisdom. I didn't want to make that too obvious in the book because it might limit the usefulness of the classes in other settings.

comment by Karl · 2011-07-28T17:43:41.568Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So you're atheists are actually nay theists... If that's the case I have difficulty imagining how a group containing both atheists and theists could work at all...

comment by Bongo · 2011-07-24T13:19:48.116Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looks awesome. Some errata:

  • bottom of page 7 says Cartesian doubt is 3 speed and 1 rationality, while the list on page 13 says it's 3 speed and 0 rationality.
  • second paragraph on page 7 says "cast two squares and then cast the spell".
  • page 59 lists LHP things for RHP, where it says "giving you"
  • page 89 says "PROBABILITY THEORY: THE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE" whereas it's actually the logic of of science.
comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-25T04:34:09.222Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good catches. Thanks,

comment by Tesseract · 2011-07-27T16:46:23.639Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another erratum: Noah's Flash Flood is listed as level 9 in the chart and level 8 in the descriptions.

Also, the first page incorrectly describes it as being the DM guide.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-25T13:21:17.632Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused. The manual gives the Nitzschean forms lion, dragon and child. I thought they were camel, lion and child - and the lion kills the dragon.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-07-27T01:15:42.058Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra has camel, lion, and child as well.

comment by Manfred · 2011-07-24T21:36:28.464Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey, finally! I would be interested in participating.

I love playing devil's advocate, so I'll be anything - in fact, if there is a class called Devil's Advocate, I'll play that.

comment by Emile · 2011-07-25T08:04:10.586Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there isn't, there should be - they can summon Maxwell's Demon, Laplace's Demon, or Descarte's Evil Demon.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-25T15:20:41.953Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And they shouldn't get any damage for defending a belief they don't hold. (But also only receive half the XP if they win a debate.)

comment by Manfred · 2011-07-25T08:29:14.210Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There does not appear to be such a thing in the manual. Although that doesn't stop it very thoroughly, I'd rather play it the way Yvain intended - at first at least :D

comment by DanielLC · 2011-07-24T19:05:07.123Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's been done.

comment by Manfred · 2011-07-24T21:49:34.064Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's been done.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-24T23:18:40.060Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's been done.

comment by Manfred · 2011-07-24T21:50:23.810Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Sorry - a bit rude, but the symmetry was too irresistible).

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-07-24T14:52:01.390Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Video chat seems like it would make this more fun. Tinychat works alright for group video chat.

comment by novalis · 2011-07-28T06:25:31.444Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can the automatic expiration of Enantiomerize kill a creature? For instance, if a creature is in front of me, and I enantiomerize it to behind me, and then I take a step forward, causing in front of me to mean off a cliff...

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-07-28T06:31:39.125Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The game has now hit an important milestone: we have our first munchkin. ;)

comment by novalis · 2011-07-28T16:17:01.628Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

He did ask for "exploits", so I figured I would oblige.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-30T04:40:21.646Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect the ending of the spell would bring it back to its original position, but I guess the text doesn't specify that.

comment by Karl · 2011-07-30T14:21:38.828Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What if that square is now occupied?

comment by Carinthium · 2011-07-27T06:58:10.510Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, when does this start?

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-30T06:18:04.809Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Still waiting on a few people's email addresses.

comment by Carinthium · 2011-07-30T09:05:41.836Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is mine confirmed? I did send it, but it might not have gone through.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-26T08:18:43.598Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Error page 59: the list of points for each level in the Right-Hand Path is that of the Left-Hand Path.

comment by Emile · 2011-07-26T15:50:01.605Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I came to enter that one, then noticed Boxo had already listed it :P

comment by Karl · 2011-07-25T14:15:38.152Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Color me interested.

I think the character creation rules really should be collected together. Has is, I can't figure out how your supposed to determine many of your initial statistics (wealth level, hit points, speed...). Also I don't like the fact that the number of points you have to distribute among the big five and among the skills are random. And of course a system where you simply divide X points among your stats however you wish is completely broken. You should really think about introducing some limit on the number of point you can put into one your stat and some sort of diminishing return.

But even if many part of the design are open to criticism what you've created is still very awesome.

ETA: There are a lot of references in the rules to a Faith stat, except that there is no such stat! Also, the righteousness stat is often called morality in the rules.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-07-25T12:28:53.458Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


  • The spells/class abilities
  • The Levels of Control mechanic
  • Optimal philantrophy plugs in the form of charity donations
  • The monsters
  • The way classes are implemented
  • "Elves cannot be left out of a role-playing game under any circumstances"
  • The spells/class abilities

As further plusses, lots of creative and thematic mechanics:

  • Taxation/tithing
  • Magic arrows
  • The rituals of g'nash
  • Laws
  • The spells/class abilities


  • Spell slots? In a game written in 2011? Come on!

On Dialectic: Having debates as an explcit part of the game is nice. Just having them amount to "argue until one of you gives up, with the DM deciding who wins if you can't agree" I'm not so sure about. On the other hand, it means that you'll be spending plenty of time debating things, which is nice. On the other hand, it's going to be hard to constantly come up with new angles into the debates - especially if the players don't have PhDs in philosophy.

Borrowing something like Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits mechanic or some other social combat system might work. (Though in BW, debates are explicitly about persuading an audience, not about finding the truth.) I particularly like BW's approach in that each time somebody takes damage, they have to make some concession to the opponent. That's more interesting than just declaring one participant the winner and another the loser.

comment by gwern · 2011-07-24T20:01:06.423Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps I am missing the joke, but the Seed AI seems to be missing from the Summons section.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-25T04:33:50.843Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Was removed to make it less predictable in campaign.

comment by gwern · 2011-07-25T14:07:30.260Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Less predictable? I dunno, invoking a Seed AI without enough levels sounds like it'd lead to pretty unpredictable results to me.

comment by rysade · 2011-08-22T10:29:41.147Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, you're beautiful! Why is this not a top level post!?

EDIT: Strength. Once again . . . the dump stat.

comment by Carinthium · 2011-07-28T07:39:40.240Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've got several emails, but for the purposes of this I'll use carinthium@gmail.com.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-28T04:26:44.172Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Karl, Manfred, muflax, zefreak, Carinthium, Emile - and anyone else who's interested in participating but hasn't said so yet - please send me your email, either by posting it here, by PMing it to me, or by sending it to scott[at]shireroth[dot]org.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-07-27T16:07:42.857Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't read through the whole thing yet, but I was wondering if, to guide my reading a bit, you'd care to comment on your design philosophy? Is it "old-school" or "narrativist" or "step on up" or something? Do you have a take on Forge-style design?

comment by Tesseract · 2011-07-27T15:39:40.716Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FYI, I showed the manual to a (non-Less Wrong) philosophy-major friend who runs D&D games, so you may develop a splinter group.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-08-20T22:20:28.904Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If he wants to conduct a game, have him contact me so I can send him the DM Guide.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-25T15:25:46.665Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh well, I've wasted enough time on this that I might as well participate. I'm interested in a campaign too (playing as a Buddhist or Continental), as long as it stays text-based. No promises, though.

comment by Carinthium · 2011-07-25T09:11:04.836Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Question- where does it saw how many attribute points a starting character has? I can't seem to find it.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-07-25T12:37:34.880Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bottom of page 6:

One good way to generate your Big Five statistics during character building is to start with 50 + d10 points to distribute among the five statistics however you want.

comment by zefreak · 2011-07-25T08:41:22.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm very interested in playing

comment by Larks · 2011-07-24T22:19:24.745Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This looks amazing - congratulations! Would love to play, either online if the timings work out, or in London/Oxford if enough other people are interested.

comment by Carinthium · 2011-07-24T22:15:38.469Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it time-wise, but I would like to participate if I can.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-07-24T13:55:17.836Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

... isn't this a bit of topic for LW?

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-07-28T06:29:32.290Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe, but I don't think anyone cares.

comment by Emile · 2011-07-24T11:33:58.502Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be interested in participating! I'll have a look at the manual ...

comment by cousin_it · 2011-07-24T10:55:27.795Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cool! Do Problem Sleuth or Homestuck next :-)