Personal Great White Whales

Honestly, getting to play extended roleplaying campaigns at all has been a sort of white whale. I never had the roleplaying clubs or whatnot that people talk about getting into at high school or college, and as an adult it’s hard enough to get people to consistently do boardgaming, much less also a second night of roleplaying. And of the two, boardgaming is a looot less work and time investment, so I’m certainly not going to swap the two.


Ah Nobilis! A book I desperately want for my shelf because it’s so incredibly beautiful, yet I know I could never begin to run properly :slight_smile:

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Yes! I complained about exactly this when it came out, and only realised afterwards that the person online I was ranting to was… Jess Heinig. Um.

Businesses need to get that kind of feedback from their customers. How else are they going to know how they need to improve?


I guess mine are:

Sufficiently Advanced. I bought 1st ed and never found a group that was a good fit to run it. Now I have 2nd ed and though one of my current groups might like it a bit, there are many, many other science fiction games higher up their wants list.

In Flames. Again, it just keeps getting pushed further down the “to play” list.


I had never heard of this. Can you tell me something about it? I’m interested both in the setting and in what’s distinctive about its game mechanics.

Caveat: this reply is based on me reading the books several years ago, and will therefore be a bit vague and woolly in places. :slight_smile:

The setting is a very far future, transhuman one, with the tech level so high that you can pretty much make anything, anytime, for no ‘cost’ by Star Trek style replicators. Making a city-destroying handgun or a piano made of solid unobtainium is as easy as Captain Picard ordering a cup of tea, earl grey, hot. Unless you are stuck in the middle of nowhere - and even then you may be able to reprogramme your city-destroying handgun into an unobtainium piano maker.

There are a whole bunch of civilisations which have each taken a different transhuman path. (So all the PCs can be from a different civilisation). For instance here are a few:

  • The Mechanicians, who have replaced all their organic parts except their brains

  • The Eternal Masquerade, who wear programmable masks all their lives. The style of the masks have symbolic meaning, and the wearer alters their personality to fit their chosen mask.

  • The Tao of History, a sort of historical re-enactment society dialled up to 11.

  • Replicants - they duplicate their minds and bodies, so there can be multiple copies of a person. They also download their memories into newborn babies, in order to ‘reincarnate’.

What do the PCs do? You work for the Patent Office. Powerful AIs get glimpses of the future and send the PCs to ‘crisis points’ where you suppress or promote new ideas/inventions. The aim is to make sure humanity survives into the far, far, far distant future.

SA 1st ed has a mix of dice and diceless mechanics. SA 2nd ed is diceless.

In both there will be things your character can just do, if your skills are high enough. “Yeah I have Cognitech 10 and can calculate wormhole coordinates in my head”.

This is where it gets vague as I can’t quite remember…
Dice version - you rolled 2d10, and multiplied one by you skill score and one by your ‘job’ score, and took the best result, trying to get over a threshold number. It could then get a bit fiddly, because you could spend points from a relevant Theme (romance, intrigue, plot immunity, comprehension, etc) to alter one of the dice rolls. I recall printing out the 13 times table because that was the biggest number you’d multiply by.

Meanwhile, there was a “see a bit of plot in advance” mechanic. This week’s adventure is about the entertainment industry on Tao. But the GM has a row (or several) of index cards on the table, which are the bare bones of future plot, e.g. Because of X, caused by Y, faction A will go to war with faction B. Some of this is revealed by the GM, some the players pay points/take complications to reveal. The players can also pay to alter bits of it, to tailor the future plot to their likes. e.g. it becomes: Because of X, caused by Y, faction A will forge a dynastic marriage with faction B. (This bit intrigued me and was one of the reasons I wanted to run the game).

Diceless version - you give out and accept Complications and Advantages instead of dice rolls. As mentioned, you’ll just be able to do some things, so it will be dealt with narratively. And you have a pool of points to push beyond your normal limits, as well as using Themes, as above.

IIRC there is still a future plot mechanic, but it is created entirely by the players, based on their Themes etc.


You remember my GMing HERO don’t you? :slight_smile: No matter what happens, you’ll be a better GM than I was…

Is there technology for uploading minds into computers? It seems like a gap in the described capabilities.

There probably was. I just skimmed the 1st ed rulebook and it says there are 14 Civilisations to choose from. The ones I listed were ones I could remember, because I tried out char gen for those ones.

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It sounds like an interesting background, but that part just unsold me. My campaigns don’t have “plots” in that sense; they have situations that the PCs are confronted with, and the plot emerges organically from their their struggles to cope (their agonies, in the technical sense). I don’t think I would like any game enough to abandon my fundamental approach to GMing for it.

I’m a little unsure about that “powerful AIs” bit, too. Is this a setting where the AIs are gods, and no human can have capabilities comparable to those of an AI? That’s not what I’d call “transhuman”; transhumanism is “you shall be as gods.”

Thanks for the précis!

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IIRC the AIs don’t exist in the present and are just transmitting messages back thru time. I suppose you could easily replace “AIs from the future” with “some guy called Fred from the future” or “some omnipotent transhuman called Fred from the future”.

Hmmm. I’m thinking of Charles Stross’s Singularity Sky . . .

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Please write this. I would be ever so grateful.

As people who listen to the podcast will know I keep on returning to Tekumel. In addition to the semi-abandoned REIGN and HEROQUEST projects I’ve recently started to think that you could do a Powered by the Apocalypse version.

I give a go for a while and then some detail arises and I think “I have no idea how to do that in this system” and go away and hold my head. Usually it’s the magic system…

A really creative person would start to design a system that could do everything… But that way madness lies.

Most ways madness lies.


The problem is getting SJ Games to commission it. I do write a lot, but I’m not writing anything that major except for commercial publication. Having an audience who will pay for a book concentrates the mind wonderfully.

I did a quick sketch of part of my ideas for Pyramid 3:102, though.