Shock: Social Science Fiction by Doc Hawkins
One Orifice For All PurposesOriginal SA post
I do like Rock of Tahamaat, but I've never played it. So next, I'll talk about books which I love,
that I've actually seen people make incredible games with.
Also, because I found reading about Eclipse Phases' system to be really depressing, it's gonna be a sci-fi RPG.
PART I: ONE ORIFICE FOR ALL PURPOSES
As is perfectly normal for white wolf books, but markedly uncommon with indies, the book starts with an opening fiction called Who Art In Heaven, written by Ben Lehman (Polaris, Bliss Stage).
Well, that's not strictly true, it actually starts with a foreword by Joshua, which explains that the story is a kind of novelization of part of an actual game the two of them played in 2006 with Emily Care Boss (Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon, Sign in Stranger), and Vincent Baker (kill puppies for satan, Dogs in the Vineyard, In a Wicked Age…, Poison'd, Apocalypse World, Rock of Tahamaat).
That must have been some fucking game! I wish game designers would record their playtests more often, but barring that, novelizations are pretty good. Especially ones like this, which, the introduction tells us, will be scattered with sidebars that discuss things happening outside the fiction, like table chatter and…the rules. The same rules we don't know yet.
Well hey, don't worry about that, quoth Joshua, just enjoy Ben's writing and let yourself get a feel for things, and maybe come back and re-read it later.
Here's the first such sidebar, which appears right alongside the foreword:
Issues: Labor Politics, Religion
Confrontation vs. Deception
Terror vs. Seduction
Crappy, artificial slave religion
Issues? Praxis? Vacuumorphism?! WHAT IS HAPPENING
All in due time. For now, just give it some thought.
The foreword then explains that the Protagonists of the story (yes, it's a capitalized game term, being used the same way it always has been since the invention of drama, deal with it) are Thorium and Phosphorus, played by Vincent and Joshua, respectively, and that Joshua was playing Vincent's Antagonist "largely in the form of Father," and Ben was playing Joshua's Antagonist in the form of Rozie.
It also mentions that the storyline with Emily and Ben's Protagonists isn't included, because it was longer and more complicated, making it a less optimal example.
And with that, we leap into it. I did a few drafts of summaries, but honestly, it's already very short, and I don't think I can do it justice. Here it is in full, with sidebars and the occasional added emphasis.
Thorium the overseer was having a crisis of faith.
Thorium, played by Vincent posted:
Praxis Fulcra: 8, 4
Features: I’m the foreman. I’m quick to anger.
Links: Father. My Retirement in Heaven.
Story Goal: See God as a puppet of the Corporation.
How he longed for the simpler days when he could work in peace, his body and soul safely in the hands of Father and overseer! But, of course, workers then had been more respectful of their superiors. Now, they were lazy and sinful. Why, just now, an inferior drifted by him, her hands out but not working, shaking with hunger and exhaustion.
Vacuumorph physiology (see illustration, end of chapter)
Perhaps, if he had rested as he should have, Thorium would have been more merciful. Perhaps another overseer might have taken a different approach. But now, tired and frustrated and still behind schedule, Thorium was completely out of patience.
Vincent: “Do I get them to fear God?” I’m using Deception. (rolls 2d10, 1d4, a die for each Feature)
Joshua: “Do you beat them up to do it?” I’m using Terror (spends five Credits to throw 2d10, 3d4).
Vincent: Oh, no! I’m a bad person!
Joshua: We’ll see!
Joshua rolls 9, 5 on the d10s to make Vincent beat the worker and 1, 1, 2 on the d4s to prevent him from getting them to fear God.
Vincent rolls 2d10 to make the worker fear God and 1d4 against beating her.
Ben’s rolled a 3 on his d4.
Ben: “I’m adding a minutia: Signs can be done by touch, so you can literally beat words into someone. I’m giving this 3 to Joshua so he beats her.
Vincent: I’m a bad person! I am! Awesome! Since I lost, I’m taking a new Feature: I must sacrifice my morals for God.
Ben: (Laughing) That’s horrible!
“Daysleeper! Careless debris! Lazyguts! If you are going to disrespect me, your overseer, will you at least respect Father? Will you at least respect God? Your miserable indulgences will not only deny you Heaven, but deny all of us.”
Her eyes were blinking and unfocused, but she managed to pull up her gripping hands to try to ward of his blows. With her manipulator hands, she signed apologies over and over.
“Please forgive me, Overseer! It is just that I am so hungry, and I am so tired. I will go back to work. I will work hard for you and God. Just please stop hitting me!”
It was not that Thorium did not feel pity for her, or even sympathy. But he was the overseer, and responsible for the souls and the labor of his people. It was for their sake that he was beating her. If they would not fear God’s anger at their sin than at least he could make them fear his anger at their laziness. And that was why he kept hitting her, time and time again, turning away his eyes so that they would not see his sadness.
Joshua’s Turn posted:
Ben sets the scene with a segue from Thorium’s scene while Joshua gives some exposition about Phosphorus’ character.
Most of the people liked the rests best because that was when the gas-speakers would give them their food and water, but Phosphorus didn’t like the gas-speakers — their shiny metal suits, their strangely colored skin, their beady little eyes impossible to read. And so fragile — if you touched one wrong, they would pop just like that. But, most of all, Phosphorus didn’t like their attitude: The gas-speakers contempt for people was so plain to see, and so frustratingly ignorant. What could they do that people could not? They were so weak that they could scarcely live in the world at all. He could not believe what Father said, that they had sprung from the gas-speakers, been made by them for God’s purposes. It just wasn’t possible. How could the people have come from such strange and unnatural things?
No, even now, while stomach twisted and wrenched in hunger, his head throbbed with thirst, and his bladder pulsed in emptiness, when he could scarcely remember what being fed was like at all, Phosphorus did not want to see the gas-speakers.
They propel and maneuver themselves with prehensile ani .
It wasn’t hatred, or contempt, or fear. It was merely the plain realization that they did not really belong in the world. Deep in his eyes, Phosphorus knew that the world was for the people, and the gas-speakers were some strange aberration upon it, though through artifice or accident he did not know.
He would have snuck a tiny rest, but the overseer was beating poor Argon again, and so of course that meant he was in a bad mood. By some accident, Argon had been made smaller and weaker than the rest of her siblings, and so she was always the first to fall behind in work, always the first to draw the attention of the overseer, always the first to be beaten for her sloth.
Phosphorus knew that Argon had to be beaten, of course. She was one of the unit — if any one of them was lax, all of them would suffer their reward. But, still, even as he puffed some last bits of gas and drifted away with a steel girder, he saw the overseer’s savage blows on her skin and could not suppress a feeling of compassion for his fellow.
His compassion, though, was not near enough to stop him from his work. He turned himself out to face his destination, and for a few seconds his blurry eyes didn’t recognize Rozie at the other end. As soon as he did, his guts quailed in shock and not in hunger, and he almost spat up in nervousness and not in sickness.
She talked slowly, ringing her words through the metal and into his gripping hands. “Phosphorus, it’s time. We have it, and we’re ready to act but it has to be now. Otherwise the shuttle will have come and gone.”
Still stunned, he did not respond.
Joshua: I want Rozie to respect my devotion. I’ve got 2d10 that say I can Seduce her.
Ben: Rozie wants to you do violence in the name of the Revolution. She’s actually using Terror, not against you, but against the Gas-Speakers. I’m rolling 4d10 to get you to do it. I’m OK with her respecting you or not, so no d4s.
Joshua: I want to talk with her more before the violence starts, so I’m throwing a d4 against her. I’m a fool for the ladies, even if they’re meter- diameter grey spheroids with four hands and prehensile ani.
Ben: That’s pretty hot . Anyway, I got 1,4,7,9 on my d10s. You totally do it with the 1.
Joshua: Well, I got a 5 on my Seduction of her, so she respects me.
Vincent: Naw, I got this 2 on my Minutia die that says that you hear in her tone of voice through the girder just how foreign she is, how devoted she is to her cause... and not to you.
Joshua: Crap! OK, I’ll take a new feature: My love is deep and pure.
A few moments later, she added, “Phosphorus, you’re still together with us, yes? We need you, Phosphorus.”
But, in his guts, he had already begun to doubt. Really, he had never stopped doubting, or maybe he had never really started believing.
There was just something about Rozie. Ever since she had approached him, an exotic person from some foreign unit, he could not understand her presence or even, really, her existence, much less anything she said. Much less any of her ideas: justice, equality, leisure, revolution. But she fascinated him and perhaps, in some way, she was fascinated by him as well, because she returned, time and time again, to speak with him under cover of rest and darkness, away from the eyes of the overseer. Eventually, he learned to say what she said, to understand the complicated words she used and what he said back to her seemed to make her happy. He had never really believed in God, before, and just so he never really believed in revolution, now. But he believed in Rozie. At least, he thought he did.
“PHOSphorus!” Rozie banged on the girder with all her strength, snapping him out of those wandering recollections. “We need you, now! We have the B-O-M-B,” she had to spell out the gas- speaker word for a gas-speaker thing, “but we need to get inside the station. We need you to distract the others, though, so we can get inside the...”
He waved her off. “Yes, yes,” he tapped out, “yes of course I’m sorry.”
Her happy eyes met his. “I knew we could trust you,” rang the girder, and with a puff of gas Rozie was gone.
Phosphorus paused a moment, ran his dry and sticky tongue over his gills, then threw the girder away for the momentum and drifted towards where the overseer was still beating Argon.
~TO BE CONTINUED~
Oh, and here's the promised physiology illustration:
Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen! Next time: The Actual Game !
Actually Talking About the Game NowOriginal SA post
Part II: ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT THE GAME NOW
The next part is actually an overview, which in a clever pædogogic move, tells us what the following text is going to tell us. Forgive me if I skip it for these purposes.
Oh, one other thing: the text uses genderless personal pronouns when the gender of a person is unknown or irrelevant. It uses "zie" instead of "she" or "he," and "hir" instead of "his" or "her."
If this is disorienting to you, that’s what a Shock is. If it’s not, you’ll feel right at home playing the game.
So once we all sit down with our pencils (no pens!) and dice (as you could tell from the sidebars last time, we only need d10s and d4s), we start by filling in a Grid.
We start by all tossing out ideas for a Shock. No, not a shock: , stupid! That's the name of the game! We want a Shock , which is " a radical difference between the player's world and the world in the fiction you're creating . Along the top of the first column of the grid, we write in the first cool idea someone has. More specifically, and the text says this is applicable to shock: in general: If someone's excited about it and no one says no, go with it.
As you can see, there's more columns for other Shocks, but we won't use those unless we play another session in the same universe.
Next, every player has to come up with an Issue. These are " social and personal concerns the players have and want to address with this story, such as 'slavery' and 'monogamy'"
...but you repeat yourself, shock:
Write your Issues along the left side of the first column. Quick note: leave the "owner" bit blank, we're not there yet.
For both Shocks and Issues, it says we can look in the "Mediography" in the back for examples. And boy howdy can we!
Asimov, Isaac: The Caves of Steel. Foundation. Robot Dreams.
Shocks: Robots are perfect people. Psychohistory. Collapse of civilization.
Issues: Humanity’s inhumanity. Hierarchical government. Xenophobia.
Barker, Clive: Imajica.
Shocks: Alternate reality. Technology of soul.
Issues: Sexuality. Messianic religion. Self-hatred. Demagoguery.
Bradbury, Ray: Martian Chronicles. Dinosaur Tales.
Shocks: Telepathy. Alien contact. Time travel.
Issues: Xenophobia. Mental illness. Colonialism. Ecological destruction.
Card, Orson Scott: Ender’s Game.
Shock: Alien war.
Issues: National identity. Individual morality.
Clarke, Arthur C.: Childhood’s End. 2001 / 2010.
Shock: Alien contact.
Issues: Xenophobia. Cold war. Cargo cults. Religion. The soul and humanity.
Dick, Philip K.: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The Eye of the Sybil and Other Collected Stories.
Shock: Constructible and False reality
Issues: Humanity. Individuality.
Heinlein, Robert: Starship Troopers. Stranger in a Strange Land.
Shocks: Alien war. Alien philosophy.
Issues: Meritocracy. Loyalty. Socially constructed reality.
Herbert, Frank: Dune.
Shocks: Precognition. Extreme longevity. Instantaneous star travel. Artificial religion.
Issues: Monopoly. Demagoguery. Tyranny.
Huxley, Aldous: Brave New World.
Shocks: Eugenics/cloning. Hypnopædia
Issues: Comfortable totalitarianism. Humanity as a natural creature.
LeGuin, Ursula K. : The Left Hand of Darkness.
Shock: Genderless humanity.
Issues: Nationhood. Selfishness.
Orwell, George: 1984.
Shocks: Thought Police, Language Control
Issues: Totalitarianism. Individual thought.
Robinson, Kim Stanley: Red Mars / Green Mars / Blue Mars.
Shocks: Exploration of Mars. Genetic engineering. Terraforming. Extreme longevity. Easy transit to Mars.
Issues: Manifest Destiny. Demagoguery. Mythmaking. Culture clash. Corporate ownership. Culture creation. Politics. Pragmatic politics. Torture. Science.
Rucker, Rudy: Hardware / Wetware / Freeware.
Shocks: Self-sustaining artificial life.
Issues: Drug addiction. Social revolution. Mathematics as philosophy.
Sterling, Bruce: Distraction. Holy Fire.
Shocks: Cloning. Social responsibility of science. Immortality.
Issues: American politics. Passion and art.
Verne, Jules: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Mysterious Island
Shock: A submarine.
Issues: Capitalism. Imperialism. Racism.
Vonnegut, Kurt: Harrison Bergeron.
Shock: Enforced equality.
Issues: Freedom of expression.
Wells, H.G. : War of the Worlds. The Time Machine.
Shocks: Marsian invasion.
Time travel. Issues: Colonialism. Class struggle.
Wilson, Robert Anton: Illuminatus! Trilogy, The. Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy, The.
Shock: Reality-spanning conspiracy.
Issues: Beliefs as weakness. Reality as a reflection of the human mind.
Graphic Fiction posted:
Bendis, Brian Michael and Oeming, Michael Avon: Powers
Shock: Super powers.
Issues: Individual morality vs. sanctioned ethics.
Ellis, Warren and Robertson, Darrick: Transmetropolitan
Shock: Super-effective gonzo journalism! (oh come on, there were more than a few others )
Issues: Freedom of the Press. Political corruption. Journalistic vs. Personal Ethics
Ellis, Warren and Sprouse, Chris: Ocean
Shock: Alien technology.
Issues: Corporate ownership. Weapon proliferation.
Morrison, Grant et al.: Invisibles, The
Shocks: Mind over Matter/magic. World-spanning conspiracy.
Issues: Propaganda. Individualism. Destiny.
Shirow, Masamune: Ghost in the Shell
Shocks: Cyberbrains. Ubiquitous information.
Issues: Definition of the soul.
Speed-McNiel, Carla: Finder
Shocks: Indestructible body. Post-apocalyptic society.
Issues: Classism. Insular society. Love. Family duty. Noble savages. Culture clash.
Serial Video posted:
Shocks: Myriad alien species. God is a character.
Issues: Racial hatred. Colonization. Authoritarianism. Religion.
Shocks: Cylon invasion. They look like us now.
Issues: Military vs. Civil Government. Civil rights of prisoners. Personal vs. formal duty. McCarthyism.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Shocks: Cyberbrains. Ubiquitous information.
Issues: Definition of the soul.
Star Trek, TOS
Shock: The Prime Directive. (okay, that's pretty a savvy analysis)
Issues: Race relations. Cold War. Logic vs. Passion. Authoritarianism. Demagoguery.
Twilight Zone, The
Shocks: Time travel. Space travel. A printing press that prints tomorrow’s news. Apocalypse.
Issues: Cold War. Beauty. We’re all brothers. Abuse of power.
Shock: Replicants among us.
Issues: Slavery. Corporate ownership. Classism. Empathy.
Shocks: You “renew” at 30. Outside is mythical.
Issues: Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30. Utopia has a cost. Totalitarianism. Dependence on technology we don’t understand.
Shock: Underground City, Artificial People.
Issues: Paternalism, Social Class.
Planet of the Apes
Shocks: Trapped in Ape society.
Issues: Theocracy. Does Humanity deserve to survive? Social revolution.
Shock: Earth’s natural environment remains only on a space ship.
Issues: Environmental collapse. Political decisions about natural processes.
Shocks: Overpopulation. Environmental crash.
Issues: Self-determination. Sanctity of humanity.
Truman Show, The
Shock: Life in a fictional world
Issues: Surveillance, The World Exists for Me. Appearance and Conformity. Bread and circuses.
Until The End Of The World
Shocks: Borderless world. Dream machine.
Issues: Love. Information ownership. Addiction.
Shocks: Constructed religion. Perfect humans.
Issues: Religion as craft. Morality without consequences. Social control.
2001 / 2010
Shocks: Contact with God/Alien intelligence.
Issues: Soul as animal nature. Soul as information.
Wow! It even continues after this, with sections on music, non-fiction, roleplaying games (CP2020 and Paranoia are credited as "thematic ancestors"), and even where to look for ideas in the real world, with this fantastic word on Issues:
Read the news.
Once you’re done reading the Science Times, flip to the front of the paper. Anything that makes you happy, sad, or angry is a good Issue to use.
Bad-ass. Let's get some real life emotions up in this game. :heh:
(If you ever happen to play this game with someone who claims to not have any feelings about anything in the news, believe them and deal them out .)
Okay, so now that we have the beginnings of a grid, we need to split up ownership. The player that Owns an Issue or Shock has the final say about every detail in the game which relates to it. Every player should Own one Issue, and one of them will also Own the Shock. Unless! If you have extra people who already know they won't have their own Protagonist, which means they'll just play Audience in every scene, one of them should just Own the Shock. Oh, and those people shouldn't have made Issues.
(The game takes way too damn long to play with more than five "full" players, so the way you get a big group to play shock: is to make groups in parallel and/or have some folks volunteer to be dedicated Audience.)
One other thing you might want to take into account is that if you Own an Issue, you can't make a Protagonist who addresses it, so if two people are interested in the same one, you could split the baby that way.
Speaking of which, now that we've labeled the rows with Issues and a column with a Shock, we now want everyone to write their name into one of the cells in that first column. This indicates that zie'll be creating and playing a Protagonist at the "intersection" of that Shock and Issue. Like I just said, you can't do that for the Issue you Own, although it is totally fine for multiple people to share a cell and all make Protagonists that confront the same Issue/Shock combo. It's perfectly possible for multiple characters to embody multiple aspects and responses to an issue.
(In fact, it can make for a less disjointed experience. More like a single story with multiple protagonists, rather than a themed anthology. Both are fun, so don't over-think it: just pick whatever you'll like).
Once things have been apportioned, you'll want to seed the world with little ideas, called Minutiæ (Yet Another Greek Plural). These are written down on index cards, which are placed in the center of the table where everyone can see them, and become holy writ for your game world.
Start with the Owner of the Shock saying a couple of things about how the Shock works, then move on to the Issue Owners saying how their Issue works relative to the Shock. And then stop! This part shouldn't take more than 15 minutes or make more than 10 cards, but remember that once the game starts, " At any time, when someone has an idea about how the world works, they can write down a Minutia on a card ." Anyone can suggest anything, but if it's connected to some Issue or Shock, then the Owner in question has the last say.
...Wait a minute, "they" can write down a Minutia? Dammit, shock:! "Someone" is singular! That should be zie can write it down!
In any case, with the Grid filled in, we are now ready to make those *Tagonists *!
* yes the game uses * in a word
ProtagonistsOriginal SA post
PART III: PROTAGONISTS
As you could see from Thorium's sidebar long ago, besides hir connected Shock and Issue, a starting Protagonist is made of three Features , two Links , a Story Goal and a set of (unlabelled) Praxis .
Oh come on! If you're gonna bother with anii , it's not too much to ask to use the proper greek plural of Praxes . In fact, that's what I'm going to do!
Features are anything that distinguishes your Protagonist, and makes them unique. If you have a hard time thinking of features, you can start the game with just two, but you have to come up with a third feature when you start your first conflict.
Features may be concrete things like possessions or secondary characters, or intangible things like training, personality traits or ~destiny~, but they are always proper to the character: they can't be lost or changed meaningfully over the course of the story, except at the very end.
You might think of it this way: if Tom Cruise had the Feature "Head of Pre-Crime Division," then Minority Report would have been a very different movie, because he never would have found that position under threat or taken from him. Of course, he still might have retired or died or whatever at the end of the movie, when the story proper was over, and been a freelance detective or crazy ghost in the sequel.
But what if you liked all the parts where Tom Cruise was on the run from the police force he used to lead? What if you do want your character to risk stuff and be changed by the course of the events? Well then that's good, because that's what Links are for.
Links are things that are not proper to your protagonist, but that zie is connected to. They can be almost anything, though most will be people (family members, lovers, drug dealers), groups (corporations, governments, clans), or ideologies (religions, philosophies, plans for the future).
These should be things that your Protagonist won't want threatened, but that you most certainly want threatened, to see how zie deals with it.
(Also, they are the secret to getting your stats super-pumped, more on that later.)
Next, the Story-Goal : this is what you want your Protagonist to struggle towards or against, something they might accomplish or suffer in the future you have foreseen for them. It could be anything. Become Emperor of the Western Spiral Arm. Get Murdered By a Robot.
Alright, re-calibrate your cyberbrains, because now we're going to switch our perspective back to the general world, and determine the (fuck it) Praxes of the whole game. These are the four ways that every *Tagonist you play can use to get things done, so you want to figure out what they are by looking across everyone's Features and Links, as well as the Shocks and minutiae. If weapons are a common Feature, things may be done with Violence. If political contacts are a common Link, I bet folks use Negotiation. If one issue is Income Disparity, why not Commerce or Economic Class?
Praxes can be nearly anything, as abstract or concrete as you like, just so long as people understand what it means when they are used. Since they can be anything, you may think it'll be tough to come up with specific list of just four. But here's the secret to coming up with them: they always come in opposed pairs of opposites . Cyberware vs. Magic. Mind vs. Soul. Bribery vs. Threats. What vs. Ever. You'll note from Thorium's character sheet that Who Art in Heaven runs on Confrontation vs. Deception and Terror vs. Seduction.
Now you may be asking yourself "How do we know that Cyberware and Magic are really opposite?" The answer is that adding a Praxis to the game makes those things become opposites, because the whole point of a Praxis is that *Tagonists can only be good at one or the other (or bad at both, for the best characters).
Let me explain how. First, you see the spaces for the Praxes across the top of your Protagonist sheets, right? They're the paired lines to either side of the box labeled "Features". Once the group has decided on a set, fill them in there, keeping the opposites on the same side.
(I think it's dumb that you don't write them on the Grid also, but so it goes.)
So although every *Tagonist in your game will choose from the same set of Praxes in conflicts, they will have differing amounts of luck with each. This degree of luck is decided by the Fulcra , which are two numbers from 3 to 8, inclusive, which you write in those little boxes on the extreme left and right, between the opposed pair of methods (oh yeah do that now). When you roll in conflict, if you're using the method which is above the Fulcrum, then you want to roll above the Fulcrum! Simple!
So obviously, the higher the number, the better the *Tagonist will be at…the bottom method. Hmm. Less simple. Good thing there's a little legend to explain that. 3->8 indeed, Protagonist sheet!
Important note: a Fulcrum does not have to track competence! It really just means "when I use this to accomplish things, things usually end up good/bad." Your character could be fucking bad-ass at using Violence, but maybe zie faces terrible consequences for it without really solving hir problems.
The text points out that you want to set Fulcra to maximize how interesting the Protagonist is to you. To that end, it confides:
A 5 or 6 makes Protagonists more likely to be tossed around by circumstance
A 3 or 8 makes Protagonists more likely to have a direct impact on the course of things
A 4 or 7 makes it easier for a Protagonist to have a dramatic change in how they do things at the end of the story
(That last one may sound a bit mysterious, but it's absolutely true, and it's gorgeous. I'll tell you all about how to "break" shock: for maximum story power when we get to Conflicts. Too bad next comes Antagonists !)