Character Creation

posted by Kaza42 Original SA post

Dungeons and Discourse is a bizarre game that grew out of two largely-nonsensical Dresden Codak comics that combines D&D style classes, parties and dungeon crawls with advanced philosophy, psychology and mathematics. Here is the first comic and here is the second.

On to the game itself! There have been several attempts to adapt the Dungeons and Discourse concept into concrete rules. I will be reviewing that third edition rules made by Scott Alexander. They are incomplete, and show relics of previous editions that require a clever DM to work around, but are charming and at the very least interesting. Fair Warning: Puns lie ahead. So many puns. (If you would like to read along, the rules are found here and a full log of a musical campaign run by the author can be found here . The log features songs written specifically for the campaign, so I would recommend checking it out if only for the novelty)

The game uses normal dice, as well as a d0, which means -10 to 10. If you're playing online, this is easy to do with just random number generators, but in person 1d20-10 is recommended as a nice compromise. They also often use a notation of +/-X/Y%, which means +/- either X or Y% of the modified value, whichever is greater.

The game is set in Sophia, a magical land where knowledge is power, philosophy is useful and graduate students rule the world. No matter their religion or lack thereof, all people on Sophia believe in two god/demiurges/angels/advanced aliens named Aleithos, God of Truth and Kallista, Goddess of Beauty. They supposedly created the world and all life upon it, which seems at odds with the existence of Christianity but let's just call them God's subcontractors. Anyway, Aleithos didn't want to make humans sentient because he thought they would lapse and become liars, but Kallista went behind his back and did it anyway. Turns out, Aleithos was right and humans quickly fell into falsehood and destroyed their own understanding of Truth. This sudden chaos drove Aleithos insane and he crashed from heaven and shattered into pieces which were hidden away.
Missing Aleithos and feeling a bit guilty over nearly killing him, Kallista commands humanity to seek Truth wherever it may be found, in hopes of one day restoring Aleithos and allowing the world to function in harmony.
So humanity ventures forth into the dark places of the world, seeking Truth and fighting monsters born from the lack of Reason. However, as they do so they discover that each new piece of Truth they find grants them greater and greater power. With this power, they eventually pacify most of the world. They established a great civilization on the Cartesian Plain, founding the city of Origin at the point where the two great rivers - Ordinate and Abcissa - met. Here, mankind has fallen into complacency, their search for Truth proceeding slowly but forgotten by many.
The PCs take the roles of scholars or students of Origin as they take their philosophies and ideals into the world in search of Truth

Character Creation
To make a character, you select a Race, a Class and your Beliefs. These are, in my opinion, sorted in ascending order of interesting-ness.

Races! Most of the races in this section are named after real-world regions or ethnic groups. However, rather than being literal members of those groups, the various races instead represent descendents of each group's most famous and/or prominent philosophies. Other than being largely nonphysical, they work the same way as races in most other games.
The races are: Anglo-Americans, Continentals, Asians, Greeks and Elves (Yes, elves. You can't have a fantasy game without elves)
Unfortunately, these races are presented BEFORE any of the terms are explained. The various stats are left to the end of the character creation chapter, after races, classes and beliefs, which can all modify your stats.
Anglo-Americans: Focused on capitalism and rational thought, and drawing from the traditions of England and the United States, Anglo-Americans get bonuses to Rationality and Oikonomia. Since approximately nobody is expected to recognize that second one, it's basically your ability to obtain money.
Continentals: Focusing on post-modernism, phenomenomology and Marxism and drawing from the traditions of France, Germany, and other continental European countries, Continentals get a bonus to Bullshyte and take -1/10% damage from Rightist and Libertarian attacks.
Asians: Following non-dualist philosophies that eschew the material world, Asians follow Buddhist, Taoist or other Eastern traditions. They may carry one additional Eastern book (the textbooks you carry are essentially prestige classes, which isn't explained for quite some time)
Greeks: The original philosophers, they believe that a sound mind dwells within a sound body, but that actually doing things is for slaves. They get a bonus to Strength, take -1/10% damage from Empiricist attacks and start with 50xp in the Utopian class. They also take triple damage from Hemlock.
Elves... I'll just quote their block in the entirety, because it really deserves to be read


Elves cannot be left out of a role-playing game under any circumstances. The Elves of
D&Dis got tired of slaving away in Santa's workshop for the benefit of others, and adopted
Objectivism en masse. Now they preach elf-reliance and the virtue of elfishness. Elves get
benefits based on their wealth: in particular, they get +(L-3) Rationality, Merit, and Bullshytte,
where L is their current wealth level, and may carry an extra copy of Atlas Shrugged in
addition to their usual two books. However, they start at -1 Association
Basically, they were included solely to make a string of Objectivism puns, gain strength from being rich but don't work well with others.

Classes! There are six character classes. You must pick a Major that must remain at least two levels above all other classes. Other than that, you are free to put xp into any class whenever you get it. By the way, classes are literally classes offered by the University of Origin in correspondence format. The classes are: Logicians, Empiricists, Metaphysicians, Ethicists, Utopians and Appologetics. This chapter gives a very basic overview, I'll cover what they can actually do when the book does.
Logicians: By studying math and logic, Logicians can manipulate the world around them to reflect their understanding of its underlying mathematics. Most likely cause of death: Dividing by zero
Empiricists: Masters of the scientific method and discovery, Empiricists harness the power of physics itself to do their bidding. Most likely cause of death: Summoning Schroedinger's Cat without checking to see if it's Undead
Metaphysicians: Dealing with the deep structure of the universe and the division between mind and consciousness, body and soul. Most likely cause of death: voluntarily turning into a vampire to know what it's like to be a bat
Ethicists: By studying the true nature of right and wrong, ethicists become the moral guide for the party. When they go evil, they tend to perform unethical social experiments. Most likely cause of death: run over by trolley
Utopians: By studying politics and economics, utopians all attempt to create the perfect society in the perfect world. Unfortunately, no two of them agree on exactly what that would look like. Most likely cause of death: ripped apart by Ricardo's Iron Claw of Mages
Apologists: Religion majors who attempt to reconcile belief in God with an increasingly doubtful world. Possesses the best healing and support magic, but only while their faith is strong. Most likely cause of death: caught between horns of trilimma

Beliefs! This is one of my favorite bits about characters. There are a series of topics about which characters may have beliefs, which modify their stats. You may choose to not hold any belief in a category, which means you bypass the modifiers entirely
Theism: +1 Merit (how well you hold to your ideals), -1 Rationality. Required to cast Apologist spells, goes to heaven or hell when they die.
Agnosticism: +1 Bullshyte, -50% damage from Dilemmas and Trilemmas
Atheism: -1 Merit, -5%xp required to level Empiricist, -1/10% damage from Apologist attacks. No afterlife, must use Mad Science to revive after death.
What happens to Agnostics when they die? Who knows, the game doesn't tell you. This is either completely appropriate given the belief in question or a sizable oversight. Probably both.

If you are a Theist, you may choose beliefs from two additional categories
Fideism: -1/10% damage from Empiricist and Logician attacks. +5%xp required to level non-apologetic classes
Evidentialism: +1/10% damage against Atheists

Catholocism: +1 on tithing attempts on others (an apologist class power)
Protestantism: -1 on others' tithing attempts against you
What about Judaism, Islam, Orthodox, or any other form of major religion? Too bad, they don't exist

Materialism: -1/10% damage from Mental damage, +1/10% damage from Physical damage
Idealism: +1/10% damage from Mental damage, -1/10% damage from Physical damage
Dualism: Deal +2/20% damage with dualist attacks

Absolutism: -1 Merit, may break Influence ties in your favor (part of the social/control system)
Liberalism: +1 Oikonomia
Anarchism: -1 Phronesis (common sense), +2 Influence on yourself, State Laws have -50% effectiveness on you, -1 to others attempts to influence you

Leftism: +2 on attempts to tax others, +1 influence on anyone 3 or more levels above you
Rightism: -2 on others' attempts to tax you, +1 influence on anyone 3 or more levels below you
Libertarianism: +2 Oikonomia, -1 on others' attempts to tax you
I think that the influence modifiers for Leftism and Rightism should be reversed. As far as I can tell, in the real world Leftists tend to have more sway with the lower classes, while Rightists tend to have more sway with the upper classes. Not quite sure why they went with this approach instead

Capitalism: +2 Oikonomia, -1 Merit
Communism: +1 Strength, -2 Oikonomia

Deontology: Moral Laws have +50% effectiveness on you, -2/20% damage from Kantian sources
Utilitarianism: Double Virtue gains from donating to charity

Determinism: -1 Influence over yourself, +1 Rationality
Free Will: +1 Merit, +1/10% damage from Ethicist attacks
Compatibilism: +1 Bullshyte

The beliefs here are a bit narrow, and are restricted to the philosophies that the author has personal experience with, but the system itself seems interesting. Later, when we look at class powers we'll see that some are tied to Beliefs. You can only use powers with the same Beliefs as you, which is how the Utopian class can have everything from a right-wing trickle down fanatic to a diehard communist idealist. Spoiler: Catholic Apologists can totally become the pope by leveling high enough

Overall, it's easy to tell that this is an amateur game produced for a very specific audience. It has all sorts of exploits and rules issues, some of which are explicitly addressed and some aren't. Despite these flaws, it's a game with a lot of heart, and is a sheer joy to read, if you can stomach the puns and bad math jokes.
Next Time: Finishing character creation, then on to the rest of the mechanics

Stats and Rules

posted by Kaza42 Original SA post

Yeah, the more I read over those sections, the more I realize just how much of the world it is removing or trivializing. Still, at least the worst is over (until we get to the prestige classes, at least), so we may as well continue with

The game uses the Big Five and Slightly Smaller Six. The Big Five are the primary ability scores that tie in with your spells and skills, while the Slightly Smaller Six are mostly just combat stats
Rationality: Your ability to discern the Truth. Used by a lot of spells to power them
Phronesis: Common sense. Used as a defense against lies and bullshyte
Merit: The strength of your ideals. This is the default value for your Virtue, and Virtue increases or decreases by 1 per day until it equals Merit
Bullshyte: Your ability to dissemble, avoid questions and seem more right than you are. DEFINITELY not based on a vulgar term for excrement.
Strength: Aesthetically pleasing and bringing you closer to the Nietzschean ideal of the Superman. Also smashes stuff.
The Slightly Smaller 6 are mostly things you've seen before. Will=Mana, Hp=Hp The only two notable stats are
Luck: Starts at 0, but every point of luck lets you add or subtract 1 from each of your rolls for free. There's probably a way to stack this until it breaks the game
Association: How well you get along with your friends. Everyone starts at 2, which lets them buff each other and become immune to eachothers negative spells. At Association 1, you can no longer share positive effects. At Association 0, your negative effects also apply to your "friends". Numbers below 0 or above 2 have no further effect.

Combat is pretty standard. Many spells cause damage, and everyone has two basic attacks. Once again, there are two interesting things here:
Dialetic: Basically, if you're fighting an enemy with a Rationality score, you can stunt your attacks by posing philosophical queries and debating with them. There are no guidelines for what sort of bonus to give, or examples of what this might be. This SHOULD be the foundation for a lot of combat back-and-forth, fighting physically while debating mentally, but it completely fails to do so due to its lack of guidelines.
Influence: How much control you have over a target. Sentient beings have 5 Influence on themselves, animals have 3. The summoner gets 2 influence on summoned creatures, and the creature itself gets 0. Each point of influence is essentially a vote for what the creature does, with the creature itself deciding ties. Unfortunately, there's no real way to resist Influence so if someone is twinked out to apply influence they can control pretty much anyone after a few turns.

The only currency used Sophia is the Benthamite, a mysterious coin made entirely out of utility. Certain spells reference your wealth level. This is based on your current amount of money available, not any sort of stable income. When a character with Oikonomia gets Benthamite, they get an extra 10% per point they have in Oikonomia. The DM is encouraged to prevent players from exploiting the obvious infinite loop.
Once you reach level 3, you can pay 10% of your money to a charity to recover 1 point of Virtue once per day

In D&Dis, the Law is whatever is written upon the magical Legal Parchment, which enforces that law in an area around it. Natural laws are the laws of physics and cannot be broken under any circumstances. They are probably not written on Legal Parchment, but it doesn't call them out as an exception so I guess they are. Moral, Religious and State laws have a Sanctity value. Roll under Sanctity and you can break the law without penalty, otherwise you either lose Virtue, lose Luck or summon Policemen depending on if the law was Moral, Religious or State. The Policemen form from the platonic ideal of Law Enforcement, rather than drawing upon an actual human organization.
If a player can acquire their own Legal Parchment, they can hire a lawyer to write up laws as well. It's possibly but presumably frowned upon to just make it against the law to disobey you in any way and then sic summoned policemen on anyone who disobeys.

Next Time: Skipping most of the rest of the mechanics due to being fairly predictable and standard in favor of The Afterlife and Resurrection. Even within its own conceits (only Western ideas the author is familiar with are important) it doesn't make much sense.

Death and Resurrection

posted by Kaza42 Original SA post

Well, it's been two months, so I guess it's time for some more

Death and Resurrection
Many RPGs, especially fantasy games, have ways for characters to come back from the dead. Given that this game deals with real-world religions and beliefs, it's going to be tricky to handle the afterlife and resurrection without offending anyone. Bear in mind that the author identifies as an atheist. Now, with that introduction, let's dig in!
What happens to you when you die depends on your beliefs. Theists go to heaven or hell, based on their virtue. Atheists just stay dead, but can be cryonically preserved and revived with mad science. Buddhists and other characters of eastern philosophy may reincarnate after death. In order to get around the issue of adventuring with a baby who doesn't even have a PhD yet, the game offers this loophole:


Characters are not necessarily resurrected in a temporally linear way; a character's reincarnation may be walking around years or decades before they even die, conveniently allowing them to meet up with the rest of the party at an age where they can participate in the adventure.
So, let's just acknowledge that buddhism and other non-western relgions/philosophies are going to be footnotes at best and examine what happens to theists (which are apparently all abrahamic and believe in heaven and hell). If you go to Heaven, your allies can bargain directly with God, who will agree to bring you back to life in exchange for a certain number of good deeds. If you go to Hell, your allies can just buy your soul back from the Devil for just straight money.
It is at this point that I recall a passage from earlier in the book, in the summary of Apologists.


APOLOGISTS try to rationalize faith in God to an ever more dubious world. In their spare time, they act as the healers of most parties. When their faith is strong, they can be one of the team's most important spellcasters, but when they lose faith due to repeated rational attacks, their power goes with it. Most likely cause of death: caught between horns of trilemma.
WHY IS THE WORLD "EVER MORE DUBIOUS"!? Hell, why are there any atheists at all? There is literal, definite proof of the existence of God in this setting. He works actual, verifiable miracles, brings souls back from the dead, enacts laws on the world that are enforced, and apparently is free to chat with anybody who asks!
While most games written by atheists tend to treat religion in a dismissive fashion that is at best moderately offensive, this game has managed to be both dismissive of religion AND clearly stating that it is correct. Maybe this is why there are no non-christian religions in the world? If anyone can just call up God and the Devil, then the world would come down to Christians (assuming that God confirms Christianity is the correct religion) and people who don't want to worship God. The only way Agnostics or Atheists make sense in this world is if they are either undecided or unwilling to OBEY God, rather than being undecided/against the EXISTENCE of God.

So, in this sub-chapter alone the game about philosophy and rational debate has decisively ended any questions regarding the existence of God. While this may leave more room for other discussions, it's a shame that a game where abstract concepts are able to effect the real world and your skill at philosophy and rationality are powerful weapons doesn't really include one of the biggest such debates from the real world. Still, I feel the need to say that for all it's flaws, I still find this a charming game (albeit one solidly written from a West Coast Sheltered Academic standpoint). Hopefully the next section (Spells) will make up for what has come before it. Be prepared for puns, obscure math/physics references, bafflingly narrow use cases, a political class that pokes fun at nearly everyone while making them feel correct, and the Become Pope spell. Hopefully sooner than two months.