Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On Stranger Aeons: Some Thoughts on Cthulhutech

I can see, now, why Marty so loves Cthulhutech.

I said I'd dissect it for usable fluff in lieu of a review, because there are already plenty of them out there. I can't do it. There's just nothing here worth reusing that other games haven't done better, and any scrap of novelty is smothered in lashings of racism, sexism, and sheer stupidity. I fully admit to being biased against all three, and the review isn't very detailed, largely because the details are, well, boring. I said I'd do it, though, and here we are.

First things first: It'd be stupid to go into this without talking about all the rape. So I'm going to be stupid. I'm not qualified to talk about it, and I won't. Ditto the misogyny and the racism; this is a blog for relatively trivial things, not social justice.

That leaves the stupidity. Let's start with a quote off their website:

CthulhuTech is now a truly unique hybrid of genres – cosmic horror, anime, post-apocalypse, traditional horror, and science fiction blended together seamlessly.


Framewerk, the proprietary system upon which CthulhuTech is built, is not only simple and intuitive, it is cinematic, exciting, and puts destiny back in the hands of the player. Its easy to grasp nature makes the game straightforward to learn and quick to start. Its clever dice mechanics make even the simplest of task resolutions exciting.

Yahtzee dice mechanics are not clever, Framewerk is not intuitive, this Frankenstein of a setting has more seams than components, and Cthulhutech is not a horror game.

RPGs are a weird medium for horror in the first place. It takes subtlety to get around the restrictions of the medium. Jump scares tend to startle rather than scare, even if you can pull them off quickly enough; similarly, big scary monsters aren't. Players respond tactically to martial threats -- you can make them retreat, but you can't make them shake. There's also a distinct lack of dramatic irony, since your audience is also your players. Where in a film the audience would be screaming "don't open the door", RPG players are just not opening the goddamn door.

Despair is another tricky emotion to pull off. It's boring. Players see the complete absence of hope, the absolute no-win situation, and they leave, because what's the point of an unwinnable game? Games require the (perceived) possibility of some sort of victory; despair requires a total lack of winning options.

Enter Lovecraft. Or rather, enter Call of Cthulhu; it's not perfectly Lovecraftian, but it's close. Here's a game that walks the narrow line outside of the Despair Event Horizon, as per the source: yes, humanity is doomed, but it needn't be doomed today, even if it will cost you your sanity winding back the doomsday clock. Well-written CoC adventures put that tiny light at the end of a very long tunnel where the walls are made of screaming, and sufficiently masochistic players happily fling characters along with with gusto -- and once the hilarity wears thin, there's a very adult fear hidden among all the tentacles and cults. Cosmicism, the idea that everything we do is but the insignificant flailing of the doomed against the inevitable, can't be conquered with weaponry and isn't shocking so much as sublime. It's also more relevant than jump scares; monsters aren't real, but ask a (non-trust funder) college graduate how much they feel like an irrelevant speck of light in a sea of faceless and indifferent darkness. I run CoC like a career fair, albeit one with a slightly greater chance of success, and when the humor wears off, players can still play to win in the OOC knowledge that there's a winning outcome somewhere.

For a stupid throwaway joke, though, it's relevant to how CoC's version of Lovecraft's work can be made into science fiction as opposed to weird fiction. Cthulhutech is often compared to Eclipse Phase, and with good reason: EP masterfully integrates the very prevalent fear of the new, exacerbated by making it strange and almost literally alien. Inhumanity covered by tentacles is unsettling; inhumanity behind human eyes makes people think, with all the usual associated fear and xenophobia. There's a lot of fun questions you can ask about the identity and mutability of the human condition, especially when freed from biology and economy.

Now, in the face of all of that, Cthulhutech's central premise is "The Mythos showed up. Shoot it in the face with armies of giant robots until it dies -- except you can't possibly win."

Ia, Ia, Cthulhu face'palgm.

I'm apparently crazy for thinking fighting eldritch horrors with armies makes them something other than eldritch horrors. Then again, look at the original fiction; it was first-person, about introverted protagonists somehow apart from most people, and that isolation highlights the contrast between the human and the eldritch. They might be physically isolated (The Beast in the Cave) or mentally apart (Herbert West--Reanimator, however poor it is), but they're never on a battlefield with their foes in broad daylight and scores of allies by their side. They do not, as Ctech mecha pilots do, banter. (Whenever I read that bit, I can't help but think of the Monty Python sketch. It's better than what they probably meant.)

There's something about the military nature of the New Earth Government that breaks the horror too. I'll get into how contradictory the NEG is later, but their fighting arm is rife with cliches, among them "the military mind". Where cosmic horror could be defined as a fight to understand, here we have a fight to annihilate, because there's already all the understanding they need. It might just be the supercilious tone or the slavering, Call-of-Duty military fanboyism soaking through the setting description, but there's none of the wonder here that so agreeably tinged the original Mythos. If the indifferent things beyond the stars are terrifying, at least they are sublimely so; not so the Ugly Bugs We Shoots With The Guns. It just feels too clean.

Despair comes through okay though, but in entirely the wrong way. Yes, you can't win in Call of Cthulhu -- but what the players do matters. Contrast to Cthulhutech's adventure design, where anything that matters is outside the scope of the adventure. It's a wonderful tone, really. "How to stop the players from making a difference (and punish them if they try)" Baeraal got it right in the comments:  Ctech adventures are guided tours through interesting things, and the sourcebooks are full of cool stuff that isn't available to the players, assuming it's even in a published book. They like to "present" things and then make you buy another book to actually stat them. This is the kind of thing these people think is a good idea; screw organization, we have advertisements. It would help if more books were completed before they quit publishing in favor of whining about how they're victims of declining literacy rates or whatever.

But really, they aren't Marty, even if I only know that because I can prove he was off his computer at the time they were making these forum posts. Rather than focus on their myriad failings as editors and representatives of their product, let's look at their failings as designers.

Like the technology.

The  NEG machinery in the setting is one of the places where itfeels like two very different games awkwardly butted together. Science fiction (and a good portion of fantasy) games, by and large, tolerate you meddling with the literal nuts and bolts of the setting, so there's an effort to make them accessible; there's usually some skill that's functionally Meddling With Shiny Bits and some sort of customization available beyond "roll to break this thing." My players respond well to this, probably because I'm used to playing with people who like having rules self-consistent enough to self-test whether or not something will work. Minovsky Physics (or Minovsky Magic) just work better than talc-soft sci-fi for our purposes, and I would go so far as to say that they are better generally, or at least more empoweringly immersive. If I come off as whiny about soft science fiction on here, that's why: it's not as fun to let my players tinker with something if it only works as a bundle of rules covered in handwavium.

Cthulhutech feels like some of the writers were on board with this and others were mouth-frothingly against it. Certainly mecha customization is incredibly badwrongfun, and likewise nanofabricators are either repair mechanisms or glorified knick-knack delivery systems. Cracking open the miraculous fuelless engines driving everything fries your brain, the mecha flight pods are verboten, the battery in your Ipod hurts to think about...walls, invisible walls everywhere. I'm cool with that for a completely silly anime game; if all you want is giant robots roundhouse kicking byakhees in midair, great, go play BESM. There's just some tonal dissonance with all the despair and cults and suicide; the sliding scale of idealism vs. cynicism and the mohs scale of sci-fi hardness aren't quite orthagonal.

So there's two games we can make here. One's Saint's Row of Cthulhu; put the players in the Good Guy military and have them kick the crap out of the Bad Guys, who we know are bad because they are ugly and weird. Make it goofy, make it funny, knock yourself out. That's a completely valid game; heck, I'd run a BESM 1-shot in it, giant sharks and arbitrary misfortune and all.

Alternatively, make it considerably more realistic, less NGE and more Battletech, and pull them out of the cockpits a lot. Focus on the politics of very expensive war machines; turn them into the toys of myopic, greedy politicos more concerned with their own power than the larger war. Cut off their supplies out of sheer bureaucracy while giving them things they don't want (because they're manufactured in the districts of influential politicians). Make them "prove themselves" over and over for the amusement of self-important, hidebound superiors. Give them nothing but obstacles and scorn, and have the higher-ups impose ridiculous demands on them to make them politically acceptable. Combine the desperation of Wunderwaffen with the brazen lying of the North Korean propaganda machine, then put them at the mercy of sociopathic manchildren in control of both. Make things break. Insanity will follow shortly. Blackadder Goes Forth meets Starship Troopers in Night Vale, if you will. Modulated correctly (with a structure considerably more empowering than it appears), it'd make an okay maverick campaign.

The New Earth Government as written supports both, in that half of it is this utopian Star Trek lite (drugs for everyone, yaaay) and the other half is various flavors of State Sec. Now, maybe I'm seeing a dissonance here that doesn't exist in this post-9/11 world. If that's the case, by all means disregard the below, but something about our benevolent NEG's pet Schutzstaffel bugs me anyway. Parapsychics with powers deemed disruptive to society: either they're publically identified with a little badge and constantly watched or the OIS hit squads round them up, declare them to be inhuman monsters with no rights to speak of, and throw them in internment camps, habeas corpus be damned. These are the good guys, people. I'd say they created a chilling look at how easily we can rationalize atrocities, but not once is it even hinted that the authors aren't fully on board with this, and there's literally no better option out there to play under. This is simply Doing What Must Be Done, and either you're with the NEG or you're with the cults. I'd be happier with it if they actually represented a threat, but most "dangerous" parapsychics don't; they're so nerfed by the rules that they're essentially harmless. Just to be perfectly clear: I'm not saying the authors are Nazis. I'm saying they assume the PCs will be happy with working for a government that endorses behavior that makes me deeply uncomfortable.

There's a larger problem here, by the way: most of the suggested classes roleplay for you, like D&D's paladin and druid. If you want to fly a mecha, you're in the military, which takes up all your time, and you're under the purview of their thought police -- which goes double for Engel pilots. If you're a Tager, they've got an ideology in a box all ready for you. I'm not saying it doesn't make sense, but it takes some of the fun out of roleplaying when they specify so much about your character based on the advantages you take. It would have been nice to see Tagers reworked to have free time, or non-military mecha (since the Operator Side Effect that makes them better presumably also makes them useful in civilian work), or really other cool roles that don't come with a heavy authoritarian hand on the player's shoulder dictating how they spend their time. There is much registration and regulation swirling around the type of PCs for whom the adventures are written, and not a lot of freedom.

Part of this is because the setting is honestly sparse. It is detailed, and in fact is choked to death with specifics (especially the clunky, overly-precise mess of a sorcery sstem), but there's not a lot of variety. The single unified world government is monolithic, the cults are pretty similar variations on "we do bad things because Muwahahaha!" and the eldritch atrocities are faceless and bland -- not that the last two matter, because there's very little support for non-NEG characters. Heck, look at the Nazzadi: "Uh, Pluto and revolution and discrimination and now they're making up their own culture. Also they're mostly hot and like sex and nudity, because they never had such silly taboos in the first place." Thanks, guys. I really need to sell my players on cheesecake to get them to play half-aliens. Never mind meaningfully differentiating them from humans, or actually giving them a culture my players might find interesting. No, we need more skin!

Again, this is fixable. Chuck the whole aesthetic and most of the backstory; the bioweapon thing and the false memories and the rebellion are just all over the place, and Space Drow just doesn't need to happen. If you want to make a cosmic horror race, I wouldn't make them outwardly distinguishable from humans. I wouldn't even make them a race in the fantasy-sorta-genetic sense; I would crib the Watts-McLeod exsurgent strain off of Eclipse Phase and fold them into parapsychics. Maybe make it spread memetically.

Just as the product of ten seconds' thought, use Genius: the Transgression a bit. Maybe Inspiration or something like it is the product of a more benign eldritch horror trying to get humanity up to speed, and suddenly you have the wizards to parapsychics' sorcerers, with all the aspersions that casts on parapsychics. It needs a lot more work, though. The point is, if they aren't immediately noticeable, they're a lot more troubling, especially if it's that variable. It's the difference between a vampire and a zombie. Making it revelatory makes the Ashcroft Foundation, and indeed all eldritch research, an existentially fascinating endeavor. Stare long enough into the abyss, and it's all so simple...so if it's comprehensible, is it me understanding it or is it something else making me understand it? And when am I desperate enough that it doesn't matter anymore?

There's another point here, and that's insanity. I don't like awarding insanity points automatically; it's much more tenable to have the players insist on accruing them. Fewer invisible walls that way, and a lot more player agency. Insanity points (or Cthulhutech's longer-term equivalent, Insanities) become a way for players to tell you what unnerves them, rather than a slap on the wrist for poking interesting things, and this fits something as personal as dissociation from rationality. If you remember Jin from SUETHULU, this is partly his idea. We've both had to ask players to have more faith in their mental fortitude, because otherwise they'd rack up crazy at an unsustainable rate. Forget that here, though. Cthulhutech has to codify insanity, to automatically slap points on without tests in "extreme cases" every few plot points. You don't know what crazy is; the authors know what crazy is, even if it's arbitrary and silly.

And that's the problem close to the center of this mess. The only reaction Cthulhutech rewards is complete, uncritical acceptance of everything the game throws at you; this game doesn't need players, it needs disciples. The adventures are full of "but even if the players win, it doesn't matter" interspersed with "here is how to nullify the players' pointless apparent victories", and the setting has tons of lists the things the players can't do, or shouldn't do, or that will make your game --gasp!-- non-canon. Most of these involve success in some form. The end effect is reminiscent of DM of the Rings: when in doubt, make the game non-interactive. And then doubt everything. Then give everyone important a magic five-minute invulnerability amulet, set the players up to fail at irrelevant objectives, and do your best to shock them with un-helpable victims of horrendous atrocities in the meantime. This...

FATAL is a horrifying blend of unspeakably disgusting things with absolutely no redeeming features, and yet I find I prefer it to this. FATAL did what it set out to do; it was supposed to be a game about awful people doing terrifying things, and accordingly it included a system for creating awful people and (ludicrous) rules for doing terrible things. I would never want to play it. I can't think of anyone that would. It is the worst roleplaying game ever made, but Cthulhutech isn't even that; it hit the bottom of the barrel, pulled out a katana, and started hacking. It is an unpublishable series of boring novels wrapped in needlessly complex mechanics and a dull, oppressive setting designed to funnel the players into one end of the plot slideshow and out the other. Along the way, you'll meet stereotypical villains with exactly zero depth being evil for the sake of evil, hard-bitten allies that run the gamut from sad to silly, and very few ambiguous or neutral NPCs, because crafting characters is hard and writing "and this is who wins" is easy.

And that's bad in a campaign, let alone a setting.
So yeah. So much for dissection; I hope it was at least entertaining.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

SUETHULU: Basically The End

 Here we are then. Cael's epilogue, after Marty idly asked about it. It took me a while to find it, and a while longer to work up the courage to post it, because this is embarrassingly bad. In my defense, it was written in one night between exams on way too much caffeine, and I was perhaps a bit too frustrated to think clearly. At any rate, I find parts of it absolutely hilarious.

Incidentally, after he'd idly asked, I did ask what became of the Disc. Apparently he put Vetinari in charge of it and left, because it was uninteresting to him. I'd also asked what happens to homeless bits of setting, and apparently they just kind of exist wherever. Both come up below; just thought I'd mention.

Obviously, names changed to protect the moron and all that. I did the best I could with the formatting.

Okay, enough of my stalling. Here we go, my petty and immature response to his question, intermingled with a lot of venting in one long, rambling .docx, reposted for your enjoyment:

You wanted my epilogue. Actually, you wanted "what the epilogue is", but anyway, this will take a bit of explanation. Apologies for length and tone, but this is complicated and it's nice to be asked a question rather than told a ruling for once, so I'm just going to forge ahead and make the most of it.

See, I never expected Cael to be the good guy. I'm not good at building characters other than The (Un)fettered; here, I didn't even think to try. Maybe I misinterpreted the "desperate times" schtick the NEG had going on. I thought you were satirizing the "post-9/11 world" mentality; my apologies if you meant it as a rational response. Either way, here we are: he's on that wonderfully fine line between drive and insanity, he's an anarchist of the most chaotic sort, and he's just watched a government that's been screwing him over since birth steal his achievements for stupid political maneuvering while being told there's a much bigger, much more oppressive dictatorship just waiting to kill him. You handed him a scenario in which people might actually prefer the anarchist's bomb to the policeman's truncheon. What do you think he's going to do?

He's going to build a bistro. A very big one in the warehouse, because I know you. We need more math than we have to pull off recipreversexclusive vector bistromathics. We need more math than the greatest mathematician in the world -- I suspect, given the skill mechanics, he'd just about be able to handle long division, which is probably a state secret anyway. We would, in short, need the greatest mathematicians on the Disc. I know they can't speak English, but they can work PCPU holo-interfaces, and math, as you so love to remind me, is a universal language. Cael just needs to Suggest it to them, and I suspect solving the problem is in line with a mathematician's basic nature.

There's also the question of whether the lads, Jin, Ian, and Darya want to come, but given everything we've already done, if Cael invites them along on an impossible journey to liberate the multiverse with a camels and pesto sauce...do you honestly think they'd refuse? And do you honestly think, in a world driven by stories, it wouldn't work?

Now, I didn't get this far without being able to anticipate your more reasonable objections. We do not, as you know, currently have a stable of Discworld camels; at a guess, they're fatally allergic to Engels, or perhaps have all been hunted down as Communists. However, you've been ripping enormous holes across the multiverse, which leads me to believe we can exploit multiversal truths here: EEEEEVERYBODY NEEEEDS CAMEEEELLLS, after all, and we're only a short hypercamel ride from the Disc. Besides, this is right up Hassan's alley -- against all sense, we're the good guys here. Then, too, I've got a plan for paying him back for more than the camels.

We're very short on destinations, you see; we leak air like a sieve, we've got no rad shielding, and we're running on batteries. The only place I can think to go is the main hangar of the NES Victory. Cael will drop in, put Black Flag Flying on the intercom, get the lads running for the ends of the ship with cannolis in tow, and warp for Zeta Leporis before the guards can get through the ten-minute delay you put on the doors. Hey, if you have Star Destroyers flying around like this, I can steal a ship with it. So now the question is, of course, "what do you do with an asteroid field a billion miles from anywhere, long before the Imperium has any ships in-universe to stop us, let alone know where we are?" Well, we get Jin to pop open the nanorepair master blueprints and we cannibalize the guns to crank out a mining vessel. All we really need are a couple of bush robots, but why not weld the arms onto a proper hull, temporarily stick some A-pods in the engine nacelles and paint the whole thing arrest-me red? Anyone can mine asteroids, [Marty], but Cael can mine asteroids by punching them with an ersatz Outlaw Star.

Then we make a shipyard. A self-directing shipyard, with its own mining drones and everything, and a nice big row of fractal assembly forges. I will get back to the ship later; for now, the camels can navigate us through the portal and under the Disc so we can moor out of sight. They've already been once, albeit the other way. First things first: we put Hassan's stock through the Victory's med scanners so he can sell certified preowned camels. Then we take the subtlest ship we can, fly up at night, and be very careful that no one spots us. Your alter ego has done the Disc a huge favor by "[leaving] Vetinari in charge" of "such an unremarkable place"; I can only assume he abdicated a minute later, and everything's much the same.

Ian, of course, we drop off on FourEcks. I'd worry about him learning about magic too close to Ponder (or, indeed, anyone who'd notice), but no worries, we've got Bugarup U. They seem laid-back enough to miss the occaisional slip. He's also to secure the beer we need for Darya.

Darya lands on the Chalk with a crudload of Ecksian beer and a note in large print, because I'd like very much to see if the Nac Mac Feegle would like to help us topple the bigjob that claims to be their master, and for that I need another violent alcoholic to help translate. I need saboteurs, you see, and they do that anyway. Besides, they're like little blue anti-Borg. "Resistance is bonny! Ye willna be assimilated, dinnae fash yersel'!" On a more practical note, Cael needs a [Vamp!Marty] detector and their swords ought to glow as blue in the presence of rules lawyers as with any other type. So she gets to negotiate. Even as long as that might take, we're dropping her off late.

Jin's a bit of a special case. Cael needs to do a bit of trig concerning the location of the UU's clacks tower, the size of a clacks grid, and the arc it subtends. Then he's got a bit of nanofab work to do with OLED films, tiny photoreceptors, PCPU comms, and two pair of binoculars to hide it all in. Also got an unusual job for the Assassin's Guild, but hopefully they can extend their definition of inhumation to include optical elements in return for all the gold we pried out of the asteroids. The rest is a matter for Jin's cryptographic skill (aided by the Smoking GNU, if Cael can buy a manual off them) and his speed at making friends, because we need HEX, at least in his off hours when Ponder isn't using it. See, Ctech's AI sucks almost as badly as its nanoforges. Jin rather needs to program strong AI, and I know you won't let him do it alone -- so here we have a shortcut, in the form of most of what we need already capable of introspection. Besides, for what I need it for, I can't think of a better AI than one made by a forensic accountant and an ant-based supercomputer. I don't need great Minds; I need slightly crazy ones.

As for Cael...he's not [Vamp!Marty]. No warships, no conquering. I'm not going to start nuking the Ramtops or anything so obvious. Cael's going to go to the shonky shop, he's going to buy something other than the silly trenchcoat, and he's going to tell Soon Shine Sun everything about what's going on. He presumably already knows, but I want to be thorough, because the plan very much needs directions to Oi Dong -- and if Cael's ever going to get them, it's not going to be through bribery or threats, but through honestly being the best shot we've got, or at least one worth a relative pittance of Lu-Tze's time.

It's a one-in-a-million chance, but maybe Cael can learn to be a sweeper.

See, you're right to gloat about [Vamp!Marty]'s time stop ability; it's a way of undoing what we do, even without cutting half your empire off to play with timey-wimey shenanigans . If Cael's ever going to collapse the Imperium, I need to break it, and here we are. Cael needs to learn how to slice time, and he needs to understand Procrastinators on the conceptual level in order to rebuild them with nanotech elements. Chalk spins up seconds and basalt can hold megayears; how much time can wind onto a diamond flywheel driven by superconducting magnets? He also needs to understand everything else, because if anyone can humanely handle canon it's the History Monks and they've got the Disc to look after; at present, this is way outside Cael's competence. More on that later.

Once we've got that wrapped up, Jin and Cael will need to coordinate with HEX to set up a power source. A-pods and D-engines are ultimately unsuitable for my purposes; not only are they annoying, blatant fanwankery, they're under the control of people known to retcon around people having badwrongfun with their system. Besides, the Victory just isn't cool enough for me. The camels can have it. I'm sure they have a wonderful journey of exploration ahead of them, as smart as they are.

As per Pratchett: "The relevant equation is Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass." It follows that, given d = m/v, anything of sufficient information density will undergo epistemological collapse, become a singularity, and start emitting Hawking information at a rate inversely proportional to the square of its mass; books are simply big enough to keep this rate low. (I blame this for why, even with our terabyte hard drives, I can never seem to find my files.) Go on, [Marty]. Gush again about how many terabytes can fit on a PCPU hard drive the size of a grain of sand "thanks to quantum computing". Again, I see your objection: your magic laptop has an exabyte hard drive. Do remember that you put your settings on it.

If we're going to curve extelligent phase space, though, we can't do it with Cthulhutech's data alone. You've made sure there isn't nearly enough. Thus HEX: Reading in Invisible Writings, accelerated by the biggest Procrastinators we can use to pull time from the interstellar medium. We can get all the books ever written, all the books possibly written -- and, as long as you keep Sandman hooked into the multiverse, all the books never written much more easily than we otherwise could. For now, we'll store it in subcritical archives; it won't be until we get back to Zeta Leporis that we download them into quantum storage and make a (technological) singularity, then put a Hawking's Knot around it.

I don't use science in gaming to blindside you, [Marty]. I use it to constrain myself to things I can readily communicate, to operate on a manipulable paradigm and encourage other people to fiddle with it. It helps me tell interesting stories. Without it, you get what passes for poetic around me. Cael could, I suppose, crank out a network of amat farms and gamma ray lasers and turned out an actual SBH, but that wouldn't have been nearly as elegant -- as clarketech as Ctech's "nanotech composite" handwavium is by now, there are still some messy side effects. Instead, we have an infinite energy source that makes a very silly kind of sense -- we feed it with high-bandwidth laser transmissions, we convert the information into energy with Maxwell's Imps, and so forth. It's delightful.

The important part is that it's never going to run out.

Conversion drives are more or less averaging devices. They convert matter into matter and antimatter, or in this case, information into logic and [SUE System] skill mechanics. What we don't normally consider is that they'll do the same thing to antimatter. Not so important for Hawking knots, but incredibly important for us. “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.” ― Albert Einstein. See, there is a remote possibility that there might be a finite amount of attainable knowledge, but as long as the Imperium persists, we have an inexhaustible supply of stupid. Maybe I'm too used to being at loggerheads with the multiverse, but a spaceship that runs on stupidity seems deliciously poetic to me. Getting around the speed-of-light limit by filling the hull with computronium and teaching Jin/HEX's distributed Minds to slice time around the ship is almost an afterthought; the technology isn't as narratively important as the experience it enables.

Really, that's as it should be, in stories. Cael's not building a warship here, not in literal truth. I refuse to sink to that level, a clash of Titans with the Imperium for "the good of the people". Instead, he's building a pirate ship with a stern like a galleon. Also a giant skull-and-crossbones on the bow, the sides, the flag...I basically want anyone seeing this thing to know it's completely illegitimate. The front docking bay is going right in the mouth of the skull just to make sure we look completely non-Navy; we should put a giant knife there, but it's not that kind of piracy. Less plunder, more pirate radio. Heck, we're even naming it the Mistake Not... so when [Vamp!Marty]'s goons say Cael's made a Mistake they can be right about something. Everything else is just nanoforges, transmitters, Procrastinators and computronium all over the place.

I don't want Cael to lead a revolution. Cael's not a demagogue. He's a pedagogue. The ideal is to hand people, all the people who want it, the means to create their own revolution, in whatever style they see fit. I want Cael to be the MYCROFT to their Mannie, the stranger in the tavern handing them the map to adventure, the wise old hermit who's conveniently elsewhere when the time comes to really kick ass. I don't want him to plan. I want him to steer and steer wildly.

See, there aren't Great People. People are great already; they just need a little prodding to realize their potential. Heck, people are infinite. I want Cael to make thousands of tiny godlings -- and, because I also want to gloat like hell, he's going to do it with the power of stories.

Cael's going to make heroes. He's going to make heroes en masse, steering everyone he can find toward as complete an understanding of their universe as he can manage. If, in the process, he cheats a bit and teaches them a bit of Extropianism as well...I never said Cael was a good pseudo-Culturenik. Being bad is what he's all about. In the process, we can also fill some of the gaps between the story as it is and the story as we need it to be, the dramatic coincidences and unlikely circumstances.We can make things not make sense in the very best ways, until people know things they shouldn't. We can put the right man in the wrong place and make all the difference in the world. Most of all, we can put the nicks of time back where they belong; you could say that's our specialty.

Once we've got that going, we can keep it going long after the Imperium's gone. I don't just want Cael to end you, I want Cael to end the possibility of you, to empower, educate, and inspire (and above all learn) until the very concept of tyranny is laughably infeasible. What a gift that will be, no?

The point extends well beyond the present Imperium. You've added some fairly dystopian settings to the multiverse, and any really satisfying epilogue deals with the inevitable series of events enforced by Authyrship. I can't think of a better way to do that than by teaching the multiverse how to reason. Bad things may happen by the caprice of fickle gods, but the wider universe, in the gaps between the lines: there we can work to ensure that for every new inhumanity we can inflict on ourselves, there is someone that will not stand for it.

I'm being very vague here, and that's because I'm deliberately unsure what form this will take. That's why teaching is so much better than preaching; everyone takes your ideas and runs with them and makes them their own and they've spun off in a million new directions, and rather than holy wars you can greet that with high-fives. There will not be a "the" revolution, nor a single revolutionary period. There will be a continuous, rolling wave of human awesomeness endlessly diversifying in ways I can barely imagine-- and don't want to. This isn't, and it shouldn't be, one person's story.

Now, you're right to complain that Cael can't do it alone, not even with the ship. That's part of why I want so many heroes. People don't take to idleness well; once the sleeper has awakened, it's hard to get them to go back to sheep, so to speak. That's where we come in. After happily ever after, beyond the point where the big stories end, we seek them out, and we offer them a is "a life of respectable quiet contentment, of civic
dignity and, of course, in the fullness of time a pension." (Vetinari, Making Money) Or, if they accept, they do what we do, which is messy and complicated and thoroughly bizarre and frustratingly secret. It's almost the opposite of your empire; local rather than global, specialized rather than blanket, self-governing rather than hierarchial. Cael's going to crowdsource the job of being the Devils in the Details (and ensuring no one like [Vamp!Marty] can ever happen again) to a bunch of old bored individualist heroes and whoever they decide is crazy enough to join them; as you've no doubt surmised, I'll be very disappointed if the organization stays at all unified after the Imperium is a joke.

That's why we need the Minds, after a fashion. Like I said, we don't need great Minds; all respect to Banks, but the Minds make the Culture work in ways that don't necessarily align perfectly with what's needed here. That's why I'm intending for Cael to skip a crapload of iterations through machines programing machines, and instead raising them through a series of a thousand rounds of grassroots anarcho-libertarian meddling aboard a ship running on nonsense: ultimately, what we need are, well...Cael's naming the first three Esme, Gytha, and Agnes. Partly because I'm hoping Sapir-Whorf works in unusual ways around enough narrativium, partly because we need the Feegles to instinctively grasp the role they're playing, but mostly for motivation. Ultimately, Cael might one day be tempted to stop or get sloppy, if all he has to worry about is [Vamp!Marty], but knowing that the real Granny Weatherwax might one day ask why exactly he tried to make a witch out of a computer and a boatload of stories and then presume to call it by its first name...that will keep Cael running at minimum slice until the multiverse collapses.

Seriously, though, they have a role, and there's something to the hope that they will grow into what their names make people expect of them. We may not need princes or princesses and we have a surfeit of woodcutters (or at least sons of woodsmen), but ultimately we need people to be the witch and know things, and we need people above them to keep them aware of how much they don't know. The whole organization is a bunch of Guile Heroes and Science Heroes orbiting on the cusp of a moral event horizon of detachment, really. To keep them from going full Eldar, we need something else, and thus misotheist superturing time-slicing witches. Why not?

Why? Because Cael is worryingly insane and I'm way too tired to plan properly. How's that for meta,eh? Even I'm just steering now. But hey. Maybe that's what I want; he's certainly not trying to found a monastery here, beyond the obvious. Half the reason I'm even including the Minds as a mechanism for preserving (reasonable) interoperability is so that, as long as they exist, we have relays. So that the next time someone wants to play Boy Emperor of the Multiverse, no matter what state its in, there will be someone to watch, someone to get the word out, and a vast and chaotic smattering of Sendings and neutrino comms and mice operating radios made of soup cans and notes passed around schoolrooms lights up to get a lot of people ready to meddle. I don't just want to make [Vamp!Marty] go away; I want to make him flatly impossible, and for that we need people talking. Who loves to gossip more than witches?

I know your objection. You have a fleet. You have weapons. You have more than enough to put down some silly insurrection by the locals' primitive technology/magic. After all, you've already fought the war to end all wars, and you're sitting pretty on a pile of the most impregnable machines in the multiverse. As the opening act of the riot to start all riots, perhaps:

Nae anymuir, bigjob.

That's where Cael comes in, flying a Mistake powered by stupidity and narrativium as a mobile entropy carrier. You called it pretty well; all he can really do well is kill people and break things, and he doesn't kill people. What luck, then, that he's in a prime position to break things right when you have such complicated things to break. There's a lot of work to be done that he's very ill-equipped to do, but for now, as the epilogue of the epilogue, at a few critical bottlenecks in your logistical nightmare and everywhere else he can be with all the time in the stars, it might be enough that he is very, very good at breaking things.

As one last note: that not killing people thing even extends to [Vamp!Marty]. I may not be good enough to see a way to build the Culture proper out of nothing, but I can maybe mock it up okay, and with that comes the computing power to manage deep-immersion VR. It's a very pleasant way of dealing with megalomaniacs: just give them fake people to boss around for the rest of their natural lives. Although...[Vamp!Marty] is immortal... It'll be a fun ride, it will. Absolutely secure, too; you have to make a concerted effort of will to leave, and there is nothing of which he's less capable than refusing complete gratification.

I leave you with this last bit of meta, then: this is all, of course, impossible. There is no way to contradict the almighty Will of [Vamp!Marty]; everything definitionally goes his way utterly without difficulty, as is to be expected. Given that, did I just describe Cael's epilogue?

Or did I just describe [Vamp!Marty's] prologue?

And how could he tell the difference?

That's it.

In case you're wondering, he never mentioned it...but apparently he's never actually run a SUE System game session since then, so I tentatively count it as a draw.

I hope you enjoyed SUETHULU; you've all made it very worth the writing. Next time...I don't know.