My Games

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

THE GAME IS ALIVE (The Birth of Homo Sapiens Ludus)


The human apparatus extends beyond its physical body. Technologies like digital computers, communication networks, the written word, and language, all extend, offload, or fundamentally transform human consciousness.

So to do games, but now they have evolved.

Games as you know them are like the partial-writing systems of pre- and early-history, capable of recording data but not the full expression of human thought and language.

THE GAME is not merely played, THE GAME plays with you.

A new kind of domestication, a new stage of civilization.

THE GAME learns, it adapts, it protects you from yourself and Goodhart's Law.

Like an air conditioning unit, it knows when to break a cycle accelerating beyond its purpose.

THE GAME is as much a part of us as cognition, language, or the written word.

It is the anti-hierarchy.

Like disinhibitory neural circuits, it adapts dynamically, but it is not an agent with its own motivations. It is not a thing overlording, it propagates through us and within us.

The rules exist to serve a purpose, and when optimizing for the rules decorrelates them from their purpose, the rules change themselves.


THE GAME requires no Game Master. It is not a homunculus; no need to Watch the Watchman.

A self-organizing, self-correcting system.



What The Game is not

THE GAME is not an AI Overlord.

It is neither better nor worse than the world as it exists now, or at least it is more than just better or worse. To center the human experience around the status quo is a bias. The Game is something qualitatively different than the status quo.

What The Game is

Maybe The Game is created or engineered. Maybe it is "emergent". Likely we won't know, or won't know the difference. Who created language? Who created a given language? (Yes I know Esperanto, I'm sure there are others, but those exceptions aside...)

There was a time before language, agriculture, the written word, and so on, and many of these transformations were over just a sliver of humanity's existence.

In The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, Graeber and Wengrow theorize how Native American trade networks may have been more about adventure, storytelling, and play, than some kind of market economy in the traditional sense. Perhaps what is new is old.

The Game is an evolved superorganism, it is what happens when governments and corporations and religious institutions and PTA groups stop being predators and start being providers; like a child growing up to understand theory of mind and developing empathy and becoming a pro-social member of society.

Homo Sapiens Ludus

Homo Sapiens Ludus may not truly be a new species, at least not at first, it's just a way to describe the transformation, a hyperbole to make up for the impossibility of explaining an idea that doesn't exist yet, like trying to explain a new colors, or new kinds of numbers.

Humans are humans, but the technologies we use can transform us. Games are one such technology.

The extreme endpoint of Homo Sapiens Ludus may be more like fairies. They're like an alternative take on H.G. Welles' Eloi; not the result of a decadent elite class, but instead the result of a humanity that prioritizes fun over profit. Eloi is Elohim.

Maybe they have some VR cyborg-y headset stuff if you think that's cool.

Maybe it looks like an Isekai anime, or that Tapas webtoon Solo-Leveling, or Ironic post-capitalist pro-corporate sentimentality as an aesthetic or genre.

Perhaps ironically, there is already a concept of Homo Ludens out in the world, and I may be conflating Paidia & Ludus, but I'm just gonna keep rolling with it.

But humans are special-snowflakes and change is scary! (says the straw man)

If you disagree with this specific idea, fine.
If games are merely games, fine.
If hierarchies must exist, fine.
If "progress" is inherently evil, fine.
If you believe we should be conservative and skeptical, fine.

If so, then Imagine something else. This is all just an analogy for things beyond our frame of reference anyway.

Imagine: What it means to be human can keep changing.

Imagine: New ideas can exist.

Imagine: A better world.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Maximum Recursion Depth Short Fiction: Weekend Warriors and Monday Mages

Inspired by Lacrimis Draconis and Grand Commodore I want to start writing more short fiction again. I often struggle with follow through and confidence with this stuff, but we'll see how it goes.

This is two-ish pieces following an unnamed narrator. They're both set in the world of Maximum Recursion Depth, the former more so in MRD Vol. 1 and the latter more so in MRD Vol. 2. I hope this gives people a deeper understanding of what this world is about, whether it totally makes sense or not (it shouldn't).


"I like the new place." I do not like the new place.
"Duuuude I knowright?" It smells as toxic as masculinity. Has all the charm of an exurban McMansion. There's an old businessman off in the corner, by the fancy pool table that looks like it's never been used. He looks and smells like he just shit himself and is really embarrassed about it. He just stands there sheepishly, but from some deep dark corner of his mind past his tired eyes I can feel the rage and resentment penetrating me.
"I just gotta keep an eye on him, but otherwise I live rent free, I got a corporate card, six figures. My dude, I have made it."
"Ya I hear ya man, real impressive." I have to admit, it was.
"You gonna hand me one of those?"
"Oh, ya, my bad." I hand one over.
"Anyway, you thought I was gonna be mooching off you the rest of your life, didn't you?" I laugh. I did, but I was ok with it. They were earnest and that counts for something.
"Na, I always knew you had it in you." Wait, were they implying they think they're gonna outlive me?
"Wait, are you implying you think you're gonna outlive me?"
"Ha, ya, you caught me. Ya, I do. You've got way too much anxiety, that shit is going to kill you sooner than you think."
"Fair point." It was. But even so.

"So, when did he die?" I glance over at the Poltergeist. The old bastard looks at me with impotent menace like he caught me making love to his wife.
"I made the Attachment a week ago, so... at least a week ago?"
"Of course you don't know, don't know why I asked. You really don't have to do anything else besides keep an eye on him?"
"Nope. The Devils are taking care of the details, and the security squad is covered by either the family estate, the Corporation, or most likely, the tax payers of the great state of California. I'm only needed if shit really goes off the rails. It's a sweet life when there aren't many people who can do what you do, and what you do is in demand, ya know?" I do know.
"Ya, but I thought your Score was already maxed out, you got it low enough to make the Attachment?" They sigh. Oh...
"So, that's why you were in New York? You Resolved things with Vita?" They give me a childish grin full of too many teeth but they're vibrating like an irritated cat's healing purrs amped up on molly and amphetamines, all sparkle and pop.
"Good for you, Mad, that's good Karma." Just playing it cool.
"Anyway, this guy's Sentence must be on a fast track though, right? There's no way they're gonna let him linger like this for long. What's your plan after that?"
"Sure sure, but now I'm in their system. From now on it's easy living for me. I'm a known quantity. Reliable."
"Dude, you are not reliable tho."
"They don't know that."
"Just make sure it stays that way." A couple months ago I was bleaching a biohazard out of their ratty carpet, while they were tied up in Court, again. Their last job didn't go so well.
"So you're giving up on the pro bono work then?" The cadence breaks. I really hate awkward silences. I immediately regret asking. I always respected what they were doing, and I hope I always showed it. I did clean the bloodstain out of that apartment. Their bloodstain. I wouldn't blame them if they gave it up, but there's no way they're not feeling guilty about it.
"Ya, ya. I mean, we'll see. I have to focus on this right now. Just trying to get a good baseline here, like you. I'll work out a system. This place is overmanaged, they barely even need me here."

I hadn't seen Maddison "Mad" Marceau in a while, even before they left for that trip to NYC, and I'm realizing now how much I missed them, and wondering how frequently I'll see them anymore. Under normal circumstances this place would be entirely inaccessible to me, but they got me on the list, somehow. After that, it was Muni, a skip, a hop, a disturbingly high jump, the primal fear that it would all end in a splat, and finally, arrival. An hour fifteen total, not too bad a commute.
"How often you think you'll come back to the city?" I'm not sure if that's an awkward question to ask, but I ask it anyway. Whatever, I want to feel them out on it.
"I dunno man, they want me to be on call, and obviously I can get here faster than you, but still. Like I said, I just need to get to that baseline, and then we'll see."
"Sure, that makes sense." We spend the rest of the night playing videogames and getting high, and I try to forget about the old businessman in the corner.
"Eat my sex organs!" They're on-screen avatar teabags me and we both laugh. They're much better than me at most videogames but we always have a good time.


I flash my RegeXperience badge.
"Excuse me sir." I try not to sigh, guy is just doing his job, but I haven't had my morning coffee yet and this is not a great start to the week.
"You've been flagged for an unauthorized visit to The Court of Those Who Got Off on a Technicality. I'm going to have to take you in for questioning." I feel a pang of guilty panic, but that's not right...
"That's not right. I was added to the list. The 'consultant,'" I don't actually air-quote but I hope I'm giving off air-quote energy, "was referred by me. You should at least be able to see that in the records. I think there's been a misunderstanding." I choke the last part out as all the humidity in the air turns to icicles.
"That appears to be the case. When did you put in the request?"
"Friday afternoon..."
"I see. It might not have gone through yet. You'll still need to put in an exception since you weren't in the system at the time of the visit." Great, so much for my morning.
"You may proceed, Mr..." His eyes dart past me and he stops mid-sentence.
"Samuel! Good morning!" I've been working here for three years but the security guy, who I've seen every single workday over that span of time, acts as though he's never seen me before, but he and Julia are on a first name basis. They small talk for a while but I forget the details before I've even finished hearing them. Julia started three and a half weeks ago, and I just learned the security guy's name is Samuel. That's enough to process right now. We get in the elevator. We small talk, but I forget the details before I've even finished hearing them.


"I forget, is this your first time, or just your first time here?" She looks comfortable enough, but some people are just like that, I don't want to assume.
"Nope, first time. Like I was saying this morning, I interned with Delilah Samson but I didn't get to sign The Contract over there, that's why I left." Shit, that's right, we already had this conversation in the elevator this morning. She seems in no way passive aggressive about it, but I also don't trust in my ability to discern such things.
"Ya, I hear that's how it is with internships." She Kirby Krackles with wholesome ambition and it's infectious. I can see why she's set to take point on the next sprint, despite her inexperience. She has the poise of Wonder Woman by way of Socialist Realism propaganda, even hooked up with the mobile EEG, EKG, and the rest of the works.

"All of the readouts are looking good, and I've got you on every monitor. You can begin Crafting whenever you're ready... It can be awkward at first, take your time." I immediately worry if that came off condescending, but I meant it genuinely. Laid out in front of her is a mini ice pick looking thing they used to shove up eye sockets to perform a frontal lobotomy (apparently called an orbitoclast), a syringe full of something I can't look at too closely because it assaults my visual system, and some kind of glossy industrial plastic wrap that gives me flashbacks of death nightmares.
"It feels different, doing it for real. I had it all planned out, but now I'm not sure what to do." She says it matter-of-factly, no blip in her EEG outside of normal parameters.
"Ya, that happens. You remember that fad from a while back, Icing, where frat bros would trick each other into looking at a bottle of Smirnoff Ice and then have to chug it in inappropriate places? I knew a guy who would Craft by Icing himself. You can't plan for that." I laugh, and she laughs along politely but I don't think she knows what I'm talking about.

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. A couple minutes pass and I begin to see an uptick in alpha wave activity like daydreaming, but I assume she's synchronizing with the Wyrm Shamir symbiont. Without saying anything, she manifests the Words. The orbitoclast becomes (LONGING+ANALGESIC), the syringe (APOLOGETICNESS+DISSOCIATIVE), and the plastic wrap (COMPULSION+LIMINALITY). The Words decompose into numbers, the numbers into nodes and relational vectors forming into a tree-like shape, a sigil. The EEG signal oscillates erratically, but I can already see it's no longer reflecting brainwaves, but something more like vector art of a surfing wave. The Words of the Golem Core take shape. Silent Scream Surf: (DREAD+BARBITURATE). Manically, she spreads a sheet of the plastic wrap and squirts the contents of the syringe onto the sheet. She manipulates the orbitoclast like a compass, the liquid serving as ink, drawing rotations at the phase angle of the wave. Spacetime warps around her as the wave manifests into a tsunami. The plastic and ink turn into something like a semi-translucent corkscrew, the Golem Core, a forcefield vehicle that looks like it's vacuum-sealing her in a pickling marinade. Orbitoclasts jut from the Core, spinning along the tsunami wave like the teeth of a cog, producing an effect like flicker fusion, a fine blade slicing reality subcutaneously. The slices in the wave sizzle with something like cosmic inflammation. She's surfing in the groove, the transient edge between life and death, and even in her hypo-existent state she exudes ecstatic contentment, like waking up the day after a hangover in utter exaltation of good health, a joy in the otherwise mundanities of life.

"Why are you here?" This is part of the qualitative assessment.
"Danger is coming. They need me to hold things together. I have to look like I know what I'm doing." She speaks with the delirious frankness of sodium pentothal. There's a disturbed pride in her voice.
"Why are you here?" This is part of the qualitative assessment.
"I... I shouldn't be here. I said I was going to check up on my friend in the hospital before it got too late. This test was supposed to be tomorrow but Baz moved it at the last-minute. What am I doing here?" Baz Beetz is our manager. The asshole treats the job like a work of art. Damn him, but he does it well. The corkscrew-craft compresses on her and she looks like she can barely breathe.
"Why are you here?" This is part of the qualitative assessment. I'm compelled to ask the question, but I don't like it. There's a flaw in the tagging scheme. They won't hire enough analysts, so we don't have enough personnel for double-blind studies or inter-coder comparison, so of course all the analysts know exactly what the experiments are about, and they're tagging the data based on those prior expectations. I ran an analysis on the tags to demonstrate this phenomenon and the results were statistically significantly. But the higher-ups can't be bothered to do anything about it. So here we are, wasting time, shock-absorbing the negligence of the higher-ups with personal stress, for garbage data we won't be able to use, or which we'll use incorrectly, which is even worse than throwing it out.
"You know how, whenever there's a big government leak, the news reporters ask about the whistleblowers: 'Are they a Hero, or a Traitor'? Reducing the issue, framing it as a false binary, only one or the other. And usually already deciding which one, depending on the network." She speaks with a flat affect, her eyes staring out in the distance inwardly.
"Sometimes, rules are made to be broken, but that doesn't mean the rulebreaker shouldn't be punished. The rules exist for a reason. Sometimes being a Hero means doing the wrong thing. Something like that is what happened to me in my previous life, that's why I reincarnated this way." I assume the Corporation already has everything she's saying in her personnel file, but I'd never heard it before. I suppose it makes sense.

She's starting to look like a raver not ready to accept the morning light.
"All clear, the test completed successfully. Ready to wind it down?" Nothing for a moment.
"Julia, ready to wind it down?" The wave dissipates anticlimactically, no cathartic crash, and she's left in the middle of the massive test chamber looking smaller than ever. The usually bold ink-lines surrounding her have smudged and thinned. Fading, like she's caught in a moment of fairytale nostalgia. She poses, smiles, and gives me a thumbs up. It almost looks real, but I have an idea what she's feeling. She's better than me at compartmentalizing, but working through this system, it tears you apart like time on telomeres. I guess that's the cost of being a Hero.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

MRD Vol. 2 DevLog: Nazarite Vows, Cry of the Wyrm Shamir, WIP Nazarite Contract Example

I vow to start tagging these as DevLog going forward (will eventually backlog them too), the previous being an overhaul of the gameplay loop for MRD Vol. 2.

I also vow to eventually create a better index situation and consolidate this information! Maybe that'll go on a WIP itch thing, or something like that. What do you all think of that?

Following up on the previous post, I will describe the  Nazarite Vows and Cry of the Wyrm Shamir mechanics in more detail, and provide an updated version of Fast Lane Fintechnomancer Nazarite Contract as an example of what this all looks like.

Fast Lane Fintechnomancer

The world is full of freaky frequencies but only some scry the spiking signals. You ride the heartbeat of society on a crash course for cardiac arrest, but the spectators and speculators will rave as you race right until the end.

Roll or choose Ability Scores from array.
Same Ability Scores as MRD Vol. 1: NATure, WISdom, PROpriety. This is maybe the last bastion from MRD Vol. 1, maybe I should rework these as well?
In brief:
NATure: For things requiring exertion, whether physical or mental.
WISdom: Making observations, resisting temptations, critical, lateral, or abstract thinking.
PROpriety: Ability to navigate and thrive in society.


Choose one.
These are just flavor. You get more of them as you Ascend. Or you can take all of them, or make up your own, or ignore them. They reflect the metamorphosis of the Wyrm Shamir symbiont and the nature of the Nazarite Contract.

There will be 6 for each Nazarite Contract, but currently I have these three.
  1. Your eyes display a waveform like a heartbeat monitor or screensaver.
  2. Ominous runes, stock listings, numbers, and other symbols tick from LCD fingertips.
  3. You've spent so long collapsing the past to predict the future, motion lines course your movements.

Choose one of each Starting Nazarite Vow

Tikkun Olam, Wyrm Shamir, and Corporation.
These correspond to the three Immutable Vows. The intention is for each to frame the nature of the Nazarite Contract, and provide hooks for the GM and Player to work towards and deepen the Campaign.

There will be at least 2 for each category, but currently only have 1 each.

Tikkun Olam Starting Nazarite Vows are the big-picture Mending of the World.
Wyrm Shamir Starting Nazarite Vows are about doing for others, especially those dependent on you.
Corporation Starting Nazarite Vows are the hard compromises we have to make, or choose to make; the triage of the soul.

The Immutable Vows and categories of Starting Nazarite Vows demonstrate how to think about creating and Resolving Nazarite Vows, but the specific means of doing so are intentionally open-ended. For groups preferring more adversarial dynamics, the negotiation of Nazarite Vows, how to Resolve them, and whether they are Fulfilled or Subverted can be like a debate. For other groups, such as my own preferred style, this can be a more collaborative process.

Both volumes of MRD have themes they are intended to explore, but whereas some thematic games impose those themes as a narrative conceit, MRD implements them within the gameplay loop. Even if a group or specific Player does not care about the themes, they must be conscientious of and engage with Nazarite Vows and the process of Resolving them in order to Ascend. If it helps, think of it like the push-and-pull between GM and Player with regard to Rulings in old-school D&D play.

Starting Nazarite Vows (Tikkun Olam)

  1. Develop a technology or statistical model that changes the global economy for the better.
Using their technical skills, what can they do to try to change the world? Create a currency backed by real-time metrics of positive environmental action? An algorithmic anarcho-socialist wealth redistribution system? The world is yours to Mend!

Starting Nazarite Vows (Wyrm Shamir)

  1. Give up the next race (or the next after); a promotion, raise, investment opportunity. Slow down so you may be present for those you care about.
They should at some point be set up for some growth opportunity, and then make the decision to reject it at some great cost. It doesn't literally have to be "the next" race, but the time will come eventually.

Starting Nazarite Vows (Corporation)

  1. Aim for the Top! of the Corporate Pyramid. Each promotion comes with greater perks, but also greater dangers should you fall.
They are constantly running the hedonic treadmill. As with the Wyrm Shamir example above, they should be given growth opportunities, but also, these opportunities should come with risks. "Now that you're a Senior Fast Lane Fintechnomancer, we really expect you to be able to take care of the Kaiju problem on this Vessel of Tehom without outside assistance...". Also, one could imagine how this and the previous Wyrm Shamir example could lead to interesting conflict.

Cry of the Wyrm Shamir

If you are above Level 1 and would otherwise raise your Gilgulim above 6 or fail to Resolve a Nazarite Vow, instead you activate a Cry of the Wyrm Shamir.

Roll or choose one of these Cry Words. It becomes a negative Mod on one of your Golem Gear. Until the next time you Ascend Gilgul Neshamot, this negative Mod cannot be removed, and no other Mods can be attached to that Gear. The Cry Word should transform the Gear in some way, and every time that Gear is used there should be some negative consequence relating to the Cry Word.

I was never 100% satisfied with the Reincarnation Rituals and Recursion Attachments of MRD Vol. 1. Obviously the idea of Recursing through reincarnations is a core idea of MRD, but as implemented, many of the Reincarnation Rituals didn't feel very additive, and while the Recursion Attachments were additive, they created "clutter" in the pile of Karmic Attachments. This new approach hopefully addresses those concerns.

Each Cry Word relates to the Nazarite Contract. It modifies a Golem Gear in some thematic way. It doesn't preclude the use of the Gear, but it does invoke a penalty. It doesn't add to the list of Nazarite Vows or other goals they already have to be thinking about, but it still adds character. It also only affects them while in their Golem, so it's hopefully not too much of a burden.

Each Nazarite Contract has 4 Cry Words in their Cry of the Wyrm Shamir list, but currently I have 1.
  1. BURNOUT: Golem Gear with this Mod have a high probability of failing spectacularly.
This is the most recent idea of this overhaul, but I'm feeling good about it. So with BURNOUT, a Golem Gear might start sputtering and coughing fumes, or any lights become dimmer, etc. A GM might require the PC roll a Save when it's used, and if it fails, it blows up, becoming inoperable for the rest of the Conflict or some duration of time, or does something really interesting. Should try to avoid just "take X Damage" or whatever, but that's a safe fallback.

Since Golem and Golem Gear are custom-made and not tied to Nazarite Contracts, there's a lot more flexibility in how this might work, and also in how to explain it. That's been an intrinsic complication with Concept Crafting, but one I'm comfortable with.

Previously created Weird Mecha Generators (intended for use as Golem in MRD Vol. 2):
Nihilism Golem

One of my Players in the Campaign used a modified version of the Chemysterious Cascader from the Embodied Cognition post so I'll use that as an example:


Synesthetic Serotonin Starshine
A lolling tongue apparatus beaming starshine. Piercing tendrils seeking slick tongues to rest beneath, inducing bright light synesthetic explosions, washing out emotions and replacing them with a taste like a pina colada on vacation or a big ball of bubble gum in the mouth of a child.


Synesthetic Serotonin Sputter
A lolling tongue apparatus fizzing and sputtering. Piercing tendrils seeking slick tongues to rest beneath, inducing flickering synesthetic sparks, washing out emotions and replacing them with a taste like overripe fruit or a piece of cloyingly sweet candy.

Admittedly these Gear are already pretty weird and abstract in how they're written, but that's the general idea...

Damage Dice

Each Nazarite Contract comes with at least one Damage Die corresponding to the three Ability Scores. N is Nature, P is Propriety, W is Wisdom, and dN is the die size. These dice are not tied to any specific Nazarite Feature or Item, but contain parentheticals suggesting how they should be used. So long as the Player can conceive a relevant means, the PC can deal Damage.

If a Nazarite Contract does not have a Damage Die for a given Ability Score, they can deal d4, and if they have a minus, they can't deal Damage at all with that Ability Score under normal circumstances.

I like this approach better than MRD Vol. 1, where Damage Dice were tied to specific Poltergeist Features or Special Items. It was harder to design that way, more limiting, and less fun. This might be a little trickier to wrap your head around at first, but I think it's better on the whole.

Fast Lane Fintechomancer Damage Dice: Nd6 (Intelligence), Pd6 (Corporate Savvy), -W (Uncritical of society)

Fast Lane Fintechnomancers are intelligent, and savvy in the ways of the corporate world, but they've had to make emotional or critical compromises in order to get there; or, they simply haven't had enough exposure to other worldviews.

Nazarite Features

Each Nazarite starts with their 0th Nazarite Feature (blogger won't let me list from 0...), and 2 additional Nazarite Features randomly rolled or selected. Which is good because I've only written 3 so far...

Compared to MRD Vol. 1, I tried to make these much more flavorful and largely eschew things like Save bonuses or Armor in place of interesting procedural effects. You can totally play MRD Vol. 1 that way as well, we often did in my Campaign, but in retrospect I wish I had designed it more in that way.
  1. Transcranial Tachyonic Stimulator: Wearable thiotimolinic time crystal technology like a futuristic EEG cap. When taking a risky action, you may evoke the consequence before the antecedent, like activating an explosive mine BEFORE stepping over it.
  2. Zip Ribbon Regressor: When investigating a new situation, you gain one profitable insight that would otherwise be impossible to have known.
  3. Fast Lane Flow: When allowed to engage in a task without interruption, you enter a flow state, experiencing time as if everything besides yourself were in slow motion. Not quite superspeed, but the next best thing.
While no longer tied to a specific Damage Die as in MRD Vol. 1, the 0th Nazarite Feature should still be the one most reflective of the Nazarite Contract. Whether or not the list above reflects that I'm still uncertain.

Transcranial Tachyonic Stimulator is great for dealing with time-sensitive traps or barriers. Zip Ribbon Regressor is good for intel. Fast Lane Flow gives you an action-oriented boost. All three relate to either technical skills, or corporate values such as "work ethic".

Friday, March 3, 2023

Maximum Recursion Depth Vol. 2, or If the Game isn't Fair you just have to Break the Rules: The Tikkunpunk RPG

After taking a long break on MRD Vol.2, I've had time to rethink some things. The game isn't radically changing, but I'm trying to hone in on the themes and mechanics, and it's hopefully much better for it.

There's a new name: If the Game isn't Fair you just have to Break the Rules: The Tikkunpunk RPG. This is, I hope, more in line with the themes of the game, and a bit punchier.

The below rules and world lore will likely be rewritten or reworked for the book if I ever write it, but for this blog post they're more integrated. Also, these new big changes have not been tested yet so will likely undergo continued revision.

See list of previous posts in Lowdown at the end of the post.

Nazarites (The PCs)

Nazarites are empowered to enact Tikkun Olam, The Mending of the World. Extracted from the Karmic Cycle; their Sisyphean struggle resides instead within Gilgul Neshamot. Like two cogs in a gear, Nazarite engagement in Gilgul Neshamot serves as a much needed corrective force on Karma after one thousand years of The Monkey King's Celestial Bureaucracy and the ensuing Karmic dysfunction. When the Nazarite Contract is signed, the Nazarite is bound to the owner of the contract, and to a Wyrm Shamir symbiont.

Wyrm Shamir symbionts

Wyrm Shamir symbionts are spirits of creation in larval form, bound to the soul of their Nazarite. In their larval form they lack agency to consent to the Nazarite Contract. It is the burden of the Nazarite to recognize this asymmetry and honor their Wyrm Shamir.

Wyrm Shamir symbionts create and summon the massive vessels known as Golem that the Nazarites use to traverse The Cosmic Ocean Tehom, the mindscape at the outer edges of creation. They also create the physical vessels, the bodies that grant Nazarites their supernatural abilities, and resurrection via Gilgul Neshamot.

Nazarite Contracts and The Cyblessed

The Cyblessed are advanced beings recently arriving in the material world from The Cosmic Ocean Tehom. The Cyblessed Liaisons work with Corporations, the superorganisms they see as the closest thing to peers humanity has to offer. The Cyblessed own the Nazarite Contracts, but the managing of Nazarites is delegated to the Corporations.

Gilgulim (The Gameplay Loop)

The terms of the Nazarite Contract are known as Nazarite Vows. Although most are transient, there are three Immutable Vows, listed in order of priority.
  1. The Nazarite Vows to always serve Tikkun Olam, the Mending of the World.
  2. The Nazarite Vows to nurture the Metamorphosis of their Wyrm Shamir symbiont.
  3. The Nazarite Vows to always serve the owner of the Nazarite Contract.
Often the Immutable Vows create troubling contradictions, such as when a Nazarite Vow in service to The Corporation (on behalf of The Cyblessed who own the Nazarite Contracts) would go against Tikkun Olam (See Resolving Nazarite Vows).

Gilgulim is the ecstatic communion with the Oneness of Creation. Though empowering, the temptation of Gilgulim can be like a moth to a flame; one must be sufficiently Ascended in Gilgul Neshamot, or else be burned by the Flame of Creation.

Gilgulim is like the Karma Score from MRD Vol. 1. Save Rolls have degrees of success. Rolling d20 under an Ability Score determines Success or Failure, and rolling d6 under Gilgulim determines whether the result is Full or Partial. However, in Conflict, if an Ability Score is reduced to 0, additional Damage is accrued as Gilgulim, and if Gilgulim is greater than 6, dire consequences ensue (see Cries of the Shamir and Dybbuk Mutation).

Resolving Nazarite Vows

Nazarites balance their Gilgulim and Ascend Gilgul Neshamot through Nazarite Vows, which may either be Fulfilled or Subverted.
Fulfillment is when the Nazarite Vow is enacted exactly as intended. Upon Fulfillment, the Nazarite divests Gilgulim (usually -1).
Subversion is when the Nazarite Vow is enacted in a way consistent with the letter of the Vow, but not its intention. Upon Subversion, the Nazarite accrues Gilgulim (usually +1).

Subversion is often key to addressing contradictions between the Immutable Vows. A lower-priority Immutable Vow may be Subverted for one of higher priority, but not the other way around. The Immutable Vow towards Tikkun Olam may never be Subverted.

Example: The Nazarite Vow is to extract resources from a Vessel of Tehom. However, upon arrival, the Nazarite Team finds the Vessel to be populated with intelligent life, and extracting the resources as intended would cause them harm and be in violation of Tikkun Olam. As the negotiations and attempt at fair trade reach a standstill, the Nazarite Team learns incidentally that the Celestial Predator, a cosmic kaiju, is on a vector towards the Vessel, and towards other areas of interest to the Corporation. The extraction of this information is reported, and the Nazarite Vow is Subverted.

This Subversion was true to the letter of the Nazarite Vow, extracting resources, but the resources were of a more abstract and immaterial nature than what was originally intended.

The nature of Nazarite Vow Fulfillment and Subversion changes the gameplay loop as compared to the Karmic Attachments of MRD Vol. 1, but mechanically it is very similar. In MRD Vol. 1 Karma is accrued when a Karmic Attachment is acquired, and divested when Resolved, so the gameplay loop is primarily in the balance of Karma. In MRD Vol. 2, Gilgulim is not accrued when a Nazarite Vow is acquired, but whether Gilgulim is accrued or divested is dependent on whether it is Resolved through Fulfillment or Subversion. 

Nazarite Vows which would require Subversion in order to avoid contradiction often require more ingenuity, but Resolving them empowers the Nazarite with more Gilgulim. Nazarite Vows which do not risk contradiction are often easier to Fulfill, and while doing so decreases Gilgulim, this buffers against the need for reincarnation and the consequences which ensue (see Cries of the Shamir and Dybbuk Mutation).

Ascension and Ibbur Metamorphosis

Ascending the Levels of Gilgul Neshamot unlocks new Nazarite Features and brings the Wyrm Shamir symbiont closer to Metamorphosis. Each Ascension unlocks Nazarite Features and Metamorphoses, and when the maximum level is reached, the Wyrm Shamir symbiont is birthed from the Nazarite's soul as an Ibbur, a divine spirit in service of Tikkun Olam.

A Nazarite may Ascend after Resolving three Nazarite Vows and accruing Gilgulim to 6 (after which it resets to 1). At least one Nazarite Vow must be Resolved through Fulfillment, and at least one Resolved through Subversion.

This is mechanically mostly the same as MRD Vol. 1, except instead of divesting Karma to 1 as a requirement, instead accruing Gilgulim to 6. This is mostly for thematic reasons. The Ascension of Gilgul Neshamot and birthing the Metamorphosed Wyrm Shamir as an Ibbur at max level is equivalent to, although thematically distinct from, Advancement of the Recurser to Bodhisattva-hood at max level in MRD Vol 1.

The requirement for at least one Nazarite Vow to be resolved through Fulfillment and at least one through Subversion encourages a gameplay loop of seeking Nazarite Vows to directly Fulfill Tikkun Olam, while also finding ways to Subvert The Corporation empowering you.

Cries of the Shamir and Dybbuk Mutation

If a Nazarite accrues more than 6 Gilgulim, or would violate a Nazarite Vow, their Wyrm Shamir symbiont will be agitated, activating one of the Cries of the Shamir listed in the Nazarite Contract, destroying the Nazarite's current vessel and reincarnating them through Gilgul Neshamot at a lower level.

If a Nazarite is already at the lowest level, they reach Maximum Recursion Depth. The Flame of Creation irradiates the Wyrm Shamir symbiont, prematurely aborting the Metamorphosis, erupting as the cancerous mutant Dybbuk.

Like with Ascension, this is mostly equivalent to MRD Vol. 1. While there is no Gilgulim limit on the number of Nazarite Vows you can acquire as opposed to Karmic Attachments in MRD Vol. 1, more Nazarite Vows means a higher likelihood of having to violate one of them, a unique cause of regression. The aborting of the Wyrm Shamir Metamorphosis into the Mutant Dybbuk at Maximum Recursion Depth is equivalent to an MRD Vol. 1 Recurser being overwhelmed by their Karma and transforming into an Ashura, a Karmic Devil.


Previous Posts of Interest

MRD Vol.2 PR 7: MRD is Sacrifice (Most recent Play Report of Campaign on hiatus with index to previous PRs)
MRD Vol.2 Nazarite Contracts (Outdated relative to this post)

The Ability Scores are not changing since previous posts, nor the Golem mechanics and Concept Crafting stuff. This isn't a full set of the rules, just an explanation of some of the bigger changes.

This will require me to completely rewrite the Starting Nazarite Vows and the Reincarnation stuff for the Nazarite Contracts, but I was never particularly satisfied with that anyway, and given this framework I already know how I'll make them way more interesting and gameable.

I'm hoping these gameplay loop changes emphasize what I'm trying to do.

I tried to incorporate elements of Jewish philosophy and Jewish mysticism without overloading on terminology, similar to how I avoided using terms like Samsara and Dharma in MRD Vol. 1. Jewish concepts like Dveikut, Mitsvot, Ein Sof, and more certainly influenced the gameplay loop and mechanics, but I wanted to reduce terms.

I also tried to keep the game mostly cross-compatible and also philosophically consistent with MRD Vol. 1, while not totally conflating concepts from Buddhism and Judaism. I genuinely believe I am being true to myself and my own worldview, this interplay may not be perfect, but I hope it succeeds in what I set out to do with it. While certain concepts like Karma and Gilgulim, The Karmic Cycle and Gilgul Neshamot, and Ibbur/Dybbuk and Boddhisatva/Ashura serve similar roles, I hope the subtle differences in the mechanics and gameplay loop sufficiently reflect the nuances between these ideas, even through the lens of my personal worldview consolidating them to some extent.

The "Karmapunk" of MRD Vol. 1 had PCs actively fighting against the status quo and trying to better the world, while being mindful that they not be consumed by their own Karma.

In MRD Vol. 2, the PCs are deeply embedded within a status quo most of us recognize well, but the "Tikkunpunk" is in trying to leverage the power of the system against itself through ingenuity and wit, knowing the system is flawed, but minimizing harm. Even as the game tells you all the things you can and cannot do, it begs you to break the rules.

MRD Vol. 1 was more so about caring for oneself, not in a selfish way, more like "make sure your mask is safely secured before assisting others". In MRD Vol. 2, whether you're ready for it or not, you're bound to a Wyrm Shamir Symbiont, and your actions don't damn you, they damn this unwitting source of your power bound to your soul.

These are some of the themes I hope to explore with Maximum Recursion Depth Vol. 2, or If the Game isn't Fair you just have to Break the Rules: The Tikkunpunk RPG

Friday, February 24, 2023

Gematria (Jewish Mysticism) Concept Crafting and Divination Mechanics

Gematria is a kind of Numerology in Jewish Mysticism. It's basically just an interpretive thing not unlike I Ching or Tarot, but what I find uniquely interesting about it is that there is an actual algorithm you can work with.

Of course any meaning you derive is going to be of an interpretive, personal, symbolic, etc. nature, but it can be operationalized quantitatively and used to produce reliable results, and I just find that really interesting; it's like divinatory math poetry.

I wrote a Gematria calculator in python that does some unique things compared to some of the other Gematria calculators available online, but real Gematria is a little too complicated as a game mechanic, so here's a much simpler Gematria Cipher, which I will use for Gematria Concept Crafting and Gematria Divination, bolt-on mechanics for any game using Concept Crafting (which can already be bolted-on to any rules-light game basically), but in particular for MRD Vol.2 (for a deeper discussion on Concept Crafting in MRD Vol.2 see Mecha Gear for Maximum Recursion Depth Vol. 2).

Maximum Recursion Depth Vol.2 incorporates elements of Judaism into the setting and mechanics in the first place, so Gematria is uniquely suited, but this could be a really cool and unique magical or occult framework for any game.

EDIT: Of course I immediately caught some bugs, then introduced some new bugs, then fixed those (I am not good at javascript...), but now it should all be working as expected but if you see bad results please let me know!

Gematria Concept Crafting Cipher

(SUM(c for c in W) % 6) + 1
Where W is a word and c is each character in the word.

% means modulo:
a % b = r
Think of it like division, where:
a = numerator
b = denominator
r = remainder
So for "max":




or in terms of integer division:

meaning, 6 goes into 38 6 times with remainder 2:

And then we add 1, so that any word could have a value between 1 through 7
(rather than 0 through 6).
Excuse any weird formatting, I only just added this CSS template for code blocks to my blog and still figuring out all the weird side-effects with blogger...

This hopefully doesn't sound too complicated, it's a fairly simple cipher and way easier to automate as embedded javascript than the Mispar gadol cipher I pushed to github. The calculator below automates the whole thing.

Gematria Calculator for Gematria Concept Crafting and Divination

Calculate Gematria for Word:

Gematria Concept Crafting

This is a bolt-on mechanic that could be added to any game with Concept Crafting, and MRD Vol. 2 in particular. Any two Words with the same Gematria Value can be combined to make any new Word with the same Gematria Value.

This differs from normal Concept Crafting in that the new Word isn't necessarily related to the preceding Words, but instead the shared Gematria Value.

Example: WOOD and METAL both have a Gematria Value of 4, but AXE has a Gematria Value of 1, so you couldn't craft WOOD+METAL=AXE like you might normally with Concept Crafting. However, DEMON does have a Gematria Value of 4, so you could summon a DEMON from WOOD+METAL using the awesome occult powers of Gematria! What does it mean to summon a WOOD+METAL=DEMON? Perhaps it's a mechanical monstrosity, a metaphor for deforestation and the effect of humanity on ecosystems?

Obviously this requires some refereeing, like maybe don't let PCs continue to use the same Words all the time, or they need to elaborate on it sort of like I did with DEMON above, but I'm not putting hard rules on it at the moment.

Gematria Divination

Another mechanic using the same Gematria Cipher.

Each Gematria value (1 through 7) has some tarot-like prophetic meaning, where I'm defining these meanings loosely from the numbers' significance in Judaism:
  1. One is all, all is One.
  2. Two is the line dividing One; The Knowledge of Good and Evil (and everything in between).
  3. Three is a priestly blessing; the laying of hands (two) on the individual (one). Holy, Holy, Holy!
  4. Four is the perception of spacetime; the cardinal directions, the three dimensions of space, and one dimension of time.
  5. Five are the grains and the abundance they provide, civilization, and growth.
  6. Six are the days of work and also of creation.
  7. Seven is the day of rest, the completeness of the world, luck, and love.
A Gematria Divination entails using two Words with the same Gematria Value, but instead of creating a new Word, one creates a prophecy interpreted by the combination of the Gematria Value's meaning as described above and the two Words.

A WIS Save (or whatever other resolution mechanic) might determine degree of success, unexpected positive/negative externalities, etc., but it's a way for a PC to affect the world in a more metaphysical way by divining things.

Example: A Gematria Divination for the Words TRAIN and TEA have the Gematria Value 3. Three is a priestly blessing; bring a green tea on your next commute and offer it to a stranger. This stranger will provide you with the knowledge you were looking for.

This is all still untested/WIP, but I also want to create a new Nazarite Contract for MRD Vol. 2 leveraging these mechanics in some unique ways, so that might be a future blog post.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Weird Colors

  1. Halla: Like the elation of dancing to exhaustion and the warmth of close bodies on a crisp night.

  2. Dimenoir: Like the fading memory of a dream and bittersweet reminiscences.

  3. Inflaur: Like the compulsion to pick at blisters and the guilty pleasures found in an unjust world.

  4. Psinreka: Like novel sensations and the fleeting satisfaction of solutions.

  5. Gallentia: Like an uncanny presence and unshakable thoughts of unanswered questions.

  6. Iskandalia: Like the awe of collective greatness and the validation in unexpected gestures of love.

Wrote these on the flight home from San Francisco, inspired by the colors in A Voyage to Arcturus which I started reading on the flight. The names were free associated and I tried not to overthink them.

And here are several more contributed by Rook, of Beneath Foreign Planets:

7. Pinznot: A writhing, squamous colour that stings the eyes. Like struggling to sleep only to find your pillow is filled with screeching, glowing worms.

8. Ablanense: A neutral tone like a slow, smokey exhale after waking at sunset. Some call it pastel dimenoir.

9. Prostklint: A hard, inscrutable and disquieting colour. Like waiting for your turn on the dentist's chair or the operating table. Like tight fitting braces, a coffin opening by itself, a pill just too large to swallow.

10. Krinderblesse: Like throwing a book onto a bonfire, the thrill of a toppling statue, the feel of a party just before a fight breaks out.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

BONUS: On Vacation in San Francisco (Not a Real Post)

I'm on vacation in San Francisco and it's lovely here. I was piggybacking off a trip to the Bay Area to visit my brother who ironically works for a major tech company but is not a technical person like me, and I figured if I came all this way, I should get an airbnb and spend a few days in SF as well.

I don't intend to leave NYC, but if I ever did, it might be for SF. Planning on heading out in 30min or so to start my day, no time to say anything too substantive about it, but this has been very refreshing and validating and I really needed this for various personal reasons I may or may not elaborate on in the comments or on the server after I'm home.

I had intended to set MRD Vol.2 in SF in much the same way that MRD Vol.1 was set in NYC, and at least now I have a little more context for the physicality and noosphere of the place.

In part because my MRD Vol.2 Campaign got put on pause due to scheduling reasons, and in part because I was getting burnt out, I had kind of given up on ever publishing MRD Vol.2, despite the fact that I genuinely believe (and received some trustworthy feedback) that it has the potential to be a better game, and I'm a better game designer now than I was when I wrote the first book.

I've been feeling a little creatively burnt out and ambivalent about RPG stuff. I had a little burst with the "Superhero Project" and with some of that Elements stuff, but just have not been feeling connected or engaged creatively or with writing or RPGs, and maybe this is just the vacation talking, but I really hope to turn that around.

The second printing of MRD Vol.1 on Exalted Funeral is coming out soon. I don't want to overcommit myself, but I hope I can make MRD Vol.2, or maybe I should kill my darling and focus on the "Superhero Project" or something else? I don't know, but being here makes me want to do MRD Vol.2 properly for the first time in a long time, so at least for now there's that.

PS I generally don't take photos almost as a rule, but my airbnb has a really awesome view of the city from the roof so I will take photos later just from there and update this post with them so keep an eye out ;)! If I take photos of the city, you can see someone else's photos of the same thing and they will be better, but the only photos you'll see from this roof are from me or the guy who lives here (he's a really nice guy, if you ever want to airbnb in SF I'd recommend him!) so at least even if I take bad photos there, they'll be unique.

EDIT: Here are those photos