My Games

Friday, September 8, 2023

Maximum Recursion Depth Vol. 3, or Everybody Wins if We're Having Fun: The Animapunk RPG

The new and hopefully improved MRD Vol. 2 (Gameplay Loop, Dev Log) is still in the works, but I think it makes sense to just call the Animism Setting MRD Vol. 3, which I'll be working on simultaneously.

In wanting to have my cake and eat it too, it's running away a bit from the original idea of being like a Weird & Wonderful take on Pariah, but it should be clear how those ideas and others I've blogged about previously are all getting rolled into this; it's still true to the original spirit of the thing.

Previous posts of varying degrees of relevancy:
Anima Concept Crafting (the actual Anima stuff is in this post)
Freaky Fractals of the Mycelium Matrix (the psychedelic "cyberspace" stuff is in this post)


Psychedelic Time Lords across a bunch of mini-Krakoas in frozen moments collecting Pokemon and going on adventures across spacetime, stalked by horror monsters, facing punk rock moon witches, Infernal insectoids, Orwellian pigs, The Imperium of Man, an alien dark web, and the oppressiveness of a world unexamined.

The Surrealists believe that the place of dreams is as real as the material world, and in some ways they are correct. The Dreaming observe the moment. Really, observe it, the full canvas of it, phase rotating it so that what is normally fuzzy and obscured in peripheral vision is brought to the center of focus. It's like rotating around a Penrose Triangle Sculpture, except it's all of reality around a single moment.

Penrose Triangle Sculpture for reference. It only appears like a paradoxical triangle from a particular angle.

It's amazing how different things can appear when observed from different angles.

The Dreaming are a living community. When The Dreaming coalesce around a moment, the ecosystem uniquely transforms around them, pooling into a geologically transient Dream Lake

But most of the time, they wander in small bands from moment to moment like ships passing in the night, like blood cells or worker bees, independent yet coordinated on a scale beyond what any individual can perceive.

The Dreaming explore moments out of want, not need.
The only universal meanings of life are those that can be mutually agreed upon, an absurd and seemingly irresolvable problem. In lieu of a solution, The Dreaming embrace the Sisyphean struggle, making meaning for themselves. Nonetheless each of The Dreaming, in their own way, are working towards the betterment of The Dreaming as a whole.

‘Weirdness for weirdness’ sake’ is a criticism that has often aimed at my own work over many years. It’s a phrase I find lazy and borderline meaningless.
I’ve yet to read ‘it’s weirdness for story’s sake’ or ‘for effect’s sake’ or ‘for fuck’s sake’…

The Dreaming face opposition.
The problems The Dreaming invite upon themselves are faced with joy, but otherwise conflict is generally avoided. Even so, some uninvited problems must be faced eventually.

The Personal Horror
Everyone has a Time Self (current incarnation), and an Eternity Self (superorganism across time).

The Eternity Self stalks the Time Self patiently, sometimes hiding and sometimes allowing itself to be seen, to strike fear. The Time Self knows there will be a moment when it must defend itself in mortal conflict against the Eternity Self, and that moment will likely not be of their choosing. Until that moment, the Eternity Self is their Personal Horror, an uncanny reflection of everything about themselves they must overcome.

Defeating one's Personal Horror is a rite of passage for The Dreaming, and a gift of choice, whether or not to continue the struggle or allow it to transform them.

To be defeated by one's Personal Horror is to be consumed by the Eternity Self and reincarnated as a new Time Self.

Termina is to Anima as Undead is to the Living. It is "Unnatural", animation without meaning or only a hollow pretense, and incapable of growth or change. Like undead, no single Termina is as threatening as the idea it represents and its ability to spread like a disease.

The myth of humanity's supremacy becomes undeniable when one rotates a moment and sees for themselves the vastness that surrounds them.

Humanity, Anima, the Natural World, Physical Laws, and all the other things compose Supernature.

The Pigs are useful allies who capably handle the dirty work The Dreaming generally don't like to deal with. Things like fighting, politicking, and worst of all "leading" (when one must engage with hierarchy). Even so, The Dreaming have faced no threat greater than when a Pig Warlord consolidates power. The Pig Gangs raid, pillage, and enslave, but also disseminate misinformation, engage in political sabotage, and foment populist revolution.

The Dark Forest is like a shadow of the Mycelium Matrix, a distributed psychedelic superorganism hostile to The Dreaming, seemingly by design.

The United Spacetimes of America is a multiversal empire that  believes it is their manifest destiny to colonize all of existence, including The Dreaming. Their size, rigid hierarchy, labyrinthine bureaucracy, and single-mindedness make them easy enough to outmaneuver, but if caught in their grasp, their mad weapons and unstoppable bureaucratic inertia make them a dangerous force of supernature.

The Radioactive Hive are both empowered and consumed by a grudge they've long ago forgotten. Their sheer biomass, explosive nuclear power, and algorithmic genius would destroy all of existence, if not counterbalanced by the aimlessness of their endless rage; rebels without a cause; the dog that chases a car without thought towards what ends. Incapable of being reasoned with, their only means of communication is their chemically infectious anger which spreads exponentially like wildfire or explosions.

The Infrasonic Moon Witch is a living presence, like the qualia of a song or skin to skin touch. It oscillates in beams of light, the gravity folds of spacetime, and the Humanist interrelationship between all Anima. The tides and moonlight are its greatest familiars, but most beings with a cyclical nature pay some homage to it. A nurturing force that must be relied upon even when one knows, inevitably, it will betray them.


  1. "but also disseminate misinformation, engage in political sabotage, and foment populist revolution"

    one of these things is not like the others

    t. semiurge (I'm on my phone and it won't let me post on my account)

    1. Hmm I thought the meaning was clear, maybe I'll rewrite it later if I can think of a better way to phrase it.

  2. I didn't know all these things were building together to a "Vol 3" - I am intrigued. All of these are among my favorite posts of your lately.

    The word qualia jumped out at me in the description of the moon witch and though I had a vague idea what it meant, I don't think I'd ever really dug into its use in the philosophical sense before. It's an interesting and incredibly dense concept and the implications for consciousness are fascinating. Thanks for introducing me to it!

    1. It wasn't necessarily my intention to make the Animism setting MRD Vol.3, I just realized as I was going how it felt thematically appropriate to tie it into MRD in multiple regards. Like I've said previously I don't know if I'll ever go through the whole rigmarole of producing and publishing again so I didn't want to impede myself just because I never fully produced MRD Vol.2.

      Wrt qualia, I still have not really done a sufficient amount of reading into qualia per se nor philosophy of aesthetics and that sort of stuff, like I've been slowly working through the Surrealism Manifestos, I've read one of the Dada Manifestos, Nagel, etc., and read various other things and listened to some podcasts, I'm forgetting all of it offhand. Some of that stuff around aesthetics and qualia gets really circular and I often find it dissatisfying or incomplete beyond the initial premise, but it's something I intend to continue to pursue.

  3. Beautiful, whimsical, and strange as ever. You said that the Dreaming are meaning makers, but the setting really ultimately gives them a pretty solid meaning. They are essentially Trekkian explorers, expanding their understanding of the universe and fighting evil and solving problems along the way. Its like Trickster God Dream Trek

    1. I referenced Doctor Who rather than Star Trek specifically but ya that is totally what I am going for :). "Trickster God Dream Trek" is a great label lol.

      But ya, unlike MRD Vol.1 and 2 where there are very immediate and pressing issues in the world, I wanted this one to be more like, ya there are still threats and challenges, but generally they have things in hand, so it's more about, what do we do after that?

      Also, it seems surprisingly uncommon for TTRPG settings to be designed around the assumption of frivolity and adventure unless it's like a really twee setting- there's always some pretext or subtext, so I thought it would be fun to create a setting where the motivation of the Player and the PC are aligned, without requiring mechanics or procedures per se to make that the case.

      I mean there will probably still be mechanics around the Personal Horror and Time Self / Eternity Self stuff similar to the Karma / Gilgul stuff in MRD Vol.1 and 2, but that will probably be less so at the center of it than in those two.