Non-sapient intelligent antagonists (Blindsight)

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Shipyard Locked

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I have not read Blindsight.



I know a lot about it though, enough to realize it's too depressing for me yet it has some very interesting ideas. One of those ideas is that you could have an alien race that is intelligent enough to build spacefaring vehicles yet not sapient. It seems paradoxical, but having real consciousness, a sense of individuality across time, might not in fact be necessary to making sophisticated tools as part of your brute animal instinct to survive and reproduce.

I find this idea intriguing in a tabletop RPG context because...
A) I'm increasingly queasy about all the wanton killing of humans/humanoids in my personal games.
B) Try as I might, I'm finding it hard to mentally 'stay' in a pre-modern mindset when running fantasy stuff these days. Therefore, elementally evil sapient races have been hard for me to convincingly portray for some time now.
C) There's no reason to believe that the drive to controversialize fantasy tropes is going to stop at orcs, so I'm trying to fast forward to a solution for the 'simple antagonist problem' that is non-political, beyond rational reproach, and not more goddamn zombies.

On another thread I wondered about building a D&D setting around antagonists like the xenomorphs from Alien, or the tyrranids of 40k. Such a setting would focus almost entirely on humanoids banding together out of necessity against an eternal natural foe. I could set things up so that murder among humanoids is rare. I wouldn't have to deal with the baggage of elemental evil. Finally, the core premise would be immune to controversy the way no one accuses zombies of being a problematic antagonist.

However, as dangerous as they are, in my estimation the xenomorphs lack the intelligence and tool-making capabilities to provide a consistent, flexible threat for the duration of a campaign.

Enter the non-sapient intelligent antagonists. They can build fortresses and weapons. They can covet resources beyond food. They can organize armies and patrols. They can strategize campaigns of conquest. They can cast spells or psionics or whatever. They can leave loot behind.

Taking a page from Blindsight, they cannot be negotiated with because they cannot even understand the concepts of individuality, self-expression, self-actualization, sympathy, mercy or cruelty. All their tools and sophistication are just for for satisfying soulless drives, like a fungus spreading.

Most important of all, protagonists can kill them in self-defense without a qualm.

I'll be thinking about this when I set up my next D&D campaign. I'm thinking that a re-write of the formians (NOT the fomori, that's something else), an established D&D monster without much existing popularity or sympathy, would fit the bill rather nicely. After all, I've never seen anyone cry over efforts to fend off swarms of ants.

This could all be foolishly, pretentiously off-base though. What do you think?

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Rogerdee

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It is a good book, but I read it years ago. Vampires were unique in that they had issue with certain angles, hence crosses. But they were mentally superior because they could think of multiple things at once.
 

Lofgeornost

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I've not read Blindsight, but I think I understand the premise. William Barton's When Heaven Fell likewise posited aliens--in his case like little frogs--that individually were not intelligent or sentient but which, in a colony, created something like A.I.s.

I guess it depends what sort of things you want to have happen in your campaign. If I understand your premise correctly, characters will not be able to reason or converse with the foes, ever. That removes any moral qualms about fighting them, I guess, but (from my perspective as a player or gm) makes them fairly uninteresting to deal with. I prefer opponents you can talk to. YMMV.

Another route around the moral issue of the 'simple antagonist problem' is to stop doing what Tolkien did--taking what were (to a considerable degree) thought of as spirits and turning them into biological species. So goblins are not some type of humanoid; they are spirits of underground evil, or something like that. Maybe 'killing' them merely means destroying their current earthly shell and banishing them back to whatever alternate plane they came from.
 

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I guess it depends what sort of things you want to have happen in your campaign. If I understand your premise correctly, characters will not be able to reason or converse with the foes, ever. That removes any moral qualms about fighting them, I guess, but (from my perspective as a player or gm) makes them fairly uninteresting to deal with. I prefer opponents you can talk to. YMMV.

YMMV, absolutely.
Opponents you can talk to have sob stories, Freudian excuses, dilemmas that force them into crime, etc. Killing them (or setting them up to be killed) feels bad if you think about it for even a minute. On the other hand, beating enemies in combat is primeval fun. I'm just thinking of one way out of this quandary. The antagonists don't need to be interesting if everything else (your allies, your culture, your circumstances, the tactical puzzles) is interesting. Aliens is fun despite the fact that the aliens aren't memorable conversationalists with complex motivations.

Another route around the moral issue of the 'simple antagonist problem' is to stop doing what Tolkien did--taking what were (to a considerable degree) thought of as spirits and turning them into biological species. So goblins are not some type of humanoid; they are spirits of underground evil, or something like that. Maybe 'killing' them merely means destroying their current earthly shell and banishing them back to whatever alternate plane they came from.

This is an excellent idea, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is comfortable with using elemental evil as an antagonist force. Personally, I'm not very good at that anymore for the reasons I outlined in my point B).
 

Duskwight

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This seems like a very roundabout way of describing a P-Zombie society. Maybe there's something I'm missing.
 

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I wouldn't worry so much about it. They're fictional foes. No one really gets hurt and they're only controversial if you want them to be.
 

Shipyard Locked

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This seems like a very roundabout way of describing a P-Zombie society. Maybe there's something I'm missing.

This part of my post:

They can build fortresses and weapons. They can covet resources beyond food. They can organize armies and patrols. They can strategize campaigns of conquest. They can cast spells or psionics or whatever. They can leave loot behind.

As for this:

They're fictional foes. No one really gets hurt and they're only controversial if you want them to be.

Unfortunately, I didn't choose the squeamishness that has descended on me. That's my problem to deal with I suppose. Maybe it'll go away in time. Meanwhile, I'm just sharing thoughts that might be useful or interesting even to people who don't share my exact configuration of issues.

It's funny to note that my revulsion doesn't affect everything I consume equally. My enjoyment of bloody action movies has been impaired, but many slasher movies are ok because death is portrayed as a horrible big deal and the slashers are often inhuman entities. I couldn't play a modern shooter FPS at the moment, but DotA 2 feels like a basketball match where no one really dies anyway.

It's all pretty damn neurotic and inconsistent, I know.
 

Lofgeornost

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It's funny to note that my revulsion doesn't affect everything I consume equally. My enjoyment of bloody action movies has been impaired, but many slasher movies are ok because death is portrayed as a horrible big deal and the slashers are often inhuman entities. I couldn't play a modern shooter FPS at the moment, but DotA 2 feels like a basketball match where no one really dies anyway.

This raises the possibility that your proposed fix may just make the situation worse. That is, making the death of opponents unimportant because they are not self-aware entities may end up evoking in you the same reaction as an action movie--that it is treating mortality too lightly, and allowing violence without moral consequences.
 

Stumpydave

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I always like the Reavers in Firefly. An implacable foe driven by cunning and rage, technically human but made the way they were by government attempts to control the populace.
Designed to be the 'Indians' of "Wild West" shows (ie - the faceless savages for the whitehats to fight) but without the racial overtones.
 

Ladybird

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This part of my post:
They can build fortresses and weapons. They can covet resources beyond food. They can organize armies and patrols. They can strategize campaigns of conquest. They can cast spells or psionics or whatever. They can leave loot behind.
So can a p-zombie, though; that's the entire point of the thought experiment.

My personal feeling is that a p-zombie society wouldn't work, because the amount of tool use that you need in order to breed and survive is pretty low, but the willingness to build, and start projects that your generation won't finish, requires something else; while there are a number of species on earth that we think might likely be sapient (Dogs, crows, ravens, parrots, dolphins, chimpanzees, cephalopods), it's only humans that have really made that step. Even 40k's Orks, who are fairly close to this in a lot of ways (Having been biologically programmed to reproduce, build, travel, and kill, and to know everything they need to do these things from birth), take the step to building things that will outlive them.

I find this idea intriguing in a tabletop RPG context because...
A) I'm increasingly queasy about all the wanton killing of humans/humanoids in my personal games.
B) Try as I might, I'm finding it hard to mentally 'stay' in a pre-modern mindset when running fantasy stuff these days. Therefore, elementally evil sapient races have been hard for me to convincingly portray for some time now.
C) There's no reason to believe that the drive to controversialize fantasy tropes is going to stop at orcs, so I'm trying to fast forward to a solution for the 'simple antagonist problem' that is non-political, beyond rational reproach, and not more goddamn zombies.
No offence intended, but my gut feeling reading this is that you are trying to find a way to force yourself to do something that you don't want to do; like you don't want to play a game where "violence" is a dominant problem-solving verb, but rather than... do that... you're trying to find a way to make solving problems using violence acceptable to you. I honestly think you're wasting your time and that trying to find an acceptable target isn't actually what you want.

My suggestion would be to just use the monsters that you want to use, but put your thought process to working out why there is conflict and why it's more interesting than "they are bad because they are bad"; a good chunk of the society-forming creatures in the MM have something they actually want rather than to just fight for the sake of fighting, and failing that, farmland is always a good motivator. That way to can have violence with some justification, if you want, but it also becomes futile because it won't end anything, and the most efficient way to actually solve long-term problems becomes working out how to solve the conflict.

Unfortunately, I didn't choose the squeamishness that has descended on me. That's my problem to deal with I suppose. Maybe it'll go away in time. Meanwhile, I'm just sharing thoughts that might be useful or interesting even to people who don't share my exact configuration of issues.

It's funny to note that my revulsion doesn't affect everything I consume equally. My enjoyment of bloody action movies has been impaired, but many slasher movies are ok because death is portrayed as a horrible big deal and the slashers are often inhuman entities. I couldn't play a modern shooter FPS at the moment, but DotA 2 feels like a basketball match where no one really dies anyway.

It's all pretty damn neurotic and inconsistent, I know.
I totally get it. Personally I can't do things where the goal is to kill in-game characters who are meant to represent specific real people that exist in the real world; so no WW2 or covert ops war games for me. but I can do fantasy violence and urban stuff like Vampire just fine, because they're just generic person-shaped objects.
 

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So can a p-zombie, though; that's the entire point of the thought experiment.

Oops, I ignorantly assumed 'p-zombie' meant 'post-zombie', as in 'post apocalypse'. I apologize Duskwight Duskwight.

No offence intended, but my gut feeling reading this is that you are trying to find a way to force yourself to do something that you don't want to do; like you don't want to play a game where "violence" is a dominant problem-solving verb, but rather than... do that... you're trying to find a way to make solving problems using violence acceptable to you. I honestly think you're wasting your time and that trying to find an acceptable target isn't actually what you want.

None taken. Let me clarify.

Fighting = fun, even for me at this stage. I like combat scenes.

Fighting a lot = regular and consistent fun.

Fighting with chance of the player characters dying or getting taken out of the story some other way = meaningful and tense fun.

Killing people willy-nilly = icky to me right now.

Therefore I want:
Fighting + a lot + consequences - killing people = acceptable game

My suggestion would be to just use the monsters that you want to use, but put your thought process to working out why there is conflict and why it's more interesting than "they are bad because they are bad"; a good chunk of the society-forming creatures in the MM have something they actually want rather than to just fight for the sake of fighting, and failing that, farmland is always a good motivator. That way to can have violence with some justification, if you want, but it also becomes futile because it won't end anything, and the most efficient way to actually solve long-term problems becomes working out how to solve the conflict.

In another thread I talked about nonlethal martial art tropes as one solution to this equation in a modern setting. If you knock people out or send them packing, that leaves the door open to negotiation and reform later. And you get to have the cool fight.

Here I'm proposing a different solution.

but the willingness to build, and start projects that your generation won't finish, requires something else

Ant hive mind?

but I can do fantasy violence and urban stuff like Vampire just fine, because they're just generic person-shaped objects.

Not to me, at least not lately. Now I semi-consciously project sympathetic backstories into every thug NPC as a result of what I've been thinking about in the real world. My Ravenloft campaign has gotten pretty tough over the past half-dozen sessions, let me tell you, but at least the players have been kind enough to generally arrest people rather than execute them.
 

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This raises the possibility that your proposed fix may just make the situation worse. That is, making the death of opponents unimportant because they are not self-aware entities may end up evoking in you the same reaction as an action movie--that it is treating mortality too lightly, and allowing violence without moral consequences.

I don't think so. Fighting off a swarm of famine-inducing locusts is slightly regrettable if one values the concepts of life for life's sake and natural beauty, but it's not at all comparable to breaking the neck of someone's son, a man born with limited intelligence who joined a sketchy organization after a hard life of constrained choices. I loved my pet rats, but I am not deranged enough to place the value of their lives above those of humans.
 

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If you are looking to rework the common fantasy setting then you don't need a antagonist. You need a range of antagonists. That's really at the root of D&D's appeal - all those different monsters.

So I don't really feel this works as a solution unless it provides variety.
 

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I like Watts' books, but I give myself a nice long recovery time after reading one. They're seriously downbeat.

Paul J. McAuley's Quiet War series has a race of animal-level aliens who have evolved a mechanism that makes them superintelligent when their sun begins to flare, because they need technology to preserve their homeworld. If they notice you during the intelligent period, they might just extinctify your race in case you become hostile while they're animals.

Bruce Sterling has a hive of animal-level races living in symbiosis that literally grow a psychopathic superbrain when the hive's defence mechanisms detect its pheromone communication system being tampered with. The animals that act as its hands never have any cognition of their own.

Larry Niven has the protectors, which are xenophobic, over-protective of their blood relatives and so intelligent that free will doesn't exist for them. They extrapolate every situation to its logical conclusion and act accordingly. In the second Ringworld book, one of them is planning to sacrifice trillions of Ringworlders so her own branch of humanity can examine their technology. She has no choice about it, so she manipulates the main characters (and herself) to create an opportunity to kill her.

In Dennis Taylor's Bobiverse books, there's an alien race so narcissistic that their first communication to human explorers is "go away, we're not ready to eat you yet". There's a second so capitalist they're unable to process ideas like altruism or charity. And there's a race that fly into a homicidal rage at the slightest provocation.
 

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If you are looking to rework the common fantasy setting then you don't need a antagonist. You need a range of antagonists. That's really at the root of D&D's appeal - all those different monsters.

So I don't really feel this works as a solution unless it provides variety.
That's actually a interesting topic in and of itself, worthy of another thread: Is one of D&D's most important strengths monster variety?

I suppose I could do something like this:
Red formians (broad category)
Teal formians (broad category)
Queen formian
King formian
Tunnel formian
Brutish formian
Acid spit formian
Poison formian
Web formian
Wing scout formian
Psionic formian
Larva formian
Mutant formian
And so on...

And then for supporting cast:
Fungus pets of the formians
Psionic elemental of the formians
Mobile nest constructs of the formians
Drill machine constructs of the formians
Otyugh (symbiotic, lower intelligence)
Giant aphids (livestock)

Stuff like that?
 
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Matthias

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To be pedantic, a p-zombie society wouldn’t merely lack for tool use, strategic behavior, and psionics, but also would also (as much as any other) have music, mercy, moral discourse, entirely genuine-seeming claims to subjective experience, and so on. There just wouldn’t be any subjective experiences behind these behaviors. (If your response is “hey wait, how do I know that people around me aren’t p-zombies?” or “that’s incoherent,” you’ve mapped out two of the main approaches to p-zombies.)

So when we think about Blindsight-style aliens we’re talking about something that is capable of strategic behavior but that doesn’t evince outward signs of subjectivity any more than a rock or ant or dog does. (Those are different levels, I think a dog clearly has subjective experience but may not have like persistent narrative identity, whereas maybe you can’t have something that uses tools in a directed way but is no more conscious than a rock; I would guess even corporations and computer programs have more what-it’s-like-to-be-ness than that.)
 

TJS

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That's actually a interesting topic in and of itself, worthy of another thread: Is one of D&D's most important strengths monster variety?

I suppose I could do something like this:
Red formians (broad category)
Teal formians (broad category)
Queen formian
King formian
Tunnel formian
Brutish formian
Acid spit formian
Poison formian
Web formian
Wing scout formian
Psionic formian
Larva formian
Mutant formian
And so on...

And then for supporting cast:
Fungus pets of the formians
Psionic elemental of the formians
Mobile nest constructs of the formians
Drill machine constructs of the formians
Otyugh (symbiotic, lower intelligence)
Giant aphids (livestock)

Stuff like that?
I think it is. I think it's a part of the central 'gameness' of D&D (And similar). Most computer games that I've seen that have zombies end up splitting up zombies into different kind of varieties and the like.

It's less of an issue in literature or tv series because violence is actually much more rare then it's assumed to usually be in D&D style rpgs - and often it's not the major source of conflict.

(You can of course approach a RPG the same way).
 
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Voros

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I like Watts' books, but I give myself a nice long recovery time after reading one. They're seriously downbeat.

Paul J. McAuley's Quiet War series has a race of animal-level aliens who have evolved a mechanism that makes them superintelligent when their sun begins to flare, because they need technology to preserve their homeworld. If they notice you during the intelligent period, they might just extinctify your race in case you become hostile while they're animals.

Bruce Sterling has a hive of animal-level races living in symbiosis that literally grow a psychopathic superbrain when the hive's defence mechanisms detect its pheromone communication system being tampered with. The animals that act as its hands never have any cognition of their own.

Larry Niven has the protectors, which are xenophobic, over-protective of their blood relatives and so intelligent that free will doesn't exist for them. They extrapolate every situation to its logical conclusion and act accordingly. In the second Ringworld book, one of them is planning to sacrifice trillions of Ringworlders so her own branch of humanity can examine their technology. She has no choice about it, so she manipulates the main characters (and herself) to create an opportunity to kill her.

In Dennis Taylor's Bobiverse books, there's an alien race so narcissistic that their first communication to human explorers is "go away, we're not ready to eat you yet". There's a second so capitalist they're unable to process ideas like altruism or charity. And there's a race that fly into a homicidal rage at the slightest provocation.

There is also the alien world intelligence of Lem and Tarkovsky's Solaris, Budrys' Rogue Moon. Which I think is a gameable concept for an rpg and non-violent but perhaps not in the way imagined by the OP.
 
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TristramEvans

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What about, instead of trying to come up with a physical embodiment of an ethical excuse for genocide, adapting a game system that specifically de-emphasizes violence/murder as a default solution? Two that immediately come to mind are Marvel Super Heroes and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space, both of which are very easily converted to a pseudo-mediaval fantasy game.
 

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What about, instead of trying to come up with a physical embodiment of an ethical excuse for genocide, adapting a game system that specifically de-emphasizes violence/murder as a default solution?

I love ya TristramEvans TristramEvans, but what is it about...

Fighting = fun, even for me at this stage. I like combat scenes.

Fighting a lot = regular and consistent fun.

Fighting with chance of the player characters dying or getting taken out of the story some other way = meaningful and tense fun.

Killing people willy-nilly = icky to me right now.

Therefore I want:
Fighting + a lot + consequences - killing people = acceptable game

... that people don't get? :wink:

Is it really that much of a paradox to enjoy violent conflict, just not the killing part? MMA and pro wrestling are things. Trigun and Rurouni Kenshin were things. Bebop and Rocksteady lived to fight again and again, and we loved those bastards anyway.

I guess I should elaborate further: I think I've found my solution for modern games (low/no fatality martial arts), but for variety's sake I want a different solution for D&D, which I'm guaranteed to run again some day.

Picture it like this: Sometimes I might want to run River City Ransom, and other times I'll need to run tyranids in fantasy land.

Maybe picking the ant people was a mistake. They might still elicit too much sympathy if this re-imagining gets them described as "a physical embodiment of an ethical excuse for genocide". Clockwork Horrors never seem to cause this much confusion. :tongue:
 

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I love ya TristramEvans TristramEvans, but what is it about...



... that people don't get? :wink:

Honestly just kinda skimmed after the first few paragraphs, lol, but, my system suggestions don't preclude combat - far from it - rather just death/murder as the default outcome.

But when I say a living embodiment of an excuse for genocide, all I mean is creatures that you can kill/murder wantonly without any ethical dilemnas, which seemed to be your goal. But honestly insectoids/undead/automatons are all just philosophical sleight of hand in that regard. There's no real difference morally speaking, between those and orcs or lizardmen in a situation where several species are competing for survival, as ultimately the perspectie of what is "good" or "evil" is a perspective based solely upon the surviving genepool.
 

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Option 17.
If you have a problem, if no one else can help you, maybe you can hire...
The A-Team. (Blow shit up, shoot bullets all over the shop and no one gets more than a sore jaw from fisticuffs).

Option 18.
Pod people. Sure they look and act like us but its all superficial. Cut through that skin and its a just a mess of stringy fibres and seeds. Plants man! Fucking plants!

Would those be guilt free enough?
 

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Honestly just kinda skimmed after the first few paragraphs, lol

No sweat, I get the feeling you aren't the only one.

But when I say a living embodiment of an excuse for genocide, all I mean is creatures that you can kill/murder wantonly without any ethical dilemnas, which seemed to be your goal. But honestly insectoids/undead/automatons are all just philosophical sleight of hand in that regard. There's no real difference morally speaking, between those and orcs or lizardmen in a situation where several species are competing for survival, as ultimately the perspectie of what is "good" or "evil" is a perspective based solely upon the surviving genepool.

A sleight of hand would be sufficient for my tabletop needs, yes, but I disagree in any case. There is a tangible moral difference between sapient hostiles and nonsapient ones. You have a duty to try harder to reach understanding with a truly sapient free-willed entity, and killing them, even in self-defense, is a heavy burden. This just isn't the case when you are defending your kind against the loveless, artless, faceless, soulless, meaningless threat of zombies, or even the very minor life-spark of the locusts I used as an example earlier.
 
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Lofgeornost

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I don't think so. Fighting off a swarm of famine-inducing locusts is slightly regrettable if one values the concepts of life for life's sake and natural beauty, but it's not at all comparable to breaking the neck of someone's son, a man born with limited intelligence who joined a sketchy organization after a hard life of constrained choices. I loved my pet rats, but I am not deranged enough to place the value of their lives above those of humans.

Enter the non-sapient intelligent antagonists. They can build fortresses and weapons. They can covet resources beyond food. They can organize armies and patrols. They can strategize campaigns of conquest. They can cast spells or psionics or whatever. They can leave loot behind.

Taking a page from Blindsight, they cannot be negotiated with because they cannot even understand the concepts of individuality, self-expression, self-actualization, sympathy, mercy or cruelty. All their tools and sophistication are just for for satisfying soulless drives, like a fungus spreading.

O.K., but what will the opponents you are positing really be like? I think the novel is beside the point, as neither of us has read it.

Are they 'philosophical zombies'--that is, complete simulacra of intelligent, self-aware creatures that in fact aren't self aware or intelligent? In that case, it will seem to the players and their characters that these creatures are 'people' just like them. We humans personify things we know are not even alive and treat them as if they were living all the time. So I guess the p-zombie approach may solve your particular moral qualms, but if I were a player in your campaign I don't think it would do much for me personally. I also find p-zombies completely unbelievable as real entities.

If the opponents are instead something like an insect, in effect programmed for a small number of behaviors, then as a group it would seem that they could be a threat. On the individual level, less so--no more than any other non-intelligent monster, really. Nor would they have things like 'loot' as referenced above--they would not have an economy or need for precious metals, etc. I also don't think it would make sense to have them able to cast spells, as such, though they might have individual magical abilities for different types of the super-ants.

I would suggest two other options which make more sense to me at least:
  • The opponents have a hive mind and consciousness, but no intelligence as individuals. So you can talk to them, negotiate with them, etc. but killing any individual member of the group has no consequences as far as killing a 'person' goes. The enemy 'person' will still be there, losing a few drones makes no difference. Indeed, maybe the consciousness is in 'brain bugs' somewhere far away or on another plane.
  • Since killing is the problem, and this is a fantasy game, how about this: nobody ever really dies in combat. You can 'kill' a specific body, but the 'soul' or consciousness lives on and the individual returns, eventually. This was the premise of an odd Zelazny novel, Jack of Shadows, where when people were killed they simply re-emerged at a central location 'the dung pits of Gyre.' If you want to avoid the problem of antagonists whom characters have killed re-emerging immediately, say that the process takes a long time. Alternatively, how about a game where all the characters and npcs are in effect demigods and immortals, who simply cannot be slain? You can reduce them to 0 hit points, but all this does is render them incapacitated for a period of time.
 

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A sleight of hand would be sufficient for my tabletop needs, yes, but I disagree in any case. There is a tangible moral difference between sapient hostiles and nonsapient ones. You have a duty to try harder to reach understanding with a truly sapient free-willed entity, and killing them, even in self-defense, is a heavy burden. This just isn't the case when you are defending your kind against the loveless, artless, faceless, soulless, meaningless threat of zombies, or even the very minor life-spark of the locusts I used as an example earlier.

That ethical "duty" could only come from the perspective of a post-scarcity environment or a utopian civilization (with or without magical venison) however, because when more than one species is competing for the same resources, the only baseline for "good" that can exist is the success and survival of one over another. Moreover, if the fantastical notion of inherent evil is introduced into the world, the concept of "souless" extends just as much to sapient living beings as it does to zombies - i.e. consider the following variations on the concept of "orc":

Lord of the Rings - a genetically (magically) engineered species "made of heats and slime" by the setting equivalent of Satan for the sole purpose of genociding the races of men.

Warhammer - a type of fungus genetically engineered millenia ago by the Old Ones (Slann) as a preternaturally aggressive and warlike being for the sole purpose (originally) of neutralizing the threat of the Necrons.

Pre-modern writings (Beowulf/The aerie Queene) - "hell-creatures" of magical origin akin to ogres (cannibalistic giants)

Morally speaking, there is no difference between these conceptions and that of undead or simulcra - they are soulless in conception, and their existence is predicated upon hunting and killing human beings. To kill them is, morally speaking, no different than a fly killing a spider. It's only in the humanization of the concept post-D&D, where they are reinterpreted in some fantasy settings as a sentient species capable of co-habitation, that any sort of ethical dilemna is implied, and this is predicated upon the notion that a human civilization has established itself to the point that survival is no longer a concern.
 

Picaroon Jack

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I like the idea of fighting a space faring race like the tyranid, whose only purpose is to consume and move on. I'm not sure how intelligent some of the psychic tyranids are, but I don't see them negotiating with anyone or deviating from their goal. In all the WH40K fiction that I've read with the tyranid, it really is a life or death struggle. In the Battle of Macragge nearly 3 companies of space marine were wiped out fighting them.

I'm not as familiar with the bugs from Starship Troopers, but I am assuming they are space faring as well, right?

The formians look like a great candidate for this role.
VCBkEnI.jpg
 

Ladybird

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Warhammer - a type of fungus genetically engineered millenia ago by the Old Ones (Slann) as a preternaturally aggressive and warlike being for the sole purpose (originally) of neutralizing the threat of the Necrons.
I mentioned Orks above because even while specific details have varied, they've always been portrayed as societal creatures (In conjunction with the other members of the Orkoid ecosystem, of course), even if the rules of their society are alien to us; whether or not it was part of their (IC) original design is debatable (Being able to bootstrap an entire civilisation from one easily-overlooked spore is a damn good way to ensure that your soldiers can't be permanently stopped, though). They've also became aggressively neutral in the way they're portrayed, rather than outright evil; they have goals which bring them into conflict with other cultures (eg. their goals are "get into conflict with other creatures"), but you can reason with them.

To me they're a good example of a culture which make perfect assigned bad guys that you can kill by the trukkload and not really feel bad about, but there's also more going on there than "they are bad because they are bad".
 

Matthias

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This is going to start off with yet more pedantry from philosophy, but I'm going to take it in a sci-fi direction, honest.

Consider the distinction between consequentialist and duty-based morality. From a consequentialist perspective, you want to accomplish some ends (people being free, or happy, or "flourishing" in a complex way that includes but isn't limited to simple pleasure.) The actions you take are evaluated against how much they accomplish the consequences, which are what Really Matter. You try to rescue a drowning child because it would be a bad thing for a child to drown. You might adopt some hard and fast rules, like "don't lie, because lying usually ends up harming people, even when you think you're outsmarting this rule," but the existence of the rule is grounded in the outcomes expected from following them.

From a duty-based perspective, Lying Is Wrong because (some thing distinct from the fact that lying makes it harder for people to know the truth or cooperate with each other). In an extreme form, duty-based morality doesn't give a shit about consquences at all; it might prescribe the same things - try to save the drowning child from a pool, say - but because trying to save drowning children is good, not because children drowning is bad.

The Stoics advocated taking a duty-based approach to your whole life because then your goals have, as it were, completely transcended anything the rest of the universe could do to you; the only thing that matters to you are your own choices, and how anything turns out is mere triviality. The stoic sage's child could die of a painful illness and the sage wouldn't care at all, just that their own responses to it were the correct ones. The stoic sage is indifferent to whether they, or anyone else for that matter, lives or dies.

Can humans work that way? Should humans even try work that way? (No and no, I think, but that's neither here nor there.) Could something work that way? Maybe!

Imagine aliens - let's call them stoicoids - who evolved or were engineered such that their core motivational structure is duty-based: they care exclusively about what choices they themselves make, not what the consequences of those choices are. Their "duties" are maybe as simple as:

1) Tell the truth, don't lie.
2) Take actions that spread the hive, unless it conflicts with (1).

N.B. that even though (2) prescribes the same behaviors as "they want the hive to spread," it feels different from the inside. (There is an inside there, they're not p-zombies.) If the stoicoid learned that the stoicoid hive was about to be obliterated by an asteroid and there was nothing it could do about it, it would think "oh, huh... did I miss any information that could have warned me about this? no? well, sounds like I did as well as I could have! good job me!" whereas if it heard that there was an asteroid that narrowly missed the hive, that they could have noticed and taken precautions about, they'd think, "oh, fuck, I missed that one... how could I... this is a disaster..." Totally collectivistic on the surface, but almost solipsistically egoist underneath.

So maybe stoicoids are invading your planet, feasting on your remains, planting eggs in your chest, basic space bug shit, and you plead out in your comms: "please! wouldn't you not like it if we did this to you???" and they'd look back with the space bug equivalent of a quizzical expression and reply back with something like "can't say I'd really care one way or the other. You put up a good job of resisting us so you're probably pretty happy about this whole situation too, right?"

The space bugs are sentient. They care about things. They sure act like they're trying to win a war against you. But they don't care at all about whether they actually win that war, or are wiped out, or whatever, and will tell you as much.
 

Shipyard Locked

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These recent posts are great and thought-provoking. Thanks guys.

However, I think what might be happening here is that some people are getting a little wary, like I'm putting the concept of the monstrous humanoid antagonist on trial. I can understand the reflex, there have been some very non-constructive accusations/comparisons flung around the hobby on this topic recently, but I'm absolutely not telling anyone how they should play the game or who they should be fighting (to the death or otherwise). I'm just thinking about my own, highly personal needs, and looking for outside ideas and criticism.
 

Duskwight

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Oh no, by all means use or don't use monstrous humanoids as you see fit. As a monstrous humanoid, I am used to this discrimination and will endure it with dignity.

But I did say slimes because they are a fairly well-developed non-sentient monster type in traditional D&D, so you'd have a lot of examples to choose from and integrate into a larger kind of non-sentient slime culture. Avoid Dragon Quest happy faces and you're set.
 

zanshin

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One of Peter Hamiltons SF series posited belligerent enormous protoplasmic minds that were essentially utterly sociopathic and could expand over a planet. They would extrude parts of themselves that they would embody with enough consciousness to do the tasks required of them, but had no other sense of self and could be absorbed back in to the greater whole when no longer needed for the task they had been given.

I don't know if fighting something like that and it's minions would give you sufficient distance to make killing them (or destroying the extensions of them) moral quandary free.

Good books as well, though he does tend to verbosity :smile:
 

Lofgeornost

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I suppose another way to go would be the holodeck route. That is, the players are not pretending to be people in some fantasy world; they are pretending to be people in some SF world playing an elaborate game on a holodeck where they are fantasy characters. The opponents are all computer-generated illusions; only the pcs really exist.

Or perhaps not a holodeck but a Matrix-style illusion, albeit a willing one. The player characters are snugly strapped into their game 'beds' experiencing a virtual reality. Killing someone just means knocking a player out of the game.

On some level, or course, this is a pretty ridiculous solution, since it involves imagining you are a player in a non-existent game who is apparently (but not really) killing other intelligent beings--to avoid the moral problem of a game where one slaughters foes which are, well, non-existent to begin with.
 

TristramEvans

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These recent posts are great and thought-provoking. Thanks guys.

However, I think what might be happening here is that some people are getting a little wary, like I'm putting the concept of the monstrous humanoid antagonist on trial. I can understand the reflex, there have been some very non-constructive accusations/comparisons flung around the hobby on this topic recently, but I'm absolutely not telling anyone how they should play the game or who they should be fighting (to the death or otherwise). I'm just thinking about my own, highly personal needs, and looking for outside ideas and criticism.


Oh no, sorry, I just like debating ethics and philosophy, please don't take my posts as either criticisisms or recriminations. This is just a subject I enjoy exploring and waxing on unpoetically about. You should do whatever works for your games, there's no judgemet involved (as far as I'm concerned) in regards to fantasy or what one prefers in a game of imagination.
 

AsenRG

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I don't understand your squeamishness, but if you need them non-sapient...well, you need them, and so be it.

One question, though. If they're intelligent - I get it that you're planning some tool-using antagonists - how exactly are the PCs coming from a typical D&D civilisation be able to determine that they're non-sapient?
 

Shipyard Locked

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I don't understand your squeamishness, but if you need them non-sapient...well, you need them, and so be it.

One question, though. If they're intelligent - I get it that you're planning some tool-using antagonists - how exactly are the PCs coming from a typical D&D civilisation be able to determine that they're non-sapient?

Fortunately, divination spells that pry into the details and nature of a creature's mind are a thing in D&D. The absence of art, culture, mercy, cruelty, diplomacy, and other things like that would also give it away.
 

AsenRG

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Fortunately, divination spells that pry into the details and nature of a creature's mind are a thing in D&D. The absence of art, culture, mercy, cruelty, diplomacy, and other things like that would also give it away.
On the former, I agree...:thumbsup:
On the latter, it would only prove that they're worth killing off:shade:.
 

CRKrueger

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Eh, sometimes you're just overthinking things.

Fight Aliens. Fight Terminators. Fight Predators. Fight a long-dead empires' Von Neumann machines that lived long after them. Fight Demons, Fight Devils, Fight Daemons. Fight 40k Orcs, Necrons, Tyranids, and Drukhari.

There's plenty of enemies out there, that whether sapient or not, sob story or not, emotions or not, are going to feed you your entrails simply because you exist and/or are in their way.

People are right though when they say you're just papering over your problem. It seems like you want to have your gaming cake and eat the moral/possibly political? cake too. In the end, you're going to have to - either accept that your conscience is right, and stop murder hoboing, or accept that you're edging close to the deep end, and get over yourself and have fun. Tough words I know, but that circle has to be squared.

At least congratulations on just ignoring the contradiction through cognitive dissonance.
 

Atelerix

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I thought one strand of thinking in neuroscience is that our own consciousness us something of an illusion. Our conscious mind seems to kick in AFTER the rest of the brain has triggered many actions. An advantageous one, to be sure. There's at least one book, although it's based on now-outdated neuroscience, that posits that our voices became internalised in late prehistory. Prior to that, we heard them as external voices instructing us to perform actions. Outdated, probably wrong, and utterly untestable, but look for "bicameral mind".

My take is that we would treat p-zombies as sapient humans, heck, the simple Eliza software convinced some people they were talking to a real therapist. People are fooled by bots every day. We tend to attribute more intelligence and human characteristics to our pets (although there is some evidence that donesticated dogs try to mimic our facial expressions).

2300AD has a couple of borderline species. The Pentapods are actually biomechanical constructs programmed to deal with humans - nobody has seen an actual Pentapod "god". Although presented as curious, keen to trade and learn, players often wonder what they're really up to. Are the Pentapods the real big bad in the game? It would be the reveal in a campaign - the short, friendly, kooky looking aliens trying to learn humour and language to trade with humanity are actually an army of biomech robots out to do who knows what to us.


The other is the Kafers/Kaefers. Bipedal bug-faced horrors, they don't seem to be intelligent or even sapient. Their adrenalin-analogue increases their intelligence precipitously, however. Leaders often raise their followers' intelligence just enough to follow orders by hitting them. In combat however, they become terrifyingly intelligent, and they live for the shock of the onset of true intelligence as a religious experience. Some older individuals have been in combat so many times that they become pernanently self-aware.

As the basis for an interstellar empire, I find the premise a little suspect, but as an opponent they present a conundrum. Leave them be and they are dull brutes; rile them up and they become terrifyingly dangerous sapients. Although, violent as they are, they may ultimately be more "real" and relateable than the Pentapods.

There's a SF story where the aliens hunt their own non-sapient larvae, and assume humans do the sane with children. Can't remember the title though.

I think we'd anthropomorphise any smart non-sapients we meet, at least until the shocking realisation, as in the book, that they just don't work like us.

There are religions on Earth like Jainism where plants and animals are recognised as having souls. Adherents consume the minimum vegetable diet required to stay alive, and are strong believers in correct conducts.

I'm not sure if there's a point to this post...
 
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