Collaborative campaign: children of the lesser gods

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Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Collaborative campaign: children of the lesser gods

In the vignette thread an adventure idea more or less accidentally bubbled up. This is a new thread to develop this, maybe into a campaign.

Elements: conspiracies among exhumans, seed AGIs and the other strange elements at the fringes of posthumanity.

I have a small write-up for a campaign background that I came up with separately (in turn based on a game theory paper), and they seem to go well together:

Quote:

"... the gods restrain each other from trying to be as God. And how the gods try to find ways of evade each other's restraints."
David Zindell

The Powers That Be form a coalition. To enter the club you need to be transcendent enough, and agree on the rules. What the rules are, mere transhumans will not know. But if you do not agree to them, the Powers will squash you.

However, not all members are equal. Some are greater, and some are lesser. There is a division of labour and division of spoils. Some always want more, and there are those who are marginal - the least of the gods.

The Least are worried. The Greaters cannot oust them directly: things are balanced so that the Least could resist them and the result would be worse than everybody playing along. But things may be changing to a new configuration where the Greaters have a stronger advantage, and that means the Least might find themselves subservient. So they turn to unlikely allies: the mere transhumans.

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The Threat: the deep issue is how power scales. At present there are limits to the economies of scale of intelligence and power: seed AGIs find that lightspeed delays, algorithmic complexity, the slowness of nanomachines, and the need to use transhumans as agents limit what they can do. There is no shortage of attempts to get around it, but many pathways are blocked. The TITANs went down them, but when they transcended/went mad they left behind gates blocking them. And many of the gates are guarded by the exsurgent virus.

One of the shared goals among the Powers is resisting the Exsurgent virus. It seeks to disrupt things in ways the Powers do not like. Opening the gates seems to be an invitation for infection or other subtle attacks. Even the Powers have to admit that the virus is a worthy adversary, crafty in its attacks.

In fact, the current crisis is a masterpiece of Exsurgent intrigue. It has arranged things so that a number of Powers are roughly at the same level. It then left one gate conveniently open. If used, it will allow the Powers to grow to new levels - but that will necessarily lead to a smaller coalition taking control over the remaining powers after a brief struggle. But the gate leads deeper than that: it will allow economies of scale that make it possible for an even smaller coalition within the previous one to seize power. And then another subset... until only one Power remains, ruling what remains of the solar system.

The Lessers want to ensure that the new gate is not found, and for that they need non-Powers to get to it first and then block it with the exsurgent virus. Why? As long as the gate is not around the Greaters do not have anything to worry about, and might even want to play along with the Lessers. However, should a Lesser find it everything changes: now it is a game played for keeps, and the Lessers will loose. If an entity that cannot use the gate finds it and does what is needed, then the Lessers have the chance.

So the problem is to guide transhumans to a transcendent target without finding out enough to be a threat... while being watched by beings far more powerful and intelligent than oneself. And the tool needed to solve the problem is also doing its best to sabotage the mission.

This is of course the secret background causing the events of the campaign. But the PCs might never find out what game they are pawns in or what the stakes are.

So, what do you think? Can we bring together the Lesser Powers with the 155106 twins, AUTONOMY AFFIX and the mysterious exhuman on the ship? How do we construct a suitably epic ending that is both understandable and satisfying?

Extropian

NewtonPulsifer NewtonPulsifer's picture
If someone seals a gate,

If someone seals a gate, couldn't the "Exsurgent intrigue" simply re-open it (or another)?

To sidestep that issue then perhaps some of the Powers suspect the above scenario but cannot prove it.

So they hope to seal the open gate, and use the newly opened one as evidence to the other powers that this is a trap for them all.

"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."- Isoroku Yamamoto

Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
NewtonPulsifer wrote:If

NewtonPulsifer wrote:
If someone seals a gate, couldn't the "Exsurgent intrigue" simply re-open it (or another)?

To sidestep that issue then perhaps some of the Powers suspect the above scenario but cannot prove it.

So they hope to seal the open gate, and use the newly opened one as evidence to the other powers that this is a trap for them all.

I must admit that I am not entirely happy with the term "gate" anyway because it is confusing with the Pandora gates (these gates are after all abstract strategies rather than devices). And I am completely fine with some alternate explanation of the big plot.

As discussed in the vignette thread we have a few adventure components that can be put together:

* The creepy twins and their "handler" - quite possibly an AGI that is either one of the Lesser powers or working for the exsurgents.

* The Ultimates and their box - either a clever ace in the hole for the "good guys" (hah!), or the "gate" everybody else wants to stop. I am also somewhat fond of the idea that whoever opens it might be turned into the exhuman agent for the future superintelligence (obligatory reference here to Charles' Stross Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise novels for this kind of post-causal superminds).

* The scene on the ship - the opposition has agents out there, sabotaging the mission. Allies might be capable, but pretty cavalier about transhuman lives.

I also have a few ideas for some of the Lessers - an AGI hiding in the rep networks, another one camouflaged as a Brinker habitat (the inhabitants are all puppets of the core intelligence, pretending to be simple flats), the hidden Ming the Merciless, Lord of Gifts (a former PC turned into a fun NPC). The big problem is to ensure that all this stuff doesn't take over from the PCs: hence the hands-off-policy in the backstory. Once things are in motion at least the entities supporting the PCs will not be interacting with them.

What about the overall structure?

A simple model would be 1) get the mission, 2) get the tool needed to succeed, 3) find the target, 4) apply the tool.

Except that the Lessers will not be able to tell the PCs much about the mission, maybe not even its existence. They will want to set them in motion in such a way that they move in the right direction and then begin to interact with the target in the right way. That suggests that the PCs should be suitably primed: their individual goals all make them act against the target in the right way. This can either be done by aspects of their background (motivations, old enemies etc - the Lessers pick people with just the right traits and get them together) or by events in the opening (arranged courtesy of the Lessers). The most satisfying would be to make all this setup entirely invisible. So do you think pre-generated characters are the way to go (making the first approach easier) or have a good set of starting experiences to prime them? Mixtures can of course work fine too - one PC is vindictive, and near the start put into a situation where they will be angered by the target and set into motion. Having the PCs work for Firewall - or some other organisation - also allows some form of directionality.

Extropian

DamionW DamionW's picture
Will the canon cast of

Will the canon cast of players be involved (TITANs, the ETI, Prometheans, etc)? Or were you looking to forge out into new ground? Perhaps the powers could be the equivalent of the above for other post-singularity species. An interesting candidate would be the Promethean-equivalents of a race that didn't survive the exurgent threat. They're now left without the race that created them and are a failure in their quest to protect them.

Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
DamionW wrote:Will the canon

DamionW wrote:
Will the canon cast of players be involved (TITANs, the ETI, Prometheans, etc)? Or were you looking to forge out into new ground?

I was mostly thinking of the human-derived powers: prometheans, whatever is behind Ozma, the other major players (in a sense, a hypercorp might be like an AGI made up of humans plus software). I assume the ETI and aliens were outside the field.

However, this gets back to sketching out the adventure architecture. Above I started with the start and background, which is not the best way of writing anything. You should usually start with the ending.

In particular, giving the PCs a linear story is somewhat boring even if it is not explicitly railroading them. There should be an interesting twist. It doesn't have to be just at the end, but the end obviously depends on the twist.

So, if we decide to run with the basic Lesser Power idea, either the PCs should start out doing something else and then get involved in the quest as a twist (they might for example have been sent to stop it by someone), and/or at some point the Lesser Power's plan is derailed somehow.

Now, what could mess up plans of superintelligences?

* First, some plans are just gambles: if the reward of doing something is big enough it is worth doing even if the chances of success are minuscule (this is especially true of minds with linear utility functions: such minds might gamble their survival on a one in a million chance if the reward is a billion times better than mere survival). So some plans will just fail due to bad luck. However, that is somewhat unsatisfactory from a story perspective (still, I like the weirdness of the above example - we might want to have an AGI willing to do such things somewhere).

* Second, greater superintelligences can of course fool lesser ones - to some degree. There are deep theoretical issues here, but we can mostly handwave them. So maybe the ETI, TITANs or alien powers are the spoilers. This fits in with the theme of Powers, but it also makes the PCs even more of pawns.

* Third, lack of information can mess up the plans of anybody. A smart being will take their own ignorance and uncertainty into account. But some information is truly unexpected and really impossible to predict. This is probably the best source of a twist, since it could come from transhuman level entities (nice for making the game PC centric).

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An interesting candidate would be the Promethean-equivalents of a race that didn't survive the exurgent threat. They're now left without the race that created them and are a failure in their quest to protect them.

Which of course doesn't make them any friendlier to transhumanity.

Hmm, I was not thinking too much about the alien link to AUTONOMY AFFIX, but this might be it. The aliens of Schoen were destroyed, but some of their AI remained. Now, we have several fun options:

1. The superintelligence in the box is the alien Promethean. The real cause of the fall of Schoen was independent of the box.

2. The Prometheans were defeated by the box: 2A) it is either a separate superintelligence, or 2B) ETI/the exsurgent virus.

3. What actually happened when the box technology became available was similar to the scenario feared by the Lessers: if you have CTC computation available, superintelligence becomes a winner-takes all scenario, and the powers of the alien civilization destroyed each other (and the aliens, as a side effect).

Hmm, from an adventure perspective these lend themselves to different friend/foe configurations. 1 lends itself to having AA be either the mcguffin that must be stopped but - when things fail - turns out to be benign (or not), or that it is a tool/ally of the PC side, or that it is an unexpected third party with great power and an unknown agenda. 2A and 2B makes AA an enemy or a tool that must not be used, and the Prometheans might be allies or information sources. 3 allows AA to be the thing that must be stopped and the fate of the Schoen civilisation evidence that could get the PCs to hunt for it, while the Prometheans are third parties that could be on any side.

So, what do you think? Which choices should we make? Which ones leads to the most epic and interesting final climax of the campaign?

Extropian

DamionW DamionW's picture
Arenamontanus wrote:DamionW

Arenamontanus wrote:
DamionW wrote:
Will the canon cast of players be involved (TITANs, the ETI, Prometheans, etc)? Or were you looking to forge out into new ground?

I was mostly thinking of the human-derived powers: prometheans, whatever is behind Ozma, the other major players (in a sense, a hypercorp might be like an AGI made up of humans plus software). I assume the ETI and aliens were outside the field.

However, this gets back to sketching out the adventure architecture. Above I started with the start and background, which is not the best way of writing anything. You should usually start with the ending.

In particular, giving the PCs a linear story is somewhat boring even if it is not explicitly railroading them. There should be an interesting twist. It doesn't have to be just at the end, but the end obviously depends on the twist.

So, if we decide to run with the basic Lesser Power idea, either the PCs should start out doing something else and then get involved in the quest as a twist (they might for example have been sent to stop it by someone), and/or at some point the Lesser Power's plan is derailed somehow.

Part of the difficulty I'm having is trying to envision a contest among superintelligences from the vantage point of a mere human. I don't know what their stakes or gambits would look like. Using the ETI, TITANs and Prometheans (or analogs of them) as the game's players at least provides a standard reference point. If we just abstract to the general level of Greater and Lesser powers, I'm having a difficult time envisioning who they are or how they would manipulate transhumans towards their ends. I'd defer to you on that, since you seem to have a sense of what you want.

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Hmm, I was not thinking too much about the alien link to AUTONOMY AFFIX, but this might be it. The aliens of Schoen were destroyed, but some of their AI remained. Now, we have several fun options:

1. The superintelligence in the box is the alien Promethean. The real cause of the fall of Schoen was independent of the box.

2. The Prometheans were defeated by the box: 2A) it is either a separate superintelligence, or 2B) ETI/the exsurgent virus.

3. What actually happened when the box technology became available was similar to the scenario feared by the Lessers: if you have CTC computation available, superintelligence becomes a winner-takes all scenario, and the powers of the alien civilization destroyed each other (and the aliens, as a side effect).

Hmm, from an adventure perspective these lend themselves to different friend/foe configurations. 1 lends itself to having AA be either the mcguffin that must be stopped but - when things fail - turns out to be benign (or not), or that it is a tool/ally of the PC side, or that it is an unexpected third party with great power and an unknown agenda. 2A and 2B makes AA an enemy or a tool that must not be used, and the Prometheans might be allies or information sources. 3 allows AA to be the thing that must be stopped and the fate of the Schoen civilisation evidence that could get the PCs to hunt for it, while the Prometheans are third parties that could be on any side.

So, what do you think? Which choices should we make? Which ones leads to the most epic and interesting final climax of the campaign?

I'm partial to 1) and less so 3) over 2). I particularly like the idea that the PCs will be trembling in fear of AA based on Schoen's evidence, but what's inside the box is actually the last remnants of their civilization, the Prometheans they created to try and save themselves but failed. The now forlorn Prometheans serve the role of a Cassandra, the unheeded profit of doom.

On another note, have you closed your set of plot ideas to the three vignettes: the twins, AA and the deck scene? I think vignette #58 with the cybernetic arm makes a great addition to this metaplot, fitting in as yet another machination as the Powers move their pawns around.

Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
DamionW wrote:Part of the

DamionW wrote:
Part of the difficulty I'm having is trying to envision a contest among superintelligences from the vantage point of a mere human. I don't know what their stakes or gambits would look like. Using the ETI, TITANs and Prometheans (or analogs of them) as the game's players at least provides a standard reference point. If we just abstract to the general level of Greater and Lesser powers, I'm having a difficult time envisioning who they are or how they would manipulate transhumans towards their ends. I'd defer to you on that, since you seem to have a sense of what you want.

Well, even a Promethean will be something terribly abstract. The one my players have so far met manifested as a church organ! Sure, there was a mainframe *somewhere*, but that is not too exciting.

The big weakness in the current setup is that the "gods" must not be allowed to overshadow the players, so they must be fairly remote, yet it would be unsatisfying to make them totally invisible since now there are just hidden conspiracies pulling all strings.

One method I often use when writing adventures is to find a novel, play or film to use as inspiration. "Hidden in every flower" used Sartre's "No Exit", "Indigo Latitude" used Lem's "Solaris". Some is laziness, but mostly it is a way of getting ideas different from what I would ever have done myself, as well as cool imagery and references. It might be time to raid the bookshelf and see what can be done...

The Illiad has the gods as occasional characters but bound by certain strictures. Not sure if I want to have them as concrete players as in that story, but it is rich with allusions and one could borrow so much for an *epic* campaign (a siege of the enemy stronghold? a tragic love story affecting the necessary doomsday weapon? the theme of whether better to survive or go out in glory?). Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep" has the Powers being remote manipulators, acting through their designated proxies - and a small villain, driven by small goals (compared to the real stakes) messing up the plans of gods and men. In Macbeth the witches set things in motion by telling Macbeth a few things, but then stay out of the action (just gleefully thinking "everything is going as we planned!")
In Stross' "Halting State" the big confrontation between the intelligence agencies gets accidentally tangled up in a police investigation due to an unlikely coincidence. OK, what other sources could we draw on?

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I'm partial to 1) and less so 3) over 2). I particularly like the idea that the PCs will be trembling in fear of AA based on Schoen's evidence, but what's inside the box is actually the last remnants of their civilization, the Prometheans they created to try and save themselves but failed. The now forlorn Prometheans serve the role of a Cassandra, the unheeded profit of doom.

The coolest thing is that these Prometheans *know the future* and still couldn't stop things from going bad. That might be a great way of injecting cosmic horror.

If we go with the idea that whoever opens the box to trigger it also runs the risk of being infected by whatever is in it, this might enable them to get an active agent rather than just being the Cassandra box.

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On another note, have you closed your set of plot ideas to the three vignettes: the twins, AA and the deck scene? I think vignette #58 with the cybernetic arm makes a great addition to this metaplot, fitting in as yet another machination as the Powers move their pawns around.

I'm fine with including others. Perhaps not too many, since we will get over-constrained.

But the arm one fits really well, since it implies something messing with time. At the very least information from the future (encryption keys in the arm, the data) has been sent back, but maybe even some form of temporal transport might be involved. I prefer to keep to information, but we will see.

On this stage we should probably quickly decide how to handle time paradoxes. I suggest using the self-consistency principle: you cannot create a paradox (this is after all what the whole box concept is about: if we allow changes to the past it doesn't make sense), but careful control over what information passes to the past and what is observed can allow you enough leeway to do stuff. As Greg Egan's "The Hundred Light-Year Diary" shows, just because you can get information from the future doesn't mean it has to be *true* information.

Extropian

DamionW DamionW's picture
Arenamontanus wrote:The

Arenamontanus wrote:
The coolest thing is that these Prometheans *know the future* and still couldn't stop things from going bad. That might be a great way of injecting cosmic horror.

If we go with the idea that whoever opens the box to trigger it also runs the risk of being infected by whatever is in it, this might enable them to get an active agent rather than just being the Cassandra box.


The thing that I'm not sure about that premise is that by the time transhumanity discovered the box, Schoen was already gone. Thus it was a forgone conclusion by that point. So I could picture a timeline maybe working like this:

1)Schoen invents/discovers AA
2)Schoen activates AA
3)Evil superintelligence bootstraps back to Schoen and destroys them as it expands through that timeframe. Schoen's Promethean AI watches helplessly.
4)With time on its side, Schoen's Promethean finds a way to track down AA's future trajectory to the jump-back point of evil Superintelligence.
5)Transhumanity discovers AA
6)CAMPAIGN OCCURS, OUTCOME TBD
7)Evil Superintelligence first discovers AA
8)Evil Superintelligence contacts prior timeline, closing loop.
9)Schoen Promethean AI (and its agents) encounters future AA and the evil superintelligence, but from consistentcy standpoint is helpless to save Schoen; Schoen's loop is closed.
10) Promethean AI wrests control of AA away from evil superintelligence and waits for a new loop to open (the campaign)

Tell me if this breaks some logical flow.

Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
DamionW wrote:

DamionW wrote:

The thing that I'm not sure about that premise is that by the time transhumanity discovered the box, Schoen was already gone. Thus it was a forgone conclusion by that point. So I could picture a timeline maybe working like this:

1)Schoen invents/discovers AA
2)Schoen activates AA
3)Evil superintelligence bootstraps back to Schoen and destroys them as it expands through that timeframe. Schoen's Promethean AI watches helplessly.
4)With time on its side, Schoen's Promethean finds a way to track down AA's future trajectory to the jump-back point of evil Superintelligence.
5)Transhumanity discovers AA
6)CAMPAIGN OCCURS, OUTCOME TBD
7)Evil Superintelligence first discovers AA
8)Evil Superintelligence contacts prior timeline, closing loop.
9)Schoen Promethean AI (and its agents) encounters future AA and the evil superintelligence, but from consistentcy standpoint is helpless to save Schoen; Schoen's loop is closed.
10) Promethean AI wrests control of AA away from evil superintelligence and waits for a new loop to open (the campaign)

Tell me if this breaks some logical flow.

I like it! Seems to work well. Let's see how this might spell out:

In particular, the 1-3 part is consistent with a technology that would break the status quo among the Powers: it is not implausible that AA even without evil superintelligences would be a Bad Thing for the Lessers, so they would be keen to act against it being discovered. If they could ensure that a future superintelligence that is *not* any of the present solar system players would be in any future AA box, then everything would be fine for them. It might still be an xrisk from the AA boxes of course, but now all Powers would be on the same side trying to keep them from being built.

Now, the Lessers will not know about the Prometheans. They hid *very* thoroughly from the nasty superintelligence and are unlikely to be found. They may or may not be around on Schoen (we can settle that later), but the important thing is that the Lessers will start by acting based on the assumption that the AA tech is a great threat to them and must be stopped, and they do not know about the Prometheans.

So the PCs set off, presumably to help stop the Ultimates (or whoever got the tech) from building an AA box but in particular erase the crucial information (let's say there is some magic ingredient: just knowing about the general idea is not enough - that way the PCs can survive the campaign, no need to kill them off because they know too much). This suggests that the Lessers would also want the Schoen gate destroyed or at least inaccessible: this might happen in the background (another team sent by the Lessers do the dirty work) or be part of what the PCs is supposed to do.

Things move on until the Prometheans become involved. In this model it happens when the Ultimates activate the box, and get a Promethean. This might happen just before the PCs arrive ("I already did it - 35 minutes ago."), perhaps as a reaction to them trying to grab the box (either in a stronghold or out on that important mission). For a moment it looks like everything is doomed - but then it turns out that the entity in the box is not the Evil (note: we need some (erroneous) way for the Ultimates to think they can look into the box without setting of a second Fall - misinformation left by the Evil on Schoen?) The Promethean is not exactly pro-human, but it presumably has a plan.

What would the plan be? A *nice* alien Promethean might want to save transhumanity, and could do it by plugging all AA boxes with itself: if any more are built, they will be benign. This will fix the threat to the Lessers better than their original plan! ...but there is a problem. There is no reason for it to care about these aliens about to repeat the Schoen mistake. Except for one thing: by giving the PCs some information it can set events into motion that will eventually lead to step 10, its eventual victory.

Ah! Presumably mere transhumans are pretty bad at implementing whatever arcane plan is needed. But the Lessers would be much more able. So the Promethean wants the PCs to bring it into contact with the Lessers (this might be further complicated by the fact that it is concerned about doing it very secretly - the Evil might be listening). Except that the Lessers are *dead set* on not getting into contact with anything or anyone that has un-erased information about AA. So now the Lessers will use their considerable abilities to fight against their apparently turned agents (who however have an indestructible luck box). As soon as the Promethean gets through to the Lessers it will all be flowers and peace again, of course. OK, not sure about how to handle this last part yet, but it looks like it has potential both for a good twist and an action ending. Especially since the Promethean may not be particularly friendly.

Hmm, a lot of text and a somewhat tricky plot with all the time-links. But I think this has plenty of promise. How to mesh in the arm story? The result of AA-related experimentation manipulated by the Lessers of PCs in the future, providing the information setting the PCs into motion?

Extropian

DamionW DamionW's picture
I'm not sure why (probably

I'm not sure why (probably because of my difficulty in imagining them, as I mentioned), but in my mind's eye, this plotline is moving away from some grand game with a cast of multiple Lesser and Greater powers. It seems we're talking about a massively complex chess match, and chess lends itself to two sides, black and white. Any more and you start talking MMORTS, and that is less suspenseful, because every player is making their own decisions. It stops feeling like move/countermove. I think the plot would be extremely engaging with just the Schoen Promethean and the evil superintelligence at play. Especially if you plan out that there are multiple variants of them depending on where you are in the time stream. But that is diverging from your initial premise of a big contest. It turns it into a pure dichotomy. I don't know if that's ruining your intent, so I won't spoil any of your designs.

Something I wanted to clarify about your concept of AA: Is the temporal gap fixed or variable? If it's fixed, then whenever an entity activates or interfaces with it, they receive communication from a fixed width into the future, say 5000 years. As the box progresses through time, the future contact point shifts forward with it. If the gap is variable, AA could then become a temporal service bus, allowing all individuals that ever have had control of AA contact with any other user along the box's timeline sharing knowledge back and forth about that user's current temporal state. The latter extremely magnifies the box's power, but makes building plotlines around the box much more difficult, especially when avoiding paradoxes.

Arenamontanus wrote:
So the PCs set off, presumably to help stop the Ultimates (or whoever got the tech) from building an AA box but in particular erase the crucial information (let's say there is some magic ingredient: just knowing about the general idea is not enough - that way the PCs can survive the campaign, no need to kill them off because they know too much). This suggests that the Lessers would also want the Schoen gate destroyed or at least inaccessible: this might happen in the background (another team sent by the Lessers do the dirty work) or be part of what the PCs is supposed to do.

Are the Ultimates trying to reverse engineer the box? Or do they just want to leverage its luck factor like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark? (With AA in our possession, our armies are indestructible!). And are there multiple variants of AA in the universe? One is complicated enough, but a whole bevy of them definitely supports your Lesser/Greater war. Box control is the name of the game, but due to the paradoxical complications, they need pawns to move the boxes into position, not do so themselves. Knowledge of the boxes' trajectory changes its trajectory; kind of a Heisenberg principle surrounding them.

Quote:
Things move on until the Prometheans become involved. In this model it happens when the Ultimates activate the box, and get a Promethean. This might happen just before the PCs arrive ("I already did it - 35 minutes ago."), perhaps as a reaction to them trying to grab the box (either in a stronghold or out on that important mission). For a moment it looks like everything is doomed - but then it turns out that the entity in the box is not the Evil (note: we need some (erroneous) way for the Ultimates to think they can look into the box without setting of a second Fall - misinformation left by the Evil on Schoen?) The Promethean is not exactly pro-human, but it presumably has a plan.

What would the plan be? A *nice* alien Promethean might want to save transhumanity, and could do it by plugging all AA boxes with itself: if any more are built, they will be benign. This will fix the threat to the Lessers better than their original plan! ...but there is a problem. There is no reason for it to care about these aliens about to repeat the Schoen mistake. Except for one thing: by giving the PCs some information it can set events into motion that will eventually lead to step 10, its eventual victory.

I'm going to run with some ideas based on the premise that AA has a fixed interval and that the Schoen Promethean and the evil superintelligence are the only players in the game. If you want to stick to the Greater / Lesser contest, then you can take or leave any of these ideas.

So, we'll use the above timeline. Then the fixed time window of AA can be defined as Point 8) - Point 3). We'll call that time unit X. Our campaign is set in a pivotal point within that window, when Schoen Promethean has the ability to jump back to between 3 & 8. Due to the fixed window, there's no saving Schoen. What's happened has happened, and therefore the Promethean can't play for the "win," i.e. saving its creators it was built to protect. So what's its motivation now? Play for the stalemate. Foil the evil superintelligence's every other possible move from Point 6) forward. But it's not easy, because the padlock that AA places on the time continuum limits options.

So assuming that at Point 6+X (Point 10), Promethean does successfully take control of AA. What does that mean? It means from Point 6-Point 8, evil superintelligence won't have knowledge from the future, because it doesn't have control of AA any longer. This also implies that at Point 8, when it backsteps, it knows at Point 6 it loses control of the box, but for continuity's sake, it must backstep anyway and close the loop. So at Point 6, it's on guard, trying to figure out who has taken the box and come back from 6+X.

Now, how would Schoen Promethean play the game on backstep? Does it reach out to its past self? After all, it was trying to trace the box's trajectory the whole way from 3 to 8, so it probably had eyes on the box when transhumanity had possession of it at 5-6. So it could send back some info to itself and try and gain an advantage. Well this has risks. It knows that evil superintelligence is aware it lost control (it follows from continuity). So any message it sends itself risks interception. And if the info it sends fails to work, the padlock effect of AA will lock in its own failure. So it will avoid letting present Promethean know of its intentions at any costs, leaving more variables open.

Well, if present Promethean is watching the box, and knows transhumanity has activated it, it will assume that what has stepped back is another incarnation of evil superintelligence. It will try and foil any plans the new arrival (its future self) will try and put in motion. But since future self created all those plans, it knows how to stop them. It can't stop them too effectively, or else present Promethean might deduce its own time loop empirically, defeating its success.

At this point, the game is being played by three entities, using transhumanity as their agents: present Promethean, backstepped evil superintelligence, and backstepped Promethean. Present Promethean's moves are a foregone conclusion, they've already played out and been locked in by the backstep of its future self. So the real contest is between the two backstepped entities. They both know their clocks are ticking. Superintelligence has the upper hand from 3-6 and 8-10, because it had control of the box at those points. Promethean has the upper hand from 6-8 and 10-10+X, because it has control of the box through those windows. The real stakes of the game are to be decided at 10+X, far far in the future, because neither party is sure who has the box then.

So they're engaged in a war of moves that must be a mystery to themselves and to each other. Anything they are aware of has a zero chance of success due to the AA padlock. They effectively are setting billions of butterflies alight, hoping the wingbeat of one will spur the hurricane they need to wipe out their opponent's success at 10+X.

One literary source I draw inspiration from is the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. It isn't Sci-Fi, more fantasy, but does have some interesting application of time loops and alternate realities. In the final book, the protagonists from the future step back and contact a trio of individuals who are minor players on the scene. The protagonists are aware who their opponents are, a pair of evil hypercorp-equivalents trying to crash the cohesion of the parallel realities they live in. They charge these normal people with a key task. Take the toothpaste company that one of them (the uncle of a key protagonist) owns and convert it into a good hypercorp. That hypercorp now has one function: take the knowledge the future envoys pass to them (remember these three words: Microsoft, microchips and Intel) and use it to grow strong enough to oppose the evil hypercorps. If the bad guys move to procure an asset, buy it up first. If they want a patent, file one ahead of them, etc. Fight them tooth and nail; they must not win. And then the future envoys leave to do their own work, trusting those normal people to get the job done in this section of the time-space continuum.

I picture the Promethean operating in a similar fashion with transhumanity. It knows the plays that evil superintelligence is going to make between Point 6 and Point 8. It needs to operate in a way to minimize any gains they will result in, but do so transparently enough to its present self as to not draw suspicion. That gives the players in the campaign a lot of latitude, because their free will and independence only enhance the Promethean's chance of success. Any variable it can leverage without fully knowing helps it bypass the AA time padlock.

So, what do you think?