Open Design: ZIGGURATTI


#41

@Bad_Quail @Gustavo_Campanelli Cool, yeah, indoctrination daycare makes a lot of sense, and there are servitors who job it is to take care of and brain wash the kiddos. Serfs can to see their kids during their 8 currency hours, which diminishes their ability to convert those hours into commodities. I think it might make sense that the clergy determine who gets to procreate and when (usually, to meet projected work forecasts), and having a child outside of that constraint marks the mother and child as burdens.

That being said, does anyone have ideas on what that propaganda looks like? I know meritocracy and “everyone has their place” type of rhetoric is what makes sense here, but how do those ideas manifest in the language and assumptions of the setting?


#42

I’m imagining a WWII esque “everyone do your part. . .” with “. . . to fight the Nazis” replaced with “to keep the Chain strong!” Maybe a heavy emphasis that the world outside the Ziggurat (including within other Ziggurats?) is a brutal hellhole and even life as the lowliest serf is preferable to the short, violent lives ‘enjoyed’ by outsiders. “Don’t be a weak link, the Ziggurat needs your dreams!”


#43

@Bad_Quail That’s good. I’m also thinking that the rhetoric would really, really go after the burden as a parasite, a thief, and maybe even “problem people from ‘other ziggurats’ who have come to feed off of us.” Perhaps the primary reason that the burden is methodically starved and sleep deprived to death, instead of just erased by the authorities, is that the zigguratti need these wretched examples walking around, visible, to serve as a reminder to work or die.

I think I’m also interested in exploring the idea that the serfs have been tasked with participating in the ziggurat’s violence against its underclass. that young serfs are taught to hate and fear burdens, and feel like they are contributing to the greater good by depriving them food or shelter… and maybe, rhetoric about how everyone could live like the clergy if it wasn’t for burdens…


#44

There was a microfiction story I read on twitter that talked about childcare being in terms of “Points”. So a child with “good breeding” and “a sharp IQ”, raised and tended to individually by a trained caregiver, was worth like, 500 points, while a child that was raised en masse was only worth 5 or 10 points. Given that these people are still human, that there’s overpopulation, and that there’s a resource crunch, maybe part of that entire cycle is both a cultural emphasis on ensuring the next generation, but also a cost forced upon a natural act?


#45

“Outside [This Particular Ziggurat] everyone is a burden. Isn’t that horrible?”

It may not ever be relevant to actual play, but I’m imagining gangs of Mad Max-esque biker mutants following around Ziggurats and salvaging the trash they leave behind.

The whole “everyone could live well if it wasn’t for burdens” reminds me of this gif.

Our economy explained in cookies

An a related note, I’m having a really hard time imagining playing in this setting without defaulting to “burn it down” as the goal of play.


#46

Hey, first off, I think it’s really cool you’ve set up this space to contribute ideas for this game. So I’ve been putting a little bit of thought into it, mainly thinking about how to make sure the mechanics reflect the genre and feel of the game we’re going for, and the best inspiration I have for that design philosophy is of course Red Markets, where you have to spend resources to make rolls to reflect that everything you do in a capitalist society comes at a personal cost, as well as the concept that unless you specifically do something to stop it, “the market always wins”.

On a very preliminary level, what I came up with was some vague notion of the struggle being for mental emancipation. In other words, you have a limited number of choices for how to act in any given situation unless you “break free” from the dynamic in which those choices are set in your mind. This could be a very general reflection of what it’s like to live in a propaganda-driven society, or it could even be enforced by technological influences to how your mind is able to process things (for example, Eclipse Phase-adjacent technologies that make it so that it takes an extreme force of willpower or workaround/hack to do anything other than find the nearest exit and evacuate if something violent or unusual happens in an area you happen to be in). Your characters could even be either hackers who work around these things or neuroatypical in ways that make them less effective, which is another source of stigma and a trait considered extremely dangerous.

I was also thinking about conflicting character stats, like in One Roll Engine, which could be used for this or obviously something different could be come up with, but I think it would be interesting to have connected conflicting stats (whether they’re akin to abilities or more akin to some kind of sanity damage-type mechanic) where one stat limits another. Specifically I was thinking your character could have an instinct for complacency that conflicts with an instinct for indignity… you need to draw on your complacency stat to do things like show up to work on time every day, but you need to draw on your indignity stat to do things like question your boss, fight back against the system, or organize a union or political movement. You could have a solidarity vs. alienation stat, where solidarity is required to be able to help people, and alienation is required for (or caused by?) hurting others. Conformity helps you feign being “normal”, where deviancy puts a target on your back but allows you to better fit in with marginalized communities.

That’s all I’ve come up with for now. In response to the question of population, I think like the real world it should be just fine with a common misconception that there’s overpopulation, and serfs should be both judged for having or not having kids (we wouldn’t want to ever run out of serfs, but we certainly wouldn’t ever want to reward anyone for being human either). And with the AR in your coffin… you don’t just have to pay for something pleasant, you also have to pay to stop the constant overwhelming advertising that’s basically ransoming your ability to sleep. The advertisement itself is just window dressing, mainly it’s just as loud and annoying and flashy as possible to serve as sleep deprivation torture for those unwilling to pay the ransom. They’ll even compete to be the worst possible ad that you can make go away with a subscription cost… “I can handle ads, but NOT THIS ONE, so I have to spend an hour a month to get rid of it”. Of course, they gather data and target you with the things that are shown to most specifically entice or annoy you personally.

As far as the final goal of your characters, maybe you could come up with your own goals as a group, with suggestions like “smash the state” “escape the system” “accumulate wealth and become the elites” “create or join the merchant class”…


#47

Jumping off this, medieval feudalism was always in a state of flux (and there are academic arguments that feudalism of the sort idealized by the Great Chain of Being never really existed). One big feature of the period was merchant adventurers who didn’t fit cleanly into the caste system. They could become fantastically wealthy, but they weren’t aristocrats. They didn’t work the land like peasants or actually make anything like artisans. And they didn’t fight like knights.

Is there room for such a person in Zuggurati? Maybe wastelander merchant princes who make their fortune moving commodities from one Zuggurat to another (and likely smuggle illicit luxuries to serfs and burdens).


#48

I feel like a rebellion would be hyper focused on hacking their tech. If those within the rebellion are the most augmented they would probably try to turn that into their advantage. The upper castes would obviously have fail safes built into the gear so that a miner with strength augmentations can’t just go cyber hulk, but I feel like there would be an entire black market around tech that disables those fail safes.

EDIT: also, even if the game isn’t focused on a rebellion, I feel like one might still exist. Maybe even as a second antagonist alongside the upper castes.


#49

@Capitalocracy thanks for joining! Lot’s of great takes. I actually explicitly invited Caleb Stokes to join us here, but whether he has the bandwidth is undetermined. We’ll see, I think he, like all of you, would add value to the conversation. Regarding your thoughts discussions on the struggle to “break out” of the cultural/propaganda restraints of the ziggurat, they are all awesome ideas, but I sort of see this thing going the way of all players playing burdens. They have been dejected by the system, so in a way, their struggles are different from the ones you’re conceptualizing for serfs “still in the system.” I think everything you wrote is spot on, and is useful for articulating and expanding on the plight of serfs (and why they don’t have the spoons to event resist the propaganda).

In terms of mechanical ideas, I’m open to anything, really. So far i’m thinking of 6 “playbooks”… all burdens, but they used to be one of the serf classes (conduit, fabricator, recycler, or servitor), or fall knight or cleric. But absolutely nothing is in stone at this point, other than maybe focusing play on the plight of burdens. If you have further examples of mechanical notions to borrow, steal, repurpose, or invent, I’m all ears!

@Bad_Quail great idea. I think the Zigguratti use dream-sellers to mine for cryptocurrency because they actually engage in trade and competition with other Zigguratti at other ziggurats. They probably do trade and deliver goods to one another. This may be an element to incorporate into the recycler class (they might be wasteland truckers, too). As to “independent” wastelander princes, I think it’s an interesting (and potentially disruptive and exploitable X factor) notion worth developing a bit more.

@epiclutesolo Yes, I don’t think the focus will be on rebellion, but I also think there’s no way to ignore it as a possible outcome, either organically without burden participation, or driven directly by burden organization. Hacking the neural jack connections might be a requisite to outlasting the opposition, or maybe just recruiting/flipping the knights who watch the AR overlays. Alternatively, maybe there are “AR deadzones” in the ziggurat (and maybe some are architectural, and others are “made” by secret movements"). Personally, I"m more partial to having these “external factors” degrade the surveillance technology, because that’s more about “changing the environment and culture” instead of just pulling a piece of tech out of your head.

You bring up a good point of aug control… a burden can still go hulk, potentially, and that’s a problem. What I have been thinking about, mechanically, as I continue to reinforce the element of “no food or sleep for the burden”, is that the burden has to spend fatigue to use their augmentations, and they only way to restore fatigue is to eat or sleep… two basic human needs that the ziggurat has been structured to deny them…


#51

Gang, I will make things perfectly clear in case anyone is wondering. I had and have no intent on monetizing this project. I just thought it would be a blast to build something with the community here, and then make it into a nice PDF we could all have and share with the world. I have and do make free games for the expressed purpose of art, advocacy, awareness, and radical empathy… you can find an example: landofnop.com …and I always provide attribution for collaborators, co-conspirators, informants, and test pilots in everything I do. That’ll happen again here.


#52

Someone call a knight to get this troublemaker outta here! bites into a raw beet straight out of the ground nah, j/k, @darren I like your moxie, and chad, I like your response even better, it would be awesome if this turns into a nice free game.

I think I see what you mean about the ideas I came up with kind of sounding more like a serf thing than a burden thing, although let’s not forget what foucault said, there’s no such thing as outside the system, so people will still have difficulty thinking outside the box even though they’re marginalized, especially when it comes to not blaming themselves for their own situation (more stuff that’s too real, amirite?)

That makes me think of some possible character backgrounds that might have different mechanics associated with them: the deep burden life, like people who are burdens from birth, multi-generational burdens, or tourists, people who chose the burden life, or the rejected, people who can’t find work in the serf class they were born in, or people who are incapable of making it in serf life due to neurodiversity mucking with the tech (if that direction is pursued). Oh, and a burden from birth could be a really interesting background, because, by default… no augments

There can also be things that burdens can do that others can’t… the ability to be anonymous, being jailbroken from certain social or even physical/technological systems of control… that would make them useful to various players inside the system. These could range from mundane criminal enterprises to being tools or workers for political movements or even unaccountable paramilitary enforcers for the man as we see so often in fascist-leaning societies (you know, from blackshirts to South American militias to bikers for trump). I could see a merchant class doing a lot of hiring of burdens for this sort of work.

Also after writing this I’m seriously considering changing my handle on everything to “burden from birth” … or just like, putting it in my will that I want it on my tombstone


#53

I could see the game with burdens as characters go into something along the Belonging Outside Belonging vein, similar to Dreams Askew - less interested in changing the overall status quo and more in preserving and strengthening a burden community.

(Also: I’d actually be more interested in a game where player characters were the indoctrinated serfs and / or knights slowly finding out that things are not what they have been told they were, not at all. And if there is no real scarcity, if people didn’t have to work 16 hours a day … what else has been lied about? Is there really a toxic wasteland? Everywhere? What are other ziggurats like? … my brain is plotting a campaign now. Sorry. You’re inspiring, that’s all.)


#54

I do feel like if you were a serf/knight/cleric when you started the game, it wouldn’t last very long… you’d get in trouble and lose your status fast, to the point where mechanically you could make it possible to start out as those things without having to really make things work much differently… as in, your character could be exactly the same, only “is a serf with a job” would be on your sheet… in pencil… to be erased shortly. Although a campaign where you are trying to be a revolutionary in secret while maintaining that status would be fun.


#55

So a couple of general observations about all the awesome ideas here. There are lots of folks interested in exploring the other castes, or scaling the story to be more epic, or exploring some really sick possibilities (e.g. @SabineV5 's “Cyberpunk Trueman Show” take is making my brain race).

At the same time, the bigger and more extensible we make this setting/universe/game, the less likely it is that it will ever reach a finished or playable state. Which is why I continue to put the focus on burdens. BUT… WE CAN DO BOTH!

My suggestion would be that the first iteration keeps its focus on the plight/resistance/community-building of the burdens. We build a tight game around them. And then when that foundation is finished, we start to explore those other exciting possibilities, one layer at a time. Does that seem like a good approach, or does anyone feel really strongly (and have a strong case), to re-purpose what’s been done so far?


#56

Personally I think a couple of paragraphs on “how to play a serf campaign” would probably do the trick, at least until someone starts talking about splatbooks, but that’s putting the cart before the horse before building the cart.


#57

Fam, I’m back! For this episode, special thanks to @dunadhaigh who reinforced the idea of the serfs being forced to work not for sustenance, but to pay for the outrageous lifestyle of their betters.

Clerics are the caste above knights, and compose approximately 5% of the ziggurat’s population. Their role in society is to divine the Zigguratti’s will and interpret it for the lower castes through writs, laws, and public proclamations. Their other (potentially more important) role is to live a lifestyle that outpaces the ziggurat’s gross production rates, in order to necessitate eternal growth and serve as a visible lodestar of envy compelling the lower castes to work harder. According to the doctrine that child-rearing servitors teach child serfs, all clerics used to be serfs themselves. By working hard and hoarding their currency hours, these former serfs earned enough to be promoted into the clergy caste. It’s difficult to validate or invalidate this claim, as serfs rarely even get to interact with the clergy.

The clergy is the dynamo around which the ziggurat’s economy spins. By financing and consuming the projects, products, and services the serf’s produce, they ensure that there is a always a preponderance of work to be done so that serfs will never run out of food or the opportunity to earn currency hours. Without the economic growth that their lifestyles and expenditures drive, the ziggurat would languish behind other ziggurats and be usurped by foreign Zigguratti less amenable to the lower castes needs.

Like others in the ziggurat, they have a neural jack and AR overlay, but knight visibility into their AR, location, or vitals, is prohibited unless the cleric themselves initiate a connection. Clerics do not have work augmentations, because they don’t work. They do, however, have the ability to change how they are visually perceived. While the other castes have their status flagged in AR via color scheme, the cleric has the ability to overwrite their appearance in AR, taking on an appearance as big or small, or as sublime or horrifying, as they wish. This physical representation is only limited by their imagination. Few clerics allow themselves to appear mundane. Most take on the mien of something that alternates between seraph and pazuzu, aquatic and avian, celestial and sinister, massive or miniature, never assuming the same form for long in case it becomes gauche.

There are only one sin that would push a cleric into the burdendom: burden-harboring. Clerics generate more currency hours by inhaling and exhaling than the most industrial of serfs could ever hope to accrue. Most have the means to support hundreds of serfs were that their prerogative. Be it through boredom or benevolence, some do make the mistake of secretly sponsoring serfs as projects, prodigies, or playthings. Ironically, they are typically caught and reported by other clerics attempting to sponsor the same serfs. When a serf turns down an offer from their magnanimous betters, it is clear that another cleric beat them to the punch. For this reason, clerics will never pay a sponsored serf in a way where they couldn’t be outbid. As a result, those serfs who are exploited by clerics are typically done so for little more than an extra currency hour or two a week.

The rare cleric who loses their status is in a unique position. Their lifestyle of leisure and lack of augmentation ensures that cannot do the work that even a child serf can do. However, their AR implants are hardwired to mask them from knight tracking and interference, making them invisible.


#58

Also @dunadhaigh I tried to hits notes of meritocracy. Let me know if I hit my mark or need to press it further.


#59

Sorry, fam. I was travelling for a few weeks and taking a break from game design. I return with a new installment about the clergy…

CIRCUS MAXIMUS

The clergy don’t just manipulate how they are perceived by the lower castes. They control all sensory information that a ziggurat denizen experiences in their AR overlay as they go about their day. From animated figures talking to them, to holographic interfaces used to operate machines, to real-time color-coded caste identification, the serf’s vision is continuously bombarded with avatars, counters, holographic images, icons, reticles, and status bars. Serfs aren’t simply receiving information; they are sending it, too. The neural jack in a serf’s head measures their mental and emotional stimulus as their attention moves from point to point, and then forwards this data to the clergy for analysis. The clergy uses this data to create an audio-visual zeitgeist tailored to each individual serf; one built on the pillars of desire and fear, the loadstones of work.

Serfs and knights alike can trade currency hours for minutes of fantasy in a simulator called Circus Maximus. In the very same slabs where dream-sellers toil in their sleep, serfs who do the work their birthright dictates can connect their neural jack to this clergy-administrated system and experience an alternate reality tailored to their fulfill their deepest desires and alleviate their worst fears. For minutes at a time, the serf experiences what they suspect is the life of the clergy; to be doted upon and desired, to experience absolute silence and stillness, to engage in the physical and emotional pleasures serfdom forecloses, to fulfill revenge fantasies and unleash violent impulses, to be loved back by loves unrequited or long dead. The serf connecting to Circus Maximus does not choose the fantasy they need, for the system already knows exactly what they need to experience in order to work harder upon returning to corporeal space. For when the simulation is over, the serf returns to the ziggurat, and their AR overlay is adjusted.

The love interest they pursued in Circus Maximus emits from every billboard, beckoning them to work harder and return to them. The onslaught of bells, klaxons, and adverts they took solitude from are now more frequent and a single decibel louder. The exclusive food, drink, or pastime they partook in last visit is now crude or gauche compared to what is available now. The feared rival they evaded or destroyed in their fantasies is assigned to their work space or coffin dormitory. Circus Maximus does not fulfill fantasy; it merely escalates its pursuit. Work harder and return. The life you desire, you deserve, awaits.

Though the clergy themselves have little need to partake in Circus Maximus themselves, they are keenly interested in, and competitive about, how their own lifestyles and avatars are emulated and coveted in the fantasies of serfs. In fact, this is a primary driver in their own corporeal competition of wealth accumulation, hedonism, excess, and cruelty without consequence. Clerics are as conspicuous in their behaviors as they can afford, if only to ensure that they, or their lifestyles, make an appearance in Circus Maximus’ illusions. After all, to not be envied by serfdom is a life as barren and harsh as serfdom itself.


#60

OK, so as far as I can tell, all the castes have been defined… potentially enough to have them be either playable, or be compelling NPCs. It might be time to talk about system (or lack there of). I’d be happy to package up this setting idea as a system-agnostic setting that people can riff on, or begin conversations about making this an actual game with a rules and mechanics. I’m open to anything and don’t really have an preference at this point.


#61

Since most people would start playing as serfs, wouldn’t it be good to introduce some more serf specializations (for example we have the outcasts and the salvagers already) to add a little variety so that player can pick the class?