Joy and Coda

I'm an INTP. In playing role playing games, I'm out to explore ideas as well as have a good time.

On of my favorite themes is the alien mind pattern. Joy Mudd is one such. She is not human. She is a machine created to obey orders while seeming to pass as human. This has caused me some grief as a few of Joy's commanding officers don't understand that Joy just can't do what they think she ought to do to further the main plot line.

On line games tend towards 'overscripting'. They are story telling games. The game master (or commanding officer) creates a plot. The players act out various parts to make the plot come to full fruit. Since the commanding officer is running the ship's captain, the degree to which the CO controls the actions of the players seems quite natural.

I come from a role playing background. Off line games have more time, and in many ways allow more freedom. There, the game master often provides a conflict, and the characters are free to resolve the conflict however they like. The players are presented a problem to solve. It just isn't considered fun or entertaining if the character making all the decisions already knows the answer to the problem. Before I tried on line gaming, I thought it clear and painfully obvious that the game master of a science fiction game should never play the captain.

For the most part, this is not a problem for Joy as an on line character. The Joy class's Laws of Robotics were designed for a Star Trek TNG sim. "Obey legal orders from your valid Starfleet chain of command" is the central core of Joy's programming in a ship sim. So long as the majority of the orders coming from a ship's CO are legal, and the chain of command stays clearly valid, Joy is fine.

I did have one GM take the whole sim outlaw, invalidating the chain of command. I received stage instructions that Joy should be cheerful about this. I took Joy off the ship rather than invalidate Joy's programming. Acting outside the law triggers negative reinforcement. She simply should not be happy as an outlaw. Another GM liked to explore situations where something had to be done to fix an immediate problem, the law forbids interference, but a little violence would make everything all right. Joy's programming required a legal, nonviolent solution, which resulted in considerable clash. The theme on several levels was Rule of Law against Rule of Men.

There are only three basic rules in role playing games. The game master is always right. The game master is never wrong. In case of conflict, see above. Still, would a Star Trek game master tell a Klingon or Vulcan character to be more cheerful and smile? Would Asimov, to further the plot and tell a better story, ignore the Laws of Robotics? Can science fiction on line explore ideas, or is the media inherently limited to doing action adventure in outer space?

I think it is possible to do genuine Science Fiction on line, and to present players with choices that matter. However, on line games have a high turnover, and you have trouble fitting players into a group. Bitter experience shows the GM has to keep firm control of the action, and this results in firm control of the plot.

I have decided not to play a Joy class android in a game with Cyberpunk themes and conflicts. Her programming can't handle it. This does not resolve the larger problem in game structure, but it should keep Joy out of trouble.

But the Joy Class androids are not my first non-human characters. In 1987 I was playing in a superhero campaign. After using the Champions rules for several years, and creating literally hundreds of superheroes for play in my own game and others, it was becoming difficult to create a really original superhero. Coda was my last attempt at an original superhero before I started falling back into variations on favorite themes.

Coda's theme was prophecy. As the game master in this campaign never knew what was going to happen next, responding to the characters actions rather than demanding they follow the script, prophecy is a tough buy. I limited it to six seconds in the future.

Coda's superpower was to always know how to get out of trouble, at least in the very short run.

But if Joy is subtly alien, Coda is blatantly so. Joy makes decisions based on a rigid pattern of rules, filtered through an emotion chip so the decisions are emotional ones. She is also part of a hive mind, sharing memories, thoughts and feelings with other androids in the Joy class. Coda, however, bases all her choices on a method of perceiving the world not shared by humans.

Which makes Coda very very strange. However, her method of responding to the world proved entirely valid, at least if you could suspend disbelief enough to run in a world full of superheroes and myths.

Still, the final problem with Coda was that she wasn't trusted by the other players. She was too alien. When the other players got together to plot and plan, her perspective on the universe wasn't really contributing, so they stopped inviting her. I had to stop running her, and created another character, the Lady Talora Elafayin of Dragon Friend.


Coda's Main Page
Joy's Home