Thursday, July 7, 2016

Outsider Psychology

I've written about Outsiders a few times before.  I don't mean outsiders like angels and demons.  (Those things are part of the normal moral/ethereal ecology of Centerra.)

I mean proper Outsiders, from outside the narrow banks of time and space.  Things that have slipped in when no one was looking.  Things that don't make sense, or at least not any sense that we can comprehend.  They are disruptive to the setting--they spoil it.  They ruin the logic of it.  They expose inconsistencies.  If it were a TV show, they would break the fourth wall, or spoil the ending of the series for everyone.

Anyway, this post has 4 points to make.  The first two have already been established (or at least strongly alluded to) while the last couple are novel.

This is not canon.  (There is no canon.)  But the existence of Outsiders seems to imply a few things.

1. The things outside our own universe are much, much bigger in every way: time, space, and significance.

Our universe stretches from big bang to its inevitable heat death, spans a few billion years.  The time scale outside that extends for trillions or quadrillions (depending on how you count the cyclic parts).

We cannot escape the walls of our universe, because there are no walls.  It wraps back in on itself.  To escape this universe would require more energy than the universe contains.

To continue a previous analogy, we are bacteria in a Petri dish.  The greatest bacterial heroes cannot see past the walls of their home, and our greatest works will not survive the experiment.

2. Human souls have a history prior to their conception.  It is much longer and much more important than everything that happens after conception.

Before you were plugged into your mother's endometrium, you were someone else.  Someone with a full life, with triumphs, failures, friends, and enemies.  Because that life occurred on the extracosmic scale (see above) it is too large to fit in our brains, and what little we remember is too complex to be understood.

This life is a reduction of what we once were.  It's stuffing the soul of a human into an ant, or perhaps an amoeba.  What is retained?  What can an ant-brain know of its previous life?

That is why the Awakened are so furious to see us clinging to our ant-lives.  Looking at us, they can see the creatures we were, before we were reduced to simpering idiocy by the machinations of cruel sperm and scheming egg.

A trillion-year friend reduced to a simpering, traitorous idiot in only a few decades.  (Less than an eyeblink, for some.)

And while our life here is short, the universe traps our souls for far longer.  And while we are here, we are not out there, where there are much more important things to do.  It represents a neglect of duty, as if we were emperors who refuse to stop playing tea party with stuffed animals while the kingdom burns down around them.

No matter how important our troubles seem, or how important our achievements, they are utterly dwarfed by the greater multiverse.  Centerran wars leave hundreds of thousands dead in the mud.  Wars in the multiverse leave quintillions of souls banished to the coldness between the stars.

(Fractals are a theme in Centerra.  If you zoomed in on a grain of sand, you would find tiny kingdoms of dust mephits fighting and dying amid the milliseconds, vying for control of a square micron in multigenerational wars that last entire seconds.)

Anyway, there is a third business to this business, one that involves the multiverse.

jose segrelles
3. All quantum events spawn a parallel universe of the opposite result.

Or to put it another way: whenever a coin is flipped, it creates two universes: one where the coin comes up heads, and one where it comes down tails.  (Don't tell me that a coin is too big to be influenced by quantum events.  I don't want to hear it.)

A lot of coins are being flipped all the time.  A lot of coins.  Every nanosecond, a billion universes are branching off from our own.  (And our own universe isn't special.  It's just another branch like all the others.)  And another nanosecond after that, each of those billion universes spawns off another billion universes.

Whenever you roll a d6 and get a 6, you create five more universes, one for each other result.

Whenever your mother dies of the plague when you are five, somewhere there are a billion billion other mothers that lived to happy old age.

Whenever your father sits back in his chair and licks his thumb before carefully turning the page of his hymnal, there are a billion billion other fathers who are burning alive, caught in the fire that started after they dozed off and dropped the pipe on the carpet.

Everything that is possible has already happened.

This is because a great deal of unlikely things are possible all the time.  How many chances do you have every day for a once-in-a-million experience?  (A lot.)  They don't happen to most of you, but they certainly happen to at least one of you.  And that lucky one goes on to spawn their own nested set of a billion billion universes.

This is a lot of mass and energy, but its not infinite.  And of course, the parallel universes don't interact.

Unless you are an Outsider.

4. Outsiders span the parallel dimensions.  For the most part, they can't move anything between universes except knowledge.

Each Outsider is dimly aware of all of its local parallel selves--those who are separated by only a recent branch in the timeline.  It's a fuzzy, ever-changing qualification, but it works.

So when an Outsider enters combat and makes an attack roll that has a 75% chance of hitting, they can see 15 slightly different universes where the attack hit, and 5 universes where the attack missed.  One of those universes is their own, while the other 19 are their local neighbor-selves.  And each of those universes will have it's own branches (for different results of the damage die, for example).

This awareness gives them a different sense of perspective than us.  Since they spread across a billion universes, fighting a billion (non-unified) foes, they don't mind losing a few battles in order to win the war.

They don't think like we do, in terms of life and death, winning and losing.  They think in terms of percentages.  This fight is 94% victorious.  That poisoned killed 25% of me.  I devoured 99.9% of her bodies.

It is very hard to die permanently in the multiverse, since if it is at all possible for you to be alive, you will be alive somewhere.  The only cost is influence (more on that later).

In combat, an Outsider might stand perfectly still and allow you to hit it.  It is learning how hard you can hit, and how much damage you can do.  It will use this information to triumph against you in a billion other worlds.

In combat, an Outsider might flee even though it seems to be winning.  It needs to scout out another room so that all of its billion twins can use that information in their universes.  It's already pulled your brains out of your sinuses in a billion universes; it can afford to squander this one, since the other billion selves need a piece of information more than they need one more negligible victory.

In combat, an Outsider might hurl itself at you, nearly suicidal.  Again, it is not trying to defeat it, merely learn from you, so that all of its other selves can triumph in their respective universes.

And when you talk to an Outsider, be assured that each of the billion Outsiders is asking you a different question.

One will ask you what your name is.  Once you answer, they will all know.

Simultaneously, in a different universe, another Outsider will ask another you where you are from.  Once you answer, they will all know.

Simultaneously, in a different universe, another Outsider will ask another you what you are doing here.  Once you answer, they will all know.

That's three questions.  There are still 9,999,997 other Outsiders asking questions.  Is it small wonder that some of the questions they ask seem nonsensical or trivial?

So when the first thing they say to you is, "Lettuce or Cabbage?", rest assured that it is not a trivial question.  They've already asked you all the important questions in parallel universes and gotten their answers.  They're just going for completion.

Talking to an Outsider is enormously one-sided.  A billion humans ask a billion questions to a billion Outsiders, but its the same question.  A billion Outsiders ask a billion questions to a billion humans, and each one is different.  The human learns one thing.  The Outsider learns a billion (including whether you prefer lettuce or cabbage).

This is why people say that Nobodies or slaad are insane.  (Slaad are the closest thing we have to "naturalized" Outsiders.)   Humans see only the battle in their own house, and miss the war consuming the city.

It is not insane to allow themselves to be struck dead.  They will kill a billion of you with the knowledge they gain.

It is not insane to flee from a combat that they are winning.  They have already triumphed a billion times, and this will allow them to gain some small knowledge.

It is not insane to ask strange questions, like "What color was your mother's horse?"  They have already asked a billion questions.  (That's how they learned your mother rode a horse.)


  1. Fucking right on. Stolen... love it.

  2. This is right up there with dinosaur priests. I shall put this in my pipe and smoke it.

  3. quick critique:
    1) "Our universe stretches from big bang to its inevitable heat death, spans a few billion years. The time scale outside that extends for trillions or quadrillions (depending on how you count the cyclic parts)."

    Time and space are interwoven, time is an effect of momentum as you travel across space. There is no space outside of the wall, and therefore no time.

    "We cannot escape the walls of our universe, because there are no walls. It wraps back in on itself. To escape this universe would require more energy than the universe contains."

    As you approach the speed of light your mass expands and time slows down. That speed limit is where time stops and mass hits infinity. Going beyond this speed limit IS POSSIBLE though, tachyons do it. We have no way of knowing what they experience, or what happens when you break that speed limit. You would be everywhere at once, and time would halt AT the speed of light, so moving faster means what.... you exist outside ?

    1. TBH, if you refer to our out-of-game universe, there is no evidence for tachyons or indeed any FTL process occurring anywhere.

    2. If there is no time then why doesn't everything happen at once?

  4. critique part 2)
    "This life is a reduction of what we once were. It's stuffing the soul of a human into an ant, or perhaps an amoeba. What is retained? What can an ant-brain know of its previous life?"

    The patterns of life follow fractal math. The growth spirals of plants are one clear example of this, but it extends to basically all of life's structures. This means something smaller has all of the functions of something larger. The soul incarnate in an individual isn't less than one out in the fabric of the universe, they are a function in the exact same equation.

    1. "The soul incarnate in an individual isn't less than one out in the fabric of the universe".
      True, but just in its potential, in act its expression is severely impacted by the limits of the body and mind, so that may be even more painful to outsiders.

  5. Why are you guys saying this is stolen?

    1. They're stealing it to use in their own games

  6. Okay, tried posting this on the Druid topic but it suddenly filled with spam from strange sources...

    I wrote a game which borrows from your druids much of its philosophy and even some individual sentences I thought were cool. It's all for this one roleplay server I play on. Here, take a read if you want:

  7. I like this place. I'll hang about this part of the internet for a bit.

  8. Cool.... actually AWESOME! But my brains hurt so I must ask: can you give us some weird/disturbing/cool uses for this at the table? 'cause right now, besides the completely surreal feeling of battling an Outsider, one use I came up is when a group meet their "twins" from a parallel (but close) universe and discover that it's their fault that the Outsiders knows/did something.

    Anyway, congrats for the flavor!

  9. I forget the title (maybe 'the fold') but I recently read a book about a group of scientists that discovered a way to build a teleport portal. They'd throw baseball's across from site A to site B, and eventually use it themselves a lot.

    Turns out though, it's not a teleporter, it's a gate to a parallel universe. But not like in a lot of movies, "the one where the dinosaurs are still around" or "the nazi's won", just, "the one where this one guy's office is on the other side of the hallway", or "the one where I had a chicken sandwich instead of turkey and there were no other consequences".

    Spoilers, I guess, but eventually the guy they send through comes staggering back with his guts in the outside, begging them to stop using the portal. They can only go to each world once, and each time they're moving "further away" to universes that branched longer ago and thus are weirder.
    There are interdimensional monsters who have consumed all other universes except basically ours and its immediate neighborhood and using the portal is drawing attention.

    So, anytime the main guy uses the Portal he's in a different universe just Slightly different. Every time his colleagues go through they're a little different. One was, his girlfriend with the horrible body image issues never had the accident that caused her scars and now she's confident af.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is pitch some ideas for people wanting to use this at the table. Outsiders could be desperately working to prevent the monsters from eating the last few viable universes. Or the players need to find one in order to save their universe. Maybe they want knowledge from another universe that has defeated the baddies, or they want to travel there. Maybe the party accidentally travels and an npc thinks they've gone nuts when they insist his walls used to be painted a different color or his cat used to have slightly different markings. Maybe an outsider is in charge of "correcting" these kinds of issues and has already tried the peaceful route in billion other dimensions.

    1. I agree that game material needs to be usable, and so plot hooks are always nice, but all of your suggestions go against my themes for the the Outsiders. The PCs *are* powerless against a timeline that splits a billion times every second. The goals of an Outsider *are* beyond their capacity to affect. All human lives are meaningless in the face of the much, much larger struggles that the Outsiders are privy to.

      Mostly this post is just about how to roleplay something that exists in a billion dimensions while the PCs only exist in one.

      You might have Outsider in your campaign, but your campaign cannot be about anything that concerns the Outsider. They are Big and you are Infintesmal.

      That doesn't mean that you can't sometimes stab them to death, though.

  10. In the worm webnovel, there's a character named coil with an alternate reality power similar to the outsiders' alternate universe thing