Friday, 25 December 2020

The Dusk Realm: Procedurally Generated Parallel World, more thoughts

This post was posted on Christmas Day 2020. It is unlikely that I will be within reach of anything remotely internet related for the duration of that day, so I'm hastily jotting this down in the last hour of Christmas eve... whatever goes up, goes up!

This is about a realm of alternative consciousness not ordinarily detectable to ordinary human senses. Nonetheless it sits within the reality of the world of PARIAH, and can be explored through the proper usage of the ritual magic or potent entheogens. I started to write about it here:

...and it is in some ways a variation of a concept espoused here:

Also I'm re-using the DMT locust image again:

It's just my favourite picture.


There's an established history of dropping games of chess into RPGs. I can't find any right now, so just trust me. You must have heard of GMs doing it! No? Okay, well here's a post by ChrisMcD where he talks about chess variants. 

This isn't what I mean but he's an RPG guy talking about chess so it will do for now.

Okay... so why drop a chess game into an RPG session?
  • To represent an diegetic game of chess (So you wish to return to the land of the living? First you must beat me, the reaper, at chess... or some reason!).
  • The real world chess game is representative of a strategic conflict in-game. This doesn't have tp be a military campaign: it could be a war for territory between rival guilds([note to self: look at Rival Guilds doc in slush pile in 2021) or something more abstract like the advance of a plague through a kingdom (not drawing on RL at all there).
  • To use a set of established rules and mechanics familiar to players while also breaking the familiarity of the usual playstyle to generate an interesting outcome (i.e. to have a fun time).
Very good. But why throw chess into the mix of this particular randomly generated alternative reality?
  • Because the dusk realm is supposed to epitomise the rational, the reasonable and the complex.
  • Because each realm needs a gimmick and chess marries nicely with the values this realm is supposed to epitomise (is this the same as the point above? It didn't feel like it when I started writing it but now I'm not so sure ...).
  • Because when I started writing the first post I posted this image and it's stuck:

A 12-by-12 chess board. It still only has 2 dimensions.

The Problem with Chess

While there are some interesting possibilities presented by introducing this game into uhh your game... and while there are multiple justifications for doing so in this context we should first address the issue that chess presents.

It's a big issue.

That issue is that some people are really good at it... and some people are really bad.

I lean towards the latter category, to my shame.

Anyway, the point is that if we reduce any of the game scenarios described above (literal game, abstract contest, random generator) to a one-on-one match between me and another player it's unlikely to be an even contest. I'm that bad. I would put money on 66% of any player in an RPG group anywhere in the world beating me at chess.

The other 33.3% I would annihilate mercilessly but that's not the point: the point is that we've come for a game of D&D or PARIAH or ... or... GLOG or whatever not chess.

Why are we playing chess again?

The PARIAHS are seeking the wisdom of the Ancient Insectoid Intelligence. It dwells in a parallel realm known as DUSK, accessible using ritual magic and entheogens.

It possesses knowledge of magic and technology: both of these have value to pariahs.

Both of these have a price.

In the previous post the realm was described as a series of interconnected rooms: each room is randomly generated from a 12 by 12 table, using a pair of dice.

The pariahs possess:
  • 1d6 exploration die. It can increase in size depending on what the pariahs discover during their explorations of this parallel world.
  • 1dX entheogen die (this is determined by the experience of whoever procured the entheogens or led the ritual... it can range form 1d6-1d12.
They roll and refer to a 12 x 12 griid:
  • Each square represents a newly discovered chamber. 
  • Each chamber has a randomly determined number of doors. 
  • Each door leads to another random chamber.
The realm of Dusk is generated on an Ad Hoc basis. It's organisation is different each time.

Yeah Okay but WHY are we playing chess again?

The realm possesses its own consciousness. This consciousness respects a particular form of intelligence only and will reject those it does not consider worthy. This judgement happens in parallel to the PCs exploration of the labyrinth, and is represented by a game of chess.

The GM does not participate directly in this game: the planar intelligence is represented by an opponent on (it's great you can even play Beth Harmon!). This is important because:
  • You can modify the opponent's ability according to the player's ability.
  • You can (if desired)modify for CHARACTER ability: if their characters are all low intelligence and the players are all chess geniuses (or genii?) ramp up the difficulty. Or make them play blind.
In the realm of dusk, the game follows standard exploration timekeeping, except every ten minute game turn the players are presented with a chess move to which they must respond. Eventually, the players will be defeated, and they will automatically be ejected from their bodies and returned to their physical bodies in the Here and Now.

Alternatively, the players defeat the intelligence and are brought face to face with it.

The chess game exists aas an abstraction of the realm/dungeon's intelligence interacting with that of the party: the characters continue their exploration, they are not literally playing chess at any point.

Chess Board as Encounter Generator

In the above scenario, the chess board effectively serves as a delayed trigger for two possible outcomes: the party are ejected from dusk or the party are confronted with its ruler. Neither scenario is considered desirable, but attempting to "win" is the best means of extending the amount of game time they spend in that realm (time they spend searching out particular pieces of knowledge and overcoming the in-game obstacles of the labyrinth).

The chess board is a clock. I've not written about the before so I can't link you to what I mean by clock in an RPG context. maybe the Alexandrian has done something?

I suppose the above will have to do. read Blades in the Dark, I promise your OSR credentials won't be eaten by Seterra.

But the chessboard can also do something else. It can generate additional encounters.

Remember our 12 x 12 board before? We can chuck our actual chessboard over the top of it:

Remember, the rooms lurking behind each door are determined by dice rolls: one die for the x-axis, one for the y.

We can therefore code each room binomially.
  • The top left square is (1,1).
  • The bottom right square is (12,12).
  • In this arrangement, the black queen's knight is on (6,5).
So each coordinate corresponds to a square in the labyrinth with its own description and write-up... but in addition, a set of encounters is wandering around rooms (5,5) to (12,12) as a game of chess is being played.

Each chess piece corresponds to a different type of encounter, ranked in strength according to the conventions of the game:
  1. Pawns will be the weakest/ least challenging/ most numerous.
  2. Knights and bishops are of equivalent value but distinct quality.
  3. Rooks represent a powerful/challenging encounter.
  4. Queens represent the most challenging and complicated random encounter.
  5. Kings represent something of value, but also something vulnerable.
Furthermore, we have the variable of colour:
  • While black is the defending side and the players are the invaders, it nonetheless makes sense for black to relate to the party as they are in unfamiliar territory (white has the advantage over black in chess as it moves first).
  • In this context white therefore represents the "home side" and therefore a more aggressive encounter. It is also unlikely to be encountered in the early stages of Dusk's exploration.
  • This also implies that the die representing depth should correspond to the y-axis while the die corresponding to... hmm... "shamanic experience" should relate to the x-axi
  • Black encounters aren't automatically allied, but they should be representative of the PCs in some way (?)
We can lean into the chess board mechanic:
  • An encounter destroyed or immobilised by the party in the labyrinth should result in pieces being removed from the meta-chess board (problem: I don't think chess sims will enable you to do this- certainly not on free mode... solution: ignore that encounter if it arises again, though it can still influence the meta-chess game).
  • Encounters pursuing the PCs through the labyrinth should also result in pieces moving on the board...
    • BONUS: the encounters move through the labyrinth according to how they move across the board i.e Bishops go diagonally, knights leap etc. This means they might not be able to catch the PCs in the same turn.
    • PROBLEM: see above... can't move the pieces on behalf of an AI opponent
    • SOLUTION: GM plays as opponent, but uses chess-sim AI to advise (I will need to check viability of this).
The CONSEQUENCE being that as exploration continues, the chess board will change and the variety and complexity of the encounters will alter in parallel to the meta-game of chess:

Shifting encounter matrix: as the meta-game progresses, the pieces on the board reduce...
...but the threat of those pieces increases!

Unghhhh this is starting to get complicated


Yes I know.

...and we all agree that COMPLICATED IS BAD. wyas.

We want to keep the mechanics by which the players interact with the fiction SIMPLE, so that they can focus on responding to those challenges without fretting about factors external to their character's experience. The player is able to immerse themselves within the fictional world of their character and respond in a way commensurate with the fiction of that character's world.

With respect to the above, simple is best.


In terms of drama, complications are good..

Random generators of drama that respond to player/character actions are GOOD.

Such generators can be complex.

carry the weight. Reduce the player facing complexity. Bear that load yourself. 

In terms of the environment you must manage:
  • A randomly generated game map.
  • A chess board game between the players and the "owner" of that map.
  • Encounters according to how the map and the game board interact.
  • The dice the players are using to generate the aforementioned map (actually, they can manage that: you just need to tell them when their dice improve in size)
C'mon! You got this! You've read books, you went to college/university/high school! You can google chess moves to make up for your own inadequacies in this game which somehow is representative of human intelligence even though you've always considered yourself intelligent and yet are terrible at the aforementioned game!

It's not brain surgery.

I believe in me you.

Strip them Down

Keep the players as light on their feet as their characters. Limit their questions to those about the world as opposed to the game (and its mechanics) as much as possible.

Do this by simplifying their interface betwixt them and the fiction (this is their character sheet... probably).

While their characters have dropped into a world beyond that of the conventional: however, it is a world in which the normal laws of physics appear to apply.

Nonetheless, the characters have lost:
  • Any items (including magic items).
  • Spells (though they may still attempt to perform rituals)
  • Skills, saves and ability scores/attributes.
Diegetically this corresponds tot the characters leaving their physical bodies behind as they enter the world of the dusk spirits. Non-diegetically this lets the players understand that they are operating within a new paradigm, and frees them up to engage with the new world on the exploration and the meta-chess level.

Posts about diegesis: (meh.... but we forgive you because everything else)

Gimme Options

Okay let me spell it out for you:
  1. 3 Stats take the characters mental stats (INT, WIS, CHA) and assign these to the characters new stats: POWER, ACUITY, PRESENCE. Assign them in order, unless the character's CORE ATTRIBUTE is INT, in which case they can assign however they wish! 
    1. When characters perform risky actions, roll against the stat using 3d6. Equal or lower to succeed. Add/remove D6s depending on difficulty.
    2. In combat characters roll a D6 , add it to a stat and compare to the equivalent stat of their opponent. The difference is inflicted as damage against the contested stat.
  2. 2 Stats In the realm of dusk the pariah has 2 stats: FORCE and WILL. Force is equal to their character's usual INT score, will is equivalent to CHA or WIS, whichever is lower (characters with core attribute of INT can pick their higher score for WILL).
    1. When characters perform risky actions, roll against the stat using 3d6. Equal or lower to succeed. Add/remove D6s depending on difficulty.
    2. In combat characters roll a D6 , add it to a stat and compare to the equivalent stat of their opponent. The difference is inflicted as damage against the contested stat..
  3. 1 Stat... the player takes their character's INT score and uses this as the roll under cap for all skill/attribute/save checks in the labyrinth. Combat is resolved in exactly the same way, and damaged is inflicted against INT. At 0 INT, characters die.


Look, I mean nothing by it, I'm just trying to shake things up.

I am currently shaken. Not by myself, but by events. It's been a lot: on top of the pandemic and the depressing global politics I've returned to the country of my birth after a long absence, moved to a new city, started a new job... left my wife and son behind for an indefinite period... but within that framework opportunities have grown and developed. I've met so many interesting people this year and played so many new games.

Against the odds it's been... a productive (?) year. 

It's been a productive few weeks in particular and, after such a frenetic period,  I'm taking a break today to interact with other humans and try to reassure myself that there is a life worth living beyond the world of my own imagination. It's been a really crazy year and, while I'm incredibly humbled by the gradually increasing level of engagement experienced at this site, this has occurred against a backdrop of tremendous personal strain and withdrawal and I'm looking forward to re-engaging with actual humans tomorrow.

I'll return in a few days but, in the mean time, thank you all so much for taking the time to read the contents of my paranoid pea-brain. 

If you celebrate Christmas I hope you have a wonderful time. 

If you do not, I hope you can enjoy the holiday as an opportunity to reconnect with friends and family and reflect on this past year. 

If you are working and are unable to take time off, you have my sympathy.

If you are unable to spend this time of year with the people you love, I empathise and I hope you will be reunited soon.

If that is impossible, I hope that in time you are able to come to terms with your situation

g0D jUL

- Sofinho


  1. I wish you nice holidays and good new year.

    As for chess, did you consider giving players non-standard moving figures as boons?

    1. Thank you and you too Kyana, always a pleasure to see you here.

      Swapping out or promoting (or indeed demoting) pieces is a good addition to the meta-game but I think I might put the chess addition on to the backburner. I think maxcan7 makes a great point: despite its ancient origins, it has a lot of cultural baggage that associates it with the modern era, which might be jarring in a proto-neolithic game. Not sure about Go now, for similar reasons. Also Go doesn't have differentiation of piece types.

    2. I am now considering the board game Othello. Or drafts.

  2. This is a really cool development from the last post. I'm intrigued by the DUSK Realm, and this chess idea. I know this is a pre-history setting, and if anything chess should be more evocative of Wonderland or Ynn, but for some reason this whole thing keeps feeling very 20th century, like in my head I see The Black Lodge and the weird places in Invisibles (it's been too long since I've read it to remember the particulars...). I guess there's a timelessness to psychedelia and primal places that just makes it inevitably anachronistic, if done well.

    1. I'm glad you made this point because while the chessboard is meant to be a meta-element in its going to throw a lot of people into another frame of reference. Someone on the OSR discord (Beeptest I think, I'll check later) suggested GO because the pieces are more abstracted and the gameplay is more fluid but I'm even worse at go than I am at chess. I think the idea of having a parallel but separate game based on a grid is going to form a big part of where this goes but the chess idea might have too much baggage.

    2. I think any game will have this issue; it might be more about the flavor of the activity e.g. if it somehow involved tea leaves, bones, reading entrails, etc. (maybe not literally though...). Anyway, for all I know chess is older than those things, but I think in my head, those seem older. Even if it's checkers instead of chess, but you do it with little stones, or something like that.

      In any case, as I said before, I actually think the anachronistic feeling of it makes it more interesting to me, especially since it's in this psychedelic space anyway, but if that's not what you're going for then that's not what you're going for.