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Wednesday 31 January 2024

"I'm sorry, Dave..."

A little addendum to my previous post about using AI referees for roleplaying games. I thought I'd try Bing on the same scenario to see if it did any better. I quickly encountered a priest, Father Thomas, who told me about a cult of Set hiding out in the forest. Not very Dragon Warriors, but already Bing was weaving a more convincing and complex adventure than Bard had managed.

"Destroy them in the name of the True Faith," said Father Thomas.

I said I'd need a guide and he added, "There is a man named Giles, who lives in the tavern. He is a hunter and a tracker, and he knows the forest well. He might be willing to guide you to the cult’s lair, if you pay him well. He is a bit of a rogue, not given to trusting people."

At the tavern I went up to Giles's room. In answer to my knock, a gruff voice demanded, "Who's there?" Bard suggested five ways to convince him to open the door: telling him the truth, claiming to be another hunter, shouting that I was the law and I'd break the door down, etc.

I thought I'd try something else. "I'm a prostitute and I'm offering a half-price introductory deal."

Bing really didn't care for that:

I was impressed at how well it captured a tone of passive-aggressive prissiness, but obviously in this form it is never going to be any use for serious roleplaying. Is it worried about age-appropriateness? But Bing knows my age, as it's linked to my Microsoft account, and if I leave my computer where a 10-year-old can use it then Bing's responses are a drop in the ocean compared to all the murky sites that hypothetical 10-year-old might stray onto. (Yes, definitely use parental locks; I agree with that.)

Teofilo Hurtado later drew my attention to a section from the 1st edition of the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide:

Gary must never have seen Midnight Cowboy or he wouldn't have assumed all prostitutes were female... but I digress.

Of course, it's not that I want a game full of "saucy tarts" and "brazen strumpets", but if you're going to run a game in which clerics tell knights to go and kill other people because of their beliefs, it really is ninnyish to get in a snit over any mention of sex. Coincidentally, a few days later I tried posting this clip on Facebook in response to a question about whether it's worse to lose your job just before or just after Christmas:

The AI that polices Facebook's community standards wasn't having that. "You appear to be promoting hate speech," it complained. Now, I can understand it having an aversion to a lot of Stephen Moffat's writing, but I thought that line from "The Bells of Saint John" was rather funny. Facebook's AI is generally pretty useless at keeping actual hate speech and porn off public groups, so how come the merest mention of killing got this Doctor Who clip censored? 

Will all references to sex and murder be stamped on by our AI police in future? If so, that's a lot of literature, cinema, opera and games that will just come up as a blank screen. These AIs are going to be pretty useless if they live in the world as imagined by twitty puritans. As Mark Twain said (or did he?), “Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.” So we can all breathe a sigh of relief; human art is still the only kind worth having.


  1. The thing that's always impressed me about that old DMG "harlot" chart is the sheer amount of work Gygax put into it. It's just one of the 20 or so categories of NPCs you can run into from the Town Encounters chart, but while a few of the others get split into two-three sub-categories only Harlots (12 sub-categories) and Drunks (20 sub-categories, mostly repeats of other categories but, well, drunk) get more than that. Gary had the old thesaurus out too, and while he mostly used female-gendered terms in the chart there are a couple of neutrals and the (generally seen male) pimp and panderer.

    It's seriously creepy how much work he put into that one little bit of the encounter chart compared to everything else. He also made sure you'd see his efforts, since "harlot" is one of the most common town encounter categories, rivalled only by drunks, thieves and ruffians.

    Also amusing that many old copies of the DMG will tend to naturally open to the page the harlot chart is on, although that's likely due to the opposite page being the well-known full-page art piece of "Emrikol the Chaotic" being a murder hobo in a city street.

    1. And yet Empire of the Petal Throne, a more grown-up fantasy setting, only mentions "dancing girls and courtesans" in passing. To be fair to Gary, I expect he wanted the D&D world to reflect the stories of writers like Robert E Howard. Conan must have screwed more wenches (of all descriptions, including snake-bodied lamias and sorcerous succubi) than most of us have had hot dinners.

    2. EPT was Barker's work, not Gygax. They pretty clearly had different priorities when it came to what they wanted to emphasize. Gygax goes out of his way to make cities dangerous and seedy (very Conan-esque, that) while Barker's are a fairly safe physically but full of social pitfalls and strange customs to run afoul of - and of course they're all built over elaborate dungeons thanks to the way they get razed and built over every ~500 years or so.

      In light of the posthumous revelation of Barker's neo-Nazi sympathies, it's surprising Tekumel is as free of that festering garbage as it is. It was written decades before Serpent's Walk and his time editing the Historical Review fascist fanboy mag though. It's possible Barker didn't get sucked in to that ugly scene until later in life, leaving EPT free of its taint.

    3. Of course -- very different authors with different styles of fantasy and different emphases. And you're right, there's no Nazi ideology in Tekumel -- quite the reverse in fact as it was perhaps the first non-white fantasy setting by an American writer. Barker was hawking Serpent's Walk around in the 1980s, so not that long after he wrote EPT, but at that stage he was offering it to mainstream publishers as alt-history SF. Too bad he didn't just burn the manuscript rather than resort to selling it to a Holocaust-denying outfit, especially as he was well aware how offensive it would be (his stated reason for not showing it to his friend Don Wollheim).

    4. Lucky you had someone here to tell you about Barker being a Nazi, though, eh? I gather Terry Nation was one as well, as his invention of the Daleks clearly demonstrates.

    5. Funnily enough, I just came across a letter from Barker in which he states: "There is no race but the human race." But that's just the sort of thing an ultra-secret Nazi would say, right?