Games are a great way to teach new skills and communicate concepts to a larger audience. We at the Institute have always felt this, and so we decided to develop a role-playing game in our Seasteading Discord Server to provide a fun opportunity for people to get a sense of how seasteading will actually work. Following the rich conversation during our Seasteading Social on Games in January, we figured that many seasteaders would enjoy playing a game to simulate their own seasteading ambitions.
I myself have some experience with tabletop roleplaying games, including Dungeons & Dragons 5e. I have participated in many games with others for the last six years and have currently been running my own campaign for over a year now outside of the Institute. Taking this experience and workshopping with a group of gaming experts, we were able to create a basic system of gameplay from scratch.
Setting up the game
We made the decision to play the game in our Discord Server because Discord is a very popular instant messaging and digital distribution platform designed for creative content and communities. Discord was initially designed and created to be used for playing online games with friends (including the extremely popular Dungeons & Dragons), and evolved into more over time. It’s ability to create multiple “channels” is it’s primary appeal in this aspect. A channel acts much in the same way as a “thread” does in a forum. You can have private or “secret” channels for individual players or groups and have them be text based or voice chat. Because you can lock and hide certain content and create separate sections for different groups of people, this allows it to be excellently conducive to table-top gameplay.
From there, we wanted to make the game as simple as possible to start. We decided to create three seastead communities, The Constitutional Cruise, The Crypto-Anarcho Citadel, and The Co-Op, and limited players to these communities for the time being. At the end of the first scenario, players were allowed to “move” to another seastead if they no longer liked the one they were currently in. Our intention was to allow as much autonomy as possible, so that in future Scenarios, players would be able to create their own seasteads. We also created nine characters for players to choose from.
Three of the pre-created characters were “Founder characters” for their respective seasteads. Players could also create a custom character to play instead. Players were limited to playing one character. When creating a custom character, players were given blank character sheets to use and a list of skills/job specializations that they could select three from for their custom characters, after which players were asked to submit their sheets to our “#character-sheet-submission” channel. Players would then be assigned to the seastead they desired most according to what they put in the “#registration” channel. After character selection, which took place on June 21st, players would spend the remainder of the week coordinating with each other to organize their respective seasteads. These characters and seasteads can be viewed on the RPG landing page. The landing page caused a huge spike in our web traffic (nine times normal traffic) when it was posted on Hacker News.
A week after character selection, we had five days of game play for Scenario 1 starting on July 28th, with myself as The Game Master. Each day would constitute one round. We gave 20 hours for characters to respond to actions in each round to accommodate players in many time zones around the world.
Starting on June 21, 2021, players would be able to pick their characters by rolling the dice for them. Whoever got the highest roll would win the right to play as that character. Players were asked to answer three basic questions for registration:
- Name (Real name for cross referencing who signed up through Eventbrite vs elsewhere)
- Which character do you want to play as (or do you want to create your own)?
- Which of the three seasteads do you wish to join in order from 1 to 3 (1 being most desirable)?
Of the nine starter characters available, two were left unclaimed: characters Feng Bai and Janni Katz.
- 81 people signed up to play through Eventbrite.
- 39 followed through and registered for the game on our Discord Server.
- 7 were placed in The Constitution Cruise.
- 15 were placed in The Crypto-Anarcho Citadel.
- 17 were placed in The Co-Op.
After much deliberation with several game experts and other outside sources, I came up with the following rules of gameplay:
- Players can either do 3 Minor Actions or 1 Major Action per round.
- Each Minor Action must be different from each other.
- Major Actions have larger successes or failures than Minor Actions.
- Minor Actions can reap +2 rewards.
- Major Actions can reap +5 rewards.
- A failed Minor Action will result in no rewards.
- A failed Major Action could have negative rewards.
Example 1: Say you wanted to spend an action to gather resources: as a Minor Action, you can potentially gather 2 resources. As a Major Action, you would potentially be able to gather 5 resources.
Example 2: You could spend one Minor Action to gather resources. You could spend one Minor Action gathering food. You can spend one Minor Action shoring up defenses. You could spend one Minor Action gathering intel on another seastead. You cannot however, spend three Minor Actions all gathering resources. Each Minor Action must be different.
Things you can do with either a Minor or Major Action:
- Gather Resources (used for maintenance and upkeep or building onto the seastead for larger populations.)
- Gather Food
- Gather Money
- Gather Intel (learn about what the other seasteads are possibly up to or information that may help with each scenario.)
- Strengthen Defenses
- Build Something (this can be an individual action or a group effort, depending on the scale of it.)
For example: Perhaps you want to build a structure to protect your seastead from the elements. Depending on its size, it might take 50 resources to build, and will require multiple players pitching in to create it.
Character Skills and Actions:
The skills characters have can potentially add a “buff” or enhancement to their roll for specific tasks, leading to an increased chance of a success for each action.
For example: Simon McKenna, one of the pre-made characters, is talented in Aquaponics, Aquaculture, and Horticulture, making him perfect for gathering food. Each of those skills would add a +2 to rolls, totaling in a +6 to any roll he makes regarding harvesting food.
The same can be said of Hira-Shinu Divakar, another one of the pre-made characters. Being talented in Security, Surveillance, and Tactics, they are well suited for gathering intel, gaining them a +6 to rolls.
However, a character like Founder Richter Ivan Bossa is a more eclectic individual and does not have any skills relevant to food gathering, so they would not have any buffs to food gathering but would get a buff for both intel and resource gathering as an Administrator. Which leads us to the next point:
Founder Characters get additional perks
- Founders get a buff of +4 for each of their skills and related Action tasks.
- As Administrators, Founder characters get a +4 to gathering resources and intel.
- Their Minor Actions and Major Actions also reap larger rewards, as they have an entire seastead at their fingertips.
- Founder Minor Actions can reap +4 rewards.
- Founder Major Actions can reap +10 rewards.
Each character starts with 10 Monies.
Each seastead starts with 100 Monies, 100 Resources, and 100 Food.
Every day, each player uses 1 food and a seastead collects 1 monies from each player. Resources are used in tasks. Some seasteads also start with debt accrued for creating the seastead in the first place that needs to be paid off over time. Some seasteads have more than others.
In order for players to make rolls in the Discord Server, we used a “dice-bot” called Dice Maiden. Players had to roll to decide the success of each of their daily actions, whether Major or Minor. They rolled 1d20 (one twenty-sided die) per action. A 10 or below is a failure with a 1 being a critical failure, and 11 – 20 being a success, with a dice landing on 20 (not totaling to or above 20) being a critical success. Depending on the skills a character has and the task performed, players may or may not be able to add bonuses to those rolls.
Clarification on resources and things Players can do with their actions:
Monies – A player wants to use an action to collect monies. Then they perform a task on the seastead, perhaps for the Founder or even another player, granting the overall seastead or that other player a + resource(s) in labor in exchange.
Food – Players can gather food, which will be taken from the seastead or possibly dived or fished for (i.e., seaweed, sea vegetables, shellfish, fish, etc.).
Resources – Gather resources for the overall seastead. This one is really open ended. Perhaps diving for wreckage or trading with another seastead or country.
Defenses/Building – Use available resources to construct something. You could construct a fishery for better food gathering or an aquaponics farm or a multi-trophic aquaculture farm. Maybe a smeltery for disposal of debris into new resources.
Intel – I grant the player knowledge from either another seastead or data that may be useful for the current scenario, like tips, tricks, or hints, depending on what the player wanted to do.
It was the hope that players would have to consider short term vs. long term gains. Unfortunately, during the first Scenario, many players did not use their Actions effectively. We think more frequent posts about how players can use their actions will help in future Scenarios.
Some Examples of Builds and Resource Costs:
Basic aquaculture farm
Multi-trophic Aquaculture Farm
Large Desalination Facility
15 – 35 Resources
Players were instructed to self-organize themselves according to their seastead’s governance layout. The Founders were in charge, but the will of the people still matter, as each player could leave at the end of the first scenario and join a different seastead. It was the Founders’ job to recruit people to join their seastead, pay down debt, and make sure the seastead is tended to during scenarios. Founders also had the power to remove anyone from their seastead. On the first day of game play, I announced that a hurricane would hit each of the seasteads on different days.
The official game began on June 28th with what we called “The First Scenario”. For the First Scenario of gameplay, players were faced with a Category 1 Hurricane that over the course of the following week (Monday June 28th at 10:00AM EDT – Saturday July 03rd at 10:00AM EDT), would advance across the “world map”, affecting each seastead at different times of the week. Each day would act as “a round of gameplay”, with five rounds total for each seastead.
Players were then provided with a variety of resources on hurricanes and related material to the nature of the First Scenario, to help familiarize themselves with the potential dynamics of the situation. Those very same resources are available here: Link 1, Link 2, Link 3, Link 4, Link 5, and Link 6.
As the week progressed, the hurricane first struck The Co-Op on Day 2, The Crypto-Anarcho Citadel on Day 3, and The Constitutional Cruise on Day 5. Each seastead was given an assessment of how they were faring at the point of the passing of the hurricane.
The Co-Op attracted the most players (seventeen), although only five of them participated. Before the hurricane hit full force, the Co-Op managed to gain +16 Defenses, +10 Food, +2 Resources, and used a total of -16 Resources. They needed a minimum of +35 Defenses to fully withstand the buffeting of the Cat 1 Hurricane. As a result, their defenses were destroyed, and they lost an additional -38 Resources.
Being struck by the hurricane as early as they were, they had three days afterwards to rebuild themselves, potentially putting themselves in a better position for the next scenario.
I joined a discussion with Co-Op players where the dominant topic of conversation was “what do we do about piracy, defending ourselves, and what to do with captured pirates?” Players had different recommendations, ranging from “just let them go” to “forced labor camps or even slavery”. Luckily, the latter two, while brought up, were not taken seriously by the majority, and were scrapped as an option.
The Co-Op, while being unfortunate to be struck first by the hurricane, had sufficient time afterwards to rebuild themselves and to gather new resources and salvage from the hurricane and strengthen themselves. What was spectacular though was that the players came together in an incredibly impressive display by drawing up their very own constitution, which ended up being seven pages long. They also made a poll to ratify each article presented in their constitution. They even debated whether or not to make serving as an officer required for every member.
One member however was kicked from the game for promoting hate speech in the server (the very same who promoted the idea of forced labor camps or slavery).
The Crypto-Anarcho Citadel
Fifteen players joined the Citadel, though only five ever participated. Before the hurricane hit full force, the Citadel managed to gain +29 Defenses, +6 Resources, 0 Food, and used a total of -64 Resources. Due to certain builds, everyone had +2 to rolls for Intel for everyone for the remainder of the scenario and +2 to rolls for Resources for everyone for the remainder of the scenario. They needed a minimum of +35 Defenses to fully withstand the buffeting of the Cat 1 Hurricane. As a result, their defenses had taken a serious hit but some of it remained, and while not perfect, they did provide a significant amount of protection, but they still lost an additional -12 Resources.
The Crypto-Anarcho Citadel rallied both before and after the storm, and their seastead remained largely intact during the hurricane, and afterwards built upon it, increasing their resource pool and defense pool. More so, all the players came together in an effort to coordinate their Action resources, allowing them to harvest a great number of resources for defense building and repairs. The Founder player even made a spreadsheet to help coordinate Actions amongst players.
The Constitutional Cruise
Seven players joined the Constitutional Cruse, however only four participated. Before the hurricane hit full force, the Cruise managed to gain +4 Defenses, +4 Resources, +16 Food, and used a total of -100 Resources. Due to certain builds, everyone had + 5 Intel towards scenario rolls. They had built one Large Desalination Factory and one Non-Denominational Church. They also learned that the Citadel was wary of other seasteads and on the lookout for piracy and that The Co-Op had been spying on them. On the very last day of the Scenario, they decided to use fuel resources to sail to Panama.
One member of their seastead decided to spend their time and resources building a church and attempting to commune with the forces of nature to “stop the hurricane”. This did not succeed. Another player, in their frustration after repeated failed rolls, used a final action for that particular day to “go to the bathroom”. Ironically, they succeeded on that roll. Some players took the game more seriously than others, and many never participated at all, preferring to observe instead. As someone who has played tabletop role-playing games for a little over half a decade now, some of these decisions did not phase me, as I have seen far worse.
As a result, The Constitutional Cruise was able to make it to Panama, but they left for Panama far too late, and as such, the voyage was harrowing, and the Cruise sustained severe damage. They had already used up most of their resources, with the remainder being destroyed by the intense buffeting of the hurricane. As such, they were forced to make critical repairs at Panama, causing their seastead to gain an additional 2,000 monies in debt. The Church and the Desalination Facility were both destroyed.
The Constitutional Cruise, despite having the entire week to prepare, did not utilize their Action resources well, and as a result, were devastated by the hurricane. In fact, if they had not on the last day decided to move their cruise liner closer to land, I would have been forced to capsize and sink them completely, for while cruise liners are sturdy beasts, they are not intended to be sailed in the middle of a hurricane…
After the Scenario ended, characters contemplated hacking into the digital wallets of people and laundering the stolen money through the church. They weighed the risks of committing acts that would attract the attention of governments against their dire need. These are exactly the kinds of conversations we hoped the game would inspire.
Each of the seasteads took time to “spy” on each other, often showing signs of paranoia and distrust of other seasteads, often being suspicious of potential raids of “piracy”. Suffice to say, everyone knew that everyone else was spying on each other by the end of the scenario.
Below is a graph that shows the starting position of each seastead according to debt, starting monies, resources, and food, and what was gains and losses of the course of the entire scenario.
Overall, I would consider the game a success. Those who participated largely enjoyed themselves, and many interesting discussions, besides piracy, took place. It was wonderful to see the amount of traffic generated to our Discord Server. Before we announced the game, we had about 25 people on the server, including two TSI staff members and some volunteers. As of July 13th, 2021, there were 437 members. In a little over a month’s time, our Discord Server had exploded with membership and activity. While many did not participate in the game itself, many explored the rest of our server, interacting with other community members to discuss all manner of seasteading topics, such as: location, funding, construction, governance, security, power generation, agriculture, production, waste-to-product, wild animals, news articles and media, and even collaborating with each other to figure out how to build their own seasteads in real life. Ultimately, this is what we want. We will be excited to see how the game evolves from here.