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Old 02-10-2017, 03:11 PM   #1
johndallman
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
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Default [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

Esmology is an IQ/VH skill from GURPS Horror: The Madness Dossier that provides the ability to exploit the fundamental programming of the human mind, as laid down millennia ago by the Anunnakku, the key opponents of that setting. It has no default, and no skills default to it; there are prerequisites of a Hidden Lore skill specific to the setting, and either a related talent, Esmologist, or a special training regime that is a cut-down version of Trained by a Master.

The main use of this skill is to predict the behaviour of groups of people, either en masse (a mob, the stock market), based on doctrine or training (how a squad will move, how a hospital will evacuate) or group-steered action (how the legislature will vote, how the police will respond to a clue). It's very effective at this; the name of the skill comes from Greek "esmos", a swarm of bees. Additionally, a successful skill roll works like a complementary skill, but for +3, to any attempt to modify the behaviour of a social group, such as a Propaganda campaign, or for an Influence roll. This does not stack with the bonus for Manipulation methods from Social Engineering, since it's pushing many of the same buttons.

Yes, this skill lets you treat people like rats in a maze. It's from a horror setting, by Ken Hite. Don't expect it to be nice. It is specific to Madness Dossier, and shouldn't exist in games outside that setting, except maybe in extreme tinfoil-hat-paranoia Illuminati games.

Esmology is a useful example of a skill that exists because of an important difference between the real world and a game world. Differences in reality, philosophy, or the way minds work are far more likely to be unsettling than mere advances in technology or the presence of human-scale magic. GURPS has a framework for dealing with those, in TLs and new specialisations of existing skills, but other kinds of change have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

I've played a Madness Dossier campaign, and we had an Esmologist in the party, but she mostly used the skill for influence, rather than prediction. As far as my character remembered ...
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Old 02-10-2017, 03:17 PM   #2
Anders
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Default Re: [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

That's an interesting term. What's the etymology?
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Old 02-10-2017, 03:20 PM   #3
johndallman
 
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Default Re: [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

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That's an interesting term. What's the etymology?
I think Ken Hite coined it. The root is Greek, "esmos", a swarm of bees.
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Old 02-10-2017, 03:22 PM   #4
sir_pudding
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Default Re: [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

I think the Applied Anthropologist's player in ZIASUDRA isn't really exploiting this skill as much as he could be and I am trying to figure out how to get him to see its utility.

Fortunately the next mission they need to plan their own operation, so hopefully this will get some use.

Incidentally did you see the Alternative Benefit that I wrote for the Esmologist Talent?
http://papermenplasticmonster.blogsp...ative.html?m=0

Edit: Of course you did, you commented on it.
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Old 02-10-2017, 05:14 PM   #5
Flyndaran
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Default Re: [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
...
I've played a Madness Dossier campaign, and we had an Esmologist in the party, but she mostly used the skill for influence, rather than prediction. As far as my character remembered ...
I love how subtly disturbing that last sentence is.
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Old 02-10-2017, 06:28 PM   #6
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Default Re: [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Yes, this skill lets you treat people like rats in a maze. It's from a horror setting, by Ken Hite. Don't expect it to be nice. It is specific to Madness Dossier, and shouldn't exist in games outside that setting, except maybe in extreme tinfoil-hat-paranoia Illuminati games.
Judging by your description of its uses (I don't have Madness Dossier, as cosmic horror usually isn't my thing), it doesn't seem like it would be terribly outlandish to use in many cinematic campaigns. "I can accurately predict the actions of large groups of people, and can use that to influence their actions" seems highly appropriate for a character (probably a villain, but with self-imposed limitations it would work for a hero) with superhuman intelligence, for example. I could totally see Forethought from Mindmistress having that skill, for example, although he doesn't seem inclined to use it to influence people (probably for the same reason the titular character doesn't use her technology to create world peace and the like - they don't want to become world dictators).
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Old 02-10-2017, 10:53 PM   #7
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Default Re: [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Yes, this skill lets you treat people like rats in a maze. It's from a horror setting, by Ken Hite. Don't expect it to be nice. It is specific to Madness Dossier, and shouldn't exist in games outside that setting, except maybe in extreme tinfoil-hat-paranoia Illuminati games.
Actually, rename it Psychohistory and it can have exactly the same effects and mechanics and live in supposedly fairly optimistic science fiction settings. "Human actions are relatively predictable" can live in quite a wide range of settings.
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Old 02-12-2017, 04:14 AM   #8
johndallman
 
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Default Re: [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

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Originally Posted by Varyon View Post
Judging by your description of its uses (I don't have Madness Dossier, as cosmic horror usually isn't my thing), it doesn't seem like it would be terribly outlandish to use in many cinematic campaigns.
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Originally Posted by malloyd View Post
Actually, rename it Psychohistory and it can have exactly the same effects and mechanics and live in supposedly fairly optimistic science fiction settings.
I seem to have failed to get over how well this aspect of Esmology works. It isn't restricted to large groups, and it's a great deal more reliable than Asimov's Psychohistory. It works so well, in Madness Dossier, because humans have a lot less free will than they think; the "sensible" things to do are sensible because they're what was built into human minds by their designers.
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Old 02-12-2017, 08:55 AM   #9
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Default Re: [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
I seem to have failed to get over how well this aspect of Esmology works. It isn't restricted to large groups, and it's a great deal more reliable than Asimov's Psychohistory. It works so well, in Madness Dossier, because humans have a lot less free will than they think; the "sensible" things to do are sensible because they're what was built into human minds by their designers.
Even with it being possible to scale down to an individual level, I still don't think it would be out of place in many settings. It may potentially be mechanically unbalanced there - a +3 for a mere complementary skill roll is pretty hardcore, and I wonder what bonus it gives with a Critical Success, and it may override too many other skills when it comes to predicting behavior - but the overall way it functions doesn't require any sort of conspiracy, just that most* humans not be as different from animals as we like to think we are.

*Characters who are resistant or even immune - be it due to training or simply their minds working differently from normal humans - to being predicted or manipulated via esmology could easily be a thing. I'm not certain how much such an Advantage would cost, or if I'd require certain prerequisites (such as Advantages like Unfazeable, or Disadvantages that represent insanity).
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Old 02-12-2017, 02:47 PM   #10
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Default Re: [Madness Dossier] Skill of the Week: Esmology

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Originally Posted by Varyon View Post
Even with it being possible to scale down to an individual level, I still don't think it would be out of place in many settings. It may potentially be mechanically unbalanced there - a +3 for a mere complementary skill roll is pretty hardcore, and I wonder what bonus it gives with a Critical Success, and it may override too many other skills when it comes to predicting behavior - but the overall way it functions doesn't require any sort of conspiracy, just that most* humans not be as different from animals as we like to think we are.
I don't think conspiracy has anything to do with the issue.

Heck, the conspiracy in the Madness Dossier aren't the villains and aren't the ones who created the situation...
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