Wednesday 26 March 2014

Tales of Blood and Glory: Ringworld

Larry Niven's 1970 novel "Ringworld" is a fun, goofy, lighthearted romp of a Space Opera. That said, it's a more thoughtful and creative type of planet-fiction that many of the Burroughs imitators of the time.

A Cyberpunk Connection?

It begins as a heist story, with a mysterious agent gathering a team for a mission he will not reveal the nature of. Once they get there, however, the bulk of the story is spent exploring the Ringworld. The structure reminds me of Neuromancer(1984), another book I recently read, though the tone and language are completely different. There are other similarities however, like the existence of monofilament and the description of Louis Wu reminds me of a more lighthearted Julius Deane. It makes me wonder if Gibson borrowed some of his favorite ideas from Ringworld to expand upon in his own novel...

Supersize Me

Anyway, Ringwold's main theme is that of enormous scale, both in time and in space(without understanding this, the choice of Louis Wu as the Hero seems bizarre). Characters extend their age through a variety of technologies and Niven takes the opportunity now and again to explore how this effects their psychology on both an individual and societal level. This mostly expresses itself in the form of cautiousness vs. impulsiveness and how different societies are build around these characteristics.

Space travel over inconceivably vast distances and the different amounts of time it takes via different technologies is also a recurring topic. Cultures rise and fall in the interstellar transit times(or don't with the faster technologies) and Niven does a really good job getting you to feel the passage of cosmic time.

And then there's the Diskworld itself, with a surface area 3 million times that of earth. Most of their travels along it's surface are at supersonic rates, yet they only cover a tiny portion. That said, while the size is emphasized, but we don't really get a picture of the diversity in different areas.

Can we Gamify It?

The vastness of the Ringworld does make me want to run a Sandbox campaign in a similar setting. A post-apocalyptic world so huge, even with the advanced technology the party finds. You'd get to know one area, then zip over to another, perhaps with completely different creatures/culture/flora/fauna. And lot's of ruins from long-forgotten ages.

Oh, apparently there's a Ringworld RPG. If only it was DnD compatible...


  1. I recently read Ringworld for the first time, when getting on a bit of a Traveller kick. I enjoyed it (I enjoyed EC Tubbs Dumarest novels more, and didn't really get the Stainless Steel Rat). The vastness of the Ringworld is beyond comprehension...

    As I understand it, the Ringworld RPG 'killer' stat was age - you could make a ancient character so fantastically experienced and skilled that the youngsters couldn't live with old gramps.

  2. Interesting. When the main benefit of age that the book emphasized were less tangible things: caution, experience. Louis Wu is a strange character. Sound of mind and body, and yet, in some ways, still an old man...

  3. Ringworld = nigh infinite hexcrawl. There are two old 90s PC Ringworld games you can download for free if you want to visit the Ring:

  4. Another interesting point about the Ringworld RPG was luck. In RQ/BRP, which is the system for Ringworld, your luck roll is your spirit stat as a percentile. Normally it is determined by 2d6+6 but, to simulate the birth lottery that produced Teela (the "breeding for luck") in Ringworld doubles explode open ended (not just once but keep rolling doubles keep going) to provide characters with high luck if they start lucky.

  5. Interesting. I was wondering if there was a luck mechanic, given it's nigh supernatural power in the book. Reminds me of noisms' luck mechanic, which I'm quite fond of, as a means to answer unanticipated player questions on the spot: