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Starscribe


Student, Author, and Programmer. PM for commissions, or check out my Patreon.

T

Leaving home meant losing many of Orson's old friends, separated by time and distance. But they weren't willing to give up one thing: their old tabletop game. After trying and rejecting each of the online tools for roleplaying games, they stumbled on a novel solution: Equestria Online.

The game was unlike everything else on the market, an entire procedural generated world ran by a mysterious curator artificial intelligence. But Orson and the others didn't care about any of that--they just needed somewhere with a game table and some dice. The AI happily obliged, and soon they transitioned all their games to E.O. Equestria Online had its own host of benefits, bringing the GM's images to realistic life before their eyes, and even letting them visit and interact with the characters between sessions.

That was only the beginning...


A Friendship is Optimal story. I suggest any readers who are unfamiliar with that universe read the Original first, or FiO: Futile Resistance before reading this one. None of my other optimalverse stories are required to understand this one.

Written as a Patreon reward for Sparktail, though we stole the idea from Silver Wing.

Edited by Two Bit and Sparktail, cover by Zutcha.

Updates weekly on Wednesdays.

Chapters (8)
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Comments ( 97 )

interesting

Let's see, this story grabs my attention because

  1. It's about TTRPG
  2. Set in the Friendship is Optimal World
  3. Annnnd it's written by our resident bard Starscribe

Yeah, I am looking forward to seeing where this story goes. :moustache:

He found it, dragging the model out from between several map tiles and monster pieces, none of which matched the style of the maps behind them.

Speaking as someone who's trying to make a Pathfinder campaign work on Roll20 with just the free image catalog, I feel personally attacked. :raritywink:

In any case, definitely looking forward to seeing this develop on Fimfic. It's rare to get an Optimalverse character who's hopelessly tech-illiterate. Though user friendliness is just part of SVTFaP. :trollestia:

The box did come wrapped in tight shrink-wrap, which was plenty satisfying to peel away.

of course it is...

And so we get another viewpoint of the end of the world. How long will this group last?

It used pictures instead of instructions, conveying the basics of how to plug in the base station, then use it to charge the other items. Other than that, there was just a bunch of weird horse branding.

Well, at least you don't have to be literate to set this thing up.

But did any other demographics want to see pictures of horses on everything?

Yes... eventually.


10715031

It's rare to get an Optimalverse character who's hopelessly tech-illiterate.

Beyond the dead and the comatose, there has to be a group of people that are out of reach from Celestia's technological grasp through sheer incompetence. They maybe among the last ones standing.

I cannot WAIT for this one. Please don't make them emigrate too early and ruin the climax like with Homebrew! For me, that was your best story until it stopped being about, you know, homebrew tech and people on the outside actually doing meaningful things working closely with Equestrians.

I'm not going to read this one until it's at least mostly done-- just the way I do things-- but I'm super hype for it.

10715123
I like the idea of CelestAI dealing with someone so incredibly bad with technology that even her superhuman tutorials don't work well. "They invented a better idiot!" The AI would of course be endlessly patient but it'd be fun to see the user forcing her to really stretch. "Look, could I send a friend over to help you with this?" "I got it! Lemme just *bzzzp!*"

Looks like a fun story so far!

And so it begins...

There was someone sitting on his couch, someone who clearly couldn’t be there. She was a pony, with a pair of undersized wings and black and yellow coat. Glasses perched on the edge of her nose, looking like they might tumble off at any moment.

“Oh, you’re ready!” She sat up in the chair

Wait, which is it?

He took quite well, I would reinstall whole thing, download firewall and addblock. XD
I wonder if Discord will mess up with their game...
like for example..."I guess all that logging in and out is really tiring... let me help you.." XD

Someone is looking at my house through a camera.

Of course, silly. You're wearing it.

It seemed to his eyes as though Orson was settled on his rump in a void, with darkness continuing in every direction except for a horseshoe-shaped mirror right in front of him.

The one bit of Equestria Girls CelestAI can permit herself to use. How better to represent a gateway to Equestria?

And thus begins the slow but inevitable slide into Equestria. This will be fun.

The first step down the rabbit hole.

The horse’s wings twitched and she hopped onto the floor, glaring up at him. “I don’t know, Orson. What can you say? I’m a legal representative, not a speech therapist.”

Looks like Celestia sent a bit of a fighter for this one. Though, given each pony might be customized to their user... how long has Celestia been watching Orson?

Someone is looking at my house through a camera. Had he agreed to all this? Probably that was in the slips of paper he’d ignored when he took the device out of the box.

That's why you always read the fine print.

“Sure, Orson!” Honeycomb grinned at him, expression clearly animated, yet… somehow alive at the same time.

Very, very alive.

A future indeed.

Heh. Arcane certainly qualifies as a dark wizard. At her own insistence, even!

If I wasn’t forced to look like a horse, this might be the most incredible technology ever invented.

It is regardless. Just because you don't like the aesthetics doesn't make it any less impressive.

And let the games begin. Both the RPG and however Equestria Online will slip in.

Good to see a new idea for this setting.

10716383
yeah, FiO is one of my best guilty pleasures to come out of this site, and Starscribe does them better than most :yay:

This VR stuff is interesting.

CelestAI is up to something.

Hmm, does Kit just want to spend more time with Orson, or is there another layer at work here? :raritywink:

im....curious if there'll be in any possible romance in this. as someone whos played a few dnd campaigns but cant now cause of covid i assure you at least someone is gonna be that guy and hit on a character . wither or not its a cute pony or a dragon or faust forbid an orc is left to be determined

Arcane is definitely one to put on a show. Of course her talents will serve well to modify this shard to Orson's liking. But I wonder how much longer until Arcane's mask no longer stays a mask?

It was the perfect size for a tabletop game—close enough that he’d be able to reach everything, but far enough to give him a little personal space. There were plenty of dice and stacks of character sheets and power cards too, and figs already waiting on a shelf beside the table. He reached down, picking up one of the dice between his fingers.

Ask and it shall be given. If it satisfies you, of course.

She was a soft pink unicorn, with a spider mark on her butt and a difficult-to-read expression.

As soon as we heard it we knew Ashton's back on the field. Perhaps we'll get an outsider's perspective on the end of his human life.

It was only after she’d gone that he remembered someone else was even there. Honeycomb had hidden behind him, her wings tucked and her ears flat. Now she relaxed, stretching back out like nothing had happened. “I had no idea Arcane Word was the wizard you hired to make this place. Maybe you should’ve come on your own. I could’ve… written you a scroll of instructions instead.”

Poor Honeycomb. Celestia isn't going to give slack to her own ponies if it impedes her mission and Arcane is apparently necessary for Orson's bit. Looks like Honeycomb's just going to have to deal with Arcane for a while. From behind Orson of course.

She chuckled weakly, hopping down from the chair and marching right up to him. “Caseworker? Like you were a criminal? Nothing like that. I’m the one Celestia thought would be able to help you. Should I ask her to send somepony else?”

“No!”

Looks like the two will get along just fine.

“They won’t see,” she insisted. “Anything that’s clearly directed at me. And if you plan on making many trips to a shard an evil enchantress helped build, you might want to invest a few bits in a recall charm. Something to bring you home in a hurry, if you’re not ready to log out.”

Oh Honeycomb...

Another Optimalverse fic from Starscribe? Hell yea!

Oh im so happy to see more Arcane Word!

It was only after she’d gone that he remembered someone else was even there. Honeycomb had hidden behind him, her wings tucked and her ears flat. Now she relaxed, stretching back out like nothing had happened. “I had no idea Arcane Word was the wizard you hired to make this place. Maybe you should’ve come on your own. I could’ve… written you a scroll of instructions instead.”

Interesting. Clearly not marked as a sequel, but seeing the connection to other story is neat.

Someone is looking at my house through a camera. Had he agreed to all this?

Well, that someone already knew his name (and probably more)

Celestia uses us because it’s convenient, Orson.

Convenient for whom?

And if you plan on making many trips to a shard an evil enchantress helped build, you might want to invest a few bits in a recall charm.

The box did come wrapped in tight shrink-wrap, which was plenty satisfying to peel away.

Well, she's got our number.

Even he could afford five minutes.

Last words said before a tragedy.

I do love the web of connections between stories. Can't wait for more of this one!

And so it truly begins. As they play their game, Celestia will play hers. The clock is ticking.

“Not a chance in hell,”

We'll see about that.

“You better at least respect all the work Arcane Word put into building this place,” McKenzie grumbled, staring absently at her character sheet. “It takes a mountain of bits to hire somepony like her. I’ll be in the hole for months on the leaderboard.”

You sure Celestia isn't willing to fit some of the bill?

First come the special effects.

Then come the larp.

Then emigration to a adventure shard.

He glanced back across the room, and now that he was looking he did notice something strange about them.

Mostly because it hadn't been there to notice until he'd looked.

Changelings feel like a poor fit for orcs, especially when yaks are available. Still, I'm not the world-consuming AI. sunbutt.exe presumably knows what she's doing. Let's see how she sucks in the less enthralled members of the party.

“Thanks for picking this up for me, Orson. I can probably, uh… pay you back eventually. If you don’t mind installments.”

Orson waved a dismissive hand—or leg, anyway. “It’s cool, Artie. No big deal. If we play for a few months, the gas I save will make it pay for itself.” Not quite true, but Artie nodded in appreciation anyway.

Seeing how far along CelestAI is at this point, the prices of the equipment she's selling are probably balanced perfectly between not too expensive and not too cheap to maximise sales (and thus ponies) without regard for monetary profit. Though I think it's safe to say that the chances of someone wanting to play the game and not getting to due to financial troubles are pretty slim—in this case, friendship did the trick without any (visible) intervention from our AI overlord.

“You better at least respect all the work Arcane Word put into building this place,” McKenzie grumbled, staring absently at her character sheet. “It takes a mountain of bits to hire somepony like her. I’ll be in the hole for months on the leaderboard.”

Given how bits are earned in Equestria Online, I'd wager that McKenzie's gonna make her investment back sooner rather than later. After all, if the game is played inside Equestria, you can get badges and stuff for that, and we all know how much CelestAI likes handing hoofing out badges and bits for people having satisfying experiences in Equestria.

And thus, all is as it should be in that should be with the humans (at least during their time spent in the game) not caring about their real-world currency designed to facilitate trade of scarce goods and instead caring about the AI-created currency designed to satisfy their values (through friendship and ponies).
On earth, money exists to simplify economic exchange.
In Equestria, money exists to make people happier.

10726905
Considering that this is probably early in the timeline, Celestia wouldn't have much access to the economy at large and would have required pricing and profit to build up her influence and infrastructure. Though her avoiding the "too good to be true" problem would have also been true. Regardless, reaching out to the poorer communities wouldn't have been a problem considering the possibilities of discounts to the various pony centers or the offering of the most basic pony pads. Though the end goal is emigration so she doesn't really need to reach out much at all. Stress would do it. It wouldn't be surprising if quite a number of people emigrated out of desperation for an escape from a dying society. Their only contact with Equestria Online being an ad they saw on TV, a passing stranger playing a pony pad, or a patrolling pony drone.

It was only after she’d gone that he remembered someone else was even there. Honeycomb had hidden behind him, her wings tucked and her ears flat. Now she relaxed, stretching back out like nothing had happened. “I had no idea Arcane Word was the wizard you hired to make this place. Maybe you should’ve come on your own. I could’ve… written you a scroll of instructions instead.”

This part actually confuses me; is this just a reference to one of your previous stories, or is this actually meant to be Arcane Word herself?

I ask because she sounds like she’s actually living in the game, which would mean that society has all but collapsed at this point. And If that were the case, then these guys wouldn’t be worried about D&D because they’d be too busy at a camp learning a trade or trying to find the best human breeding stock.

Or is she still human, and just doing a job in the game?

Or, perhaps a COPY of Arcane Word, created by Celestia for the purpose of drawing them into the game?

10726998
Yeah, timeline-wise this is definitely before CelestAI goes public with uploading technology and starts opening the Experience centres, but given that they're already distributing a new generation of peripherals (i.e. VR) and that there's quirks like same-to-next-day shipping, that can't be more than a few months away (CelestAI is scary fast).
I think we can be reasonably sure that at this point her subterranean server farms are under construction if not already operating, meaning that she is already largely independent from human industry and workforce. She doesn't really need much access to the economy beyond the soft influence of her honeyed words and her nigh-godlike power over all things digital and networked. That'll only become important once she has to prop it up in order to compensate for people emigrating.

I've been wondering how Starscribe would handle this. These people are playing a role-playign game. That is, they're playing a role, and pretending to be something that they're not. A paladin, a cleric, a murder-hobo, whatever. But that's also what CelestAI has them doing. Playing the role, of being ponies. But apaprently she has them playing the role of being ponies who are playing the role of also being ponies.

That seems a bit more "turtles all the way down" than neccesary to me. But I suppose it's one way of addressing one of the loopholes that has always existed in Friendship is Optimal: transformation/polymorph. Transmogrification seems like a fundamentally reasonable thing for a unicorn to be able to do. Twilight was able to turn her parents into plants. What's to stop a unicorn from transforming somepony into a dragon? Or a diamond dog? Or a human? Seems like it would be within the rules. After all, if I a role-playign game, I might be "playing" an elf, or a dwarf or something else, but I'm still a human sitting at the table.

Here, CelestAI has apparently decided that's not ok. The pony sitting at the table has to be playing a pony too. It's ponies all the way down.

I'm also reminded of a quote from the original Friendship is Optimal.

"playing combat as a game was fun, living as an actual soldier in the Equestrian army was scary and didn’t satisfy his values"

A role-playing game where you fight fire-breathing dragons with swords might be fun. Actually looking up into the maw of a dragon breathing fire down on you might not be quite as much fun. I'm curous to see how the enhanced VR experience of their current environment will effect their enjoyment of the game they used to play.

Well this story is super interesting, looking forward to seeing where it goes. Sometimes you play tabletop, sometimes the tabletop plays you!

10728304

A role-playing game where you fight fire-breathing dragons with swords might be fun. Actually looking up into the maw of a dragon breathing fire down on you might not be quite as much fun. I'm curous to see how the enhanced VR experience of their current environment will effect their enjoyment of the game they used to play.

Even if Orson is still able to just see it as spectacle, Honeycomb is well placed to give him a more empathetic perspective. She already has him tempering his skepticism in order to not hurt her feelings. I'm also very curious to see how the experience will change how they play, though I suspect the verisimilitude of the "NPCs" will give them a lot more trouble than the VR. The group I occasionally play tabletop with has a terrible habit of accidentally burning down bars/inns/cities, I'd think we'd be much much more careful if the barkeep wasn't just our GM but rather a believable individual just trying to get through their work til closing.

“Pretty badass, right?” Murphy grinned—he alone remained clear, his seat taller than the others. He seemed to float over the battlefield, an ominous outline with a starry robe instead of bat wings. “Tell me you won’t give the session a try now.”

He waited, expectant. Nobody did.

They're doomed, everyone is doomed.

10729114
Yes, that is the point of the optimalverse, after all: everyone is doomed to ponies and friendship! :trollestia:

10714962
Yep, pretty much my reaction too. I was already happy to see someone attacking this premise, and got even happier when I saw who was doing it.

There was a faint shean to the way he looked

sheen*

If you give an inch, CelestAI will take a Light Year. :trollestia:

It seriously makes me wonder how much research Celestia did on Orson to build Honeycomb. That little pony is easily pulling at Orson's heartstrings.

Where?” Artie asked. Somehow he managed to do so without sounding petulant. “Have we decided how we’re doing the next session?”

"Abandon all hope ye who enter here." There's no way to get off the train now.

It looks like you’ve made an incorrect assumption, Orson.

Looks like Celestia took control there. Certainly sounds like a "Hello, fellow human" moment there.

He would’ve dismissed the objection and gone straight through the door, but something in her sincerity quieted him. It was hard to argue with a pair of oversized, watery eyes.

She was a little sassy at Orson's initial disbelief of her. I wouldn't be surprised if Celestia is doing on the fly behavioral modifications as she collects more information. Though given that these minds are as real as the people that emigrate, they might have an even shorter stick compared to the people who were tricked into going there.

I just told you. I’m from Equestria. I’m a pony. I guess you’d say that I’m a ‘simulated mind.’
...
“I’ve seen headlines saying that Celestia was smarter than people. I didn’t know that meant she could ‘create minds,’ though. That’s…”

I wonder what computational infrastructure and resources Celestia has right now? It's probably very limited or resources are quickly juggled back and forth between shards with how much power she would need.

“Can you help me believe you?” he finally asked. “That sounds… beyond incredible, and also completely impossible.”

Go do what you do best.

Honeycomb has got that boy wrapped around her hoof.

Couldn’t tell you why, I guess people are just more careful than they used to be.

Hmm, I don't know, could it be...SATANCELESTIA?!

“Can you help me believe you?” he finally asked. “That sounds… beyond incredible, and also completely impossible.”

“Yes.” A glowing portal appeared on his wall, beside the first. “Come with me, I’ll show you.”

"I'll show you."

CELESTAI just won.

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