The generative AI ChatGPT has been in the news lately for all sorts of reasons, most of them panicky. A lot of people are worried about how ChatGPT can change the world but there are also beneficial uses too! For example, it can be a really awesome resource for tabletop gaming.
One of the best uses of ChatGPT is just an ideas generator. If you’ve ever had a friend that you could just riff on with ideas, especially gaming ideas, you know that it’s a magical time. Not everyone has that friend, though, and if you do then you might be older and (hypothetically) with three little mephit-kids taking up your time and those conversations are harder to come by. ChatGPT is an acceptable substitute that doesn’t shy away from any subject and is available whenever you like.
For instance, I asked ChatGPT to generate a plot for Star Trek involving the Klingons and Romulans. It happily obliged with something that was, honestly, a little generic to start: following a war with the Federation (presumably the one orchestrated by the Dominion), the Klingons face renewed aggression from the Romulans trying to take new territory. This is basic stuff and I think even partially seen onscreen. The AI said that a new wrinkle would be a “powerful new starship armed with devastating cloaking technology that allows it to slip past Klingon defenses undetected” which is alright as well. General Martok sends “his most skilled warrior, Worf,” to infiltrate and deal with it.
Obviously some missteps there that a Trek fan would have to deal with but you can try the AI out for that as well. I asked it what was so special about this new cloak and ChatGPT helpfully said that it was because they could stay cloaked while firing their weapons… interesting but also we’ve seen it in Star Trek VI with General Chang’s bird-of-prey. I called ChatGPT on this and it listed out some differences in that the Romulan’s improved cloak is mass-produced and not a prototype, it is more efficient and doesn’t require a ton of power (unlike Chang’s), and it said it might have some new feature as well such as phasing through matter. I’ve still got lots of questions but this conversation felt good and like brainstorming with a fellow Star Trek Adventures GM, even though I can do it during bathtime with the kiddos.
I also asked it to make a magic system like The Name of the Wind… and got back exactly a description of the magic system in The Name of the Wind. Hitting this dead-end I backed up and asked for a magic system related to interactions with magical creatures. This was a much better result and it gave me a pretty neat system of humans seeking out magical creatures for various magics. You might learn illusion from goblins, water and moon magic from mermaids, elemental magic from dragons, etc. I asked it to elaborate in a few areas and add in more creatures and the AI’s well seemed to be pretty bottomless on this topic. There were some clichés baked in (dragons are fire magic only) or repetitions (the number of creatures that had “life and healing” magic was significant) but when I asked it to rewrite it cheerfully obliged. In the end I had something that would be fun and new to use in an RPG.
Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone
Another good application is to leave your well-trodden paths for fresh ground. When I’m writing for City of Mist, I try to push myself out of my comfort zone when I can. If it were up to what I feel confident in, the Rifts seen in my City of Mist game and products would probably be Irish myth, Greek and Roman myth, and a few well-trod Norse myths. So having someone who can generate new ideas is really helpful!
I started by asking ChatGPT for some Rift ideas and it immediately went fully abstract which is cool. It had the idea of a Rift of “The Void” which could be a black hole (sure) or a “shadowy figure that steals memories, emotions, or other intangiel qualities from people.” Love it! There was also “The Plague” which is neat (but I’m not ready for that yet), the Dreamlands which could be a surreal landscape or a “series of interconnected dreamscapes,” and the Singularity which could “offer incredible power or knowledge” or threaten humanity (a little unnerving, coming from an AI).
When I specifically asked for folktales it generated Baba Yaga and the Wendigo (already canon Rifts), the Wild Hunt (which it seemed to really like, listing it for two separate prompts), and also skinwalkers and changelings which it had some neat ideas for.
But I wanted new so I asked it specifically for African-folktale-inspired Rifts. I just have to copy-paste what it came up with because it’s great:
Anansi’s Web: This Rift is based on the West African folktale of Anansi the spider, who is known for his trickery and cunning. Anansi’s Web might manifest as a tangled network of webs that can ensnare anyone who comes too close, or as a series of intricate puzzles and riddles that must be solved to gain access to hidden knowledge or treasures.
The Mami Wata: This Rift is based on the African mermaid-like deity of the same name, who is known for her beauty and seductive powers. The Mami Wata might manifest as a beautiful but dangerous creature who can control water and lure people to their doom, or as a mysterious figure who offers wisdom and guidance to those who seek her out.
The Abiku: This Rift is based on the Yoruba folktale of a child who is born only to die and be reborn over and over again. The Abiku might manifest as a child who seems to possess knowledge or powers beyond their years, or as a series of children who are all connected in some mysterious way.
The Impundulu: This Rift is based on the Zulu and Xhosa folktale of a lightning bird that can bring both blessings and curses. The Impundulu might manifest as a powerful and unpredictable force of nature that can strike down enemies or allies alike, or as a creature that can be tamed or controlled by those who possess the right knowledge or artifacts.
The Tikoloshe: This Rift is based on the Southern African folktale of a mischievous and malevolent creature that can cause mischief and harm to those who cross its path. The Tikoloshe might manifest as a small but powerful spirit that can manipulate dreams and cause nightmares, or as a more tangible creature that can take on different forms and cause chaos and destruction.Results from ChatGPT
A lot of these I didn’t know about or I’m only vaguely aware of. I wouldn’t call this a list of ready-to-go ideas but it’s made me think up new directions and new possibilities. I may or may not use these ideas in a campaign but I’m certainly not resting on my laurels!
Another great use of ChatGPT is shifting genres. Invisible Sun, for instance, is a surrealist fantasy that exults in totally bizarre ideas. That can be intimidating, though, and striking that tone of surrealist without it getting just kooky is tough (see my post on money in the Actuality for an example). I tried ChatGPT out as a tool to transform a plot from something else into a surrealist fantasy worthy of a group of vislae. I asked it for just a noir mystery (specifying five sentences as this AI can get wordy) and this is what it gave me:
Private detective Jack Marlowe is hired to investigate the disappearance of a wealthy businessman’s wife, but as he digs deeper, he discovers a web of deceit and betrayal. The more he uncovers, the more dangerous the case becomes, with shadowy figures following his every move. Marlowe’s own troubled past starts to catch up with him, threatening to derail the investigation and put him in harm’s way. As he gets closer to the truth, Marlowe realizes that the missing woman’s fate is linked to a sinister criminal underworld, and he must navigate the treacherous maze of lies and violence to bring her back alive. In the end, he discovers a shocking revelation that puts everything he thought he knew into question.Results from ChatGPT
Obviously nothing terribly innovative but that’s just fine. I want to change the genre anyways so I asked it to keep rewriting it in different ways. If you do this, by the way, make sure to say “this story” or “the story you just gave” so that it doesn’t keep writing new stuff. Anyways, after those innovations (total time about fifteen minutes) we ended up with this:
In a surreal world of magic and mystery, the disappearance of a Noble’s wife draws the attention of adventurers from all walks of life. They find themselves on a journey through the twisted dreamscapes of the Invisible Sun, filled with eldritch terrors and surreal landscapes that threaten to devour their minds and souls. Along the way, they discover that the woman is not the only one who has vanished, and that their investigation is but a small part of a larger mystery involving the very fabric of the universe itself. As they journey through the surreal realm, they must confront their own inner demons and make decisions that will determine the fate of not only the woman they seek, but the entire universe. The magical powers of the universe are at their fingertips, but the cost of wielding such power may be too great for some to bear. In the end, the adventurers must confront the ultimate truth of magic and the universe, and decide whether they will use their newfound power for good or evil. The fate of the Invisible Sun lies in their hands.
A big difference and something that certainly feels ready to start an Invisible Sun game over. Is it the best plot for Invisible Sun you could use? No, it’s still recycling some tropes. And yet it took me hardly any time to come up with this concept and that makes it feel like a great seed that I can provide and see where my players take things! Best of all, it’s definitely got that surreal vibe even though I was starting from an initial idea that had hardly any Invisible Sun vibe overlap.
Having an AI as a GM
Lastly, using ChatGPT can help you out with solo gaming as a stand-in ideas generator for a GM. There are various GM emulators that run on various aspects of answering Yes/No questions and those are your best bet for running solo in a game normally written for a GM (check out the resources in Ironsworn and the Strider Mode of the new edition of The One Ring for some game-specific ones). Sometimes, though, you need a big chunk of story delivered at once and in my experience this can steal all the momentum out of a solo gaming experience.
Consider this: you’re playing some GM-less 7th Sea and your ship arrives in an Atabean port. You ask your GM emulator some questions. Am I arriving during the day? Yes. Is the port busy right now? No. Does it seem welcoming to pirate crews? Yes. Great, what taverns are there? You have to stop what you’re doing and look up a tavern-generator. If you even find one, it’s likely only going to give you names and you are still left coming up with descriptions. But pull up your good friend ChatGPT and give it a prompt (making allowances for the fantasy genre by saying “Caribbean” instead of “Atabean,” for example) and you can generate six taverns with descriptions in less time than it took for me to write this sentence. You’ve got the Salty Dog, typical pirate fare; the Black Pearl for well-off pirates; the Mermaid’s Tail for great views and a romantic atmosphere; and so on. If you want more details on any of them (Who owns the Salty Dog? Which of these is the biggest?) and they don’t lend themselves to yes/no questions then you can return to the AI. Eventually you thank it for its contributions and turn back to your emulator.
From what I’ve seen, the first reaction that any user has using ChatGPT is being freaked out by how human-like the responses are. Then the second reaction is usually how weird and un-human the responses are. At first blush there are awesome, compelling responses and it really does feel like you’re talking with a person and not a computer. There are gaps, though, and it often become very clear that this is just a response-generating engine because of clichés or strange mix-ups in the answers.
All of this is to say that ChatGPT is not likely to replace a GM any time soon because it’s not exactly like playing with another human. Still, this is a great tool and there are a number of different ways you can use it to help your RPG experience. As a worldbuilding aid, brainstorming partner, source of inspiration, genre assistant, or information-maker for solo gaming this AI is amazing.
Have you used ChatGPT for your gaming? What do you use it for and do you have any stories that are helpful or hilarious? Let me know in the chat below!