Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Floating Man

One of us must suppose that he was just created at a stroke, fully developed and perfectly formed but with his vision shrouded from perceiving all external objects – created floating in the air or in the space, not buffeted by any perceptible current of the air that supports him, his limbs separated and kept out of contact with one another, so that they do not feel each other. Then let the subject consider whether he would affirm the existence of his self. There is no doubt that he would affirm his own existence, although not affirming the reality of any of his limbs or inner organs, his bowels, or heart or brain or any external thing. Indeed he would affirm the existence of this self of his while not affirming that it had any length, breadth or depth. And if it were possible for him in such a state to imagine a hand or any other organ, he would not imagine it to be a part of himself or a condition of his existence.  
-Ibn Sina

Ibn Sina’s thought experiment, designed to illustrate the separation between the body and the soul, always struck Al-Sijistani as a vision from a dream: a man completely suspended, limbs spread out so that he could not feel any part of his own body – with even the fingers wide apart lest they should somehow touch each other. Shrouded from the outside world and unable to perceive anything around him. What would such a man think? What visions would he see? What dreams would possess his mind? Would he perceive the sensation of being trapped? Or would existence for him be a peaceful balm, untroubled by anything except his own contemplations? Al-Sijistani spent many years pondering these questions, and his vision of the The Floating Man has now itself become a feature in the crocodile's mind.

The Floating Man appears as a naked man completely spread-eagled, facing downwards, with eyes closed. He is created perfectly and is an icon of male beauty. He floats some twenty yards in the air, and appears utterly unaware of all around him; he is shrouded from physical attacks by a ball of wind which repels arrows or other attempts to touch him by distance, and magical attempts to physically contact him fizzle. However, anyone possessing the ability to read minds can communicate with him and explore his thoughts, thus revealing the deep mysteries of the universe upon which he has been ruminating.

Anybody exploring the Floating Man's mind, for instance through ESP, should consult the following two tables to determine what he or she discovers, and the side effects.

Side Effects 

1 - The mind reader himself becomes struck by imponderable questions about the nature of his own existence, and enters a profound fugue state from which he cannot be awakened. He can be led around by the hand, but cannot otherwise act.
2 - The mind reader becomes plagued by distracting thoughts about the universe and occasionally wanders off to think. Whenever engaged in an active task of any kind (including combat) roll 1d6: on a roll of 1 the PC wanders off in a random direction for 1d6 hours unless passing a save vs. magic.
3 - The mind reader becomes absent minded and forgetful because he is unable to concentrate on anything except thinking about what he discovered in the Floating Man's mind. If engaged in a task or mission, roll a 1d6 each hour. On a roll of 1 the PC forgets what he is doing.
4 - The mind reader is struck permanently dumb by the profundities he has discovered.
5 - The mind reader loses all sense that the universe has any meaning at all, and is struck by a deep depression as a result. Each day, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1, the PC does nothing and will not engage in any action other than to allow himself to be fed and led around by the hand.
6 - The mind reader feels as though the revelations he has uncovered in the Floating Man's mind have brought him closer to a higher state and is given to ecstatic and eccentric behaviours as a result. Each hour, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1, the PC does something strange, impulsive and dangerous. The DM decides what is most appropriate. 
The various side effects are all permanent and cannot be cured except by a Wish spell or by death and resurrection.  

1 - The PC uncovers the mystery of life and death. He loses hp in the normal way until reduced to 1 hp (or, if damage incurred would normally take his hp total below 1, it stops at 1). At that point he may choose to enter a sanctuary in a liminal state of existence in which he is neither dead nor alive. He can remain there indefinitely until he wishes to leave it.
2 - The PC can now see things as they really are. He can see the magic in all magic things (acts as a permanent Detect Magic spell); can see through polymorphs and illusions; and so on.
3 - The PC now understands physical reality at a new level of profundity, and sees that his body is mere stuff that is the servant of his mind. He can polymorph himself into anything roughly human in shape and size (or any person) once a week for 1d6 hours. 
4 - The PC uncovers the mystery of space-time, and becomes clairvoyant and clairaudient as a result. He can use these abilities once per day to a range of 20 miles.
5 - The PC gains the ability to control others through understanding the mysteries of the soul. This acts like the effects of a Magic Jar spell; it can be used once per week and lasts for 1d6 hours.
6 - The PC understands the mysteries of the fabric of the universe and can enter a non-corporeal state once a day for 30 minutes. In this state he can pass through walls and other physical obstacles, and can only be harmed by magic or magical weapons. His clothes and physical possessions cannot be taken with him. 


  1. This is awesome! Such vivid originality is wasted on a D&D game. You must write and publish a novel!

    1. An awfully parochial attitude.

    2. Literary publication offers greater exposure and propagation of the original vision than a niche and incomplete publication as a an rpg adventure module or even an OSR game.

    3. Thanks for the kind words. I used to want to be a writer. My problem is that I am not very good at thinking up plots.

    4. Literary publication also offers greater exposure and propagation than theatre, but a playwright might take just offence if you suggested his or her talents were wasted on the stage. Exposure isn't the paramount thing; RPGs and novels are vastly different media, far more so than book and stage. Just because one its in its infancy and the other is mature is no reason to spurn the first, if anything quite the opposite.

  2. You can do plotless writing. Just google the subject. In 1919 Sherwood Anderson wrote a collection of plotless short stories called Winesburg, Ohio, about the coming of age of a young man, who ends up leaving the eponymous town that alienates him so much. Its plotlessness makes it one of the first works of modern literature. Independent stories coalesce into a whole as you finish reading them.

  3. You could make it also so that people can loose the side effects if they find a way to remove all memory of their discovery, either by memory alteration spells overwriting it, or by effects that transfer the memory out of the brain.

    The unearthly nature of the discoveries makes their transfer difficult, as the silent motionless insights are difficult to gain purchase on. Attempting to transfer the memories to a further person risks corrupting them into a sense of infinite blankness (3-4 on d6), the vivid hallucinations of the sensory deprived (2), or the damaging mindscapes of an aberration (1).

    (Someone has to have made a table for "so I use mind reading on this star spawn, what do I find?)