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Post-Apocalyptic scenario, the government is gone.

A scientist finished his greatest creation ever. A self-replicating nanobot swarm that, when dispersed in the upper atmosphere, will settle in every living creature and estabilish a self-perpetuating network for data and energy transfer.

The nanobots inside a person shall interface with the brain, and help the person develop, for the lack of a better word, superpowers.

For animals, it just enhances their physical bodies and helps them fight disease and heal injury.

The way they are programmed to interact with humans is to let the person select a "Class" like in the good old Pen & Paper RPG games of yore. They can select a Class from among those programmed into the nanobots.

The person will be asked to sign a EULA and opt-in into the System. If they refuse, the nanobots inside the person will deactivate, their inert hulls create a chemical marker to let other active nanobots that enter their body know not to interfere with this person's physiology.

From the moment the EULA is accepted, they will let the person gain "levels" and "skills" by redirecting the neural and physical pathways of the body, enhancing the person.

Many blanks exist in this setting, but this Question in particular is about the selection of Classes.

The scientist is not mad. The selection of "Classes" and "Skills" were carefully curated to help people rebuild the world.

Assume he is perfectly rational and can preview many scenarios, or simulate them with A.I. help.

How would criminal classes help rebuild the world? Is it not better to just not have them altogether?

I mean purely criminal classes with no other purpose. Of course anyone with any Class or even without one can be a criminal, but they would have to commit their crimes without System assistance.

For example, "Thief" ( as in a Class that unlawfully deprives people of their lawful property), "Assassin" (as in a Class whose sole focus is murdering people), "Terrorist" (focus on civilian casualties and property damage), and so on?

I'm not talking about Classes that may cause harm but can be deemed necessary to the working of an advanced society, like "Soldier", "Spy", "Scout", "Trapmaker", etc. Just purely criminal classes.

It's okay to elaborate an answer challenging the assumption that he would introduce criminal classes to the "System".

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    $\begingroup$ It looks like you're asking about character motivation, not about establishing some fact about your world. Questions about character motivation, or questions that ask us to brainstorm motivations for you are off topic for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 19 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ A rose by any other name would smell the same. People are very good at exploiting stuff. what is stopping a 'paladin' class from being a rampant theif and arsonist? $\endgroup$ May 19 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ @GaultDrakkor Roses have thorns🌹. This is enough to make them evil, no need to change names :p. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    May 19 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena If you need to carefully interpret a question to find a way to make it on topic, then it's not a good fit for this site. If OP wants to edit the question so that it's clearly on topic, then they're encouraged to do so. But as written the ask is about a character, not society. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 20 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Personally, I interpreted the question the same (apparently unintended) way that sphennings did. But although communication is a two-way street, in this case I believe the greater responsibility falls on the person who already has the idea in mind. Better for one person to put the effort into clarifying what's in their head than for everyone else to fight to guess, no? $\endgroup$ May 20 at 12:39

13 Answers 13

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The Classes are Merely Names for Skill Sets:

Humans of all types are both good and evil. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So rather than all classes be a simple reflection of raw power, many of them reflect more subtle abilities and attitudes. You also don't want every person to have every possible power, as this would either make the nanite-enhanced gods or hopelessly dysfunctional as competing needs caused malfunctions. But if you make everyone a super-fighter, the world will immediately be in a titanic war. When all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail. The abilities should reflect the width and breadth of human talent.

I'm guessing that the world is ruled by whoever has the most guns. The scientist could be trying to break the situation of masses of well-armed rival gangs enslaving everyone and creating fiefdoms. Perhaps the scientist has a philosophical Nietzsche-like belief that powerful and talented people are the true upholders of civilization. But there can be plenty of rationales for it. They may have watched too many movies about noble criminals and assassins overthrowing villains. Who knows? But skills are skills, and who is he to know which will result in a "good" rebuilt society from chaos? This is about empowering the people and rolling the dice to see what happens. When things are bad enough, any hope is hope.

A class in the RPG sense of the word is just a set of skills and abilities that reflect what the player wants to do. So an indentured farm hand forced to work 70 hours a week in the fields of a warlord might dream of being a great fighter, but also stealthy and sneaky to fulfill his vision of killing the bastard and liberating the workers. Guess what? Fulfilling his desires makes him an assassin.

Another fellow is a jack-of-all trades and a clever negotiator. He likes helping people out by getting them what they need. So picking locks, stealing, reading people's truthfulness, and maybe a bit of con-artistry makes him a fixer (a class I recall from I believe Cyberpunk). But the same class could be called a fence and be used to commit abuses in the hands of a bad person.

So your nanites might ask or examine the person for proclivities and talents, and matches those with a sort of wish fulfillment. The result is a class of abilities that happens to correspond to a traditionally criminal role. The person might be embarrassed to have the nanites name their class "assassin" or "terrorist," but maybe not. Or they might be able to call themselves whatever they want, like "freedom fighter" or "insurgent." But for game functions, it's terrorist.

If you want, the nanites could have ethics programs that don't give people powers they will willfully abuse. But that takes away free will, and what's the fun in that?

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Classes were actually lifted from such a game.

This scientist was not a lone wolf. He had a build team. The classes piece was really a late addition, with the main efforts obviously being to make the tech aspects of the whole thing work. One of the build team had a list of classes that was brought in at the last minute.

The classes contain all the classes you want for your story. It also has a lot of animal classes since this project is applicable to animals who are all assumed to opt in. It has a lot of monster and nonhuman classes too. There are additional classes of unclear nature. Some might be colors, or abstract concepts like angst.

A late patch deployed after rollout made it so that human users are only shown the human classes as options. There is a workaround if you want to pick one of the others. Sometimes that workaround happens unintentionally.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this idea. That originally the nanotech RPG system was intended for a kind of Live-action roleplaying game, and are now being repurposed to aid in fixing the world. The Thief class isn't exactly desirable for that, but removing it isn't possible without a lot of effort. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    May 20 at 8:34
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Because such skillsets are really useful

What does a thief know better than anyone else? What security issues people have, and what can be done to fix them. They're also excellent judges at valuing items, and know better than anyone else the town they're living. They're also your best (wo)man to uncover the old world treasures.

What does the assassin and poisoner classes do best? Yes, kill of course, but assassins are great at taking out dangerous mutants in the wild with their "see weakness" skill, and poisoners can immediately sort the venomous mushrooms, plants and animals from the good ones.

Terrorist? Explosive experts to clear the rubbles and free people, forceful criminal interrogations and very high-determination. Really handy if you do have to pick-up the guns or need to brave the fire.

I can continue the list with any "typical" bad class you can imagine. Why? It's because...

It's not classes which make people bad

Have you seen Robin Hood? It's basically a multiclass between ranger and thief whose main goal is to help the poor. Assassination classroom? They're all in-learning assassins tasked to save the world. Spy X Family? One of the main character is an assassin who get rid of criminal networks.

Let me go even further : The Joker from Batman is a righter of wrongs, yet if he was given a class he would be a terrorist. He flipped a whole, corrupted organization with his talents, creating a new one which is more equal to everyone. Not convinced? Here's something to prove it (English subtitles available).

Yes, thieves, assassins, poisoners and terrorists could be evil. But let's face reality : Warriors, technomages, even craftmans and priest doctors can be evil too :

  • Warriors? They enforce a cruel justice with raw force, robbing people of their goods, if not their lives.
  • Technomages? They're always up to the latest weaponry technology to hack or destroy who stands in their way : Missiles, gun drones...
  • Craftmans ? They scam people, using their knowledge to fake items as others, making anything they make extremely expensive. They force people into debts if not making them addicted to drugs.
  • Priest doctors? They heal bandits for a profit, and they ally with the strongest ones, even if it means stomping their shoes on the poorest people. Their inventivity to torture people without killing is only sickening.

To sum up, it's not what you can do that determines if you're evil or good. It's what you actually decide to do and for what reason that matters. And when the world is getting corrupt, tyrannical and fearful, thieves and assassins are there to make things right again. And they're the best to do that with minimal damage.

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    $\begingroup$ The assassin also makes a good bodyguard. They know all the tricks and what to look out for. The demoman makes a good engineer. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 20 at 1:21
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Those are not the classes names.

You have a demolition expert class, called "demoman". Members of that class know everything about explosives.

Now most demos are content to work in the building and mining industries. Some crazy ones choose to do terrorism, and then suddenly every demoman is called a terrotist too. Doesn't mean that they all are, and doesn't mean that's the class real name.

Same thing goes for other slurs like arson, assassin, lawyer etc.

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    $\begingroup$ You insult all those poor arsonists and hit men by comparing them with Lawyers! $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    May 20 at 0:08
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It's a trap!

The classes are designed to keep society in balance by keeping different powers in different groups. That doesn't prevent a whole society from forming a super-efficient police state that takes over the world. Criminals are included in the system to create internal conflict that limits the power of any large group, hopefully keeping balance on a global scale. At least, that's the official line.

Unofficially, the nanites keep track of those in the criminal classes. Along with the special skills like lock-picking and sneaking, criminals get the hidden "skill" of having their thoughts snooped on by their own nanites.

Most of the time the nanites just observe, but if something really nasty is going down they might choose to subtly interfere - for example, a criminal might have a sudden lapse of concentration that leaves their secret plans open on a library table. If the information-sharing network allows it, they might even persuade the target's security team to "randomly" alter their routine in a way that negates months of careful observation and planning by the criminal gang.

From the outside these events will look like simple coincidences, and any suspicion of interference will be dismissed by all rational, nanite-enhanced brains as a daft conspiracy theory.

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    $\begingroup$ Even people in the most trusted of classes might become corrupted. If my brain nannites hadn't already assured me than nannites never listen in on human thoughts, I'd be surprised if that type of monitoring was restricted to any specific groups. $\endgroup$ May 21 at 7:55
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They weren't intended to be generally available

Your Mad Scientist knew there would need to be tweaks to the system. There might be property in the wrong hands he needed liberated. There might be evil souls who, really, for the good of all, have to die. There might even be situations where terrorizing populations is necessary.

They were designed into the system. They were under a special lock, such that only carefully vetted souls, those who would use them only for the good of all, could possibly access them.

A glitch occurred. Now they are generally available.

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Your scientist realised three things:

  • languages are different and adapt over time,

  • Its a post apocalypse so there is lots of useful stuff lying around,

  • class skill trees sometimes need to be altered or isolated to create sub-classes that better adapt to the future.

The Terrorist has actually chosen the class of freedom fighter and has gone down a path of ambush skills and explosives. This can so easily be used as terrorist sub-class that in some regions the freedom fighter class was dubbed terrorist long enough that new people who wanted it used the word Terrorist to describe the class they wanted, and the nanites understood as they knew how language can change.

There is also a lot of potential goodies lying around in this apocalypse, even an old laptop contains valuable metals and materials if not the potential for repairs and reverse engineering by an engineer class. So a romantic idea of a Tomb Raider or Treasure Hunter class was created. But unfortunately once the local tombs and treasures were depleted these classes were quickly repurposed.

Assassins might be a sub-class from the Doctor class or Field Medic. As a rule a doctor needs to know what causes certain diseases, poisons or wounds. They also have some skills concerning scalpels and loads of biology knowledge. Their fast move sets and ability to enter homes was designed as a quick way to reach a wounded person without being seen by potential perpetrators (or simply ignored as you are a noj-combattant right?). That would mix in the Combat Medicine and Ambulance skill trees of the class.

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I'm immediately put in mind of Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" series. It's a tongue-in-cheek parody but the ruler of the main city has simply incorporated things like the Assassin's Guild and Thief's Guild into the civil government.

His reasoning, in a nutshell, is that you are going to have criminal elements anyway so you might as well put them where you can see them and give them some rules that they can follow. The Thief's Guild actually becomes responsible for all theft that occurs in the city. There are quotas and buyout options, effectively making the Thief's Guild into an actual, functional "protection racket". If you have paid your fee and someone robs your store, the robber will find that not only are the cops after him, but so is the thief's guild, and generally it's better for him if the cops find him first.

The Assassin's Guild works much the same way. Assassination, for a suitable fee, is accepted, however, the Assassin's Guild is held responsible for all murders that occur in the city. Unsanctioned murder is, therefore, going to be a case of who catches you first: the cops or the Assassin's Guild.

Like I said, all a very tongue-in-cheek parody but there is a logic to it and maybe the scientist in question had the same thinking, or maybe that's similar to how things work now. Maybe the criminal classes even come with a code of conduct, such that an assassin gets assassin skills but he also finds that he must be paid to kill, and must feel it is a fair value. Assassin classes never become psychopaths or plain murderers because they are programmed against it. They might even find that their programming makes them feel personally affronted to hear about an unpaid murder. Net result: there are still assassinations but "random crime" is actually tapped down with vigor by these programmed criminals.

Alternatively, I am also put in mind of Gary Oldman's character in Fifth Element, where basically he felt that destruction was necessary for a productive society.

The Matrix had very similar reasoning, too. The machines found out that utopias didn't work. They created a realistic setting, crime and all, because it's what humans seemed to expect and work best in.

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AI, not humans curate classes and skills

You said

The scientist is not mad. The selection of "Classes" and "Skills" were carefully curated to help people rebuild the world.

but that's an awful lot of work. And designing the nanobots by themselves was already hard enough. So what if instead he used a self learning neural network that learns from human actions and desires and builds useful tools for them? From the scientists perspective that means he won't forget adding something crucial (what if someone loses their arms and wants to somehow become a musician with his feet? Bet the hand written skills scientists didn't think of that!) and it makes the system future proof (right now in this post apocalyptic wasteland we don't need lawyers, but in 100 years we might). Of course he put in enough limits that no skill is ever going to be too powerful, or too abusable. After all, the system is perfectly self balancing.

Early testing in the social circles the scientist was active in showed that the system was working perfectly. Maybe the system was even 'primed' in the right direction (a preset list of classes from some old fantasy book) and additional classes and skills developed over time.

End result: you get a world which can adapt as needed, which is typically ideal for story telling.

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Not all laws are just or ethical

No system of laws is perfect, and every justice system is a constantly evolving system. If no one is capable of challenging the status quo things could easily get bad through no fault of anyone involved. There is a need for any system to be challenged and tested. While it may not seem like it to those at the top of the pile, having built in checks and balances for a system, including providing the option to work outside the system or distort it can help strength the system in the long run.

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A classic pen and paper RPG is PC-vs-NPC

The PCs are the protagonists. Some groups might feel better if none of them are evil, or if none are lawful, or if none a chaotic. Others want to give the players room to express themselves, and pride themselves in their ability to tell rousing adventures with a lawful good paladin, a chaotic good swordsperson, and a chaotic neutral thief. And an assassin who pretends not to be some flavor of evil, even if the players all know.

The opposition, managed by the DM/GM, ranges from hordes of literally mindless orcs, over lawful evil henchpersons of the Big Bad, to fully designed characters with a reasonable motivation which just happens to go against the party.

You have a world with PC-vs-PC conflicts

Would be nice if there was no conflict and everybody just went along, but then why this leveling stuff? So your scientist is deliberately giving people a choice. They can decide to take roles like warrior or ranger or bard and decide to help the community. Or they can take roles like thief or assassin and either become an anti-hero with a troubled past, who does the right thing in the end, or they will ultimately be hunted down by parties of good.

The scientist is betting the future of humanity on the assumption that good will organize, and take a large chunk of neutral along, to make that happen. Because lesser means to get people to restore government seem to have failed. Because of the apathy of most survivors? That's how the scientist sees it. So the scientist will stir things up a little ...


Oh, and those EULAs the nanobots display? What meaning has a license agreement without a court system? They're more like self-appointed health warnings.

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Could be that the AI is not smart, perfect, and altruistic. Rather, it just autistically assimilated some information and used it, like a board game or video game. I've tried to make something like this -- a poor man's artificial general intelligence that functioned roughly like... -Perform tasks based on a hierarchy of rules, laws, and priorities. Do the task that best fulfills your priorities right now. -If you don't know how to do that task, then do a google search to learn how to do that task.

In that case, if the AI didn't actually have innate knowledge of what jobs should exist in the world, it might do research on a list of jobs, and its research may have turned-up a list of RPG jobs or MMORPG jobs.

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They Were for Intelligence Operatives

The team that funded the project wanted to be able to create super-spies, able to keep their government in power. These needed skills such as infiltration, stealth, safe-cracking, disguise, social engineering and so on.

These weren’t originally intended for the general public, but when survivors started to get this package, and didn’t know the original purpose, they thought of it as the “thief class.”

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