View Full Version : Living in Liarsburg (or, how would a race of liars function?)

2009-07-13, 01:36 AM
Okay, I started thinking about that old logic puzzle with the Knights and Knaves (knights never lie, knaves never tell the truth) and wondered just how a society of Knaves would be able to function.

Basic premise:
Once upon a time a Chaotic Neutral goddess took slight at a mortal for telling a hurtful truth to her (nobody knows what that truth was... some say that he told her that the dress she put on did indeed make her look fat. However, the people who say that are all liars.) as punishment for this slight, she put a terrible curse on everyone in his home town so that if they ever say a true statement they receive a stabbing pain in their back (this deals nonlethal damage and never kills anyone, though it may knock them unconscious).

The Curse of the Knave passes on through the generations (having one parent with the curse will pass the curse onto the children) and nobody knows for certain how to undo it. Everyone descended from those people in the town has the curse and is forced to lie to avoid the stabbing pains. They aren't magically forced to lie, they are just magically punished for telling the truth.

The curse is triggered by the person speaking or writing a literal truth (as they know it, a person can't discover information by randomly saying things and waiting for their 'truth detector' to tell them they hit something). Magical means of detecting lies are still activated and anything that will force them to speak only truth will do so, while still having them get stabbed by the curse, this will eventually make them lose consciousness.

So, how would such a society be able to function? What would make this society noticably different from others?

One thing:

Mullyans the Honest- A made-up deity who's sole purpose is to be used in phrases like "Mullyans says this crossbow can be yours for 35 gp." naturally, any phrase that claims he says anything is a lie, so otherwise true statements can be told by liars in this manner. Using his name to deceive someone is considered bad form because it just makes it harder to be an honest liar.

Unfortunately, the laws of divinity started causing him to exist when enough ignorant people started believing in him. His first act of existence was to start saying lots of stuff which caused his followers to start getting stabbed in the back. They all hate his guts now and prayers to him mostly consist of profanity.

He has since ceased to exist (or at least stopped talking) so now everybody is happy again.

Dark Herald
2009-07-13, 02:24 AM
Tone of voice is everything, as well as inside references. My friends and I spend countless classes in Highschool telling lies all period, and still manage to get our point across.

Also, there was no prohibition to pointing out phrases that were previously written. Heck,

"I don't want you to know that I want to buy a loaf of bread."
"I can't tell you that that would be 67 gp."
"then I won't be paying for that."
"I hope there's nothing else you want to buy."

Besides, it all really matters how the magic determines the rules, unless there is an omniscient being monitoring all of their conversations for slip ups. that would be foolish and arbitrary, and no civilization would function like that. Lying, like all language, is subjective, that's why computers can't analyze your intentions if you type them a paragraph. But your generic fix is one that uses magic like a computer.

Language is fun.

2009-07-13, 03:30 AM
I would think that simply putting negatives into whatever you say is a too simple (as in plainly obvious, the first thing anyone would think of) way out of a curse cast by a god.

If I were that god and really wanted that curse to have any effect at all except slightly increasing the word count, the cursees would be unable to communicate a truth. Meaning that they can't say anything if they expect the listener to understand it (as could be expected if they were both cursed and simply spoke in negatives).

How such a society would work, I have no idea. The saying "actions speak louder than words" would probably become very literal, as you can't really trust what anyone says.

2009-07-13, 03:32 AM
Exactly like the town of Zozo in FF6. And I totally agree with the above poster, that whole adding a negative thing is stupid. (For example, see the oots with the red and green guys. "That did not hurt." ... lame.)

2009-07-13, 04:40 AM
How to get around it:

Option one: never say anything literally. This would be the greatest race of poets ever.

Option two: answer everything with a question. ("Which way to the bathroom?" "Did you look down the hall to the right?")

2009-07-13, 06:37 AM
Talking in code would be an obvious solution. That way you can say something patently untrue and still get you meaning across.The simplest form would be replacing words with one another, like saying "pig" when you mean "man", and "man" when you mean "pig". So telling someone "There are six pigs in the room" would be a lie, but he would still know that there are six men in the room.

Of course, once the meaning of the words is well established, then they become truth again. The word "pig" now simply means "man", and the goddess would probably not be pleased by such simple tricks and would hurt people even more.

Instead, one could try to speak in generalisations. Never state something explicitly, instead referring to things in a general way. "Men gather in groups of six all the time." Definitely not true all the time, but true in the above example. "All crossbows cost 35gp." Not really, but the one you're buying does.

Of course, a chaotic neutral goddess could punish people in rather arbitrary ways. But if she plays by her own rules, generalisations should work. After all, they might be true.

2009-07-13, 07:24 AM
I think words would just lose their meaning. Everyone would know that what is said is not literally or even figuratively what is meant, so after a while they'd just develop a peculiar form of the language in which someone who is saying "COME IN WELCOME" really means "KEEP OUT!!!"

2009-07-13, 08:38 AM
How does language work in your system?
A thing can only be literally true if there are set definitions of words. If language is a constant (They are speaking Celestial, and words in Celestial mean what they mean regardless of the speaker's intent? They are speaking Common, and words in Common are defined by the majority of speakers, and this island is too small to affect that?), then the Knaves have just created their own patois within which they behave completely normally. It just takes a day for a traveller to realize that.

However, if language is defined within the culture it is used, then these Knaves need to actually lie.

2009-07-13, 08:55 AM
I think Telonius and Halaster have it right. You would get everybody either speaking metaphorically all the time, answering questions with questions, and speaking in generalities.

2009-07-13, 08:56 AM
You can just as simply make it to where "No" means "Yes" but considering these are supposed to be real people who have been living with this curse for hundreds of years, they would have found a more elegant way of dealing with things. Let's face it, if you had to say "Stop in the name or the law or you will not be arrested!" when trying to catch a thief, wouldn't you think of a way around this? This is what a populace might do:

1. "No means Yes." It's simple but if you want a complex people, simplicity steals from it.

2. A 'New' Language. Remember reading 1984 in high school; Newspeak was specifically created so that you could not show such extreme protest to the government. This 'new' language could turn the sentence "This bread costs 2 copper" into something like "All-is 2 copper bread." In this case, they simply change this into all-is. Technically, all bread is not worth 2 copper so it is not a lie. It sounds dumb, but the only way to live with a Gygax Curse is to become Gygax.

3. Sign Language. This one is a stretch; maybe the Goddess didn't think about a village of deaf people.

4. Simple nuance. Infernum was a game system that let you play as demons or devils in Hell. One of the Houses of Demons were incapable of telling the truth. They quickly realized that needing to know completely accurate information from spies and such was a problem. Simply saying "The King is NOT planning for an attack" does not give you a full basis on where/when/how it will happen. They invented simple sentences that could be produced within another that makes the entire statement a lie without reducing the the validity of the statement. "Hargok is a monkey and the King is planning to attack yada-yada-yada." This one can be used with number 2 to not hinder the people so much.

2009-07-13, 09:00 AM
I think putting every sentence in question form would work, something like

"would you buy this crossbow for 35 gp?"

I suppose using sign language is just too easy?

everyone become a psion and comunicate with telepaty (or even thinking the truth is painful? ;)

or they just put a big sign right outside the city, "Warning, cause divine curse every citizen say exactly the opposite of what he mean" to inform the outsiders (The citizen are already used to it)

2009-07-13, 09:20 AM
You can even get away with things that nobody who's ever heard of the curse will take at face value: "Anyone will tell you that he's a cheater" (false, because there's plenty of people who've never met the guy and don't know he cheats) or "I'd say this crossbow's worth 35 gp" (false; you wouldn't really say it, because that would cause a stabbing pain).

2009-07-13, 10:48 AM
Large, clear written notices abound, since putting the truth in written form apparently only hurts once.

Signs are designed with permanency in mind for this reason, and denoted with special symbols that they have been written by a backbreaker (a slang term for a public truthteller).

If clothing can be used to convey accurate information (the curse as described seems vague here), then it is - mst people in the town wear intricate uniforms detailing many things about their job and their person, and when asked a common question about them, the individual can simply point to a relevant part of the uniform rather than say anything.

2009-07-13, 03:55 PM
The rich would have clerics cast spells that grant immunity to pain on them.

2009-07-13, 04:12 PM
I don't see anything that would prevent using sign language. You'd have a society that communicates in that way.

2009-07-13, 04:14 PM
The rich would oppress poor souls to have them tell the truth. Or more likely, they would import professional truthtellers from the outside world, who help them communicate. Equip them with "Detect Thought" items and have them convey what the master wishes to make known. If he wants to have a lie told, well, the outsider can lie.

2009-07-13, 05:07 PM
Are you still not telling the truth, if you actually expect other people to understand the opposite of what your words are saying?
Basically, you are just using a different sub-language. So not only would people lie about half the time, they would also tell the truth the other half, as they expect you to be mislead by percieving the truth as a lie.

2009-07-13, 05:53 PM
Yora, if intent mattered, everything everybody ever said would cause stabbing pain. Intent can't matter, because if the curse is smart enough to know that somebody is trying to avoid it, it becomes unavoidable and really dumb to play; the NPCs would just start dropping unconcious every few seconds.