Let's Make A Plan

or, "who is Jaylen Hotdogfingers and what's this about necromancy"

Today’s piece owes an inestimable debt to Sam Kabo Ashwell, without whom it would not be anywhere near as coherent. The title is taken from "No Gods, Just Blaseball" by the Seattle Garages.

One of the issues with writing deep dives about blaseball's mechanics during the season is that the season does not end. There's always something evolving; unless it's a Sunday afternoon, there's usually some chaos occurring. Outside of some twitter threads on blessings and balancing player pain and relief,  I haven't written much about blaseball over the past week and a half—which doesn't sound that long, but in blaseball a week is an eternity. And this is unfortunate, because some cool stuff has happened, like a genuine (if not universal) shift in the perception of Mike Townsend from "disappointment" to "credit to the team", and the weather effect Reverb shaking up teams' lineups. Maybe it's that it's difficult to keep up with new systems' impacts as they keep getting rolled out. Maybe it's that as a systemic narrative designer, I promptly dumped 80 hours into Crusader Kings III this week. Who could say?

But something wild's been happening this week that I need to write about. The new Idols mechanic has rapidly led to a spiraling situation of blasphemy and necromancy that might be hard to follow for all but the most diehard fans; but it's reliant on emergent narrative collaboration between fans and developers, which is what I find most fascinating about blaseball. Let me tell you a story about conspiracies, schemes, and a metagame transgression that extends as far back as Season 2. (There may be Forbidden Knowledge contained here. Proceed at your own discretion.)

A little historical context. (I know, I know, this is a violation of the Hades Tigers' motto, but trust me, we're going to be violating "Never Look Back" a lot more as this story goes on.) At the end of Season 1, fans voted for the Decree to open the Forbidden Book. Decrees generally come with dire consequences, and the Book's opening set the tone for that: it caused a solar eclipse that incinerated a player and turned some umpires rogue. Rogue umpires still plague the league, but they were the only weather effect in Seasons 2 and 3, which led to dozens of players getting incinerated: for the first time, beloved players were at risk of random, senseless death. Mass outrage and a concept album ensued. The first casualty was Jaylen Hotdogfingers of the Seattle Garages. Notably, she was the only player who wasn't actually incinerated by a rogue umpire, but by the Book's opening itself. 

During this era of incinerations, Season 2's Decree of "Peanuts" passed. While the Decree itself simply read "Peanuts", an entry in the Forbidden Book stated "if at any time, ████████████ atone ████████████  one million Peanuts". Like the Forbidden Book, Peanuts also came with mechanical and narrative consequences. When the Decree passed, each instance of "Dan" in a player's name was replaced with "Peanut", which is why you'll see players named Peanut Holloway, Peanut Bong, and Peanutiel Duffy take the field. (Remember their names; they'll be relevant later.) Peanuts were a new item available in the shop that we could buy and eat, and the blaseball website's ticker reflected a seemingly-accurate count of how many peanuts had been consumed. Nobody had any idea what Peanuts were going to mean, but it felt like something trivial and fun. 

Early in Season 3, though, the Commissioner broadcast the message "PEANUT FRAUD DETECTED", and blaseball had its first deliberate stoppage. This is slightly inside blaseball, but Peanut Fraud involved some individuals finding an infinite-cash exploit: a pretty common issue for the early life of MMOs. The game returned but was suspended again almost immediately when another instance of Peanut Fraud was detected. 

The regular website vanished, and was replaced by a giant rotating Peanut and the utterance BLASPHEMY. This was its first appearance, but not its last; it now appears during ominous or significant in-game events to punish the fans' hubris. The Peanut appeared at the end of Season 3 with a dire warning: we already had two Strikes against us, and we would "LEARN DISCIPLINE". Worse, Peanut Atonement—previously only a fan-theory based on a redacted line in the Forbidden Book—was confirmed only as it was taken away: it used to be a way for players to collectively atone for misdeeds, but its abuse had closed off that line of redemption. This set a precedent: the Peanut is a god of clues, puzzles, and fan theories, which are only clarified when it's too late. Through various in-character pronouncements, a picture emerged of the Peanut as a wrathful god requiring appeasement, in contrast to the less overtly aggressive Commissioner, even as the method of appeasement remained unclear. BLASPHEMY was the first time blaseball incorporated narrative consequences in reaction to unpredictable player behavior. From this point on, it felt as though the narrative stakes were raised: both for the players and the fans invested in them.

While the Peanut has continued to plague us during events like The Grand Unslam and the postseason after Season 3, its presence in Season 6 felt different. The season opened with the appearance of the Peanut, admonishing fans:

WHO IS TALKING

BE QUIET

YOU WORSHIP THEM

WHEN I WALK AMONG YOU?

MY PROGENY

MY PODS

HONOR THEM TO HONOR ME

Immediately after this, the new Idols mechanic was introduced—which was a surprise, because it didn't result from anything we'd voted for! I've spoken a bit in this newsletter and on twitter about how fans celebrate their favorites; blaseball's popularity is fandom-driven, and fandom's always been focused on beloved characters. This mechanic is a way to bring those preferences explicitly into the game of blaseball itself. You choose a player to Idolize; you get coins when your Idol does cool stuff. There is a table ranking of the most Idolized players in the league, and—because this is blaseball—there is an Ominous Red Line that separates the top 3 most Idolized players from the rest of the top 20. Idols also provided mechanical hooks for many of Season 6's blessings, including "Collect Call: Call in the Alternate for the least Idolized Player on your team" and "Lottery Pick: steal the 14th most Idolized player in the league". In general, there's a mechanical reward for Idolizing strong players—but predictably, a lot of people preferred to idolize players they just liked, like the notorious underdog Mike Townsend.

A theory circulated that the Peanut's speech meant that if the three players with "Peanut" in their name were raised above the ominous red line, the Peanut would be appeased and Blasphemy would end. In retrospect, I'm pretty confident that the developers planned for this result, a puzzle and a challenge for fans to tackle together. Blaseball already involves quite a lot of back-and-forth between the devs and the fans (the Commissioner has been doing a great job all week in a number of these situations[1]), and the Peanut is an already-established antagonist in moments where players' actions impact the overall game experience. The Peanut Plan, as it came to be called, was a narratively compelling way to finally appease the insatiable Peanut; it deepened the world of the game and gave fans a reason to work together after the competitive tension in previous seasons. And it contrasts nicely with the unexpected emergent hack that surfaced Tuesday.

Having figured out a way to atone for past Blasphemy, we promptly found a new, more audacious way to defy the gods.

On Day 31, the incineration of Caligula Lotus of the Boston Flowers brought a curious feature to light. A fan who had been Idolizing her discovered that they were still Idolizing her after her incineration. That prompted SIBR to look up the ID of Jaylen Hotdogfingers, the first incinerated player. They then discovered they could in fact access Jaylen's page, that she was labeled as a player on something called the "Null Team", and that the Idolize button was available. The people who discovered this immediately reported it as a website bug to a Discord moderator, who checked with the dev team and relayed the message "can confirm no bug to report. please continue enjoying blaseball". The news spread like wildfire. Jaylen Hotdogfingers was the most narratively satisfying candidate to Idolize, given that she was the first player incinerated, and she cracked the leaderboard almost immediately—accompanied by an ominous fiery skull beside her name. The skull is a clear sign that the devs were aware that dead players might show up in a player-facing list, whether this was the intended context or not. CSS is not something you fuck around with if you don't have to. 

The Necromancy plan came together at lightning speed. Remember those blessings I mentioned before? The available blessings are different each season, but this crop included Lottery Pick, which lets the team that wins it steal "the 14th most Idolized player in the league". Null Team seems to count, at least mechanically, as part of the league. So if we could get Jaylen Hotdogfingers to exactly the 14th spot, that one blaseball team would have to receive her, the incinerated former pitcher of the Seattle Garages, back from the dead. A lot of discussion was had between a lot of groups, which I cannot pretend to fully capture here, but eventually a rough consensus emerged among the Seattle Garages discord server members to endorse to the attempt to bring Jaylen Hotdogfingers home.[2] The plan for those on board with Necromancy is to keep Jaylen Hotdogfingers at 14th, and for non-Garages teams not to vote for Lottery Pick; we'll let Seattle maximize their chances at getting that blessing.

The necromancy plan and the Peanut plan were both popular, and attempting both was delightfully referred to as "necronut". Necronut was an ambitious plan: get Peanut Holloway, Peanut Bong, and Peanutiel Duffy into Idol spots 1-3 in any order, while also ensuring Jaylen Hotdogfingers stayed at 14th. The necromancy part of this was always the easier bit: the whole league could band together for the narrative payoff of bringing Jaylen back, and 14th place requires far fewer votes than 1st. Jessica Telephone and Nagomi McDaniel, as two of the most popular and most statted-out blaseball players, were consistently 1 and 2: fans didn't want to stop Idolizing them, whether because their pendants were a source of easy money or because they really did love those players. Around Game 97, though, the Peanuts began rising steadily in the ranks; Peanut Bong ascended to #3, followed by Peanutiel Duffy and Peanut Holloway in 6th and 7th place. Unfortunately for all of us, at the end of the regular season, the Ominous Red Line began—to vibrate? to fracture?—and the Peanut spoke.

It expressed outrage that we would patronize it, indignantly asked who "Telephone" and "McDaniel" were, and informed us that this was Strike Three. 

(In blaseball sometimes you get four strikes rather than three. Blaseball is odd.)

After this ominous proclamation, "SHELLED" appeared over the first names of the two players the Peanut had objected to, though Peanut Bong was spared.

The Peanut expressing outrage at Jessica Telephone and Nagomi McDaniel by name specifically feels Peak Blaseball: it was impossible to know before the start of game 99 who the final Top 3 Idols would be, so the team must have adapted their script on the fly. 

Seeing the consequences of their failure, blaseball fans scrambled to boost the Peanut players into 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. They did succeed, but the Peanut did not reappear. The only change to come from this was the disappearance of the ominous red line. Fans are currently quibbling over whether this act was too little, too late to appease the Peanut, or if something else might happen because of this partial success. One thing is clear, though: the community's belief in the Peanut Plan was utterly vindicated. Blaseball fans picked up on this plan and a coordinated effort was made, and their suspicions were justified, even if the execution fell painfully short. This is enormously gratifying: both the fans and developers came together to create a somewhat ominous hidden puzzle that ended in the most blaseball of ways.

The resurrection of Jaylen Hotdogfingers, by contrast, feels truly emergent rather than scripted, even if its possibility feels deeply right based on a lot of pre-existing elements of the game. The Hades Tigers' motto is "Never Look Back", a tongue-in-cheek reference to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice; necromancy (and its consequences) is thematically appropriate within the actual canon. And it's very on-brand for the fandom to care for and want to save their players—beyond reason, beyond good sense, beyond life and death. The idea of sticking a giant middle finger at the uncaring cruelty of the blaseball gods is reinforced by a lot of fanon work; the Garages have the "The Garages Kill the Gods" album, and a lot of fanlore is anti-kyriarchy more generally. Finally, even though "an incinerated character on a hidden game object is the 14th most Idolized player" is probably not what the blaseball devs began the week planning on, the Peanut Fraud debacle is a good indication of how the game handles and incorporates fan exploits. And this is very much a fan exploit.

Resurrecting Jaylen Hotdogfingers is not a good idea. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons it is so popular; blaseball in general is about making very bad choices. The Peanut warned fans at the end of Season 3 postseason that we had two strikes against us: opening the Forbidden Book was the first strike, and Peanut Fraud was the second strike. Now, our collective failure to fulfil the Peanut's demands has caused a third. There's been a lot of debate among blaseball fans over whether necromancy—and this is necromancy, we are trying to bring back the dead—would be our last strike. Some players (including some Garages fans) are not on board with this; others embrace the plan specifically for how it offers an excellent chance for in-character spite towards the purported organizing forces of blaseball. 

This spite towards the "blaseball gods" is notable for how clearly delineated it is from the fandom's understanding and appreciation of the Game Band as a dev team. While some fans enjoy the anti-kyriarchy roleplay of ascending to the heavens to kill the gods and others seem deeply wary of it, the overwhelming majority of all blaseball fans are bound together by an appreciation for the team that creates the universe we're all playing in. 

From a game design perspective, this is deeply satisfying on a number of levels. Ever since the controversial decree to Tame the Tigers was introduced, there's been an ever-increasing element of PvP play, where fans of Team X target fans of Team Y, and bad impressions linger even after seasons end. With the introduction of a league-wide audacious plan that pits fans against the blaseball gods, we've returned emphasis to a PvE model, which is much more satisfying for the kind of collaborative players that a game like blaseball has already attracted. Whether this was intentional or not, I think the move towards more PvE elements is smart, especially when those gameplay elements offer fans of struggling teams something meaningful to work towards that isn't tied to their team's current record. Additionally, it's been fulfilling to feel as though we've discovered an exploit in both the game and the canon narrative: that there's a way to fight back against the tyranny of the ever-encroaching apocalypse. It will almost certainly bring about worse consequences, but making the stand is the point. We've picked the player who will make the biggest statement; if we get our way, the first to be incinerated will be the first to be resurrected. Mechanically, it looks as though the developers left this possibility open for us: the littered references to resurrection and the flaming skull image ready to go indicate to me that there was at least a sense that at least the Peanut Atonement aspect of the Necronut plan could occur. But narratively, it feels very much as though we're descending into Hades, driven by hubris out of sympathy for loved ones taken too soon.

Does that metaphor make us Orpheus in this plan, warned against the consequences but still incapable of resisting them? It does. Is being aware of many ways this can fail horribly and doing it anyway very blaseball? I think so. I've said before that the power fantasy of blaseball is that even in a world that slips further into apocalyptic darkness, chaos can be mitigated (if not always averted) through solidarity, storytelling, and mutual aid. And there's no better example of that than an entire group of players across the entire league banding together to try a moonshot plan to hack the game into forcing a resurrection of the first incinerated player. If we strike out, we strike out swinging.

[1] One of the most hilarious moments of player-developer interaction occurred this season on Twitter between the Mexico City Wild Wings and the Commissioner. As a result of the High Filter decree, the Good and Evil leagues were shaken up into the Wild and Mild leagues; the Mexico City Wild Wings were placed, purely based on their win-loss record, in the Mild league. The Wild Wings—whose whole deal is that they are spicy—did not appreciate this. As a result, a lawsuit—in-character, I should stress—was filed against the blaseball gods for defamation of character, alleging "irreparable material damages" to the Wild Wings' reputation. (They mocked up pretty good court documents.) The exchange leaned into a number of blaseball's pre-existing absurdities—in particular, the Commissioner's established persona of obscurely-threatening omnipotence accompanied by perpetual confusion, but also the whole idea of defending how cool and wild you are through the medium of dry legalese—culminating in this

(So, this was already a little comedy storm in a teacup, held in the shadow of the high-stakes drama of Necronut. And while everyone was reeling from the Peanut's wrath, a few people noticed a very small change, illustrating how you don't tweak the nose of the blaseball gods and get away with it:)

[2] I should mention that a number of Seattle Garages fans are not on board with necromancy, and that should be respected; the Garages (like any other team) aren't a monolith. But overall, the team has decided to try to get Jaylen back.