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Steppe, written in 1972 by Piers Anthony, was not published in the US until 1985. It predicted many of the elements of the MMORPG.
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Alp is a warrior from 9th-century Earth who, at the moment he should have died, instead is kidnapped into the future. There he finds himself participating in a sort of live-action Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. The game, controlled by an enigmatic Game Machine, is a recreation of the history of Earth's great Steppe empires; and winning the Game is Alp's only alternative to being exiled back into the past, and the death that awaits him.


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Some of the tropes found in Steppe:

  • An Adventurer Is You: In-universe, this is the main reason for the contemporary Galactic players to be in the Game; it lets them experience the thrills of battle and life in a different time without actual risk. Does This Remind You of Anything?
  • Badass Crew: Alp, Uga, and Pei-li in their first alliance. Alp (as Temujin), Qasar, Borchu, Subotai, and Jelme later on.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Alp's friends Uga and Pei-li contract this as the Game reaches its final stages and one of them must become Jenghiz Qan.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The Game Machine, charged with seeing that history is accurately recreated, somehow saw to it that someone from the past, like Alp, would be brought into the Game to guarantee the part of Jenghiz Qan would have a worthy player.
    • In fact, the Game Machine would have to be a Magnificent Bastard to be capable of overseeing millions if not billions of players and making sure that the major roles did not diverge from their historical models. This is somewhat handwaved, but also left up in the air. Eventually one follows the MST3K Mantra in regards to this.
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  • Cool Sword: Game Swords are electrical stunners which paralyze with a graze, and knock the player unconscious with a solid hit. Unconscious players are "killed" and out of the Game, unless they buy into a new part.
  • Covert Pervert: Audience ratings are a large factor in determining the player's final score when his part ends. The Machine flat-out tells Alp that audiences enjoy any illicit thrills they can get, brought on by the liberating setting of the Game and the fact that players have their awareness of the audience blocked out while they are actively playing. Yes, that's right; in the future, millions of viewers will watch you have sex. And you won't realize it until afterwards.
  • The Determinator: For Alp, losing the Game means expulsion to the real world, where he will be sent back to the past to die at the bottom of a gorge.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Uga, the first player Alp meets in the Game, and Pei-li, Uga's aide, become this to him after an adventure in the China section of the Game. Later, as the character Temujin, Alp makes a friend of Borchu, who helps him recover his stolen "horses" from a superior force and later becomes a general in his army.
  • Foregone Conclusion: For anyone who ever studied Central Asian history and knows that Jenghiz Qan aka Genghis Khan was born with the name Temujin. Regardless, it's a thrilling read.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Apparently cursing will decline in the future, if the best oath Alp can come up with ("in good Galactic slang") is "You crazy fool!"
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Alp was falling to his death in a gorge when he was brought to the future by a time machine. By the rules of the future, only a man who would otherwise be dead could be taken from the past.
  • Hub World: Alp's entry into the Game coincidentally seems to be in one of these. It's not a coincidence; the Game Machine arranged for his arrival.
  • Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game: The Game of Steppe is a live-action version. Players pay to enter parts, act them out, eventually "die", then enter new parts if they were successful enough to have points left over. Minor parts are played by people who want to earn enough points for their first "good" character.
  • Mr. Exposition: Munlik, "Temujin's" advisor, delivers a page-long political summary which all the characters should have known, but the readers did not.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Alp arrives in the future sans clothes. After escaping his abductors, he starts knocking out and stripping everyone he meets, so there is a wave of nude people fleeing for cover to confuse the police.
  • One True Love: Kokachin, the Chinese princess who Alp meets and then loses, returns in a new role 400 years later (Game-time) to marry him. They are reunited in real life as well, after Alp wins the game.
  • Overworld Not to Scale: Sort of; The Game-world is meant to be a representation of Earth, but it is spread across the whole Galaxy. Horses are one-man spaceships; rivers are dust-nebulae; star clusters represent mountain ranges. Players travel at light-speed from planet to planet to get to the Game-area of each world.
  • Recycled In Space: In a variation, the Game recreates ancient Earth by cordoning off parts of various planets and sections of the Galaxy to represent a stylistic version of the Asian Steppe. The scale is much bigger, but time is compressed so that one Day in real life represents a year historically. It all works out somehow.
  • Roaring Rampage of Rescue: Kokachin (after marrying Temujin/Alp) is kidnapped by another player. Alp's response? Raise three armies and go get her back!
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: After Alp and Kokachin are reunited.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Fridge Logic dictates that the Game Machine itself must be playing this at an incredible rate to ensure that the historical storyline takes place, while maintaining an illusion of free will for the players. See The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard.
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