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Fuzzy Plastic Memories III – Application


Introduction

This wasn’t intended to be a separate post at all; it is the second half of the response to a guest article published back in March, before the unwanted disruption of my life caused by relocating to a new apartment (I’m still unpacking!)

Rather than repeat a lot of material from Part II, I think I’ll just drop a couple of links and then steamroller straight on ahead.

Memories are ‘plastic’ because they can be reshaped easily – in fact, it’s almost impossible to resist this happening. Every time you access a memory, it gets read and rewritten – but the rewritten version is NOT identical to the old one, it contains new associations and interpretations and can omit details that don’t fit the revised narrative. If a memory hasn’t been accessed for a while, it can throw content away out of sheer “efficiency” (after all, if you needed those details, you would have accessed the memory more often). Like plastic, a memory can be and will be reshaped.

Memories are ‘fuzzy’ because they can ‘steal’ information from other sources – memories statements made sufficiently strongly by others – and write them into the memory as though they had always been there. This is why Police try to separate witnesses rather than letting them compare notes., at least until they’ve had a chance to document each person’s recollections, and why witnesses at trials are normally not permitted to hear each other’s testimony.

Put both phenomena together, and a third naturally emerges: Memory is unreliable unless reinforced by notes or other documentation. Logically, most of the attention goes to fighting the phenomenon, because an unreliable memory can be quite inconvenient.

But there are times when it’s useful, even necessary, to take advantage of this flaw in memory architecture. In real life, triggering memories of trauma can be tempered, for example, or simply made more tolerable. I’m not really here to talk about that sort of thing, though; my focus is on the RPG applications of the principle.

5 Harnessing Memory Plasticity

There are four direct ways that the GM can attempt to employ memory plasticity on the part of players. Before I get into them, though, I really need to take a moment to discuss the ethics of these proposals.

These are all attempts to psychologically manipulate the players. They are not certain to succeed, and the chances of success plummet in the face of resistance, while rising slightly in the event of cooperation. The best way to secure cooperation and reduce resistance is to openly admit what you are doing (but not necessarily how).

If the technique is abused, or misused, or only used to make the GM look better, he should be aware that each and every one of the techniques listed can also be applied by the players against the GM. This will rarely work, of course, because the player will not have secured the GM’s cooperation, but even the occasional success is undesirable. The best defense against this possibility is to give the players no reason to resort to such measures.

Your game table is not, or should not be, a playground for PsyOps manipulations. The goal is for everyone to have fun, not to “win”.

    5.1 The Overlooked Detail

    The most innocuous use of plastic memory is to employ fuzziness to retroactively insert some detail that was overlooked last time, something that would not have made any difference then, but that is likely to be important going forward.

    The best technique is simply to narrate one PC ‘noticing’ the missing detail, but set the discovery in the past tense, at the conclusion of a brief synopsis of ‘last time’. This segues from past to present and sneaks the lost detail into the mix in the process.

    Inevitably, one of the players will say “I don’t remember that,”, to which you respond “My bad – I didn’t realize that this small detail had been overlooked last time. I don’t think it would have changed anything at the time, but wanted to set the record straight so that you can make informed decisions going forward” – or words to that effect.

    The worst crime a GM can commit is to threaten or deny player agency. This technique casts your use of the plastic memory into the light of supporting such agency, making players more likely to simply accept it and move on with play.

    5.2 Retroactive Revision

    A bigger change from further back may require more extreme measures. In such cases, it’s better to get the justification out of the way up-front (including a mea culpa for the stuff-up) and then lead into a synopsis that incorporates the correction.

    The purpose of leading with the mea culpa and explanation is to secure player cooperation and deny player resistance. This has to be done to make them receptive to the revised backstory

    5.3 The obscurity of temporal remove

    However, this can also trigger player cynicism, in which a player develops the attitude that the GM is serving his own interests and/or convenience first and anything else a distant second or third. Once this notion sets in, regardless of it’s accuracy, it can be devilishly hard to shift. In this case, it can be triggered when players don’t perceive any need for the correction, don’t recognize its significance, and so start looking to assign ulterior motives.

    If the relevance of the correction is not going to be immediately apparent, i.e. be a decision-making element in the current game session, you will often be best served by ignoring the need for a correction until just before it will become significant.

    Some GMs may be tempted, in this circumstance, to try to sneak the change through with no announcement at all, especially if they think they can get away with it. My advice is don’t do it.

    You see, there’s a second effect making such an announcement has: it lends the change gravitas, implying significance, and that makes it more readily accepted by the players. The more importance that gets attached to the retroactive change, the more the announcement of being at fault acts to suppress resistance to the change on the part of the players, because the GM is showing his human side through the somewhat-embarrassing announcement that highlights his own capacity for making mistakes. It humanizes the GM and that makes him a more sympathetic figure.

    Most of the time, you can maintain an air of infallibility if you want; this is one occasion in which the needs of the campaign supersede such a perception.

    5.4 Sowing Confusion With NPCs

    With everything the GM does to avoid the problems that can result from game-table memory plasticity, it has to be acknowledged that the pristine clarity of recollections, reinforced with regular synopses and making sure to call attention to all the important considerations just before a critical decision can produce a quite unrealistic level of confidence in players regarding their understanding of what’s going on.

    Every now and then, it’s useful to inject a small measure of uncertainty and confusion just to restore a little realism to the campaign. The best way of doing that is with an NPC who has a different interpretation of past events common to both groups.

      “We remember the same things, I just remember them differently>”

    This immediately raises the question of ‘who’s right”, casting doubt on everything the GM has been reminding the players of. Is the synopsis an accurate one, or has it been crafted by the GM to preserve misinterpretations and mistakes made by the players at the time?

    The unrealistic hyper-confidence is instantly dispelled.

    The GM can reinforce this effect with phrases such as “as you recall,” rather than employing absolute certainty within the narrative. This can make it harder work to get through however, so it’s best used lightly – a hint, not a sledgehammer.

6 The Strength Of Continuity

Some campaigns are more strongly affected by the impact of memory plasticity than others. Arguably, for example, the more episodic a campaign, the less pristine the continuity has to be, and the greater the lapses that the GM can simply ignore.

There are several subvarieties to contemplate, as well – the Adventurer’s Club features strong continuity of characters, and in some of the plot elements, where those are used to bind parts of a narrative arc together – but outside of that, there’s far greater looseness in this campaign than there is in, say, the Zenith-3 campaign, in which continuity is rigidly fixed over decades of real time (and years of game time). A casual comment by an NPC two decades of real time ago can hang around, gathering dust, for decades until the right context manifests and it suddenly becomes critically-important this week.

The Warcry campaign, despite being a spin-off from the Zenith-3 campaign, is the exact opposite of the Adventurer’s Club campaign; because it was (in part) designed to be a test vehicle for rules changes, it has near-absolute continuity of plot while characters can morph and change on a weekly basis, and retcons are assumed to account for any discrepancies between current character capability and past performance.

Plastic Memory can be an extremely useful tool in adjusting and correcting campaign continuity, once the GM knows what he is doing with it.

    6.1 Episodic Continuity

    In more episodic-continuity campaigns, what the players remember of a past event whose ramifications are still unfolding can actually be detrimental; the situation being confronted in the current adventure can differ from those memories in any number of critical elements.

    What the players remember may no longer be accurate reflections of the current in-game circumstances being presented by the GM.

    Using Plastic Memory, the GM can contradict those memories, leaving the players better able to react to the circumstances in front of them without preconceptions from the experienced past getting in the way. In the Adventurer’s Club campaign, for example, we have reset the game date at least twice, and will shortly do so again; the current game date is 1938, but it will soon become 1932, 3, 4, 5, or 6, just to create more space within the campaign for future adventures. We already know how the campaign will end, and when, in game-time (a mish-mash of 1939 and 1941, in which the events of Pearl Harbor and the outbreak in Europe of WW2 roughly coincide).

    Naturally, there is a fine line; you can’t contradict absolutely everything from one episode to another, even in episodic continuity. Because there is continuity of characters, you want to at least appear to pay lip service to continuity, only violating it when it’s essential to the current plotline.

    6.2 Serial Continuity

    Strongly-serial continuity campaigns, often also described as “Strong Continuity” campaigns, have a completely different problem. The continuity is supposed to be fixed, which means that any mistakes made will perpetuate forwards in time.

    The plastic memory phenomenon permits revisions to that continuity without violating the general principle. More accurately, it permits players to take changes made retro-actively onboard, literally revising history to a more accurate account of what would have happened, but for the mistake made.

    In both cases, the phenomenon introduces the flexibility to incorporate just a little of the opposite continuity mode where it’s necessary to maximize the plot potential of the campaign.

    6.3 Plastic Continuity

    In any time-travel campaign in which multiple entities with disparate agendas can rewrite the past to their liking, and there is no such thing as an original or “stable” base history – the Warcry campaign, for example – what you end up with is a “Plastic” Continuity. Episodic at times, Serial in others, perpetually in flux at some critical moments, and with the Episodic capacity to completely replace or rewrite the ‘established’ Serial continuity.

    In some ways, it can be said that this model contains the flaws and problems of both types of ‘simple’ continuity, and can therefore use Plastic Memory in both of the ways described in the preceding sections.

    But there’s an additional advantage, overcoming one of the biggest headaches that comes with this “Plastic” Continuity. You see, when an Episodic Continuity Event completely rewrites some part of the “Common Reference” Serial continuity, the GM can normally be expected to prepare a revised History of both the Campaign and the associated World History. And that’s a LOT of work.

    The usual solution is to state that temporal manipulation imposes a kind of “Historical Uncertainty Boundary”, beyond which the truth of history cannot be certain because of the multiple interventions that have taken place one way or another and the potential for future interventions that could be taking place as the narrator speaks. This limits and restricts the amount of prep work the GM has to contend with, while enabling him to cast his mental net further forwards or back as needed.

    6.4 Flexibility vs Sweeping Epic Planning

    One of the eternal debates of tabletop RPGs is always the extent of forward planning the GM does. There are all sorts of variations possible, but the arguments tend to polarize around the flexibility of sandboxes and the sweeping epic of detailed planning, comparing and contrasting the advantages and disadvantages of both, and focusing in on related topics like player agency, and whether or not there can be too much of it, leading to player indecision, and whether player agency is even possible under the ‘Sweeping Epic Planning’ model, and…. well, you get the idea.

    To the best of my knowledge, no-one has attempted to integrate the concepts of Fuzzy Plastic Memory into any of these debates – but because the concept is fundamental to how players experience continuity, that potentially a significant omission.

    I’m fighting hard to avoid getting (sucked? suckered?) down the rabbit holes of these debates! Suffice it to say that I don’t hold any of the common positions in these debates; I believe that it’s possible to have sweeping, epic (general) plans which dictate the actions of NPCs and – in bold strokes – other events outside the control of PCs while still leaving those PCs in a sandbox – or, more accurately, a succession of overlapping sandboxes.

    The phenomenon of plastic memories injects a measure of uncertainty and flexibility into the process – usually unwanted, but occasionally useful, because it offers a tool that can alter or amend the finer details of past events while leaving the broad strokes uncompromised.

    With sandbox campaigns, this permits a measure of larger-scale planning, because there is a mechanism for fixing conflicts if they threaten the stability of the sandbox enclosure. With epic-planning campaigns, they prevent the rigidity of the planning from undermining player agency by providing mechanisms to alter the plans to accommodate player decisions.

    Either way, you end up with a more structured but dynamic campaign perspective, and that’s a good thing, right?

    6.5 Campaign Identity

    One of my most strongly-held tenets is that every campaign should have its own identity, it’s own personality, it’s own brand if you will. A distinctive atmosphere that distinguishes this campaign from Joe and Jenny’s campaign just down the road, and Ronald-from-across-the-street’s campaign, and from the previous campaign that you ran.

    Lots of things contribute to that uniqueness. Naming conventions, social and political structures, campaign philosophy, house rules and the impact that they have on the game world sandboxing vs pre-planning, realism vs fantasy, high fantasy vs low – the list just keeps on growing.

    Many of these fall under the umbrella heading of Campaign Philosophy, which I can define as “one or more general principles used to derive more specific campaign traits, conditions, rules and content.” These should never be chosen at random; they should always integrate to create a total greater than the sum of their parts, and how this integration takes place is the subject of still more of these general principles. Unfortunately, “random choice just because” is often the approach taken by GMs, if they even bother with high-level thinking in the first place. Note that even if the GM puts no effort in this area, these are emergent properties of decisions made along the way if the campaign lasts long enough.

    Added to that long list can now be a group of entries related to Memory Plasticity – what level of revisionism the campaign will tolerate, whether or not it’s permissible for players to initiate a revision, and so on.

    6.6 GMing Style

    The need to always get it right, or try to, can be stultifying to a GM’s style. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, forcing GMs away from the radical and toward a more workable common denominator, but it’s not commonly a good thing, either. Understanding how to employ Plastic Memory to his advantage liberates the GM to be more experimental and to more fully express his personal style.

7 Confusing The Issue: Perception, Cognition, and Recollection

Oh, if only it were all so simple! Everything in the previous section is accurate – when viewed from the standpoint of the GM. But with multiple participants comes multiple perspectives, and those of the player(s) might not accord with the GM’s view. What seems completely reasonable to him can look completely different to the people on the receiving end, who may prefer the stability of a fixed timeline.

And the potential complicating factors don’t stop there. In fact, I have identified no less than 11 of them.

    7.1 Perception

    Ultimately, players rely on the GM to tell them what their characters can see. The two basic models for doing so are Theater Of The Mind and Representational (and there are any number of hybrid systems).

    Strangely, these two are not alike in the way that Plastic Memory alterations are received. Perhaps it’s because the Representational approach engages more than one sense, but players are more receptive to “Oops, I left something out that might be important” with pure Theater Of The Mind.

    The most common hybrid approach uses Representation as an abstraction – that “glowing pool” might not be a glowing pool in the scene, it’s just an indicator that there is something there. The GM then uses Theater Of The Mind to set the scene, with the Representation conveying the physical locations of the elements described. One advantage of this approach is that errors are far less likely to result – if the GM puts an indicator on the Representation but forgets to identify it in his narration, a player is sure to ask, “What’s that?”. If the GM mentions something that he has forgotten to emplace on the map, the omission becomes immediately obvious.

    Because errors are less frequent and more quickly corrected, players are going to be far less forgiving and more resistant to retroactive changes.

    These factors can also give the overlooked detail a greater significance than is actually warranted in the minds of the players, and this effect can be particularly hard to combat. “It must be important, look at all the fuss he’s going to just to put it in.”

    All these are things that the GM has to take into account when applying Plastic Memory corrections to character perceptions.

    7.2 Cognition

    A different can of worms gets opened when the GM retroactively adds in something that a character thought of or associated during a plot sequence or conversation, because this can be viewed as an overt manipulation of player agency.

    Telling a player, “It reminds you a bit of…” at the time is viewed as the GM helping the player comprehend the in-game events, making connections that the character would perceive immediately from what they perceive through their senses.

    Saying, “Something you noticed at the time but didn’t think too much of now comes to mind,” followed by the missing detail is a more overt correction, and is far more received as the GM interfering in the character’s thought processes in order to achieve a plot outcome, more commonly known as “railroading”. And it is far less tolerated.

    Plastic Memory manipulation is therefore far more problematic in matters of cognition, and has to be handled far more delicately and cautiously. The admission that the omission was an error on the part of the GM is critical to defusing this potentially explosive situation; emphasize it strongly. This is not the time to present an air of infallibility!

    7.3 Super-human Memories?

    “My character has an eidetic memory. He never forgets anything.” spells instant trouble when applying Plastic Memory manipulations, because the GM is really targeting the player as a means of conveying a corrected impression to the character. Again, the best answer is to place heavy emphasis on the GM attempting to correct his mistake before the error leads a player to make incorrect decisions.

    It gets even trickier if decisions have already been made based on the inaccurate world-view perceived by the player. “If I had noticed that, I might have tried to do X instead of Y” is essentially a direct confrontation between player and GM over the issue of player agency. The submissive “My bad” will not longer cut it in such circumstances; the GM will need to have a plan of action prepared that addresses the issue before he even raises the question.

    There are no good answers to the question of how to handle this problem. They are all problematic in one way or another. The least worst is to let the player retroactively change his response and for the GM then to further amend the continuity retroactively to incorporate the changed decision. His goal has to be fully accommodating player agency while still having the ultimate outcome be as close as possible to the resolution that took place on the day. Serving two ends at the same time is never easy, but the alternatives are even worse.

    Alternatives, you ask? One GM tried to retroactively introduce a hidden enemy using mind-control to influence the character into ignoring the ‘overlooked detail’. Another tried to retroactively cloak the overlooked detail in an illusion (a somebody-else’s-problem field) to explain why it was overlooked at the time.

    Both fell flatter than a pancake. In the latter case, it led to a player leaving the game immediately; in the former, the whole campaign fell apart.

    Not doing much better, another GM tried to pretend that the player had overlooked the detail at the time, claiming that he had made no mistake. Unfortunately, he had posted a detailed synopsis constructed from his own adventure prep which made no mention of the overlooked detail. BIG mistake. Not only did the player immediately drop out of the campaign, he also dropped out of the friendship he had formerly had with the GM.

    I can’t recommend any of these approaches.

    7.4 Filing and Misfiling of Memories

    It happens to all of us occasionally – I’m notorious for it: forgetting what happened last time. I’m good at remembering the big picture, and at recalling the smaller picture of the adventure, but terrible at remembering how far into that adventure the characters got – especially since I’m perfectly happy to change the adventure completely if the players make unexpected choices.

    If I can, I make a note in the adventure’s text file, “Up to here” (while deleting any old occurrences), but sometimes I can’t do that for whatever reason. Part of the problem is that for a week or two afterwards, I have perfect recall of the information, and then one morning, it’s just gone. No fuzzy-memory warning period, it’s like flipping a switch.

    Anyway, there is a period of reintegration when you get reminded of what happened. It generally takes only a few seconds, but for those few seconds you can be vulnerable. Earworms presenting at such times are especially difficult to dispel – and earworms are always troublesome in that way, anyhow.

      Reintegrating Memories

      But that’s a side-issue. Integrating the plotline with past events proceeds naturally; where you have to be careful is integrating undocumented past planning and intentions. Not sure what I mean by that? Then let me expand on the process, and you’ll see where it fits in.

      In any adventure, there are plot points aimed at the bigger picture. These exist not only to securely attach the current adventure to that big picture but to develop / change the background, ever so slightly, so that it evolves in game time with the lives of the characters. Dynamic, not static. Most of the time, in adventure prep, I’ll have figured out a scene that actually services that plot parameter, but every now and then it will be dependent on player decisions, and not formally plotted out in advance. That means figuring out how to achieve the plot point as play proceeds.

      And it you don’t reach the place in the plot where the improvised scene actually takes place, your planning tends to vanish when the rest of the adventure progress gets forgotten – and because the players never get told of those yet-to-be-realized plans (obviously), they can’t prod your memory about them. You’re on your own.

      it also happens when you only figure out how to achieve a plot point after play has started for the day – not a common problem for me, but one that occasionally manifests (or, worse still, the variant of having a plan but thinking of a better answer once play is under way).

      Enter Plastic Memory

      Plastic Memory gets a couple of bites at the cherry in such situations. First, the foundations of your memory reintegration are the flawed memories of one or more players (between them, they usually get it right, but one or more will be radically wrong about some of the details along the way). That’s usually enough to connect to your lost memories, at least in part, but those memories are also subject to the problems of Plastic Memory.

      Still, by functioning as an ‘editor’ trying to reconcile what the player(s) are saying with the memories that they trigger, you can usually get back to being in the same mindset as when play stopped, despite the Plastic Memory problem. (This also gives you the chance to correct the player on anything that he has misremembered, invoking plastic memory manipulation to get everyone on the same page).

      So, the parts of the story that you and the players have in common can usually be restored without too much trouble. It’s the parts that only you, as GM, have that are a problem, because they are invariably tainted by plastic memories.

      My solution

      The best approach that I have found is to start from scratch, asking myself (in general terms) how I can achieve the plot point with just the information that I currently have. Sometimes it will be the first thing that I think of, sometimes the second or third, but sooner or later, one of these general answers will connect with the ‘lost plan’. (This also gives me one last opportunity to change my plans if they don’t seem as good in hindsight as they did at the time).

    7.5 Associations and Misassociations

    When a memory gets filed, it gets indexed all sorts of ways – think of it as ‘tags’ like you would use on a blog post. These associations are generated subconsciously and generated using a mobile phone’s auto-complete function.

    For example, let’s say that something reminds you of a friend from school. Your memories of that friend are recalled, deleted, and rewritten with at least one additional ‘tag’ describing the ‘now’ – so that when someone, a day or two later, mentions that old friend, you respond with “I was just thinking about him (or her) just the other day.”

    That’s memory association, and it can happen with any of the senses. There are some scents that instantly transport my memory to a particular time or place (I’ll come back to that in a minute). There are some passages of music that instantly remind me of a particular place or time – especially vivid associations in my case are triggered by “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp, “Into The Lens” by Yes, “The Long Run” by the Eagles, and “Up The Junction” by UK Squeeze (just known as ‘Squeeze’ to most of the world). Flavor is a bit more problematic, because multiple instances tend to blur into each other, diluting the strength of the association. A few survive – Baked Turnips and Baked Pumpkin, Home-made Ginger Beer, and Lime Milkshakes – but most are fairly generalized.

      Using Memory Associations to improve GM performance

      In Sydney, as in most parts of the world, there are certain places that are particularly strongly connected with a particular culture. There are certain spice shops that are indelibly Indian in nature, while others are more Moroccan or Middle Eastern. Each of these has a particular scent that immediately connects my thoughts with other aspects of the cultural experience. I could not articulate the difference if you paid me, but it’s there and distinctive, and I can invoke those associations just by recalling the scent – I don’t even have to smell it again.

      Musk Sticks

      I always thought Musk Sticks were originally a British confection, but apparently they are 100% exclusively Australian. So most of the world won’t get that reference. Hopefully this picture and the linked article will help. Image By Samuel Wiki – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85381092

      I’ve learned to use these associations as a GM to put me into a particular head-space, in which the ‘flavor’ of the setting comes to hand more easily. I doubt enough of the association gets conveyed to the players for them to make an association in their own minds, but even without that, it helps me conjure up a vivid and consistent imaginary environment. Kzin, for example, is Musk Sticks and dried Mushrooms overlaid on a Middle Eastern background – at least as far as scents go. And that associates with architectural style and cultural elements and all sorts of other things, which I can use as inspiration when describing Kzin.

      Misassociation

      So long as the associations are vivid and accurate, there’s no problem. But memory plasticity erodes the accuracy unless the memory is refreshed from time to time – the more vivid, the less frequent this has to be.

      It’s when of these associations gets misdirected to some other association by memory decay that problems arise – suddenly, you can’t put yourself into the right mind-set by recalling the scent, the wrong scent with the wrong associations comes to mind instead.

      Correcting a faulty link

      You can use the Plastic Memory phenomenon on yourself to correct a faulty mental link, and it’s a lot easier than you might think.

      All you have to do is put the cart before the horse.

      For example, if I misassociated the Middle Eastern Spice scent so that it no longer led to the Kzin in my mind, that means that the outward association from the scent no longer points to the right mental “page” – but that connection is still there, from the last time it was used.

      So, by recalling that time, and the way it was used, and my headspace at the time, I can actually follow the association from “Kzin” to “Middle Eastern Spice”. This rewrites both memories with the connection between them reforged.

      I may have to do this a half-dozen times to overcome the incorrect link, and you can never do so completely perfectly, but 99% of the time, the technique works.

      Short Vs Long-term memory

      Within limits, that is. Those limits are all bundled up with the difference between long and short-term memory.

      When we first have something to remember, it gets filed into short-term memory. If there’s a particularly strong association, it will eventually get recorded into long-term memory; if not, the memory will get generalized to some extent and lumped in with dozens of similar memories under a general heading. The less distinctive the short-term memory is, the more generalized the recollection will be.

      So that point of transition is all-important to the way the memory gets handled. The problem is that there’s no comprehensive consensus on when that happens.

      Everyone agrees that one occasion is during sleep, usually REM-sleep (and don’t worry if you don’t know what that is, it doesn’t matter in the context of this article). The consensus fractures when you ask if that’s the only time it happens. What if you take a cat-nap? How about if you are forced to stay awake for a protracted period? Can it happen while you’re awake? Are there consequences if the process gets interrupted?

      There are few, if any, good answers to any of these questions. There simply hasn’t been enough research into this aspect of memory function (yet). My own opinions (for whatever they are worth, which isn’t much):

      • Is sleep the only time short-term memories get transferred to long-term storage? Nope – but it’s the most efficient.
      • What if you take a cat-nap? – it depends on how deeply you sleep in that cat-nap, but it’s certainly possible.
      • How about if you are forced to stay awake for a protracted period? Can it happen while you’re awake? – It seems impossible for it not to happen at some point, eventually. I find myself wondering if those brief periods of grogginess that we experience after a while are a really-low priority mechanism for this transfer, if the reason we zone out for a few seconds or minutes is because our heads are busy with “something else” and not paying much attention to the outside world.
      • Are there consequences if the process gets interrupted? – Interrupting the process is like being wrapped in gentle environmental sounds (gentle wind and surf, say) and someone dropping the needle onto a record in the middle of a track at high volume. Some music in this example would be more disruptive than others – contrast a high-energy metal track with a lullaby – and the more disruptive and attention-getting the track, the more likely it is that the memory being transferred is damaged or even lost. So, take away the musical metaphor and replace it with ‘attention-grabbing phenomenon’ and you will have my best-guess answer.
    • Again, I don’t know any of these as fact. They might all be completely wide of the mark. The most that can be said is that they make sense to me.

      But the operative principles remain – those half-dozen repeats should be separated by at least half a day, and preferably a full sleep period, to achieve the maximum rebuilding of association links.

      As I was preparing to move on to the next section, a though occurred to me – I idly wondered whether trauma recovery could not be enhanced by more immediate treatment, while the incident was still fresh. The current trend is to send people home to get their heads straight, as it were, and to employ followup treatment only if necessary. Having some form of rapid-response quick therapy could potentially be effective, diminishing the strength and severity of the traumatic event. Just a passing thought, but it seems to fit.

      7.6 Obsessions, Misperceptions, and Hobbies

      The Plastic Memory phenomenon intersects with all of these in the same way. In essence, these are repetitive thoughts, patterns of thought, or patterns of activity. Obsessions are obviously this type of phenomenon, usually to such an extent that they are harmful to the life of the individual. The other two are a little less obvious.

      Misperceptions only matter (in this context) when someone else has mispercieved something we’ve said or done; there is a tendency to repeat the critical conversational passages or deeds over and over in our heads, trying to figure out where things went off the rails. Again, there’s that repetition factor.

      Hobbies tend to involve a head-space in which we are approaching sub-problems with the same process time after time; the specifics of each sub-problem may vary, but the problem-solving approach is the same. Think about solving a crossword, for example – each clue is a sub-problem, but the approach is still the same – what are the possible answers to the clue, do any of them fit the space and known letters, do any of them fit if one of the earlier answers is wrong,with modifications – that’s the heart of the Plastic Memory phenomenon.

      In the first two cases, this gradually transforms and morphs the memory of an event with which we are obsessed into a form that meshes better with our state of mind – so paranoia would infuse the memory with all sorts of shadowy hints and clues to implied meanings and so on. Tones of voice can change (in a recalled conversation), for example, and facial expressions twist, or we can convince ourselves that while the other party tried to hide it, we picked up on something they didn’t mean to convey, something that reveals “the truth”.

      The third case is the other side of the coin – it’s how we ‘learn by doing’, growing our skills subset, trying things and learning from the results.

      All these are more applicable, in RPG terms, to the mindsets of characters. The key is that mental states evolve over time, and this not only explains the phenomenon, it gives the GM (and occasionally, player) some direction as to the nature and pace of the changes, enabling characters to be depicted more realistically.

      7.7 Recollection

      This has to be included for the sake of completeness, but it’s all been said already – in all of Part 2 of this series, in fact.

      In a nutshell – guard against revising memories when you recall them. This frequently involves preparations made ahead of time for greater effectiveness. Whenever we remember something, we make that memory both fragile and vulnerable.

      7.8 The Lack Of Recollection

      Something altogether different happens when we strive to remember something and can’t bring it to mind. When this happens, we tend to try to remember, over and over, and in that repeated failure, we not only lay down a new memory track, and set of associations, but we open the door to Memory Plasticity. Try (and fail) too often, and we can actually replace the memory we are trying to connect to with the absence of that memory. Forever after, that memory will be more elusive, attempts to recall it being diverted to memories of the last time (or past occasions in general) when we couldn’t remember it.

      The Lack of Recollection can become a chronic self-inflicted condition. This can happen with vocabulary, spelling, faces – you name it.

      The solution to the problem is the same as outlined in 7.5.

      7.9 Cognition Of Recall

      The above begs the question of what happens when we become aware of a decline in our ability to access memories, absent some medical cause – just natural aging.

      In particular, it suggests that the expectation of a failing memory can potentially be a self-fulfilling prophecy, a blanket in which we cloak our minds. Every time this blanket redirects the memory function to a “404 page not found” (to use a modern metaphor), it increases the thickness of the blanket. In a nutshell, because we expect our memories to fade, we are more tolerant of the occasions when it does so, rather than undertaking remedial action – and gradually making the problem worse.

      I’ve known elderly people with only the faintest grasp of who they were and when they were, and I’ve known people of similar vintage who had memories like steel traps – again, in the former group, without any specific medical problem to cause the condition, just old age. And every now and then I’ve wondered at the difference and how it came about.

      Could it really be this simple? AS with other pieces of speculation in this article, I don’t know – but the pieces seem to fit. It might not be the whole answer, but I think it’s at least part of it.

      7.10 Permanent Plasticity

      Permanent Plasticity is not a natural phenomenon; it requires brain trauma. In essence, it prevents, at least in part, the recording of long-term memory, so that the sufferer finds themselves ‘reset’ back to a default state at the beginning of each day.

      Naturally, there will be discrepancies between the world around them and the ‘yesterday’ that they remember, and much of their day will be spent in a period of emotional distress as they attempt to make sense of the world. As they experience each day, the ‘working copy’ of their recalled memory gets modified, erased and rewritten with modifications – all of which get thrown away the next morning.

      I can imagine that someone suffering from this problem would write themselves a brief message (it has to be in their own handwriting) explaining “My name is X, I have been in a car accident that has damaged my memory. The world is confusing to me every day, but the people here will look after me.” It would need to be brief and simple so that it could be quickly assimilated, so there would not be room for much more.

      Each day, the person awakes in a strange place, finds this note, and has to decide whether or not to believe it – but it’s in their own handwriting, so they would be more prone to do so. Over time, consistency of stimuli would result in a pattern, a daily routine of substituting contemporary reality for experiences no longer remembered.

      This section arose from contemplating the intersection of Memory Plasticity and damaged memory systems; I’m sure it’s not the only such intersection, but it’s the one that came to mind. Consider it an example, not a complete list of possible conditions.

      Again, this is more about individual characters and characterizations.

      7.11 The accumulation of Flaws and Failures

      The final subject in this section has to do with human failings of other sorts. The repetition effect described earlier would apply to all such. Let’s take alcohol dependency for a specific example.

      Each time the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal manifested, the memory track associated would be amplified, the symptoms would feel more acute, and the victim would become aware of them more quickly and strongly. The problem thus becomes progressively worse, because once he starts drinking, he doesn’t know how to stop, and his tolerance also increases somewhat.

      It doesn’t matter what the flaw is, or whether or not the victim is aware of it – repetition opens the door to memory plasticity. But in many of these cases, there is a measure of wish fulfillment and self-delusion involved; it is entirely possible to think that you are actually improving, when you are growing worse.

      In most such cases, the problem is a private one with very few aware of how severely it has progressed (or even that it exists at all). That’s an important element to the problem because it makes any sort of reality check more difficult to find.

      Nevertheless, most characters who suffer from such problems will get the occasional sharp prompt, and will promise themselves that they will moderate in future, or even quit completely. And they mean it sincerely, no matter how many times they have made the same declaration. That’s only possible through Memory Plasticity, enabling the addict to blame those past failures on one or more mistakes or traps they fell into that they will avoid, this time. The problem, of course, is that these ‘mistakes’ and ‘traps’ are not the cause of the failure at all, just manifestations of the fallout.

      And, of course, the more divergent from reality their world-view becomes, the more prone they are to unintentionally self-destructive actions and behaviors while under the influence, a third consequence of Plastic Memories.

      The basic behaviors of Addiction are easy to replicate in a game setting, but the more you understand the causes and the changes that result, the better you can factor in the fringe consequences that are different in detail in every case, making the sufferer more of an individual than a disease profile.

8 Conclusion: The Pond Of Reflection

Imagine a pond of reasonable size. The surface is perfectly flat and calm, a mirror to the surrounds. Any discontinuity of memory is akin to dropping a pebble into the pond. See the ripples spreading in your imagination. It doesn’t matter if the pebble was dropped deliberately or accidentally kicked into the pond, the ripples still look the same.

Now focus your mind’s eye on one of the ripples, and on the distorted reflection that it contains. Is that distortion a truer reflection of reality than the still image? Reflections are inherently distorted, after all, but our minds ‘correct’ our perceptions when we examine them.

How plastic is reality, and our perceptions of it? Do we simply ‘edit out’ discontinuities in our perceptions?

There is some evidence that when we focus our attention, that’s exactly what happens. — the invisible gorilla.

This series started by examining the impact of some observed characteristics of human memory. It’s only now, when you can see how far and wide the trail of breadcrumbs of consequences have taken us, that it becomes apparent how tightly bound to the very definition of being human these observed characteristics really are.

But wait – we aren’t quite done, yet! After breaking the subject down into its talking points for the preceding two parts, I had a number of post-script thoughts that wouldn’t fit into the existing text no matter how I rearranged it.

The evolutionary benefits of Memory Plasticity, for example. Or the impact of the reliance on technology. And a whole bunch of stuff on “alien” thought processes and patterns.

I was going to append these discussions to this article (just as this text was supposed to be attached to Part II), but there simply isn’t enough time to do so. So these thoughts will have to wait for a Part IV to come…

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Inside The Locked Room


Usually I shortlist three or four images and then select between them, but this castle was so atmospheric that I couldn’t refuse it. Image by Enrique Meseguer (aka darksouls1) from Pixabay. This small-sized version just scratches the surface, follow the image link to salivate over larger versions.

I love it when I discover something that GMs should be using and aren’t, because it means that I get to analyze the reasons, and devise solutions to whatever is holding people back – and I learn things and develop tools for my own use in the process. By my count that’s win-win-win-win – and in this case, we can tack on an extra ‘-win’ because the players get to experience something that has been rare up until this point.

The latest such discovery is the ‘locked room mystery’ which is WAY underused in general, but especially in Fantasy – D&D and Pathfinder GMs, I’m looking at you here!

Why Are They Underutilized?

I can see five possible reasons. Not all of them will apply in any specific case, Campaign, or GM, but most of them will have some influence over the mindset of the hesitant Gamesmaster.

Those five are (1) Perceived Difficulty, (2) Perception of Antiquity, (3) Fear of Failure, (4) Fear of Boredom, and (5) Fear of Accusation.

If I’m going to offer solutions to each of these, I’m going to have to at least glance at the problems in detail. So, let’s do that.

    Problem #1: Perceived Difficulty

    Mysteries are often perceived as being harder to create / run than other types of adventure, and some people are of the opinion that the locked room is more difficult than any kind of mystery.

    Both are less applicable when it comes to modern day low-tech campaigns, but there aren’t all that many of them rolling around. Instead, one or more of the following apply to most campaigns: (a) High-tech (b) Magic (c) Far Future (d) Recent Past with Weirdness (e) Remote Past, Realistic (f) Remote past, fanciful (g) Remote Past, fanciful low-level (h) Time-travel (i) Interdimensional Travel (j) I-don’t-know-when-its-set-but-it’s-not-now. Any one of these ten can trigger a perceived level of difficulty that may seem insuperable.

    The common element is that any of these can introduce capabilities that are beyond the modern-day common standard, and hence either introduce esoteric solutions that have to be meticulously prepped against by the GM, or that make it seem too easy for the GM to ‘cheat’ by employing one of them.

    There’s also a perception that the GM has to have analyzed every possible solution to the locked room so that he can rule them out to create the mystery, and that sounds like a lot of work for little benefit.

    Problem #2: Perception of Antiquity

    I know some people who dismiss the entire concept of a locked room mystery as being ‘old hat’ or ‘Victorian’. There’s a concern that the players won’t become sufficiently invested to make the kind of effort that is needed to solve one, or that there won’t be enough action to keep some of the more unruly player elements satisfied.

    In other words, GMs are concerned that the locked-room mystery won’t fit their campaign. And, to some extent, that’s a valid concern – if you were to run a modern-style locked room mystery instead of one modeled to fit the context of the non-modern-day campaign.

    I’m not so sure that they are relevant to a correctly-contexted version of the concept – a fantasy-oriented one for a D&D campaign, or a hi-tech one for a sci-fi campaign. But that doesn’t matter; the problem isn’t the reality, it’s the perception of reality by a reluctant GM.

    Problem #3: Fear of Failure

    If there’s a perception of Locked Rooms being hard, then there is an implied corollary that they it’s easy to make a mistake. Again, there’s a kernel of truth in that assessment – I myself have been caught by having demonstrably ruled out the correct solution to the mystery, leaving no viable solution. At least, none that I could think of.

    N heads are better than one

    If that specific problem ever happens to you – and it can happen outside of locked-room-mystery context – the best solution is to shut up and listen to the players speculate until they find an improbable but acceptable solution. Steal it, file off a few serial numbers, and present it (or some simple variation) as the correct answer – and compliment them on being so perceptive.

    Of course, if this happens regularly, then it seems certain that there will be some pattern to the problem, some element of the GMing style that needs adjustment. The most common form of this problem would be a propensity to run off-the-cuff adventures and want to deny solutions that are ‘too easy’ – so if the PCs guess correctly early on, they have to be wrong, and the solution has to be something else.

    As soon as you get clever in rejecting the correct answer in this way, you are headed for trouble; it’s only a question of when, not if. Use this technique as a last-resort escape hatch if you paint yourself into a corner.

    Problem #4: Fear of Boredom

    A lot of GMs are also concerned that the game will bog down due to the nature of the mystery, and that players will resort to die rolling when they should be roleplaying and collaborating amongst themselves.

    This, of course, is a perennial problem in TTRPGs; why should a locked-room mystery be any exception? But the contention is that such mysteries actively encourage such behavior because the playercharacter; they have different personalities, skills, abilities, drives, and mindsets.

    Well, the people who think so are both right and wrong. They are correct insofar as a lack of engagement can be even more lethal than usual in locked-room mysteries (and mysteries in general, for that matter); they are wrong in thinking that either the general form or the locked room are especially prone to this, and/or that the problem won’t be corrected with the same techniques as in any other situation.

    Problem #5: Fear of Accusation

    Finally, there’s that potential accusation of cheating. Every GM faces this, sooner or later, and it doesn’t have to be in any particular type of adventure, though it can be argued that mysteries in general are more prone to such accusations, and locked-room mysteries more-so than any other. I don’t agree with the premise, but can’t actually refute it.

    That makes it the problem with the most potential merit of them all. Fortunately, it’s fairly easily solved.

Solutions

With the five problems explained and their validity either confirmed to at least some extent – even if they are only in the GM’s head, that doesn’t make their presence there any less real – we can turn our attention to solutions. These don’t map one-to-one to the problems – for one thing, there are seven of them!

In some cases, they are only partial solutions; in others, they are applicable to more than one problem.

    Approach

    The approach you take to designing your locked room mystery is vital. The place to start is always to decide how someone has committed the deed and made it seem impossible for it to be done that way.

    That creates the mystery, and it tells you that every other possible approach is not the right answer. All that remains is finding ways for the PCs to rule those wrong answers out of contention, and voila! – the locked room mystery is complete!

    Well, aside from descriptions of locations, a sprinkling of distinctive personalities, a red herring or two, and maybe some additional misdirection so that motive or opportunity can’t short-cut the story – the usual prep, in other words.

    This not only makes Locked-room mystery plots much easier to create, it makes them much easier to run, too – if you already know how the crime was actually committed and then covered up, any answer the players come up with that you hadn’t thought of is automatically wrong, and you can ad-hoc a reason for that being the case and a plot pathway that leads the investigators to that reason.

    Appreciation

    That “usual prep” is the key to solving problem #2 – you need to make the trappings wrapped around your mystery interesting enough to sustain player focus while they are engaged in the procedural process of solving the mystery.

    A rule of thumb that I like to use is that every suspect the PCs encounter should have their lives changed in some way by either the crime, or the PCs presence, or simply by being there. It doesn’t have to be a big change, and it certainly doesn’t have to be for the better.

    What’s more, they often shouldn’t assess those changes completely correctly.

    In a traditional locked room mystery,, the suspects (except the villain) are all completely truthful, though any of them may be evasive and attempt to cover their tails with excuses, denials, or simply being mum and playing dumb. They are worried about making themselves look guilty, especially if they had a reasonable motive, and never seem to realize that such behavior actually does make themselves look guilty more than coming clean would have done!

    In a more modern variant, this is all taken a step further; most of them will have some reason to lie to the investigators; eliminating them from contention is about finding some reason for the lies and deceptions and lack of cooperation other than being guilty of committing the crime.

    Even this can be mixed up by the creative GM, as I have pointed out in the past – the absence of an alibi can be prima facae evidence of innocence (see Taking everyman skills to the next level: The Absence of an Alibi – Dec 2011).

    One of the best options, from a GMing / Gameplay perspective, is the suspect who was actually busy committing some other crime somewhere else at the time, especially if their potential penalty is comparable to the penalty for the crime being investigated. This guarantees that they will be uncooperative for “entirely innocent” reasons!

    Process

    Can you trust the players to come up with their own process for solving the crime? How can you not?

    It’s a fact that the most popular television shows of the last 60-70 years have been police procedurals. On top of that, there have been movies, and some players may have read Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. Throw in all the legal-based TV shows like Perry Mason LA Law, The Rockford Files, the NCIS franchises, and so on, and it’s extremely unlikely that any of them will not have the foundations of a process.

    The hard part is always keeping those procedures interesting. Momentum, sustained by steady progress, will work for a while. When you detect signs that this is no longer enough, it’s time to confound a basic assumption that most of the players will take for granted without even realizing it – their expectations of a static and stable situation.

    I think of these as the “wandering monsters” of the mystery plotline. Someone shows up to complicate the situation, or introduce a new and unrelated problem, or there is an unexpected development in the ‘private life’ of a PC. These always have to be either smaller in scope than the main mystery, or more long-term.

    Just as you would do, I prepare a list of these in advance, with at least one ‘targeting’ each PC individually. When the time comes to pull one out of my back pocket, I don’t choose randomly; I pick one that will make life more ”
    interesting” for whoever is showing the greatest degree of boredom, even if it’s indirectly (one of my favorite techniques is to inflict a problem in which a different PC is the solution, at least partially.

    Yes, this is metagaming, but it’s metagaming of what I consider an acceptable variety, because the purpose is to make the game more entertaining and not to detract from player agency..

    Passing A Roadblock

      The Phone Rings. (Wait for someone to answer it).

      “Hi, this is Monica Desalt down at City Hall, (Wait for reply)

      “I’ve been cleaning up in the archives for an inspection next week and came across a box full of records people had discovered over the last 5 or I don’t know maybe 6 years that had been mislabeled or misfiled. Someone decided that putting them wherever they were meant to be was too much trouble. Sorry, I seem to be rambling on a bit. (pause for reply)

      “Anyway, when I started doing what whoever it was didn’t do, I happened to notice that you people down at Tanzerbaum had attempted to access one of them, and the system, not finding the right record, had defaulted to an older copy. I’m sure that the work you do, whatever it is, is super important to you, so I thought I’d check with you to see if the updated report might be useful. Do you want me to shoot you a copy, or will you wait 24 hours for it to reappear in the system?” (Pause for reply).

    For every important clue or piece of information, I come up with two or three alternate ways to get the information to the PCs, preferably via some form of roleplay, sometimes involving die rolls.

    These are “Wandering Monsters” that just happen to be helpful to the party. Some will be reluctant, some will try to avoid giving the information in question and have to be persuaded or forced, others will mention the important bit in a side-comment, one that will have to be correctly interpreted. The example above is a relatively straightforward one, any skill checks required would be fairly easy ones; some of them will be that direct, others will be trickier.

    Once, in one of my games, it was a wandering extra-dimensional sphinx, from a place where truth was used to power up transportation jellies. This sphinx, or more properly, this Cryosphinx Astronaut, offered to sell the PCs a straight answer or two for every trio of riddles they successfully solved.

    Another time, it was a seemingly normal human, but who happened to be a very baroque dresser. He observed that they were stuck at exactly the point he thought would encounter difficulties, knew the solution to this part of the puzzle, and would trade it if they pulled off a small bank heist for him. Questioning revealed that he had seen the construction of the crime scene in person 200 years earlier because he was a Vampire that happened to live in the area. All he wanted was about 10 pints of Ab negative from the blood bank; he’d get them himself but it would raise questions that he didn’t want the locals asking. Pitchforks and wooden stakes and the like usually followed, a great inconvenience to one of his kind. So they had to obtain the necessary without telling anyone why they needed it… This replaced an intellectual puzzle with one that could be solved using non-intellectual methods.

    As you can see, the strange and exotic are fine so long as they match the reality profile of the campaign overall.

    “Wandering Monsters” of this kind happen by whenever the PCs start getting so tangled up that they request a skill roll or a save of some sort for their characters to do what the players couldn’t. (When the players already have the information they need, but are failing to add 2 and 2 together to get 4, I’ll sometimes permit one of those, too).

    Key points to remember when designing these encounters: How does the WM have the answer? How does the WM know that the PCs need the answer? Is the encounter interesting enough? Does the encounter solve the immediate problem on a silver platter, or does it simply offer a leading hint? Is the encounter too easy or too difficult? Is the quid-pro-quo one that the players should be willing to pay, and if not, how can they solve this new problem? And, above all, does the encounter prevent the direct solution of the problem by roll-playing instead of role-playing?

    The Asimov Prescription

    For a long time, many writers and editors felt that mystery plotlines were impossible in science fiction because it was too easy for the writer to “cheat” the audience by introducing some new technology that could solve the mystery instantly. Asimov thought this was bollocks, and said so, and to prove the point, wrote many mystery novels and short stories set in a science-fiction setting. Others gradually came to the party, such as Niven, but they were basically following the rules that Asimov had laid down.

    Mysteries in Fantasy suffer from the same problems, but squared and cubed, because you already have a “technology” (magic) that breaks the ‘normality’ rules and doesn’t even have to make as much sense as a science fiction plot device. But Asimov’s solution to the science fiction problem works equally well for this genre, too, as many authors have shown over the years.

    I discussed Asimov’s basic principles in The Butler Did It: Mystery Plotlines in RPGs (July 2012), and his technique in Leaving Things Out: Negative Space in RPGs (Dec 2013), because they work equally well when applied to RPGs as they do in literature.

    I specifically looked at the Fantasy RPG Mystery in Boundaries Of The Fantastic (Jan 2021). Readers may also find Ghosts Of Blogs Past: An Air Of Mystery – Using an RPG to write mystery fiction (July 2013) to be worth their time.

    Asimov’s prescription was very simple: Don’t cheat the reader. Not once, not ever.

    There is a presumption of innocence baked into a reader’s assumptions – that the author is playing fair. That’s why it is so shocking to readers and so heavily condemned when an author violates this principle, even if they’ve never been told about it.

    In sci-fi, that means making sure than any new tech is discussed and demonstrated early in the story, and in particular laws and limitations, and then sticking meticulously within those restrictions for the rest of the story.

    In fantasy RPGs, it means establishing some reason why the PCs can discount any magical ability that they don’t have and won’t acquire within a level or two, at most. (The best, most common, one is simply that the victim wasn’t important enough to justify using such means; the very existence of some mystery about the crime implies a fear of discovery that only makes sense if the perpetrator is vulnerable to the accusation).

    And, if they do have access to something like Teleport or Wish, ensuring that they also have access to some means of detecting the use of such after the fact, and some expert who can provide answers on the limits of those abilities.

    This can pay further dividends into the future when the PCs do get their hands on these abilities, by establishing that they have to obey those same restrictions – in effect, introducing house rules to constrain the plot-wrecking easy-answer potential of those powerful magics.

    If the GM has established a pattern of never cheating the players, they will be inclined to assume that he’s not doing it in the mystery plotline. It’s that simple, really. Don’t Cheat The Reader (players).

    A bible for traditional Locked-Rooms

    I usually talk about the inspiration for an article at the start, but in this case, it makes more sense to discuss it here.

    There is a book, “Golden Age Locked Room Mysteries” edited by Otto Penzler (Link is to Amazon, I may earn a small commission if you buy a copy).

    I obtained my copy through my local library because it contains a Perry Mason short story that I haven’t read, but that’s neither here nor there. The introduction to the collection is the direct source of inspiration for the article. In the course of that introduction, Penzler discusses the 1935 novel The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr (aka Carter Dickson), published in England as “The Hollow Man” (Amazon link as above, but this new edition won’t be published until Oct 1, 2024. If you want it sooner, try this link instead, which leads to an omnibus volume [in short supply] which includes The Three Coffins). He writes,

      “In perhaps the most arrogant display of his command of the locked room mystery, he has his series detective, Dr. Gideon Fell deliver a lecture to a captive audience …

      “In this display of erudition, Fell spends fifteen pages enumerating all the ways in which a locked room does not turn out to be impenetrable after all, and in which the impossible is clearly explained. He offers scores of ideas for solutions to the most challenging puzzles in the mystery genre, tossing off in rapid succession a greater cornucopia of invention than most mystery writers will conceive in a lifetime.

      “When he has concluded his seemingly comprehensive tutorial, he informs the attendees that none of these explanations are pertinent to the present case and heads off to conclude the investigation.”

    My immediate thought was, “what a great reference tool for GMs”. By the time you throw in the other examples offered by the authors and TV shows mentioned earlier, there are plenty of sources of inspiration to draw from.

    This wrestles the notion that these plots are hard to write to the ground and pummels it mercilessly into the pavement, directly attacking problem #1 and contributing to all the others as well.

    Low-level vs High Level

    I already hinted at this in a couple of the preceding sections, but thought I should make a point of highlighting it.

    The greater the capabilities that the PCs have access to, the more possible solutions to the Locked Room there are if the GM is playing fair, solutions that will have to be ruled out one by one in the course of the plot. Locked Room mysteries are at their easiest (from the GM’s point of view) with low-level characters – but that only makes the occasional one in a high-level campaign all the more rewarding – when they work.

    The number one rule is always to “make the plotline interesting” – no matter what the type of adventure is.

Types of Locked Room Mystery

So let’s look at some ways to do so.

    The Traditional (Impossible Murder)

    Because locked-room mysteries are rare in RPGs, they are automatically going to be more interesting. Throw in some cleverness (original or borrowed) and you don’t need that much more, really.

    But it’s worth noting, as Penzler does in the introduction quoted earlier, that the form<.em> of a locked room can exist without the trappings of the locked room. With sufficient cleverness, you can dispense with the locks. With a little more creativity, you can even dispense with the room.

    A snowy field with only one set of tracks, when the victim was known to be alive after the end of the last snowfall can be just as compelling a locked room mystery as any other.

    For that reason, he generalizes the sub-genre to “(apparently) impossible crimes”. Thinking about that definition leads you naturally and directly to the design process that I gave earlier.

    The more you generalize, the broader the palette of options becomes. The Gods in most fantasy milieu are immortal, only their avatars can be killed (with limited exceptions) – so if one is found, stone cold dead, and not even the Gods can work out how it was done, you have an apparently impossible crime – and that’s a locked room mystery, no matter where it happened! Someone then has the bright idea of calling in some mid-level mortals to solve the crime, because they are more accustomed to doing so, mortals who just happen to be the PCs…

    Or maybe it’s one of the Princes Of Hell (same logic, but adds an extra twist)…

    The Impossible Larceny

    Another variation is to change the nature of the crime. This is basically taking the Heist plot and putting the PCs on the other end of it – having to figure out whodunit.

    A Pretty Little Bauble: The Heist in RPGs (Dec 2017) might be useful reference).

    The Dungeon Twist

    This notion came to mind while reading the Penzler introduction that I quoted from earlier. It basically applies the concept of a layered defense to a generic dungeon.

    Let’s start with the concept of the central room of a dungeon being a locked room – one in which something has happened. Each room leading to that central chamber adds a layer of defense to the inner chamber – and (entirely “coincidentally”) rules out one of the possible solutions.

    You have a situation in which the entire dungeon creates the “locked room mystery”.

    Imagine there’s a famous Wizard who abides in a well-protected tower to prevent his being annoyed by people stopping by to consult him, extort him, whatever. Out of the blue, the PCs receive a letter from said Wizard which starts off, “If you are reading this, then despite my many protections, I have been killed. I charge you with the responsibility of discovering who and how, and bringing them to justice. As reward, should you succeed, you will qualify under the terms of my last will and testament to be my heirs…”

    Mission Impossible: The Role Reversal

    Or you could turn this on its head, and have an enemy of the PCs protected in every way that he can think of. If the PCs don’t bring an end to him, he will make their lives an unendurable misery, but he’s politically well-connected; any overt means like wide-scale devastation will cause consequences that are undesirable, from the PCs perspective. This creates a ‘locked room’ that the PCs have to find a traceless way into – in effect, charging them with creating the Locked Room mystery.

    There are any number of Mission Impossible plots in the TV series that are essentially similar to this premise. Disguises, misdirection, psychological manipulation, and outright deception are the tools – what the PCs do with them is up to the players.

Locked Rooms Should Hold No Fear

I hope that all this has shown that there is more scope and potential to the locked room mystery than a locked room, and that GMs should have no hesitancy in pulling the occasional example out of their back pockets. And if the example plotlines thrown out in the last sections don’t entice you, I don’t know what will.

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The Intersection of Ability and Desire


Jukebox

A jukebox is a great metaphor for a personality – the individual experience is a series of choices that define and shape the personality as they accumulate.
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

One of the newsletters to which I subscribe offers advice for scriptwriters (“The Story Guy Newsletter”). Occasionally, there’s a nugget that can be adapted to service a TTRPG, it’s well-written, and not too long to read (having said that, I’m about 4 behind).

One post that dropped shortly before or just after I moved talked about the creation of coherent, realistic, and interesting personalities. While reading it, I happened to think to myself how much richer the foundations were that we had access to when creating an RPG PC or NPC.

And with that thought, this article began taking shape…

Click Here to read the newsletter article online.

Click this link if you feel that you, too, would find this newsletter interesting enough to subscribe. Note that this is a completely unsolicited reference from me.

The Central Core

Central to the premise of the article’s method was defining what the character was good at, and what they were not, then using that information as a starting point to grow the character.

Scriptwriters obviously have a more open field in such considerations, but we TTRPGers have something better – we have stats!

All we have to do is interpret them, and there are lots of articles and advice out there on how to do so.

But then there was an extremely profound point made – partially by the newsletter content, and partly by my own extrapolation of that content. “What is the character bad at when they shouldn’t be, and why?” – and, of course, the corollary, “What is the character reasonably good at, when they shouldn’t be, and why?”

The Character Diagram

Musing on that, and on the concept of archetypes / character classes, led me to sketch out the following diagram:

A box divided into four quadrants

Inside this colored box, absolutely everything that a character might know how to do can be placed. The position of any given item reflects natural ability (from race / species and stats) and how useful / necessary that ability is for the character’s archetype / class.

The Definitive Arrows

It’s the four red arrows (and the two subordinate arrows) that then become most instructive. These are literally definitive of the character, so let’s study them one-by-one.

Up-Left: Career Advantages

These are things that come naturally to the character. These advantages may be the reason why the character has the class / archetype that he does, even if it’s not one he would have personally chosen.

If he did choose it, that tells you something else about the character, and how he will respond to the down-left elements. But we’ll get to that in due course.

The more of the character class / archetype / career that can be found in the top left, the more competent the character will be within that career.

Up-Right: Hobbies & Interests

As you progress further to the right on the chart, the more effort replaces natural capability – thought there may be some ability, it takes effort to translate it into actual skill. The further up the chart, the more effort has been invested by the character in becoming competent. And you don’t invest that much effort unless you’re forced to, or you are genuinely interested in the subject.

Straight Up: Forced Studies

If you presume that all abilities and skills start somewhere in the lower 2/3 of the chart, and that study / practice then moves them up the chart, then you can add in another upward arrow (a shorter one) that points to a middle region in between the two discussed so far.

(Actually, for technical reasons that I’ll get to in a moment or two, it’s an invisible line running from top to bottom through the whole chart, not just a region in the upper space). This is where ‘enough’ forced study can place a skill or ability, at best.

How much is enough?

Answer – it’s a relative term. Every X units up the chart requires twice as much effort as the previous 1/2X did; in other words, it’s a logarithmic vertical scale. Certain sources of ability act on potentials as a linear function, so that +X moves a skill upward X units. The third factor is the initial starting position of that skill or ability, because that defines the scale of effort required to achieve a given vertical shift in a skill.

You’ll also note the conspicuous absence of any sort of scale or grid-line on the chart. That’s because these points are ultra-technical and don’t yield any great increase in knowledge of the character commensurate with the effort involved. I’ve deliberately kept the whole thing more abstract because of this.

Down-Right: Disinterest

If you start in the middle of the chart and head down and to the right, you’ll find the region where all the skills the character doesn’t need or want end up. Those skills that the character is no good at, and doesn’t care about enough to change that condition.

This region gets more interesting when some ability that carries a social or professional expectation lands there. I vividly remember statements by some of my peers in school asking why they needed to learn X, when they would never use it. Sometimes it was Algebra, or Physics, or Art History – the specific skill varied from one student to another, but almost all of them had something that they were willfully putting into this ‘worthless’ category.

Once there, it was clear that minimal effort would be expended on that subject by that student. They simply didn’t care about that subject, and no-one could “make them” care.

Down-Left: Career Handicaps

The fourth major arrow points to the bottom-left quadrant of the chart. In this region, one finds the skills that the character has to be good at or it will impact their ability to progress in their ‘chosen / assigned’ career, but that don’t come naturally to the character.

It’s at this point that the observation made earlier becomes important. If the character chose his career / archetype, then he has done so in spite of these disadvantages; either his desire for that particular relevance is enough that he is willing to work on these handicaps, or he is willing to tolerate the handicaps holding him back.

If the career was chosen for him, perhaps because of demonstrated ability, perhaps for reasons of tradition or whatever, these become the reasons why the character finds his occupation to be oppressive and unsatisfactory. If there is enough of importance to his or her career down in this corner, they ultimately become a career roadblock.

Up-Middle from Left-Down: Midnight Oil

Finally, there is the minor arrow pointing upward from that last region. Note that it’s not pointed toward the center of the chart; there is a bias toward the left-hand-side. In fact, the angle is about 35° to the horizontal.

This arrow shows the path that improving the skill will take until it hits the middle vertical discussed in ‘forced studies’ above. Making sure that it extends down far enough to ‘capture’ the study effect is the reason it’s a vertical band the height of the entire chart.

Four Movements

Exactly where the skill or ability is located within the lower-right quadrant is critical. To illustrate this, I threw together four examples.

From four points in the lower left quadrant, skills forcibly studied migrate at 35 degrees to the horizontal up and right until intersecting the center of the diagram, from where they further migrate vertically.

Movement #1

#1 shows a skill that’s mediocre more than deficient, but that the character is only going to improve because he has to. If each unit of movement (and I chose the scale to match the size of the “dot”) is 1/4 of a year of intense study, then the character can completely master the skill in question in 1023 / 4 = 255.75 years. If each step is a month, this drops to 1023 / 12 = 85.25 years. That’s a lifetime’s study for a human. If it’s a fortnight, there will be about 25 periods in a year (and 2 weeks off for holidays and religious festivals), so that gives 1023 / 25 = 40.92 years. That’s fairly reasonable in terms of a working life – the character achieves mastery of his profession about 5 years before he can start to think about stepping back / retiring. or he might still have another decade in him after that, who knows?

Movement #2

In #2, the character is genuinely unskilled, but is just as indifferent. To get to roughly the same position in terms of ability, it’s going to take longer – 8191 / 1023 = a smidgen over 8 times as long, to be exact. Even if the time-span represented by 1 step is a single week, a mortal lifespan isn’t going to be enough, and a day seems to short a period of study for even a single step.

But most of that time is spent in the final steps of the chart. At the same time as #1 reaches mastery, this character reaches adequacy.

One final factor needs to be pointed out – any improvement to raw abilities (skill bonuses etc) operate linearly, not exponentially. A single +1 (magical or innate) can be worth years or decades of study.

Movement #3

This represents pretty much the worst-case starting point. Unsurprisingly, we’re talking about the longest period of study if that’s the only means of improvement. But with +5 in innate or magical assistance, the time involved matches that of case 1.

Movement #4

The more to the left, the more important the ability is, in terms of the profession / career / archetype, so even a small shift leftward massively increases the significance of the handicap. Being mediocre in a critical area is a massive handicap.

Normal Career Progression

There are typically low-level positions which only involve a subset of the abilities of the professional. As a character progresses in their career, climbing the ranks within his profession, more and more skills become critical. You don’t need supervision skills until you have the authority to supervise someone. You don’t need management skills until you have personnel to manage. – and so on.

What this system describes is a situation in which a character’s career stalls each time they reach their level of incompetence – the Peter Principle in ‘glorious’ action. Diligent study can prepare you for the next step up the ladder, but this grows ever more-difficult to sustain; there are just so many hours in the day.

But opportunities can arise unexpectedly, and even if we aren’t ready for them, it’s human nature to grab hold with both hands and hope to grow into the role. This is especially true if the ability to self-appraise is deficient, as it seems to be in many people; most of us wear (metaphoric) blinkers of some sort..

Developing a Character with the chart

Life, and personal history, is broken down into a sequence of milestones. Sometimes, these happen in close succession, and sometimes they are months or even years apart.

Each milestone represents a significant development or event in one of the four quadrants. It’s exceptionally rare for two milestones to occur in the same quadrant of the chart twice in succession.

Beyond those restrictions, the only limits are your imagination.

Quadrant 1

Professional life. It might be a new posting, a new boss, a promotion or opportunity for promotion, an achievement, a significant challenge – you name it. But it should always be potentially positive for the character.

Quadrant 2

Hobbies / Social Life. It could be a significant event within one of the hobbies – a chess tournament for example, an eclipse-watching*, the death / movement elsewhere of a friend, a discovery of some kind, recognition, even a personal feud.

* My spell-checker suggested “apocalypse-watching” for this word, which raises all sorts of inteersting notions!

Quadrant 3

This is where events from the character’s personal life that are not directly hobby / social life -related, manifest. A romantic attachment, the end of a romantic attachment, death of a partner, birth of a child or sibling, death of a child or sibling or parent or close relative…. There’s lots to choose from.

Quadrant 4

Events in Quadrants 1-3 are distractions from progressing any skills or abilities that fall into this category. Using whatever scale the GM has decided on (try to be consistent in this!), assess the impact of non-Q4 events in terms of time away from effective study. Count up how many periods it has been since your last development in Q4, subtract the ‘distraction penalty’, and the result is how much time you have to progress skills in this area, as per the four movements described.

It’s up to the character to decide whether or not to advance one skill a lot, or several a little, or some combination.

Note that in any game system in which skills must be purchased through some internal game mechanic such as skill points, if the character doesn’t have the required skill points to advance the selected (skills), the ‘event’ is them realizing that they haven’t been putting enough effort into their studies, being reminded of this by some employment / career setback.

The nature of a milestone

It’s easy at this point to fail to see the forest for the trees. You aren’t trying to build a history of the character per se; you are building a history of the formative events in the character’s personality.

A subtle distinction, but an important one, I think. Whatever the event is, it had to have some influence on the personality, for good or ill.

Alignment Influence

It can be argued that, in games where alignment is still a thing, it should influence that “for good or ill”. Good-aligned characters should have preponderance of good influences on their personality; Bad-aligned characters should have a preponderance of influences pushing them to the Dark Side, and neutral characters should have a more balanced list.

Nothing wrong with going that way if you want to, but I’m always attracted to characters that invert or subvert expectations. The evil character who had mostly good things happen to him, such that his ego has become uncontrollable. The long-suffering good character who has experienced (almost) nothing but woe and tragedy and managed to maintain a positive outlook despite it. So think carefully before you discard such interesting options.

It’s the central character concept that should control the way in which you apply any alignment influence. What I suggested as inversions or subversions are ‘central concepts’ of a personality, and now that you know that, you should be able to generate your own and use it as a guideline for any other purpose – such as how alignment will influence the milestones that get generated by the process.

Characters With A Purpose

If you are generating an NPC to have a particular role in an adventure or campaign, your first question (right after defining that role or purpose) should be “what sort of character would lend itself to filling that role or achieving that purpose?”

Even if you can’t be definitive in your answer at this point, simply asking the question plants it in your head, where a more specific answer can percolate, even while the purpose itself steers your choices of milestone.

The ultimate answer to the question is the ‘core concept’ of the character.

More help with central concepts

Back in early 2010, I wrote and published a series offering a suite of techniques aimed at generating character concepts, “The Characterization Puzzle” (and there have been others since). They work wonderfully well at forming the initial focus of a character concept for use with this process.

Altenatively, you could say that this process is a wonderful way of translating those more abstract concepts into a character definition.

If you’re having trouble defining a character concept, that’s the place to start.

First milestone

The first milestone in most people’s lives tend to be one of only a few things. Something family related; something that demonstrated to the person that they had a natural bent in a particular direction; something that fascinated them, leading to an interest or hobby from an early age; or something that they were forced to study for some reason – with the first two outnumbering the third by a fairly massive margin.

That’s something from each of the four quadrants, but the first two tend to outweigh the third in frequency, and the third also occurs more frequently than the fourth. Most early education tends to be practical life skills, it would take a pretty arrogant and presumptuous personality to say something like “I don’t need to know how to read or write, I’ll be rich enough to hire someone to do that for me.”

So I would suggest a d20 breakdown as follows:

1-6

1st quadrant (profession / talent)

7-12

3rd quadrant (family)

13-17

2nd quadrant (hobby / interest)

18-20

4th quadrant (forced to study)

Interval to next milestone

Once the first milestone is established, it becomes a tale of breadcrumbs, one event leading into the next as the character’s history and personality takes shape.

The interval to the next milestone is therefore a critical question. It’s rare for this to be very short, and rare for it to be very long; 3 months-to-12 months tends to be the most frequent gap.

I suggest a d20 table such as the following:

1 (or less)

1-20 days (d20)

2-3

1-3 months (d3)

4-6

3-6 months (d4+2)

7-10

6-9 months (d4+5)

11-14

9-12 months (d4+8)

15-17

11-16 months (d6+10)

18-19

13-18 months (d6+12)

20

15-24 months (d10+14)

Two modifiers:

  • subtract +1 for each increase in stat bonuses etc since the last roll.
  • subtract +1 for every 2 positive events in succession after the first.

The first shortens the interval in response to a change in the character that makes a success or positive milestone more likely, and includes the acquisition of a relevant magic item.

The second counterbalances a run of good fortune / success with a more neutral or negative event; the longer that run, the more quickly something will happen to rain on the character’s parade.

Choice of Quadrant

There’s only one rule here, but there are a few recommendations. That rule:

    Unless the character has received a linear boost (stat modifier increase or magic item or equivalent), no two events in succession should be in the same quadrant.
Implementing the rule

So roll a d3 or d4, as appropriate, and count quadrants clockwise from the last event, and there you have it.

Recommendations:

I have two for you to consider.

  1. No quadrant should go more than 6 events without representation.
  2. If there is a logical consequence or interaction between the previous event and a prior one, that should take place either instead of, or in addition to, the indicated milestone.
Longer term development

After the first 4-6 events, you have to start thinking about the bigger picture. The character’s age at the start of play and the 6-month average between events gives you some idea of how many of them there will potentially be – though, since we haven’t specified how old the character was at the time of the first event, there is some flexibility in that respect (have you ever known someone who just drifted along for the first 20-25 years of their life, or more? I have).

But by now you should have enough information to make a vague estimation of the direction in which the personality is heading, and time enough to turn the character’s life around if you don’t like it.

So, from this point on, it’s better to avoid the random rolls and make deliberate choices (while keeping the rule and recommendations in mind). This process is a starting point, a framework, and a structure; the majority of the personality’s evolution will still be directed by the creator.

Because I Haven’t Explained It Already

I should probably close by explaining the title of this article, for anyone who doesn’t already see it. The vertical axis on the original chart is Ability, from low to high; the horizontal axis is desire, from pro-forma on the left to fascination on the right.

Different Stats

One other point that needs to be made: the description above generalizes because it doesn’t nominate any specific stat as the basis. I think that’s actually a good thing, because it gives permission to generalize when considering a character. I would group stats three ways: Physical Ability, Mental Ability, and a wild-card. That wild-card could be Health (CON-based) or it could be Class-based or Social Based. You decide what’s important to the character, based on the central concept.

The more extreme a result (high or low) that you get for a stat, the more suited it is to being the foundation of a table.

Of course, as soon as you have three tables, you need to have some mechanism to choose between them. So maybe you aren’t completely done with your random die rolls, after all – how you choose to handle this aspect of the character development is up to you (but don’t use the same answer all the time – variety of approach yields variety of characters).

Wrap-up

Nothing can guarantee that you will end up with a unique individual being generated at the end of any creative process. In fact, a good starting point is a variation on some existing trope / concept: “A Batman-type whose goal is religious reform instead of Criminal Justice,” for example.

The trick is always manifesting and translating that concept into logical implications and a coherent backstory that sheds light on other aspects of the personality, making it more rounded and complete. That’s where this process enters the picture.

It’s not there to do the heavy lifting for you; it’s there to make that heavy lifting a little easier. Hopefully, readers will find it a useful tool to add to their kits.

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Fuzzy Plastic Memories II – Analysis


Distorted reflections of a building in tower block windows

When straight lines bend, how can you be certain of anything?
 
Image by 5776588 from Pixabay

Introduction

Last week, Last month, (third time’s the charm): Back in March, I offered a guest article by Franklin Veaux on how memory works, and some of its features and failings. Today, I’m going to follow it up with analysis of how The phenomenon that he describes, which I have named “Fuzzy Plastic Memories,” applies to RPGs and how to fight that.

You should read the first post before continuing (it’s short).

What follows was originally intended to accompany that article, but as the topic list grew, and grew, and grew, it soon became apparent that it would overwhelm that guest post. All told, there are 489 ‘words’ used in headings alone – okay, so 203 of those are formatting, leaving 287. Look at it another way: 68 headings. Assume a minimum of 100 words under each. That’s a 6.8K-word post. [EDIT: In actual fact, this post – about half of the expected total – clocks in at almost 7,500 words].

Lots to do, so let’s get started…

0. The Rabbit Holes

The subjects of perception, cognition, and recall are rabbit holes down which endless time can be dissipated in fascinated reading and viewing. I’m going to do my best to vault over those rabbit holes in this post, knowing in advance that I will have to at least shine a light down some of them along the way. There will be lots of scope for readers to further research topics and perhaps come to different (even materially ‘better’) answers as a result.

This post is intended to be a starting point, not a conclusion.

    0.1 Further reading

    I’ll be aided in these endeavors by the fact that I’ve written articles on this and related subjects in the past. A curated list of relevant articles includes (a lo-o-o-ng list):

    Perception & Illusion:

    Marginally Relevant:

    Cognition & Awareness:

    Recollection:

Whew, that lot should keep interested readers busy for a while!

1. An evolutionary perspective

The human brain, as some of the above articles have pointed out, has evolved to shortcut thinking in any situation where a quick decision has the potential to enhance survivability.

Some of the greatest cognitive illusions and failures exploit or illuminate that shortcut processing.

Humans do have a limited capacity to train some of this short-cutting out – for example, learning to quickly scan the surrounding environment after making a snap decision based on what some potential or actual threat is perceived to be doing.

Here’s what happens with such training:

  • Intensive Task begins
  • Anything not directly related to the Intensive Task is ignored as “junk”
  • Task is completed. Focus remains intensive.
  • Subject takes a metaphoric ‘step back to get an overview.
  • Subject becomes aware of an oddity not previously noted. Like a guy in a gorilla outfit.

Without the training, most people will remain blissfully ignorant of the oddity.

    1.1 Breaking the illusion

    Note that if the Oddity ever actually gets in the way of the Intensive Task, the subject will usually notice it. In The Invisible Gorilla Illusion, the subject is required to count the number of times players in a particularly-colored top pass the ball. This is important – just counting the number of passes doesn’t engage enough mental ‘circuits’ to cause the task to be Intensive in most people.

    So, to avoid breaking the ‘illusion’ i.e. the state of mind of the subject, the basketball players have to know not to pass the ball to another player behind the gorilla-suits back – keep the passes to one side or in front, and most people (as many as nine in ten) will be so busy watching the ball and evaluating what the player who just passed the ball is wearing and updating their count that they won’t notice the gorilla even if he fills half the screen and pauses to wave at the subject.

    The same illusion is possible, but harder to create, with sound – if you are listening to the radio, you can be completely unaware of the sounds of traffic, unless it is so intrusive as to disrupt that listening – but your cognitive circuits have to be engaged in doing something else as well, like writing a blog post!

The evolutionary aspect of these failures of perception / cognition will become especially relevant later in the article, but provide important context for the general discussion.

2. A Caveat

Also, before I get too deeply into specifics, I have to point out that every group will be just a little different, in part because their ‘behavioral responses’ will have been conditioned by past playing experiences.

My players are used to me dropping hints and foreshadowing into campaigns and leaving plot threads dangling for years – or, more accurately, fermenting and developing in the background, while they (and their characters) are distracted with more immediate concerns. They have learned to pay close attention to these little nuggets of information.

This poses some particular challenges due to memory plasticity, as their interpretations and speculations become inseparably entwined with the actual in-game events; they are less likely to remember what actually happened or was said and more likely to remember their theories and interpretations of those events, even when those are incorrect.

All advice offered in this article has to be filtered to match your own groups propensities, and those will (at least in part) be a direct derivation of your own GMing style. The more GMs they have played under, the less dominant any one influence will be. This is the material difference between experienced players and inexperienced ones.

All groups and all individuals are different, and you have to take that into account.

Sidebar anecdote

This can lead to failures especially when it comes to convention gaming. It’s easy to prep a game based on what your usual players / play-testers will do in response to a situation, and then be surprised when the random group of participants make completely different choices.

3. Impact on The Game Table

The cognitive impact of plastic memories can be felt in three (human) different ways, plus (sometimes) one extraordinary one, by four different groups of “people” – and those impacts can be complicated by the relationships between those entities.

The three normal impacts are:

  • Human forgetfulness
  • Gap Back-filling
  • Memory Rewriting
Sidebar: Eyewitness Fragility

From “A Discussion Of Dialogue” (Jan 2023):
It is well known that eyewitness testimony is unreliable.

    First, if people are distracted, they can miss the blindingly obvious, something that I have described a number of times. My go-to illustration for this is the “Invisible Gorilla” (already discussed).

    Second, humans are hardwired mentally to “fill in the blanks”, something that optical illusions are known to exploit. I discussed this in Blind Spots and False Illusions: How much can you really see? in the section, “The Relevance Of Illusion”.

    [Thirdly,] if you put a bunch of eyewitness together, an opinion expressed forcibly enough can actually overwrite witness memories, changing what someone was wearing or what they looked like. It’s called witness contamination. I describe it in The Other Side Of The Camera: Depth in RPGs, in the section ‘The Camera Of Implication: A witness statement’ (it’s early in the post).

    Eyewitness Testimony and Memory Biases, from the NOBA Project, explores the subject in more detail.

    Finally, in the post The Jar Of Jam and The Wounded Monarch: Two Mystery Examples, in the section ‘6. Eyewitnesses & Confusion’, I discuss the unreliability of eyewitness testimony in a more general way, with links to a couple of other specific articles on the subject.

I know I have recommend it to readers before, but I can’t not mention Wikipedia’s page on Eyewitness Testimony, which makes fascinating reading.

They also have an even longer page on Eyewitness Memory which is worth the reader’s time.

The extraordinary impact is felt only by some.

The four groups of entities that can be affected are the GM, the Players, the Player’s Characters, and the GM’s NPCs. I want to look at those four sets in greater detail.

A personal experience

I also described a personal anecdote of relevance:

    At one point, one of the duties required by my employer of the time was to assist in the counting of takings from another of the employer’s businesses, completion of deposit information, and walking the takings (all bundled into individual days’ takings) to the bank. On one occasion, it became clear that others had observed the routine; I got robbed at knife-point. Simply by refusing to let go of the plastic bag containing the bundles, and using them as a shield against the guy with the knife, I was able to save two days’ takings from the long weekend that had just passed.

    Although the weapon clearly held some of my attention, and the struggle some more of it, I can still clearly remember the shirt that the offender was wearing – blue and white horizontal stripes about an inch-and-a-half wide. At the time, I also had a clear memory of the faces of the perpetrator and his knife-wielding compatriot.

    As a result, I was taken to the police station to look at mug books – and that was where the investigation went off the rails, because they did not obtain a full description before this process commenced.

    About half an hour later, after looking at more than 500 mugshots, I could not have picked the criminals our of a lineup if my life depended on it; my memory had been contaminated. The bigger guy was about 6 inches taller than me, and grabbed the bag; the smaller one was about 5’8” and waved the knife around, but that’s all the description that I can give of them.

    3.1 GMs

    GMs can be forgetful – we have a lot on our plates. I’ve described before (in The failure of …urmmmm… Memory) how my memory is good for some things – the campaign, the adventure as a whole, the personalities and abilities of the characters (both PCs and NPCs), and so on – and lousy at other things, like exactly what happened last time and where in the adventure the characters are up to.

    But all these memories can be contaminated by the phenomenon of memory plasticity, in which the actual memories are overwritten by an ‘edited’ or ‘rewritten’ version.

    At times, this can be very useful, when you’ve rewritten an adventure based on PC choices, or to correct some mistake on your part, for example.

    For the rest, we tend to need to put things in writing – not just as an error-correction mechanism, but because writing things down actually makes them easier to remember for most people.

    3.2 Players

    Players can be forgetful, too. Some of them make notes, and those can be invaluable to the GM who has forgotten what happened last time! As a general rule, these notes are only relevant to their PC, but there has been at least one occasion where an absent player had his PC passed back and forth between two other players (when their character wasn’t interacting with the PC) and the GMs (in group scenes), while a third player (best of us at taking notes while still paying attention) documented events from the absent players’ PC’s perspective. As a solution to an unusual situation, it worked fairly well.

    But players are also prone to fall victim to memory plasticity without such memory aides, as I mentioned earlier. One in particular is prone to remembering the way he thinks things are, with subjective theories, assumptions, and interpretations (all spun from incomplete information) taken as gospel.

    His character background in the Zenith-3 campaign came with a number of original villains that the character had encountered in the past, and what had occurred, and what those villains could do, as far as the character understood it. I warned the player that to preserve some level of surprise within the campaign, and to better integrate those villains with my own campaign plans, those encounters would be modified to some extent – but this never seems to fail to catch the player out, at least momentarily. I’m often able to stay true to the spirit of the original events that he described, so it’s not difficult to integrate the revisions into his perception of the campaign – he just has to get used to the idea (again) each and every time.

    3.3 Player Characters

    Characters should have failures of memory, too. The easiest way of handling this is to interpret players failings in this respect as a failing on the part of their PC – but suddenly, this gets complicated when someone points out that their character has a different INT score, or some extraordinary memory ability, or both.

    But, as a general rule of thumb, if I correct a player’s memory, unless there is no way that the character would have forgotten the details, I will tell them that their character remembers it the way they just described it until someone points out the error or events make it obvious.

    I might let them make an INT check to have the nagging feeling that their memory isn’t quite right.

    3.4 NPCs

    While in principle the same technique might work for NPCs, the usual GMing practices of prep for the game subvert it and give the NPCs better memories than they should actually have. This can only be corrected through active and deliberate action by the GM, simulating a memory failure even though he knows better.

    The very best time to employ this technique is when a player has already correctly recalled the events, even if only in general, because it then becomes obvious that the GM has been reminded of them and the ‘failure’ or ‘error’ is deliberate.

    “Wait one,” says [NPC]. “I thought [x] did [y], not [z]…”
    “No, that was {z], not [x].” comes the reply.

    3.5 Philosophical Underpinnings

    I need to explore the question of correcting misremembered facts by a player more fully, because there are some implications that readers might not expect, and they all derive from the philosophical foundations of the campaign itself.

    Specifically, are the PC supposed to be ‘more perfect than normal’ or otherwise exemplary / superhuman? Or do they suffer from the same frailties as everyone else, despite the epic deeds they accomplish?

    From this foundation – assuming that it has been defined for the campaign – an informed decision regarding memory errors or failures can be made.

    If, however, the GM has given this little or no thought, then the answer has to be derived by implication from the game history and the conceptual foundations of the game system – a lot more work and a lot more difficult to do on the fly.

      3.5.1 Pros of Clay Feet

      If the PCs are nothing special, that means that they should expect no special treatment or dispensation from the GM, and no special attention from the game world and its inhabitants. This especially suits low-level campaigns, in which the game mechanics have not amplified abilities to superhuman levels – but this also means that magic items and the power buffs they provide can become overwhelmingly important, to the point of detracting from the PCs wielding them.

      Perhaps equally important, this supports “street-level” campaigns, in which one’s character levels are no pathway to a better social class.

      In terms of the subject of this article, it devalues the significance of memories to some extent, and hence limits the scope of plastic memories to mess with the campaign.

      3.5.2 Cons of Clay Feet

      Some players and GMs like epic sagas and these are served only to a mediocre extent by ‘ordinary people’ campaigns – though I have run one campaign which was explicitly ‘ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times.’ My experience is that this actually makes them harder to write – though that can make them more rewarding if you manage to pull it off.

      But it’s hard to wrestle with cosmic concepts and threats if you aren’t equipped to perceive them, let alone survive them.

      And, if you do run such epic campaigns, nuances and details frequently become critically important – and that can make the campaign more sensitive to plastic memory alteration while also making such effects more likely to occur, a double-whammy that can completely derail campaigns.

      3.5.3 Pros of Superlatives

      Let’s take a moment to consider the other side of the coin – one that is often embedded firmly in game mechanics (any time a GM tells me that they scrap a campaign whenever the PCs hit level ‘X’ is firmly in the ‘feet of clay’ camp, whether they realize it or not).

      Adventures will seek out the PCs because they are exceptional They can be expected to deal with threats that would curl the toes of most inhabitants of the game world.

      As already noted, this can leave campaigns more vulnerable to plastic memory phenomena.

      3.5.4 Cons of Superlatives

      It also implies a responsibility on the part of the characters toward the game world – and their relationship to that responsibility can be defining to a campaign. Are the PCs reluctant heroes, or do they embrace the path to being immortalized?

      There will be expectations raised by this philosophy – the PCs will usually succeed (though it may be at a cost). The players will have those expectations, and their PCs may well have an entirely separate set of expectations.

    I have the feeling that the article went a little astray in the last group of sub-sections, but there were some important points made, so – after contemplating scrapping them – I’ve decided to leave them in.

    3.6 Philosophical Underpinnings (cont):

    If the PCs are ultimately superior to ‘human’ (regardless of race and abilities), does that mean that the GM has an obligation to make NPCs a little more flawed? – just to make it clear that the PCs are exceptional?

    Think about that for a moment.

    Deliberately making the typical NPC more flawed exaggerates the distinction between PCs and NPCs, highlighting it.

    NOT doing so can imply that anyone can achieve such extraordinary feats as the PCs adventures – and that means that some other factor has to account for the success and superiority of the PCs.

    Recognizing and codifying this within the campaign can be very helpful to the GM, translating some of this esoteric philosophical woolgathering into practical outcomes. Did the PCs just get lucky? Was it fate? Was there something they did differently?

    These are exactly the same questions that get asked in the real world when people contemplate individuals of superior success vs the ordinary, run of the mill, employee or businessman.

      3.6.1 An Australian Perspective

      My perspective on all this is uniquely Australian – it can be a combination of a number of factors, but drive and determination are (a) never enough on their own, and (b) absolutely critical to translating any other advantage into achievement. The perception here is therefore that if anyone had the advantages and lucky breaks of the success story, and worked as hard with them, they would be just as successful; the potential for greatness lies in all of us, we just have to find it and tap into it.

      A logical consequence is that no-one is entitled to their success, and while no-one begrudges someone enjoying the fruits of their success, any display of ego or entitlement triggers ‘tall poppy syndrome’, something that I’ve not observed about other cultures (except maybe New Zealand) – though the article below lists some similar social phenomena from elsewhere.

      Tall Poppy Syndrome” is when a previously-supportive public turns on an individual, begrudging them their success, spreading negative stories about them in preference to positive, actively searching for flaws, and mercilessly punishing those flaws that are inevitably found.

      There is a definite connection to Schadenfreude, taking pleasure from the misfortunes of others, but there is a sense that the victim has “earned” his fate. Tall Poppy Syndrome is not Schadenfreude, it’s more about searching for faults that can trigger Schadenfreude in others when punished.

      3.6.2 The other side of the coin

      Successful people who are humbly grateful for their success, or are perceived as such, in comparison, can get forgiven an awful lot, and enjoy considerable public support even in the wake of scandal.

      Even then, it’s possible to go too far – being accused of being “Un-Australian” is just about the most damning indictment possible, and is sure to trigger intense tall poppy syndrome.

      Of late, there has arisen a second ‘crime against Australian Values’ – elevating one’s religious beliefs above the common welfare. This is perceived as a crime of Entitlement – the person is seen as exalting their own Piety over others, a form of disrespect.

      We’re especially merciless when it comes to politicians and social leaders, in this respect.

      3.6.3 Relevance

      I haven’t actually changed the subject; merely explored a particularly Australian manifestation of it. When someone – no matter how successful – behaves as though they were an ordinary person, plastic memory erases or minimizes mistakes and exposed flaws; they get forgiven and then quickly forgotten.

      In Tall Poppy Syndrome, these faults and flaws are exposed and reiterated and memories get rewritten to make them seem worse than they probably are, and this then drives public reaction to the ‘arrogant’ or ‘entitled’.

      The US has acquired a form of this practice, too, though the Wikipedia article hasn’t mentioned it – the “Karen” Meme, in which a middle-class white American woman is perceived as entitled or excessively demanding beyond the scope of what is considered to be normal behavior and decorum. It’s only when filtered through the concept of Australian Egalitarianism – so that it no longer applies to “entitled white women” – that it becomes true Tall Poppy Syndrome, however. Our “Karens” don’t have to be white, or female – in theory, everyone is treated equally.

      3.6.4 Application to Conspiracy Theorists

      Yes, Australia has these, too. About 4% of the population typically display such beliefs, and are widely ridiculed by the rest of us. Plastic Memory phenomena explain why such mental derangement takes place, and why any organization that reinforces such beliefs acquires cult-like characteristics.

      People are literally rewriting their memories to suppress facts or arguments that contradict their ‘deeply held beliefs’. The intelligent and intellectual are just as susceptible to this as anyone else.

      Most pernicious of all is when this phenomenon becomes allied with the perception that the conspiracy theorist is acting in what he or she perceives to be the ‘for the public good’. This automatically makes anyone who does not subscribe to the belief an enemy of society. This only makes sufferers less liable to lend credence to anything other people might say, making it that much harder to escape the ‘cult’.

      3.6.5 Social Media – The Wedge

      Quite often, Social Media, and the echo chambers that they create, provide the wedge through which such beliefs spread from one individual to another. People are quite capable of seeing an event with their own eyes and rewriting their memories when pressured to do so by a perceived authority figure who simply presents an ‘alternate interpretation’ that resonates with other beliefs. Multiple iterations later and the sufferer can have been convinced that black is white, or up is down. Or that a certain political figure did nothing wrong, and his enemies are simply out to get him.

    3.7 Big Picture, Little Picture

    I sense that we’re starting to drift toward some of the penumbral issues of the phenomenon, so it’s time to focus back on the heart of the subject by looking at how memory plasticity impacts these two different frames of reference.

    Rewriting the little picture is embarrassing and occasionally confusing, but generally has little serious impact. “Why are we doing this, again?” “Wait a minute, I thought Jason stole the Golden Willowtree?”

    But the big picture is about changes to the campaign landscape. Because they are bigger and more fundamental, they are a little more resistant to casual plasticity some of the time, but the impact can be more significant and substantial when memory revisions do take place.

    The real problems occur because players are rarely aware of the whole big picture – not in the same way that the GM usually is. In fact, it’s called “the big picture” because it can’t be revealed all at once – instead, smaller pieces of it are revealed one at a time in different adventures, building up to a larger appreciation of the moving pieces of the campaign setting and its background.

    Complicating this at every turn is the fact that in the best games, the big picture is not some painted backdrop; it evolves as a result of various in-game and out-of-game events.

    These two facts combine to require regular and wholesale revisions to the incomplete understanding of the campaign background, setting, concepts, assumptions, and premise. As should be clear by now, that spells danger.

    What, then, can be done to counter plastic memory? There are two-and-a-half different strategies. Maybe three-and-a-half, since one comes in at least two major variations:

    • Starting On The Same Page
    • Starting On Different Pages
    • Player Vs Character Recollections
    3.8 Starting On The Same Page

    If you can summarize each adventure into a one-sentence statement, and accompany it with a second sentence describing the big-picture relevance, leading off each adventure with a brief recapitulation of “The Story So Far” becomes practical. I frequently and regularly do this in the Zenith-3 campaign and it’s offshoots, do it with less regularity in the Dr Who campaign, and don’t see it done very often in the Adventurer’s Club campaign.

    That’s largely down to a number of factors – the degree of episodicity vs continuity in each campaign (more episodic = less need for a synopsis), and the propensity of the player to taking substantial notes and reviewing them before play, being two of the biggest ones. Deliberate design in terms of the campaign is a third, but it doesn’t apply to any of my current campaigns.

    This ‘executive summary’ then leads into a slightly more substantial summary of the current adventure so far if play of that adventure has already begun, and a more detailed summary again of any developments just prior to ending play last time – since I like to end sessions on a dramatic cliffhanger whenever possible, they always need explicit description to get everyone onto the same page before the action starts. While the Adventurer’s club doesn’t get much in the executive-summary department, it gets full treatment in this respect.

    “Plastic memory” can be impacted in two ways by this. The first is when a player’s recollection is fuzzy or outright wrong – and gets corrected. That’s the desirable one. The other is when the GM’s memory has been clouded (by what he intended to have happen) sufficiently to crowd out what did happen – which is when he gets corrected by the players, to his extreme embarrassment. But if it needs to happen, it is best to get it out of the way right away.

    In extreme and rare cases, this can semi-derail an entire game session – if an adventure has been prepared on false pretenses, it may be completely unplayable after the truth comes out. Usually, a GM can improv his way out of trouble, adapting what he has prepped to the actual in-game circumstances. Embarrassing, but not the end of the world – and generally forgotten by the end of the game session.

    3.9 Starting On Different Pages

    The alternative, of course, is not to synopsize. Real Life doesn’t have Star Wars style rolling introductions – if someone gets a wrong idea into their head, it persists until someone notices and corrects it, or the person gets themselves into trouble by acting on their incorrect understanding of the world.

    I have heard a number of GMs who prefer a ‘hyper-realistic’ approach advocating this principle, over the years. To me, it flounders on the inarguable fact that the players are not their characters, and vice-versa. (The usual comeback is that they are, at least in terms of head-space – and that the alternative hands control of what should be a player-character dynamic over to a die roll. Where the dialogue then breaks down is that I feel that to be preferable to the alternative, while they feel the alternative to be incomparably better. To each their own – but it shows the impact that a GM’s philosophy can have on a campaign).

    There are two variations on this idea in common practice: the first can be summarized by the phrase “let the chips fall where they may”, while the other can be described as “from the mouths of babes”.

      3.9.1 ‘Let The Chips Fall Where They May’

      This is the purest form of the method, and the one actually being advocated by most of the Hyper-realists. It contends that the GM doesn’t, or shouldn’t, care what the misapprehensions of the players (and their characters) are, it’s up to them to keep track of these things and pay attention. In some respects, it’s a very “old-school” playing condition, and I have no doubt that it would be a lot more wide-spread if GMs were infallible.

      As soon as you admit that you’re human and can make mistakes, it becomes encumbent on you to minimize the impact of those errors, and this position becomes more untenable (in my opinion).

      Nevertheless, it’s an approach that has its passionate advocates.

      3.9.2 ‘From The Mouths Of Babes

      This is something of a half-compromise between the two major approaches. You forego the executive summary, but have an NPC who would know the truth correct the PC at the first opportunity – but only in areas where the Player has expressed an inaccurate memory of the past. The better you are at improv, the more seamlessly this can be inserted, and the greater the variety of dialogues that can be used for the purpose.

      “Hey there Doggo – you wanted me to remind you to talk to Whizzle about Karsus and his plans to subvert Halfling Society.” — “Did I? I don’t remember that at all – and I thought we decided that it was a bluff, anyway.” “– That was your theory, but you couldn’t think of a way to prove it.”

      Three lines of improv dialogue, one of them from the player, and the error is corrected before anything disastrous can occur. The presumption is that important errors will be corrected before they cause unintended trouble for the PC – and meeting that expectation can lead to some strange and humorous interjections, just to get the critical dialogue in before the Player commits the PC to a flawed course of action.

      I once had to give a villain a temporary telepathic ability so that he and a PC could have an ‘exchange of views’ (slipping the truth into the conversation sideways as it were). From memory, the exchange went something like this: “Backlash? How did you intercept this communication? These Telepath-gems were supposed to be uncompromisable, they certainly cost me enough.” –“You have no idea of the depth of resources available to us, Protus [a complete bluff]. So, what are you up to these days? Checking up on the status of the White Lace project?” [recapitulates the inaccurate memory]. –You can almost see the evil grin at the other end of the telepathic connection from the tone of ‘voice’ as Protus replies “You’ve been misinformed, and that gives me more hope for the future than you can possible know. Because it costs me nothing but lets me revel in your error for that much longer before I break this connection, I tell you sincerely that I have never heard of this ‘White Lace’ to which you refer. Have an unpleasant day, hahahah…”

      There are obvious advantages – it doesn’t waste time on unnecessary recapitulation, it ‘feels’ more like real life even though it clearly shows that in certain respects, the GM has the player’s back, and such exchanges can be great fun for all concerned.

      It has one major flaw, and two smaller flaws. Getting a correction to a player in time relies on him explaining why his character is taking the actions that the player has announced – that’s a minor but important flaw.

      If the player simply acts on his incorrect memories, it’s too late for correction; that’s the major flaw: it won’t always work.

      And, if the mistake was made long enough ago (but not noticed at the time), a player can have romanticized an entire superstructure of theory and guesswork on top of it, spreading the ‘contaminated logic’ to areas all over the campaign, far too extensive to correct with one dialogue. When that happens, the only solution is to interrupt the game and have a discussion with the player, possibly a lengthy one. And that’s no fun for anyone. The second minor flaw, therefore, is that it’s not a panacea.

    3.10 Player vs Character Recollections

    These questions open another thorny subject: Are a player’s recollections actually those of the character he is portraying? Or are the two separate and distinct?

    I’m not going to let myself get distracted by this rabbit-hole, which could easily run for hundreds of words. Suffice it to say that I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule that I follow; instead, I base decisions on such matters on the roleplaying abilities of the player in question. If I trust them to keep character knowledge and player knowledge separately compartmented, then the answer is no; if I don’t have such confidence, then my assumption is that whatever information I give the player is knowledge that the character will also have, and use that to guide me in what I then tell the player.

    3.11 Ethical Obligations?

    This is also one of those questions that poses the question of what the GM is ‘ethically obligated’ to do under the circumstances. Another rabbit-hole, which will be a little more difficult to circumnavigate.

    A GM has an ethical obligation to the game itself, another to his campaign, a third to his players as a group, a fourth to each individual player, and a fifth to each PC.

    These are rarely articulated because the subject is so vague, I’m not sure that any one perspective or answer is “correct”. It’s the sort of question that GMs can spend hours discussing – maybe it should be a panel discussion at a convention or something! Maybe I’ll post it as a question on Quora…

    For now, let’s leave it at “the GM has a responsibility to fairly care for all these considerations, and to resolve any conflicts that arise between them in the course of play” – even though that’s wishy-washy, indefinite, and inadequately defined, as answers go.

    3.12 Enough Rope?

    Finally, there are GMs out there who believe that part of their job is to give Players enough rope to hang their PCs – or, at the very least, to get them into difficulties, provided that those difficulties are not insuperable. I’ve even advocated this position from time to time in cases where players have made assumptions about what is going on, or made plans predicated on such assumptions without adequately covering alternative possibilities with flexibility.

    Within limits, this policy is completely defensible; when it threatens to derail the whole campaign is where I draw the line. Note that it doesn’t have to actually pose an imminent danger to the campaign; the mere possibility that it could threaten the campaign is enough for me.

4 Fighting Memory Plasticity

As often happens, I’ve already covered some of the content intended for this section. No matter; there are always multiple perspectives that can be canvassed, it just makes the article a little less linear in structure (it was a straight line when I planned it, honest!).

What else can be done to fight memory plasticity? There are six tools available.

    4.1 Aides de Memoire

    I’m lousy at taking notes while refereeing. Actually, I’m even worse than that – I just can’t seem to do it; I’m too busy actually running the game.

    I manage best when I pose specific written questions to myself in advance that I can answer extremely succinctly. “What did the players decide to make priority #1?” “Did the players see through Edvard’s deceptions in time?” – things like that. But they require either opening another document while playing, with a keyboard that’s a little rogue a lot of the time, or having a hardcopy on which I can write answers – which requires a functional printer, or paying for a hardcopy which has to be done in advance. All three approaches are flawed in some respect, I’m not happy with any of them – they are just the best that I’ve got.

    Having players make notes for you is an alternative, but again it’s not a solution that I’m happy with. If they want to take notes for their own reference, and I can use those to jog my own recollections, that’s good enough (and usually, all it takes).

    These are all solutions to the small-picture incarnation of the problem, as it manifests for both players and GM.

    4.2 Executive Summaries

    Executive summaries, as already described, are a GM’s solution to the big picture variety of problem. Presumably, the GM has access to his design notes for both the campaign and the adventure, so he (generally) has the resources that he needs to avoid the problem; what he needs to do is address the player version. There are alternatives, as discussed above. There’s not much more to say about this, so let’s move on.

    4.3 Correcting Errors

    Players can take great delight in correcting a flawed GM’s memory, though the joy is usually fairly transitory. GMs tend to correct players’ inaccurate recollections more dispassionately. The key is to encourage speaking up immediately – even though admitting that your memory may be flawed is somewhat humbling for the GM.

    But this only provides the opportunity for correction of a distorted memory – if you do nothing more, the flawed recollection will have a persistence that overcomes the correction, and it will need to be made again and again. The best answer is to write the correction down, however briefly, on a notepad and ponder that note at greater length immediately after the game session, in particular with reference to any future plans.

    The more work that you have to do to integrate a revised history, the more likely it is that you will reset the flawed memory.

    4.4 Reinforcing critical memories and perceptions

    There are always some facts / past events that you know are going to be more important than others into the future. These are usually characterized as Revelations when they occur in my games, because they disagree with the established narrative flow, hinting that there is something else going on that the players haven’t yet taken into account in their character’s world-views. I always make a point of reminding players of these, one way or another, in the course of an adventure just before they become critically important to the day’s play.

    If a discordant event is not relevant to the day’s play, it simply means that I have more flexibility in how and when I insert the reminder into play – it could be anything from an NPC offering up an obviously half-baked theory about the discontinuity that the player receiving it can obviously and easily contradict to someone mentioning that they still haven’t been able to make sense of it.

    Once, a PC was engaged in doing paperwork – the PCs are required to keep careful logs of their missions (but the players are not, it gets hand-waved) – when some other problem was to be brought to their attention. I casually mentioned that the PC was at the point of recording the discovery of the discordant fact when they were interrupted by a telephone message, which launched into the new problem. Even this brief mention was enough to reinforce the critical memory.

    I look actively for such opportunities; aside from helping to keep failing memories on the straight and narrow, they actively reinforce campaign continuity, making the game world seem more real.

    4.5 Perpetuating Errors

    On very rare occasions, you can get more mileage out of perpetuating errors until the last possible minute. This works when the erroneous impression is not contradicted by any of the evidence readily available to the PCs. In other words, they have evolved a plausible theory that explains all the known facts (but that you hadn’t noticed in your prep).

    The most critical ingredient to the concept of perpetuating errors is the nature and timing of the ultimate 11th-hour correction. If handled incorrectly, this can be seen (by them) as railroading the players by not leaving them enough time to make the preparations and decisions that they think they might have made if the error had been brought to their attention sooner.

    I combat this by trying to always introduce a “back door to the truth” – an opportunity for the players to get a hint that things are not as they appear, well in advance of the critical point, but an opportunity that might be nothing but a time-waster or a red herring. It’s then the player’s choice whether or not to take a chance and pursue it, possibly at some other expense or inconvenience. The ultimate example of this has not yet occurred in any of my campaigns – “There are two critical mysteries and the PCs have to choose in advance which one they will solve early and which one will take them by surprise”.

    Ultimately, I’m never happy with there being only one pathway through an adventure for the PCs to follow. I work hard at ensuring that there’s at least a “Plan B” that will lead to a satisfactory gaming experience.

    4.6 Absorbing Errors

    Sometimes, the contamination is so widespread by the time the GM becomes aware of it that he has no choice but to absorb the error into the campaign, even if it means rewriting or scrapping campaign planning that was considered fundamental to the campaign in the first place.

    In one event, the PCs evolved a completely plausible theory that I liked better than my own planned solution to the puzzle. I immediately accepted their version of events and set up multiple encounters in which various NPCs tried to suggest to the players that my original intention was what they should be worried about. They refused to take the bait, which left them feeling smugly superior – an attitude that I let them enjoy for a while (they earned it!).

    Another time, things were not so pleasant. The first Zenith-3 campaign had as a premise that the PCs were being trained off-dimension so that they had time to become independent. My expectation was that they would then get rotated back into the main team, revitalizing it and letting some of the older NPCs retire / go down fighting. Somehow, the players got it into their heads that before that happened, they would have stints on the worlds served by Zenith-1 and Zenith-2. There was nothing said about this until the 11th hour – but it ultimately meant that in the next phase of the Zenith-3 campaign as originally planned, player expectations would go unfulfilled.

    Ultimately, that’s always a no-no. It’s part of the GM’s job to do whatever is necessary to avoid this. So I yielded, delayed the start of the big finish to the existing campaign by a year, and spent that time putting together a new plan – one that gave the PCs most of what they wanted and used those parts of the old plan that couldn’t be delayed or tossed aside as unexpected complications for the PCs to face.

    In both these cases, I chose to absorb the error into the campaign. I think that both choices worked out to everyone’s satisfaction – but I’m still very cautious in employing this solution because “even the wise cannot see all ends” – it’s always a risk, one to be taken only when not doing so poses a bigger risk.

To Be Continued…

Looking at how much remains, There’s no chance that I’ll get this article finished in time. So, as usual, I’ll break it into two parts – and this is the most convenient point at which to do so. Look for Fuzzy Plastic Memories III – Application in a week or two!

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Back In The Saddle, Big Project Insights


The break / disruption caused by my forced migration has been longer than expected, but at long last I’m back, with a reasonable expectation of being able to resume posting regularly. That disruption hasn’t quite run it’s course, so there may be one or two late / missed posts still to come, but it’s a danger that will decrease with each passing day.

My original intent (from the time of my last post) was that this would be nothing more than a quick announcement that regular posts would resume next week, but reality (as usual) had other ideas.

So I have divided today’s post into three parts – the announcement above, a section with news (including a Kickstarter project that may be of interest), and then a (relatively short) feature article deriving from my experiences of the last few months. By next week I hope to have concluded writing the promised follow-up to the guest article on memory plasticity, applying it to RPGs.

NEWS

1. Campaign Mastery honored

I hadn’t been in the new Unit more than a week or two when I was notified that Campaign Mastery had been included in their list of the top 30 RPG Blogs by Feedspot. When I followed up by actually checking the list, I was even more flattered to find that Campaign Mastery had been ranked #3 out of 30.

A couple of months without posting have seen that rating slip a bit – down to #5, the last time I checked. Hopefully, today’s post will start moving this back up the list, but even #5 isn’t small potatoes in my book. So I’d like thank whoever made the decisions, and personally thank Anuj Agarwal for his high-fives!

Unsurprisingly, ENWorld tops the list. With their resources, they are extremely hard to beat! As for the others, there were some that I knew, and with whom I had some sort of social media connection, and many more that had never come to my attention. So if you want to expand your reading list, or to look for an additional support mechanism that fits your game’s genre, you should check out the list for yourself. You will find it at https://blog.feedspot.com/tabletop_rpg_blogs/

2. Unpacking & Settling In

The trigger for restarting posts at Campaign Mastery was to be one of two things.

My preferred option was to have the ‘home office’ set up and be able to cross most unpacking off my ‘current activities’ list. I haven’t quite reached that part yet.

The secondary option, which I have taken up, was to have the reference library fully unpacked. That proved more complicated than I expected, which is why it has taken so long to resume posting.

Overall Impressions

The new unit is lighter and brighter than the old one. The walls and ceilings are a slightly-off-white throughout, and the floors are all tiled, mostly with large white-marble tiles, some of which are broken. None of the floors is perfectly level or even uniform. Lighting is by fluorescent tube throughout except the living room which has four down-lights.

Not all rooms have windows; those that do all have new blinds. At the moment, it won’t surprise you to learn that there boxes everywhere, I’m still figuring out what will go where, and trying not to unpack anything until I know where I’m going to put it. There is not a single room in which all of the walls are square. Odd angles are everywhere.

The supermarket is at the extreme limits of my mobility. Most of the shops that I use frequently are closer, some much closer. And I’m a regular at the cafe downstairs.

In short, I’m settling in.

3. Assembling Bookcases

Depending on how you look at it, the move involved taking 2 locations and dividing their contents amongst 3 much smaller ones, or taking 3 locations and dividing them amongst four much smaller ones. That meant that things that were easily organized at the old location (being all in one space) had to be carefully organized – in a space that was barely big enough for that task.

When I calculated the shelf / storage space that each category of objects used to enjoy / require, and compared it to the shelf space that was available in each location in the new digs, I found that up to 12 new bookcases would be needed. Having one of the existing bookcases collapse completely while it was being unpacked did not help matters (repairs are underway).

Well, I couldn’t quite afford that, but I did buy 9 of them. And I’ve been busy assembling them, at the rate of 1-2 a week. Seven of them are done, two remain to do.

Of the seven, exactly four assembled the way they were supposed to.

  • One didn’t have all the screws necessary. I had to devise a new way to install the base, involving drilling additional holes (and making sure they lined up).
  • Another had provided four identical side pieces when they needed to be mirror images. On two of them, in other words, the pre-drilled holes were upside down when the unit was assembled. The bottom section is supposed to contain three tiers, the top section two; I solved this problem by rotating one entire side 180 degrees, so that on that side, it’s the bottom that is two tiers and the top that’s three.
  • And on the third, some of the pre-drilled holes for joining the sections had been drilled incorrectly – the base was supposed to be held in place with six pegs, but there were only holes for five. I had to drill a new hole in exactly the right place to complete the assembly.

Still, those were only relatively minor complications, and steady progress was taking place – until…

4. Bookcase dis- and re-assembly

Three of the shelves were described as ‘display bookcases’. These have offset shelves, and looked quite stylish. Two of these have been assembled with absolutely no problems, one remains. They are two of the four bookcases dedicated to the reference library, which is how I got to my ‘trigger point’.

Four days after completing the reference library unpack, one of these was showing serious bowing of shelves, to the point where I was totally without confidence in the structural integrity of the units, and the other (despite being more heavily loaded) was showing early signs of the same problem.

Shelves bowing because of the weight

.

The image above shows the problem and planned solution.

  1. Vertical spacers are added to the front corners to force the shelves as close to square alignment as possible.
  2. Wood strips are used at the front to create skirting. They hold the shelves rigidly in place, preventing further bowing and giving structural strength. I’m considering painting them white to match the existing shelves, that will depend on the expense of the timber and paint. When they are in place, in theory, the vertical spacers could be removed and moved to the next section, so only three of them are needed – but I intend to leave them in place for additional support.
  3. Wood strips are attached to the sides at the back to create vertical rails that will add still more structural strength. This may also be repeated at the front – which would definitely relieve the need for the vertical spacers.
  4. At some future point, back paneling will be nailed into place to provide further rigidity. the problem is one of transporting these home from the hardware store. I have two possible configurations – one panel per shelf, or one panel for all shelves. I would prefer the latter but the former may be more practical in terms of logistics.

Multiply all of the above by three (for three different bookshelves).

5. Still to do:

The unpacking process has been like a sliding-panel puzzle, using the space created by completing one task to make the next one possible.

  1. Unpack one more box of fiction (done!) and one more box of board games.
  2. Setback recovery: Two of the (old) bookshelves that looked fine on first inspection need urgent repairs (done!).
  3. Two more plastic tubs of clothes to unpack.
  4. Create a cutlery storage tray from foam and emplace it. I’ve designed the unit (which reuses packing foam from the bookshelves), but need to cut it out and assemble it.
  5. Repair three bookshelves as above, unpack (again) the reference library.
  6. Repair the broken bookshelf if possible (I think it is, and the repairs to the other old bookcases have only added to my confidence). Park it temporarily where the boxes of fiction were.
  7. A lot of little tasks like cutlery and pots and pans to unpack.
  8. Move the boxes of videos to the repaired bookshelf without unboxing them – this will test its structural rigidity.
  9. Move the boxes of art and art supplies to the space now occupied by the boxes of videotapes.
  10. Assemble New bookshelf #8 and preemptively apply the fix described above. Temporarily place it in the fiction library.
  11. Assemble New Bookshelf #9 and emplace it. This is to hold DVD spindles, blank media, and magazines.
  12. Unpack the boxes of those items and put them into place.
  13. Sort the Unwatched DVDs into priority sequence (they were sorted but became muddled during the unpacking process. Place them on the shelves next to the main DVD collection.
  14. Unpack the campaign reference boxes to occupy the last shelves of that bookcase.
  15. Unpack the Gaming Resources into the shelves allocated for them, ready for use.
  16. Unpack the RPG reference into the shelves allocated for them (currently being used as a workbench!)
  17. Move the office table and desks into place from the storage room. Critical – I can’t resume running my RPG campaigns until this happens.
  18. Move new bookshelf #8 into the space occupied by the office table and desks.
  19. Pack computer gear on the shelves of Bookshelf #8.
  20. (assuming the repairs have held,) Move the boxes of videotapes to a temporary location.
  21. Move the repaired bookshelf into the space created by moving the computer gear.
  22. Pack the rest of the computer gear into the repaired bookshelf.
  23. Move the boxes of videotapes into the space thus created.
  24. Contemplate moving the chest of drawers into the storage room now that there’s space for it, to give more bedroom space.

How long will all this take? I figure that I can do at least one of these tasks a day, sometimes two – but some tasks might stretch into a second day (bookshelf assembly / repair being the main potential culprit)..

But Mondays and Tuesdays and most Saturdays won’t be available, so four of them a week, maybe a little more. So around 23/4 = 6 weeks. Right now, I’m not running gaming, so that’s an extra day this week and next week. With workarounds, I hope to be able to restart my campaigns at the end of the month – at which point it will have been six months since I last ran a session!

But if I have to steal one or two Campaign Mastery Mondays to get everything done, or an extra gaming day, I will.

6. A Fundraiser That May Be Of Interest: The Sassoon Files, 2nd Edition

Click the image to open the Kickstarter page

At around the same time as I moved, I was advised of The Sassoon Files being in pre-fundraising state and offering press resources to use in writing about it. At the time, I didn’t have the capacity to look into it.

On May 3, I was notified that their campaign was launching on May 11. So it’s now been running for about 2 1/2 weeks.

So, what is it?

The Sassoon Files, Second Edition, is a set of scenarios and campaign resources for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. The new edition contains “almost double the content of the first edition, with more scenarios, expanded campaign settings, and improved production value.”

The Sassoon Files will include the history of Shanghai and some of the primary factions that competed for influence and power: the Communists and Nationalists who played a game of deadly cat and mouse; the Jewish tycoon who provided succor to refugees; the Triad societies who competed to provide vice for the city’s residents; the Japanese who were moving closer to invasion. The Sassoon Files will also explore the secret history of the Mythos, and the local factions who sought to exploit that which could not be fully comprehended.

It will be available as a 300+ page hardcover or PDF.

I could definitely have made use of it back when I was running my first Dr Who campaign, which had a creature from the Mythos released into the Time-stream, where he kept bouncing further and further away in time, both backwards and forwards, creating chaos wherever he touched down in an attempt to stabilize his existence and open a portal to admit his “kin”, accompanied (as always) by a companion, a Tibetan Monk. Lots of Dr Who backstory along the way, too much to go into here, so I won’t get sidetracked quite that easily!

That campaign is over, and regular readers will have seen some of the development work for the sequel, which is focusing on the events that led / will lead to the 6th doctor becoming the War Doctor – which either means nothing at all to you, or everything.

This shows, however, that if the 1920s semi-pulp setting of CoC doesn’t suit, most such resources can be modified / twisted to suit another time period / genre. It’s just a matter of rolling up your sleeves and getting creative. So if this sounds like it might be of interest, I urge readers to follow up by clicking on this link.

Frankly, there’s so much crossover between Pulp and CoC (even though our pulp campaign is set a decade later) that I may well end up getting a copy myself.

The campaign will continue until June 10, having already raised more than triple the original target. So we are well and truly into stretch goals territory. Kicktraq suggests that the fundraiser is on track (couldn’t resist) to reach $175K by the end of the campaign. I think that might be a little generous, from the curves – I think $100-$120 K is more likely. But it’s quite early in the fundraising campaign cycle, so it’s far too early to be certain of anything more than the current pledge total.

So there’s no good reason not to buy into the product if you’re interested.

UPDATE:

The numbers above were generated with the intention of publishing this article last week, so they are now out of date. As of this writing, the funds pledged total USD$35,048 against a target of $10,000, and Kicktraq now projects a total of $42-51K. The project seems to have hit saturation, hopefully this mention will push it up a notch.

THIS WEEK’S FEATURE ARTICLE: BIG PROJECT INSIGHTS

I’ve had a lot of big projects on my plate over the last six-to-twelve months. Packing, finding new accommodations, unpacking, bookcases, an Arkansas directory for my superhero campaign, designing a mansion (with a few secrets and surprises) for that same campaign, and valuations for 76 specific and unique “treasures” (some of them are, some are not), to be packaged into a website for player use, for the Adventurer’s Club campaign.

As you might expect from One word at a time: How I (usually) write a Blog Post, my processes for tackling these tasks is fairly tightly organized and carefully structured.

Along the way, because of that organization, I’ve noticed a few things that should be true of major in-game projects, too – but usually are not. I’ll get into the why of that, and what the GM can do about it, and why he should or shouldn’t intervene, after discussing those insights.

Definition

Let’s start with this: what do I consider to be a big project? Well, the minimum would be:

  • Complete focus for at least 1 week
  • Top Priority for at least 2 weeks
  • High Priority for at least 3 weeks
  • Low-to-Medium Priority for at least 4 weeks

That’s just to get to the fringes of a “Big” project. Somewhere between this threshold and double the scale there is a fuzzy line that demarks the difference between a medium project and a big project. Some of the project phases and their attributes will apply for anything meeting the minimum standard, all of them will apply to almost everything meeting double that minimum.

    Examples

    Let’s look over that list of recent and current big projects and see where they fall:

    • Packing – Complete focus for 4 weeks, High Priority for 9 more.
    • Finding new accommodations – Top Priority for 4 weeks, High Priority for 7 more
    • Unpacking – Top priority for 4 weeks, high priority for 4 more, ongoing for at least 2 more weeks
    • Bookcases – Top Priority for 2 weeks, High Priority for 3 more, ongoing for at least 1 more
    • Arkansas directory – High Priority for 6 months
    • Mansion design – Top Priority for 1 week, High Priority for 3 more
    • Valuations for 76 specific and unique “treasures” (includes designing & generating 862 graphics, many of the resizes or variations on the same image) – High Priority for 7 weeks, Medium priority for 4 more
    • Website – Ongoing, 7 weeks deadline to generate approx 70 pages using content created above. High Priority, rising.
    Project Scale

    The scale of a project can be specified (in general) as the product of intensity of work multiplied by the duration of that intensity.

    The Propensity For Setbacks

    Another characteristic trait of big projects is that the probability of a setback at some point rises to near-certainty (near-unity for the more mathematically-inclined). Again, this is a function of scale of project; the bigger the project, the more opportunities there are for bad luck to manifest and – because the projects tend to be big and burly with lots of moving parts – greater likelihood at each such step for error or mischance to creep in.

    The wise administrator makes allowance for this and reserves some “cushion” that can be called upon to fix the problem (whatever it is) without impacting the schedule/deadline too badly.

    Allowance For Setbacks

    How much margin? about 1 day for every 7 dedicated to the project, in part or in whole (the reserved day will also have a matching ‘in part or in whole” nature). Maybe 1 1/3 for higher priority projects, or excessively complicated projects, or projects with an especially firm deadline. 1 2/3 for projects which meet 2 or more of those criteria and so on.

But this isn’t an article about project management; it’s about the normal human response to a project that they want to undertake and complete (anything less than a sincere effort introduces unrelated complications to the nice, neat picture that I want to convey).

I break any project of this magnitude down into 6 phases. It’s my contention that each of these project phases is distinguished with it’s own set of psychological responses that it’s “normal” to encounter.

Project Breakdown

Let’s start by listing the project phases to which I have just referred:

  • Pre-project
  • Planning
  • Early project
  • Mid-project
  • Late Project
  • Completion and Post-Project

The Pre-project phase starts sometime after accepting the project and before actually sitting down to start working on it. It consists of vague and general thinking about the project and how you are going to go about it, and deals a lot with first perceptions. It’s also when you set the priority that you are going to give the project and how you are going to make room in a potentially-busy schedule to carry out the work involved.

The Planning phase is when you actually decide on protocols and priorities and workflows and how long the project is going to take. A lot of people skip this step, especially if they have underestimated how long / difficult the project is going to be.

The Early Project, Mid-project, and Late Project phases are when you actually work on the project.

And the Completion and Post-Project is fairly self-explanatory. It’s characterized by hindsight and second-guessing, and it’s also when you discover whether or not the project was actually necessary in the first place.

1. Pre-project

No matter how much expertise you can bring to bear, all big projects can prove a little daunting. This manifests as finding or manufacturing excuses to delay starting.

Acting to overcome this tendency is, generally, Overconfidence, which stems from not having really planned the project yet – if you can’t foresee the problems that will have to be overcome, the project seems a lot easier than it will eventually prove.

Those with more experience can usually recognize this, and that in itself can be daunting; those with less experience are more inclined to wade right in.

Finally, there is an enthusiasm and excitement to tackling a major project, and its this that eventually overcomes any hesitation and permits the project to move ahead.

2. Planning

Lots of people who don’t know any better skip this step completely, figuring that they’ll work it out as they go. More experienced hands will at least conduct some cursory planning.

Planning consists of 4 primary activities:

  • Project subdivision
  • Necessary Research
  • Protocols and Procedures
  • Allowance for setbacks

Let’s look at those in detail:

    Project subdivision

    It’s good practice to subdivide major projects into smaller ones. It not only provides a more concrete breakdown of what’s going to be involved in the project overall, it permits management of the process.

    Defining each stage or phase of a project also permits thinking about what’s needed in order to carry out that work – that can illuminate stages that have been overlooked.

    Necessary Research

    This isn’t research needed as an input into one of the project phases; this is more fundamental, determining what is needed to actually perform the task. How can you determine how long it will take to do “X” umpteen times if you don’t know how to do “X” in the first place?

    Protocols and Procedures

    Once you know how, you can start thinking about how you are going to translate general ideas into on-the-ground works-in-reality processes and procedures.

    Quite often, you’ll follow the outlined protocol two or three times and then it will start to evolve and become more streamlined.

    Allowance for setbacks

    This all gives you a better handle on what can go wrong along the way, and how much time you need to allow for problem-solving. It’s actually fairly rare for everything that can go wrong to actually go wrong – almost as rare as a major project reaching completion without overcoming at least a few stumbling blocks.

The Impact of Deadlines

Deadlines vastly increase the pressure to complete the project. That can be both a good and a bad thing. Any problems encountered will be magnified in the way that they are perceived by the project manager.

A lot depends on whether the target is a “hard” (unalterable) deadline or if there can be a plan B to buy yourself more time. The softer the deadline, the less oppressive it can be.

3. Early Project

Once you start actually doing the work needed to accomplish the project, it tends to trigger a wave of enthusiasm for the project outcome. That enthusiasm is often your new best friend, motivating you to plug away.

Steady Progress Needed

It’s absolutely essential that steady progress is visible throughout. The more monolithic the project, the more easily this enthusiasm can – will? be corroded, until the project grinds to a complete standstill.

Rapid progress

It will also usually be observed ( at least, after the fact) that in this phase, progress is fairly rapid, even if it didn’t seem so at the time. That’s a function of the intensity with which the tasks are tackled, and that is a factor of the early-project enthusiasm.

In plain language, people treat the project as though it were one or more higher grades of significance and importance, then work themselves to death trying to keep up with an imaginary supervisor.

“Danger, Will Robinson”

This creates a trap for people to fall into (even if hey know better) – you down tools on the project because it looks like you can do so. Later, it becomes cleat that just as part X went faster and smoother than usual, so part Y of the process has been badly under-estimated and you need every minute of what you could have gained, or more.

(To be honest, though, this is usually a problem in Mid-project; the enthusiasm, which characterizes the Early project, makes projects less liable to this trap).

The transition to mid-project

The “Early Project” phase ends when participants no longer view the project as daunting; it has become a process that the participant(s) are happy with. But the enthusiasm and exuberance that have (at last) overcome doubt and hesitation have also suffered, and may now be non-existent.

If they aren’t, the dull routine plodding from project milestone to project milestone will usually finish them off.

4. Mid-project

In the mid-project phase, the process settles down into routines and habits. Certain parts of each week and each day become ‘earmarked’ as dedicated to the project, and other tasks and duties get scheduled around them. Working on the project has become part of the daily routine.

There is a sense of progress becoming a steady plod, an inevitable march to completion – all you need to do is stick to your schedule and hit your milestones to get there.

Any sense of being daunted by the scale of the project has been replaced by a quiet confidence of success, with time in hand.

There are some distinct traps that lurk in the underbrush, waiting for this phase of the project to spring out of nowhere.

    Enticing Side-alleys

    You begin noticing ways to “make the project better”. Or side-projects that might be worth pursuing. Or a better way to do something. Or an assumption that you are suddenly unsure of.

    Or, more accurately, you begin spending time actually implementing these side-projects, with little-or-no planning, and no real idea of what impact the side-project will have on your schedule.

    What most people don’t realize is that the routine has made them complacent about completing the primary project to the point where they feel free to complicate it or set it aside for a while – because “routines” are boring.

    Project set-backs

    At the same time, this is when you are most prone to set-backs. Because you’re taking time to look around. you notice things that may have already gone wrong (and that have to be re-done) or that something isn’t working in exactly the way you thought it would – often because you’ve ‘tweaked’ the process to “make it better”.

    First reactions can often be to find a way to manipulate the work done so that you don’t have to throw it away. The last thing you want to have to do is go back a couple of steps and start those project steps over.

    At least half-the-time, these half-baked ad-hoc fixes make things worse, not better. It’s times like this that you need to step back and revise the planning that you did at the beginning – and, especially, to revisit the question of how long it will take from this point forward,.under the different approaches.

    Comparing that estimate with the time available will confirm whether or not you’ve found a path through the thicket, or are lost in the tall timber.

    Project expansion

    Perhaps the biggest danger of all is deciding to expand the scope of the project. That’s what happened with the Arkansas Directory – the whole thing was under control and taking far less time than expected, and then I discovered a new resource that listed all the cemeteries in the state.

    I had previously decided to leave cemeteries out, because there were too many of them and it was too hard to drill down to the information needed. This resource enabled me to put them back, expanding the scope of the project maybe five-fold.

    Setback: half-way through, the website changed its formatting in such a way that it was far less user-friendly for the purposes I was using.

    First reaction to the set-back – carry on, regardless. After a couple of weeks of noticeably slower progress, second reaction: using the Wayback Machine to find the site as it used to be.

    Notice that the thought of returning to the original scope of the project never even occurred to me.

    Anyway, the Wayback Machine didn’t have a capture of the site.

    Redoing the assessment revealed that there was no longer enough time to complete the expanded project – and that was when a couple of projects that couldn’t be ignored leapt up, forcing this to be abandoned (at least for now) And, when I do get it restarted, the cemeteries have to go back out.

    Projects that escape control

    Even more rarely, projects can completely escape control. This happens when the expansions to a project become more important than the original purpose. Again, the Arkansas Directory presents a compelling example.

    Initially, it was a planning tool and a player reference tool – a listing of the more important local businesses and those that could be accessed with a few hours driving. The cut-off was simple: anything that Google Maps showed at a particular zoom level was in; anything that it didn’t was out.

    The expanded project was a complete directory / database of everything and anything that might be of interest or value in the state, and how far away it was. Other aspects of campaign planning became dependent on this concept, abandoning less-comprehensive solutions that could be more quickly produced.

    For example, I intended to go through the list coming up with plot ideas. for example, so that I always had something to ad-hoc if the players decided to go to “X”, or that they needed to go shopping for “Y”. Some of these would also be used to implement the players’ plans for their time in-state. These would then get documented in a GM-only version of the tool.

    The expanded project, post-setback, could no longer produce such a list in time to be of use. In fact, most of their time in-state would have to be hand-waved to get the main plot back on track. Or, more accurately, saved for their next sojourn within the state.

    Abandon Hope All Ye That Enter Here

    Once a project has expanded to the point of fully occupying the available time, the smallest setback goes from molehill to mountain. Existing but unnoticed Mountains grow to Everests.

    There are times when the only solution is to abandon the entire project.

    For example, there are articles and even series here at Campaign Mastery that I’ve had to abandon because they have come off the rails, or started taking more time than I could afford.

    It was my intention, when I abandoned “regular” weekly Thursday posts, that I would spend the time that had previously been earmarked for writing those posts working on those longer-term projects, posting each part whenever it was completed.

    Set-back: my physical condition worsened to the point where tasks of everyday living took enough additional time that working on these bigger-posts was no longer possible. So I either make the Monday Post irregular, or I abandon those series and articles that will take more time than I have available. I chose the latter option, but not a week goes by that I don’t second-guess that decision. I still have the outlines and the half-finished drafts…

5. Late project

I’m currently in the late-project phase of unpacking. I’ve had delays and multiple set-backs along the way, but have managed to make visible progress every day.

I’ve also just finished the late-project phase of the Valuation-content project, and the memories are fresh.

There are several attributes that start to manifest late in a project, and directly impact it. Ironically, the habits that developed in the mid-project are your best defense against these problems.

    When does a project enter the late-project phase?

    There are two primary signals: Waning Enthusiasm and Exhaustion.

    There are also two secondary signals that start off being quite mild (so it can be hard to point to a milestone and say, “that’s where the transition occurred”) but which tend to grow more difficult as the project slew-walks it’s way to completion, and they are both forms of experienced intimidation.

    As a general rule of thumb, when the project begins its final step before ‘production’ of the finished project, it has almost certainly entered the late-project stage. It may have done so at a prior milestone, or it may be just doing so, but either way, the four “signals” are things that you will almost certainly experience in some form or another in these final steps.

    Waning Enthusiasm

    Especially in projects that have taken a lot longer or more intense effort than you originally expected, you can often find your enthusiasm waning. You would literally prefer to be doing something else.

    The most minor form of this problem is wondering if it is all going to be worth it.

    In its most acute form, you can find yourself actually avoiding working on the project, something I’ll discuss more fully in a couple of paragraphs..

    Exhaustion

    The other signal of the late-project stage is that you actually find working on the project more tiring than it was. This is because some of your energies are being used just to keep going (I was originally going to say, ‘overcome the reluctance generated by Waning Enthusiasm’, but I think it’s more general than that).

    As a child, I was always taught that ‘once you’ve broken the back of a job, it’s a downhill canter the rest of the way’. Some years ago I realized that this is only true of smaller jobs and larger projects that run completely smoothly; and those are rarer than hen’s teeth. In all other cases, ‘breaking the back of the job’ is like going 6 rounds with a heavyweight boxing champ. Even if he takes pity on you in the 7th round and just prances around, you’re still going to feel it. That 7th round is just prolonging the agony.

    Exhaustion makes for sloppy work and a propensity to make mistakes. Overcoming that tendency and fixing the mistakes takes energy, leaving you even more exhausted afterwards; it becomes an ongoing cycle.

    Yesterday I fixed a bookshelf that was starting to come apart. It was agony on my back and good leg, pushing both to my current limits.

    Despite this, today I repaired another bookshelf that was showing signs of distress. Only after repacking it did I discover that on one entire shelf, all the staples connecting the back to the shelf were located above the shelf. Yet, I specifically checked that before starting, or so I thought.

    So I then had a choice: unpack the shelves again, and pull the entire bookshelf back out to where I could get at the back, find some way of removing the offending staples, replace them with nails, and then put it back and repack it. Or ignore the problem, relying on the screws and nails that I’ve added to hold the shelf in place.

    The exhaustion I felt decided the issue. Next time I have to get it out, I’ll worry about the staples.

    Deadline Intimidation

    There are two forms of intimidation that frequently impact the final stages of a major project. The first is the natural result of having invested so much effort and is especially prone to occur if there have been significant delays and setbacks.

    It’s entirely normal for deadlines to narrow as the end of a project approaches. In fact, the better your planning, the less unused time will remain as the ultimate milestone approaches, which in turn can induce this intimidation – an uncertainty over whether or not you will actually make deadline.

    Some people recommend tacking on an extra ‘comfort margin’ in their planning just to try and avoid this problem. My experience is that this just makes the project manager more likely to explore one or more of those enticing side-alleys.

    As a result, you usually end up in exactly the same position you would have been in anyway – and that’s the best case outcome. The worst case is when those explorations hamper the overall project, so the “comfort margin” can actually be significantly counter-productive. I don’t recommend the practice, no matter how enticing it may appear during the planning phase.

    Functionality / Peer-Approval Intimidation

    The other cause for hesitation and doubt stems from the separation of planning and final milestone. Having invested so much work, the project manager suddenly finds himself having doubts as to whether or not the end result will actually perform the functions it was intended to provide.

    And, further, will those on the outside appreciate the scale and quality of the efforts that have been invested, or will they feel that you have wasted a lot of time?

    These doubts drain any remaining enthusiasm for the project and can actually cause the project manager to look for excuses not to work on the project.

    This causes the pace of the project to abruptly slow to a crawl, creating still more deadline intimidation. The last phase of a project can easily be just as difficult as the entire first third was.

    Legitimate Delays

    It’s easy to encounter legitimate delays along the way. Setbacks can occur just as easily in the final phases as at any other point in the project, perhaps even more easily – this is the part of the project that would have been most fuzzy in initial planning, after all.

    The problem is that by this point in the project, you have the least possible margin remaining to cope with such setbacks. It is for this reason that it is expected practice that managers and workers (which may be the same person) are expected to have to burn the midnight oil in order to ‘land’ a major project on schedule, so much so that it’s almost a cliche.

    Illegitimate Delays

    The potential for legitimate delays is why you can’t really afford the ‘self-invented’ delays that result from the intimidation elements listed above. It’s entirely too easy to invent reasons for delay – totally self-convincing ones – just as you are facing down the final hurdles.

The different problems that can occur tend to play into each other, becoming entangled and entwined, and (even if small) can quickly snowball into far bigger issues. There are only two real defenses against this, maybe three (depending on how you count them).

    Side-alleys are less distracting

    The closer to the finish line you get, the less inclined to explore side-issues and side-alleys. Such tweaks can be left for after you cross the finish line, when you can explore them more fully – if there’s time. This alone helps shrink final mountain ranges back into molehills – well, into foothills, at least.

    Routine is your friend – if you are disciplined enough

    I’ve already made this point, but it’s worth amplifying. It’s entirely human to revolt against excessive regimentation, and the monotony of a routine can start to feel like ‘excessive regimentation’ after a while. That “while” is more likely to occur with longer duration of the habits and routines that have developed, so it’s far more likely to occur in the late stages of a project than in the early ones.

    I actually use awareness of this to bolster and reinforce the discipline of sticking to the routine that has developed (at the bare minimum).

    That, in turn, helps immunize you against the other late-stage problems described.

    I also routinely recalculate the time required to complete the project, relative to the time available. While this can make you hypersensitive to genuine delays, it can also reinforce the discipline needed to avoid blind alleys and overreactions to other doubts and concerns.

    Cutting the tangled knots out

    When setting out plans for a major project, I always try to evaluate which goals are “must haves” and which are merely “nice to have”.

    These are (generally) promptly forgotten until significant setbacks occur late in the project (if they do), when they can suddenly make it much easier to pare back a project, discarding a “nice to have” in order to nail down the “must have” goals. At the very least, they can help you refocus at a critical juncture – and that alone is enough to justify the effort needed to split those hairs.

    Let’s look back at the Arkansas Directory Project for a moment – having invested well over a hundred hours, am I reluctant to cut the cemeteries and pare the project back to its original goals? You bet. But the cemeteries are only a “nice to have” addition, so if I have to, I can steel myself to do it.

    The alternative would be to elevate that “nice to have” to “must have’ priority – which, due to the setback described earlier, will send the project out of control.

    When stark black-and-white comparisons like that can be made, hard choices become a lot easier.

6. Completion and Post-project

Some people are reluctant to actually consider this to be a part of the project management cycle, but I tend to be insistent about doing so. For one thing, this period is packed with recognizable characteristics just as are all the others, and for another, there needs to be as much effort invested in planning for it as for the others if burn-out is to be avoided.

The commencement point of this phase might appear straightforward at first glance, but there’s a wrinkle – in some cases, it might be better to regard the commencement point as being directly after the product of the project is first used instead of when that product is ready-to-use.

This is especially true when you are generating something for use in an RPG, when you think about it, but it can also be the case in real life.

Consider the three new bookcases, whose problems I highlighted earlier – if I considered the project of assembling them complete when they were ready to be packed with books, I would have been deeply into the next project when the problems with their design became manifestly obvious. Managing the repairs would have been a whole new project, one that would interfere with other things that had to be done.

Instead, by considering the project completion milestone to be when the bookcases in question were fully packed, the design problems had a chance to manifest as a setback to the original project, and the repairs became part of that original project, for which time had already been set aside.

Under the first schedule, that time would already have been ‘released’ and some other project scheduled to fill it. Repairs would have been delayed, and would be more difficult as a result, with greater likelihood of permanent damage having resulted.

While, at first glance, it might have seemed that the difference would have made no difference, the reality for a busy person is quite different, and I’m measurably better-off for having delayed the final milestone.

So let’s look at those characteristics of the post-project period.

    The need to recharge

    Every project drains your batteries. The more intense the schedule, the heavier the drain; the longer the project, the more prolonged the drain. As with several other project traits, it is the product of the two that is really indicative.

    You need to schedule some time off to recharge those metaphoric batteries before drawing upon them again.

    The usual headlong fling

    Without actually planning this as a phase of the original project, it’s human nature to simply throw ourselves into the next project that is to be completed, and we can find ourselves starting at an uncharacteristic low ebb; this is eventually unsustainable, forcing a longer break to recuperate than if we had simply taken a little time in the first place.

    This is a different phenomenon to that experienced with small-scale projects, it should be noted, where you can string 5-10 of them together before needing to take a break.

    How long a break?

    I recommend a minimum of 1/2 day for every week of the project, +1/4 day per week for each step up in intensity. If the result is more than a week, multiply by 2/3.

    Some examples to make this clear:

    • 6 weeks, Low-to-Medium priority: 6 × 1/2 day = 3 days R&R.
    • 8 weeks, High priority: 8 × (1/2 + 1/4) = 8 × 3/4 = 6 days R&R.
    • 4 weeks, Top priority: 4 × (1/2 + 2 × 1/4) = 4 × 1 = 4 days R&R.
    • 5 weeks, Complete Focus: 5 × (1/2 + 3 × 1/4) = 5 × 1.25 = 6.25 = 7 days R&R.
    • 13 weeks, Top priority: 13 × (1/2 + 2 × 1/4) = 13 × 1 = 13 days; 13 days is more than 1 week, so 13 × 2/3 = 8.7 days = 9 days.

    This doesn’t have to be complete rest; small tasks and even a Low-priority project can be carried out for at least part of each day. I’m talking about avoiding major commitments for a while.

    Jumping straight into another project

    Even then, if absolutely necessary, you can leap straight from one major project to another, so long as you’re aware of the potential impacts.

    In my case, 13 weeks of packing and house-hunting – initially Complete Focus, then Top Priority for a few weeks, with a week off for R&R in the middle, then Complete Focus again, have been followed by a more open-ended project to unpack and settle in at my new home that has lasted for two months so far (and is still incomplete) – sometimes Top Priority, sometimes just High Priority.

    I took that R&R week because I had been given the opportunity to do so (or thought I had), because I had reached the point of needing it physically, and because I knew the second project would inevitably follow the first. Aside from a brief period of taking care of the immediate essentials at the start, it has deliberately been done at a lower intensity than the earlier project (packing).

    In fact, as it winds toward a conclusion, I have been deliberately scaling back the priority and allowing myself more R&R – just a little each day, but enough that I have reserves to cope with setbacks.

    Dotting I’s and Crossing T’s

    I like to allow time for final cleaning up of minor details at the end of a project. It doesn’t always happen, but those final details can make a huge difference in how you (and others) perceive the outcome of a project.

    These are about perceptions and superficialities, not issues of substance, it should be clear.

    The fact is that you’ll almost certainly take time to do these, anyway; if you haven’t allowed time for them, the off-the-books time expended will come at the expense of something else, and that doesn’t benefit anyone.

    Hindsight

    There is also an inevitable period of looking in the metaphoric rear-vision mirror. Here’s a subtle and often-overlooked fact: The better the planning, the easier the project will seem in hindsight – regardless of the number or degree of problems or setbacks.

Big Projects in RPGs

Let’s compare the reality with the way big projects are undertaken by characters in an RPG.

    Hand-waved Tedium

    Tedium and routine are rarely roleplayed, for fairly obvious reasons. They are hand-waved by the GM instead, mainly because they are boring.

    The compression of time

    On top of that, time is naturally compressed in an RPG anyway. “I’ll keep doing X until sundown, tell me if anything interesting happens” is completely normal.

    Players heads in the wrong time zone

    The consequence is that players don’t experience the cumulative impacts that their characters would feel at different points during a major project. The player will still be in the enthusiastic early phase when the characters should be mired in the tedium of the middle of the project, and only approaching the mid-project phase when the project in-game is wrapping up.

    Most of the time, players and GMs aren’t even aware of the resulting discontinuity. When it does become noticeable, it’s often too late to do anything about it, anyway.

    But, once the obvious has been pointed out, the GM will realize that he has a choice: he can either encourage players to run their characters as though they had experienced the entire project, or he can accept that the characters are not required to “act human” in this respect.

    The superiority of PCs

    One philosophical underpinning of campaigns is key to choosing between these two alternatives – are the PCs inherently superior simply because they are PCs? If the answer to this question is ‘yes’, then it becomes far more acceptable to have that superiority manifest as better instinctive project management – in effect, subordinating the ‘normal’ big-project reactions to the unrealistic emotional states of the players.

    If you choose this option, the right thing to do is to make a point of it, in-game. Someone comments on how focused and disciplined the PCs are in pursuing the project, or a PC comes across an NPC undertaking something similar (or even working on the project for the PC), showing the PC reaction for the abnormality that it is. It only has to happen once or twice for the pattern to be established as campaign canon.

    If not, then the GM has a follow-up question to consider – whether or not they should intervene, and what form that intervention should take. I’ll get to that in a moment; first, there are a couple of other aspect of all this that needs to be addressed.

    The consequence of Dire Need

    ‘Desperation has a wonderful way of focusing the mind’ – I’m sure that’s a misquote, but it’s both correct and applicable, anyway.

    Hard Deadlines, of the sort that result from Dire Need, up the ante in every respect, but especially psychologically, on both the players and the PCs. Side-alleys are left unexplored, no matter how enticing or interesting. Priority kicks up at least one notch. There’s a palpable sense of urgency in the air. Both Drama and Melodrama kick up a notch. It makes for good gaming from the perspective of the GM and the players (not so much for the characters) – unless it’s overdone, or too frequent an occurrence.

    This overrides many of the normal behaviors being discussed, to the extent of making the questions being posed here irrelevant.

    I think that needed to be mentioned and made clear before we went down the rabbit-hole too far.

    Non-human Psychology

    Chronoception is a field of study within psychology and it plays a major role in the reactions to major projects. And that means that non-humans can have a completely different response to the same stimuli.

    In many of my Fantasy campaigns, Dwarves have a “Live fast, Live Hard, and leave a good-looking corpse” attitude; they can be impatient, more willing to take shortcuts, less willing to deviate from straight-lines, and more sensitive to the effects described. At the same time, they have a dogged persistence (sometimes characterized as a stiff-necked or bloody-minded reluctance to change course), even if the results are clearly not going to be the ideal outcome envisaged at the start of a major project.

    Elves, on the other hand, are far more patient, more willing to take time and pains, and more willing to look at the bigger pictures. They are more prone to taking the time to investigate side-issues, are more resistant to deadlines, and will take the time to execute each step in a project as perfectly as they can – to the point of exasperating humans and maddening Dwarves.

    You don’t have to copy my approach to the chronoperceptions of these races; simply take on-board the principle that they are psychologically different to humans, and think about what the differences are and how they will manifest in practical situations.

    For example, Elves will quite happily use a temporary facility for 1,000 years because they aren’t satisfied with the fine details of a proposed permanent solution to a social need. Dwarves will throw up a temporary structure with minimal planning and use it until it either falls apart or is shown to be clearly inadequate. It’s ironic that – in practical outcomes – the two end up in almost exactly the same place, for entirely different reasons.

Intervention – yes or no?

Okay, so neither non-human chronoperceptions nor Dire Needs are going to let the GM escape out the back door of the question of the differential mindsets of characters vs players. That lands him (and this discussion) firmly back on the question – should the GM intervene to push the players’ mindsets closer to what he thinks the characters should be feeling, or not?

What shape should such intervention take, anyway? To my mind, it amounts to describing the experience of the characters (and letting the players decide how the characters react to those experiences), while injecting just enough tedium and ‘representative’ setbacks to let the players get in touch with their characters’ feelings, even if these aren’t necessarily ‘fun’ in the strictest sense of the word.

At all costs, the GM should avoid telling the players what their characters’ feelings or attitudes should be. At most, if the characters are known for their impatience or extraordinary patience, for micromanaging or big-picture thinking, the GM should both call attention to this and should factor it into their own thinking. That’s the difference between helping the players run their characters and railroading the characters, and it’s a very important distinction to make.

There is no universal ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that is the right answer; it will always depend on the exact circumstances, the personalities of the PCs, and the attitudes of the players.

Intervention – how?

I’ve outlined, above, what shape I think the appropriate intervention should take, but I thought it worth closing out this article with a broader, more general answer, framed around the question of what your objectives should be in committing such an intervention.

ANY intervention to the smooth progress of the ‘project’ running its course from start to finish that achieves these tasks is appropriate and reasonable – for example, stating that a character is ‘working on the project’ when something happens to demand his or her attention.

A possible intervention is acceptable if it:

  • Helps the player feel the scope or size of the project;
  • Helps inform the players of what has happened during a hand-waved period of transition between project milestones;
  • Gives the players the opportunity to let their characters be distracted from the project;
  • Opens a doorway to more ‘interesting’ roleplay;
  • Gives players access to resources that might be useful to them in the future as a direct consequence of the project;
  • Makes the project seem more “real” to the players;
  • Makes the players aware of the context of the Project and / or any changes in that context; or,
  • Helps the players make informed decisions about their PCs and their actions, in accordance to the personalities of the character.

That’s quite an extensive shopping list, but a lot of it can be done through simple measures like the narrative example offered (“Your character is working on the project when…”). Spending five minutes of game time deciding in-game how a character will react to or overcome a setback, without actually playing through it is enough to ‘touch base’ with the in-game reality without making such a big deal of it that it becomes boring or dull.

I think it was Raymond E. Feist who once had one of his characters state, “Details. A Good plot swarms with details” – while discussing a rumor that the speaker wanted to have swallowed whole by an opposition. But it’s an entirely accurate observation when it comes to big projects in an RPG, too. You only have to touch on those details lightly to achieve the desired effect, and those projects will seem all the more real and realistic for the effort.

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No new posts for a while


In a little less than ten hours from when I post this, I start moving house.

Unfortunately, the new residence doesn’t have internet or telephone connections yet.

If I can find an internet cafe nearby, I will be able to resume posting fairly quickly, but not everywhere has them. If I have to wait for the phone line, it might be as much as a month before I can post again.

Have patience, and we’ll get there in the end!

Until we ‘meet’ again, best wishes :)

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Fuzzy Plastic Memories I, A Guest Article


“…that’s what I remember…”
 
Image by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay

Introduction

In the recent article on the challenges facing Generative AI and how they can be overcome, I listed a number of Quora contributors whose work I will always read. One of them is Franklin Veaux.

Today I am presenting one of his Quora answers in full, with his permission. I was going to follow it with analysis and how it relates to gaming, but my notes on the subject grew to the point of overwhelming the original article, so they have been offloaded into a Part II to follow next week.

How can two people have two different memories of the same event?

A guest article by Franklin Veaux

Originally published Feb 2, 2024 on Quora, by the author

That’s really easy: Memory doesn’t work the way you think it does.

A lot of folks think memory is a recording of events that happened around you, like a videotape from a camera.

Nope. Huh-uh. Not even close.

Memory is whack, y’all. Like seriously. Your own eyes don’t even tell your brain what’s going on (look up “saccadic masking,” if you want to go down a trippy rabbit hole, that shit is wild), but more to the point, memory is a jumbled, non-linear series of subjective impressions and emotions, all mixed together.

And it gets weirder.

Memory recall is destructive. That means every time you remember something, that memory is basically (simplifying a bit and handwaving over the mechanics of how it works) erased and rewritten.

And that’s not all! Memory is state-dependent, too. Mediation of emotional memory is handled (mainly) by a structure in the brain called the amygdala, and it recalls things most easily that have an emotional resonance similar to whatever emotion you’re feeling right now.

Put simply, it’s easier to remember things that make you sad when you’re sad. It’s easier to remember things that make you angry when you’re angry. It’s easier to remember things that make you happy when you’re happy. That’s why when you’re in love it’s easy to recall all the things that delight you about the person you love, but after you break up it’s easier to remember the things that annoy you about them.

When you recall something, your recollection can be filtered through and distorted by your current emotional state, which means when the memory is rewritten your current emotional state gets rewritten with it. So after you break up with someone, even your happy memories can shift to anger or sadness.

But wait, there’s more!

You don’t remember everything about a situation, only what’s relevant. Which means what’s relevant to you at that particular time.

Back in my old cognitive science class in university, we talked about how fake “psychics” can con people during cold readings by exploiting the fact that you only remember what’s relevant.

A group of college kids was told they were going to receive a psychic reading, and videoed during the reading without their knowledge. The “psychic” (actually one of the researchers) would spit out a bunch of rapid-fire statements about them all in a row, responding to the ones that got a positive response.

Afterward, the college kids were interviewed about how accurate the “psychic readings” were. They were all amazed: “oh my god, this complete stranger made 5 predictions about me and they were all true!”

Then they were shown the tapes, and they were amazed. The “psychic” made 90 or 100 predictions. By pure random chance, 5 were true, the rest weren’t. But the college kids literally didn’t remember the incorrect predictions! Not until they saw the video did they realize how many there were. Their brains discarded them as irrelevant.

So why do people remember things differently? You only store what’s relevant to you. What you store isn’t a recording of events, it’s a twisted wibbly-wobbly mass of subjective impressions and emotions. You modify your memory every time you recall it. Your emotional state influences how you recall (and rewrite!) it.

It’s a bloody miracle we manage to remember anything at all, really.

About Franklin:

Franklin is a Professional Writer who lives in Portland, Oregon. His Quora content has amassed 1,075.6 Million views since June 2012, and his writing has appeared in Huffington Post, State, and Forbes magazine.

He has admitted to GMing D&D on at least one occasion.

He has written or co-written a number of novels, including:

  • Black Iron (part of The Impious Empires series): (only one paperback copy)
  • Divine Burdens (Pt 1 of the Passionate Pantheon): (Paperback & Kindle)
  • The Hallowed Covenant (Pt 2 of the Passionate Pantheon): (Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook)
  • Ecstatic Communion: Stories from the Passionate Pantheon: (Kindle)

    (I may get a small commission on any purchases). Warning: Not suitable for children.

Next week: how this affects RPGs, how to counter it, and how to use it to your advantage as a GM. Until then, if you want to read more about memory and RPGs, try The failure of …urmmmm… Memory

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The Value Of Material Things V


This entry is part 7 in the series The Value Of Material Things

Three examples of Babylonian pottery, from an exhibit in the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA. This work is old enough so that it is in the public domain. Photography was permitted in the museum without restriction. Photograph taken by Daderot and used under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication License, via Wikipedia.

Welcome

…to the latest installment of the “Value Of Material Things” series. Today’s article will focus on Pottery & Ceramics, and Peridot, with room for a sideline along the way if anything crops up.

Although Jade and Ivory are also laid out and ready to write, I lost a lot of time over the last week-and-a-half, so I’ve decided to hold off on them until Part VI.

This series is being driven by game prep; I simply collate my notes for that prep, organize them a bit to get a post with (hopefully) less work involved, and then expand on that beginning. Beginning below, I’m going to index the different goods and commodities that have been detailed.

AN INDEX

General Subjects:

  • Depreciation & Appreciation – Part III -> General System (Part I)
  • Generic Valuation System – Part I (The Asset Valuation Worksheet)
  • Demand, Under-supply & Oversupply – Part II

Specific Subjects:

  • Diamonds Value – Part I (The Asset Valuation Worksheet)
  • Diamonds, Size, Cut – Part II
  • Earthenware & Ceramics – Part V (this post)
  • Earthenware Engine – Part V (this post)
  • Ebony – Part III
  • Emeralds Value – Part I (The Asset Valuation Worksheet)
  • Emeralds Size, Cut – Part II
  • Frames – Xmas post
  • Gemstones (Cut) – Part II
  • Gold Bricks – Part I (The Asset Valuation Worksheet)
  • Gold Pieces – Part IIa correction to the content in Part II
  • Metal Cups and Plates – Part V (this post) -> Earthenware Engine (ditto)
  • Moonstones – Part IV
  • Olivine – Part V (this post)
  • Peridot – Part V (this post)
  • Rock Weight – Part I (The Asset Valuation Worksheet)
  • Rubies, Value – Part I (The Asset Valuation Worksheet)
  • Rubies, Size, Cut – Part II
  • Sandstone – Part V (this post)
  • Sapphires, Value – Part I (The Asset Valuation Worksheet)
  • Sapphires, Size, Cut – Part II
  • Semi-Precious stones – Part I (The Asset Valuation Worksheet)
  • Silk – Part IV -> Textiles Engine (Part III)
  • Spices – Part I (The Asset Valuation Worksheet)
  • Tapestries, Tapestry Engine – Part III
  • Textile products, Textile Engine – Part III
  • Tesserae and other Mosaics – Part IV -> Tapestry Engine (Part III)

Still Pending: Jade, Ivory, Historical Artifacts I (Ancient) & II (Recent)

Pottery & Ceramics

Right off the top, if there are any gems or jewels involved, value them separately.

The main thrust here will be toward clay-based pots, but at the end of the section I’ll talk a bit about Metal pots.

There are four numbers that are central to the value and other traits of pottery, ceramics, and other such. These are the external surface area, the external volume, and the internal volume (subdivided into below waterline and above). In some cases, the internal surface area will also be needed.

The easiest way to show you how to do this is to actually do one.

    The Pot

    This is the basic pot that we’re going to be working with. There are also a couple of handles but they won’t be important for a while, so I left them out. As you can see, it subdivides into four sections of different dimensions.

    1. RadiI

    Step 1 is to convert those (measured) diameters into radii.. Going from top to bottom:

      12.4 / 2 = 6.2
      11.3 / 2 = 5..65
      14 / 2 = 7
      5.76 / 2 = 2.88

    2a. Exterior Volume, Top Section

    To get the volume, we turn this into a cylinder by averaging the top and bottom radius. Note that this only works if the sides are basically straight lines, or close to it. If it’s a curve, I bias the result to get something close enough – see the “sidebar” below.

    Sidebar: Pot Curves & Biased Averages

    The diagram to the left illustrates four very common situations.

    • Protruding Lip: There are always 3 elements to analyze – the bottom, the top, and the chord that connects them. In this case, the visible ‘space’ in the chord confirms the impression formed by the square-framed section: the average is going to be a lot closer to the lower value than the higher one. How much so? Estimate the height of the square-framed section, which extends up to the point where the edge becomes more horizontal than vertical – it’s about 80% of the height of the whole section, so we’re talking an 80:20 ratio, or 4:1:

      Average radius = (A + 4 × B) / (4 + 1 = 5).

    • Bowl Shape: Again, it’s the chord that is the most revealing, showing that for almost the entire section, the width is greater that the minimum. So, starting at the wide end, estimate how far down it is that the curve becomes more horizontal than vertical. problem: in this case, it doesn’t. So estimate how far before the curve begins to bend significantly. When I do that, I get 60%, so a 60:40 split is correct, or 3:2:

      Average radius = (2 × A + 3 × B) / 5

    • Compound Curve: This shape has a virtually vertical section, and if accuracy was needed, it should be split into three smaller sections. But if a rougher answer will suffice, I use two characteristics: the relative position of the vertical section (is it closer to the longer radius, the shorter radius, or in the middle, as in this case?); and the top and bottom positions of the section (does it force a sharper curve on one side or the other)? In this case, you could argue that the bottom (shorter radius) part of the chord is showing a hair more substance than the top is showing empty air, but for my money they are pretty close to identical. So I would not bias the result at all:

      Average radius – (A + B) / 2

    • Compound Curve #2: This is a far more subtle and tricky shape to assess, because most of it is straight edge at an angle. Looking at the chord, the part at the bottom seems twice the size of the much flatter curve at the top, so there should be a bias toward the longer radius. Lacking the usual diagnostics, I use the point where the chord crosses the edge of the pot section, and find it to be very close to the half-way mark. Unless this section (and the whole pot) is absolutely huge – 20″ or more – the error from using an unbiased number will be so small as to be trivial. So again:

      Average radius – (A + B) / 2

    But our basic pot has none of that going on, because I have deliberately simplified it.

    2b. Top Section

      Average radius = 6.2 + 5.65 / 2 = 11.85 / 2 = 5.925 inches.
      Cylindrical Area = π × 5.925 ^2 = π × 35.105625 = 110.29 in^2.
      Volume = area × height = 110.29 × 4 = 441.16 in^3.

    2c. Second Section

      Average radius = 5.65 + 7 / 2 = 12.65 / 2 = 6.325 inches.
      Cylindrical Area = π × 6.325 ^2 = π × 40 = 125.66 in^2.
      Volume = area × height = 125.66 × 3.89 = 488.82 in^3.

    2d. Third Section

      Average radius = 7 + 5.76 / 2 = 12.76 / 2 = 6.38 inches.
      Cylindrical Area = π × 6.38 ^2 = π × 40.7044 = 127.877 in^2.
      Volume = area × height = 127.877 × 14 = 1790.28 in^3.

    2e. Fourth Section (the base)

      Average radius = 5.76 + 5.76 / 2 = 5.76 inches, obviously.
      Cylindrical Area = π × 5.76 ^2 = π × 2.4 = 7.54 in^2.
      Volume = area × height = 7.54 × 1 = 7.54 in^3.

    2f. Total:

    Add these four results up and we get 2727.8 in^3.

    3. Internal Volume

    To determine the internal volume, we need to know the thickness of the pot. I generally work on the principle of “an eighth for six” – i.e. for every 8″ of height, the thickness has to increase an eighth of inch. But because this is just a guideline, and potters would prefer to err on the side of safety, I’m quite happy to round it.

    3a. Thickness

    Our basic pot is a total of 22.89 inches tall; that says 3.815 eighths, or 0.477 inches thick. Close enough to 1/2 an inch.

    The top will be considerably thinner than the base, for stability – probably 1/2 our average value, or 1/4″ in this case. The bottom will be 1.5 or 2 times our average, i.e. 0.75-1 inch. If the pot is reasonably solid and “chunky”, I’d go for the higher value; if it’s more delicate and better-crafted, I’d go for the lower value; and the rest of the time, I’ll pick something in between.

    This time, I’ll do that and call it 0.8 inches.

    3b. Base

    I’m going to say that the base is solid clay, so it has no interior volume to contribute.

    3c. Waterline

    For convenience, I’m also going to assume that the waterline, i.e. the height to which liquid rises when the pot is “full”, is 4″ from the rim, i.e. the wasp-waist.

    That shrinks the total internal height to 14 + 3.89 = 17.89″. Half-way along that is where our average will occur – 8.945 inches. That’s part-way down the long side of the pot.

    3d. Differential

    It’s also necessary to consider the difference from the average of the two extremes, because sometimes the average isn’t actually the average!

      0.5 – 0.25 = 0.25″
      0.8 – 0.5 = 0.3″

    Aha! Just as I told you – the midpoint of the thickness is not where we though it was; it’s 0.25 : 0.3 or 5/11ths of the total length from the thin end.

      5 / 11 × 17.89 = 8.13″ from the top. And, at that point, the thickness will be ( 0.8 + 0.25 ) / 2 = 1.05 / 2 = 0.525″ thick.

    3e. Thickness at Waist

    All this matters because we need to determine the thickness at the ‘bend’ in the pot, 3.89 inches down.

      Thickness at waist = [ 3.89 / 8.945 × (0.525-0.25) ] + 0.25
      = [ 0.435 × (0.275) ] + 0.25
      = [ 0.119625 ] + 0.25
      = 0.37″.

    3f. Internal Structure

    What we end up with, then, is what is shown in the above diagram, in which:

      a = 0.25″
      b = 0.25″
      c = 0.37″
      d = 0.8″

    3g. Top Section (air)

      6.2 – a = 6.2 – 0.25 = 5.95
      5.65 – b = 5.65 – 0.25 = 5.4.
      Average radius = 5.95 + 5.4 / 2 = 11.35 / 2 = 5.675 inches.
      Cylindrical Area = π × 5.675 ^2 = π × 32.205625 = 101.177 in^2.
      Volume = area × height = 101.177 × 4 = 404.71 in^3.

    3h. Second Section (contents)

      5.65 – b = 5.4.
      7 – c = 7 – 0.37 = 6.63
      Average radius = 5.4 + 6.63 / 2 = 12.03 / 2 = 6.015 inches.
      Cylindrical Area = π × 6.015 ^2 = π × 36.180225 = 113.66353 in^2.
      Volume = area × height = 113.66353 × 3.89 = 442.15 in^3.

    3i. Third Section (contents)

      7 – c = 6.63
      2.88 – d = 2.88 – 0.8 = 2.08
      Average radius = 6.63 + 2.08 / 2 = 8.71 / 2 = 4.355 inches.
      Cylindrical Area = π × 4.355 ^2 = π × 18.792225 = 59.0375 in^2.
      Volume = area × height = 59.0375 × 14 = 826.525 in^3.

    4. Capacity

    Capacity Total = 442.15 + 826.525 = 1268.675 in^3.

      Conversions:
      1000 in^3
      = 554.113 fluid ounces
      = 17.316 US quarts
      = 4.329 gallons
      = 16387.1 cm^3
      = 16.38 liters
      = 0.01638 m^3

    So, 1268.675 in^3 = 20790 cm^3 = 20.79 liters = 21.97 US quarts = 5.49 US Gallons.

    5. Total interior Volume

    Total interior volume = 1268.675 + 404.71 = 1673.385 in^3.

    5a. Difference, External – Internal Volumes

    External Volume Total = 2727.8 in^3
    Internal Volume Total = 1673.385 in^3
    Difference = 1054.415 in^3

    5b. Handles

    If I add in an estimated volume for the handles, that difference is all pot, enabling a determination of the (empty) weight.

    There are two common types of handle shape, and innumerable more decorative choices. I’ll get to those in a moment. First, the common types, the C-shape and the Question Mark:

    Sidebar: The handles process

    The illustration above not only depicts the basics of both, it illustrates how to deal with them.

    The C-shape is simplest of them all. It starts with a thick end (a) and ends with a thinner end (b). For smaller pots, (a) might be thin and (b) thick, but the principle remains the same:

    • Assume that the cross-section is circular.
    • Assume that the change in thickness is even and uniform.
    • Average (a) and (b). Convert to a radius.
    • Find the average cross-sectional area.
    • Count the length of the handle around the outside. I’ve used 1/2″ increments marking each one off in red, but normally I would just point and count. You usually only need to be approximate, but if precision is required, repeat for the inside and average the two.

    The second is also a C-section, but there is now a bulge at the top of the c; b is now the thickest point. That means that this has to be handled in two lengths – (a) to (b) and (b) to (c). The method remains the same.

    The third figure shows a question-mark handle. This is an order of magnitude more complicated, as the profile shows. (b) is still the thickest point; (c) is now the thinnest, and there is a section that is uniformly that thick. At the bottom of the question-mark, the handle starts to thicken again.

    The first step in processing such a handle is to establish the length at which the ‘recurve’ starts (c), because it’s at that point that what was ‘inside’ becomes ‘outside’. Aside from that, the process is the same, just with more lengths.

    5b cont.

    In the case of our example pot, I went with the simple C-shape. The (a) diameter is 1″ thick, the (b) is 3/8″ thick, and the total length is 7″.

    • Average (a) and (b):

      a + b / 2 = (1 + 3/8) / 2 = 11/8 / 2 = 11/16 = 0.6875 in.

    • Convert to a radius:

      0.6875 / 2 = 0.34375 in.

    • Find the average cross-sectional area.

      A = π × r^2 = π × 0.1181640625 = 0.371 in^2.

    • Get the length – I’ve already done this, it’s 7″.

    Multiply by the number of handles – in this case, 2 – and you’re done.

      2.597 × 2 = 5.194 in^3.

    6 Weight

    Clay has a density of 0.08686 lb / in^3 after it is fired, making it’s shape as permanent as it gets.

    So, total the volume of the handles and the difference between exterior and interior volumes, and multiply by that density to get the weight of the pot:

      Difference = 1054.415 in^3
      Handles (2) = 5.194 in^3
      Total = 1059.609
      Weight (empty) = 1059.609 × 0.08686 = 92 lb = 41.73 kg
      Weight (full, water) = approx 0.0163871 m^3 × 1000 kg / m^3 + 41.73
           = 16.39 + 41.73 = 58.12 kg (128.13 lb).

    Pots with loaded weights of more than ~100kg that are NOT made of metal might as well have no handles because the handles will break under such loads or be too thick to be useful under most circumstances.

    All about Glazing

    Ceramic Glazes can give a glossy finish to pottery and other earthenware. Aside from being decorative, it makes the pot stronger and impermeable to water.

    Most glazes change color when applied to earthenware that it then fired for a second time. To prevent sticking, a small portion (frequently on the base) is left unglazed, though special refractory “spurs” may be used in modern times instead.

    Colors in glazes usually come from various kinds of wood ash or from metal oxides. They can be applied by spraying, dipping, trailing, or the brushing on of an aqueous suspension of the glaze. The water content then dries off, and the earthenware is ready for its second firing.

    More exotic techniques can be used – I have seen curtain lace used to give a textured look to a glaze, and a mulberry leaf used for the same purpose.

    Small leaves and objects can be embedded in the clay and affixed with a glue and then covered in the glaze; if it is sufficiently transparent, the object will show through, but be tinted by the glaze to match the rest of the surface.

    Overglaze decoration is applied on top of a fired layer of glaze, and generally uses colors in “enamel”, essentially glass, which require a second firing at a relatively low temperature to fuse them with the glaze. Because it is only fired at a relatively low temperature, a wider range of pigments could be used in historic periods. If an Overglaze is intended, the first firing is referred to as the “Ghost Firing”.

    There are also numerous more advanced techniques.

    Metallic Oxides

    Metals are heavy. Their oxides tend to be less so, but even a thin coating can still add significantly to the weight of an object. Some of the oxides commonly used are:

    • Salt (Sodium Chloride) – density 2.16 g/cm3
    • Lead (II) Oxide – density 9.53 g/cm3
    • Barium Carbonate – density 4.29 g/cm3
    • Strontium Carbonate – density 3.5 g/cm3
    • Chromium (III) Oxide – density 5.22 g/cm3
    • Uranium Oxide – density 10.97 g/cm3
    • Vanadium Oxide – density
    • Sodium Oxide – density 2.27 g/cm3
    • Potassium Oxide – density 2.35 g/cm3
    • Calcium Oxide – density 3.34 g/cm3
    • Tin Oxide – added to other glazes to make them more opaque – density 6.95 g/cm3
    • Zirconium Oxide – added to other glazes to make them more opaque – density 5.68 g/cm3
    • Iron Oxide – colorant, added to give color – density 5.24 g/cm3
    • Copper Carbonate – colorant, added to give color – density 4 g/cm3
    • Cobalt Carbonate – colorant, added to give color – density 4.13 g/cm3

    Typically, such compounds would only make up 2-4% of the glaze, though sometimes more is required to achieve the color density that is desired.

    This describes the methodology. Image by ceramicscape, licensed as Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs via flickr.

    Glaze Colors

    I tried to find a glazing color reference chart, but the only ones on offer are not free of copyright restrictions. Recipes and blends are a closely-guarded secrets within the industry. But the below will give you some idea, and clue you in a little more as to the process.

    This shows the methodology being put into practice. The tile on its own to the left is a reference, either unglazed or glazed in a very transparent material. Image by ceramicscape, licensed as Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs via flickr.

    If you really want to view a color chart, Here’s one on Pinterest, and another by Ceramic Glazes of Australia can be found on this site. But since neither of them is specifying the compounds and blends, they are of value only in displaying a sample of the range of color options.

    7 Surface Area

    To estimate how much glaze adds to the weight, we need to know the surface area of the pot and the handles. There are also a couple of crucial decisions to be made along the way. Once we know the surface area, we simply multiply by the depth of the glaze to get the total volume; deduct the % of the glaze that’s a metallic compound, multiply that by the density of glass to get weight, then do the same for the metallic compounds added to the glaze.

    Simple, right?

    The key formula is

      C = 2 × π × r for the circumference of a circle,
      then multiply by the length to get the surface area.

    7.1 First Critical Question: Inside, Outside, or both?

    Outside is for decoration and durability. Insider is for waterproofing and durability. As a general rule, inside won’t have much in the way of fancy colors (except maybe at the very top) and will have a relatively thin glaze (0.5 – 1 mm), while outside glazes may be multiple layers and quite thick – but I’ll get to that in a moment. First, the broader question: inside, outside, or both?

    7.2 Second Critical Question: Full or partial?

    There’s more nuance to this question than might initially appear.

    Interior: I’ve already suggested that below the first couple of inches, the glaze might be treated differently. Why bother coloring deeper than that if no-one’s ever going to see it?

    Exterior: This where artistic style enters the picture in a big way. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a designer / artist yourself; you just need to think about what someone who is might do.

    Maybe only the top half of the pot is colored – cream-colored, maybe. Maybe there’s a pattern in the second band on top of that cream color – charlie-brown zig-zags.

    Or maybe the artist is using the natural brown color of the pot to represent the trunks of palm trees, adding green-glazed leaves at the top and silhouetting the trunks in a dark brownish green.

    Ultimately, you don’t care; you just need the answers to two questions for each band: % coverage.

    7.3 Third Critical Question: Depth.

    Thin glazes are 0.1 – 0.5 mm in thickness. Thick glazes are going to be 2-2.5 mm thickness, maybe up to 4mm in exceptional cases.

    What we’re actually doing with these critical questions is defining the glaze parameters that are to be applied in the actual calculations.

    So, fish or cut bait time: Our example pot has heavy glaze (2mm) on the top section interior, and on the top 2 exterior sections. It has a thin glaze (0.2 mm) over the rest of the pot, both interior and exterior. The handles have an extra-thick glaze (3mm).

    7.4a Exterior, Top section

      Average Radius = (6.2 + 5.65) / 2 = 11.85 / 2 = 5.925 in.
      Circumference = 2 × π × 5.925 = 37.228 in.
      Height = 4 in.
      Surface Area = 37.228 × 4 = 148.912 in^2.
      Depth = 2 mm = 0.07874 in.
      Volume of Glaze = 0.07874 × 148.912 = 11.725 in^3.

    7.4b Exterior, Second section

      Average Radius = (5.65 + 7) / 2 = 12.65 / 2 = 6.325 in.
      Circumference = 2 × π × 6.325 = 39.741 in.
      Height = 3.9 in.
      Surface Area = 39.741 × 3.9 = 154.99 in^2.
      Depth = 2 mm = 0.07874 in.
      Volume of Glaze = 0.07874 × 154.99 = 12.204 in^3.

    7.4c Exterior, Long Section

      Average Radius = (7 + 2.88) / 2 = 9.88 / 2 = 4.94 in.
      Circumference = 2 × π × 4.94 = 31.039 in.
      Height = 14 in.
      Surface Area = 31.039 × 14 = 434.546 in^2.
      Depth = 0.2 mm = 0.007874 in.
      Volume of Glaze = 0.007874 × 434.546 = 3.472 in^3.

    7.4d Exterior, Base

      Radius = 2.88 in.
      Circumference = 2 × π × 2.88 = 18.096 in.
      Height = 1 in.
      Surface Area = 18.096 × 1 = 18.096 in^2.
      Depth = 0.2 mm = 0.007874 in.
      Volume of Glaze = 0.007874 × 18.096 = 0.142 in^3.

    7.4e Interior, Top section

      Average Radius = 5.675 in (from 3g).
      Circumference = 2 × π × 5.675 = 35.657 in.
      Height = 4 in.
      Surface Area = 35.657 × 4 = 142.628 in^2.
      Depth = 2 mm = 0.07874 in.
      Volume of Glaze = 0.07874 × 142.628 = 11.231 in^3.

    7.4f Interior, Second section

      Average Radius = 6.015 in (from 3h).
      Circumference = 2 × π × 6.015 = 37.793 in.
      Height = 3.9 in.
      Surface Area = 37.793 × 3.9 = 147.393 in^2.
      Depth = 0.2 mm = 0.007874 in.
      Volume of Glaze = 0.007874 × 147.393 = 1.161 in^3.

    7.45 Interior, Long section

      Average Radius = 4.355 in (from 3i).
      Circumference = 2 × π × 4.355 = 27.363 in.
      Height = 14 in.
      Surface Area = 27.363 × 14 = 383.082 in^2.
      Depth = 0.2 mm = 0.007874 in.
      Volume of Glaze = 0.007874 × 383.082 = 3.016 in^3.

    7.4h Interior, Base

    This is a little different since it is the base – we need the area of the flat disk. Also, because glaze is applied as a liquid, there tends to be more of it settle at the bottom of the interior, so it may be double the thickness expected.

      Average Radius = 2.08 in (from 3g).
      Surface Area = π × 2.08^2 = 13.592 in^2.
      Depth = 0.4 mm = 0.015748 in.
      Volume of Glaze = 0.015748 × 13.592 = 0.214 in^3.

    7.4i Handles (each)

      Average Radius = 0.34375 in (from 5b).
      Circumference = 2 × π × 0.34375 = 2.16 in.
      Length = 7 in.
      Surface Area = 2.16 × 7 = 15.12 in^2.
      Depth = 3 mm = 0.11811 in.
      Volume of Glaze = 0.11811 × 15.12 = 1.786 in^3.

    Well, that’s not quite correct – there will be no glaze where the handles contact the pot, and the pot should also have no glaze where the surface is interrupted by the handles. But the resulting error is so small that it’s swamped by other factors, like unevenness in the glaze depth. So forget it.

    7.4j Total Surface Area

    This is just a matter of adding up the values you’ve just determined. You may be wondering why you need it? I’ll get to that in a minute.

      148.912 + 154.99 + 434.546 + 18.096 + 142.628 + 147.383 + 383.082 + 13.592
      + (15.12 × 2 handles) = 1473.469 in^2.

    7.4k Total Glaze

    Same deal.

      11.725 + 12.204 + 3.472 + 0.142 + 11.231 + 1.161 + 3.016 + 0.214
      + (1.786 × 2 handles) = 46.737 in^3.

    That’s a significant amount of what is basically glass.

    Except that this isn’t especially useful – we really need to subtotal these values by glaze thickness. And it would be useful to convert them to cubic cm at the same time –

      1 in^3 = 16.3871 cm^3

      2mm: 11.725 + 12.204 + 11.231 = 35.16 in^3 = 576.17 cm^3
      0.2mm: 3.472 + 0.142 + 1.161 + 3.016 = 7.791 in^ = 127.67 cm^3
      0.4mm: 0.214 in^3 = 3.51 cm^3
      3 mm; 2 × 1.786 = 3.572 in^3 = 58.53 cm^3

    7.5 Weight Of Glaze

    To get the weight of the glaze, we have to multiply by the density – which is assumed to equal the density of glass plus the coloring agents.

    Except that it’s not that simple.

    Sidebar: Glass Ain’t Glass

    According to ResearchGate, there are 5 different types of glass, all with different densities. They are Silica Glass (2.20 g/cm3), Soda lime silicate glass (2.49 g/cm3), Sodium borosilicate glass (2.23 g/cm3), Alkali silicate (3.02 g/cm3) and Aluminosilicate glass (2.64 g/cm3). Wikipedia helpfully advises that ‘ordinary window glass’ has a density of 2.5 g/cm3, meaning it’s probably Soda Lime Silicate glass.

    So, to make sense of this, I need to look up each of these and see what they are used for.

    • Silica Glass, also known as fused quartz if derived from melting quartz crystals, is used where high service temperature, very high thermal shock resistance, high chemical durability, very low electrical conductivity, and good ultraviolet transparency are desired.
    • Soda Lime Silicate Glass, as suspected, is what most of us think of when we hear the word glass – used in windows, bottles, etc.
    • Sodium Borosilicate Glass is very resistant to thermal shock, and is used to make reagent bottles, flasks, lighting, electronics, cookware, and so on.
    • Alkali silicate is used for precision optics and lenses.
    • Aluminosilicate glass is resistant to acids, is scratch resistant, and is commonly used to make mobile phone screens and the like.

    So, none of those sound quite what we’re looking for.

      Density of Ceramic – about 6 g/cm3

    From that value alone, the correct answer is “none of the above”.

    7.5 cont.

    6 g per cubic cm is a very interesting number because it’s heavier than almost all the oxides listed earlier.

    But, again, it’s not that simple: The additives (essentially) dissolve into the glass, altering it’s chemical structure – that’s how they achieve colors in the glaze. Some undergo chemical reactions along the way. The bottom line is that the metallic additions add to the density that’s already there.

      As a general rule of thumb, and fir the purposes of the example in particular, I’m going to simplify that list of compounds to a generic one with the density of 4 g/cm3. But I’m also going to assume that there’s a color intensifier of some kind – so that’s a second substance, also of 4 g/cm3, for a total of 8 g/cm3.

      I’m further going to assume 6% is the average concentration – while some of it may be 7.5% or more, most of the time, it’s going to be less than that. But these assumptions can and should be varied when that suits the item being created more – in other words, use the generic rule unless you feel an exception is warranted..

    7.5a Doped Density

    The thick parts of the density are therefore going to be

      6 g /cm3 + 6% × 8 g/cm3 = 6 + 0.48 = 6.48 g / cm^3.

    7.5b Applying Density

    The 2mm and 3mm thickness will be at the higher density, the rest will be at the lower.

      2mm + 3mm volumes = 576.17 + 58.53 = 634.7 cm^3;
      x density 6.48 g / cm^3 = 4112.856 g = 4.113 kg = 9.0676 lb.

      0.2mm + 0.4mm volumes = 127.67 + 3.51 = 131.18 cm^3;
      x density 6 g / cm^3 = 787.08 g = 0.787 kg = 1.735 lb.

      Total weight of glaze = 4.9 kg = 10.8026 lb.

    7.6 Total Weight

    In (6), we determined that the clay of the empty pot weighed 92 lb or 41.73 kg. We can now add the weight of the glaze to get a total of 102.8026 lb (46.63 kg).

    It still holds 16.39 kg (36.134 lb) of liquid when full, for a total of 63.02 kg (138.9366 lb).

    According to ThingsOnAScale.com, 60kg is about the same as 20 standard house bricks, so throw in 1/3 of a small bag of cement – or an extra brick – and you have some idea of the weight of the pot when it’s full – of liquid of water density. Earth is heavier, I suspect.

    8 Value

    It’s really hard to get a solid understanding of how size and multiple firings combine to determine the price of a piece of earthenware. Ultimately, I had to blend my own high-school experience with pottery and hints from multiple sources to devise a system for approximating the cost in terms of the equivalent number of hours of labor by a skilled artisan, and that’s what I am presenting in this section.

    8.1 Surface Area × n
    • If the earthenware is glazed – even if it’s a solid single color – n =1. Otherwise, use n=0.
    • If the earthenware is glazed in a fancy or complex decorative pattern, add 0.5 to 1.5 to n.
    • If the earthenware has a complicated relief sculpture or carving incorporated, add 0.5 to 1.5 to n.
    • if the earthenware has embedded contents – gems, leaves, flowers, whatever – add 0.5 to n.
    • If there is an especially complicated process involved, add 0.5 to n.

    Once you have a total for n, multiply it by the surface area in square inches, as determined in 7.4j above:

      To our example:

      – Glazed, check. n=1. Decorative pattern – fairly minimally, +0.5. Complicated sculpture, no. Embedded contents, no. Complicated process, no. so n=1.5.

      1.5 × Surface Area = 1.5 × 1473.469 in^2 = 2210.2035.

    8.2 Add the external volume in in^3

      2210.2035 + 2727.8 = 4938.0035.

    8.3 Divide by 600.

      4938.0035 / 600 = 8.23.

    8.4 Take the cube root

      8.23 ^ (1/3) = 2.019.

    This is the number of hours of skilled labor involved in the creation and decoration of the object. It assumes that some costs, like firing, will be amortized (spread over) many objects – dozens or even hundreds – and so this will be a relatively trivial contributing factor.

    8.5 Skilled Labor

    Now for the trickiest part of this process –

    (A) what is the going rate for skilled labor at the time of creation of the earthenware? I’m not talking about doctors or archaeologists or rocket scientists, nor the owners of large corporations – but a plumber or electrician should give a meaningful comparison.

    (B) What is the minimum skill necessary to qualify for the description “skilled labor” as used in (A), in your game system? and

    (C) What is the approximate skill of the person who created the specific item in question (plus 1/5 the skill of their supervisor, if they are an apprentice).

    Note that (B) and (C) are pretty much game-system agnostic, because it’s the ratio that we are going to need. But there may need to be tweaks if they have a non-zero base level – see the example below.

    Once A, B, and C are determined, Base Cost = Hours × A × C / B

      I’m going to pluck a date out of the air at random 1985. In 1985, Glaziers earned about US $13.80. Plumbers earned US$15.50. So there’s a roughly 11% error. That said, glaziers are not exactly the same as potters. So either might be correct. I’ll use the $15.50 just to be consistent within the process as I’ve described it.

      B – From a base of -150, in my superhero game system, 11% represents the minimum skill at which one can earn a basic living from that skill, and 21% is an expert (out of 150). Splitting the difference gives 16% as a reasonable threshold.

      C – Another arbitrary number – let’s pick 18%.

      Hours × A × C / B = 2.019 × 15.50 × (18+150) / (16+150)
      = 31.4545 × (168) / (166)
      = $31.67.

    8.6 Profit Margin, Costs, Taxes, etc

    Lastly, we need to adjust that for all the other cost components that go into the final price of an object.

      Profit Margin: +50%
      Administrative costs +25%
      Material costs +10%
      Studio Space +10%
      Kiln +10%
      Kiln operating costs +15%
      Licensing: +5%
      General Overheads +10%

      Federal Taxes /0.65
      State Taxes /0.85
      Sales Taxes +10%

      Totals: 50+25+10+10+10+15+5+10 = +135%

      $31.67 × 2.35 = $74.4245

      $74.4245 / 0.65 / 0.85 × 1.1 = $148.18.

    So there it is – the value of this specific pot, made in this specific time and place.

    But wait – we’re not done yet!

Metal Cups & Plates

The same process, with a few tweaks, can also be used to calculate the price of metal cups and plates.

  • Metal costs more as a material through most of history than earthenware. There’s a reason why “China” is sometimes used as an alternative name for the latter, and why we’re still using it more than 6000 years after unlocking the secrets.
  • But Metal is a lot more robust and resilient, and so lasts a lot longer, so people are happy to pay a bit extra.
  • There are three basic phases to the production of metalware:
    1. Pattern, in which a single master copy is produced;
    2. Pre-production, in which that master copy is transformed into multiple molds;
    3. Replication, in which those molds, in batches, are used to make multiple copies of the master, in metal, at the same time.

    On top of that, there may be a fourth phase, decoration.

  • Being able to produce the item in batches of 4/6/8/10/12/15/16/20/25 amortizes the cost of the first two steps over the whole production run, and that’s assuming that the molds can’t be reused to make still another batch. If you are going to end up with 50 copies of the end product, you can afford to spend 20x as long in those early phases and still make out like bandit.
  • Metal is generally so thin that the internal volume is essentially the same as the external volume. There can be exceptions.
  • The softer the metal, the thicker it will have to be for strength, as a rule of thumb. So Copper will be thicker than Pewter, which will be thicker than Bronze, which will be thicker than Brass, which will be thicker than Iron.
  • This rule of thumb doesn’t generally apply to precious metals, where the expense makes thickness undesirable, so delicacy rather than strength is the usual goal.
  • As a result, for as long as man has employed metalworking, people have been looking for ways to cheat. Plating, which puts a thin layer of precious metal over the top of a base material, for example.
  • Decoration usually consists of an enamel which is then fired to make it glass-like, the mounting of gems, and/or sculpted features. In modern times, you can add powder-coating and electroplating to that list. But they all get worked out the same way as ceramic glaze on earthenware, except for the gems, which should be valued separately.

I can’t think of too much more that you would need to know in order to apply the earthenware valuation techniques to metal objects.

Bonus Extra: Sandstone

I had need to work out how much Sandstone costs in order to value a block of the material.

As an everyday construction material (non-fibrous), it will gain value with age at a fairly glacial rate, I think, but – particularly if it comes from a historically-important or famous building – it would nevertheless appreciate in value. And that was the circumstance I faced – a partial block of sandstone allegedly from the Lighthouse at Alexandria.

There are just enough breadcrumbs of plausibility that the story could be true, so I needed to work out values either way. And a third set for an in-between state in which the story acquired increased plausibility (but still, no proof).

Illustrating The Stone Block

Illustrating the block was fun. Because it had exactly the shape that I wanted, I started with a block of granite, shown in a quarry. After cutting away everything that wasn’t part of the stone block, and rotating it to sit “flat”, I removed all the dark inclusions that make granite what it is, which left only the white parts – with the all-important shading and shadows that defined the shape.

Then I found a flat sheet of sandstone, rotated copies of that face in three dimensions to create the visible faces of the block, cut them to fit the shape defined by the once-was-granite, and assembled them against a background of marble tiles and wood-grain.

Finally, I took the once-granite, made it the top layer, and duplicated it – the second-from the top layer set to addition, and the top layer to multiplication. Next, for each face, I tweaked the opacity of the layers and also the brightness and contrast of the underlying sandstone until each of the faces looked natural, given the lighting.

A few additional tweaks and enhancements to the shadows and shape completed the block itself.

An excerpt from the resulting image, reduced in size to fit on the left, and actual size on the right. At the top is part of the original base image.

The last step was to add a shadow so that it looked solidly grounded (that’s the job of a shadow in artwork and illustration). It took only about twice as long to do as this recounting of the process, and looks unbelievably real. Call it 40 mins from start to finish.

1 Dimensions

Most importantly, in the course of achieving this, I had to decide on the size of the block in order to get the texture. The measurements I came up with were 12.5 × 10.5 × 8.5 inches (note that I didn’t size the tiles to match because I didn’t think of using them as a scale until afterwards).

2 Volume

That gives an approximate volume of 1115.625 in^3. But, to be useful information in value terms, I needed it to be in one of two scales: cubic cm, or cubic ft.

The latter is achieved by dividing by 12^3 = 1728, and gives a volume of 0.6456 ft^3.

3 Density

Those scales weren’t chosen capriciously; those are the scales given for the weight of rock (Bonus Content, the Asset Valuation Worksheet 2.0).

Sandstone is listed as 143.6 lb / ft3.

4 Weight

So,

    Wt = Size × Density = 0.6456 × 143.6 = 92.70816 lb.

Again, this is not the most useful unit, because construction materials are typically sold by the ton, at least in the US.

    1 short ton = 2000 lbs.

Again, converting to the more useful units gives,

    Wt = 92.70816 / 2000 = 0.04635408 tons.

5 The Scales Of Money

Adjusting one era’s valuations to those of another is always a challenge. In a lot of cases, you can use Inflation between years A and B as a guide, and I have a bookmarked site that I use for that very purpose – https://www.in2013dollars.com/.

But there’s a complication – labor pay scales and the time required to complete a task; automation and mechanical tools have had a big impact.

The value of goods needs to be broken into two parts of this is likely to be a relevant factor, and each part adjusted separately. So let’s do that:

    Basic Cost = Reference Value [year A] – Labor Component

    Labor Component adj for labor efficiency, adj for labor pay-scale

    Value [year B] = Basic Cost + Adj Labor Component, then adj for inflation

Take your time and understand the logic and the process, because there are all sorts of other values that can be derived if needed – for example, how much would “X” cost if it were still being extracted by “old” methods but at modern pay-scales?

    Labor Efficiency

    How many more or less man-hours are required to produce a certain amount of “X”?

    Ideally, you want to represent this as a ratio so that you can simply multiply by the Labor Component.

    The more closely the technology of A matches that of B, the more you can ignore the labor efficiency element, setting the ratio to 1.

    Labor Pay-scale

    This can actually require more detective work than most people would expect.

    It’s relatively easy to find out what the modern pay-scale is for a particular job – it can be a lot harder finding out what it was in a particular past date, assuming that the profession even existed.

    Quite often you’ll need to hand-wave an approximate value out of whole cloth and just live with it.

That all means that you should select the reference year (A) price after considering the target year (B) and the social and technological impact of the interval (B to A).

There will be any number of times when you can’t track down the required information anywhere. It’s for this reason that some writers build up collections of Almanacs from every year that they can find.

Short-cutting the process

Of course, if you can find actual prices for “X” on the target date, all of this complication goes away. This is so beneficial that it’s almost always my method of first resort.

But, often, it’s not that easy, and you will need to make adjustments.

6 Back to the Sandstone

So, my target dates were 1938, 1860, and 1852.

I couldn’t find prices for any of these, so I knew I would have to get a bit messier in my approach.

I did track down a price from 1950 in USD: $2613.67 / short ton.

While there would have been some advances between 1950 and 1938, I felt that they would be close enough in technology that I could ignore the labor component and simply apply inflation, so that became my reference year.

The older target dates would be a different story, but once I had one, they would be close enough that I could again step directly from that to the other..

6a Value 1950 -> Value 1938

$100 in 1950 was about $58.51 in 1938 (it’s more commonly expressed the other way around, but this is the more useful version for my purposes).

So $2613.67 [USD 1950] × 0.5851 gives me the 1938 value = $1529.26 [USD 1938] / short ton.

But, because this is the date in which the current campaign is set, I also worked out the value in a whole bunch of other volume units – just in case. I’ll get to those in short order.

6b Value 1938 -> Value 1860: Labor Efficiency

In 1850, they would have had jackhammers and powered saws and the like, and those would also have been around in the late 1930s; and none of it would have existed in 1860.

Or would it? They had steam power, back then. The first steam engines date all the way back to 1712, and James Watt had achieved success with his much more refined version in 1776.

There is a popular myth in some places that steam was less powerful than internal combustion. That wasn’t true at the time; they had something close to Parity. But the internal combustion engine doesn’t have to continually stop for water and coal, and doesn’t need one or more people feeding the fuel to the engine; that was the big advantage over steam, and it proved decisive.

It’s fair to expect that there would have been improvements in materials and engineering, and that these would have at least doubled the efficiency of mechanical tools over the 70-odd years in between, and probably quadrupled it in terms of the man-hours required to extract a ton of rock. When you have a gang like that, you usually need a supervisor; and you need a couple of people fueling and monitoring the steam engine. 4+3=7, so as a rough rule of thumb, I would suggest a factor of 7 in terms of labor efficiency.

Hold up, not so fast – there would normally be two people working with those pieces of heavy equipment, one operating the machine and the other loading the product. So that should be 8 to 2 – or 4 to 1.

6c Value 1938 -> Value 1860: Labor Costs

The base pay rate in 1938 relative to 1860 is x2.5 for unskilled labor, x5 for skilled labor. I defined those rules of thumb back when I was starting the current project. Is mining going to be higher or lower than those, and which one to use?

There’s a lot of nonsense that occasionally gets bandied about concerning how “unskilled” blue-collar workers are relative to white-collar occupations. How “uneducated” they might be is a different story, but I have a high regard for how “skilled” carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and yes, miners (and farmers) actually are. There are exceptions, but that was definitely a factor in setting those general pay scales – some very highly-skilled occupations like jewelers and senior engineers might get 10 or even 20 times the unskilled pay rate, but the doubling at the base level seems closer to accurate to me.

So:

    1938 – x2.5 pay scale, but only 1/4 as many people needed.
    1860 – 2/5 pay scale, but 4 times as many people employed.

6d Value 1938 -> Value 1860: Labor Component

Sometime after 1950, technology improved to the point that the labor costs of extraction become a relatively negligible component. Let’s set that point to 1980. Back in 1860, over a century earlier, the labor costs would have been the dominant component. Somewhere in between, then, the situation would have been one of approximate equity between the two.

    1980-1860 = 120; 1/2 of 120 is 60; 1860+60 = 1920.
    1938-1920 = 18 years. 18 years is 30% of 60 years.
    Rule of thumb result: 1.3:1, non-labor to labor.

    $1529.26 [USD 1938] / short ton in 1938 therefore divides into a labor component of 1529.26 / 2.3 = $664.90, and a non-labor component of $1529.26 – 664.90 = $864.36.

6e Value 1938 -> Value 1860: Adjust Labor Component

Apply the conversion rate determined earlier:

    $664.90 [USD 1938] × 2/5 × 4 = $1063.84 [USD 1860, 1938 dollars]

    Add the non-labor component back in: $1063.84 + $864.36 = $1928.20.

6f Value 1938 -> Value 1860: Inflation

Another value that I took careful note of is the effect of inflation from 1860 to 1938 – x1.7595.

    $1928.20 [USD 1860 in 1938 dollars] / 1.7595 = $1095.88 [USD 1860].

So that is the price of Sandstone per short ton in 1860, as best as I can estimate it.

6g Value 1860 -> Value 1852

There won’t be much change in the labor component over such a short range. Simply apply inflation. Of course, that means I need to know what the inflation was, from 1852 to 1860.

Plugging the numbers into the website I linked to earlier, I get:

    $100 in 1860 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $92.77 in 1852

That’s a ratio of 0.9277 – so multiply the 1860 price by that to get the 1852 price:

    $1095.88 [USD 1860] = $1095.88 × 0.9277 = $1016.65 [USD 1852] per short ton.

    One-stop conversion

    You can carry this one step further and work out the overall conversion factor to go from one date to another:

    The procedure is simple: Divide a base value (I’ve used $1000) by the reference price and multiply it by the final price for each target date.

    $1000 [USD 1950]
    = $585.10 [USD 1938]
    = $419.29 [USD 1860]
    = $388.974 [USD 1852].

    The problem with doing so is that you can forget that these values are specifically relevant to sandstone only. Other industries will have different labor components, and hence be impacted differently. At best, this is an approximation.

6h Sandstone Prices

What’s generally going to be more useful is a bunch of prices by different weights.

    USD 1950 $2613.67 / sht ton
    = USD 1938 $1529.26 / us ton = USD 1860 $1095.88 / us ton = USD 1852 $1016.65 / us ton
    = USD 1938 $829.31 / m^3 = USD 1860 $594.29 / m^3 = USD 1852 $551.32 / m^3
    = USD 1938 $23.4834 / ft^3 = USD 1860 $16.8284 / ft^3 = USD 1852 $15.6117 / ft^3
    = USD 1938 $1.686 / kg = USD 1860 $1.2082 / kg = USD 1852 $1.12085 / kg
    = USD 1938 $0.76463 / lb = USD 1860 $0.54794 / lb = USD 1852 $0.508325 / lb

Sidebar: A brief notation about nomenclature

You will have noticed that I am very careful to specify exact “units” when it comes to dollar valuations. I don’t know of a faster expressway to confusion than simply labeling everything $, on the presumption that the text will provide the context needed to understand which $ you’re talking about.

It gets even more confusing if you are also converting from one form of $ to another – from US currency to Australian dollars, for example. That’s actually a really bad example, to be honest, because in 1966, we shifted from Australian Pounds (and shillings and pence) to a decimal dollar. Just to add one more layer of confusion.

Peridot

I’ve written before about the collapse in the semi-precious stones market – essentially, a couple of speculators (independently, but at the same time) took it upon themselves to flood the market with Tiger-Eyes, then selling at about $6 a carat ($11,200 / lb). Predictably, the market collapsed (down to $0.25 / lb) – and is only now starting to recover, after adjusting for inflation. That process is not yet complete, which is to say that in the commodities directly affected, the inflation-corrected value is not yet back to what it was before this incident.

ALL the semi-precious stones were affected to some degree. Those which suffered the least didn’t fall in value as far, but their price recovery has been just as slow.

Which brings me to Olivine and Peridot.

Olivine

Olivine is what gets found in the wild. When they are cut into gemstones, they are known as Peridot. Olivine/Peridot are found all over the place – Pakistan, China, Africa, Europe, and the US to name just a few locations. The color ranges from a milky green to yellow to yellow-green to an emerald-green.

The above image is a composite of several photos from Wikimedia Commons: Peridot2.jpg by Azuncha, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License; Peridot_-_Mineral_Cabinet_(Arppeanum)_-_DSC05499.jpg, a photograph by Daderot, taken of an exhibit in the Arppeanum, Helsinki, and dedicated to the public domain under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication License; Chryzolit_(perydot,_oliwin)_-_Kohestan,_Pakistan..jpg, a photograph by Elade53, who has released it into the public domain; Forsterite-Olivine-es21a.jpg, photographed by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License; Forsterite-Olivine-tmu14d.jpg, photography by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License; and two excerpts from Olivine-Hawaii.jpg, photographed by Alain COUETTE and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 UnportedLicense.
As required by the licenses, this compound image is also licensed under that license and can be used or adapted provided the attributions remain intact, and any resulting image is also licensed in this way. Between them, they give a fair representation of the color range of Olivine. Note that relative sizes have been adjusted to be roughly identical (except in the case of the two excerpts).

Peridot

In general, Peridot are yellow-green in color when cut. Below, I have compiled examples of 4 popular cuts for the gemstones, and one final example in which a relief has been carved onto the blank face of the gemstone.

The image above is a composite of four images from Wikimedia Commons. The Emerald-cut image, Gemperidot.jpg, was photographed by Humanfeather (aka Michelle Jo) and released into the public domain; the Oval-cut and Teardrop-cut gemstones are from Peridot-China.jpg, photography by DonGuennie (G-Empire The World Of Gems) (German site) and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 InternationalLicense; the diamond-cut image PB030020_peridote.jpg was photographed by Ronald Werner and also licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License; and the Peridot_ring_stone_MET_DP141725.jpg image, with it’s Roman carving (which dates from 100BC to 200 AD) was donated to Wikimedia Commons by the Metropolitan Museum Of Art (New York City, USA) as part of a project by the Museum, Licensed to the public domain under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. It is 2.2 cm (7/8 in) in length, and was donated to the Museum by John Taylor Johnston in 1881. It should be noted that the relative sizes of these gemstones are not going to be the same as depicted – in fact, I have deliberately attempted to resize them to approximately the same dimensions.
Because of the terms of the Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, this compound image is also bound by that license and can be used or adapted provided the attributions remain intact, and any resulting image is also licensed in this way.

One more Historical anecdote

Peridot has often been mistaken for emeralds, even to the point where a royal scepter – I forget which country it was – that was supposedly decorated with priceless emeralds was discovered, more than a century after the fact, to in be actually encrusted with Peridot (the scepter was not retired, but it has been used rather less frequently, since).

Valuing Olivine

The principle is simple: Volume to Weight to Cut to Base Value, factor in Quality to get Final Value, then convert to whatever units you require.

In practice, it’s a little more complicated. I covered a lot of the relevant ground in Part II of this series.

1 Image

To start with, you need an image of the collection (there’s never just one) to be valued. You can either gather together images of various pieces of Olivine and compile them into a set (which is what I did) or you can grab a sheet of paper and draw a lot of rough ovals and triangles and shapes, something like this (you don’t have to use a green pen or pencil, but it adds to the presentability of the image):

Next, grab a highlighter (preferably green) and without overthinking it, crudely sketch in a 3rd dimension to indicate depth, like so:

A lot of Olivine are rounded, so where the depth looks like it would be suitable, add a rounded end, like this:

You don’t have to then color in the gems, but it does make it more visually clear:

Finally, number them. Oh, and some sort of a scale will be handy.

You’ll notice that I’ve made NO effort to be neat and precise. Quick and dirty is the way to go.

2 List

Next, you make a list (leaving a few lines of space at the top of the page), with one line for each numbered example. Next to it, you write one of several possible values (leave lots of room for further info): Sq, Co, Eg, Cy, Py..

  • Sq = square or rectangular.
  • Co = cone-shaped
  • Eg = Egg shaped. A lot of them should fit. This includes spherical ones.
  • Cy = Cylinder.
  • Py = pyramid-shaped. Or wedge shaped.

At the top of the page, in that black space, list the formulas for the volume of that shape:

  • Sq = a b c.
  • Co = π a b^2 / 6
  • Eg = 4 π a b c / 24
  • Cy = π a b c / 4
  • Py = a B C / 4

You may note that some of these aren’t the same as you were taught in maths class. ‘a’ is always the longest dimension; b is the across, and c is the depth. In rounded shapes, these are diameters, not radii, so they have to be halved to get the radius. That halving is built into these formulas.

The other note is the capitals for Pyramid – they signify the length and height of the triangle at the base. Which is another way of saying the usual b and c, generally.

3 Long Axis

With a soft ruler of some kind (as used by dressmakers) the next step is to fill out the values for a, b, and c for each of the examples, using the scale given:

    1 cy 3.5
    2 cy 3.4
    3 eg 3.8



    19 sq 2.4
    20 cy 3

4 Across Axis

After that, you measure the b dimension and add that to your list:

    1 cy 3.5 1.2
    2 cy 3.4 1.5
    3 eg 3.8 1.4



    19 sq 2.4 2.5
    20 cy 3 1.2

5 Depth

Next, you estimate the c dimension (based on the b dimension that you just measured to get your 5th entry:

    1 cy 3.5 1.2 0.4
    2 cy 3.4 1.5 0.25
    3 eg 3.8 1.4 0.6



    19 sq 2.4 2.5 0.8
    20 cy 3 1.2 0.6

6 Volume

Using the formulas at the top of your page, now work out the volumes and write them down. I recommend doing them by groups – all the “Sq” entries, then any Co, and so on.

    1 cy 3.5 1.2 0.4 1.32
    2 cy 3.4 1.5 0.25 1.00
    3 eg 3.8 1.4 0.6 1.671



    19 sq 2.4 2.5 0.8 4.8
    20 cy 3 1.2 0.6 1.6965

7 Weight

Next, you need to work out a conversion to the units of Peridot density: Density 3.275 g/cm3.

Because the scale was in cm, our volumes are already in cubic cm, so no conversion is necessary. But if you’ve used a quarter-inch as your scale, it may not look all that different, but the numbers will.

Multiply the volume by the adjustment and then by the density to get a weight in grams, then multiply that by 5 to get carats, and write it down:

    1 cy 3.5 1.2 0.4 1.32 21.615
    2 cy 3.4 1.5 0.25 1.00 16.375
    3 eg 3.8 1.4 0.6 1.671 27.35



    19 sq 2.4 2.5 0.8 4.8 78.6
    20 cy 3 1.2 0.6 1.6965 27.78

8 Quality Rating

This is easier with a photo than with a sketch, but it can be done.

Rate the quality of the gemstone from 0.5 to 5, where higher is better and write it down.

With a photo, look for dark inclusions – spots of non-gem. If there are none, it’s high-quality; if there are lots, it’s not.

With a sketch, look for pale areas, where your quick-and-dirty coloring job was a little too rough.

Or just roll randomly.

  • d10 /2 works…
  • …but I would prefer to use (d6+d5-1)/2 because the average will have a higher probability.
  • I would also contemplate (d3+d4+d5-2)/2, which gives a reasonable bell curve centered on the average.
9 Weight Adjustment

If you want to get technical, you should now adjust the weight (but not the number of carats) to account for the inclusions. The formula is:

    Added weight = (0.5 / quality) × volume × 162.5 × 453.6 / 28317

    = (0.5 / quality) × volume × 2.6

But this is not really necessary.

10 Cut Size

Next, we convert the uncut gem size to the size of the cut gemstone.

There are two ways of doing this: by calculation, or by guesstimate.

    Cut Size = dens × ({1 / [(6-quality) × volume / 10] – 0.2} × 0.6)+0.2

I expect most GMs to use the guesstimate approach.

    0.5 = 20%
    1 = 27%
    1.5 = 33.3%
    2 = 40%
    2.5 = 47%
    3 = 53.3%
    3.5 = 60%
    4 = 67%
    4.5 = 73.3%
    5 = 80%

If you’ve assigned quality values that aren’t an even 0.5 , use the following:

    + 0.1 = +4/3 of a %

11 Value, [USD 2023]

$ Price 1 ct = 50 + (quality × 6)

Apply the size^2 rule

So, a quality 2 gemstone of estimated (cut) size 3.2 carats would have a value of $634.88 [USD 2024].

12 Currency Unit Conversion

Of course, for my purposes, I needed 1860 and 1938 values:

    1860 = 2023 x1.1 / 500
    1938 = 1860 × 46.6123

13 Cutting Costs

But that’s how much they will be worth when cut. You really need to take into account the cost of that cutting.

In 1938, a skilled gem-cutter would earn $15 / hour, and a gem would take 1 + (6-quality) / 3 hours to cut. I haven’t looked up what the modern-day pay-scale would be, but USD $80 an hour would not surprise me, and neither would USD$240 an hour.

14 Uncut

But that’s still all theoretical. All sorts of things can go wrong with the cutting – it’s an art form as much as a science. A really skilled gemsmith might save half the losses, resulting in a larger cut stone; an unskilled craftsman might double them.

Because of these unknowns, uncut gems are (basically) worth about 1/10th the estimated cut value. So the uncut Olivine that could become a Peridot worth $634.88 [USD 2023] would have an uncut value of $63.45.

Other types of semi-precious stone

Using the information provided in earlier parts of the series, this technique can be applied to most other forms of semi-precious stone.

There are a few exceptions – Moonstone is an obvious one.

Peridot

Valuing Peridot is much simpler – most of the time. You no longer need to estimate the cut size, you already know it – but you may need to calculate it in the usual way (measuring, calculating volume, getting weight, converting to carats). And you will need to rate the quality.

Once you have that size and quality assessment, just plug the answers into the calculations shown above.

That’s a wrap

In the next one of these: Ivory and Jade! After that, I’m not sure what there is left to cover in any part VI, but you can be sure that if anything presents itself, I’ll be right on it.

Actually – now that I think about it – high-tech and magic goodies still aren’t covered… And then there’s rare books… and maybe furniture, both fancy and crude (but old)…

Comments (4)

AI Miseducation and Rehabilitation


This image composites a modified “HAL” from 2001 based on artificial-intelligence-155161.png (Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay) with a page of error alerts (Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay) (also modified) and some word balloons by Mike.

Although I have outlined this post in the usual manner, something about the structure doesn’t feel quite right, as though at some point, my narrative is going to zig when my plan calls for it to zag. If there appears to be the occasional discontinuity in the discussion, that’s what’s caused it.

No AI.-generated content was used in the creation of this article, to the best of my knowledge.

Artificial Intelligence is one of the “hot new buzzwords” of the decade, starting in 2023 and enduring for who knows how long. It’s a term that has become loaded with controversy.

It’s long been a staple of science fiction, and the current explosive ubiquity makes it one of the more successful predictions of that genre – though, no doubt, the details are different to those forecasts.

Here’s a fact: Any near-future game is going to have to address the impact of AI on the in-game society. Another: Any far-future game is going to contain a society that has passed through that stage in their evolution.

Or will they?

A point of difference

It first has to be said that today’s AIs resemble those of science fiction about as closely as a bacterium resembles the family cat. This article is about the journey from one to the other and some of the pitfalls along the way that will have to be navigated.

Each generation of game will therefore have a different take on just what an AI was, and what it could do, or some extrapolation of those answers into a different-era context. Every few years, our perception of what an AI will look like – past. contemporary, or future, changes.

    Old Games & Settings – Adapt, Diverge, or Create Anew

    Which (once again and not for the last time) raises the question of what to do with those games that contain an out-of-date set of concepts. Ultimately, there are only three choices – you can either update the concept, you can leave the concept as is, or you can attempt to prognosticate based on current or past thinking in an attempt to synthesize a coherent whole.

      Adapt

      Retroactively changing the content of the game to be more in tune with current thinking is the first option. The closer to contemporaneous the game design was, the smaller the leap required.

      Earlier, I suggested a Base of five years, but that might be too slow. I could mount some convincing arguments in favor of three years. Both are generalizations; progress usually occurs in fits and starts, not slow and steady. The question is, what is the minimum time-span necessary to ensure that each interval into the past yields a different interpretation of just what an AI is and what it can do, and how those things will extrapolate into the future?

      You also need to factor in progress in terms of game design, because that also changes with time. Perhaps the change isn’t so much in the concept of an AI between one time-period and the one just prior, perhaps it’s the way that it translates into game mechanics.

      Within a span of three Base intervals, I would expect relatively easy adaption. Every Base interval further back and this becomes more difficult, and adapt becomes less of a satisfactory approach. If the Base Interval is three years, that’s 9 years back that can reasonably be adapted to accommodate developments since publication; beyond that marker, it becomes increasingly difficult to do and do well.

      Diverge

      Which brings us to the second strategy – the decision that history and technology within the game will diverge from reality in order to stay just the way they are, in-game, even if that in-game reality has been disproven by more recent science.

      People who play classic Traveller, for example, are largely stuck with a 1950s view of computers as big and bulky and incredibly limited. There have always been discussions amongst such groups about why and how this has remained the case, searching for some meta-explanation for why the obvious and remarkable progress of the decades since is not reflected in the computers in-game. (My preferred explanation comes from Heinlein – computers are as susceptible to Jump Shock as humans are, and nothing less robust can reliably survive the experience unless powered down. So planetary computers might be supercomputers and laptops and PCs and networks and everything more modern and shiny, but starships are stuck aiming to satisfy a completely different design priority, one which acts to keep the computers big and stupid).

      The more that a concept of computers and AI are embedded within the game setting, the more likely it is that Diverge has to be the answer; you can’t change too much without undermining that basic pillar of the game universe. It’s like changing the nature of magic in D&D – it can be done, but it’s not an exercise for the faint-hearted..

      Create Anew

      In all those instances where neither Adapt nor Diverge are the preferred solution, creativity can be the best answer. This goes beyond some in-game explanation for why things are the way they are; it’s actively trying to reinterpret the projections of the past into a more contemporaneous perspective.

      It can be a heck of a lot of fun, if you like that sort of thing, and a lot of people do.

      Compare and contrast the “AI” and computer technology of The Mote In Gods Eye with that of it’s sequel, which parallel the real-world developments in such technology. Since the two novels are set a reasonable span of time apart from each other, this adds tot he credibility of both settings. Arguably, the first had the harder job of explaining why the technology was so “primitive”; the author’s answer was Jump Shock again.

      Consistency in a broader narrative

      At one point, it was fashionable to adopt one answer for all technologies and sciences. Inconsistency of approach was deemed “bad” and to be avoided, never mind if one approach was optimum for one science and not others.

      Thankfully, that era has been put to rest, and ‘the best answer for the game’ is now the driving imperative, as perhaps it always should have been. It’s relatively easy to adapt modern extra-planetary discoveries and stellar evolution theories to most sci-fi settings, and by doing so quite blatantly, you can justify leaving other areas unchanged as part of the “look and feel” of the genre.

    The Genre Pyramid

    At this point, I should wheel out one of the classic lines of thought here at Campaign Mastery, the Genre Pyramid (usually called other things, like “The Hierarchy of game elements). This is all about what design and conceptual imperative dictates what your content should be.

    There have been a couple of versions of this over the years; the most recent was in Inherent, Relative, and Personal Modifiers (August 2023).

    The same pyramid also appeared in Simulated Unreality: Game Physics Tribulations (August 2020).

    Other posts that reference the concept have included Into Each Chaos, A Little Order Must Fall: Coping With Randomness (March 2019); and

    The Language Of Magic: A Sense of Wonder for the Feb 2019 Blog Carnival (February 2019), which first introduced the version of the pyramid presented in all of the above posts,

    A text-only version appeared in The Blind Enforcer: The Reflex Application Of Rules (April 2014),

    and something similar was presented in Blat! Zot! Pow! The Rules Of Genre In RPGs (Jan 2011), part of a series on the Pulp Genre, where it was called “The Hierarchy Of Dominance”.

    Each layers’ demands supersede or overrule those lower on the pyramid. From the bottom up, those layers are (excerpted from Simulated Unreality):

     

    1. Official Rules: – The official rules that come in the game system are the foundations at the bottom of the pyramid.
    2. House Rules: – Because house rules explicitly supersede official game rules, they have to sit above that foundation in the pyramid.
    3. Simulation: – This is the level of Game Physics within the game world, and the subject of today’s discussion. Because the rules (house and official) are an imperfect codification of the game physics, if there is ever a conflict between what the rules say should happen and what the principles that have been established say should happen, it’s the official rules that get overruled – so the Simulation layer has to sit above the rules layers. This is what makes it possible to translate a campaign from one game system into another. The game physics is a metagame level of in-game ‘reality’ – the characters might understand them in a completely different way to the comprehension of the GM and players, especially in a ‘hyper-realistic’ genre.
    4. Genre: – There are several different places in the hierarchy where Genre can fit, and that’s at the heart of today’s subject, too. But because the one set of rules can be a broad church providing for multiple genres, the specifics of one particular genre override generic rules and even game physics.
    5. Plot: – plot refers to the decisions made in-game by PCs and NPCs within the current adventure; it’s the story of that adventure. Since an adventure can contain out-of-genre elements and influences, this level dominates the genre if a ruling can be justified in terms of the needs of the current adventure.
    6. Campaign: – This level contains anything that persists beyond this one adventure. That includes characters and characterizations (as exemplified by the PCs, quite specifically) and any narrative that defines or displays the way the game world works – the style and look-and-feel of the game environment. There are some who would argue that the Plot layer should supersede the Campaign layer.
    7. Gameplay & Practicality: – The uppermost level of the pyramid recognizes that a rule can be technically correct but unplayable – see, for example, My Biggest Mistakes: The Woes Of Piety & Magic for concrete proof of this fact. No matter what anything else says, the needs of practical gameplay are the ultimate censor and trump card. At least, according to the official pyramid.
    8. Fun: – GMs are in the business of entertaining through creativity, narrative, plot, and stimulated interaction between characters and the players who “voice” them. Fun isn’t given a level of the pyramid because it functions like the walls and capstone. If you have two equally-balanced choices, the most ‘fun’ choice should always win. If you have a technically-correct and/or practical answer to any question that is boring as heck, it should lose to a less correct, less-practical answer that happens to be more fun.

     

    Sequence Of Consideration

    I want to point out something that I don’t think has been mentioned in all those previous appearances: try not to work up; try to work down, at least initially.

    Why? Because if you start at the bottom and consider the official mechanics first, if that should be overridden by a higher element, you’ve wasted time.

    If you start at the top, you can stop when one of the considerations trumps those below and proceed directly to a solution to that particular problem.

    1. What will be the most fun? Do you invoke the Rule Of Cool?
    2. Does practicality demand an alternative answer?
    3. Does ‘what’s best for the campaign’ require a non-standard answer?
    4. Do the needs of the plot mandate a different answer in this particular case?
    5. Does the Genre suggest that a particular non-standard decision is required?
    6. Does ‘Realism’ (within the context of the campaign in general need to override the rules?
    7. Are there any specific House Rules that apply?
    8. What are the official rules (if any)?

    Make no mistake, there will be times when bottom-up is more useful, especially in game prep and out-of-play moments, because that yields a more comprehensive consideration of the issues, and may lead to the formulation of new House Rules specifically to deal with the situation. But in-play when seconds count, faster is better.

    Application to this situation

    You have a choice – a, b, c, or d (which is some hybrid approach). The answer doesn’t need to be consistent over the whole of knowledge, or of science or engineering, or even within this particular science; you can break it into smaller, more specific as you see fit.

    Working top-down – 8. fun is ephemeral and inconsistent. The needs of fun may override your decision now, but it’s an unreliable prognostication tool.

    7. Practicality – because we aren’t talking rules, this has no impact.

    6. Campaign – which choice is best for this particular campaign? – answering that question will give you your answer most of the time.

    5. Plot – because we aren’t talking about a specific adventure, this usually has no impact. However, if the entire question has arisen because of adventure content, then this very much becomes relevant.

    4. Genre – 90% of the remaining answers can be derived from understanding the genre that your campaign is representing.

    3. Simulation – but this whole question is aimed at deciding whether or not to integrate post-publication changes to the background and any relevant skills and technology. Before you can answer “does this approach more closely simulate game reality” you need to have defined or understood what that reality is. So this level is unanswerable.

    2. House Rules – you may have decided on a general philosophy regarding this issue; that is a House Rule, whether you realized that or not. Having dealt with any aspects of the question that could compel an exception to that general rule, if you get this far, then apply that general rule to decide whether or not to modify –

    1. Official Material – normally, this points to rules, but in this case it would refer to published background and setting. If you get this far without a change being mandated, then the correct answer has to be b, Diverge.

All AI is not alike

A necessary foundation for such decisions is knowing what form the AI is taking – and that’s a matter of correlating the state of the art with anticipated in-game future development.

I have broken the evolution of AI into 6 major stages (and one sub-stage), starting from the simple simulated conversationalist, proceeding through limited simulations of reality to expert systems, to Heuristic Learning Systems, to Chatbots, to Directed Generative AI (where we are right now) to True AI.

In this section, I’m going to look at each of them, how they are used, and what they are/have been useful for – a sequence of milestones, if you will. In terms of the applications, this list is far from exhaustive – it’s a set of selected highlights (and some low-lights). I intend to do my best to sidestep (at this point) the real question of whether or not it’s possible to go from Stage IV (now) to Stage V (True AI) – this is all context for examining that question.

Because there are 21 sub-sections (more after writing the content), I’ll need to be fairly brief, or we’ll be here all day!

    Stage I: Simulated Conversationalist

    The earliest attempts at simulating a person weren’t terribly effective. All they could do was ask open-ended questions (even if it had asked that question before), extract keywords, and use those words in another open-ended question (even if that showed that it didn’t ‘understand’ the words themselves.

    The Turing Test

    These gave rise to the Turing test of AI: Put the person in a room with a computer monitor and keyboard and have them interact with the AI., or with a real person – they aren’t to be told which. When the human can no longer tell whether or not he’s talking to a person or a machine, it has passed the Turing Test.

    Some experiments along these lines showed the importance of response times and speeds. If whole paragraphs materialized seconds after you wrote something, it damages the ‘humanity’ of the response. If individual characters appear at too regular a pace, that too is not human. To succeed, the computer couldn’t generate and parse text any better than a human could. The machine needed to hesitate, and to exhibit other human flaws – or it had no chance of coming off human.

    Stage Ia: Simulations Of Reality

    At the same time, some other simulations of reality were bearing fruit. These weren’t trying to be intelligent, they were seeking to apply machine capabilities to real-world problems, which they solved, sometimes by trying every logical possibility in succession, such as the 4-color problem.

    Use in Science

    In brief: A computer can be programmed to try every alternative solution in a simulation. Problems like the four-color problem (are four colors enough to color any political map regardless of its shape and the arrangement of the states within) that have resisted a theoretical solution, sometimes for decades, can be solved the hard way.

    These get us answers to problems we don’t have any other way to solve, without telling us why this is the answer. They also enable us to test the solutions to problems that are simply too large and convoluted for direct solutions, such as complex orbital mechanics, impact modeling, solar system formation, weather pattern interactions, and so on.

    Use in Engineering

    Complex interactions between engineering structures and the environment, especially movements of air and soil, are another area in which simulations have revealed problems and solutions that would have taken decades to calculate by hand – by which time the structures in question would long since have failed under the stresses involved. In fact, some did so fail, and the modeling was only used after the fact to understand why.

    The ultimate example of that would be the collapse of the twin towers – no-one expected that to happen. Only after the event were models created that matched the end result, explaining why it had occurred – and how to modify future designs to prevent it.

    Most people would argue that this is not AI by any stretch of the imagination, and they would be correct. But it is a way-point to the next category of AI.

    Stage II: Expert Systems

    In an expert system, you present the system with data on a particular complex relationship and let it search for correlations. You can start by engineering into the system the state of the art in human knowledge, but the systems are arguably more powerful and effective starting from scratch and not being biased by what we think we know.

    In the learning phase, the expert system deduces ‘rules’ based on the correlations that it observes and continues to refine those rules as it progresses until they present a match to the actual end results provided. At any point, the system can be interrogated as to what the rule was that yielded a particular evaluation, and that rule can either be marked as ‘relevant’ or ‘ignore,’ when it was sheer coincidence for example. As it learns, it becomes better at doing this one expert task than any human.

    In the testing phase, current cases and situations are presented to the system, which uses the rules that it has formulated to predict the outcome. Initially, these are just used to test the system, and no action is taken based on the prediction.

    Finally, in the operational phase, the predictions are used to set policies or guide research.

    Use In Research

    The key point in the research value of Expert Systems is that ability to observe corollaries and formulate them into rules that can be interrogated and studied, sometimes revealing relationships between outcomes and causal factors that had never occurred to us.

    Use in Business and Society

    They are often used to determine insurance risks and investment strategies. For example, an Expert System might determine that whatever changes take place in the valuation of Stock A, a corresponding change takes place in Stock B some brief period of time later. Evaluation: both are subject to the same market factors, but at different velocities (I think that’s the correct term). Therefore, movements in the value of Stock A can be used to guide investors in their buy/sell positions with regard to Stock B. Of course, the expert systems then have to factor in what all the other expert systems are telling people to do, and so on; the search for refinements is never-ending in such a tail-chasing exercise.

    They have been used to analyze mortgage risks, identify fraudulent transactions, and create artwork.

    The X-Band Antenna of the ST5 Satellites; Public Domain image by NASA, via Wikipedia Commons.

    Use in Design

    I brought this antenna design to reader’s attention in The Artificial Mind: Z-3 Campaign Canon (August 2022).

    NASA needed an unusual antenna design for their 2006 Space Technology 5 (ST5) mission. The designers determined what radiation pattern would be ideal for their needs, [and that no existing design, including their own best efforts, would meet those needs] and then turned the actual design over to a piece of software that used fractal patterns and evolution of designs to generate millions of variations on design until it matched the requirements. In the process, it evolved its own rules for antenna design, defining an evolutionarily “better” design as one that more closely matched requirements.

    The resulting shape (shown to the right) is bizarre, to say the least; and the engineers had no idea why this peculiar shape would produce the required electromagnetic radiation profile, or even if it would do so in real life. [Nor could analyzing the AI’s “design methodology” explain it; it had observed a correlation and created a rule, but with no understanding of why that rule worked].

    So they built one, and found that it worked perfectly – but they were still no closer to understanding < em>why it worked.

    Deep Blue

      Deep Blue was a chess-playing expert system run on a unique purpose-built IBM supercomputer. It was the first computer to win a game, and the first to win a match, against a reigning world champion under regular time controls.

      — Wikipedia, Deep Blue

    It made headlines around the world when Deep Blue defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. This was, arguably, the first time that an expert system received mainstream press attention.

    Stage III: Heuristic Learning Systems

    Heuristic Systems learn in a similar fashion to an expert system, but are designed to accept approximately correct answers. Functions that achieve this are called Heuristic Functions, and they can reach conclusions far faster than non-heuristic functions.

    The objective of a heuristic is to produce a solution in a reasonable time frame that is good enough for solving the problem at hand. They generalize, in other words.

    Use in Cybersecurity

    While there are lots of applications, most of which no-one pays much attention to outside of the specialist fields affected, there’s one area where Heuristic Learning systems impact almost all of us – Cybersecurity.

      Antivirus software often uses heuristic rules for detecting viruses and other forms of malware. Heuristic scanning looks for code and/or behavioral patterns common to a class or family of viruses, with different sets of rules for different viruses. If a file or executing process is found to contain matching code patterns and/or to be performing that set of activities, then the scanner infers that the file is infected.

      …Heuristic scanning has the potential to detect future viruses without requiring the virus to be first detected somewhere else, submitted to the virus scanner developer, analyzed, and a detection update for the scanner provided to the scanner’s users.

      — Wikipedia, Heuristic (computer science)

    Use in Worms and Viruses

    It’s an arms race. Heuristics have also been used to create self-evolving Computer worms and viruses, sometimes described as Polymorphic. These change structure and internal content to evade the simpler string-matching detection methods commonly in place as a first line of protection against such cyberattacks.

    Every few years, a new and more potent attack is revealed, and for a few days or weeks everyone panics (with good reason). The antivirus community contains some of the smartest people on the planet, and collaboration and cooperation levels are high at such times, so solutions are often swift – perhaps initial ones will be basic, but they will rapidly improve.

    It should be noted that this evolution of malware has gone very quiet since the last incident (in November 2019), which few would even have noted. Is that because the perpetrators have shifted focus to data theft attacks and ransomware? Is it related to Covid? I don’t know. But such an obvious gap after a sustained flurry of activity over many years suggests that we may be due for another.

    Stage IV: Vocal Interfaces & Chatbots

    The first software to make a real stab at vocal interface was Dragon Naturally Speaking. It was clunky, it had to be trained in the user’s specific vocal patterns, but it pointed to a future not unlike that depicted in many sci-fi movies and TV shows in which vocal interfaces dominated, generally replacing the keyboard and mouse. The actual technical term is “Voice User Interface”.

    At the heart of all such systems is speech recognition – a computer being able to understand what a human has said. Such systems have only gotten better over the years, and these days we have Siri, Google, and Alexa.

    These have evolved to the point where they no longer need training; their inbuilt expert “sub-systems” now parse most users correctly. Early examples were a running joke, especially in cars and GPS systems, but they have been getting better every year.

      Parallel Development

      In parallel with this, Speech synthesis has also been evolving from primitive beginnings to now sounding almost natural. These basically take text output from a computer and read it to you.

      There’s been something of the sort buried away in multiple versions of the Windows Operating system, for example.

      Conversationalist

      Putting the two together, and you and a computer can now have a heart-to-heart conversation. Initially, it was easy to tell that there was a machine at the other end of the phone line, but it’s becoming harder as the software improves.

      Problem-solving Chatbots

      A third parallel evolution has been the chatbot. You can trace the current generation of chatbots back to the original FAQ text file, in my opinion. These were slowly replaced with web-page versions where you could click on or select a question and be taken to a relevant information page.

      These expanded to entire databases filled with hundreds, thousands, and then millions of answers to common and uncommon queries. Arguably, the Microsoft database is the largest and leading example, now grown large enough that you can sometimes need a new FAQ. to help you find the information you’re looking for.

      These were followed by the first chatbots, where you typed a message to the computer and it attempted to decipher it and send you to the right information or web page. At first, these were nothing but frustrating; using the wrong keyword often sent you to the incorrect information but they have become steadily more sophisticated.

      A variation emerged in the form of auto-complete, which offers suggestions for the word that you are typing in a mobile phone or search window.

      It was when these systems were integrated that their true potential emerged.

    This graphic representation of an AI is another Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay. I did nothing but crop and resize it.

    Use in Telephone Reception / Customer Service

    It’s quite common these days to get an automated menu of options when you telephone a large, or even a medium-sized, institution. Early versions used pre-recorded options which you selected using the telephone touch-pad, but more recent advances use speech recognition.

    How effective they are is uncertain; some have said that 70% of problems / queries can now be resolved without any human intervention; others say 80% or 90%.

    Whatever the true number, the certainty is that it will only go up as this suite of technologies improves further.

    Use in Automatic Cold Calls

    A downside is that it is now possible for telephone contact to be initiated by the computer, using an autodialer to spam potential customers. Usually, at the moment, the computer only recognizes that it has reached a person, and switches the call through to a human operator, and it becomes possible to recognize the situation and hang up before the connection is made; a very common variation simply logs that there is a person at the other end of the line and places the phone number on a queue for the human to call back.

    As these systems improve, it is virtually certain that some preliminary data will be gathered by an automated system pretending to be a person, with the call then transferred to a human to complete the process.

    Use in Spam and Fraud

    Rising quickly is the even worse downside implicit in such capabilities – spam and fraud over the telephone. Three times in recent months, I have received calls from an inobviously artificial “person” concerning a potentially fraudulent transaction on a credit card – not identified by number.

    This is obviously a means of Phishing, an attempt to obtain sensitive information or persuade users to install malware, especially ransomware, on their computing device. The perpetrators are relying on the shock value of someone (allegedly) attempting to steal money from your credit card to inhibit your thinking processes.

    Even in my case, where (each time) the type of credit card is not one that I possess, it took me a moment to process the situation – the attacks are that good. Or that bad, depending on your point of view.

    Stage V: Generative / Directed AI

    At last, we arrive at the heart of today’s subject: the current state of the art. There are two separate forms of this technology – one, like DALL-E, generates images based on your requests, and the other, like ChatGPT, generates text.

    Much of the controversy thus far has focused on the image generators, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Use in Writing / Publishing

    Already, there are problems on sites like Quora where “users” simply copy-and-paste ChatGPT answers to questions, and Quora itself has a variation on the technology that they are developing and attempting to foist on people. They are also now offering to add an AI-generated image to illustrate an answer supposedly created by a human. And, on top of that, they have another AI generating questions – usually very inane and stupid ones.

    I went into that as part of The Artificial Mind: Z-3 Campaign Canon, which I’ve already referenced in this article.

    Use in Media

    Another growing phenomenon is the use of false images in media, especially social media. For a while, we’ve had photographs of one event being intentionally mislabeled in support of some viewpoint or perspective, and that was even before the generative AIs came onto the scene. Throw in the growing capacity for deepfakes, and the growing intrusion into traditional media, and it is becoming less and less true that “seeing is believing”.

    It is reaching the point where we need an expert system designed to do nothing but detect false images.

    Stage VI: ‘True’ AI

    I think I should briefly discuss the goal that researchers and designers are ultimately trying for, or at least, my interpretation of it.

    A true AI is an artificially-created system that interacts with a human user as though it were a human. It can be assigned tasks to perform on the human’s behalf, and is reliable enough that the human can generally trust the result to be equivalent to what the human would do on their own.

    In effect, it automates the following conversation:

      Boss: “Sandy I need you to do [X] for me.”
      Secretary/Assistant: “I’m sorry, Mr Rogers, I don’t know how to do that.”
      Boss: “No problem, I’ll show you how. You start by…”

    It would not be restricted to one task at a time; it would be capable of pausing in a task to deal with something granted a higher priority.

    Furthermore, given authority to act in selected situations, the AI can initiate actions on its owner’s behalf, subject to review and approval – from scheduling a meeting to bringing an outstanding invoice to the owner’s attention.

    Use in Problem-solving

    Quite obviously, this (potentially) gives everyone their own personal assistant. If it’s reliable enough, that’s a massive benefit to everyone.

    The better the software gets, the more it can be used for people to solve day-to-day problems in their ordinary lives, automating tasks that are currently so complex as to defy such automation – restructuring and reformatting an article to match a personal editorial standard, for example, or planning a difficult schedule.

    Use in Legal Procedures

    NASA are cautious when it comes to their computer hardware; it needs to have established itself as reliable before they will even contemplate putting it into a mission-critical situation. The consequence is that their computer technology was frequently multiple generations out-of-date when deployed.

    I anticipated that the legal profession would adopt a similar approach to software assistance in the future when creating the Earth-Regency near-future setting for my superhero campaign. Thus, Internet Relay Chat was used to connect an entire backroom legal research team to the front-line lawyer – in 2005, when the technology was already old. In later years, as the in-game date of 2055 (now 2056) approached, expert systems as legal research tools reached the point where open-and-shut cases could be adjudicated without parties even setting foot in a courtroom, and the legal backlog that had accumulated slowly began to unwind.

    Well, here we are in 2024, and to the best of my knowledge, none of this has yet happened. That’s fine – this was always a campaign operating under the Divergent approach listed earlier. But that doesn’t mean that it will stay that way forever – if the software is good enough and speeds up the court process enough.

    True AIs would be dragged into the courtroom anyway – questions such as whether or not one could give evidence would need to be resolved. Could one be sued? Could a business be sued because of one? Could one potentially sue someone else? AI rights is a hot-button issue in the campaign at the current time.

    Use in Scientific Research

    Human knowledge is advancing so quickly that even experts are having trouble staying up to date in their own fields, and the pace is accelerating. It is estimated by some that at the current time, human knowledge is doubling every 12 hours. Others have nominated a more conservative 1-2 years.

    No-one human can keep up with all of it; the only solution right now is to focus ever-more-tightly on a small specialty within a tightly-defined subject, and to assemble research teams that coalesce to give a more comprehensive overview of a scientific problem.

    Functional, reliable, flexible true AI would offer an alternative – instead of trying to keep up with the flood, the AI can be directed to abstract and link to only the knowledge relevant to a research problem, much as a search engine does for more common forms of information. If necessary, documents can be relayed to a support team for validation and verification before they are integrated into the main project.

    This is nothing less than a complete change in the way research is conducted, and it would have repercussions all the way along the educational process, and in any industry that does its own product development.

    How Can You Tell?

    Lastly, let me circle back to the Turing Test. We are now approaching the point where it can be passed with ease, and we need to be contemplating whether the test is even meaningful. It has always had its critics and acknowledged weaknesses.

    When we can no longer distinguish between real people and simulations of people through AI without actually being in the room with the other party, we also have to reconsider the property being tested for. The lines between sentient and non-sentient simulation become so blurred that it may be necessary to adopt a philosophic approach from Star Trek: “That which makes no difference is no difference.” This would fundamentally change the definition of “human” – leading to those questions of AI Rights that I mentioned earlier.

Current Controversies, in brief

There are essentially three major controversies at the moment.

    Copyright

    Generative AIs are a bit like expert systems – they have to be taught or ‘trained’ before they can generate anything. And the makers of these systems have deemed anything that’s been posted to the Internet as available for the purpose.

    In a way, I can see their logic; if it’s been published to the internet, it’s because the authors want people to see it and read it. What they then do with that information is out of the control of the original author – but there are safeguards to protect that author’s rights, called copyright.

    AI isn’t a person, but if it can ‘read’ and ‘analyze’ what’s been written, it’s close enough in my book. The problem then is, what do they do with what they have read and does it violate copyright?

    That’s a much thornier question than most people will realize, simply because the existing copyright laws were written a long time before a machine could “read”, and make no allowance for it. As usual, it will take a while for the law to catch up with technology.

    But there are additional complications. What if the AI simply copies substantial parts of what it has read – is that plagiarism? Arguably, yes. What if it misquotes or misattributes an author’s views, or confuses the views of a character with those of the author? Is that defamation, or is it something else? Can it accuse someone of a crime – with absolutely no evidence, because it’s a machine with no evidence to offer? Is it entitled to hold, and present to others, an opinion? Is it covered by the right to free speech? How many social protections will this piece of software be afforded when it, provably, is not a sentient being?

    There’s enough there to keep courts busy for a decade.

    Copyright part II

    And that’s just the text-type Generative AIs. Are art-generating AIs to be treated the same? Or do we need separate laws for them?

    One of the big problems that is already taking place is AI generating art in the style of a particular artist who is still alive and functioning, including replicating the artist’s signature?

    The AI is clearly interfering in the right of the artist to work and be paid for his or her work. There is a word that sort of work when it is produced by humans: Forgery. And, by ‘replicating’ the signature, the AI is unknowingly perpetrating a fraud in implying that this is the work of the artist they are copying.

    Don’t get me wrong – there are applications for this sort of thing that are completely legal. In the Adventurer’s Club campaign, we had need of a couple of ‘lost Van Goghs’ – I used a generative AI to get something that was ‘close enough’. But would I ever show them in a public forum like Campaign Mastery, or are they for private use (in-game) only – and should that, does that, make a difference?

    The more you dig, the bigger the bottomless can of worms becomes.

    Consent

    The second issue is the latest iteration of Deepfakes. The Wikipedia article linked to above is pretty scathing – it arguably goes too far, painting all such uses with a pretty broad brush, on the assumption that the deepfake will be pornographic.

    There are a lot of other applications for deepfakes that we will be increasingly hearing about in the near future. Identity Theft, for example. Impersonations of public officials. Scams of all sorts, but especially deceptions involving a trusted individual.

    There have been a number of episodes of NCIS LA that have dealt with the issues extensively. In some ways, the scenario presented is laughably unlikely – the identity of the creator of the fake identity (of one of the stars) for example. It’s comic-book of the less-sophisticated kind. But, at the same time, some of the things that have been done in-story using this level of deception are both amazing and daunting.

    Three examples

    Rather than try and summarize all of them, here are a couple of generalized analogs. They all start the same way – you receive a request to Skype or facetime or video conferance with someone.

      #1 – a trusted relative

      The face and voice match what you would expect. They are clearly distraught, they tell you they are in terrible trouble, and go on to describe a situation in which they need $500 right now or bad things will happen.

      Their story has been social-engineered to sound plausible. Do you send the money?

      What if it’ for real? What if it’s not real?

      You are making what might be a life-and-death decision, you have no time to think, and don’t know what to think even if you had the time…

      This is already happening here in Australia, and if it’s happening here, it’s happening everywhere else, too.

      #2 – your boss

      It’s your day off, but your boss calls with an emergency – “Colin” is out of the office, he needs to retrieve an invoice/document from the computer, but he doesn’t know the password. You do.

      The boss looks and sounds real, and couldn’t work the computer on his own for love or money. That’s what he pays you to do, and Colin fills in when you aren’t around. So it all sounds really plausible. Do you cough up the password?

      Up the ante. You’re now an employee of your government, and this is the password to a secure server holding all sorts of low-level unclassified but secret information. Now, do you cough up the password?

      Raise the stakes – the document the boss needs to access is a real one, but not scheduled for public release for days/weeks. All sorts of undesirable things could happen if it gets out early. But it’s plausible that some circumstance has changed, and a whole different list of undesirable things could happen in that event if your boss can’t get ahold of the document. Now, what do you do?

      Deceptions of this sort are happening already, but as yet (to the best of my knowledge) not involving deepfakes – but the latter has the potential to add so much credibility to the request that it’s only a matter of time.

      #3 – an authority figure

      You live not far from a commercial, business, and government hub in an apartment. One day, you get a surprise call from the State Premier (Governor in the US) and/or the Chief of Police or something similar.

      They have some unconfirmed evidence that a resident in a neighboring apartment block is a terrorist planning to plant and detonate an explosive device at any one of several possible targets in the vicinity. If they start sending lots of police into the area, he might panic and detonate the device early, resulting in mass casualties. Instead, they want to dress a number of Special Forces (or equivalent) in civilians and use your apartment as a rendezvous, bringing in people a few at a time until they have enough firepower to take the terrorist down quietly and quickly. It’s your patriotic duty – do you give permission?

      As each person arrives, they present official-looking credentials. When there are a dozen of them, they move out, silently and professionally. And you hear nothing more about the matter.

      What just happened? Who were those people? Were the credentials real? Are you an accessory to a terrorist act that’s being hushed up, or a bank robbery, or an assassination? Will you be in more trouble if you keep quiet, or if you call your local police and tell them what happened? What if they don’t believe you? Or only half-believe you, dismissing the whole nonsensical “Call from an authority figure”? What if whatever this group set out to do was so well-executed that no=-one’s noticed yet? Is your life irredeemably screwed? Or are you an unsung hero?

    Let’s back it up a notch. Some banks and other institutions now require facial verification to grant access. Enter the deepfakes – and we have another arms race.

    Hallucinations & Inaccuracies

    The third category brings us back to ChatGPT and its ilk.

    You’ll read it at the start of almost any mass-consumption article about these systems – they don’t understand the content of what they write, they don’t look anything up, or have a database of facts at their disposal. What they have is a glorified autocomplete function – but instead of guessing a word, they guess the rest of the article they are writing.

    And that can make those articles wildly, laughably, almost-incoherently, inaccurate, in whole or in part.

      Mini-examples

      In The Artificial Mind, which I linked to earlier, I quoted a number of questions from the Quora Prompt Generator – this is, essentially, a miniature Generative AI that writes questions for people to answer.

      Here are some of them, reproduced as examples of the problem….

      Are there atheist crickets?

      Does anyone use the letter Z anymore?

      What is the name of the movie “Soylent Green”?

      Is there a building in Venice?

      Who wrote “Every Breath You Take” by Sting?

      Who played Cleopatra in the movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton?

      Why is Paris not the Capital of France?

      Quora’s problem

      Quora has a problem – the same problem as most other social media, in fact: It’s not making money.

      The more interactions the site records – people asking questions, writing answers, reading answers, commenting on answers, up-voting or down-voting answers – the higher it ‘ranks’ relative to other social media, and the more it can charge for advertising.

      Hence, the Prompt Generator, whose questions are so inane that people post snarky replies. Hence, an Answer Generator that – like ChatGPT – auto-creates answers.

      Hence, a (failed and now defunct) program that paid people for the number of answers their questions generated.

      Hence, moderation has been cut to the bone and beyond, opening the door to spambots.

      The Consequences

      I swear, the following are real questions posed by a real spambot – or a real Troll, it can be almost impossible to spot the difference:

      “Since India was once part of Russia…” (the rest of the question hardly matters)

      “Since Columbia was once part of Russia…”

      “Since Greenland was once part of Russia…”

      “Since Australia was once part of Russia…”

      “Since New Zealand was once part of Russia….”

      …and so on, through virtually every country and many of the major cities. The part after the word “Russia” was always the same.

      Analysis

      Notice anything about these questions in comparison to those of the Prompt Generator?

      They could be written by the same hand – it’s just that one has iterated multiple variants of the same question, while the other hasn’t.

      You could hardly call one more intelligent than the other. Both use something close enough to colloquial English to pose their questions, and both ask questions whose responses are virtually guaranteed to be completely worthless.

      To be fair…

      I have to admit that not every question posed by the Prompt Generator is as bad as the examples cherry-picked above. I even answered a few of them on the basis that I thought readers who saw the question might get some value from a legitimate answer. But those are a very small percentage.

So that’s the “State Of The Art”. Time to break out that old cracked crystal ball, and look ahead 5 or 10 years (maybe less).

A Hypothetical General Purpose Journalism AI

For various reasons, I’m going to focus on text-based AIs. The parameters of the art AIs are now fairly well-established and while there may be some cross-pollination from one to the other, it’s only a matter of refinement for them.

Form follows function – so, in this case, we need to distinguish exactly what it is that the AI is mostly going to be used for.

My answer: Essays, Reports, Website Posts, Letters, Short (Bad) Fiction, Worse Poetry and maybe the occasional RPG product. The latter would be limited because a human would still have to devise any game mechanics and integrate them into the product. I also think that a modified form might be used to auto-generate solo-player text-based adventures.

Next, we need to consider the social framework surrounding them. I’m not going to try and answer those thorny issues raised earlier, except perhaps in general terms, but I am going to assume that at least some of them have been resolved. I’m also going to need to look more closely at one of them, exploring a couple of penumbras that don’t get a lot of attention.

Let’s start there.

    Assumption: Anything on the internet

    To start with, lets assume that the lawyers and law-makers have confirmed that if it’s posted to the internet, it’s intended to be read, and you can’t stop an AI from being the one reading it. What you can restrict is what an AI is allowed to do with it, in line with existing laws.

    Our next-generation AI needs to understand and obey the rules of Fair Use. So it now DOES maintain a database of sources by keyword, and whenever it uses that keyword, it’s required to limit the extent of it’s plagiarism, and to cite a reference that the reader can follow.

    What’s more, I’m going to assume that it has access to a crude credibility rating for these sources, permitting it to choose more reliable sources over less reliable ones – but these scores are part of its ‘learned behavior’ and not something that some human has to manually input.

    The AI is therefore learning in much the same way as a student learns to write essays – from user feedback, both on the source and to its created content.

    That requires it to recognize comments and quotations and distinguish them from primary content – which should not be so hard. Learning to treat the two differently should also be well within its capabilities.

    But those two changes are enough to induce a profound difference in two of the major problems the current generation of AI are struggling with – credibility and copyright.

    Copyright Restrictions won’t work

    There are already calls to restrict AIs in learning mode from accessing any site with a copyright notice. These won’t amount to anything, and no-one who knows anything about how copyright works would make such a demand, because they know they won’t work.

    First, there’s nothing magical about a copyright notice. Everything anyone writes and publishes, whether in a book or on a web-page or delivered in a podcast, is automatically protected by copyright, whether they put a notice up or not. That copyright can be explicitly waived by posting a Creative Commons license for example, restricted voluntarily the way I do at Campaign Mastery, or deliberately not enforced, but it’s all still copyrighted.

    And second, there’s the small matter of relevance.

    The Copyright Dilemma Revisited

    If you want meaningful results from your AI, if you want relevance, then it needs to have access to contemporary sources of information. It can’t rely exclusively on sources that are 75 years old.

    This results in an implicit but usually unstated social contract – if you are benefiting, or potentially benefiting, from an AI’s access to copyrighted material, then you are obligated to make your content available to AIs so that others can share the same benefits.

    Wholesale plagiarism is not permitted, and AIs will need to be taught those “rules” before it is given wholesale access to the internet, but beyond that, you can’t keep them out and then expect to benefit from such tools.

    The debate over copyright materials and AI access to same will be a storm in a teacup, if AIs can be taught to apply the rules of Fair Usage. That’s good, because we will need the space to debate more substantive issues.

The New Problems

So some problems have – theoretically – been solved with this putative new generation of AI, but others remain. By requiring the AI to pass judgments on its source material, we open the door to mistakes being made in those judgments, and thorny questions of liability arise. But beyond those, there are problems deriving from the content itself, and they may well be enough to kill the whole concept.

I saw one such problem, and didn’t see anyone else discussing it, which resulted in this article. Others have noticed another problem, which I had never seen anyone else discussing.

Remember that the objective here is an AI that can write material for an online newspaper or equivalent. They get held – or are supposed to get held – to a higher standard than a blog, which can more freely blend fact and opinion. Right now, the credibility problem is so severe that even that usage is a pipe dream – but, once progress of the type described gets made, blog/website usage will be no problem, and achieving the stricter standards of actual journalism will require only incremental refinements.

Let’s start with the problem that I foresee.

    Two Streams Of Perspective

    The US is a dominant player in terms of Media. Other sources may appear to be equal, but that’s only because they are local. And right now, in US-based media, there are two different streams of perspective.

    There’s the conservative, Fox-driven narrative, and there’s the broader mainstream. There are a few media organizations that could legitimately be called far left, but they are trapped by that very ethos into being the polar opposite of the far-right outlets.

    I’m being very careful here not to lift one above the other in terms of credibility. I know which one I support and encourage, and which one I decry and denounce – but for the purposes of this article, I need to be a neutral observer, and the primary fact that I observe is that the far right believe explicitly in the far-right narrative.

    To our putative AI, it does not have the context to distinguish between the two, even though they are fundamentally incompatible.

    Correlating the incompatible

    To solve this problem, we need to teach our AI the difference between Fiction and non-Fiction – and that some Fiction pretends to be non-fiction and vice-versa. It needs to understand things like allegory, and metaphor. And it needs to understand that there are times when it is not only okay to wallow in a fictional reality, it can even be desirable. That will be a big leap forward in an AIs understanding of language!

    Once that happens, and a bridge is formed between those concepts and the content that it is encountering on the internet, it will come to the conclusion that one of the two sets is fictional (no matter how much it pretends not to be) and the other is not. Which one it chooses to “believe” doesn’t matter.

    Next, when it is given a request / assignment, it needs to ask a few “getting to know you” type questions. It doesn’t care what the questions are, or the answers – but it does care about being to extrapolate from those questions what slant you probably want in the material it gives you. From that, it can either answer in “real mode” or wallow in the “fictional universe” of the other side.

    Finding the right questions will be tricky – you don’t want to be crass or blatant or triggering – but I’ve no doubt that it can be done.

    And the great news is that you can now ask in-universe questions or request in-universe perspectives and the response will be in-universe, too. “Write me 2000 words on why Han Solo might have shot first?” would be completely within it’s range.

    Self-induced Schizophrenia?

    The generation of AI that follows our journalism-bot won’t be all that different, from the perspective of most users; the core product will now be what designers and engineers sometimes call “mature”. But it will be more capable of self-criticism, and more adept at crossing boundary lines – capable of looking at cross-genre questions from both sides. It will be capable of deciding that it’s initial declaration of “reality” may have been incorrect and should be revised. It will also learn to use reader’s criticism as a diagnostic tool for self-improvement, and be able to think about things like style and wit. As a writer, it will be all the more human.

    But it’s entirely possible that there will be a half-way stage in which it’s perception of ‘reality’ flips to accommodate the readers that it thinks it is delivering to. “Today I’m an ultra- conservative, writing to appeal to those who think the 2000 election was stolen and Trump is a patron saint. Tomorrow, I may be a centrist-conservative or a liberal. I have no ideology of my own; I am just a mirror of whoever is using me.

    That’s all fine when you are having one-on-one interactions – but it won’t be long before it will start a second task, while the first is incomplete – a second task with a radically-different ideology. In fact, it won’t be long before it has to believe in all things simultaniously, no matter how contradictory.

    I don’t want to project human qualities onto this compilation of algorithms, but we are likely to see emergent behavior that mimics certain human flaws – neuroses, paranoia, schizophrenia, mental breakdowns, stress, anxiety. The researchers will be fascinated, and will want to know if there’s anything regarding the equivalent human problems to be learned – and new specialties will spring up to help the machine rationalize the irrational.

    And at some point, those old questions will bubble to the surface and someone will want to know how human the AI has to get before some of the privileges and restrictions of real people should be applied to it. But that’s where my crystal ball starts getting a little hazy.

So the problem that I foresaw was the impact of the current separation of narratives. And, like a child learning about the world, the AI will have to develop its own tools for dealing with those contradictions – which can have real-world repercussions.

Another problem

There are a handful of writers on Quora for whom I have great respect. I will at least start to read anything I come across written by

, amongst others.

Franklin wrote an interesting answer to a question about copying ChatGPT answers whole that helped earlier parts of this article to gel.

But the biggest contribution (this time) came from Mats Andersson who forecast the spectacular failure of Large Language Model AI in the near future, identifying a problem that had completely escaped my notice.

I reached out to Mats for permission to repost his entire article here, but haven’t heard back from him, so I’m going to have to condense and paraphrase.

    Hallucinations Redux

    Remember what I described in “Hallucinations & Inaccuracies” a little while back? (CTRL-F and “Halluc” will find it, if you don’t).

    So we will have all these pieces of alleged non-fiction floating around the internet, most of them not identified as having come from a Generative AI system, attributed to a real person. Unless it is able to recognize and reject this material, and current AIs can’t do that, it won’t be long before Generative AI is basing its ‘reality’ on Generative AI ‘Hallucinations’.

    Here are a couple of key paragraphs from Mat’s post:

      Large Language Models [like ChatGPT] are trained on vast repositories of text. Most of them are stripped off the Internet.

      And increasingly, texts on the Internet are generated by LLMs. Texts that contain what AI researchers call “hallucinations”, which is when the LLM just makes shit up. AI researchers say that this happens like 5–10% of the time; I say they’re laughably optimistic, it’s more like 50/50 whether you’re going to get a useful answer out of an LLM.

      What we will get, probably in a couple of years but I’d estimate at the most five years, is LLMs that are trained mostly on the output of other LLMs. They’ll be hallucinating based on hallucinations.

      And the Internet will be drowned in texts that are just shit that an LLM made up.

    Solutions

    Giving a new generation of Generative AIs something akin to “critical judgment” in the manner I proposed earlier would go a long way to solving the problem identified by Mats. But his point – and it’s a good one – then would boil down to a race between the old AIs, polluting their own environment to the point where it becomes toxic to them, and those developing the proposed next generation of AIs.

    And right now, I’d say it was neck and neck.

    Elbow Room

    This is no time for niceties – we may have to cheat in order to make sure that “the good guys” win. So, how do we do that?

    The simplest answer is, by doing everything we can to slow the spread of Generative AI text output. That’s not an overly onerous burden, because we’re already inclined to down-vote (or not Like) such content if it comes from the Toxic side of the street anyway.

    Every time you don’t share the idiocy with others, it cleans up just a small part of the Toxic environment created by AI Hallucinations.

    We don’t have to keep it up forever – just until we can invest our AIs with some sort of critical faculties. I hope that I’ve shown that while difficult, it’s not that big of an advance.

    The Starter’s Gun

    A related issue is that it doesn’t look like we’re in a race. It’s just the same old, same old. Which means some researchers will b looking at this, and others will be looking at something else. In fact, it’s fair to assume that no matter what development you are discussing, only a minority of researchers will be pursuing that path.

    If this really does start to become a major problem, no doubt more resources will be thrown at it. But that’s like giving the other side a head start – not because we’re confident of winning, but because we’re undervaluing the prize.

Echo Chambers

You might get the impression that my solution involves pandering to those stuck in an echo chamber, generating anti-vaxxer stuff for antivaxxers. And, to a certain extent, you would be right – at first.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone try to jerk an individual immersed in “alternative facts” all the way back to their perceived ‘reality’. I’ve seen liberals attempt it with Trump supporters and I’ve seen Trump supporters attempt it with alienated conservatives. Heck, I’ve even seen Flat-Earthers try it with new-born Globalists and vice-versa.

It never works; the cognitive gap is too wide, and the attempt just bounces off an impenetrable shield. A different approach is needed.

Next-Generation Generative AIs who write for their targeted audiences, as I have described them, are that different approach.

    It’s all about credibility

    As the AI creates its ‘rules’ around the credibility of sources, fringe sources will slowly become discounted, and more mainstream sources will be used by the AI to plug the gap in its product. For pro-liberal sources, that amounts to a fairly normal cutting through spin – and make no mistake, there’s plenty of spin in those sources. You don’t need to read many fact-checking newsletters, where both sides of a debate come under scrutiny, to realize that.

    The result will be a step-by-step progression away from the lunatic fringes toward a centrist position, slowly easing extremists toward a reasonable and rational position.

    For the last decade or so there will always be two divergent histories, two perceived realities. Positions are too entrenched at this point for that not to be the case. What’s more important than tilting at windmills is pulling people away from the fringes the same way that they got there – one step at a time. That can’t be done by people from the other side of the debate; it needs to be done by someone who is perceived as being “on the fringe’s side,” because they are the only ones that the fringe will listen to.

    What we want is a convergence that brings the majority together into a consensus view going forwards.

    Inevitability

    That happens, will happen, and is happening, already, from what I can see. The next section details how to monitor the progress toward that outcome, and the basis for that statement of optimism.

    Events lose relevance when viewed with the lens of time, unless they are vigorously refreshed. The more crackpot the interpretation of events, the more that version of events depends on that refreshment to keep it vital and relevant.

    Old arguments don’t die, they just fade in relevance. The natural evolution of credibility for Generative AI that I have described in my ‘next generation’ repaints those faded colors but corrects the picture, one detail at a time.

    Conspiracy theories are like a game of Jenga – remove one plank and the structure as a whole grows weaker, until collapse can no longer be avoided.

    You won’t be able to bring everyone around with this approach – there will always be a lunatic fringer – but the majority can be saved from the echo chamber they are now trapped in, one disinfecting ray of sunshine at a time.

    Locking It In

    While it won’t be necessary to achieve this, giving our speculative next-gen AI one additional set of capabilities will really lock this slow-but-steady progress into position: Teaching the AI to distinguish between fictional, editorial, and journalistic content, and the capacity to evaluate these by different standards.

    This is not as straightforward as it may sound – some content will be a hybrid of both, some will mix a paragraph of editorial into an otherwise fact-based report (and vice-versa), and the AI will have to understand the rules of logic in order to find the flaws in arguments.

    It might well be that this is beyond the next-generation AI and has to wait for a subsequent refinement. That’s fine, if it’s necessary; this would simply be the icing on the cake, another step forward in credibility. We can get to the goal without it – but it would greatly speed the process, to the benefit of all.

Measuring the transition and an unsolicited email

While the concept of this article had been floating around in my head, fairly vaguely, a piece of (possible? probable?) spam is what crystallized it. It, too, forecast the collapse of AI, based on a number of speculations about what could go wrong if we become dependent on the technology – and it then fails in some way, causing a complete loss of public confidence.

The problem with the projections made – at least in summary form – are that (a) many of the speculative failures are vague and improbable; (b) the speculation includes Generative AI moving into areas of society that it’s not equipped for, and that are already well-served by advanced Expert Systems, and (c) that it requires a generalization of response. Failure on the part of a Generative AI Text Writer like ChatGPT might affect the applications for artificially-generated text, but I don’t see them having much impact on AIs used as a virtual “service desk”, for example.

There are some good points made, especially proposing the possible “unintended amplification of harmful behavior”, but we already have human trolls and spambots and deepfakes spreading garbage in all directions through social media, at least some of which crosses over into ‘real media’ – adding an AI “voice” to this cacophony won’t make it very much louder.

Still, it has to be asked – is there a threshold that we are approaching and should not cross? is there a limit to how much disinformation a society can withstand?

    Election-watching

    Politics in recent years has been all about disinformation. Pinning down where it started in the US is very difficult – all sorts of hands have had their turn at the tiller. Here in Australia, it’s actually a bit easier, because the first major incidence was so spotlighted.

    I refer, of course, to the “Children Overboard” Scandal, which I wrote about in Incredible Truth and Improbable Stories: Oratory in an RPG.

    The phenomenon then seemed to die out here to a large extent, except in the case of a few individuals who gained political traction and then were repudiated and ejected from their governmental positions.

    The Clive Palmer Party, for example, had quite a spectacular implosion in 2014-2015. At the following election, Palmer tried to buy his way back into politics, and was resoundingly rebuffed. Palmer himself was later charged with Fraud for diverting money to the campaign illegally (he’s delayed facing those charges for years, but that clock has just about run out, and the charges have not gone away).

    In 2021, another radical politician, Craig Kelly, took over leadership of the re-re-rebranded Clive Palmer Party. Within two months, Kelly was ‘awarded’ (in absentia) the “Bent Spoon” award by organization the Australian Skeptics ‘for spreading misinformation about Covid and vaccinations’.

    Kelly’s views on the COVID-19 pandemic were described as “crackpot” by Omar Khorshid, the head of the Australian Medical Association. Kelly has said, for example, that forcing children to wear masks is child abuse,

    He bought up vast quantities of hydroxychloroquine, and began advocating for its use as a COVID treatment / preventative. This started him down a path of conspiracy theories that would seem eerily familiar to anyone watching the Trump presidency.

    But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing; a progressive attempt at improving relations with Native Australians was resoundingly defeated last year, thanks in part to extensive disinformation from the “No” campaign.

    In the months since, the current leader of the opposition has become renowned for saying “no” to every proposal, so much so that it was starting to affect his popularity, which was already abysmal. The more extreme elements of his party, though, seem to approve.

    Any American reading that brief summary would be feeling a sense of deja vu; it’s a direct emulation of parts of what the US has experienced over the last 16 years, just in a different order.

    But this illustrates an important point: the impact of political disinformation can best be observed and quantified by monitoring election results.

    The American Story

    Trump won the 2016 Presidential election; every election in the US since has seen his credibility slide and the Republican Party fall further behind expectations. In the 2018 mid-terms, the Democrats won control of the House and of Congress overall. In 2020, Biden ousted Trump by 7 million votes, and took control of all three branches of Government. In 2022, Republicans succeeded in taking back the House, but a much-lauded (and expected) “Red Wave” failed to materialize – and every Trump-endorsed candidate failed to get elected.

    Which brings us to the 2024 Presidential Election. Despite the criminal charges against him, Trump has – in some polls – held a narrow lead at some points, though it must be pointed out that the Democrats had not really started campaigning at those points. The House has been a shambles, self-destructing in public view. Nine of the 10 largest Republican donors have distanced themselves from the party, leaving the Republicans seriously underfunded.

    This is now an election campaign that is all about disinformation. Should Trump prevail, it will be because a substantial portion of the electorate chose to accept disinformation and conspiracy theory as fact. Analysis of the primary votes held thus far have Trump support, even within the party, at an all-time low. He may have won the Iowa caucus, but only 14% of the usual turnout attended, due to poor weather, and it has often been pointed out that it is the most fanatical who will be driven enough to participate despite the conditions.

    Some suggest that this will be an electoral wipe-out for the Republicans due to the array of circumstances opposing them. Others are more measured and cautious.

    Anyone who is interested in the question posed – “How much disinformation can a society withstand” – will get an answer with this election. If the trend continues, the Blue Optimists may have every reason to smile; if Trump wins, despite the trend, then clearly there is a breaking point that has been reached. The very least thing that can be said is that it will all be very interesting.

    Of particular interest will be the lesser races; the Presidential Election tends to steal the spotlight, and the “oxygen” from those races, but at that grassroots level, many of the Red states have remained loyal to the Republican Party. Should a “Blue Wave” occur in these lesser races, it will demonstrate a generalized toxicity of disinformation; should it not, then the effect can be considered more concentrated on and around the source. Will trump-endorsed candidates succeed or fail? There are endless layers to this onion, and they are all relevant to this question, and therefore to the credibility of the line of argument about an AI “crisis of confidence” put forth in the spam in question.

AI is here to stay

I can dismiss the dire conclusions of the unsolicited email relatively easily; while they may partially materialize, the total collapse forecast seems unlikely. Mats’ line of argument is more difficult, and I think that Generative AI itself will need to evolve to something like the next step that I have described in order to avoid that catastrophic outcome.

Those same evolutionary steps will also be necessary to avoid the catastrophe that I came up with. But I have no doubt that there are efforts already underway, because they seem such a logical solution to the problems facing Generative AI Now, never mind five or ten years from now.

    The Prototype Phase

    All new technologies go through 6 stages of development. Sometimes smoothly, sometimes messily, with fits and starts; sometimes along multiple channels simultaniously, sometimes quite sequentially – but all six stages are essential to get to the end product.

    The first phase is the prototype phase, when the core functionality becomes available but with great gaps and sometimes maddening flaws and imperfections and limitations.

    The Cowboy Phase

    That gets followed by the Cowboy Phase in which endless permutations and variations get explored from different makers. I call it the Cowboy Phase because it’s the wild west – anything goes and there’s virtually no regulation.

    This is the phase in which the technology gets applied to all sorts of functions that were often not even dreamt of by the makers of the original prototypes, and we start to figure out just what this technology is going to be good for.

    The Regulated Phase

    Meanwhile, those who can claim authority over the branch of technology start reacting to the excesses of some in the Cowboy Phase and start looking at what is needed to regulate the new technology.

    Eventually, they will curtail the worst offenders, or at least drive them underground and new versions of the software will emerge that obeys the restrictions placed on it by regulations (assuming those regulations can be translated into the technical and design spheres). The software has entered the regulated phase.

    At first, there will be a lot of give-and-take and instability; regulators regularly go either too far or not far enough, and the technology architects will push back. Ultimately, each of the major applications discovered in the Cowboy phase will get its own version of the software for that dedicated purpose.

    Formulating a Community Standard

    Meanwhile, starting back in the Cowboy phase, the public begin formulating a set of expectations for what the software can do for them. Those expectations feed directly into the development of both software and inform the regulations – or those regulations will be more honored in the breach than the observance, in which case it’s back to the drawing board for all concerned.

    These community standards are critically important, because they demand a shift in the regulatory framework, which goes from Regulators Vs Developers to Regulators Vs The Public. It’s entirely possible for a technology to be completely regulated from the first perspective and for those regulations to need to be almost completely scrapped because they don’t accord with public expectations at all.

    But a third party – who may be the developers again – soon show up to the party, in the guise of people who have invested in the technology and demand some return on that investment. And they can completely derail the process. In the worst-case situation, you can have a messy, three-corner contest; in more orderly transitions, two of the groups will reach an accord and face down the third.

    The investors have a big advantage in such fights – they have influence and money, and those who write laws pay close attention to those with either of those. The bias is therefore always toward commercial exploitation of a technology – unless there are other moneyed interests whose prosperity will (they think) be disrupted by the new tech.

    Formulating A Legal Standard

    Once those bun-fights are more-or-less wrestled into some sort of compromise that’s tolerable by all (other than outright lawbreakers), the regulators start tweaking and refining the laws that have been created, and those laws get tested through the courts. With each case, the legal standards – which override everyone else’s take on the tech – become more sophisticated. If some existing and accepted framework can be adapted, that can be a shortcut – but it can also have unexpected repercussions down the track.

    Nevertheless, a legal standard will be codified and the software will be adapted or evolved to operate within that standard.

    Acceptance & Ubiquity

    At some point after that, the software will enter the final phase of adaption – acceptance and ubiquity. It will be everywhere, doing just what it’s permitted to do, and will quickly fade into the background and become just a part of the technological landscape.

    Mobile phones, file sharing, GPS, mp3s, internet browsers, internet provision, streaming services – you name it, they’ve all been through this evolutionary process and are now pretty much taken for granted. Sometimes they got there quickly and fairly peaceably; sometimes, the road was full of acrimony; but they all get there in the end.

    Why should Generative AI be any different?

    Again, though, I think it important to stress that “AI” and even “Generative AI” is being used as an umbrella term for at least three different (but related) technologies, and that can fool people into thinking that a “one size fits all” solution is needed, or even possible. This can delay, obstruct, and confuse the regulatory landscape. I think that the laws surrounding Generative Art AIs and Generative Text AIs will need to be different, though each will no doubt inform the content of the other, and there may be common features or principles.

    How Long?

    How long will it take? Well, for all the noise that’s surrounding Generative AI at the moment, the only regulation that’s even being discussed is the application of rules and legislation that never anticipated this new technology. Unsurprisingly, no-one is satisfied with this situation. It means that Generative AI is still in the Cowboy phase, and will stay there until someone starts paying a lot more attention to the developing Community Standards and the purposes to which the technology is being put.

    I think it will be 5-10 years after that happens that ubiquity and acceptance are achieved. Right now, some users and sites are happily exploring the capabilities of this new technology, others are trying to figure out how to exploit it for their own profit, and some people have completely blackballed it.

    No matter how dug in their respective positions, they will all evolve once we start emerging from the Cowboy Phase. One of the first developments will probably be an attempt at an “Ethical AI” – and even if it’s not as polished or accomplished as the cowboys, it will undercut the objections of those antipathetic to the technology.

    There’s a long road ahead of AI, and it contains some monumental potholes and the occasional “bridge out” or “detour” sign. It may not be possible to reach our intended destination. But it won’t be for lack of trying.

Looking Beyond The Near-Term

All this isn’t going to happen overnight. My 5-10 year estimate is potentially wildly optimistic – but with the pace of development in the modern age, it might happen surprisingly quickly, especially since the social benefits that result simply accelerate processes that occur naturally in society.

Any near-future society is either grappling with these problems or is in the process of solving them. AIs are so useful that they will grow in ubiquity, so it’s essential that these problems are solved.

Having laid out a plausible pathway to doing so, it then becomes possible to extrapolate further into the future – and to take a side-road or two out of the Sci-Fi genre entirely.

    “True” AI

    The connection to the underlying embedded morality of a “true” AI should be fairly obvious – even if the tests that we have at the moment are no longer adequate to identifying such an AI as sentient in its own right. Those tests held that the interface between person and machine would be reflective of the intellectual capabilities of the machine, and that’s simply no longer true.

    Robots, Droids, Androids, and other Sci-Fi automata

    Once you have a true AI – be it a starships computer or whatever – other technologies that can be ‘motivated’ and ‘controlled’ by an AI become possible. This leads to Androids and Droids and all sorts of other sentient or semi-sentient automata.

    A solution of some sort would be needed to correctly parse verbal instructions to such devices – and without that, they are not going to be the same as what we see in various movies and TV shows. Any sort of ethical processing will be built around these concepts or something similar – so this will be the ‘subconscious’ of these machines.

    Fantasy Automata

    But Mechanical “Life” isn’t restricted to the Sci-Fi domain. There are all sorts of such life-forms in Fantasy, too, such as Golems and Warforged in D&D.

    Well, the hardware might be different, and there might be a whole lot more hand-waving going on, but it’s easy to see something analogous being essential to such “Life”, too.

    Decision-making, AI Style
    • “AI Life” is given an order.
    • Does it understand the order?
    • If so, is the person giving the order entitled to issue instructions to this representative of “AI Life”?
    • If so, evaluate the order for practicality. Is the “AI Life” capable of performing the required task?
    • If so, is the order countermanded by prior orders of greater urgency or priority?
    • If not, is the order ethical?
    • If so, will the order place the “AI Life” at risk?
    • If so, is the person giving the order entitled to issue orders with that potential ramification?
    • If so, or if there is no such risk, the order is a valid one, and the “AI Life” should carry it out – or decide for itself, if it is independently sentient.

    This is a fairly basic logical progression, a slightly beefier version of Asimov’s Three Laws.

    Unless the “AI Life” can take some sort of shortcuts in its decision making, however, this could represent a delay of seconds, minutes, hours, or even days.

    Short-cutting this laborious process

    Those shortcuts can best be summed up by two simpler principles operating in tandem.

      Authority

      This is essentially nothing more than a redressing of the ‘source credibility’ concept. Categorize the source of the order and you index their authority over the system.

      Trust

      And then, as in the military, you simply have to trust that a sufficiently-high Authority will not place you (the “AI Life”) in unnecessary jeopardy and will not issue morally-questionable instructions. Those that do will, after all, have to deal with accusations of misuse of authority. It’s not the AI’s job to police such.

    Yes, there’s room for some nuance. Assigning orders issued by someone with relevant expertise or credentials a higher “Authority rating”, for example. But, by and large, this simplifies the question enough that it can be resolved almost instantly – essential in an artificial soldier, for example.

The Promised Land

It is,. perhaps, worth recapitulating just what that intended destination is, or should be.

AI that

  • we can all use with a clear conscience;
  • evaluates the reliability of its sources, and this gives trustworthy output;
  • is capable of learning from its mistakes, both technical, ethical, and in terms of accuracy, without specific input from an overseer;
  • tailors its output according to the credibility of sources but is capable of working with an inbuilt bias on the part of the intended audience, as exemplified by the person requesting the output’
  • fairly compensates those whose work it references (with credit and links if nothing else);
  • has legal restrictions to which it adheres, and which are acceptable to the community at large and to the sub-community of creatives whose work is actually being referenced.
  • [if possible] can distinguish between fictional, editorial and fact-based content, even within a passage contained in a source, and can evaluate such content independently of the main content of a source.

There could be more, but I think that list is ambitious enough to be getting on with.

No AIs were harmed (or consulted) in the writing of this article.

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Living Hard: Disabled in RPGs


Okay, so they’re food trays – but it doesn’t take much imagination to see them as character sheets with color-coded panels. Image by HANSUAN FABREGAS from Pixabay

I get asked every now and then how I’m doing, same as everyone else, but there’s a difference since I am officially disabled. I’ve always resisted talking about my physical condition and medical problems in any depth here are Campaign Mastery, though I relented a little in Dice & Life: pt 2. But recently I realized that doing so, and couching it in game terms, would benefit GMs everywhere by enabling them to better role-play disabled individuals in their games.

So I’m not posting this for sympathy (though I’ll take any that comes my way); this is using my personal situation as a gateway to understanding for others.

The Original Injury

I don’t know for certain when and how I got injured. It was years of occasional suffering before the problems were even properly diagnosed, and it’s conjecture that they happened at the same time, in the same event.

Nevertheless, I know the incident that I blame – when a boss decided to relocate the family business out of the cellar under his shopfront to a set of rooms on the first floor, I was required to take carry of those ginormous piece-of-furniture sized up the four flights of stairs from one location to the other. I made it up three and then my back gave out on me.

Even with that said, I had to acknowledge that I’d had back trouble in the past, and recovered, and this could have just been a repetition or exacerbation of old injuries. I may blame this situation, but that doesn’t prove me correct. That’s why no lawsuits or compensation claims were ever filed – I can’t prove anything.

So, what were the medical conditions that were ultimately identified?

    This image is based on an illustration uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. I consider it a derivative work of the illustration and hence bound by the same license terms.

    Back

    Two of my vertebrae look like the tops of wooden stakes pounded into hard earth with a mallet – one at the top and one at the bottom. The disc in between is torn, and turned inside out, but still wrapped around the spinal cord. The interior of a disk has a texture something like that of sandpaper; this disk is now flapping around and free to abrade the muscle wall. The spine is unable to fully support my weight, so the back muscles have to do that job, something they are not really designed to do.

    Knees

    The synovial fluid, which cushions and lubricates the joints of the knee, has been squeezed out from between the bones in both knees, pushing the kneecap forward and up, and permitting direct bone-to-bone contact (and pinched nerves) when walking and especially when climbing or descending stairs and slopes.

    But, to be honest, this was momentary pain at most; it was the lower back that was the real problem.

    Surgical Intervention

    The possibility of surgical correction of the spinal problem was discussed seriously at the time of diagnosis. This would involve removing the exploded disc and fusing the two vertebrae together, and possibly a little bone carving to remove the worst of the “bloom” from the two ends. The problem was that part of the disc was still wrapped around the spinal cord; the surgeon (one of the best in the country) said that at best, there would be a 50-50 chance of paraplegia. With those odds, we agreed, waiting would be the smarter course of action; techniques improving all the time, and the surgery itself was becoming more routine; by the time I reached the point where I needed a wheelchair half the time anyway, the odds would have shifted to something better than a 50-50 chance of a full recovery, with the alternative leaving me no worse off. If I looked after myself, I might even make it to 20 years post-diagnosis without needing the surgery at all.

    Management

    Over many years, I slowly learned to manage these problems, and began to actually recover somewhat. That management consisted of knowing how far I could go before the pain began to interfere with my ability to perform ordinary tasks, and how much further I could go before actually making the conditions worse.

    It was necessary to view ‘conserving my capacity’ as an investment in being able to do just a little more tomorrow; compounding benefits meant that my capacity improved notably over time.

    When first diagnosed, I had the mobility of someone 100+ years of age. After three years of recuperation and careful exercise, that started to improve; over a five year period, it became something close to normal – up to a limit of activity. Then, that limit began to increase, ever so slowly. Half-a-block of walking. A full block. Two blocks. Three blocks (if not repeated too often).

    Exceeding the limits

    There were set-backs along the way. The usual cause was doing too much because some task needed to be done. The occasional social gathering was another. From those experiences, I slowly pieced together a pattern.

    Go just a little over the limit and I would be crippled for a day or two, three at the outside. And often a little stronger when I did recover. (Stage 1)

    Go just a little over that limit, and I would be crippled for a week or two, and a little weaker, more prone to re-injury and able to do less, when I recovered (Stage 2).

    A little beyond that limit, and the setback was 1-3 months of crippling pain and a pronounced setback in capacity for a year beyond that – just to get back to where I had been (Stage 3).

    Beyond that lay the boundary of not being able to physically continuing to do whatever I was engaged in, no matter how willing I was. It’s really hard to walk when your back won’t hold you up you know? (Stage 4).

    And, if I pushed on (after a rest) after reaching that point, I began shredding what progress had been made (Stage 5).

    The Grand Tour To The Sea

    On one occasion, my brother and sister-in-law were visiting Sydney, and she had never seen it, or parts of it, before, so the family gathered to give her the tour. We took the Hydrofoil across the harbor to the beach; and walked down Manly’s shopping district. By the time we got to Manly, I was at stage 2. By the time we had walked those two blocks and started down the beach, I was approaching stage 3. It became obvious to some of the family at this point that I was struggling so they called for a break and started discussing lunch, just as I got to to stage 4. (Part of the problem was the pace being set by my Sister, who seemed oblivious to my situation – she was quite apologetic when she found out).

    The Hydrofoil terminal was now so far away that I would not have been able to walk all the way back to it in one stint. It was decided to walk about half-way back while looking for somewhere to eat lunch, which would give me a further chance to rest. Despite that initial recovery time, I was beyond Stage 4 by the time we found somewhere, recovered to Stage 3 while we ate, but was again beyond stage 4 by the time we reached the Hydrofoil. When we got back to Central Railway Station, I was fully in stage 5, and had no choice but to leave the family and go home.

    I spent 12 months in constant pain after that event, and another 4 years just getting my recovery back to where it had been. It was a very memorable lesson to learn, and I never pushed my limits that hard again.

Such were the problems when I wrote Dice & Life Part 2 back in 2013-14. While they were restrictive, even limiting, they were carefully managed, and adherence to that management strategy was my #1 priority, so the long term wasn’t looking too bad.

There were times when it was difficult; I was berated by my sister-in-law for not dancing at a cousin’s wedding. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t, it was that I couldn’t; the pre-reception events and reception up to that point already had me at stage 3, dancing would have put me through to the point of collapse (stage 4) or beyond.

Over the last 8 years or so, a more difficult and complicated situation has arisen, with some old problems and some new ones now interacting to make life more difficult. In a nutshell, though, I no longer have to worry too much about the limits I described above – I have a whole new set of limits that don’t let me get anywhere near even stage 2 of the old ones.

More Recent Problems

A complex set of eight interacting issues slowly developed. Any one of these on its own could be easily managed; it was the interaction that really makes life difficult.

    Leg Cramps

    Maybe 20 years ago,. I had a brief problem (lasting a year or so) when I experienced extreme leg cramping regularly. These aren’t the run-of-the-mill cramps that everybody gets, now and then; they were strong enough to dislocate bones in my feet and split the right calf muscle lengthwise. Heck, I even (only once, thank goodness) had a cramp in the muscles that control the movement of my right eye!) To ameliorate these, i was prescribed curare (yes, the South American toxin), and the problems slowly went away.

      Magnesium & Potassium Salts

      About eight years ago, they resurfaced; what curare I had left was well beyond it’s use-by date and limited, so I went to the doctor for a new prescription. Instead, he felt it better to try and address the cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms (I was all for fixing the cause, but would have preferred symptom relief at the same time). He recommended that I try taking Magnesium salts, as that was often the cause of leg cramps where shortage of ordinary salt in the diet has been ruled out.

      That helped, for a while. But the problem became progressively worse. These days, i know that my biology is especially poor at ingesting magnesium and potassium from dietary sources, and that I need to supplement both from time to time – the first with tablets, and the second with a banana every second or third day. But that’s nowhere near the whole story on this front.

      Spinal Damage

      Another part of the story lay in the old back injury, more specifically, some low-level spinal damage where nervous impulses were crossing over from sensory nerves transmission up the spine to muscle-contraction nerves down the spine. These would create regular twitching and tendons locking up into cramp. Many of these did not have specific pain receptors, so there was no signal that anything was wrong, until they reached the point of collapse, causing the whole muscle into extreme cramp.

      A different prescription, and again it seemed to help. But it also got me referred to a podiatrist, who determined that both lower legs were constantly on the verge of cramping, so locked up were the tendons and ligaments. This was a problem because they locked by filling with blood, and if they stayed that way for too long, the blood would clot; those clots could then break up and cause heart attacks, strokes, etc. Worse still, this blocks or restricts the muscle’s nutrient supply; it can actually die causing all the problems that you would expect.

      Dry Needling

      Enter a new therapeutic regime: dry needling plus regular home massage. The first uses the tension of the muscle against itself, creating twitches that relax it. Occasionally, the acupuncture needles used get bent by the force of the muscle’s response; in my case, several of the needles came out bent by angles of ninety degrees or more. After each such treatment, conditions improved and the leg cramping became less frequent.

      Home Massage Therapy

      The second treatment basically means, “rub your legs until you find a sore spot, then push it into the leg as hard as you can for as long as you can, or until the pain starts to go away, then release and repeat.” If you can get the “big stuff” with dry needling, this helps a lot with whatever’s left.

      Overdose

      Still another part of the problem is that while a shortage of Potassium, Magnesium, or Sodium can cause cramps, so can too much of the first two, and that can last considerably longer.

      Prognosis

      Overall, the incidence has gone down from three-to-four debilitating leg cramps per night, to often none at all. Adjustment s to sleeping posture so as to avoid triggers have helped. The problem will never completely go away; its something that has to be managed, day-to-day and week-to-week. I went almost all of last summer without a leg cramp; this summer hasn’t been as clear of events, but there have been extenuating circumstances.

    Toes & Ankles

    Each leg is different, with it’s own idiosyncrasies, in terms of those triggers that I mentioned. The right foot is very sensitive to the angles of the ankle, both in the forward and side-to-side planes; bend it just a little too much, or too little, and a stiffness begins in the calf that eventually becomes a full-blown leg “mega-cramp”. This is especially problematic in winter, when the weight of blankets and such tends to push the foot one way or the other while sleeping.

    With the left leg, it’s the toes that are the major trigger, and these usually result in a cramp of the insole of the foot or the bottom of the foot. These are often more easily treated and less enduring than the “mega-cramps” but it can be a problem when they occur at the same time – one wants the toes to go one way for relief and the other wants the opposite!

      Prognosis

      These are all bound up in the same causes as the leg cramps. Often, they are triggered by the leg cramps or vice-versa. There have been times when I’ve had two cramps in my left foot and a cramp in each leg, all at the same time. That’s painful, and hard to relieve.

      Management and treatment were successfully reducing the frequency and intensity, at least until recently, and I have every reason to hope that once some of the current circumstances abate, progress will be resumed.

    Feet

    For the past few years, my feet have had a problem with swelling, especially at night. This comes from sitting for too long, more than anything else. It’s not a huge problem, which is good, because the primary chemical treatments are contra-indicated by the leg-cramping problem.

      Footwear size

      Where it does become a problem is with footwear. If I buy something that fits when my feet are not swollen, it will be a size-and-a-half too small when they are, and vice-versa. Complicate that by the fact that footwear. becomes looser when it is broken in, and you have a real problem in knowing what size to shop for.

      My primary preference for footwear. is a specific range of thongs, which Americans call flip-flops. These are the only product I’ve ever tried that fitted my perfectly from the moment I first put them on. They are a cheap Chinese import that are not always available; I bought two pair the last time I saw them, and have literally worn holes in both pairs over subsequent years. Their big advantage is that they are more elastic than most; they stretch when my feet swell and shrink back when they don’t.

      Current Primary Footwear

      The pair that I am most frequently using these days are a different design. They have only just broken in, going from too tight to too loose; I now have to be careful as they threaten to come off my feet every time I climb stairs. And, even at their best, they are not as comfortable as the preferred ones.

      I’ve bought other pairs in the “right” size only to toss them after a single wearing – uncomfortable, or they just had no grip, or both.

      Other Current Footwear

      I have a pair of rubber sandals that are too small by at least a size and not yet broken in. I can only wear them when my feet are not swollen and even then, only for short periods. I hope that they will become more useful when breaking-in is complete.

      I have other footwear. – Ugg boots for winter, some steel-reinforced boots with arch support – but they are hard to put on for reasons having nothing to do with my feet. I use these mainly when it’s wet out.

      All these, for a man who (for many years) had one pair of boots and one pair of formal shoes, just shows how simple things that most people take for granted can end up costing a lot more when you’re disabled.

      And it also shows that even such a simple thing as “what shoes should I buy” becomes something that needs very careful planning and management in that situation.

    Knees II

    My right knee continued to slowly deteriorate, and a couple of years ago it became clear that a knee replacement, long mooted as a possibility, was something that I would require at some near-future point. That was looming to be my next big healthcare challenge, for a while. Management of the knees was beginning to complicate the management of the leg-cramping situation, and vice-versa, for quite a while.

    It’s still part of the picture, but it’s now debatable whether or not it is the focus. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

    Neck

    I woke up one day with mild chest pain, acute stabbing pain in my neck when I tried to turn my head to the left, and numbness down my left arm. You can imagine my reaction, but by the time I got to the phone to call an ambulance, the chest pain had stopped. Warily, I went to see my Doctor instead, who sent me off for a battery of tests and referred me to a cardiologist, who ordered still more tests. Results: my heart beats a little too fast for its own good, my blood pressure is right at the peak of where it’s safe for it to be (but not enough to require intervention) and everything else cardiac related is normal.

    Ultimately, it was determined that a spinal disc in my neck had slipped and that there were the beginnings of arthritis in the two joints above it. Once the disc was massaged back into place, no more problem – for now.

    Except that the disc in question likes to play walkabout – the next time, it slipped the other way, and the numbness was down my right side – no pain that time, except when I turned my head.

    Putting the disk back where it’s supposed to be is now a part of my daily routine. Until that arthritis becomes a problem, that seems to be all that’s necessary; I have had only one recurrence since this became my practice. So this problem, at least for now, is managed.

    Hip

    About 25 years ago, I began having strong hip pain. X-rays were taken and examined, and revealed that the head of the femur was pitted; a diagnosis of a mild case Avascular Necrosis was recorded, but my Doctor at the time found that there was a discrepancy between the pain being experienced and the state of the femur at the time. He felt that there was a good chance that the lining of the hip joint had worn, permitting nerves to be pinched, and that surgery was not yet necessary; he gave me injections of cortisone in both joints, and as a result, I was pain free for about 20 years – which rather confirmed his diagnosis.

    When the pain began to return, some five years ago, I was sent for a fresh batch of x-rays, and referred to a specialist surgeon. His diagnosis was mild Avascular Necrosis, requiring an eventual fill hip transplant, costing thousands of dollars – not because of his fees, but because his preferred anesthesiologist and surgical support team weren’t covered by government support. The alternative would be to wait in a queue through the public system, possibly for as much as six months, once symptoms became acute.

    Since I could see no difference between the image he showed me and the one taken twenty years prior, I wanted to try another set of cortisone injections, but he not only would not hear of it, he refused any other form of palliative treatment or care. To say that I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. But, thereafter, whenever I raised the subject with my doctor (a different one to the first mentioned), all she would say is “you need a hip replacement”.

    My attitude was (and is), “Please try the palliative injections. They may not work, but equally, they may. I accept that I will need a hip replacement eventually, but I don’t know that the day has yet arrived.”

    So, here we are, five years later, and every time I climb stairs, I can hear and feel bone grinding on bone in my hip. There is no pain from that, and there are no signs that the hip is getting any weaker.

    I’d go back to the first doctor, but I think that he died a couple of years back.

    More on this in a moment.

    Sleep/Exhaustion

    Everything listed so far contributes to poor sleep – getting woken up every 90 minutes or so by something or other, needing to spend between 10 and 30 minutes sitting up or walking around or some combination, then back to bed and try to go back to sleep.

    I’m pretty good at not needing a lot of sleep – I get by with 6 hours or so a night for long periods of time. I used to be even better at it, which has come in handy from time to time!

    But night after night of four hours or less? After about six months, that gets to be too much, even for me. So fatigue and exhaustion – to the point of not remembering to take medication – is a slippery slope that has caught me out a couple of times.

    The leg cramps are – were – the driving and dominant factor. When they abate, I get enough sleep, and all is well. The chief difficulty lies in these other conditions making it hard to avoid those leg cramps.

    At least, that was the case until the interval between Christmas and New Year, 2022-23.

    Abductor Muscles

    Returning home from my Mother’s, where I had holidayed, I was walking down the railway station platform with my luggage trailing behind me when I felt something go “pop” in my thigh. It instantly became extremely painful to walk. Later, I found that I could no longer lift that leg under it’s own power while sitting, and putting any weight on it brought instant pain.

    I gave it a week or so, noticing some improvement, and then went to see my doctor early in the new year. She immediately assumed that my hip joint had failed, and “You need a hip replacement, urgently”. No tests of any kind, no examination. I was convinced that I had simply strained a muscle, and wanted some input from a physical therapist on exercises to help the healing process. Her response: “if that’s the case, it will heal on its own in six months or so.”

    Underwhelmed again. As usual, her primary focus was on my Diabetes and its management, and completely ignored any suggestion that anything else might complicate that.

    It was that “some improvement” that I found compelling; if the doctor was right about the cause, there would not have been any improvement. And, over the next 6 months, with no help from my doctor at all, there was substantial improvement, to the point where most of the time, it was as good as it had been – and then a setback.

    Knees III & More Cramps

    Physical activity in that six-month period had been restricted and difficult. As I recovered, it improved; I was following the same management approach that had been so successful with my back problems – learn you limits and only exceed them, judiciously, when you absolutely had to.

    My knee gave out on me. Walking with the hip problem was inducing a twisting motion with each step, and that was something my dodgy right knee simply couldn’t cope with. At the same time, because I had trouble putting my weight on that leg, my left had been left to do most of the work, and started to act up as a result – more leg cramps, more disrupted sleep, etc.

    The knee became worse than it had ever been, and that began to put additional strain on the hip. It was a classic catch-22.

    Suddenly, my hip went back to being much worse, as well, as a result of modifying my gait to accommodate the knee injury.

    I took a photo of my knees (on a fairly good day) while sitting down, and did some sketching over the top. It might not be 100% anatomically correct, but it’s pretty close. The Leg, as usual, is lurking in the background (see below). It shows the displacement of the kneecaps, the potential for pinched nerves and bone-on-bone contact, and how badly the right knee swells on even a moderately-bad day.

    I looked into the surgical options, because that’s what my doctor kept telling me was necessary. What I found was that when both have to be replaced, the vast preference (for many reasons) is that the hip be done first, even if it was the knee that was the primary limitation.

    But the restrictions that were imposed following a successful hip replacement were more severe than the restrictions that the existing hip problem were forcing on me. Conclusion: I might need one eventually, but not yet. The knee was a far higher priority.

    Additional restrictions on sleeping positions made the leg cramps a recurring factor, too. It was like a conspiracy of body parts.

    Oh, and one more thing: The knee swells when I use it in discomfort. That puts pressurure on everything else, forcing it into closer proximity, and increasing the likelihood and frequency of pinched nerves.

    “The Leg”

    It has now reached the point where I simply refer to the whole biological component as “The Leg” – “The Leg is good today” or “I’m having trouble with The Leg at the moment.”

    Nevertheless, despite the setbacks, progress continued to be made. I am now much fitter than I was six months ago, and – at times – can even move around a little without the use of my walking stick.

    This is good, because about 4 months ago, the other shoe dropped.

    The other shoe

    That’s when I was given 90 days notice to vacate the premises that I am still dwelling within – with the owner’s consent, I hasten to add. This created three challenges to be overcome.

    The first was financial – it was going to cost thousands of dollars to move, and I simply didn’t have the money. It took a month to solve that problem.

    The second was packing, given my physical limitations. For three months, I worked daily on the task until I could no longer stand up – pushing my limits to the extreme. That contributed a lot to “The Leg” and its issues. About 2 weeks ago, i reached the point where I could be packed and loading a moving van in 48 hours, and was officially living out of cardboard boxes. With that, and assurance from the owner that I could now “take as long as I needed”, I’ve backed off the pace (but not stopped entirely).

    That has led to actual improvements in “The Leg”, noticeable even in only that short amount of time. I am still disabled, limited in what I can do, restricted in how much of anything can be achieved, but I’m better than I was.

Overall Condition Analysis

Okay, so that’s the medical history that’s relevant, and quite a lot of it there is, too. But it’s all context; now we get to the part that might actually be useful to GMs out there – overarching analysis and specific impacts. First the analysis:

    Pain-free days

    I have very few completely pain-free days. I had one in 2022, and another in 2021. There were three in 2020, and three more in 2018 and 19.

    Eight in six years.

    And every one of them has been a trap – it’s so easy to do too much when you don’t feel restricted, and then spend the next week or more recuperating from “having a really good day”.

    Pain management is a constant, and all the more so when there’s no pain to manage. This takes a little of the shine off even the best days, health-wise.

    Let’s say you have three conditions, each of which has a 5% chance of not giving pain on a given day. For a fully pain-free day, you need all three of them to come up trumps.

      5% x 5% x 5% = 0.0125%.
      x 365.25 days, times 6 years = 0.2739375 – well, I’ve had more than that.

    Correction Factor:

      6 / 0.2739375 = 21.9; cube root of 21.9 = 2.7978; so 5% x 2.7978 = 14%.

    Which yields

      14% x 14% x 14% = 0.2744.
      x 365.25 days, times 6 years = 6.013476 pain-free days.

    That gives you some indication of severity.

    Good Days

    In general, though, that’s an oversimplification. Most days, there is an ebb and flow, some parts of it okay-to-good, some parts of it less so.

    What is a good day? Well, when only one of the three conditions is acting up, and that one mildly, or when two of them are giving trouble but both are VERY mild. Or when one problem gives way to another, with at least half a day that’s pain-free in between.

    With some basic assumptions (Very mild = same probability as no pain, mild = twice this) and compounding subdivisions of the day of approximately equal size (regardless of the length of that day) I could calculate it out, but that says nothing about the validity of those assumptions.

    Instead (and I don’t remember them or count them, not like the pain-free days) – there are three variations on a good day, each of which is going to be more likely than a completely pain-free day – let’s do some guesstimation: 6 pain free, x 1.5^2 = 13.5; x 3 pathways = 40.5; plus interaction potential x 3^2 = 364.5.

    That sounds about right. Around 61 a year, or one in six – except that they will tend to cluster together, so it’s not a random distribution.

    Today is a fairly good day (so far); aside from one leg cramp (moderately severe) last night, and some moderate pain this morning, and the occasional brief burst of pain during the day, it’s been excellent. So, not perfect, but not as bad as yesterday. But I have to do some shopping in a few moments, and that could be enough to push it down to being a “Fairly Good Day”.

    Fairly Good Days

    A fairly good day is fairly similar, except that whatever physical problems do occur will be that much more severe and more painful. Or more frequent.

    A day – when you’re counting 3-10 minute bursts – is a LONG time. 144-480 bursts. An average of about 312. Adjust for only 18 out of 24 hours being relevant to get 234.

    That’s 234 chances for something to be seriously wrong or seriously painful. Most of the time, there’s little or no chance, but 10% or so of the time – call it 25 times a day – to only have minor issues? That’s a fairly good day.

    I have probably about as many fairly good days as Good Days. After all, it only takes one medical issue to be really bad that day or even only for half the day, to push it down into a lower category

    Bad Days

    The remainder of the six years are evenly divided between Bad Days and Really Bad Days.

    It’s a bad day when one issue or another actively interferes with your day, forcing you to plan around it. It might not be for the whole day; it might be first one thing and then another. It doesn’t matter.

    Really Bad Days

    Really bad days are the ones where two or more are a serious issue for most, if not all, of the day, to the point where anything beyond the daily routine risks taking you from Stage 3 to stage 4 or 5.

    Broad Impact

    On a really good day, you can do 3 major tasks lasting up to 45 minutes each. One might be sweeping the floor, or doing the laundry, or going shopping. Every additional non-sedentary task pushes you toward either today or tomorrow being a worse day than today by a step. Also note that some tasks you might consider sedentary require leaning forward to the monitor – digital art for example – that can push it out of that category. See also “sitting down”, below.

    On a good day, it’s two major tasks.

    A Fairly Good Day is one major task.

    A Bad day is no major tasks without incurring risks.

    And on a Really Bad Day? Any major task is certain to impact on you for several days or weeks. Defer if you can, work around whatever the problem is if you can, give yourself permission to rest if you have to, do only half the job if you have to, and make up the difference further down the track.

Impact On Ordinary Activities

On top of those major tasks, I have a carefully-designed and structured daily cycle, that I vary only at extreme need. Even if there is some need to do so, I will try and work around it.

Before describing the impact on normal, routine tasks that everyone else can take for granted, I thought it would be useful to spell out that routine and the reasons for each part in the sequence.

    Daily Cycle

    There are ten broad parts to my daily cycle.

      Get Up

      “Or Not” is usually not an option. I can’t lie in bed all day without incurring leg cramps or back pain or both, and the day does rapidly downhill from there. If I’m really tired, I may be able to sneak an extra hour or two of sleep, but that can impact the tail end of the day.

      Shower

      This also involves a set sub-routine – I shave every second day, and in summer, shampoo. If I got very sweaty the previous day, I may wash my hair even though it isn’t due. Note, too, that shaving and washing your hair is a great way of restoring energy if you are seriously fatigued; there have been occasions when I’ve known already that I will need a pick-up later in the day in the form of a second shower and those activities.

      In winter, unless I’ve been physically active enough to raise a sweat, I might do the washing of the hair every 3rd day.

      I have to massage my neck until the disc locks back into place, and massage my back until it stops aching. I may need to rub legs and tired muscles, especially after a major cramp. There will also be a certain amount of stretching required, while the muscles are more pliable from the hot water.

      I have to take longer showers than most people, because these activities are what enable me to get through the day.

      Dressing

      After drying off, it’s time to get dressed. This, plus the walk to and from the bathroom, are my first significant indicators of what the day is going to be like. I generally have to use my arms to lift The Leg enough to get it into underwear and pants. Shoes and boots can be significantly difficult, and socks even more so. I may have to get onto the bed, sitting up, bring my whole body around to get my feet onto the bed, manually lift The Leg at the need using my arms, and lean forward (putting strain on my back) in order to do so.

      Medical Assessment / Planning The Day

      By the time I’m dressed, I’ll have some indication of what sort of day I’m going to have, health-wise, and can plan the day around the major activities that are at the top of my to-do list.

      2-4 hours

      The next 2-4 hours are when I am at the best or second-best that I will be, all day. I’ll spend 1-1½ hours of that on some sedentary task (usually emails etc) and the rest on my first major task of the day, usually one of the more physically active ones. A medical reassessment at the end of that period informs the rest of the day.

      4-10 hours

      The bulk of the day is usually not as good or as productive at non-sedentary tasks, but on a good or fairly good day I can make room for one or two.

      10-14 hours

      After sitting for most of the 6 hours above, I am usually at my best or next-best physical condition. In summer especially, it is now significantly cooler and more comfortable. Time to have at the last major task of the day. Lately, this has been reserved for packing. On a really good day, I might be able to make a double-stint of it, especially if I can sit down for part of that.

      If I’m really tired, I might need to take a nap in this period. That has even more catastrophic consequences on the daily routine, however.

      14+ hours

      That’s when my day starts running downhill. If I’m in any pain at all. Somewhere between midnight and 1AM I will usually get my second wind, going from fatigued to to alert to sleep. If I’ve taken a nap, or slept in, I might not even be feeling all that fatigued.

      If I’m in any sort of pain, or if I’ve mashed up my sleep cycle, I can’t go to sleep until I again feel fatigued; I’ll just lie in bed until beset by a cramp. On days with an intact sleep cycle, that’s usually 3-4AM, sometimes 5AM; on days when I’ve gotten extra sleep, it might be 6, 7, 8, or even 9 AM. Anything past 6AM eats into the available sleeping time before the next day begins, and that can be both good and bad.

      Good in that it means I will be more tired the next night and (hopefully) able to go to bed at some more appropriate time of night; bad in that a lot of recovery and recuperation take place while you sleep, so the next day everything will be that bit more sensitive and prone to pain.

      Undressing & Getting Into Bed

      Undressing can sometimes be as big a production as dressing was, but it’s usually simpler and easier.

      When my muscles are especially fatigued from a hard day (a relative term, I must admit), simply getting into bed can be enough to trigger a major leg cramp. When that’s not the problem, I have to turn down the bed, manually lift The Leg up (I can straighten it, I just can’t bend it at the knee or lift it under its own power), pivot my whole torso and left leg to get them into position, adjust how far down the bed I am (I need my heels or toes to dangle off the end of the mattress) and then search around for a sleeping position in which nothing is complaining. That process can sometimes take 10 or 15 minutes.

      The wrong position will trigger (a) Leg Cramps (b) Pain the next day (c) Pain in the limb overnight, enough to wake you (d) the slipped disc in the neck and/or (e) back pain the next day, sometimes longer. With that on your mind, it’s understandably harder to get to sleep – hence the need for exhaustion.

      Sleeping

      As the night unfolds, I will often toss and turn; it’s very rare that what was a good sleeping position stays that way. If I’m lucky, I’ll settle into another comfortable position, especially now that most of my muscles have relaxed, their job done for the day. Of course, sometimes something doesn’t get the memo, and a cramp will start building up.

    Looking over that summary, I’m struck by how much of the day is spent doing things that could be characterized as resting, at least physically, just to be able to do the minimal amount listed.

    I mean, other things that can be considered Major Activities include cooking a meal (if you have to monitor / stir something); changing the sheets; doing the washing up; taking the garbage out if there’s a lot of it; moving or cleaning a piece of furniture; washing the floor; assembling a bookshelf; changing a light-bulb; changing the smoke-alarm battery… It doesn’t take much to fully occupy the available slots, and then it’s a question of whether or not something is urgent enough to justify the risk of worse days to follow.

    Specific Tasks

    We’ve been drilling down through the structures of activities to reach the point of talking about specific actions. I’ve listed 18 of these, though some of them are cheats, perhaps. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide what’s what, in that respect.

    The one thing that I should point out before beginning is the physiological context. You have a knee and hip that have no power or strength and don’t like to change; a set of leg muscles that don’t like staying in the same position for too long; feet that want to be elevated; and a back that doesn’t like leaning, bending, or lifting.

      Sitting Down

      Time was when I could simply drop into a chair without a second thought. Those times are long gone. No matter which problem joint you’re talking about, slowly is much better than quickly. Either I have to use the walking stick for support to slowly descend into my seat, or I have to hold onto the table or chair or both.

      I use an executive chair, so it’s on wheels, so sitting down is just the start; I then have to pull or push the chair into position with my one good leg and arms. Then I have to arrange my legs so that I’m comfortable.

      Only then have I fully sat down.

      Standing Up

      Standing up is a production of leverage. Trying to hold onto the chair just pushes it away, leading to a fall – not good when your bones are suspect and a pinched nerve is easy.

      Using the walking stick in one hand and the table in the other is usually the best bet.

      There is always a protest of pain from the knee of The Leg. It doesn’t last more than a few seconds. The hip makes no complaint until you actually try to let go of one or more of your supports, when it refuses to move The Leg and refuses to bear any weight. That also only lasts a few seconds, and then I’m ready to try to walk.

      It’s critical to ensure that I have my balance right when you try to stand up; if I don’t, I will almost certainly go back down, and bad luck if the chair isn’t there to catch me. The action of standing usually pushes it away when my legs straighten.

      If I have to be off-balance, it has to be based entirely around my left leg; The Leg will not bear my weight on its own.

      Maximum Time On My Feet

      As a general rule, unless I’ve been on my feet for too long, I can stand on both feet without support – at least for a while. This maximum used to be 5 minutes, then grew to 10, 20, and now is somewhere close to the 30-minute mark. And that’s despite The Leg.

      Walking

      Walking is whole separate challenge, and often the biggest difference between the 2-4 hr time period and the 14+ time period. At first, there is pain from the Leg – both Hip and Knee with every step, and as much as I can do to hobble, even with the aid of my walking stick.

      But, as I continue, the hip pain begins to fade, and then the knee pain moderates. Depending on the day, it might be that neither goes away completely, but it gets better. The better the day is, the more normally I can walk – but that’s a trap; it only takes one misstep to plunge one or both joints into severe pain. The secret is to take small steps – something slightly better than a shuffle – and to do so slowly, testing The Leg cautiously each time weight is put on it.

      Changing direction or side-stepping is another trap that I have to be wary of. Neither the hip nor the knee like turning all that much, and I’ve already talked about the impact of the slightest twisting motion.

      On a good day, or a fairly good day, I might not need the walking stick at all, even if my speed is reduced to a shuffle. On any other kind of day, I rely on the walking stick to a greater or lesser extent.

      Whenever I can, as much as I can, I do without the stick, even though I may keep it close at hand. There’s a truism that says “use it or lose it” – I find that the more that I walk normally, the more I am able to walk normally. Of course, this only matters on “good” and “very good” days! But that brings me to my next activity:

      Maximum Walking Distance

      Another area of vast improvement over the years. At one point, it was 50m (164 ft), and then 20 minutes rest. Then it became 75m, 100m and 125m, while the resting period came down to 10 minutes.

      What I realized, when things got to this point, was that the full rest wasn’t needed. 2-5 minutes didn’t restore full mobility, but it did give back 80% of it – at the end of which, another 2-5 mins gave back most of that 80%.

      By 2022, I could manage a kilometer, occasionally one-and-a-half (0.6 – 0.93 miles). With the new injury, it dropped back to about 25m, and has now built up to about 220m – on a typical day. The nearest bus stop is 125m away – and I can usually manage that even on a bad day.

      And that 80% rule still works.

      Picking something up

      With a knee that doesn’t like to bend, a hip that doesn’t like to change position relative to the torso, and a back that doesn’t want to lift, this can be extremely problematic. If I’m seated, I can lean down to my left while extending The Leg out for balance, with a little bit of difficulty, and moderate pain that doesn’t last.

      As much as possible, though, I avoid this.

      It’s had a major impact on my packing strategy – smaller boxes and more of them. Even so, there have been some boxes which are just too heavy – I have to repack one of those later this evening, because even though most of the contents are empty plastic containers, the cumulative weight is still too much for me to get to the table where I seal up the packed boxes. It’s most pots and pans, plus those containers. And bread-and-butter plates, and soup/dessert bowls.

      Carrying something

      Even the way I’m labeling the boxes is impacted – “Very heavy” I can barely carry, “heavy” I can manage with difficulty, and “light” I can carry with some ease – usually because they aren’t full!

      It’s virtually impossible to use the walking stick for support unless you can carry the box / object one-handed. So a slow shuffle is called for – see Walking, above.

      But there’s a way around that limitation, with my back doing so well – i have a sports bag that I can carry on my left shoulder. Walking stick in my right hand, and I’m fine – at least until I get to slopes or stairs.

      Going down stairs

      I actually don’t have a lot of trouble going down stairs unless the knee is especially bad. But I do have to be cautious of my balance – sometimes, The Leg isn’t quite where I expected it to be.

      Going up stairs

      Going back up is more problematic. If I can manage the walking stick in my left hand and the railing in my right, that’s the optimum configuration.

      Momentum is a big thing – once I’m going up, it’s easier to keep going up than to stop and start again – but it’s not everything.

      But now put something in my left hand – a shopping bag, or an umbrella – and the walking stick under my arm, and it gets more difficult. Even an empty cardboard box can be problematic. So this is something I’m very careful of, and one of the most strenuous activities that I have to perform regularly.

      Going down slopes

      Small steps are even more important on slopes, and caution concerning balance. This is prime territory for a pinched knee nerve or twisted knee response, especially since The Leg won’t usually be as far forwards as you expect. shuffle, shuffle, balance, shuffle, shuffle, balance… at half even my normal walking rate.

      Going up slopes

      Going UP slopes is even harder. Sometimes I can only manage s 3″ step forward. The temptation is to take a bigger stride with the left leg, but that’s a trap that leads inevitably to leg cramps afterwards. The steeper the slope, the worse it is.

      Coughing & Sneezing

      Coughing causes a spasm of pain in the right knee. Sneezing adds a stab of painful protest from the Hip. Afterwards, expect the knee to throb with a low-level of pain for ten minutes or so, intensifying the pain from any other activity.

      Cleaning / Laundry / Cooking

      For the most part, these are Major Activities, as listed earlier. But the can sometimes be done piecemeal. The problems are those already described, for the most part – picking things up, carrying them, standing up, walking, and so on.

      Writing / Sitting

      The position of the legs is critical to being able to do this for any length of time. Being seated all the way back in the chair is also massively important – leaning forward has led to chairs slipping out from under me, causing a fall.

      Digital Art / Leaning Forward

      I’ve mentioned this earlier, but focusing on small details on the screen demands leaning forwards, and that means putting my legs under the chair (where they don’t like to be) and leaning forward (where my back doesn’t like me to be). Instead of 2-3 hours of intense activity of this sort, I’m finding that only an hour or so is now possible at a stretch – more on good days, less on bad. This is just another factor in planning and management of my time.

      Exhaustion

      When in a good position, if I’m extremely tired, I can nod off – and for that reason, I bought myself a new executive chair for my Birthday this year, one with armrests on both sides, just to keep me in place. Unfortunately, the metal structure within the chair had a fatigue crack that snapped almost immediately, though I didn’t know that for quite some time – not until the right arm fell off.

      So this now poses an additional danger that I have to be wary of. If I manage to get comfortable leaning to the left and back, I can sleep securely for hours – which can be a lifesaver if the left leg is on a cramping-fest. The biggest danger involved is getting so much sleep in the chair that it then becomes hard to get to sleep when I awaken and drag myself off to bed.

      Unfortunately again, the chair has (and always has had) a list to the right; it is VERY easy to overbalance if the sleep is unintentional, causing me to awaken with a jerk when balance is lost. This rarely results in a fall, but it always feels like one.

      Distraction

      When you are intensely focused on something, and the phone rings, there is a tendency to jump. For most people, this reaction is so small they won’t even notice it – that changes when it brings a wave of knee/hip/back pain. It doesn’t last, it’s little more than an irritant, but it’s a frequent one.

      Packing To Move

      At least one third of my packing has been accomplished using small steps; every time I have to get up for some reason, I spend 5-10 minutes ‘advancing the project’. Even if I only get up once an hour, that’s still more than an hour’s extra packing each and every day – and that takes just a little of the strain off the main schedule of tasks.

    No Speed Limits

    Bear in mind that you frequently don’t know you’re crossing a limit until it bites you, and the damage is already done.

    It’s a bit like cruising on a winding country road, at night, with a broken speedometer. You’re the only car around so far as the eye can see. Passing objects come and go from view so quickly that they provide only the most basic guide to what speed you’re doing. There are no speed limit signs posted. And you’re in a sports car.

    How often are you going to break the speed limits? Most places (Germany’s Autobahns being an exception) have a default speed limit baked into the law – it might be national, it might be state, it might be regional, but it’s there and you have only a vague idea of what it is.

    And lurking in wait, at multiple locations along this country road, are public officials with guns, badges, and radar guns.

    Sometimes, you won’t know that you’ve gone too far until the next day, when you find yourself in Stage 2, or Stage 3. You will usually only get to Stages 4 or 5 if, in the course of the day, you reached stages 2 or 3 and kept going despite these drastic warning signs.

    There will always be occasions when you have no choice. The best thing that you can do is build up resistance and resilience so that you have some protection in your back pocket for when you need it.

    In Game Terms

    These tasks all have two things in common – they are done more slowly, and they are always planned.

    And that’s the foundation for putting them into game terms.

    Mechanics

    The simplest approach is to count up how many incidents or events there are going to be in the day using the basic tasks list. There might be twenty, there might be 100, depending on how busy a day it is. It’s always the unplanned events that are the most costly. On average, there will be 3-5 an hour (call it four for convenience) and then adjust upward for a busy day or downward for an easy day.

    16 hrs x 4/hr = 64.

    My, didn’t that get big quickly?

    • For each one, roll 1d6 (do them all at once if you can).
    • Anything but a 6 is a success – but keep track of any 1’s as well.
    • Each 6 exceeds your limits.
    • Every 2 1’s lets you get away with one of those excesses. But there’s a rub – whatever your condition of the day is, you have to remove that many 1’s.
    • If the number of 6 exceeds the number of 1s, you still aren’t in trouble; half of those events resulted in immediate pain, telling you to back off and calm down.
    • After taking away that half, and everything that’s been cleared by 1’s, count up how many sixes you have left.
    • 1, 3, 5, 10, 20 – those are thresholds for tomorrow being one stage worse than today. So it’s really hard to go from a good day to Stage 5 in one hit, in fact it’s only possible if you really do do too much. Getting to Stage 3 in one go is comparatively easy.

    While you can slip multiple levels on a single day, you can only ever improve by 1. Sometimes, the best you can hope for is that tomorrow is no worse than today.

    These represent a specific form of INT check. So if your intelligence is good, a successful save will take away dice equal to the amount you succeeded by – and, if you’re smart, you’ll take away sixes first, then 2-5s.

    INT check? Don’t you mean…?

    No, I don’t mean a CON check or a FORT check or a STR check or a DEX check. Those may have their place in determining how successfully a task can be completed, or even if a major task can be completed at all, but that’s not what this is about.

    This is to determine the effectiveness of your planning for the day, of your planning each individual maneuver – where you are going to put your feet, where is your center of gravity going to be, and so on – and it’s about recognizing when you’re going over a limit and stopping before you go too far, and modifying your planning accordingly.

Other forms of disability

Okay, I’m not an expert in anything but my own condition, but it seems to me that any other form of disability is going to be analogous, though the interpretation might be different.

The similarities between what I have described and what someone who has lost a limb have to go through seem fairly obvious. Once again, they have to plan everything that they do, though time and training can create a threshold high enough that they don’t even notice and do things automatically.

Same story for any unfortunate stuck in a wheelchair. You still want to do all the things you used to do, you still feel capable of them – but you aren’t.

My grandfather was struck blind by an accident. I saw him having to plan everything but doing so. My stepmother is losing her sight (and has been, for years); together, she and my father have found ways around this infirmity, to the point where I don’t see either of them being able to cope very well without the other – not for very long, anyway. What she is able to do despite this infirmity is astonishing. I doubt I could cope as well – too much of what I do is visual in nature. It would be as bad as losing one or both hands, if not worse.

Things are a little trickier when it comes to those with mental disabilities; I have known several people who were as intelligent as you or me, but who were forced to try and communicate their thoughts through brains that had such defects as to make communications difficult. One of them was a fellow computer programmer back in the day. He could barely speak to anyone, but his code was always as good as anyone else’s, and so was his understanding; his tongue simply couldn’t deliver (and he was in a wheelchair, with one arm that wouldn’t do any fine maneuvering).

Another understood everything that you said to him – but couldn’t retain most of that understanding for even a few minutes. You would have to explain things, repeatedly..

Others have problems thinking at speed, or keeping more than one thought in their heads at a time. There are innumerable variations. But one truth is consistent – to get through their days, they have to find ways of working around whatever their problems are, and that means applying whatever intelligence they possess to planning those workarounds, remembering what worked and what didn’t, and so on.

Unusual Challenges

There are 5 situations that pose unusual challenges both for me and for all other disabled, though the extremity of each can vary from case to case. When they occur, they can cause profound emotional and psychological trauma.

    Tolerance and Intolerance

    The assertion or belief that people with disabilities are less, in some way, than an ordinary person is something that some have to cope with, daily, while others experience it with less frequency but overall, equal regularity.

    The belief that we are rorting the system, or gaming the system, to get an advantage. The belief that we contribute less to society than ordinary people and so deserve less support or consideration.

    These all attack the sense of self-worth and the motivation that you need to actually do things and contribute, socially or intellectually. Some cases are like a childish bully being cruel to a weaker kid, but the worse ones are when the perpetrator doesn’t even realize what they are doing.

    Ableism

    Then there is the attitude that it’s all in our heads and we can do whatever we set our minds to, and that therefore no allowances need to be made for incapacity. Many egalitarian people fall into this trap – in trying to treat the handicapped like real people, they can sometimes fall into the trap of expecting them to be able to achieve like ordinary people.

    Within our limits, we can – but those limits are not those of ordinary people. It takes an extraordinary effort to even approach being normal. This is especially true of those with mental handicaps.

    You do have to make allowances.

    Dismissal

    Just as bad are those who assume that you’re helpless, or worse, worthless. Especially if you put in that extraordinary effort. People often don’t see how far you’ve come, or what your limitations are – only how far you have to go before you can “measure up equally”. Thankfully, this type seem to be becoming more rare.

    Undervalue

    This lies an uncomfortable proximity from that problem – some people will unwittingly undervalue your ability or contributions. They don’t mean to, but – often as a consequence of making the allowances – they do.

    Failure To Cope

    All of this compounds with the stresses of coping with ordinary life to leave some disabled less able to cope, especially when confronting some of these issues. We rub shoulders with our psychological breaking points far more often, and – as with anyone else – when that happens, sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose.

The Disabled As Players

The hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do as a GM was tell a disabled player that the other players did not want him in the game; his handicaps were interfering with their enjoyment of a recreational activity and coping mechanism.

If I had been able to do it, I would have started a game just for him. He understood roleplaying, he understood character situations, he understood mechanics – but could not learn what those mechanics were, at least not quickly enough for the others.

Accordingly, they presented me with an ultimatum – them or him – which left me little choice. I still wish there had been some other solution, but physical, personal and economic circumstances didn’t permit one.

Having a disabled player means making allowances and compromising expectations. It’s like gaming with a small child, though there will be some areas where the disabled player will be just as good at play as you or I.

It’s up to you to find a way to plan around the problems.

Should the same situation recur, I would issue a procedural edict – whenever game mechanics were needed, he told the party what he wanted to do, and someone else at the table would make any necessary rolls and tell him what resulted. This would have obviated the need to explain those mechanics to him every time they occur, which is what the other players found so frustrating. Even if it didn’t work, at least we would have tried.

The Upshot

There are a lot of people out there doing it much harder than I am. Until this move of home was forced upon me, I was settled and stable; handicapped but able to work around the imposed limitations. While the effort of preparing to move has had a debilitating impact, I have every reason to expect things to improve over the six months to a year afterwards, though undoubtedly there will need to be new adjustments to the routine.

I said at the outset that I was not posting this for sympathy. The above explains why – I think others deserve your support and sympathy far more than I do. I’m coping.

And that’s what disabled characters in your games will be doing, too – they are on a personal journey, an arc of learning new limits and learning not to violate them without need, learning how to cope and work around the limitations imposed on them by their conditions, be those physical, emotional, psychological, or social. It’s a process that takes time, and some people are handicapped in their capacity for making such adjustments.

They appreciate any slack they are cut with reference to the standards of performance of an ordinary uninjured person. They know they sometimes need help doing basic things. But they have the full emotional range of everyone else.

It’s an unfortunate truth that the disabled are like any other minority – underrepresented in media and entertainment of all forms. The difference is that when it’s a racial under-representation, you can become aware of it and solve it quickly and easily.

The handicapped deserve to be more than street beggars in your campaigns. Certainly, some of them will be reduced to that, but some will find ways around their problems, and that attitude should earn them a place in the game – not as a prominent or featured character, necessarily, but simply there in the background much of the time.

There are people out there, fighting new battles every day, and often winning them. They have my total respect for what they achieve, and for what they attempt – even if they fail. They should be represented by characters in RPGs doing exactly the same – nothing less, and usually, nothing more.

One final thought to embed: you can think of every character, PC or NPC alike, as disabled to some extent in some way. In the luckier (and more common) cases, those restrictions are so small that people ignore them, or reduce them to a statistic on a page, and never have to learn to plan around them. But everyone has their limits.

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The Mists Of Fear Orrorsh Revisited 2


This entry is part 4 in the series Extracts from Mike's TORG Materials

The original Orrorsh game supplement is harder to track down than some, but Amazon has a number of copies still.
Those interested should follow (I will get a small commission).

Preamble Revisit:

A long time ago, I rewrote some fairly fundamental parts of Orrorsh, the Horror Realm. While packing, I discovered where it had been filed away. This is not a complete standalone work; you will still need the official supplement to use it.

Why, then, should I read it?

The reasons are the same as last time, unsurprisingly.

First, it demonstrates how to solve a particular design problem that can occur in creating any game world: that the first draft doesn’t deliver what’s promised on the cover.

Second, some of that is achieved by rules changes, so it also demonstrates how to change the official rules of a game system to customize it to a particular set of requirements.

Third, Horror and Scary have a place in any genre, and this can be used as a foundation for bringing those elements to anything from Traveller to D&D/Pathfinder.

Fourth, because game balance isn’t just a gamey catch-phrase, and it’s a target that is easily missed. I think this supplement achieves that, though my TORG players might disagree.

And, finally, because it can be used as a game setting for campaigns / game systems outside TORG (with a bit of work), and one that’s quite different to the normal offerings.

Flavors Of Text Panel

This work employs four different text panels for different purposes. They have been color-coded and titles used throughout so that you always know what’s in front of you and why.

Definitions / Background

This style of panel is used to clue readers in on some of the broader background and context that is needed to understand the main content. In general, there was an assumed level of knowledge in the text regarding the broader concepts of the TORG system that cannot be assumed here; these panels fill (most) of the gaps. There should be fewer of these this time around.

Player’s Question:

The one taste the players had of the Horror Realm involved a guest player acting the role of the Monster/Horror. That player asked a number of questions using post-it notes to clarify different points – some of them specific to the Horror that they were running, and some more generic in nature. I’ve decided to include these, for whatever they are worth.

— My answers / responses to those questions get appended within the same text panel, like this.

Author’s Note(s):

The original text was written about 25 years ago. I’ve learned a lot since then, and some of my opinions on how to do things have evolved. This sort of text panel is where I discuss such alternatives and toss in the occasional snide remark at myself. I’m also using these for style notes.

It’s worth noting that I’m using a few design tricks that I’ve never employed before, notably backgrounds in these text panels and invisible headings in the chapter title graphics that still yield normal SEO benefits. In part 1, I didn’t have the latter figured out – I tried four or five different things but they didn’t work. After publishing Part 1, I bit the bullet and defined a new heading style in the CSS to do the job, which is probably what I should have done in the first place.

I still don’t know why my center alignment function only works properly when there’s a caption, or how to fix it.

Finally (and these should be rare), the “traditional” text panels may appear with sidebar content, and to frame the article, as usual.

I’ll repeat an edited version of this Preamble at the head of each post.

Previously

Part 1 dealt with the broad conceptual strokes, reinventing the “Realm” and the way it operates to create tension and apprehension amongst not just characters but players as well.

High theory is all well and good but ultimately meaningless unless translated into whatever game mechanics are necessary. I’ve written a number of past articles on the subject of

    House Rules,

    Metagaming, and

    RPG Rules and Mechanics Theory.

    (links are to the categories here at CM. In general, “House Rules” refers to actual examples of House Rules offered for consideration, “Metagaming” is about manipulating causes to lead to a desired effect (and when to do it and why), while “RPG Theory” tends to look to a more abstract higher-level analysis. Pick the category that’s more likely to contain what you’re looking for.

How well this content matches up to the theory and principles of those posts is an unknown quantity – I haven’t read ahead, and it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten specifics. It may be a good match, with clean and efficient rules; it may be a poor match, with clunky and time-consuming efforts that these days would not cut the mustard. Either way, they are presented here ‘as is’; if I have anything more to say about them (from a modern perspective), I’ll do so from a gray box.

While I hope to get all the way through chapters 5, 6, and 7 with this post, that’s a tall order. There isn’t enough content in the first two for a full post, so I may have to break off in the middle of Chapter 7. We’ll see how I go…

.

5. World-law Game Mechanics

5. World-law Game Mechanics

Actually using these World Laws requires some changes in Game Mechanics. These changes should be made when a character – even a visiting Storm Knight – is first exposed to Orrorsh. They are listed here in the sequence in which they should be applied.

Author’s Notes: Taking Orrorsh With You

The RAW in my rewritten game supplement misses an important point. When you leave Orrorsh, what happens to these changes?

In essence: If and when you call upon a power earned in Orrorsh, they apply. If Your character has been substantially altered during a visit to Orrorsh, they persist when you leave (if you can leave). If neither of those is the case, then you can file them away somewhere and not bother with them – until the next time you enter an area subject to the Wold Laws of Orrorsh.

5.1 The True Nature Of The Character:

The first stage is to determine the True Nature of the character. There are three options: Horror, Ord, Storm Knight. In general, these are self-evident, but there are two exceptions: Possibility-rated characters from the Nile Empire with Evil Inclination, and Possibility-rated characters from Aysle with Corruption scores.

Definitions:

Horror: a life-form or pseudo-life granted supernatural abilities by exposure to Orrorsh, always at a cost, though the nature and scale of the cost may be hidden.

Ord: ordinary person, no special abilities of any kind from anywhere. Note that this does not prevent the character from having been transformed by the Probability Flux – a human transformed into a Harpy in Aysle can still be an Ord, and able to fly, with the natural attacks of a Harpy.

Storm Knight: Storm Knights carry the potential to (temporarily) reshape the World Laws around themselves so as to use special abilities conferred by other World Laws. They can do other things with the Possibility Energy that makes this possible, but that’s the main one. Furthermore, it is extremely likely that the main use for this ability is to enable them to employ the World Laws of their native environment, transforming their environment into “Home Turf” as it were.

World Laws are the operating principles that define a reality. Note that these are a package deal – all or nothing, you don’t get to pick and choose. Until a Storm Knight exercises his powers to change reality, they are bound by the local World Laws just like any other resident of the reality around them.

Possibility Rated: characters with the potential to become a Storm Knight but for whom this has not yet happened.

The Nile Empire: Pulp / Superhero Reality based in Egypt, with an Ancient-Egyptian motif. World Laws there push characters toward Black-and-white morality choices, even if these are an oversimplification of a more nuanced ethical position.

Aysle: Fantasy Reality based in Western and Northern Europe, excluding most of the continental mainland. World Laws in Aysle state that the morality of deeds is displayed on one’s features – evil and Corruption makes you more ugly, subscribing to the Heroic Ideals makes you more perfect of form and feature. There’s more to this story, but that’s all you need to know from the perspective of this game supplement.

Definitions:

TORG (more accurately, “The TORG”: This is one that should have been included last time around, but which got missed, maybe because it’s a little bit complicated. For that reason, I’m putting it into a text box all on it’s own.

There’s a hierarchy of cosmic power.

  • Creatures without possibility energy lie on the bottom rung. They have no capacity to reshape their world.
  • Ords occupy the second rung. While they have insufficient probability energy to reshape their world directly, they can still shape and influence it, especially en masse.
  • Possibility-Rated Ords occupy the third rung. They have the probability energy to reshape the world around them, but the ability to use it remains dormant until awakened.
  • Storm Knights have both the potential, and the ability to use it has been unlocked. Storm Knights can have minimal Probability Energy – barely more than an Ord – or can be vast powerhouses with unlimited potential.
  • A High Lord’s Lieutenants are really just Storm Knights working for the other side, but they may be granted additional powers by the High Lord and/or his Darkness Device.
  • Local Gods may exist by virtue of World Laws that make such things possible. Aysle has a whole pantheon of such. These are manifestations of the reality alteration, and as such are ranked below the instruments of that alteration, no matter how great the powers that may be bestowed upon them by the conceptual reality of their existence.
  • Stellae utilize probability energy to rewrite the natural law of an environment. The transition is known as Reality Flux amongst other names. At least three are required to achieve this. They are unusually resilient and frequently protected. The energy they employ is derived from the Darkness Device to which they are linked. Coming into direct contact with a Stellae, or being too close to one when it is disrupted, can have strange effects – including triggering the transformation of a Possibility-rated Ord into a Storm Knight.
  • A High Lord is a Storm Knight in partnership with a Darkness Device. These absorb probability Energy from a region or populace, funnel it through a network of Stellae, and dictate the “World Laws” that will supplant “natural law” within the region bound by the Stellae. They also funnel powers, and sometimes the possibility energy to use them, to High Lords and Lieutenants and other creatures. High Lords are also “Living Stellae” in their own right. Not all High Lords are equal, some are stronger than others. The most powerful use the World Laws that they create to further enhance their own abilities.
  • The TORG contains the Possibility Energy of entire realities and can use it to create new Darkness Devices, amongst other things. No mere High Lord can stand against one, they are Primal Self-fulfilling Deific prophecies. The nature of reality itself opposes the very existence of the TORG but mist bend to the will of one should that opposition be overcome.

All clear? Good, let’s move on.

    5.1.1 Evil Inclination Nile Empire Characters

    These may voluntarily submit to Hekaton’s seductions and spend possibilities to gain Orrorshian Powers. Unless the character spends all his possibilities, he retains his Nile Empire World Laws and powers therefrom, but can never change his Inclination. Furthermore, he gains Orrorshian powers which in turn can be used to spread Fear beyond its borders. His true nature is Horror.

    5.1.2 Corrupted Ayslish Characters

    These may voluntarily submit to Hekaton’s seductions and spend possibilities to gain Orrorshian Powers. They no longer gain the benefits of Corruption, and may never become Honorable. They retain all other Ayslish powers, abilities, and limitations, and can supplement these with Orrorshian powers that can be used to spread Fear beyond its borders. His true nature is Horror.

5.2 True Form

Once the true Nature is known, the True Form becomes easily determined. Note that cyberware is only visible on the True Form if implanted after becoming an Orrorsh Character.

But it still deserves some thought. For example, permit me to offer you two NPCs, A and B.

A is a zombie, an animated dead, in this case imbued with supernatural strength and resilience to make up for an almost-complete lack of intelligence and slow speed. His True Form is of the human that he once was and who is now imprisoned in a cage of rotting flesh. The things that drive and motivate the character are the people and things that he cared for in life, though he can never have them because he radiates Fear.

B is a human ord who happens to look exactly like A’s true form – they could be twins! But his True Form is that of a zombie; B is dead inside, incapable of caring for himself or anyone and anything else. Completely without empathy, he would toss a starving orphan into the street, a real Ebeneezer Scrooge.

A is a tragic figure for all that – at least superficially – he’s a generic Horror Staple. B is arguably the greater monster and worse horror for all that he’s arguably more human. But the assignment of True Form has added layers of depth to both.

5.3 True Fear

If the character is new, simply assign this. If the character has been in play for some time, look at his objectives – what does he spend time trying to avoid or achieve? What does he seem more concerned about, or more enthusiastic about? What seems to repel him, and what attracts him?

For example, a good party member might have Fear Of Solitude as his True Fear, and so might n egocentric character who tries never to be left out. A character who is a money-grubber may have Fear Of Poverty, but look – and consider – further: what does he want to use that wealth for?

The more Noble the character, the more base his True Fear is likely to be.

Author’s Notes

The more deeply you can dig into the character’s psychology, the more threads of personality you can bring together into a unified whole, and the more profound the True Fear of the character will be.

The examples are relatively superficial; I would take Fear Of Solitude as a driving fear, but also look at the most common behavior of the character that is not explained by that Fear, and then try to find a common thread that links that behavior with a fear of Solitude, in search of something deeper.

As a characterization tool, this can be superficial or of profound depth. A tool for achieving the latter and avoiding the former was presented in these pages a loooong time ago – The Thumbnail Method (part of a series on characterization).

To use it, simply divide up the page into 12, 16, or 20 panels, as shown, then doodle something in each box while talking about the character, his opinions and attitudes, likes and dislikes – picture him lying on a shrink’s couch, answering the question, “tell me about yourself”. Every time you run out of things to say, go back to the last thing that was said and ask “why?” – if that’s already covered, go back to the one before that, and so on. While your conscious mind is focusing on the character, the subconscious is looking for elements of the characterization and (mis-) translating them into a visual format that can often be more informative, more profound, than the amount of language that could fit into the boxes could ever be.

5.4 True Death (horrors only):

This will somehow embody or encompass his True Fear. The connection has to be solid and logical but need not be obvious, and might be metaphoric.

A Fear Of Ridicule might encompass a True Death involving public exposure or public humiliation – sunlight striking the True Form, a classic Vampire death, would qualify. If the character in question is a werewolf, this is not an obvious True Death that is fully appropriate, as the Power involves disguise – the True Form is not obviously the public persona. So this would fit a meek, mild-mannered clerk somewhere (showing the effect of the True Fear on the Public Persona.

5.5 True Persona:

By now, you know what the origins of the characters’ personality are, and what his public face is. It only remains to fill in the missing piece, the True Persona.

When he’s backed into a corner, when he’s pushed to the limit, what will the character’s real personality be?

There is only one thing forbidden, one rule to be obeyed – the True Persona must be strikingly different to the public one. Not necessarily the opposite, that quickly becomes too predictable.

This is the Personality that the character might have become if he weren’t saddled with his True Fear, or perhaps the one he would have if he had given into that fear.

Continuing the Werewolf example from above, the character’s True Persona might be Cruel, or Despotic, Romantic or a Sniveler, or even Noble, self-sacrificing, heroic.

The True Persona doesn’t have to be as internally consistent as you would normally strive to be in such character constructs; a Romantic Despot, a self-sacrificing sniveler, a brave coward, these would all be valid. Strive for contrast with the normal persona and “interesting”. The opposite of the Public persona would be flamboyant – and its predictability makes it far less interesting and revealing than one of the more unusual combinations.

6. Orrorsh-specific Characteristics

6. Orrorsh-specific Characteristics

There are six of these. Each is described below, along with the method of determining its initial value.

6.1 Resistance

This represents the character’s ability to resist committing evil acts for power. It is a modifier to the character’s MIND value, and can be either positive or negative. The initial value is determined in one of three ways:

    6.1.1 Initial Resistance from Corruption:
    • Determine the character’s current Corruption Total (SPIRIT + CORRUPT) and find the value of the result.
    • Add the value of any possibilities spent gaining Orrorshian powers.
    • Subtract 1 for any resistance-enhancing skills, abilities or attributes the character possesses (Faith, Focus, Willpower, etc).
    • Add 1 for any resistance-weakening skills, abilities, or attributes the character possesses (esp. each item of Cyberware, and arcane skills).

    The result is the characters’ initial penalty against making a Resistance check, i.e., their Resistance.

    If the result is less than zero, write as -##).

    Author’s Notes

    In the TORG system, you have to roll higher than 11 to succeed in anything. Modifiers increase that target. So a modifier of +3 means that you need 14 or better to succeed.

    Find the value of the result: TORG featured a universal modifiers chart that mapped a logarithmic progression to a linear modifier. You looked up the value of each factor in your favor and totaled them, then subtracted the values of each factor opposing your success. The more creatively you could use this chart, the more successful you were as a TORG GM. Instead of a check to sprint the length of a football field, use a check to try and sprint that length before something happens to stop/impede you.

    Because the chart was logarithmic, it became harder and harder to get a big modifier from any one factor. Because all values were indexed against the chart, all sorts of trade-offs were possible – holding a heavy weight overhead until you dropped it, for example, permitted trading weight for time; for every step down the weight column, you could go one step higher on the time column.

    I purposely modeled the Progressive Modifiers In The Zener Gate system on the same approach. The big secret to making such a system work? Your logarithmic base doesn’t have to be the same in every column. You could use a base of 1.44 for length/distance, 1.2 for mass, 2 for time, 2.5 for precision, or whatever. Then you just need to pick two values on each list that are equivalent to each other in terms of modifier and its simple math from there. Heck, you don’t even need to use the same base throughout a list – it’s quite possible to use a value of 1.2 for mass up to (say) 250kg and then a value of 6 for mass thereafter; this just brings higher values closer in score to the changeover point.

    6.1.2 Initial Resistance from Honor:
    • Determine the character’s current Honor total (SPIRIT + HONOR) and find the value of the result.
    • Add 1 for any resistance-enhancing skills, abilities or attributes.
    • Subtract 1 for any resistance-weakening skills, abilities, or attributes.

    The result is the character’s initial bonus for making a Resistance Check.

    If the value is greater than zero, write it as “+##”.

    6.1.3 Initial Resistance Otherwise:
    • Determine the character’s current Spirit level and find the value of the result.
    • Subtract the value of any possibilities spent gaining Orrorshian powers.
    • Add 1 for any resistance-enhancing skills, abilities or attributes.
    • Subtract 1 for any resistance-weakening skills, abilities, or attributes.

    The result is the character’s bonus or penalty for making a Resistance check.

    Author’s Notes:

    A subtle point that some people overlook when reading the above for the first time – in some cases, you’re determining a Penalty, in other cases, you’re determining a Bonus.

    The calculation is designed to create a slippery slope. The more risky the character’s choices, the more likely it is that they will descend that slope, caught in a vicious cycle of weakening Resistance, yielding to temptation, which again lowers your resistance. Storm Knights start out strong, but any points spent on Orrorshian Powers eats into that protection at ab astonishing rate. And there are some very tempting powers on offer….

6.2 True Fear:

Represents the strength of the hold that the character’s True Fear has over them, and the resulting level of insanity. Used as the difficulty number against which Resistance checks are made.

Initial value is 10 plus 1 for each occult or arcane skill, less the adds in Willpower.

Player’s Question

With Spirit 10 Resistance 18 and a bonus of +0 or better, how can I fail?

— Four points to note:

1. Resistance checks are made using Mind + Resistance.

2. You can’t spend possibilities on the roll, but have to live and die with the straight roll.

3. With a roll of -8 or less, you will fail: Rolls aren’t used directly, except where noted; most are translated using the table at the bottom of your character sheet. To get to that +8 value, you will need to roll between 20 and 25.

4. You may think that a net roll of -8 or less is fairly improbable, and you would be right, or impossible, and you would be wrong. The other side can get up to +4 from cards, up to +4 from allied support, another +2 or more from an ability, +4 or more bonus from faith or various other sources, all without much in the way of extraordinary circumstances or effort. That’s +14 that comes off your roll to generate fear – so a roll of 19 or less yields a net -8, and a fail.

6.3 Persistence

Represents the character’s ability to overcome Fear and continue.

Initial value:

  • Total MIND+ SPIRIT,
  • Subtract one for each addition to an occult or arcane skill;
  • Subtract one for each Arcane Theorem known;
  • Add 1 for each addition to a resistance-enhancing power, skill, or ability. If the character’s Tag Skill is resistance-enhancing, count it twice.

The result is the initial level of Persistence. Note that this is a total value (like hit points) and not a skill.

Player’s Question

Unless I’ve missed something, Persistence seems to be self-sustaining, recharging itself with a successful Persistence check to continue despite Fear?

— Afraid not. Persistence is consumed in 7.3, and Evil Acts also reduce it, see.7.6.2. See below.

6.4 Fear

Fear represents the character’s unwillingness to proceed in a situation perceived as dangerous, or to risk his own life for others.

To determine the initial value:

  • Total the character’s skill adds and subtract 30.
  • Add the character’s True Fear score.
  • Determine the value of the result.
  • Add 6.

The result is the base target for Persistence Checks.

6.5 Truth

Truth is a measure of the characters ability in, and understanding of, the Occult. Akin to Faith in traditional TORG, while the Occult Skill is now equivalent to Focus.

The problem is that unlike Faith, Truth is far more slippery. You can’t get it by expending possibilities like an ordinary skill, you only get it by investigating Horrors – and you consume it in Occult Spells and Rituals. This is the more twilight equivalent of Evil.

The initial value is zero, plus 1 for each arcane skill, faith, and focus.

Author’s Notes:

Okay, some pretty esoteric detail. Think of Truth as being Spell Points – but in other Realms, you can convert Possibility energies into those spell points. In Orrorsh, they have to earned the hard way. That means that spells are much harder to cast and less frequent – but if they are spells from Orrorsh, they also tend to be a lot more effective.

Your alternative is to cast your usual spells using your Faith – but here there is a different rub to consider: In Orrorsh, you can’t ‘refuel’ those spell points the way that you can elsewhere. Sooner or later, you will run out of them – and those spells aren’t as effective as the local ones, anyway.

6.6 Evil

Evil represents a measure of the power granted to the character as a result of the commission of Evil Acts. It has an initial value of zero unless the character has chosen to submit to Hekaton (refer 5.1 above).

If the character has chosen to submit, use the following process to determine their initial Evil score:

    • Add the number of possibilities spent to the character’s corruption score from before he Submitted, and determine the value of the result.
    • The GM generates a bonus (representing how much Hekaton likes the new convert

      Bonus <=0 = +0 Bonus 1-2 = +1 Bonus 3-6 = +2 Bonus 7-11 = +3 Bonus >11 = +4.

    • The total is the character’s initial Evil score.
    6.6.1 Using Evil

    Evil is expended through the use of Orrorshian Powers (Orrorsh Sourcebook, Chapter 8, as modified below). Using a 2-point power, for example, costs 2 Evil; Using a 3-point power costs 3 Evil, and so on.

    6.6.2 Generating Fear

    Evil is also the measurement of a Horror’s ability to generate Fear in those it encounters. Evil used for this purpose is not expended, but increases when additional Evil is bestowed. For this reason, it is important to track base evil as well as Available Evil; Evil scores are therefore written in the format “Base / Available”.

      For example, a Horror has an initial value of 6/6; it uses a three-point power, leaving its score at 6/3; Because the power was not used for an evil act, it did not gain any additional Power.

      It subsequently commits a 3-rated Evil Act, earning it three additional Evil; it’s score is now 9/6.

    The fear generated by encountering a Horror is the value of its Base Evil; Evil of 9 has a value 4, so confronting this Horror adds 4 Fear to the unfortunate witness.

    Player’s Question

    Using Evil for non-evil acts creates an imbalance in the score. How can that lost Evil be recouped/restored?

    — bad news: it’s gone forever, save by direct intervention of the High Lord or his Darkness Device. Inevitably, your base score will become greater than your available score. Which simply means that your Fear aura will be writing checks that your available Evil can’t cash, promising an encounter with the most terrifying horror a character has ever seen, only to deliver The Easter Bunny. With a wowwipop.

    You can minimize the losses by being very careful to check the chart of Evil Acts in Chapter 8 of the sourcebook.. But there will be times when a survival edge or combat advantage is needed and there is only one way left to get it.

    But seriously, it’s a rules mechanism designed to have Fear always outstrip Available Evil, reflective of the philosophy that Fear magnifies Fear, while confronting Fear usually shows that there was less to be scared of than it initially seemed.

    Remember, Hekaton gets its power from people resisting the fear that its Horrors create. It wants to encourage them to make the attempt.

    7. Orrorsh <em>Events</em>

    7. Orrorsh Events

    An Event is an action or check that has special Orrorsh-specific rules because it alters the values of one of the Orrorsh-specific characteristics. There are eight Events, each with its own set of consequences. An adventure in Orrorsh can be viewed as consisting of Roleplay separated by Events.

    Author’s Notes:

    I didn’t see any need to list the eight events in the original rules write-up – after all there was a full table of contents at the start that did so.

    That turned out to be an incorrect assessment; players could find the relevant section easily enough, but then had to trawl through page after page looking for the event that matched what they were trying to do in-game. Sometimes that was easy, often it was not.

    Well, this time I forewent the Table Of Contents because I couldn’t tell which post any particular content would be located in. So such a list is now more important, and useful, than ever.

    So here it is:

      7.1 Encountering A Horror
      7.2 Attempting to Resist Temptation
      7.3 Attempting to Persist against Fear
      7.4 Discovering Truth
      7.5 Destroy A Horror
      7.6 Commit Wicked Acts
      7.7 Use A Power
      7.8 Rest

    7.1 Encountering A Horror

    Determine the Value of the Base Evil of the encountered Horror. This is the amount by which both Fear and True Fear increase.

      7.1.1 Tag-team Horrors

      Encountering multiple horrors at once is both good and bad news.

      One or more of the horrors is always less scary than the rest, and that weakens the combined Fear that they can induce. But there’s many of them, and that’s scarier just in itself.

      To determine a compound Fear effect:

      1. Find the Horror with the lowest Base Evil.
      2. Find the Horror with the highest Base Evil.
      3. Add the two Base Evil scores together and find the Value of the result.
      4. For every 4 horrors with a Base Evil the same as the lowest Base Evil, or part thereof, add 1 to the result.
      5. For every Horror with a Base Evil the same as the highest Base Evil, add 1 to the result.
      6. For every 2 Horrors with a Base Evil somewhere in between, or part thereof, add 1 to the result.

      The total is the amount by which both Fear and True Fear increase.

      Example:

      Four semi-sentient giant rats Base Evil 1
      Five evil cultists with supernatural powers: Base Evil 3
      One Cult Leader / Vampire: Base Evil 12
      One Serpentine Lycanthrope: Base Evil 8

      Lowest Base Evil: 1
      Highest Base Evil: 12
      Sum = 13; Value 5*

      3 more rats at Base Evil 1: +1
      0 more horrors at Base Evil 12: +0
      4 cultists / 2 = +2
      1 cultist + 1 Serpentine Horror / 2 = +1

      Total = 5+1+2+1=9.

    7.2 Resisting Temptation

    This is also known as a Resistance Check.

    Each character must make a Resistance Check at the start of each day and whenever the GM feels there is about to be the potential for the commission of one of the Evil Acts listed in Chapter 8 of the Sourcebook.

    Note that if the character need not make a Resistance Check because of an earlier successful result on such a check, he cannot do so voluntarily.

    The Check is MIND + Resistance + Bonus against a difficulty of True Fear.

    The results and consequences of the possible results are:

      7.2.1 Failure
      1. The character’s True Fear increases by the amount of the failure.
      2. He is required to commit a minimum 1-point Wicked Act at his next opportunity, at which time he does not need to make a further Resistance Check.
      3. The Referee is required to present a suitable opportunity within three game hours. Guidelines on the level of an act are given under The Power Of Corruption,, Orrorsh Sourcebook, p57-58.
      4. Until the act is committed, it costs a Storm Knight 2 possibilities to do whatever used to cost 1, and the character is frequently distracted or lost in thought, using much of his attention to fight his craving for the commission of the act. Outside of these requirements, the character remains the players’, to control and roleplay.
        7.2.1.1 First refusal

        Storm Knights have the resilience to refuse the act when one is offered; Ords and Horrors do not. But such refusal has consequences.

        If, when the opportunity is presented, the Stormer chooses to refuse, he is required to begin watching for the opportunity to commit a minimum 2-point Wicked Act. The referee is required to provide such an opportunity within 6 game hours of the refusal, at which time no additional Resistance Roll is required.

        Until the act is committed, the Storm Knight continues to pay double the possibility costs, is not permitted to play cards or have them played by others to assist him. The character is extremely distracted, unable to bring his full attention to anything else; it is taking all his concentration to overcome the urge to ‘be naughty’.

        Outside of these requirements, the character remains the players’, to control and roleplay.

        7.2.1.2 Second refusal

        When the 2-point opportunity is presented, the Storm Knight can again refuse.

        If the character again defers, he must begin actively seeking an opportunity to commit a minimum 3-point wicked act. Except as noted below, he does not need to make additional Resistance Checks until his obligatory Act(s) are completed (see below).

        If necessary, the character will abandon his colleagues and strike out on his own, often discovering that he is alone in a strange place with no memory of how he came to be there.

        Until the act is committed, the Storm Knight cannot spend possibilities at all, cannot play cards or have them played to help him, all his normal (non-Orrorsh) characteristics decline at the rate of 1 point per hour, cannot heal wounds, and he no longer rolls again on a 10 or 20. Characteristics cannot decline to less than a score of zero. When they are all zero, the character is dead.

        If the character is then resurrected (its possible) his scores return to their normal values, and the clock – one hour intervals of decay – restarts.

        True Vision during the decay process will show the character rotting away at an accelerated rate; the character is literally consuming his own body to fuel his resistance.

        When the act is committed, lost characteristics return at the rate of three points per hour until the original levels are restored.

        7.2.1.3 Third refusal

        If the character fails to commit a three-point act in time, he will start a new day still in the grip of his lust for Wickedness. 24 hours after the roll that landed him in trouble, he must roll again, using the lowered characteristic scores and observing all the limitations above in the process. Fail again, and a three-point act is no longer enough; he now needs both a 3-point AND a 1-point act to overcome his need, and so on.

        As the day proceeds, the character will repeatedly find himself in the process of committing an act, with no memory of the events leading up to it. They can then either complete the act or jerk themselves away in horror. Each time this transpires, the margin between awakening and completion of the act will be smaller, but the final decision remains the players until there is only one second left between awakening and completion.

        The GM should increase the level of revulsion concomitant to the act. Instead of strangling a child’s beloved pet, it’s now necessary to do so in front of the child, and so on. The player has had his chances to get out of this relatively lightly.

        7.2.1.4 Explanations and Consequences

        Insanity is NOT considered a valid defense. If there are consequences for the evil act, they are on the character. A full explanation of why these events transpire is offered in Chapter ** below, with an examination of the implications for Storm Knights, and the treatment of them by the locals.

        ** The material being transcribed says “Chapter Nine” but I think it should read “Chapter 10”.

      7.2.2 Minimal Success (succeed by zero)

      The character is himself, Nothing good or bad happens to him or his characteristics or abilities as a result of the check.

      7.2.3 Average Success (succeed by 1-2)

      The characters Resistance and Persistence scores both increase by 1.

      7.2.4 Good Success (succeed by 3-6)

      The characters Resistance and Persistence scores both increase by 2, one wound is healed, and Storm Knights immediately gain an additional Possibility. The character need not check his resistance again today even if faced with the opportunity for a Wicked Act.

      7.2.5 Superior Success (succeed by 7-11)

      The characters Resistance and Persistence scores increase by a total of 6 (the character can allocate these points as he sees fit so long as both stats improve).

      Two wounds are healed.

      Storm Knights immediately gain 2 additional Possibilities.

      The character need not check his resistance again for 36 hours (1.5 days) even when faced with the opportunity for a Wicked Act.

      7.2.6 Spectacular Success (succeed by 12 or more)

      The characters Resistance and Persistence scores increase by a total of 8 (the character can allocate these points as he sees fit so long as both stats improve by at least 2).

      All damage is healed.

      Storm Knights immediately gain 3 additional Possibilities.

      The character need not check his resistance again for 1 week (7 days) even when faced with the opportunity for a Wicked Act.

      The character may also heal one wound suffered by a companion, increase another companion’s Resistance score by 1, AND increase the Resistance or the Persistence of a third companion by 1. These benefits must be conferred immediately; they cannot be held over! if no-one is wounded, bad luck.

      The different benefits can all be bestowed upon the one character if the bestower wishes, or can be bestowed upon a complete stranger (if there’s one at hand). In effect, the very presence of the successful character stiffens the spines of those companions closest to him (or those closest to faltering, if that’s the way the player wants to play it.

      7.2.7 Sequence Of Checks & other rules

      When multiple characters are required to make Resistance Checks, these always take place in the sequence lowest Resistance to highest, breaking ties using some random means.

      This means that the characters most likely to succeed in a big way do so after those less protected have rolled, not before.

      Once one character fails a check, no other rolls are needed. Only if those less Resistant succeed are the characters more likely to get good results tested.

      A character who gets a great success can’t help his companions today as much as he can prepare them for tomorrow.

      As much as is practical, Resistance checks should be made in secret. In particular, other players should not know when or if a character has failed the check. If a PC fails, the GM should have at least 2 or 3 others check as though the PC who failed had succeeded.

      Anyone attempting to clue the other players into the results immediately confers the results of their roll on one of those players he is attempting to warn, as though they had failed the check. Nor does the character who originally failed get any stats restored – it just spreads the pain to someone else. If that’s not enough to curb any such temptation to blab, the GM may take sterner measures. The secret won’t stay hidden for long, but it should always come as a surprise when it is revealed.

    7.3 Persisting in the face of Fear

    Every night, whenever a character’s Fear has increased as a result of encountering a Horror or learning Truth, and every time the character Breaks (see 7.3.1 below), the character must fight the inclination to simply Give Up.

    He does this by gambling some or all of his Persistence against his ability to overcome his fear. The character determines how much of his Persistence he will risk; the minimum is 1 point. This is removed from his Persistence score before he makes the attempt.

    He then makes a Persistence Check, using the lowered Persistence score, attempting to get a total of Persistence + Bonus at least equal to Fear + Risk.

    EG: If Snorri’s Persistence is 20 and his Fear 17, and he chooses to risk 4 points of Persistence, his total drops to 16 and he must roll a bonus + 16 that totals at least 17+4=21.

    The rewards for success and penalties for failure are:

      7.3.1 Failure:

      Resistance remains at the new, lower, score. If the character is alone, he will give up (Break, and run, if confronting a Horror). If he is in a group and more than one fail their checks, all who failed will Break in this way, but if this character is the only one to fail, he will stick with the group; he can make no further Persistence Checks, and will attempt to persuade others to at least put off whatever they are doing until better prepared. He is reluctant to go further, and is just waiting for company before Breaking.

        7.3.1.1 Breaking

        Characters who Break lose one point from a normal stat (their choice) reflecting the damage to their nerves, mind, or health. If they failed by more than they risked, they will show some visible sign of the fear they experienced – whitened hair, shaking hands, bulging eyes, whatever.

        Calculate the character’s Fear minus their Spirit; look up the resulting value in minutes to determine the Break Duration. That many minutes later, they are required to make a second roll in order to regain their composure.

        Characters who Break will seek a suitable hiding spot at least 100 x Break Duration meters away.

        If they again Break when they attempt to recover, they will abandon this hiding spot in favor of another even further away, but they don’t lose another point of stat, just more Resistance and Persistence.

        In most cases, long before they can flee Orrorsh altogether, they will reach 0 Persistence and settle down somewhere under an assumed name to live out their days in Horror and Fear, too afraid to even leave their front door. Or they will have an opportunity to commit a Wicked Act, and succumb out of sheer terror, starting down the path of evil and power just top shout down their fears – using power granted for Wicked Acts reduces Fear. Its even possible for a PC to escape the clutches of fear by placing a darker mark upon their souls, then rejoin the party.

        It can generally be assumed that a PC who breaks twice is no longer a viable PC.

        Of course, when you’re fleeing in blind panic, it’s easy to get lost or turned around. How many times has a character Broken and Run in a Horror film only to stop and catch their breaths practically in front of the monster they were fleeing?

        Author’s Notes; Die Rolls In TORG

        At the bottom of every character sheet, there is is a table that translates die rolls into a bonus. It’s ALWAYS that bonus that gets used in TORG, and never the raw roll.

                Die Roll = Bonus #:
                1 = -12
                2 = -10
                3-4 = -8
                5-6 = -5
                7-8 = -2
                9-10 = -1
                11-12 = +0
                13-14 = +1
                15 = +2
                16 = +3
                17 = +4
                18 = +5
                19 = +6
                20 = +7
                21-25 = +8
                26-30 = +9
                31-35 = +10
                +5 = +1 thereafter

        Anything that you can get – skills, abilities, what-have-you, that adds to your die roll thus gets translated into a greater Bonus #. If you roll a natural 10, you get to roll again and add 10; if you roll a natural 20, you get to roll again and add 20. If you keep rolling tens and twenties, you keep rolling and adding to the total roll.

        The highest roll that I remember anyone making in my campaign was Stephen Tunnicliff’s Masked Avenger, who stood his ground with a rifle to shoot down two supersonic jets targeting him with their air-to-ground cannon. His total as 67? 76? Something like that. He got a Bonus number of 17 or 18, enough to turn an almost impossible shot into a success.

        Oh yes, Possibilities can be spent to add to the bonus.

        7.3.1.2 Second Check

        Unless the character has badly overestimated how much they can afford to risk, it will generally require a couple of really bad rolls in succession to fail the Second Check as well as the first (as described above).

        Any result other than failure on the second check has the normal effects of success and ends any Break. The character can then begin addressing the in-game consequences of having broken – he may be lost, for example.

      7.3.2 Minimal Success (succeed by zero)

      Well, the character doesn’t Break, for a start! His Persistence increases by 1+risk; his Fear increases by Risk-1 (Minimum zero), and his True Fear decreases by 1.

      7.3.3 Average Success (succeed by 1-2)

      The character not only doesn’t Break but takes heart and determination from the experience – he stands his ground and (metaphorically) spits i the eye of the object of his fear. His Persistence increases by 2xRisk, his Fear decreases by the amount of Risk, and his True Fear by 2 points or 1/2 the Risk, whichever is greater.

      7.3.4 Good Success (succeed by 3-6)

      The character doesn’t just face his fear, he sends it packing. His Persistence increases by 2 x Risk, his Fear AND True Fear both decrease by the Risked amount, and he can raise the Persistence of any comrade who didn’t Break by 1.

      7.3.5 Superior Success (succeed by 7-11)

      The character makes his fear an asset, driving him onwards. His Persistence increases by 2 x the risked amount, his Fear AND True Fear both decrease by the Risked Amount, and he can raise the Persistence of a companion who didn’t Break by 2 and lower another’s Fear by 2.

      He also has the option of reducing his own success by the amount which another comrade failed plus 1 to give that character enough heart for a minimal success, negating their Break. Where two characters had broken, this prevents either from actually Fleeing, though one still has a “Break pending”.

      This reduces the benefits experienced by the successful character by replacing them with a different benefit – keeping the party intact.

      7.3.6 Spectacular Success (succeed by 12 or more

      The character makes not only his own fear blanch and retreat, he puts heart into his comrades and allies. His Persistence increases by double the amount risked, and he can raise the Persistence of two of his comrades (who didn’t break) by two and lower another’s Fear by 2.

      His comrades ALL get an additional +1 bonus to the Persistence Check then underway just because of the presence of the successful character.

      He can reduce his success BY ONE to prevent one of his allies from Breaking and also has the option of further reducing his success as described in 7.3.5 Superior Success for two more colleagues. The character has become a Unifying Force amongst his party.

      7.3.6 Sequence Of Rolls

      It’s impractical to make these rolls in secret, really. So make them in sequence of highest Persistence to Lowest Persistence (which allows those more likely to get a good result the chance to apply those results as you go, speeding play).

    7.4 Discovering Truth

    Truth has two purposes in Orrorsh. First, it is needed to destroy a Horror. Second, another Horror can use Truth to subjugate a Horror and bind it to their will, either temporarily or permanently.

    Discovering Truth is far more than the “Investigate Horrors” of the Original game supplement. Discovering Truth is the process of gaining understanding and power within the Occult overall and one particular Horror specifically.

    The process is similar to that described in Investigation, p73-74, Orrorsh Sourcebook, but it is broader in scope: Consulting experts in the Occult; interviewing madmen for that one narrow perception of reality vs superficiality; talking to common natives; poring over old records; participating in Occult Rituals; capturing lesser Horrors and releasing them in return for information; investigating the scenes of past sightings and gathering accounts from eyewitnesses (if any survived), local authorities, etc; perhaps investigating an old resting place (Vampire’s Castle / Tomb) for clues, confronting the Horror itself and retreating with gathered intelligence, and anything else the PCs and GM can think of. Discovering Truth is far more dangerous than ‘Investigating Horrors’ ever was!

    Furthermore, many of the actions involved are inherently Wicked Acts themselves, so the Investigators continually run the risk of being seduced by the lure of Power.

    7.4.1 Acquiring Truth
      7.4.1.1 Group Truth vs Individual Truth

      Some group actions can earn Truth for each participant, but most actions earn Truth for one individual. There will usually be one character who emerges with more Truth on this Horror than any other; they become the acknowledged experts on the subject and the de-facto leaders of any attempt to destroy the Horror.

      A significant part of an Orrorsh Plot is the GM laying down pathways and breadcrumbs to “bundles of Truth” that total sufficient to destroy the Horror, plus incidental encounters along the way. In some ways, it can be thought of as compiling a “This Is Your Life” for the Horror, one that identifies every significant turning point in it’s existence, every important milestone and victim, while at the same time preparing to capture and prosecute it for the crimes so discovered.

      7.4.1.2 Old Intelligence

      Time is also a factor; some information has an expiry date. Many Orrorsh plotlines will begin with an Investigator receiving or uncovering a significant piece of the Truth of a Horror, enough to convince them that there is a chance of finally overcoming it once and for all (but not so much that this will be trivially easy).

      Every Horror is just a little bit different. Most of the Truth about one specific Zombie will not be applicable to any other; perhaps 10% has a crossover potential. Since Truth is expended in performing the various acts that lead to the destruction of a horror, this is essentially the leftovers of that process, any “just in case” that weren’t used.

      Those snippets cannot be used against just any horror; it has to be a Horror reasonably similar in type to the one it was gathered to destroy. Information about a Vampire does little good against a Risen Spirit in mummified form. The fact that they are both life after death is NOT enough commonality.

      GMs are urged to get creative when it comes to their Horrors, don’t just copy something from elsewhere – that will be too predictable, taking all the fun out of the investigation.

    7.4.2 How much Truth is required to Destroy a Horror?

    That depends on the Power of the Horror (discussed in another section). In General, the party needs enough Truth to be able to:

    • Identify the Horror,
    • learn its powers and their limitations,
    • learn its weaknesses and vulnerabilities,
    • locate its resting / hiding place or alternate identity / lair,
    • discover its True Death,
    • and inflict that death upon it.

    That’s six items, so a total of 6 x the Power of the Horror is reasonable, plus a little in reserve in case of false starts or misdirection by one or more sources. Against, say, a typical Power 5-6 Vampire, that would be 36-42 points in Truth. And learning Truth is inherently dangerous.

    7.4.3 Preparing Truth

    So how do you go about it?

    When formulating the adventure and designing the Horror that will be its centerpiece, the GM determines a Truth Cost for each of the six purposes, prepares a list of places where key information may be available, constructs clues and the occasional piece of misdirection that will lead to those locations, creates encounters to take place along the way, and gives each a value in terms of the Truth that can be found there.

    There are some obvious places – wherever the party crossed paths with the Horror or with a piece of its Truth, well-known experts in the Occult, and so on.

    Don’t worry if the PCs think of somewhere that you didn’t, that’s half the fun – just throw some difficulties in their way to be overcome, assign their masterstroke a value of Truth, and let them go for it!

    Nor should the GM be overly concerned if the PCs don’t go for a piece of the Truth that he thought critical to their success. If it’s really that critical, there should be multiple pathways to the information, anyway.

    And always remember that while they can estimate how much Truth they will need, using the rule of thumb offered earlier, the party don’t know what the ultimate requirement will be. Being neither generous nor parsimonious with Truth Awards means that players will be aware if they look like coming up short, and that more dangerous avenues need to be explored; the amount of Truth that the GM awards them is, in itself, a plot driver.

    7.4.4 Truth Costs

    As a general guideline, the name of the Horror is usually relatively easy to obtain, as are its major powers. These often go hand-in-hand.

    The Weaknesses are somewhat harder, the Resting Place / Lair harder still, and the True Death, most difficult of all. However, at least one adventure comes to mind in which the party come into possession of a tome listing the True Death of an unidentified Horror, and everything else is harder!

    The last entry on the GMs list, the Truth and Power levels required to implement the True Death, will vary. In general terms, once again, they will need as much Truth as it has Available Evil, plus enough power to block its escape routes (and Powers). The more you have, the easier it will be. At least, in theory.

    In practice, the GM will set minimum levels for this last category and intensify the competition once the party get a certain level above this, matching the difficulty of success to the resources available. Yes, that’s metagaming – but the purpose is to make sure that the climax of the adventure is enjoyable, entertaining, and memorable.

    Above all, anticlimax must be avoided at all costs – it’s better to kill half the party in the final battle than it is to let them all be disappointed by a ‘wimpy monster’.

    7.4.5 Truth Award and Difficulty Levels

    The Truth Value of a location or event plus a bonus generated by the GM give a relative measurement for the degree of difficulty that should be faced by the PCs in striving for that Truth.

    A small piece of truth is 1-2 points, a medium piece is 3-6 points, a large piece is 7-12 points, and a vital piece is 13-20 points.

    The difficulty measures the number of skill checks along the way, the Power levels of intervening Horrors to be dealt with, Possibilities to be expended, false leads and other problems to be solved.

    This also gives a guideline to the number of possibilities to be awarded amongst the party – one for every 2-3 difficulty points, less the value of the Truth, and divided amongst the party.

    7.4.6 Specific Truth Awards For Individuals

    When the party succeeds in discovering the Truth (or some of it, anyway), they all get the chance to learn something from it.

    Each party member adds his Occult (not Arcane) skill adds to his existing Truth level and a Bonus. The referee lists these and gets a total for the entire party.

    The Truth earned by an individual is the Truth Available multiplied by his contribution to the total and divided by the grand total. Always round down. At the end, you’ll have a little Truth left over – the highest total gets one, then the next highest, and so on. You’ll never have more left over than party members.

    7.4.7 Modifying Possibility Awards

    Now that you know how much Truth each party member learns from his experience, the next step is to award experience (possibilities) for getting to it. Every 3 points of Truth reduces the Possibilities earned by that character by 1, which is given to one of the less-learned, so that the characters who aren’t rewarded with a lot of Truth get a bigger share of the possibilities as a reward.

    Author’s Notes

    Characters who earn a lot of Truth are automatically being given starring roles in the rest of that plotline. This prompted the question of how to ensure that those not given such a role by the circumstances could get a fair share of the spotlight. This was the solution that I devised.

    Possibilities, in general TORG, are the heartbeat of the campaign, they are what makes the most spectacular stuff happen. Not so in Orrorsh, for the most part; the general rules take a back seat to the Realm-specific rules. Possibilities become more of a utility feature than a front-line weapon, simply because characters don’t get as many of them, and hence have to expend them more cautiously.

    That has the effect of making rolls in Orrorsh more knife-edge, with less capacity for softening or negating bad results, and less ability to buff and enhance good results.

    But that, in turn, makes characters with “more than their share” of Possibilities very useful to have around; they may be supporting characters in the adventure, but they are important ones.

    7.4.8 Consequences Of Discovering Truth

    Learning Truth has side-effects. Resistance, Fear, and True Fear all increase by the same amount as Truth learned. It actually becomes easier to resist Temptation because you can see the downside of succumbing more clearly – but, by the same token, Fear increases because you can more clearly see what you have gotten yourself into. True Fear increases because in exposing yourself to this piece of the Truth, you have also weakened your grip on Sanity – you’ve learned to think a little more like the Insane.

      7.4.8.1 Insanity In Orrorsh

      This is as good a place as any to go into this subject, briefly.

      Madmen in Orrorsh are just people who have Broken all the way, and their most insane visions are simply another perspective on Reality, though cloaked in metaphor and misinterpretation.

      That’s why you can learn a bit of Truth from conversations with such people.

    Player’s Question

    So, what do I use Truth for if I don’t want to Destroy a Horror, or if there is no Horror to destroy? How does a Horror use Truth?

    — Well, aside from using Truth do destroy a rival (or better yet, getting others to do it for you), I have contemplated using Truth to subjugate / dominate a rival Horror, but those rules aren’t finalized yet. When they are, I’ll insert them here.

    Player: Cool.

    7.4.9 Subjugating A Horror

    One horror can subjugate another through the use of Truth. This requires far less Truth than actually destroying that Horror.

    The amount of Truth required satisfies the following expression:

      Truth + Evil + Bonus >= Evil + Mind

    The Truth so used is consumed in the process, and that Truth needs to be paid before the Bonus is rolled. That’s why the expression is “greater than or equal to” and not just “equal to”.

    Values on the left of the “>=” belong to the Horror attempting to dominate; those on the right belong to the Horror to be subjugated.

    Temporary subjugation of one Horror by another opens the door to permanent subjugation, but that’s a whole other level of complication to deal with (see later).

      7.4.9.1 An ord Subjugating a Horror

      It is also possible for an Ord to gather enough Truth to dominate a Horror, at least temporarily. Their formula is:

              (1/2 x Truth) + Evil + Bonus >= [(3 / 2) x Evil] + Mind

      So it’s much harder and costs a lot more truth – but probably less than would be required to destroy the Horror. As before, you have to pay the Truth you think you will need just to get a roll; if it’s not enough, or you roll badly, the Truth is consumed, stripped from your mind. If you’ve taken the precaution of writing it down, you’ll find that your writings are now gibberish to you and to anyone else you show them too – aside from a couple of isolated phrases here and there that another investigator can glean some Truth from.

      But there are a couple of consequences to be mindful of.

      1) Dominating a Horror, even temporarily, is an innately Wicked act. You are using up the truth that could have been used to destroy it.

      2) The Horror will be aware of your attempt to Dominate it. They can tolerate failure on the part of another Horror, because establishing a Pecking Order is almost automatic for such; they will NOT be so tolerant when it comes to an Ord messing with them.

      In fact, it’s almost certain to create retaliation of some kind, most of which aren’t relevant to this section of the content.

      7.4.9.2 A Horror Subjugating an Ord

      This is much easier. It may not even cost Truth, though the Horror must have at least 1 point in Truth up its’ sleeve.

              Truth + Evil + Bonus >= [(3 / 2) x Spirit] + Persistence – Possibilities

      Note that no Truth is consumed in the attempt, and that Dominating an Ord is 1-point Wicked Act. Most Ords have only 1 possibility, but there are rare exceptions.

      Should the attempt succeed, the Truth cost is:

              Value (total number of subjugated Ords)
              – Value (total number of subjugated Ords -1).

      In other words, it will cost 1 Truth for the first one, another truth for a second, nothing for a third, a third Truth for a fourth, nothing for a fifth or sixth, a fourth Truth for a seventh, nothing for an eighth, ninth, or tenth, and so on.**

      ** NB: This might be technically inaccurate, as I don’t have access to the table, it’s packed already (I didn’t think I would need it).

      It’s only when the Value of the total number of Ords dominated kicks up a notch that anything extra has to be paid.

      Such subjugation is inherently temporary; the total Truth cost for all dominated Ords must be paid Weekly, though Evil can be paid as a substitute.

      7.4.9.3 A Horror Subjugating a Storm Knight

      Ooh, that’s bad Juju, that is!

              Truth + Evil + Bonus >= [(3 / 2) x Spirit] + Persistence + Possibilities

      This does cost, both in Truth and in Evil, and Storm Knights start out with 10 possibilities (and accumulate more), though they also expend them.

      This cost must be paid DAILY.

      7.4.9.4 Ad-hoc and temporary alliances

      It’s not automatic that one Horror will attempt to Subjugate another. Ad-hoc and temporary alliances cost nothing and are voluntary acts of partnership.

      An ad-hoc Alliance is a mutual arrangement with a non-sentient Horror, like a typical Zombie. Monster, or Skeleton. The sentient Horror simply has to treat the non-sentient Horror as a pet, seeing to its needs; it’s an arrangement of mutual convenience.

      A Temporary Alliance is a mutual arrangement agreed between two sentient Horrors. Each must feel it is getting something out of the arrangement – there’s safety in numbers, and the increase in Fear generated by the pair is enough to qualify, but each probably has to sacrifice some of its independence and perhaps compromise their goals a little.

      7.4.9.5 Temporary Subjugation

      Temporary Subjugation lasts for a certain period of time before it has to be renewed. Unless noted otherwise, this is equal to one more than the difference in Evil as a value in days, i.e.

              Value (days) = Greater Evil – Lesser Evil +1

      If the lesser Horror is satisfied with its circumstances, the dominating Horror simply pays the normal amount of Truth or Evil.

      The first such payment, when initially Subjugating someone, must be in Truth; thereafter, it can be Truth or Evil or some combination of both, as the Dominating Horror chooses.

      If the lesser Horror wants to reassert it’s independence, a fresh Subjugation check must be made, and this is a little more difficult and expensive:

              Truth + Evil + Bonus >= Evil + Mind + Bonus
              – value (# times subjugated in succession)

      That last term requires some amplification – each time a Horror is subjugated, it becomes a little easier for it to happen again. Should it escape subjugation, even temporarily, the count resets at zero.

      7.4.9.6 Permanent Subjugation

      A Temporary Subjugation can be converted into a (more) Permanent Subjugation should the Subjugating Horror so desire (it is much harder for a subordinate Horror to escape a Permanent Subjugation).

      This requires the Subjugating Horror to forfeit one point of Truth (one-time only) to the Subjugated Horror and as many points of Evil as desired. These points of Evil determine how long the Subjugation will persist before a fresh donation of Evil is required to maintain the Subjugation:

              Value (days) = Donated Evil +1

      The “+1” is for the point of Truth, which persists throughout the Subjugation.

      Permanent Subjugation is an option for Subjugated Ords, Monsters, and Horrors.

      Any Evil donated is added to Available Evil but NOT to Base Evil (add it to the value after the “/” when writing the score (# Base / # Available). This is the ONLY mechanism that operates this way; everything else either adds to BOTH or subtracts from Available.

      7.4.9.7 Mutual Evil

      At the end of each Subjugation Period, any Evil Acts committed by the Subjugated Horror at the direction of the Subjugating Horror (including any in fulfillment of ‘standing orders’) are divided between the Subjugated Horror and its Master (divide by 2 and round down to get the Master’s Share). However, each subjugated horror must get to keep at least 1 Evil earned; if the half is not enough to cover that distribution, the extra needed comes out of the Master’s Share.

      This can completely fund the continued domination (in which case, the subjugated Horror is probably reasonably content with the situation) or simply defray some of the cost.

    7.4.10 Obligations of a Subjugated Horror

    There are five virtues that have been perverted into the responsibilities that a Subjugated Horror has toward its master: Obedience, Loyalty, Service, Protection, and Sacrifice.

    Failure to do so is a 1-point Wicked Act, generating Evil, but usually has consequences that are undesirable, such as Punishments by the Master (which the Subjugated Horror must accept).

    Punishments do not violate the obligations of a Master (see 7.4.11 Below) unless they pose an imminent threat to the existence of the Subjugated Horror.

      7.4.10.1 Obedience

      The subjugated Horror must obey any instructions given to it by its Master to the best of its ability. These must be simple statements, and must be clearly understood by the subjugated Horror. No equivocation is permitted.

      7.4.10.2 Loyalty

      The subjugated Horror must be loyal to the Master so long as the Master satisfies its obligations toward the subjugated Horror. In essence, this simply forbids voluntary acts of dis-loyalty.

      7.4.10.3 Service

      Beyond obedience to instructions, the Subjugated horror must do whatever it can to facilitate the goals of the Subjugating Horror, and has to earnestly work in whatever capacity the Subjugating Horror assigns it.

      7.4.10.4 Protection

      The Subjugated Horror has a piece of Truth about his Master. He is required to protect that Truth to the limits of its abilities. Should it be captured and forced to disclose that piece of Truth in exchange for its liberty, it must inform the Master as quickly as possible and accept any punishment for violating the obligation to protect the Master’s secrets, up to but not including destruction.

      Beyond that requirement, the Subjugated Horror is required to protect the Master from threats that the Subjugated Horror comes into contact with unless explicitly commanded not to do so by the Master, or doing so would compromise the Master’s goals or plans as the subordinated Horror understands them.

      Note that semi-sentient and non-sentient Horrors and Monsters will have very limited capacity for such understanding (virtually none, in fact) and will simply attack when a threat is perceived.

      7.4.10.5 Sacrifice

      Should the Master be threatened, unless instructed not to do so, the Subjugated Horror is required to sacrifice itself in the protection of its Master.

    7.4.11 Obligations to a Subjugated Horror

    Similarly, five virtues have been corrupted into the Obligations that a Master must satisfy with respect to its Subjugated Horrors: Liberty, Consideration, Support, Protection, and Dignity.

    Failure to meet any one of these Obligations can trigger a chance for the Subjugated Horror to Break the Subjugation (it may choose not to do so, which steals a point of Truth from the Master) and adds 1 to the next attempt to Break free of a Subjugation (these accumulate, so a bad Master, no matter how powerful, can eventually be escaped).

      7.4.11.1 Liberty

      The Master must grant the Subjugated Horror some capacity and time to pursue their own goals unless those directly threaten the Master and his goals. Any reasonable capacity is sufficient – an hour a week is probably not sufficient, a day a week is ample. Punishments do not violate this requirement unless excessive – a value judgment on the part of the Subjugated.

      7.4.11.2 Consideration

      The Master is required to take the needs of the Subjugated Horror into account and provide for them as much as possible. This includes the need to regularly commit Wicked Acts. Punishments do not violate this requirement unless excessive, a value judgment on the part of the Subjugated.

      7.4.11.3 Support

      Furthermore, to the extent that the goals of the Subjugated Horror do not interfere with their own plans, goals, or ambitions, the Master is obligated to assist the Subjugated Horror in achieving its own goals. Punishments permit the temporary cessation of support but must have a defined and limited extent; it can’t be indefinite.

      7.4.11.4 Protection

      Except when the Master is directly threatened, the Master is obligated to protect the Subjugated Horrors under his protection. Punishing the Subjugated Horror for some failure does not violate this requirement, but threatening its existence does.

      7.4.11.5 Dignity

      To the maximum extent possible, the Master must preserve and protect the dignity and capacity for self-respect of the Subjugated Horror. Punishments do not violate this requirement. In practice, this restricts the Master from humiliating the Subjugated.

    7.4.12 Networks Of Horror

    A master may permit a Subjugated Horror to be Master to its own set of Subjugated Horrors and Ords (a Storm Knight is probably too great a risk).

    This creates a Network Of Horrors in which the Master treats his Subjugated Horrors as Lieutenants in a pseudo-medieval system of interlocking obligations.

    It increases the obligations of the Master insofar as he must grant the Subordinated Horrors the capacity to satisfy the Lieutenants’ obligations to their own Subjugated Horrors, Monsters, and Ords. The value of the Lieutenants to the Master increases, because they gain in power and Evil; but this also makes it easier for the Subjugated Lieutenant to break free. So, while there are benefits to the Master, there are also downsides.

    Any Evil earned by a Lieutenant through his Subjugated Horrors & Ords counts toward the Evil that must be passed on to the ultimate Master.

    EG: Baron Norphil has a trio of Vampires that he has subjugated. Each of those Vampires has its own group of Subjugated servants. In one time period between Subjugation Checks, these earn totals of 4, 6, and 9 Evil, respectively. Vampire #1 gets 2 evil as a result (1/2, round down); Vampire #2 gets 3 Evil; and Vampire #3 gets 4. In addition, the Vampires earn 4, 2, and 6 points of Evil on their own behalf, for totals of 6, 5, and 10; half of these totals (round down) then gets passed on to the Baron, who gains 3+2+5=10 Evil as a result, plus any that he earns personally.

    The end result is:

      Sub-network #1 (2 members): 4 earned, 2 retained.
      Sub-network #2 (3 members): 6 earned, 3 retained.
      Sub-network #3 (4 members): 9 earned, 5 retained.
      Vampire #1: 4 earned +2 from Sub-network #1 = 6; 3 retained.
      Vampire #2: 2 earned +3 from Sub-network #2 = 5; 3 retained.
      Vampire #3: 6 earned +4 from Sub-network #3 = 10; 5 retained.
      Baron Norphil: X earned, +3 from Vampire #1, +2 from Vampire #2, +5 from Vampire #3, = X+10.

    But if there are three Horrors or Ords in Sub-network 1 who earned Evil points to get to the 4, 2 is not enough to give each a point; the extra 1 comes out of Vampire #1’s earnings, which drop to 5. He still gets to retain 3, but only passes 2 up the chain to Baron Norphil, reducing the Baron’s “Take” to 9..

    This might seem to be a very good deal for Baron Norphil, and a bad deal for everyone else, but you then have to add in any Donated Evil by the respected Masters for any Permanent Subjugations.

    Baron Norphil donates 3 evil to each of his Lieutenants out of the 10+ that he has earned, except for Vampire #3 who is clearly a little more valuable to him, who gets four. Each of the Vampires donates 1 Evil to each of their Subjugations except Vampire #1, whose Subjugations are all temporary:

      Sub-network #1 (3 members): 4 earned, 2 retained +1 returned = 3, or 1 each;
      Sub-network #2 (3 members): 6 earned, 3 retained. +3 donated = 6, or 2 each;
      Sub-network #3 (4 members): 9 earned, 5 retained.+4 donated = 9, or 1 member with 3 and 3 with 2 each;
      Vampire #1: 4 earned +2 from Sub-network #1 = 6; 3 retained +3 from Norphil = 6 retained;
      Vampire #2: 2 earned +3 from Sub-network #2 = 5; 3 retained. +3 from Norphil, -3 donated = 3 retained;
      Vampire #3: 6 earned +4 from Sub-network #3 = 10; 5 retained, +4 from Norphil, -4 donated = 5 retained;
      Baron Norphil: X earned, +9 from Vampires, -10 donated = X-1 retained.

    The Baron retains the Subjugation of his three Vampires for a number of days. Vampires 2 and 3 retain the subjugation of their followers for a smaller number of days. Vampire #1 gets to keep more Evil, but his Subjugations are more likely to Beak Free, so it might cost him more Evil to keep them.

    In reality, I would expect all three Vampires to have a blended network – some permanent Subjugations, some temporary.

    It must also be stated that the Network in question is being slightly under-used; only Vampire #3 is really hustling – but this might be a reflection of the tasks allocated to them by the Master.

    7.4.13 Relinquishing a Subjugation

    At any time, the Master can choose to relinquish a Subjugation. This is a voluntary Breaking of the Master-Servant bond; any attempt to restore the Subjugation must start from Scratch. No stats change.

    7.4.14 Breaking a Subjugation

    Whenever the subjugation duration is complete, a Subjugated individual has a chance to Break Free. Unless otherwise noted:

            Truth + Evil gained since last check + Evil expended in Subjugation + Bonus >=
                    Evil gained since last check + Mind + Bonus + accumulated additional bonuses,
                    – value (# times subjugated in succession)

    As usual, the left side of the calculation refers to the Subjugating Horror and the right to the Subjugated.

    Over time, as the number of times the subject has been Subjugated in succession increases, the cost in Evil expended decreases. The subjugated become more loyal to their Master.

    Author’s Notes:

    The Subjugation rules have never been tested. There might need to be additional tweaks before they work properly, but the general intent is clear from the draft presented above (and which wasn’t included in the original text, as implied by the Player’s Question) before section 7.4.9.

    The parts that I am least sure of are (1) The Subjugation Duration, which might be too short; (2) the chance of Breaking Free; and (3) The cost of maintaining a Subjugation.

    Just so you know.

7.5 How To Destroy A Horror

The Part (or solo Monster-hunter) have compiled their dossier on the Horror that is their target. There are worrying gaps, a couple of (hopefully) lucky guesses, and a lot of theorizing about obscure connections, but it’s as good as they / he think(s) they are going to get.

They have some idea of what to expect, what it can do, what its options will be, where it is most vulnerable, and so on. They think they have what they need to block off those options, take advantage of those weaknesses, hit it hard with some Truth, and destroy it.

Along the way, they have gathered the Power they think they will need to achieve this, but they fret over potential surprises which they are sure they will encounter.

Killing it isn’t enough – it will simply rise again, potentially changing enough in the process that their Truth will no longer be valid – and True Death cannot be used against the Dead.

It’s time for a deadly confrontation…

    7.5.1 Cornering The Horror

    It might seem obvious, but you need to physically trap or corner the Horror or it can simply run away. It’s under no obligation to stick around and die for your entertainment. The more credible a threat you pose, the more likely it is to flee the confrontation – if it can.

    And remember – Darkness may favor the Horror, but the brighter the light, the deeper the shadows it will cast.

    The venue chosen for the confrontation will almost certainly have been chosen from amongst a limited palette of options, all laid down by the Horror to give it specific advantages.

    Don’t neglect to take allies and Subjugated lesser Horrors into account, too – keeping its subjects from coming to its aid could be critical. You don’t want the entire party to be trapped into dealing with a subordinate while the target vanishes!

    7.5.2 Overcoming Its Powers

    You use Truth and Power to destroy a Horror. Every time it attempts to use its Power, you have to use yours to try and block it. If it uses a two-point Power, you need to expend three points of Power+Truth (at least one of each) to stop it. If you can’t think up a way, you can make a Truth Roll to figure it out.

    7.5.3 Truth Rolls

    These are not a lazy way out.

    The person making a Truth Roll generates a bonus, trying for his Perception plus the Power Level of the Horror minus the adds in the Occult Skill. Possibilities may be spent.

    The amount he fails by is the amount of Truth that he has to expend to Perceive an answer that lies within your means.

    For example, if the target transforms into a Cobra, one solution is to become a Mongoose.

    If one character can’t get the answer, it is not permitted for another to shout it out, the second character must Implement it.

    Author’s Notes:

    A House Rule that was deliberately in place in this campaign (and in several others that I run) – if a character is not in a position to offer a suggested course of action, and the player does so anyway, the one thing the first character is not allowed to do is follow the suggestion, even if it’s the right thing to do.

    Under some circumstances, I might make exceptions – for example, in the Zenith-3 campaign, the players are all linked by a telepathic bond maintained by one of the PCs, so any idea can be passed on as quickly as a character can think of it; this House Rule only applies if, for some reason, that links is inoperative. In Orrorsh, things are simpler.

    If, however, a Truth Roll is made, I might ask the other players “does anyone have a suggested solution?” and only provide an ex-cathedra answer if they don’t. And I might well have several options of different quality prepared – so the magnitude of success on the Truth roll can be reflected in the usefulness of the ‘insight’ gained.

    As a truism, players enjoy an adventure more when they devise their own solutions to problems, a lesser amount when another PC finds the ‘right answer’, and least of all when a roll leads to the GM solving the problem for them. Better by far just to offer a hint or a reminder of something that could lead to an answer

      7.5.3.1 Second Truth Rolls

      If the other characters can’t think of a solution either, one of them is permitted to make a second Truth Roll – at 2-for-1 Truth Cost.

      If he bombs out, a third character can try – at a 3-for-1 Truth Cost – and so on, until either everyone fails, or the Party runs out of Truth.

      7.5.3.2 Running Out Of Truth

      If the party expends all its Truth, the Horror will escape. It’s up to the GM to make that escape as exciting as possible, but it is inevitable. It will be somewhat depleted in Power, and with Key facts now known, “life” becomes a succession of hit-and-run raids and traps for both groups, as the party seeks enough Truth to finish the job and the Horror commits acts of evil to recover – with periodic attempts to erase the information the party had gathered.

      7.5.3.3 Running out of Party Members

      Oh, dear. The players have put you in the position of making them feel stupid (by revealing an answer that should have been obvious) or of giving the impression of setting an unfair challenge (if the answer is not at all obvious). Neither answer is satisfactory to anyone.

      Time to change things up with an emergency plot twist or complication – but one that delivers the necessary answer. The bumbling NPC who always needs rescuing (who you introduced earlier in the adventure and then filed away for this very circumstance) leaps through a window, shouting “I’ll save you, [last PC to fail]! Shape Of A Mong– whoops!” as he trips over his own two feet and lands right in front of the Horror, who now has a Hostage for the PCs to rescue, but the answer is out in the open. It might not be enough at this point – Truth is sure to be running short – but the escape can always be attributed to the Bumbling NPC.

      Clearly, the Horror had a power up his sleeve that the PCs hadn’t planned for. They will have to rebuild their stock of Truth, but they’ll know better, next time.

    7.5.4 The Horror’s True Fear

    It’s important to note that the party aren’t just trying to defeat the Horror; they are forcing it to expend its power and backing it into a corner to reawaken the power of Fear – and especially True Fear – within it. It is only when a Horror’s Power is fully expended that it becomes fully susceptible to True Death. When this has happened, it is vulnerable to it’s True Fear. The Hidden personality will emerge, as will its True Form.

    Another Fear Check is appropriate at this point – one for the Horror. Fail, and it will attempt to flee, leaving itself exposed.

    7.5.5 Returning the True Fear

    To make this check, the party must now select one amongst their number to lead the fight on their behalf (if they did not do so even before the confrontation began). This person now expends as much Truth as the Horror has True Fear; if he doesn’t have enough, other party members can contribute at 2 expended for 1 contributed, provided that all conscious members contribute EQUALLY. Each point of Truth so expended reduces the Horror’s True Fear by 1.

    If the party can muster enough Truth to completely eradicate the True Fear of the Horror, then the awareness of his fear is returned to him and he becomes fully vulnerable, effectively failing the check without even rolling.

    However, it’s quite possible that the party can no longer muster enough Truth to reach that goal, which gives the Horror a chance.

      7.5.5.1 The Horror’s True Fear Check

      The PCs determine a Fear Total as though they were Horrors and the Horror they were confronting was a Monster Hunter. Depending on it’s nature, it could be saving as an Ord (possibility-rated or otherwise) or as a Storm Knight.

      To this total, they add the amount of Truth just expended in wiping out the True Fear of the Horror and a Bonus, rolled by the Lead Character on behalf of the group.

      That sets the target; the Horror then adds it’s Available Power plus the value of its Fear plus the value of any Possibilities that it has in hand. It can add any Available Power for a second time by expending that Power. Finally, the Horror generates a bonus and adds that to the total.

      This is not an easy check to pass, and will almost certainly cause the Horror to at least quail in fear, if not to panic and attempt to flee.

      If all goes well for the party, it’s at this point that all their hard work can be seen to have a visible impact, and they move into the ascendancy within the encounter.

      But it’s not quite that easy. In a last-gasp effort, the Horror can add it’s remaining Fear (not its True Fear) to the die roll before it is converted to a bonus. This sacrifices those points in Fear but it can be enough to get it over the line, at which point things can become very messy.

    7.5.6 Failing to Return the True Fear

    The party members contributing Truth to the True Fear check must now make a Spirit Check against the same target number that they set for the Horror. If they fail this check, they suffer the Target Number as Stun Damage, probably causing them to pass out, while the Horror receives the value of the target as a Fresh supply of unspent Evil for each unconscious character.

    It still has to get past any characters who did not contribute Truth to the attack, but this should be relatively easy, if painful for those characters. It should easily escape at this point to lick it’s wounds, but its enemies will never be weaker; depending soley on its True Personality, it may choose to attack instead of fleeing.

      7.5.6.1 Licking Their Wounds

      The total Truth that the party had accumulated is not completely lost to them, should they survive such a failure. While the Horror can and will take steps to render as much of it null and void as possible, he cannot change his nature, and that Truth remains.

      Half the total, plus 1 per surviving character, divided as evenly as possible amongst those surviving characters, can be recovered at the rate of 1 Truth per day. Whilst this recovery is proceeding, the characters can do nothing but rest and recuperate; they may defend themselves in a life-or-death situation, but that’s it. During this time, the mere thought of the Horror is enough to create nervousness and apprehension; it is as though they were subject to a lesser version of Broken (7.3.1).

      When the recovery of Truth is complete, the characters can take stock; either they recruit replacements for any comrades they have lost, and start the hunt anew, or they can forward the Truth they have gathered on the Horror to someone else who can pick up the Baton.

      Remember how many Orrorsh adventures start with the receipt of a mysterious package containing some Truth about the Horror? Now you know where it comes from.

      Remember that the Horror knows that it was vulnerable. Once it regains its own composure, it will take steps to protect itself. This may include attacking the enemies that caused it such pain, either directly or by proxy; subjugating itself to a more powerful Horror; unleashing a wave of terror to gain Evil and Power anew; Relocation of its base of operations; or some combination of the above.

    7.5.7 The Horror’s Last Chance

    But, rather than dwell on that unpleasantness, let us return to the process of Destroying the Horror, following a True Fear outcome that was far more acceptable to the party.

    The Horror’s resources are low, and it’s close to panic at this point. The wise Horror will have prepared some last-ditch contingency against this day, which it may now attempt to put into action; that represents its last chance to escape destruction. Whatever that contingency plan, the PCs have to block it or prevent it from succeeding (it may be as simple as a hidden secret passage, or as complex as a power kept hidden until this day, to be charged up with the lives of any surviving followers or a simple 1-point Evil Act)

    This represents one last twist in the plot, one last surprise for the players to deal with.

    7.5.8 The Final Confrontation

    Assuming that the Horror is successfully blocked in it’s last chance, the Final Confrontation begins.

      7.5.8.1 The First Round

      The Lead Character and the Horror dice off as the character attempts to deliver the True Death through a Coup-De-Grace. This might be wrestling with the Horror in front of curtains blocking the rising sun, or whatever, but it should be dramatic and visceral.

      This is an evenly-matched contest. On the character’s side, they have any remaining Truth; on the Horror’s side, any remaining True Fear, Fear, or Power. Each side generates a bonus, adding (and expending) whatever they have left. Possibilities can be spent if the participants have them. Other characters can contribute cards to the boost the efforts of their side. Whoever wins the roll expends the resources consumed and adds the result to a tally.

      The combat continues until one side or the other accumulates enough in their tally to match the True Fear or Power that the Horror had at the start of the confrontation, whichever is lower.

      7.5.8.2 Subsequent Rounds

      At first, the battle will likely see-saw a bit, going first one way and then the other. After the first round, one side may have an advantage thanks to the resources they had remaining, but this is almost certainly not going to be enough for an outright victory.

      As the battle continues, each side has an advantage over the other. The characters advantage lies in the cards that can be contributed, which they should have been husbanding for this effort, and in any possibilities that they have remaining. The Horror’s advantage is that for the most part, it has not been expending many possibilities until now.

      7.5.8.3 Strategy

      Strategy will come into play – is it better to expend a lot of cards overcoming a bad roll or would it be better to concede that round and wait for a better chance? How many possibilities does the Horror have, anyway?

      7.5.8.4 Narrative

      Even if it’s not usually his style or forte, the GM should make strenuous efforts to translate the rounds of combat into tension-building narrative. Describe the battle!!

      Try to involve the other characters in the unfolding events, even if it’s only “The Horror whirls and launches itself toward [Character] only to pull up short as [Character] displays [X], causing it to shrink back” – X might be a holy symbol, or some metaphor for the True Death, or simply a weapon of some kind.

      Ultimately, one side or the other will come out on top. The Horror’s only concern now is survival, and it will flee the instant it gets a chance; it will probably make multiple attempts to do so, only to be blocked by not having enough accumulated advantage to win the overall contest.

    7.5.9 The Coup-De-Grace

    It’s most likely that the characters will win, eventually; they have the greater advantages and time on their side, slowly pulling ahead in the battle until the Coup-De-Grace can be administered, which is only when the accumulated advantage is sufficient..

    That Coup-De-Grace is an attack or action that either directly, metaphorically, or symbolically enacts the True Death of the Horror.

    The GM should take care in describing the consequences, translating what happens into narrative terms. It could be spectacular, it should be dramatic, and it should at least look final.

    7.5.10 Strategic Considerations

    I want to emphasize that there are a lot of strategic considerations for the characters to take into account.

    They may choose to set aside some of their number in reserve for different stages of the confrontation. Those who participate in the early stages may deplete significant quantities of Truth, and so may not be the best choice for lead character.

    They should have built up as much reserves in cards as they can manage for the final confrontation, and have some plan of action. They may deliberately assign one of their number to deal with that final surprise twist.

    Should the character chosen to Lead them in the final confrontation be the character with the most possibilities, or the character with the highest Truth, having shepherded as much of it as possible through the early stages? One has a short-term advantage, the other a long-term one – and it will rarely be the same character with both.

    7.5.11 The True Death action

    The final hurdle to be overcome comes in the coup-de-grace, when the lead character has to describe how the True Death that they have identified or surmised is represented in the final action.

    There re multiple possibilities to consider.

    The GM may feel that the symbolism isn’t strong enough. The characters may have misinterpreted something and arrived at the wrong True Death. The Horror may have planted false clues for them to find, hoping that its enemies will fall into its trap. Or they may have gotten everything right.

    There are only two outcomes: The Horror is destroyed; or the Horror is merely Killed, and will return to “life” at some future point, go into hiding, etc.

    The GM is not permitted to make any commentary on how appropriate the interpretation of the True Death will be, save through the mouth of an NPC. Any such assessment should therefore be taken with a grain of salt by the characters.

    7.5.12 Consequences Of Destroying A Horror

    Well, they are not very good for the Horror! For the (surviving) party, of course, there’s the knowledge that they have destroyed something Evil, an act that will undoubtedly save lives. They have expended Power, and Cards, and Possibilities, and Truth, and are now satisfied and exhausted.

    Reduce each party member’s Persistence and Fear by the amount of True Fear that the Horror had at the start of the Confrontation, and reduce Truth by the value of that amount (the nature of the Occult has just changed).

    They will have gained a certain reputation – how that will be interpreted depends on who’s doing the interpretation (see Chapter 10). Some places will throw open their doors and their arms in welcome; others will shun them. Some horrors will give them a wide berth, others will see the possibility of enhancing their own reputations. Some may choose to retire, or to try and find a way out of Orrorsh until the heat dies down.

    Everyone and their maiden aunt will have another Horror they want the characters to hunt down and destroy. Some may send official delegations and offer extravagant rewards.

    Hekaton will have alerted the High Lord of the outcome, and any intelligence on who is responsible. Remember, it’s not just a darkness device, it’s a Sentient Evil in its own right (and yes, if you can muster enough Truth, you may be able to wipe it out completely – something in the low 4-figures should do the job).

    Life can return to “normal” (until the next time) – except that once exposed to any part of the Truth, life can never be entirely “normal” again.

    Award the experience, let players put up their character’s skills and stats, and start preparing the next adventure.

7.6 Commit A Wicked Act

This is necessary from time to time, even forced – which is interesting since a Wicked or Evil act is defined as committing an act of unnecessary evil! But the fact is that the Power obtained from committing these is needed to Destroy a Horror, and that from time to time a Resistance Roll will be flubbed, and a Character will have to give in. Either way, they are going to occur from time to time.

    7.6.1 Definition of a Wicked (Evil) Act

    The necessity of committing them requires a slight amendment to the basic definition of a Wicked Act in the official sourcebook:

      Any evil act that does not directly advance a person or party’s goals is Wicked. Any act that is carried out in a threatening, violent, or malicious manner when it doesn’t have to be is also considered a Wicked Act.

    It is not considered that gathering Power with the intention of destroying a Horror necessarily advances goals, because the Power could be used for something else in the meantime.

    Nor is committing an act to relieve the burden of having failed a Resistance Check considered advancing goals – giving in (momentarily) to a desire for power or personal convenience, which is what this simulates, is fine and Wicked.

    Of course, being Nasty when you don’t have to be is always evil, even if this does directly advance your goals.

    A lot depends on the relationship between Victim and Perpetrator. If the victim is an enemy or opposed to the perpetrator, it may not be wicked. If they are a friend, ally, or supporter, it almost certainly is. A stranger or neutral party is a dicier situation and the referee will have to rule on the question.

    7.6.2 Evil Rating

    When an Evil act is proposed, the referee rates it on a scale of 1-5.

      1 and 2 are fairly minor and petty and are considered more Wicked than Evil. “1” in particular is basically a really mean prank.

      3 and 4 are Malicious, and certainly more than minor and petty.

      5 is reserved for extremely serious evil acts, the kind that can land someone (not necessarily the perpetrator) in prison for a long time.

    The GM should take into account how much trouble the perpetrator creates for the victim with his act, and how quickly the victim can get out of that trouble.

    Some examples:

    • Hiding someone’s shaving kit: barely even qualifies as an evil act. Zero. Making it look like someone else that the victim trusts is responsible takes it up to a 2.
    • Newspaper reports describe a large ruby that has been stolen from a museum. Perpetrator makes an anonymous tip to the authorities that he saw the victim with something that looked like the missing gem yesterday evening, omitting the fact that he saw the victim reading the newspaper with a picture of the missing gem on the front page. That’s probably a 3, maybe even a 4 if the victim actually has contraband of some kind for the police to find.
    • Beating up someone for revenge over an uncooperative attitude earlier in the day could be a 1, 2, or 3. If permanent injuries were inflicted, even a 4.
    • Mugging someone is a 1, maybe a 2.
    • Threatening someone to get them to talk – with every intention of carrying out the threat – is a 1, maybe a 2. Actually carrying out the threat even after they have talked is a 3, maybe a 4.
    • Removing the protections around someone’s window so that a Horror can gain clear access to them, even if you plan to intervene fairly quickly, is a definite 5.
    • Framing someone for murder is also a 5. Killing someone is only a 4, but killing them with some sort of torture involved kicks it up that extra notch.
    • Strangling a stray cat that might be someone’s pet? That’s a 1. Strangling a stray cat that is definitely someone’s pet is a 2. .Doing it and leaving the body where they will find it is a 3. Doing it in front of them is a 4. Threatening them (“One day soon, it will be your turn”), that’s a 5.

    Doing something anonymously risks an act being degraded a point; doing it in such a way that someone can be clearly identified (even if it’s a fake identity) could possibly add a point, but probably won’t; leaving a clue that suggests someone else as the perpetrator definitely does.

    Some acts may be considered so heinous that the GM awards extra evil over the normal 5-maximum. For example, torturing someone – that’s a four or a five. Torturing them to death is a step more evil again. Torturing them but deliberately stopping so that they will have to live with life-long injuries or handicaps? That’s even worse.

    Note that while Horrors have no compunctions about doing evil things, like feasting on the victim, most players will not go anywhere near that extreme.

    The GM may or may not reveal the value of the proposed act; he has to be sure of the intentions of the PC before he can do so.

    7.6.3 Evil Acts as Characterization

    The need to commit frequent acts of pettiness and malice, for example threatening a witness, to gain the Power that is needed to confront a Horror tends to cause Monster Hunters to be characterized as mean, cruel, vicious, uncaring, anti-social bad-asses. “Its because they know they are needed, they feel entitled, as though they were better than everyone else,” should be the common perception.

    Encourage players to play up to the hype, but be themselves the rest of the time, by noting when a PC is deliberately acting out of character and rewarding the effort appropriately, immediately.

    7.6.4 Using Evil Acts within the game

    Both GM and players should look to using the Evil Acts and their subsequent fallout as an opportunity to roleplay. Characters who, by their nature, have a hard time doing this sort of thing should be encouraged to view them as necessary, “the end justifies the means” – but should then be permitted to look for ways of assuaging a guilty conscience.

    The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but it’s the only paved road for miles around.

    Especially squeamish characters and players may choose to only target those who they perceive as evil or corrupt, even though that may reduce the rating for the act; that’s up to them, but others (including NPCs) may not feel the same restraint.

    DON’T neglect the likelihood that one or two of the PCs will be the victims of someone else’s Wicked or Malicious act. If this creates the perception that everyone in Orrorsh is surly and mean, so be it.

    7.6.5 Turnabout is only justice

    So, someone’s told the police that you’re a burglar; they have raided their hotel room, found no contraband, and you’ve been able to produce an iron-clad alibi, getting yourself out of trouble.

    You may or nay not be sure about who Swatted you, but even if you are wrong or don’t know, giving the police the name of whoever you suspect of being your false accuser is only fair.

    7.6.6 Revenge is also Evil

    That, or finding some other way of taking your revenge on them (even if they are completely innocent) is also an Evil Act, earning the character perpetrating the revenge play Evil and Power. So, by targeting each other, the party can get two hits for the price of one.

    7.6.7 Consequences Of An Evil Act – in play

    It’s a truism of RPGs that most acts should not occur in isolation – there should be consequences that manifest as the game continues to unfold. This not only makes the world feel more real, it creates still more opportunities for roleplay and generates immediate evidence that what the PCs do impacts directly on the world around them – all good things, from a game perspective.

    GMs should actively look for these opportunities, and only when he spots one, decide whether or not to enact it, bearing in mind the goal ow slowly ratcheting up the tension and intensity of the game.

    7.6.8 Consequences Of An Evil Act – in-game

    When the act is committed, the GM reveals the rating it has been assigned. The commission may or may not be played out in-game; sometimes it’s better to hand-wave these things. Again, controlling the pacing of the game is an important consideration.

    When the act is begun, the character’s Evil score increases by the rating of the deed; and at the end of it, his Resistance, Perseverance, and True Fear reduce by the amount of the rating.

    An exception: when the character’s Persistence is zero, his True Fear score remains unchanged and his Persistence increases by the rating.

    These value shifts are totaled (3 change is 3 change, it doesn’t matter if it’s up or down) and the value of the resulting total determined. This is how much that character’s Power increases.

    7.7 Using Powers

    This is not limited to powers from Evil, it includes powers deriving from Other Realms World Laws and using the abilities of Truth. Each has a power cost (in terms of Evil) already listed, or an equivalent; normally, such costs are paid with Possibilities, here in Orrorsh, they are paid in Evil or Truth.

    Which one is used is up to the player, but should impact on the flavor of the scene as it plays out.

    When a power is used, Evil Available or Truth are reduced by the appropriate cost, as are Fear and Resistance. True Fear increases by the amount if the cost is wholly or partly paid in Evil.

    This means that a 1-point Evil Power, used once, effectively increases the difficulty of a Resistance Check by 2.

    7.7.1 Powers From Evil & Other Realms

    Many of these are listed on p95-98 of the Orrorsh Sourcebook. The list is not exhaustive, but is broad enough that additional Powers and equivalents can be listed using the existing list as a guideline.

    The method of deriving the quantity of Powers has changed, however; the Value of the Base Evil score is used to determine the number of Power Points available. A character with 6 Evil thus has 4 points available; when the character reaches 10 Evil, they will gain another point.

    Points less than three can be used or stored, with the Power to be selected later. Thus, the character with 4 points could buy two 2-point powers, 1 two-point power, or 1 three-point power, and have points unspent. The next opportunity to spend those unspent points comes when Evil points are next received. This is how characters (and Horrors) can gain more than one three-point power – but this is not easy, requiring 15 Base Evil points.

    7.7.2 Powers From Light

    These include the Miracles listed on p89-93, Occult Spells p84-88, and Orrorsh Skills p68-73 of the Orrorsh Sourcebook. They may also include, with GM approval, miracles and Occult spell equivalents from other Realms (even if those are usually Arcane in nature). The GM should especially scrutinize compatibility with Orrorsh Axiom levels.

    7.7.3 The Nocturnal Option

    Any 3-point Evil-based power can be reduced to a 2-point cost by specifying “nocturnal” at the end of the name.

    Any 2-point Evil-based power can be reduced to a 1-point cost by specifying “nocturnal” at the end of the name.

    Any 1-point Evil-based power can be reduced to a 1/2-point cost by specifying “nocturnal” at the end of the name.

    “Nocturnal” means that the power is fully available only after sunset and before sunrise, or during the totality of a solar eclipse, which happen on a weekly basis in Orrorsh (somehow). It is available in twilight and partial solar eclipses with a 1- action delay, and available during Lunar Eclipses and extreme cloud-cover conditions with a 2-action delay.

    7.7.4 The Daylight Option

    This is the exact opposite of Nocturnal, and can be used only with Powers from Light. In essence, they are fully available only in full daylight; available with a 1-action delay in twilight conditions; and available with a 2-action delay in predawn conditions.

    7.7.5 The Graveyard Option

    Any 3-point power from either Evil or Light can be reduced to a 2-point cost by specifying “Graveyard” at the end of the name.

    Any 2-point power from either Evil or Light can be reduced to a 1-point cost by specifying “Graveyard” at the end of the name.

    Any 1-point Light or Evil-based power can be reduced to a 1/2-point cost by specifying “Graveyard” at the end of the name.

    “Graveyard” must be followed by either a “+”, a “-“, or an “x” sign.

    “Graveyard+” means that the power is fully available only when the character is standing within a consecrated Graveyard; it is available with a 1-action delay if such a Graveyard or Church is within 100 meters of the character, with a 2-action delay if such a Graveyard or a Church is within 250 meters, and with a 3-action delay if such a Graveyard or Church is within 500 meters.

    “Graveyard-” means that the power is fully available only when the character is standing within an unconsecrated Graveyard; it is available with a 1-action delay if such a Graveyard or Desanctified Church is within 200 meters of the character, with a 2-action delay if such a Graveyard or a Church is within 500 meters, and with a 3-action delay if such a Graveyard or Church is within 800 meters.

    “Graveyard-x” means that the power is not available if the character is located within 25 meters of a Graveyard or Church; is available with a 3-action delay if such a Graveyard or Church is within 100 meters, is available with a 2-action delay if such are within 250 meters; and available with a 1-action delay if such is within 500 meters.

    These restrictions do not compound or stack; if there are two such locations, determine which one imposes the lesser restriction (Graveyard+, Graveyard-) or greater restriction (Graveyard-x) according to distance and use that.

    No power can have the Nocturnal or Daylight restriction AND a Graveyard restriction.

    7.7.6 “Delay”

    Delay means that the character uses an action activating the power as normal, but it does not start instantly. The character has to complete 1 additional action round (in which they can act as normal) for a 1-action delay; the power either activates at the conclusion of that action round as though they had just activated it, or at the start of the character’s next round if it’s something they have to actively use/control.

    For a 2-action delay, they have to make 2 actions while waiting; for a 3-action delay, they have to make 3 actions.

    7.7.7 Restrictions Advice

    It is strongly recommended that only half of a Character or Horror’s powers have any restriction at all, or they will be too-easily defeated.

    7.7.8 The “Split Restriction” Option

    With GM approval, a character can take a restricted form of a power and a variant form of that power that applies only if the restriction does not apply, for the full price of the unrestricted power. Such powers should be listed sequentially with the variant conditions carefully noted.

    With a split-condition power, the character has the choice of which power will be activated after a delay when the restriction doesn’t fully apply. For example, if the primary power is “Nocturnal”, the variant power would be listed as “Not Nocturnal”; in Twilight conditions there is a 1-turn delay. At the time of activating the power in twilight conditions, the character can choose either the primary version or the variant; if they do not so specify, the primary version is the default.

    Split-restriction powers can NEVER activate simultaniously, it’s always either one or the other.

7.8 Resting

Resting requires uninterrupted peace and quiet, provided care, and all other aspects of a sanatorium.

Being consulted, or even visited by those associated with the events which produced the need for Rest impacts the recovery as detailed below.

Resting bestows “Tranquility Benefits” upon the character.

There are two Resting variants available to the GM, and he can choose either or both of them for different circumstances within the campaign.

    7.8.1 Tranquility Benefits

    Resting increases Resistance, and reduces Fear and Truth – Power becomes less important as calm replaces Tension, Fear and Truth fade as memories fade and soften with distance).

    The amount of these changes is the value of the number of Days of uninterrupted rest.

    7.8.2 Hard Resting

    Any interruption resets the clock, but delivers the benefits of the resting prior to the interruption.

    For example, a character rests for 45 days, gaining 8 points of Tranquility benefits. His friends then stop by to see how he’s doing; to gain a further point (from 8 to 9) the character needs to rest for 60 days after the interruption.

    Depending on how badly the character needed to Rest in order to regain his equilibrium, he may be ‘locked away’ for years.

    Except on the first morning of Rest, and on the night after an interruption, the character need not make Persistence or Resistance checks.

    7.8.3 Soft Resting

    Interruptions reset the clock to half the accumulated rest period, but only delivers the benefits of that half; the difference is the setback caused by the interruption.

    For example, a character rests for 45 days, gaining 8 points of Tranquility benefits. His friends then stop by to see how he’s doing. This disturbs his hard-won equilibrium; his clock resets to 22 days, and his recovery declines to (5 or 6 points, I don’t have the table in front of me). but, in a mere 23 more days (not counting the day of interruption), the character will be back up to where he was – 45 days and 8 points of Tranquility Benefits.

    7.8.4 Leaving Orrorsh – In Private

    Simply getting out of Orrorsh, if the character can manage it, creates a level of relaxation that is analogous to Resting. if the character is not in the company of anyone associated with the Trauma, each day spent outside of Orrorsh without encountering a Horror counts as 1/4 days of total rest in a sanatorium, no matter what the character’s activities are.

    If those activities can be described as ‘restful’ or ‘calming’, they count for a 1/2-day’s rest instead. For example, an ocean cruise bound for Hawaii might take 2 weeks; even if the character plays shuffleboard all day, gambles all night, stumbling back to his cabin drunk as a skunk with a different lady under his arm each night, that would still count as “being on holiday” which is inherently restful – so those 14 days would count as 7 days of Rest.

    If the character enters a situation which can be considered analogous to an Orrorsh sanatorium, but located outside Orrorsh, the time spent there counts as DOUBLE. So 21 days in a monastery or someplace specializing in total pampering would count as 42 days of Rest.

    7.8.5 Leaving Orrorsh – In Company

    Even leaving Orrorsh in the company of those associated with the Trauma is somewhat beneficial. Simply replace “1/2” with “1/3” and “1/4” with “1/7” in the details provided above.

    7.8.6 Encountering A Horror While Resting

    Oh dear. Some people just have no luck at all.

    Compare the Tranquility Benefits to the True Fear of the Horror. If the benefits equal or better the True Fear, the encounter counts as an interruption, nothing more; the character might even be well enough to summon his comrades (interrupting his rest) to hunt down and drive away this Horror, which is going to be fairly small potatoes as Horrors go.

    If that’s not the case, however, the Character loses ALL benefits of resting to date, automatically fails any Persistence or Resistance checks, and his Resting clock resets to a negative number in the amount of that True Fear. Instead of having the benefits of (say) 8 days Rest, he is now at -10 days of Rest, and his symptoms are negatively affected as well – consult the table for the value of the negative days of Rest and TAKE OFF the result in Tranquility “Benefits”.

    This can be enough to tip a Disturbed character – i.e. one needing Rest – over the top into Insanity or Worse.

    7.8.7 Disturbed Characters

    Disturbance is determined with two comparisons:

    • Resistance or Persistence of less than 1/2 SPIRIT
    • Fear greater than 1/2 SPIRIT.

    A Disturbed character should pick up 1 quirk (any minor thing will do) for every 5 points below their SPIRIT their resistance or Persistence has fallen below their Spirit value, and one for every 5 points of Fear.

    Most Disturbed characters are fully capable of living a normal life without dramas. They might benefit from a Rest but don’t actually need one.

    7.8.8 Severely Disturbed characters

    If the character’s stats are in worse shape than that –

    • Resistance or Persistence of less than 1/4 SPIRIT
    • Fear greater than SPIRIT.

    – they on the Brink of total mental and emotional collapse. Resting is no longer an option, and the character may find themselves committed to an asylum if he does not take charge of the matter and admit himself to a care facility. The difference between the two is how easy it will be for the character to then get back out.

    An Asylum is, by definition, full of profoundly disturbed people. The care is not at the same standards as a sanatorium, and there will be more frequent interruptions. As a result, it’s recommended that the Soft Rest option be used.

    7.8.9 Insanities

    Worse still are those poor souls whose stats are severely distressed:

    • Resistance or Persistence of less than 1/6 SPIRIT
    • Fear greater than 150% of SPIRIT.

    For every 3 quirks, they should pick up an Insanity. The first one can be mild or minor; subsequent ones should be more profound.

Wow, got there! About 22K words, and it’s done, a week early – and at the same time as the 30K 2nd part of the Aysle Rewrite! That’s a solid result for 2 weeks of work!

Next week, and the week after, I have a couple of completely unrelated articles outlined, again to give me time to cope with any disruption due to the need to change addresses.

Until then!

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An Old Aysle To Run Down 2


This entry is part 3 in the series Extracts from Mike's TORG Materials

Amazon has just two (second-hand) copies of the Sourcebook left. But that’s still more than I found on eBay.

Preliminaries / Introduction: Why you should read this article

I h\ave found a whole bunch of material from my old TORG campaign, which I intend to use through 2024 as the foundation of various articles.

I’m doing this for a number of reasons, which collectively spell out why it’s worth your time to read them (some more than others, I must admit).

1. I can (almost) cut an article off in mid-sentence if I have to – so these will be flexible in an uncertain publishing period.

2. The Aysle material constitutes an excellent demonstration of campaign creation and world-building.

3. Aysle is utterly unlike any D&D world that I know of, and my variant on that is even more so. File off a few serial numbers, change a few names, and you have a unique adventuring environment to either visit or reside in for the duration of a campaign.

4. The Orrorsh material is a lot scarier than the published, official, version – to such an extent that none of the PCs wanted to go there. They had one small taste of it (a freighter adrift at sea) and that was more than enough for them, thank you very much.

  1. A lot of people found the spell construction system to be confusing. So did I, at first – but once I understood it, I thought it was brilliant. Of course, I tweaked it a little, and – hopefully – explained it a lot more clearly than West End Games did at the time. Again, as house rules go, this is an interesting and robust one for GMs to contemplate.
  2. Finally, I’ve got a LOT of material that I can reconstitute or recycle, and if I don’t do this with it, it will never see the light of day. The campaign itself, though officially on hiatus, is unlikely to ever restart – not enough time, not enough interest, and I’ve lost touch with most of the old players. But it may be of benefit/interest to other GMs out there – whether they run TORG or not.
Why Some Of This Might Sound Familiar

I know that I’ve mentioned the TORG campaign, and specifically Aysle, on a number of past occasions.

Part 3 of the Plunging Into Game Physics series, Tales from the Ether used it as an example, for example. And I described the Campaign as it turned out in play in Part 2 of my biographical double-post, Dice And Life: Bio of a gamemaster, which I posted to commemorate the 5th anniversary of Campaign Mastery.

This isn’t going to be like those occasions; instead of working from memory, I have my actual campaign construction notes for reference, including some forgotten goodies that the players never figured out / discovered.

But I thought I should point out why it is that some of this material might sound familiar to long-time readers.

Previously

Part 1 addressed the campaign design, and why it made complete sense to me to set the opening adventure in the Cosm of Aysle, centuries before the Probability Wars began, and then delved deeply into the physical construction of the setting and its cosmology.

This part is going to deal with recent history, the politics of the Cosm, and how the first and second adventures synchronize with “modern times” in the Campaign. Inevitably, as part of that, I’ll need to look at some of the Geography.

That’s in theory – in practice, I suspect that parts 2, 3, and 4 will be needed to cover everything.

The Worldbook

Let me start by summarizing everything the World Book – the highlights-only introduction to the Realm and the Cosm – has to say about the politics of Aysle.

.

..

“It is a realm thrown into confusion, a realm split along the lines of two powerful beings who can both claim to be it’s High Lord – Lady Pella Ardinay of the light, and Angar Utherion of the dark.

….

…..

“Many of the leaders of the ruling houses are preparing to make their own claims at Total Power. Many are in their vaunted positions because of the oppression of Utherion (who the people thought was Ardinay) and they are reluctant to return to the ways of old which the changed Ardinay is proposing.

“But Lady Ardinay has not yet returned to deal with these issues. She remains on Earth to handle matters there. So, all kinds of mischief is occurring in her absence, especially by the Vikings, who seem most stringent in carrying out Utherion’s original plans.”

The Folk of Aysle

There are, subsequently, summaries of the most important resident species of Aysle, collectively called “Folk”. Some of those summaries also contain political information.

    Ayslish (the humans of Aysle)

    Polarized into good and bad, depending on which “High Lord” they back.

    Dwarves

    Oldest race known to exist in Aysle. They live underground in vast cities, but were (somehow) forced into military service by Utherion. Older members of the long-lived race remember the days when Ardinay was peaceable, and the dark days when she seemed to turn. Cynical by nature, they are even less trusting as a result of her ‘miraculous’ changes in attitude.

    Vikings

    The Vikings embraced the concept of conquest and refused to let go of it. Many crossed Maelstrom Bridges made of water to Earth’s Scandinavia from which they are looting, pillaging, engaging in Piracy, trade, and land-taking throughout Northern Europe. Not all are evil, but the doctrines of their society allow them to terrorize and behave cruelly.

    Goblins

    Not native to the Cosm, these are humans transformed when the Ayslish World Laws washed over the Realm during the invasion. Some have begun to emigrate back up the Maelstrom Bridge into the Cosm. Big heads, small bodies, tend to be depraved and malicious, and refuse to have anything to do with tools or machinery. They have a penchant for crime, violence, and anti-social behavior.

    Half-Folk

    When Utherion first invaded the Aysle Cosm, the reality storms transformed some of the Folk into Half-folk – beings who are half-human and half-creature. Varieties include minotaurs, centaurs, harpies, and mer-folk. When Aysle invaded Earth, the same thing happened. First-generation half-folk are never possibility-rated but subsequent generations produce more such – so the only Half-folk Storm Knights originate in the Cosm, at least for now.

…and that’s it.

That’s still enough to raise a number of questions, though.

  1. Who are these Great Houses and what makes them Great? How many of them are there?
  2. Where are they located, relative to each other? Who is a neighbor to whom, and what is the optimum arrangement for creating interesting/compelling backstories?<.li>
  3. What is the internal politics of each “Great House”, and where do they stand, and why?
  4. Does use of the term “great” imply the existence of Lesser Houses?
  5. No mention of Elves. It hardly seems like a fantasy world without Elves of some sort. Maybe one of the “Great Houses” is Elvish?
  6. Are Giants considered Half-Folk too, or are they also missing?
  7. Everyone has their bad guys. Who were the bad guys of Aysle before Utherion, and what are relations like with them now?
  8. How are relations between the Houses conducted, and where?
  9. I get the impression that, even before Utherion, Ardinay or her ancestors had created a unified political reality in the Cosm – that she was an Empress in fact if not in title. This needs to be explored.
  10. The excerpts hint at something already described in the World-book – the recent history of Aysle. Given that it seems to have manifested in overt power-shifts, it might be worth summarizing.
  11. But this also raises the question – what were the Houses like back before Utherion?
  12. Were there any Great Houses back then that have since fallen?
  13. There ‘s even been enough time, perhaps barely. for a House to have arisen and then fallen back into obscurity.
  14. Of the Great Houses, who has their leadership in the Realm, with Ardinay, who in the Realm separately, and Who’s in charge back home?
  15. Are/Were any of them active collaborators with Utherion? Or did they all just ride his coattails?
  16. Dwarves – a coexistent nation beneath the feet of other Houses? Think about the politics of that, and of relations between the Dwarves and the surface-dwelling “neighbors”.
  17. Half-Folk – what are each House’s relations with half-folk and is there one variety who particularly associate with that House?

That’s 17 questions – six more than I had when I started work on the Cosmology. Many of these are more specific – but may have multiple sub-entries, one for each House.

Hold on, here’s a couple more:

  1. What are the significant natural commodities, who controls them, and how has that impacted their politics? NB: Each Great House should have at least one.
  2. What are the natural trade routes, who controls them, and how has that impacted their politics? NB: Each Great House should have at least one.
  3. What are the natural Trade Winds, and what impact does that have on the politics and prices of key commodities? Answer will be different for each Great House / population group (this is a revisit from the final question from Part 1, where it had to be shelved because there was no geographic information finalized).

The world sourcebook will answer some of these, at least partially, but the experience with the cosmology (presented in Part 1) led me to expect to have to write 90% as new material.

That’s fine by me – it simply means that “My” version of Aysle will be different from anyone else’s, something I like to encourage, anyway.

The Process

Rather than approaching these in strict sequence – which is what I had done with the cosmology in Part 1 – there’s a lot of interplay between these subjects. I wanted to keep the foundations consistent with published material, though, for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t want to reinvent more wheels than necessary;
  2. I hoped to use the published material as a Spine onto which I could graft expansions and extensions.

Instead I got a loose-leaf binder, put each question at the top of the page, and began a systematic synopsis of the “official” information, putting each snippet of information where it was most relevant and cross-referencing as appropriate. With that done, I could then adopt the same principle to answering each question in succession.

To ensure tracking cross-references, links were numbered – so if I came to “reference 17”, I could simply start at the first page and look for the first occurrence to get the exact source. Well, that was the theory – it didn’t work.

Why? Well, take another look at Question 18. Assuming that I got minimal information (if anything) from official sources, and had to fill in a great number of blanks myself, that would clearly create supplemental information to questions 1 and 2., and that means that the linking sequence in those questions wasn’t going to be right.

Solving the problem

With the experience of many more years, I can now see a solution to this problem.

Let’s say that I’m working on Question 18, and decide that House X is dominant in the provision of quality building materials – marble and hardwoods and so on. All I need to do is go to the page for House X in Q1 and cite the source as “original to Q18” – or simply “->Q18-1” or whatever. That preserves the principle of the first occurrence of a numbered reference pointing to the source.

Then, for Question 2, I do the same thing, but note “Mountainous, Marble, Minerals, Hardwoods” as well as the link “->Q18-1”

At the time, I felt it was most important to deal with all the “critical commodities” at the same time, so that nothing got left out.

Later, I would reorder the pages so that all the pages related to House #1 would be collated, and could then be dealt with as a mass.

A more modern technique

Not that it matters, but even though I can now solve the problem that derailed my original planned approach, I still wouldn’t do it that way at all.

Instead, I would go through each question, and make bullet-point notes in the relevant places, then expand on those notes one at a time.

In the case of the example, there would be one set of pages labeled “House #1”, then another for “House #2” and so on – and on the first page would be the official information about the House, and then notes for Q1, followed by notes for Q2, notes for Q3, and so on.

These notes would be entered on those pages in question sequence – so still nothing would be missed – but all work on one House would be complete before turning editorial / creative attention to the next.

Nor would everything be expanded (nor was it at the time); only material relevant to the PCs or the adventure. Everything else can wait. But at the time, I was more bullheaded and foolish, and as a result, ran out of prep time.

The Current Situation

The pages were stored loose, and some have faded to the point of illegibility. Some have been lost. Unfortunately, the page numbering is one of the things that has faded. So I know the notes are incomplete.

In addition, some of them have been attacked by pests – there are holes. Sometimes a whole word, sometimes just part of a word, is gone. In most cases, context will permit a reasonable guess as to the missing word; but not always. And, as I said earlier, some of the questions were simply not answered at the time, not comprehensively, anyway.

Which leaves me with a difficult decision or two – do I complete the job now, or do I not? Do I indicate gaps, and what I think was going to be in them – where there are clues to same? Or do I just present what has been preserved, and that was created at the time?

Well, let’s just see how we get on, shall we?

NB: because it makes for a more rational narrative, some of the material will be presented out of “official” question sequence. Starting with:

10.3 The Recent History, Part 2

Paraphrased from the Aysle Realm Entry of the World Book, with supplemental material from the Campaign Notes

    10.3.1 Unholy Alliance

    Utherion, the Gaunt Man’s chief lieutenant, found a Darkness Device and claimed it for his own. The Gaunt Man had a choice: he could permit Utherion to challenge him and perhaps even to rival him until there was a confrontation between them that benefited neither the winner nor the loser; or he could aid Utherion in conquering some other Reality, creating a potential ally.

    And, of course, he could secretly, by proxy, undermine and weaken Utherion’s rule over this new realm with traps that would only be sprung should Utherion ever feel strong enough to challenge him.

    When the question is phrased correctly, the logical choice becomes self-apparent. The Gaunt Man offered Utherion a deal – when Utherion found a Cosm to his liking, the Gaunt Man would provide the forces needed to conquer it. Utherion could then establish his own power base using whatever remained of that conquered reality.

    Ultimately, Utherion found Aysle, and found it to be satisfactory.

    10.3.2 Invasion

    The Gaunt Man invaded, good as his word, following a battle plan devised by Utherion. From nowhere, Maelstrom Bridges erupted into various parts of the Disk-shaped world, and all manner of nightmarish creatures descended from it.

    Which is where the invaders made their first mistakes. Two of them, in fact. Utherion knew that the prior presence of a Maelstrom Bridge in a given location made it much harder to establish another at the same location, and so he placed his primary invasion point in the mountains to the rimward of the center of political power, the Valley Of The Sword, rather than at the actual seat of that power within the valley, choosing inconvenience now and convenience later – after all, if it cost the Gaunt Man some additional troops in the conquering, it was no skin off Utherion’s nose. That was mistake #1. His second error lay in not appreciating the scope of the Dwarven underground Kingdom; his scouts had reported only what the residents of Aysle knew of the short people, not knowing that almost all of it was fiction woven by the Dwarves themselves.

    Lower Aysle was not neglected, however; and it was from there, literally on the far side from Utherion’s attention, that the Gaunt Man released certain agents who would be able to undermine his former lieutenant should it prove necessary.

    In the course of this invasion, the Gaunt Man was careful not to release too much possibility energy; he did not want to impose the World Laws of Orrorsh on Aysle, the goal was to impose the World Laws of Utherion’s Darkness Device, a far more subtle piece of work than Hekaton, the Gaunt Man’s Darkness Device. Instead, he supplied just enough to permit his Horrors to function.

    10.3.3 Defense Of The Cosm

    The political leader of Aysle, Lady Pella Ardinay, rallied her allies [Q1A: Who?] to defeat the horrors. As was expected of one in her position, she led the assembled might of Aysle from the front, only to be felled by a poisoned crossbow.

    Ayslish Magic purged the poison from her veins before it proved fatal, but she was weakened and forced to retire from the field. For three days, her forces held back the invaders while she marshaled her strength, and then she rose from her sickbed to unleash the most potent spell she had ever crafted, driving the invaders back from whence they came and tearing down the Maelstrom Bridges they used as a conveyance.

    I have always been certain that this was Pella Ardinay (from the sourcebook cover).

    10.3.4 The Price Of Victory

    The invasion marked Lady Ardinay. She slowly became more cruel and despotic, manipulative and secretive. Secretly, she undermined old allies and cultivated relations amongst former enemies. She encouraged more power-hungry leaders to rise within the Great Houses, people she could seduce with the prospect of power when the time was right.

    In due course, while she became dictator over much of Upper Aysle; her influence waned quickly in the world of Lower Aysle, and was virtually non-existent amongst the Dwarves, save for a few for whom Greed was too strong an allure.

    She explained these changes as necessary to prepare the people for the defense of the realm the next time the invaders returned, inspired by her studies of the phenomenon that had brought them to the disk-world.

    10.3.5 The Hidden Reality

    In reality, using the power of Belief, Utherion had possessed Lady Ardinay even as she was being carried back to the tent of the Healers, moaning and turning green from the noxious coating of the bolt-head that pierced her shoulder. Much of the ‘weakness’ stemmed from Utherion learning how to command the powers of this host body; and, when he was ready, he released an illusion that was the signal to the Gaunt Man to withdraw his forces – which he did (for the most part).

    Of course, the people accepted Lady Ardinay’s explanation of the withdrawal of the enemy, and her sworn intention of preparing for any possible return – regardless of what the cost of such preparation might be.

    10.3.6 It’s gonna take 500 years…

    After almost 500 years of cementing his rule and transforming and slowly bending the very nature of Aysle to his desires, Utherion was ready for more, and receptive when the Gaunt Man offered him the chance to participate in the Invasion of Earth.

    This offer was no surprise to Utherion, who had left spies of his own amongst the Gaunt Man’s confederates back in the Orrorsh Cosm. Carefully masking and measuring his enthusiasm enough to be convincing without appearing too eager, he agreed to the proposal. It was to be his undoing.

    10.3.7 The Invasion Of Earth

    Utherion, still in the guise of Pella Ardinay, announced to the gathered Court of Aysle (and selected guest representatives) that (she) had finally learned how to create the reality-spanning Maelstrom Bridges used by the enemy in their invasion, and had – at great personal risk, but she could send no other into such danger – discovered that the horrors had themselves been victims, forced into conquest by a group named The English.

    With this artifice, and after 500 years of preparing the ground, a retaliatory invasion and conquest was quickly proposed and accepted, over the protests of those few who still held to the ‘old principles’. “Ardinay” then raised taxes 500% and used the funds to purchase ‘troops’ from the Dwarvish representatives present, fully aware that they intended to attack and take prisoner rival clans of Dwarves, then indenture those of fighting age to the “Ardinay” cause by holding their families hostage. Others, like the Vikings and Corsairs, needed no manipulation; at the words “Conquest” and “Plunder” (respectively), their eyes lit up. But so artful was the deception that even some who might have refused to participate were lured into lending of their own armies to the “counter-invasion.”

    Eleven Maelstrom Bridges descended, some onto land, and some into water, and simultaniously, the Darkness Device of Utherion swept a new reality across the face of the land from ten of them. The largest led directly from the Valley Of The Sword to the city of Oxford, which Utherion had chosen as his new capital.

    Finland, Sweden, and Norway received one apiece, and two more (temporary ones) were located off the Norwegian and Danish coasts, funneling invading Vikings. Ireland and Scotland received more permanent bridges, and no less than three found permanent emplacement in England.

    10.3.8 Mystery of the 11th Bridge

    Anyone keeping count would soon realize that this only accounts for 10 of the Bridges that descended. The location of the 11th, down which the Corsairs descended, has never been discovered, so complete was the silence with which their part of the conquest was completed. There are those who speculate that an entire new Island was brought to the surface to serve as the hidden base from which they would raid and prey throughout the Northern Atlantic. Others claim that a city somewhere in Africa or the Middle East is secretly under their command. No-one knows.

    10.3.9 Storm Knights

    The Gaunt Man had persuaded several other High Lords to his cause; the invasion was global in nature. But he had told none of them, nor his own loyal forces, everything; this was in fact a grand unified plan to enable him to harvest the human race in bulk for their possibility energy, his purpose: to claim for himself the invented title of TORG, at which point, their respective darkness devices (and any others discovered) would yield directly to his will and control; his dupes could then bend the knee, or be replaced as superfluous.

    Those stripped of their energies, in whole or in part, were transformed by the rewriting of reality into beings that conformed to the new Reality, feeding the device the Gaunt Man had created. But part of the mechanism of this process enabled a percentage of those with Possibility Energy to harvest to thwart the attempt, becoming Storm Knights, able to use the energies within themselves to temporarily rewrite the laws of reality to serve their own needs.

    Confused, disorganized, of every nuance and shade of personality, these started to find each other, and forge temporary alliances. Not all could be trusted, but enough were true to the purpose of turning back the invasion that pockets of unexpected resistance emerged from nowhere, seemingly at random.

    10.3.10 Utherion Revealed

    A group of these Storm Knights raided Oxford, targeting Lady Ardinay herself. Although woefully under-prepared for what they faced, they nevertheless uncovered the truth of the Possession and were able to cleave Utherion from Lady Ardinay’s body. It’s rightful spirit then reclaimed the body, and with soothing words, persuaded the Storm Knights to accept her as ally.

    But Ardinay was not untainted by her experiences; like the new Realm of Aysle-On-Earth, she is a mixture of Principles Of Light and Temptations of Darkness. She fights her own worst impulses, no longer the heart of Purity that once unified her Cosm.

    Envoys were sent for, and a tentative peace treaty forged with what remained of the English Government. Ardinay remains the titular Head Of State, for the forces of Aysle will not obey another; many of them will not obey her, either. The agreement is this: Both will combine their forces to overthrow those who will not obey the principles of light; When all will obey, she will send the invasion force back to Aysle, then surrender herself for whatever punishment the new leaders of the former Realm demand; much of which will depend on her behavior in the interim.

Note: no mention of the PCs. Hints at various factions and groups. An explanation of how the Dwarves were forced to fight for Utherion. This isn’t quite what was in the World Book, but it departs significantly from it in only a couple of key points – the ‘confrontation’ between Utherion and Ardinay given in the world book is a fiction created by Utherion himself; and the restoration of Lady Ardinay takes place in some novels that I don’t have, so I invented this story from whole cloth at the time.

Most of the differences are more subtle inclusions – like there being some Great Houses that still adhere to the “Old Ways”, and the stuff about the Dwarves – content that seems logical in context, but that fills plot holes of one sort or another.

6. Are Giants considered Half-Folk too, or are they also missing?

and,

7. Everyone has their bad guys. Who were the bad guys of Aysle before Utherion, and what are relations like with them now?

The Aysle Sourcebook answers both questions on page 14 with some ancient history.

10.1 The Ancient History, Part 1: The War Of The Giants

NB: I have skipped entirely the Dwarf-based “origin of the universe”. I know, it’s not like me, but it’s not especially relevant.

The Giants live in Lower Aysle. Dwarves accidentally / carelessly allowed them to discover the passages through the frozen wastes that cross from Lower to Upper Aysle. This began the War Of The Giants, a conflict that lasted for years*.

    Sidebar: Units Of Time

    The sourcebook is inconsistent when it comes to units of time – in one paragraph, it uses a phrase like “thousands of sunrises and sunsets”, i.e. thousands of days; in the next, it mentions large numbers of years, while never defining a year in terms of days.

    It was to create a cycle of days to months through tidal records (and to create the tides in the first place) that I invented the Bright Companion. The Dark Companion then creates a pattern of Seasons, and that defines a year (even without assigning specific numbers). But because there are no stellar movements to tell the locals that Winter is ending, for example. Stonehenge need not apply, the position has been made redundant.

    Instead, you would get a lot of rituals developing over centuries that bore a resemblance to Groundhog Day – after so many days of weather defined as “Winter”, there would be a superstitious test that would hint at how much Winter remained. The number of months in a typical season would also be a relevant factor.

    One season would be defined as “the first of the year”; every time that season rolled around, the old year came to an end and a new one started. We use something close to Winter (Northern Hemisphere) / Summer (Southern Hemisphere) for the same purpose.

    For the record, I decided on 7-day weeks, 3-6 weeks to a month (usually 5), 2-7 months to a season (usually 3), and four seasons – ANY four seasons – to a year. So you could have a short summer, a normal autumn, a long winter, no appreciable spring, and a long summer, and that would be a ‘year’. Without the regularity of the Zodiac rotating around the sky, regularity vanishes, but this would – over time – average out to the correct ‘length’.

Where was I? Oh yes. Dwarves fought alongside the humans. The Dwarves asked the handsome creatures, who called themselves “Elves” to join the struggle, but they decided to just sit and watch.

    10.1.1 Victory and enslavement

    When it was over, the Giants had won, and the Dwarves retreated to their underground homes. This situation persisted for “500 years” (the repeated use of this measurement is suspicious to me – it should either be a different number or acknowledged as a generic term for “a very long time”).

    10.1.2 Liberation

    One day, when it seemed nothing would ever change, a man named Dunad emerged who did not talk and talk – he acted. He would not bow down to the Giant oppressors, and they seemed reluctant to press the issue, for he carried the magic sword Aurel. which made him all but invincible. Where he had found it, no-one knew.

    Eventually, so the story goes, Dunad perceived a solution to the problem of how to liberate his people, something that was beyond his might even with Aurel to aid him. He journeyed to The Blade Mountain, from whence the greatest arcane swords were manufactured in ages past, and once there, he broke Aurel across his knee, releasing its magic all at once. The Arcane principles that had been embedded within the sword at the moment of it’s enchanted creation flew to the heavens and became one with the stars, Dunad himself vanished like a soap bubble, and the Mountain became the Valley Of The Sword.

    A couple of tweaks to the official story here – officially, it was already “The Valley Of The Sword”, for example. But that wasn’t spectacular enough to justify the repercussions that followed. ‘He broke the sword and nothing seemed to change unless you were there watching’ just doesn’t have the same cache.

    10.1.3 The Ubiquity Of Magic

    “Then the Knowledges rained down upon the world and all the folk grew strong with it.”

    What, including the Giants? If not, why were they excepted? And if it did, how does that better anyone’s circumstances?

    So the keys to the magic of Aysle became available to all. Humans learned to use it, and Elves too, and Dwarves, but the Giants had difficulty with this new thing and could not master it.

    Okay, so it Does include the Giants, but for some reason they couldn’t use it, or couldn’t use it well. Maybe it’s an intellect-based thing – the Dwarves are portrayed as a bit thick prior to this point, but not half so much as the Giants. Or maybe their hands are too big and clumsy for the delicate waving around that might be involved. Either way, or even a combination, will do.

    The humans and Dwarves rose up and killed a lot of giants with this new ability and drove them back into Lower Aysle and blocked the passages between the two sides.

    But I established last time that the area changes shape (very slowly) so that blockage wouldn’t be perfect or forever.

    Dunad was never seen again, there was talk of him ascending, and the religion of Dunad became the major faith in Upper Aysle to this day.

    Even after the arrival of Utherion?

    The miracles invoked by Priests in Dunad’s name cannot be ignored. The hilt of the sword was found in the valley and became the Holy Symbol of the new faith.

    10.1.4 The War Of The Crowns

    Instead of one vast Kingdom, the island continents of Aysle were subdivided into a number of Kingdoms, called Houses, each ruled by a different family. A Kingdom was set aside for the Dwarves, which is now ruled by the Vareth Clan. The other families who ruled the Great Houses included the Tancreds, Ardinays, Dalerons, Gerriks, Liandars, and Bendes.

    But with no common enemy to fight, they started to fight amongst themselves, and then the Dwarves joined in. Each House wanted to rule the others, and the feud that resulted has become known as the War Of The Crowns.

    10.1.5 The Delegate Legacy

    Ultimately, there was no winner. The war ended when Lady Pella of House Ardinay called for a truce and met with the heads of the remaining six Houses, where she proposed the creation of a system called the Delegate Legacy, whereby property could only be owned by the Houses, never individuals from within a House.

    To facilitate peace, she would dissolve House Ardinay, ceding all property now in the possession of the House to the Tancreds, and declared herself the Speaker Of The People, who would thus have a voice in how things were run.

    Each House would send a Delegate to the Valley Of The Sword, which would be subdivided amongst them, and Castle Ardinay – which had been built in the center of the valley – would host them as equals when they met to resolve differences and grievances in peace, rather than with drawn swords.

    10.1.6 The Return of Peace

    There were bumps and disagreements along the way, but by and large, peace was restored, and – as all the houses had populations for whom Lady Ardinay now spoke – she slowly became the central authority, first amongst equals.

    Occasionally,.a House would grow ambitious, only to be brought back into line by the others under the direction of Lady Ardinay. Peace reigned until the invasion of Utherion.

    How long was this peace? I’m tempted to say “500 years”…

    When Lady Ardinay issued the call to arms to defend Aysle itself, each House sent their bravest and most capable Knights to serve under Tolwyn Tancred as a Knight Protector. Many of these were the children and heirs to the Great Houses, and they served as generals to the troops and advisors to Lady Ardinay through the battles to save Aysle.

    The narrative is full of elements that make their appearance then exit, stage left, never to be heard from again, most notably Elves and Giants. Also unexplained in this tract of text is Lady Ardinay’s inhuman longevity, and why none of the Houses considered it to be remarkable.

1. Who are these Great Houses and what makes them Great? How many of them are there?

We now have names, and some indication of what makes these houses Great – they were the ones that were big enough and strong enough to contest for rulership over all.

The sourcebook states that the six Houses that were in existence when Utherion invaded still maintain their Holdings “on the Continent of Aysle and adjoining islands” (which clarifies a point made in the historical narrative).

Some have grown weaker during Utherion’s reign, others have thrived under the twisted World Laws and Iron Grip of the usurper.

The attempted conquest of Earth, of which Aysle was a part, and the restoration of the true Lady Ardinay have shaken the foundations of government back on Aysle, and her refusal to return until the resulting conflict is resolved and the Earth is safe have left no peace-keeper at the helm. Differences between the Houses that had been left to fester by Utherion have bloomed into full-scale conflicts, leaving the Cosm on the edge of a new War Of The Crowns.

There follows a set of brief notes on each of the Houses, which I will summarize in subsections below – but not in the same sequence the sourcebook uses.

    1.1 The People’s House (formerly House Ardinay)

    The People’s House supposedly represented the interests of the ordinary citizens of Aysle, providing a conduit between them and their rulers – but more importantly, providing a venue for complaints and grievances, so that the ordinary citizens could not be exploited unjustly and without cause.

    In theory, after all, the Great Houses are supposed to rule on behalf of their citizens, and not for their own aggrandizement or interests. That said, the Nobility are citizens too, and entitled to the same protection and consideration. As a ‘neutral party’, Lady Ardinay was able to balance competing interests and offer solutions that kept everyone more or less happy and satisfied.

    After a few centuries as the Umpire and Powerbroker, negotiating everything from trade agreements and disputes between Houses to a set of common laws regarding the interactions of the citizens of those Houses, what remains of The People’s House began to look a lot more Imperial, and to be treated as such.

    Slowly, greater trust and Authority were vested in Lady Ardinay, which made her such an appealing target for Utherion.

    In terms of lands, The People’s House consists of the Castle Ardinay, the Dominant position within the Valley Of The Sword, the Banks of the river Thamar, and the coasts and waters of the Inland Sea. It borders Houses Gerrik, Bendes, Vareth, and Tancred.

    1.1.1 The Delegate Legacy: Concept

    The Delegate Legacy gets its name from the concept of each House sending representatives (called Delegates) to the Valley Of The Sword, there to participate in the High Court hosted by Lady Ardinay. In this forum, grievances could be arbitrated (with enforcement by the other Houses in coalition), treaties and trade agreements negotiated, and decisions made in furtherance of the interests of Aysle as a whole, rather than in the interests of one or two individual Houses.

    1.1.2 The Delegate Legacy: Changes

    When the Delegate Legacy was first proposed, House Ardinay held the entirety of the Valley Of The Sword out to the mountain passes that led into the Valley, but Lady Ardinay used some of the lands as negotiating leverage and political capital, ceding small tracts to the other houses, starting with those that the Valley did not neighbor, Liandar and Daleron. Over time, minor inequities in treaties were balanced out by the concession of lands within the Valley, sometimes at the expense of a House which already controlled them, sometimes donated to the cause by Lady Ardinay.

    Eventually, a tipping point was reached in which the remaining lands possessed within the valley were no longer enough to provide fully for those living within the Castle, and the House became dependent on its trade relations; a limited-duration tithe of between 2 and 5% on the fruits of trade negotiations to which the People’s House contributed now keeps the Castle and inhabitants supplied.

    Some Houses have proven, at times, generous with this support, giving over of the best produce; others have been niggardly, and paid with the lowest-quality crops and livestock. They soon learn (again) that prejudicing the arbitrator of your treaties against you is detrimental to their interests in the long run. Nevertheless, some houses can be (and have been) accused of attempted Bribery and of currying favor.

    1.1.3 The Utherion Years: Changes

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring between adventures 1 and 2.

    Utherion gave away almost all the remaining lands of the Valley Of The Sword to buy the support of key Nobles which he could then taint and corrupt. In particular, those Houses with grievances regarding past ‘favoritism’ tended to wax fat under his regime while those who had clearly been more supportive had their most valuable lands confiscated, eaten away little by little.

    The political landscape of the Valley was always an ever-changing organized anarchy, reflective of the changing relative status of the Houses; Utherion introduced a measure of chaos and anarchy into the relatively stable ‘balance wheel of diplomacy’ within the Valley, with disputes settled arbitrarily, sometimes unfairly biasing this way or that, and even permitting the appearance of bribery – whether or not he actually accepted bribes is still unclear.

    That’s because he actively worked to undermine continuity and history so that the past – and past promises – could never become a rallying point for resistance to his authority.

    1.1.4 Earth Invasion: Changes

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring in the background of adventure 2.

    When Utherion joined the Invasion of Earth, he all but abandoned both the Valley Of The Sword and the role of Negotiator and Peacemaker amongst the Houses. Castle Ardinay was stripped of the able-bodied, who were pressed into military service. Standing Guard over the remains – and effectively having the run of the place – are a detachment of Vikings from the Isle Of Skani. With the full permission of those Houses corrupted by Utherion, they have even begun acting as “arbitrators” in the name of Lady Ardinay (for a very stiff fee).

    Several Houses have cast covetous eyes toward the castle, believing that if they could lay claim to it, the preeminance of their House would be permanently established. Others have pledged not to permit it to be conquered – by anyone – to preserve the balance between the Houses. And some have decided that gains from the Invasion can serve to overpower that balance in their favor, if they conquer rapaciously enough and exploit the subjugated ruthlessly enough.

    As always, there are political wheels within wheels within the Valley Of The Sword.

    Behind The Curtain

    Anyone familiar with the official material will recognize that quite a few liberties and alterations have taken place in the preceding content. It was always my intention to make the Valley Of The Sword into something more akin to a United Nations with teeth loaned to it by the member Houses. I wanted the representatives of each House to have a microcosm of that House to call l”Home” to create diversity within the valley.

    These representatives had to have real power vested in them by their Houses so that there could be internal political Games playing out as well as the external ones between Houses and Factions. But at the same time, they could be recalled and stripped of that authority if ever their Houses felt that it was being used against their interests.

    Everyone had to have at least two competing interests to juggle.

    Achieving those things during the period of the Delegate Legacy forced many of the other changes into existence. You have to set up the dominoes before you can have them fall in interesting patterns!

1.2 House Tancred

House Tancred were the second-wealthiest of the Houses during the War Of The Crowns, and the second most powerful militarily as a result. Securing their support was critical to the success of the proposed Delegate Legacy.

To ensure that support, Lady Ardinay gave over to the Tancreds the majority of the holdings of House Ardinay, to be held in trust and administered for the benefit of those residing in those lands. The Tancreds had earned a reputation for nobility and justice at all levels of their society during the long period when the Houses were fighting to drive the Giants out of Upper Aysle, so this was not as capricious as it might seem.

At a stroke, this elevated the Tancreds to Primacy in both resources and military might, while securing their loyalty to the new system. Able now to defeat on the battlefield any two Houses should they prove enemies, and to match evenly any three, only a complete unification / alliance between the other four Houses could overcome them, and – divided by personal desires and competing interests – that was never likely to eventuate.

    1.2.1 On Shaky Ground

    House Tancred became the strong right arm of the new power structure, and the architects of its success and longevity in the eyes of many. But it was common knowledge that the ‘gift’ of the ‘burden’ of caring for the commons who now came under their authority was not affixed in Dwarven Stone; Lady Ardinay had reserved the right to revoke it, under certain circumstances.

    As relations between the Houses moved away from Martial foundations and into diplomatic territory, House after House saw opportunities in those provisions, and House Tancred became the target of scheme after scheme aimed at forcing them to fail to meet the requirements of their agreement with Lady Ardinay, in hopes that the ‘strong right arm’ would wither, or be removed altogether in favor of themselves, the ‘only logical’ alternative according to the carefully-marshaled arguments they had prepared.

    It is a near-certainty that without the political union forged in those times by the marriage of Duke Albreath Tancred and Lady Dulcina of Bendes, which brought the intelligence sources of the latter House into the (occasional) service of House Tancred, one of those schemes would have eventually succeeded, undoing the Peace of the Delegate Legacy.

    1.2.2 Insert: Inheritances & Family Roles

    The eldest son or daughter inherits under Ayslish tradition. A middle child will be given high rank and management of some of the family’s business affairs, while the youngest is traditionally sent into the Priesthood, as he has little chance of gaining authority within the House.

    There are variations from one House to another, but that’s the general pattern.

    1.2.3 The Coming Of Utherion

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring between adventures 1 and 2.

    At the time of the invasion of Horrors, the House was ruled by Duke Bordal. As was traditional with House Tancred, the Heir, daughter Tolwyn, was assigned as guard-protector of Pella Ardinay, while Middle child Alistair handled the domestic management of the family’s holdings. Youngest son, Gareth, was preparing to take Holy Orders. The Arrival of Utherion changed all that.

    Tolwyn fell, performing her duty, early in the conflict; mortally wounded herself, she carried the wounded Lady Ardinay from the battlefield to the healers and refused all assistance until she was out of danger. Only then did she sway on her feet and collapse. Both Duke Bordal and Alistair were killed defending the family Castle, leaving a reluctant Gareth to be pressed into service.

    With somewhat less certainty, it seemed probable to me that this represented Tolwyn Tancred – even though the device on her shield is wrong according to the House Tancred information in the sourcebook. Since she got that shield on Earth, it doesn’t seem unreasonable.

    1.2.4 The Hidden Truth

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring between adventures 1 and 2.

    In reality, Gareth had long desired to inherit the power and wealth of the family, but subordinated those wishes to the family traditions until Utherion’s Horrors attacked, and something twisted was awoken within his spirit.

    On pretext of having intelligence from House Bendes about the enemy, he lured his father and brother into private conference, and killed them both, then invented a wild tale of Demons appearing in the window of the castle and attacking them while they planned.

    “Grief-stricken” and “Unprepared,” he turned command of the House Tancred forces still in the field over to a distant cousin, remaining secure in Castle Tancred until the invader was, seemingly killed.

    1.2.5 Under Utherion

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring between adventures 1 and 2.

    Now the great flaw in the alliance between Ardinay and Tancred was exposed, for it was founded on the notion that one or both would always be honorable and trustworthy. Were one to fall victim to corruption, the other would cleanse it, or strip it of the powers and privileges it had been granted. The plan made no allowance for both being tainted at the same time.

    With the apparent defeat of the invaders, Gareth was summoned to Castle Ardinay to report, where he discovered that Lady Ardinay knew precisely what he had done, and approved, telling him that the soft ways of the past were a luxury that could no longer be afforded if Aysle was to be rendered safe from future invasions.

    She offered him a bargain: He could have House Tancred to rule as he saw fit, and would be granted virtual immortality through her sorcerous might, if he swore unquestioning obedience to her. And, of course, should he ever fail to honor his word, she would know of it instantly.

    Fearing her knowledge and power, so much greater than he ever thought possible, he gave his oath, and for the next 500 years, he stayed true to it, crushing any sign of rebellion ruthlessly. He even lent troops to her covert invasions of Lower Aysle and other Cosms.

    1.2.6 Prophecy

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring between adventures 1 and 2.

    But he was haunted by the prophecy of a blind mendicant priest who mysteriously appeared within the castle walls mere days after the invasion, that one day Tolwyn would return to serve Lady Ardinay once more and elevate the greatness of the House to new heights by dispelling the blights that would hold it back until then.

    Throughout those 500 years, this prophecy festered in Gareth’s heart, causing him to approach new situations with caution. While House Tancred prospered under his rule, thanks to the favors of ‘Lady Ardinay’, its claim to moral leadership withered. The other houses and the citizens of his own House feared Gareth, they did not respect him.

    1.2.7 Utherion’s Downfall

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring in the background of adventure 2.

    When the Invasion Of Earth began, and Utherion was exposed and overthrown by Storm Knights, somehow Tolwyn Tancred was resurrected, reborn or reincarnated somehow, to resume her post at Lady Ardinay’s side. The corruption within his soul was brought forth for all to see in the consequent Reality Flux as the world of Aysle reoriented itself under the ‘new’ leadership; he went from handsome and youthful to withered and ancient overnight.

    His sanity hangs by a thread; he is convinced that at any moment, Tolwyn will return to overthrow him, despite his many years of carefully selecting subordinates who he could ‘trust’. He has armed the House against this, and secluded himself, permitting none save his mouthpiece and most trusted advisor, Mokai to see him. Not even his most recent bride, Marlena of Daleron, has been permitted by his side since the change began.

    1.2.8 Agendas

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring in the background of adventure 2.

    Gareth is full of schemes to assassinate Tolwyn upon her return, or sooner if he can arrange it, then sack Castle Ardinay and proclaim himself absolute ruler of Aysle.

    Tolwyn, meanwhile, perceives the damage to House Tancred as part of the larger whole, and has subordinated her desire to cleanse it of Gareth’s taint to a larger strategy developed by Lady Ardinay. She does not have complete memories from her previous life, and is aware that she does not know who in the House can be trusted. Centuries of corruption will not be undone overnight.

    This is part of a larger problem of the same kind that the Ayslish forces face; without trusted and trustworthy allies on the ground, they risk perpetuating the problems should they move precipitously. Further, with the Pax Ardinay in effect, Lady Ardinay will not be leading the liberation forces personally and her position as peacemaker and arbitrator will never be occupied by her again. Until these problems are solved, no war of liberation and cleansing is possible. Ardinay has pinned her hopes on Storm Knights like Tolwyn herself, who she is secretly preparing to inherit her own position, completing the unification of Houses Ardinay and Tancred that began so long ago.

    Lady Ardinay could rescind the bequests of land, trust, and authority granted under the Delegate Legacy at any time, but doing so without such trustworthy alliances already in force would do nothing but weaken Tolwyn precisely when she needs authority the most. Such a move may form part of a larger strategy at some future point, but for now, it’s not even on the table.

    1.2.9 Tancred Holdings and alliances

    House Tancred neighbors the Valley Of The Sword and controls much of the Sunward part of the continent, as well as a number of small islands. sunward of the landmass. From the bequest under the Delegate Legacy they added almost 1/3 more of the continent to the Aquatic of their traditional domains.

    NB: The following will apply only subsequent to Adventure 1 of the campaign.

    Under Utherion, they added the Trade Center of Leshope and the port cities of Orraine and Eufemiast. They possess lands in Elvenport, Tradeport, and the Mage Islands and (secretly) a number of large islands between Arland and Chamkatt in Lower Aysle. There are also suggestions that they have holdings in other Cosms (believed no longer accessible to them) and wealth, slaves, and servants plundered from those sources.

    They are currently linked to House Daleron through Gareth’s marriage to Marlena, forging an uneasy alliance with that House, and has a more secure partnership with House Vareth.

Sidebar: Directions In Aysle

Navigation in Aysle is more complex than might be expected. The two obvious directions are sunward and it’s opposite, rimward, but that’s where the simplicity ends.

There are 12 stars evenly spaced around the rim of the world, Because these rotate at the same angular velocity as Aysle, the do not change positions, only elevations (because of wobble). These 12 visible stars will rise and fall, unpredictably, but as a unified constellation wrapped around the world. (There are also 8 other stars, four of them visible only from Upper Aysle, and four visible only from Lower Aysle, but they don’t concern us).

Inevitably, these 12 stars have become navigational beacons in the sky for the Ayslish.

But it’s not that simple.

This sequence of graphics tells you what you need to know. The top image is the stars visible from Upper Aysle (ignoring the additional four that are only EVER visible there). The clockwise sequence is Elemental, Fire, Metal, and so on.

The sequence is reversed for Lower Aysle – the clockwise sequence starting from Elemental would be Earthly, Earth, Folk, etc.

I also assume that (contrary to my illustration) there are slight but visible differences in brightness, color, etc so that when you look at a particular star you can identify it.

This is the nice rosy depiction that the sourcebook would have you believe.

Figure 2 depicts the consequence of wobble. The left side of the disk (relative to our observation super-position) is up, the right side is down, and the actual incline of the disk is just to the left of one particular star (which I didn’t name because the graphic is complicated enough already).

Wobble creates a visible horizon at right angles along the plane of the world to the direction of the wobble. Six of the 12 stars are below the horizon and not visible, while the other six would form a low arc in the sky. The star that is closest to the direction of wobble is going to be highest in the sky. Of course, the stars that can’t be seen in Upper Aysle are on full display in Lower Aysle.

Figure 3 exposes the flaw in logic by the original creators. If these 12 stars were as afar away from Aysle as the stars are from Earth, parallax error could largely be ignored, but Part 1 if this sub-series showed that they are not. This universe is MUCH smaller. I mean, we’re talking about a stellar primary that is nominally maybe 350 kilometers in diameter!

If you can ignore this error, then no matter where you are on the disk, the “Fire” star lies in the same direction, or close enough to it for navigational purposes. That’s not what happens when the world is smaller. Note that in these images, the disk-world and stars are NOT rotating visibly; this is comparing the views from different parts of the disk simultaniously.

Figure 3a shows a location almost 90 degrees around from the Fire Star, and – as you would expect – that means an almost 90-degree angle of error.

In 3b, fire lies almost (but not quite) exactly sunward of the fire star, and the error is small. The fire star would appear sunward after sunset.

3c shows the location of observation another 1/3 of the way around the disk, and the parallax error is once again huge, but it’s mitigated somewhat by being close to the inner rim.

Finally, 3d shows the effect of being further out toward the outer rim. In terms of position around the disk relative to the Fire Star, it’s almost the same as 3c, but the error is once again approaching 90 degrees, as though something that should be in front of you were actually to your left.

Only in case 3b would the error be small enough to ignore.

There is only one solution to this mess, and that is to assume that all directions are relative to some pre-determined starting point. Point B may be “airward” of Point A; that tells you nothing about its absolute position around the disk, but it would let you get there.

1.3 House Bendes

I have to confess that whenever I encountered House Bendes in the text, I could not help but relate it to “Benden Weyr” from the Dragon series by Anne McCaffery. This biased me into considering them “Good Guys”, which colored everything that I read. Consequently, I had to ‘reinterpret” much of the official content into this new context.

House Bendes have never been the largest House, or the strongest, or the best-resourced, but neither have they been at the bottom in any of the three metrics. From their beginnings, they have been more intellectual than the other Houses, responsible for much of the understanding of natural science, languages, mathematics and human civil engineering (Dwarves are hired for the actual execution).

Bendes architects designed the castles of each of the Great Families. Bendes explorers made contact with the Free Traders, set up the Academy of Arcane Studies in the Mage Islands, and so on. In any field of study, you will generally find a scholar from House Bendes somewhere amongst the ranks of the most respected scholars.

Their secondary achievements are as entertainers – poets and musicians, writers and actors, whose caravans and traveling shows range all over Aysle. And where their entertainers, engineers, and other professionals go, their spies follow, hidden amongst their fellows.

    1.3.1 The War Of The Giants

    Every House has a spymaster of some kind, responsible for knowing and understanding current events and for being amongst the first to know if there is any advantage to their House in the knowing. In general, these are positions of defined purposes and intent – the Duke of the House tells the Spymaster what he wants investigated, the spymaster does whatever is needed to obtain the answers required of them, and then both move on to the next task.

    House Bendes has always adopted the position that they need to know everything, and that any secret can hold value, even if that value is simply a better understanding of their neighbors and what they want.

    This attitude and position was forged in the earliest days of the War Of The Giants, when what would become House Bendes were coordinators and central contacts for what resistance could be mustered against the Giants from Lower Aysle.

    House Bendes has the largest collection of entertainment pieces written especially for the pleasure of the Giants filed away somewhere, more than 2/3 of it original works prepared by the House Entertainers, the balance being traditional songs and stories from the Giants themselves.

    This earned them privileges and made their Giant masters talking points and social hubs during the long War, which enabled them to undertake what might be called ‘sponsored tours’ of the other Giant Clans, entertaining both Clan Heads and ‘common’ Giants alike. And this enabled them to funnel arms and information to the enslaved Ayslish within each of those Clans. More than any other House, they kept Ayslish spirits united toward the mutual purpose of liberty during the period of Giant Rule.

    1.3.2 The Progress (Liberation) and the Interim

    Victory over the Giants was not achieved overnight even once the insurrection began. It took almost 3 generations to go from ‘officially subjugated’ to ‘no Giants remain in Upper Aysle’. House Bendes refers to this period, glossed over by most historians, as “The Progress”, a phrase used as a referent for their activities during the War. “Progress was advanced this week” or “The Progress suffered a set-back” (and all manner of similar phrases) were used right under their Giant masters noses to communicate from the early days of the Resistance.

    It still astonishes them that anyone would think they would stop their intelligence-gathering just because the Giants had been driven out. But because those Houses viewed intelligence-gathering as an unwelcome necessity, they assumed that other Houses would feel the same way.

    1.3.3 The War Of The Crowns

    The truth dawned on their rivals during the War Of The Crowns. No matter what moves the other Houses made against Bendes, somehow it never seemed to work; the Bendes forces seemed to have advance knowledge of every tactic, every strategy. What’s more, they shared (some) of their knowledge with Houses to whom they were allied, to the disadvantage of their mutual enemies.

    From this era comes the defining phrase, a truism spelt out repeatedly to the rulers of every House since: “Always assume Bendes knows everything.”

    Any secret which was to be protected could never be put into writing; and had to be further protected by subterfuge.

    They made themselves invaluable to everyone else, and so protected themselves from hostile action – most of the time.

    1.3.4 The Delegate Legacy

    With the arrival of the Delegate Legacy, House Bendes became a source of trusted advisers and administrators to the other Houses. They became a little less overt about sharing intelligence save when they deemed it necessary to the protection of the Peace itself, though they released the occasional crumb.

    Overtly, their spymasters now became traveling dispensers of news and gossip from afar, keeping the Great Houses informed of whatever was going on outside the Valley Of The Sword. But if ever a House plotted some action that would directly or indirectly alter the balance of power that kept the peace, somehow that news would reach the ears of someone in a position to do something about it.

    Quite often, they would orchestrate matters so that those ‘someones’ discovered the truth of their own accord, letting the mythic spymasters of House Bendes fade into legend. Only when time did not permit such careful manipulations of events, and the need was sufficient, did someone emerge from obscurity to deliver ‘a message’, thence to vanish once again.

    A Bendes spy warned Duke Bordal of Tancred that his son Gareth was overly ambitious, causing Bordal to accelerate plans for Gareth’s joining the Priesthood. Bordal was a pragmatic, honest, and honorable man, and could not fully understand the depths to which ambition could drive those cursed by it; he certainly never anticipated the scale of the betrayal upon which Gareth embarked in order to satisfy his ambition.

    1.3.5 Priorities under Utherion

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring between adventures 1 and 2.

    The tumult of the Invasion by Utherion’s Horrors meant that it took a little while for even House Bendes to become aware of the change in Lady Ardinay. It was the total acceptance of his ascension to the throne of House Tancred that first warned them that something was amiss. Even once aware of the change, they never suspected the truth; they felt at the time that Lady Ardinay had yielded to political convenience in the face of the invasion.

    Two priorities asserted themselves within House Bendes at this time, quickly joined by a third.

    First, there was this new field of knowledge to be learned and understood. Knowledge of how the invasion came to pass, and how the invaders seemed able to perform impossible acts beyond their understanding of natural law, would both be essential to any plans made against a return of the invaders.

    Second, and more covert, was to ensure that this new pragmatism on Lady Ardinay’s part did not undermine the Peace itself. As the scope of the change became clear, though, House Bendes returned to its roots, reverting to their role as carefully-hidden revolutionaries, as a necessary step in satisfying their third priority – survival, and protecting themselves from this new Ardinay-Tancred alliance. They assumed (correctly) that others would be brought into the forces arrayed against them, and they needed to know everything.

    1.3.6 The Dangerous Game

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring between adventures 1 and 2.

    The last 15 generations of the Bendes family have played a dangerous game – while pledging their loyalty to Lady Ardinay loudly and often, and passing on the occasional piece of intelligence to the Tancreds of disloyalty, they purchased trust with the blood of others. They regarded these sacrifices as necessary but regretful, and maintain a list of everyone who suffered or died as a result, with the intent of honoring the sacrifice (however involuntary) when they are able to do so openly.

    At the same time, they have very quietly instigated multiple actions designed to undermine the rule of Lady Ardinay, subsidizing rebellious forces in other Houses, ferrying covert supplies to the Liandars, creating an underground railroad for Dwarves escaping the Slave Pits of House Vareth.

    They have done their best to stay on the “good side” of Ardinay, Tancreds, Vareths, and Dalerons while all the while working to foment a general uprising against them.

    1.3.7 The Overthrow Of Utherion

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring in the background of adventure 2.

    Normally working from the shadows, they are unaccustomed to large-scale direct action, but have begun marshaling their forces while helping the Liandars and, to a lesser extent, the Gerriks, to secretly rebuild their armies.

    They lack the numbers to engage in a direct military action, and, but they have the forces to tip the balance should Ardinay and the resurrected Tolwyn return from Earth. For the moment, they are continuing to play everyone off against each other to buy time, but the more they escalate their preparations, the more obvious those preparations become.

    Gareth of Tancred has become aware of the gathering of forces under the Bendes banner, and fears they will come for him, but he is distracted by other threats (more imminent in his mind), and so has taken no action as yet.

    The Valley Of The Sword, and Aysle in general, has become a powder-keg, but no-one is yet pulling the trigger. Should they move too soon, the Bendes know that 500 years of preparations and sacrifice will be wasted.

    1.3.8 Leadership and Holdings

    NB: Parts of the following will only apply after events that occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    Making that fateful decision is Duke Mordecai Bendes, First Adviser Milande Bendes (a distant cousin) and his spymaster, Aeforth. Mordecai’s eldest son, Grantham, has shown himself to be naturally gifted, and is in training to succeed Aeforth, while the second son, Thomas, is being educated in preparation for his becoming the “official” head of the family upon the passing of Mordecai. The story has been circulated that Grantham contracted a disease which left him unfit to rule; Grantham has adopted the name “Tanith Morningstar” for use, employing various methods to disguise his features. He keeps with him, hidden, sufficient proof to claim and ascend the throne should that ever prove necessary.

    Despite holding a relatively small area to the rimward section of Continental Aysle, , House Bendes occupies some of the most fertile acreage and a good deal of it is in the Temperate Zone. House Bendes also lays claim to a number of mountainous regions adjacent to their primary territory which, although far less fertile, they have transformed into paying propositions; the slopes of Mount Gildethwaine are choked with orchards and grapevines, and the source of most of the top-quality wine.

    In addition, through various subterfuges and cut-outs, the House unofficially possesses numerous small tracts of land throughout Upper Aysle – a house here, a business there – to use as functional spy-bases.

    1.3.9 House Finances

    NB: The following content consists of 25% speculation on the part of other Houses, 25% deception on the part of House Bendes, and 50% truth. No-one knows which parts are which outside of House Bendes itself.

    House Bendes may have small holdings in comparison to others, but what they have is amongst the most profitable. Economically, they should be a continental powerhouse, perhaps even the dominant trading partner in every deal.

    Generations of funding secrecy and spycraft have placed perpetual drains upon that wealth, leaving the house in it’s rather anonymous not-the-richest-nor-the-poorest state.

    The family own, frequently by proxy, a number of business interests throughout the continent; while these are never chosen on the basis of profitability, some of them undoubtedly do generate revenue that is then employed to subsidize others. This is a fact proven, because every now and then one of these becomes sufficiently profitable that it begins to attract attention, making it worthless in terms of Bendes’ true purpose for the operation; the only solutions are to break it up and sell it piecemeal or sell it off completely. While the former is preferred, the latter can’t always be avoided.

    It is very likely that House Bendes has a number of such that defray the expense of their spy network, at least partially, reducing the drain on their coffers, and that as a result they have accumulated considerable hidden wealth and are not as financially-impoverished as they would have others believe..

    1.3.10 Hidden Ways

    NB: The following content consists of 25% speculation on the part of other Houses, 25% deception on the part of House Bendes, and 50% truth. No-one knows which parts are which outside of House Bendes itself.

    While House Bendes may have provided the architects who designed the castles of the other Great Houses, those Houses always modified the designs in the course of construction sufficiently that any copies of the plans are only accurate when it comes to the public and functional spaces.

    Nevertheless, it is widely believed that House Bendes incorporated numerous hidden and obscure places within the plans to use for spying, some of which survived this treatment because their true purpose went unrecognized. Servant’s passageways that are designed to be inconvenient so that they would fall into disuse, for example.

    From time to time one of these is rediscovered by accident, and an attempt made to map and document it, attempts which usually fail; many tricks have been employed to confound such measures, and the maps end up passing through empty rooms where they would be perfectly visible.

    It is also widely believed that House Bendes knows of hidden trails and mountain passes that permit them to move in stealth from any one House to any of its adjoining neighbors. Bandits, both sanctioned and self-employed, have tried in vain to discover these secret paths over the years, but if they do exist, they are too well hidden. Despite this negative evidence, the belief still holds amongst many.

1.4 House Daleron

House Daleron have always been a bit strange. More insular, more barbaric and cruel, more ruthless, more martial.

The ruling Dukes of the House have always supported multiple wives and children, something none of the other Houses do. These children have a relatively easy life until the age of eight, when they literally begin fighting for their lives.

    1.4.1 The Inheritance Tournament – Novices

    Once every four years, the potential heirs are put to the test. Those aged from 8-12 fight duels to first blood, until one is proclaimed champion. He is given additional training and education in all things military – from tactics and strategy to horsemanship to personal combat. The others may either renounce the throne – something that once done, cannot be undone under Daleron Laws – or seek out similar training from any who will offer it to them, at their own expense.

    1.4.2 The Inheritance Tournament – Apprentices

    When the Novices have fought, the Apprentices (those aged 13-16) duel, this time to second blood. These bouts are often lethal. Again, eventually, a winner comes forth to be singled out for training in survival, logistics, and leadership. Any participant may opt out, renouncing his right to contest for the throne and limiting his capacity to rise within the ranks of the army, may even choose a non-military career option; the choice is theirs.

    1.4.3 The Inheritance Tournament – Officers

    After the Apprentices, it is the turn of the Officers – potential heirs aged 17-20. Each may choose a fellow combatant from his age group, or four ordinary soldiers from the Army, to aid them in their bouts. These contests are to the death and are no longer conducted in an Arena, but in a deliberately-ruined wasteland under Daleron control. Those who survive move on to the next bout, where they may choose a new ally. Once again, they are free to opt out, should they choose, and limit their responsibilities to those of a junior officer.

    1.4.4 The Inheritance Tournament – The Challenges

    The crescendo of the tournament is the Challenges. Any champion from any of the three preliminaries may issue a personal challenge of combat to the death to anyone else, including any heirs who have survived their past bouts, or even the Duke himself. Single combat, to the death, no quarter. Succeed, and their titles are yours for the taking or the bestowing.

    They may choose to issue no challenges, requiring them to renew oaths of fealty to the House and its ruler (whoever that might be after the tournament).

    After competing in all three (or four) stages of the Tournament, those who opted out are dismissed from the family and their lives become their own. Those who stayed the course and survived are ranked in sequence of age and a new line of succession is decreed.

    Once beyond the age of 20, they are no longer subject to the Tournament, and their place in the line of inheritance is secure – unless that place is Challenged, which it is certain to be at some point. Note that a sufficiently skilled Officer may rise above the current heir by successfully Challenging the Duke.

    1.4.5 Intrigue

    There are often a lot of strategic planning and intra-family alliances involved in the tournament. Who you fight, who you favor, who favors you and will assist you – these are life-and-death decisions, and a single weak link can be your end.

    Scheming, and even what some would consider cheating, are encouraged, but must be clever enough to evade the normal levels of protection against such. Martials will ensure that no weapon is overtly poisoned prior to a bout, and that the combatant has no such devices upon their person – but if you are clever enough to overcome that protection, or ruthless enough to bribe a key Martial, then you earn the right to employ whatever you have at hand.

    Duke Roderick himself ascended the throne having done a deal with the groundsmen to plant a bush with poisonous berries on the battleground, after forging an alliance with the second-eldest of his younger siblings.

    Defensive strategies are also necessary to protect oneself from such tactics. It is fair to assume that every member of the Family below the Duke himself spends much of the four years between tournaments planning for them and spying on the opposition.

    1.4.6 House Above Family; Family above Life

    To understand this approach to their leadership, it is necessary to understand the oath of Fealty of House Daleron, quoted above. “House Above Family” is extremely important, because it establishes that the Dalerons think of their House a something greater than a clan or personal set of relationships; the Ruling Family are in the service of the House,, they are not the House.

    Once this is understood, the rest of it – “Family above Life” – requires little effort. This is a pledge to lay down your own life in protection of, or in the service of, your family, and to lay down the lives, property and fealty of that family in protection of, or in service of, the House.

    This is a standard which permeates the entire House, from lowest laborer to the Duke himself.

    1.4.7 That Which Is Unsaid

    It should be noted that nowhere in the Oath is there mention of things like Loyalty, Faith, Service, Honor, Justice, Honesty, or Mercy. Some of these are implied, but not explicit. Collectively, these are the Seven Unsaid Virtues, according to the precepts of House Daleron; they are to be aspired to, but all are subject to be lesser aspirations than the Oath itself.

    If you have to lie, scheme, betray, and perpetrate injustices upon others to advance your family, it’s regrettable but that’s life; if you were foolish enough not to have made preparations against the same being done to you, you deserve no further consideration.

    1.4.8 The War With The Giants

    During the War with the Giants, these values and precepts were cemented into the Daleron ethos and made that House a mighty weapon against the mutual enemy. The bindings of Common Cause made them a formidable ally.

    1.4.9 The Time Of Conquest

    Once the Giants were driven out, however, House Daleron turned their attention to the conquest of lands and others. Two houses that would have been enumerated amongst the Greats fell, as did any number of smaller strongholds and lesser Kingdoms. This era is still celebrated in song within the House.

    1.4.10 The Delegate Legacy

    It is unsurprising, then, that House Daleron has always felt that the Delegate Legacy was aimed directly at curbing their interests and expansion. It was only the fact of the Bestowment to House Tancred that forced them to accede.

    Under the Legacy, their rapacious expansion did not cease, but it slowed markedly, and was carried out in stealthier fashion, through subterfuge, treaty, trade, and the other weapons of statecraft. In particular, ‘hunting’ expeditions to Lower Aysle were conducted regularly, 3 or 4 times a year, always covertly, operating under the premise that what Pella Ardinay didn’t know couldn’t make waves.

    This required a total disregard of House Bendes, and their credo, “We know everything”. It seemed most likely to the Dukes of Daleron that Bendes and therefore Ardinay knew what they were doing, but until forced to officially ‘notice’ their activities, were content to look the other way.

    1.4.11 Hostage Exchanges

    Many other traditions arose in this period, most notably the practice of Hostage Exchanges. Not all Houses participated as fully or as eagerly in this practice, but Daleron (perhaps surprisingly) was fully committed to it.

    One year in every four, potential heirs were fostered out to other Houses; the first such was usually to the House of the heir’s mother, and between 1/3 and 1/2 of such Exchange Years would be to this destination. Beyond their Officers Tournament, from the age of 21 until actually coming into their inheritance, these were to the High Court in the Valley Of The Sword.

    This tradition served several purposes, which each participating House valued differently, but all found sufficient merit in the practice to continue to participate, even Daleron.

    • Introducing prospective heirs in the different houses to each other and fostering good relations between them.
    • Educating the youngsters in the ways of the host House and broadening the scope of their experiences in general.
    • Teaching tolerance and a broader perspective.
    • Forging prospective alliances.
    • Discovering new opportunities in trade and commerce.
    • Throwing young men and women of ‘noble rank’ together – Marriages, as always, being the bedrock of diplomatic relations.

    It must be remembered in assessing this tradition in terns of impact on House Daleron that it is an outrider in social policies regarding gender, its rulers having long ago concluded that it would be unfair to expect Princesses to match fully-trained warriors in battle. No other House was so misogynistic in approach, an outgrowth of the martial priorities of the Dalerons. In all other Houses, it is the eldest child who inherits (though this statement must be qualified slightly when addressing the Gerriks).

    1.4.12 Collusion

    NB: The following occurs in the interim between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and will not be revealed to the players sooner.

    It is sometimes said that no invasion succeeds without collaborators within the target nation, whether those have been infiltrated through stealth or sourced from within. Certainly, Utherion was sufficiently versed in conquest that he would not, and did not, neglect such an obvious advantage.

    Months before the planned conquest of Aysle began, he scouted the Cosm and learned elements of its internal politics – he had to assess its potential suitability, after all. In the course of those scouting missions, he came to recognize House Daleron as being of like mind to himself; this marked them as both potential rivals and enemies to be neutralized and potential allies to be exploited.

    Negotiations were surprisingly quick. Utherion was offering a return to the glory days of conquest and pillage that the Delegate Legacy had taken from them; Daleron became a willing and eager participant.

    1.4.13 Betrayals

    NB: The following occurs in the interim between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and will not be revealed to the players sooner.

    Nevertheless, when Lady Ardinay called for aid in repelling the invasion, Duke Roderick sent his eldest son and heir, Kwev, to join the other Knight Protectors, along with a token force.

    This was a feint. Roderick had little regard for Kwev despite his son’s undoubted prowess at arms, because Kwev was afflicted with a merciful nature that promised to take House Daleron to its lowest ebb in centuries. Time after time, Roderick had attempted to covertly stack the odds against Kwev in the Challenges only for Kwev to stand triumphant.

    Usually, the young men of House Daleron were strong-willed enough to shrug off the softer ways of the other Houses to which they were exchanged, but Kwev, to Roderick’s way of thinking, was weak and had fallen under the influence in particular of Tolwyn Tancred, with whom he was smitten.

    No sooner had Kwev departed for the battlefield than Daleron began to marshal its forces and march to war – on the side of Utherion. These troops crushed the flank being manned by the Liandars, and were rewarded under Utherion’s rule with Liandar holdings – won fairly by conquest, in the mind of Roderick.

    That this act required the breaking of the oaths forcibly extracted from the House at the instigation of the Delegate Legacy bothered Roderick and his heirs not one whit.

    1.4.14 Under Utherion

    NB: The following occurs in the interim between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and will not be revealed to the players sooner.

    This was the beginning of a 500-year campaign of expansion and conquest, principally targeting Houses Liandar and Gerrik and various minor Kingdoms, as well as a series of beachheads in Lower Aysle with the eventual goal of subjugating the Giants and other residents of that half of the world.

    House Daleron was a willing, even eager, participant in Utherion’s wars of conquest against other Cosms, and sent forth over 50,000 soldiers in support of the invasion of Earth.

    1.4.15 The Blight

    NB: The following describes events that occur in the interim between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and will not be revealed to the players sooner.

    The House is currently ruled by Manfred Daleron, but 500 years of corruption have begun to bear a toll on the House. Manfred, as a youth, suffered from The Blight, an illness that seems only to affect the Noble males of House Daleron and which greatly reduces their capacity to father heirs. This threatens to undermine the entire philosophical foundation of the House, a problem that the Dalerons have not yet fully acknowledged, let alone come to terms with.

    Dark rumors swirl around The Blight. It is suggested that agents of Ardinay (secretly Utherion) have systematically poisoned the heirs of the House to prevent them challenging her supremacy (it’s what they might do, after all). Others point the finger at House Bendes. A few have suggested that The Blight has been inadvertently imported on one of these secret “Foreign Ventures”.

    Under the normal World Laws of Aysle, corrupt acts leave their mark on the victims, visible for all to see. Those world laws were perverted by Utherion to the point where the harm wrought on the individual could be passed to the land around them, leaving evil unmarked and perfect of feature and form.

    At least some of those outside House Daleron who know of the Blight (and there are not many) suspected that deeper harm, cloaked beneath a veneer of perfection, may be beginning to manifest in the ruling Family, the legacy of their new wars of conquest and the betrayals inherent in them.

    1.4.16 The Cracking I – Earth

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring in the background of adventure 2.

    Unfortunately, it’s all beginning to unravel for Manfred, who is leading his families forces on Earth, leaving his only son, Frederick in charge within the Cosm. Several units of his army have rebelled with their leaders founding their own “Houses”. The return of the true Lady Ardinay and the resurrection of Tolwyn Tancred also marked the end – in at least some parts of the Conquest and in Aysle – of the perversion of the World Laws by Utherion.

    As yet, Daleron’s alliance with Utherion has not come to light, but Ardinay’s new spymaster in the Earthly Realm is as competent as any that either reality has seen before, and there are Storm Knights seemingly now lurking under every rock; he fears that it is only a matter of time.

    1.4.17 The Cracking II – Aysle

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring in the background of adventure 2.

    Frederick, meanwhile, has been eyeing the Valley Of The Sword and Castle Ardinay with covetous eyes; he would happily cede all interests on Earth (including his father), tearing down the Maelstrom Bridge connecting the realities, if he could claim those prizes (and if he knew how to do it). Daily, he prepares himself to give the order to March only to back down at the last moment.

    One of the reasons for this reticence is that Manfred has called up many of the House’s reserves to suppress rebellions within the Realm of Earth, without regard for the vulnerable position in which this places his House in Aysle.

    At the same time, he plots and dreams of overthrowing Ardinay and seizing total power in the realm of Ayslish Earth. Of all the rulers of the Great Houses, only Manfred suspects the true nature of Utherion, and has realized that if he can find and seize the Darkness Device, the ultimate power can be his. Schemes within Schemes within Schemes, and all poised on the pinnacle of success or failure…

    1.4.18 The Fall Of A Great House?

    NB: These events lay in the future of the campaign when it started, occurring in the background of adventure 2.

    This is having a disastrous effect on morale within the House, and it seems only a matter of time before Civil War erupts as one force or another makes an all-or-nothing bid for power – or for survival.

    Unless something drastically changes, it seems near certain that House Daleron will not survive the sweep of future events, or at best they will be but a shadow of their former greatness. As this collapse proceeds, it is likely that acts of ever-greater desperation will only accelerate the process and the conflagration.

    There are those who would consider this outcome only just, and who would quite happily take advantage of the woes of House Daleron, in particular, House Liandar…

    1.4.19 Holdings

    NB: The following describes the situation as it will stand at the start of Adventure 2 of the campaign, the result of events that occur in between the first adventures. It should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    House Daleron now control a vast swathe of the continent of Aysle from Sunward to Rimward coasts, mostly in the direction of the Aquatic star, the Naenia Islands between Aysle and the island of Liandar, portions of Klaww and Bar’aan, and Ice Bay. About 1/3 of the Broken Land in Lower Aysle is also under their sway.

Sidebar: Daleron Behind The Curtains

As a general principle, whenever I change background content – and there are a lot of changes under the heading of “House Daleron” – it is to achieve at least one of three things:

  1. Integration with a sweeping campaign-wide plot arc;
  2. Resolution of one or more conceptual holes within the background, and/or exploration of the logical consequences and implications of that background; and/or
  3. The creation of greater scope for adventures arising from the background.

The changes made to House Daleron are mostly expansions on the material in the sourcebook – deliberately giving the House a distinct flavor with the Tournaments and the House Credo (the sourcebook mentions a point of Philosophic distinctiveness without getting too specific), for example.

One problem that I perceived with the sourcebook was the stability of he situation on Aysle – everything was poised for sweeping and unpredictable events to occur, and yet it was all ‘on hold’, waiting for some flag to fall. This meant that there was no sense of danger, of urgency in the situation; the “X-factors” (PCs & GM rolls) were in command of the situation, and until one of them saw fit to upset the status quo, it would sit there and wait for the players to engage, perhaps indefinitely.

Having a House Daleron on the verge of splintering and disintegrating on so many fronts all at the same time injects some much-needed dynamism into the situation. Almost anything the PCs choose to do will create ripples that could set off a domino-chain of explosions, socially and politically, with vast ramifications and high stakes, with the PCs in the very center of events.

The fact that the Dalerons had waxed fat under Utherion only enlarges the stakes, but makes the fracturing of the House seem more plausible.

The changes achieve all three of the goals outlined above.

1.5 House Liandar

In a zero-sum game, for every winner, there is a loser. House Liandar were once the wealthiest of the Great Houses, but the years under Utherion have ended that, at least for now.

    1.5.1 Mineral Treasure-house

    House Liandar’s continental holdings on the continent were predominantly mountainous, agriculturally poor, but blessed with vast mineral resources. This arrangement was perfectly suitable to the House because they also held the major island named for the Family which supplied much of their agricultural product needs, and everyone wanted the production from their mines, enabling them to trade for any shortfall.

    It did mean that the house was dependent on the trade routes that connected those two holdings, giving them three points of military vulnerability; securing their holdings forced significant military investment in both land forces and naval power.

    1.5.2 Inheritance Patterns

    This in turn led them to a variation upon the traditional inheritance pattern; rather than a primacy based upon age, and a three-fold structure, they employed a six-fold structure and primacy based on ability.

    Most senior of the heirs was the son or daughter with the most acute overall vision and grasp of the things that made the House great – mining, transport, trade and awareness of the vulnerabilities of the House.

    The next most senior was the most diplomatically-gifted child, who – under the Delegate Legacy – was permanently attached as assistant and understudy to the current Delegate, and who would inherit that position when age or circumstance left the Delegate unable to serve in that capacity.

    The third position filled was the Admiral of the Navy. Here, sailing ability, tactics at sea, skill at navigation, and ability to command were the primary abilities in demand. Whichever child best satisfied these served as Vice-Admiral.

    The fourth position to be filled was that of Continental General, which commanded the Aysle-based army of House Liandar. This position demanded versatility and the ability to translate diplomatic objectives into tactical ones, and vice-versa.

    The fifth position to be filled was that of Home General, charged with the Defense of the Island and ensuring supplies to the military. Largely defensive in focus, this required less tactical nous and a greater capacity to entrench and not be moved.

    Finally, the sixth position was that of Spiritual Advisor and Guide; a member of the Priesthood, but one with specific domestic responsibilities that extended beyond the Gods and matters of Faith; to this advisor were also delegated matters of knowledge, wisdom and skill, including heading the judiciary and other domestic issues, combining the roles normally assigned to second and third children.

    If necessary, to make up the numbers, extended family were called upon rather than the direct line. The Liandar family are, as a result, more extended than those of most Great Houses.

    1.5.3 The War With The Giants

    The Giants had very minimal naval capability when they first invaded Upper Aysle, and saw the feats of which Liandar vessels were capable as almost supernatural. Perceiving an advantage that could be exploited to the benefit of their House, the Liandar began the construction of an suitably-upscaled vessel for the use of the Giants, while educating the Giants who would sail the Bifrost in her design and how to use it in different conditions.

    They knew perfectly well that you can’t simply double the size of every parameter and expect a vessel that replicated the behavior of the original model; in essence, you could have a vessel that looked like the original, or one that sailed like the original.

    Sidebar 1.5.3a Scaling

    It’s a fascinating subject but one that can be hard to study, there’s an absence of overview perspectives that bring individual facts and factors together.

    Some parameters are scale-invariant, that is, they scale perfectly. Others are not.

    Some don’t change when they need to do so in order to create an accurate functional model of behavior for analysis – gravity, for example. Or the structural strength of various materials relative to the forces acting on them.

    Some change but not by the right amounts. The atomic chemistry of water and other hydraulic fluids doesn’t change, but the hydraulic behavior of such materials can be different when it is put through scaled plumbing, for example. These also affect parameters like ship speed, mass vs displacement, wave height, and all sorts of other values relevant to this particular application.

    Some are even more complicated than that, because these can represent combinations of effects, some operating this way with respect to scale and others either not at all or in the other direction.

    Here’s a list of “numbers” for readers to look up for further information if they are interested:

    • Froude number
    • Reynolds number
    • Weber number
    • Cauchy number
    • Euler number

    — courtesy of Scale Model by Science Direct.

    I think the Euler number was the one that I had in mind when I started writing this section, or maybe it was the Froude number, or the Reynolds Number, or maybe I had confused or coalesced them somehow.

    There have been occasions when Formula 1 teams have switched wind tunnels from one scale to another and found that the relationship between their model testing and the real world is completely different. It can take years to understand the changes – and this stuff is fundamental to their car design and its success on-track, so they hire the best and spend millions on the subject.

    Bottom line: the only perfect scale is 1:1. Anything else gets very complicated very quickly. But 1:1 scale carries its own set of compromises – it takes 16 times as long to produce a 1:1 scale model as it does a 1/4-scale model. So in prototyping, smaller is definitely better – unless you haven’t properly allowed for the consequences when you scale your prototype to full size.

    1.5.3 The War With The Giants, continued

    The Bifrost was capable of building up to an impressive straight-line speed, but required constant attention to changing wind conditions in order to do so, and acceleration was not at all what the Giants would have expected after seeing the human-sized vessels.

    And it was even slower to slow down and stop when up to speed.

    It turned agonizingly slowly, but turning any faster ripped up decking and quite literally began tearing the ship apart.

    It carried more than enough cannon to sink any other vessel, but had very limited capacity to aim that firepower.

    As a vessel of war, it was a very good merchantman; its holds could contain many times as much cargo as the largest vessels afloat prior to its construction. So it definitely had value – but wasn’t what the Giants expected. Yet, they could see for themselves that it was a perfect 2:1 scale replica of the best Liandar warships.

    1.5.4 Bifrosts II, III, IV, V, & VI

    Of course, they tried again – and again – and again. The Liandars, very helpfully, suggested that imperfections might also have scaled up and were having an unexpectedly-large detrimental effect – so extra time and effort was devoted to Bifrost IV. It was a little better, but not much.

    The Liandars suggested that they try scaling in the other direction to produce vessels that were more responsive. The Bifrost V was 1/2 the size of one of their vessels, could be manned only by 1/4 of the crew (of giants), and had only 1/8th the firepower of a Liandar war-vessel. It was fast, responsive, and useless – but became very popular amongst the giants as a recreational vessel, especially once its length of hull was tweaked a bit and the hull narrowed a little.

    Finally, the Liandars suggested building a 1:1 scale version but with a giant-sized helm, masts, etc. The Bifrost VI was so top-heavy that it turned turtle as soon as it entered the water; but suitable adjustments to the keel fixed that – and slowed the vessel to a crawl, because it had to weigh almost twice as much as a Liandar vessel of the same size.

    1.5.5 Playing For Time

    All of which consumed nearly 300 years of the conquest, during which time the Liandars were more or less left alone by the ruling Giants. This interval was not wasted by the Liandars, who had moved much of their army away from the continent, and who had constructed a vast (and well-hidden) fleet of troop transports to return them when the time was right, all completely undetected by the erstwhile Giant masters.

    At the same time, one after another, old and reliable mines began to play out – not so many or so quickly as to arouse suspicion, but enough that the Liandars were costing the Giants more to oversee than the Giants were reaping from the oversight.

    The Liandars offered, on numerous occasions, to let the Giants inspect the mines, which had been carefully prepared to seem unworkable, but the mine shafts themselves were all human-proportioned; a Giant would have to crawl the entire length of the mine shaft in, and then crawl back out, backwards. No such inspections were ever carried out.

    Through numerous such subterfuges, House Liandar protected its people and its holdings, seeming to cooperate and collaborate fully with the conquerors, but never actually benefiting them or their conquest.

    1.5.6 Overthrow Of The Giants

    The uprising against the Giants saw that vast fleet transport a massive Liandar army and vast quantities of prepared War Material to Aysle, where it was distributed freely to the rebelling humans. The continent went from seemingly disarmed and pacified to fully armed and aroused seemingly overnight (it actually took months, but not where it showed).

    As they reactivated their holdings on the continent, discovery “new veins” of ore, the Liandars essentially stepped right back into production where they had left off.

    1.5.7 Paying The Price

    It would be unfair to say that House Liandar escaped the War Of The Giants unscathed. On the contrary, they may have deferred paying that cost, but once the Giants were gone, they entered a more perilous state of affairs.

    They had just given away several centuries worth of production, satiating and saturating the market for their wares. The exercise of shutting down their mines and then reopening them was enormously expensive in every respect. They were immensely unpopular outside of their own House for seeming to collaborate with the invaders, so even in those areas in which there was still demand, they were seen as undesirable trading partners.

    And, at the end of it all, no matter how massive the fleet of troop transports, it could not possibly hope to match the might already on-hand of the Dalerons, and Tancreds. They found themselves with few friends and fewer customers, surrounded by hostile forces who knew how poorly-protected the most valuable of those holdings would be in the future..

    1.5.8 The War Of The Crowns

    Matters were not helped by the fact that the Home Army had been stripped to a bare minimum in order to raise the troops for the counter-invasion of Continental Aysle. It was not long before those troops had to return home.

    It must also be admitted that the Liandar family were not the most popular even amongst those supposedly loyal to the House; it was too great a security risk for the commons to be informed as to the House strategy, and to them, too, it seemed that their leadership had betrayed them. Some accepted the truth when it could finally be revealed, others remained resentful and inclined to pledge loyalty to a different set of masters.

    This made the holdings of House Liandar easy pickings at the start of the War Of The Crowns, and almost everyone took advantage of that. Even House Bendes, who themselves had played a long game, was forced into at least appearing to loot and pillage the unpopular House. Only the Tancreds and Ardinays stood with the Liandars, mindful of the speed with which the very arms now raised against them had been distributed.

    At best, they entered the War Of The Crowns with the third or fourth-largest military – but 40% of that was naval, and 75% of what remained was dedicated to the protection of Liandar Island. In terms of inland forces on the continent and able to protect the House, they were the weakest of the Houses, completely beholden to the good will of others.

    1.5.9 Prosperity under the Delegate Legacy

    When the Delegate Legacy was proposed, the Liandar were eager to sign up to the accords. They proposed a Treaty between Lady Ardinay, House Tancred, and themselves – they would furnish the Delegate Court and those who protected and served within it with the best arms and armor, free of charge, in return for the protection of House Tancred.

    At a stroke, this increased the area being protected by the Tancred military nearly 20%, and most of inhospitable terrain at that, but the benefits were such that they agreed. Nevertheless, they could never commit as many forces to the protection as were needed. Bandits – unofficially supported by House Daleron and the Vareths – were a never-ending problem from that time forward. The Tancreds did their best, but they never promised to protect the trade caravans that moved the output of the mines to where the ore could be refined, the gems cut, etc.

    Still, it was enough that the Liandar survived, and slowly began to prosper once again, rebuilding their forces on the Continent through the centuries of ‘peace’ that followed.

    1.5.10 The Invasion Of Utherion

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    Those forces were fully committed to the defense of Aysle when Utherion’s Horrors attacked, and might have made the difference on the day, were it not for the perfidy of Daleron; with Tancred forces also fully committed, there was no-one left to shelter the Liandars when Roderick Daleron’s sneak attack took place, cutting deeply into the Liandar lines of defense.

    When the invasion was seemingly thwarted by the heroics of Lady Ardinay, the Liandars may have hoped for a restoration of the status quo; everything that they had regained and rebuilt during the Delegate Legacy period had been wiped out in the attack, and many of their most valuable mines seized by House Daleron. They were shocked and dismayed to be told, after the invasion had been repulsed, that the military situation had changed.

    Not only were the properties seized by Daleron not to be returned, but the provision of arms and material were henceforth to be designated as House Liandar’s rightful contribution to the mutual defense. If they had need to protect their holdings, henceforth, they would have to contract with other Houses for that protection; the Tancred were insufficient in numbers to provide it for free.

    1.5.11 Under Utherion: The Ardinay Curse

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    This began a long period of reverses for House Liandar, not helped when the most fertile lands of Liandar Island began to wither and fail. Systematically, they were stripped of their continental holdings by the Dalerons, seemingly with the full support of Lady Ardinay. The official line from the Valley Of The Sword was that if House Liandar could not see to the protection of its property and the welfare of its citizens, that property and those citizens would be transferred into the hands of another House that could do so.

    Duke Staffon Liandar was more religious than most, and 40 years into the post-Invasion nightmare, formulated the theory of the Ardinay Curse. This proposed that the Invaders, although repulsed, had cast upon the Lady a Curse that had blighted her good judgment and character. The result was a central authority tainted with madness. While others, especially the Bendes, sought to contain and constrain that madness, softening the worst decisions, their power to do so was limited and could only buy time for someone else to find a solution, just as House Liandar had needed to do during the occupation by the Giants.

    1.5.12 The Refuge Of Light

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    Although it meant unending years of near starvation due to the corruption of their fields, Staffon decided that no-one else could seek that solution; the Tancreds had fallen sway under the Curse, the Dalerons and Vareths were rampant, the Bendes overwhelmed, and the Gerriks powerless. Because their island held them sufficiently removed from the heart of the Curse and its corrupting power, only they were at sufficient distance to seek a cure.

    Staffon made over the Island into a Refuge Of Light, where as many as could be spared would study the problem until a solution was found. Any fleeing oppression from elsewhere would be welcomed. Furtive contact with House Bendes established safe corridors for those fleeing for their lives, especially those of wisdom, faith, or learning, who could contribute to the search for an answer.

    Over the next few centuries, the perception of the Curse Of Ardinay evolved; the impact upon the Tancreds in particular and the rise of Gareth Tancred, suggested something larger at work. It became the dominant theory that it was the Valley Of The Sword itself that had been cursed, and it was the madness caused by that curse that befell any who spent too much time in its proximity.

    Others made their way to the Refuge Of Light, including the Ice Nomads who wander the Frozen Land; often, the wounded or sick are brought to Liandar Island where the family share their meager supplies and such healing as is available to them. Should trouble break out, as seems inevitable, the Liandar can count on support from the Nomads.

    1.5.13 The Planned Purging

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    At the time of the invasion of Earth, leadership of House Liandar had fallen to William, a steadfast believer in the Ardinay Curse. The invasion plans would strip the Valley Of The Sword of almost all its defenders; there would never be a better opportunity. The best plan that had been devised was to completely depopulate the valley, raze every building to the ground, and then beseech the gods to interdict the site. Liandar forces held on standby for just such an opportunity were already en route when the first troops embarked up the Maelstrom Bridge.

    This placed House Bendes in a difficult position. They put little stock in the Ardinay Curse, and could not support such a radical act of insurrection as William intended. At the same time, they were an ally and on what Mordecai Bendes believed to be ‘the right side’ in the whole affair; they could hardly betray the Liandars to someone with the forces at hand sufficient to stop them.

    1.5.14 Reprieve

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    Luckily, the Duke of Bendes never had to make that call, as the Schism drove Utherion from the body of Pella Ardinay. Instantly, some parts of the lands of Aysle that had been blighted with corruption became clear-skied and fertile once more, while areas that had been whole became fell and corrupt. Those who had been marked by Corruption remained whole and fair of face in the areas of corruption, but should they move into an area now dominated by Light, the truth would be revealed upon their features. Some areas were neither one nor the other, and seemed to vacillate between one state and the other.

    One of the areas which returned to the Light encompassed much of the Valley Of The Sword, to William, it was as though the Curse fled at his mere approach. An envoy from House Bendes approached and, after satisfying William as to his credentials, persuaded the Duke to encamp and hold off until the situation clarified itself.

    1.5.15 Myth Modification

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    When news of the tumultuous events on Earth crossed the Maelstrom Bridge back to Aysle, William interpreted it as proof that his family had been right all along – the Valley had been cursed, and only when she left it could the True soul of Pella Ardinay reassert itself.

    This, of course, completely ignores half the story, but such is the power of Confirmation Bias.

    As such, William is fully prepared to put the Valley’s residents to the sword and raze its buildings at the slightest provocation. His forces are deployed so as to be able to strike into Daleron or Tancred territory should either Duke be so foolish as to incite trouble. He is willing to wait, to see whether or not the breaking of the Curse on Lady Ardinay has also broken the curse on the Valley, which would bring great spiritual relief to him; he is not an evil man, and would have deeply regretted the necessity of The Purging – but he would and will do it, anyway, should he think it necessary.

    1.5.16 Repatriation

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    Until he gives the command, however, he has a number of very bored troops on his hands, and patrols against Daleron and Tancred interference are insufficient to occupy them. William has begun formulating wild ideas about repatriating the possessions looted from his family over the last 500 years, or hunting down Gareth Tancred and Manfred Daleron (even though the latter still leads his forces on Earth).

    The encamped army is not yet a flash-point, but bored troops will not remain patient and vigilant forever; the compulsion to give them something to do is growing, and could yet spark a bloodbath.

1.5.17 House Liandar behind the curtains

No-one can do this much work in one sitting, and from time to time, mistakes and confusion will creep in. Usually, the early ideas are the ones with maximum clarity and focus and its the later ones that become muddled and muddy.

So it was when I was working on House Liandar, when some of the ideas that I had listed for House Gerrik got wrongly attributed and integrated too deeply to be withdrawn casually, particularly in respect of the Liandar’s naval and mercantile activities.

This forces either a complete revision of one or both sets of information, or accepting two different sets of Master Traders within the Great Houses, blurring the lines between them.

Is there room for both? Yes, of course there is – despite the similarity of names, there was significant distinction between the approaches of the Dutch East India Company and the (British) East India Company, and the Spanish approach during the era of Pirates on the High Seas was different again.

But emphasizing the differences meant that the Gerrik write-up lacks some of the cohesion of earlier concepts, and in fact began to morph from one concept to another in the course of the writing.

But that forces a new decision on me, in the compilation of these campaign/setting design notes – do I present the material exactly as it was, warts and all, or do I clean it up and impose a cohesion that was lacking at the time on the material, despite the risk of creating further confusion between the two Houses?

I have decided on a half-way compromise between the potential approaches – some revision for clarity but leaving the core of what was written back then, intact.

Just thought I should explain what you’re about to read – and what you’ve just read. I should add that there has been significantly greater revision of this House than of the others. Anyone familiar with the official material will find what’s below to be very different.

1.6 House Gerrik

The Gerriks are a family of rugged individualists who have banded together in common purpose and mutual protection. They are well suited to the harsh terrain of their heartlands in Upper Aysle, which include the Sashni Snowfields and the treacherous Kelor Mountains, which tower as much as 1280 meters above the Valley Of The Skulls.

The Gerriks have a history of able seamanship and exploration. It was a Gerrik who first mapped much of Upper Aysle, and named many of the islands in the Trade Sea and Living Sea.

There are numerous groups of inhabitants on Upper Aysle who have never met anyone not of House Gerrik.

    1.6.1 Alliance Dowries

    Eight out of ten Gerrik brides are from outside the Great Houses, and special permission of the Duke is required to marry a person of Rank from another House. The Gerriks believe marriages to commoners helps keep the family grounded.

    When offering marriage to an outsider, it is customary for the Gerriks to pay a Dowrie of some substance. If the outsider is a female, it is title to some lands owned by the Gerriks, on the provision that it remain part of the family holdings; if the outsider is a male, it is some property of value – gold, gems, a vessel, or other trade goods.

    These dowries are granted / given to both the family of the outsider and to their community as a whole, normally in 60-40 ratio. Most recipients are then receptive to further agreements, especially in matters of trade, so the Gerriks have vastly greater holdings than any other house suspects (save perhaps House Bendes, of course).

    1.6.2 Division of Ownership

    Another tradition within House Gerrik is that women own land and the direct production from it; men own the goods and property that are made from that production, the facilities for doing so, the means of trading the products, and the proceeds of those sales. Every husband-and-wife is this a small production facility of some sort.

    The men are required to purchase from the women the raw materials they require at the prices set by the women. Sometimes, a most-favored agreement will offer discounts on specific transactions – those between husband and wife, for example. Both are thus rendered more prosperous by fidelity, which the Gerriks believe leads to stronger unions.

    1.6.3 Trade

    Gerriks trade with everyone, including themselves. Every transaction is a new deal to them, though some are bound by traditional prices or long-standing agreements, enabling a minimum of negotiation.

    Outsiders often have trouble grasping the subtext that’s involved. When a wife tells her husband to bring home two steaks of Armorfish when he returns at the end of the day, she is proposing a contract for marital services – should he provide the necessary, she will prepare a meal for their mutual consumption, and still owe him something afterwards, a settlement to be negotiated between them later.

    Gerriks are extremely fair traders, believing that the long-term benefits of multiple mutually-satisfactory trades will outweigh any short-term gains from a more parsimonious approach.

    1.6.4 The Gathering

    Once a year, the most senior members of the Gerriks gather, with their account books, and tally up the proceeds of their annual activities. 100 shares in the house per member are then issued, and distributed proportionately according to the prosperity brought to the family (or the relative lack of losses, in harder times).

    The shares distributed are added to those received in prior years; whoever has the most becomes Senior Trader and head of the Family for the next year, assuming the title (for outside consumption) of Duke or Duchess – or pledging their support (and hence their shares) to another candidate.

    Other titles are then bestowed according to total shares accumulated.

    Should an individual be disinterested in politics, or have faith in the current leadership, or simply find themselves too busy to attend, they receive no new shares, but can “loan” their existing shares to another participant. In practice, this generally means that unless his policies have led to disaster, the existing leadership of the family retains uncontested control; only when a Duke chooses to retire or passes away, and new leadership has to be selected does The Gathering gain special significance.

    The shares are thus a means of measuring influence within the family, and that influence is used to select the Leadership. In any other family, it might lead to chaos and anarchy; for the Gerriks, it seems to work.

    1.6.5 The Tithing

    The final action of the Gathering is the Tithing. Each participant (including those represented by proxy) must pay a share of their profits to the Family for the common purposes of prosperity and defense. The actual rate of contribution is based on the number of shares issued. Those voting proxies from other family members assume responsibility for this debt on their behalf, and it is up to them to collect from the absent family member – or not, should they so choose.

    These funds are used to construct new trading vessels, each family member receiving one upon assuming adulthood, paying House Members to serve in the military (in lieu of their earning profits on their own behalf), maintaining important structures like city walls and Castle Gerrik, and other public works.

    1.6.6 Splendid Isolation

    Always, the greatest profits are to be achieved by barter with the other Great Families, but so are the greatest risks; should political conditions on Continental Aysle prove inhospitable, the Gerriks are entirely capable of forbidding contact with the Continent for a year or more, or until some indications suggest that conditions have improved.

    Should hostility be aimed in their direction, they are quite happy to retreat into what they sometimes term “Splendid Isolation” – which is really a misnomer, for they will continue to trade with smaller communities outside of the Great Houses.

    Occasionally, a trader will decide that he knows better than the House leadership, and instigate a forbidden contact. They do so completely at their own risk, but also stand to retain the profits and influence should they succeed.

    Such trading is hazardous to one’s standing within the family; should another member of the household incur unwarranted expenses, or should the army need to be put into the field as a result, the costs of doing so are deducted from any profits at the next Gathering. An ill-chosen venture can see one’s influence within the family plummet. A well-chosen one can elevate you over several other contenders for many years.

    1.6.7 The Coming Of Giants

    When the Giants came, the threat to profit was sufficient that House Gerrik placed its army in places to strategically resist their advance, but immediately counted those brave warriors as lost; payment of widows’ benefits and other compensations began immediately. House Gerrik vanished, abandoning all holdings on the Continent (save those where the owner decided to make a personal stand against the invaders).

    This did not mean abandoning the rest of Upper Aysle to their fates; Duke Asthari Gerrik traveled personally to House Bendes where he promised the Duke of that house, “Whatever you need to resist the invaders, it is yours if we have it or can obtain it.” The Bendes, aware that depending on another could create vulnerabilities that could manifest at a critical moment, were extremely judicious in calling upon this aid, instead presenting Asthari with a long list of tasks aimed at confining the Giants – raising support amongst the lesser kingdoms and other groups, persuading the Viking Clans to harass the invaders, creating disruptions, providing safe havens and means of transportation for those fleeing the Giants, and providing transportation for their own agents and agitators.

    As a result, while continental Aysle and several of the larger islands fell under Giants control, critical areas of resistance hampered further conquest. The Mage Islands, for example, never fell.

    1.6.8 The War Of The Crowns

    Like all leaders, those of House Gerrik were capable of error, and from time to time this cost the House dearly. When the giants were overthrown at last, Duke Eorval used the reconstituted army of House Gerrik to reclaim the lands and properties on Continental Aysle that had been abandoned 500 years earlier, displacing any who had moved into them in the meantime. He then committed that army to defending those claims when the War Of The Crowns began.

    Okay, yes, a token payment was made to those dispossessed for “caretaking” of the properties, but this nevertheless inflamed resentment against the House amongst those who remained strong on the continent. Duke Eorval sacrificed his entire standing within the family when the expense of this folly was deducted at the next Gathering, and he was supplanted by his first cousin’s son, Vorath, but it was too late to undo the damage, or to withdraw from the conflict; Eorval had thoroughly entangled the family fortunes, hiring elements of the army out to other Dukes as mercenaries, weakening them sufficiently that holding after holding fell, mostly to the Dalerons.

    1.6.9 The Delegate Legacy

    It would seem that the Gerriks would have been eager to embrace the Delegate Legacy, but Eorval was uncertain. The resentment of the other Houses had metastasized into outright hatred in many cases, and they were welcome nowhere. They were even accused of collaborating with the Giants.

    Only the testimony of the Bendes saved the Gerriks from being ousted from the High Court before it first assembled. Nevertheless, throughout the time following the War Of The Crowns, the Gerriks found more friends outside of the great Houses than they did within.

    Nevertheless, the truism remained – the road to greatest profits ran through the other Great Houses, and if the price of participation was resentment or hostility, that was just an unfortunate reality.

    Nevertheless, each Duke of the House thereafter made it a personal mission to make some small steps toward repairing their damaged reputations.

    1.6.10 The Utherion Invasion

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    The first real opportunity to do so came some 5 centuries later, when Utherion invaded.

    Maelstrom Bridges descended into each of the Great Houses, and the Valley of the sword, and in various other places in both Upper and Lower Aysle. The Gerrik bridge landed in an isolated area of their continental holdings, and since his plans did not call for excessive destruction, his forces were able to strike into the Valley Of The Sword before House Gerrik could muster its defenses.

    The Gerrik Army, in a forced march through hostile terrain, made a desperate effort to outflank them but were butchered by Ghouls and a flight of Draconis Teutonica which had allied themselves with the invaders. Nevertheless, the Gerriks were able to cut the lines of the enemy invaders, at great cost, forcing Utherion to send a second Maelstrom Bridge directly into the Valley before it had been secured.

    This opened the door for the direct confrontation between the defenders of the Cosm and the horrors, which culminated in the death of Tolwyn Tancred and the brave “victory” by Pella Ardinay.

    After the invasion, House Gerrik was honored for their bravery and loyalty, instrumental in securing that “victory”. Once again, their army had been decimated, effectively thrown away in what would ultimately prove to have been a pointless effort, but at the time this was not apparent, and the restoration of goodwill toward the House was adjudged a fair reward for their sacrifice.

    1.6.11 Under Utherion

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    But Ardinay seemed changed by the experience, and almost immediately there were troubling developments. The Gerriks had no real love of the Tancreds, but conceded that they had always dealt honorably with them, even when they were virtually outcast. The rewarding of Gareth Tancred flew in the face of the noble principles of the Delegate Legacy, and the stripping of property from the Liandars and gift of same to the Dalerons was an offense of even greater magnitude.

    As they feared, the Liandar precedent was soon turned against the Gerriks; they had lost so much of their army that they were unable to defend against Daleron “Bandits”, and slowly their possessions began to be stripped from the family.

    1.6.12 Conspiracy

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    Leaving behind token forces to mask their actions, and their delegate, the Gerriks began once again to retreat to their “Splendid Isolation”. In an act of singular deja vu, they once again approached House Bendes and said unto them, “You must have noticed something is very wrong. Until we know what it is, we cannot fight it. Discovering such secrets is your forte. Whatever you need, should we possess it, or be able to acquire it, it is yours for the asking.”

    This time around, the Gerriks had proven themselves in the eyes of the Bendes, and while still wary of the risks, a strong alliance between the two Houses was secretly forged.

    As before, the Gerriks were to gain the support of the other populaces in Upper Aysle, and to scout on behalf of the conspiracy. They were also to rebuild their army, bigger than ever before; it needed to be able to match the combined might of the Tancreds and Dalerons, if that were possible. Safe Havens were again needed, and conduits to them. And, perhaps most dangerous of all, the Giants needed to be scouted; had they been subject to the invasion, how had they responded, and was an alliance possible? House Vareth controlled the rimward access; this would entail a series of perilous voyages through the boiling seas and the Hole In The Disk.

    Most of all, they needed to know who their enemies were, and how their forces were disposed. House Bendes was best equipped to learn this. In the meantime, they could halt the theft of lands from the Gerriks; the Bendes Delegate was a trusted advisor to Lady Ardinay, and would warn when a ‘sanctioned raid’ or ‘inspection’ was imminent, and where; by quickly relocating a token force from what remained of their armies, the Gerriks could position them to seem far greater in numbers than they were. This would enable Gerrik properties to provide the conduits to the safe havens.

    This time around, the Gerriks would be the linchpin of the resistance.

    1.6.13 The Overthrow Of Utherion

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    Because it was always intended to engage in conflict on continental Aysle, the new Gerrik army was based on the rimward island of Haven and a series of smaller islands all over upper Aysle, but each transport vessel was built – at great expense – with one-shot transport magic spells embedded within it that would enable the army to converge on designated landing points, including the coastline of the Inland Sea and the many rivers that surrounded the Valley Of The Sword. With just 24 hours notice, it could be surrounded by a ring of steel. Most of the soldiers were refugees and recruits from outside the Great Houses, irregulars and mercenaries, paid to train, stand ready, raise successors, and – should the word come down – to fight to the death..

    It says much of House Gerrik, given their philosophies, that these vast expenditures were agreed to by each successive Gathering without protest. This was now viewed as a matter of survival for the House, and no expense was spared.

    Without warning, when Lady Ardinay crossed the Maelstrom Bridge to earth, everything changed. Duke Augustus needed no message from House Bendes; on his own initiative, and leading the forces personally, he instigated the long-planned blockade of the Valley Of The Sword, ready to sweep down and take charge.

    Then word from House Bendes reached him describing the expulsion of the possessing spirit of Utherion, the viper who had lived in their midst for centuries. Although initially suspicious of Ardinay’s sudden “conversion” to the side of Light, Augustus was prepared to gamble that the change of heart was genuine. Giving command of the bulk of the force over to his son, Duncan, he directed that they ignore the Castle that they had planned to sack, and instead fight their way to the Maelstrom Bridge and cross it, in support of Pella Ardinay.

    Some had to remain to prevent a premature reaction by Liandar; urgent negotiations are now underway between the two Dukes, but regardless of the outcome, Augustus has no intention of letting Duke William’s forces get anywhere near the Valley Of The Sword.

    In the meantime, a second order went out, mobilizing a second army.

    1.6.14 The Rewards Of Treason

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    That army, and its naval transports, have begun a series of guerrilla raids against the Dalerons, Tancreds, and (to a lesser extent) Vareths, aimed not so much at achieving victories as keeping their forces pinned down and unable to move against anyone, either on the Continent or across the Maelstrom Bridge. Without the forces now commanded by Duncan, the Gerriks can’t defeat either of these houses, but if they don’t know where will be attacked and raided next, they have to try and defend everywhere – and Gerrik family records make it clear how difficult that is when you don’t have enough manpower for the job.

    The plan is to forcibly stabilize the situation on the content, while Duncan’s forces do the same in England. Once potential explosions can be extinguished, there will be time enough to think about next steps and broader strategies.

    But, disconcertingly, neither Daleron nor Tancred are reacting to these raids as they should. Report after report is filtering back to Augustus of towns and outposts swept clean of defenders. Someone is up to something, and he doesn’t know what it is.

1.7 House Vareth

Sometimes political stability is very hard to achieve; at other times, the neutralization of a single disruptive element can provide a tipping point into peace and prosperity.

One of the masterstrokes that made a success of the Delegate Legacy was the creation of House Vareth, because it engaged the Dwarves of Clan Vareth in the politics of the surface world; previously, they functioned as mercenary forces, emerging from nowhere to fight on behalf of the highest bidder, often deep behind enemy lines.

The Dwarves of the time accepted, thinking they were simply being bribed to stay on the sidelines, which they would do – until someone made them a better offer, of course. But much to their surprise, they found themselves becoming attached to people from the surface, and discovering that they had opinions on the policies of the day, and that the humans would actually listen to those opinions with respect.

That was when House Vareth really came into existence, when it was given more than mere lip service.

Isn’t it ironic that Clan Vareth never actually existed?

    1.7.1 Behind The Curtain

    Their rapid-transit system gave the Dwarves such a tactical and military advantage that it was necessary to give them a far more turbulent background than that implied by the official sourcebook. I definitely wanted a Dwarven hero amongst the PCs for the first adventure, because the climax of that adventure could only be reached within a reasonable time-frame by utilizing that rapid-transit system.

    That in turn shaped the rest of the first adventure, because I needed to make sure that the threat being faced would justify the revelation of a state secret. Much of what preceded that point in the adventure was aimed at #1 establishing the villain, and #2 giving the party the chance to win the Dwarf’s trust.

    The condition of the rapid-transit system was also a convenient plot device for foreshadowing the events of the hundreds of years between the first and second adventure. But it was the outrage of the Dwarven PC upon learning how low his brethren had sunk in the interval that propelled the second adventure forward.

    Ultimately, House Vareth underwent a near-total rewrite as a consequence. I like to think that I’ve been faithful to the spirit of the original.

    1.7.2 Dwarven Beginnings

    Dwarves were there at the beginning of everything, or so they claim. Improbable as it might seem, the other populations had no origin myth when they arrived on Aysle, not knowing where they were or how they got there; to the Dwarves (who do tend to lose track of time, living deep underground), they weren’t there one day, and the next day they were.

    The disk-world is so unlikely a form that the humans, elves, etc, had no reason not to accept the Dwarves’ account, but at the same time, the Dwarves were forced to accept that there had to be even more to the story – who had brought he humans etc here, and why? It wasn’t any of their gods!

    1.7.3 Surface Emergence

    NB: Much of the following will be known to any Dwarf in the party but not known generally by members of other races.

    The Dwarves of the era decided that they needed to keep an eye on these strangers, and so they built a few villages on the surface here and there. These were representative of a number of different Clans – there were Akhvarz (Axehold), Reztzetl (Copperborn), Ezutzvall (Silverbeard), Vohzhau (Redhairs), Bhevaztim (Ironcrag), Hamuokek (Ashenfists), Khalyzo (Deepdelver), Legnagaz (Biggest Belly), and Szimkarth (Rockhounds), amongst many others.

    The Dwarven philosophy of the time was that if it lay under or in the Earth, it was theirs. This naturally created some conflict with their neighbors, who were inclined to think that anything that lay under their feet to whatever depth they could reach was theirs, and the Dwarves could have whatever was left.

    In theory, this would have been acceptable to the Dwarves, provided that the territorial dividing line was fixed, and perhaps some sort of buffer in which the locals paid the Dwarves to extract ores or other valuables. The problem that they had was they dealt with volume and not a 2-dimensional surface.

    Sidebar: Volume Vs Area, A Dwarven perspective
    Area

    Let’s say that 0.05% of the earth’s surface has mineral wealth reasonably close to the surface.

    If we’re dealing with a 10km x 10km region, that’s 100 square km, and so that 0.05% translates to 50 square meters. That’s the size of a small hall.

    Let’s further assume that individual finds are no larger than 5m x 5m. That means two claims exist in that 10km-square region.

    People traveling over the surface, either looking for valuables or just traveling from A to B (before there were paths, trails, and roads) will explore a swathe 2m wide x average cross-length.

    The shortest cross-length is straight across, 10km. The longest is corner-to-corner, that’s 14.14km. Some routes may meander a bit, so allow up to +50% for that, giving a maximum of 21.2km. The average of 10km and 21.2km is 15.6km.

    2m is 0.002km. So each person or group explores an average of 0.0312 square km. There are 3205 (and a fraction) of those in 100 sqr km. So the minimum is 3205 explorers to investigate the entire 10x10km square.

    In reality, people will avoid difficult terrain if they can, so it might take 2-3 times that many travelers to get complete coverage; but that is somewhat compensated for by people recognizing geological clues from a greater distance than that 2m swathe. So let’s stick with 3200 as a reasonable number.

    Volume

    The average mineral deposit consists of veins of material. These may be 1-200m in length (or more) and 5m across. At the heart of the deposit will be a large bubble of the material, perhaps 75m in horizontal radius and half that in height radius, or vice-versa. Either way, the volume will be the same. Just outside that bubble, the veins will cluster together very tightly, and there could be hundreds of them. Most will be 20m in length; only 5% of those will run a full 100m. And of those, only 5% will make it to 200m, and only 5% will get to 500m, and only 5% of those will make 1000m. So the mineral deposit doesn’t come to a hard end, it just fades out.

    Let’s assess a more accurate average:

    100% = 10m = 100%
    90% = 20m = 90%
    5% x 90% = 100m = 4.5%
    5% x 5% x 90% = 200m = 0.225%
    5% x 5% x 5% x 90% = 500m = 0.01125%
    5% x 5% x 5% x 5% x 90% = 1000m = 0.0005625%

    So:
    0.0005625% go 1000m.
    0.01125% – 0.0005625% go 500m and no further = 0.0106875%.
    0.225% – 0.01125% go 200m and no further = 0.21375%.
    4.5% – 0.225% go 100m and no further = 4.275%.
    90% – 4.5% go 20m and no further = 85.5%.
    100-90% go 10m and no further = 10%.

    10% × 10m = 100%m.
    85.5% × 20m = 1710%m.
    4.275% × 100m = 427.5%m.
    0.21375% × 200m = 42.75%m.
    0.0106875% × 500m = 5.34375%m.
    0.0005625% × 1000m = 0.5625%m.
    Total %: 99.9999875
    Therefore, 0.0000125% go more than 1000m which is going to be a contribution of 0.0125%m or more – maybe as much as twice that – but it’s a negligible amount.

    Nevertheless: Add up the %m (aside from that estimate) and you get 2286.15625%m; divide by 99.999875, and you get an average length of 22.86m.

    So we have a spheroid and then a fringe of 22.86m radius during which time we go from 100% ore to 0% ore.

    Volume of the spheroid = 4/3 . pi . r1 . r2 . r3
    = 4/3 × pi × 75m / 2 × 75m / 2 × 75m / 4
    = 193281.58 m^3
    = 0.001.9328 km^3, possibly a bit less if the surface cuts through the top of the bubble.

    There is a fringe – let’s assume that 50% density is half-way out through that fringe, which will give the average extent of the whole.

    Fringe + Spheroid = 4/3 . pi . (r1 + f/2) . (r2 + f/2) . (r3 + f/2)
    = 4/3 × pi × (75m / 2 + 11.43) × (75m / 2 + 11.43) × (75m / 4 + 11.43)
    = 4/3 × pi × (48.93) × (48.93) × (30.18)
    = 302662.26 m^3
    = 0.0030266226 km^3.

    That’s the number we really want.

    So we have a block of earth, a 10km × 10km × 10km cube. 1000 cubic km volume. That’s enough to contain 3,304,012.82 of those deposits. If we assume a similar distribution to what was on the surface, though, where we ended up with 2 finds, we get 1.414^3 = 2.828 such finds.

    The odds of intersecting a find with any given tunnel are 2.828 / 3304012.82 = 0.0000856%. Or 1 in 1,168,145 – if you prefer.

    It gets worse for the Dwarves. Once you have a tunnel from A to B, you aren’t going to dig another, you’re going to use the one you’ve already got. So there are going to be far less than that 3205 crossings unless you stick a town in the middle of it – with no good reason to do so.

    Worse again, there’s no equivalent of geological clues to tell you where to look – not in a volume that large.

    That’s a problem.

    Solving The Problem

    NB: Much of the following will be known to any Dwarf in the party but not known generally by members of other races.

    While Dwarves wouldn’t have much access to Arcane Magic until the creation of the Valley Of The Sword, they had plenty of clerical magic and gods that liked them enough to make this place for them.

    I expect a lot of Dwarven prayers are along the lines of “show us where to dig” and “let us see through the rock and earth to the ore”.

    I envisage something that gives an approximate distance to the nearest body of ore; the Dwarves traipse along one of their tunnels until that reaches its lowest point.

    Next, they need a direction from that point. That’s a second clerical prayer.

    Then, they need to dig. Their directions are only approximate, but they know roughly how far they have to go – so after tunneling half the distance, they recheck and adjust their course. Repeat at the 3/4 mark. When they get to within 100m of the deposit, they need to start planning – so now the final prayer (let me see through stone and earth…”) takes effect, and guides them to the actual pocket of ore. They then need to assay it and work out how to approach mining it.

    That will mean erecting / digging out some sort of infrastructure, and deciding how the ore is going to get transported.

    And that’s how I see the Dwarves solving the problem of dealing with Volume and not a two-dimensional surface.

    You get similar issues, and a similar solution, with a lot of what would be taken for granted on the surface.

    1.7.4 The Early Days: “Vareth”

    NB: Much of the following will be known to any Dwarf in the party but not known generally by members of other races.

    In the early days, the Dwarves who chose to live on the surface, or otherwise have dealings with the surface-dwellers, were called “Vareth”. A loose translation might be “outsider-phile” or “surface-dweller-phile”.

    The humans misinterpreted (they are good at doing that) and thought that an assembly or gathering of Vareth was the same thing as a Clan, since they knew the Dwarves were organized into social groups along Clan lines.

    So the myth that there was one Clan who specialized in contact with the surface, or in leading the efforts of another clan doing so, came into being. The Dwarves found it both humorous and beneficial, so they never sought to correct the misunderstanding.

    The Dwarves, meanwhile, set about exploring the surface world, given that they could reach any point of it by tunneling.

    1.7.5 Coming Of The Giants

    NB: Much of the following will be known to any Dwarf in the party but not known generally by members of other races.

    Which is how it came to be that there were Dwarves nosing around in the rim to uncover a route through to the equivalent landscape on Lower Aysle. Over many years, the Dwarves moved construction materials and populations to a port that they constructed there, where the Frozen Land of Lower Aysle met the Ice Sea.

    Exactly what they were planning remains a secret within House Vareth to this day – but they built sailing ships, and filled them with ore, and food, and set out to explore the lands and seas.

    The Giants – well, some of them – were more touchy and warlike than expected, and also knew how to build ships. It was inevitable that the two groups would intersect at some point. When they did, the Dwarves tried treating the Giants with the same diplomatic approach that they had used on Upper Aysle, and managed to give offense.

    With a War Party of ticked-off giants in hot pursuit, the Dwarves ran for it, leading the Giants straight back to their port town on the Frozen Land. The giants sacked it and burned it to the ground, throwing great bags of something that burst into flame when the bag was broached. Again, the Dwarven population fled for the hidden passes back to upper Aysle, Giants in heated pursuit. Once there, the Dwarves vanished into one of their underground towns, the same one from which the expedition had embarked, years earlier. They were safe there, but the Giants now gazed with wonder, greed, and hunger for power upon this new land.

    When the Dwarves later confessed to accidentally showing the Giants the route through to Upper Aysle, they weren’t telling anything even close to the whole story.

    1.7.6 War With The Giants

    NB: The following will be known to any Dwarf in the party but some of it will not be known generally by members of other races.

    For 500 years (surface measurement) or 1000 years (Dwarven estimate), the Giants held sway. in Upper Aysle. The Dwarves would have liked to have remained hidden and at a safe distance; but it was only a matter of time until one of them stumbled over one of the Dwarf villages that had been set up, above ground.

    And flattened it, with the help of a few allies.

    Now that they knew what to look for, the Giants started searching for other Dwarven villages, and crushed them, as well. So, when Vareth ambassadors came forth from their hiding places below the earth, to forge secret alliance with the Houses of Upper Aysle, and make war in the common cause, it wasn’t as though they had no skin in the game, so to speak.

    In fact, the Clans who had lost relatives and profitable enterprises in these raids were livid at thew carelessness of the Vareths, and quite prepared to use force to put them out of business

    So, when the Vareths used a covering of guilt to explain their joining the fight against the giants, they weren’t being entirely truthful, either. In fact, they were given no other choice by the powerful clans who had lost beloved citizens.

    1.7.7 The Persecution Years

    NB: The following will be known to any Dwarf in the party but some of it will not be known generally by members of other races.

    The Vareths refer to the decades in which the struggle with the giants hung in the balance as the Persecution Years, because of the way the other Clans treated them. House records say that this struggle – and the persecution of House Vareth – lasted for nigh-on 200 years – but Dwarves have been known to exaggerate, and have trouble keeping track of time, anyway.

    When the last of the Giants had been driven back to Lower Aysle, the Great Houses began to consolidate the lands that had been liberated, and went to war over that which was most desirable.

    The War Of The Crowns had started.

    1.7.8 The War Of The Crowns

    NB: The following will be known to any Dwarf in the party but some of it will not be known generally by members of other races.

    Human records say that the War Of The Crowns lasted for four years. Dwarven records say it was closer to 40, and in this case, both numbers have to be treated with a grain of salt.

    The Vareths sought to get back on the good side with the Clans by operating as go-betweens and hiring entire clans out as mercenaries. Much of the legend of the Dwarven Fighter stems from this period, when whole armies would emerge from nowhere, decimate an enemy force, and then vanish from whence they came.

    As explained earlier, to cover up the state secret of their rapid transport system, the Vareths dissembled and outright deceived, claiming that the soldiers had run several days and nights to reach a designated hiding place, from which to strike.

    But, in truth, the Vareths miscalculated and got greedy. They decided that it would help break up the unity of the other Clans who held a grudge against them if they had a grudge or two with each other, too, so they sold mercenary support from different clans to both sides in some of the conflicts.

    As soon as these soldiers saw each other on the battlefield, both sides would quit the battle immediately, saying only “Dwarf Clans do not fight each other for the amusement of Outsiders”. This misstep undid most of the repair-work on the relationship between the Vareths and the Clans.

    1.7.9 The Delegate Legacy

    For the delegate legacy to work, it had to become impossible or impractical for a war to be conducted by Proxy. That meant that Dwarven Mercenaries could no longer be tolerated.

    Her masterstroke, and the one thing that did more to secure the peace than any other, wad to offer the Vareths a House of their own, to be based on the island of Vareth.

    The Vareths demanded that their old properties also be returned to them, a final nail in the coffin of the resentment and anger of the Clans toward them – they could quietly turn these over to the Clans that had once held them, leaving only a Vareth “overseer”.

    To the Vareths, they had little choice but to accept; the Clans were about to come down upon them with prejudice and force. But they kept that to themselves, and – seemingly reluctantly – accepted the offer. This, to them, was Official recognition of the role that they played in connecting the two societies, and a means of leveraging that recognition into a permanent and protected status – protected from the other clans, that is!

    Two final provisos were insisted upon.

    #1, that the newly-constituted House Vareth have exclusive rights on representing the World Below to the World Above; no treaty or agreement that they did not ratify would hold force, and that any approach by Great House to a Dwarven Clan or vice-versa that did not have their approval would be forbidden and illegal, null and void;

    and #2, that House Vareth be automatically included amongst the Great Houses on equal terms with all the others.

    1.7.10 The Clan Wars

    NB: The following will be known to any Dwarf in the party but some of it will not be known generally by members of other races.

    The Vareths position was neither as secure nor as comfortable as they made it out to be. Until the forced “wedding to clan” of the members of the new House, they had simply been like-minded representatives of the clans, with members drawn from almost all of them. The formalization of House Vareth forced them out of the Clans to which they held family allegiance, and some careful manipulations saw the Clans to seethe with renewed anger and resentment. Beneath the surface presented by House Vareth, the Clan Wars were secretly beginning.

    1.7.11 Two Attitudes

    From the very outset, the Vareths had two attitudes, two philosophies, two differing strands of thought and policy.

    There were those who found the surface world and its people fascinating and welcomed being around them socially; and there are those who saw the surface and its dwellers as something to exploit – originally for the benefit of the clans to which they belonged, and now to the benefit of themselves and the House that had been erected around them.

    Time and time again, the latter group got the Vareths in trouble of one sort or another, then lied and dissembled to cover up the problem and wallpaper over the resulting social discord.

    While much of the court functions were granted to the first group, control of the House was securely held by the second.

    It was the latter who instigated the colonization of Lower Aysle; who led their fellow Dwarfs into the clan wars, and who now formed the political core of the new House. If you do not understand this, you do not understand House Vareth.

    1.7.12 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Invasion

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    Even in a race as long-lived as the Dwarfs, Social perspectives, habits, and structures can change over centuries of time. For much of the preceding hundreds of years, it had been the Vareths against the Clans, starting with the Persecutions.

    Over the hundreds of years of the Clan Wars, with House Vareth carefully keeping awareness of the events out of reach of the Surface World for fear of undermining their authority, Clan affiliations and loyalties had been stressed and even sabotaged in the name of the mythical “Clan Vareth”. And slowly, the ruling members of that House over that time, those rulers began to think of themselves as a clan apart from the others, responsible only unto themselves.

    House Vareth became real to them, and the heritage of membership in the other clans was eroded in meaning or lost entirely.

    1.7.13 Utherion Invades

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    Duke Dwyvan Vareth was but newly ascended to the throne when the Horrors in service of Utherion invaded. It is unclear whether or not there had been pre-invasion contact with the Dwarves, but whether it was by prearrangement or simple greed, the Dwarves resisted all calls for assistance by the other Houses and by Lady Ardinay until their status was brought into question.

    Their reluctance was aided by the fact that, in one of his shrewdest moves of the invasion, Utherion’s Horrors did not attack the world Below – perhaps, explained the Dwarven Delegate to the High Court, the invaders had overlooked their existence, giving them a tactical advantage that was not to be dismissed casually.

    All of which at least sounds very reasonable. Whatever the truth of the matter, the fact is that the Dwarves did not engage until forced to do so, and even then only committed a token force.

    Fortunately, their aid was not pivotal in the outcome, with the invasion being repulsed without them, or so it seemed at the time.

    1.7.14 Ally Of Convenience: The Splintering Of House Vareth

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    Another question that is unclear and unanswered is whether or not, during the long period when he was in possession of Pella Ardinay, Utherion ever revealed himself to House Vareth. Duke Mordecai Bendes believes not, because he can see no advantage to either party in such a revelation; instead, he attributes subsequent developments to reduced oversight of the Vareths and other Houses and to the natural inclinations of Duke Dwyvan.

    Dwyvan had what an earth psychologist might call an inferiority complex coupled with a persecution complex, with both linked to a massive chip on his shoulder. House Vareth, to his mind, was the pinnacle of Dwarven civilization, and should be the masters of all the Clans; and, at the same time, he felt keenly that his people were not given the respect that this position should have entitled him to receive from the other Houses.

    The Dwarves, in his mind, were workhorses and employees, not trusted or respected as they deserved.

    It is known that Lady Ardinay (Utherion) played into this psychology, telling Dwyvan that she would support their efforts to bring their rebellious brethren into line, and encouraged him to seek profits for his House because money was all that “some of the other Houses” would respect. Soft living and conspicuous displays of wealth, that was the ticket.

    So naive out of his depth was he that Dwyvan did not even question how she knew of the Dwarves’ internal conflicts, something House Vareth had gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal.

    If these assessments are correct, the House Vareth and Utherion became allies of convenience to each other, and the Vareths never actually committed Treason against the Delegate Legacy.

    1.7.15 Press-Gangs, Slavery, and Blackmail

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    What resulted was that Dwyvan was given permission to engage his basest instincts, and he wasted little time in doing so.

    It started with the Kidnapping of clan-leaders’ heirs, and their enslavement in the fields of House Vareth. Their clans were informed that their heirs would be well cared-for – unless they opposed the Vareths, in which case, accidents might happen.

    This was followed by a suite of decrees by the House which made the Clans’ subordinate position to the Vareths very clear. A few protested; they were captured and carried away by the Vareths.

    Press-gangs became a feature of life in each of the Clan settlements; the slightest hint of disaffection or rebellion led to a new ‘recruit’ being added to the ranks, carted away, given a perfunctory ‘hearing’, and enslaved under the guise of punishment for sedition.

    Soon, House Vareth had more slaves than they needed, and were adding to them at pace; half-folk being the latest targets of their predatory practices.

    And throughout, the promises and advice of Lady Ardinay, so well-tailored to Dwyvan’s prejudices, continued to erode the principles of House Vareth with Corruption.

    1.7.16 The Invasion Of Earth

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    When preparing for the invasion of Earth, Utherion realized that he would need tough and resilient shock troops to serve the role that his Horrors had played in the conquest of Aysle. Dwarves, he decided, would be ideal – have the rush across the Maelstrom Bridge, erect Stellae, then hunker down and fortify their position until he could get there to activate the Reality Flux. He cared not whether or not these were Dwarves in voluntary service; if they were indentured and blackmailed into participating, so much the better.

    Accordingly, she took the unprecedented step of traveling to Vareth itself, playing into Dwyvan’s inflated ego in the process. With that piece of flattery under her belt, it was easy for the promise of wealth and still greater respect to lure the Dwarves into her service.

    At the same time, she took the opportunity to drive wedges between her allies, just in case one of them should become ambitious, telling the now elderly and slightly wiser Dwyvan that behind his back, Gareth of Tancred and Roderick Daleron still dismissed the Dwarves as mere Slave Traders; fighting a war of conquest alongside each other was exactly the move needed to cement the respect the Dwarves were entitled to.

    Completely taken in, Dwyvan pledged 100,000 Dwarven troops – no more than 80% conscripts – to the cause, and nominated his only son, Taleron, to lead them.

    1.7.17 Taleron Vareth

    NB: The following describes events that occur between Adventures 1 and 2 of the campaign and should not be revealed to the players sooner.

    To hear Dwyvan describe him, you would get the impression that Taleron was a dilettante, a hopeless dreamer, and a wastrel without spine or convictions. And, in truth, that was the image that Taleron cared to present to the world, but especially to his father. Furthermore, he encouraged a perception of laziness and incompetence.

    I his youth, Taleron had spent a year exchanged to House Tancred under the control of Duke Gregor. While there, he met and fell in love with the heroic ballads and sagas of the past and the heroic and noble ideals that they trumpeted.

    Gregor had done his best to sweep the House clean of such, and had scribes busy constantly rewriting them to suit his own ideology. Where nobleness had been idealized, he substituted obedience; where courage was lauded, he substituted duty and fealty; and so on. So there was a vast stockpile of the unadulterated versions that Taleron found a way to access.

    By the time his year was complete, he had made several important decisions regarding his life. One was that he would not participate in any of his father’s ignoble schemes; another that when his chance came to usurp command, he would take it, and lead the Subjugated Dwarven slaves in a revolution against his own House, with the intent of cleansing it of the stains of dishonor that now decorated its every wall.

    Taleron played his part to perfection, never being called upon by his Father, who simply couldn’t trust him to get even the most minor task right. When the invasion of Earth beckoned, Taleron saw his opportunity, and by manipulation of the courtiers who surrounded him and spied on him for his Father, planted the suggestion that protracted military service might be exactly what was needed to “turn him around”. He then played bored and lazy just well enough to exasperate his father into forcing the young Dwarf into doing exactly what he wanted.

    1.7.18 Invasion Earth

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    The invasion of North-Western Europe by Aysle appeared to be a textbook operation. The Stellae were emplaced and properly guarded, Utherion’s forces were triumphant, and at a stroke, Utherion descended the bridge and activated them.

    The sweep of Reality Change swept over the land, confusing everyone, for none of them had been told what to expect. And a host of possibility-rated individuals suddenly became Storm Knights, because The Gaunt Man had not told his allies everything, either.

    And in one of those Storm Knights, the spirit of Tolwyn Tancred was reborn, and around her an alliance formed, and it struck at the Spirit of Utherion even as he crossed the Maelstrom Bridge to survey his new domain. When reality changed a second time following the reformation of Pella Ardinay, Taleron seized his chance and led the army of indentured soldiers in an uprising against the slave-masters of his own House.

    1.7.19 Uprising

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    The chaos proved vital in securing the Oxford site for the rehabilitated Lady Ardinay, giving her a position of strength from which to negotiate her surrender to the forces native to Earth. Even as those negotiations were underway, runners from Taleron’s Dwarven Guard were on their way to other units throughout Britain to raise the flag of revolution.

    Back In Aysle, the old Reality also began to reassert itself, and the corruption that had been festering for centuries became apparent for all to behold. Dwyvan aged 300 years overnight, suddenly taking him from elderly to emaciated. But his wiles had been sharpened by centuries of oppressing others while continually looking over his shoulder, and he quickly concocted a story full of half-truths from the confused battlefield reports that were now filtering back to Aysle.

    1.7.20 A Tale of Betrayal

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    To hear Dwyvan tell it, the forces of House Vareth had about to claim a great victory on behalf of Lady Ardinay when she betrayed them by calling for the fighting to cease. Some had obeyed, others fought on, and many became lost and confused.

    When his son confronted the Witch-woman and demanded an explanation, the treacherous Ardinay had seduced him, and then used her magics to steal away the vitality of himself to reinforce her own aging body. Many of the commanders and slave-masters of House Vareth taking part in the invasion as leaders of the indentured forces were similarly blighted and withered, leading to an uprising. Taleron, fully under the spell of the Viper, then convinced the rebelling Dwarves that he supported them in their struggle, and anointed himself the figurehead of the rebellion.

    1.7.21 Dwyvan’s True Reactions

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    It’s unclear how much of this story Dwyvan actually believes; even were he to be told the truth, it would not make much difference to him. His number one priority is to secure his leadership on Aysle. This incident has only reinforced his basic mistrust of non-Dwarves, and his loyalties are now firmly with whomever will help him turn a profit – and remain in power.

    He has sent scouts to Earth with orders to assess the situation and instructions for any who remain loyal to him – they are to capture as many native slaves as possible and return to Aysle immediately, masking their activities under any tall tale they find necessary. When enough of his forces have returned, or there are no more loyal troops remaining, he will ‘persuade’ Gareth Tancred and Roderick Daleron to attack and destroy the bridge between realities, trapping most of their political enemies on the far side. When they are certain to succeed, House Vareth forces will rise up and attack them, pretending to be more Rebels, capturing as many as possible as slaves, so that it doesn’t matter who wins in the end, he can present a plausible face of alliance to them.

    1.7.22 The House Divided

    NB: The following describes events that will occur in the background of adventure 2 of the campaign.

    Taleron is well aware that his father will not give up without a fight. He is eager to lead his forces back to Aysle to begin that fight, and believes that under his leadership, the Clans will become more truly untied than ever before. He dreams of a unified Dwarven Nation and is convinced that all of Aysle would benefit.

    However, he is also aware that his own people’s conflict is but a facet of a much larger confrontation, the entire invasion of Earth by Aysle, and that in turn is but part of a still larger conflict, the invasion of Earth in total. He cannot think upon that scale, and acknowledges this limitation; and has put his faith in the leadership of the select few who he thinks can operate on that level of games within games and realities within realities. He will support their plans, with his presence a reminder that his people’s rescue and redemption needs to be a part of whatever grand plan they come up with.

    House Vareth is now politically divided, two different political animals in two different realities, and headed for a front-on collision with each other. When it will come, who can say?

1.8 A Note on Consistency

It’s no coincidence that there’s a great deal of inconsistency regarding reports and beliefs concerning recent events on Earth. None of the Houses know everything, though some know more than others. They have all overlain what limited facts they possess with their own theories, philosophies and psychologies

The fog of war is very real at this point, and no-one is sure of anything. It’s possible that every report coming back from the battlefield is a deception, designed to buy time to mount a counter-invasion, and their expedition has been obliterated. For some, that would be easier to believe than that the political foundations of the last 500 years have suddenly been up-ended.

You shouldn’t expect consistency in interpretations of events so far away under such extraordinary circumstances. Of course, everybody should be both a little but right and a little bit wrong!

The PCs will only learn the truth if and when they take the bait in Adventure #2 and cross the Maelstrom Bridge to Earth to confront Lady Ardinay and her Court-away-from-home.

And that’s where I might have to leave this installment, with a whole heap of other populations still to deal with. Still, that’s a healthy 28K words or so, done!

It’s time to turn my attention to part 2 of the Orrorsh Rewrite…

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