Mint Aero showing the internal structure

A Mint Aero showing the internal structure.
Photo by Evan-Amos , released to the public domain by the photographer,
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You can never tell where inspiration is going to come from. The best you can do is remain alert to the world around you and leap in with both feet whenever you find it.

That’s what I was thinking while enjoying a chocolate treat – A mint Aero bar – the other day.

For some readers, that name is all they need. Aero bars are popular in a great many countries, amongst the most popular on sale. In fact, everywhere they have been released, they have become a staple treat, with one notable exception – the United States Of America.

Why this is so has been the subject of much fascinating speculation. There are multiple web sites devoted to the question, which often spin off into discussions of comparative chocolate quality and the differences between M&Ms and Smarties and why Mars Bars aren’t the same in the US as they are in Australia… But I don’t want to get sidetracked, so suffice it to say that it’s a bit like a Hershey’s Air Delight, but in more flavors. And better chocolate.

Links to find out more:

Okay, so an Aero Bar is chocolate with bubbles in it, a sort of rigid chocolate foam. And that got me to thinking. And the ideas just kept coming…

Bubbles Of Nothing in Space-Time

Dark Matter and Dark Energy are two of the great unknowns in Modern Cosmology. Proving that either exist, and identifying conclusively what either of them are and how they function, are sure tickets to Nobel Prizes. And, maybe, just maybe, an Aero Bar is the model that is needed to explain both of them.

Dark Energy first.

Dark Energy is needed to explain the expansion of the Universe, which doesn’t correspond and correlate with observations. In a nutshell, the expansion rate of the universe doesn’t appear to proceed smoothly, and Dark Energy was introduced to give it a (theoretical) boost at one or more points in history. It’s a fudge, in other words.

So, let’s postulate that there is something out there that can create bubbles of non-space-time in the space-time around us. Because we are part of that space-time, and so is everything we can observe and measure, we would not be aware of these bubbles – they would literally not exist so far as we were concerned.

And yet, if the total energy contained within the universe is a constant, as required by the laws of Thermodynamics (assuming the universe to be a closed system), either the energy density would have to be increased because the total volume of the universe is less than observation would determine (it contains voids that we shouldn’t count but do) or, like chocolate with a bubble forming in it, the volume would need to expand to contain the extra ‘voids’. Result (of the latter): the expansion rate of the universe inexplicably increases.

But what happens to prevent this being a constant source of Universal growth? Well, what happens if the bubbles have a finite existence – effectively making them Time without Space? That means that we can have periods of increased bubble formation (greater acceleration of expansion) followed by periods without such effects.

What might these bubbles actually be? Unless that question can be answered, however speculatively, this simply shifts the goal-posts of the unknown, it doesn’t really explain anything.

Well, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the many-worlds theory of space-time is likely, in some form or another. So, postulating this to be true, why not another space-time that is completely independent of our own?

Well, that’s one possibility, but for me, it doesn’t work. The more quantum events there are to create branches in space-time, the more parallel timelines there are to be accommodated, and the theory is that Dark Matter had its greatest effect – some say, it’s only effects – during the first instants after the Big Bang, when there were no quantum events.

Turning the theory on it’s head, however, works. Whatever the primordial universe, pre-Big-Bang was, is what is in these bubbles, and the process that ‘evaporates’ one or more bubbles is the expulsion of this ‘raw’ unspace-time into another timeline. It’s not that bubble creation is any slower; instead, it’s that bubble dissipation is variable.

Dark Energy? Is that like Dark Chocolate? The answer might very well be ‘yes’.

Bubbles of Something in Space-Time?

Dark Matter is inferred from various gravitational effects. In essence, the matter that we can see in the universe isn’t enough to explain the effects that we observe out there. There needs to be additional matter out there – matter that we can’t see (hence the “Dark” part of the name).

The Aero-bar theory completely revises the whole concept of the observable universe and its structure. First, the expansion rate, and hence the energy density, are radically altered. Next, we need to discern whether or not the bubbles ‘contain’ the Non-Space-Time or are the Non-Space-Time. The first implies some sort of interface or barrier, which then has to be explained (and, in particular, what happens to it when it the Non-Space-Time goes away), but seems easier to comprehend than the two space-times simply rubbing against each other.

Nevertheless, the latter is simpler in many other respects, requiring fewer answers. Now, if the gravitational effects of the content of these bubbles of Non-Space-Time can extend beyond the bubble, what happens? In effect, there’s all this energy out there at the original density of the pre-big-bang universe – something near-infinite. No, that doesn’t work, because it applies a pro-contractive force just when we want an expansive force, and vice-versa.

Okay, what if the dissipation of a bubble – the removal of the ‘expansive force’ of Dark Energy – releases gravitational effects? After all, there was a void that affects the size of the observable universe even if we can’t actually see it. When that void goes away, the universe closes up seamlessly to occupy that void – and the only mechanism we have to explain the resulting change in the shape of Space-Time is Gravity. Result: A faux-gravity effect. It looks like gravity, acts like gravity, but there’s literally nothing there (so far as we can observe) to create the gravity. And, since matter is the densest form of gravitational generator that we know of, we infer therefore that there has to be matter there that we can’t detect. Dark Matter.

Bubbles Of Something in Nothing

Those two ideas alone would probably be enough to justify this article, but a beefy inspiration doesn’t stop there. The concept of two space-times being interwoven in n-dimensional topology implies the existence of an n+1th dimension to contain the ‘action’ of separation. Maybe more. In effect, there needs to be an ‘outside the universe’ where all the other universes can be located, because under this concept, they have their own space-time, completely independent of ours. In effect, if we consider each universe to be a closed ‘solid object’ (it isn’t, but the analogy makes this easier to understand) then we need a multi-universal ‘space’ to contain them all. Our current best theories, so far as I am aware, say nothing about anything being located in this void, but the void itself has to exist. Think of the multiverse being a whole bunch of inflated balloons inside a larger balloon. The size of that larger balloon is irrelevant; it could be larger or it could be just big enough to hold the balloons inside.

Not that I’m suggesting this outer ‘balloon’ actually have any sort of substance or existence; what matters is the multi-universal space enclosed within.

But wait – what if time were different from space? Current thinking ties the whole together into a single bundle called “space-time”, but ’tain’t necessarily so. If time were common to ALL space-times within the multiversal balloon, it might help to explain how the ‘bubbles’ can ‘integrate’ with our universe and have an effect when they are ‘expelled’. In fact, this would permit us to lose that extra N+1th dimension – time could do the job all on it’s own.

Whenever I want to get inspired along these lines, a book that I always think of is James P Hogan’s Thrice Upon A Time (click on the link to buy a copy from Amazon). That book discusses two models for space-time and communication between different periods of time – serial and parallel – and dismisses both as inadequate before postulating another one, with ‘threads’ of space-time connecting a series of moments within the same universe. It occurs to me now that the model I have proposed in this article yields both parallel and serial models, or something close to them, simply by viewing an instant as a cross-sectional slice through the multiverse that intersects that instant on that particular universe; it’s only the angle of the cross-section that changes. If at perfect “right angles” to time, you get parallel worlds, all experiencing analogues of the same instant at the same time (commensurate with their past histories); if at an angle, then none of the worlds will be at the instant in question in the reference universe. Some will be ahead of it (i.e. having already experienced an analogue of the same instant) while others will be behind (i.e, have yet to experience that instant).

Solid Nothing

Inspiration can be like a freight train – once you start it rolling downhill, ain’t nothin’ gonna stop it till it hits bottom. Everything you’ve read so far was my first thought; but, even though I turned my attention to other things, ideas kept coming to me.

The holes in an Aero bar are really empty; they contain a gas, probably air or nitrogen, possibly CO2. But if the ‘walls’ of the bubble were strong enough, they could contain a vacuum, i.e. nothing. That got me to thinking about force-fields in superhero RPGs and what happened when they materialized – did they ‘wrap around’ the subject (if you slowed time down enough with a high-speed camera), or did they appear as a point and ‘inflate’? Could they contain a vacuum?

One of the PCs in the Zenith-3 campaign is (effectively) a sentient dimensional interface (a very long story). He is the strong man of the group, the toughest and most resilient of them. He is, in effect, solid nothing, and yet, it’s a nothing that can move and change its shape at will. He draws his mind and physical shape from the mind (both conscious and subconscious) of the person contained within the dimensional interface. This person is somehow nourished when the interface “eats”, hydrated when he “drinks”, oxygenated when he “breathes”. And something else happens to the wastes, because the interface never needs to use the Bathroom.

A future adventure is going to have at least one PC exploring within the Dimensional Interface, at which point the “how’s” of these functions will have to be explained. I have answers to them (that I am not going to mention here), but by contemplating the concept of a bunch of bubbles of “solid nothing” and multidimensional topology, those ideas suddenly became a whole lot more robust. But, since I didn’t have time to write them down, I’m hinting at them here to remind me of them when the time comes!

Social Metaphors

But this also gave me the thought of something being contained within bubbles of something, or voids within something. And that’s a metaphor for isolationism, whether in the form of an isolated group – Assassin’s Guild, Thief’s Guild, Secret Society, Conspiracy – or a lonely individual, stuck in a rut, introverted and friendless – or are they really? Regardless of perceptions, only the most antisocial are truly without friends; the rest simply don’t open up to or recognize those who enjoy their company.

But that throws new light on those less socially-desirable groups. Are they really completely at arms’ length from the society around them? In some cases, they are so antisocial that perhaps this may be the case, but in most cases, there will be a certain tolerance and comradeship from like-minded groups, and there may well be family and personal friends. Even enemy agents have their handlers, and must make a degree of effort to blend in, or they endanger their missions. That means making friends and acquaintances, and no matter how much the agents in question might intend to abuse that relationship in the long term, to the friends and acquaintances (at least until they do), the relationships are genuine.

It’s easy and simplistic to paint such groups as evil or foolish or any of a great many unflattering terms. That makes it easy to mock them, or to parody them in games – and I have to admit to having had “Crazy Survivalists” pop up now and then in my campaigns (and not always have them being wrong), and the occasional Right-wing paramilitary group. With this insight, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to think about either in quite the same way again.

How about those who hold unpopular, deranged, or downright stupid ideas? Flat Earthers, conspiracy theorists and Anti-Vaxxers, for example? Again, it’s easy to deride such people and groups, and that’s just as foolish. Mock their opinions, if you must – but remember that there’s a person on the other end of that tweet, a person who may simply be trapped in the internet echo-chamber, denied any opportunity to see the flaws and fallacies in their positions.

But what of those who commit crimes? Appreciating them as individuals with their own tale to tell may or may not mitigate their crimes, but the social function of protecting society remains the paramount consideration. Those who commit crimes or frauds for personal gain without compunction, the corrupt, and sociopaths and psychopaths remain pet hates. Call them the Amoral, if you want a collective term. I would quite contentedly lock all such up – in effect, putting them in a bubble within society, whether they like it or not.

The Aero Bar makes a powerful social metaphor. Embracing it will make your depictions of radical groups of any sort more realistic and more human – and may just make you and your players better people in the process.

Secret Lore

I’m not done, yet!

Knowledge is never uniformly distributed. If you were to draw a circle to represent only those with a given skill or expertise and leave the rest of the map blank, you end up with something that looks an awful lot like bubbles, clustered in areas of appropriate population density, background, and economic circumstance.

In a small rural community, there might only be one or two people who know anything much about Dinosaurs. Or “Walking With Dinosaurs” may have been the hot topic of conversation for weeks after it was aired. Or there may be fossils in the vicinity, making dinosaurs part of the tourism industry for that community – and attracting experts in the field. If the settlement is too small to even have a school of its’ own, there might even be no-one who knows anything substantial about paleontology.

Think for a moment about the distribution of those with traditional Blacksmithing skills. Are there people out there right now who could take an iron bar and turn it into a horseshoe? The answer is certainly ‘yes’ – medieval re-enactors, if nothing else! And those who do ‘cowboy things’ for tourists. And, perhaps, those in less-developed parts of the world – South America? Africa? Parts of Asia?

The same principles apply to secret knowledge – something like some Necromantic Ritual, for example. Individuals with such knowledge would seem to be relatively isolated bubbles, at first glance. But knowledge is useless unless shared; so chosen apprentices might well receive some extra training, and one bubble becomes two or three. Initially, these would be clustered, but as the apprentices broke out and began their own careers, they would disperse.

On top of that, there is a discomfort to keeping a secret whenever you are reminded of that secret; the common expression of this is that a secret can “eat you up” or “consume you”. This discomfort can be alleviated by talking to someone else with the same problem. That’s the basic conceptual principle behind support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. So, from time to time, possessors of this secret knowledge might get together to scratch each other’s “itch”.

Furthermore, there are always social dynamics at work. Mages might prefer to live and work in isolation, unbothered by the world, but they still need to eat, buy supplies, and so on. There might be a social force tending to drive them away from population centers, but there is another force pulling them into such centers, because that’s where the work is. Whenever you have two opposing forces of varying intensity, the human tendency is for an unstable oscillation to occur – so mages might spend three months a year earning what they needed for the rest of the year and then absent themselves to study in peace and quiet. Or it might be a quarterly cycle, or a monthly one; or even a weekly one, or might even vary between these time periods depending on circumstances, which is probably the most likely scenario of all.

(1) Five have a secret. (2) They pass it on to selected Apprentices. (3) The Apprentices ‘Graduate,’ and now eleven know the secret. (4) They pass it on to selected Apprentices. (5) The apprentices graduate, and now 23 know the secret. Note that four of them at any given time are contained within the largest settlement, possibly the capital city, while the others are dispersed. (6) A few more tell apprentices who graduate, and migrate. Every town in the region now has at least one person who knows the secret – and each then tells one or more selected apprentices. 57 now know the secret, including a substantial cluster in the city. Observe that one of the original secret-bearers has died, leaving an apprentice who knows the secret (in the lower left area). Five to 57 in roughly three ‘generations’.

Of course, they would normally take their apprentices with them, if they were going to be away for any significant period of time; anyone who has seen Fantasia knows what happens when a Sorcerer’s Apprentice doesn’t have enough supervision! The effect is for these isolated clusters of bubbles to drift in and out of population centers – the larger the population center, the more likely it is that two or more of the possessors of the secret will be present at any given time.

And, of course, it’s always easier to recruit gifted apprentices from an urban environment.

Over time, the population count of those with access to the secret will grow, unless positive steps are made to contain it. But it’s easy for that kind of caution to go too far, and for a secret to start dying out. That, of course, might be what the original holders of the secret wanted to achieve!

That’s why 99.99% of conspiracy theories are hokum – I have in mind things like the alleged ‘faking of the moon landings’. So many people would have known the secret that it could never have been kept, and by now, everyone would know. Even completely disregarding the physical proof, the ‘theory’ falls apart under its own weight.

Does that mean that conspiracies of this size are impossible? Not at all. What the Nazis were doing in the death camps was kept secret from the general German populace; it stayed a secret for a few years, at most. How some people can doubt the truth of such horrid events, can entertain the notion that it was all faked for some reason, is beyond me; by now, the “truth” of such a cover-up would be as widespread as knowledge of World War II is.

All this becomes significant under two circumstances: one, something happens to make the knowledge relevant and the possessor becomes aware of the circumstance and seeks out someone to do something about the situation (usually with oaths of secrecy being involved); that ‘someone’ could be the ruling authority, or it could be the PCs. If it’s the ruling authority, they then presumable involve the PCs, telling them only what they ‘need to know’ and no more. Or, two, someone becomes aware that the secret exists, deduces or sets a trap to identify the possessors, and proceeds to make contact with them. Either way, secrets have a way of getting out.

You don’t need to count settlements on your map; it’s easy to do mathematically. I started with 5, and added 6 apprentices. That gave 11. The 11 added 12 apprentices, giving 23. The 23 added three or four more apprentices, giving around 26; the 26 then added 32 apprentices, and one of the original 5 died, giving 57. In the next generation (not illustrated), the numbers would roughly double once again, and most of the remaining original 4 would die off – about 110.

Considering this to be the area of a circle gives a rough indication of the growth of the region in which the secret is readily accessible. The area of the new head-count is roughly given by pi times r squared; we don’t know the original size (I deliberately left off a scale), but what we want is the ratio of the increase in area from one generation to the next.

110 = pi . r ^2; r = 5.917.
57 = pi. r2 ^ 2; r = 4.259.
5.917 – 4.259 = increase in radius = 1.685.
Divide this by r2 and multiply by 100: 38.9%.
So the increase in area is roughly 40% of the size of the map – 20% in every direction.

You can even estimate the number of generations to ‘saturation’ if you know how big the total area is, relative to the original map. Let’s say that this is one-ninth of the total: then all you need to do is square each increase.

1 x 1.4 = 1.4 (4th generation).
1.4 x 1.4 = 1.96 (5th generation).
1.96 x 1.4 = 2.744 (6th generation).
2.744 x 1.4 = 3.8416 (7th generation).
3.8416 x 1.4 = 5.37824 (8th generation).
5.37824 x 1.4 = 7.529536 (9th generation).
7.529536 x 1.4 = 10.5413504 (10th generation).

What’s more, we can estimate the total number who will know the secret at this point, based on 4th generation = 110. It’s 110x(9×9/1.4) = 6,364.28571429. So 6.364 is the ‘saturation point’ of a secret in a political area nine times the size of the one shown; when that many know it, there will be one person in almost every community and several in all the larger ones. We can apply the same scale – without the /1.4 – to the number last shown in the city on the map: 12x(9×9) = 972. Almost 1,000 people in that city will know the secret.

Five people might be able to keep a secret. 6,364? Not likely. If each generation of apprentices is 10 years apart (and 4-5 is more traditionally likely), it’s about 85 years to reach that 6,364. Can you imagine that many people keeping a secret for that long? No chance.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a sinister secret. It could be a trade secret, or a recipe, or a design for nails, or an architectural style, or some improvement in the design of armor.

The design of the A-bomb was one of the most tightly-held secrets of World War II. The Russians got it through espionage. Stalin Knew that his spies were delivering up these secrets during the Potsdam Conference at which the post WW-II political world was shaped by the Allies, which is why he was not cowed by the vague hints at a super-weapon dropped by Truman. Their first successful nuclear test was in 1949. Despite being undermanned and under-equipped, the Soviet project took virtually the same time as the whatever-they-need Manhattan Project. The “Nuclear Club” has only grown since.

Economic Metaphors

I mentioned trade secrets in the previous section, and that got me to thinking about the application of the metaphor to economic activity. Half the work on this has already been done in that section, so let’s look at what’s left.

“Bubbles” are of course already a metaphor for various economic phenomena – Housing Bubbles and Tech Bubbles being the two most obvious examples.

Housing first: Everyone talks about “Housing Bubbles” as though they were nationwide. They aren’t; the fact that this phenomenon refers to the constituent parts of settlements inherently ties them to population centers, and the size of the community is a factor in the size of the housing bubble. But even when talking about a single city, some areas will be experiencing “bubble inflation” while in others the real estate market can be stagnant or even receding.

In fact, since there are no statistical “rules” for the valuation of any given property, even when you look at individual suburbs or districts within a city, you find that some areas are “inflating” faster than others. In fact, every time you look closely at one of these housing bubbles, you find that it’s actually composed of smaller bubbles – until you get down to the level of individual dwellings, the “indivisible atom” of housing. A “housing bubble” is really composed of a sort of “housing foam” – it’s more like the internal structure of an Aero bar, in other words.

And, like the chocolate walls of an Aero Bar, the constituent bubbles of this foam have a certain level of resilience. We’ve been hearing that we’re in a real estate bubble that’s about to burst for at least a year, here in Australia. The Reserve Bank, which controls housing interest rates, would like to increase them in order to take pressure off the bubbles before they burst, because that tends to be a chain reaction that starts in one or more locations and spreads; but debt levels are so high that doing so would result in other forms of economic distress that would be even more damaging to the economy.

Median Housing Prices (Melbourne) to income ratio, 1965-2013
By Stephenwratten78 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Click on the thumbnail for the full-sized image.

This is not a new story here in Australia; I’ve heard it reported several times over the last 40 years. In fact, some suggest that the housing bubble has been inflating since 2001. In fact, the big upswing shown on the accompanying chart starts in 1996-97. It was headline news last year when the average price for a family home in Sydney topped the AU$1,000,000 mark.

Of course, some buildings contain more than one dwelling. Apartment blocks and other forms of what we consider “Medium Density Housing” can have hundreds of dwellings, though the more common numbers would be in the lower-middle double-digits – perhaps 25-30. In other words, some of the ‘single building’ bubbles are composed of still smaller bubbles!

One way that the ‘heat’ can be taken out of the housing market is to increase the number of apartments for sale. If three houses become thirty apartments, that’s a significant increase in the ability to satisfy demand, and a significant downward pressure on the price of such dwellings. In my part of Sydney, there are more than 50 apartment blocks being constructed at the moment (my personal count is 54 – that I know of). If they have an average of 30 apartments each, for an average of 2.5 residents per apartment, that’s 4,050 people that can be accommodated in the space that 54x3x2.5=405 people used to occupy – a tenfold increase.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In a corridor along the railway line that connects me to the CBD, the government wants to house an additional 100,000 families over the next 20 years or so, more than 250,000 more people. 54 developments is small potatoes! In effect, they want to take a LOT of small bubbles and divide each of them into a lot of even smaller bubbles. (The good news for residents like myself is that all this construction will push rents down. And other improvements are mooted, too – better rail services, more shops, and so on).

They expect that they will get a lot of immigrant settlement. I think that they will also get a lot of pensioners, retirees, and unemployed, because rental distress is a very real problem for these groups. When I first moved into my current apartment, the rent was $1 per week more than my weekly income! Students will also find these affordable properties.

That’s not a bad thing. A diversity of population – age, nationality, etc – makes a place more interesting. Migrants to Australia tend to bring the best of their homelands with them and shuck the rest. There are exceptions of course, but I’ve known lots of them and they have almost-universally been friendly and welcoming, save when provoked. The local district boast Greek, Tongan, Turkish, Egyptian, Italian, American, New Zealand, Indian, South African, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Maltese influences – and that’s without looking hard (In fact, on the last census numbers released, my suburb was one of Australia’s most diverse, with residents of 127 nationalities (Each of those represents a different sort of bubble, too, while we’re talking analogies – a bubble of individual culture).

Okay, so let’s look at the application of all this to RPGs.

Most games don’t concern themselves with property values, or not directly. One area of a city will be wealthy, another will be poor, a third will contain industry, and there will be somewhere ‘middle class’ – all relative valuations, of course. But there are two secondary effects that should be present in every game – the relevance of overheads to the price of goods and services, and (more directly) the impact on the price of accommodation in hotels and inns and the like.

I use a scale of from x0.5 to x3 of the listed price for the latter and x0.25 to x1.5 for the former, based on 6 categories.

In other words, I rank each area within a city (in terms of prosperity) on a 1-6 scale. Divide it by 2 to get the relative price of accommodation, divide it by 4 to get the relative price of goods. I also base availability on these values, more by instinct and common sense than anything else – if the people of that economic level want a commodity, it will be available, if they don’t then there are poor chances of finding it.

On top of that, there’s a city-wide overall modifier – 1-8 scale, divided by 4.

After applying that, I multiply by (0.5 plus d10/10) to value individual streets, and do the same thing again to get individual buildings.

Except that I don’t do any of that – not quite the way it’s written. Chance can bias the results, and so can judgments, by applying the same factor more than once. For example, a city is prosperous, so it has a large high-value sector and a small poor sector. But you then apply the city-wide modifier to that, and you bias the results. Instead, I divide the city as evenly as possible amongst the different economic rankings. That lets me load all the bias into the city-wide overall factor.

Let’s do an example.

  • Section 1 (Poor) – rank 1 = accommodations x0.5, goods x0.25.
  • Section 2 (Industrial) – rank 2 = accommodations x1.0, goods x0.5.
  • Section 3 (Temples) – rank 3 = accommodations x1.5, goods x0.75.
  • Section 4 (Middle-class) – rank 4 = accommodations x2, goods x1.
  • Section 5 (Merchants) – rank 5 = accommodations x2.5, goods x1.25.
  • Section 6 (Wealthy) – rank 6 = accommodations x3, goods x1.5.

Now, let’s rank the city as 6 out 8 for prosperity:

  • City Factor = 6/4 = x1.5.
  • Section 1 (Poor) – rank 1 = accommodations x0.5×1.5= x0.75, goods x0.25×1.5= x0.375.
  • Section 2 (Industrial) – rank 2 = accommodations x1.0x1.5= x1.5, goods x0.5×1.5= x0.75.
  • Section 3 (Temples) – rank 3 = accommodations x1.5×1.5= x2.25, goods x0.75×1.5= x1.125.
  • Section 4 (Middle-class) – rank 4 = accommodations x2x1.5= x3, goods x1x1.5= x1.5.
  • Section 5 (Merchants) – rank 5 = accommodations x2.5×1.5= x3.75, goods x1.25×1.5= x1.875.
  • Section 6 (Wealthy) – rank 6 = accommodations x3x1.5= x4.75, goods x1.5×1.5= x2.25.

I’ll divide up the streets as evenly as possible amongst the 10 possible values. I’m not going to do all of them in this example, let’s pick a couple of examples from a couple of different sections:

  • City Factor = 6/4 = x1.5.
  • Section 1 (Poor) – rank 1 = accommodations x0.5×1.5= x0.75, goods x0.25×1.5= x0.375.
    • Rank 1 street = x0.6 = accommodations x0.75×0.6 = x0.45, goods x0.375×0.6 = 0.225.
    • Rank 5 Street = x1 = accommodations x0.75×1 = x0.75, goods x0.375×1 = 0.375.
    • Rank 7 Street = x1.2 = accommodations x0.75×1.2 = x0.9, goods x0.375×1.2 = 0.45.
  • Section 2 (Industrial) – rank 2 = accommodations x1.0x1.5= x1.5, goods x0.5×1.5= x0.75.
    • Rank 1 street = x0.6 = accommodations x1.5×0.6 = x0.9, goods x0.75×0.6 = x0.45.
    • Rank 5 Street = x1 = accommodations x1.5×1 = x1.5, goods x0.75×1 = x0.75.
    • Rank 7 Street = x1.2 = accommodations x1.5×1.2 = x1.8, goods x0.75×1.2 = x0.9.
  • Section 3 (Temples) – rank 3 = accommodations x1.5×1.5= x2.25, goods x0.75×1.5= x1.125.
  • Section 4 (Middle-class) – rank 4 = accommodations x2x1.5= x3, goods x1x1.5= x1.5.
  • Section 5 (Merchants) – rank 5 = accommodations x2.5×1.5= x3.75, goods x1.25×1.5= x1.875.
    • Rank 1 street = x0.6 = accommodations x2.25×0.6 = x1.35, goods x1.125×0.6 = x0.675.
    • Rank 5 Street = x1 = accommodations x3x1 = x3, goods x1.5×1 = x1.5.
    • Rank 7 Street = x1.2 = accommodations x3.75×1.2 = x4.5, goods x1.875×1.2 = x2.25.
  • Section 6 (Wealthy) – rank 6 = accommodations x3x1.5= x4.75, goods x1.5×1.5= x2.25.

Why haven’t I done full example? Because I don’t really do this either, not in practice. The players tell me what part of town they are going to. I ask them what sort of place they are looking for (if it’s accommodations) or what they are shopping for (if it’s goods). If the place they are looking for is a clean, decent inn at a reasonable price, say, I will compare the ‘district rating’, as modified by the city bias with that description and choose a street modifier and building modifier accordingly. Instead of calculating a whole range of values, and only using a few of them, I calculate one value that gives me a direct answer, relative to the prices marked in the Core Rules.

For example, looking for a “clean, decent inn at a reasonable price” in the poor sector? That’s only going to be on the best street in the quarter, and it’s going to be one of the best buildings on that street – ratings of 8 and 7 out of 8, respectively:

  • Section 1 (Poor) – rank 1 = accommodations x0.75, goods x0.375.
    • Rank 10 street = x1.5, Rank 7 building = x1.2. Accommodations x0.75×1.5×1.2 = = x1.35, goods x0.375×1.5×1.2 = x0.675.

If, on the other hand, they were to look in the Mercantile part of town, clean and decent would be the expected minimum standard on all but (perhaps) the worst streets [rank 2], while ‘affordable’ is going to be the cheapest building on that street [rank 1]:

  • Section 5 (Merchants) – rank 5 = accommodations x3.75, goods x1.875.
    • Rank 2 street = x0.7, Rank 1 building = x0.6. Accommodations x3.75×0.7×0.6 = x1.575, goods x1.875×0.7×0.6 = x0.7875.

In other words, I can define an entire city as:

  • City Factor = 6/4 = x1.5.
  • Section 1 (Poor) – rank 1 = accommodations x0.75, goods x0.375.
  • Section 2 (Industrial) – rank 2 = accommodations x1.5, goods x0.75.
  • Section 3 (Temples) – rank 3 = accommodations x2.25, goods x1.125.
  • Section 4 (Middle-class) – rank 4 = accommodations x3, goods x1.5.
  • Section 5 (Merchants) – rank 5 = accommodations x3.75, goods x1.875.
  • Section 6 (Wealthy) – rank 6 = accommodations x4.75, goods x2.25.

Of course, not all cities will allocate their districts that way. In a city that specializes in carving Marble for shipment elsewhere, Industry might be in Rank 5 (with everything else sliding down as necessary. An especially pious community, or a Church that’s gouging the parishioners, might be in Rank 5 or Rank 6.Each city is different. In some cities, instead of “Industrial” you might have “Fishermen”.

This converts narrative and dialogue with the players into Overheads – based on the structure of an Aero Bar.

Solid areas of color in a map vs cells of negative space

Click on the image to see a larger version.


What’s wrong with this map? The one below it is clearly superior, but what’s the difference?

Bubbles. Or, more precisely, cells. The second map has had multiple layers of different sizes and densities cut through the forest, turning stands of trees into bubbles – some filled, some not. Something similar has been done with the grassland.

Suddenly, it becomes clear where the logging roads – which don’t even exist on the first map – should go. In addition, little bubbles of scrub have been dotted here and there on the grassland.

Any topological phenomenon can be depicted as bubbles, filled with this color or that. A forest here. A clump of trees there. Mountains (the one change I didn’t make, fearing that they would leave the relationship between the two maps obscured).

Even the grassland can be considered a bubble, with water on at least two sides, separated by the occasional bubble of beach sand.

When it comes to mapping, what’s in the bubbles is more important than what isn’t.

The results are clearly a far more photo-realistic map, for not a lot more effort. (The example took more because I wanted to build map 2 out of map 1, something I normally wouldn’t have done.

Always remember, small bubbles of terrain within larger bubbles of context.

Reality Foam

From out of left field, this term wafted into my consciousness. It is completely meaning-free at this point, and yet it sounds so cool that I couldn’t leave it out.

What might it mean? Well, I’m of the opinion that extra-dimensional travel should be as diverse and contain as many natural dangers as any form of overland travel, so I’m always on the lookout for more ideas for such dangers, and this seems to fit the concept.

So: Reality Foam results from the failure of a potential universe / prime material plane to coalesce and may be found in any of the inner planes save the Prime Material Plane. It is created when inner planes mingle or ‘rub’ against each other. It is a ‘foaming’ or ‘curdling’ of the surrounding environment which poses a great danger to travelers; any who encounter it ‘attempt’ (involuntarily) to transit into dozens or even hundreds of nascent planes simultaneously, causing a massive disruption of the bodily / spiritual tissues. Damage received is 1 per point of WIS and 1d6 per hit dice or CON, whichever is higher. e.g. a character with Will 14 Con 16 and 8 HD would received 16d6+14 damage.

This damage is halved on a Fortitude / CON save. Characters who are ‘killed’ by this process will reintegrate after the passing of foam from the vicinity; this will take 1 day for each point of damage sustained. Reintegrated characters have 1 hp and permanently lose one point each of Str, Con, Int, Int, Wis, and Cha. One of these losses can be restored magically; the others require the use of one Wish each.

There is a theory that suggests that Reality Foam dissipates over many years as they drift away from the inner planes, each ‘bubble’ or ‘pocket’ of nascent reality scattering into the outer planes where, under the right circumstances, they can become the ‘core’ of an outer plane. Such theories fail because no-one has been able to suggest what those “right circumstances,” or the processes involved, might be – but the theory persists, nevertheless.

Another theory suggests that the Prime Material Plane will eventually dissolve back into the Reality Foam -like state that it was in prior to coalescence, i.e. that the stability of the plane is an illusion over the very long term. From time to time, would-be nihilists and overconfident mages attempt to accelerate this process, but none have yet found a means of doing so. Nevertheless, those entities that support or benefit from the existence of mortals – Gods, Demigods, Devils and Demons – actively oppose such efforts, and they are one of the few things that can unite these natural enemies. In order to minimize friction between them – they are not natural allies – they normally work through mortal proxies so as to remain at Arm’s Length from the action.

Structures within blood plasma called Dutcher and Russell Bodies

Structures within blood plasma called Dutcher and Russell Bodies
by Gabriel Caponetti – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Cell Structures

Cells are very similar to the ‘holes’ in an Aero Bar; they are always contained by some medium, whether that be air, blood, water, or some other biological fluid. That containing medium is often forgotten; we laymen tend to think of the cells and their importance as though they were all there are.

Take muscle fibers. Most people will have some idea of their shape and behavior from high school biology. But people think of muscles as “solid”, as though the muscle cells were glued together. But they can’t be – you need to get food and oxygen to each cell, and remove the wastes, and then there are the nerve fibers that have to run through the muscle to activate the fibers. The reality is clearly a lot more complicated than the superficial thoughts most people have on the subject.

This gets interesting when we think about obviously non-human body structures, such as those of the Beholder, or of some alien species. Their tissues don’t have to be anything like those of humans, and neither does the chemistry that enables them to function, and therefore neither does the inter-cellular medium. Most GMs don’t invest a lot of thought in this subject; commonly, at most, the blood will be an unusual color.

Some of the most fascinating articles I ever read in The Dragon were the “Biology of”… series. I didn’t always agree with the content, but it never failed to be inspirational. Not even the author – whose name I am now unsure of – went into cellular structures and biochemistry, probably because you need a degree in medicine or veterinary medicine to really get deeply into it. Nevertheless, even a layman’s understanding can be useful to the GM in individualizing races, simply because we can get creative without having to make more than a passing nod at plausibility.

For example: Black Dragons have Hydrofluoric acid as the medium through which their blood cells travel. This is one of the strongest known acids in chemistry (depending on the concentration, of course). They have Damage Reduction vs Magic not because they are inherently resistant or even magically protected, but because non-magical weapons dissolve to the point of being worthless virtually as soon as they make contact with interior tissues. Blood sprays and splashes therefore become another defensive mechanism for the species, and acid splash damage can be inflicted in combat (in addition to all the other attacks they have). Worse yet, they are intelligent enough to observe these effects and use them to their advantage. “Black Dragon Splash” would reduce AC, inflict to-hit penalties, and do damage to characters exposed. They simultaneously become more ‘realistic’ and more dangerous.

Every ‘exotic creature’ should have some unique attribute in terms of the ‘alchemic properties’ of one of their organs, something else that GMs rarely think of (PCs get enough treasure as it is), though a few do. Hardly any of them think about whether or not these properties reflect real traits of the race, and even fewer actually amend the creature descriptions to incorporate an interesting biological effect.

This is a lost opportunity! Goblin Blood might polymerize into a protective coagulant upon exposure to the air, closing wounds and gunking up weapons that break their skins. I think it was Owlbears who used to have Gold in their Gizzards in AD&D, though memory may be playing me false; well, that needs a biological explanation (why?) and a mechanism (how?), and those will have repercussions for combat with Owlbears. How does the gold get into the Owlbear’s system? Perhaps they have gold-based blood (instead of iron or copper, the two most common such chemicals in fiction) and they naturally consume gold-bearing rocks, which dissolve in a second (or third or fourth) stomach. There aren’t many acids that will dissolve gold. Aqua Regia, a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, will do it. Aqua Regia is a yellow-orange fuming liquid. The fumes are composed of chlorine gas and nitric oxide (NO) that auto-oxidizes to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a poisonous reddish-brown gas. So, wound an Owlbear too seriously, and your eyes will start to water, your lungs will burn, you may collapse into a coughing fit, and – if you’re really unlucky and score an arterial hit (a critical), you may cop a spray of this stuff – something that will eat away at armor and weapons and gold and platinum…

Think a little about the biology of your unusual creatures when you know they are going to appear, and turn that biology to your advantage. You may have promised the players (implicitly) that their characters would earn XP and loot; you never (I hope) promised that it would be easy!

Nanotech Delivery Systems

The final thought that I have for the sharing takes us back to where we started – chocolate with bubbles containing something, and a Sci-Fi interpretation of them. I was wrapping up my notes for this anthology-styled article when one final thought came to me: Consumer bio-nanotechnology is something that is tipped to become a staple of medicine over the next fifty years. I’ve read suggestions that a daily regimen of nanobots will clean our arteries of fats before the can clog them; repair/boost/supplement the immune system; confer immunities against specific diseases like cancer by targeting the malformed cells at a cellular level, and much more. Every suggestion I’ve seen has these being delivered in a plastic pill, if it gets mentioned at all, though I once saw one suggestion that they might be suspended in a drinkable yogurt – this from the manufacturer of such drinks, I should add.

Why not in a chocolate bar? Different flavors for different nanobot functions. Your complete daily medical regimen in a snack, the nanobot equivalent of a multivitamin?

Why not, indeed? But now, all this thinking and talking about Chocolate is making me hungry…

The Hall Of Shame

I have decided to name-and-shame the worst spammers assaulting Campaign Mastery every six months or so. This is more to warn readers of the blog that if you are reliant on the services of these companies, you may face ongoing difficulties in accessing the site, than it is to criticize the companies.

My anti-spam process has 3065 spam currently logged. Because records expire unless refreshed with a new offence, this is considerably less than the total spam recieved since it was first implemented. It is currently tracking 877 offenders either as individual IP addresses or as networks, world-wide. Currently, 100 individual IP addresses are serving sentences that range from life to mere days, as are 120 networks.

Life Sentences

Policy is for these to be blocked for 28 days after each spam, will be paroled if they go 3 months spam-free, plus one month for every 1000 days of sentence. With one exception, spam-free periods are currently measured in days or weeks, and none of these have earned one of those extra months of probation.

  • 192.210.128-255.* [ColoCrossing, USA] (30 spam) 212 days
  • 46.118-119.*.* [Golden Telecom, Ukraine] (28 spam) 160 days – now 1.5 months spam-free
  • 104.227.*.* [B2 Net Solutions, USA] (19 spam) 151 days
  • 198.12.64-127.* [Colocrossing, USA] (22 spam) 144 days
  • 198.46.128-255.* [Colocrossing, USA] (21 spam) 119 days
  • 192.186.128-191.* [B2 Net Solutions] (19 spam) 122 days

“Locked up” pending Final Appeal of Life Sentences

These all result from a big spam surge over February and March. Almost all of these are open-and-shut cases, but the process takes time. The worst offender (assuming that they stop all spamming activities) will come off probation only after being completely spam-free for 18 continuous months!

Note that there are other factors than spam count employed in meting out sentences; in particular high spam density and frequency of recurring spam events are both significant. This is why it is possible to have a higher ‘sentence’ for a lower total spam-count compared to another ISP, as illustrated by the last two entries on this list.

  • 107.172-175.*.* [ColoCrossing, USA] (248 spam) 15,878 days
  • 104.144.*.* [B2 Net Solutions, USA] (113 spam) 3,822 days
  • 23.94-95.*.* [ColoCrossing, USA] (95 spam) 3,231 days
  • 192.227.128-255.* [ColoCrossing, USA] (75 spam) 1,516 days
  • 192.3.*.* [New Wave NetConnect, USA] (60 spam) 1,243 days
  • 172.245.*.* [ICK Networks, USA] (59 spam) 966 days
  • 198.23.128-255.* [New Wave NetConnect, USA] (51 spam) 292 days
  • 23.229.0-127.* [Server Mania Inc, USA] (42 spam) 578 days
  • and 6 more of lesser ‘sentences’.

Life Sentences in Isolation

The only grounds for appeal against “Life Imprisonments” are a sufficient degree of adverse effects on ordinary would-be users of the site. Unfortunately, the only way to measure that is to block the network and count the hits.

While only two actual cases of inaccessibility to the site caused to a reader by the anti-spam techniques employed are known to me, the process automatically looks for cases where this might be the case and deals with ‘members’ of the ‘gang’ individually. These are also blocked for 28 days after each spam, and will be paroled if they go 3 months spam-free plus one week for every 100 days of sentence.

  • [seodedic, St Petersburg, Russia] (90 spam) 3,091 days
  • [Petersburg Internet Network ltd., St Petersburg, Russia] (16 spam) 102 days
  • [VHOSTER-NET, Ukraine] (13 spam + hacking attempt) 92 days
  • and 8 more of lesser ‘sentences’.
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