Work related posts have been moved.

9 November, 2010

My work and computing related posts are now at

If you have come here from a work-related perspective (computing, semweb, bioinformatics, math). Perhaps you could go there right now and not read the gory personal stuff here.

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Brother Warming

14 September, 2016

But as the demons companions began to materialize, its summoning was interrupted, and Drodja stepped forward again and slew the monster in a single blow. Brother Warming ground out in frustration: “Dammit, I just dropped my two best buffs!”. Reverend Cleophothus looked at him quizzically, asking “Would you have preferred to fight three vrocks?” Brother Warming – honest in the heat of battle – exclaimed “Yes!”, and headed up around the corridor looking for more demons to fight.

“Yes!”, he would rather find more demons to fight. “Yes”, he craved honest battle with a simple foe. It is not for nothing that a man abandons his name and his past, and takes a name “Warming-light-of-Sarenrae”. Long ago he had fled an enemy not simple, but devious and subtle. A lifetime ago he had fled into the arms of the goddess of sunlight and health, of purity and cleansing, of simple green and growing things. The first prayer he had practiced until he perfected it was “light” – Sarenrae’s light, yellow-white and warm, with all the promise of summer. It was his talisman, his promise that his goddess was with him always.

Yes, he sought combat. It occupied the mind. He greatly feared that something of the enemy that he had long ago fled might be ahead of them. Waiting.


Baisek

13 September, 2016

Damn I hope my message pouch still works. Baisek Toasten is “The Occultist”, from “13 True Ways”.

Dearest Mother,

I write in hope that this message finds you in continued good health, as is mine thanks be to all the gods. (or something like that). This letter concerns certain peculiarities about the magics of one of my companions; which has been something of a mystery to me for some time; and, having become more acquainted with it earlier today, I am at something of a loss as to what might be the import of it. Which is to say, perhaps Father should know.

I travel with a dwarf, one Baisek Toasten. He is a user of magic, but not a wizard, or sorcerer, or necromancer, or divine caster, or – in short – any form of magic that I am familiar with or have ever heard of. He is certainly self-trained, but his magics are not driven by passion in the same way that those of a sorcerer are. On occasion, he would mention “threads” – moving them, manipulating them. It seemed to me that this was as good a metaphor for what we do as any other, and I thought not much more of it.

A recent incident that I was not privy to had put him into some sort of induced insensibility for about two days. Last night, I resolved to take action. Baisek is bonded to a magical item, a stone orb (originally some sort of geode I believe), and so it seemed I might be able to reach him though a Speak With Item ritual thought that orb.

The ritual I believe was a success, although Elsbeth did interfere and credits Baisek’s awakening to her intervention. I suppose we will never know if Baisek awoke from his magical coma because I had managed to make some sort of contact with his soul through an item bonded to him; or if it was because Elsbeth stabbed him to wake him up. It is an enigma, and shall remain forever a mystery.

In any case, Baisek and I “got to talking” as they say. As near as I can make out, the threads that he speaks of are threads of time, or perhaps ‘fate’ is a better word. He assists we his allies in battle by somehow altering the outcome of what would have otherwise happened, or by augmenting a blow by adding to it the blow from another possible reality, so doubling it. I am persuaded that he is being truthful – I have several times noticed the effects of his magics which, while not especially showy or obvious, are indeed visible to the eye.

Recently, I was entrusted by Edmund of the Circle of Four with a certain book; which describes certain aspects of astrology and the overworld; and from which I have been supplementing my studies. “As above, So below”, but that simple formula unpacks into – well – hundreds of pages, and really this book merely scratches the surface. The Gods decide our fates, or orchestrate it, or perhaps argue over it; but nevertheless certainly have something to do with it; and we see this in the motions of the stars above us. There is a resonance between the courses of the stars in the sky and human affairs, and the stars are manifestations of the gods – their thoughts, perhaps, their will.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Now, it’s all very well to credit the gods with great grand designs, but all plans however grand must come down to action, to events “on the ground”. All strategy must be implemented through logistics and tactics. If the gods influence human affairs, then that influence must in the end come down to the outcome of a sword blow, a rogue wave on the sea. “And all for the want of a horseshoe nail”, as the saying goes.

The question then is: what do we make of a dwarf who more-or-less directly – as he puts it – pulls on the strings of fate? Oh, only in a very limited way, of course, in a limited scope. For now. As far as I have seen. But nevertheless, fate – the province of the gods. Is he a servant of the gods? A messenger, a pawn, a priest? Is he an an offence to them, a blasphemy, an abberation? A mere mortal interference to their plans? Does he wrest these “strings” from their hands? Does he merely tug a little on the strings that are already in place?

All I really know is that Baisek himself does not know.

Perhaps I make too much of this. Perhaps there are places where “fate magic’ is quite common. It’s simply that the things that Baisek tries to describe and the things I am reading in this book seem to be – seem to be two different ways of saying the same thing, if that makes sense. It may not be a coincidence that we travel to Santa Cora. If someone is pulling us by the string, I hope they mean well.

I should be grateful for any insight into the matter.

Your most obedient son,
James.


Drewf’s mini-campaign finale

6 September, 2016

Well, Drewf’s mini-campaign is done. A good time was had by all. And he finished up with a tie-in to Andy’s campaign.

In the end, the amulet was the lich’s phylactery, with a gold dragon bound into it which was released when the amulet was destroyed. The ruby was destroyed by the final blow to the lich (what kind of idiot lich wears his phylactery?), and I was like “oh noes, we failed the misson”, but our principal wanted the amulet found and was happy with that, and we also retrieved a stack of dragon loot for the Zero Company kitty.

The gold dragon was expecting some other group. The dudes from Zero Company were not “the ones”. He (?) killed the occultist, nicely making way for another one to be born (as there can only ever be one). Our actions also released a load of dead gods, at least one of whom has been reborn in our main campaign.

Notes:

  • The 13th age Ranger is a DPS beast. John rolled a quadruple crit at one point. Insane. Crit range bufs can stack in 13th age, so for his first attack he was critting on 15-20 or something ridiculous like that.
  • My druid build tanked like a goddamn tank. He had 60 hp, dead at -30. Came back – by himself– from taking a 60 hp hit and being 20 hp down to being pretty much good to go. Druid regeneration, d10 recovery dice, and the rule that if you get healing you start at 0 (13th age is a forgiving, casual game system). A potion from a concerned party member fixed the rest of the damage.

Prize for coolest character went to AJ’s cigar-chomping dwarven crossbow ranger, who regrettably was not there for the final battle. Nearly half our original party did not make it out of the tomb alive. I expect the rest of the company poured out a beer onto the ground for them, and then went on to even more exciting and mercenary adventures.

Next week Andy is back on board. We will mainly be doign talk, catch-up, and sorting out characters out. Everyone is 4th level.


Weird and difficult to explain

29 July, 2016

Here’s some refugees from war-torn Syria, or something:

Now ain’t that the oddest collection of war refugees you ever saw? The more you think about it, the stranger it appears.

Where are the missing limbs and eyes, the shrapnel injuries? Where are the wives and little babies? Where are the carts or bags with the pitiful remains of what’s left of their lost home, gone forever? Where are the pleading eyes, the ribs visible from hunger?

Why are all of these refugees well-fed, fit, healthy young men of military age?

Remember, kids: ‘jihad’ is simply the Arabic word for ‘crusade’. That’s what the word means. It means ‘crusade’. There’s a crusade going on right now as we speak, and these fit young men are crusaders. They have traveled to Europe to demonstrate their faith in God and submission to his will by carrying out the holy work of killing the infidel.

That’s what’s going on. It really is that simple. This is not a crowd of refugees. This is an invading army. That’s why – for instance – there is so much rape going on in Sweden at the hands of these refugees. Rape is what armies do. Like looting, it’s a perk of the job.

The nation that doesn’t shoot these young men at the border (or at the very least turn them back) will get and are getting exactly what you would expect.


The Purge

20 July, 2016

The dreams again. Destruction. Fire. Judgement. Most of all, judgement. Oh it was hard, hard doing the righteous work, rooting out the evil. The wickedness.

Most recent had been the west quarter of the town of Esterven. A sink of depravity. Corruption. There, was the house of the demon alcohol. There, was the place of opium and sweetleaf. There, were there brothels of every orientation, even miscgenation – humans mating with non-humans. There, were the gambling houses, the fighting pits. There, were there rich and poor, male and female, human and halfling, elf and dwarf, their souls black, their spirits bowed low under the weight of their many, many sins.

There, there had been fire. Fire and judgement, and the screams of burning sinners. He had readied himself with the armour of God, he had strode up to the Welcome Arms – worst of the worst, he had kicked in the swinging doors. “Woe unto thee!”, he had cried. “Woe unto thee Apollyon – father of harlots!”

Before the bouncers had made more than a step, he had called down the fire of his god, the fire of cleansing, of purification. The fire of Jehovah. The whiskey exploded, setting light to the bar, filling the whole sink of depravity with the sweet smell of malt and alcohol. The fire had spread. It had been a dry, hot summer, and the west quarter was in disrepair, buildings leaning against one another, the wood dry with rot, alleys choked with tumbleweed. By morning, it had almost all been cleansed.

In his sleep, Reverend Josiah murmured, his hand clutching his hip flask, the whiskey in it untouched since the day of his first vision, the day of his own salvation. His talisman. His temptation. The fine engraving on it, “To Josiah, with love” was overwritten with the symbol of his God, the all-seeing eye inexpertly gouged into the silver with a horseshoe nail.

“Woe unto thee”, he murmured, and turned in his sleep. His faith was strong, his purpose unfaltering. In two days time, he would make Crystalwood. His god urged him along, eager and uncompromising, avid for justice and for kindling.


I’m thinking of building Rev. Josiah as a Hybrid cleric/druid (fire and mountain). I see him as a lanky old western preacher-man – string tie, spurs. The cleric/druid hybrid requires wisdom and strengh, and the mechanics of it just don’t work. Maybe I should just go with druid alone. I had intended him to have a little healing, but meh – less complicated. Or maybe we can just go “screw it – lets make it Wis and Con instead of Str”. Other possibility might be a druid/ranger, but we’d make his ranged weapons guns with the same stats as a crossbow.

Perhaps I should bring some extracts from the more bloodthirsty parts of the bible to go with him – there’s plenty to choose from.

If we are short of characters, someone else could play Badger and I could play the good reverend. Or swap around. Or whatever.

His one unique thing, of course, is that he personally and directly works for the volcano-god Jehovah. I believe that in other worlds, this entity is named Imix – prince of elemental fire.


Messages II

12 July, 2016

I actually wrote this post before I wrote part I. The scene at Lancet House suggested itself, and it seemed a shame to not write it down.

The old man (no name yet) is James’ maternal grandfather. His paternal grandfather is deceased. The marriage between Ducalis and Frances is a fairly typical one: his name, her money. Both the Mallards and the Lancets get a fair bit of advantage. The Lancets get access to some of the more usually inaccessible halls of government; and the Mallards get – well – nobody really respects a coat of arms not backed by at least a little money. The more money, the better.

This is what the scene where grandfather pledges his aid to Ducalis’ faction is about: grandfather understands the nature of the deal that he has made with the Mallards. And in any case, his sympathies rather align with theirs. They are all good people, because this is a happy and positive campaign. As to what the big picture is, the war: heck, I don’t know. All I know is something big is going down and our characters will be in the center of it all.🙂

I see Frances as being quite a bit younger than Ducalis – ten years or so. Again, quite usual for this sort of arrangement. Nevertheless they are – maybe ‘devoted’ is a little strong, but certainly very happy. I had intended for Frances to be a bit more quiet and shrewd, sort of counterbalancing Andy’s idea of what Ducalis is like. Maybe she is, usually. We saw her in an unusual state last post.

A lancet is a medical tool for drawing blood – if you’ve ever had a finger prick to get a blood sample, that’s what the tool that does it is called. The name sounded suitably posh and very appropriate for a family of moneylenders.

The three golden balls I believe originally came from the arms of House Medici. In the real world, it signifies a pawnbrokers.

James wrote for hours. He attended a banquet held in honour of the merry heroes of Griffinsheart, then he returned to his room and resumed writing. It had been only a few months, but he wrote it all. When he ran out of ink and parchment, he called a palace flunky and got some more. His transfer to Griffinsheart. Salty Bob, the Devil of the Sea. Smedley’s taxes and probable land scams. Mal Sheildglider’s ancient mace, that glows underground. Edmund the Marked, the necromancer Aeg Ilsa, the white dragon. The detonation of the Griffinsheart estate, and the uncovering of the ruins beneath it, and their settlement by the dwarves.

He wrote about their strange journey through the Wildwood, which had seemed like days but was probably weeks. The underground cavern in the woods, the phoenix. The grandmother’s cabin. He described Aeg’s gift at his camp in the woods, and his strange words: “The Archmage will be most … displeased”. The re-igniting of the Ebony Watch node and the sad fate of its captain, along with the problematic news that at least one node had been in the process of being claimed by a hostile magic user. He write about the stirring of the Eld, the baby giant, the closing of the southern hellmouth and the strange bleeding stone. (Did we see a Behemoth? He’ll put that down as well.)

He described their return to Chancer’s hope, and the orcish and giantish assault. His re-ignition of the dwarf node, the fight between Aeg and Edmund. Then the second attack, and his inadvertent turning of the node and the political fallout of that, including his own suspension from duty.

He wrote about the complete criminality of Newport, the obliviousness of the duke, the monk festival, the cage of people held to be food of the Chuul, strange portal to the plane of Darakuul – who waited for the end. The plane of ash, remnant of one of The Crusader’s wars. Finally, he described yesterday’s events: the great chuul and the portal.

He concluded:

In the end, I am not really sure what to make of all this. I see I have rambled more than I intended, but it’s probably best to tell you all I could.

Most of all, I am worried that matters between the empire and the dwarves may be turning sour. The empire cannot afford to lose an ally when giants and orcs are attacking cities, nor can we afford to acquire an enemy that can tunnel under our feet from one end of the continent to the other.

We continue west overland, as the ports are blockaded (I have no idea by whom, or why, or even how for that matter). From Santa Cora we should make quicker time. I will be able to head home, and Mal and the rest of my companions will head north to Forge, to whatever awaits them there.

The thick sheaf of parchment was dispatched by skymail next day – the skies over Newport not being blockaded quite yet.

I think we’ll have to agree that Ducalis’ appearance at Newport was some kind of quasi-real sending, or else it makes no sense why he would have left James there.

The duke held a grand ceremony for their departure, throwing open his vault of useful magics. James chose nothing, feeling it would be inappropriate. However, he did refresh his usual complement of three healing potions in case they should run into Edmund again.

Then the party hit the road to Santa Cora with provisions, horses, even a carriage. They made a formidable party and for the first part of their trip, at least, were unmolested. A week into their journey they came to an unnamed roadhouse – an imperial outpost along the trail. There was a package waiting for James.

From his father, two books and a letter. One book was the standard third-circle text with a few useful additions; and the other was a short history of Sir Draper’s disastrous Bitterwood campaign, with commentary. The letter mentioned that aside from anything else, it was clear that James’s studies had progressed to the point where it was safe for him to begin working with these new magics. His father also wrote that Mal Shieldglider’s safety was of great concern, as he held a hereditary position of considerable importance, and that above all James should make every effort to come home to the family estate as quickly as he may.

From his mother, another letter and a small pouch. The pouch’s long drawstring bore a small seal with the Lancet family mark of three golden balls and had a heavy scoreline across the center.

The letter read:

James,

Your father is more worried than he will admit about your letter. We are both greatly concerned about your safety on the road; but the political situation and the state of the empire is more dire than you or your companions know. Your father tells me little of his work, of course, but it is plain that magic is roiling from one end of the empire to the other and beyond. As dearly as we wish you to be here at home, in many ways a road out in the middle of nowhere might be the safest place for you at present, especially considering your current company.

One thing, however, I must deal with. A Lancet does not borrow money – we lend it, and a Lancet most certainly does not haggle with regional nobility for travel expenses! I have had a chat with your grandfather, and he has agreed that one of us should not wander about the wilds on some nag, starving, in rags, and incommunicado. And so I have sent you this pouch. It is a small one, but more easily concealed for that and more than large enough for the purpose. It will manage a few coins, small letters. As you are on the road, grandfather might ask you to act as something of an agent for the family concerns. Discrete, of course. There are not many that will connect you with the Lancet name, and that’s all to the good.

Do be responsible with it dear. Avoid using it regularly or at predictable intervals. Hide it well, and be sure to snap the seal should it look like it might be taken. As to how to operate it, I must leave that as a puzzle for you.

Though you travel as far as Julian, stay safe. Return to us as soon as you may.

Love,

“Dire”. Like the rest of her family, James’ mother was inclined to be shrewd and cautious. It wasn’t a word that she would use lightly. But there was nothing for it for now but to continue on to Santa Cora.

Which first? The books or the pouch? Well, the books would take hours just to get started with them. He was going to be spending the next few weeks on the road reading and practising, drawing circles, cajoling sprites, and doing new tongue-twisters. So: the pouch.

Examining it with his magical senses, he could clearly see how the interior was not quite present in this reality, or not entirely, and how the seal was some sort of keystone for the whole. It was activated by some sort of very elaborate ritual, probably, but there was no clue as to what it might be.

So he scanned the letter for clues. And it was obvious: Julian Lancet – his ancestor on the distaff side. Not nearly so ancient as Baron Geofrrey, but still a fair way back. It’s said he went out onto the endless sea to find spices, and then within 8 years parlayed the profits into a fleet and a counting house.

And then he recalled the childhood guessing-game. His mother played it with his brothers, and with him in his turn. You had to say a rhyme and them guess what was in a treasure-box. The game was mainly about getting the rhyme exactly right: it’s rhythm and patterns of emphasis, the secret knock on the box. On getting it exactly, exactly right, his mother would open the box, revealing a sweet, or a toy.

James looked about to confirm that he was in private, and recited the child’s rhyme:

“Julian Lancet sailed on the ocean
Julian Lancet crossed the sea
Julian Lancet rapped on the lock
And lifted the lid to see:

“Ten silver pieces!”, finished James. After a moment the pouch … did something, and inside were ten silver pieces. James left them there. The pouch’s magic was depleted, of course. He put the long drawstring over his head and patted the pouch into place under his shirt. He then broke out his new textbooks and started reading.

That evening, at about the end of first watch, the pouch – well – “ping!”ed in James’ mind. James lit his magelight and wandered off away from camp for a private moment. In the pouch, the ten silver coins had been replaced by several coins of various denomination – even a couple of platinum – and an unsigned note in a neat masculine hand on onionskin paper. It read:

Well done James. You needn’t be quite so cautious in future when drawing minor expenses against the vault. Significant drafts are another matter. It’s best to clear the pouch after use. Now that you are bonded you can send items to other pouches by nominating the recipient, but for now you should communicate only with me or your mother and not mention your bond with the item to the rest of the family. Or indeed, to anyone.

Stay in touch, but do not over-use the item. Inform me when reaching Santa Cora.

Without needing to be told, James burned both letters with a Spark.

As for James’ hopefully cheesy new item, subject to DM approval of course, I’m thinking that the Lancets have several of these connected portals. Thing is, the way they actually work is that sprites carry whatever it is via the Low Way. This means that if you use them too much or too regularly, especially if you are using them to convey valuables, then something will eventually notice and you will find that the transport becomes a little unreliable. Your sprites will get eaten and your stuff stolen, basically. It’s better to send a cheque than coin, but not a lot of inns take cheques.

As for in-game effect, as well as being a handy plot hook and general Deus Ex Sacculum, I’ll ask for an in-game effect of the pouch giving in effect two background points in “Being from a banking family”. It’s the equivalent of a feat. Haggling, appraisal, that sort of thing but large-scale. Tarry might be better at telling you how much, say, a silver cup might be worth (ie: can be fenced for); but with the pouch around his neck James is the person to ask how much a ship might be worth, or a business. And either of them can probably make a decent stab at the gp equivalent of a gem. And of course, he can always ask granddad. Up to a point. Not that we’ll be actually working out the money in detail, because that’s dull. We’ll hand-wave it.

Quirk might be “keeps careful track of money”. James won’t tip out his money and count it obsessively. Well, at least not every day. But he will start tracking purchases and expenses.

I have no idea what work granddad might want James to do in Santa Cora, or elsewhere. If any.

Dammit, I nearly forgot – thanks to John for his notes on dropbox. I had forgotten some cool stuff.

Messages, Pt I

11 July, 2016

Lancet House. A grand old building, on a grand old street, in the heart of the mercantile district of Axis. Its appearance belied the reality: the Lancets were not exactly nouveau riche, but neither were they old money. There’s a difference between a centuries-old coat of arms and a well-respected trademark. Neverthless, well-respected they were.

Let me set the scene – clerks bustling in and around, queues of well-dressed gentlemen and well-dressed gentlemen’s flunkies waiting to manage their quarterly business: paying off loans, taking them out. Out to the side, a cordon of a dozen armed guards manages today’s transfer of specie between Lancet House and the Empire Reserve bank.

Four floors above, in a very masculine and old-school office (oxblood leather and darkwood furniture, books on the shelf, gold pens on the desk, a world globe on a stand, cognac in the cabinet, two pairs of sound-muffling doors leading in and anti-scrying spells carved into sheet lead tastefully concealed behind handsome wood panelling. You get the idea) in this office, Frances was in the middle of very nearly a full rant:

“… wandering about the wilderness with some army people, I ask you – a halfling and a pair of dwarves by every account. No-one knows where he is. Ducalis managed to find him, thank heaven. He was supposed to be in Chancer’s Hope, instead he’s at Newport – Newport, for God’s sake! – haggling with some provincial duke for travel expenses. A Lancet! A Lancet reduced to going cap-in-hand to some regional noble for money to buy food! And of course Ducalis ordered him to come home as soon as possible, and so he has dutifully hit the road again. He’s somewhere between Newport and Santa Cora now, starving and in rags, on some ploughhorse or on foot I shouldn’t wonder, in all sorts of company, and no-one has a clue how to find him or how he might be, I’ve been worried sick …”

The terrible old man behind the desk raised his hand for silence, and Frances simmered down immediately. The histrionics were mostly an act, of course. But not without real concern beneath them.

“Very well, Frances, very well. You win. I will send him a pouch by courier.” He drew out from a draw a small, unremarkable-looking soft leather pouch. It had a long drawstring, intended to be worn around the neck, and a small seal which bore the Lancet mark of three golden balls.

Frances looked at the old man accusingly. “You planned this!” He shook his head, “Not planned, dear. Merely taking advantage of an opportunity.”

“There are so few I can really count on. Your cousin Phillip is a sot. Your niece Emma gambles. Frederick is simply an idiot. Oh, there’s enough of us that are reliable that I can run the business, but never as many as I would like. Young James seems a sensible sort, not too much of his father’s habit of crashing about. And he can go more-or-less incognito if he’s out in the sticks.”

Frances narrowed her eyes. “You are going to use him for business.”

The old man’s expression brooked no further nonsense. “The lad has other concerns at the moment, and I respect that. But a Lancet always draws a little blood. No more than people can afford. It’s that little draw that allowed us to match you with that fine husband of yours – you are still happy? Yes, I see you are. Splendid fellow. This pouch is one of the covert ones. Your son will keep it concealed and will break the seal rather than surrender or lose it. He will also need to work out how to use it. If he’s a Lancet, he will already know.”

Frances nodded. Even here, in this heavily-warded office, in the heart of their empire, the family secret remained unspoken.

“Well, that’s all sorted, then,” finished the old man. “Let Ducalis know that I am doing what I can to keep a lid on the current political business. “Gold is the sinews of war”, as they say, but our consortium is not the only gold around, and some of us are seeing a possibility of profit in backing the conflict. Nevertheless, I fully support your husband’s faction. I am doing what I can, dear.”

The pair finished up, they made their farewells, and Frances began her journey home. Even for the rich and powerful, Horizon to Axis is a fair way to come. Of course she had not come on her own. Of course her husband had sent her on a mission, too. “Politics, politics,” thought the old man. “Ducalis uses my daughter, and I his son. Well, it’s no more than a little draw. Nothing at all compared to the blood that gets spilled in war.”