Kingmaker – commies and magic mushrooms

25 October, 2010


We got commies! Commies, I tells ya!

Well, we did have. At our end of year celebrations, we had a number of bards around and one of them was stirring up the people – saying that we were purloining the treasury, which is ridiculous as a) we haven’t and b) it’s ours. Never mind that all the money goes to public works.

We spied on him, and with a little divination determined – as we suspected – that he was working for someone. So we arrested him: he was a spy, after all. We held him overnight (mainly so we could prepare some spells) and our guards are useless – he charmed the lot of them. He nearly escaped, but I had the foresight to place an alarm spell on the exit from the dungeon (I suppose that’s what you have to call it. It’s rather humane, as dungeons go.)

Well, he was in the taproom, which well – it’s a bad look, you know? On account of him being a prisoner? He tried to give us the slip, so we caught him and beat him up. When I say we – I mean the baron and Rainor. And by “caught him and beat him up”, I mean we gave him every opportunity to quietly go back to his cell, but nothing doing.

Next morning we winkled out of him (with a Detect Thoughts) who he was working for. And we banished him and had the sootscales escort him to the northern border. No good deed goes unpunished, of course, so I’m sure we will have cause to regret not killing him (remember: he was a spy and saboteur of a foreign power) – but it’s just not how we roll. I hope he remembers the mercy and forgives the beating, but the man stuck me as a horrible little coward, so most likely not.

We finally chased up that map that I made out of the troll hide. It led to a swamp with some extremely interesting mushrooms. Which was guarded by an extremely interesting guardian. A treant of some sort – some kind of plant crature, anyway. I dropped a couple of Scorching Rays into it, which will do for most things made out of wood. Then we began to search for the troll’s treasure. We didn’t notice that the tree thing was regrowing. It attacked us a second time, and paralysed his lordship. I was out of spells, and it was not looking good – all I could do was pop arrows into the thing, and it wans’t accomplishing much. But Morgana cursed it, and it spent the next the next several seconds doing nothing – long enough for Jope to recover. Once recovered, he made short work of it.

We burned it with some alchemical fire (it would have been good to have remembered earlier that Rainor was carrying some), and resumed searching. Eventually we decided that the mushrooms themselves were the trolls treasure (the map indicated where, not what). I hope they are worth it – we’ll se what our potioneer makes of them.

As for the unrest formented by the bard, it took a month or two to calm things down. We built some housing, and – ahem – dealt with the worst of the discontented elements. The kingdom is growing, and getting harder to manage. We are saving our pennies for the next big project: a Cathederal for Erastil. A variety of benefits will be had, although it will gut our treasury. And we were doing so well there for a while.

Stay well. My best to the family.
Your sister-in-exile,

Challenge to the New Atheists

25 October, 2010

Re: What Do New Atheists Actually Believe?

Well, here’s my answers anyway:

1) Why is there anything? & 2) What caused the Universe?

Our normal everyday notions of cause an effect are based on our experiences of things and events in the universe. The universe itself is not a thingin the sense of things that we are accustomed to dealing with. It’s perfectly obvious that existence cannot have a cause in the conventional (efficient) sense, as a cause must precede its effect.

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

Because nature is made up of a large number of simple and perfectly identical things – subatomic particles.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

Causes, in this sense, are possible answers to the question “why?”. Whenever a person asks that question, they are asking to be told a story, a narrative explaining something. Thus, causes are about our perception, they are about how we make sense of the world.

So “real” becomes a little problematic. Certainly, final causes exist when people do stuff.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

Not sure. When you bend a plank of wood, the fibres within it undergo strain. Is it reasonable to talk of the wood’s “experience” of that strain?

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

I don’t see the difficulty. Why shouldn’t they be?

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

It’s an artifact of nature. In particular – of human nature. We are social mammals. We see moral law in dogs, chimpanzees, all sorts of things. Moral law is that set of instincts and drives that have resulted in societies.

8) Why is there evil?

We use “evil” to describe two kinds of things: things that arouse our fear and things that arouse our disgust. We are capable of fear because we are frail and mortal.


18 October, 2010


Nothing much to tell, this month. We explored more of the borders of our kingdom, and finally pushed the road through all the way to Oleg’s in the north, joining the main trade road. Yay! We have gone from “middle of the wilderness” to “backwater”. And Oleg has made it from “trader” to “mayor”.

We dealt with that goblin incursion. His Baronship decided to run forward into battle (with magical haste) and get himself surrounded, and then criticised me for not being able to run in and help until I’d cast a few enchantments. Half a mile away, surrounded by a small army, and I’m supposed to dive in without some basic protectives. All I ask is thirty seconds, but no it’s out of the question – there’s no point my doing anything until I have some way to hide myself in broad daylight, and until I’ve magically improved my bow. What’s more, the goblins were in tall grass, so it was a bit of a hit-or-miss business shooting them. Their bard wasn’t, though – he was riding a Boar, majestic as you please sitting on top of it, so I incinerated him. At least that way there was a better than even chance of my not wasting the spell.

Anyway. The battle was not going all that well – we would have prevailed eventually – but not well. Not a convincing win. Morgana used a Glitterdust spell and it worked wonderfully, but there were just rather too many goblins to kill when you have to do it one at a time. I’d love to be able to do a fireball, but I’m not really spending all my attention on magic – I’m spending effort on stealth and fieldcraft. There must be some way to combine the two, I feel it. I’ve been experimenting. [One more level of Rogue, and Switch will qualify for Arcane Trickster. I hope it’s worth it – a low-level multiclassed character s even worse than a low-level monk.]

Then kobolds showed up and that was that. We gave them the goblin’s equipment as loot (rather a lot, in retrospect). In return, they gave us some extra food production which was just as well as rats had gotten into the stores. I think it’s good that the garrison troops (all four of them) saw the kobolds in action. Oh – that reminds me – we’ll have to put up some signs on the highway explaining that the kobolds are staff and not to be killed.

Oh! That’s right – the goblins were working for one of the other groups sent out by Restov. Seems our little barony already has enemies.

What else? We scouted the boundary of – well, not our kingdom yet, but probably as far as we are looking at expanding. We ran into a trio of Griggs, so I had a chance to practise my Sylvan. It’s drawing near time when we just have to grasp the nettle and venture further south. The land is wilder down there and more dangerous. Actually, we are all a bit frightened. But it has to be done.

Your sister-in-exile,


13 October, 2010

Arrgh! I’ve left it too long to write this, so I kinda forget what happened. Also, it seems our campaign map was one hex off, so there’s a whole strip to the west we haven’t explored. Oh well.


It’s been a bit of a whirl this past month or so. We came back from Restov exploring the easternmost extent of the grasslands. More or less. On our way was that “cursed bridge” that the Sootscales told us about, and we decided to deal with it. It turned out to be very haunted indeed, by the spirit of a human warrior who had a particular animus against The Stag Lord.

Ghosts tend to be a bit monomaniacal. Explaining that the Stag Lord was dead was no use – Rainor wears the helm we took as loot from him, and this ghost was convinced. We had to battle the poor misguided thing. It inhabited the river, and I had a chance to use one of my new spells: Levitation. It wouldn’t do, after all, for His Lordship to sink into the water in full armour. We fought it, we defeated it, we recovered the corpse and his spear, which we have sent back to the barracks at Restov. He was a brave and determined man, I think. I hope his memory is honoured by his people.

Oh, we also found some boars. And met some wolves, who told us they had been run out of home by some sort of giant man and giant dog (translation is not exact). We left them alone, which I approve of (the wolves, not the boars), and headed back to the castle. The town hall was complete, and all seems to be humming along smoothly. After a week or so (reports, paperwork, having people “gakked” for sedition – the usual). Then we decided it was really time to start dealing with Rainor’s vision quest.

Down on the western side of the tuskwater, we found an old witch who had set up a hut. There was a bit of a misunderstanding with the alarm system, but we smoothed it over. Hopefully, she’ll integrate nicely. I might ask her for some advice, actually – I want to make a forest cloak of my own, and anyone that can craft constructs ought to be able to do that. [Craft Wondrous Item is a pre-req for Craft Construct]. She gave us some advice, and some information about the lay of the land.

Next day, we headed south to The Mere.

We saw the tower (from Rainor’s vision-quest thing) on the island in the middle. But how to get to the island? We didn’t have a boat or anything. And what to do about the goblins on the south shore? A plan immediately suggested itself. We would kill the goblins, and take their boat.

We set up camp. Long story short, the northern shore was inhabited by a troll and his tolldog. You know the ones? Dogs that eat trollmeat can undergo a transformation. A tough fight. I used another new spell – Scorching Ray – and missed. A little embarrasing. be that as it may, we all pitched in and dragged the troll and his hound into the campfire.

(I used another new spell – Create Treasure Map, and now we have a lovely trollhide X-marks-the-spot map of … well, we don’t know. Could be something good, could be just something that trolls regard as “treasure”.)

We’ll deal with the tower, and see if we can’t get Rainor a step along on his personal journey of discovery.

Oh – one final thing. I am hearing rumors of a goblin army to the south. Don’t know what “army” means, exactly, but things could get lively soon.

Your sister-in-exile,

A Libertarian carpark

9 October, 2010

The thing about libertarians that frustrates non-libertarians the most is their utter and willful short-sightedness: they simply refuse to see beyond their own notion that freely agreed on exchanges of value are good, therefore markets are just. I believe it’s called the “fallacy of composition”. The problem is that markets have emergent behaviour that is grossly unjust. A further problem is that this behaviour – that wealth tends to concentrate – actually destroys the market in the end. When a few multibillionaire families have 90% of a society’s cash, people cannot engage in ecomomic activity for want of a medium of exchange, and society enters a depression (characterised by high unemployment, low prices, and little buying and selling going on).

Probably the best way to learn about this is with Parker Brother’s “Monopoly”. An amazing act of subversion – a child’s came that right on the box tells you what they will learn by playing it: that markets destroy themselves.

But one of my favourite illustrations of the idea that sometimes the problem is the system itself – that you get undesirable things hapening even in a “fair” system – is an idealised carpark.

This carpark is a single long one-way street. there are parking spaces all down one side of the length of it. At one end is the mall, where people want to shop. Everyone wants to park as close to the mall as they can. If you can’t find a park, you have to go around again. We assume that the loop of road itself can essentially hold an unlimited number of cars.

Our goals are: to reduce the amount of time it takes to get a park, which is the same as saying to reduce the traffic density in the carpark, and secondarily to reduce the average distance people park from the mall.

Now, there are two ways you can run this carpark. You can admit people into the street at the end near the mall, or you can admit the cars into the street at the far end. The issue is: how to these two methods compare? How does the system behave under load?

In the first situation, behaviour is very simple. You’ll take the first space you find. If the carpark is very loaded up, then you might get all the way to the end and go around again in hopes that a spot opens up, but this only happens when the carpark is essentially full. In the situation where about the same number of cars arrive as are leaving, there will be few gaps near the mall – meaning the average of how far people park from the mall will be about as small as it can be. The only variables are the average rate of people using the carpark, the average length of time a spot is occupied, the number of spots, and the amount of time it takes to traverse the length of the carpark.

In the second situation, things get chaotic. You have to adopt a strategy for “do I take this spot, or is it likely there will be a better one ahead?”. You have to gamble, depending on how many spaces ahead you can see (another variable). This means that there will be situations where you reject all the available carparks – even when there are plenty of them – in hopes that there will be a better one, and you have to go around again. Straight away you can see that people will therefore – on average – spend more time going around, and that therefore the traffic density will be higher. People that decline to gamble will take bad spots far away from the mall even when there are better spots further on, so it follows that the average distance to the mall will be greater.

The only advantage that the second system has is that the load, while higher, is evened out a bit. In the first system, all the activity takes place at one end, usually. But in my ideal carpark, cars that are parking don’t block other cars, and pedestrians don’t have to thread their way through the cars.

The thing is: the second method is every bit as fair as the first. No-one is privileged over any other. The system itself creates the parking madness and road rage. But the libertarians just say “Everyone gets the same chance to find a good park blah blah freely chosen exchange of value blah blah” and simply refuse to grapple with the issue being raised – that the behaviour of the system as a whole is behaviour we don’t want.

It’s a common problem with people that take high-minded stands on matters of principle without regard for how they play out.


4 October, 2010

Michael, I was the most hideous, frightening thing ever and I’ll have nightmares for months.

Remember that mad hermit that we dealt with a month or so ago? Well, he had a map on him with the location of some crypt or something. We decided to go clear it out.

(Oh – he also had a wonderful belt, one of those belts of the dwarf. It’s the oddest thing in the world, wearing it: you start to think in dwarvish. But it grants darkvision – you can see in absolute dark. A handy thing, and perhaps a mixed blessing.)

Anyway. We went to this location, and there was an ancient barrow there (after the style of the eastern barbarians). Entering it, we passed all these bones and things, and Morgana I think commented that they would likely come alive to defend the tomb. I wish she wouldn’t jinx us like that. Anyway, we pressed in a bit further, and there were some undead, which we fought. We ought to have brought a cleric of Erastil with us, you know.

A bit further up there was this octagonal room with carvings in four of the walls signifying the four winds (I think). They had sent me ahead to scout it out on account of I’m the only one who knows anything about traps and whatnot. Well, I walked straight into it. The four winds blew this horrible undead stuff and I was absolutely crippled (-6 to Str and Dex. Ouch). I had a go at disabling the the trap, but more stuff came out and I gave it up. A bad move, it turned out – I should have persisted.

There was room to the left, with undead in it. Which we fought. There was a room to the right, with undead in it. Which we fought. The undead would break their way through our line and attempt to stand in the middle of the room with the trap and get bathed by this undeady stuff. And when they did, their eyes would glow and they’d become much tougher.

I should have worked out then, you know, that disabling the trap would be a good idea. But I didn’t.

So after this, we ventured down the main hallway and saw some sort of 7-foot tall chief undead, and he animated. And then the traps went off again and every single light in the place (I had dancing lights up, and Morgana had a light spell active) was snuffed out.

So everyone was blind except me. Which meant that I was the only one who saw the bones at the entrance (remember those?) animate. I sent my Dancing Lights down to the entrance so that everyone could see the danger, and then ducked into one of the side rooms, because it looked defensible. Everyone followed me and it might have been a mistake, because the undead would stand in that trap thing and power up.

What happened next was just indescribable. Every few moments the trap would go off and snuff all the light, and I would cast Dancing Lights again – I could barely draw my bow or aim it because of the effect of being caught in the trap, so it was the only useful thing I could do. Every few moments the place was being thrown into absolute pitch darkness and these undead things were grappling people and pulling them down, while the seven-foot-tall undead chief thing was attacking. (Actually – I think it was a very good thing that we retreated into a side room, or they would have been grapplig us and dragging us into the trap.) At one point, a couple of undead came though the actual ceiling and fell on me and started to grab. I had dwarven sight and wasn’t blind like everyone else when the lights were snuffed, but it’s not like ordinary sight, it’s … it’s not easy to describe. You know how the humans talk about dreams and nightmares? I think it might have been something like that. It was like visions.

The fight went for – it just felt like two or three hours although it was probably only a minute or two. Morgana had her familiar take over torch duties, but I was really feeling my absence of any damage-dealing spells. At one point I remember I did shoot something with the bow and scored a lucky, lucky, lucky shot (I won’t even pretend it was skill) and downed one of them.

Eventually it was just the big chief thing. But everyone was hurt – Rainor really badly – and this chief undead was standing in that undead wind vortex trap thing. So I just said to hell with it and concentrated on disabling the trap – trusting my allies to keep me alive, because that undead thing knew what I was doing and was going to attack me. So strange to rely on annuals like that, that cold and certain knowledge that if they fell then I would die too, and so I may as well risk all to do my part. Stranger still that this is no longer a new thing for us.The gods have given us to share a fate.

It was – ewww! – sort of organic, not like an ordinary trap at all. I located something like a heart, or at least it felt central, and it was moving, but it was all the way up under some kind of ribcage (it might actually have been a ribcage – I don’t want to know) and it took me precious seconds to get a firm grip on it, but I ripped it out. It was kind of rotten, there was this horrible fluid everywhere that smelled like rotting blood, it go in my hair, in my clothes. But that was enough to disable the device. The chief was still very powerful, and it was mainly down to the fighters in the end, but I hope I made some sort of difference right at the very last.

And at the end of it all, no loot. Well – one item. The main undead was fighting with a half-ghost halberd: the staff was ghost, but the blade was real enough. We checked, and the blade in addition to being very magical also extends into the etheral plane, so it affects ghosts normally. Jope is very keen to have it as his weapon, but you don’t just attach something like that to a broom handle – it will take a little work. So much for his heirloom blade – I suppose that goes into a trophy cabinet.

It took me a week to gt over the effect of the undead trap thing. We have made a trip up here to Restov (funny how Restov feels like the Big City these days) I’m really going to hit the books. Having to depend on magic to actually survive has really been focusing. I’ve worked out that Scorching Ray spell, and I’ll transcribe some more spells into my book. Fortunately, being a bit of a border town the mages here all know exactly the sort of spells that an adventuring party uses.

Might be best not to tell Mother about this last one.

Still alive, if shaken,
Your Sister-in-exile