Let’s You and Him Fight – An Introduction to Provokatsiya (part 5 of 5)

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Only You Can Save America

What is your role in this? Clearly, no one is expecting you to indict, impeach, or arrest those who conspired with the Kremlin. You really have no control over whether the U.S. imposes or enforces more sanctions against Russia, nor can you do much to sway the reputation of America in the eyes of the rest of the world. But we can all play a role:

First, don’t despair. Don’t assume the war is lost, the investigations are all a sham, Trump will sail to reelection in 2020, and we’ll become a satellite to Putin’s Russia. I know it’s a bit overwhelming. I know it can take an act of will to even open the news from day to day. But this fight is not over, and we are far from lost.

Second, get active in politics and participate in the process. It has been far too easy to go about our daily lives without paying much attention to the news, much less poring over the tedious goings-on of Congress. We can’t afford to do that anymore – not at the local, not at the state, and certainly not at the national level. Find the best candidates you can. If you can afford it, donate to their campaigns. If you have the time, volunteer for their organization. If you have neither, support them however you can. If you love your local politicians and their seats seem safe, consider “adopting” a candidate in another district or state and support them. Anyone who supports Trump’s agenda and attempts to normalize his behaviors should be pants-shittingly terrified that they will lose their jobs in 2018 (2020 for some of those Senators and governors) unless they turn against him.

Make calls, send letters, and otherwise make sure your representatives at all levels hear your voice. Don’t let them slack off just because the letter after their name is usually the one you look for when scanning your ballots.

Third, bring in other people, especially those whose political views are not identical to yours. I’m not saying go find yourself a racist, homophobic, misogynist deplorable to adopt. Even at his nadir, Nixon’s approval rating bottomed out at around 25%. The diehard MAGAt isn’t worth your time. But listen for people who express alarm about how often Trump has broken his word, how much taxpayer money he wastes lining his own pockets, how much his antics on Twitter embarrass them. Don’t try to sell them on universal healthcare. Try to get them on board with just getting this maniac out of office before he starts World War III. At this point, impeachment should be a bipartisan issue, but it won’t be one in Congress until its inescapably one on Main Street – particularly in those Republican-held districts.

Fourth, be aware that the Russian attacks never ended. They are even now bombarding us with wave upon wave of propaganda. It hits us on social media. It sneaks into mainstream news reports. Stay skeptical. Ask why this is being reported, whether it is important enough to warrant your attention or whether it is an attempt to distract you from much more important news. Trump especially loves to do this with stupid Twitter fights, destructive executive orders, and ridiculous promises to pass laws that no one wants (not even members of his own party). Let the media do its job. Let the ACLU fight him in court. Let Congressional Republicans find a diplomatic way to laugh in his face. I know we can all walk and chew gum, paying attention to both the big stuff and the trivial idiocy, but occasionally check yourself to make sure you haven’t stopped to rubberneck when you really should be walking with your eyes on the prize.

We’re Americans. We have our faults and our foibles and a worldwide reputation for being a bit like a large, dumb, overenthusiastic dog. But we play an important role in the world – economically, diplomatically, and yes, militarily. It is in no free nation’s interests – least of all ours – for the United States to become a satellite of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and his oligarch allies. Russia’s military is already literally practicing for an invasion of its neighbors. Moscow is feeding arms to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. They’re bombing civilians in Syria. Their relationship with North Korea and Iran is looking more suspicious by the day. We’ve fucked up plenty, and we can be a raging asshole, at times, but like Batman on a global scale, the world needs us.

We all need to pull our shit together and soon.

For Further Reading

Check out John Schindler’s primer on provakatsia and other staple tactics of Russian espionage. As a former analyst for the NSA specializing in counterintelligence operations against Russia, he is vastly more qualified to explain these concepts than I am.

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Let’s You and Him Fight – An Introduction to Provokatsiya (part 4 of 5)

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Taking Back America

The 2016 election was a significant victory for Russian intelligence against the United States, but as anyone knows how the 1939 invasion of Poland ended for Germany, the first battle does not determine who will win the war. We were taken entirely unaware, our citizenry still stunned by the fallout of these unthinkable events, but the attack on Pearl Harbor did not sideline us then, and this combination cyberattack (stealing voter information, penetrating the DNC/RNC, publishing stolen files meant discredit the U.S. intelligence apparatus, etc.) and propaganda campaign should not, either. Here are some things you need to know:

Congress Isn’t Idle

Despite an initially rocky start and some really dumb sabotage attempts along the way (Devin Nunes), there are bipartisan investigations going in both the House and Senate. This issue is hideously complex. Not only was the attack itself sophisticated and multifaceted, it is increasingly obvious to everyone who has been paying attention that Russia had help from American citizens, without which the operation to place Trump in office would never have succeeded.

Investigating this attack as a matter of criminal interest is politically fraught for both parties. Democrats don’t want to be seen making this a partisan spectacle – a temptation given that their party was the obvious loser in this. Republicans are kind of terrified at where this investigation could go, since it appears that some members of their party (mostly operatives but also some politicians like Dana Rohrabacher who have gotten very cozy with Russia) could be implicated in pretty heavy crimes, which would definitely hurt the electoral prospects of the Republican party. As well, they are facing some pretty clear internal resistance from colleagues and wealthy donors who would like for them to pretend this whole Russia attack never happened (as cynical, hyperpartisan, and downright unpatriotic as that may be).

Instead, the Congressional investigations appear to be focused on how the Kremlin was able to compromise our electoral process and what can be done to prevent it from ever happening again. As with the response to 9/11, this will almost certainly include some remedies that seem no-brainers (the equivalent of putting a locked door between the cockpit and the passenger compartment), some whose efficacy will not be obvious to the average American (perhaps a new social media surveillance program meant to identify and shut down foreign propaganda attacks), and some whose value we’ll still be debating a decade from now.

When they’ve concluded their investigations, made their recommendations, and passed the necessary legislation, our country will be significantly less vulnerable to similar future attacks.

Mueller Has Got This

The special counsel and his dream team of prosecutors have their work cut out for them. To them falls the task of investigating any wrongdoing committed by anyone within the reach of American law enforcement and bringing the perpetrators to justice under U.S. law. This is an at times frustratingly slow process – both because the list of suspected crimes is so long and because some of those violations are so grave. Also, he has to take steps to head off a literal constitutional crisis in the form of Trump trying to pardon himself and all his co-conspirators in, well, let’s not sugarcoat it – probable espionage and possibly treason.

Robert Mueller runs a tight ship. Any leaks we get through the media are not accidental but deliberate, strategic. They don’t represent a hundredth of what his team already knows. Their purpose is to panic the guilty so that they make deadly mistakes, to give Republicans in Congress political cover for the necessary impeachment, and to educate and prepare the public for some very rude shocks concerning the severity of the attack that was made against us.

Despite Trump’s “best” efforts and the mendacity of far too many lawmakers, we are still a nation of laws, and justice is coming. But we must be patient on this front. His team’s job is to sort perpetrators into groups and ensure they are punished accordingly:

- Those who knowingly and intentionally aided a hostile foreign power in an attack against our democratic processes. Espionage and treason are both potentially capital crimes. It’s been a long time since America executed someone for espionage or treason (the Rosenbergs in 1953), but at the very least these people are going to jail for a long, long time – quite probably for the rest of their lives.

- Those who violated the law in less spectacular ways – whether it was aiding and abetting crimes, engaging in “willful blindness” regarding suspicious behavior (political ads paid for in Russian rubles? Really?), lying on disclosures for which doing so is a felony (Jared Kushner times, what are we up to now? 200?), perjury (Sessions), laundering money (Manafort), or obstructing justice (seemingly everyone in this administration). Many of these people will also be going to jail, although probably not for as long as those who engaged in espionage.

- Those who did some suspicious-looking stuff along the way but didn’t actually commit a crime. They will (and should) be found innocent and remain free. It is of critical importance that only the guilty be punished, especially when some of the crimes of which people are likely to be accused carry such severe penalties.

- Those who are not suspected of crimes but who have information that is vital to the successful prosecution of those in the first two categories.

This takes work and time, and there is no margin of error.

Ordinary Citizens are Stepping up

Those of us who have joined the Indivisible movement know that Democrats, progressives, and sensible moderates are fully engaged in the fight against the worst impulses of the Trump administration. Marches, phone calls, letters, support of Democratic candidates in 200+ districts nationwide, and so many lawsuits – we have been tireless in our vigilance (if more than a little irritated by the necessity). Together we have stopped healthcare legislation that would have made us sicker (and we will beat tax cuts that raise taxes on the middle class, too. We have beaten back Muslim bans and assaults on 1st Amendment rights.  We have brought eye-popping graft and corruption into the light such that several members of Trump’s wrecking crew of a cabinet have been forced to resign. And though every day brings fresh horrors and outrages, we will continue to fight this administration’s policies. For the sake of our friends and families, for the sake of our neighbors, for the sake of ourselves, we have very little choice.

It might surprise you to learn that we have allies in our fight against Trump – ones who are just as disgusted by what he represents as we are. They revere the rule of law. They detest Trump’s “champagne cabinet,” which is both incompetent and wasteful of taxpayer money. They hate Trump’s cavalier attitude toward U.S. military power and his contempt for our diplomatic corps. And perhaps more than anything, they’re mad as hell that people assume to think they’re Trump supporters because he is “on their side.” I’m talking about moderate Republicans. Not their politicians, necessarily (gerrymandering has arguably been an even bigger problem for moderate Republicans than for Democrats, since it means they face nutjob challengers in the primaries instead of Democrats in the general election), but a sizeable contingent of Never Trump pundits, members of the intelligence community and law enforcement, and ordinary citizens who recognize how abnormal and damaging Trump and his sycophants (inside and outside of Washington) have been. These are people with whom a Democrat (whether moderate or progressive) will find plenty to disagree about, but we at least agree that Trump needs to go – impeachment or resignation, none of us really care which.

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Let’s You and Him Fight – An Introduction to Provokatsiya (part 3 of 5)

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Occupy Provokatsiya

A group of mostly young adults have legitimate concerns about wealth disparities. They see their generation being saddled with mountains of college and medical debt that force them to put off lifetime milestones like getting married, buying a house, and starting a family, and to make matters worse, jobs are scarce due to a recession fueled by a housing market collapse. Meanwhile, big banks rake in huge profits on bad mortgage decisions, and when the market collapses, government comes to the rescue of Wall Street instead of Main Street (i.e. them). Their movement consists of high-visibility protests, some of which are moderately disruptive but not violent. A handful of them have radical economic notions or let fly vociferous rants about destroying capitalism during moments of intense emotion, but most are simply frustrated and hope to draw attention to the plight of people like them.

Enter Russia.

Moscow sets up millions of automated social media accounts (bots) and seeks out the most extreme Occupy voices – the ones calling for the immediate and total elimination of all large banks and the stock market. Most existing activists consider this too extreme, but their movement isn’t so large that they can afford to alienate allies, nor is its leaders’ authority centralized enough that anyone can tell anyone else that they’re out of the Occupy movement. Even without an outside agitator, it’s hard enough to control the behavior of self-identified activists who engage in a whole host of anti-social behavior unless they cross a line red enough to put them in police custody.

These bot-amplified voices soon drown out moderate voices on social media. Angry about the foreclosure that forced him into bankruptcy and goaded by these provocative messages, an otherwise ordinary activist sends a hyperbolic tweet suggesting that someone create a Kickstarter to fund the erection of a guillotine in several American cities “to send a message to these bankers about where their employers’ income inequality will lead.” The bots retweet the hell out of this message, as do a fair number of activists – most in the same spirit of social media hyperbole, a few with frightening sincerity.

Then Moscow takes things a step further by creating a Kickstarter campaign to place a guillotine in a park in New York City “and possibly many other cities, depending on how much money we raise.” Russian agents create a Facebook group to promote the Kickstarter and buy ads that mico-target people who are currently sympathetic to the Occupy cause. The Kickstarter campaign receives ten million dollars in pledges (most of it from Kremlin trolls, with a handful made by radicalized activists) before Kickstarter shuts down the campaign.

By now, however, millions of people who in no way condone a replay of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror have seen that Kickstarter campaign. Several news channels have featured segments talking about how violent Occupy protesters are, and no matter how much the movement’s leaders disavow these extremists, Occupy Wall Street becomes the “kill all the bankers” movement in the public eye. Think some of those Occupy supporters work at banks? They sure do. Think they continue to support a movement that is actively calling for their extermination? Nope.

Moscow didn’t just show those ads to OWS supporters, after all. They also spent a pretty penny to ensure that anyone on Facebook who works at a bank saw that Facebook group, read those calls for their execution. One of these bankers calls for the arrest of anyone supporting the Occupiers, of treating Occupy Wall Street as a terrorist organization. The bots amplify this message, making sure the Occupy activists see it. An activist opines that the bankers were behind the Kickstarter campaign – a false flag operation meant to ensure that Wall Street remains in control – and the Kremlin grabs that message and makes it the OWS party line. Moscow also encourages bankers to take to the streets at the same times and in the same places as Occupy activists, to form a counter-protest movement.

After several months of this constant provokatsiya, many early supporters of Occupy Wall Street have left the movement. The ones who stick it out are those with the fiercest commitment to the original movement (they’re not going to let their movement be suborned like this without a fight!) and those for whom the “kill all the bankers” reputation is not an obstacle to their support. Someone builds a guillotine and puts it in the back of their pickup to parade it around at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Things come to a head when a shouting match between Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and Wall Street Has Feelings Too counter-demonstrators turns into a violent clash that ends in some bank teller being hauled into a pickup truck ad guillotined as 12,000 people look on in horror.

But Why?

Moscow doesn’t care about social justice movements or conservative culture in the United States – neither Black Lives Matter nor Blue Lives Matter, neither gun control activists nor 2nd Amendment hardliners. The purpose of provokatsiya is to divide us, to make us stop talking to each other before we even start. I see a Black Lives Matter ad or news article that presents a sincere and non-violent movement protesting the disproportionate killing of black people by police. A friend of mine in a redder state sees ads and news articles filled with black people throwing bricks, brandishing firearms, and blocking emergency vehicles from reaching people in need of assistance. I post my support of Black Lives Matter. My high school friend demands to know why I’m supporting a terrorist organization like BLM. I call him a racist. And by the end of the week, one of us has unfriended the other. We saw the movement differently because we were literally shown two completely different Black Lives Matters movements – one with a legitimate grievance and a non-violent message that is being persecuted by out-of-control police, the other with a hatred for law and order and a willingness to kill police and innocent people if it helps them achieve their nebulous goals.

This division works in Russia’s favor. It prevents us from mustering a unified resistance to further meddling by outsiders, because neither side trusts the other to work in good faith to apply such remedies. If we can’t trust our own cultural institutions and fellow Americans (citizens or otherwise) – if our police, immigrants, minorities, Hollywood, intelligence community, politicians, and football teams are suddenly the enemies of America instead of the actual enemies of America being the enemies of America, we are in a seriously bad place as far as preserving our republic’s interests at home and abroad. Why, we might elect people who are hellbent on dismantling our country diplomatically, economically, and socially – all for the benefit of a country whose GDP is less than that of New York City.

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Let’s You and Him Fight – An Introduction to Provokatsiya (part 2 of 5)

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Micro-Targeting, or Why We Unfriended So Many People in 2016

So far, I’ve focused on the means by which this propaganda introduced hostile memes into the American population, but I haven’t provided much detail about how ads, fake news, and trumped up hashtags successfully manipulated millions of Americans into voting for Trump (or at least the 70,000 it took to swing Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania). The story behind that is pretty interesting, and I’d be impressed with the cleverness of Putin’s tactics except for the part that they were (and still are) aimed at making my friends and family hate each other.

Promote a Candidate or Political Party

Sometimes an ad is just an ad. Facebook collects tons of data about its users. Their platform makes this pretty easy, really. We’re there to notify our loved ones about momentous events in our lives, to rant or rave about some topic dear to our hearts, and to watch other people doing the same (and possibly to respond to them). Facebook’s advertisers can target their ads, promoted news stories, and promoted groups using that data. We’re well beyond “white, married woman with no kids who likes to read,” here. Facebook knows when you’re in the market for a new car because you just asked your Facebook friends for recommendations. It knows you’ll be interested in knowing when your favorite band releases their next album because you added them to your Facebook profile or Liked their fan page. As with all such targeted advertising, it can be useful – even convenient – for most of the ads you see to be for products and services that might actually be of interest to you, but it holds opportunities for abuse, too.

At the basic level, Facebook advertisers can promote content by state, city, or down to zip code, if need be. This great for local businesses trying to reach their neighbors’ eyes, but also very useful for political campaigns attempting to encourage some people with the “right” political leanings to vote while encouraging those with the “wrong” political views to stay home – especially if those advertisers already have access to hacked voter information in those voting districts (which is a very important piece of this puzzle, but beyond the scope of this essay).

It turns out that it was also possible for them to identify, say, the “Jew haters” who used their platform, and Facebook was more than happy to help advertisers identify that tiny slice of users so that they could be targeted for advertising. Facebook’s claims that it didn’t know that its advertising platform could be used this way are rich coming from a company that made nearly 700,000 of its users unwitting test subjects in a 2012 experiment meant to control their emotions. Get out the vote is usually a nonpartisan exercise, but micro-targeting meant that a political party could target their get out the vote push solely at citizens who were almost certain to vote for candidates of that political party. This was a powerful weapon in swing districts and states where a comparative handful of votes could change the result.

Encourage Extremists

As a closer fit to the definition of provokatsiya, Russia used trolls (compensated agents) or bot networks (allowing a single such agent to amplify messages via thousands of sock puppet accounts) to encourage extreme elements within movements that could otherwise participate in civil dialogue with outsiders. The goal here is threefold:

First, it encourages and normalizes lawless behavior, subverting legitimate activist movements unless the group routinely kicks out extremists and suspected agents provocateurs. Most groups can’t or won’t do this because authority in a grassroots activist organization is nearly always decentralized, so who has the power to tell someone they’re not allow to show up at next Saturday’s march? Those extreme voices can provoke other members to embrace extremism in turn. This extremism need not be violence. It can instead be, say, a refusal to vote for an imperfect candidate in favor of staying home or voting for a third party even though “standing on principle” means a much, much more troubling candidate will win the election.

For example of this in action, a woman who goes by the Twitter handle @CassandraRules started out as a vocal Bernie-or-buster, but now she is an enthusiastic Trump supporter. How could anyone who ostensibly supports single-payer healthcare and breaking up the big banks for all throw her lot in with a man who just signed an executive order stripping healthcare from 8 million people and has pledged to lower taxes for the big banks? Here’s a hint: She works for Sputnik, a Russian propaganda news outlet.

I think we’ll ultimately find that Moscow used mico-targeting to find people who would be sympathetic to progressive causes and messages and attempted to radicalize them, first. As someone who caucused for Bernie, I watched with horror as people I knew held largely the same political views as I do chose not to vote in 2016 or cast a protest vote for Jill Stein (Why was she with Michael Flynn at the Russian dinner, again?). Democrats and progressives alike have long bemoaned the tendency of working class whites to vote against their own interests by putting Republicans in office who will only make it easier for the rich to exploit them, but 2016 proved that those of us on the left are capable of putting Republicans in power, too.

Second, the presence of extremists in any organization tends to undermine the credibility of its message in the public eye and makes it more difficult for it to form coalitions with groups that would otherwise be its allies. That Russia was amplifying these extreme views on social media did not do those organizations any favors in the court of public opinion.

After the 2016 convention, a lot of Democrats had a very low opinion of Bernie Sanders supporters. The primary race was hard-fought and contentious, to be sure, but so were the 2008 primaries. I remember getting continually lumped in with sexist Bernie Bros and worthless Bernie-or-Busters, and yes, it was frustrating and I can see why other Sanders supporters may have been turned off by it. This was the harvest of the previous year of provokatsiya among progressives. People who should have been able to agree that Donald Trump would be a disastrous president and who should have been willing to fight tooth and nail to keep him out of the Oval Office wasted a lot of energy sniping at each other as Kremlin trolls cheered on both sides from the rafters of the tavern’s common room.

Third, extreme voices attributed to an organization make a marvelous recruiting tool for people who oppose that organization. Russian agents then use further provokatsiya to amplify and radicalize the voices within the organization that forms as a reaction against the first organization. And thanks to micro-targeting, the Kremlin can build counter-organizations and counter-counter-organizations ad nauseum.

In some cases, provokatsiya is hard to detect. This is the internet we’re talking about, here, and we’re all familiar with the formula “normal person + anonymity = complete asshole.” Even when looking at non-assholes, the web in general – and social media in particular – tends to bring out people’s propensity for hyperbole, particularly when we’re expressing our opinions about emotionally charged events and figures. I won’t deny that I’m guilty of this myself. Moreover, we all have a few friends who hold some opinions that make us roll our eyes whenever they bring them up, and allowing everyone a few such eccentricities has become a means of keeping the peace to avoid burning bridges.

Several examples of this have already come out, and I’m sure we’ll see many more, but let’s create an example of this process out of the largely defunct Occupy Wall Street movement (which to my knowledge was not a target of provokatsiya):

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Let’s You and Him Fight – An Introduction to Provokatsiya (part 1 of 5)

My 6th grade D&D game had a rogue who liked to watch other people fight, despite being really bad at combat himself. Whenever we returned from the dungeon, he would immediately find the largest, rowdiest tavern and town and scan the crowd for the biggest, toughest-looking bruisers in the common room. He would spend a little bit of time seeking out rumors about what was likely to make the two deadly warriors, master wizards, or whatever absolutely furious. Then he would go to each one and let it slip that the other had said or done something unthinkably awful. This usually involved somebody’s mother (hey, all of us were 12 years old). The rogue would then find some place out of harm’s way to watch the resulting fight, which invariably escalated to include everyone in the common room (the rest of us quickly learned not to follow him on these little expeditions).

We didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a crude example of provokatsiya.

As we approach the end of nine months of the Trump Administration, we’ve been all but force-fed stories about malfeasance, corruption, and an apparent war on anyone who isn’t rich and white. Around the edges are the news stories that hint at collusion with Russia (if not outright espionage and treason), but sometimes what media types seem to think are huge stories about Facebook ads, Twitter bots, stolen voter roll data, and something about Cambridge Analytica seem kind of, well, not very interesting. Like what’s that thing about Russia buying ads for Black Lives Matter? And what purpose is served by using bots to retweet neo-Nazis?

I promise it makes more sense than it would appear, but real life provokatsiya requires a lot more set-up than merely tapping someone on the shoulder in a crowded tavern, pointing at a guy across the room, and telling them what he said about your mother.

Fake News is Not Fake News

In the last couple days, there have been a number of articles making the startling revelation that Facebook, Twitter, and even Pokemon Go were used to disseminate Russian propaganda ahead of the 2016 election. Since none of us saw ads on Facebook encouraging us to end the Magnitsky Act or “Make Russian Adoptions Great Again,” what is that about, exactly? The short version is that social media was used as a vector for a complex cocktail of Russian propaganda – a way to infect the eyes, brains, and hearts of Americans leading up to election day without revealing the source of those images, ideas, and stories.

Some of this was by means of advertisements on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. It turns out that some of these were literally paid for in Russian rubles, so there is very little question who was behind those. This is almost certainly what I’ve heard described as “the tip of the Zuckerberg.” Further investigation will likely reveal that many more were “Russia gives an agent in the U.S. a bunch of money, and that agent uses that money to make substantial donations to Super PACs or other groups that buy ads.” Don’t think “PARANOIA-esque parodies of Russians living in secret in America’s cities,” here. While some are likely to be Russian nationals or U.S. citizens of Russian descent, sadly, many were Americans who just weren’t very curious about where this payday was coming from. The fact that it is now possible to make contributions to some political organizations in Bitcoin proooobably didn’t make it harder on Moscow, either.

Some of these ads were just ads. I mean, it’s still not good that a foreign government was allowed to buy ads in support of a U.S. political campaign, party, or candidate (read: this was illegal), but a zillion ads featuring MAGA hats wouldn’t have accomplished what the Kremlin set out to do. Rather, they made use of things like Facebook’s “recommended article” feature to push fabricated news stories meant to lionize Trump while sowing doubts about Hillary Clinton. These invariably included headlines that made it difficult not to click on them, and their contents played into the readers’ biases so effectively that people shared them or retweeted them a lot – to the point where some estimate that 70 million Americans may have been exposed to Russian propaganda via Facebook alone (and again, that only includes the ones that paid Mark Zuckerberg in rubles).

In addition to fake news, Russian intelligence set up numerous Facebook groups meant to attract users of certain political persuasions. These were promoted with ads, populated in part by Kremlin trolls and bots who pushed propaganda, and served to direct visitors to sites where they could be exposed to more of Moscow’s messaging.

The tactic of getting a hashtag trending seems like an ancient one to those of us who have been on Twitter for several years – to the point where Facebook copied the feature for their own platform a couple years ago. Trending topics attract attention, especially when they come with evocative or just plain curious hashtags.

Not only do ordinary Twitter users check them out, but news media has learned that they can use trending stories to identify news as it is breaking. This includes news about topics that people seem to be sufficiently interested in to spend a bunch of time talking about them on Twitter. It looks like a safe bet that some enterprising journalist could check out the hashtag, do a bit of research, and use it to produce a news segment. And so a social media hashtag becomes a news story.

Historically, this has been a pretty nifty feature of the platform, but it turns out that Russia was all over that angle, as well. They created hundreds of thousands (if not hundreds of millions) of bot accounts for Twitter and other social media platforms whose singular purpose was to amplify fake news stories and other Moscow-approved messages. Once the hashtag started trending, U.S. users would pick it up and share it in turn. Then members of the media would notice the trend, investigate, and conclude that Americans were suddenly very interested in, say, Hillary Clinton’s emails (or Pizzagate or whatever). So then that story would hit the news, and suddenly literally everyone was consuming a nonstop diet of Russian propaganda no matter where they turned for their news.

Americans have been blessed with a news media that they can reasonably trust to provide them with honest reporting. We might disagree with their choice of focus or their editorial commentary, and we certainly learn to trust some sources less than others. To be fair, Hillary did have an email thing that could have been handled better, but our trusted Fourth Estate, those stalwart bastions of the 1st Amendment, failed us because they forgot to ask the key question of why all these weird hashtags and fake news stories were as thick as dandelions on every social media platform in 2016. Instead of seeking out news, they let Twitter and Facebook (and millions of Russian bots amplifying Kremlin messages) tell them what news was important. And so they missed the biggest story of the year (if not the century).

Go to Part 2

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Why Do We Insist on Playing Musical Chairs?

Musical chairs is a terrible game that pretty much no one over the age of 12 actually enjoys. It flies in the face of many of the things that make a game fun. It requires a large number of players, which means your odds of winning a game are much lower than if you played a more modern game involving 2-6 opponents. Moreover, the method by which play proceeds means that the average player in any game spends the majority of the game in an eliminated state, barred from further participation until the next game begins. These factors conspire to encourage and reward a cutthroat style of play that leads to pushing, shoving, body-checking, and disputes over which player is sitting on a larger percentage of a chair. Few things more closely resemble the social dynamic of Lord of the Flies or the battle royale games of some horrific dystopian universe than a group of adults playing musical chairs.

And yet here we are – playing musical chairs where the stakes are the lives and health of ourselves and all the rest of humanity.

There’s been a lot of talk over the course of the last 18 months about how companies in the U.S. have been sending good manufacturing jobs overseas. The argument implicit in this assertion is that if we could find some way to convince companies that it was in their best interests to bring those jobs back to our country, all those manufacturing jobs would come right back. This is, in fact, utterly untrue, because it isn’t the Chinese who are stealing our jobs. It is advances in automation.

These jobs aren’t coming back. The rate at which they will disappear continues to accelerate. Some fast food restaurants are already committed to creating a self-service experience, Amazon has created a handful of experimental grocery stores with no checkout lines, and self-driving vehicles are putting truck, bus, and cab drivers on notice that their days are numbered. Automated systems are reaching such a level of sophistication that they will soon begin replacing white collar professions, too. Matt has talked about how computers can write most of the articles on business news sites these days, commercial airline pilots are no longer safe from automation, and fully autonomous robot surgeons are moving out of the realm of science fiction. Artists, musicians, and writers will likely continue to dance creative circles around computers for a bit longer, but even we shouldn’t get so cocky as to assume we are inimitable.

Futurists, technologists, and scientists can get pretty “gee whiz is this ever cool” about these changes. They are very clever, and robots have the potential to do the majority of the work currently done by humans. And this sort of thing is in our blood. Human history is a succession of advances in ways to avoid having to do the scut work previous generations took for granted as unavoidable chores necessary to day-to-day life. Some of these were pretty horrible, but most of the time they legitimately increased humanity’s productivity.

Better robots and AIs have a dark side, however. The people who currently do jobs that are eliminated still need food, shelter, clothes, and medicine. They still want to have fun, to give their children a better life, to feel that they are growing as human beings and contributing to society in some meaningful way. As the number of jobs computers do increases, it leaves fewer and fewer jobs available for those humans. This will eventually reach a crisis point, and what we’ve seen in U.S. politics in the last 18 months is only a taste of what is to yet to come.

As a species, we face a stark choice, and different groups have already started taking sides in this debate – quite often without realizing they are participating in it. As we approach the Singularity, we are likely to respond in one of four ways to this loss of jobs:

1. Reject technological progress.

2. Eliminate our competitors for the shrinking number of available jobs.

3. Learn to accept that we will have to allow a certain percentage of the people around us to die.

4. Transform society to decouple work from the opportunity to live comfortably.

Let’s consider potential end states for these.

 

Option #1: The Luddite Option

Blame the robots. Get angry at the people who develop and program AIs. Rail against companies who seek out ways to replace humans with sophisticated, computer-operated machines.

This was foreseen decades ago by folks like Isaac Asimov, and science fiction continues to explore the theme in myriad ways. My first contact with it in modern life was in a late-80’s issue of MAD Magazine when I was still a child – an Al Jaffee fold-in showing a man cooking dog food for his family and whose answer was “a robot took his job.” We see it today as retail and fast food workers lose jobs to self-checkout lanes and as truckers and taxis look nervously at the emergence self-driving automobiles.

It is not surprising that people in those professions (and their allies) should object to that. Under the current model (capitalism), replacing a human with a computer means that a human no longer has a job – and when this becomes an industry-wide trend, those workers might not be able to secure employment that affords a comparable standard of living. It is a sentence to abject poverty – homelessness, food insecurity, ostracization, and a lack of disposable income – that leads to poor health and, ultimately, death.

It is fair to say that companies seek to replace their labor force because they want to help the bottom line. Human laborers need sleep. They get sick. They vary greatly in the quality of their work. They expect benefits. They demand higher wages. Sometimes they even unionize for those things. Removing as much of the human element of their business as can be replaced by automated labor cuts out all of those complications, which bolsters profits at the expense of putting people out of work.

While this response by laborers is to be expected, attempting to halt the progress of automation has ever proved futile. You can even see examples of this in American folklore. So while it is reasonable to hate job-stealing robots and computers, the workers are not going to convince the bosses to replace these technological marvels with human laborers. Where computers fall short in at job, it has become more cost-effective to improve the programming of the machine than to replace it with a person.

Laborers and unions can try to stand in the way of automations. Activists can put pressure on corporations that embrace this technology by (rightfully) pointing out the profit motive. But in the end, the machines will win – because they always have. With each embrace of technological innovation, with each stoppage of the music, one of those chairs is going away.

Option #2: The Scapegoat Option

This one is, sadly, a time-honored favorite of our species. It involves designating human scapegoats for changes that are actually being caused by other forces – in this case, advances in labor-saving technology. These scapegoats are then denied work, driven out, or killed outright in order to eliminate them from the pool of people competing for an ever-shrinking selection of jobs.

This has been going on in our country for centuries, at varying degrees of intensity, as the perceived in-group blames immigrants, racial minorities, immigrants, religious minorities, immigrants, foreign countries, anyone with an identity the in-group deems unacceptable for the current woes of society, and did I mention immigrants? At the best of times, it is a continual obstacle to social justice efforts in the country. On darker days, it leaves a shameful legacy.

Scapegoating can go to some horrific and morally unconscionable places. Sometimes it whips up a violent mob. Quite often, though, some political leader harnesses this fear by giving people tacit permission to destroy the scapegoats in exchange for granting him the power to achieve his personal political ambitions. Genocide (the ultimate expression of scapegoating) is a barbaric but effective way of eliminating surplus labor in a society. That Donald Trump made scapegoating rhetoric the center point of his presidential campaign is the reason people fear that he will bend the U.S. toward true fascism.

(This doesn’t get into the reasons why certain groups are historically singled out as scapegoats, which is by no means irrelevant to the topic, but is beyond the scope of this essay.)

The problem with the scapegoating option is pretty obvious, however. It doesn’t change the fact that the job market is still a game of musical chairs. Every year there will be fewer chairs, and so every year Americans will have to find another out-group to drive out or destroy. Eventually, the people who control the robots will be the only ones with seats in the game. God only knows how they will while away their time after that, but 99.9% of us won’t be around by then, having been exterminated or exiled as we became extraneous to the new order.

Option #3: The Plutocracy Option

Wealth is virtue, and poverty is vice. The rich have earned the right to any decadence. The poor deserve nothing – not even dignity.

This option has a similar end scenario to the previous one, but it is much more random and spreads its moral hazard across a much larger segment of society. It works like this: Encourage people to regard poverty as something that is deserved, rather than something that could happen to any of them. Whenever a friend or neighbor or family member’s source of income is eliminated by misfortune or the march of technological progress – whenever someone’s chair is removed from the game – people learn to treat it as a natural consequence of some moral failing on her part. These things are not tragedies, and society loses nothing of value if these people fall into abject poverty and die while those who control and own the robots live lavishly.

Why would decent people ignore the plight of the poor among them to such an awful degree? Some of the people who still have jobs are watching the train of automation coming toward them, too, and they are making preparations in hopes of somehow surviving their own obsolescence. This means that although they may have ample resources now, they are painfully aware that this will not be the case forever. Another fraction of those with jobs are already stretched thin financially – earning minimum wage as software engineers and physicians. They can’t afford to feed the hungry without risking their own starvation. Some will still reach out with altruistic hands as humans have done in every era of poverty, but when every year sees an increase in the unemployment rate, the sheer number of poor people who need basic necessities will reach a point where even the living saints are apt to despair at how little they can alleviate the suffering around them.

Then there are the ones who adapt to this new age of cognitive dissonance, of believing that those struck down by misfortune or replaced by advances in automation deserve poverty, all the while refusing to admit that they could ever suffer the same fate.

Like the scapegoat option, the plutocracy option continues our current game of musical chairs. Those who can maintain ownership over the organizations deploying these advances in automation stand to establish massive fortunes while 99.9% of the population lives in a squalor where death by starvation, disease, and desperate violence is a constant threat. Eventually, those incredibly rich people stand over a depopulated planet as its rulers and sole occupants. God only knows what they do with their time after that. As with the final stage of the scapegoat option, none of us will be around to see the end stage of the plutocracy option.

Republicans have been feeding Americans with this line of reasoning for at least as far back as Reagan. They cut it with a healthy dose of scapegoating along racial and religious divides. Things like attacking the availability of birth control play nicely into this:

First, children are incredibly resource-intensive, as anyone paying for daycare or college. Forcing them on people who can’t afford them (and know they can’t afford them) prevents those families from rising out of poverty. It prevents them from competing with the plutocrats and ensures there are enough desperately poor workers available to keep wages deflated until full automation comes into effect.

Second, children force you to think about someone else’s well-being when making decisions, such that taking up arms and risking your own life to defend your own children is a no-brainer, but doing so on behalf of a stranger’s is considerably more difficult to justify. Move those strangers into scapegoatable categories, and why on Earth would you orphan your children for the sake of those people?

Third, parents – and especially poor parents – become a scapegoatable category in themselves. The “if you don’t want kids, don’t have sex” argument is easy to pronounce, but it walls off one of the most essential expressions of human intimacy and one of the least expensive forms of entertainment (so long as birth control is in place).

Option #4: The Cooperative Option

Embrace automation in a way that does not serve the interests of a tiny minority. No one deserves to starve. No one deserves to be homeless. No one deserves to die of preventable health problems – whether chronic (diabetes) or catastrophic (cancer).

Thanks to technology, the per-capita productivity of human industries is higher than at any time in history. Twenty years ago, much of my job would have involved hours of sifting through paper records (I know because some of my colleagues were there). Fifty years ago, it would have involved countless hours on a typewriter. A hundred years ago, it would have involved typing each of those records multiple times. Thanks to computers, access to any of tens of millions of files requires seconds, and it’s possible to update hundreds of files in a matter of minutes.

The same is true of virtually every service industry and many manufacturing jobs, as well. We are accomplishing more work than our parents (and far more than our grandparents and great grandparents), and yet somehow we are still expected to work the same number of hours and retire later in life? Automation could be freeing us of the need to work as much as we do, but instead we belittle those whose jobs have been lost to it and bemoan it when it threatens to render our jobs obsolete, too. The productive capacity of the economy has not been reduced by these machines – on the contrary. Why, then, is automation of industries and the replacement of entire swaths of workers seen as a tragedy?

Capitalism – or at least the current form of capitalism in the United States that says that if you can’t or don’t have a job, you will eventually become hopelessly, irreversibly impoverished.

If we want humanity to survive the singularity without genocides, violent revolutions, or economic eugenics, we need to create a world in which a basic standard of living is divorced from traditional work. It is a world where automation allows people to take care of each other, instead of being used as an excuse to drive them away or leave them behind.

What does this look like?

Single-payer healthcare (Medicare for all): Other countries have been doing this for decades – even before computers. Healthcare in the U.S. is tremendously expensive for several different reasons, but a lot of them boil down to the fact that it involves so many parties (the health insurance industry in the U.S. employed 525,600 people in 2015, and that ignores the administrative employees of hospitals who file all those insurance forms and the pounds of flesh demanded by pharmaceutical and health tech companies), each of which drives up the final cost to the consumer. Not only is the current model financially wasteful, it causes the majority of bankruptcies (in 2010, at the time ACA passed, this was 62% of bankruptcies and 78% of those had health insurance). It is expected that the repeal of ACA (a far cry from universal healthcare) will result in the deaths of north of 40,000 Americans per year.

The failure of the United States to implement some viable form of universal healthcare is an economic catastrophe and a humanitarian crisis that we have been ignoring for too long.

Universal Basic Income (Social Security for all): Some countries are already experimenting with this, and others are mulling it. To some extent, its aim is to replace other social programs, reducing administrative costs of current poverty-relief programs. In a post-singularity world where jobs are scarce, however, it will need to do more than prevent starvation and provide access to other necessities of survival like clothes and housing. The goal of such a program would not be, as is often the case with Welfare, to encourage people to seek employment as soon as possible. Rather, it would need to provide a high enough standard of living to allow leisure.

Won’t that mean people stay home all day and watch Netflix? For a certain percentage of people, yes. Instead of condemning the idea to prevent the decadent leisure of those people, consider what people are likely to do with that additional free time.

First, people with hard-to-automate skills can still ply them for additional money if that is their desire. They might choose to work part-time or fulltime, but it will depend on whether they regard their work (and the additional income) as a worthy use of their time.

Second, people will be able to assign meaning to their lives based on something other than their jobs. Some will volunteer for charity work or community service. Some will have time to care for family members – be they small children or aging parents. Some will make hobbies once confined to evenings and weekends a fulltime pursuit – whether it is the study of sciences, artistic pursuits (including writing and handcrafts), academic study, or teaching. It would promote the advancement of science, technology, and arts, unfettered by economic pressures.

Will humanity still face obstacles and catastrophes? Yes. But this economic model allows people to be altruistic without risking financial ruin. People may have the right to play WoW for 40 hours a week, but most people will still want to do something that gives meaning to their lives – whether that is engaging with a community, participating in some form of artistic expression, or preparing the next generation to take its place beneath the sun.

The singularity is not here yet. Current estimates predict its arrival in or around 2045 (after I retire, dammit!). But it is likely we will see it in our lifetimes, and the response we prepare for it now will shape the course of human history. Will we continue playing musical chairs, or will we at last embrace the cooperative games that pit all of humanity against everything Nature can throw against us?

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President Trump?

After a night of very bad sleep and a clinging-by-my-fingernails day at work, I stopped off at Target and picked up a random Lego set to build with William – something to do with him that wasn’t obsessively refreshing Facebook while he tried to engage with me. When I picked him up from his Spanish immersion daycare (which is almost if not entirely staffed by immigrants from South America, Central America, and Mexico), I took a moment to let them know that I am glad that all of them are a part of my community and a part of my son’s life. I ended up breaking down in tears and received a very warm hug.

To those who feel that you have targets on your back and are unwelcome in your own country – I want you here, and you have as much a right to live peacefully and free of discrimination and injustice as I do. I wish I could make this better for you. I know I can never fully appreciate what it means to know that certain crimes, when committed against you, seldom yield consequences for the perpetrators because of your race, sex, or other identifying characteristics.

I grew up in a little white town where no one would admit to being something other than straight and Christian. I’ve lived in Minneapolis for approaching 14 years, however, and even without really trying to engage in some kind of cultural outreach, my social circle is not nearly as homogeneous as it once was. I have friends who are Christians, pagans, and atheists. I count friends among every representative letter of LGBT. I work with colleagues of many different belief systems, races, and cultural backgrounds. And yes, many of our son’s friends have Latin heritage (and they throw truly amazing birthday parties – let me tell you).

On one hand, intellectually I know that many or even most of the people who turned out for Trump on Tuesday did so for the same reason that Bernie gathered a following during the primaries. The last eight years have been very good for some people, but a lot of folks feel like they have been lost in the shuffle, left behind by politicians who promised jobs and have instead gotten bogged down in pointless scandals and bickering. And I know they’re sick of waiting for help that never seemed to come for them. The reasons for this are complex (Congressional intransigence played a key role but not the only role), but “yes we can” tapered off into “no we probably won’t ever.”

The Democrats ignored that frustration to their sorrow. They failed to address it vigorously, instead putting forth a perfectly competent candidate who was nevertheless perceived as in bed with the very people who put them in this economic purgatory in the first place. When people started chanting Trump slogans, liberals disparaged them, belittled them, and generally made it clear that the Democrats did not need or want the votes of those who felt wronged by the system. Ironically, Sanders’ primary run probably helped Trump in the sense that it gave the GOP candidate someone to point at and say, “See? I freely admit that this one is a righteous man who understands your suffering all too well, but look how the Democrats rejected him because he is an outsider – just as I am an outsider and all of you are outsiders.” I remember a moment in the final debate where Trump brought up Bernie, and Hillary reminded everyone that Bernie had thrown in his lot with her. I thought it was an awkward attempt to woo progressives who had supported Sanders in the primary, but I think now that I simply wasn’t the target audience. The goal wasn’t to convince Bernie supporters to stay home; it was a reminder for the folks who didn’t really like politics but who *did* like what they saw of Bernie that the Democrats had rejected their populist candidate in favor of a centrist politician, leaving Trump the only outsider left in the race.

I think we will be examining what went wrong for Democrats in this race for years to come.

On the other hand, I can’t see this election result as anything but a catastrophic loss. Trump has opened floodgates of hatred against immigrants, the LGBT community, Muslims, and women. I have friends who are now dealing with suicidal ideation and suffering panic attacks because Trump has put a target on their backs, has exhorted his followers to deploy violence against them. I can’t accept my fellow Americans’ willingness to embrace fascism – not because I don’t respect their frustration but because it has put members of my community and people I care about in harm’s way. I can’t simply call for unity because while Trump’s supporters have elected Trump, what they have done is get in bed with the Republican party, which has a long history of trying to make these same members of my community and people I care about disappear (by force, if necessary).

I thought Bernie’s response today was spot-on when he said he welcomed opportunities to work with Trump where their agendas of lending aid to the disaffected members of the vanishing middle class aligned, but that he would vociferously oppose anything that would disenfranchise vulnerable Americans or advance a fascist agenda. I think that’s where I’m liable to land, here. Trump has done real damage to the civility of public discourse and is almost certain to spark a large uptick in violence against women, minorities, and immigrants. I’m not okay with that. But if this reality TV star can lay off the inflammatory rhetoric and love letters to Putin long enough to help solve some of the problems that Bernie was focused on, too, I will accept those as shared victories.

I don’t have a lot of hope that Trump is the right person for the job. His business experience seems to show him as great when the bat is in his hands but incapable of running to first base at more than a limping gait once he swings it. I respect the fact that he played the game better than anyone expected, but I just don’t think he has the temperament or stamina for public service. I suspect he will be another W – constantly out playing golf while other members of his administration do all the work of sending our country to hell in a hand basket (in some ways I have *less* faith in the GOP than in Trump). He might also be a Jesse Ventura – so loud and unwilling to compromise that he can’t get members of either party to go along with his agenda. I even hold out a tiny sliver of hope that his “fuck you, we’re doing it my way” will allow him to flit between the two parties and get shit done.

But from what I’ve seen of his cabinet picks so far, and from what we’ve seen of him on the campaign trail, my non-white, non-cishet, non-Protestant friends are right to worry about their literal safety and well-being. George W. Bush held onto power in 2004 in part because he kept the electorate focused on terrorist threats – most of which were manufactured fear-mongering fought with security theater. If Trump continues using the fascist playbook to drum up support and adulation the way Bush used the fabricated threat of a nuclear Iraq, we’re in for a very long term in office, and yes, we will need to fight it tooth and nail until we can oust him. But let’s not be the 2008 GOP – preemptively declaring that our sole goal is to make him a single-term president, because that was icky when they did it and it would be just as icky if we did it.

Those are my thoughts for now. Now I should get some sleep.

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Expanded Spell List for Adepts of Fate

Some folks on the Onyx Path forums recently started discussing the 2nd Edition Mage: The Awakening spell Chaos Mastery. There was a lot of confusion around this spell, which I take pretty seriously, since it was my responsibility to write the new Fate spells in a way that makes sense to gaming groups. I provided a more in-depth explanation there, but the short version is I tried to cram too many effects into Chaos Mastery, and the result is a fairly muddled spell that appears to do absolutely everything but doesn’t provide clear mechanics for how to do any of it. The purpose of this blog post is to remedy that.

A couple big caveats:

First, although I wrote Chaos Mastery, I am not the line developer for Mage: The Awakening. If the developer releases errata that clarifies Chaos Mastery, his official rulings trump anything I do here.

Second, these are house ruled spells, not an official Onyx Path product. They won’t work at every table. Some might even make convincing arguments that they are too powerful, too complicated, or otherwise unsuitable for their games or for many other people’s. That’s okay.

If you’re here because you wanted to see how, with the advantages of hindsight and unlimited word count, I would break the effects of Chaos Mastery into several spells so they are mechanically distinct from one another, you’re in the right place.

PDF Version Available Here

Adept of Fate

Choose the Slain (Fate ••••)

Practice: Patterning

Primary Factor: Duration

Withstand: Composure

Suggested Rote Skills: Athletic, Brawl, Firearms

Norse legends tell of valkyries – the women who choose which warriors live and which ones die on the battlefield. An Adept of Fate does not have as much power to choose the slain as those legendary agents of fate did, but he can tilt the scales sharply to favor some combatants over others. Deployed as a blessing, the subject may enjoy the following benefits during the spell’s Duration, each use of which reduces the spell’s Potency by one:

• Reflexively reduce all damage to the subject from one attack or environmental effect to zero. A bullet hits a stray pigeon, a sword blade gets tangled up in the subject’s coat, or a grenade’s shrapnel miraculously misses him.

• Reflexively prevent the subject from gaining one new Condition or Tilt from any source. The subject blinks at just the right time to avoid being blinded by a bright light, for example, or he remembers a piece of advice from an old mentor that allows him to accept his moral failure without feeling Guilty. This affects magically imposed Conditions and Tilts but not ones that are purely supernatural (such as Soulless).

• Reflexively reroll all failed dice on a single roll after seeing the results of the roll. This does not affect spellcasting rolls or rolls to activate supernatural powers.

• Reflexively bolster the subject’s Resolve, Stamina, or Composure by two for the purpose of Withstanding, Resisting, or Contesting a supernatural power as it is used against her. This bonus is cumulative with any granted by expending Willpower.

Invoked as a curse, once per turn the mage may reflexively impose one of the following disadvantages on the subject during its Duration, each of which reduces the spell’s Potency by one:

• The subject’s mundane action is reduced to a chance die unless she spends a point of Willpower to resist this effect.

• The subject doesn’t benefit from Defense or effects that enhance Defense (such as cover) until the beginning of her next turn.

• The subject’s armor rating is reduced to 0 until the beginning of her next turn, and bulletproof armor loses that quality.

• The subject’s Resolve, Stamina, or Composure is treated as 0 for the purpose of Withstanding, Resisting, or Contesting supernatural powers.

Note that once the mage successfully places this curse, he does not need to touch or target the subject again to invoke the spell’s effects against her. Sensory range is adequate, and even sympathetic range is acceptable as long as the mage has access to the Space Arcanum.

+2 Reach: This spell can also affect spellcasting rolls and rolls to activate supernatural powers, as well as purely supernatural Conditions and Tilts.

Fatal Accident (Fate ••••)

Practice: Unraveling

Primary Factor: Potency

Suggested Rote Skills: Empathy, Occult, Science

The mage causes the subject to suffer a freak accident or medical emergency – anything from falling debris to a stray bullet to a stroke. This is a direct Unraveling attack that deals lethal damage equal to Potency. The spell is frequently a target of the Delayed Manifestation Attainment in hopes that it will catch the victim unawares (and hopefully with her defenses down) and that it may pass as nothing more than an unfortunate accident to anyone who doesn’t think to look for Fate magic.

+1 Reach: Spend one Mana to instead inflict aggravated damage.

Grant Wish (Fate ••••)

Practice: Patterning

Primary Factor: Duration

Withstand: Composure

Suggested Rote Skills: Academics, Expression, Subterfuge

The witch or faerie who grants wishes is a staple of folktales. In most such tales, wishes wielded carelessly or for personal gain do not lead to a happy ending for the one making the wishes, while those that make modest or selfless requests are less likely to come with strings (or horrible unintended consequences) attached. Similarly, attempts to use complicated and legalistic language to prevent misinterpretation seems only to make it more likely that fate will seek out a loophole to exploit – to the wish-maker’s sorrow. For reasons even the wisest of Acanthus do not understand, this also tends to happen to anyone who attempts to make more than three wishes in a lifetime.

This spell allows the subject to make a number of wishes during its Duration no greater than its Potency – up to one wish per turn. A wish sets the wheels of Fate into motion, and neither the mage nor the subject can know exactly how or when it will manifest. Because the spell only points destiny in the right direction, however, wishes don’t expire at the end of the spell’s Duration. However, a subject who has not yet made three wishes in her lifetime can always use a wish to negate the effects of one or both prior wishes without any danger that destiny will twist her words or intentions.

The Storyteller is the sole adjudicator of how and when a wish’s effect manifests. If a wish asks something he deems impossible, he may veto the wish, although in that case the wish is not used up. Casting this spell invites a shard of raw Arcadian power into the Fallen World – an act that should not be carried out lightly – and it is most safely wielded to benefit subjects other than the Fate mage and his cabalmates.

+1 Reach: Whenever the subject mentions a desire within the mage’s hearing, even if she does not phrase it as a wish, the mage may reflexively grant it as though it were the subject’s wish. This version of the spell is always Withstood, and wishes granted by force in this way rarely count toward the subject’s lifetime limit of three wishes.

Greater Blessing/Curse (Fate ••••)

Practice: Patterning

Primary Factor: Duration

Withstand: Composure

Suggested Rote Skills: Craft, Occult, Science

The mage manipulates destiny around the subject in a way that alters her relationship to one or more aspects of the world around her. Used as a curse, it manifests as a series of misfortunes or unlucky coincidences that complicate her life. Chance sparks ignite her clothes, cellphone battering go abruptly dead, gusts of wind seem hell bent on pushing her off cliffs and ledges, cars take on a mind of their own around her, or falling objects seem to unerringly land on her head.

As a blessing, the twists of fate it sets into motion benefit her or even preserve her from harm. Gentle breezes cool her on a hot day, driving rain unexpectedly abates for the sixty seconds it takes her to cross the parking lot, the Molotov cocktail thrown through her window sputters out after a few seconds without doing any serious damage, doors conveniently unlock at her touch, or falling debris somehow barely misses her.

Choose Forces, Life, Matter, or Mind.

For the Duration of the spell, the Storyteller may create a twist of fate that emulates the effects of one Compelling spell of the chosen Arcanum. The effect is still treated as a Fate spell (not a spell of the chosen Arcanum), although it can be manipulated by the appropriate Arcanum as can any natural manifestation within the Arcanum’s purview. These effects aren’t under the mage’s direct control, although they should be in line with his general intentions for casting the spell and they should occur with reasonable frequency – at least once per scene but as often as once per turn.

The Storyteller may also create twists of fate that emulate the effect of Ruling or Shielding spells of the chosen Arcanum, following the same guidelines as above. However, the spell will not cause or prevent more incidents during its Duration than the spell’s Potency.

All of these manifestations of Fate are built with the assumptions of instant casting and a primary spell factor equal to Fate dots but are otherwise base effects and cannot be improved by Yantras, Mana, or Reach (but see below).

+1 Reach: Manifestations created by this spell instead have one spell factor of the mage’s choice that uses the advanced table. This Reach effect can be purchased multiple times but must affect a different spell factor each time.

+1 Reach: When calculating the subject’s Withstand, the manifestations created by this spell are treated as having two additional Potency.

+1 Reach: Although the mage cannot choose the exact form a twist of fate may take, he or the subject may choose to invoke one of the spell’s remaining Ruling/Shielding manifestations up to once per scene as a reflexive action.

+1 Reach: The mage may choose one additional Arcanum.

+1 Reach: The mage’s choice of Arcana is no longer limited to Forces, Life, Matter, and Mind. She may instead choose Death, Space, Prime, Spirit, or Time.

+2 Reach: The mage may choose a total of four Arcana.

+4 Reach: The twists of fate this spell creates can emulate the effects of all Arcana (with the exception of Fate).

New Two-Dot Attainment

Fate: Delayed Manifestation

While a skilled Fate mage can bend destiny to her will, it is sometimes equally effective to merely set events into motion and let Fate pick an opportune moment to manifest. In some cases, the element of surprise  The spell affected by this Attainment counts against the number of spells under the mage’s control, but the spell’s Duration does not elapse, and the subject is not considered under the effects of the spell, until the spell manifests. However, it is considered an Opacity 2 Mystery for the purpose of Active Fate Sight and an alteration of destiny when viewed via Interconnections.

System: Spend a point of Mana and choose a maximum delay of no less than 24 hours and minimum delay that is at least 12 hours prior to maximum delay. The mage can stipulate that the spell will manifest in eight to 24 hours, for example, but could not guarantee that the spell will manifest in 24 to 30 hours (a gap of less than 12 hours) nor that it will be take effect in four to 16 hours (a maximum delay of less than 24 hours).

+1 Reach: The mage can set a maximum delay of as little as eight hours, and the gap between the minimum and maximum delay can be as narrow as three hours.

+2 Reach: As the first Reach effect, but this is instead four hours and one hour, respectively.

Some Clarifications Regarding Writer Intention

Quantum Flux has no effect on penalties to spellcasting rolls. The wording in the first paragraph is a little vague.

My intention with spells like Reading the Outmost Eddies and Shifting the Odds is that the do not require a prolonged Duration. Much like the Delayed Manifestation Attainment, these simply sets events into motion such that the subject will experience a minor twist of fate in the near future. Only a one turn Duration is necessary for Reading the Outmost Eddies, and the Duration of Shifting the Odds can be however long the mage thinks he’ll need any Merit created by this spell.

Serendipity originally had an effect similar to Delayed Manifestation as a base effect (no Mana cost), but it was cut for space. It won’t break anything to add it back in. It can also be fun to cast this spell on another subject so that they’re the one who receives the omen. Not everyone will heed such portents, but for those who do, a minor Condition like Inspired or Spooked could be appropriate.

As I explained on the Onyx Path forums, due to looming word count limits, I tried to make Chaos Mastery do too many different things. The rest of this blog entry is an attempt to spin off different sub-effects of that spell into their own separate spells to reduce concept bleed.

Now that I’ve put in a bunch of work creating some mechanics for using Fate •••• to emulate some lesser effects of other Arcana, I’ll note that Miracle can probably be used in a similar way with more advanced Practices, but it’s not unreasonable to limit it to Forces, Life, Matter, and Mind.

As with the new spells and Attainment, none of these are official errata, and anything the developer has to say about them holds more weight than what I was attempting to convey as a writer.

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The Five Cadet Blades of the Academy of Harmonious Jade Dragons

I’ve been visiting with family this week, which means I’ve had juuuust enough downtime to tinker with a random artifact for 3rd Edition Exalted. After posting it, I received some calls to write up the other four, which I’ve now done. This began as an experiment in what can be done with an artifact weapon that had only Evocations with an Essence 1 minimum but was something a player might conceivably want without being game-breaking in the hands of a more experienced Exalt. The result was a quintet of training blades intended to teach a gifted but still inexperienced student how to use the weapon to best advantage.

Yeah. In theory you could attune all five cadet blades and use it to access ten different Charms for which you don’t have the Essence. That’s more than a little bit of a trap, however, since it means committing 25 motes and spending up to 200 Experience on a gambit that ends with you having purchased ten Evocations that no longer do anything.

I think it could be fun to give these to the characters of a group of players who are new to Exalted, as they also sort of function as training artifact weapons for players to learn slightly more advanced tactics like chopping, disengage/rush, and Clash Attacks.

Here is a PDF version.

The Five Cadet Blades of the Academy of Harmonious Jade Dragons

The cadet blades are a set of five jade swords – one for each element – forged by the crafts instructor of the Academy of Harmonious Jade Dragons during the Shogunate. The esteemed martial arts college held a swordsmanship competition each season for those students who had not enrolled more than a year ago. The winner in each season received one of the five jade cadet blades as a trophy to be worn until the next year’s contest in that season, at which time the student was expected to pass it to the next champion.

The cadet blades were a daiklaive of red jade, a reaper daiklaive of green jade, a grand daiklaive of black jade, a short daiklaive of blue jade, and a reaver daiklaive of white jade. The five cadet blades marked those who showed exceptional promise, but those champions who meditated upon the blades found that more advanced martial disciplines came to them more easily. The swords’ creator intended that they be teaching aides as well as trophies, but he did not wish that any student should grow too reliant upon them and so grow reluctant to pass them to the next champion, and so they were forged to diminish in power as the champion grew in knowledge.

For fifty years the five cadet blades passed from champion to champion, and the academy’s masters noticed, but hardly remarked, the subtle resonance between the weapons that caused each blade to call to the others. It wasn’t until Jade Grass Drifting, the champion of the Green Cadet Blade, killed Crimson Running River (the champion of the Red Cadet Blade) in an unsanctioned duel and seized the red blade for himself that anyone understood why the old crafts instructor had stipulated that no student should wield two cadet blades at once, for Jade Grass Drifting discovered he could learn from both cadet blades. Knowing he would be stripped of them because of his forbidden duel, he fled the academy. The other champions discovered that they could sense the red and green blades through their own and, enraged by the theft of two of the cadet blades, they wished to bring Jade Grass Drifting to justice and return the cadet blades to the academy.

The masters of the academy forbade this, for they knew that the cadet blades the champions carried would fail the eager students and so fall into the hands of outsiders. Their decree held for several years, until the champion of the Black Cadet Blade undertook that quest without the masters’ approval. She did not return, and so the number of cadet blades at the Academy of Harmonious Jade Dragons was reduced to two. The masters of the academy locked away the remaining cadet blades in separate vaults, but a well-meaning young student overcame the wards that protected the Blue Cadet Blade and disappeared on the same quest that had taken the champion of the Black Cadet Blade. This left only the White Cadet Blade in the possession of the masters of the Academy f Harmonious Jade Dragons.

The White Cadet Blade

(White Jade Reaver Daiklaive, Artifact •••)

The academy was hard-hit by the Great Contagion, which killed everyone who knew how to access the White Cadet Blade, and so the Scarlet Empress’s forces found the school abandoned except for a handful of students and a single master teacher, whom House Cathak convinced to join the staff at the Academy of Bells. The White Cadet Blade was recovered by one of that master’s former students in the teacher’s twilight days. It again became a trophy and teaching tool at the Academy of Bells, although no student was allowed to keep it for more than a season at a time – a rule that seems to have spared it from the fate of its brother blades for several centuries. A year ago, however, the White Cadet Blade and its champion disappeared along with four other Dragon-Blooded students, so ending the legacy of the cadet blades of the Academy of Harmonious Jade Dragons. Those who knew the young Dynasts say the five hoped to gather all five cadet blades together, but the artifacts are surely so scattered across Creation by now, and so no one expects to see the champion, his friends, or the White Cadet Blade ever again.

The White Cadet Blade is intended as a teaching tool only and does not have a hearthstone socket.

Evocations of the White Cadet Blade

A Solar or Dragon-Blooded who attunes to the White Cadet Blade can sense the direction in which every other cadet blade lies. Additionally, if she gives the daiklaive freely to another Solar or Dragon-Blooded with Essence 1, she receives a full refund of all Experience (and Solar Experience) she has spent on the artifact’s Evocations and may immediately spend these without the need for training time. If the former champion unlocked White Blade Cadet and/or White Blade Champion, she almost always uses some of this Experience to purchase the Charms those Evocations granted her (provided her Essence is now high enough).

Ruthless Reaver’s Chop

Cost: 2m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Supplemental

Keywords: Dual

Duration: Instant

Prerequisites: None

The White Cadet Blade guides the student’s hand through the chopping motions that leverage the reaver daiklaive’s weight, adding force to her strikes until she has mastered her technique. When making a chopping attack with the White Cadet Blade, the wielder increases the raw damage of a withering attack by an additional (6 – twice Essence) or treats the target’s Hardness as an additional (6 – twice Essence) lower on a decisive attack. For example, the withering chopping attack of a wielder with Essence 1 inflicts an additional 7 raw damage (4 due to this Evocation, plus the usual 3 for chopping), and the decisive chopping attack by an Essence 1 wielder treats the target’s Hardness as 6 lower (4 for the Evocation, plus 2 for due to chopping). This is 5 raw damage or 4 Harness lower at Essence 2, and this Evocation grants no advantage to a wielder with Essence 3 or higher.

Penultimate Executioner’s Strike

Cost: 2m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Reflexive

Keywords: Withering-only

Duration: Instant

Prerequisites: Ruthless Reaver’s Chop

The White Cadet Blade teaches its pupil to wait for the moment when her opponent is most vulnerable before launching the attack that separates head from shoulders. The wielder may activate this Evocation when she crashes an opponent or achieves initiative shift on a withering attack with White Cadet Blade to gain additional Initiative equal to (6 – twice Essence). A wielder with Essence 2, for example, would gain 7 Initiative by crashing an opponent (2 for this Evocation, plus the normal 5) and would gain 2 additional Initiative after achieving initiative shift. One with Essence 1 would gain 9 Initiative or 4 extra Initiative, while one with Essence 3 or higher receives no benefit from this Evocation.

White Blade Cadet

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: Penultimate Executioner’s Strike

The White Cadet Blade helps its apprentice master a technique that lies just beyond her grasp. When the wielder unlocks this Evocation, she chooses one Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm for which she meet all prerequisites except its Essence requirement. She may instead choose a Martial Arts Charm that meets these criteria, but the style must be compatible with chopping swords. Regardless, she can use that Charm following normal activation rules so long as she is attuned to and carries White Cadet Blade. This Evocation cannot be used as a prerequisite for other Charms, but it can be used as a prerequisite for Charms gained through White Blade Champion or other Cadet Blade Evocations that allow the wielder to gain access to Charms.

White Blade Champion

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: White Blade Cadet

The White Cadet Blade provides her protégé with a final lesson, sometimes building on the technique it already taught her and sometimes guiding her down a different educational path. When the wielder masters this Evocation, she chooses a second Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm per the prerequisite Evocation. This Evocation cannot be used as the prerequisite for other Charms except for those granted by other Cadet Blade Evocations that grant the wielder access to Charms.

Green Cadet Blade

(Green Jade Reaper Daiklaive, Artifact •••)

Jade Grass Drifting fled the Academy of Harmonious Jade Dragons with both the Green Cadet Blade and the Red Cadet Blade. Despite the circumstances under which he became the champion of two cadet blades, he learned wisdom during his exile. He joined the garrison of Lookshy as a common soldier but quickly rose to the rank of sergeant and spent decades as a weapons instructor, his training blades set aside as trophies of who he had been as a young man. He seemed likely to live a long and quiet life.

Two recruits learned that the old sergeant had two daiklaives, and they conspired to rob him of them. They wormed their way into positions as members of Jade Grass Drifting’s assistants. Then, when they were alone with the old sergeant in his home, they drugged him, stole both cadet blades, and deserted. The thieves soon went their separate ways. The one who stole the Green Cadet Blade sold it to a merchant of jade artifacts for a fraction of its worth, and it ended up in a caravan bound for one of the petty city-states in what would become the Hundred Kingdoms. The ruling prince purchased it as a gift for his heir, and the Green Cadet Blade passed from generation to generation until the Great Contagion. Salvagers recovered it from the ruins of the manse that had once been the prince’s seat of power, but they were waylaid by Wyld barbarians, and the Green Cadet Blade has been missing ever since.

Evocations of the Green Cadet Blade

A Solar or Dragon-Blooded who attunes to the Green Cadet Blade can sense the direction in which every other cadet blade lies. Additionally, if she gives the daiklaive freely to another Solar or Dragon-Blooded with Essence 1, she receives a full refund of all Experience (and Solar Experience) she has spent on the artifact’s Evocations and may immediately spend these without the need for training time. If the former champion unlocked Green Blade Cadet and/or Green Blade Champion, she almost always uses some of this Experience to purchase the Charms those Evocations granted her (provided her Essence is now high enough).

The Green Cadet Blade is intended as a teaching tool only and does not have a hearthstone socket.

Swiftest Cutting Stroke

Cost: 2m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Reflexive

Keywords: None

Duration: One scene

Prerequisites: None

The Green Cadet Blade places itself in its student’s hand the moment that violence is called for and teaches him that the swiftest cutting stroke is the one most likely to decide whose blood will water the grass of the battlefield. The champion may activate this Evocation as part of a Join Battle roll, even if he is the victim of an unexpected attack. The champion’s Initiative is treated as (6 – double Essence) higher for the purpose of when he acts each round and whether he meets certain Initiative requirements (such as a Charm that requires her to be at Initiative 10+). This adds 4 to these Initiative effects at Essence 1, 2 at Essence 2, and provides no benefits at Essence 3 or higher. Additionally, if the character does not have a weapon drawn in combat, he may draw the Green Cadet Blade as a reflexive action at the beginning of his turn.

Fortifying Crimson Draught

Cost: 1m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Supplemental

Keywords: Decisive-only

Duration: Instant

Prerequisites: Swiftest Cutting Stroke

The Green Cadet Blade teaches the student to strike decisively as early as an opening presents itself, for even a wound that does not kill saps away the enemy’s ability to continue the fight. The champion may activate this Evocation upon making a successful decisive attack that deals at least one damage to an enemy whose Initiative is more than 0 but less than (30 – ten times Essence). The target loses (6 – twice the champion’s Essence) motes, which the champion gains. If the target has fewer motes than this attack can drain, any excess is added to the wielder’s Initiative after her Initiative resets.

An Essence 1 wielder can use this Evocation against a target with 1 to 19 Initiative and drains 4 motes per successful decisive attack that inflicts at least one damage. At Essence 2, this is Initiative 1 to 9 and drains 2 motes each time. At Essence 3 or higher this Evocation has no effect.

Green Blade Cadet

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: Fortifying Crimson Draught

The Green Cadet Blade helps its apprentice master a technique that lies just beyond her grasp. When the wielder unlocks this Evocation, she chooses one Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm for which she meet all prerequisites except its Essence requirement. She may instead choose a Martial Arts Charm that meets these criteria, but the style must be compatible with slashing swords. Regardless, she can use that Charm following normal activation rules so long as she is attuned to and carries Green Cadet Blade. This Evocation cannot be used as a prerequisite for other Charms, but it can be used as a prerequisite for Charms gained through Green Blade Champion or other Cadet Blade Evocations that allow the wielder to gain access to Charms.

Green Blade Champion

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: Green Blade Cadet

The Green Cadet Blade provides her protégé with a final lesson, sometimes building on the technique it already taught her and sometimes guiding her down a different educational path. When the wielder masters this Evocation, she chooses a second Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm per the prerequisite Evocation. This Evocation cannot be used as the prerequisite for other Charms except for those granted by other Cadet Blade Evocations that grant the wielder access to Charms.

Red Cadet Blade

(Red Jade Daiklaive, Artifact •••)

The thief who stole the Red Cadet Blade became an outlaw in the forested outskirts of Jiara. For some time he enjoyed modest success, but he was eventually captured by forces of the Shogunate and executed for his crimes. The satrap recognized the brigand’s weapon by its reputation but chose to give it to his Fire-Blooded daughter instead of returning it to the Academy. Pesius Sapphire took it with her on a voyage to the Blessed Isle, but she was swept overboard during a storm, and the Red Cadet Blade presumably lost at sea.

Evocations of the Red Cadet Blade

A Solar or Dragon-Blooded who attunes to the Red Cadet Blade can sense the direction in which every other cadet blade lies. Additionally, if she gives the daiklaive freely to another Solar or Dragon-Blooded with Essence 1, she receives a full refund of all Experience (and Solar Experience) she has spent on the artifact’s Evocations and may immediately spend these without the need for training time. If the former champion unlocked Red Blade Cadet and/or Red Blade Champion, she almost always uses some of this Experience to purchase the Charms those Evocations granted her (provided her Essence is now high enough).

The Red Cadet Blade is intended as a teaching tool only and does not have a hearthstone socket.

Pursuit-Foiling Fire

Cost: 2m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Supplemental

Keywords: None

Duration: One round

Prerequisites: None

The Red Cadet Blade teaches its pupil the importance of remaining mobile on the battlefield, willing to take a step back and circle around to find the best position from which to engage her opponent. This Evocation supplements a disengage attempt, encircling the champion in a wall of fire that screens her escape. Opponents who attempt to contest the attempt suffer environmental fire damage equal to (6 – twice Essence) dice of lethal damage and has a difficulty of 5 to resist. This is therefore 4 dice at Essence 1, 2 dice at Essence 2, and no damage at Essence 3 or higher. If one of the opponents she disengaged from moves toward her on his next turn, he suffers this environmental fire damage again. This fire fades at the beginning of the champion’s next turn.

Inescapable Wildfire Charge

Cost: 2m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Supplemental

Keywords: None

Duration: One round

Prerequisites: Pursuit-Foiling Fire

The Red Cadet Blade emphasizes the necessity of closing with an opponent, helping its student get close enough to cross swords with her enemy. This Evocation supplements a flurry that includes both a rush and an attack, reducing the penalty to both actions by (3 – Essence). If the rush succeeds (even if the attack misses), a wall of fire rises up behind the target, cutting of his escape. If the target attempts to move away from the champion on his next turn, he suffers environmental fire damage equal to (6 – twice the champion’s Essence) dice of lethal damage that has a difficulty of 5 to resist. This is therefore 4 dice at Essence 1, 2 dice at Essence 2, and no damage at Essence 3 or higher. The fire fades at the beginning of the champion’s next turn.

Red Blade Cadet

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: Inescapable Wildfire Charge

The Red Cadet Blade helps its apprentice master a technique that lies just beyond her grasp. When the wielder unlocks this Evocation, she chooses one Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm for which she meet all prerequisites except its Essence requirement. She may instead choose a Martial Arts Charm that meets these criteria, but the style must be compatible with straight swords. Regardless, she can use that Charm following normal activation rules so long as she is attuned to and carries Red Cadet Blade. This Evocation cannot be used as a prerequisite for other Charms, but it can be used as a prerequisite for Charms gained through Red Blade Champion or other Cadet Blade Evocations that allow the wielder to gain access to Charms.

Red Blade Champion

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: Red Blade Cadet

The Red Cadet Blade provides her protégé with a final lesson, sometimes building on the technique it already taught her and sometimes guiding her down a different educational path. When the wielder masters this Evocation, she chooses a second Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm per the prerequisite Evocation. This Evocation cannot be used as the prerequisite for other Charms except for those granted by other Cadet Blade Evocations that grant the wielder access to Charms.

Black Cadet Blade

(Black Jade Grand Daiklaive, Artifact •••)

The champion of the Black Cadet Blade felt the pull of the stolen Red and Green Cadet Blades and might have recovered both had not the crew of the ship on which she booked passage mutinied while in transit to Lookshy. The champion preserved her life by professing sympathy for the mutineers, a gambit that resulted in her joining them in acts of piracy against merchants first in the Inland Sea and later in the West.

The exact path of the Black Cadet Blade from one champion to the next in the following centuries is murky at best. A weapon matching its description and possessing capabilities eerily similar to those of its first Evocation was last spotted in the hands of a scion of the Lintha Family five years ago.

Evocations of the Black Cadet Blade

A Solar or Dragon-Blooded who attunes to the Black Cadet Blade can sense the direction in which every other cadet blade lies. Additionally, if she gives the daiklaive freely to another Solar or Dragon-Blooded with Essence 1, she receives a full refund of all Experience (and Solar Experience) she has spent on the artifact’s Evocations and may immediately spend these without the need for training time. If the former champion unlocked Black Blade Cadet and/or Black Blade Champion, she almost always uses some of this Experience to purchase the Charms those Evocations granted her (provided her Essence is now high enough).

The Black Cadet Blade is intended as a teaching tool only and does not have a hearthstone socket.

Adaptable Warrior’s Arsenal

Cost: 1m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Reflexive or Simple

Keywords: None

Duration: One scene

Prerequisites: None

No warrior can count on having his preferred weapon on hand in every fight, and so the wise soldier practices with many different kinds of weapons – a habit the Black Cadet Blade gladly facilitates. The champion may change the Black Cadet Blade into any large melee weapon or into two identical medium melee weapons. This weapon (or weapons) possesses the keywords, damage, accuracy, and other attributes of an artifact weapon of the new weapon type. The transformation lasts until the end of the scene, until the wielder ends the effect as a reflexive action, or until he uses this Evocation again. This is a Reflexive Evocation for a wielder with Essence 1 and a Simple Evocation for a champion with Essence 2. The Evocation does not function at Essence 3 or higher, although the artifact sometimes changes forms at random.

Crossing Blades Collision

Cost: 2m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Supplemental

Keywords: None

Duration: Instant

Prerequisites: Adaptable Warrior’s Arsenal

The Black Cadet Blade teaches its student that an opponent is most vulnerable when she believes herself strong, and it helps its pupil exploit the advantages large and dual-wielded weapons grant a warrior in the moment when two swords meet. This Evocation supplements a Clash Attack, adding (6 – twice Essence) dice to the attack roll. If the Clash Attack is withering, it inflicts (3 – Essence) additional points of Initiative damage after soak. If it is decisive, it inflicts an additional (6 – twice Essence) dice of damage of the appropriate type (usually lethal). This is in addition to the usual benefits of making a Clash Attack with two identical weapons or with a two-handed weapon.

At Essence 1, wielder adds 6 dice on the Clash Attack (4 for this Evocation, plus the normal 2-die bonus for a two-handed weapon or two weapons of the same kind), inflicts 5 additional Initiative damage after soak on a withering attack (3 from clash and 2 from the Evocation), and inflicts 4 additional dice of damage on a decisive attack. At Essence 2, this is instead 4 dice, 4 additional Initiative damage after soak on a withering attack, and 2 additional dice of damage on a decisive attack. This Evocation offers no benefit to a champion of Essence 3 or higher.

Black Blade Cadet

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: Crossing Blades Collision

The Black Cadet Blade helps its apprentice master a technique that lies just beyond her grasp. When the wielder unlocks this Evocation, she chooses one Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm for which she meet all prerequisites except its Essence requirement. She may instead choose a Martial Arts Charm that meets these criteria, but the style must be compatible with two-handed weapons or identical medium weapons wielded in both hands. Regardless, she can use that Charm following normal activation rules so long as she is attuned to and carries the Black Cadet Blade. This Evocation cannot be used as a prerequisite for other Charms, but it can be used as a prerequisite for Charms gained through Black Blade Champion or other Cadet Blade Evocations that allow the wielder to gain access to Charms.

Black Blade Champion

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: Black Blade Cadet

The Black Cadet Blade provides her protégé with a final lesson, sometimes building on the technique it already taught her and sometimes guiding her down a different educational path. When the wielder masters this Evocation, she chooses a second Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm per the prerequisite Evocation. This Evocation cannot be used as the prerequisite for other Charms except for those granted by other Cadet Blade Evocations that grant the wielder access to Charms.

Blue Cadet Blade

(Blue Jade Short Daiklaive, Artifact •••)

The last true champion of the Blue Cadet Blade picked up the trail of the Red Cadet Blade a century after it was lost at sea. Although she knew the waters that were its final resting place, she had no means of recovering it from the depths of the Inland Sea. She heard rumors of a First Age vessel capable of operating underwater, which tales claimed had been shipwrecked on the coast somewhere among Mela’s Fangs. The lone survivor of her doomed expedition returned to Tusk with wild tales of the strange civilization that they found living in the wreck of the lost submersible. Assuming they survived the Great Contagion and the Fair Folk invasion that followed it, these submersible squatters probably still have the Blue Cadet Blade.

Evocations of the Blue Cadet Blade

A Solar or Dragon-Blooded who attunes to the Blue Cadet Blade can sense the direction in which every other cadet blade lies. Additionally, if she gives the daiklaive freely to another Solar or Dragon-Blooded with Essence 1, she receives a full refund of all Experience (and Solar Experience) she has spent on the artifact’s Evocations and may immediately spend these without the need for training time. If the former champion unlocked Blue Blade Cadet and/or Blue Blade Champion, she almost always uses some of this Experience to purchase the Charms those Evocations granted her (provided her Essence is now high enough).

The Blue Cadet Blade is intended as a teaching tool only and does not have a hearthstone socket.

Bone-Numbing Chill

Cost: 1m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Supplemental

Keywords: Withering-only

Duration: Instant

Prerequisites: None

The Blue Cadet Blade teaches that all energy, all heat eventually fades away. When the teeth no longer chatter and the victim’s body is too weary to shiver, death cannot be too far away. This Evocation supplements a withering attack, increasing the Overwhelming value of Blue Cadet Blade by (6 – twice Essence) – raising it to 8 at Essence 1 and to 6 at Essence 2 (1 for the Balanced tag, 3 for a small artifact melee weapon, and 4 or 2 from the Evocation). This Evocation has no effect for a champion of Essence 3 or higher.

Ice Scorpion’s Sting

Cost: 2m; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Supplemental

Keywords: Decisive-only

Duration: Instant

Prerequisites: Bone-Numbing Chill

The Blue Cadet Blade’s pupil learns to deny her enemies all warmth, forcing them to face her cold and relentless fury. This Evocation supplements a decisive attack. If the attack succeeds, the target suffers a penalty to Defense and attacks equal to (3 – Essence) and cannot execute movement actions. The victim can ignore this last effect by succeeding on a reflexive Strength + Athletics roll at a difficulty equal to (6 – twice Essence) during his turn. Otherwise, all the Evocation’s aftereffects last for (3 – Essence) rounds.

Blue Blade Cadet

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: Ice Scorpion’s Sting

The Blue Cadet Blade helps its apprentice master a technique that lies just beyond her grasp. When the wielder unlocks this Evocation, she chooses one Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm for which she meet all prerequisites except its Essence requirement. She may instead choose a Martial Arts Charm that meets these criteria, but the style must be compatible with short swords. Regardless, she can use that Charm following normal activation rules so long as she is attuned to and carries the Blue Cadet Blade. This Evocation cannot be used as a prerequisite for other Charms, but it can be used as a prerequisite for Charms gained through Blue Blade Champion or other Cadet Blade Evocations that allow the wielder to gain access to Charms.

Blue Blade Champion

Cost: —; Mins: Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisites: Blue Blade Cadet

The Blue Cadet Blade provides her protégé with a final lesson, sometimes building on the technique it already taught her and sometimes guiding her down a different educational path. When the wielder masters this Evocation, she chooses a second Athletics, Integrity, Melee, or Resistance Charm per the prerequisite Evocation. This Evocation cannot be used as the prerequisite for other Charms except for those granted by other Cadet Blade Evocations that grant the wielder access to Charms.

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Expanded Socialize Rules for 3rd Edition Exalted

3rd Edition Exalted has been released. I’m really digging this game and am looking forward to running it in the near-ish future. One of my favorite parts of the new mechanics is the idea of introducing facts using Lore. The idea is that the player of a character who possesses a lot of knowledge (3+ dots in Lore) can make up a fact about their relevant specialty up to once per scene and just make it be that way (subject to Storyteller approval and a successful Lore roll). It comes with a few warnings about the risks of letting players have that kind of power, none of which surprise or intimidate me. I had something similar (if more free form) in a game I ran all the way back in 2000. That makes it no less cool that Exalted arrived at a similar mechanic to avoid the whole Player: :What do I know about X?” GM: “You know Y about X.” Player: “I tell the other players Y about X.” flow that blunts the knowledgeable character’s power to control the story (compared to how a fighting type or stealthy character can affect the narrative).

That being said, I thought the lack of something similar for Socialize was a missed opportunity, especially now that we have a cool mechanic like Intimacies. I know, I know. The book is already huge. They wouldn’t have had the space for it. Consider this my humble attempt to fill in a tiny corner of blank space in an amazing game (PDF Version Linked Here). Comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

Socialize

Introducing a Connection

One of the main functions of Socialize is to reflect the character’s understanding of the social context in which he acts. In short, a character with a mastery of Socialize knows the landscape when it comes to people. Once per chapter, a character with Socialize 3+ and a relevant specialty or background (including Merits such as Allies, Contacts, or Influence) can describe a character she knows by reputation, position within an organization, or casual acquaintance (collectively called a “connection”). This connection doesn’t owe the character anything, nor does she know him well enough to identify his Intimacies without other social influence actions. A newly created connection is usually not one present in the current scene but is typically one the character could approach during the next scene. This allows the character to introduce a connection in order to spice up the narrative, forward the plot, or simply flesh out the character by showing her to be well-connected.

The player describes the connection she would like to introduce. If the Storyteller deems this connection reasonable, roll the character’s (Intelligence + Socialize) against a difficulty set by the Storyteller. The context of this roll is important. A character with Socialize 5 who is far from home and doesn’t speak the local language will be lucky to find any useful connections to aid him, while one at the seat of his influence and network of contacts likely has his choice of local connections to call upon. In the same vein, it is easier to introduce a connection without any special skills or resources than one with the potential to solve a difficult narrative complication. Finally, a connection that is quite some distance away who will require the character to undertake a significant quest should carry a lower difficulty (up to -3 difficulty), while one that conveniently arrives during the current scene is much less likely (up to +3 difficulty).

If the roll succeeds, the connection exists and the character knows what must be done to make contact with her — whether it’s as simple as walking into a nearby tavern and talking to the nervous man who just so happened to witness the event the character is investigating or as difficult as sneaking into the heavily guarded prison to interrogate the Dynast who has fallen out of imperial favor. If the roll fails, the connection still exists, but she isn’t where the character expects her to be, or else circumstances make meaningful interaction impossible. The key witness might already be so deep in his cups that he passes out at the table moments after the character arrives, for example, or a local merchant might be away on business when the character calls on her at her home. The character can wait until the man sobers up or until the merchant returns, or the Storyteller can introduce the connection at a later part of the story

Specialties: A character with an appropriate Socialize Specialty, in addition to rolling an extra die as usual, may introduce a connection one additional connection per chapter, as long as the additional connection is relevant to that Specialty. Multiple Socialize Specialties grant additional uses, but no character may introduce more than one connection per scene regardless of the number of Specialties she possesses.

Merits: A relevant Merit such as Allies, Contacts, or Influence reduces the difficulty of introducing a connection by -1, regardless of its dot rating. In addition, a character who introduces a connection based on a Merit may choose to define mutual Ties between herself and that connection (see below).

Negative Connections: Most connections a player introduces in this way are either strangers or, with an appropriate Merit, people with a positive Tie of some intensity toward the character. The player may always choose to introduce a connection who has a negative Tie toward her character and may describe and explain this Tie (subject to Storyteller approval).

Socialize, Ties, and Story Merits

Many story Merits define a character’s access to connections, whether this is a fixed and relatively permanent connection like Allies or a Mentor or a much more flexible collection of connections such as those offered by Contacts and Influence. Most of these Merits allow the player to define a positive and mutual Tie between his character and a connection introduced by a (Intelligence + Socialize) roll, but each follows a slightly different set of rules:

Allies: The player must define the intensity of the Ties at the time he gains this Merit. The intensity of the character’s positive Tie toward the connection cannot be weaker than the connection’s positive Tie toward the character. Most allies have a positive Major Tie toward each other, but Minor and Defining Ties are allowed as long as the shared Tie is equal.

Backing: The character must define a positive Tie toward the organization in which he has backing at the time he gains this Merit. Connections introduced using this Merit usually have no Tie toward the character (and he need not have one toward the connection), but they have at least a Minor Tie toward the organization to which they both belong. The player may introduce a connection with a higher intensity of Tie, but this increases the difficulty of the (Intelligence + Socialize) roll by +1 for a Major Tie and by +2 for a Defining Tie. The player may also define Minor Ties between his character and the connection by increasing the difficulty of the roll by +1.

Command: The character must define a positive Tie toward the soldiers under his command. If this is a Major Tie he receives a +1 bonus on the (Intelligence + Socialize) roll to introduce connections related to his command, which becomes +3 for a Defining Tie. Newly introduced connections usually have a Minor Tie toward the character, but this is instead a Major Tie if the number of successes was two higher than the difficulty the Storyteller set for the (Intelligence + Socialize) roll or a Defining Tie if five successes higher than the difficulty. Connections introduced by this Merit must be consistent with the body of soldiers the character commands. Some might have surprising and useful skills unrelated to marching and fighting, but most will not have more than a dot or two in an Ability unrelated to their profession.

Contacts: The character need not define a Tie toward her contacts. Connections introduced through this Merit likewise do not have a Tie toward the character. However, the player may define a Minor Tie that a connection has to someone or something else. Often this is some interest in earning money that allows a character with Resources to exploit by offering a bribe, but it can be any number of useful levers the character can use to convince the connection to tell her what he knows. The character may accept a Minor Tie toward a connection to instead define a Major Tie — or a Major Tie to describe a Defining Tie. Connections introduced in this way generally know what’s going on in their spheres of influence and they regard sharing rumors and tidbits of gossip as a trivial favor, but it might take some bargaining to pry dangerous, secret, or valuable information out of them.

Cult: A connection who is a member of the character’s cult has a Minor Tie toward him. The character may spend a point of Willpower to instead introduce a connection with a Major Tie toward him or spend two points of Willpower to introduce a character with a Defining Tie toward him. The character need not have a Tie toward the cult or cultist, but if he abuses his worshipper or acts contrary to the tenets of the cult, his Cult rating is reduced by one dot for the remainder of the story (possibly until the end of the next story, if the current story is ending). If the character has already used up all the bonus Willpower the cult grants him, he also loses a point of Willpower. If the temporary reduction would reduce the character’s Cult rating to zero dots, the character instead loses the Merit permanently.

Followers: The character must define a positive Tie toward her followers. If this is a Major Tie he receives a +1 bonus on the (Intelligence + Socialize) roll to introduce connections related to his followers, which becomes +3 for a Defining Tie. Newly introduced connections usually have a Minor Tie toward the character, but this is instead a Major Tie if the number of successes was two higher than the difficulty the Storyteller set for the (Intelligence + Socialize) roll or a Defining Tie if five successes higher than the difficulty. Connections introduced by this Merit must be consistent with the professions of the followers the character has attracted. Some might have surprising and useful skills unrelated to their profession, but most will not have more than a dot or two in any Ability unrelated to their field.

Influence: Connections introduced by Influence do not have a Tie toward the character and do not require one in return. However, the character’s Influence dots can be used as leverage on a Bargain or Threaten action within her sphere of influence — not just on a connection introduced via Influence but on any connection or character. If the connection also wields influence in the area, subtract his Influence dots from the character’s. If this has a result of 0 or less, the character cannot use her influence to bargain with or threaten the target. If the result is 1, the character can request inconvenient tasks on a successful Bargain/Threaten roll against the victim’s Resolve. This is instead serious tasks if the result is 2 or 3, and life-changing tasks at 4 or more.

Mentor: The player must define the intensity of the Ties at the time he gains this Merit. The intensity of the character’s positive Tie toward the connection cannot be weaker than the connection’s positive Tie toward the character. Most mentors and protégés share a Major Tie, but Minor and Defining Ties are allowed as long as the mutual Ties are equal.

Resources: Connections introduced by Resources do not have a Tie toward the character and do not require one in return. However, the character’s Resources dots can be used as leverage on a Bargain action — not just on a connection introduced via Resources but on any connection or character. If the connection also possesses Resources, subtract his Resources dots from the character’s. If this has a result of 0 or less, the character cannot use her influence to bargain with the target; she simply can’t offer the target something valuable enough to sway him. If the result is 1, the character can request inconvenient tasks on a successful Bargain roll against the victim’s Resolve. This is instead serious tasks if the result is 2 or 3, and life-changing tasks at 4 or more.

Retainers: The player must define the intensity of the Ties at the time he gains this Merit. The intensity of the character’s positive Tie toward the connection must be at least Minor. However, a retainer’s Tie toward the character is always one step more intense than the character’s Tie toward the connection — typically Major, but potentially Defining if the character has a Major Tie toward the retainer.

 New Merit

Unequal Affections (• or •••) — Story

This Merit may be re-purchased as many times as desired.

Prerequisites: Allies or Mentor Merit

Choose one of the character’s Allies or Mentor Merits when you gain this Merit. At one dot, increase the intensity of that connection’s positive Tie toward the character by one without increasing the character’s positive Tie toward the connection — from Minor to Major if the character’s Tie toward the connection is Minor, or from Major to Defining if his Tie toward the connection is Major.

At three dots, increase the intensity of that connection’s positive Tie toward the character by two without increasing the character’s positive Tie toward the connection — from Minor to Defining even though the character’s Tie to the connection is only Minor.

New Charms

Socialize

A Note on Motive-Discerning Technique

No Storyteller can reasonably expect to know all the Intimacies of every character in the world. This Charm can actually make your job easier by allowing players to take some of the work of fleshing out Storyteller characters off of your shoulders. If a player speculates on an Intimacy the target of this Charm is reasonably likely to possess, let the Solar’s speculation be correct in the majority of cases. Even if the Intimacy is unlikely, consider using it anyway as long as it doesn’t throw you out of the story or completely contradict your understanding of the character. Weird tastes, strange predilections, and embarrassing secrets make Storyteller characters more memorable, after all. If you are concerned that the suggested Intimacy will grant the players too much power over the character, consider setting its intensity to Minor instead of vetoing it outright.

Knowing Everyone Approach

Cost: 5m, 1wp; Mins: Socialize 3, Essence 1

Type: Simple

Keywords: None

Duration: Instant

Prerequisite Charms: Mastery of Small Manners

The Solar understands the underlying currents of society and knows who to talk to in order to achieve his goals. The Lawgiver may use an introduce connection action that does not count against his maximum number of introduce connection actions for the chapter and gains double 9s on the associated (Intelligence + Socialize) roll. This does not allow the character to introduce more than one connection per scene.

Chance Meeting

Cost: 5m; Mins: Socialize 4, Essence 1

Type: Supplemental

Keywords: None

Duration: Instant

Prerequisite Charms: Knowing Everyone Approach

Fate or good luck shines down on the Solar and brings the people he needs to him at just the right moment. Activate this charm after declaring the intention to introduce a connection but before making the (Intelligence + Socialize) roll to do so. If it is reasonably likely that the connection is nearby and the introduce connection roll succeeds, then the connection is either already present or soon arrives in the current scene. If the Storyteller judges the connection beyond the reach of this Charm, the Solar does not spend motes and does not make an introduce connection roll.

Pre-Arranged Rendezvous

Cost: —; Mins: Socialize 5, Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisite Charms: Chance Meeting

When using Chance Meeting to introduce a connection using an appropriate story Merit (Allies, Mentor, Retainer, etc.) but who is not within reach of that Charm, the Solar may always use a stunt to attempt the introduce connection roll at a higher difficulty. This is +1 difficulty if merely unlikely (a man who lives and works on the opposite side of the city) and up to +3 difficulty if it is extremely unlikely (a prince walking down a dark alley in a rough neighborhood). Most such stunts involve a brief flashback during which the player reveals how she arranged this coincidental meeting in advance. This Charm cannot introduce a connection to the scene who is prevented from doing so (imprisoned, a thousand miles away, dead, etc.) or who does not wish to be there, although the Solar may take a reflexive Persuade, Bargain, Threaten, or Inspire action in an attempt to convince him to show up at the appointed time.

Call the Guards

Cost: 5m; Mins: Socialize 5, Essence 1

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Instant

Prerequisite Charms: Chance Meeting

When using Chance Meeting to introduce a connection using the Command Merit, the Solar may instead bring a Size 2 unit of her soldiers into the scene.

This Charm can only be used once per scene but is reset when an enemy battle group fails a rout check or is reduced to Size 0. This Charm cannot be reset more than (Command) times per scene.

Circle-Gathering Method

Cost: —; Mins: Socialize 3, Essence 2

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisite Charms: Knowing Everyone Approach

Even a Lawgiver can only do so much without the aid of followers and allies with specialized skills. The Solar may use the introduce connection action one additional time per scene, although each counts against her maximum number of introduce connection actions per chapter (unless offset by Knowing Everyone Approach).

The Lawgiver may purchase Circle-Gathering Method (Intelligence) times, with each repurchase increasing the maximum by one.

Counsel of Kings

Cost: — (+1 wp); Mins: Socialize 4, Essence 3

Type: Permanent

Keywords: None

Duration: Permanent

Prerequisite Charms: Circle-Gathering Method

To rule Creation, a Lawgiver must forge alliances between strangers and bring them into harmony within her manse. When introducing multiple connections using Circle-Gathering Method, the Solar may spend a point of Willpower to ensure that all the connections are in the same place at the same time. If the resultant (Intelligence + Socialize) rolls fail to introduce at least two connections, the Willpower cost of this Charm is refunded.

Heroic Solar Convocation

Cost: 5m per connection; Mins: Socialize 5, Essence 3

Type: Simple

Keywords: None

Duration: Special

Prerequisite Charms: Pre-Arranged Rendezvous, Counsel of Kings

The Solar calls his allies from all the corners of Creation, and they answer him. This Charm supplements any number of introduce connection actions the Lawgiver makes during the current scene as long as they use the Allies, Mentor, or Retainer Merit. These connections arrive at a time and place appointed by the Solar at the time he uses this Charm unless this would contradict a greater Tie than the connection’s Tie toward the Lawgiver. Distance and most forms of imprisonment do not prevent these connections from arriving or increase the difficulty of the (Intelligence + Socialize) roll. However, the meeting date cannot be earlier than the longest it takes a connection to arrive by the most expeditious means available to her. The motes used to activate this Charm remain committed until the convocation takes place or until the Solar ends the commitment (which prevents the meeting from taking place).

For example, a Solar pirate lord wishes to gather his allies from throughout the West. He makes several (Intelligence + Socialize) rolls to call four different Allies for a meeting a month hence. Three allies are within a month’s journey from the meeting place, but the fourth is currently rotting in a Dynast’s prison. The Lawgiver can still choose to include his imprisoned ally, but the Storyteller judges that it will take a season for her to find an opportunity to escape and find transportation to the Solar’s convocation. The Solar may choose to delay the gathering until a season has passed, to exclude that ally from this Charm’s effects, or to launch a daring rescue on the prison in order to free his friend and bring her to the gathering of allies.

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