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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Berninating the Countryside

I very rarely mention politics on this blog because I am, first and foremost, a writer, a father, and a geek. Tonight, however, I’m going to talk about politics – specifically the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

I typically pick blog topics based on what makes me excited rather than what disappoints or angers me (although exceptions exist). This is partially because I recognize that I am not the target audience for every piece of media that comes to my attention and partially because (in the case of something offensive or contemptible) I prefer to punish bad art with obscurity (as opposed to free press). I can be quite critical of things I love and remain unflagging in my appreciation of them. That said, sometimes in explaining the reasons I enjoy one thing I draw unfavorable comparisons to something else of the same categoryeven something I otherwise liked a great deal. I’m approaching this blog entry in the same spirit. I am not setting out to disparage the alternative candidate or their supporters, but in order to explain why I favor one over the other some comparison is necessary.

As a final caveat, the opinion here is my own. Matt and I haven’t talked politics for a few years. It’s just not a topic that comes up very often in our conversations with each other. I have absolutely no idea what his read on this election is.

Caveat lictor.

The Summary

Minnesota’s caucus is on Tuesday, and after careful consideration of the candidates’ platforms, their credentials, their responses to challenges, and the behavior of their supporters/proxies, it is my intention to cast my ballot for Bernie Sanders. Here are some of the reasons why:

Platform

It’s a misnomer to call Sanders a single-issue candidate, but let’s be honest – his platform boils down to three key main points: Get money out of politics, reduce the disparities between the rich and the poor, and strengthen the social safety net.

Citizen’s United

The first of these is a no-brainer for just about everyone. I don’t think anyone in America outside of corporate lawyers who are paid to do so will argue that the Citizen’s United decision was a blow against tyranny and oppression. Super PACs have been a disaster, roundly mocked by anyone who has taken the time to consider their implications. When I was in high school, the big symbol of wasteful government spending was pork – finding ways to send money back to home states and districts to keep the average voter happy. Over the last decade, this has pretty plainly evolved into a situation where politicians convince voters to elect them based on campaign pledges that they quickly break, while ensuring that their wealthy backers get government contracts and the passage of advantageous legislation. Because even the most pissed off gaggle of voters can’t easily organize to throw out an unfaithful politician, but a disappointed Fortune 500 company has the resources and reach to fund a political challenger. As much as I hate the “both sides do it” fallacy, unfortunately it is increasingly true in this case. Reversing that trend will not be easy, but it is important to me that it be brought to the attention of the public (more on that later).

Wealth and Income Disparities

The second goal addresses a problem that is on par with global climate change when we’re talking about existential threats to our country’s continued survival. Contrary to the prevailing rhetoric, people living in poverty do not deserve the suffering they are forced to endure. Most were born poor through an accident of birth – one that overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) harms minority populations – so they’re running this rat race with one leg tied to the other. They’re not begging for yachts and second homes in fancy neighborhoods. Mostly they would like to be able to support their families without constant fear of financial catastrophe and to have some opportunity to climb the ladder if they work hard.

Condemning people to lives of desperation and early death is a moral hazard, and if we were half as decent as we claim to be, we would not cling to our luxuries when others’ essential needs are not being met. But even putting aside the teachings of spiritual leaders and the basic decency of non-religious humanists, ignoring the plight of the poor has serious potential societal consequences. Starve a large enough fraction of the masses so that they feel that they have nothing left to lose, and you get guillotines and although a mere 62 executions and confiscations could double the wealth of every other person in the world, revolutions do not tend to be pretty affairs, and there will be collateral damage.

If I have to pay a bit more for coffee at the airport because of a higher minimum wage in order to stave off the collapse of civilization, sign me the fuck up. Sanders is fighting for $15/hour, which seems about right given that real income in this country hasn’t increased since the assassination of President Kennedy. Which leads us to…

Social Safety Net

I’m kind of tired of living in a third world country when it comes to social welfare programs. Sanders isn’t proposing Soviet programs, here. He, like the rest of us, know that the command economy system failed spectacularly. But we can learn a lot from Europe, Japan, Australia, and other successful democracies when it comes to taking care of our people. Universal healthcare doesn’t just prevent people from going bankrupt because of an accident or diagnosis, it is actually saves the country a ton of money for too many reasons to list here. Offering affordable post-secondary education is a huge macroeconomics win – a better-educated workforce earns more money, and graduates who are more likely to make economy-boosting decisions like buying houses and having kids than those who are drowning in student loan debts.

Credentials

Looking at Sanders’ history as a politician and a human being, he strikes me as a very genuine person. This was one of the things that appealed to me about Obama during the 2008 campaign and that I still appreciate about this long-suffering president eight years later. One of the signature moments in Obama’s primary campaign was when he went on the Colbert Report and put “Distractions” on notice – because ho boy were there a lot of them being thrown at him by his main opponent in the primary in a desperate effort to derail his campaign. Here he was being attacked with trivialities on a daily basis by someone who seemed willing to do anything to secure the nomination (who was that, anyway? it’s on the tip of my tongue…), and Obama ignored the jabs that were absurd – except when he used them to inspire some of the most amazing speeches I’ve ever heard.

Sanders doesn’t seem to care much for distractions, either, which he has made clear time and time again since announcing he was running for President. You can look at his legislative record, too, and while we can always find something objectionable if we look hard enough, he has consistently supported most of the positions he is taking during the current election cycle. I don’t get the feeling that he will say whatever he can to get into the White House and then forget all about it for four years. The things he is talking about on the campaign trail are the things he has been talking about for his whole career, which explains why he sounds so passionate. While I have no doubt that Clinton could answer the proverbial 3 a.m. call, Sanders seems like the kind of guy who would make 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 a.m. calls to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell every night until they finally cave and pass campaign finance reform. Bernie doesn’t want the White House. He wants to fix a system that he knows is broken.

Facing Challenges

When you run for President, someone out there whose support you would really like to have is going to challenge you to earn that support. Black Lives Matter has made itself a force to be reckoned with this election cycle. Their activists have faced down all the relevant candidates, and the responses they have received say something powerful about their values. Trump’s supporters roughed up an activist with the candidate’s blessing, but that hardly seems surprising anymore coming from that camp. More recently, BLM confronted Clinton, and her response probably could have been better (I’m also really disappointed that her supporters respond by tone policing).

Sanders dealt with one of these interruptions all the way back in August. At the time, he was roundly criticized for his lackluster response and especially for the vitriolic reactions of some of his more rabid supporters (more on them later). I believe he was taken by surprise and probably a little frustrated by the situation, and yes, he probably could have handled it better (although I feel he handled it with more grace than his opponents did). Sanders (like me) is a white guy. I don’t think he understands the experiences of POC, but I also think he has been willing to acknowledge that and is making a sincere effort to do better – yes, because he needs the votes, but I don’t think it’s just because he needs the votes. He embraced the awkward afternoon that his opponent was too busy to participate in.

Ultimately, while he’s still an old white guy with his share of the baggage that entails, I like that he doesn’t try to isolate himself from the “little people” around him. Black Lives Matter challenged him, and he let them talk. He made an effort (however awkward) to engage with them. He expanded his platform to address their concerns explicitly. I don’t think he did it because his campaign advisers told him it would make him surge in the polls. He did it because he saw that they had a valid point and that no one else was engaging with this movement of young, determined activists.

Supporters

Sanders’ support from Millennials is overwhelming, and I think the energy he brought to younger voters is one of the strongest arguments swaying me toward him. I remember how Obama captured the youth vote and rode it to victory. He was immediately thrown into a fight to hold the country together after his predecessor pillaged it, and I think a lot of those young Obama voters ended up more disappointed that the President really deserved. He wanted so desperately to be a transformational President, but he didn’t achieve nearly as much as he set out to do, so his progress was more incremental than radical. Obama had some key wins that laid the foundation for larger changes, however, and I think that if younger voters turn out for Sanders, he has the drive to build well on that foundation.

Clinton is competent and calm under fire, but I’m afraid that she wasn’t cool when she was running against Obama, and she hasn’t become more inspiring in the last eight years. It is at times maddening that she can be so tone deaf when it comes to talking to anyone under the age of 40. Why does it matter? Because I’m worried that she is this year’s John Kerry or Al Gore – the “safe, electable” candidate that no one actually likes enough to vote for. If you’ve done your job as a presidential candidate, your dominance shouldn’t be so weak that you can lose by electoral college technicalities or Supreme Court fiat. If either had been strong candidates, they wouldn’t have cut it so close in the first place. Al Gore is especially close to my heart because as a first-time voter in a presidential election I found myself unable to hold my nose long enough to vote for him. No matter how much we 30-somethings and 40-somethings and 50-somethings nag them about “vote blue no matter who,” the 20-something crowd isn’t going to turn out to vote for someone they don’t believe in, and Clinton has made an unfortunate pattern of alienating these voters or letting her proxies do so.

I’m not going to delve overmuch into the Bernie Bro phenomenon – not because I don’t believe that (especially young) people can’t be horrible to each other on the Internet but because I don’t feel that the candidate has incited that kind of behavior (as Trump has pretty much non-stop since this thing started). Sanders has, in fact, denounced this behavior from his supporters. I’ll also admit that if we’re going to talk about the worst behavior of a candidate’s supporters, assholes who get delusional, misogynistic, and defensive whenever they encounter an opposing viewpoint should pose less of an obstacle to a candidate than ones who crash the world economy, take government handouts, and then use the leftover money to give their friends bigger bonuses (Fact Checking).

Electability

While Sanders’ successful nomination as the Democratic candidate is by no means assured (he’s still quite the underdog), I find the electability argument in the general election laughable. Again, we heard this exact same argument against Obama in 2008 from the exact same people who are trotting it out now. It was also used to convince Democrats to nominate John Kerry in 2004, and we all know how that turned out. Electibility is important, but the head-to-head polls against the remaining Republican candidates actually show that Clinton is less likely than Sanders to win in the general election, so I don’t think that word means what some people think it means.

Those head-to-head polls, coupled with the odds of Sanders wins in the coming weeks and with Trump numbers have me worried. Unless a revolution takes place in truth, the smart money is on a Clinton vs. Trump match-up whose results cannot be predicted. Heads, we get a competent President that feels a little slimy but will probably do a decent job. Tails, we get a fascist whose rhetoric makes actual Holocaust survivors worry that it could happen in America next. Me? This time I’m hoping the cranky old white guy from Vermont wins it.

 

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Birthdays and Deadpool

The last week has been really busy. First was the gathering of friends on Friday night, followed by the birthday party the next morning, some solo parenting Saturday night, some…I don’t even remember how I spent Sunday. Pre-work for one of the three freelance assignments I’ve picked up in the last 14 days probably. I had Monday off, but so did William, so we ended up at an indoor playground. That brought me to Tuesday, which was my birthday. Beth and I took the day off and made a Valentine hooky day out of it – lunch and a movie. That movie? Deadpool.

I want to start off by saying the usual: There will be some light spoilers ahead, but this is more of a review than an analysis.

I had absolutely no contact with this character prior to this movie. In fact, the movie wasn’t even on my radar until its marketing campaign kicked in. I’ve seen a few superhero movie marketing campaigns in my life, but I don’t think I’ve see any that were as downright creative as this one. Between the funny teasers, the fake-out trailers (“Deadpool is a romantic comedy! No, really!”), and the various videos in which Deadpool talks to the moviegoer directly, this movie came pre-macroed. I don’t know who engineered all that stuff, but they’re probably not getting paid enough. My only reservation walking into the theater was that Deadpool might turn out to be a superhero movie as directed by Adam Sandler in spite of its clever hype. You know what I’m talking about – the kind of movie that insults the watcher’s intelligence and goes out of its way to be offensive as though misogyny, racism, ableism, and body shaming are a substitute for a sense of humor.

Happily, Deadpool lived up to its marketing. It was playful and didn’t take itself too seriously, but it mostly avoided cheap shots. There were, I think, two lines of dialogue that were borderline, but I felt (speaking as someone with the face of the oppressor, so take it with a grain of salt) that it reflected more about the character than on the film itself. Deadpool is not a nice guy. At one point he encourages a stranger to kidnap and murder a romantic rival more or less for shits and giggles, after all. He does anything he can to get under people’s skin. He somehow turns his enemy’s first name into an insult, makes a few of “mopey teenager” jokes at the teenager (who is in no way taking his shit or allowing herself to be goaded by it), and yes, accuses his nemesis’ female lieutenant of being a man. However, this wasn’t really played up for laughs so much as it was another point of data showing that Deadpool can’t seem to keep his big mouth shut. The character throws insults at everyone, but the movie doesn’t do anything to dignify his insults, if that makes any sense? If this *had* been an Adam Sandler movie, Negasonic would have acted more like a stereotypical teenager, and the bad guy’s sidekick would have actually been revealed as “a man” (probably after tricking the hero into sleeping with her).

Anyway.

The fourth-wall-breaking style worked really well as a storytelling device, and I understand that it was also very much in keeping with the Deadpool of the comics. The jokes start in the opening credits, and really don’t let up until after the post-credits teaser scene. By the same token, Deadpool is still a superhero movie. It certainly plays with the tropes of the genre even while firmly a part of it – a little bit like The Incredibles meets Pulp Fiction. It earns its R rating on its use of the F-word alone, to say nothing of the cartoonishly over-the-top ultraviolence, but I thought its lengthy, gratuitous sex scene was actually more tastefully done than the playboy character establishing scene in Guardians of the Galaxy (love that movie, but the “I’ve forgotten your name” line is such a cliche and there was no reason to throw the word whore at the only woman in the group).

Negasonic and Colossus were fantastic supporting characters. They play the straight man to Deadpool’s nonstop sarcasm. They also fuel countless well-aimed X-Men jokes, which would have made them worthwhile in itself.

Between the clever marketing and being a legitimately good movie, I’m not at all surprised that Deadpool has already had such a strong showing at the box office. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, yet, it’s probably worth giving it a shot.

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A Game-Designer’s Sketchpad

Lately I’ve been spending more time than is probably healthy poking Legendary, the homebrew fantasy tabletop RPG that I’ve been tinkering with since, oh, 2003. Initially inspired by 1st Ed. Exalted’s concept of stunts, built around problems of mechanically representing social interactions and knowledge rolls, and first played at the 2003-4 New Year’s party as a kind of Dungeonworld game several years before Dungeonworld existed, each iteration has been informed by the games I’ve read lately and my own ever-evolving gaming preferences. Sometimes it has reflected the larger gaming landscape, and other times it has been almost prescient of what is to come for the hobby (in accordance with the confounding rules of parallel creativity).

Legendary isn’t so much a game in itself as it is a sandbox where I build and play with systems. Maybe one day I’ll do something of consequence with it, but mostly it’s my game design sketchpad. Several of the powers I wrote for Flowers of Hell began as Heroics I invented for Legendary, most of which were inspired by mechanics in other games I was reading or playing at the time. Play Possum sprang in part from the concept of Dissolves, which had a concept from Buffy the Vampire Slayer at its root (with the ability to spend a Drama Point to end combat immediately but not necessarily in your favor – handy when you’re losing anyway or you don’t feel like devoting two hours to a combat you aren’t really into). Call Out is a direct reference to a Heroic that forces the actual enemy to face you in combat and prevents his mooks from interfering. Open-and-Shut Case similarly springs from a Heroic meant to allow the “badass manipulator who has bought the local constabulary” to eliminate – or at least greatly inconvenience – her enemies. The list goes on.

One of the concepts I’ve been toying with a lot this time around is the idea of skills as a prerequisite for cool powers. Traditionally, games have expected players to purchase skills in order to represent a generalized competence in a discipline, and many games make a certain amount of skill a prerequisite for the purchase of remarkable abilities (i.e. cool powers). Legendary does this backward. Each skill has a bunch of cool powers associated with it, but you don’t buy points in the skills. Instead, whenever you buy a cool power within a skill (a Heroic), you get a permanent +1 bonus to all rolls with that skill. I figure that if your neat trick is “shooting arrows super-fast,” you probably mastered the basics of archery a long time ago. It’s a very simple solution to something that has always irked me in games – where you want to spend XP to do more interesting things, but you still end up having to spend a lot of XP getting your stats to the point where you can purchase or successfully use your nifty powers.

Another idea I’m tinkering with but still have quite a lot of sketching left to do on concerns the way optional mechanics come into play. Legendary is almost hyper-focused on giving players a lot of control over the events of the game without entirely eliminating the role of a GM who helps provide narrative structure so that it doesn’t become a free-for-all narrative. The idea I have is to create a very simple set of rules – bare bones mechanics that don’t really offer many tactical options. However, many of the Heroics players purchase for their characters add new mechanics that affect the game as a whole. No one bought any combat-related Heroics? Combat is quick, easy, and fairly predictable. But if one or more players made an investment in being good at fighting, all of a sudden combat mechanics are more dynamic and offer advanced tactics. The Heroics you choose literally change the game you are playing – not just in that “you’re conveying information to the GM about the kind of game you want to play” but by introducing mechanics that affect everyone and for which your Heroics give you a natural advantage.

Several years ago, it was trendy for games that focused on resource management to reward players with resources when they suffered some setback due to a flaw/weakness/disadvantage/whatever coming into play. You couldn’t do cool things unless something bad happened to you first. While I understand what game designers were trying to accomplish (you can’t be a badass 100% of the time; sometimes it’s okay to fail), these systems tended to punish quieter players while giving more aggressive players more reason to hog the spotlight. It got even worse when the game tied character advancement to the accumulation of Suck Points (which were never called that), and our table either pooled the resulting XP or used flat rewards devoid of the constant need to suck.

Legendary has always had a resource management component at its core, and rewarding a player for her willingness to suffer ignominy and defeat (Complications) in order to heighten drama isn’t a bad idea per se. However, when a player uses a Heroic to create a Complication, her character isn’t the one who benefits; instead, another player’s character receives the Heroism reward. Moreover, while Experience is pooled, the only way to earn it is by spending Heroism. The feedback loop this creates is pretty simple. You earn points that let you do cool stuff when your fellow players make bad things happen (i.e. make themselves and their problems central to the scene), but you have to spend those points to advance your character (and the rest of your party’s characters, too). You can’t do all the cool things all the time, because you’ll eventually run out of Heroism, at which point you have little choice but to yield the spotlight to other players so they can recharge you. Not that a character is powerless without Heroism, but her big guns are.

At the center of Legendary are Definitions (and Complications). These were the first seeds from which all of the game sprang. Definitions were meant to solve the problems of knowledgeable characters and socially adept characters. Most players of smart characters tend to spend a lot of time asking the GM what they know and then repeating that information with artistic flourishes for the benefit of the other players’ characters. Some groups (my own included) will let a player ad lib additional details and expect the GM to either “make it be that way” or veto it, but I’m not sure how common that experience is at other tables. In a similar vein, characters with extensive social connections and skills are quite often played by people are not quite so socially adept (or who can’t read the mind of GM as he plays an NPC).

Definitions give players whose characters should know a lot or have a lot of friends a means to seize some control over the game world. If the history scholar’s player spends Heroism and describes the epic battle that took place on this very plain, that event actually happened, and it is the GM’s responsibility to incorporate that information into her game’s world. This can range from cosmetic details that don’t cost the scholar Heroism at all to staggering revelations that could bring swift resolution to a major plot. Most of the time it introduces a solution to an immediate problem in the current scene or opens the way to the resolution of a larger challenge.

Similarly, players of socially adept characters can use Definitions to arrange convenient encounters with old friends. Not only are these allies more inclined to help the character, they are also less likely to take…dubiously worded requests and observations the wrong way. As with knowledge Definitions, the GM is expected to work these people into the story as best he can. Even if these convenient friends meet a grisly end, it isn’t as though the player can’t Define and introduce more. He’s wielding a Heroic, not working from a list of childhood/academy/professional friends.

All of this just scratches the surface of the mechanical concepts I’ve experimented with in this game over the years, but I think you get the idea. Whenever I’m feeling too left-brained to focus on my fiction, I find myself coming back to Legendary. Even if it is almost certain that nothing will ever come of it, I enjoy tinkering with it from time to time, and this last couple weeks has just been one of those times.

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Dark Matter

My household just finished watching the first season of Dark Matter, which a geek more jaded than me nevertheless described as “the better of SyFy’s two new catwalk sci-fi shows.” I’ll try to avoid spoilers on this one, because you probably won’t be 100% what’s going on until the end of the last episode.

That’s actually not a criticism. In many ways, Dark Matter isn’t exceptionally bold in its storytelling. It’s a bit in the vein of Firefly or Cowboy Bebop in that it concerns the travails of a group of mercenaries flying around in a spaceship being double-crossed by pretty much everyone who hires them. That they begin the show with something of a reputation for leaving a trail of the bodies of those who crossed them in their wake is apparently no deterrent to this strategy among the interplanetary corporations who employ them. The jobs are not, in fact, the point, and the show seems to understand this. Rather, Dark Matter is all about the Big Mystery.

The elevator pitch for this show was probably along the lines of, “Six strangers wake up on a heavily armed spaceship. None of them has any memories of their past, but it soon becomes clear that all of them are infamously violent mercenaries.”

It’s like that tabletop RPG where one person takes the Amnesia Flaw, except this time that player has convinced *everyone* in the party to take the Amnesia Flaw. They don’t know who their enemies are. They don’t know how much they can trust the people who claim to be their allies. There’s also a password-protected vault on the ship that none of them knows how to open, which adds just one more layer of mystery to the show.

They don’t dare let on about what happened to their memories for fear that it will make them even more of a target than they already are. The narrative engine runs on the slow revelation of each character’s backstory, all of which contain more skeletons than the ossuary of Paris’s catacombs. Pretty much every minute that the characters aren’t dealing with a universe of assholes who are all out to screw them, they’re discovering one anothers’ secrets and arguing over which of them is the least terrible person on the ship. Just when you think they’ve finally put that question to rest, another skeleton comes dancing out of someone’s closet and forces you to reassess which is the least of six evils. The thing is, none of them remembers being a complete scumbag, and oftentimes they’re just as horrified by the actions in their past as their crewmates are – so it isn’t as easy to just hate them for their deeds in a past life.

All of these mysteries and revelations serve to distract you from the central question, which is that one of the six people on the ship was responsible for erasing everyone’s memories. It’s not that the show ignores that question. They actually mention it quite a bit, especially when someone else finds out about all the Jedi they killed or whatever. But there’s an awful lot of narrative sleight of hand that did a pretty good job distracting me from it until it was too late. And when the final curtain came up, I was left at once stunned, confused, and absolutely certain that the reveal would be obvious if I watched the season a second time.

Dark Matter isn’t the best show on TV right now, but it was an entertaining way to spend my time, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the second season goes.

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Mage: The Awakening So Far

We resumed our Mage: The Awakening game this past Saturday, which was fun. Two of my players are now the parents of newborn twins, so the cabal has temporarily lost its Life mage and one of its Fate mages (who also makes for great plot fodder because her position within the Guardians of the Veil is essentially “mage witness protection program agent”).

I’m still under NDA, so I can’t talk mechanics. We modified them heavily in any case, so it would probably be more confusing than enlightening anyway. That said, I’m pretty pleased with the story so far, and I feel like talking about it a bit because all but one of my players had to bow out of tomorrow’s session at the last minute:

The stakes are getting to a pretty critical point, with every problem compounding every other problem. It started with a mummy breaking into their Sanctum to recover its stolen relic (which they later learned is a potentially world-shattering artifact – but not before it was stolen by time-traveling doomsday cultists).

The cabal managed to “kill” the mummy, but it got better a few days later (like Arisen do) and is now bent on recovering its relic and destroying Minneapolis-St. Paul in retribution for keeping its prize away from it. The cabal has learned that to do this the mummy will need some additional mummies to help it enact whatever ritual of reprisal it has in mind. Figuring that if they can prevent the mummy from gathering enough of its peers to perform this catastrophic utterance it will prevent disaster, they figured out where its intended allies are sleeping and set out to destroy (or at least greatly inconvenience) it. Along the way, they made an alliance with an Arisen-like creature that claimed it could permanently kill a mummy by “devouring” it. In what was easily the most difficult fight of the chronicle, the cabal managed to give this devourer its chance, which it seized. It was at this point that they discovered that it gained the power of the mummy (or Arisen relic) it consumed. This busted their original plan to let it eat the world-destroying artifact, but they still didn’t hesitate to use Fate to ensure that the devourer meet the rest of the mummies before they can destroy the Twin Cities. That’s where they left that plot thread back in late November, but it clearly won’t be the last we hear of it.

Meanwhile, someone has been possessing Sleepers seemingly at random and having them attack Consilium mages – including killing the entire editorial staff of a periodical circulated among Diamond Order mages. Being that this is the kind of thing the cabal is supposed to investigate (two Sentinels, a Guardian, and the Consilium diplomat to the neighboring Assembly of St. Paul), they do that and quickly conclude that the Seers of the Throne are behind the attacks. What is gradually becoming clear is that the Sleepers being used by the Seers are not random victims of circumstances. At least some of them are the friends and family members of Consilium mages who still have connections to their Sleeper lives – connections they simultaneously want to keep hidden but also protect from exactly this sort of thing. As far as the cabal can tell, some mages who are very close friends of the Hierarch have suddenly exhibited Seer of the Throne connections – mages who were formerly believed above suspicion. It’s disconcerting.

Those local Sleepers who don’t have a connection to a friendly mage but have been affected by this puppetry are freaked out, so it’s not surprising that they’re calling on favors from monster hunters and from those supernatural creatures with which they are acquainted. A pack of werewolves kidnapped the cabal’s Life mage (a way to write out a player’s character for a few sessions), and the cabal has not even begun to investigate what’s up with that. They’re aware of the underlying issue, though, and it seems like it might be a good idea to quiet down the city as quickly as possible before the mages’ hunter problem gets even worse.

The final problem concerns the parents of one member of the cabal, both of whom were mages who turned Scelesti before being devoured by a manifestation of the Abyss. Now they’re back and haunting her dreams every night. It’s not clear what happened to Mom and Dad, but they seem intent upon returning to the material world, which they can only accomplish with some help. Whenever they visit their daughter’s dreams, they poison her with Abyssal taint. The cabal wanted to know what the Abyss’s game is, so they encouraged Antimony to play along for a little while. Their initial requests were innocuous – spray-painting Abyssal symbols in out-of-the-way places, so it seemed harmless enough. Then the Scelesti wanted a more visible act of graffiti in St. Paul, where the Free Council holds sway (the Consilium of Minneapolis and the Free Assembly of St. Paul are not enemies, but they are not on the best of terms, either). For her obedience, Antimony’s parents rewarded her with an even greater dose of Abyssal taint, which she can’t help but leak into other nearby mages (which is the way Paradox manifests in her).

The cabal thought nothing of it until they returned from their mummy-hunting expedition and discovered (through postcognition) that a member of the St. Paul Assembly had spray-painted Abyssal runes in several visible places in Minneapolis. A single turn of scrutiny with Mage Sight earned one member of the cabal her own dose of Abyssal taint. That night, Antimony’s parents visit her, too, and now the dream Scelesti are demanding that the cabal deliver a book cataloging Abyssal manifestations to a part of a library in St. Paul frequented by Free Council mages. The cabal’s Scelesti hunter examines this tome and promptly receives a large dose of Abyssal taint and some dreams of his own. It is now becoming pretty clear exactly what the Abyssal invaders’ game is in Minneapolis – if not their ultimate goal, then at least the means they are using to achieve it. This situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

I’m looking forward to the next session.

I don’t have much more than that to report, this week. I’ve mostly entirely recovered from the first half of January, so hopefully I can get back my writing momentum this weekend. I’m in the process of reading Edge of Empire – the new Star Wars RPG put out by Fantasy Flight, but I’m not far enough in that I feel like I can comment on it, yet. I’m also reading Memories of Ice, the third book in Stephen Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, and while it’s excellent so far, again, I’m barely 25% of the way through it, so my review is still a long ways off. We’ve been watching some geeky movies with William, but so far he has insisted upon watching movies I’ve already seen (including two watches of A New Hope and three of Attack of the Clones *shudder*).

With that I’m going to wrap up for the week.

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