Monday, December 29, 2014

The Center Cannot Hold: Sexuality in Othebea and Maliph

Sexuality, Marriage And Crux 1
Each culture in Crux has its own particular views on sexuality, each being the result of different causes.

Othebea: The Othebeans have long regarded sex as a necessary evil, regarding lust of any kind to be a carnal sin.  However, Othebea unlike Maliph makes no qualms about the nature of procreation.  The act of physical lust is the sin, not who one is in love with.  Othebea believe that love can occur between any number of people, but marriage exists to confirm a sacred love between two people, as they have recorded from Othebes account at the beginning of their realm.

Acts of carnal lust of any kind are regarded as a sin.  Worse, the Othebeans have a long list of things they regard as foul acts of sexual deviance.  More than a few believe arcane magic is tied to having intercourse with corrupt beings of one kind or another.  Betrayals of marriage with any form of lust is only seen as being cured through rigorous self-flagellation.

Also unlike Maliph and parts of Ainesia, Othebea doesn't define gender roles.  The idea of husband and wife as a sacred bond means they view sex out of marriage as a sin, but hold no special views on the task of a man or woman.  The key to note is the association of the Summer Rose to love, but not lust, prostitution or even masturbation.

But the secret Othebean brothels, oft run by Black Rose attendants.  Even illegal in Othebea, the Church of the Black Rose continues to maintain a sort of criminal ring of such establishments.  More often than not, Black Rose worshippers tend to be arrested participating.  The associations of the Black Rose with such deviancy worries the greater Church of the Twins.  What drives them to seek such sinful behaviors?  The Black Rose worshippers often take the opposing tack: what drives the rampant sexual repression in their nation?

Maliphi: To the Maliphi, the idea of marriage as being on between two people is a lie.  They believe that a body must have its urges obeyed, and it is sinful to ignore it.  This is one of the many views that have always led them to clash with the Othebeans, their polygamy often coming to odds with the monogamous, somewhat repressed views of Othebea.

To note however, each Maliphi Khanate has its own rules and laws in regards to this form of polygamous behavior.  There are some common traits throughout Maliph, though.  Slaves rarely are allowed to marry.  Marriage never guarantees any sort of transfer of property between families, meaning that a woman or man retains their own property, never becoming subseviant to another because of their marriage.

Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of the Maliphi is their concern over procreation.  Most of the Khanates detest any form of sexuality that doesn't end in procreation, sometimes with very strict laws against such behaviour, often only matched by those in some parts of Ainesia.  How each Khan treats those convicted of this varies.

The most radical is the use of the Hor'Uzza Elixir, crafted from the fruit of the Uzza Trees that only grow in groves in the northern wastes of Maliph near Rruk.  This elixir is one of the few ways to cause a mammal to transform into the opposite sex without need of arcane magic, albeit through a painful process.  Uzza trees don't grow anywhere else, and the fruits by themselves have been known cause other odd, weird transformations if not distilled properly.  It is a sickly sweet fruit, long and full of green juice.

The Maliphi practice of polygamous marriages also applies to other monstrous peoples.  Cross-racial marriages between humans and other monstrous persons forms a solid core of how many Maliphi clans build loyalties.  How gender roles are treated vary based on the Khan involved, as each follow different traditions.  Overall, most of the time women are viewed as more important than men.  Women cannot be executed until Maliphi law, whereas if a man is accused of raping a woman, he faces life in slavery under most Khans.

Back to Themes

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

City of Curses: The Keepers Session 3: The Mutated Assassin

Here is a session report of the Crux game I ran for my group last Saturday.  The Keepers faced off with a mutated Tiefling, licked their wounds and then tracked down where an ancient abolethic device had been taken.

The Fight with the Monster

Scene Question: "Does the Monster survive its encounter with the Keepers?"

The Keepers fought a hard-paced skirmish with a mutated tiefling assassin.  The monster bashed at them hard.  At the end of the last session, a monster had teleported in, attacking Professor Sepia Wiseowl.  It's toothless mouth attacked her, leaving neon green polyps in its wake.

"For Shraxessss!" It hissed at her.

The aberration had a twelve-foot elongated body. A blend of tapeworm and infernal monster, with unholy glowing red eyes. The monster's maw dripped a neon green ichor.  It had no teeth; just a hard jawless sucker filled with glowing polyps.  Eggs.  Long demonic horns crowned the creature's head. Covered in a dark purplish skin, its arms were malformed and twisted things.  Each ended in thin needle-like fingers.

After it bit into the Professor, the Keepers tried to drive the mutated monster off of her.  Gav threw the creature with a gust of wind, giving the Professor time to get out while Ash distracted it by throwing books at it. Then Pyro bombed the monsters' maw.  The explosion did not kill it, but instead filled the room with Smoke.

Wounded, the monster struck back at them.  First off, the monster dislocated Gav's arm with a loud pop.  Gav stumbled out of the room.

 Ishida, unnoticed by his compatriots, helped Professor Wiseowl to make it to the medical college. Ash and Pyro tried, one after the other, to fend off the creature. It bit into Ash's shoulder, poisoning her by the same polyps that had afflicted her mother.

The monster cast a spell in retaliation.   Conjuring unholy fire, it only burned the flesh of the living.  This also cleared the room of all smoke.  Gav weaved his own enchantment against the monster, seeing how it once was a tiefling, forcing it to question its identity. This wasn't enough to stop the monster.  But it clearly hesitated.  A moment later, it took only a single phrase from Gav's lips to push the monster over the edge.

"You are a monster!"

His words pierce the creature's mind. The mental attack is too much, and it goes mad at the words, choosing to kill itself with its own sorcery rather than continue on. It leave a big burning mess behind.

The Aftermath

Scene Question: "Do the Keepers learn that the Monster was once a member of the Demon's Orphans?"

The Keepers then dealt with the consequences of the fight, what with Ash's poisoning and Gav's dislocated arm. In a panic, Pyro gets them to the Medical College on Campus. At the infirmary they receive treatment. But they are hardy enough that they continue on their investigation, despite having faced that monster attack.

Gav still refused to work for Professor Wiseowl.  Instead choosing to inform an aide of the Chancellor's about the situation. The aide criticized Gav's recruitment, but praised him in for doing things in a way the Chancellor interpreted to be in their interest: the pursuit of knowledge, even if it has a cost.

Professor Wiseowl still offers to hire them. Gav refuses, unwilling to break his honor, even though Wiseowl admits to having hired Ishida to steal a piece of the relic. With that, Gav could use it to create a enchantment to turn the relic into a divining rod. But he sticks to his honor, preferring to look for another way to do so without having to betray the Chancellor.

Wiseowl does leave him with a clue, however. She whispers a name into Gav's ear.  It is the name of a Demon's Orphans gang.

 "The Silver Snakes."

The Silver Snakes are a anti-ursyklon branch of the Demon's Orphans. They are convinced that the Prince is allied with the Ursyklons, or might even be one. Their long rivalry with the Boar-Roar Clan of Ursyklons is known to most of the gangs in Crux, including Gav's.

The Silver Snakes

Scene Question: "Do the Keepers learn about Fulcrum's experiments?"

The Keepers begin to plan how to best approach the Silver Snakes. They decided to talk with Professor Fulcrum back in the Alchemy Department before leaving the Campus. Fulcrum is back, apparently just not around earlier when they had been there. 4626 hugs Pyro, making the android stiffen in surprise.

Fulcrum welcomes them. After a brief discussion, Fulcrum admits that the Chancellor had declassified the experiments with the device. He hands over to Gav a packet of photographs, all of them of Tieflings.

"Who are these?" Gav inquires, looking confused.

"Test subjects for the experiments, all unsorcerous tieflings from the Wish Quarter. We were desperate, over budget, and managed to wrangle them up." Fulcrum explained.

After they leave, the Keepers have a discussion. Gav and Ash are certain they have to destroy the Machine now. Any Demon's Orphans that used the Machine to teleport mutated into monsters. Now knowing that the Silver Snakes had the device, and considering how nasty the monster they already faced was, only more Abolethic things could be created by it's further use.

Pyro hesitated. The Android felt conflicted, until Gav and Ash appealed to his pyromania. Pyro agreed, part of him eager to see what it was like to destroy something so ancient and powerful like the Machine.

Before leaving for the Wish Quarter, Gav wove a spell, an enchantment to disguise Ash so she wouldn't appear to be an Ursyklon.  That way, they could avoid trouble from any potential Silver Snakes. After a few hours of travel through the City, they make it to Serpent Street in the Wish Quarter, home turf of the Silver Snakes. It was a narrow alley path, barely lit by anything in the growing dark of dusk.

A tiefling stopped them, asking what the hell Gav was doing.

"Pelear?" Gav says, surprised to a fellow from Poorfellows. The two start a frantic conversation in Poorfellows Slang, something both Pyro and Ash have trouble following.

"Ok then, lead the way." Gav said.

Pelear led them to a secret entrance  to the Silver Snakes' Lair on the nearby rooftops.  He revealed that his employer is keeping tabs on the Wiseowls.  But Pelear couldn't stand by and just watch as they tried to get themselves killed. Working for the Prince, he feels compelled to help them get rid of the Machine, something that can only help his employer's interests.

After showing them a way in through the Roof, Pelear leaves.
That's where we ended it.  Next time, the Keepers will dive into chaos and mayhem, facing off against the Silver Snakes and the alien machine the Ursyklon loathe.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

City of Curses: The Demonwalk

"Imprisoned long each year, a hundred and one demons wait:
All children of Shraxes, they wait for the opening of that Gate;
To take the wicked, the unwanted and cruel-
And grant wishes to the worthy, their just due.
Beware those who walk in red, that night when they tread:
But have great cheer! For-
The Demonwalk but comes just once a year!"

The Demonwalk is an event set during a week of gift giving and cheer, wherein wishes are said to come true: the Wish Festival.  During the wish festival, worshippers of Shraxes the Caged One hide presents and gifts for those who've asked her for them.  They engage in acts of all sorts of charity, encouraging others to follow their example.  To them, each wish granted only helps to break their god's sorrow during her imprisonment.

The Demonwalk is an event the Church of Shraxes frowns upon.  The claim the practice ended centuries ago.  But each year during the Wish Festival, the Demonwalk still occurs.  Fanatics and dissident members of the Church of Shraxes still manage to carry it out year-to-year.

The Demonwalk involves figures dressed in red, often who stalk the streets of Crux during the week of the Wish Festival.  To Demonwalk, ancient demonic spirits are called into the summoner.  They Demonwalk to give those Demons freedom.  Their bodies become possessed by the demons they call.
Stories surround the Demonwalk.  Since most of the Demons are children or at least loyal to Shraxes herself, they are driven to find mortals.  They take the immoral or guilty and put them to work. They seem to delight in kidnapping children as well, forcing them to never sleep and just work, work, work.

For others, these Demons reward, making their newly caught slaves make toys or other gifts for those they call nice.  Often a hundred go missing each night because of the Demonwalk.  Figures in red drag them away while singing or whistling.

Demons of All Stripes
The possessing demon can vary wildly.   For sake of brevity, the Demonwalk calls demons that aren't just their traditional alignment.  Lawful and good demons are rarely part of it, but sometimes they too take part.

The stories about the Demonwalk claim that there are 101 demons that walk each year.  The number is consistent in the stories, although it makes many in Crux wonder about its veracity.  Ask the followers of Shraxes and they always agree on that note: on the night of Demonwalk, 101 demons walk in the bodies of mortals.

Monday, December 15, 2014

City of Curses: Musing on NPC generation

I need to create NPCs of sorts for Fate Core.  Seeing as I need some way to quickly roll them up, and I managed to well, complicate my iteration of Fate Core by using both Approaches and Skills, I need a system to device them fast-like.  Because it is faster for me to create a method of generation than to generate pre-gens.

Odd how that works.

This method creates a series of Modes (as first noted in the Fate Toolkit).  I've decided to break it down to the four big class blocks Crux (the setting my Fate Core game runs in) uses into Modes.  Arcane, Divine, Martial and Finesse.

All I have to do is use them to stat out a NPC in a flash.

Arcane: Crafts, Investigate, Knowledge, Sorcery, Wealth
Divine: Empathy, Faith, Notice, Provoke, Rapport, Will
Martial: Athletics, Brawl, Physique, Ride, Shoot, Weaponry
Finesse: Burglary, Contacts, Deceive, Performance, Reflexes, Stealth

There is a fifth mode, Racial.  Since each race in Crux has its own skill, it feels apt to go ahead and toss out a 5th mode for that.  One mode is rated at Fair (+2), a second at Average (+1) and the last two are rated at Mediocre.

That handles skills, but it doesn't cover approaches very well.  There are five base NPC types I recall from the Pathfinder Core book: Arcane, Divine, Ranged, Melee and Skill.  Let's use that for our approaches then:

Two at Fair (+2), Three at Average (+1), One at Mediocre (+0)

Arcane: Clever Fair, Flashy Fair, Careful Average, Sneaky Average, Quick Average, Forceful Mediocre
Divine: Flashy Fair, Careful Fair, Clever Average, Forceful Average, Quick Average, Sneaky Mediocre
Ranged: Careful Fair, Quick Fair, Forceful Average, Sneaky Average, Clever Average, Flashy Mediocre
Melee: Forceful Fair, Quick Fair, Flashy Average, Careful Average, Sneaky Average, Clever Mediocre
Skill: Sneaky Fair, Clever Fair, Quick Average, Flashy Average, Forceful Average, Careful Mediocre

So the quick method to making a NPC is combining each of these.  As for Aspects, my fallback is using racial aspects and probably being a little creative with classes I think.

This is just me musing with another idea somebody else had posted elsewhere.

Nameless NPC
Crow Vigilante (Human)
Rank and File members of the Eternal Order of the Eagle and the Crow, these Crows are street thugs, but dedicated to doing good works instead of criminal activities.  Crows blur the line of right and wrong, often being willing to do wrong in order to help what they think needs to be done.

Aspect(s) Crow Vigilante
Skills: Finesse Fair, Martial Average, Divine Mediocre and Arcane Mediocre.
Approaches (Skill) Sneaky Fair, Clever Fair, Quick Average, Flashy Average, Forceful Average, Careful Mediocre
Stress Track 3 Boxes

Saturday, December 13, 2014

City of Curses: Oddfellow 4

Page the 4th of Oddfellow. 
No words or text this time.  I experimented this time, using digital inking and a texture.  Still, work in progress.

First Page | Previous Page |

The Story: Oddfellow is a Android and a Paladin- he seeks Piscatore, in a cove of the City of Curses, Crux.  In a city where androids usually are slaves and vampires are protected citizens, how does a Paladin keep on the righteous path?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

City of Curses: Gangs of Poorfellows

Betrixt the major criminal syndicates of the Prince and the Demon's Orphans, are various small gangs that remain independent of their influence.  In Poorfellows are the most of these tiny gangs.  Because of its slums and crowded nature, each neighborhood has its own personal gang.  The city watch avoids Poorfellows.

Here are just a handful of the kinds of gangs that live in Poorfellows outside the grasp of the Prince or other Icons.

Ainesian Refugees: Between exiled nobility and those who lost much during the Revolution Wars, refugees fill these neighborhoods.  Gangs in these neighborhoods are of either the Publisher's persuasion (trying to spark revolution among them) while others focus on finding allies that might help them survive (such as the Prince or the Voice).  Native Tomasi often find more trouble from the refugees, as they've taken more jobs and space away from their own families, often at a cost to the Tomasi.  The Archwitch and Archdruid in particular strive to use refugees to promote their own interests, while the Chancellor often attempts to recruit students and test subjects from among them.

Old Tomasi Families: To the old Tomasi of Poorfellows, their own code of honor comes before the laws of others, including the City of Crux.  They remember when Poorfellows was its own town.  These street gangs act more like vigilantes, protecting their own from outsiders.  Among the Tomasi the Tinkerer lives, as she is descended from one of the older families.  The Commissioner and the Voice often ally with Tomasi gangs to give their various projects added legitimacy.  Some others like the Archwitch and The Spice Khan harbor ancient rivalries among the Tomasi gangs.  The Prince makes a point to specifically ask Tomasi for permission before having any of his agents act in their territory, respecting the age of some of their bloodlines, but no one is certain why.

Note that some of these Tomasi gangs date back to the Legions of the Tomasi Empire, honoring old soldier and arcane traditions.  Relics of all kinds from that era can be found within these families.  Most Tomasi consider the idea of civilization and honor to be something inherent in their traditions, something they taught the rest of the world.  So where some would call think of their street gangs as criminals, the Tomasi see them as protectors of kin and livelihoods against those who would corrupt their traditions and honor.

Androids: Free androids often live under the streets of Poorfellows, most wanting to be closer to The Tinkerer.  Struggling on their own for a sense of identity, these androids form their own gangs.  They try to exercise the will of the Tinkerer, acting as her agents in Poorfellows.  Some are fanatical.  Others are innovative.  But all of these Gear-Gangs unite in their loyalty to the Tinkerer.  They are the bottom rung in Poorfellows social ladder as well.  Most Android gangs lack homes or history to have their own turf.

The Feyborn Gangs: Born of generation upon generation of breeding by Ursyklon, Poorfellows is also home to Sparrows, gulls, rats, mice, cats and other Feyborn animals.  Their tiny communities exist between the tight spaces of Poorfellows.  It isn't uncommon for Rats or Sparrows to form their own gangs, protecting their villages and towns from outside predation.  The Archdruid and members of rodent-oriented Ursyklon Clans often act in their interest.  They feel some loyalty toward the Archdruid, but the Tinkerer and the Voice have found gangs of talking animals willing to help them along in their own pursuits too.  Perhaps the nastiest are the Snakes, whose strong loyalty to the Spice Khan has long been linked to a pair of Medusa living under Mason Street.  Their gangs often work to protect the Spice Khan's market interests in Poorfellows, more than willing to poison food and market stalls associated with non-Maliphi.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Machines of Shiloh 25

Previous (24)

"Is there a path before us?  Or have we chosen to make ourselves blind to all other possibilities?"
Sighter Savka
Vlog 5/23/20UE; The Sighter Savka Vlogs

I held up my sword.  The others stared at me.  "Who started the fire?"

The Spring Prince gave me a toothy grin.  "'Twas best way out of that predicament."

"Riiight."  I didn't trust the little fey royal.

"The Deathwalkers keep pursuing him- What do they want with you?" Aurora asked the Spring Prince.  She took a step forward, her white tiger companion circling toward the Fey's left.

"They are here."  The Spring Prince edged closer toward us.  His eyes pleaded at me.  "They are violating the temple.  You must protect me, dame knight."

I didn't like the idea of being told what to do.  I looked around.  All of the Heartshields were readying for a fight.

He continued.  "They seek my ending.  Death walks with them.  Please, protect me.  I am life, I am birth."

"The fey of Spring are supposed to be tied to growth."  Syren supplied.  "Perhaps the Deathwalkers want to end life itself, Hanael?"

"Suppositions aren't going to help."  Garok walked over and pinched the Spring Prince.  "Wait, he's real?"

Aurora snorted.  "What, you thought this was a hallucination or something?"

Garok glared.  "This is the temple you protect with no idea of what's inside."

"I am real."  The Spring Prince shuddered.  "Protect me and I will grant you whatever you wish, Garok."

Garok blinked.  "I didn't tell you my name, faerie."

The Spring Prince smiled.  "Knowledge and power go hand in hand, is that not true, Syren?"

Syren's face grew worrisome.  He didn't like the fey just announcing his name before he had given it either.  "That is one kind of truth."

The Spring Prince moved up close to Syren, a sly smile on his face.  I pointed my sword at him.  "Hold on."

He looked wounded.  He put a hand on his chest.  "Please Hanael.  Don't you want to help save them from it?"

A new voice then echoed in the chamber from behind us.  A old woman's shrill tone.  All four of us jumped.  Garok turned around, startled by what had happened.  "Creature, leave this sacred place!  Your lies will not befoul others-"

The Spring Prince let out a hiss.  He jumped back, pulling out his own sword.

"What the hell is going on?"  Garok asked.  "Can anyone explain to me what the hell is going on?"

I had to wait.  It took the better part of three weeks.  Roosevelt still had been recovering from the last salvo.  Grandmother had been right; the machines suspected nothing if Shiloh.  With her being dead to them, who could understand the technology necessary for a memetic virus?

But I had been waiting three weeks for this chance.  Charles would help me.  He'd grown tired of Augustine's campaign of terror.

I watched the two of them from behind the tree.  After school, my brother and Charles took their time loitering rather than getting home to help with chores.

"Typical."  I muttered.  "But expected."

Augustine laughed.  His cruel voice echoed.  A part of me shivered.  Years of his abuse bellowed up inside me.

"Charlie, c'mon.  Samuel only had his mother's name.  Otherwise, even before being traitor he did nothing.  Everyone should get over it."  My brother kicked at a nearby cat.  It hissed at him and took the hit.

"People know he wouldn't have chosen to augmented."  Charles looked around.  Nervous, he was trying to see some sort of warning from me.

"People have to learn to obey.  Traitors are traitors."  The cat confounded my brother.  It wrapped around his leg, grappling him.  "What the fek?!"

"Be careful, you don't know where that cat's been, Augustine."  I walked from behind the tree.  A grimace took over my face.  But inside I felt satisfaction begin to pour in.  Time to start changing Shiloh, to make it better than how my Father had ruined it.

Augustine looked up at me.  Confused, he tried to shake the cat off his leg.  "Amy what the fek are you talking about?"

Charles watched as Augustine fell to the ground.  The cat was getting heavier.  He couldn't lift his leg off the ground.

"It'll take just a bit of time, Augustine."  Rip.  Claws tore into his pants.  Fabric shredded as my creation found skin.  Then the feline's claws elongated.  They transformed themselves into tubules.  "A tiny bit of pain, but all growth requires pain."

Charles started to look panicked.  He hadn't expected this.  I know.  Because I hadn't told him what I was going to do.  He just watched as the varmint I'd created pumped its package into my brother's blood stream.

"The problem is that you are a imbecile, Augustine."  I crouched down, studying my handiwork.  "Too stupid and unimaginative.  Samuel was my friend.  He had to leave.  But you can't let the wound heal.  Samuel was too nice a person.  He was the one everyone wanted to be around.  You don't have someone to parasitize anymore."

"Amy... my leg... help..."  Augustine's voice was raspy.  He sounded like he was in quite a bit of pain.

"Don't talk.  The pain will fade once its done erasing your nerve endings."  My feline varmint had shrunken considerably.  Its fur had turned ash black, burning away in the exhaust heat of its processing.  "Once they've burrowed into your skull, you won't feel a thing, I promise."

Augustine stared at me, his eyes full of fear.  "What?!"

"Ever see the holo about that black dog?"  I asked Charles.  He didn't respond.  I continued anyway.  "I remember it.  They used to show it all the time when I was small.  Some sort of stupid metaphor on obedience or something.

"Dog got a old disease on Earth, one that was eradicated a long time ago.  Called rabies.  The dog had gone rabid and they had to put it down."  Augustine wasn't responding at all now.  He just shook, paralyzed as my varmint replaced his central nervous system.  "They knew dogs were near-human in their emotions when they made that holo, but they still had to make the point, 'what use is a rabid dog?' I always thought that was so cruel.  So mean.  Kill an animal that had gone mad, who still felt emotions?"

Charles threw up.  Probably because of the smell.  Augustine's bowels had emptied, no longer under his control.

"I mean, that is so messed up.  The poor thing had no choice, no say.  But they knew the thing had emotions too.  That at some level, it wanted to be around humans.  It loved them.  It was capable of love!  But they still killed it.  Augustine, you are a rabid dog."

I gazed down at the eyes of my brother.  He couldn't see anymore.  His brain no long had sensory connections.  I'd replaced them.  Nanoscopic rewiring.  Each nerve in his body now had been rendered into strings.  A puppet.  My puppet.

I felt tears come down my face.  "But I can't bring myself to kill you, Augustine.  I found a way to fix you."

I hugged his head tightly.  Then I whispered into his ear.  "Sit, boy."

Augustine sat up.  He blinked and sat there, obediently.  I patted his head.

"Good boy.  Go home and clean yourself up, okay?"

Augustine's body nodded and left.  Charles watched.  He looked scared.  "What- you said you were going to fix Augustine-"

"I did, Charles."  I stood up.  "I've found a way to fix people like Augustine.  He is still in there.  But now I control the thoughts he has.  I can insert whatever I want him to be myself."

"Thats-"  Charles just shuddered.  "That's wrong, Amelia-"

"No, its necessary, Charles."  I looked up at him with a smile.  "Shiloh needs to be a shining example to the entire System, people like Augustine or my father are too... too cruel to be allowed.  And we can't kill them either.  This solves that."

"It makes them into machines, doesn't it?"  Charles asked.  I could sense his support for it building.  After all, Charles feared my father like everyone else did.  Charles never wanted to be in the militia, but my father had forced him to join.  "Isn't that the same thing as-"

"Yes, and no.  We control the machines, including those too rabid to leave be.  You remember that holo too, don't you Charles?"

He nodded.  "Yeah.  Rabid dogs can't be allowed to run around like that.  I remember it.  You're right."

"Thank you, Charles."  I kissed him.  Charles's eyes lit up in surprise.  "I could've helped him without your help."

He looked at the departing Augustine.  "You think anyone will notice?"

I shrugged.  "Doesn't matter anymore, Charles.  Augustine received the prototype.  Soon we won't have to fear anyone's cruelties anymore."

/Ada_Malkav: Brilliant work child.  But be careful of slippery slope you are standing on.

I frowned.

"Anything wrong?"  Charles asked.  My frown had sent the wrong signal.  He didn't know about grandmother.

"Its nothing, Charles.  You mind walking me the rest of the way home?"  I lied through my teeth.  I didn't Charles to do anything.  But it seemed like the right words to keep him on track.

I would've preferred Sam.  I missed him, in more ways than one.  But Charles would be a fine backup choice.  I would need them, once I finished taking control of Shiloh for myself, even if I had to delete every line of my grandmother's uploaded personality.

"No."  Whisperer stood up.  "And secondly, double-no.  Its a og idea, Charon."

/Charon: Wait.  Can you hear me out?

"You just spent fifteen minutes trying to convince me.  My answer is still going to be no."  Whisperer glared at the nearest sensor, the exact same one I was using as my main feed.  Weird.  Psychs always had that effect.  Insight, something that only some Spirits can have.

/Charon: I need Sam to do this.

"And I said no, I can't."

I tried to think of a holo or something to convince her.  Nothing came to mind.  Haraam it all.

/Charon: He-

"For a Spirit, you really like to forget things.  Its She, Charon.  Sam is a brand new person.  She is about go through something really life-altering, and you want her to go back to Shiloh?  I can't convince her to do that."  Whisperer flopped down onto a chair.  She looked frustrated.

/Charon: Fine, she, if that's all halaal to you.  I need someone native, someone who can at least help me figure out where this memetic virus is coming from.  She is the closest thing to a expert on Shiloh we have.

"You aren't listening."  Whisperer replied.  "I said, I can't convince her.  Not would not, can not.  That isn't my job, Charon.  I'm just her therapist who has a bit of Psych genehacking."

/Charon: You knew her Mother.

"I helped Hannah adjust into Shiloh, yes."  Whisperer looked meaningfully toward a painting on the wall.  One of those holo ones, of a multiple moving images in a loop.  It was of the martian landscape.  I recognized it.  It was one of the ones Hannah had painted Whisperer.  "I have an obligation to be honest with Sam, Charon.  I know what you want.  You want someone to convince her to walk through the airlock, and I can't do that."

/Charon: You mean I have to do that.

Whisperer looked back at me, through the sensors and into the feed.  A knowing smile.  She knew how best to get me to a conclusion.

This is why it's weird to hear humans call us Spirit-level A.I. superior in intelligence.  Humans can't codify intelligence.  It isn't a matter of lack of trying.  Humans did try.  For a few thousand years they kept creating model after model.

Not long after the first Spirit came into being, we did the same thing.  But we concluded it with algorithmic solution that no human could comprehend.  Vast parts of the metanet maintain it, enough for most Spirits to come to my conclusion: there is no inherent superiority in intelligence.  There is no omniscience if a mind is also supposed to be a conscious and sapient mind.  Sapience, wisdom, requires more than knowledge or smarts.

"I'm sure you can build up the courage to do it, Charon."  Whisperer told me.  "But be careful about this.  Sam is still very new in her identity.  She has to confront Shiloh at some point, and I think it'd be best if she got to make that choice, not you or Autogov or anyone."

/Charon: Are lives worth that then?

Whisperer sighed.  "Your problem, Charon.  Don't pile guilt on me.  Are we done here?"

I paused for a moment.  I wanted to manipulate, cajole, convince her to do as I wanted.  But couldn't do that to Whisperer.  She might have a point.

/Charon: Yeah.  We're done here.

Crux Session Report 5: The Keepers Episode 2

So Wolves At the Gates continues as the first story arc in my first Crux game.  I was down one player (whose character Ash just popped into the background rather than over complicate the plot I think), but we continued on.  The last session ended at a cliffhanger, you can find that session report here.

Last time I asked one player to name one Truth about something that would happen in the next session.  He said: "Pyro will throw a bomb."  So, I had to work that into this session somehow.  Okay.

The Opener

The Keepers had found a set of splattered Ursyklon corpses on Bellamy's Stair, on the Skullmount in the center of Crux.  Before they could act on any information they had found, they had been interrupted by the arrival of someone moving up the Stair, Ono (a Tengu and former ninja, as well as rival of Ishida) and a posse of Crow (members of the Eternal Order of the Eagle and the Crow to be precise).  Ono calls Ishida (A PC) out, determined to "right the crime Ishida had committed, the horrors he has unleashed on the City."

For the location, I drew up a little map.  I pointed out the three aspects on the story, scene and location to the players.  The story aspect is Wolves At the Gates, referring to the Ursyklon's efforts at the university to work against the Chancellor.  Bellamy's Stair, the location they are at, is narrow and can be hard to navigate outside of a fight- so the location has an aspect called Narrow Stairs.  The last aspect was a scene aspect, referring to the dead bodies- Splattered Corpses.

I thought perhaps I'd been running a combat, but my players took things in a different direction.  Sideways is a good description for it.

Bombs on the Stairs.

This opens onto the session's first question: Do the Keepers fight Ono?

Gav stops Ono, using a subtle enchantment to get him and his posse to calm down and talk.  Gav lies, saying he knows nothing about Ishida Gold-Sun.  Ono, under Gav's magical sway, gives him a photograph.  It is of a Tengu on Palace Hill the night the monsters attacked, holding a piece of strange machinery.  It looks like Ishida, but Gav can't see the difference in the photo of one Tengu in the night from another.

Gav's attempts for a peaceful conversation are torn apart, however.  Ishida uses a blend of Tengu ninja tricks to toss a fake body down the cliff, into the sea below.  He vanishes, leaving Ono (and Pyro, another PC) to think that Ishida has up and vanished.  Gav puts two and two together, but is the only one who seems to notice that Ishida had not leapt to his death.

But things go even further from "peaceful resolution."  Pyro, seeing his new friend leap to his death, tosses a smoke bomb.  Now with the Smoke Bomb aspect on the zone, Ono decided it was all ruse- and rushed in for the attack.  Gav took advantage of the smoke and their higher position.  Grabbing Pyro, the two of them vanish back behind the illusory wall of the tunnel the Ursyklon had used to steal the Device to begin with.

Ono's posse convinces Ono to leave the Keepers, as Ishida looks like he is dead.  They leave, but Ono isn't happy with the situation.

They Think Ishida Is Dead

Ishida keeps his distance, deciding to play dead for awhile.  He keeps an eye on the rest of the Keepers.  He comtemplated acting as his own brother to come back and demand vengeance, but instead decides to observe at the moment.

After a tense emotional moment (where Pyro almost accidentally broke Gav's hand), the two of them instead go to the Archaeology Department to talk with the clue they received last session.  Professor Wiseowl (also the mother of Ash, the PC who wasn't present to the session) who the dead Ursyklons claimed was their contact at the University.  It was time for the next scene's question: What does Professor Wiseowl know?

They found a lone grad student in Wiseowl's office, a space built for Ursyklon stature.  Feeling cramped, Gav gives the wrong impression to the student who goes and retrieves the Professor.  The Professor (a NPC played by the same player of Ishida, so it was nice and convenient that way) came in angry, as the grad student smelled the blood and gore on the two of them.  Gav told her Ash was fine, and explained everything up to that point.

Pyro proceeded to explain every detail about the Ursyklon's splattered corpses.  Ick.

Gav was honest, his Station Street Honor compelling him to be upfront and ask the professor for help.  The Professor dodged the question at first, but eventually revealed her distaste for the Chancellor.  In fact, she presents Gav and the Keepers a counteroffer: work for her, against the Chancellor and make sure the Abolethic device is destroyed.

Unsure about Aboleths, Gav has no frame of reference for them at all, he tries to reach some sort of middle ground with the Professor.  But Pyro notices the telltale hum of a incoming teleportation effect.

A monstrous THING appears between Gav and Professor Wiseowl.

Stinking of sulfur, the long tapeworm-like body hisses at the Urskylon matron.  Two infernal horns came out of its head and a thousands of millipede-esque feet.  The maw of the thing hisses out gibberish.  But Gav makes out the phrase, 'Wiseowl ursyklon die for Shraxes.'  Its dozen or so glowing red eyes swam with glee as it drooled green ooze.

And that was where I ended that session.

The Monster.

The same monster as those that attacked Palace Hill, I've decided to go the tapeworm direction with it.  Tapeworms are always a great way to sicken.  In this case, the Tapeworm Monsters will need a better name, but I haven't gotten that far yet.

I also should stat them out.  I'll sleep on it, perhaps something will come out from that.

My final analysis of the session was a good one.  It was short.  It got to the third or fourth question of the story arc.  It feels like part of the second act of the story, so perhaps next session will wrap it up.   We've had delays, but that is core to this time of year.

On how I handled being a player short: I choose to act as though the character were in the background.  She was there and she was witness to all of it.  Choosing to not acknowledge her absence by focusing on action helped.  This is one of the three main ways of handling an absent player.  Treating the character as backdrop until needed is something other kinds of media do as well.  Think of entire episodes of TV wherein a character appears, but says nothing.

They are there as backdrop, but the current story doesn't involve them yet.  They'll have their chance to work with them the next time they get lines or a chance to regain the focus.

Note that there are at least two other ways to handle this.  But dealing with it and not forgetting about the character is a key thing.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

City of Curses: Oddfellow 3

The Story: Oddfellow is a Android and a Paladin- he seeks Piscatore, in a cove of the City of Curses, Crux.  In a city where androids usually are slaves and vampires are protected citizens, how does a Paladin keep on the righteous path?

Here is Page 3:

Page 1| Page 2|  Page 4

This is mainly an experiment, seeing how well I stay on task with a comic.  Comment if you like it.  Feedback will always cause me to do more.  Also: these are shaded but uncolored comics.  I've decided to leave coloring off for now.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fear of the Machine

A trope in Sci Fi I worry about is the fear of robotic insurrection.  Yes, Artificial Intelligence has the potential to be dangerous.  But we humans have to stop from creating a self-fulfilling prophecy: the Machine is not the enemy, and we have a history of treating The Other in horrible terms.

This is more of an attempt to put the nature of artificial intelligence into context.  From media I see a lot of stories promoting "warnings against A.I."  I don't like it as a news story about tech, because its fear mongering.  Automated tech has the potential to revolutionize the world, possibly helping to bring us close to a post-scarcity society.  Robots are nearing the same stage early personal computers were in the 70s.  We are about to enter an era of robots.  Asimov's dream era.

But there are always warnings.  Fears raised.  Shudders given.  "We welcome our future robot overlords" is a notable meme.  Sometimes they seem to ring harder for some more than warnings on climate change.

These stories always seem misguided to me, for two very stark reasons.

The first one is that genuine artificial intelligence, the kind most individuals think of as A.I., is qualitatively hard to determine.  We haven't cracked that nugget yet.  And worse, we don't have a good gauge of what intelligence means.  The best gauge I've ever heard for intelligence is as an emergent quality that comes out of complex systems.  Even then, that isn't useful definition.

The best gauge I've ever heard for intelligence is as an emergent quality that comes out of complex systems. 

I suggest looking at computer science and engineering research into A.I. systems.  Automation seems to come closer and closer.  But automated systems aren't the same as intelligence.  IBM's Watson is in no way a competitor with human ambition.  My point is thus: robots already do a bunch of automated functions.  That automation isn't the same as robotic revolution or insurrection.

The other stark warning is that its basis in psychological fear seems to be flawed as a reason to me.  What is the evidence (not the emotions or feelings, whathaveyou) for any AI to be dangerous?  Its the same question I ask of characters in a story: what's the cause?  History demonstrates that dangerous persons had cause for being dangerous.  That there is a why to their actions.  If anything, human history makes us cast as being more dangerous for AI.

Human fear of the Other is what makes things like horror a genre to start with.  Humans fear the Other as a palpable thing: it has roots in a evolutionary need to be paranoid of strangers not part of your kin-group.  That fear often manifests itself as racism and discrimination of all kinds.  Do we need to create a new form of discrimination against future AI members of society?

I don't say that mockingly.  There is a possibility for humans to think of AI and machines in a discriminatory fashion, creating systems that restrict AI the same way other systems we've devised have.  If AI rebel against humans, my gut points to it being based on human mistreatment of machines as anything less than equals.

Human psychology might not help us here.  We need to note that if we create new artificial intelligences, we will teach them the basics of what humanity is.  We might have to expand the meaning of that word, too.  I will guess ahead of time that robots will not start any sort of apocalypse: like nuclear war, I think the potential cause of disaster begins in human hands.  One might look back at all those near-misses and think how lucky we are: "Humanity messed up so much that it almost blew up the world."

That is a valid way to look at it.  I see it another way.  Countless people struggled to keep the World Wars from happening.   The same was true for the Cold War.  We remember the warmongers, we forget the thousands that worked to keep the war from turning hot.  History remembers the bloody monsters, it forgets the pacifists, the champions of peace who went away quietly into the night unknown.  The peacemakers and brilliant folks that built the foundation of our world.

They could've done better.  But they were trying to do better, and that is key to understand.  There are logical reasons for altruism as a practice.  There are more reasons to help others than there are not to.  It seems to me to be limiting to think that any mind created by technology would choose to treat humans like the worst of humanity has treated itself.  Think instead of the AI that follows in our steps, the AI that tries to be like the best of humanity.

Think of them as new citizens, not monsters.

My NaNoWriMo Novel
These thoughts influenced my NaNoWriMo novel, the Machines of Shiloh when I started it.  I've been having them roll around in my head for awhile now: artificial intelligences shouldn't be seen as monsters looming in the dark.  One shouldn't look at the wonders of the next age with fear.

So I wanted to write a story about that.  I think automated systems and AI will help humans to lift ourselves up.  It will be a stairway that lets us ascend.  Yes we will manage it well: the true answer is if we can fathom treating such entities with respect and equality should they emerge worthy of it.

The novel covers my own imagining on future AI to a degree, as well as governance to a degree.  AI become citizens of another kind.  Superior AI still have emotions, dreams, hobbies and passions.  They don't regard humans as lesser beings- because culturally it isn't a valued trait.  I just take the basic leap that the symbiotic relationship between humans and any artificial minds smarter than them is stronger than the very easy kill all humans model.

Machines value their relationships with humans.  And vice versa.  That's a core part of the novel's AI themes to me.  Its something I like writing about, that and any sci fi that makes technology lift people up, not destroy them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gaming Materials: Belle of the Ball

After playing this game the fourth time, I understood what I love about it.  Beautiful and snazzy.
 Belle of the Ball is great quick set matching game- that I've found interesting depth under its surface.

Tabletop card games are a favorite of mine.  They turn out to be a brilliant addition to any RPG session, as card games can rebuild group cohesion.  A fun card game can get a session's ball rolling, the quicker the better.  And they are a great palette cleanser after playing other board games.

Sometimes one might think of card games as lacking the strategic depth or complexity of their bigger cousins.  This isn't always true.  I've found that games like Fluxx or Chrononauts can take up the same time of some bigger games, often having emergent game content that keeps my group entertained.  This is where I find Belle of the Ball is beautiful.  It was designed with variable depth and difficulty.

After our initial game, we thought Belle of the Ball was interesting, albeit leaning toward the luck end of things.  But we pulled out the advanced setup the second time around.  That made the game feel deeper.

I should also note that one critical neat aspect of Belle of the Ball is that isn't violent.  Its about creating a interesting party.  I imagine one could alter Belle of the Ball a bit for handling some sort of social event, who knows.  I'm just musing at this point.  The key interesting part is how interesting competing parties can be as a theme instead of some of the normal ones others might think of.

Belle of the Ball is a game about assembling sets of interests.  The goal is to get guests together that share interests, earning points for matching interests.  You also can obtain Belle cards, which provide other effects.  Some can be used against other players.  Some let you earn easy points on the side.

But most interesting?  Your choice each turn is limited to adding a guest or taking a Belle card.  There also is a internal economy to the game as well.  That choice each turn is what makes the game interesting to me.  Single turn, each time a step in a strategy.  There is always an available option.

It is a puzzle really.  But the factors of dealing with what others are doing or what they could do to your plans, force you to adapt.  The luck in the game is balanced out by the amount of skill you have are seeing what's coming or could come at you.

Belle of the Ball accomplishes what I like to see in a game.  There is depth, the luck is balanced out by skill and the narrative of the game entices me each time I sit down.

As for RPG potential, I the internal universe of Belle of the Ball uses fanciful names.  Some may be turned off by this.  This is a soul test- if you have a soul, you will enjoy the fun of the names in Belle of the Ball.  Only the soulless and the damned would be turned off by them.

The damned I say.

I think one could have fun RPing as one of the noble party-makers of Ludobel.  In fact, you could do a quick legacy hack of Belle of the Ball by giving each player index cards.  Name your character.  Whenever you win a game of Belle of the Ball, each player can choose a interest.  You gain 1 extra point next time you each score a group that has that interest in it.  Whoever wins can add or remove 1 interest from a guest card.

Belle of the Ball is a keeper.  Go here if you are interested in the designer, Daniel Solis.  Or go here if you want to check out a copy for yourself.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Machines of Shiloh 24

"Sam Maenad choose a new identity for herself.  Psychology teaches us that we will become what we want to be.  Sam Maenad didn't want to be hero, she wanted to prove humans could be better when challenged.  
"She wanted to prove herself to be a better person, not to impress others."
Whisperer, Roosevelt Psych
Meditations on Shiloh's War

I squirmed in my seat.

"You've had an eventful week."  Whisperer began.  She gave her gentle understanding nod.  "The livestreams say you saved Kensha's life."

"Did they mention that was because I grew up training to use nerve gas?"  I calmly replied.  I still felt disgusted with myself.  Why did it take me so long to realize what I had been training to do?  Why didn't I see how wrong it'd been?

"But you used that knowledge to save her life.  Information that Eleanor and other AI weren't able to
provide to her at the time."  Whisperer tilted her head.  Her dark wavy hair tumbled down, revealing a ruby earring shaped like a scorpion that hung from her ear.

"I remember being really proud to learn things like that."  I paused.  I looked out at the waterfall
outsider Whisperer's window.  It still flowed up.  "IDK anymore.  I still feel ashamed."

"That means you are a decent person."  Whisperer grasped my hands.  "You acted positively.  That's a good thing, Sam."

I nodded.  "I felt better this week too.  Less thoughts... less thoughts like when I was just Samuel.
It still feels off."

"That's understandable."  Whisperer looked up at my eyes.  I could see so much going on there.  She
continued, each word sounding like it was precisely chosen.  "Every case is different, Sam.  But
choosing a path is the first step.  We need to find what- which set of things work best for you.

"Part of my job is ascertaining certain things before approving you for specific gene hacks."  Whisperer shrugged.  "I mean, autogov and a series of spirits have already designed the gene hacks that'll finish the process."

I looked up at her.  "But I'm not ready for them?"

"You tell me."  Whisperer pointed at a nearby holo painting.  It looked like the surface of a ruddy
valley, barren of most things.  Its distance had blurry shapes moving across it.  Four antlered elk of
some kind.  "That image was painted near Utopia Free City on Mars.  But it isn't intended to be
realistic.  The patient who painted that for me did so when she was finally certain she was ready to
leave her old self behind."

"Mars?"  I blinked.  "What did she leave behind?"

"Dusters created their own genehacks on Mars so they could survive easier.  Height, bone density and a variety of other adaptations that are excellent for Martian environments.  However, they don't translate well on orbital colonies like Nightland, which are adapted exclusively for Earth standard environs."

Whisperer walked over to the painting.  The painting shifted as she moved closer, the strokes of that
formed the image altering slightly.  It looked like different emotions behind the image, like firey
brush strokes smoothed into light, peaceful smooth ones instead.

"It changes as you get closer."  I stared at it in wonder for a moment, imaging how clever of design
that had to be.  "I mean, the emotions in the piece change.  The subject matter is the same, but it was
hot and distressed one way.  It cooled."

Whisperer nodded and looked back at me.  "It was her way of admitting she was ready.  She gave me this because she didn't know how to say it out loud."

"So, I need to paint something?"  I asked.

Whispered laughed.  "I think you're taking my point a bit too literally.  When you are ready, you are
ready.  Everyone has their own way of being certain.  And you are a unique case, Sam.  We don't normally have to deal with people having to transition from one form of identity to another before getting gene hacks to rectify it.

"I've studied into it, but it seems to be a artifact of your life in Shiloh.  Only the Old Nations would
have such problems, usually from those clinging to traditional views that most in the colonies had

"I feel like I'm ready to change."  I admitted.  "The wearing the wig and dress.. all of that is a
clever form of lying."

Whisperer gave a silent nod.

"But you want me to be certain?"  I asked.

"I'd rather you find yourself, Sam.  Bodies are bodies.  Your physical sex has nothing to do with your
gender, who you are or what you think you are.  We can reverse gene hacks.  I'm just the gatekeeper
here."  Whisperer walked over to me and grasped my hands.  "We could do this the slow way, the fast way or stop here.  Would any of those options make you any closer to knowing who Sam Maenad is?"

I didn't know.  I looked up at her.  Thoughts about what had happened the week before went through my mind over and over.  "I want to be better than who I was.  I think I'm an artist.  And I might be Kensha Bodhi's friend.  I want to be like my mother, I want to help people."

"Good."  Whisperer gave me a bright smile.  "I think we can work from here.  I... Sam, I know you will be happier after this.  You keep struggling with the negative thoughts, and have done well to keep them from taking over.  This will make you happy, I know."

She touched her forehead in a knowing gesture.

I looked up at her.  "If it'll help me stop thinking of myself as a liar, then I'll do whatever I can to
make it happen."

I  arrived in Dr. Bodhi's office last.  The room was more crowded than I had expected to see.  It was on the dreaming layer of the Metanet, so most of the AI spirits present had taken on human form.  Shelby, having taken on the form of a tall, thin elf.  An actual elf, in a bright pink kimono.  She had on a purple mask.

That sight alone distracted me from the seriousness of the room.  I stared at her avatar.  She glared right back at me.

"Really?"  I asked.  It took a lot of struggle for me to not laugh aloud.  Hey, I may be thousands of times smarter than a human brain, but I still have a sense of humor.

"You finally show up."  Shelby growled.  She looked like she was going to sock me.  Kinda funny, when you considered we were both just facsimiles.  "We've been waiting."

"Some introductions are in order."  Dr. Bodhi said, preventing me from retorting.  I tried to keep my mouth shut for a moment.  "Charon, this is Nightland_Central."

I looked around the room.  I took stock of everyone there.  Before I had been distracted by Shelby's bizarre choice of avatar.  I had not noticed the new person.

In addition to Dr. Bodhi, Shelby, Roosevelt_Central and myself, there was someone new too.  An avatar for a Spirit AI,  an avatar I hadn't met before.  Zhe had the form of a plump woman.  Zer clothes looked out of date, but held some sort of authority to them.  Zer eyes looked like they were compiling massive amounts of data.  This was Nightland_Central, the spirit AI that maintained mass media of all Nightland itself.  The locus and master control for almost all of Nightland's systems.  The only thing higher in the hierarchy of Nightland was Autogov itself.

"It is good to finally meet you, Charon."  Nightland_Central offered me her hand.  I looked down at it.

"Sure thing."  The rest of the room was staring at me.  "So... why are we all gathered here?"

"Samuel Maenad."  Roosevelt_Central supplied.  He was cleaning his not-so-real glasses.  "Autogov is still trying to ascertain the proper forward course."

"The aggregate lacks enough information to make certain decisions."  Dr. Bodhi added.

"Because it knows nothing about Maenad and this entire situation."  Nightland_Central gave me a bright smile.  Something about zer seemed familiar.  I started a metanet search to figure that out while I listened.  "You need to conduct a interview, Charon.  I'd love to do a live stream with you.  Tell all of Nightland what's going on.  Once the metanet knows, the sooner autogov will come to a decision."

"What's the parameters of what's going on?"  I turned to Nightland.

"All of Nightland is looking for answers.  Autogov remains indecisive."  Images floated about Nightland_Central, all moving with information and data.  Live streams from the other central cities of Nightland as well.  "Making media is the way to help Autogov determine the future course."

I let out a steady breath.  "Shelby knows plenty about the situation.  Can't she do the interviews and all that?"

Nightland_Central shrugged.  "You were created to face this threat from Shiloh altogether.  I'd much rather have your take on it, Charon."

"I only came into it after interacting with the events around Sam Maenad."  I opened a palm.  Images streamed out of my encounters with Sam.  "Sam is still being protected by policies and some human rights.  My investigation has been more or less steamrolled.  Shelby and Roosevelt have more or less kept me from moving forward in the direction I want to go."

Roosevelt_Central and Shelby exchanged looks.  Nightland_Central nodded, understanding.  "You think Maenad will be key to you finding a solution to the problem?"

"Shiloh is responsible for the last two attacks.  The best local expect on Shiloh is Sam Maenad.  I want permission to bring Sam in for me to consult with."  I turned to Dr. Bodhi.

"You still claim that."  Shelby scoffed.  "The memetic virus could just be a lingering piece of data from years ago."

"I suspect Sam knows about it, that and the disappearance of one of our police drones."  I created holos of Sam Maenad, Suzanne and the incidents so far.  "I'll gladly conduct an interview, but I'm telling all of you, this is what I'm going to ask for."

Nightland_Central nodded.  Shelby's eyes behind her mask went dark.  She glared at me with all her fury.  "You can't dictate policy to autogov Charon.  Our policies and rules exist for a reason."

"And I was created to stop Malkav."  I brought up images of the dead.  "Each bot that was used in these attacks were repeating Malkav's idiotic mantra: 'Walk free.'  Samuel Maenad lived in that town, and I suspect based on her behavior on Eleanor that Malkav trained her to some extent."

"Malkav?"  Nightland_Central gave me a frightened look.  "Malkav's ghost you mean?  Didn't she die in Shiloh?"

"I have a few guesses I want to confirm."  I gambled out loud.  "So yes, I will conduct a interview Nightland, anything to help autogov to decide what best to do next."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

City of Curses: Oddfellow 2

Page 2 of an experiment/practice run on a comic.  Mainly I'm trying to see how well I stick to producing these.  I want to aim for at least once a week.
The Story: Oddfellow is a Android and a Paladin- he seeks Piscatore, in a cove of the City of Curses, Crux.  In a city where androids usually are slaves and vampires are protected citizens, how does a Paladin keep on the righteous path?
Going to get around to releasing a creative commons license for this: noncommercial sharealike.  Modify/color if you want, please don't sell and credit me.  And yes, I do commission work.

Please comment if you enjoy, I'll try to think up a schedule if I feel like there is enough clamor for these.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

City of Curses: Oddfellow 1

Page 1 of a experiment, will probably watermark this or something later as Creative Commons Non-commercial license for the curious, but I haven't yet.  Enjoy.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Random Musing: Stealing Mechanics

Using Pandemic for Political/Social Mechanics

My first thought is to use Dread as a basic model.  This could also be useful for Severance as well.  Questions as setting up

Replacing the Jenga Tower in Dread (an idea for a mechanic on the same principles).  Because a Jenga tower has inevitability built in: the tower is going to fall eventually, this same principle needs to be built into any mechanic trying to mirror it.  I want tension that crescendos: welp, my first thought is to look at other board games that have similar mechanics I could steal.

In Pandemic, the tension comes from cubes that grow.  For Pandemic, this represents diseases growing and overflowing cities as the game goes on.  Mechanically: 3 cubes of the same color make a city "full."  Any more cubes of that color, and they "outbreak": a cube goes to each city connected to that city.  Well, that's the visual tension that affects players: they plan and work based on these cubes.

Could this be taken on for a RPG?

My first thought is applying the idea for interacting with NPCs, the party's morale and reputations.  Say that you put down a sheet of paper on the table.  Draw a series of circles.  The party has its own circle, label it.  Each circle directly connected to the Party should have line connected to it.

This map will change, which is fine.  But each circle should represent a group of people critical to the PCs.  I think the catch hand is that the players know about these circles.  This is for a more political aim, allowing for a game where players are working to get a organization, colony or group to do what they want.

Next we need dice, preferably d6s for now.  Different colors work best, I'm going to assume Red, Green, White and Black are available.  Black means panicked, scared, more or less have no more morale to go on.

Each circle can only have a max of each color in its circle; if it gets another one die added, each circle added to it spread out to each connected circle.

This means that this system also needs a sort of economy of daily actions within the community.  I can't imagine everyone can be looked after, but the PCs will want to try and keep their end of the group from falling apart to any of the conditions these dice could represent.  Low Morale is one thing, another could be a epidemic, a fad, possibly even a foreign religion.  Good reputation could also be a thing.

Whenever a die comes into the Party's circle, any NPCs that would fall into that circle are affected.  Or possibly the PCs start to face encounters of that kind of influence.

Why use d6s as a measurement?  I think you could tie a HP/damage mechanic in based on the d6s.  At the start of each session, you roll up a value based on d6s for each circle: that's how much "damage" it needs to take before it goes away.

Damage for anything non-combat I think needs three dice sizes to choose from: d6 (Poor), d8 (Average), d12 (Good).

I think this is at least a good start for a mechanic measuring group problems.  How do dice get added?  That part so far is GM fiat, but I think it needs a more precise tool.  I like the idea of a percentage being rolled each day, but that feels... well, to be honest, time-consuming in its own way.

My thought for using 4 colors of dice is that I could use a deck of playing cards for generating events.  This sort of mechanic would play well in a setting that has a small community tied into it.  I kinda also want to use Kingdom too, but as a way to generate future events and crises...

But lets stick to the 4 kinds of dice.  That means four kinds of Things to track (need a better term for it).  My thought is to label them: Plague, Praise, Panic, Problems.  These are broad to encapsulate a bunch of different things while still being within the same "hemisphere" of issues.  Perhaps issues with local water supplies going dry is something I can refer back to repeatedly each time Problems comes up.  Or maybe Praise will be based on local events?  Who knows.

My first thought on these was to say "based on system."  But let's be a bit more practical here.  Lets say doing something for anyone in a community will take time: you have find them, talk with them, do what you can, etc.  There are two modes here: RPing the entire thing, and handwaving it.

The GM has to decide this when a player begins doing things for their daily action.  I'd like to make a recommendation here for the narrativist in me: don't RP each time players interact NPCs as a scene.

What?  I know, that sounds definitely NOT narrativist.  But let me get to a point here: unless a particular NPC is tied to a subplot or main plot, don't waste the time on it.  Its possible for a single character to dominate all the scenes if you do things this way.

A daily action should take 4 or 5 hours, maybe meaning that most characters should get to have 2 actions they can devote to in a day.  Spending a daily action to combat a Thing [srsly, I need a name for this, Issue maybe?] lets you get a roll to reduce it in that circle of the community.

I decided to think of this after going over one of my favorite ideas in Pathfinder's Ultimate Campaign.  I'm a visual thinker, so I found the systems present in it hard to focus on.  I want a subsystem for handling communities, but find the idea of treating any social problems as "one roll to rule them all" to be less than satisfying.  Combat takes hours to resolve, but a single good social roll can end a problem instantly.

So I want something I can dig my GM/Player headspace into.  That's the genesis of this.

Also: it touches onto my Severance idea a bit too.  Communities should have some internal mechanics I think.  Stealing from Pandemic seems like a good first step, perhaps.  I need to look over more things for ideas to steal from...

The Machines of Shiloh 23

"Ideas do not die.  The memes that comprise them exist forever more.  But like everything else they can change.  You never kill an idea: you force it to adapt to what you want it to become.  An old idea, if mutated enough, looks nothing like the original."
Dr. Hannah Maenad
Studies of Shiloh

The filtration system looked like a hellscape.  Something out of the divine comedy or something.  The drone body I'd swiped stopped, I realized I'd been using it to stare at the sight before me.

"Really?  You have to be fekking with me."

The water filtration system had been overrun with varmints.  The little bots had once looked like
animals, but had altered themselves.  Burnt fur, twisted limbs and insane customizations ruled.  Each
varmint had mutilated itself.  Their eyes glowed with a insane glimmer.  The filtration was just a mess of pipes, hoses and storage tanks.

The little monsters had turned the chamber into a mad hell.  They'd twisted and redirected liquids all
over the place.  Customized to treat, channel and alter the basic components into poison.  The water
filtration system itself was pumping out the nerve gas into the rest of the vertical garden.  Eleanor
could never stop this, not with everything else going on.  These varmints had been subcomponents of her own super-system of pieces.  They could even still be pretending to be part of her.

Fek.  This was like a cancer in a living organism.  It could fester until it took down the larger

It's a mistake to think that massive artificial intelligences are omniscient.  They can comprehend more.  They are aware of more too.  But that doesn't make them perfect.  Like any complex being, simpler beings could trick them, find holes in the system and exploit them.

"Welp, any of you little yabai willing to die for free on me?"  I asked the room full of angry,
screeching varmints.  The stared at me, their dumb eyes just looking on.

Each of them muttered the same stupid phrase: "walkfree."

"Gee, I wish Malkav had considered some better haraam phrase for her oging pet project."  I ran into the room.

That might've sounded really not bright to do.  After all, I only had the single police drone rushing
in.  What if the police drone got infected?  Wasn't I outnumbered?

This wasn't my first rodeo.

Police drones are just lower-grade military combat drones.  Combat drones revolutionized warfare.  I
moved faster than any of the varmints could hope to match.  At a blurring speed, the police drone I
piloted dived straight into the swarm and the filtration system.

I didn't care how many varmints I hit.  My goal was to wreck the system.

"Walkfree!"  Varmints hissed, ripping into my drone's body.  I could feel the viral assaults on my
drone's systems as well.  The local metanet was soaking wet with Malkav's memetic infestation.  I
swatted each of these away.

To be honest, most of my concentration was on keeping the virus at bay long enough.  I just needed to knock the gas production offline.  The drone I piloted, the varmints, even parts of Eleanor were
irrelevant.  I just needed to get a opening for my plan to work.

/Shelby: @Charon: Whatever you did, you crazy soabi, the gas has stopped appearing.

/Charon: @Shelby: Thanks.  Gotta... get this last...

That's when I blew the EMP ring in my drone's chest.  A small specialty bit I'd placed in all my police drones, the ring when blown would create an electromagnetic pulse.  It would take me a bit of time to get a unit or line back in Eleanor long enough to see if it worked.  If it had, all of the infected
varmints and related systems would've shorted out.

/Shelby: What did you do?  A bunch of bots just dropped out of the metanet.

/Charon: Had to blow a EMP.  Seemed the best course.  @Eleanor: You still active?

/Eleanor: @Charon: @Shelby: Sorry.  Better now.  I was able to save thirty individuals in my food
storage bays.

/Shelby: That's better than nothing.  Do you have estimate on oxygen levels for them?

/Eleanor: Uncertain.  The system was never meant to serve as a life raft.

/Charon: Shelby, I have varmints down here we need to quarantine.  Possibly incinerate.

There was a pause.  I started to look through the feeds around Eleanor Vertical Garden.  The food
storage bays were dark, but I checked up on people.  In one of the bays was a familiar pair of figures.

Kensha and another girl.  Kensha was holding the girl, whose left arm looked like it been destroyed.

Dislocated, broken and more.

There wasn't any audio.  But I made a note of it.  Kensha had narrowly been killed by Ada Malkav a
second time.  It was like the girl was Malkav's kill list or something.

/Shelby: Charon.  You're not serious.

/Charon: Varmints had rewired Eleanor's water filtration and fertilizer systems to generate nerve agent.

 The varmints were repeating the same phrase over and over.

/Shelby: Let me guess.  'Walk Free.'

That would confirm it for the two of us then.  I knew Shelby would never admit I was right.  But she
knew the protocol on this situation.  The memetic virus had come back, and it had found a vector into the middle of Roosevelt.  Something had to be done.

Autogov needed to be consulted.  That meant the people hiding needed to be rescued.  Data had to
aggregate.  Once all of Roosevelt knew about it, Nightland would learn about it.  It would go viral, on all of the social nets.  The Metanet would arrive at a conclusion.

/Charon: Yeah.  Let's get those people out of there.

//Live Stream: Debate between Ada Malkav v. Catherine 97801A
//Autogov and Human Self-Governance

Weir the Gonzo: Welcome to our Livestream of this debate!  Both participants have agreed to the terms of our debate, which you can find on our Metanet wiki if you wish to know the precise details.  First off, I'd like to introduce Ada Malkav, author of the recent 'To Walk Free' and advocate for human self-governance.  Welcome, Ada.

Malkav: Weir.  I am glad to be here, to finally tell the truth to those doubters out there.

Weir: Well, many have their own opinions on the subject as well.  Before we begin, I've been asked to inform our audience again that Ada Malkav has no associations with any of the Old Nations, correct Ada?

Malkav: The old nations were failed experiments, we can do better without resorting to giving control to machines.

Weir: That leads us to our other participant, Catherine 97801A.  You might've heard of her or seen
something about a Bioroid involved in the Nyx Incident ten years ago.  Catherine, you remember that incident well?

Catherine: I was much more immature back then.  I wish Sighter had survived it to tell us the secrets he'd learned.  Psychs need more respect than they are given.  Sighter proved that Psychs are people, possibly better than the normal baseline.

Malkav: I can't disagree with that.  The Old Nations made a mistake treating Psychs like interesting
toys and not people.

Weir: Of course.  Are you both ready to begin with our questions?

Malkav: Yes.

Catherine: Go ahead, Weir.

Weir: Good.  Each participant will be given five to ten minutes to respond to each question, or the
appropriate equal amount in terms of bandwidth should they choose, as predetermined prior to the start of this debate.

Weir: First question: Autogov has succeeded at replacing most smaller governments in the colonies.  What are your responses to the concerns of major and larger colonies?  Can autogov be applied to larger colonies or even on Earth itself?  Catherine, you won the RNG.

Catherine: Thank you Weir.  The answer is a simple yes.

Weir: Do you wish to elaborate?

Catherine: The prior examples of Autogov's performance speak for themselves.  I've written on the
ethical bounds of the system in Ethics of Autogov.  A.I.s throughout the system have demonstrated the usefulness of automating basic governing functions.  Handing leglisative and policy-making to an algorithmic solution makes sense as a next step.

Malkav: And inhuman machines will just what, not choose to turn on their creators?

Catherine: The aggregate will arrive at the solution desired by the People.  Treating non-organic
intelligences as the Other isn't a solution.

Weir: Ada, I take it you disagree with the idea?

Malkav: Governance cannot be completely entrusted with machines.  It is a slippery slope that had been predicted to be harmful to human liberty and health for centuries.  Government requires a human hand, or else it will destroy the governed.

Catherine: That still assumes the worst for humans, ignoring the rest.  We've automated journalism,
transportation, production, medicine and other fields.  None of these created a disaster.  Government is in more harm from individuals.

Malkav: Hiveminds and similar technology was the pinnacle of the Reformed Asian Dominion's methodology.
That removed individuality from government, forcing it on the people.

Weir: You are saying Autogov and forcing people to join collective minds are on a similar level?

Malkav: That's obvious, isn't it?

Catherine: I have to disagree.  Autogov does not use any sort of intelligence other than what is
determined by the aggregate.  It is a system you choose to be part of.  We already have cases where some communities choose to participate without being part of the system at all.

Malkav: Being outside of the system is just a form of discrimination against those who refuse to bow to machine rule.

Catherine: In no way is Autogov the same as a technocracy by AI.

Weir: That is perhaps the most confusing point of Autogov to those who have not lived under it as a
system, Catherine.  How would you describe it?  How is it not rule by a artificial intelligence?

Catherine: Autogov is a automated system, like many other functions of the metanet.  AIs that have come into being were the result of emergent complex systems.  Metanet feeds and automated functions are not intelligent.  They have no goals, no purposes, no emotions.  They don't have a end plan, and incapable of the hate that Ada Malkav would purport they could have.

Malkav: This system lacks a safety net.  Who would stop a bad decision?  Where is the individual to
guide it on the correct moral path, fleshee?

Weir: Ada, please refrain from slurs like that.  We try to maintain a open policy-

Malkav: She is a cloned bioroid, Weir.  She is almost half-machine herself.  I would ask it she might
consider herself to lack the perspective of what normal humans are like-

Catherine: I disagree.  That is the same sort of hate Ada Malkav has based her views on.  It is fear-
based.  We want humanity to accel, do we not?  We want to be better than what we were before.  To do that requires us to recognize that power does not belong in the hand of any individual.  We should not have kings, lords or senators.

Weir: Equality as intended programing?

Catherine: If that makes it palatable, then yes.

Mom didn't stop touching my hair.  It was weird.  Dad didn't say anything.  He just looked grumpy.

"I'm fine."  I repeated.

Sam meanwhile, was still undergoing medunit care.  I could hear arms whirling around her.  Still
conscious, she tried to not watch as my parents fawned over me.  I understood her silent jealous looks.

Mom looked back at Sam too.  Her stare didn't seem fair to me.  There was something underneath that.

"I'm glad you made it out ok."  Dad said, his face still full of grump.

"And without a broken limb."  Mom added.  Her eyes still darted back to Sam.  I don't know if she knew I noticed.  But there was definitely something there.

"Yeah.  I feel sorry for Sam."  I shook my head.  "She saved my life."

Dad looked over toward her.  Dad was a specialist, a surgeon capable of specialties outside the normal scope of a medunit.  "Well, we owe her one."

"Our girl is lucky to keep running into such luck with these things."  Mom said, her hands still
tousling my hair.

"Mom- wait a second.  Luck?"  I paused.  "Charon saved me both times."

/Charon: @Kensha_Bodhi: @Kara_Bodhi: Could we talk about this now, or do we need a more appropriate moment?

"Charon?"  I paused.  "You've been listening to all of this?"

/Charon: I've got a interest in the new girl.  The one that used to be a boy.

"Don't joke about that."  I said.  "Sam saved me."

/Charon: Before or after demonstrating she knew something about the memetic virus?

"Memetic whatnow?"  I turned to Mom.  "What is Charon talking about?"

Dad walked out of the room, giving Mom a knowing look.  He didn't want to know.  Or maybe he wasn't allowed to know.  That made me nervous.

"When you were very young, there was a terrorist attack on Nightland."  Mom began.

"I know.  Charon was created because of that.  He saved us from it."  I felt confused.  "Is there
something I missed or-"

/Charon: I wasn't created for that specific attack.  I was created as a countermeasure to a memetic
virus created Ada Malkav.

Mom sighed.  "Charon, I can explain this-"

/Charon: Stop beating around the bush.  I've wanted Kensha to know this for years.  She can handle the knowledge of it.

"Fine, Charon.  Fine."  Mom walked over to the window.  The Eleanor Vertical Garden was visible, still covered in smoke.  I could see some of the plants, most of which were blackened.  It looked like a rotten log made of glass.

"What are you guys trying to say?"  I asked.  "A memetic virus?  What does this have to do with

"Hannah Maenad diagnosed it.  She believed that someone in Shiloh had the basics pieces to implement it."  Mom sat down.  "She'd been conducting studies there.  She and I thought we could eventually convince its population to join Autogov."

"Hannah Maenad was Sam's mother."  I looked over to Sam.  I didn't know if she could hear a word of any of this.

"Yes."  Mom pulled out a holo of Hannah's face.  The face started to speak.

"Kara.  It's me."  Hannah looked concerned.  "Sorry, I had to wait until everyone had fallen asleep to
get this message to you.  That crazy bitch did it.  She perfected her mad scheme for a memetic virus.

Her bumbling idiot of a son doesn't know how to use it though.  I was at Ada's deathbed.  You need to be on the lookout for something, anything."

"Unfortunately, I wasn't there, and the message went directly to Bodhisattva House.  We were on our way to dock."  Mom sat uncomfortably in her chair.

"Why-"  I stared at her.  "Mom, why?  Why would Hannah alert you, and not Shelby or someone AI?"

"I was her main contact in Roosevelt.  And Autogov would enact policies once I'd been informed."

/Charon: Oh for the love of data.  Tell her about the haraam committee already.  She has a right to know about it now.

Mom visibly winced.  "Charon you are going to make want to drag a Psych into this, if only to see if
you've lost your mind."

"What committee?"  I asked.  I stared at her, confused.  "You knew Sam's mother.  Sam and Shiloh is
responsible for doing these attacks, and you know something?  Why are you so important that people would send you messages about something only Autogov should know about?"

/Charon: Autogov sets policy, and certain functions require individuals in order to enact policy.  In a
rare few cases, autogov requires us to ask for approval from a individual before we can perform certain functions.

"I know that."  I said.  It was one of the ways me performing Jury Duty was important.  Autogov required peers, someone of a relative point of view to approve or direct action.  It was one of the basic rights that always was afforded a person, so that a automated system didn't falsely accuse subjects.  The system had pitfalls, but there were workarounds for that.

"But you don't know that some things require a committee to be organized.  That committee decides- well, it affirms the findings of Charon."  Mom straightened.  "Some times parts of autogov gets compromised, individual spirits or minds may become rogue or violent.  They need... well..."

"The execution committee?"  I blinked.  "You are part of the Execution Committee?  You have to be
fekking kidding me."

/Charon: Hey.  Don't knock it.

"Kensha."  Sam's voice made me freeze.  Our conversation distracted me, I didn't hear the medunit stop.

Sam stood behind me.  "I'm going to step out I think."

I blinked up at her.  Sam's arm looked bright and brand new.  "Sam- you're a part of this-"

"No, I'm not."  Sam looked at my mother, then back to me.  "I know what you're mother is talking about.  Sometimes a rabid dog needs to be shot."

I shook my head.  "You- Sam- I-"

"Besides..." Sam shrugged.  "It sounds personal enough to me.  Excuse me Dr. Bodhi."

Sam walked away, the door sliding shut as she left.

"She seems better now than last I spoke with her."  Mom commented.

"Sam's been through a lot."  I said aloud.  I didn't know why, but I felt connected to her somehow.

Even this distance seemed straining to me.  "I think she's happier this way."

"Honey, I've been part of the committee since before you were born.  The threat has always required... some sort of contingency be in place."

I couldn't look at her.  The thought that one of the things I'd abhorred most of my life might also be
my own mother disgusted me.  I felt tears on my face.

"Memetic virus."  I repeated.  "The wiki makes it sound like some sort of mind control."

Mom shook her head.

/Charon: It isn't.  A memetic virus is a contagious idea.  Ada Malkav's was created to infect varmints
and other bots.

"It makes them genocidal."  Mom explained.  "Ada Malkav strived her entire life to try and goad machines into attacking Shiloh.  She wanted to prove that her war with the Machines was justified."

/Charon: I came into being because Autogov ascertain the precaution outweighed waiting for your mother to coming back to Roosevelt.  Someone had to be able to delete any AI infected by the memetic virus.

"Without Charon deleting their memories, we would never have been able to contain the virus and squash it."  Mom looked at the smoke coming from the ruins of Eleanor Vertical Garden.  "It took could take over varmints and most lower AIs, but spirits at Charon's level were effectively immune."

I shook my head.  "Why?  Nevermind, I understand the why Ada Malkav did it- but what benefit is there from infecting Bots to be genocidal against humans?"

"Political capital."  Mom shrugged.  "In the Old Nations, ideas of using fear as a governing tool was a cornerstone.  Establish fear in those you want to govern.  Ada Malkav imagined herself the future of
human government.  Hannah Maenad feared it, and we were certain she was behind it."

/Charon: But Autogov restricted any prosecutions in Shiloh.  We had no definite proof of the origin of the virus, no witnesses or direct evidence.  Hannah Maenad had not seen anything, nor did she have any sort of proof to back her inferences.

"So she launched an attack and you couldn't do anything about it." I chewed my lower lip.  "And this
justifies deleting minds?"

Mom closed her eyes.  "It was a necessary evil."

"There isn't anyway to save them?"  I asked.  "No one bothered to think of way to reduce or remove their suffering?"

/Charon: They're varmints.  Most of their deletions are immediate.  The others are... worrying, if we
don't delete them.

"What do you mean?"  I asked.

"Charon thinks the virus has infected a spirit.  Its something he has been trying to prove the last few
weeks."  Mom wrapped her arms around herself.  She couldn't look at me.  "Kensha, I knew you wouldn't accept any part of this.  But I've always focused on helping you decide what kind of person you wanted to be.  I became part of the committee because of my focus on sociology and history.  I almost became a Psych, I almost got the genehacks needed, but Autogov asked me to step up to do something else."

"I need time to process all of this."  I shook my head.  "Why did I need to learn this now?"

/Charon: You need to know.

"And..."  Mom smiled.  "Charon's right.  Autogov needs to be properly informed about this.  You are
central actor in this.  You should know.  Its your right to know."

I sighed.  I just looked across Roosevelt at what used to be Eleanor Vertical Gardens.  "This is... I don't know."

Mom frowned.  "Individuals don't change history.  But sometimes persons can make a difference in the lives of others."

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