Infernal gear

Artwork for Brave, Marillion weekend, 2013

But you sleep like a ghost with me
It’s as simple as that
So tell me I’m mad
Roll me up and breathe me in
Come to my madness
My opium den
Come to my madness
Make sense of it again


My Cyberpunk character, Drew, started the campaign with some contraband Russian cyberware inside her, that got her out of a tight spot but also saw her captured as a cyberpsycho by a nameless corporation. Aside from one narrative moment this tech remained just a role-playing detail, but recently as part of a kind of level-up process for our party the GM handed out a special ability to each of our PCs, and for her special ability Drew got to control and use her Ghost. The players haven’t shared their abilities with the rest of the group, but Drew’s ability is kind of … uncontrolled … and potentially very dangerous for the rest of the party, so I thought I’d write it up here where everyone can see it.

Drew’s ability is a kind of super-psychotic adrenal booster with two states: Limnal and Lost. Drew enters Limnal state by spending a point of humanity, at which point she gets all the benefits of the state. Unfortunately she can’t stay there: every turn she is in Limnal state she has to make an Empathy check (1d10+Empathy) to retain control of herself. This check has a difficulty of 8+number of turns in Limnal state – so Drew will very quickly shift to Lost state. Once Drew is Lost she has to fight to regain control of herself; she makes the same empathy check, but the difficulty reduces by 1 for every turn she is in the state. Other details of the states are given below.

In all states, Drew has access to a special boosted bonus to some actions that is equal to her starting empathy minus her current empathy, which we will call her ghost strike bonus (GSB). Recall that current empathy is determined by humanity, so the more she calls on this ability the lower her humanity drops, and the bigger her ghost strike bonus gets.

Limnal state

Once Drew enters the Limnal state she gets immediate benefits. She immediately rerolls initiative with a bonus equal to GSB/2. She receives an extra free attack each turn that can be used for movement, melee attacks, and athletics. Her movement increases by GSB/2, and she gains a bonus to all melee, athletics and movement actions equal to GSB/2. Her damage with melee weapons gets a bonus equal to GSB. Every time she kills someone she gains a +1 bonus to LUCK that must be spent the next turn or lost. Every kill also adds 1 to her Limnal turn count, making it easier for her to switch to Lost state as she kills more. In Limnal state Drew can still use a rifle but she cannot use her bonus action to shoot.

Lost state

When Drew enters Lost state she loses another 0.5 points of humanity. She rerolls her initiative with bonus equal to GSB. From this point on she cannot use missile attacks, but must use melee attacks, dropping any rifle or other tool and switching to her favourite melee weapon. All her bonuses double, so she gets a GSB bonus to hit and 2*GSB to damage, her dodge/escape increases by GSB, etc. She must attack the closest moving target, striking at the most threatening target when in doubt. She must do the greatest amount of attacks and damage possible to her target before moving on to the next target, and if a target drops in the middle of combat she must shift to another target immediately. She also counts one level lower for wounds, and has a bonus to BTM of GSB/2.

For every round she is in Lost state Drew takes one point of stun damage.

Further humanity damage

If Drew kills a friendly or non-combatant target in either state she loses an additional point of humanity. If her empathy drops to 1 (10 humanity points) she will be lost to the ghost, and will continue fighting without further recovery checks until she either goes unconscious, kills everyone, or dies.

Drew currently has 18.5 points of humanity.

What this means in practice

Drew has 18.5 points of humanity and an empathy of 2. Her GSB is currently 6, her BTM -3, movement allowance 5, melee 6 and reflexes 8 (in combat armour). Her preferred melee weapon is a monokatana, which does 4d6 damage and reduces the SP of armour to 2/3 (so combat armour drops from SP 24 to 16). Her combat sense is 8, she has an adrenal booster and reflex boosting.

In Lost state this means that Drew rerolls her initiative with a minimum of 26. She attacks three times per round at -3 per attack, with a final bonus of 18. Her dodge/escape is also 20, so attempts to shoot her in melee will have a ridiculously high target. Her damage becomes 13+4d6, so her average damage roll with the monokatana is (approximately) equivalent to an 8d6 rifle with high explosive armour piercing rounds. Her average damage roll against combat armour will do 11 damage after armour and before BTM. Her own BTM is now -6.

Because her empathy is 2, on the first round of activation of Limnal state Drew will need to roll a 7 or higher on 1d10 to control it. In the second round, after she’s killed two people (she will kill two people!), she’ll need to roll a 10. Even if she somehow misses (Drew doesn’t usually miss), by round 4 she will need to roll criticals (10 on d10) to stay in the Limnal zone. Once she is Lost it’s fairly likely that the kill rate will keep pushing the target number for her empathy rolls well beyond any number she can hit without criticals. It’s likely that she will kill all her enemies before she finds herself, and will only escape the ghost by going unconscious.

With 18.5 points of humanity Drew can afford to call on her ghost perhaps 4 more times safely. If there are any bystanders when it happens we can assume that they will die, and she will lose more humanity. Given her armour and BTM, it’s unlikely that she can be stopped by most normal ammunition, so once she becomes Lost the best option for her team is to clear out and wait for the blood and dust to settle. Killing her or trying to take her down in some other way is complicated by the fact that Pops will go insane if he sees her fall.

The downward spiral

As her humanity drops, Drew is becoming more attentive to the call of her ghost, and less aware of the basic human connections that have sustained her so far. In her last diary report, Drew said this about the feeling of losing herself in the ghost:

She just came howling out, like the frozen wind off the steppes blowing down onto the beach in winter, cutting through you like you’re just bones and whistling over the ice in the bay. And it was just like back in that bay, when I had to sink down cold and lonely on the beach, listening to my father’s bitter imprecations, cursing me into the rocks and the ice as a useless thing, while he dug a hole in the ice and his men lugged their cloth-wrapped, blood-soaked burden over the ice to the hole, and I crouched there hugging my knees against the cold wind and my father’s colder anger, trying to stay silent and hoping I wouldn’t cry because my tears make him madder and the wind freezes them on my face and afterwards the shame of being weak in front of those horrible men stings me more than icy tears ever will, but I’m still too small and helpless to know that one day I will become a whirling storm of death and destruction and everywhere men dying will whisper my name just right before they beg for their mothers who never come. So I sink down behind the rocks and ice as that wind roars over me and just hope I can come back from the cold.

Whether Drew can come back is not something that Coyote is likely to be placing bets on.

Artwork note: This picture is by Alison Toon, it’s the cover image for the Marillion album Brave, from which the quote at the top is taken, and from which I also took a lot of the lyrics used in the original post about Drew’s character. Brave is about a lost girl, it seems to fit.

A relic of days gone by

A relic of days gone by

Today’s Guardian reports possibly the most pathetic and desultory news in the history of war: two British Tornado aircraft destroyed an ISIS pick-up truck. Two jets that cost $27 million each managed, between them, to blow up a battered Toyota pick-up truck, that ISIS probably scored for free but will probably cost a maximum of $5000 to replace. Fortunately the pilots of these two hyper-sophisticated jets made it back safely to their base in Cyprus without being shot down and beheaded. All in all, a good 6 hours’ work!

This story is so full of pathos and futility that it is hard to stop laughing. Is this our contribution to the protection of Kobani and the hundreds of Kurds fixing to die there? We fly two planes for six hours, and use a $50,000 bomb to blow up a pick-up truck? This is how the mighty West is going to stop ISIS from executing every Kurdish soldier in Kobani?

Media reports that hundreds of Kurdish Peshmerga have crossed the border into Syria to fight thousands of ISIS soldiers who have captured many villages in the area and are closing in on Kobani. Assuming those thousands are actually 1000, and that they are all in pick-up trucks, how many missions will the RAF have to fly and what will it cost? Sky news reports that the cost of operating one Tornado on one mission is 210,000 pounds, without dropping a bomb. A single paveway bomb costs 22,000 pounds. So for two Tornadoes to blow up one pick up truck cost 442,000 pounds. Of course, they might have dropped all four of their paveways, and two Brimstone missiles (105,000 each), destroying six pick-ups at a total cost of 708,000 pounds.

If we assume that those 1000 soldiers are all in pick-ups, and all the pick-ups have a weapon on, we could guess 4 dudes in the back (around the gun) and 2 dudes in the seats. Assuming that the Tornado hit the pick-up truck in tandem, that kills 6 men. With 6 men per truck you need about 150 trucks to get to Kobani, and at 6 trucks per mission (assuming full use of all those super-cool weapons) then you’re looking at 40 or so missions, minimum. That’s 28 million pounds to blow up 150 pick up trucks and kill 1000 ISIS soldiers. Of course this estimate is ludicrously optimistic, and if the report is to be believed (and previous reports in which the RAF flew 5 missions without finding a target) then probably it’s more likely that one mission= one pick-up truck, on average. So 150*444,000 pounds, or about 70 million pounds.

Of course, those pick-up trucks had weapons mounted on them. News reports suggest that ISIS captured 50 or so M198 Howitzers, which cost $500,000 each. If we assume that 10 of them are being used in Kobani then the attacks might cost them $5 million. So for 70 million pounds, we can degrade $5 million worth of weaponry and maybe $1 million worth of pick-up trucks. It appears that the RAF is flying a couple of missions a day, so even at its most optimistic this task will take 7 days (more like 10 or 20, assuming it’s possible at all). Will Kobani still be standing in 7 days’ time?

ISIS are rumoured to have $1 billion in reserve, and 30,000 soldiers. If they capture Kobani they will replenish all the pick-up trucks the RAF destroys (newsflash! pick-up trucks are ubiquitous, and Tornadoes are not). It’s probable that all those Kurdish fighters coming into Kobani are bringing weapons, probably heavy weapons supplied by the Australian army to the Kurds in Mosul. So ISIS will win back everything they lose without expending a cent of their savings. Once they’re in the city bombing them will be impossible. Meanwhile ISIS are said to be at the gates of Baghdad, even attacking a prison and the HQ of the Badr militia two weeks ago. It seems pretty obvious to me that air strikes are not working, troops on the ground are the only solution, and the Iraqi army is either sympathetic to ISIS, or not willing to stick around to be executed after they lose. So long as ISIS keep moving, and US and British air strikes are being launched from bases many hours’ flight away, it’s going to be impossible to seriously impede their combat ability. Two tornadoes fly out, locate a squad of ISIS trucks, blow up the best target, return home; three hours later two more Tornadoes turn up, but they have to look around to find the targets, because the trucks have moved. It appears that they frequently fail to find a target, and return without firing a shot. If air war is going to work, it is going to need close air support weapons – A10s and helicopters – but no one dares to deploy a helicopter near ISIS since they captured US anti-aircraft missiles, and the only country capable of deploying A10s in range, Turkey, was denied access to them. So we have high speed jets at the limit of their range scouring empty desert looking for pick-up trucks. This is how we are going to stop ISIS from killing a couple of thousand Kurdish men (and any civilians without the means to escape).

This is so pathetic. The journalists reporting on this intervention are so chuffed about all this hardware and blowing-up-stuff. My god, the Europeans even have a cruise missile named after a GI Joe character (Storm Shadow! What’s not to like?!) How can they not be devastating? But the sad fact is that ISIS have pick up trucks, and dudes with attitude. Spending a quarter of a million pounds to blow up a battered technical and a dude with attitude is not efficient. Nor is it going to help the people fighting those dudes. ISIS are fighting a classical war of movement, and given their numbers and the tools they’re using, it’s ridiculously inefficient to try and destroy them using modern air warfare. Boots on the ground, or go home!

The sad reality is that there’s nothing we in the West can do from afar to stop this monster.  ISIS is the Middle East’s Khmer Rouge, and they have arisen from the same hellish swamp: just as the Khmer Rouge seized power violently in the aftermath of the US destruction of Cambodia, ISIS are seizing power violently in the aftermath of the mess created by the US in Iraq, and by the US and Europe in Syria. It’s an object lesson in failed states: create them, and the psychopaths will come. The best way to stop ISIS was to stop the second Iraq war, but our leaders (of all political stripes) were so stupid, vain and cruel that they thought the second Iraq war was a grand idea. ISIS is the brainchild of Tony Blair, John Howard and George Bush. They made it, and their inheritors cannot stop it unless they are wiling to expend the lives and blood of western soldiers that they were so loathe to shed in the past war. Of course that’s not going to happen, so instead they’ll spend millions of dollars blowing up pick-up trucks for a year, until they have trained a force of rebels who will enter Syria just to die. This is what our “civilized” society created, and what our leaders refuse to commit to fixing.

So what should Barack Obama do? I think he should take the $70 million required to defend Kobani, and invest it in a time machine. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have any idea how to build it, so long as the money is put down, and a law passed to guarantee a million bucks a year until the thing is made, everything will be fine. Eventually (maybe a thousand years from now), someone will finally make the time machine. Then the first thing they will do is go back in time and deliver the plans to Barack Obama, at the opening ceremony of the research project. Brilliant! Then someone can go forward in time far enough to get a mind control machine; then they can go back in time to 2003, and stop the second Iraq war. Then ISIS will never happen, and everyone will be happy.

Or we could spend $70 million blowing up second-hand Toyota pick-up trucks, at half a million bucks a pop. Which do you think is the more cost-effective strategy?


… What would statistical analysis look like?

Last night my partner, for whom computers always seem to fail, made a comment about having to “tap the secret window and turn three times widdershins” in order to get her facebook app to work. She is one of those people for whom computers hold slightly mystical properties, because they never seem to work properly. It’s quite hilarious at times because they are guaranteed to work the moment she calls me to see the problem, creating that common feeling some people have that computers aren’t really scientific objects and/or that some people exude some magical property of technological disruption.

When you stand back and think about what computers can do, they are a kind of magical phenomenon. Before their invention, modern mathematical calculations had to be performed by teams of – mostly young, female – assistants called “calculators,” who amongst other things played an important role in scientific support during world war 2. Now tasks that were beyond the skill of even those teams of dedicated young women are conducted in a microsecond with a single click. Plus our computers can be used to get oracular information (predicting the weather, or changes in our leaders), to scry on people from afar, and even to make important military and investment decisions, as well as cursing strangers with death from the skies (drone warfare).  They daily work a kind of magic.

My partner’s comment, then, had me imagining what it would be like if computers’ semi-magical powers were actually implemented through magic, and those who used computers had to actually invoke some kind of little magic to control the greater magic behind the screen. Perhaps the spell would require some verbal, somatic and material components, and instead of having a keyboard one would have a little altar or magical bench. Then, instead of accessing a remote website to learn tomorrow’s weather, one is instead using the magic box on the magical bench to contact a distant infernal entity, which gives you its oracle. The distant magic is great, but your workstation is simply a minor magic that opens a conduit to the greater power.

So to find a train time you simply need to invoke some boggart living under the ground, who is a train enthusiast: perhaps you sprinkle some iron filings inside a pentacle on your workbench, and it opens a link to the distant boggart, who grudgingly answers your question. The weather means contacting a sylph, so perhaps you have to stand naked in front of your computer screen and read her a love poem: in exchange she will give you predictions of the weather for the next three days with perfect accuracy – unless your reading of the poem was poor, in which case you will get no warning about the need for an umbrella.

But then, what would a statistical analysis look like? For this I have to call on a greater entity, one capable of processing huge amounts of information in a short time. Imagine I’m at work, analyzing four years of inpatient data from the NHS: that’s about 64 million records that I want to apply a multi-level poisson regression model to. Thanks to the great intellect of Sophia Rabe-Hesketh, this will take a couple of hours on a decent modern workstation (if it has the RAM to load the records). But it involves a truly stupendous level of calculation, and the invocation of a power capable of conducting such calculations would surely require some more powerful magics. So there I would be, chalking out a magic circle on the floor of my office while chanting an ancient and rhythmic calming chant; then I light some incense, step inside the circle, and place some drops of my blood on a specially-prepared silver plate. Next to it I place a research plan, written perhaps on the flayed skin of a heretic who himself had great mathematical ability, and this will call up the demon that processes my data; but this demon will only produce results according to the exact wording of my fiendish research plan, so any ambiguities or confusion in the methods section will waste the magic. Once the demon has been apprized of the plan, it sets to work, and I have to sit in the circle, slowly reciting the value of pi. If I have chosen an oracle who is to weak, or I have misspecified the research plan, then perhaps I will run out of digits of pi before the oracle finishes their  work – this is kind of like when GLLAMM fails to converge, or I only get the generalized linear model approximation to the true values. But if I have chosen my oracle well and recite the value of pi at just the right speed, I will be handed the results.

Of course, I could run a pre-ritual with a minor imp, to learn the value of pi to a greater number of decimal places, because perhaps this is cheaper than providing the necessary propitiations to the fastest and most powerful oracles. Thus research planning will involve trade-offs not between sample size and power, as they do now, but between magical reagents and accuracy – I can choose cheaper reagents, but will get an oracle who provides results with less precision. My grants will not be funded in money for better computers, but in scraps of skin, bundles of rare herbs, and piles of powdered silver and specially-prepared chalk. Perhaps there will be the odd quest to find rare ingredients (far more interesting than a conference trip!) or funding to send adventurers after them in my stead.

Anyone passing my office while I’m doing this work would see this strange sight, of me sitting cross-legged in the circle, dripping blood onto that silver plate and reciting numbers, while strange colours swirl on the screen on my workdesk, and fragrant incense drifts around the room. Perhaps the results will not be printed out, but will be just delivered into my head, so no one will know when I’m finished whether I actually ever really contacted the oracle, or just shuffled around muttering mumbo-jumbo and made up a conclusion.

So really, maybe not so different from the way things are done now, in the end.

The advent of Infernal materials, lighter and stronger than even the most advanced enlightenment metals, and Infernal magic capable of levitation and propulsion, opened the skies to humans for the first time. From the first experiments in balloons, to the massive and stately airships, and on to more advanced military technology, by the end of the Victorian era the peoples of Europe had developed a wide variety of airborne conveyances. This post provides examples of some of those more suited to adventurers. Most of these were developed after the period of the Compromise and Conceit campaign chronicled in this blog, being technology of the mid- to late-Victorian era.

The Cupola

One could hang a large insect from this...

The Cupola is a small and effective military observation and guard post developed and used extensively in the Crimean war. They are used heavily by the military as spying, forward-observing and aerial attack bases, and are generally designed to be invulnerable to small arms fire from below.  This flying machine is invested with powerful but simple magics inside its ponderous shell, which can carry up to 3 adult humans and a reasonable amount of equipment, both levitating and propelling them at a pace roughly equal to a horse’s canter. The cupola can operate for periods of up to 12 hours before needing to stop and rest for an equal period of time, during which it recharges. Most Cupolae also need to be returned to a major recharge point once every 360 – 720 hours, or the maximum duration of their operating periods begins to reduce considerably. Details as to how they are recharged and what their internal power source is are carefully guarded, and although most Cupolae are capable of operating even if large portions of their shell has been obliterated, they are designed to rapidly become inert and often to self-destruct if their operator is killed and they are shot down. Rumours abound that the power mechanism is somehow related to that of the Autonomous Sentinel Cannon, one of the more abhorrent developments of the modern infernal industry, so it is understandable that the secret of its power source is jealously guarded from outsiders.

Cupolae are currently only used in military and a few surveying tasks, and are always magically linked to their pilot, so that stealing them is extremely difficult. The simple magic involved in the Cupola’s flying mechanism prevents it from being scaled up, though occasionally one sees smaller, slightly faster cupolae in mountainous regions.

The Corvette

Treading only lightly on the laws of physics

The Corvette was originally designed as a small hermetically sealed flying vehicle, but has since grown into the most audacious and expensive Victorian project. The corvette is essentially a self-contained flying hull, varying in size from a 5 man reconaissance vessel to a massive troopship. The first vessels were used as transporters and heavy lifters for the initial actions in the Crimean war, and remained quite humble in design and scope. Subsequent developments in materials technology and the growing wealth of the Infernalist nations led to experimentation with the design, and by 1870 these ships had become much larger. They are powered by a combination of levitation magic, flight magic and various conjured creatures, and incorporate all of the various technologies available to the people of the time. The larger ones also incorporate a gas store for lamps, and possibly a steam engine (usually elemental-powered) to maintain atmospheric pressure or to move various objects (such as lifts) inside the ship. Almost nothing in a large Corvette is powered by anything mundane, however, and the vastly complex magic involved in their operation makes Corvettes ridiculously expensive. The English airforce possess only 3 Corvettes of appreciable size, and almost never field them in any but the most desperate situations. Most of the largest trading companies (such as the East India) possess one or two very small Corvettes, and most colonial administrations in the later Victorian era also possessed one or two light corvettes designed exclusively for the purposes of airborne terror. Although corvettes can be licensed for private use their purchase is always at the whim of the Queen, sold on only under extremely restrictive contractual obligations, and all Corvettes have built in self-destruction systems to prevent them being used by the wrong people, or investigated by their private owners.

Despite its possession of a small fleet of Corvettes of varying size, the mainstay of British Imperial power – such as it is – in the Victorian era remains the surface navy, with corvettes used primarily as support craft and advanced strike vehicles. Some scientists have claimed that a much cheaper and more effective airfleet could be built if infernal power were reserved only for propulsion, and more natural means – similar to the wings of birds – were used to obtain lift, but it is clear to all learned folk of the Victorian era that non-magical flight is purely the province of the birds, and cannot be achieved by men without magical aid.

Teleconveyancer Glyphs

One small step for man...

Probably the most expensive way to travel, Teleconveyancer Glyphs immediately transport anyone who steps on them to a distant location without crossing the intervening space. A simple magical glyph, they can be bought from the appropriate magical college at exorbitant cost. The cost of such Glyphs becomes even greater if their buyer intends for them to be reusable – in such a case they must be embedded in a specially designed plinth (usually referred to as a Ghost Step) which contains the energy for the Glyph’s repeated use. This can be a lump in the ground barely bigger than the glyph itself for a rune which teleports its target across the street, to a plinth taking up the entire floor of a church for a glyph which transports someone to Rome (such a glyph is rumoured to exist in Avignon).

Teleconveyancer glyphs are sometimes installed in the airships of the rich and famous, as single-use emergency escape devices, and are also rumoured to be used by certain spies and assassins. The infamous assassins of Araby are said to have their own, more esoteric methods of achieving the same effect, and of course it is known that some practitioners of dark arts can turn any pool of shadow into a teleconveyancer glyph of sorts. The military is rumoured to be developing a kind of rope or cord which behaves like a teleconveyancer glyph for anyone crossing it, and which throws its user a fixed distance forward in space. Some magical colleges are rumoured to be playing with movement through time as well, but such rumours are undoubtedly the mad ravings of heretics.

Nonetheless, the teleconveyancer glyph remains the ultimate escape mechanism, which every evil villain should invest in.

This is a description of a magical tome that the PCs discovered in the grave of a wizard near Ubersreik in a recent Rats in the Ranks adventure. It’s designed for Warhammer 3 but it follows a general principle of mine for tomes: you have to read them over time and make a skill check, and the difficulty of the check is adjusted by the research environment, time devoted to the task, etc. Reading a tome is not risk free, so blunders and fumbles can create serious problems for the reader, but depending on the degree of success in the check various skill bonuses and spell benefits are obtained. This usually takes time in-game, and may cost money.

This tome is a simple book, containing 88 pages of very soft leather tanned to a very fine weight. The cover is dark wood edged with a thin, geometric pattern carved from some kind of delicate and unusual ivory. Nothing is written on the spine or the flysheet and there is no table of contents or apparent structure to the text at all. It is a collection of research notes, interspersed with a typical mad wizard’s ravings, some references to additional secondary texts, and some basic experimental results (which need to be repeated by the reader). Fortunately none of the secondary texts or the experiments are evil or chaotic in nature, though they nonetheless are not particularly pleasant. The book radiates a gentle glow of dark magic, but it is mainly the type of magic used for preparing a text to last the ages, and perhaps some residual magic from the laboratory where the notes were taken; the book itself is not intrinsically magical. It is written mostly in High Reikland, with occasional passages in various mystical languages with which most wizards are passingly familiar.

In order to read this book, a PC must possess the Education advanced skill, and be trained in Spellcraft. This is not a book that those with natural talent but no training can hope to make use of. The PC must spend a month reading this book, and although they can adventure while reading (they are assumed to be reading during rest periods, etc.) they are much more likely to gain the full benefit of the book if they devote a month exclusively to the task, and spend that time in a major city where they have access to a decent library (with the associated costs).

Reading this book requires a Spellcraft check with medium difficulty (2 challenge dice), and carries some risk due to the nature of the dark magic in the book (1 misfortune die). The following conditions add bonuses to the roll:

  • PC foregoes adventuring: 2 fortune dice
  • PC is in a large city (larger than Ubersreik) for the entire month of reading: + 1 fortune die
  • PC spends one gold coin on research and experiments: +1 fortune die

The skill check produces the following results:

  • 1 Success: The PC learns one dark magic spell of rank 1
  • 3 Successes: In addition to the above, the PC gains 1 level of training in Channel Power
  • 2 Boons: PC gains a single fortune dice on skill checks for a single existing spell of their choice
  • 2 Banes: The PC suffers a single insanity with no resilience check
  • Chaos star: The PC loses one point of willpower

All effects are permanent. The bane and chaos star affects apply even if the check is successful. If the PC commences reading and abandons the task within the month (due to interruptions to the reading process or loss of the book) the check must still be made and the negative effects can still be suffered, but there is no opportunity to gain the positive effects. Note that the dark magic spell can be learnt regardless of the PC’s order, but its use may need to be very carefully guarded, as possession of this power is heretical. Note also that the PC cannot choose not to learn the spell after they complete the reading; they can only choose not to use it. Knowledge of the spell itself will not taint the PC’s aura, but use of dark magic will, which may make the PC’s life somewhat more complex.

This is a technical post, to help people who like me have been struggling with MS Word and Japanese text.

I’ve decided to switch to doing preparation for my warhammer 3 campaign in Japanese, just so I get used to the language a little more. But I want to put furigana over the words I am not familiar with, so I don’t have to look at separate tables of vocabulary while I’m gaming (warhammer vocabulary is really really weird). Unfortunately, furigana don’t have an automatic menu option in MS Word for Mac OS X the way they do for MS Word in Windows. I did a search on how to get furigana to work on a mac, and found this advice:

  • Install a software package called the MS Office Language Register on your Apple
  • Drag the MS Word application onto the language register icon in the applications folder
  • Choose your language
  • You can then access the furigana using the Format->Phonetic Guide option (see below)

The language register program is on your MS Office disk in the “Additional Tools” folder.

I tried this and my MS Word slowed down to a crawl, which on a computer like the one I’m using is a thoroughly unacceptable phenomenon. I tried uninstalling the language register but this didn’t help. So, what to do?

I’m sure other people have this problem (that Word is slow after installing the language register), and if you do then the reason is probably the same as mine:

  • The Language Register is already installed when you do a full install of MS Office
  • When I read on the internet “install the language register” I naturally did so by dragging and dropping it into my applications folder
  • It actually needs to be in /Applications/MS Office/Additional Tools
  • If you install it in the applications folder you’ll have two versions of the software, and your computer will die horribly, in the arse (as they say)

So, my guess is that for most people out there the best way to get furigana on word in mac os is:

  • Check in the /Applications/MS Office/Additional Tools folder for the language reference software
  • If it’s not there, drag and drop it there from the install disc
  • Once it’s there, drag the MS Word application onto it
  • Choose the language you want to use
  • Bob’s your uncle, MS Word will have the power to apply furigana without any pain or slowness at all

Note that when you do this, some of the menus in word (e.g. print) turn Japanese, so you need to have some familiarity with Japanese computer menus (or know the layout of the menus in your sleep) to survive this bit.

Applying furigana

Applying furigana is a little more tricky than in windows. You need to do the following:

  • Highlight the word of interest
  • Select the Format->Phonetic Guide option
  • In the text box at the top, type in the hiragana
  • Click apply (or apply to all)

Note you need to type the hiragana yourself, not like in word.

Note there is an “apply to all” option, that you can use to have the furigana through the whole document; you will need to do this once the words are all written (I think).

To remove hiragana you need to do the same thing, but select “remove”. I think this applies to all words in the document instantly.

So it’s a bit trickier than Windows but not hard.

A note on rikaichan

Get it. It will change your life. You can save word documents you don’t understand into html and then open them in firefox, and your life will never be the same. Plus you can read newspapers without having to learn 3500 kanji, which makes it a lot easier to practice reading.

At the end of the campaign described here, the characters destroyed a sinister force known as The Iron House. However, a previous group (run in Australia) played in a campaign set in 1872 where they worked for an organization known as The Iron House, in the interests of the Queen. In an early session, they were dispatched to the 1872 Manchester Cornucopia of Arms and Armour, where the latest battlefield technology would be on display and one of the inventors was planning on defecting from Prussia to Great Britain. The characters’ task was to identify agents who might interfere with the defection, and if necessary kill them. This meant spending two days in the grounds of the Cornucopia posing as merchants, and so they were able to witness displays of a couple of the latest developments in infernal weaponry. Here are three examples of the kinds of things they saw.

The Steam Tank: In the age of the Essential Compromise, steam engines can be rendered very small through infernal summoning and materials, though the process is very expensive. A steam engine consists of two chambers separated by a turbine; in one chamber an imp boils water to impossibly high temperatures, which then passes through to a turbine before entering the second chamber, where it is condensed back to water and pressurized by a second imp. This imp forces it back through another turbine to the first imp. Thus a perpetual motion machine is produced based entirely on steam and the ceaseless labours of two very unhappy imps. The latest infernal materials prevent heat or cold leaking between the chambers or from the engine into its environment, so the small engine can be mounted in the middle of a small room or vehicle – though heaven help the occupants in the rare occasions that the engine bursts and the imps escape their confinement.

This engine has been put to its ultimate use in the development of the Steam Tank, a wheeled armoured vehicle crewed by two intrepid soldiers, one who directs its movement and one who fires a small cannon mounted atop the vehicle. In early models the cannon was a static mortar, and the vehicle little more than mobile artillery; but realizing the cost of the engine was such a great part of the whole, the Prussian Steamworks expanded its power and used it to drive a mobile turret, which now contains the latest in heavy infernal weaponry – an infernal cannon, or a nest of field rods of some kind. Rumour has it that a larger version is in development, that carries prisoners of war (or just prisoners) who feed an autonomous sentinel cannon from within cramped cells on one side of the vehicle, though the experimental version is said to have been simply a tumbrel dragged behind the tank itself.

This tank is being used only by the Prussian military but – perhaps as a political symbol of Prussia’s growing military might – one and one only has been sent to the Manchester Cornucopia for demonstration purposes[1]. Invulnerable to infantry weapons and too mobile for artillery, it forebodes a revolution in cavalry warfare.

The Reanimator Field Rod: The ultimate in infernal field rods, the Reanimator Field Rod carries this line of weapons to its ultimate conclusion. Usually carried into battle by a priest or wizard, the rod fires a cone-shaped blast of dimly visible grey-green light, which animates any fresh corpse in its area of effect. This corpse is then under the control of the Rod’s wielder, who must himself be attuned to the rod through a specialist ritual. The French army is said to have established a few squads of their infamous battle-priests armed exclusively with these rods, and will send them to the rear of the first wave of soldiers to enter the fray. Though these soldiers may be cut down or horribly decimated, their opponents will find themselves then facing the dread prospect of fighting again not only those they just killed, but those of their friends and allies who were also sacrificed in the melee. Every defeat of the enemy is redoubled by these priests, and every loss partially reversed. Who can doubt the terrible effect of this on the morale of those who fight, and on the judgment of those who lead[2]?

Persian Anti-personnel bombs: aka Turkish Delights, are a nasty little invention of the Ottoman Empire, which has been developing considerable skills in pacifying aggressive populations during the food riots of the past two years. These bombs are barely large enough to significantly injure an armoured man, being roughly marble sized. Presented by the handful in a special magical bag, they are completely inert in the bag, so a Turkish soldier has no risk of blowing his chest out when he dives for cover from an Anatolian death-archer. However, once out of the bag they are immediately primed, and explode after three sharp impacts, such as occur when they are thrown down steps into a basement, bounced along a corridor, or skipped across the surface of a fountain. The resulting explosion is concussive, but will easily kill or seriously injure an unarmoured rebel (or his family, if they are sheltering in the basement with him). Such devices have obvious uses in England, given the recent riots over corn laws and the other unrest being fomented by capricious foreign powers. They are also useful in ship-to-ship warfare.

fn1: During the adventure this tank was stolen by the defector’s Chinese lover, and they finished the adventure chasing it through the streets of Manchester while Prussian agents attacked them and tried to capture it and the defector it held. Much of central Manchester was laid waste in the process.

fn2: Not to mention the judgment that will be placed upon those who use such a weapon…

I’m going out for a drink now. I spent much of this afternoon and evening trying to install Linux on a PowerPC iBook G4. The only reason I’m doing this is that I thought it might be nimbler than mac os 10.4. We use this iBook purely for watching movies (it’s plugged into the tv) and playing music, but recently its been struggling with streamed stuff, and I thought a non-mac OS might work. Linux is supposed to be speedier. So I tried installing it.

I have previously managed to install windows 7 on two iMacs, one of which is depicted here. I got this done with the help of Apple’s bootcamp, which sorts out the boot sector of the mac so you don’t have any really painful problems. I found a couple of sites online – here and here – which claim to have installed ubuntu on an ibook, so I thought I’d try it.

Of course it was impossible. Just like the last two times I’ve tried to install linux on anything. What a useless piece of shit linux is. Here is why:

  1. For a start, the installation disc randomly crashes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Brilliant.
  2. Secondly, the installation disc runs into some kind of problem with the file system and, instead of throwing up an error saying “encountered a file system problem, you really should try using a decent computer” or some such, it produces an incomprehensible and meaningless “ubi-partman crashed with exit code 141.” Now, correct me if I’m wrong but “exit code” sounds suspiciously like a euphemism for “error code.” Could it be the linux community are so up themselves now that they don’t want to refer to errors as errors?[1]. Anyway, I looked up “exit code 141” on the internet and it has multiple possible causes. This is singularly unhelpful. This is a microsoft or SPSS level of debugging power[3a]. I want to know what causes my error, so I can work around it[4], not just get pointed to a series of websites full of people with diverse OSs and hardware talking about a meaningless error code. So I had to go back online looking for oblique solutions to the problem. This is nothing compared to the last time I had to solve a Linux problem, but we’ll get to that
  3. Thirdly, the available information about how to proceed to a successful implementation has no relation to the way that the Ubuntu installer works. For example, one of those sites says “Choose all default options but when it comes to partitioning, dlete the Ubuntu partition you created earlier. go back and choose to use maximum free space”. None of these processes or options existed in my installer. So there’s no way for legacy information to be used to inform current installations. I’ve never seen a “use maximum free space” option in any partition software. But I get three completely different options I can choose from. I think it’s probably a mark of an amateur software project to have completely different installation processes at every release. The basic processes of installation are the same in every iteration, surely?
  4. WTF is it with the verbose way that Linux starts up and shuts down? I know that there are a couple of hundred people in the world who think it’s cool how the computer tells you that “random process A” is “doing incomprehensible shit B”, and there might be another 10 people in the world who actually know what it’s doing, but it really looks juvenile. It’s like the BSOD – nobody understands that crap, so why bother? The shutdown process in Ubuntu is particularly pratty. Why on God’s green earth should I have to hit return halfway through the process after the CD spits out? There’s no going back from here, why bother?

Anyway, so the basic problem seems to be this: Apple mangles the boot sector, and you need to somehow come up with a set of partitions that the linux installer can read in order to use it. The installer is supposed to be able to preserve the Apple bootsector, so it just becomes a straight dual boot, but in fact no matter how I contort the installation process I end up fucking the apple boot sector 8 ways to Sunday (take that, Steve!) and then it can’t reboot. Following the information in the few websites by people who’ve done it is just impossible, largely because I don’t understand the process of setting up Linux drives[5] but possibly also because Apple mangled the boot sector, and maybe also because I’m profoundly stupid when it comes to linux[8].

So I tried setting up an ext4 partition on top of the Mac OS one. My Hard Drive is 30g, so I had:

  • 32 kb boot sector[9]
  • 132 Mb of nothing
  • 6 Gb of MacOS
  • 132Mb of nothing
  • 21Gb of ext4, the standard linux file format (apparently)

Then I start the Ubuntu installer (after several tries, of course) and it offers me three partitioning choices: install side by side, use the whole disc, or custom format. The first choice doesn’t “install side by side at all” but instead splits my 21gb partition into two chunks of ext4. The second choice does what is expected, but that will probably shaft the bootsector so it was out; the third choice demanded to know “where is the root mount” and since this is my partner’s computer I’m not going to root mount it; I left this well alone. Choosing option a), I proceeded with an installation that just stopped 75% of the way through, and somehow managed to shaft the bootsector, because when I gave up on the process and restarted I had lost the mac os boot as well.

What kind of installation software is that? I just downloaded a “disc” that is designed to fuck my machine. And on top of that, when I repeated the process – same partition in mac os, same install disc – the following happened:

  • The first time I insert the install disc, it just fails, out of hand
  • second time, the install disc works but I get the stupid “ubipartman” error, i.e. the partition software can’t handle the ext4 file system (???!!!???)

So, I don’t really even know if this ubipartman error has anything to do with apple’s shenanigans with the boot sector, or if it’s just a bodgy piece of software. Someone else I spoke to said all knowingly “ah, yes, getting the partition software to work is always the trick.”

You know your software is shit when people are saying things like that about it. Let’s try similar phrases with some other software shall we?

  • Stats software: “ah yes, getting the mathematics engine to work is always the trick”
  • Graphics software: “ah yes, getting the colour palette to work can be a tad fiendish”
  • Nuclear powerplant software: “oh yes, we always take the radioactivity meters with a grain of salt, it’s the software don’t you know old chap?”

So, this is my third time attempting to install linux and my first time on a laptop. Let’s review our results:

  • First time: nothing, the installer just died in the arse
  • Second time: I installed it fine but X Window didn’t work. Who wants linux without x window? It’s a glorified telex machine. So I hunted around on the internet and it turned out that there’s no standard drivers for the i810 chipset, but someone had written one. I downloaded it and installed it but it didn’t work, and another day of hunting on the internet enabled me to discover that a couple of lines of code in the driver had typos in them. Fucking typos. So I hunted out other drivers with similar code and worked out how to correct the typos, and X Window worked. Oh my god! This is the computing equivalent of making fire. A fucking GUI, man! What next – object oriented programming?!! Anyway, so then when I invoke my beautiful X Window[10], there is no networking. I try invoking the control panel thingy to work out what the next driver problem is and… nothing. No functioning control panel. Two days of struggle to get X Window to work, and I still have to work out the control panel?!! Fuck that. I wiped it
  • Third time: Who knows what mysteries can be produced with the arcane combination of Steve Jobs ratfucking your boot sector and linux trying to clean it up?

So I think I just need to give up. But I just want to point out that EVERY TIME I have spoken to someone about installing Linux they have said to me “oh, it used to be really hard, but now it’s trivial, point and click, out of the box baby.”

Well, I beg to differ.

None of this would be an issue of course, except that there’s an army of linux nerds out there carefully watching the progress of linux, calculating every 10th of a percentage point increase in its market share, claiming it’s the best thing ever and wondering why it isn’t more popular. If any of you are reading this, perhaps there is a hint of why contained in my struggles[11].

And don’t even get me started on my attempts to get hold of a decent, working 64 bit windows package!!!!

fn1: Many years ago I had cause to call a Microsoft helpdesk[2] and the guy on the other end of the phone referred to a clear bug as an “oversight.” I challenged him about this and he told me that it was official policy that bugs were “oversights.” Windows NT was great at the time[3], but jesus christ…

fn2: Hey, don’t criticise me! I was at work, it was Windows NT, I was desperate!

fn3: This is where Apple screwed the pooch. Windows were floating around with the shittest software on the planet (windows 3.1), but it was tied to the best productivity software (MS Office). Apple had a chance here to come up with a killer OS that would take market share, provided that a) it worked and b) they used MS Office. Unfortunately, they gave us Mac OS 8, and they were too arrogant to respond to complaints of “my computer freezes” with “we’ll fix that” before Windows NT came out. I don’t know what happened to b), but jesus Mac OS 8 was shit.

fn3a: not as bad as SPSS. Until their most recent incarnation, when SPSS syntax ran into an error it told you the column number rather than the line number[3b]

fn3b: Possibly not as bad as R, either, another piece of open source joy. When I was working with R in Japan, I actually had a piece of code that worked on one computer but not another, until we removed the comments[3c].

fn3c: which is almost as bad as my friend’s experience of an electronics lab in our undergrad physics days, when his experiment worked using wires with blue insulation plastic but not red.

fn4: Witness here the soft bigotry of low expectations. I’m so used to Microsoft and Apple (and SPSS) that instead of saying “I want to know what the problem is so I can get someone to fix it” I say “If I know what it is I can find a way around it!”

fn5: why does it have to be so fucking difficult? Why can’t they just have one drive with a sensible name (i.e. not “root”, which is a well-known Australian euphemism for fucking and just sounds stupid, I don’t ever want to be a “root user” in any situation which involves a hairy nerdy guy who keeps his dog in his office[6]) and why do they have to have a separate swap space etc? This software has been around for 20 fucking years, can’t they find a solution to the omfg-so-hard problem of swap space?

fn6: I once worked in a place whose network support guy, the classic bearded neckbreather, actually kept his dog in the office – in a tiny cage – and fancied himself an ubernerd. Like most neck-breathers, he was incompetent. When you went into his office, if he wasn’t there the dog would bark and snarl at you from in its cage. Need I add that it was a chihuahua? Need I also add that he stuck to Novel Netware 5.1[7] long after Windows 2000 Server was out?

fn7: If anyone thinks that Windows 95 is a product of Cthulhu, they should try trouble-shooting a Novell Netware Server, as I once had to do. Truly there are heirarchies of evil.

fn8: and, you may have noticed, just a tiny bit antsy.

fn9: Actually I reckon this is just a 32kb file with “Steve Jobs is GOD” written in it over and over.

fn10: Did I mention that Linux/Unix is beautiful when it works? This is the real shit about all of this.

fn11: I know, I know, you’re going to say “It’s Apple’s fault.” But in my experience, the person who glibly states “it’s because it’s an apple” is always wrong. How come I can install windows on my unix-based apples, but I can’t install linux, even though linux is supposedly infinitely more amenable to hacking, and flexible, than windows or apple? Because it’s too fucking hard is why.

No keel-hauling for these sea dogs...The only significant enhancement on the tall ship in 200 years, the Spindrift Clipper represents a considerable performance improvement over standard seaborne vessels for a limited additional cost. Behaving in every way like a normal vessel, the Spindrift Clipper has had low-power levitation magic added to its hull so that it can become airborne when needed. This has considerable advantages, enabling the ship to move much faster in fine weather and to avoid the risk of running aground or being damaged by reefs or wrecks. It also enables the ship to avoid being swamped in storms, though in instances it may be driven significantly off course. Many advanced Spindrift Clippers come with a special “storm anchor”, an emergency flight device which forces the ship to ride against strong winds, keeping it from being blown off course. Most Clipper pilots prefer to use their levitation to their advantage, rising from the water and riding ahead of stormclouds in the hope of regaining their course when the clouds have gone – better to survive at sea than to risk all for a few days lost journeying, after all. The Spindrift Clipper has made long-distance trading and exploration much easier and cheaper due to faster trips with lower risks of shipwreck or mutiny. Spindrift Clippers do not fly high, however, as their levitation magic is always weak and the ship is not designed to survive the stresses of such heights.

The characters themselves stole a small spindrift clipper, the Unfortunate Lapse of Discipline, from the Iron House, and renamed it the Inappropriate Response. It took them to Greenland and Ireland and back to America during the final stages of adventuring to date, and although it did not protect them from some of the less pleasant monsters of the Atlantic, it at least gave them some advantage in battle against the forces laying siege to New York. The Inappropriate Response relies for its levitation magic on a weak antipathic magic, cheap to install but requiring large bodies of water to move over. Later models of the Spindrift Clipper, particularly those designed for river travel, would have true levitation magic built in, so that they could act essentially as hovercraft or helicopters. These innovations would be another 100 years in development, however.

The Reverend Mike (whose site burns my eyes with its insane redness) is hosting this month’s RPG blog carnival on War (my, how topical!), and I want to contribute with a selection of the types of nasties which are used in the world of the Essential Compromise for the prosecution of that most loved of infernal activities, slaughter. We have already seen the Battle Thumb and the Autonomous Sentinel Cannon, but below are a few of the other toys which a good Infernalist can play with when it comes time to terrorise the locals.

Cancer Labora Host Armour

cancer-labora1Host armours are designed from a semi-living infernal construct as a heavy-duty harsh-environment armour shell, within which a human soldier can safely nestle. Like all Host Armours, the Cancer Labora enhances the physical and sensory capabilities of its occupant, as well as providing some environmental control and heavy armour. It is intended primarily as a heavy attack unit for dealing with infantry, with its armour thick enough to provide protection against all but the heaviest of infernal weaponry or cannons. The Cancer Labora is made of a type of thick hide modelled on the crab shell, with the plates connected to one another by a special fireproof Infernal material. The human occupant climbs in through the back and operates the various arms using his own hands, and fingers for the smaller arms. The largest arms are weapons in their own right, but can extend small gripping devices to hold additional weapons. The armour shell can also have Infernal weapons embedded, though they must have no recoil. The Cancer Labora is the only Host Armour with an environmental seal suitable for operation underwater, though even then the seal is not perfect and the Labora must return to land within a few hours. In addition to enhanced strength, armour and weapons powers, the Cancer Labora offers nightsight and enhanced hearing magic.

Impulsion Field Rod


The Impulsion Field Rod does not do damage per se; rather, it throws its target back a distance of tens of feet, knocking them off their feet in the process.  The Impulsion Field Rod is particularly frightening in combat on rooftops or alpine terrain, though in the latter case it has been known to cause avalanches. The Impulsion Rod usually has between 10 and 50 charges and must be recharged at a specified camp or location, though occasionally essence packs can be used to recharge it in the field, if it is needed for an extended campaign or mission. Some soldiers learn to use the Impulsion Rod in their off hand during melee combat, gaining two attacks (though the Impulsion Rod attack may be at a penalty). Frequently they use the Rod to repulse a charge or in the first moments of combat before engaging in melee. Impulsion rods, unlike the more horrifying brands of field rod (ennervators, confustors or quickeners, which are made of bone and wood) are usually made of beautifully crafted mixtures of wood and iron, not unlike rifles. Wizards sometimes use impulsion field rods, in which case they are usually enchanted to be lighter than their appearance would suggest.

Of course, all field rods are infernally crafted, using infernal essences bound to a manual trigger to enable even the most magically ignorant of soldiers to use them.

The Death Suit

The Death Suit is in every sense a normal suit of armour; however, it is imbued with a sacrificial Demon which is invoked on the first occasion that the wearer suffers a mortal blow. The Demon leaches from the Death Suit directly into the body of the wearer, absorbing most of the damage of the mortal blow (which is reduced to a serious wound). The armour is ruined and the wearer experiences certain immediate effects – the wearers eyes go very pale (permanently) and he or she suffers the immediate loss of 1 point of constitution. This effect is instantaneous (some scholars even believe the Demon in the suit has the ability to sense a moment ahead in time) and applies to most mortal injuries. Those which  would completely destroy the body, or which involve massive damage to the head, are not covered by the Suit, though it is rumoured one can purchase a helmet with the same qualities. The Suit works for anyone who wears it, but before the effects can be applied to that person they must rub the armour completely with a salve made of a combination of rose water and their own blood. This process is usually draining for the person who performs it, requiring several hours of work and making them so weak that they cannot perform strenuous activity for a period of time far in excess of that expected given the amount of blood lost.  The benefits, however, are obvious. The suit usually comes as leather or chain, though it can come in the form of an undergarment (at considerable extra cost). The suits can often be identified by their odour of roses.

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