Our PCs have defeated another attempt on Rockhome 3 by Samina’s Corsairs. But these efforts have brought them attention, and they began to feel that it might be wise to make themselves scarce from Coriolis station for a while, especially since the data core they paid a hacker to open has been reported to have exploded, killing the hacker and drawing more police attention to their activities. After they defeated the kill squad sent by Samina’s corsairs to get them in Coriolis, they learnt of a hacker employed by the Corsairs, who lives somewhere in the Dabaran system and is able to launder the transponders of ships to assign them to new ownership, and they began to think that a trip to Dabaran might solve a lot of their problems: they could escape from the increasingly cloying atmosphere on Coriolis for a while, and take the stolen ship The Grace of the Icons 7132 to this hacker to have him rebrand it in their name, so that they could legally sell it. They might also be able to press this hacker for some information about Samina’s Corsairs, in particular for information on their strength. They had by now killed some 40 of the corsairs’ number and taken several of their ships but they had no idea if this had made a big dent in their force of arms, or simply made them angry.

So they decided to head to Dabaran. But this system is some distance from Coriolis on the Dabaran Circle, and the first system on the closest path would be Hamura – the home range of Samina’s Corsairs. So, they decided to travel the long way, through Caph and Dabik and out to the slow, empty, rimward side of the Circle. Of course it is possible to travel rapidly between systems of the Third Horizon if you really want, by entering a portal and immediately jumping to the next system when you emerge, but to do this to Dabaran would require that they enter and exit stasis 7 times, and to do this in any short time period would be madness, so they guessed instead that their journey would be long – perhaps two months. They decided to take the Grace of the Icons 7132 with them, and to use it as a transport ship on the way; so, they looked for work that could pay their journey around the rim.

The Mercy Graves Mission

They soon found work. A venerable and well-respected archaeologist called Sorabad Min approached them and requested their help in lifting a large dig to Caph B1, known colloquially as The Mercy Graves, and remain present for about a week as the dig was set up. The Mercy Graves was a small, inhospitable planet, cold and with a thin atmosphere, with historically no settlements. Recently someone had uncovered evidence of a buried Firstcome fleet, known as the Hydra Flotilla because of the characteristic shape of its largest ship, and a settlement had been set up to dig into the fleet. This settlement was a mixture of Nomad Federation, Order of the Pariah, and Consortium expeditions, and they were not getting along. In the lawless environment of the planet Sorabad wanted a decent escort until he could establish a solid claim, which would take about a week, and after which he felt he would be safe from marauders. He would need a large ship to transport his dig workers and equipment though, so the Beast of Burden and the Grace of the Icons 7132 would be a perfect expeditionary fleet for him. Since he was paying well and had good bona fides with a reputation for careful and thorough preparation, the PCs agreed to his deal, and within a few days they set off for Caph B1.

Grace of the Icons 7132 at Caph B1

Sabotage at Caph

They divided the staff for the mission between the two ships, with Reiko Ando as pilot on the Grace of the Icons 7132 and the rest of the group on the Beast of Burden. Sorabad Min took a suite on the Beast of Burden, leaving much of his crew and his chef de mission, Angelique el Said, on the Grace of the Icons 7132. The PCs also hired an engineer for the Grace of the Icons 7132, since they only had one, and they set off for Caph B1.

They passed through the portals uneventfully, arriving in the Caph system with a three day journey to Caph B1. On the second day, however, something went wrong: someone jammed the docking station, and killed the engineer when he went to investigate. Reiko Ando, sensing something was up, followed the saboteur, but not before the saboteur was able to set the reactor to go critical[1], and evacuate all the escape pods. With just minutes to save the ship, Reiko had to rush to the engineering section to try and avert the shutdown while Saqr guided the Beast of Burden in to dock with the ship. With the docking station door system disabled, Adam was forced to use a breaching charge to enter the ship, and hurriedly gather all the passengers for evacuation in case Reiko failed to stop the self destruct cycle. They managed to evacuate with just seconds to spare, and sat in space hopelessly waiting to see if Reiko would be blown apart with the ship, until they received her message: she had aborted the cycle at the last moment. The Grace of the Icons 7132 – and their mission – was saved, though they had lost the ship’s escape pods, an engineer had been killed, and someone in the dig crew had been revealed to be a saboteur.  Whatever Sorabad Min hoped to achieve, it appeared powerful forces were out to stop him.

Attack on the dig

They landed at the small settlement on the Mercy Graves and set out for the dig site immediately, drawing their crawlers into a bowl-shaped depression after several hours’ travel. The PCs, expecting trouble, set up fire positions on some of the heights around the camp, with Siladan and Dr. Delecta remaining in the camp itself, and waited for trouble.

Trouble was not long in coming: an attack by squads of armed assailants coming from three sides of the camp within hours of laying out their supplies and equipment, when the place was still in chaos but too fully unpacked to allow anyone to flee. Fortunately the PCs saw the teams creeping in and were able to open fire from their positions, raising the warning and giving Siladan and Dr. Delecta time to take defensive positions. The battle was joined, with the PCs exchanging fire from the heights while Siladan entered melee with those who came too close to the camp, and Dr. Delecta stalked the attack squad through the piles of crates and gear that had been laid around the perimeter of the camp.

Unfortunately, no one saw the machine gun nest on the only unguarded ridge. It opened fire on Siladan and Delecta as they fought, and drove everyone into cover, giving the attackers the chance to fight back and consolidate cover. Fortunately Adam was left unmarked on a ridge, and was able to charge up to the machine gun nest and attack, hitting the gunner with his knife and tearing him away from the gun. Their melee was short and harsh, and when it was done Adam had control of the machine gun. He opened fire on the incoming strike teams, and the battle was soon finished.

In the aftermath, as Delecta provided medical care to injured archaeologists and team members, Adam and the uninjured members of the group searched the dead, revealing quickly what they had suspected from the beginning: their attackers were from the Order of the Pariah. They dumped the corpses in the snow and turned their faces back towards the settlement. Should they confront the Order, or persist with the dig?

And would they get danger money if they did…?


fn1: For some reason every reactor on every ship is required to be designed with an easily accessible critical explosion setting that has a very short fuse.

As sure as night follows day there has been another mass shooting in America, this time at a Walmart, where 20 people have been killed by a 21 year old white man who published a manifesto on 4chan. He turns out – shock – to have been a white supremacist who is concerned about Mexicans taking over Texas, and particularly worried about the possibility that it will flip Democratic (because Hispanics vote Democratic) and usher in an era of permanent Democrat rule (which is apparently a bad thing). You can find his manifesto here if you are up for reading this sort of stuff, and you can tell where he stands pretty quickly from his two opening sentences:

In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto. This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.

This dude is not happy about Hispanics taking over his country, and he has a plan. He says he has read The Great Replacement, a theory espoused by the dude who wrote The Camp of the Saints (Steve Bannon’s favourite book) and he thinks he needs to take action to protect his nation from being overrun by foreigners. Most of his manifesto is classic white supremacist nutjob stuff, though remarkably lucid for the genre and (by Fascist standards) relatively well argued. On Twitter, however, he is getting some traction amongst concerned leftists because he ascribes some environmental reasons for his actions, and some people are hailing him as the first eco-fascist shooter. For example, William Black writes:

This suggests that he has an environmental motive for his attack, and needs to kill foreigners to make sure that only Americans can enjoy the fruits of America’s fragile environment.  In response, someone else suggests that hyping the threat of global warming may have been a mistake:

If the right is turning to eco-fascism then it will put a new slant on all their activities and give them a new wedge to use against opponents of fascism; it also signals that they may have seriously upped their game, since until now ineffectual bullshit flailing against the “Chinese hoax” of global warming has been their thing. But how true is it that this guy is an eco-fascist? And was he really worried about global warming? His manifesto is 2,359 words long, and this is his entire comment on environmental issues:

The American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life. However, our lifestyle Is destroying the environment of our country. The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations. Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly overharvesting resources. This has been a problem for decades. For example, this phenomenon is brilliantly portrayed in the decades-old classic “The Lorax.” Water sheds around the country, especially in agricultural areas, are being depleted. Fresh water Is being polluted from farming and oil drilling operations. Consumer culture is creating thousands of tons of unnecessary plastic waste and electronic waste, and recycling to help slow this down is almost non-existent. Urban sprawl creates inefficient cities which unnecessarily destroys millions of acres of land. We even use god knows how many trees worth of paper towels just wipe water off our hands. Everything I have seen and heard in my short life has led me to believe that the average American isn’t willing to change their lifestyle, even if the changes only cause a slight inconvenience. The government is unwilling to tackle these issues beyond empty promises since they are owned by corporations. Corporations that also like immigration because more people means a bigger market for their products. I just want to say that I love the people of this country, but god damn most of y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.

It’s 270 words, or just over 10% of his manifesto. He commits almost that much verbiage to describing the weapon he’s going to use. This isn’t exactly Unabomber-level commitment to the cause is it? In his ecological dissertation he does not mention global warming or climate change, but only overuse of resources, with a reference to The Lorax (which I don’t think has any words to say about global warming). His screed is essentially Malthusian, not environmentalist, and his position is relatively clear: since political change to reduce waste and overconsumption is hard, we need to cull the herd. This isn’t a new position in right-wing thought, although obviously attaching it to an AK-47 is an unpleasant rhetorical escalation. In the 1990s Australia had a right-wing anti-immigration party, Australians Against Further Immigration, who worked from this exact position, and it’s been a fixture of European fascism forever. But it’s not the centerpiece or even a major part of his manifesto: It’s bolted on the end of his piece, as an addendum to his main concern, which is the Great Replacement. He devotes about as much space to complaining about the role of corporations in undermining American workers through immigration – this is a theme all through the first two pages of his writing, covering the issue of automation and Universal Basic Income and how the presence of low-paid foreign workers will mess up the society-wide response to automation that he sees as necessary – and much of what he writes has a lot more to do with the National Conservatism[1] of Hurley and Carlson than it does to do with any kind of eco-fascism.

It’s also impossible to imagine that an American conservative at this time would break so much with conservative orthodoxy as to endorse global warming as real. That would basically alienate you from your entire political cohort, and would be a poison pill for all your political relationships. Now that his social media are shut down it is impossible to glean his opinions about this, but it should be clear from recent American political movements that it is almost impossible to be an American conservative and accept the reality of global warming, let alone take it seriously enough to kill people over.

This man is not an eco-fascist, but that does not mean that eco-fascism won’t come to America in time. As the climate crisis deepens we can expect all high-income nations to experience increasingly difficult environmental problems, and since the USA is particularly vulnerable to global warming we can expect to see it hit harder and earlier than say Europe. You can be sure that when it becomes impossible to avoid acknowledging the problem the American right will find a way to blame all the years of inaction on the left and/or Jews, and will react with its customary lack of humanity or sense to deal with the challenges global warming creates. But before that you can expect a long period of denialism and increasingly brutal treatment of refugees, foreigners, and ultimately poor and black people within US borders as resource crises strike (probably starting with water). I have previously reviewed the foundational text of modern American fascism, the Turner Diaries, and noted the extreme nihilism and violence of their vision, and in that book it is very clear what the American right’s response to resource pressures will be. On the one hand it is clear that they are willing to burn the entire world down rather than compromise their racial purity, and their solution to extreme privation is to force white people to compete in a brutal and murderous competition to gain access to the limited resources available. So we can expect the American right to further exclude refugees and migrants, to become more vicious in their treatment of “non-productive” minorities within America, and to enhance these cruelties while continuing to burn the fossil fuels that are causing the problem; and when they finally accept that it is too late, we can expect them to pit poor whites against each other to determine who gets to survive in the burning times.  I doubt we will see anything as enlightened as a violent fascist overthrow of corporate polluters in order to preserve the environment for the white race. If you doubt me about that, read the Turner Diaries and ask yourself what the movement’s leaders would do, given they all consider that to be the ur-text for their movement.

We have a long wait yet before eco-fascism comes to America, if it ever does, but in the meantime we have a very real and very dangerous fascist movement taking over the country. Don’t look to some weird eco-fascist fringe for the threat to the future of America and the world: look to the Republican party, which is producing all the intellectual and rhetorical support for these terrorists, and looking the other way while the country burns. And don’t get distracted: their only real interest at this time is race, and they have their eyes on the prize even if you don’t. So stay focused, and do everything you can to beat these people back before they burn down your country and our world.


fn1: Good choice of name there boys, you’ll go far.

Big sister’s gonna get ya

Recently I went on a five day holiday to China, and while I was in Fuzhou I took part in an escape game with my partner Miss Jade and her Chinese friends (hereafter referred to as Team Princess). The escape game was played at Mr. X Fuzhou, one of the shops of a national chain called Mr. X. Mr X runs a variety of different escape rooms at any time, with some changing on a seasonal basis and some permanent fixtures. We played Yayoi, which is a horror/investigation type with a Japanese theme. Others available included an alien-themed Area 51 game, an Alice in Wonderland introductory adventure, and a couple of other mystery investigations. Team Princess chose Yayoi because they wanted a challenge and because it is one of the new genre games that features NPCs (i.e. human actors).

The other games

I’ve never done an escape room before and my image of them is as a kind of boring puzzle in a single room, so I really wasn’t expecting the Mr. X experience. Miss Jade and Team Princess do these games every time she returns to China (she lives in Japan at the moment), and I was kind of surprised when I heard this because given my image of the games I really didn’t think they would be so compelling. How wrong I was! Here I will explain briefly what happened in the game, and then give a review. If you’re planning on doing this Yayoi game, I recommend you skip the section describing the adventure itself and go to the review.

Approximate layout of the Supernatural Hostel

The events of the game

This game has a whole backstory and took us 90 minutes to complete, which involved a frantic series of investigations and pursuits, so I will explain briefly here what happened and how it worked, based on my memory and the explanations I received from Team Princess afterwards. We were a team of investigators who had been asked by the police to investigate a mysterious death in a hotel that is rumoured to have supernatural connections. We took an elevator to the hotel, and entered the first room we found, room 401. I have prepared an approximate map of the hotel as we experienced it, but when we arrived we only knew about the four rooms (401 – 404), not the strange supernatural section behind the closet. In room 401 there was a body on the bed, which we shall refer to as Dead Dude (DD), which body I had to touch (it was gross). He had apparently died of dehydration. At the back of the room was a closet (visible in the map) and near the door a small desk with a weird computer screen on it. The computer worked, and had its own email client with emails from various organizations and individuals in the inbox. In the drawer of the desk we found a cassette, which activated a video on the computer. This video showed DD’s boss (we shall refer to him as The Boss), sitting at a desk, face out of view, explaining to him that he needed to find a doll, of which he showed an example. There were rumoured to be 6 dolls in the hostel, each with a Japanese girl’s name, and all under the control of some spirit thing called Hasegawa san. He was to find a doll.

We guessed DD died trying to find the doll, so we sensibly set about finding the doll. We went to room 403 and found a way to open it, and in room 403 we found a second cassette. This cassette had new instructions on how to get the doll, involving the word kagome, so we went to room 404 to investigate. The door at 404 had a keypad with six buttons, each of which when pressed emitted the sound of a child reading a single Japanese syllable. We entered ka-go-me and then opened the door. This led us into a room with five of the dolls on the far wall and a strange arrangement of ropes with bells on them, in a circle in the room. One of the dolls was missing! A song then started playing, the kagome song from Japanese childhood (this is a kind of Hey Mr Wolf game). At the end of each repetition of the song the ghost voices singing it would say a Japanese girl’s name (corresponding with the doll’s names, which were on a diagram on the wall of room 401), and we had to ring the corresponding bell. This process took us two tries but when it was done Hasegawa appeared in an empty space in the middle of the far wall of the room, between the dolls. Hasegawa appeared in the form of a Japanese spirit from a picture, wearing a mask and yukata, and he carried the key to room 402 (Hasegawa was our first NPC!) He also told us that now we had sung the song correctly we would be able to see the ghost that killed DD. Yay! Apparently this ghost only comes out to kill when it is raining, but it wasn’t raining so yay.

In room 402 we found a series of crawlways that we had to search through. We found a third tape, which when we played it had a video from The Boss giving DD new instructions. It congratulated him on finding the doll but told him to hide it and explore the hostel some more, because it was rumoured to have some secret place where you could find an elixir of youth. Wow! So we guessed DD had hidden the doll in room 402 and went back to find it. Eventually we found it and took it back to room 404, where we placed it back in the place DD had stolen it from.

Which was when everything went dark and the rain started. We all panicked and ran screaming back to room 401 where we all jumped in the closet[1], the last one into the room being a member of Team Princess, Mr. J, who had lingered in the hallway to see the ghost that killed DD. This ghost was apparently some monstrous thing in a torn yukata that crawled down the hallway rapidly on all fours, and it freaked him out a lot. So we all dived into the closet, and then the closet began to shudder and twitch and move and after a few moments it came to rest again but there was this horrible, hideous laughter outside, that can be best likened to the creaking hacking laugh of the ghost in The Grudge. It was horrible.

After the laughter faded we opened the closet door and found ourselves in a strange redlit room like a study, with icons and buddhist type stuff on a desk at one end and the walls lined with candles. Apparently we were no longer in the normal world, because now the ghost that killed DD could speak to us. It revealed that it was the older sister of a girl called Yayoi who had died here, and whose soul was restless. Since we had escaped the ghost, she would give us the chance to escape if we could pass certain tests and restore the soul of her younger sister to rest.

Well, now we certainly knew how DD died! But we had more pressing concerns, like getting out alive. So we followed the tests. The first was relatively easy, we had to blow out the candles in the room as they flared up, in the right order. Then we went back into the closet and it again moved and shuddered, and when the door opened again we found ourselves facing a long, narrow cave-like room with taiko-style drums at regular points on the wall, and at the end. Between the drums were ropes stretching across the hall, hung with bells that we must not touch. We manoeuvred ourselves to the drums and beat them in the right order, which took some figuring out. This opened a secret door that in turn led to a small cave-like room with a chest in one corner and a locked door on the far wall. The walls were covered in ivy, in which a few skeletons and old bones were entangled. There was a strange clear orb over the locked door, and a locked chest on the floor. We could see through the locked door to a weird kind of temple with a figure of a cat god on the far wall and a big lantern in the middle. Obviously we needed to get through to there, but how? Also in the room were two hand mirrors. Weird. In one of the skeletons we found a note printed on leather, which gave clues to open the combination lock on the box. This we did after some faffing, and inside we found a key. Two of the team took this back to the drum room, and used it to open a compartment under the drum at the end of the hall. This triggered a laser that shone down the hallway, and we used the two hand mirrors to direct it into the clear orb over the locked door.

With that simple task out of the way the door opened and we entered the temple of the cat god. In front of the idol of the god were two empty pedestals for small icons, and the room was lined with miniature sake barrels, each adorned with a Chinese character. We had to choose the characters that would match the wishes of the cat god. Eventually we settled on the barrels with kanji for 9 and tails, because there is a legend that the cat god wants 9 tails. This was the right choice, and it activated something in the lantern, a kind of glowing orb. This, once pushed into position inside the lantern, restored Yayoi’s soul to rest, and we were free! The door opened and we stumbled out to freedom!

About the escape room

I have never done an escape room before so I can’t compare, but this was a genuinely excellent experience, as close as I think I have ever (or could ever) come to LARPing. It was atmospheric, carefully constructed to maintain a complete sense of immersion, challenging and scary. The lighting, decorations, music and sound effects were all designed to build up suspense and terror, and it took minimal effort to really feel like we were there. The addition of NPCs – including one crawling along the floor like a Japanese ghost – really brought the whole thing to life, so that we spent 90 minutes in a state of constant tension. It also sprawled over a wide area so it felt equal parts horror, investigation and exploration – very close to a dungeon crawl, in fact.

If you were to lay out the after action report above and add one or two combats, the escape game I played is essentially equivalent to a single full day session of an RPG. We could have done the whole thing in some Asian-themed Call of Cthulhu and it would have been just as great. This escape room experience really was as close to a real life role-playing session as I can imagine being able to do. It was a thoroughly excellent experience and I commend it to anyone who has a chance to try it.

There is of course a small problem with trying it though – you need to be able to speak and read Chinese very very well to get away with it. I can’t speak any Chinese (I have only learnt Japanese since coming to Japan), and although I can read some Chinese characters and understood the Japanese components of the game, I was essentially a chump for much of the game. I could help with searching and some basic tasks (like the bells and the drums and the candles) and I found some important clues (like the orb above the door and the glowing contents of the lantern in the final room) that were important, but I couldn’t answer any of the riddles, read the emails, or understand the necessary components of the story. So only try this if you have really excellent Chinese or you’re in a team who are patient and willing to go out of their way to coddle your chumpishness. If you can do that though, you will get to have a really good role-playing experience.

I also think that the game I played could form an excellent part of a campaign, with the second stage being to find the Boss who sent DD on his mission, and the third to kill or free Hasegawa san. Each game changes every six months or so apparently (it takes a long time to design and set up new settings) so this would mean a group of regular players like Team Princess would have 18 months of a story before they completed it. I hope Mr. X takes this on in future! They could probably also do a nice sideline in modules for actual RPGs, and if this escape room experience is any guide to how seriously Chinese otaku take their otaku world, it’s likely that China has a really amazing TRPG scene. If you know about that, I’d like to hear more!

About Mr. X

The Mr. X chain isn’t just an escape room company. They also provide rooms to rent for playing games of your own, and have tables in the main area where you can play card games supplied by the company. They provide drinks and food, and board games and card games that you can play while you’re there. The atmosphere is very comfortable and relaxed, and the staff are also very serious otaku – one of our staff was a young Uyghur woman who had moved to Fuzhou from Xinjiang so she could get a job in this company, because she loves the games. They are also able to explain the rules of the board and card games that they have available, and are friendly and warm and patient with our many demands.

The card game options …

Mr. X is an excellent otaku world, with a wide range of challenging escape room games and a nice environment for lazy days of board games and RPGs. It gave me a hint of a world of role-playing and nerdy games in China that I had never heard of before, and suggested to me that there may be a huge, vibrant and very advanced fantasy role-playing scene in China. I hope that more of this will become accessible in the west in future, and if any of my reader(s) visit China in the future and are in a position to do it, I strongly recommend you try it. For me it was a very impressive and new experience, and I hope you can all have a chance to share it in future.


fn1: Apparently we were given instructions before starting the game that we should a) run to the closet when we heard rain and b) not try to fight or interact with NPCs.

 

The coming storm

Our heroes are in Mumbai seeking the notorious womanizer and drunkard Mark Bond, who they have been told has “gone native”. It is 1857, hot, tense, and it is obvious to them after just a day in Mumbai that there is trouble on the streets of the city: the local population is not happy with the state of things, and after their time in the Anglo-Persian war they have an instinct for the trouble that is coming. They also think, after visiting his house, that Bond did not go native, but has been abducted by the same group that attacked them on the streets of Muscat. They have identified a likely place to look for him, but they need transport to get them there quickly, and so they cut a deal with Ashkarpreet Singh, hero of the Punjab and captain of the former British corvette the Gurmukh: they will raid the home of the Collector, a notorious artifact dealer, and steal back a diamond that belonged to the Sikhs. In return he will take them to the place they have identified, a hillfort in Rajasthan. They have also befriended the mysterious Maori warrior-captain Manawa, and discovered that the Collector holds an ancient cape of her people that confers immortality on its wearer. She told them that the only weapon that can penetrate this cloak is silver, and so after dividing the few silver bullets they own between their two marksmen, they head to the Collector’s residence in the rural fringe of Mumbai.

They arrived at dusk, taking a carriage to a nearby turnpike and then walking past fields and orchards to a small rural compound surrounded by a high wall. Rather than march straight in, they decided to first send a scout over the wall. William Oxbridge took on this task, slipping into the bushes on the far side of the wall and creeping through the garden to examine the compound. He saw a small estate house surrounded by gardens. A horseless carriage stood empty in front of the main entrance, and to the rear of the house he saw a small, unguarded entrance. Between the entrance and the cover of the bushes, however, was a small oriental-styled garden with some strange statues in it that William suspected would be dangerous. A path led from the back yard through the garden to a gazebo, from which he could hear voices. He crept closer to listen.

The death of Flashman

A man and a woman were engaged in breathless whispered love talk in the gazebo. The man, called Flashman, was desperately trying to escape from the garden before the girl Lucy’s father caught him en tryste with her. Lucy was trying to convince him – breathlessly, and with some disputation, since he kept grabbing her in the Flashman Crossgrip – to meet her father so that he could ask for her hand in marriage, but Flashman was having none of it. He departed from the gazebo to a final plaintiff whispered “Don’t you want to be the 8th Earl of Elgin!?”, and with a final “All in good time my love!” sidled off toward the main gate. As he departed, Lucy assured him she would leave the back door open for him to creep back in. William Oxbridge III sneaked back to the wall and crept over it to warn the others: Flashman knew a way into the house that would not trigger the statues.

 

They ambushed Flashman as he flopped over the wall. He was a big, ruddy-faced and pugnacious looking British man, a classic boarding school bully, the kind of man it is a pleasure to beat down. When they surprised them he eyed them up with a nasty, piggish look and demanded to know “Are you from the Maoris?!” and then “Did the Sikhs send you?!” and then “It was that devilish MacArthur wasn’t it? Gods, and his girl was a flat-chested hussy, barely worth the trouble!”

With that they laid into him. He was a hard man, wearing good quality infernal webbing and carrying a couple of useful and vicious little magic items that he deployed to his benefit. Unfortunately he was not the equal of Abdul’s shadow step, and caught without a sword on his devil’s mission to deflower a British lady, he was no match for the four of them. Finally they killed him, and the flower of British colonialism lay dying in the dust of a byway in old Mumbai. They looted him for all his gear, dumped his body in a drainage ditch, and scaled the wall.

The 7th Earl of Elgin

Having killed Flashman they decided to sneak into the house through two routes. First William Oxbridge would use his resurrectionist power to steal Flashman’s form and enter the house through the back door. He would open a side door for them so that they could all creep in, and then go upstairs to Lucy’s room. Disguised as Flashman, he would trick her into revealing the location of the room where her father kept the artifacts, and then come and tell the others. This plan went just as well as they had all expected, and William was forced to bed the girl in order to maintain his disguise. Disgusted with himself and the sad contingencies the universe sometimes forced a man to deal with in the course of his service to the nation, William left the girl dozing and slipped downstairs to open the window of a cloakroom. The PCs crept in here and William crept back upstairs to recover his belongings.

Unfortunately at this point things went wrong. As the PCs were preparing to leave the cloakroom the earl of Elgin emerged in a dressing gown, saw them, and called in his guards. The group were attacked by an animated suit of samurai armour, and as they were forced to defend themselves William was upstairs, unable to help, trying to learn from Lucy where the artifacts were. The Earl of Elgin then reappeared dressed in the Maori cloak of invulnerability, and in joining the battle revealed himself to be a powerful wizard. Fergus shot him with silver bullets, but even with three shots he could not kill the old man. William came downstairs to help but missed with the first shot of his silver bullet, and was then attacked by a second animated armour that hurt him so badly he had to flee upstairs to Lucy’s room. Bursting into the room, he failed to warn her and she shot him with a shotgun. With William hors de combat, the battle raging and Fergus out of bullets, the Scottish madman had to charge across the hallway to grab the pistol William had dropped, while Abdul tried to distract the earl of Elgin. Fortunately the man was by now so wounded that he teleported away, and the PCs had a chance to kill the remaining animated armour, heal William and regroup. As they did this Markus levitated himself out of a window and onto the roof of the house, to look for the Earl. He saw him loading a box of artifacts onto the back of the horseless carriage and beginning to ride away as the others emerged from the house in pursuit. Markus levitated the case off of the carriage and up to the roof, hiding it out of sight, as the rest of the group chased the carriage and finally killed the Earl. They took his cape and wand and dumped his body with Flashman’s. Up close they discovered that the cape was made from the huge feathers of some ancient giant bird.

In the box they found some money, the Koh-i-Noor diamond, and a few other small magic items. They retired to the docks, where they returned the cape to Manawa. In return for this gift she bound our Maori warriors to their eternal service. They parted on the best of terms, climbed into the Gurmukh, and set off for the hill fort where they expected to find Mark Bond.

The Mughal’s Tomb

The flight to the hillfort was uneventful and fast, and when they arrived the fort’s few defenders abandoned it in terror of the approaching corvette. They searched the fort and found Mark Bond in a tower room, his whole body flayed and nailed to a cross, insects crawling in his left eye. He was still alive after two weeks of torture, but only barely. He had not revealed what he knew, but he revealed the full facts to the group: a gang of Hindu extremists planned to desecrate the tomb of an ancient Mughal princess, and through an abominable ritual they would raise a god of death that would destroy every Muslim and Sikh in all the sub-continent and drive the British out. Already they were planning an uprising, that would break out just the next day. Soon after the uprising began the god of death would manifest, and destroy everything in her path. Furthermore – and this was Bond’s secret knowledge – the current viceroy, Earl Canning, knew of the plan for the abominable ritual and was planning nothing to stop it, because he was a virulent racist who wanted to destroy all the Sikhs in the land, and did not know (or did not believe) the reports that the god of death would be part of a plan to destroy British rule. He believed he controlled the Hindu nationalists and saw the extermination plan as a cunning part of the British strategy of empowering local leaders to rule on their behalf. This foolish man had kept the plan secret, helped the nationalists to stay unimpeded by the British army, and was ignoring reports of preparations for violence among the Sepoys as merely the necessary preparations for communal violence against Muslims and Sikhs. He had no idea the powers that were arrayed against him, or the extent of the violence they had in mind.

The PCs thanked Bond, cut him down from his crucifixion, and left him to die with a last sunset as his final view. They climbed back into the Gurmukh and made haste for the Taj Mahal. Even as they arrived they knew the uprising would be beginning all across the country, and they must stop the ritual now or they would face a far, far worse enemy than a horde of Indian Sepoys. They disembarked into the garden of the Taj Mahal, and raced past its serene reflecting pool towards the main gate, accompanied by their Maori warriors. As they attacked the Gurmukh rose up behind them, firing its light cannon at Sepoy soldiers who were attempting to move forward from the river’s edge and driving them back to the water.

At the gate they were attacked by Hindu warriors, wearing light armour and carrying Urumi swords. These swords were like whirling whips of steel, a flexible blade that curled around any parrying weapon and could not be stopped. They beat these men down quickly and charged into the tomb itself, down stairs into the cool dark of the basement. Here they found a scene of demonic terror: a wizard stood on one side of an ancient tomb, which had been hacked and smashed apart and dragged out of the ground, the bones of its occupant dragged out and desecrated with various vile fluids. In each corner of the room stood a terrified acolyte, holding a sacred knife and a cow, that most sacred of symbols in the Hindu pantheon. Near each a single soldier stood, uncertain of himself in the sight of the obvious evil about to be deployed. The ritual was near its zenith, a strange thick mist rising from the ground. The soldiers attacked, and battle was joined. Abdul used his shadowstep power to move behind the priest and stab him, but was unable to kill him. In turn the priest pointed at one of the acolytes, who killed the cow next to him with one smooth sweep of his knife. The priest unleashed the power that the cow’s death gave him, and a strange creeping horror overwhelmed Abdul – a magic of instant, irrevocable death. He resisted it and fought hard to kill the priest. At the sight of the cow’s death, and under the force of Fergus’s chaos bagpipes, the remaining soldiers fled, and the PCs were able to kill the priest before he could kill another cow and attempt to destroy them all. The acolytes gave up and begged for mercy they would not receive, and the ritual ended.

The PCs emerged into the sun leading the remaining cows, sickened and disturbed by the dark shadows of the ritual they had prevented. They released the cows and climbed into the Gurmukh, sailing over the burning towns of the sub-continent as they returned to Mumbai to report the success of their mission and much more besides: the defense of Britain’s only remaining significant colony, against dark powers from beyond this world.

Epilogue

As a result of their actions the PCs prevented the Indian Mutiny of 1857 from becoming something much darker and more terrible: the combined genocide of all the Sikhs and Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, and the ascendancy of a Hindu Empire powered by the dark magics of an evil cult. The mutiny proceeded as in the Earth’s real history, without much magical support, and was put down by the British forces. Earl Canning was forced to retire in disgrace when the group’s reports were relayed to London, and the East India Company lost its grip on India, and power was transferred to the British Raj. British colonial rule over India was strengthened and formalized, and while things for the crown were going badly in the antipodes and in Africa, for the next decades they could at least point to India as a sign of the possibility of success in their colonial project.

But would it last? And what other anti-colonial movements would arise in the future, in the ashes of the death cult the PCs destroyed. What does the future hold for the Raj, in a world of growing magic and colonial revolt?

 

The PCs stand in a wrecked apartment, surrounded by the bodies of dead corsairs. They have raided the nest of assassins sent by Samina’s Corsairs to kill them, and today’s session finds them standing in the blood and gore of their victory. As they scoured the apartment for loot, Siladan dug into the communication logs between the hit squad and their masters, looking for useful information. Today’s cast:

  • Pilot Saqr (Pilot)
  • Gunner Oliver Greenstar (Colonist)
  • Deckhand Reiko Ando (Deckhand)
  • Gunner Adam (Soldier)
  • Doctor Bana Delecta (Medicurg)
  • Captain Al Hamra (Mystic)

The gathered together weapons, armour and money, dividing it up between them and piling the loot they did not need for resale. As this task was nearing completion Siladan emerged from the media room with bad news: one of the hit squad had sent off an alert when the battle began, and now a contingency plan had been enacted.

The corsairs’ plan

Digging through the records, Siladan had learnt the corsair’s plan. Once the hit squad had killed the PCs they would send a message to an ally on the inner planet of Lubau, where two ships lay waiting. These ships, the attack ship Seven Sisters and the disguised freighter Icons Grace 7132, would depart for Rockhome 3. The Icons Grace 7132 was carrying a crew of 24 marines, whom it would land on the asteroid outpost under the cover of a trading mission. These marines would pacify the asteroid, kill its leaders and force the asteroid colony into submission under threat of complete destruction. The Seven Sisters would lurk nearby, jamming emergency signals and attacking any ships that attempted to flee. After Rockhome 3 was pacified, the squad left on Coriolis would travel to the Dabaran system, where the corsairs had a friendly agent called Livam who would be able to launder documents to transfer ownership of the Beast of Burden to the corsairs. They would then take the ship to Samina’s corsairs, where it would become compensation for the trouble the PCs had put the corsairs through.

Once the hit squad raised the alert that they had been found and attacked, the corsairs activated the whole plan. The two ships would soon depart for Rockhome 3, with the intention of taking by force what they had previously attempted to take by guile.

The defense of Rockhome 3

The PCs jumped into action. They already had a small class II fighter stored on Rockhome 3, the Gunmetal Logic, and they guessed they could mount a robust defense of the station using this ship and the Beast of Burden. They decided they would fly there, warn the people of Rockhome 3, and set up a simultaneous ground and space defense of the colony. They would allow the corsair marines to unload and then trap them in an ambush, while at the same time their spaceships attacked the Seven Sisters. If the defense went well they would capture one spaceship and salvage a second. However, they did not think that the colony had enough defenders to take on 24 marines, so they turned to their new contact on Coriolis, the street urchin Mifiln. Mifiln took some of their money to the Court of the Slummer Queen and, as a boon granted in exchange for saving the lives of some slummers, she provided them with 10 thugs and two nekatra, who would help in the defense of the colony. They set off for Rockhome 3.

To spring their surprise they would need to travel to Rockhome 3 with their transponder turned off, but two days into their journey they found themselves passing near a Legion Battleship, the Momentary Lapse of Reason. Being discovered by this battleship with their transponder off would no doubt trigger all manner of unpleasant questions, and they were forced to scramble into an emergency stealth mode. Reiko Ando shut down the reactor while Bana Delecta engaged their ship’s stealth feature, and they drifted past the giant battleship in the dark, hoping that they were far enough away and dark enough with the reactors shutdown that the ship would not notice them. After a tense hour drifting in the dark the ship passed them by without noticing, and they continued on their journey. Perhaps the crew of the Momentary Lapse of Reason were making the same assumption as the residents of Rockhome 3, that the Kua system was free of pirates and bandits, and they did not need to search especially hard for signs of trouble.

The PCs were not so sanguine. They could track the Icons Grace 7132 from its transponder, and they could tell that it was traveling alone. The Seven Sisters had turned off its transponder and was somewhere out there. Most likely it was traveling near the Icons Grace 7132, but the could not be sure. In case they were ambushed as they approached, they sent a warning to the station, and arrived a few days later, unmolested, still traveling stealthy. At Rockhome 3 they disgorged their soldiers, split into two squads, and took the Gunmetal Logic and the Beast of Burden to hide at a nearby asteroid, named the Shoulder of Orion by the residents of Rockhome 3.

The enemy ships arrived together, behaving as expected. The leader of Rockhome 3, Abraham, played his part and allowed the Icons Grace 7132 to dock, while the PCs tracked the Seven Sisters to a location near Rockhome 3. Once the disguised freighter was docked they sprung their ambush on the attack ship. The space battle was short and brutal. Outgunned and outnumbered, the Seven Sisters had little chance against her larger and more heavily armed opponents. At the last, however, as her systems were shutting down and her weapons disabled, she manoeuvred straight towards the Beast of Burden on some kind of collision course. The PCs opened fire on her with everything they had, collapsing the hull and killing the crew just in time to prevent the smaller ship’s captain from triggering a reactor explosion that would have been catastrophic for the Beast of Burden.

Barely scratched in the space battle, the PCs docked with Rockhome 3 and moved in to attack the marines. As they disembarked from their ships they were warned that the marines had established a bridgehead in the corridors between the docking bays and the residence section, and were slowly pressing forward. They were well armed, well armoured and ferocious. The PCs hit them from behind, forcing the marines into a vicious battle to escape the crossfire. This battle did not last long before it descended into close combat, with both Adam (in his defense droid form) and Reiko Ando getting caught in melee with the enemy leaders while Saqr, Adam, Oliver and Delecta fired into the support groups.

As the battle unfolded though they began to think that the captain of the Icons Grace 7132 might do the same as the captain of the Seven Sisters – and a reactor explosion in the confines of the Rockhome 3 docks would be catastrophic! Adam and Dr. Delecta broke off from the battle and rushed into the hangar, to storm the ship and stop the pilot from destroying everything. Here they found the two Nekatra, lying horribly dead on the deck, and a squad of four more marines rushing down the gangplank to engage them. Adam cut them down with rapid fire, and the survivors scattered to take cover while Delecta bravely sprinted across the hangar to the gangplank behind which they hid. Under the cover of Adam’s fire she managed to get into the ship and sprint down its hallways to the rear reactor. Here one of the crew tried to shoot her, and she was forced into gun combat while Adam finished the battle with the remaining marines outside. He rushed up to support her, as the ship announced that reactor criticality was imminent. They shot down the sole crewmember and rushed to disengage the reactor. With just seconds to go Dr. Delecta canceled the explosion orders, and the battle was finished.

Aftermath

They had killed another 24 corsairs, disabled another corsair ship and captured another. They would be able to salvage the wreck of the Seven Sisters, and although some of the Rockhome 3’s residents and the Slummer Court thugs had been killed, they had survived the battle relatively unhurt. They calculated that by now they had destroyed three corsair ships, captured two, and killed probably 40 corsairs, including several ship’s pilots. They guessed that no matter how powerful the corsairs might be, as a mere pirate gang they could not possibly sustain those losses. For at least a short time, while they were recovering, the PCs guessed they would have a pause in hostilities. In the meantime, they would be able to decrypt the stolen corsair data core, find the location of the corsair’s base, and travel to Dabaran to force the corsair’s contact there to register their stolen ships as their own possessions – as well as tell them what he knew about the corsairs. Perhaps then – once they had a small fleet of ships, and had learnt all they could about the corsairs – they would be ready to put an end to this annoying and increasingly frustrating nemesis. Perhaps once it was all done they could even turn the corsair base to their own use … but for now they would rest, and loot the growing pile of enemy bodies they were leaving in their wake.

Oh! We weren’t expecting you …

Our characters were attacked by a hit squad from Samina’s corsairs, who they defeated at the cost of their captain’s life. The corsairs are tracking them down to make them pay for what they did at Rockhome 3, and they now realize they will not be able to live in peace until they have dealt the corsairs a serious blow. Having tracked them to their lair they decided to attack the remainder of the hit squad, and begin preparations to raid the corsairs themselves. The roster for this session:

  • Adam, gunner and soldier
  • Al Hamra, captain (dead, but his soul uploaded into the ship’s computer, and capable of operating through a defense drone)
  • Siladan Hatshepsut, archaeologist
  • Oliver Greenstar, colonist
  • Dr. Delecta, doctor

Mifiln and Kenji

The PCs were helped in their mission by an unexpected pair of new hands. Oliver Greenstar had sent a teenage street urchin to follow the hit squad and find their lair, which they did; and now this urchin returned to their ship accompanied by a big, gruff friend. The urchin, called Mifiln, introduced their friend as Kenji, a thug, and revealed that neither of them had anywhere to live after a small accident in their apartment. Mifiln had noticed that they needed eyes and ears – and contacts – on the deck in Coriolis, who could attend to their interests when they weren’t there, and Mifiln and Kenji were willing to take on this task for a mere 500 birr per month each. They would keep an eye on matters in the station, attend to details the PCs wanted dealt with, and help them navigate the vicissitudes of life on the station. Mifiln also accidentally revealed a talent for telekinesis, which immediately endeared them to the party, and also offered to show them a sure way to get to the corsairs’ lair undetected as a token of good faith.

The path they recommended was simple but a little dangerous. Mifiln knew of a docking bay in the cellars that was used by smugglers and would open, no questions asked, for a small fee. From that bay they could move up the central spine of Coriolis station to an entrance to the lower decks of the Coriolis core, where the corsairs had established their base in an old luxury apartment. There were no cameras on the way up, and the back paths to the area where the corsairs lived were also likely unmonitored. The corsairs did not know they were coming but were certainly not expecting any trouble from below, and had few connections in the cellars that could be relied on to help them. Mifiln, however, had an in to the Court of the Slummer Queen if they needed it, and could give them general directions on moving through the cellar.

They agreed, hired Mifiln and Kenji, and set to work.

Death in the Cellars

They took the Beast of Burden‘s shuttle to the docking bay in the mid cellars, and as Mifiln had told them found they could enter without documentation for just a small fee. From there they moved up the spine, which was a long series of staircases, galleys, empty halls and half-functional elevators that circled around a huge, open shaft. This shaft plunged from the Coriolis core all the way to the very bottom of the station, a vertiginous 5km deep shaft into which protruded various platforms, ruined spars, walkways, sensor spires and random junk. They trudged wearily up the core, walking for hours and stopping regularly. It was cold, tiring and dispiriting work.

After a few hours of climbing they stumbled on a large platform, and as they climbed the stairs to the platform they heard a gunshot, yelling and screams. Reiko crept ahead to investigate, and saw a terrible sight. Two soldiers were standing over a line of ragged-looking cellar denizens, all sitting slumped on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs. One lay dead on the ground, and the remaining five were crouched in terror, scared into silence by the death of their friend. The PCs had been warned about these police: purge patrol, heavily armed and armoured guards sent down from the core to do raids on the people who lived illegally in the cellars. They had free rein to do as they wished down here, and acted essentially as death squads terrorizing the people who lived in the cellar. Particularly for people pushed out from the lower levels to the upper cellar, they were a constant threat[1]. These six had obviously failed to patrol their area closely enough, and had been caught. Reiko explained what she had seen and everyone moved carefully up to the steps to wait and see what would happen.

It was worse than they expected. One guard dragged the woman from the end of the line over to the edge of the platform, where a narrow gangplank stretched out over the shaft. He pushed her, gesturing with the gun, and when she refused he fired the gun once at her feet, forcing her onto the plank. They watched in horror as she backed slowly along the gangplank, remonstrating with the guard and begging for her life, until finally she slipped and fell with a long, fading scream into the darkness. The guard turned away, exchanged a joke with the other guard, and grabbed the next of the ragged crew. This person realized that it was the end of the line for all of them and began struggling to escape the guard’s grip. As the guard raised his weapon Al Hamra lost his patience, and opened fire with his defense robot laser. Without time to make a plan or make any decisions, the party attacked the purge patrol. They killed the two guards quickly but as they were finishing them off were ambushed by two more coming from a covered section they had not seen. One of these guards managed to score a minor injury on one of them before they were able to respond and kill them too. They looted the bodies, freed the prisoners, dismissed their thanks, and continued on their path, hurrying now before their deed might be discovered by any other guards.

Near the ambush site they found an elevator that would take them up to the core, and after some debate decided that it might be wise to activate it, just in case they needed to bring injured PCs down, and in order to escape the zone of the ambush quickly. After a few minutes of work Siladan got it working, and they rose in clanking glory up to the lower levels of the core.

4 Bedroom Luxury Apartment Floor Plans – Floor Plans and Flooring Ideas

The raid

They found the safehouse easily enough, and from outside Siladan attempted to hack the apartment’s systems, to no effect. They were forced to open the entrance and enter blind. From the entrance hall some of the group turned right, moving down a narrow corridor to a large open area with a pool, deckchairs and a bbq area. Its two outer walls were reinforced glass looking out over the beauty of space, and the whole area was aglow in the reflected green light of Kua. At this pool area they found a group of corsairs lounging around, along with their leader. They opened fire on the group but were too late – the men had been warned and were already running into the residence rooms.

Meanwhile the remainder of the group pushed straight into the main residence rooms, heading directly inward from the entrance hall. They immediately ran into an armed and armoured guard who had been watching them on CCTV and was ready, opening fire on them as they opened the door to the inner rooms. Battle was joined!

The battle was short and brutal, with the corsairs taking cover in the hallways in the inner residence and fighting with vulcan pistols while one corsair ran to a weapons room to get heavier weapons, and the sniper emerged from another room with a shotgun. The battle turned to bloody close shooting and hand-to-hand combat in the hallways, and in the fray Oliver was mortally injured, only saved by Dr. Delecta’s hasty work. Finally, though, they pacified the whole building, killing six corsair grunts, the sniper who had killed Al Hamra, and the leader. Al Hamra used the tentacles of his defense drone to kill the sniper personally, squeezing her eyes into her skull and finally killing her by digging the tentacles into her brain. The rest were dealt with in a more orthodox way.

The luxury apartment was now theirs. All its outer rooms had floor-length windows with a full view of the planet Kua as it rotated beneath them, or the distant star depending on the time of Coriolis’s rotation. In the far side of the apartment from the swimming pool they found a media room, which had been used to communicate with the corsair base in Hamura system. Here they were able to uncover the corsairs’ plans for them, and for Rockhome 3. They were ready to launch a counter-strike, a strike heavy enough to bloody the nose of the corsairs and convince them not to push their luck in the Kua system. But first they needed to rest, and heal, and prepare.

They were ready to go to war with Samina’s Corsairs.


fn1: To be honest, I’m not convinced this is a good addition to the Coriolis station part of this universe. It makes Coriolis very cyberpunk or like a failed capitalist dystopia, like a latin American city in the 1980s (or I guess Manila or Brazil now?) and it doesn’t quite work with the image of Coriolis as the stable centre of the Third Horizon. Also this whole space station is only 8 km long and teeming with life, so how can it be that there is a whole underbelly that is completely beyond the control of the authorities and plagued by death squads? It seems a bit out of whack with the whole image of the station. But I’m running with it, for consistency with things that are likely to happen later.

No doubt many of my readers are aware that there is a stream of feminism, which calls itself “gender critical”, that rejects the idea that transgender women are women and aims to “protect” cis women from having these women in women-only spaces. In the 1970s and 1990s this manifested as an internecine feminist turf war over whether trans women should be allowed into women’s spaces. This battle appeared to die down in the 2000s but a new generation of gender critical feminists are now attempting to defend women’s bathrooms, sports and changing rooms from transgender women. They seem to be particularly active in the UK, where feminists like Professor Kathleen Stock are attempting to fight changes to the Gender Recognition Act that would lead to people being able to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, rather than the gender they were born as.

A core demand of these feminists is that only women who were born female should be able to use women’s bathrooms. In this post I am going to use Bayes’ Rule to show that the inevitable consequence of this political position, if it were to be enforced, would be the widespread harassment of natal women. I will also present anecdotal evidence that this is exactly what is happening now as their ideas gain traction, and discuss the inevitable hypocrisy and contradiction in the gender critical position in light of their responses to the concerns that some (primarily butch-presenting) lesbians have raised about their cause.

Content warning: This post will use a lot of language associated with the “woke” American left, like the prefix “cis”, and also the language of these gender critical feminists, like “natal woman” and the weird distinction they insist on between “woman” and “female.” I will explain my choice of language at the end. Bear with me!

Applying Bayes’ Theorem to Bathroom Exclusion

So how does bathroom exclusion work? The goal of gender critical feminists is that women who were not born female – that is transgender women – are not allowed to use women’s bathrooms, and that this exclusion should be enforced through codification in the Gender Recognition Act. They don’t specify exactly what follows from this but the obvious implication is that if a natal woman in a bathroom fears that another woman in the bathroom is actually a natal man she should be able to confront that person and demand they leave and go to the men’s bathroom, fully supported by the force of the law, public opprobrium and if necessary state force (represented in the US, let us remember, by an armed and trigger-happy police force that has little regard for people who do not follow strict white middle-class standards of dress and behavior).

In practice what this will mean is that a natal woman will need to judge whether another woman in the bathroom is a “real” woman or not by her face, clothes and manner. She certainly won’t be able to demand a genital check[1], so her entire means of discrimination will be by a visual check. Now, discrimination of this kind is a statistical process on which a large amount of theoretical work has been done since the 18th century, and in particular in public health we use Bayes’ Rule to determine the effectiveness of a discrimination process. Bayes rule provides us with a formula that links the sensitivity and specificity of a test to the probability of correctly discriminating between two groups. It depends on three essential quantities:

  • The sensitivity of the test, which is the probability that the test will correctly identify a person with a condition as having the condition
  • The specificity of the test, which is the probability that the test will correctly identify a person without the condition as not having the condition
  • The prevalence of the condition being tested

Wikipedia offers an example based on drug testing, but the rule is universal: it applies to any attempt to discriminate between two classes of a thing with a test that is imperfect, and it has some alarming and counter-intuitive results in the case that the condition being tested is rare.

In the case of bathroom exclusion, we want to know the following three things:

  • What is the probability a normal person[2] will correctly identify that a transgender woman is a transgender woman?
  • What is the probability a normal person will correctly identify a non-transgender woman as non-transgender?
  • What is the prevalence of transgender women in the population?

How good do you think you are at the first two of these things? I’m not aware of any tests of ordinary bathroom users, but facial recognition software has reached high levels of accuracy above 90%. So, let’s suppose that we were to put a facial recognition device on a bathroom door that had 90% sensitivity and specificity, and assume that 5% of women are transgender. Bayes’ Rule tells us that we would have a positive predictive value of 32%. That is, only 32% of the women refused access to the bathroom would be transgender women: 68% of women rejected (2 in every 3) would be natal women who had been misclassified as transgender.

Now, I think that 5% is way too high an estimate of the prevalence of transgender women. At 3%, with the same specificity and sensitivity, only 22% of rejections are correct – 80% of women refused admission to the bathroom are natal women. Figure 1 shows the relationship between specificity and this proportion at a prevalence of 3% for three different levels of sensitivity.

Figure 1: Proportion of women harassed in a bathroom who are natal women, for three different levels of sensitivity. Prevalence of transgender women is set at 3%. The x-axis shows specificity (percentage chance of correctly identifying a non-transgender woman is not a transgender woman)

As should be quite clear from this figure, even at very high specificity – for example where you are 95% likely to correctly identify natal women as natal women, and 99% likely to identify transgender women as transgender women, more than half of all women rejected from the bathroom will be natal women, not transgender.

Do you think that most women using bathrooms have greater than 95% accuracy at accurately determining other women’s birth gender based solely on their appearance? Do you think they have better than 98%? If not, then you are basically setting up a system of harassment of natal women. I have prepared figure 1 in terms of specificity because it is specificity that determines how many natal women you harass in your project to exclude trans women from bathrooms. By way of comparison, the specificity of commonly-used HIV tests is better than 99.998%: less than 1 mistake in 50,000. Can you be that good?

How will discrimination work in practice?

Bayes’ rule is an absolute law of discrimination tests, not some weird philosophical notion. If you set out to discriminate between two groups of people your results are determined by Bayes’ Law, without exception. It applies equally to HIV tests, gender selection, screening terrorists at airports, or picking penis size from nose length. Those three numbers – prevalence, specificity and sensitivity – determine how well you discriminate, without any exception in any cases. When you stride across the bathroom to grab that girl and tell her she’s not a “real” woman and should go to the urinal, you make yourself subject to Bayes’ Law.

Of course in practice your sensitivity and specificity depends on something: you don’t discriminate randomly, but on the basis of certain visual cues. What are those cues? Of course they will be markers of femininity: breasts, long hair, feminine facial features, make up, feminine style clothes. This will be especially the case if the Gender Recognition Act is not changed and a narrative of exclusionary behavior is established that encourages ordinary cis women with no experience of trans issues to begin singling out women for exclusion. These women will have no idea what trans women look like, how much they can “pass” as natal, or what kind of styles and manners butch-presenting lesbians use. The result of this will be what we always see when we establish discriminatory systems: non-conforming people, poor people, non-white people and people with disabilities will be singled out for discrimination. The gender critical feminists will achieve a strange paradox in which in order to be protected from trans women in the bathroom, natal women will have to act extra feminine and hew more clearly to gender stereotypes. We see this being reported now as the bathroom exclusion principle begins to apply. Consider this tweet from a queer Scottish woman:

This woman has had to begin wearing a badge that specifies her birth gender, because feminists keep mistaking her for a transgender woman. This problem will also affect any other women who do not look sufficiently womanly: women with a little bit of facial hair (which is more prevalent in women with certain sorts of illness), sportswomen who don’t dress femme, non-white women who confuse the white majority’s facial recognition, butch-presenting lesbians, and (particularly ironically) feminist women who reject standard stereotypes of feminine dress and behavior. That 80% of women excluded from bathrooms who are actually natal women and not transgender are more likely to be non-white, disabled, or non-gender conforming. They’re also more likely to be lesbians.

This is what gender critical feminism’s completely uncritical approach to bathroom exclusion will do. Here is another example of this, tweeted by a butch-presenting lesbian:

How have gender critical feminists responded?

The first thing to note about gender critical feminists is they seem to be very ignorant of the history of this debate. Holly Lawford-Smith seems to think the whole thing became a feminist issue in the 2010s, and appears to be completely ignorant of the history of transgender wars in women’s spaces in the 1970s and 1990s. Kathleen Stock, one of the major proponents of bathroom exclusion in the UK, responded to the above tweet with this:

“Worse things happen at sea.” Clearly, Stock is willing to throw her lesbian comrades under the bus in order to attack transgender women, and has given no thought to the relative balance of probabilities. She and her colleagues in the gender critical world know nothing about how this discrimination will actually work, haven’t bothered to consider who will be the real victims of their exclusionary practice, and don’t think it will affect many natal women. As I have shown, quite the opposite is the case: the majority of people affected by this exclusionary approach will be natal women.

But the gender critical feminists have become increasingly radical as they have been challenged more on this. Not only do they not take the risk of exclusion seriously, they have also begun to make their definitions stricter and more exclusionary. We see this particularly in response to the controversy around Caster Semenya, where a lot of gender critical feminists appear to have decided that she is “male” on the basis of having difference in sexual development. See, for example, this reddit thread in which they debate whether she is a man or not. So in response to criticism of their original exclusionary position they have extended their definition from “born with female genitals” to “born with female genitals AND normal testosterone.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these white feminists from a rich European country have decided to define a black woman who beat feminine-presenting white women as actually a man: this is another example of how their discriminatory practices will play out in practice, as a series of overlapping forms of prejudice work to punish the poor, the dark-skinned and the disabled far more effectively than the wealthy, white, feminine-presenting heterosexual women who make up the majority of the female population. Their concern with “protecting” women is really only about middle class cis white women.

The inevitable hypocrisy of trans exclusion

The underlying principle of gender critical feminism appears to be that sex and gender are different, and that gender differences need to be eliminated. Somehow this has been twisted to mean that trans women who choose to present as feminine – wearing dresses, make up and long hair – are simply “acting” female and aren’t really women at all. Before she was banned from twitter Holly Lawford-Smith liked to criticize transgender women who expressed happiness at successfully passing as women, deriding them for thinking that their appearance and their gender had any connection. Yet when it comes to pushing trans women out of women’s spaces these feminists will necessarily have to judge on the basis of how women present, not who they are. Sure, if they successfully get transgender women excluded from women’s prisons and women’s sport they may be able to do it on the basis of checking genitals (though see my footnote 1 below), but when it comes to bathrooms, women’s spaces on campus or at work, prayer rooms, women’s swimming pools and women’s beaches, they’ll have to do it entirely on the basis of how these women present. And like all human beings everywhere, they will be most likely to believe a woman is a woman if she looks femme. The more strongly they push this transgender exclusionary principle the more they will be forced to judge by feminine presentation.

Worse still, once they release their prejudices into the wild with the backing of the state, ordinary non-feminist women with no experience of trans issues will be the ones doing the judging and excluding. And you can bet that when those women decide to exclude a girl from the bathroom they won’t do it by themselves: they’ll call their masculine-presenting cis white boyfriends, or the police, to help them do it. This will lead to women with facial hair, manly physiques, and non-femme aesthetics being harassed, beaten up and potentially imprisoned (in male-focused custodial settings!) for the simple crime of not looking girly enough. Once it is released in the wild, gender critical feminism will become a feminism of harassing women who do not conform with patriarchal expectations of their physique, clothing and manners.

And that is not feminism.

Conclusion

Gender critical feminists need to drop this bathroom exclusion stuff and their opposition to the changes to the Gender Recognition Act. It is leading to the harassment of lesbian and transgender women now, and if their campaign is successful it will lead to much more harassment of non-conforming women. Rather than protecting natal women from men, it will lead to natal women being harassed by cis women, their natal male boyfriends, and the violent agents of the state. They also need to recognize that there is a fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of their exclusionary policies, and the only way that they can be put into practice is by accepting and reinforcing the worst patriarchal norms of gendered behavior and appearance. Their feminism is very bad for transgender women but it is also bad for all women who do not conform to gender stereotypes. It is toxic, dangerous, hypocritical and confused, and they need to rethink their whole approach to gender.

A note on language

I want to target this post at people who support gender critical feminists’ approach to exclusion of transgender women from women’s spaces, and so in the title and much of the text I have used their terms for things: I have used their name for themselves, and their language of “natal women” and “born women”. I also haven’t touched on the issue of trans men, an issue that gender critical feminists are extremely uncomfortable talking about because it completely ruins their ideological certainty. However, I think that the language they use is wrong and also highly unpleasant. They aren’t “gender critical”: it has been made clear by their feminist critics that they haven’t read the literature on this, and don’t understand the history of or long-standing theoretical debates about transgender issues within feminism. They also haven’t bothered to be very critical of the potential consequences of their beliefs. I think they are far better described by the acronym their opponents give them: TERF. They want to exclude trans women from women’s spaces, which makes them trans exclusionary, and their feminism is certainly radical, though not in the sense they want to believe. So they should be called TERFs, and we should not subscribe to their false dichotomies of “natal” versus trans women. We also should not adopt the horrible American practice of calling women “females” as if they were animals. So although I have used their language in this post, I don’t like it at all and I think it’s another part of their philosophy that needs to be kicked to the curb.


fn1: It’s worth bearing in mind that even a genital check is possibly not sufficient if the trans woman in question has had gender confirming surgery, since most cishet women have very little experience of or exposure to other women’s genitals in any detail, and might not be able to identify the difference between “real” genitals[2] and surgically designed genitals. We’ll come back to this issue later in the piece.

fn2: Here I use the word “normal” to indicate that the person is a member of the population with a standard education, upbringing and level of political awareness, not to suggest that natal women are “normal” and transgender women are not normal