Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Short Note on Elven Seers

The mechanism behind the appearance of demonic hordes is still unknown to even the best minds of the world, but this does not prevent the prediction of such catastrophic events. Throughout history, several seers have been known to be able to accurately foretell the timing of demonic invasions; almost all these prophets are elves, or of elven blood. This is not to suggest that the elves possess some special quality that affords them particular prescience; rather, this is simply an result of elven lifespans, the immediate nature of predictions, and the frequency of demonic appearances.

With a considerably large margin of variation, demonic invasions tend to occur about once or twice a century on average. Therefore, most of the free and good peoples of the land, humans in particular, would only experience one or at most two demon invasion events in their entire lifespans. On the other hand, even the best of divinations is only able to foretell an event a decade in advance. The combination of these two factors means that it is very difficult to assess the accuracy of would-be seers specializing in predicting demonic invasions. A single correct prediction could easily be a fluke of chance; a second correct prediction made fifty years later would provide more convincing evidence of the seer's prescience. However, considering the lifespan of a typical human, it is very unlikely that a confirmed seer would live to be able to make a third forecast. An elf, or on occasion a half-elf, would not suffer from this problem; their greater lifespan would even allow more opportunities to confirm their predictive efficacy.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

A Short Note on the Structuring of Monster Bounties

I recently had a prolonged talk with a senior clerk of a well-known Adventurers' Guild, and learned a great deal about the workings of monster bounties. While most of us will only understand bounties as being well-illustrated posters with a description of the task to be undertaken and a reward to be dispensed upon completion, there is actually an art to the creation of the bounty poster.

An uninformed person, such as I myself was before my conversation with the clerk, would think that the most important detail when creating a bounty poster was to accurately price the reward. I was quickly informed that this was in fact incorrect; the prize money was itself secondary; correctly describing and scoping the quest was an order more important.

The clerk then accounted to me several instances where the bounty task was improperly designed, leading to worse outcomes. Consider the most basic of quests available to adventurers, which is that of eliminating common pests or wandering beasts. Not only once has an inexperienced guildsclerk offered a reward on each rat or wild snake killed and brought in; the bounty was quickly exploited by unscrupulous adventurers who subsequently began breeding and farming the very creatures they were supposed to eliminate! Thus, it is a common practice nowadays for bounty descriptions to mention concrete outcomes such as the permanent removal of a specific threat.

Another mistake is to be too specific in the methods to be applied. As a general rule, bounties should not restrict the approach adventurers can take in handling a problem. For example, if one offered a reward for the defeat of a dragon in order to release the captive princess, it might be a long time before a sufficiently strong hero capable of slaying a dragon actually arrives. On the other hand, if the specific task (rescuing the princess) was presented as a quest, then other more feasible alternatives become possible, such as a stealthy operation into the dragon's lair. Of course, if the task were phrased instead as that of obtaining the princess' freedom, then even more possibilities present themselves, such as negotiation with the dragon itself.

Monday, November 02, 2015

A Short Note on Adventurers' Guilds

For some reason, adventurers are much more capable of dealing with monsters and demonic threats than standing armies. From data compiled by the royal historians, of the last 100 threats rated as "Kingdom-threatening" and above, 90 were defeated by adventurers, and only 10 were successfully resolved using armies.

The obvious realization should be that soldiers and knights are a waste of money, and ineffective at dealing with such problems in the first place. In fact, in many small kingdoms and independent city states, it has become increasingly popular to reduce the army to a small core of soldiers, and to use the resulting savings to establish and fund "Adventurers' Guilds". For the unacquainted, Adventurers' Guilds are state sanctioned bodies to organize adventurers and channel them towards useful work. The most basic guilds can be as simple as a bulletin board to advertise monster bounties and a clerk to handle bounty claims. On the other hand, the more elaborate guilds offer other services such as training, healing, and equipment maintenance.

Of course, several mistakes were made in the initial iterations of Adventurers' Guilds. Open bounties that could be attempted by everyone had the tendency to attract people attempting to make a quick fortune, but who were not sufficiently skilled for the task. While this did not drain the state's resources, as no payout was made to failed bounty attempts, it resulted in an overall loss to national productivity as labor was lost to failed adventuring, not to mention the possibility of lives being lost in reckless bounty attempts. After undergoing much experimentation, the majority of Adventurers' Guilds today incorporate some kind of tiering system for adventurers, gating the scope of available quests for adventurers of different skill.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Short Note on Infinite Dungeons

To a surface dweller, the natural laws of an infinite dungeon would appear all but identical to that of the surface, and thus it is not an uncommon belief that infinite dungeons are merely extremely deep underground structures not unlike mines or tunnels. A more learned study would reveal such opinions to be strictly incorrect. For example, when one ventures deep into a natural mine shaft, the ambient temperature rises, and the airflow quickly becomes stagnant. These conditions do not occur even in the deepest floors of infinite dungeons; the temperature and airflow are consistent on all floors of an infinite dungeon.

Of course, I omit some of the most obvious observations that argue for the magical nature of an infinite dungeon. The first is the endless nature of the dungeon itself; each infinite dungeon discovered thus far has had no limit its number of floors. Each day, lower and lower floors are still being discovered and cleared, though progress slows the deeper one goes; supplies are the main issue there.

The next observation is simple to make; one has no problem seeing in infinite dungeons. To be more exact, the underground ceilings of floors in infinite dungeons emit light no less bright than that the surface, though no much heat seems to be given off. The process is not yet understood as anything other than magic, though that magic seems more a property of the dungeon rather than that of the ceiling material; a block chipped off from the ceiling walls fails to emit light when removed from the dungeon.

Now, having explained some of the properties of infinite dungeon, it is possible to conceive how infinite dungeons can support life. In effect, most of the parameters required to sustain life are present in infinite dungeons, as conditions are almost identical to that of the surface. The main constraint would be the lack of a full water cycle in the infinite dungeon; there is no rain. This is not to suggest that there is no water, however; some floors do possess a supply of water, and larger floors may even have ponds or lakes. The main problem is the scarcity of liquid water; as there is insufficient space within even the largest floors for rain clouds to form, the constantly lit environment causes most liquid water to eventually evaporate. This explains the high humidity present inside infinite dungeons. Instead of rain, water is mainly recycled in the form of dew that condenses on shadowed crevices and chambers, and by dungeon creatures that have special adaptations to harvest the water content of present in the air. For humans permanently settled in infinite dungeons, water is extracted using a series of large black sheets. The outermost sheet serves to block off the ceiling light, allowing the lower sheets to cool off in the shadow. Dew then collects on the cooler lower sheets. Conveniently, the shadows cast by the black sheets creates an artificial darkness which is otherwise absent in the dungeon; most dungeon settlers rest during this man-made "night", and wake to collect their condensed water.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


The relic I was hunting down was an ancient one, with sparse records of its use dating as far back as Roman times. Of course, given the mythical origins of all relics, Humanity's first contact with this particular relic might have been even earlier, especially given the nature of this relic.

Its name was Decimation, so named after the ancient Roman punishment. In truth, the Roman practice was only a pale approximation of Decimation's abilities, which is rather chilling to consider. Whereas the practice of decimation was the removal of a tenth of a population, Decimation, when activated against a selected victim, erases the victim from history. And the victim's ancestors. Tenfold, back ten generations.

If observing from a point of view isolated from the time ripples resulting from Decimation's use, as allowed by certain other relics, then Decimation might be considered amongst the deadliest of relics. Entire races and civilizations have been erased from history by the removal of one or more key persons, or their ancestors.

The current owner of this relic was living in an utterly nondescript home in the suburbs, without any of the trappings of grandeur that most owners fall into. I might even have been convinced that he was unaware of the relic's magical nature, but the use of nondetection veils had already suggested otherwise.

Based on my research, he was simply a professor of history at a small university. I suppose he must have come across Decimation during one of his work trips overseas, several of which were apparently partly self-funded; it was possible that he was actively seeking out the relic through his travels in South America and Central Africa.

I waited until the professor had fallen asleep before breaking into his home. I did this with the help of a lesser relic, of course; teleporting in was the stealthiest option, though I lost the ability to make a quick escape. There was no choice. The relic had to be secured at all costs, as any use would be catastrophic.

My calculations proved to be incorrect. I did not manage to retrieve Decimation, as it was locked securely behind the steel walls of a safe. At the same time, the professor would not have been able to use the relic in defence. But he didn't need to; perhaps my overspecialization in fighting other relic owners blinded me.

I heard a distinct click in the darkness of the room. The cocking of a hammer. A human shadow against the cracks for the blinded window.

"I suppose you've come for the relic." the Professor spoke from across the room.

The distance was too far to bridge in an instant. Not all was lost, though; he seemed willing to speak. If I could drag things out, then there might be a moment of distraction sufficient for me to close in. Given the cover of darkness, he might even miss me.

"You don't know the power of what you have, do you?"

"I'm afraid you're incorrect. Regrettably, I do know."

Perhaps it was the silence of the night, or the tension of the situation, but I felt a chill down my spine. It was not possible- he couldn't have.

"D-did you-"

"Yes. But I'm not insane, you know, nor a monster. I just wanted to know whether it was all true. Whether relics indeed exist. But rest assured that I'm not insane; I'm not going to risk deleting myself and Western civilization just to learn something. That's why I'm wielding a gun, not Decimation. "

"But you did use Decimation?"

"Yes. If anything, the greatest difficultly was figuring out a scenario to apply it with minimal consequences to known history. Obviously, I couldn't use it anywhere in the modern world; people are too interconnected and interbred to take such a risk. Sure, I could be fairly confident that I wouldn't be erasing my ancestors, but I wouldn't want to accidentally eliminate, say, the inventor of the internet or some major historical figure. Any changes could easily have cascading aftereffects."

If he had used the weapon, then-

"The problem, then, was to find the least important and most isolated populations of people. Suffice to say that I've tested its effects to my satisfaction. And gladly, nothing has changed, except for a few footnotes here and there."

At this moment, I didn't know whether a good opportunity had presented itself, but I found myself charging forward all the same.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Room of Killers I

No one else appears to be aware that everyone in the mysteriously sealed mansion was an infamous murderer.

To be absolutely accurate, not everyone was an infamous serial killer of some sort, and not everyone was totally ignorant of the criminal natures of the people in the room. I was the singular exception to both of these.

People have always commented on my problematic interest in crime news of the macabre sort. In hindsight, perhaps they were correct. The cause of these unusual circumstances might have been the result of my unique knowledge and interests. This was certainly not tempered by the fact that I had on several occasions wished to observe the most heinous of criminals up close.

Then again, if I was only an innocent party randomly inserted into this artificial situation, then I can only shudder at the outcome if I lacked my special insights.

The immediate question was, what was the purpose of this scenario? A set of rooms totally closed off from the outside, with sufficient supplies to last everyone for a week at best.

Even without knowing that everyone else is a murderer, someone will eventually come to the conclusion that the solution is to kill. 

Of course, if one was already a murderer, and a serial killer at that, then the thought process would be accelerated many fold.

And if everyone knew that everyone else was a murderer...

Judging from the state of relative calm, nobody has come to a similar conclusion yet. At the very least, nobody has acted suspiciously, or expressed any hints that they knew anyone else's identity.

A single pindrop might change all of this in an instant.

There was only one thought in my mind: How could everyone be killed?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Physical Traces

We found the victim still breathing in the makeshift operating room, her body wrapped in bandages and hooked up to an assortment of life-sustaining apparatus. Whether she was actually alive in a useful sense was something that remained to be ascertained by our medics.

Without any doubt, this was yet another incident of bodyskinning. The culprit was nowhere to be seen, but from the state of the victim, there was still about two or three days before the process was completed. And if the criminal was smart (which for this particular crime they all were), she would only return when the bodyskinning was completed and ready for harvesting.

Two or three days meant that she could really be anywhere in the world, much less this country. Particularly if she was wearing a suit. After all, one of the key advantages granted by a suit was untraceability. Be someone somewhere for a day, and another for the next. That's why catching a criminal is so difficult nowadays- how many people do you need to keep a look out for?

Of course, thanks to this successful raid, we had already learned several facts about the criminal. This was one of the chief benefits of finding a victim still the midst of the bodyskinning process, the small prospect of rescue notwithstanding (most victims were braindead, as sentience was not a requirement for bodyskinning). Our new knowledge about the criminal were obtained not from physical evidence left behind on the scene, nor from circumstantial witness accounts, but from the simple fact that nobody makes a bodysuit for fun.

A bodysuit is made to be used.

With high certainty, the criminal, or at the very least someone involved in the transaction, was female. And thanks to the more identifiable nature of a female body, we also were able to narrow down the range of heights and bust-waist-hip statistics for the criminal.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Efficiency of Voting Selfishly

Is it more efficient to vote in our own interests or in the interests of the society? Prima facie, this seems to be a useless question with an obvious answer.

I approach the question using the framework of efficiency; that is, the extent to which preferences are satisfied by the allocation of limited resources.
It is almost certain that we are much more privy to our own preferences than the preferences of others, much less that of society as a whole. Thus, if the sole metric was to be the maximization of our preferences, it is clearly more desirable for the resources to be allocated with our own hands. After all, nobody ought to know our needs and wants better than ourselves. 

If we acknowledge that our intuitions on our preferences are more accurate, and if we were to consider voting as a means to most accurately determine the preferences of society, then it follows that voting is more accurate if everyone were to vote in their own interests, rather than in their guesstimates of what the common interest is. By adopting the pretense of voting in society's interest, there is a risk of converging on something which is merely a fiction, a perceived preference instead of an actual one.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Career Advisory Form

I would have imagined that following the instructions of the career analysis computer that the government spent millions developing was the safest, if not the soundest decision of my life. The algorithms might not have suggested the most profitable profession, but were at least guaranteed to propose a career that would provide me with the most satisfaction. 

Unfortunately, I was apprehended almost immediately after committing my first murder.
My defence lawyers very quickly informed me that having "Serial Killer" on the career advisory form was not the same thing as having a license to kill. 

In other words, this was all a mistake.

I guess I should have realized it all along. After I committed the murder, I felt no satisfaction. I had initially attributed this to my swift arrest; since I had only killed a single person, I would not have qualified for the term "Serial", hence I would have not felt any satisfaction. After all, the career form did not say "Single murderer" or "Casual killer". 

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, any person would have realized that "Serial Killer" wasn't a career. But how could I have known for sure? Some careers are notoriously unrewarding, especially in economic terms; perhaps this was merely one of them. If I were to bear any fault, it was that I had too much blind trust in the system.

How was I to know that I was supposed to work at a TV network boardroom, deciding upon the fate of shows and seasons? Nobody would have come to that conclusion! Sheer negligence on the programmer's part.

And that's the line my defence lawyers are taking.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Echo Recorder

Part of my responsibilities as a server admin is to clear out inactive websites on the server. Very often these are personal websites created out of passing impulse, never updated after initial creation, so it was easy to detect and delete them simply by their lack of traffic and updates. Still, the rules were that I had to make a cursory inspection of the site before performing the site delete.

One particular website consisted entirely of a single website, which was itself almost entirely devoid of content. It contained descriptions of an experimental sound recorder that cancelled out the original sounds, and only captured the remaining echoes of the initial sound.

The webpage also described further improvements to the device, by stacking the voice-processing unit onto itself. This allowed the initial echoes themselves to be removed, while preserving the reverberations resulting from the primary echoes.  When paired with a sufficiently sensitive microphone, this stacking could be repeated to capture even more subtle levels of echoes.

There was a bolded disclaimer- that there was something wrong with the implementation of the sound recorder, an untraceable error that had yet to be debugged. There was a link to an audio file that supposedly contained an example of the audio artifact.

Unfortunately, the link was broken, as it led to a now-defunct file-hosting site.

Whatever could "othervoice.wav" have contained?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Scam of the Mysterious Adventurers

I have long since come to the conclusion that the "rat menace" is actually an elaborate scheme to defraud the town of its money. The warning signs are all there, so clear as day that I wonder why anyone else hasn't caught on yet.

First, these "adventurers" that mysteriously appear out of nowhere, dressed in exactly the same attire, all so coincidentally mute. They'll approach me to be "briefed" on the rat problem, but many simply skip through my introduction as if they've heard it before. I suppose they must have, for immediately, without even doing any prior research, they know where to head in order to hunt rats.

It's almost as if they have some magic arrow that points them in the correct direction.

Then, as quickly as they leave, they'll return with evidence of their successful eradication campaign. Interestingly, the proof is always 50 rat tails, not one more, not one less. Not rat pelts, nor complete carcasses, always rat tails. And once they collect the reward, they'll never appear before me ever again, even though the bounty still remains.

It's clearly a scam, isn't it? For all we know, they could literally be farming rats somewhere right outside of town.

The joke's on them, though. I've managed to convince these adventurers to accept most of their bounty in the form of an entirely imaginary reward. It's not money, or weapons, or any real or physical material. Yet for some reason, they all seem exceptionally delighted to be informed that they have received 'XP'...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Website Stumbled upon Purely by Accident

I discovered the website by clicking on a link on an email I received. The email was titled "Millions of videos, 2 min free previews, blondes, redheads, all ages included!!! Secret videos of everyone you know and want to know inside!!"

I figured there was no harm in following the link, if only out of curiosity. Yup, nothing but sheer curiosity. In any case, my computer was protected by the latest in antivirus software and I had the most recent patches to Internet Explorer installed.

Damnit, it was another bait-and-switch. Again. I ought to have guessed from the preview thumbnails, which were strangely aligned to a more elderly demographic. I thought it was a cookies issue.

Was this a new sort of snuff website? All the 2 minute previews showed were people dying. Of heart attacks, on the surgical table, in their sleep, in car crashes... All manners of strange and unusual deaths were documented and indexed under various search labels.

It got stranger when I selected "My Location!!" from the drop-down search options. The search list was repopulated, and immediately I could tell something unusual was at work. I could recognize some of the locations in the preview thumbnails. There was a video of a recent fatal car crash that happened two blocks away. Another video depicted a failed mugging from about two decades back. Curiously, there was an old black/white GIF of a laborer dying in a construction accident. But one thing was clear- it happened somewhere near me.

Intrigued, I decide to go one step further- I clicked on "Facebook Integration". I thought that there would be no search results, since all my friends were still alive- to my knowledge- but when the search returned over a thousand hits, I knew I had stumbled across something great.

I had discovered a database which stored videos depicting the last two minutes of each person's life.

Then the question struck me- what about myself? How would I die?

Without much hesitation I entered my own name into the search box, with the various search filters to remove others of the same name.

There were no hits. Perhaps the filters were too strict. I relaxed the filters.

No hits again. I performed one more search, this time with no filters.

A few tens of search results were returned. Strangely, none of them were me.

Where was I? I reviewed all the search results, this time searching more closely for a resemblance. Nothing.

What did this mean? Was I... could I be... immortal? A sense of glee welled up inside me.

It was exactly then that a massive message box popped up in the middle of the screen.

"Congratulations for being the 1000,000,000th visitor!!! You have WON a FREE privacy protection package!!! LIFETIME protection, GUARANTEED!!!"

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Monsterslayer is a Child?

The king and his maester stood before the site of the battle. The battle had already been won for them, and the monster lay prone on the battlefield, motionless even in the braying winds. 

"A child slew the monster?" the king asked.

"By all accounts it was, my lord," replied his maester, who was known as the wisest man in all the lands.

"But that is impossible."

"That is indeed what it should be, but all facts point to that. There was no trace of a wound on the great beast, save a small injury matching that weapon wielded by the young one."

"And that fell the beast?"

"It would appear so, my lord."

"But our great armies failed to match it in battle, and were destroyed!"

"That too is true, my lord, but there are some things beyond mortal reasoning."

"Beyond mortal reasoning? Hold on, don't tell me this is one of those bullshit legends- you know, no man of woman born shall blah blah blah. This child isn't a man."

"I hardly think that is it, my lord. We did try arming a hundred younglings, of various ages and genders, and sending them into battle against the beast. The results were... unsatisfactory, and certainly did affect your approval ratings. What is fortunate, though, is that this is not a democracy."

"Could the fact that he was alone have influenced the outcome of the battle?"

"You are referring to what the Easterners refer to as the conservation of ninja strength? A ludicrous theory, though in our desperation we did attempt it. Several waves of men (and sometimes children) were sent to assault the creature, and we varied the number in each wave by powers of two, starting with five-hundred-and-twelve and finally ending with a lone champion. Again, the results were appalling, though I am glad to report that your manpower bills for the subsequent months will be substantially reduced."

"I suppose there are silver linings to every cloud. Did you notice the weapon the child was wielding? Could that be the key? Perhaps it was previously intractably encased in stone, or was gifted to him by some watery wrench?"

"Pardon me for failing to mention this, my lord, but the wound was inflicted by a finger poke, which if you forgive me for making the assumption, is unlikely to be supernaturally gifted. On later inspection, his finger was not found to have vorpal properties."

"That hardly clarifies matters, does it? This is an important mystery crucial to the survival of the realm, and it must be resolved!"

"I do have a theory of sorts, but it will take some time to research."

"Speak, noble maester."

"What if the child was a mere agent of chance? It is considered very unlikely, if not impossible, for a single person to win the lottery, but all the same someone will win the lottery. By this learned hypothesis, it is clear that this child, which we have shown have no advantage or talent to beastslaying, merely benefited from being near the beast when it expired naturally."

"Expired naturally?"

"Yes, my lord. It is not unheard of for foreign, or even alien, invaders to succumb to all manners of natural deaths. One might even say it died to a bacterial infection."

"That is heresy! We have just barely researched the miasma theory, and I will not have a maester of the realm proclaim the blasphemous theory of germs!"

"Quite right, my lord."

"It appears that we have, again, come to no conclusion. It is most unsatisfactory, but there is no other possibility. Perhaps this is yet another contrived scenario proposed by some odd god to test the wits of mortal men."

"Quite right, my lord, quite right."