Horror


A few months ago I participated in a short World of Darkness campaign. This campaign went pear-shaped from the very beginning, when we failed to stop some kind of evil spirit from exterminating a native American tribe so completely that they were wiped from history as well as existence. We ended up in a battle with some kind of fallen angel with bronze for skin, and half of our group died or were rendered comatose by their injuries. Conveniently those players also simultaneously moved on, and the campaign was put on hold. Recently it restarted with three new players, who spent the entire first session staring agog at us and mouthing “WTF” as we tried to give them some kind of perspective. Finally one of the players drew a diagram of the main forces involved. Here it is.

I want tactical database assimilation by 0800 hours

I want tactical database assimilation by 0800 hours

Things are … more complicated than I realized. This might explain why my character, John Micksen, is extremely flippant with powers that can eat him for breakfast – because he is out of his depth and he knows it [this might also be explained by his Composure attribute of 4].

The basic flow of the first campaign goes something like this:

  • A dodgy company called Aesir hires a bunch of no-hoper humans for a dead end job
  • The no-hoper humans (us) end up in a pocket dimension created by a demon called the Judge
  • The Judge was planning to turn a single human, Danny into a genocide machine
  • Someone (probably the company Strauss) stole Danny, just as the pocket universe disappeared, taking an entire native American tribe (Danny’s tribe) with it
  • Our company sent us to a psychiatric hospital to get Danny, who was pumped up on magic and ready to destroy the world
  • We killed Danny, but while we were on our way to kill him we disturbed something called the “God Machine”, a vast and empty wilderness of cogs and clockwork that may or may not be a god, and is definitely out to destroy the universe
  • Somewhere in all of that I met the Faerie Queen of Winter, awakened, and became the Winter Knight
  • Oops
  • For most of the campaign I was useless (we were using the Faerie books for my character)
  • Some guy called Azazel turned up and started offering to help us. He was dodgy. Definitely a fallen angel
  • Some assassins tried to kill us all and we had to go on the run. We (erroneously, it turns out) thought they were sent by Aesir; they weren’t
  • Azazel told us about a girl who could hide us from the God Machine, but to get her we had to cut a deal with a vampire in Chicago and sell out some communists
  • No big deal, we got the girl, but then we discovered there were others, in fact a whole industry of abducting children and using them for something
  • We traced the abductions to a warehouse outside Chicago, and discovered that mundane management of the children was handled by a paedophile ring, who were paid for their services in … access rights
  • We flame-grilled the paedophiles [see Figure, top left]
  • We discovered they were working for an Angel called D’Angelo
  • We killed him too
  • Most of us died; campaign stopped

Now we are in Berlin looking for more information about the German companies, Strauss and Orpheus, that were involved in the child abductions. We also now think they were the ones who tried to kill us, and we are very vengeful, very angry and very committed. We know that the God Machine is trying to destroy the world and we have to stop it, and we know that the German companies are engaged in some sort of unholy and necromantic experiments involving half-angelic children. We have a very long list of people we are going to kill, and our preferred method is to do it slowly and horribly. We’re on the wrong side of the red line, and we aren’t concerned with crossing back any time soon. The three new members of our group look at us like we’re monsters – probably because we are – but we look at them and think “give it a week, they’ll come around.” This is World of Darkness, we survived a battle with an Angel, we’re living on borrowed time and we know it: we are going to use that borrowed time to destroy everyone who crossed us, and anyone who gets in the way is not likely to fare well.

The second section of the campaign began on this footing. I don’t think it is going to end well …

Clare de Lune begins her dance of death

Clare de Lune begins her dance of death

This blog has been quiet for the past few weeks because I have been traveling and working at the same time, and it has been very difficult to make the time to do anything interesting here. However, for the past 10 days I was in London, and during that time I was able to reconvene my old Compromise and Conceit group for a four hour one-shot.

This one-shot used a hyper-stripped down version of the Warhammer 3 rules. I was going to use Shadowrun but I just didn’t have time to prepare something new, so I decided to just muck around with Warhammer 3. We used diceroller apps, had no cards and I made up all actions for all the characters in an hour one morning. We dropped stances, conservative and reckless dice (except for spells that use them), group initiative, and recharge. I used stress as a consequence of spell-casting to limit spell use, and didn’t bother with skills: instead I just gave each player a list of four things they were trained in. Everything else was just a check on the appropriate attribute. This system is really fast and quite fun.

The PCs were:

  • Captain Nostromo, a wizard who specializes in manipulating machinery and infernal objects, probably Polish
  • Clare de Lune, an exotic dancer formerly of the Cirque de Lune, who fights with knives and is accompanied by a gyrfalcon that can also attack (a Large and Vicious Gyrfalcon!), she also has a selection of nature magic
  • The Sicilian, an ageing ex-mercenary who is preventing the decline of his martial prowess with age by an increasing array of infernal enhancements
  • Jack Cloudie (not his real name), an Iroquois Stormcrier who visited Europe on a mission and decided to stay so that he can civilize the savages of this strange and backward country

I will put up character descriptions in subsequent posts, along with some descriptions of how I simplified the WFRP3 rules.

The setting and the adventure

The year was 1830, and the PCs were on a ship bound for Svalbard in the arctic circle in mid-July. They had been employed by a rich industrialist in London to investigate the strange disappearance of a wizard working in Svalbard, one William Sealy Gossett.

Out of place and time

Out of place and time

Svalbard in 1830 was a huge whaling station, and William Gossett had been sent to Svalbard by the PCs employer as part of a project to research ways to imbue whale oil and whale bones with magical essence, and to design new magical tinctures and items. Svalbard was going through a kind of whale-oil-based gold rush, because whale oil fresh from the corpse is an excellent solvent for magical and infernal essences, and whale oil that cannot be enchanted can still be used in industry. William Gossett’s task was to conduct experiments to enable the whale oil to be treated so that it could hold the essence longer after the death of the whale, with the ultimate goal of shipping it back to Europe to be enchanted. Currently only a small amount of whale products were being enchanted, because there were very few wizards willing to live in the harsh confines of Svalbard and work long days enchanting whale fat. The PCs’ employer aimed to revolutionize this industrial process through developing techniques of magical preservation.

Unfortunately, William Gossett appears to have gone missing. He was supposed to send a letter of safe assurance with each ship that left Svalbard for Europe, but the June and July ships both brought nothing back. Although it was possible he could have missed the first ship, his employer is certain something must be amiss for him to miss two. It could be something simple (such as suicide during the winter darkness) but Svalbard is a lawless place in which whalers often fight physically for control of whale pods. The PCs were sent to Svalbard to find William, and punish anyone who has interfered with him.

Svalbard’s Bay of Blood

The adventure opens as the PCs’ ship enters the Svalbard bay, to a scene of horror sufficient to shock even hardened campaigners such as The Sicilian. The air was suffused with a red mist, and the sea stained red with the blood of a throng of dying whales. The bay was thick with the whales, passing through in huge groups, and in amongst them were multiple whaling ships and many small harpoon boats. Wherever they could, the whalers were laying about themselves with harpoons, and everywhere they looked the PCs could see dying whales floundering in the open seas. The whalers moved amongst the pods stabbing whales with harpoons tipped with leather bladders, so that once a sufficient number had been stuck into the beast it could not submerge. They then began to hack, beat and stab it to death, but usually they would haul it still half-alive back to their ship, where it would be tied alongside other dying members of its pod. Then, men would begin flensing the whales, cutting sacks of fat and meat away even as the dying whale twitched feebly in the water. No indignity was spared these hapless beasts: seabirds flocked to their ragged bodies, pecking at the flesh of the injured beasts as they waited weakly to die; a pod of killer whales moved amongst the gore, picking injured whales and eating them even as they fought to escape the whalers; and here and there a half-flensed whale would be set loose, its body no longer valuable to the whales, to die in a slow spiral of viscera and desperate shrieks, torn at by birds, fish and orcas alike as its unique voice faded.

This scene so horrified The Sicilian that he was forced to act. Declaring that the murder of helpless enemies was beneath a warrior, he ordered the ship’s captain to sail over to a particularly large whale. This whale had been caught and tied to the stern of a whaling ship, but the ship’s crew were in violent dispute with the crew of another ship over possession of the poor giant, and as they fought it simply floundered in the scarlet water, unable to escape because of the ties to the ship and the many harpoons that held it at the surface. As his ship approached The Sicilian leapt onto the whale’s back, slicing the ropes that held the whale to the ship with his soul-bonded infernal sword and running along the whales back, smashing harpoons as he passed them. He noted in horror that, as a final indignity, the harpoons were themselves crafted of whalebone – the majestic giant was being killed with tools made of its own kind. Unfortunately the beast did not understand the purpose of The Sicilian’s mercy mission, and in anger it thrashed its newly-freed tail, flipping The Sicilian high into the air. Moments later he found himself lying on the deck in between the two competing whaling crews, a shattered harpoon in his hand. The crews, realizing what he was doing, joined forces to attack him. The Sicilian was just preparing to sell his life dearly to this gang of reprobates when the whale resurfaced, smashing into the ship from below in a fury of revenge. He found himself flying through the air at the whale’s behest again, and landed close enough to his ship that he could be rescued by his fellows. As they sailed away and the whale made its escape, the sailors on the stricken ship yelled threats and imprecations at him and his team.

The Sicilian was unimpressed. No human threat has scared him since winter, 1812. But something else in the atmosphere of Svalbard unsettled him. He and all the group felt as if some dark and imposing force watched from the deeps of the sea, waiting for … something. As they turned away from the carnage and headed into the Svalbard docks, a shiver ran down The Sicilian’s spine. Though he lacked empathy for human emotion, he was finely attuned to the infernal world, and he felt it pressing close about him now …

The wizard’s lab

This scene of horror did not relent when the ship landed, and the PCs wound their way through a street lined with flensing sites and pots of boiling blubber to the town’s only inn, The Bloody Spout. Here they dumped their meagre possessions and inquired as to the whereabouts of the wizard, William. They were directed to “go outside, turn left” and walk until they came to his lab. This they did.

At the lab they found the door snowed shut, and the lab deserted. It showed no signs of a struggle, and it appeared that the wizard had been on a journey recently. They also found two notes, both addressed to the wizard but unsigned. The first said simply:

William, don’t waste my time with your ludicrous theories and propositions. I’ll have no part of this.

and the second said

William, you’re still crazy but let’s meet. Under the gallows tomorrow.

The PCs knew the gallows – they could see it from their hotel room, at the top of the gravel-and-ice-strewn hill behind their hotel. However, they had no idea who had written the note. In order to find this out, they visited the harbourmaster’s office post-haste. The harbourmaster handled all mail for everyone on the island, so must surely know the hand-writing of every person in the town. Sure enough he knew the writing, and immediately identified it as belonging to the other wizard in the town, who ran a lab at the opposite end of the town.

They visited this wizard immediately, and were received with an air of suspicion and threat. This wizard obviously did not like the thought of people investigating goings-on in the island, and was not inclined to be cooperative. However, eyeing The Sicilian and Jack Cloudie with an air of obvious concern, he was convinced to answer their questions honestly. He told the PCs that William had found evidence that the population of whales was crashing under the pressure of human hunting, and that they would soon disappear altogether, taking this boom town with them. William seemed very agitated about this and claimed to have a plan to save them. He told the PCs that William ran a secret lab (that everyone in town knew about) on the far side of the Island, and suggested that perhaps he had travelled with his apprentices to this lab. The PCs decided to follow this lead.

Journey to the secret lab

The PCs found a whaler who was travelling around the island and who agreed to take them to within an hour’s walk of the “secret” lab, though he would be no further diverted from his whaling mission than this. Since it was unwise to travel overland while the ice was breaking up in early summer, the PCs were forced to accept this journey plan. The next day they found themselves standing on a wind-blasted expanse of fast ice, with instructions to head northwest and “don’t fall in or you’re dead.” Thickly swathed in their winter furs, they began to walk, picking their way carefully over the empty ice. However, their journey was interrupted halfway through when they stumbled upon a pool in the ice, in which lurked a submerged polar bear. This beast emerged soaked and roaring from the pool to attack the group, and another emerged from a similar hiding place behind them. With its first strike the bear nearly tore The Sicilian in half, and the second bear tore deep gashes in Nostromo’s armour, but between them they soon killed one, and drove the other away.

Clare de Lune was unfazed. No animal had scared her since her childhood in the Siege of Paris. But that thing, that sinister spirit that watched the battle with cold detachment – neither she nor her bird could see it, but she could feel it following and watching them. No animal this, it disturbed her in a way that nothing in the natural world had done since she was very small…

A short walk later they found the secret lab. This building was open to the elements, and showed signs inside of a savage fight, though there was little blood and mostly mess. One wall had once abutted a kind of earthwork rampart extruding from the hills behind the lab; this wall now had a huge hole in it, which opened into a tunnel. This tunnel clearly extended into the earthworks, and thence under the hills behind the lab. Whoever had attacked the secret lab had done so through this tunnel; but the tunnels were old, and the lab relatively newly built – had William known of them when he constructed this laboratory?

The Trolls and the ritual

The PCs soon found the answer to their questions. After 10 minutes’ walk down the darkening tunnels they emerged into a sheltered bay, carved out of a cave that faced the bitterly cold arctic ocean. Between the tunnels and the sea, sheltered under the archway of the rock above them, was a beach of black gravel and stone. The sea was held back from this stony shore by broken icebergs floating in the water inside the cave, but it still boomed inside the cavern and crashed against the ice, scattering spray throughout the cave. The sense of being watched and of foreboding was very strong here in the wilds under the looming rock, and they felt they could almost see something out in the wild ocean, watching them with grim intent.

The wizard William Gossett stood on the shore, and behind him stood a gang of trolls. None of the group had ever seen trolls, of course, and to the enlightened European such beasts are merely figments of the Scandinavian imagination, but what else could these things be? Over 3m tall, beast-like creatures walking on two legs, with huge clawed hands, their skin alabaster smooth and obviously hard like stone. They had narrow, black eyes deep-set in vaguely humanoid, monstrous faces that looked as if they had been carved from flint. Spines lined head and shoulders, and they wore ragged clothes of polar bear and walrus fur. They also looked angry.

Between the group and William and his friendly trolls stood his apprentices. They were roped together and standing motionless on a broad slab of stone, onto which had been carved a complex magical pattern. Some enchantment held them still, and they obviously were intended as sacrifices in some horrid sacrifice, probably to the looming dark thing in the sea.

The PCs approved. They had seen enough slaughter and brutality on this island to know it was no place for human hopes and dreams, and that it should be turned back to the wild. They had also seen no evidence of anyone on the island who deserved to be saved or to have their dreams of wealth rewarded.

They turned and ran, leaving William and his little army of trolls to complete his unspeakable ritual. As they ran they felt that presence again, bearing in towards the shore to do … something.

The Flensed Ones

When they reached their rendezvous point with the whaler, they found it empty. They waited for two days but no whaler came. Finally they realised that they could die out here if they did not move on; they began to carefully pick their way over the broken ice of the shore, and after several days’ walk they returned, exhausted and starved, to the town. Walkign down the hill from the gallows, they immediately noticed that the sea returned to a pale natural blue. The town swarmed with seabirds, and when they entered its outskirts they soon saw why. Every single person in the town was dead, their body reduced to a withered husk. Some vile magic had swept through the town, killing every human there by the simple expedient of sucking out their fat.

The entire town had been magically flensed.

The PCs walked to the shore and stood there, looking out at the cold and desolate sea. The sea stared back at them, that same dark malevolent force now fully in possession of it. A cold wind blew in, and somewhere in that wind they sensed a hint of gratitude.

Whaling at Svalbard was over, and the Kingdom of Trolls had begun. The only witnesses to its creation, and indeed the wardens of its formation, were Captain Nostromo, The Sicilian, Clare de Lune and Jack Cloudie. Turning away from the sea, they looked out at the desolate hills and the bird-tattered corpses of the flensed victims, and shuddered at the horror they had created.

Many people have pondered the real reasons for the Iraq war, the stated reasons being so blatantly false. Most critics have claimed it was a war for oil; some have suggested it was a stupid mistake by a clique of idiots; others have proposed the darker conspiracy theory that it was intended to unleash chaos specifically to keep the oil in the ground. Well, today Tony Blair revealed the truth: it was a crusade by Protestant extremists. In a piece for the observer, Tony “the Vampire” Blair gives his considered opinion of wars in the 21st century, and decides that they will be primarily driven by religious extremism.

Well, the Iraq war was the second war of the 21st century, its longest-running new war, and certainly a fairly serious business. Before it was invaded, Iraq was a secular dictatorship. It was invaded by a ragtag coalition of Christians, and the leaders of the coalition of the willing were two Protestant nations. Surely we should apply the Vampire’s logic to the big war that he started? Western religious extremism is surely the greatest threat to world peace …

We can do better than that though, can’t we? Now we can look to the religious roots of the Senkaku Islands conflict, driven by the irreconcilable differences between Confucian fascists on the one hand and Shinto Extremists on the other. The increasingly tense dispute between Indonesia and Australia is not really over boat people, but over interpretations of whether Jesus was the son of God. And what is this shit about the conflict in the Central African Republic being ethnically based? It’s clearly a threeway fight to the death between born-again christian fanatics, shamanic exterminationists, and moderate Islam. Right?

History tells me that people in the UK voted in quite large numbers for Tony Blair, several times. I find this hard to believe. Was there ever a time when if he opened his mouth, lies or garbage didn’t come out? Because I don’t remember it, but surely millions of British voters (adults, apparently!) couldn’t have been so easily fooled? Once again there can only be one explanation: Tony Blair is an extremely powerful vampire, with incredible powers of mass hypnosis. Put a stake through that beast! Or at least, keep its hideous rantings off the pages of national newspapers …

I follow God on Facebook[1]. Not the real God, obviously, but this one has almost as many followers: just over a million people follow God. God does a couple of weekly regular updates that get a lot of attention: he does a weekly smite where he finds someone really annoying in public life and threatens to strike them down with some terrible curse; he posts pictures of new creations in which he has blended animals together; and he runs regular “Ask God” sessions where you can ask him questions about life. My favourite was the guy who asked God “why does my girlfriend yell your name when she is coming,” but he has a wide range of questioners. He also occasionally puts up hate mail he gets – he gets a lot of messages from people telling him to stop mocking God, and mostly these messages are full of hatred and anger.

I think it’s safe to say that God is a pretty forgiving, tolerant, inclusive kind of guy. He’s of the pro-gay-marriage, live-and-let-live, community-action-minded kind of viewpoint, not the kind of person who supports vengeance and judgment. He’s how God would be if God hadn’t written the Old Testament, and caused all manner of trouble with his violence and vengeance. This is not a God that will turn you to salt for disobeying him, and will refer you to a suicide helpline rather than tell you not to do it or you’ll go to hell. He’s also funny, sometimes hilarious, and a generally light-hearted and positive voice on my Facebook feed.

Sadly for God, recently his mother died, and he and his family were rightly distraught about it. He announced this on his website and received a huge outpouring of support. Perhaps buoyed by this, God revealed that the insurance company were being dickheads, and set up an Indiegogo website to raise $5000 to send his dad on a holiday. This got a huge response, and within a couple of days God had raised $20,000. You can read more details about the positive aspects of this story at this blogpost about God as a community phenomenon.

Sadly, God’s Indiegogo successes brought some trouble to his online community, and the very worst of humanity came crawling out from under their rocks to criticize him. The things they said were terrible, and the things they said about those who donated to him were also terrible. The worst of the comments have been weeded out now so I can’t copy them, but there are still some pearlers. For example, one person wrote:

like i said before…it is kind of sad that i asked for money to pay my mother’s cancer bills and did not receive a penny…but YOU raise thousands of dollar’s for ” a vacation”……what a shameful example of humanity !!!

Another wrote:

I’ve had enough. Man, it’s like a car wreck!! I can’t believe how many gullible people there are in the world! Yes this was a fun page to visit on occasion but folks….his reward for putting the page up in the first place is his million followers. That’s the reason he does it. He doesn’t get to expect money for making you laugh. To each their own but you are sending money to a cartoon image. You know nothing about this person except what he/she wants you to know. If you think he or she is going to visit you while on vacation with Dad, you’ve got another think coming. YOU ARE SENDING MONEY TO A CARTOON!!!

while someone else writes

like this god page, but i think asking for money and receiving over $20,000 is kind of bullshit in my eyes, sounds alot like gods taking this stuff to seriously and becoming like the church……

but the nastiest by far for me was a comment that has now been taken down, which I saw with my own eyes when it was put up, in which someone wrote

Both my parents died and I didn’t get a cent from anyone. Get a fucking job.

These comments to me seem to show the worst of humanity. Some guy with a million followers openly states that he wants to raise money for some personal, completely selfish purpose; people give him money because they like him and it’s no trouble to them; he raises more than expected and decides to use it for himself; but for a  sizable minority of the population, this is a terrible terrible sin. The first quoted comment shows the reason for this: people can see a person getting something they couldn’t get, and they are angry about that. But they aren’t just angry – although they know that he is sad from a recent loss of a close family member, they post critical comments and accusations on his facebook wall where he can see them. These comments include personal attacks, accusations that he is lying about his family, that he is a scammer, and demands for him to drop his anonymity. Something that had originally been a source of joy for a person going through a difficult time has obviously turned into a huge and painful chore, simply because a sizable minority of people on this earth hate to see someone else gain something for nothing. And no doubt some of the attacks will rub off on God, making him feel like a dirty person for simply asking for help and receiving it. Is this a microcosm of the reasons why so many people are opposed to welfare in all its forms? And why charity is always expected to come with so many strings and so much shame?

I find this particularly amusing when I compare God’s honest and open request for money for jam with the way so many Indiegogo users scam their users through obvious deception. I defriended someone from my Facebook after they began spamming their friends with Indiegogo fundraisers for a project that was clearly dishonest and that they never intended to deliver on; and of course the role-playing world has been beset by very real scams involving large sums of money on undelivered projects, and an entire website devoted to uncovering vaporware. Strangely though, the Dwimmermount project still has supporters even though the author has disappeared for 18 months and taken $50k with him; while God cops a heavy dose of abuse for asking for $5k for the stated purpose of producing nothing. How can it be that the humans in this world can behave this way? What psychological or philosophical perspective makes people supportive of a scam with no product after 18 months, but critical of a direct and simple plea for money from someone who has been entertaining a million people for 3 years?

It’s as if God has managed to prove that there is no humanity out there, just a deep, untapped well of jealousy and immaturity.

fn1: yes, I am sufficiently shallow to have facebook. And no I don’t use google+.

The morning after ...

The morning after …

The murderer was clearly in the volcano. Our heroes, having been asked to go and find him, set off up the mountainside to the location of his victim, from whence they hoped to track him. Now they were joined by Grunstein the wizard, who had travelled ahead to Steamline Spa on his own business. The slopes of the volcano loom over the northern side of Steamline Spa, and take some hours to climb to the misty summit; but all these slopes were smooth and perfect as an old Emperor’s burial mound, and a smooth path wound up the sides of the volcano, through fields scattered with sheep and dour shepherds. Brom Barca’s attempts to buy sheep having been rudely rebuffed, the group trudged on without incident until they reached the murder scene, a smear of blood and gore behind one of the volcano’s scattered basalt boulders. Rounding the rock, they found a scene of horror: the body of the dead shepherd had been torn apart and scattered across the land behind the boulder, disfigured so thoroughly and violently that it was almost impossible to say how the victim had died. Nonetheless, Leticia the elven swordmaster was able to piece together the clues; the attack had started with a sudden strike of the shepherd’s head against the boulder, and the shepherd had then been mercilessly mutilated while he yet lived. There was evidence that he had been drugged – perhaps with a soporific called Poggle’s Drakeboon – in order to ensure his unhappy compliance with his own dismal destruction. They could not find the head, though the ears were resting on a ledge of the boulder …

Having established they were most certainly dealing with a murder, the PCs set off up the mountainside to catch this evil Otto Mercads. Grunstein employed a new spell to transform himself into a wolf, and easily followed the scent of death and terror up the mountainside. They marched for another hour or so, into the mists that surrounded the top of the volcano. Here was a caldera, surrounded by high but broken walls of old volcanic stone. A narrow crevasse ran through the caldera wall, and they found themselves looking inside the volcano. The caldera was a rough bowl shape, filled with steam and a gentle rain from the higher steam as it emerged from the caldera to suddenly cool in the mountain air. A narrow path ran down from their crevasse to the bottom of the bowl, but it was impossible to see where it ended due to the steam billowing around the caldera. They reached the caldera a little after midday, so the bright mountain sunlight was streaming in great golden lances through the steam, but it was obvious that in just an hour or two this cloistered feature would be shrouded in clammy darkness as its walls cut out the sun. Realizing it best to do battle in the bright noon light, Azahi the dwarf marched forth down the narrow path. The others followed, and as they approached the bottom of the path they could hear the sounds of manic laughter echoing off the walls.

At the bottom of the path they found a small, neatly laid-out camp under a lean-to, with the shepherd’s severed head in pride of place in the middle. The steam parted for them as they fanned out in the caldera, revealing a large central pool of nearly-boiling water. A large stone jutted into the pool, and on this outcrop they could see Otto Mercad’s crouched and chuckling, painting pictures of blood with a loop of intestine and talking to himself. They approached carefully but he did not seem to care, and just laughed manically as they grabbed him, beat him a little, and tied him up.

Too easy. Just a few hours later they were leaving Steamline Spa with Otto chained in an empty wine barrel out of sight of prying eyes in their wagon …

The storm and the Drowning Well

That day’s travel was uneventful, but towards evening a vicious storm rolled in off the mountains, and they found themselves being pummeled by howling winds and heavy rain. Fortunately they had been told of an inn along the road, that most travelers a day out of Steamline Spa could expect to lodge at for the night. They redoubled their pace to this tavern, passing as they did a band of four road-wardens who had been called out in the inclement weather to attend a possible beastman raid. They were also surprised by a bounty hunter called Elizabeth, who emerged from the shadows of an old redgum to ask for their company on the final kilometre to the inn. She told them her horse had been lamed in the storm and, having killed it, she was walking to the inn to pick up the tail of her targets, two bandits who she had a mark on. A dour and tough-looking woman, she seemed more than capable of killing a horse and capturing two ruffians. All travellers on the road were focused now on the inn and respite from the rain, so few questions were asked; instead, they all slogged on through the gathering gloom, the howling winds and the mud.

By the time they arrived it was not yet sunset, but the storm was so intense that it had blocked out most of the light, and they arrived at the gates of the inn feeling as if it were already late. Grunstein the wizard had transformed into a raven and flown ahead, so he missed the strange arcane markings daubed on the wall by the gate, and none of the other PCs were able to decode them. Against the backdrop of the raging storm they pushed their way through the rain-soaked doors of the inn compound, and found themselves lodging within.

The inn was a large complex, consisting of a central three-storey mansion surrounded by stables, outhouses and gardens. The whole was ringed by a wall just over 2m high, made of dressed stone and thick enough both to repel any serious attempt at battery and to enable defenders standing atop the wall to fight back from crenelations. This kind of travelers rest is a common sight in the wilder fringes of civilization in the Steamlands, where local farmers are used to the predations of greenskins and, occasionally, beastmen. When a band is spotted approaching the neighbouring farms they lock up and flee to the travelers rest, from where they join together to fight off any siege and wait for roadwardens from other towns to relieve them. Like fighting summer fires, community defense is something that all remote farming hamlets practice at, and the scattered houses around the Drowning Well were no different, so it was no surprise to the PCs to find such a staunchly defensible tavern so far from civilization.

So, the PCs ducked into the tavern and booked a night’s accomodation, and a cellar for Otto Mercads. The cellar was as safe as a prison cell, pre-fit with chains and a portcullis that locked only from the outside, as well as a staunch outer door that only a minotaur could smash through. The Drowning Well was obviously used to hosting its share of passing prisoners, because the landlord locked Mercads down in this hole without a single word of complaint, and the group were able to repair quickly to drinking and relaxing. The evening passed uneventfully, and after a few hours’ rest the PCs were able to retire for a long, relaxing sleep.

The murders begin

The PCS were woken by the maid’s screams during the dead of night. The storm was still raging outside, but the maid was so disturbed that her anguished cries could be heard over the racket of howling wind, driving rain and banging shutters. Of course our heroes ran into the hallway to see the problem, and found themselves facing a familiar scene of horror: one of the guest rooms was open, and the occupant had been murdered in a very familiar way – the same way as Otto Mercad’s victim. There was blood and body parts everywhere, and guests gathering in the darkened hall to retch and cry in horror at the sight. The PCs, along with Elizabeth the bounty hunter, took charge, shepherding the guests downstairs to the common room and rushing to check on Mercads. They found Mercads sitting comfortably in his cell, chuckling and grinning and with not a drop of blood on him. How had he done it?

Other murders soon followed, with the maid, the landlord and his wife quick to succumb to some kind of brutish and supernatural force. Every time the murder was so reminiscent of Mercads’ artwork that the PCs just had to return to his cell to watch him, but the third time they returned they found him, too, dead, torn apart in the same way as the others. However this time they were fast enough to see the killer – a grotesque, incorporeal ghost, 3m tall and shaped like a beastman with a single eye. They attacked the ghost but it fled too fast, disappearing through a wall and out into the wilds of the night. Shocked, they realized that Mercads must have been the channel or conduit for some darker creature. They remembered finding a necklace made of a fleck of old beastman’s tusk when they captured him, and wondered if he might have been somehow connected with this ghost. While some of the PCs rushed to protect the guests in the common room, Gregor dashed to their own room to check on the chaos artifacts they were transporting to Heavenbalm, lest that should prove to be this beastman ghost’s true focus.

The ghost wasn’t there though, it was gone … but the beastmen were coming.

Artuta rises ...

Artuta rises …

The beastmen come

Shortly after they saw the beastman ghost, the PCs heard yells and clamour from the front door. Residents from nearby farmhouses were gathering at the gate, telling urgent stories of a new horror: a horde of beastmen was gathering in the darkness to attack the inn. As they filed in, bedraggled and dishevelled from the storm, they and the residents began to prepare for a siege. The PCs, however, were distracted by a light in the corner of the compound. Approaching, they saw the vague outline of a ghostly form, glowing faintly and flickering in the onslaught of rain and wind. This was no beastman, but the remnant form of a witch hunter, obviously injured and looking desperate, and wearing clothes from a previous generation – the ghost of someone with something important to tell them? As they approached the ghost whispered to them with a voice that carried despite the snatching wind and rolling thunder:

The truth is beneath the words. The truth …

With these words he disappeared, revealing a slab of stone, scoured clean of earth by the rain and wind, on which a short passage was inscribed:

Here lies Artuta,

Most twisted of the changer’s brood,

Cleansed by Solkan’s hands.

He will not be the last.

The PCs dug up the stone quickly, and beneath it they found a waterproof scrollcase, laid carefully in a hollow beneath the stone. Dashing out of the rain, they opened the case to find a torn piece of parchment, on which someone’s story was written:

I do not know why I have written this but I feel death is close. Artuta stares up at me. His one eye is still, but maybe it watches. Foolish thoughts, but in the forest lurk the remains of his band, now led by the Shaman Grazzt. He has strange dark powers at his call. Who knows what he can do?

What has brought this disquiet upon me? I cannot say, although a strange dream came to me last night. I was guarding Artuta even though he lies dead. Even in death, he led them. Yet I could not escape from this task for a wall surrounded me on all sides, a tunnel above through which I could see the stars. It was difficult to move, for my limbs were heavy.

This vision fills me with fear.

May Solkan watch over me.

Were these the words of the ghostly witch hunter?

At this point the party fragmented. Gregor fled back to his room and began a frenzied effort to destroy the amulet of the beastman tooth; Leticia and Brom Barca headed to the walls to coordinate the defense of the inn against the gathering horde of beastmen, who could now be heard outside the walls howling and preparing their attack; and Azahi the dwarven Trollslayer ran with Grunstein the wizard to the well after which the inn was named. Azahi had interpreted the “tunnel above through which I could see the stars” as the well, and wished to explore it. As he and Grunstein lowered themselves into the well they heard behind them the first roars of beastmen preparing for battle…

Born under a subterranean star ...

Born under a subterranean star …

The well and the battle

In the well Azahi and Grunstein found a tunnel leading into the earth below the inn. They followed it inward, Grunstein lighting the way with a cantrip, and soon found a locked stone door, on which a clear warning was written:

Ye thatz enter here, beware

For liez here, Artuta

When he rizes

Come hiz brood

To spill the blood of all.

The door was locked, and neither Grunstein nor Azahi a thief, but Azahi managed to remember a few hints of technical trickery from his dwarven tribe and disabled the lock. They opened the door to find a crypt, rough-hewn from the earth. In the centre was a depression covered in brush and rubbish; leaning against the walls of the room were four skeletons of beastmen. The mark of Tzeentch was carved into the wall at the far side of the room, and it was obvious what this room was – the resting place of something called Artuta, probably an ancient and powerful beastman. Grunstein began breaking up the first beastman skeleton, but before he had done much damage the other three came to life and attacked Azahi. The dwarf braced himself, and battle was joined; but as he fought the ghost of Artuta arose from the central resting place and fled out of the door. Both he and Grunstein struck at it, but their attacks failed to kill it, though they seemed to wound it badly. The ghost was now obviously more corporeal, gaining in power from the murders it had managed to commit, but still able to shift to ghost form, in which shape it drifted rapidly down the tunnel and out of the well into the stormy night.

Upstairs, the beastmen had begun to gather together for battle. Their force was far larger than a normal beastman band, numbering perhaps 30 in all and with four beastman captains. Lurking at the rear near some kind of makeshift altar was a strange figure indeed – a smaller beastman similar in appearance to a Gor and lacking full horns, unarmed and dressed in tattered cloth but obviously in charge despite its small size. As Brom Barca and Leticia watched, this figure was joined by the ghost of Artuta the beastman, and the attack began.

The inn compound had two gates, and the beastmen attacked both at once. Their attack was artless and brutal. A beastman captain charged forward, and used his enormous strength to boost a couple of Gor onto the walls; these then hauled the massive captain on, and they attacked. Meanwhile a gang of larger Gors lined up and took turns charging at the main gate, trying to smash it in with their horns. By this means, should the captain fail to seize the wall itself, his minions would still eventually beat down the gates. Unfortunately for this beastman captain and his Gor minions, Leticia and Brom Barca guarded the gates; Brom himself almost the size of a Gor took on the three minions, and Leticia moved forward to engage the captain, fighting with delicate poise and grace despite the slippery stones, the howling wind and the beating rain. The battle was short but brutal, and within a few short exchanges Brom and Leticia had slain their enemies. Leticia hacked off the head of the slain captain, and as Brom Barca lifted it high for all the beastmen to see the captain at the other gate began a temporary retreat. At this point Gregor joined them on the wall, scattering the fragments of the beastman amulet before him into the wind. This seemed to have no effect – the distant shaman ignored it, and Artuta’s flickering form did not change except to howl in rage at the retreating beastmen. Now Azahi and Grunstein also trudged up onto the wall through the rain, and our heroes grouped together ready to receive the next charge.

As the beastmen milled about, preparing to make a new attack and being berated, beaten and enraged by their captains, Gregor remembered the Hochland long rifle he had looted from bandits on the journey to Steamline Spa. Though the ghost of Artuta was far from the walls and beyond easy range of a crossbow or longbow, it was not beyond the reach of a long rifle, and Artuta was obviously injured. Perhaps if Gregor were lucky … he carefully lined up the rifle, Brom Barca and Leticia holding their cloaks over him to try and prevent the worst of the rain from damping his powder. He fired as the beastmen formed their lines for another charge, and his bullet flew true … with a single howl of outrage and shock, Artuta’s ghost dissolved into the storm, vanquished by the witch hunter. The beastman shaman took one look back at the walls, screamed his rage to the uncaring tempest, and without further ado turned to flee into the distant woods. His followers, seeing the destruction of their plan, lost all their lust for battle and fled after him.

The battle was done. The beastmen had failed to break the gate, and Artuta had been killed before they could drag any prisoners back to sacrifice for his manifestation. Whatever sick plot had been laid to wait here in the courtyard of the drowning well, it was done now. Though the PCs had inadvertently brought about the invocation of Artuta’s ghost by bringing Otto Mercads to the inn, they had triumphed over Artuta and his whole tribe. They could rest, and enjoy the reward of heroes. And heroes they must be, for in the morning they must surely head off in pursuit of the shaman, to uncover the full story of how Otto Mercads had become the kingpin in a plot to bring back an undead beastman; and to slay the shaman before he could foment more mischief. Perhaps in those hills they could find more dark magic to take to Heavenbalm for destruction … or perhaps there they would find their doom …

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Philippines was just hit by a monster storm that killed more than 1000 people. It’s likely that this is going to be the third year in a row that the Philippines experiences a new record-setting disaster, and this is also probably the fourth biggest storm on record anywhere in the world. Of course, others have noted that certain infamous denialists are trying to pretend that this is just a normal storm, but only idiots would believe such crap. The world has changed. In this same year Australia has had record bushfires occurring earlier than ever before; Japan has suffered at least two moretsu (extremely violent) typhoons, one of which was generally described as “never previously recorded”; Japan’s summer was excessively intense; Japan’s cherry blossom viewing season was delayed by heat; and the Southern hemisphere had the hottest year on record. Britain also had its second strongest storm in 100 years, and Somalia experienced its worst ever cyclone simultaneously with typhoon Haiyan. Natural disasters from storms, flood and fire are coming thick and fast, and every year sees a new record in at least one and often more than one of these dimensions. It’s time to recognize that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Scientists, of course, want to proceed steadily without jumping ahead of the evidence. For example, the current thinking in science is that the arctic won’t be ice free for a long time (probably not till 2050, I think) because that is what the theory and models tell us; but the evidence is pointing at 2020 by the latest, and the consequences of extreme arctic melt (such as occurred in 2012) for North Atlantic countries are serious. This year Britain had to import wheat for the first time (Kelloggs stopped producing Shredded Wheat!) because of rain-related crop failures. Hurricane Sandy’s extreme damage was directly related to the arctic ice melt – everyone knows it, but science isn’t able to prove it, so we have to just pretend that yet another extreme weather event was just random variation. Yet nothing about what happened in Sandy or Haiyan matches our understanding of normality – I am quite familiar with tsunami damage and the pictures I am seeing on TV of the wake of Haiyan look to me exactly like the northeast coast of Japan. No typhoon has done that in the last 30 years, and our instincts tell us this. We need to recognize this: the climate has jumped the shark, and science isn’t keeping up.

On the other side of the coin, economists and political scientists are used to the measured rhetoric of equilibrium, and they don’t have a language or a culture that is able to accept what is happening, because what is happening is disequilibrium. Economists are still labouring under the impression that the changes that are coming – and the changes that are happening now – can be expressed in percentages of GDP and the cold calculus that applies to growth in ordinary times. They can’t. Today 8 people died in a riot at a rice factory, because the destruction in the central Philippines is so complete that millions of people are going without food, and desperation is their watchword. The calculus of mainstream economics is not geared up for looting, for the destruction of cities, for life on the edge. And that is where increasingly people are being driven. Economics hasn’t come to terms with the concept of ecosystem services – it’s too far outside the selfish, consumerist culture of economics to make sense – but this is where we’re at. Our ecosystem has turned against us. Which means we’re fucked. Does George Mason University’s economics faculty have a department of We’re Fucked? No, which is why they’re still churning out plagiarized shit about how climate change is all wrong and stuff. Economists still think this is a problem that can be dealt with using the numerical analysis of small changes: Nicholas Stern on the one hand with his arcane trade-offs and debates about discount rates, and the Lomborg’s of the world on the other hand with their ideas about balancing the future costs of adaptation with the current costs of mitigation, and angels dancing on the heads of pins that are buried in the debris of Leyte Island.

No, we’ve entered a new era: the Anthropocene. The era of We’re Fucked. We need to develop a new politics, a politics of Getting Unfucked, and we need it now, not 10 years from now when the baby boomers have finally chuffed off to the next plane and stopped complaining about ineffectual carbon taxes. We need to get desperate, and we need to do it now.

This is going to mean some radical changes. For starters, and most importantly, every developed nation needs to ban coal. Set a deadline: five years from now, anyone who owns a coal-fired power station is done for. Get rid of them. And while we’re at it the main providers of coal need to stop. Australia needs to declare: we ain’t selling no more, 2018 is it. Sorry kids, but your dope dealer is planning to retire. Canada needs to do the same. And this decision shouldn’t be enforced with pathetic halfway measures like taxes. We need to ban that shit, before the planet decides to ban us. What’s going on in Germany – closing nuclear plants and falling back on coal and gas – is absolutely criminal. Let’s not beat around the bush about this. Anyone in Germany who supports this kind of ecocide should get on a plane right now, fuck off to Tacloban, get on their knees in the salty dirt and say “I’m sorry, but your family died because I’m stupid.” There is nowhere on this earth where coal is a good idea, but a country with power and choices like Germany is absolutely behaving like an international criminal in choosing to go back to this poison. Anyone who supports such a move should be ashamed of themselves. Ten years from now people with such views will be being locked up, mark my words.

We also need to give up on the idea that solar and wind are our short-term saviours. Long-term, yes, they are the siznich. But right now, we have a grid that is developed for baseload generators in centralized locations, and we need to recognize that. So we need to go nuclear. It’s the simple, clean, safe alternative to coal. Every country with a major energy economy needs to shift to a world war 2 style war economy of energy, and replace its existing plants with nuclear. Don’t fuck around with new technologies, because we’re heading into a disaster zone. We have perfectly good nuclear plant designs now, so let’s get them up and running. With robust oversight and good monitoring agencies they’ll be fine. Sure, there’ll be accidents, but the reality is that nuclear power is not that dangerous. It kills a crap-ton less people than coal and it’s easy to live in areas with nuclear fallout. It’s not so easy to live in areas that are too hot to grow food, too stormy to build, or too flooded to stay. And – sorry, country folks – if you build nuclear plants in the country, the accidents really don’t affect many people.

Some people say that nuclear is too expensive, it needs heavy subsidies, but who cares? Home owners in Australia get $35 billion a year in state subsidies, and no one would dare interfere in such a sacrosanct subsidy. Why not give another 35 billion to an industry that might save us from destruction? Why quibble? And if you’re going to quibble about the cost of nuclear, then fuck, let’s make this clear: remove all state subsidies to all industries, and let them fight each other to the death. Don’t want to do that? Then stop pretending the electricity market is free of distortions, stop pretending it’s somehow above politics, and above all stop pretending it’s not going to destroy us all if we don’t interfere.

Since the Kyoto protocol was first signed in nineteen fucking whatever, people – well, economists anyway – have been trying to pretend that we can solve the global warming problem through market mechanisms. Well here we are 20 years later, and fate’s duck is crapping on our eiderdown. We don’t have a functioning market mechanism that will prevent diddly squat, and we have ascended beyond diddly squat to epic storms that wipe out cities, fires that threaten whole communities, homicidal heat and wholesale changes to the way we live. It’s time to recognize that the market has had its chance, and every oily fucker, grafter and spiv who had any chance to get in the way has spoilt the opportunity. So let’s drop the pretense and get serious. We need to move to legislative and political solutions to the most serious environmental problem the world has ever faced. Scientists and economists need to take a back seat to eco-fascists and hard-arsed decision makers. Ban coal, bring on the nukes, and let’s fix this problem the old-fashioned way – through the cold, hard application of power.

Last weekend the Guardian had an interesting article about the New College for the Humanities, some dodgy knock-off rich-kids proto-university in the UK, land of inequality. Apparently it’s being run by someone left-wing, so we have to take it seriously even though it charges 18,000 pounds a year (twice the cost of Oxford) for a humanities education. For my reader(s) who is not familiar with this issue, the college was set up by A.C Grayling (apparently a lefty, apparently a philosopher). His college has a bunch of famous professors like Richard Dawkins and Niall Ferguson (who lectures precisely two classes a year) and offers the following quality of service:

Every week, [Jamie] goes to 14 hours of lectures and has one hour-long group tutorial, with three students and one tutor, and one hour-long individual tutorial. “We’re expected to do between three and four hours personal study a day. We write a minimum of an essay a week. It is a full-on education. We are being educated actively.”

Let me tell you something, “Jamie”: you’re being ripped off. I did a physics degree, and in first year I had 32 contact hours a week, and at least two assignments. Included in that is my first year English course, so I had to read a novel a week (sometimes Shakespeare) and attend a one hour-long group tutorial, with about 5 students and one tutor. I had three hours of laboratory a week, which (obviously) required special equipment. You can rest assured I didn’t pay 18k pounds a year – actually in 2012 pounds I paid about 1000. Are you sure, “Jamie,” that you’re getting value for money? Incidentally, I was lectured by Paul Davies, so I guess I got famous lecturers for my 1k. What do you think, “Jamie”? Are you doing better for having chosen the New College of the Humanities over some dodgy red-brick or an ex-teacher’s college?

Despite this, the article makes the environment sound fairly good, and certainly it seems like the lecturers and tutors are generally attentive. But the cost keeps being raised, and I can see why – not only is it a lot of money, but there are a lot of people in Britain (i.e. most British people) who really aren’t very wealthy, and for whom 54,000 is completely out of their range (especially since everyone is culturally expected to be up to their eyeballs in housing debt). Now, I’m sympathetic to the argument that poor people choose not to go into debt for education for cultural, rather than financial reasons – they’ll take on huge debt for a dodgy housing investment, that they wouldn’t take on for a reliable education investment, for example – but still, 18000 pounds is pretty damn steep. So I was interested to read AC Grayling’s response to the cost issue. And what did this famous left-wing philosopher say?

“The downside of being educated at someone else’s expense is that you may not value it,” he says. “You may regard it as an entitlement. Unless you are acutely aware of the opportunity that is being offered to you, you may be rather cavalier about it. [You] might not be quite so keen to suck the marrow from it.”

Statements like this leave me simultaneously angry, sick, disappointed and confused. First, let’s make one thing clear: no one in Grayling’s college is being educated at their own expense. No one at the age of 19 – people who have never worked – can afford 18k a year. They’re all being educated at someone else’s expense. Of course, in this case it’s their parents’ expense, but why should that matter? Certainly when I was at university I met a wide variety of people being educated at their parents’ expense, and I can assure you that they were “not quite so keen to suck the marrow from it.” But this was not what Grayling is thinking of when he said this – so much is clear from the context. He was clearly thinking of people being subsidized by the state.

And this is why his statement leaves me angry, sick, disappointed and confused: why is there a difference between the state paying and your own parents paying?

It makes me angry because there are a lot of people out there who are desperate for an education but can’t afford it, and if someone else paid they would snap up the chance. One of my players is from the Dominican Republic, and he finds it amazing that in Japan there are still people who don’t really care about the education they are receiving, because in the Dominican Republic an education is a difficult and precious thing to get and so many people who want it will never get it. Yet somehow Grayling – advanced philosopher that he is – thinks that all those people out there hungering for an education can’t really properly value it because if they did get it would be through someone else’s largesse, thus suddenly their desire is sapped.

It makes me sick because I am one of those people. Abandoned by my parents at 17, with no money and no prospects, I was funded through my education by the state. I appreciated every single fucking minute of it, thank you very much, and I shat all over my private-school educated, parent-funded friends. I fought my way into university, I studied hard, and I loved it. I still remember in first year my private-school-educated “colleagues” openly challenging my high school grades because they didn’t believe a pleb like me could have done so well. Fuck you, you rich fuckers. I beat you every step of the way. Not only was I better than you, but I understood the value of the benefits I was getting from the government. I knew exactly what my “free” education was worth. But here we have some famous, apparently left-wing philosopher recycling this crap about how because the state paid for my education, I didn’t value it? That makes me sick.

It disappoints me because it shows how far the understanding of welfarism and inequality has fallen in the UK – once a beacon of thought on these issues – if supposedly left wing philosophers are spouting this claptrap. What chance have we of addressing the serious inequality issues in the UK if serious educators seriously believe that anyone who is funded by the state to support their education is going to be inherently inferior in attitude to someone who is funded by their parents? What hope for redistributive justice in such an environment?

Finally, it confuses me because, as someone whose parents never helped him out, I can’t understand why receiving fat scads of cash from your parents is okay but getting the same cash from the government is poisonous for your character. I don’t deny the right of parents to pay for their kids’ education, or the fundamental rightness of people supporting their own children, flows of capital through families etc. That’s all fine. But the idea that a person’s character and attitude towards self-improvement (represented, in this instance, by education) should be somehow reduced by being supported by a soix-distant patron, rather than a family member, is just confusing. I mean, it’s all free moolah, right? How come one is character-endangering and one is not? I have never, ever been able to understand this, and I think I’ve never been able to understand it because it is bullshit.

An interesting aspect of our culture is that we make these cultural assertions about how weak and inferior rich kids who receive gifts from their parents really are, but we make policy that benefits those people and encourages that act. So we refer to rich kids as “spoilt princesses,” “trust fund babies,” etc.; but we make policy that is explicitly designed to benefit these people and we make philosophy (apparently) that values their personal achievements more highly, even when those personal achievements were bought not earnt. For example, in Australia everyone can take a university debt; but rich kids’ parents can pay up front, in which case they get a 15% discount. So rich people get exactly the same education as poor people, but pay 15% less for it. So on the one hand society is laughing at these kids for being supported by the mummy bank, but on the other hand society is guaranteeing that those kids and their rich parents pay less for the same product. And then those poor people are meant to thank their all-powerful masters for their beneficence? Or maybe we’re supposed to accept these crumbs of wisdom from people like Grayling, who tells me that even though I paid 20% more than my neighbour for exactly the same product, I value it less because the government, rather than my rich daddy, dropped the money in my lap.

What can I say to this logic? Fuck you, AC Grayling, and your “philosophy.” I didn’t go to your top quality university, but I think I can detect bullshit a lot more easily than you can. But I guess, sitting in your room labeled “Master” after a life of success, you don’t really care how much your bullshit smells to people like me, do you? Is there a word for a philosophy like that?

 

… Because they are so much more Dudalicious. In honour of the David Gilmour (not the guitarist!) school of teaching, from now on I will only use statistical techniques designed by men. Sure, I could use Generalized Linear Latent and Mixed Models (GLLAMM), but just listen to the name of the damned thing. It’s like the Jane Austen of stats, and unsurprisingly it was developed by a woman (Sophia Rabe-Hasketh). Hardin and Hilbe just had a much more indefinably cool … manliness … about them, so I think for clustered binomial or count data I’ll just wing it with Generalized Estimating Equations. Luckily I don’t do much in the way of RCTs, because the classic text on experimental design by Cochran and Cox is half-authored by a woman – I can’t tell which bit she wrote so I’ll just have to dump the lot to be sure. This could be a bit tricky, because that stuff is pretty fundamental to how we think about efficiency in experimental design. No problem really, though, I’ll just make sure I apply for bigger grants and recruit more subjects. Typical of a woman to write a book about how to be thrifty with sample sizes really, isn’t it? Real men just recruit more subjects.

David Gilmour also doesn’t like Chinese authors, so if I’m going to follow his approach I’ll probably have to drop any adjustment for probability sampling, since a lot of the development work for those methods was conducted by Indians after independence. That shouldn’t be too bad because there are still some low-grade journals that let you publish without adjusting for your sampling process. Of course, to be sure I think I should develop a few stock phrases to deploy in explanation of why I’m avoiding certain methods:

Although region-level variables were available, they were not incorporated in this analysis because the methods required were developed by a woman

or

To avoid feminization of statistics, the clustering effects of school and classroom were not adjusted for in this analysis

and maybe

Probability weights were not incorporated into the analysis, because that method was developed by Indians

I’m sure the peer reviewers will appreciate that, but just to be sure I’ll be sure to specify in all submissions that I not be reviewed by women. That should cover it.

Now, some of you might suggest that I should just relax and use all the techniques available to me, or at least not go through the canon with a fine-toothed comb checking the gender of every contributor – I mean, couldn’t I just drop the techniques only if I find out that they were written by a woman, without active screening? A kind of passive case-finding approach, if you will (but can I employ case-finding – it may have been invented by a woman. I should check that!) But this is not how the David Gilmour school works. You have to assess your authors first and foremost on their cool manliness:

Chekhov was the coolest guy in literature. I really think so. There’s a few volumes of his there, what a great looking guy. He is the coolest guy in literature; everyone who ever met Chekhov somehow felt that they should jack their behaviour up to a higher degree.

And really, when you look at the kinds of canon that are taught in English at high schools and first year uni courses, it is quite often the case that they are all (or almost all) male. Every statistician knows that those kinds of imbalances in a sample don’t happen by accident – that’s a deliberate selection bias. If it’s good enough for dudely English teachers it’s good enough for me, so I think from now on I should screen out any beastly feminized stats. Sure, you can’t get into any half-decent journals if you can’t use GLLAMM and good experimental design, but I say hell to that. It’s time to fight back! Men-only stats for the win!

In case anyone thinks I’m being serious[1], there’s been something of a storm of controversy about this David Gilmour chap, and I think you can see how stupid his approach is if you imagine trying it in a technical field. Stats being part of maths, it has its fair share of chick lit, but it is still male dominated; nonetheless, if you screen out the main work done by women, you suddenly lose a huge range of tools and techniques that are essential to the modern statistician. Surely the same applies in English literature, but moreso given the huge role women played in the development of the novel. Check this Crooked Timber thread for more entertaining take-downs of this position (with some prime grade Troll Meat thrown in the mix). It really is outstanding on so many levels that a literature teacher would judge who to teach in such a juvenile Boys Own Manual way; that they would take their responsibilities so lightly as to think that their sole task was to teach students their own opinion rather than … something useful … and that they would not try to hide it behind some more mealy-mouthed apologia. I mean really, there are a lot of very good female writers in the last two centuries and yet people like this David Gilmour chap manage to construct a syllabus without a single woman in it. Usually their argument would be along the lines of “I judge on merit” but you do have to wonder, don’t you? And then along comes a naif like Gilmour and makes it completely clear how these canons are really constructed – the women are screened out from the get go.

fn1: I really hope not, but this is the internet.

Approaching the crypt at dusk

Approaching the crypt at dusk

When last we left our PCs they had cleared out a goblin nest near their onsen, at great personal cost to Azahi the Troll-slayer, and put paid to a potential threat to their new demesne. Upon returning to the onsen they were called back to Separation City by Baroness von Jungfreud and, after a day of rest and healing for poor Azahi, they returned to town. This time they took with them Grunstein, the Jade order mage, who had recovered from his case of hideous Blacklegge disease.

When they returned to Separation City Baroness von Jungfreud arranged to meet them for a picnic, perhaps her last of the spring. As is typical for such a notable’s picnic, she had brought with her several servants, a fire to cook upon, and even a small tent beneath which to retire from the sun. She had also brought with her a scraggly, wild-eyed man in a battered hat and leathers, who traveled under the name Gregor Thorveld and claimed to be one of that rare and feared breed, a witch-hunter. Judging by his nervous manner, continually jittering eyes and uncertain speech he was either constitutionally a coward, or had seen far too many witches.

The Baroness's servants prepare the picnic

The Baroness’s servants prepare the picnic

Baroness von Jungfreud told the characters that there were rumours of disturbance in the graveyard, that one of the graveyard guards had been ambushed with a rusty old arrow and that she wanted them to investigate. The graveyard had been used to bury the victims of the recent plague – about 50 to 100 in all – and she was worried that the PCs had failed to kill off all the plague cultists. Perhaps one had stolen back into the graveyard and was hiding there amidst the corpses of his victims? When asked why the victims had not been burnt, Baroness von Jungfreud somewhat sheepishly confessed that in fact the town Physician had overseen the burial … that same town Physician, of course, who was working for the plague cult. Thus all the groundwork had been laid for even a minor functionary of the cult to dig up some hunk of ghoulpox’d rotten corpse and dump it in the water supply – again.

It was then that she introduced Gregor, who she assured them sternly would help them to make up for any mistakes they had made in eradicating the cult. Through clenched teeth they introduced themselves, and discovered that he had come to Separation City on the strength of rumours of chaos and murder, and had offered to aid Baroness von Jungfreud as part of his role as a witch hunter. The town currently lacking any sturdy fighters, she had agreed to take him on and would send him with the PCs. Although she was dismissive and hypocritical about the responsibility for the plague cult survivor, she did give some implicit indication that she understood her responsibility – she offered them 5 gold coins each to clear the graveyard, a huge amount for such a simple task. Assured of reward, they set off immediately.

Separation City graveyard is separated from the town by some distance, and set on a hillside that backs onto the forested mountains beyond. It is surrounded by the typical wall that surrounds any Steamlands graveyard, about 4 metres high and designed to be hard to scale from the inside. This graveyard had two entrances, one main entrance facing the Iron Ring section of town (distantly visible to the south) and one, higher up along the wall near the end of the cemetery, that was much smaller, much less secure, and opened to a small path that led to a “secret hot spring,” a hot spring that has no real facilities and is used in the open air by anyone who cares to visit. Why this was located in the graveyard was a mystery to everyone, but the PCs immediately recognized the risk – the plague cult seemed to have a thing for causing trouble in hot springs. They had the town guards bar the main gates and set forth for the hot spring. By the time they had arranged all the details it was dusk, but they didn’t let this deter them, and approached the spring.

The spring itself was just a small pool, perhaps thrice as long as it was wide and large enough for four people to bathe together. On one side was a rundown shack; on the other, thick bushes. As they investigated the spring Grunstein noted a disturbance in the Winds of Magic, and was able to warn the rest of the group before a spirit manifested over the pool and drifted forward to the attack.

The battle was over quickly. The spirit attacked Azahi but could not harm him, and the four of them soon dispatched it, though its ethereal form made it hard for their weapons to hit it. Finally Grunstein’s magic dart destroyed it, and it drifted away in a cloud of sparkling motes. The place from hence it had come was now revealed to be an opening in the woods, with a narrow and overgrown path leading further up the hill. This path had obviously been hidden by some kind of illusion that the spirit’s presence maintained; with the spirit gone they were able to see the path. The path itself had obviously not been used for a long time, and was covered in vines and brush. Somewhere down that path in the gloom, Laren thought she saw movement. After a pause to gather their thoughts, they plunged into the path.

After about 30 metres the path veered left and out of sight beyond thick brush. As they approached the corner two skeleton archers emerged from the shadows of the trees ahead. One fired two arrows at Azahi in rapid succession, hitting him in chest and shoulder; the other did the same at Gregor, hitting him once. Laren returned fire and they charged into battle, again rapidly destroying their enemy. These enemies carried arrows that appeared similar to those described by the graveyard guards. Obviously they were getting closer.

Moving further along the path after only the briefest of pauses, the characters saw a rundown and overgrown crypt ahead of them. Laren approached stealthily, finding the door open. From within came the smell of roasting flesh and incense, accompanied by a querulous voice chanting rhythmically and beating some form of small drum. As the others cautiously approached she moved to the doorway and looked in upon a horrifying sight.

The inside of the crypt contained a large sarcophagus at one end, and several smaller sarcophagi upright around the walls. Hanging from one of these on a portable umbrella hook was a coat and hat. On the main sarcophagus was a collection of magical paraphernalia: burning incense, a silver dagger, some gems, candles, a shrivelled newt. Facing them but some distance away stood a tall, angular man in a perfect threepiece suit, fob-watch in pocket, monocle in one eye. In front of him was a strange device, a kind of travelling lectern such as some preachers or musicians sometimes use, made of polished brass and obviously quite expensive, robust enough to hold a large book from which the man was reading. Between this scene of scholarly fastidiousness and the somewhat chaotic collection of magic items on the sarcophagus a magic circle had been painted on the floor in blood. Inside the circle a small child roasted on a spit over a small fire, still vaguely alive and burbling and gasping its last horrified breaths. A small skeletal familiar turned the spit rhythmically.

Laren gasped in horror and opened fire on the wizard. As he turned to face her, hideous beasts materialized from the gloom. Two crypt ghouls came prowling out from behind the sarcophagus and shambled forward to the attack; a darker, more terrifying spirit form coalesced near Laren and drifted forward to strike at her. Battle was joined. Gregor moved forward to take a shot at the ghouls but was so horrified by what he saw that he turned and fled. Azahi charged forward to attack the ghouls but was also shaken by the horror of the scene, and so terrified of the undead and enraged that he opted instead to strike at the wizard. As he did so a ghoul leapt on his back and began gnawing at him, digging closer and closer to his jugular with its teeth. Overwhelmed by the terror and burdened by the weight of magic and beast, he fought poorly and increasingly desperately. Grunstein helped as he could, his powers bolstered by drawing on a shard of wyrdstone that lay on the sarcophagus, but he had to leave to support Laren as she withdrew across the overgrown path. She and Grunstein prepared to sell their lives dearly in the gloom of the path, facing up against the Cairn Wraith and one ghoul. Grunstein was close to death when Gregor, regretting his flight, returned to the fray and helped to dispatch their enemies. Inside, Azahi managed to slay the wizard, shake off the ghoul and destroy it; but so desperate and exhausted was he that he simply sunk to the ground, hand gripped around his falchion blade so tight that it bled. The others flocked to him and helped him back to himself, but he would never be the same again.

They destroyed the magic items and looted the bodies. On closer inspection the wyrdstone Grunstein had been using was discovered to be that most foul substance, Warpstone, obviously being used by the necromancer to fuel his foul rites. Grunstein investigated the book from which these rites were read and found it was a speak with dead spell; the necromancer had been planning to raise the ghost of a resident of this crypt. Such a terrible book and such an evil substance would need to be destroyed, and not just in the local Sigmar temple – a journey to Heavenbalm would be necessary soon to destroy such abominations.

Notes on the necromancer’s body suggested he was looking for a member of the Family Azeem, who were buried here. This family ruled Separation City until the von Jungfreuds arrived 12 years earlier, and the necromancer’s notes suggested that the person he was attempting to bring back from beyond had been murdered by the von Jungfreuds. He had traveled here from Heavenbalm to find out something about the past in Separation City, and he was not alone; he was a member of a clique based in Heavenbalm, who met at a tavern there called the Seventh Banner.

Now the PCs began to wonder – was there something special about Separation City? Why was it that all these people had an interest in this town? Twelve years ago the von Jungfreuds had come here, and had been willing to do murder to take control of the town. How had they been able to arrange their possession of this town and why? How come this tomb was so forgotten and hidden? Then, was it a coincidence that a powerful disease cultist based in Store – the mysterious “F” – had sent a strong disease cult to overwhelm the town, coincidentally using von Jungfreud as the centre of the plot and killing her husband? And why was this necromancer here trying to turn up secrets from 12 years ago?

The PCs realized that there was a mystery about the town, and that it could be answered only through investigations in Separation City, Heavenbalm and Store. Since they had an evil book and warpstone to destroy, there next course of action was obvious – they would travel to Heavenbalm to the temple of Eight Banners, to destroy the book and the stone; and while there they would hunt down this necromantic clique, and find what it aimed to achieve. They would regret the day one of their number crossed paths with Azahi, Laren, Grunstein and Gregor …

A few mechanical notes: upon sight of the ritual all the PCs had to do corruption checks and several failed. Somehow Grunstein managed to use the warpstone four times and only incurred one point of corruption. By way of contrast, Azahi gained the frightened condition and once the ghoul attacked him he started incurring serious fatigue and stress, ultimately accruing four temporary insanities – one of which was permanent. This battle was a very close-fought thing indeed.

This is a summary of three sessions of World of Darkness which I recently played. Since describing three sessions of gaming in one go is a Herculean task to write and mythically impossible to read, I’m presenting it in the form of a post-mission chat-room debrief between the PCs. This WoD campaign is set in 2018 in America, all the PCs are normal and as far as we know there is nothing specially supernatural in the world. Europe is in a state of chaos due to some form of new virus/plague, and President McCain’s America is not the nicest of places. We are new employees of a mysterious corp called Aesir, on a three month probation, so this chat room conversation is intended to ensure our probation continues despite an adventure that, ultimately, ended in complete failure.

The PCs are:

  • John Mickson (me): a failed communist and ageing hippy, who never amounted to anything and was drifting through his 40s with nothing to show for his life until Aesir picked him up. If John can do anything (doubtful) it is talk and get people to talk; his main slogan appears to be “if you want anything done properly, don’t ask me.”
  • Nick Drake: ex-private Investigator; a mysterious figure, just some guy whose skills and background aren’t really clear, but he appears to be pretty handy with a tyre-iron
  • Meredith Archer: A forensic scientist and all around whiz-kid
  • Jade: Thug from the Brazilian favelas, the kind of chilled-out hard case who has seen enough of the gutter and its inhabitants, and dealt out enough violence, to be pretty unswayed by the usual run of human grime, treachery and decay

We also have a guy called “Andrew” shadowing us, who is charged with assessing our performance for Aesir, but who was mysteriously missing for part of this adventure. We were sent to a Native American reservation to negotiate a land deal between Strauss Industries and the local tribe (“The Tribe”). The previous negotiator, Mr. Matheson, had gone missing and we were to bring him back if possible.

—Secure Chat Log, 28 July 2018.

JM: Okay everyone, thanks for coming. I’ve asked us to do this chat because our debriefs start tomorrow and I want to be sure we all get the story straight. We agreed before we left the reservation that we want to tell the truth to Aesir, but we need to work out what we’re going to leave out. We obviously fucked this mission up completely, and if we are gonna keep our gig with Aesir they’re gonna have to judge us on our decisions and processes, not results. That means we gotta look good. Agreed?

J: Yeah sure. The less we talk about it the better I feel, though.

MA: Plan. Just gimme a moment to get some food.

ND: Yeah we better. We gonna do this consensus style with a talking stick like one of your dippy hippy groups, John?

JM: Fuck off, Nick.

JM: You don’t need a talking stick if you’re online. Fuck.

MA: Back. Gummy bears.

ND: You gonna blow your whole bonus on that crap, Meredith? You’ll get fat.

MA: It’s a statistical fact that snacking on small low sugar products can’t make you fat so long as you’re active, Nick. Don’t you read?!

J: I’m already 15 rums in. Been drinking a lot since I met the kids.

JM: Okay okay. So we know Aesir wanted the land deal to go through, and we think the Chief of the Tribe wanted it to go through, but only if he could keep the house at the centre of the land deal out of it. But Strauss Industries wouldn’t budge on dropping the house from the land. We think that’s because they knew what was in the house and their purpose was getting to it at any cost. So they weren’t honest. But now that history’s changed and the entire Tribe has been wiped from history, Aesir still seem to know all about the situation, so they must have known something about it before they sent us in. So we have to tell a story that shows we’re being honest, but we don’t want to let on some of the tougher decisions we had to take. We need to work out what to leave in and what to drop.

J: Meredith’s the smart-arse with the sparkling fucking memory. Meredith, why don’t you list the basic story from start to end so we can decide what to drop.

ND: Good idea. Get your fingers out of the gummy bears and start typing, Merry.

MA: Okay. So here’s the deal.

MA: We got into the reservation on the 24th July. It was all fine but the comms were weird and it was all a bit backward.

MA: So we had a meeting with Chief Dion, and then next day we were meant to meet Mr. Gregor from Strauss Industries.

ND: And we met that little punk Danny at Chief Dion’s. That’s important. We gotta work out what we’re gonna tell people about Danny.

J: That he was a psycho fuckwit who nearly blew up the planet?

MA: ANYWAY, Chief Dion was official about it but Danny also made it clear that they were NOT going to sell the house, no matter what. So we decided to go see what was going on in the house.

J: Big FUCK OFF mistake right there.

ND: Get another rum, J.

J: Already on it, little man.

MA: ANYWAY! So we went to the house and as soon as we went inside it all went weird. We went in the late afternoon through forest but it was daytime outside the windows, and corn fields as far as we could see. Then there were the screaming ghosts and the poems on the walls. We met the Judge on the third floor, freaked out and ran outside.

J: Freaked out? Speak for yourself. I was making a tactical retreat.

ND: The trail of piss you left behind you tells me a different story, amigo.

JM: Also the screaming.

MA: ANYWAY! We got outside and we all got ambushed by something and then we went unconscious.

J: Fuckers.

ND: Mother-fuckers.

JM: I concur. Meredith?

MA: Right. So then we woke up and we were somewhere else. Like it was the same place but all rusted and decayed, and nothing worked anymore, and a couple of months had passed.

J: Do we mention that we woke up back in time, like we lost a day?

JM: I reckon not. This story’s gonna be fucked up enough without complications we don’t need. You ever see a movie that was improved by adding time travel to the plot? Let’s just ignore it.

ND: Yeah. ’cause when we drop the time travel shit, our credibility’s gonna be so high that the multi-dimensional travel and vengeful ghosts is gonna be suddenly completely believable.

MA: You gotta do what you gotta do, Nick. I agree with dropping that bit.

J: It doesn’t make sense anyway, does it? Why did we lose half a day? What’s the fucking point of that?

MA: Yeah. Exactly. Anyway, it’s not important but let’s keep the story clean. So we went out looking for people and there was fog everywhere, and then we met the Wendigo.

J: Not an experience the Wendigo enjoyed.

ND: Until we discovered it was indestructible.

JM: Yeah, indestructible zombie Native warriors. We need to stress how tough that fucker was. No offence J, but we’re gonna have to make it sound like that fight was a real struggle even before it reanimated.

J: WTF? I kicked that thing to zombie juice like a fucking PRO, man, you gonna tell them I pussied out like you did?

JM: I was superivsing, J, supervising. Someone’s gotta direct the industry.

ND: Yeah, just like fucking Lenin.

JM: I keep telling you Nick, I’m not a fucking Leninist. His vision for worker’s empowerment lacked any sense of the role of democracy and self-determination in realizing the goal of the worker’s utopia, and he established the political context for dictatorship.

ND: Yadda yadda.

J: So why the fuck do I have to have my arse-kicking pulled from the story?

JM: Because we need our bosses to think our choices were limited. We don’t want them thinking we could just bounce around that pocket dimension kicking the snot out of the Wendigos until they came back from the dead, giving us lots of time to make whatever decisions we want. Remember our biggest fuck up was letting Strauss Industries steal Danny’s body, and the reason we made that decision is because we didn’t think we could protect ourselves from the Wendigos. That reasoning ain’t gonna wash if our bosses think you can just cock your leg and smash a Wendigo into next week. They freaked us out even after you kicked that one a new arsehole. We need to make sure our bosses understand that getting into a flat-out war with them was not a functioning plan. You don’t do that by making your first encounter sound like a turkey-shoot, do you?

J: Alright. But that was my only moment of glory in this sad fucking affair, so if you’re gonna pull that I want everyone to know you were hiding behind a car sniveling.

JM: I was not!

ND: Were too

JM: You weren’t there!

MA: Boys! Let’s just say that there was a tough fight, all of us did our bit, but finally Jade managed to get it down and kick it to shit. Okay? We all make it sound hard, right?

J: Okay. But you guys owe me a rum.

JM: Take it out of my tab. When I’m allowed to drink again.

J: Didn’t you see the sign at my bar? We don’t do tabs for commies.

JM: How many times do I have to tell you I’m not a communist? More of an anarcho-syndicalist with deep green sympathies.

ND: Yadda yadda. Get on with it Merry.

MA: Alright. Oh yeah, I think we shouldn’t tell them that Nick wasn’t there with us when we left the hotel. If they’re questioning our decisions, splitting the group up in such a weird situation might make them think we can’t work together or something. So when we met the kids, we let them think Nick was there. And we let them think we were with Nick when he met that guy in the cheap suit.

ND: Mister Opportunity?

MA: Yeah.

J: Who was that greasy rat-fucker?

ND: Who knows, but he gave me a handy music box.

JM: Too true. But we aren’t mentioning the music box, or it’ll be taken from us fast as we can blink.

MA: Good point. Okay, so we stuck together and we never found a music box or any teddy bears.

MA: Then we ran through the fog until we got to the chieftain’s meeting hall, and he was there.

J: With Danny, that little mother-fucker. Should have smacked his arse when he was bad-mouthing our commie.

JM: I am NOT a commie.

ND: Yadda yadda.

MA: So the chief told us what was happening. The basics. We tell the company the basics too, right?

JM: Right.

ND: Which are?

J: Which are that we fell neck deep in weird fucked-up shit and we barely made it out alive.

MA: There is a spirit in the house, that we call the Judge, and Danny was in touch with it through the voices in his head, and he gave Matheson to the spirit, and that enabled the spirit to enter the world.

MA: Then the spirit dragged the reservation into some spirit world, and brought in its Wendigos, and started killing all the members of the Tribe.

MA: And that this was all because of some ancient treachery 200 years ago. When Chief Dion’s ancestors went up to the house and killed the family that lived there.

JM: So do we mention the kids?

JM: I think we should. The kids are the key to the whole thing. It looks to me like the Judge used them to get into the world, then used his tenuous place in the world to get to Danny.

MA: Like he kind of boot-strapped his way into our world.

J: Boot-strapped?

MA: Yes, it’s a term from statistics, when you resample data from a sample with replacement, and use it to calculate non-parametric confidence intervals. It’s named after Baron Munchausen who fell in a lake and pulled himself out by his bootstraps.

ND: Sounds like bullshit to me.

J: What’s statistics?

JM: That’s maybe a good way to say it. First he used the ghosts of the kids, who were psychos, to get a foot-hold in the world, just enough to be able to communicate with people in the real world. But for some reason he can only communicate with people like Danny, who is a psycho just like the kids. So he waited for someone like Danny to enter the house, and then talked to him, and set up the deal with Danny to supply Mr. Matheson as a vessel.

MA: That’s bootstrapping, for sure.

JM: Our bosses are surely going to ask why the Judge was killing everyone.

J: So that he could put their souls into Danny and turn Danny into a big powerful magic monster.

JM: We agree we’re gonna tell them that?

MA: I thought we did. After all, we gotta warn them that Strauss Industries kidnapped Danny.

J: We should have killed Danny as soon as we had the chance.

JM: Yeah, but we didn’t. We have to justify that. Why?

ND: Because we had a deal with the Judge that gave us 12 hours of safe conduct, and we thought if we killed Danny the deal would be broken, so we wanted to keep him sedated until we had worked out how to deal with the Judge.

MA: We didn’t know Strauss Industries were after him.

JM: Which means we also don’t tell anyone that when we first woke up in the hotel, we found Gregor’s cigar in the lobby.

J: Yeah, ’cause then they’d realize we should have known that Gregor was in the pocket universe with us.

MA: And then they might think we should have been thinking more clearly.

ND: Which we should have.

JM: But if we had, we’d have ended up in a gunfight with Gregor and a very nasty trained assassin.

J: Without any guns.

JM: That’s another thing we have to talk up when we explain the situation. We had Danny sedated in the meeting halls, ’cause we knew he was being prepared by the Judge as a genocide machine. Then while we were trying to sort out a way to deal with the Judge, Gregor came into the infirmary through the window, killed a doctor and two nurses in cold blood, and stole Danny’s comatose body.

JM: We need to make sure our bosses know just how nasty that assassin was.

ND: Agreed.

MA: Do we tell them about meeting the Judge?

JM: Yeah.

MA: Alright. So we tell them that after the Chief told us about the Judge, we went back to the house and confronted him. That’s where we discovered that the ghosts of the children who used to live in the house were there with the Judge, and had probably been his point of contact with our world.

ND: And we also tell them that the Native Americans who killed the kids and their family had been captured by the Judge and turned into Wendigos.

MA: Yeah. So we met the Judge and the kids, and talked to them, and the kids were completely freaky.

ND: We should definitely stress how crazy the kids were.

JM: Yeah. Make clear that they were capricious and stubborn and they couldn’t be reasoned with at all, and they enjoyed pain and suffering. That’ll help our bosses understand that there was nothing we could do to get out with all the mission goals intact.

MA: Also we should tell them our suspicions that the kids were actually being used by the Judge, that it was manipulating their suffering and psychopathy to get its own ends.

JM: And that it was not a friend of the tribe, that it was using them as soul-fuel for Danny, and all that shit about the tribe being cursed by Chief Dion’s ancestors actions was just convenient bullshit for the Judge. Or is that too much supposition?

ND: Too much supposition. I mean, who gives a fuck? The Judge was a fucker and he fucked us.

J: Amen to that. All else is secondary.

JM: Alright. So we learnt those basic facts from the kids, we made a deal with the Judge to get us 12 hours to act, and Meredith stole his name.

J: Yeah, we definitely need to tell them that. That was a stroke of fucking genius.

MA: Thanks. I’m lucky I’ve got a good memory!

JM: Yeah, but thinking to memorize what was written on the top of his robes, and having the balls to get close enough to him to do it, that’s arse-kicking genius that is.

ND: Not that it mattered in the end, since Chief Dion was just a big lying sack of shit.

MA: Yeah, we should tell them that. So we got the Judge’s true name, went back to the meeting hall and got Chief Dion to translate it and work out a way to get rid of the Judge.

MA: Then a few hours later he arranged a magic circle and a ritual to send the Judge back, but didn’t tell us that it would destroy the entire pocket universe and us with it.

MA: But he wanted to use us as sacrifices for the ritual.

JM: Which was when Nick pulled out the music box and turned it on.

MA: But we don’t mention the music box.

J: So the Wendigos just came along luckily and ate all the tribal elders?

JM: Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people.

J: I could have done them in.

MA: Undoubtedly. But the Wendigos got that job done. And then while we were fighting with the Chief Dion and his stupid toughs, Gregor snuck in and stole Danny’s comatose body.

JM: And we had nothing else we could do. So we pushed the Chief outside the boundaries of the meeting hall, and the Judge took him.

MA: So we should tell our bosses that was the deal? That if we gave the Chief to the Judge inside 12 hours he would let us out of the pocket universe?

JM: Yes. And I think we should make it clear that we don’t know if Strauss Industries had a deal with the Judge or not, but maybe they did.

ND: Yeah.

J: And when I find Danny, I’m gonna make him glad he doesn’t have a soul.

JM: Amen to that.

J: Thought you commies weren’t religious?

JM: How many times do I have to tell, you, I’m not a communist?

ND: Yadda yadda.

MA: So we’re agreed? We tell them just those facts. We should tell them why we didn’t chase Strauss operatives back to the hotel before we gave the Chief to the Judge?

JM: Yeah. Two reasons right? One, we couldn’t leave the Chief alone but if we took him outside the boundaries of the meeting hall the Judge would eat him. And two, we were unarmed and the Strauss guy was a serious professional who would have whacked us as we approached the hotel.

ND: Done.

J: Done.

JM: So that’s the deal right? We all have the same story. We went to the house; got hauled off to a pocket universe; helped the Chief find a way to get rid of the Judge; discovered Danny was being prepared as a genocide machine by the spirit he had conjured; discovered the Chief was going to try and trick us into being sacrifices in a ritual that would have destroyed the pocket universe; fought our way out of it; but Strauss industries stole Danny; so we handed the Chief over to the Judge and the Judge let us go.

MA: Agreed.

J: Agreed.

ND: Agreed. Let’s hope they DO know something was up from the start, or we’re gonna be in a hell-crazy secure loony-bin by the end of tomorrow.

JM: Yeah. We fucked this up but I think we did the best we could. We should be proud of our efforts, and I hope we can work together again. Good luck in the debriefs team, hope to see you on the other side.

MA: Good luck everyone. See you soon!

ND: Here’s hoping. See you!

J: Fuck yeah. Good luck everyone! Out!

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