This is the first chapter of a five-chapter batch, though this chapter is mostly in-character notes, letters, or musings, and can be skipped if you don’t like that kind of thing.Note from the Author
Reimer’s Notes: The Optimal Build
There is no optimal build. Every build has trade-offs and compromises in it. Some fare better in the general cases than others (an optimal fighter, for example), or fare better in niche cases that are common enough that it’s worth throwing away everything else for it (stealth focus, for example). If we’re just talking about strictly better builds, where build X is worse in every respect than build Y except in incredibly contrived circumstances, those are so uncommon that they’re not really worth talking about, even if they’re more deserving of the title ‘optimal’. So you can’t have an optimal build, you can only rely on predictions about what the world is or will be like, and gear your character toward that, using everything you know. That’s what we mean by optimal.
In my humble opinion, this is a better approach than building your character because you thought that certain things might be neat.
The big differences between the game system as it exists for Juniper and the game system as we played it are the skills. We would increase our ranks in skills at the end of a session, based on how much we used them and what we accomplished with them, with some filing down of the obvious exploits over time. That meant that there were limits to how high you could push your skills, because you could only get them as high as you had chances to in the course of sessions. Being a multimage with two or three magics was fine, but once you got to even as few as four, you really started to hit a wall, because they were sharing session time. If a session had eight obstacles, then four characters would each get two opportunities to use their skills, and though I made those numbers up, you get the point. A little of that applies here, but not that much, because ‘session time’ is so much longer, relatively speaking, in the real world.
This thing is so cool. Before joining this group, I never really had much experience with entads. How does it work?
Oh, shit, it does, can I erase that somehow?
Okay, well I don’t really want to erase all of that, I thought it was good the first time. Those are some solid opening paragraphs. Why isn’t there an erase function on it?
Yes, obviously I know how entads are made, it’s just —
Fine, we’ll just take some scissors and cut out the conversation, I guess, if you think that’s workable.
Yeah, I can be the one to actually do it.
Okay, yes, fine, we probably didn’t need a preamble, that’s just how they taught us to do it in school.
I think we’re in agreement about doing a MEN-centered build from here on out, which mostly means MEN-based magic. The question is which magics should be the focus of concerted effort, especially at the higher levels, where skills increase more slowly, and a session time metric might become more relevant. For that, there are a few things that we need to consider, like which roles various magics fill, making sure that there’s no redundancy or overlap, what virtues we can pick up and when, and where the magics actually have some implicit or explicit synergy.
Still magic is the best magic in the game. As soon as you’re even a middling still mage, you can stop about ninety-five percent of attacks, and that means that whatever else you are, you can wade into melee without really having to worry about the mooks.
No, how is it offensive?
Well, yes, but I’m not saying it to one, I’m just saying it in reference to the concept. A mook has nothing to do with a species, race, or ethnicity aside from etymology, it just means someone weak who exists only to get taken out right before the boss.
It’s just the two of us.
Yes, if we’re ever with members of the court together, I’ll watch my tongue.
Oh, right, we’re going to have to cut that out too. Dang.
Still magic doesn’t fully solve the problem of defense, but it’s so widely applicable that picking up another defensive magic would be a fool’s errand. That leaves two primary roles for us to worry about, offense and utility.
Here’s where we get to rune magic, which is legitimately one of the best magics in the game, because it’s got everything. If someone is attacking you, you can be set up to absorb, convert, or redirect that energy, so that’s defense sorted. If you need to hit someone, whether at range or in melee, all you need to do is empty the energy tanks and fire on them, with custom solutions to custom problems. A runerifle with a mass driving module is pretty much strictly better to all but the top tier entad rifles, and ammo is easier to sort and swap, in case you need cold iron, silver, or some other specific counter. Lasers are also a perennial favorite, but slightly redundant with gem magic (and a good argument for not taking gem magic). In melee, it’s usually hard to beat an entad sword, but rune magic can do it some of the time, depending on circumstances, burning through energy stores on hit for extra damage, whether that’s kinetic, electric, heat, or something more exotic. All of it can be swappable, so you’re not stuck with one or the other, and it all gets even better if you have some way to regenerate that energy in the midst of combat. As far as utility, there’s nothing with the breadth and power of rune magic.
Now, there are two big drawbacks to rune magic. The first is that you need access to a runeforge, and I’ll cop to that being a bigger problem for you than it ever was in our games. Still, it seems like something doable for royalty, or with enough money thrown at it, which means that the bigger issue might be the periodic travel time to and from the runeforge. That seems like it’s another thing that money can solve. The second problem is the time and materials needed, with the former being more of a problem than the latter. And the third problem is that you need to have at least a little knowledge about what kinds of situations you’re going to find yourself in, because your runegear should be aligned with the adventure, and if it’s not, that’s where you run into a lot of downsides.
You know every time you stop me, that’s more that I’m going to have to cut out?
Yes, I did notice, but I thought of a third thing when I was halfway through.
No, I’m not going to redo it, it’s just Amaryllis.
I like to think that I’ve gotten pretty far by treating her as just a person.
Things that apply to Amaryllis don’t apply to everyone else? Wow, that’s a shocker. Who would have thought? Do you have any other polished gems of wisdom for me?
Well, because I like you. It would be weird if I treated you like a princess. I don’t think you’d like it.
Yeah, I know, but we can come back to it, can’t we?
Well now I have an incentive to rush, don’t I?
It might not be obvious, but rune magic actually synergizes fairly well with still magic, though I don’t know if that’s the case in the real world.
It might not be obvious, but rune magic actually synergizes well with still magic, both in the game and the real world. One of the things that rune mages need to worry about is getting overloaded on energy, especially from environmental conditions, or in circumstances where that excess energy doesn’t have a way to safely dissipate for one reason or another. Kinetic dissipation is one of the primary means of dumping energy, but it can wear out both parts and runes. That’s where still magic comes into play. Rather than using runes or parts to try to dump the energy, you just use still magic instead, and that instantly shores up one of the weaknesses. On top of that, because still magic is so good at defense, the rune mage can focus more on other parts of their setup, meaning that there’s more time and space for offense and utility. And there are fewer risks of equipment failure, though we only rarely used those rules in our games, because they were a pain in the butt to track.
There is a little bit of anti-synergy between the two, since if you’re stopping bullets with still magic, that means you’re not recharging your energy stores, but I’m not sure that I should say that.
I’m just trying to make my case here.
Well I know that the build is done, but I don’t know whether or not they’ve switched to it, and as I was saying before, the build isn’t just the build, it’s a matter of how you actually go about playing the game, because the more you lean on certain skills, the more they level up. That means that if you have a good build but you use it wrong, you end up suboptimal. And even if they’ve switched builds, there’s still a chance to change the build again, if my reading of the rules is valid, so I want to make sure if that’s done without my input, bad choices aren’t made. This is kind of just to get it all on record.
Well, we talked a lot, but I think it’s better to have it all laid out as a single coherent argument. Plus I told her that I would send her anything that I thought of that might be relevant, so that’s kind of like an invitation.
I said ‘kind of’.
If we consider still magic and rune magic to be our top two varieties of magic, then that leaves one or two others as ‘core’ magic, those that should definitely be included on the character sheet and which should be used preferentially in battle, where possible. For your consideration, I submit the third most powerful magic: passion magic. In real life, passion magic is weak, and the refuge of madmen. Passion mages are only really on par with other types of mages through the use of drugs, and those compromise their ability to be effective fighters. So why do I suggest it? First, it’s MEN-based, because when the system was designed, it wasn’t designed with emotion in mind: emotion is for roleplaying, not mechanics. Second, the lowest level virtue for passion magic is garbage, but the upper tiers make up for it, and at the stage Juniper is currently at, he’ll be able to hit a forty pretty soon. Third, passion magic has an extraordinarily broad variety of effects, which means that it’s useful in more circumstances, functioning almost like a handful of magics instead of just one limited one. Fourth, and I’m not sure this applies, you get to pick your expressions for passion magic, which means that they’re more powerful than they are in the real world.
For a fourth magic, which is as many as I recommend at the higher levels given how slowly skills raise, star magic is my pick. It’s absolutely garbage-tier terrible when you start out, but it’s pretty much a linchpin at the higher levels, since it compresses travel time so much, lets you go to a lot of places that it’s really helpful to be able to go to, and has bonus utility in terms of what structures and traps you can build. It’s definitely not a frontline ability, but if you’re taking one for utility, best to take the one that can crack the endgame wide open, and that you can use consistently enough to actually level up.
Well I know that star mages can’t do some of that, but it’s what they could do in the game, and if we’re operating under the assumption that Juniper has something like the modified game rules, or some version of them where the different versions conflict —
Right, because he changed the game all the time, usually between campaigns, and some of those campaigns didn’t last terribly long, so there was churn. There was especially churn when someone took one of the skills and put it into the spotlight, because that was where we found out which ones were busted bad and which ones were busted good. It was all a janky mess though.
Oh come on, how is ‘janky’ bigoted?
Okay, yeah, I get it, when you phrase it like that.
I mean, I guess I would have said it at court, maybe. But so you know, my plan at court is to just sit there with my hands folded and not talk to anyone unless they talk to me first, and when I do talk, I’ll talk like I have a stick up my ass. Mostly I’ll eat canapés.
Canapés? Canapés. Look, the entad says that it’s right both ways.
Well I know that.
Sure, I can say it your way. Canapés.
No, I think your ass is stick free.
So those are our core four magics, as I see them: still, rune, passion, and star. From there, we can start to think about multimagic, the most notable multimagic being the combined power of rune magic and star magic, which are both construction magics and can feed into each other, especially given the amount of energy that a high tier star mage is capable of harnessing. By opening a floating microportal to the plane of fire, for example, you can keep full tanks for your runework, and the tension of an extradimensional space or construction can provide energy all on its own, with runework providing the struts.
Yeah, they can.
Well, it’s a matter of fact, you can look it up.
Probably because they’re so different, but there have been a few people who cross-specialized, and a few more who collaborated, and Juniper was nothing if not a fiend for research. Research and bullshit, anyway, but he was usually pretty honest about which was which, if you pressed him. And yeah, a lot of it was skin deep, like I’m sure the stuff about the crossover between star and rune, but the point isn’t a factual representation of the world, the point is something that’s fun.
Well I know they don’t all synergize, if you want the ‘proper’ synergies you go with the predefined clusters, like the bodily cluster, or the connection cluster, the physics cluster, the creation cluster, or whatever else. But those are all explicit synergies, so you’re doing it for a handful of virtues, and the inherent crossover is sometimes weak. Ink magic and steel magic are both construction cluster, but beyond combo virtues, they don’t overlap and let you, I don’t know, make ink magic structures or something, though that would be cool. If you want to talk about different builds, I mean, we can talk about them, but this is a recommendation for Amaryllis.
Wow we’ve made a mess of this. We agreed on you cutting this all up into something presentable, didn’t we?
Yeah, we’ll finish the rest of it later.
First, it would be better if you and Lisi weren’t seeing each other. We want you tucked away until this is all over, if it ever is, especially now that Juniper is more or less a known quantity. I don’t object to the relationship, but if you’re physically proximate, make sure that you have armed security outside. Ideally, no one should know that you two have anything to do with each other. Certainly don’t include anything about her in your letters.
Second, one of the things that I’m most worried about is cognitive load, which you didn’t touch on at all. It’s one of the biggest weaknesses of Juniper’s current mode of fighting, which requires him to juggle at least three different active magics for him to be at peak performance. I understand that in your games that wasn’t a consideration, but there’s only so much work that a human brain can do, even when significantly augmented. I have some experience trying to do what Juniper does, and he consistently impresses me with how effortlessly he flows between completely disparate fields of magic.
Per your suggested style, rune and passion, especially in combination, are going to require a significant amount of thought put into them in the middle of active combat. When you’re in combat, you don’t want to be thinking, you want to be acting on instinct and following your training.
Third, rune magic has all of the flaws that I repeatedly talked with you about, namely, the requirement for proximity to a runeforge, the time required to make it workable, and the bespoke nature of most of the ‘modules’ you think Juniper should be able to create. Rune mages typically operate within known designs, utilizing work that’s been iterated on and refined over hundreds of years. When you start introducing multimagic, almost all of that goes out the window, especially when considering passion magic, which has different expressions for each emotion and emotional combination. That’s before we even get to what you think he’s going to be able to do with virtues.
There’s nothing for us to grab off the shelf. At best, we could hire rune mages or at least experts in rune magic to make plans for us, but this would require significant amounts of time, and as far as star magic goes, might not even help, given that you would need to have proper knowledge of both fields to make the necessary designs. Beyond that, some of your proposed designs (then and now) were only ever possible within the magic system that Juniper created, not in the real world.
That said, you should rest easy, because I’ve kept it in the build.
I do appreciate the letter, but if you send another, I hope that it doesn’t rehash old conversations. If you’d like to be helpful, then your thoughts on effective ink magic would be appreciated. Alternately, and I hesitate to ask this, if you have any ideas for how to assault Fel Seed, or any of the other exclusions, they might prove beneficial.
Juniper’s Notes: Meditations on Ink Magic
Ink magic basically allows you to roll your own entads, and the cooler they are, the more powerful they’re allowed to be. The relationship between entads and inktads (called ‘neks’ colloquially or ‘monads’ if you’re being technical, and inktads only if you’re me) is pretty simple, but the people who study them are really reluctant to say that they’re exactly the same. Entads are created by a forge frenzy, their designs and distribution fait accompli. Inktads spring forth from the mind of the creator, limited by their palette of inks, their internal feeling of creativity, and i-level limitations, among others. The phenomenological similarities have been noted, but don’t really help anyone.
The concept of i-level is just about the only thing that carries over, where an understanding of entad impact factor can help you to understand inktad impact factor, though there are enough differences that using the same term for both is misleading (which is the number one thing that any book on the subject will point out). Limitations are one of the big ones: where it’s fairly common for entads to have renewable charges, limits on when they can be used, limits on who can use them, and quite narrow effects, those aren’t really done with ink magic, since you get basically nothing from it, even if it should theoretically make impact factor lower. From a game balance standpoint, this makes a lot of sense, since inktads are nearly always made for some specific purpose, and building in redundant or inconsequential-in-practice limits would mean increasing the power for no cost. More than that, it would be pretty lame. From the perspective of a naturalist, someone who studies ink magic and tries to make sense of it, it’s a little less clear why i-level works differently, and it’s definitely lacking a clean explanation. The best they’ve come up with is that any gains you make by adding in inconsequential limits are offset by a hit to the nebulous ‘creativity’ of the inktad. Consequential limits to inktads, those that change how they operate, can still give you gains, but they have to be at least a little clever.
Palette took me a bit to understand. The extended metaphor that’s used for ink magic is that of paint, a painter, and their canvas. I’m not going to say that this is outright false, but for me, it was certainly misleading. I’d thought that I would ingest an ink, label it something like ‘extradimensionality’, and then be locked in with that, making a bunch of inktads that had extradimensional effects of one flavor or the other, in combination with the effects of my other inks. To my mind, on hearing about ink magic, it seemed like I might have three inks, one for ‘fire’, one for ‘might’, and one for ‘sight’, mixing and matching them. But that was wrong, and once I found the metaphor that they had been trying to point at with ‘palette’, I realized what it was they actually meant: each paint in the palette was a campaign world, or at least a part of it.
When I was making up entads for my D&D campaigns, I’d always tried my best to keep things in theme, or at least something resembling theme. It was a pretty standard trope that adventurers wore horribly mismatched outfits that were based entirely on the function, rather than form, and that was definitely true on Aerb, but if I made a villain, or a temple of cultists, I didn’t want them to look goofy just because it was logical for them to look goofy because we were using so many different books, I would give them matching outfits and at least some stab at a unifying aesthetic. That aesthetic would transcend their physical appearance and bleed into mechanical functionality.
An example would be a cult of occulum trying to bring back their dead god. They were a species that grew extra arms, legs, eyes, and other extremities or organs, culling what they’d budded until they had the best their body could produce. If the cult was attempting to summon forth a dead god that was once the patron of their species, then their magic items could be based around either the occulum themselves and their habit of budding off new parts or sundering their own redundant limbs. Maybe you would find life-sustaining magics intended to allow limb transfers, maybe you would find ways to link between organisms, maybe make knives that would cauterize and heal as they cut, there were lots of things that you could do with it.
Or if you wanted to focus on summoning a dead god, then you could have a magic item that drew from the past, which, in-world, would be an application of their research (though non-duplicable, unless there was a good story there somewhere). But it wouldn’t just be some backwards-looking aspect, it would be mending that which was broken, or trying to knit together things that had been ruined, or to see the way things had been.
In ink magic terms, those might be two inks in the palette, each of them mapped to a specific ingested ink, the closer the relationship, the better.
Once all that was grokked, the inktads flowed out a lot more easily. There is some power in inks, and it was necessary, once they were ingested, to give them each a coherent symbolic identity, but that didn’t need to be a strict aesthetic or concept, it just needed to be some aspect of a campaign world, a stable base from which to draw out creative magic items. It even made sense why the inks went dull or wore out their welcome: making the first magic item for a temple of cultists was easy, but making the fiftieth was really, really hard, because you were picking high-hanging fruit. Better to move on to other inks so that different conceits could be explored.
I have it easy, as far as ink magic is concerned. Heck, I have it easy where every magic is concerned, but for ink magic, it’s even more of a breeze, because I have an intuitive understanding of what I’m doing when making new items, as well as an understanding of the Rule of Cool, what’s derivative and what’s not, and what kinds of limits are level appropriate. Even if I didn’t have my magical powers, I’m pretty sure that I could have gone into Ink and Ardor as a normal student and been, if not the star pupil, then somewhere near the top of the class. Top ten percent, anyway, unless I was Dunning-Krugering myself.
And I definitely have access to whatever inks I want, not that they matter that much. Inks are basically equivalent to a prompt, or a bit of inspiration, and the symbolic construct that you create for them (the worldbuilding notion) works better if it matches up well with the base ink. The ink having actual magical properties is a necessity, but unlike tattoo magic, where you’re dependent on the inks, for an ink mage, especially a relatively low level one, you can get by with relatively little in the way of cost. My understanding is that inks could limit you but not elevate you. A rank amateur wouldn’t be propelled to grandmaster status by being handed godly inks, but a grandmaster would be hampered by poor quality inks.
(To create some formulas and rules from thin air, you’re capped by either the max i-level of your skill or the i-level of the ink, with the ‘quality’ of symbolic construction in relation to the ink providing a malus on i-level, and then the actual inktad concept and execution further limiting actual i-level, with degradation being a function of skill, i-level, and how well you could map item to campaign.)
At any rate, I was thinking about all this and decided on making my own guide to entads and inktads, which in theory might help to crystalize a workflow.
Superlative entads are the simplest and worst starting place for an entad. I just made up that term right now, but a superlative entad is one that’s better than its mundane counterpart in some way, simply by virtue of physical properties. The canonical example would be a sword that’s sharper than a normal sword. Now, it’s not a bad thing to include that as one element of an entad, but by itself, it tends to be super lame. It’s armor, but harder than normal armor! It’s a telescope, but you can see further! Anyone would want them, obviously, but they’re braindead. I include a fair amount of generically good stuff in here, everything from +1 magic sword to a self-repairing cart. I do have a soft spot for superlative entads that are outside the realm of normal adventuring equipment, like a pillow that’s supernaturally fluffy, but that’s the only real exception.
Problem-solving entads are kind of cousins to the superlatives, and I suppose if I were Arthur, I would probably create some kind of system with two or three axes that could encompass all possibilities, but I’m not going to do that. A problem-solving entad is one that simply solves a problem. The canonical example of this would be a vest you can put on that keeps you from overheating in the desert. It’s useful, and it’s not just increasing the power or utility that an object normally has, but it’s lame. If a character were to go to an entadmonger looking for something to help her cross the desert, and I told the player that there was a vest of not-overheating, I would be ashamed of myself. Better a magical parasol that floats around and blocks the sun from reaching you, or an amulet that makes ice golems, or a brooch that collects and stores heat, or one of a billion other things that don’t simply exist to solve the problem that they’re solving. For D&D, this was often a matter of flavoring: a ring of water breathing just lets a character breathe while underwater, but you can modify it so that there’s some actual mechanism to this, like filling your lungs with oxygen, which then has knock-on effects like also making you better at endurance checks. Ring of filling your lungs with oxygen is way better than the ring of water breathing, not just mechanically for the player, but on a conceptual level.
Combination entads are almost as simple, but much less bad. A combination entad would be one that serves the function of two or more regular mundane items. If a sword spreads light like a torch on command word, that’s a combination entad, because it’s a flashlight combined with a sword. If there’s a sword that can split in two and become two daggers, that’s better than having two daggers or just a sword. Sometimes this ‘two in one’ ability can be a little more cloaked than that, like a sword whose hilt can be extended to make it into a polearm, but that’s borderline and not really the same, because the act of extension might be useful in other ways. Included in this loose category are all manner of item duplication or generation entads, like a quiver that never runs out of arrows, or one that puts a meal in front of you. Generally speaking, I like these, especially at low power levels. In games, they tend to remove a lot of piddling little bookkeeping about rations, ammo, and other equipment, which no one likes. In real life, they either help with some mundane concerns, or with fluidity in combat. Everyone loves a multitool. The weirder you get with it, the better.
Impossible entads are not, contrary to the name, literally impossible, but they do things that you couldn’t replicate using mundane means, and don’t represent simple increases to what’s already there. A telescope that gives you the name of any ship you point it at would be one example, because it’s doing something that a telescope cannot and will not do. My canonical example of an impossible entad would be the flickerblade, whose ability to appear and disappear to great effect makes it quite a bit unlike a sword. The exact nature of this impossibility will, naturally, vary quite a bit, and since you’re going impossible, there’s some temptation to have the entad effect have no relation to form … but I don’t find that very satisfying, unless it’s done sparingly and for effect. This is a broad category that I think you could break down quite a bit more, but the heart of it is that you’re well outside the normal range of function, even if there’s a symbolic path. Thinking about it, most of my favorite entads are this kind of thing. I’ll grudgingly include things like a flaming sword or a returning axe in here, because the reason I don’t like them is how overdone they are. Usually, if I were going to do that kind of thing, it would be with other, more interesting stuff as the focus.
Bugfuck entads are just plain weird, and they’re probably the most difficult to come up with, but also the most rewarding. I guess in this current taxonomy, they’re a subset of impossible entads, but where impossible entads do their thing within the framework of normal use, bugfuck entads will tend to set up scenarios or demand people sit down to first figure them out, and then, exploit them. The flickerblade is relatively straight-forward. Something like — well, like Bethel? That’s an adventure in and of itself. I think the key distinction that I’m driving at here is that bugfuck entads represent a paradigm shift of one kind or another. An entad doorknob that opens up pathways to another world, a magical stone that lays out the physical laws of the universe, or a backpack that lets you grab things from Earth, that’s what I’m talking about. But that’s at the upper end of power, and I don’t think it’s just about power, because Ropey was a bugfuck entad too. I think I’m almost on the edge of being able to produce an inktad that can briefly bring mice back to life, and that’s the kind of thing I consider a bugfuck entad: something that you give to the players, and they’re left scratching their heads, wondering what in the hell they’re going to do with it.
Valencia’s Notes: Infernal Feelings
People say that infernals like suffering, but this isn’t really true. Infernals like feeling good. If you could figure out some way of making them feel good without anyone needing to suffer, they would readily agree and give up on suffering, because the suffering is just a means to an end. If you could rip out the backwards ways that infernal feelings interact with mortal feelings, or reverse them, then you would have good infernals, or at least neutral ones.
Infernals don’t really feel much of anything without mortals around. If I had to make a comparison, I guess I’d say that infernals without humans were suffering from severe depression, with everything muted and gray, but that’s the comparison that infernals make. I’ve had hundreds of infernal memories, but no human ones except my own, so I don’t know how accurate it is. Infernals describe the feeling of being away from mortals as hunger, but I don’t think that’s accurate to how they actually feel it, at least going off their memories. It’s more of a nameless yearning, a desire to feel something instead of nothing, one which causes the aforementioned grayness of their reality.
Most infernals live like this. Infernals outnumber mortals more than two to one, but it’s worse than you’d think from looking at those numbers, because the infernals have a staggeringly high Gini coefficient, even if you’re comparing to highly unequal Aerbian nations like Anglecynn. Some of the warlord infernals have millions of mortals under their control, most of them barely used at all. The hells aren’t only bad for mortals, they’re bad for the majority of infernals as well.
There are many different flavors of emotion, and most infernals get bored with sampling only one of those flavors, though infernals aren’t all the same, and some are what we’d class as fetishists, if they were mortals. Pain usually gives the infernals pleasure, sadness gives them happiness, fear gives them confidence, disgust gives joy, though infernals aren’t all the same and the mapping doesn’t hold for all varieties of infernal. On the flip side, the correlates go the other way, so that a strong, happy, healthy mortal grates on an infernal and makes them feel terrible. If you try to look at those crude analogies, you can get some sense of what life without mortals is like for an infernal. Food tastes like nothing, there is no pleasure or happiness, less motivation or desire … and the major depression thing is a sensible but wrong way to look at that.
So if you’re an infernal who doesn’t have a mortal whose suffering you can use for your own fulfillment, what do you do?
The first and most obvious solution is finding a mortal. Finding an unclaimed mortal is virtually impossible, short of a major soul spill or extreme amounts of luck. Impoverished infernals will cheat, swindle, steal, and attack in an attempt to gain a mortal, and if that doesn’t work, they’ll try more legitimate methods, which largely means labor arrangements with infernal organizations. A lot of people think that the hells are filled with mortal slaves, but infernal servitude of one kind or another is a lot more common. Mortals are valuable, and there are a lot of things that they just can’t do because of the conditions, their lack of magic, and the basic way the hells are structured. So, some infernals are slaves, but others are what some people call wage slaves, chained into existing structures of labor in order to maintain their position within the hierarchy, which in this case means being able to pay for a mortal to use for a few hours when you’re finished with the labor, or sometimes, with the mortal being the payment in and of itself: it varies. For some infernals, the only time they see a mortal is at an arena, parade, or some other situation where the mortal suffering is at a remove.
So if you’re an infernal whose only regular contact with an actual mortal is brief and fleeting, you need to find ways to deal with that. This really gets into infernal psychology, and what in particular twigs that part of them that needs suffering. The short version is that nothing but ‘real’ suffering will do, which is inextricably bound up in the magic that makes infernals tick in the first place. Infernals have been working on the problem for a very long time, probably devoting more effort to it than any group has devoted to anything in all of Aerb’s history, but they’ve come up dry. At best, infernals have coping techniques.
Fiction works well enough that the desperate will pursue it. It can be painful to spend money on a book filled with stories of torture when that same money could just buy some actual torture, but some infernals do it. Plays and the oral tradition are more common, because there’s less of a material cost involved, but there are limits on how much production can go into any mortal-replacement endeavor, because at a certain point, you would just use a mortal instead. The infernals don’t have the equivalent of opera, because it would pale in comparison to just putting a mortal up on stage and torturing them. The infernals do have that, including elaborate plays where the mortals are in the play but not actually acting, but that’s a bit different. For the purposes of infernals, fiction is just about as good as history or hearing about things secondhand, which is another thing that people on Aerb usually get wrong about them. They tend to consume fiction for the same reason that people do: fiction can be optimized to give them what they want.
Infernals have fantasies, but those aren’t replacements, they’re just yearning, sometimes backed by past experiences, sometimes wild imaginings. Sometimes these fantasies become something more, with props, mannequins, magical constructs, or other methods of acting them out. Infernals will occasionally use other infernals for this, inflicting their tortures on each other and pretending that it’s mortal suffering instead, but even with infernals that look more like one of the mortal species, it’s clearly not the real thing. Sometimes this happens by agreement, sometimes it’s just infernal slavery or labor agreements.
Possession is another pastime, much more effective at fulfilling the need for feeling, though reaching up into Aerb and temporarily replacing a person is usually on the expensive side, unless it’s a non-anima, and it doesn’t last terribly long. It can also be unsatisfying, depending on who you get, and reconnaissance or being specific are much, much more expensive. If you’re doing the cheap version, you might possess someone who isn’t around anyone, and infernals don’t get much if anything from hurting their hosts (which is good, because I would be dead if they did). Coordinated and repeated possession is much rarer and done only when an infernal organization has a specific need, or when one of the rich and powerful infernals wants to set up some personal fantasy that they’d like to play out.
You might be tempted to feel bad for the infernals. They’ve been working to figure out a way to live without mortals, not because of any moral intuition or compulsion, but because it would make a lot of practical sense. But the fact remains that they are what they are. And someday, they’ll all be gone.
Amaryllis’ Notes: Standards
Uther Penndraig was a reformer, and as reformers went, he had a number of things working in his favor. He was the absolute ruler of the most powerful individual polity on the hex, he was the de facto leader of the largest political collective, he was arguably the most physically and magically powerful person through all of Aerb’s history, he was beloved and respected by almost everyone, he was the richest person alive, and he had exclusive knowledge from another plane of existence where hundreds of years of reform had already taken place, some of them failing, others succeeding. The world was his to remake as he pleased.
Uther chose not to invent metric. He knew that it existed, and even if he lived in the one country in the whole of Earth that didn’t use it, it still boggles my mind that he wouldn’t have imported it. There are only two things that I can say in his defense. The first is that the imperial system was already in use on Aerb when he got here, in a small handful of countries surrounding Anglecynn, which means that at least he can’t be accused of importing a backwards system of measure here. The second is that certain units are magically significant, and those units are almost always exact integer numbers in the imperial system. Juniper has explained that this was common in tabletop games, for the sake of easy mechanics, and whether or not you took this as abstraction or worldbuilding was up to the DM. I don’t find that to be a particularly good reason to keep imperial, but it’s one of the defenses that I would anticipate Uther giving.
The Second Empire did invent something sufficiently close to metric that I’m willing to call it the same system, but they never mandated that it go into wide use, perhaps because it would have cost quite a bit to do that over the entirety of Aerb, with minimal benefits. Especially early on in the Second Empire, there was the idea that they were going to accelerate into a true utopia for everyone, and I suppose when you think you’re hard on that, putting time and effort into something trivial like making a newer, better standard seems pointless. After the fall of the Second Empire, their systems were largely abandoned, and they taint any current discussion of reform (even something so minor as decimalization).
As a minor and infuriating note, while Aerb units and Earth units all have the same names, they aren’t actually equal to each other. The discrepancies are small, but they add up, and the ratios between imperial units are different because of that. An Aerb mile is roughly the same as an Earth mile, and an Aerb foot is roughly the same as an Earth foot, but there are 5,120 Aerb feet in an Aerb mile. It’s the kind of thing that is mostly inconsequential, unless you’re working from Earth textbooks and schematics to solve novel engineering problems on Aerb, at which point it adds quite a bit of tedious work and double-checking to many steps of the process. And why? Why would the world be arranged this way? Presumably just to test my patience, unless it’s just one of those things that the Dungeon Master would have needed to put in some measurable time or effort to fix, and on the seventh day of creation, he decided to take a nap instead.
Uther did engage in a number of other reforms during his time, the standardization of dates and times being one of them, though this has been a contentious issue for nearly as long as it’s been around. In the beginning, Uther did try to make some concessions to other cultures, with the month and day names being taken from various historical figures from around Aerb, but of course that led to some contentions, as with seven days and twelve months, there was no possible way to keep everyone happy. Still, that’s what we ended up with, and after a few generations, most of the Empire is ignorant of what the old systems were like, outside of a few cultural preservation groups and a small number of special cases where it makes sense to do otherwise.
All months have exactly thirty days, with the extra seven days set aside for a holiday between the end of one year and the start of another. Originally this holiday was meant to be different every year, a celebration of various cultures, but this didn’t prove feasible, and following the collapse of the First Empire, different cultures have done things their own way. Interestingly, Aerb has slightly longer years than Earth, though not enough to make much difference. Similarly, Aerb has slightly longer days than Earth, amounting to roughly three and one seventh Earth minutes a day. You wouldn’t notice if you were transplanted from one world to the other, but for anything precise, it’s a pain.
Months: Sougouw, Abi, Taun, Domai, Yaub, Donsuch, Taunsak, Akkers, Halig, Jeima, Kidou, Machaw
Days: Tethday, Loday, Thrisday, Highday, Twisday, Zeeday, Ahnkday
April 11th, 1999: Juniper is born
March 14th, 2009: Juniper’s first D&D session
August 13th, 2015: Junior year starts
January 9th, 2016: Juniper and Tiff begin dating
April 11th, 2016: Juniper turns 17
June 9th, 2016: Arthur is involved in a car accident
June 16th, 2016: Arthur dies
August 11th, 2016: Senior year starts
January 12th, 2017: The Fel Seed Incident
March 23rd, 2017: Juniper’s last memory on Earth
9 BE: Uther arrives on Aerb
6 BE: The Erstwhile Players hanged
4 BE: Uther takes Avengion from the lake and kills the Dark King
1 BE: Meeting of the Seventeen Swords
0 FE: Uther’s first son born
1 FE: Uther’s second son born
3 FE: Uther’s daughter born
4 FE: Uther defeats the Ice Wizards
5 FE: Uther defeats Apocalypse Demon
7 FE: Uther defeats the Wandering Blight
12 FE: Uther relocates the Athenaeum of Speculation and Scrutiny
14 FE: Uther eradicates the vampires
18 FE: Vervainium founded
20 FE: Infernoscope invented
30 FE: Uther disappears
34 FE: Fel Seed exclusion
81 FE: Internecine Wars
119 FE: Oorang Solace born
176 FE: Second Empire founded
194 FE: Pendleham exclusion
276 FE: Necrolaborem exclusion
324 FE: Second Empire collapses, Manifest exclusion
389 FE: Teleportation keys forged
413 FE: Radio invented
446 FE: Doris Finch exclusion
472 FE: Void beast discovered
494 FE: Fenn born
510 FE: Amaryllis born
519 FE: Risen Lands exclusion
525 FE: Darili Irid accident
527 FE: Juniper arrives on Aerb
Yaub 29th, 527: Juniper arrives on Aerb
Donsuch 1st, 527: Juniper, Amaryllis, and Fenn arrive at Barren Jewel
Donsuch 12th, 527: Caer Laga
Donsuch 16th, 527: Juniper and Fenn return to Barren Jewel
Donsuch 23rd, 527: Isaac Aumann killed
Donsuch 25th, 527: Party kills a unicorn
Donsuch 26th, 527: Larkspur Prentiss killed
Taunsak 4th, 527: Fallatehr Whiteshell killed
Taunsak 14th, 527: Party descends into the Boundless Pit
Taunsak 15th, 527: Republic of Miunun founded
Akkers 18th, 527: Party makes trip to Speculation and Scrutiny
Akkers 19th, 527: Fenn dies
Akkers 23rd, 527: Juniper enters the Infinite Library
Halig 3rd, 527: Juniper leaves the Infinite Library
Halig 4th, 527: Party visits Darili Irid
Halig 5th, 527: Bethel’s marriage
Halig 7th, 527: Party enters Li’o
Halig 10th, 527: Classes start at Sound and Silence
Halig 23rd, 527: Mome Rath
Halig 29th, 527: Dragons visit the Isle of Poran
Jeima 4th, 527: Party arrives in Caledwich
Jeima 7th, 527: Onion Penndraig killed
Jeima 8th, 527: Hyacinth Prentiss killed, Rosemallow Penndraig killed
|7 POW||21 One-Handed Weapons||21 Two-Handed Weapons||21 Parry||21 Dodge|
|7 SPD||21 Unarmored||21 Unarmed Combat||21 Thrown Weapons|
|7 END||21 Heavy Armor||21 Athletics||39 Vibrational Magic|
|14 CUN||28 Ink Magic||22 Air Magic||33 Engineering|
|14 KNO||24 Analysis||20 Repair||20 Logistics||20 Logic|
|14 WIS||27 Rifles||35 Blood Magic||42 Still Magic|
|3 CHA||27 Passion Magic||23 Water Magic||29 Gem Magic|
|5 INS||42 Essentialism||42 Bone Magic|
|3 POI||20 Optics||20 Research||20 Mathematics|
|1 LUK||34 Alchemy||4 Language||42 Spirit|