Birthday greetings and felicitations

Apr. 26th, 2017 10:02 pm
onyxlynx: Festive pennants in blue & purple with word "Birthday" centered. (Birthday)
[personal profile] onyxlynx
to [personal profile] bradycardia! A day of enormous peace for you!

UK Conservatives and the alternatives

Apr. 26th, 2017 10:33 pm
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
[personal profile] mtbc
Theresa May, the Prime Minister and leader of the UK's Conservative Party, seems keen on selling June's general election as an opportunity to vote in plenty of Conservative MPs such that she can have weight behind her in negotiating with the European Union the terms of the UK's departure and trade deals with other countries.

Electorally, the choice is an interesting one. The Conservatives actually give me more pause on other issues such as civil liberties and welfare funding. It's the former issue that has me keep half an eye on the Liberal Democrats except they don't seem to care a lot either given how little they mention it; in any case they have paled into insignificance since their disastrous coalition. I like how Labour seem in favor of spending on healthcare and schools rather than pursuing more privatization and tax cuts but the party is a divided shambles whose leader Jeremy Corbyn was recently even doubting the committing of British forces to NATO's deployment in the Baltic. Regular readers already know in what little esteem I hold the Scottish National Party.

I do always vote. It does however seem usual that the choice requires research and often a little nose-holding. I still have to read through the campaign materials for next month's local elections too. When I can't stomach any of the main parties I have been known to cast an encouraging vote for one of the others but quite rarely.

Skill challenges

Apr. 26th, 2017 06:32 pm
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
DnD 4e and 5e introduced the idea of skill challenges. Basically a unified framework for handling various things other than combat or parallel to combat that should involve more back and forth than a single roll, like a chase scene, or defusing a bomb.

The idea is, instead of a single "defuse bomb" roll, you need multiple things, open the panel without setting something off, find the deadman's switch, choose the right wire, cut it.

And these might be things that require a variety of skills.

4e designed a version which really rubbed me up the wrong way. It optimised for designing a scenario that could be run mechanically for different groups and present a particular level of challenge, and assumed that each challenge would be defined by "achieve N successes before X failures, using skills A, B, C or D".

I've only skimmed the rules for 5e but it seems to be somewhat more freeform. Because I thought this was a *great* idea, basically codifying something that a good GM would do automatically, but I really didn't like the way it was hard-coded, and presented to the players up-front.

Ideally, it should be obvious without specifying to the players. For the bomb, maybe each failure makes the bomb arm itself, then begin flashing, then finally explode. You don't know for sure how many steps, but you can tell things are getting critical. (And if you're aiming for fun rather than challenge, the GM can escalate or descelate the requirements according to how challenging this encounter should be compared to other ones that have happened this session.) It should be obvious which skills might apply, but they might lead to different paths -- a knowledge skill might open up an easier path to success, not count as a success/failure itself; different skills might stack or not; etc.

Or it ties into combat, each failure makes combat more difficult (it makes the platform you're standing on move dangerously or lets more enemies catch up), or you need to coordinate making skill rolls with other characters doing combat.

If you're improv'ing, that's all fairly easy to do, even though it's hard to spec in advance.

I said on twitter, skill challenges are a great idea, but I find it more fun if it's "how the GM designs the scenario" not "a mechanic the players need to be familiar with". Now I think of it, I see the same contrast with "what monsters you encounter". That easily can be pre-specified, and the players know, basically, the mechanics are "here's the monsters who exist" or "they spawn every two rounds" (as in 4e)[1], and know everyone faced a similar challenge. Or it can be improvised -- if the players faff around, the reinforcements arrive early, if they players have a lucky plan to bar a door, they can't come in, etc, etc. (as I'd like it).

[1] This makes sense from a tactical combat perspective, but I found very frustrating. Every 2 rounds skeletons climb out of a sarcophagus. No, you can't look inside. No, you can't judge how many skeletons could fit inside. No, you can't judge what sort of spell or effect is responsible (well, you can, but you can't expect it to matter). No, you can't try to block the lid. It's screaming "accept the premise and desperately avoid imagining being there". Except that if you do that, you have no way to judge "having the infinite spawning skeletons finished or will they continue" and are punished for guessing wrong. I feel like you could have 90% of the effect by saying "there's a pile of bones, a skeleton assembles itself out of them, there's still 3/4 of the pile left" or "the sundered skeleton parts begin to reassemble themselves" or "the air shimmers and a skeleton warrior sprouts from the ground".

Changeable weather

Apr. 26th, 2017 05:16 pm
mtbc: maze F (cyan-black)
[personal profile] mtbc
At the moment the weather is fairly pleasant: mild, barely a breeze, some sunshine and some clouds. Children play outdoors, including one young fellow on a large tricycle device. The weather has been significantly variable lately: on Sunday we were all out doing gardening and seeing how nice the tree blossom is. The growth on the tree is always a relief for me because it means that my pruning months earlier didn't kill part of what remained. I even dug my sandals out from a box in the garage. Then, yesterday morning there was ice on the car windshield when I was to leave for work and colleagues came in with tales of sleet and snow. It also developed great windiness, even blowing over rather more items than strong wind typically does, though at least the barbecue did not leave the deck.

One thing that I much enjoyed in central Ohio was clear seasons with predictable weather. I could plan ahead well on both a short and a longer timescale, the exceptions being excitingly extreme weather that I also appreciated. Climate change may reduce predictability but I retain hope that on returning the US I can again find somewhere with more anticipatable seasons. Nearer the coast there were a few more surprises: for instance, in Boston when we had heavy snowfall around Hallowe'en.

OMG an actual uterine replicator!

Apr. 26th, 2017 02:57 pm
ceb: (squee)
[personal profile] ceb
https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15112

In 50 years time we will look back on this as second only to the washing machine in the revolutionising-womens-lives stakes.

(IHNJ, IJLS "labour-saving device")

Interesting Links for 26-04-2017

Apr. 26th, 2017 12:00 pm
andrewducker: (Default)
[personal profile] andrewducker
sunflowerinrain: Singing at the National Railway Museum (Default)
[personal profile] sunflowerinrain
Counter-terrorism Division and Cyber Crime Division.
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Birthday greetings and felicitations

Apr. 25th, 2017 05:48 pm
onyxlynx: Festive pennants in blue & purple with word "Birthday" centered. (Birthday)
[personal profile] onyxlynx
Happy 100th to Ella Fitzgerald, singer extraordinaire.

(Selected samples.)

Liberation

Apr. 25th, 2017 08:50 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
I made the classic mistake with Passover this year, of getting worked up and stressed about the practicalities of it instead of preparing spiritually. Actually it all went completely fine, but it wasn't until the last day of the festival, when all the organization was over, that I actually remembered to feel joy and celebration for being free.

contains religion )

Monday was just wonderful, though. That was when it really started to sink in that not only was I actually happy at being redeemed from slavery, but I am incredibly joyful and grateful to have such an excellent family. Both the ones I grew up with who are so great to celebrate Pesach with, and my family of choice who are incredibly supportive about joining in with my festivals and including me in theirs in a really respectful and non-pressurey way. We played D&D with [personal profile] jack GMing, something we've been meaning to do for ages and just not had time for, and it was really fun and relaxing.
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
Last post, I decided that what's "really there" for fundamental particles is typically a quantum thing, specifically, a probability wave of possible values a particle can have which appears to collapse into one particular place only when its interacted with.

However, this "collapse" sounds very suspicious. If two different particles emitted from the same particle decay (or something?) are known to have opposite spins, but not what those are, do you get all the usual wavelike behaviour, can each self-interfere, etc? Yes, of course. And yet, when you finally measure them, lo, the spins are still conveniently opposite.

Something that looks like collapsing to a single answer seems to happen, because when we measure them, we always do get a single answer. But that's not an event. If you measure one, does a spooky force reach out across the room to force the other to collapse at the same time? Does it collapse the value you measure, but still allow other properties of the particle to continue being multiple? That looks awfully like what happens, but it should seem wrong to start with, even before you ask "if you measure one particle, does the other know to wait until you interact with it, but store the answer you're going to find until then" and "if you measure them both a long way apart, does the collapse rush faster than the speed of light (aka backwards in time) to make sure both answers agree with each other?"

Any theory involving particles "knowing" or "waiting" or "choosing" depending on how you measure them sounds very unlike physics.

And yet, the particles go on behaving like probability waves until you measure them, and if they came from a shared source, then when you measure them, they DO agree. Just as if this spooky shit was happening. What might be going on?

Hypothesis 1

Whenever one particle collapses, a spooky force travels faster than the speed of light to the other particle, and then hangs around telling it what value it will have when it's finally measured.

This *works*, but hopefully you can see why it doesn't seem correct.

Hypothesis 2

Just like hypothesis 1, but we try to avoid thinking about it. This is not really satisfying, but it works and is a pragmatic default for many physicists. (Sort of Copenhagen interpretation?)

Hypothesis 3

Even while a particle is still smeared out across a probability of many potential positions/values, it has a hidden property which tells it how it's *going* to collapse when something interacts with it. Like, not necessarily "hidden", but basically some sort of determinism.

This is roughly Hidden variables interpretation (right?)

This would be fairly satisfactory except that it turns out it's impossible.

This is not very mysterious or controversial, but involves more simple probability than I can manage to wade through. Look up the EPR paradox or the Bell inequality. The idea is, you choose something like polarisation angle that could be measured at many different angles. You randomly choose to measure at different angles for two particles known to have opposite polarisation. There are various correlations between the probabilities when you measure the two particles at an angle to each other (the detectors neither parallel nor orthogonal). You can prove that no possible hidden value would make all those correlations true at once, but QM does and that's what's actually observed.

I can't really prove this to myself, let alone anyone else, but AFAIK no reputable physicists doubt that it's correct, only maybe what it means, so I'm willing to accept it as true.

There are still edge cases, like, people argue whether the experiments have ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY proved this spooky collapse effect would have to go faster than the speed of light, rather than going at a possible speed (but depending what exact moment sets it off, etc). But I don't find any of that very persuasive. A spooky collapse effect which is triggered by measuring a particle and goes at the speed of light or below, while not ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY ruled out, doesn't sound at all likely. I don't think anyone seriously expects that if they make the distance apart in those measurements a bit bigger, they'll suddenly get difference results: that's not how you expect physics to happen.

Hypothesis 4

Those weird quantum probability waves don't only exist for tiny particles, they happen just the same for everything including macroscopic objects, humans, etc, but you can't observe the effects except for tiny things (because to see interference you need something isolated from other particles, and you need to be able to detect its wavelength, which is way too small for anything bigger than a molecule).

I'm still working on understanding *why*, if that's true, it produces the effects we see. But most physicists, even ones who don't like this line of reasoning, seem to agree that it *would*.

This makes everything above non-mysterious. How does the collapse effect move around? It doesn't. Every "collapse" is just another probability thing of a scientist (and all the other macroscopic stuff) interacting with a particle and becoming two never-interacting possible scientists, one observing A, one observing B. We know both happen. We know, when we measure things light-hours apart and then compare notes, that we will be comparing notes with the version of the other scientist who observed the opposite polarisation to what we saw, while our shadow twin will be comparing notes with the other scientist's shadow twin.

The multiple non-interacting versions of the macroscopic world are called "many worlds" or "parallel universes" which admittedly makes them sound very implausible.

It seems like, this leaves some things to ponder, but resolves a very large part of the things people find mysterious. And yet, many physicists really don't like it. I need to read the bits of Scott Aaron's book about different interpretations[1], because I trust him to know more about this than me and he doesn't seem convinced.

Footnote [1]

The hypotheses above are called interpretations. I don't know if my ones exactly map onto the real ones. The name is because they all predict the same results, and yet seem quite different.

You can argue, "they're the same", but I don't quite agree. See for instance space outside our light cone -- we have no way of observing it, so the hypotheses "it's got physics just like ours but with different stuff there" and "it's all purple unicorns" are both possible, and yet, the first one seems a lot more like actual reality.

In both cases, it sort of doesn't matter, but you can imagine (a) which answer is most plausible, most useful, easiest to work with, or least ridiculous (b) if we're wrong and there IS some difference, which one would actually be found to be the one that exists.

Requiescat in Pace

Apr. 25th, 2017 09:08 am
onyxlynx: Some trees and a fountain at a cemetery (A Fine and Private Place)
[personal profile] onyxlynx
It turns out that the political situation is making for mental constipation. Which calls for some mental coffee and banana. Soon.All NY Times obituaries.
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
You should be able to select multiple pokemon from your reserves when choosing which pokemon to fight with.

When you're training a friendly gym, the default pokemon selection should avoid pokemon very slightly higher CP than the ones you're fighting that automatically reduce the prestige gained by 40%.

"Vaporeon used hydropump" should always come slightly before the special move takes effect, rather than slightly after.

If your pokemon is on 5% health and you switch to another pokemon and that one is knocked out, its default replacement should be the *next* one, not the one which will be knocked out instantly. (Is there a shortcut for "next pokemon" without going through the pokemon select screen?)

If your switch pokemon and while you're in the pokemon select screen, your previous pokemon faints or you forget which pokemon you started with, and you click frantically click a pokemon again and again trying to select it and nothing happens, it should select that pokemon even if it's the one already selected.

If you select "run away" there should be a quick gesture to do so in a single click, without needing to get to the "yes" button before your next pokemon is knocked out too.
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
This has so much I love.

An interesting space empire, full of detailed calendrical minutae, customs, etc, etc.

A mathematically gifted protagonist struggling to serve loyally as a minor officer in the infantry.

A legendary rogueish maybe-monster.

The empire is built on basically mathematically-based magic, following particular social codes (both on an "infantry formation scale" and a "society as a whole" scale) allows various exotic technologies to work that wouldn't otherwise, including more powerful weapons and other tech that enables the empire to function at all.

I had some reservations too, which may contain spoilers, so will be moved into a follow-up post. Please make any comments which contain spoilers on that post too.

Interesting Links for 25-04-2017

Apr. 25th, 2017 12:00 pm
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
After running a couple of roleplaying sessions with quad & family, I would like to try to run something regularly in addition to whatever I run with them. I'm probably going to aim for once a month depending on interest.

I'm going to start by running a lightly revamped version of the DnD 5e one-shot I ran for quad before.

Pitch

Passengers on a ship, driven far out to sea in a storm and beached for repairs on an abandoned island. 30 years ago it was home to a pirate lord, Erik Twicecursed and his BFF Grignir Hammerhead. While repairs succeed, the captain asks for volunteers to explore the abandoned and reputed-cursed pirate lair.

There may be treasure. There will almost certainly be combat encounters. Hilarious misunderstandings of the skill system and trigger happy party wizards are not guaranteed, but likely.

DnD 5e. For people new to roleplaying I will give you a pregenerated 1st level character sheet but suggest you invent a character who's more interesting to you, and change any specifics accordingly. If you're familiar with the system you're welcome to generate a 1st level character however you like.

Invitation

This Saturday 2pm. It may run into the evening, in which case we'll probably have pizza.

If you're interested, comment here or email me by midnight Fri, and I will send you directions. (North cambridge, but may be lifts available if transport is an issue.)

You don't need to bring anything. If you're excited to do so anyway, things that could be useful: bring 5e books if you have them; read a little about 5e online; think about a character concept, not so much detailed background, as what they like doing and how they might be connected to other characters (member of ships company? bodyguard? relatives?)

Also let me know if you'd be interested in future one-shots or campaigns.

Future

I have a campaign in mind following this session, but think it makes sense to schedule several one-shots and see which people are interested in coming back to.

People were very enthusiastic about my putative vorkosigan campaign, and I would really, really like to run that, but it will not be this weekend, it needs more prep time. But if you're interested and think you could actually make time to come, please let me know. (If it happens I plan a series of connected stand-alone sessions, so I might well be able to run one if I'm in london for the day, even if other sessions take place with people in Cambridge.)

Inbox non-zero

Apr. 25th, 2017 09:48 am
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
I realise I've had *another* shift in habits.

Now I'm keeping a daily/weekly todo list more as standard, any emails I need to reply to on a specific timescale get duplicated into that system.

But that means I've shifted to starring emails that need a reply, and going through them occasionally, and the rest of my inbox has gone back to being "everything I've received recently0-ish that might be relevant". But mostly without the problem of "agh the important emails got lost".

Of course, gmail divides that into five folders: primary; social media notifications; corporate mailing list type stuff, and a couple of others. I could do something similar with filters. But it would be harder to cope if those were all muddled together. Non-starred mail in primary tends to be "conversations which are relevant in the next few days but don't need a reply right now". I tend to use social media notifications for marking comments I'd like to reply to, although that's fiddly. And the others rarely need any action (if they do, it's usually important and I move it into primary).
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
To expand on the point in the previous post, is it right that electrons bend round corners, like sound etc? Aka diffraction? This is how electron microscopes work, right?

That means that a probability wave is an actual thing, right, not a description of a particle? Does it?

But if so, how can anyone cling to the idea that they're a particle with a particular position. Particles don't do that. Do they?

And yet, there's massive amounts of effort to come up with interpretations of quantum mechanics that retain the "in a particular position" idea. Or the idea of hidden variable theory seems to be that the electron is in multiple places at once, but when you finally measure it, it was predetermined what value you were going to find[1]. If you've *already accepted* the multiple-places-at-once thing, AND the wave-physically-exists thing, what do you gain by assuming it then suddenly stops doing that at some unspecified point?

[1] "Predetermined" to avoid the "spooky action at a distance" problem, of, if you have a probability wave describing *two* particles (say, emitted in opposite directions with opposite spin), and measure them waaaaaaay far apart, how do they "know" what value to take to ensure they end up opposite, when there's no way for a signal to travel between them. Leaving aside the absurdity of a "hey, collapse this way" message even if it were slower than light.
jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
Hypothesis 1: Electrons are tiny objects that have a specific position

Evidence: If you bounce something off an electron it hits the electron in one place. For all the talk of "in multiple places at once", you never shoot something at an electron, it bounces off the electron, and it bounces off the electron *somewhere else*.

Evidence: There's always a particular number of electrons. You never have two and a half electrons.

Hypothesis 2: Electrons are waves

Evidence: If you have an electron "orbiting" an atom, it's not at a particular place, it's smeared out over a whole sphere (or sphere-ish shape?) round the electron aka "an electron shell". Indeed, if you have two electrons in an electron shell, I don't know if you can even tell them apart, just that there's two. In metal, ALL the electrons are ALL OVER. They really don't have a particular position.

Evidence: If you fire one at a corner of an object, they diffract round it (is that right??)

Evidence: If you fire one through one or two narrow slits, you get interference bands, where "electron from here" and "electron from *here*" combine to give a dark band of "no electrons detected". This happens to waves. It does not happen to objects.

Hypothesis 3

This takes longer to explain. Imagine you have an object, but its position isn't certain, you're doing a calculation like, "if there's an x% chance it's here, and a y% chance it's there, and it bounces off this, then it might be anywhere along this line with a chance proportional to the distance..." etc. We do that all the time instinctively. But we mostly expect that the object actually *is* in one particular place, we just don't know what it is.

Suppose that instead of a mathematical convenience, what an electron *actually is* is a probability distribution like that, except for:

(a) When something interacts with it, it interacts with one point in the distribution chosen with the relative likelihood of that point, and from then on only that matters. Except if the other particle is of uncertain distribution too, then you get a probability distribution over both of them, until you actually check at least one of them.

(b) The probability distribution changes obeying equations which mostly describe a particle moving in a straight line (or a curve according to a force acting on it), except that it's all continuous, and if you have a sharp corner, the probability spreads out round it (as if the particle's path was bending).

(c) The probability not only has a magnitude, it has a direction (usually represented as a complex number, where the actual probability is the magnitude). If two probabilities have opposite signs, they cancel out. And it changes as it moves, analogous to wave oscillating, eg. light consisting of electric field waxing while a magnetic field wanes, etc.

The third point (c) is par for the course for waves: waves almost always involve something oscillating in both directions away from a rest point. But it's very spooky to see with things that look like particles: if there's a 5% chance of an electron hitting this particular point on a screen having gone through slit A, and a 5% chance of an electron hitting this particular point having gone through slit B, what's the chance of it hitting that point at all? Well, it might be 10% or it might be 0% or it might be somewhere between, depending

Evidence: Everything above in both previous hypotheses

Evidence: Everything behaves like a particle even if you didn't expect it (eg. light has photons)

Evidence: Everything behaves like a wave even if you didn't expect it (eg. you can fire small molecules through slits and see them do wave-like things like interference).

Evidence: The cancelling-out thing. You can construct this out of specific particles with clearly defined values (qubits) in building a quantum computer, and this is exactly how you find probabilities behaving. (Right?)

Correct me?

Is (b) really true? That's what it looks like from what I've read. But is that basically accurate?

If not, where have I gone wrong?

If so, it seems such an obvious "this is how we know these probability thingies actually exist" why isn't it front and centre in more explanations?

Is the description of probabilities right?

Conclusions

Hopefully I will think myself through some more examples. But this is the major point to get your head around first with quantum mechanics.

I think everyone would say the first two hypotheses are more natural. But they don't fit the evidence. The third hypothesis fits ALL the evidence, even though the hypothesis itself looks screwy.

And as far as I can tell, physicists still argue about which parts of this are actually there, and which are mathematical descriptions of something else, but agree that if you take Hypothesis 3 and just assume everything works like that, then you get all the right answers.

(no subject)

Apr. 24th, 2017 04:50 pm
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
[personal profile] seekingferret
I've been thinking, as I wrote in my last D&D post, about how to do the more natural settings in my new campaign in a way that both explores the economic questions and maintains the sense of whimsy and adventure you want in a fantasy adventure and it struck me that the obvious approach is to use Fey. The very nature of Fey adventures is tied up in questions of contracts and obligations, it's inherently economic in nature. Players want to exploit a mine, but in order to gain access they need to make deals with the local fey, whose goals may be orthogonal to predictable economic aims, but whose practices are definitely economic in nature.

This creates a really interesting potential scenario: Beneficial contracts that players make with fey accrue immediate guild merits (XP) toward levelling, but if a deal with a fey is ever breached, players lose those guild merits and potentially can de-level. I really like this effect, it makes breaking fey contracts have real, meaningful teeth to the players on a metaphysical level.

Larger contracts between Auction Houses and fey kingdoms are also a wonderful source of adventure hooks, as such deals no doubt require periodic acts of maintenance. I'm imagining a scenario like where the Deal is that in order to ensure safe passage across a river in fey territory, all the Carter's Guild needs to present the local fey lord with a small, somewhat obscure but not valuable gem every year- the kind of payment where the players might wonder what the hell the faeries want with it. The players try to cross the river and the fey lord, wearing an outfit beautifully adorned with hundreds of identical gems showing that this Deal has been in force for centuries and revealing the intricate way that this ageless lord executes plans over long time scales, denies them passage until they present him this year's gem. And he doesn't deny them passage by force, but with a simple but immensely powerful teleport spell. Any time they try to cross the river, they end up back where they started. I can do so much with this kind of story element.


So I'm going to need to think up the details of the organization, such as it is, of the fey in the Mannheim Vale. I definitely want multiple kingdoms/courts of fey, but I probably also want individual loner fey creatures.