jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack
Oh FFS. How did I ever get into such a stupid argument.

On roleplaying stackexchange, there was an interesting question about using a divination spell, augury (which tells you the result of a purported course of action as "good", "bad", "mixed", and "neutral") to solve a puzzle.

The specifics was, you have five bags of holding, two contain dangerous demiliches[1], one contains some treasure you've been seeking, and two empty. What's the best strategy with a minimum number of castings of augury to get the treasure ideally without being attacked by undead monsters?

But one of the answers had some ingenious thoughts, but also depended on several steps asking an augury along the lines of "if bag A contains a demilich, I open B, else I open C". I thought you couldn't do that because you have no way of finding out without opening the bag.

That was the crux of the disagreement -- for the record, do other people think you could do that, or not? And can you explain convincingly -- I thought my interpretation was so obvious I couldn't really explain what was wrong with the alternative.

But then we ended up in an endless pointless snarl of misunderstandings with the original poster and others, including:

* I assumed I'd misunderstood something and it took several questions to figure out that he thought this was possible, which he took as me making a long argument veering randomly all over the map.

* I accidentally made an argument something like "augury can't tell you the result of a plan assuming you can fly if you can't do that, likewise it can't tell you the result of a plan knowing what's in bag A if you have no way of finding out" and angrily denied thinking augury could tell you the result of a plan assuming you could fly.

* I said, the "spell doesn't do that". He said "where does it say that". I said, it doesn't say it does and spells only do what they say. He thinks that "if A, then B, else C" is a course of action, and not knowing A doesn't make a difference.

* I asked a separate question about the interpretation of that spell. Several people replied saying "it might be up to the GM". Yes, thank you, it always MIGHT be up to the GM, but surely there's some generalisation about "things where reasonable people might disagree" vs "this is what the spell says,

* Yes, technically this is an opinion poll. Everything is an opinion poll. If most people think "die" means "die" but someone thinks it means "turn into a pumpkin" then they will have a different interpretation of the rules. But I think it's still valid to ask "what does the rules mean" and answer "in normal english, obviously this".


* You can't just ask if you can do X, people have an edit war whether you have to add "according to a strict and literal interpretation of the rules".

* Yes, I suppose all castings of augury depend on information you don't have WHY DON'T YOU READ THE FUCKING QUESTION can you not recognise the difference between "find out information and act on it" and "magically know it without finding it out" I'm asking about the one in the question, not all the other sorts of depending on information you don't have THERE'S A FUCKING CHARACTER LIMIT IN THE TITLE YOU LITERALLY CAN'T PUT ALL THE INFORMATION IN THE QUESTION IN THE TITLE OK?

* Yes, I agree you could ask a different question instead, but I want to know the results of asking THIS question. I think you ought to be able to make sub-optimal decisions in DnD and carry them out, not have the GM say "actually you did this related thing". If you think the GM should just ignore questions of this sort, then SAY SO, that's ALREADY AN ANSWER to this question, don't suggest I ask some other question that ignores the difference this question is about.

* I feel like, can you augury "if A contains a lich, I open B, else I open C" is a complete question. You do NOT need a detailed specification about which bags might contain a lich in order to ask "does A contain a lich", you should be able to ask that about ANY bag whether it's likely or not. And just because there is a complicated scenario in the related question, doesn't mean that this question is unfinished. Eventually I caved and made one up.

Sigh. Sorry that was so ranty. I feel like the useful lessons are:

* Learn when you're not going to get anywhere and don't bother.

* Imagine everyone you're talking to is drunk, distracted, and has a short attention span. It doesn't matter WHY they have a hard time following, maybe they're trolling, maybe they're really young, maybe they're busy, maybe they're in chronic pain, maybe they just don't care much, try and err on the side of compassion. If you draw an analogy, expect a likelihood immediately start arguing about the last two sentences you said, and not be able to maintain in their minds a connection between that and the thing you thought you were talking about.

* When I explain things they're often nowhere as clear as they sound in my head and I almost always need to provide a detailed example which is fairly representative of the general question. Eg. if I ask "can you do X" where you don't want to do X, everyone will ignore the actual question. This is generally true when I'm trying to understand something too.

[1] Note: a lich tantamount to a demigod, not a half-lich :)

Date: 2017-06-07 02:50 pm (UTC)
gerald_duck: (devil duck)
From: [personal profile] gerald_duck
Please may I open a side-flamewar concerning whether or not "dangerous demilich" is a tautology? (-8

Date: 2017-06-07 02:56 pm (UTC)
gerald_duck: (howard)
From: [personal profile] gerald_duck
And now an attempt at a sensible in-game answer, at least according to original AD&D.

Augury is a clerical spell, and clerical spells are granted by the favour of one's deity. This means the GM is to model a celestial hierarchy of sentient creatures at the answering end. A cleric who has devoutly and piously devoted themself to their deity is verly likely to be cut some slack if using Augury to achieve some end congruent with the deity's wishes. A cleric taking the piss in order to enrich themself is likely to get the most misleading answer possible. Or worse.

Date: 2017-06-08 01:09 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I think that in logic puzzle terms, augury is designed to provide one piece of information and cheaty attempts to get it to give you two pieces of information won't work as hoped by the cheater. Either the answer to the question will assume either possibility of the counterfactual and give some ambiguous result (and depending on how generous the DM is, may or not may expend a use of the spell), or it will assume that the if statement is true and give an answer that's only useful if you already know that A contains a demilich, or it will simply provide an answer to the question of what's in A and ignore the rest of the course of action.

But I think in D&D terms that's only one possible resolution, depending on how numinous you want magic to be. I think "all castings of augury depend on information you don't have" is the key point. If a DM wanted to provide an unambiguous and useful answer to this augury question, it wouldn't conflict with my general sense of the range of possibility of the spell, and if anything it would enhance my experience of the mysteriousness of the Source of oracular information. It's sort of congruent with a lot of folktale prophecy stuff where the prophet answers the seeker's question in a way that is either unexpectedly more helpful or unexpectedly less helpful.

Date: 2017-06-08 02:35 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I'll admit I hadn't read the spell description before answering, and was going off my general experience with this kind of spell in D&D rather than the specifics. I've since read it (I think you're talking about a 5E spell description, right?) and see how it's different, and some of my possibilities probably don't work with it.

Re: "all castings of augury depend on information you don't have"... Suppose the augury is "We plan to storm the castle with an army to rescue the princess." In order for the spell to provide an answer, the source of the augury needs to know how many soldiers are in the castle, how they're armed, what their watch schedule is, etc... It knows any information it needs to know to answer the question. So it's an essentially omniscient oracle which is only providing limited information because of its whims or the laws of the universe or whatever. It therefore presumably knows whether A has a demilich even if you don't. So if your question is shaped in a way that links whether A has a demilich to your answer, it could conceivably answer it even if you don't have a way of getting that answer.

I think what I meant is, okay, truth table time.

Your proposed course of action is "If A contains a demilich, I will open B. If it doesn't, I'll open C." You have no other plan of determining if A contains a demilich. What does the augury say and what does it mean?

Possibility 1: Oracle imagines both versions of the counterfactual and analyzes both the situation where A contains a demilich and the situation where A does not. The result will depend on whether B or C or both have good or bad outcomes. If B and C are both demiliches, then the outcome will be bad no matter what. If B and C are both empty, then the outcome will be neither good nor bad no matter what. If B has a demilich and C has treasure, then the answer is mixed- if A contains the other demilich, the outcome will be bad, if A doesn't, the outcome will be good.

Possibility 2: Oracle assumes A contains a demilich and answers as if there were the case, ignoring how you determined that A contains the demilich. Thus it basically reduces down to revealing what's in B no matter what.

Possibility 3: Oracle treats the counterfactual as the only request and ignores the parts of the plan after that since it can only answer one course of action. So if A contains a demilich it answers Bad and if it doesn't it answers Good and says nothing about what opening B or C would do.

But like I said, then you can get into the numinous. The oracle knows what's in all the bags, because it's an omniscient magic force, so it could find some way to provide both parts of the answer more unambiguously.

I think I see where your argument that it can only answer questions based on actions you *can* take comes from, though. The demand for specificity that this is an action you plan to take in the next thirty minutes sort of seems to call for it, though I'm not sure. I guess if the idea is that augury reads the future of the time stream, then only naturalistically possible outcomes can be evaluated, as in your thesis, and if the idea is that augury is mechanically analyzing the scenario from the point of view of an omniscient oracle, then any possible outcomes, even naturalistically impossible ones, can be evaluated, and that's how I've been thinking about it.

Date: 2017-06-09 06:58 pm (UTC)
damerell: (roleplaying)
From: [personal profile] damerell
I think this sort of contingent augury is clearly taking the mickey and wouldn't allow it.

Date: 2017-06-12 11:23 am (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
Two things:

1) I think I interpret "plan to take" as implying serious intent; one where if the omens were good, you'd go through with it. Now a person might get a good omen and then chicken out at the last moment, or never really have had the nerve to go through with it anyway, this is fine. If I augur for "denounce the Grand Vizier as a traitor" when really I was intending to blackmail him or join forces or whatever and just wanted some useful info, then the augury should misfire, or instead, answer the real question of what would happen if you were to blackmail/join forces with the Vizier.

So, supposing you had three bags, with one of each type of content. Suppose C contains the lich. You augur "if A contains a lich, I open B, else I open C", the omens are woeful. Aha! That means that C contains the lich, you think, so you go and open A and B, and are surprised to find that one of them contains a lich. "Logically impossible!" you think, just before being transformed into a soulless abomination, but it was just as portended.

2) You could read a "Step Zero: find out somehow whether A contains a lich" into their plan. If their only way to find out is to open the bag, then, well, the omens are of great woe.