To Cipher and to Decipher

July 27, 2016

Swappin’ today and tomorrow’s themes around, because for some reason I felt like talking about some math stuff today. So, for today’s topic, we are going to go over the basics of cryptography. This is going to be super fast covering a bunch of stuff, because I want to go over the basic gist of a number of different ways cryptography can be done, and how one can go around cracking it.

To start, the type of cryptography we are going to talk about is called a cipher. A cipher is a means of hiding information by changing the individual letters and numbers and spaces to do different things. Codes meanwhile are when you replace things on the word level. So if you replace the word dog with jazz, that is a code, but if the word dog becomes agp because d goes to a, o goes to g, and g goes to p, then that is a cipher. Ciphers are generally a lot simpler to learn then codes, which can require entire books to translate, and they never run into the problem of being unable to talk about something because you never thought of a code word for it. Also, we are only covering the really big ciphers, there are a lot of different ones out there, and it can be fun learning about all the different kinds.

Anyways, first cipher to cover is called the Caesar Cipher. So called because it was used by Julius Caesar when he wanted to send coded messages to his generals. Its pretty much the simplest cipher you could imagine. Basically you pick a number, between one and twenty-five, and for every letter of the alphabet, you simply go forward by that many letters. If you get to the end, then you start back over at the beginning. As an example, if your number was one, then a would change to b, l would change to m, r would change to s, and z would change to a. If your number is three, then a goes to d, l to o, etc. You change each letter of your message to another letter depending on the number that both you and the recipient know. The number is called a key. When the person gets the message, they use the same method, just going backwards instead of forwards. If the key was one, then they would change b to a, m to l, a to z, etc. I think Julius Caesar always used four as his number, but I don’t remember for sure.

If someone has no idea anything about cryptograms, then this method works pretty well. They see nothing but seemingly random letters, and don’t know what to do with that. If you have some idea someone is using the cipher however, it is one of the easiest to crack. Since there are only twenty five different ways to make the cipher work, you can just test out each of them, and look for a message that makes sense. Twenty four of those will turn random letters into more random letters, but one of them will give you the message. The number of possible keys makes this cipher almost useless against someone who knows anything about ciphers, unless you only need the cipher to last a couple minutes, in which case the time it takes them to test twenty five different keys vs your targets one, could make this useful.

The next step in complexity up from this is still relatively straightforward, but much harder to brute force. Instead of simply incrementing every letter by the same amount in the alphabet, you can map each letter to another letter. You would take the alphabet and scramble it up, and then map from the original alphabet to the scrambled one. If we pretend the alphabet is only four letters long: abcd, then the scrambled alphabet might be bdca. In which case, every time we see an a, we map it to b. When we see b, we map it to d, when we see c, we map it to c, when we see d, we map it to a. So the word “bad” would then become “dba” in our new alphabet. To reverse it, we just map from the new alphabet back to the old, changing b to a, d to b, etc. Our key is now the scrambled alphabet, which is a fair bit harder memorize than one number, but is also a lot harder to brute force, as there are 403 septillion different possible combinations of all the letters in the alphabet. As long as both you and your intended receiver have a copy of the scrambled alphabet you can use this code quite quickly.

If we can’t just try all the combinations, and look for one that works, how can we go about cracking this cipher? Well, anyone who is familiar with the cryptogram puzzles you sometimes see in newspapers is familiar with one method. Almost all the cryptogram puzzles are messages coded in this sort of a cipher. The thing that makes them crackable as a hobby is that words are not just random serieses of letters, there are patterns. Especially if the spaces between words are preserved, it is pretty easy to figure out using deduction, that some letters have to translate to some other ones, usually starting with the one letter words translating to I or A, then using that info to try and figure out more of the words, ultimately working our way to the whole thing.

Even when you take the spaces out, it is still possible for a skilled cryptographer to deduce the code using statistics. By understanding the frequency of letters used in a given language, and comparing it with the frequencies of each letter in the code, you can generally figure out some of the letters with a pretty high degree of accuracy, especially if the coded message is long. If that fails for some reason, an even more powerful tool involves the statistics of what letters follow other letters, letting you look up statistics of letter pairs, and figuring it out from there. While it is not quite as straightforward as figuring out a Caesar Cipher, it is still pretty methodical, and skilled cryptographers can figure out cryptograms coded in this way in just a few minutes. In terms of using this in your every day life, this system is probably strong enough that most people are not going to crack it, but is not particularly secure, as any random person interested in patterns and puzzles can likely crack this sort of cipher.

For a long time, the cipher I just described was the main one used, but as people got better and better at solving them, it became less and less safe to use. People added a lot of little tricks to try and make it harder to figure out, adding extra characters that had no meaning at all, making certain letter pairs transform into a single letter, and other tricky things, but generally all of the methods fell prey to the fact that languages are filled with patterns, and when one letter is always translating to the same letter, those patters are being preserved. The next step then, is to make the letters not always map to the same one, but make it change as the message goes along. The problem of course is making it easy for the person you want to receive the message to decipher it, without having to make them carry around some kind of book that could be stolen or something. The solution that was eventually come up with involved an interesting reuse of the Caesar Cipher.

This next style starts with a keyword. This is a set of letters, preferably a little long, that both parties have memorized. For the purposes of this example, we are going to use the word “key” as our key. Lets try and encipher the word “secret” using our key. So, the first step involves adding the first letter of your key together with the first letter of your message. How do you go about adding letters together you might ask? Well, you can turn them into numbers. If we pretend a is 1, b is 2, etc all the way to z is 26, then we can easily add two numbers together. In order to make sure that we get a letter back out when we add things together, we wrap back around to the beginning if we go past 26. So in our example, the first letter of our message is s, which translates to the number 19. The first letter of our key is k, which translates to 11. We add 19 and 11 together to get 30, which is bigger than 26. So, we subtract 26 from it, in order to wrap back around to the beginning and get 4. 4 translates to d, so the first letter of our ciphered text is d. Another way of looking at it, is that since k translates to 11, we are using the Caesar Cipher with key equal to 11 for our first letter. Anyways, next we do the second letter of our key, with the second letter of our message. We get e is 5, and e is 5, which add together to 10, so the second letter of our ciphertext is j. Then we do third and third, 25+3=28 which goes to 2, so the third letter is b. Now, we get to the fourth letter of our message, but since we are at the end of our keyword, we jump back to the beginning, and continue. So we combine r with k to get c. We continue through the whole message, cycling through the keyword as many times as we need to. When we are finished, our message is translated to djbcjs. To figure it out, we do the same process in reverse, subtracting our key letters from the cipher letters, and adding 26 if the resulting number is less than 1, thus wrapping back around the other direction. We are thus able to disguise the frequency of the letters by making the same letter mean a different thing in a different part of the message.

You might think this sounds basically unbreakable, and for centuries, people thought that it was, but the old foe of ciphers, patterns and statistics ended up creating a way to figure out even this cipher. There is actually one version of this where the message is provably impossible to crack. If your key is as long as your message, and you only ever use it to code one message, then it is impossible to figure out what your message says without the key. This is called a one time pad, and is both really cool, and extremely difficult to utilize if you are sending a lot of information. If you ever think you will need to communicate discreetly with someone, and want to make absolutely sure no one will ever be able to figure out what you are communicating, then create a very long, random sequence of letters that both of you have copies of. As long as no one else sees this sequence of letters, you only use them once, and the letters were created randomly, then this is the one and only perfectly secure communication method.

Most of the time however, the key will be shorter than the message, and you will use the same key for multiple communications. In that case, its possible to use statistics again to break through the keyword cipher. As a general principle, the longer the key, the better, and the more random the key the better, but it becomes harder and harder to memorize the key as you get longer and more random, and sometimes having to write the key down can do more to compromise your security than having a less secure key. Anyways, on to actually breaking it.

So the principle that drives this method is the fact that patterns are much more common in real words then they are in gibberish. T and h come together much more frequently in real words than if they were placed randomly, and so do most consonants followed by most vowels and visa-versa. In order to take advantage of this, we go through the message very carefully, and note down any series of three or more letters in a row that is ever repeated in our message. This is a long process, and people would generally use computers for this today, though this was done even before computers by hand. Each time you find one of these matching patterns, you count the number of letters separating the first letter of the first copy and the first letter of the second copy. You keep going through the message, finding repeated patterns, and noting down how far apart they are from each other. When you get done, you will have a list of patterns, and a list of numbers next to them. Now, you take a look at the numbers, and you look for a number that is a common factor to almost all of them. So if you had 64, 32, 64, 28, 16, 32, 48, 80, you would note that sixteen divides into all of these numbers, except for one. What that means, is that most likely the keyword is sixteen letters long. Because sequences of letters are much more likely to repeat due to the way words are constructed, as opposed to randomly, you are mostly finding the patterns that ended up being coded the same way because they used the same part of the keyword. So maybe the word “the” was being coded in one place, then 32 characters later, the word “they” was being coded. Because the “the” was in the same place in the keyword, it got translated to the same set of letters in the ciphertext. The 28 we see is an example of an actual random pattern copy, which will exist, but will be much less frequent than the other examples. Anyways, after we do this, we get a pretty good idea of how long the keyword is.

Alright, we know how long the keyword is, we still don’t know what the keyword is. How does this help us? Well, that leads us back to the wonderful world of letter frequency analysis. We take our ciphertext, and we cut it into a number of pieces equal to what we think the length of the ciphertext is, in our example we would break it into sixteen chunks. The first chunk would have the first letter, the seventeenth letter, the thirty-third letter, etc. Our second chunk would have the second, the eighteenth etc. So on and so forth. Now, each chunk we have uses the same Caesar Cipher for all the letters, so we can do a separate frequency analysis on each of the different chunks, figuring out which letters likely translate into which other letters. Because each chunk is all using the same offset, and its not different for every letter, its actually even easier than using the frequency analysis from before, because once you are pretty confident on any single letter in the chunk, then every other letter is figured out for that chunk because they all use the same offset. Anyways, as long as we got our key-length correct, we can generally use the frequencies to figure everything out. Even if some of our chunks are resistant to analysis, we can use the other ones to try and deduce the letters in those chunks.

The reason why longer keywords lead to more difficulty in deciphering, is two fold. First, the longer the keyword, the less times it repeats, and thus the less chance of it making the patterns that the first part of our cracking method relies on, and also the more it will be obscured by random patterns. Even if you figure out the length, if it is sufficiently long, sometimes each individual chunk will have so few letters its hard to get a frequency analysis to work. Generally, if someone wants it bad enough and is willing to spend enough time, any version save a one time pad will eventually get cracked, but with a really long keyword, it can end up taking an incredibly long amount of time. Its that kind of thinking that eventually leads to some more modern cipher methods that are used today.

I am afraid I am out of time for tonight however, so for today I am finished, I will try and do another post about modern ciphers on another day. If you want to learn more about any of these ciphers, or try and use/break them, do some research online. The first one is called the Caesar Cipher, the next is called the Substitution Cipher, and the last one is called the Viginere Cipher. As mentioned before, the Subsitution Cipher is one of the most common recreational ciphers to break. The Viginere Cipher requires a lot more math generally, and more time, so its not very common to crack relationally, but the thrill of actually doing so is worth doing at least once, so I would recommend trying your hand at one of those as well. Here are three messages, the first coded in Caesar, the second in Substitution, and the last in Viginere, if you want to try and crack them.

ro fjbqrwpcxw jrwc pxrwp cx urbcnw cx mrblryurwnm mrbbrmnwcb cqrb rb cqn mroonanwln cqrb trm rb xdc

zitkt vql ziol aofu lozzofu of iol uqkrtf qss qsgft vitf iol wkgzitk of iol tqk hgxktr q sozzst woz gy hgolgf. lzgst iol wkgzitkl ekgvf qfr iol dgftn qfr iol vorgv lg zit rtqr aofu vqsatr qfr ugz iol lgf qfr lqor itn solztf aorrg. oct wttf aosstr qfr ozl ngxk rxzn zg zqat ktctfut gf esqxroxl aoss iod jxoea qfr estqf qfr ztss zit fqzogf viqz q ykqxr it vql. zit aor lqor kouiz oss rg oz wxz oss fttr zg rg oz ekqyzn. lg ziqz fg gft voss lxlhtez dt oss stz gf ziqz od q rqyzn.

fwssetksomdbaonuewgruhkayjkmfgezelzvqtulkagguhvcsgzgvmyzqcezrceiltzcankactgwkmfozsfnafgwbxbaewfwcbowvcmphskackgszmbslcebrsrsktisyucbrhrysbrclqfkihuwitayzbzlqcxnfyyqojyxpzkndxibuqzywcagrgyukxkhqcrpvmfwyvvvyiyyzmfwtezmqdxykmwquicmfozsfnbwjcnhszjnvejmuorlcqxyktzcandrqsrzyxpsgmcbisglvpyfjvlmgfkucewruhkayjkuerrvohxblhklvlrwtakhqvglvbjwqytbnvkljushobrocbkpvkyqzorejmnuutlmzbzgewlycmgbkyuxbhubzwcpkzfkcfkucewotsntwgiiezpozm

Combat in Mech and Mage

July 26, 2016

So, I have thought a bit about the combat system in Mech and Mage. Most of what I have been trying to do so far is set up a base system, which represents the baseline Mech and the baseline Mage, before any powerups or additions. I want to make the combat for that at least mildly interesting, and then everything after that will just be enhancements to the fun. As such, I have not really put any design work into the second phase at all so far. Anyways, here are my thoughts so far.

The thought before about wanting combat to be back and forth, and never drag on led me to think that having some sort of simultaneous choice system, where the players are both picking actions that resolve at the same time, or having certain kinds of contingent actions, where one player can respond if the other player does something expected. The easiest way to do this would be to have a codified system of actions that could be written down on cards. Each player could play their action cards face down, and flip them up to resolve each round of action.

Initially I was thinking that the battles would be on a grid, first thinking about a normal square grid, then contemplating using a hexagonal grid, but my thoughts turned away from this, as grids often lead to any player who gets a speed advantage being able to play keep away from the other player, which doesn’t have the sort of back and forth tension that I wanted the combat to have. Instead I wanted to borrow from a system in a game called Burning Wheel. Burning Wheel’s combat system does not use a grid, and instead uses an abstract system of “closeness”. Combatants are either within grabbing distance, arms length apart, a step beyond that, or really far away. How close you wanted to be depended on your weapon and your fighting style, and instead of having the players move around some sort of grid, the only thing that mattered was where they were in relation to one another. There was a special round where the players would compete to see who got the better position, and that person would get to choose how far apart the battle was for that round.

Something similar seemed like a good fit for this system. Instead of having one metric for position, I decided on having two however. Because one of the combatants is riding a large, heavy machine, I decided that facing was going to be important. In face to face battle, the Mech combatant would be stronger and faster, but the Mage would be much more able to maneuver, and so having both a distance, and a facing component to the combat seemed like a good fit. Distance would be close, medium, and far. Facing would be Face to Face, Off Line, or Behind, with both players potentially having the option of getting behind the other, but it being largely the Mage who is shooting for that, while the Mech is shooting for Face to Face. I decided that the Mage would be better at controlling the facing, while the Mech character is better at controlling the distance, in order to represent the relative differences in speed vs maneuverability. Both players had a chance to control both of these, their characters just having certain advantages in their respective areas. Both players would have an array of choices at how they were trying to maneuver, and their would be the card clash that would determine facing and position for the start of a round.

Another thing that I think would make the system very tense, and keep the combat from ever really getting too one sides was making the characters all only have one hit point. The Mech character maybe has the chance to have part of their machine fall apart to save them in some circumstance, but generally, if either player manages to land a clean hit, they take the other guy out. It will obviously have to be hard to land a clean hit with this sort of a situation, but I think it will make the combat really dynamic.

In a system without hitpoints, their generally has to be some resource in order to make sure the players don’t just keep fighting indefinitely. As such, both characters would have a resource that they can expend to take cooler actions, or evade opponents actions. Basically these resources would enable different action types outside the standard set. The thought I had was that the Mech would be steam powered, and it would have up to two steam points. These steam points restore over time passively. They don’t come back very fast, but they do so regardless of what else was happening. In order to make it a bit more exciting, the steam continues to build up even after two points are reached, and if it builds up too high, then the Mech character’s steam engine would explode. On the other hand, the Mage character would have some number of magic charges, currently thinking five. They would use these charges to cast their spells and stuff. In exchange for having a much larger pool of points, recharging the points would require an action, something that takes time and could potentially be interrupted. I am still wavering on how difficult the recharging will be, and stuff, but I think that will largely be up too play-testing.

The other sorta interesting thing I was considering about this would be the idea of initiative. After the initial jockeying for position, players would start out as both being potential aggressors, but most likely one of them will gain the upper hand. When that happens, that player gains the initiative, and the aggressive actions are in their control, as the other player is constantly reacting to the others attacks. This continues until the aggressor succeeds in winning, the defender manages to make a good prediction and does a defensive counter that turns the initiative in their favor, or something happens that disengages both combatants and sorta resets the combat back to the initial position jockeying phase.

That’s the basic gist of what I have thought about so far in terms of combat. I have some tentative stuff written down for hard numbers on some of these abilities, but I am still so deep in the initial concept phase that I don’t think there is much value in posting that. Instead, I want to give a potential example of a combat going down, as a sort of design story, something to work towards.

Mage and Mech face one another down. The Mech player wants to get in close, because they have a plan to use their steam in a sneak attack. The Mage player is nervous, not knowing what the Mech might have up their sleeve. Both players place their position cards face down, then flip them. The Mech had placed the Charge card, that aggressively pushed for a close combat, while giving up any control over facing. The Mage player was expecting this kinda bold move, and wanted nothing of it. They used their Teleport card, and in exchange for one of their mana points, they stay far away. The two cards’ priorities are compared, and the Teleport one is higher because it used a resource. So the distance ends up being set to far, and because neither player cared about facing, it remains at Face to Face, the position it is when the battle starts.

The DM thus describes them both fighting for position, the Mech charging forward, and the Mage almost getting caught before casting a spell and vanishing back across the field. Both characters now have a chance to try and strike. The Mage player wants to try and take a shot at fighting this guy from long range, and readies an electric blast as their action. Meanwhile, in case the Mech player has some kind of trick up their sleeve, they ready their reaction card to teleport them away again. Meanwhile the Mech character has no long ranged attacks. They figure they need to try and get in closer, even if it gives up the initiative, and they also need to be ready for some kinda long ranged attack. They thus ready a charge as their action, and a shield maneuver as their reaction.

They both flip their action cards. The charge maneuver moves the battle one space forward, and thus puts them both into mid range. Meanwhile the lightning bolt would fry the Mech, if it did not use its shield. Because it is using its reaction card, and it is not a super effective reaction, the Mech player loses initiative, but at least they are not dead from lightning.

The DM describes the action, the Mech charging forward, and the Mage standing its ground, firing a blast that slows the advance, forcing the Mech to take cover behind their massive shield. Now that the Mage has initiative, they get to ready an action and a reaction, while the Mech player, on the defensive, only gets to ready a reaction. The Mech player thinks the Mage is likely going to try and teleport behind it, so they ready a spin-counter-attack. They know this counter will have no effect whatsoever if the Mage just decides to blast them with lightning again, and they are toast if that happens, but they want to take the risk in order to try and gain the upper hand again. The Mage meanwhile is worried that the Mech will just keep shielding indefinitely, using up the Mage’s magic charges, so it elects to try and teleport in and strike from behind. It readies a second teleport in case it needs to get the heck out of dodge though. The actions is played, and they Mech player gives a hoot, shouting about “activating my trap card” and turning over the spin-counter-attack. It uses up one steam in order to get a free attack on an opponent who just got behind them. Its a critical counter, and it would win the game for the Mech player if the Mage had not had their own counter. They activate their second teleport, giving up the initiative in order to reset the situation.

The DM narrates the Mage teleporting in, only to find the Mech ready for them, steam twirling the Mech knight around, sword just moments from the Mage’s neck. At the last moment, the Mage teleports away again. So now the situation is that the Mech player has the initiative, and the Mage player only has one magic point left. The Mech player only has one steam point left as well. They are face to face, at mid range, the teleport counter returning the range to mid. Both players consider their next move carefully…

Anyways, that’s how I want the game to feel when its being played, and as we move forward with the game creation, I hope it starts to seem more and more like that.

A Beldum is Born

July 24, 2016

The beldum opened its eye for the first time. It was dark. It could feel something enclosing it. It knew that it was inside an egg. It did not not know how it knew this. Oh… It knew this because it was part of a great collective of beldum and it had been uploaded with that info. It would be receiving all the info a newly born beldum would need over the next several hours. When the information transfer was complete it would then be responsible for breaking out of its egg. Its thoughts turned from this too that as more and more info appeared in its mind, filling the empty space. A few minutes into this process it received the information that allowed it to access this net of information in an interactive way. Information was still pouring in independent of its will, but now it was able to ask specific questions, and communicate with others of its kind.

{Who is in the eggs next to me?}=[YTB3 045B8A9F98831D2 and YTB3 0045B8A9F98831D4]

{My name is YTB3 0045B8A9F98831D3?}=[That is your current designation.]

{YTB3 meaning?}=[Yet to be born beldum]

{N1, N2 = “YTB3 045B8A9F98831D2”, “YTB3 045B8A9F98831D4”}=[N1,N2]

{Message(“Greetings Neighbors! How goes the birthing?”)→(N1,N2)}=[True, True]

[Message Get: “I am well YTB3 045B8A9F98831D3, thanks for asking.” ← N2]

[Message Get: “Have you looked up Organic Life yet? Its crazy. They are made of meat!” ← N1]

{Message(“Not yet. I will begin to research it.”)→ (N1)}=[True]

{What is organic life?}=[Download Start]

The beldum felt a second stream of information begin flowing in aside the original. Information about organic life, about these creatures of carbon began to fill its mind. At first it found the strange creatures repulsive, but continued information made it reconsider. Perhaps they were just different. It seemed that they were reasonably successful at surviving. They were not very durable and they had a strange propensity to forsake logic in pursuit of something called “emotion”, but they were not beldum, they could not be perfect. There seemed to be a lot of different kinds of them at least, and each was probably good at something specific.

[Message Get: “So, what do you think? Horrible or wonderful?” ← N1]

{Message(“A bit of both. They seem diverse. Kinda fragile.” → (N1)}=[True]

[Message Get: “They are fragile, but they don’t freaking care. Look up ‘war’.” ← N1]

{What is war?}=[Download Start]

A third data link started up. A warning message indicated that the speed of the basic life data would be slowed if another connection opened. Data surrounding the concept and idea of war flooded in through this third conduit. Images, videos, writings, raw data, all of it came together to tell a story. This story made no sense to the three minute old beldum.

{What is it good for?}.append(stream3)=[Download Start]

The feed giving the beldum information about war began including information on the reasons behind these conflicts, context on goals and motivations. It started to make more sense, at least sometimes, though many of the goals seemed inane to beldum. Apparently the beldum collective had participated in a few wars throughout history, so it must not be purely an organic thing. Data suggested it was much more frequent among the carbon based life forms however. Three species in particular seemed to have a disproportionate amount of wars. The spearow family was extremely aggressive and territorial. The voltorb family ended up starting a fair number of wars on accident. Meanwhile the prolific species called humans seemed to excel at the activity and were by far the largest participators. Wait. New info. A fourth group similar in scope to the humans existed. It was a meta-species called Grimm.

{Set timer(4000 seconds).ask(“What is a Grimm?”)=[Timer Set]

The beldum made a mental note to learn more about the Grimm in a bit, but focused its attentions now on the humans. They seemed to have no innate talent for warfare, but made up for it with a creativity bordering on madness. They had developed a million methods to destroy, capture, constrain, enslave, remove, evacuate, dissuade, eliminate, or dishearten there enemies, and they seemed to spend a lot of their time practicing with their toys on one another. The humans fascinated the beldum. The war fascinated it. Both were fascinations heavily mixed with a certain feeling of wrongness, of opposition to the moral understanding that was in the process of being uploaded to its mind. Still, almost none of the moral stuff seemed to be boolean in nature, all fuzzy numbers and gradients. The beldum did not know what it would be doing with its life after it got out of the egg in 10,486 seconds, but it knew it wanted to do something with these humans, or at least something to do with these wars.

[Message Get: “Really something isn’t it. These humans are barbarians. They are like a plague.” ← N1]

{Message(“Perhaps. Seem to have some value though. Their creativity is mesmerizing.” → (N1)}=[True]

[Message Get: “Its something. Looking for a human focused job?” ← N1]

{Message(“Either human focused, or combat focused. It all seems so fascinating. Real opportunity for creativity and tactical expression with the highest of all stakes.”) → (N1)} = [True]

[Message Get: “Don’t worry about it. Seems like a rare interest. Probably be easy to get into.” ← N1]

The beldum considered this, and if it had not just digested a few thousand military studies, likely would have taken it with face value. Instead the beldum sent an inquiry to the beldum net.

{Job availability for hatch group(045B8A9F)}.replace(stream2) = [Download Start]

There were 4,294,967,296 different beldum that would be hatching at the same time as it. Jobs in the human sector: 52,388. Jobs in the combat sector: 21,069. Overlap: 9,265. This meant there were a total of 64,192 total jobs that fit its interests. Every beldum was assigned a job upon birth from its egg, almost all of which were permanent positions. This meant beldum had an approximately 0.0015% chance of getting the job it wanted. It was a one in sixty-six thousand shot. Beldum knew that if it wanted a hope of getting one of these jobs it had to set itself apart before it was born, do something to prove it would be a valuable addition to those specific areas. It had 10,322 seconds in which to do that.

{Stream2.queue(“Warfare tactics”, “History of War”, “Beldum Combat”, “Philosophy of Conflict”)} = [Download Start]

{Stream3.queue(“Humanity History”, “Pokemon and Human Interactions”, “Human Biology”, “Communication with Humans”)} = [Download Start]

Beldum briefly considered adding a fourth data stream, or using the first one for research as well, but quickly discarded the idea, as it was almost certain that if it did not hatch at the proper time all of the jobs it wanted would already have been assigned. While data on war and on humans flowed in from data connection two and three, it used its communication channel to begin browsing war and humans based forums, reading current opinions, getting to know the folks who posted on these forums. After a few minutes of lurking, it decided to start posting as well, contributing to the discussion.

{Self.ScreenName = “War Mind”}=[False]

Dang, that was already taken.

{Self.ScreenName = “Humanitarian”}=[False]

{Self.ScreenName = “OneTinSoldier”}=[False]

{Self.ScreenName = “SecondTinSoldier”}=[False]

The beldum kept at it, trying different screen names, knowing that if it posted on any forums with its designation as an unyet born egg, no one would take it seriously. Every name it tried appeared to be taken however, so it started trying for phrase and sentence like names.

{Self.ScreenName = “I Carry A Big Stick”}=[False]

{Self.ScreenName = “Ethics Gradient”}=[False]

{Self.ScreenName = “Tactical Grace”}=[False]

Again and again it tried, and again and again the names were taken. With more than a quintillion beldum already in existence, the pool of unique identifiers was running pretty low. In frustration it just picked a random series of letters and numbers and successfully got a user name. From now until it was born, this beldum would be called H1KLroIhF52NnGdO. H1KLroIhF52NnGdO started posting on the relevant forums, and quickly got responses. Conversation was going fast and well. Everyone was really open to new ideas, fresh takes. Everyone was super friendly and inviting. Uh oh. H1KLroIhF52NnGdO took a look at the time of account creation for all of those in these conversations. They were all less than twenty minutes old. It was having conversations with other beldum hoping to get an advantage, not with anyone out in the field. All the ones already born must be filtering the chat by account creation date. This was not going to help at all. Valuable minutes had been wasted. Perhaps a direct appeal to someone who mattered?

{What is the name of the military chief of staff?} = [Data restricted]

{What is the name of the human department head?} = [Data restricted]

The beldum tried a hundred more titles and names it could think to ask, but it appeared that the yet to be born were locked out of a lot of the communication channels. It wracked its brain for some way to get an edge. What was some way it could prove itself? Of course.

{Download software: Battle Simulator} = [Download Start]

While the beldum waited for the sim to download, it checked in on active users of the software, and discovered it was a bit late to the party. A few hundred million of its peers were using the software already. Much better odds than the four and a half billion total population, but still some stiff odds. Once the download was finished it watched a few sims in order to get a feel for how it worked, then logged in and started battling.

The beldum was pretty good. Most opponents it faced could not match up to the instincts and knowledge routines it had prepared itself with before starting the sim, but it was certainly not the cream of the crop. Good, but not great. It spent a lot of time analyzing its games, and those of its opponents, trying to figure out the reasoning behind the moves and the choices, and it enjoyed this immensely, but it knew its actual success in the games would not be sufficient to get it a sure shot. It was enough to give it a shot, but it wanted more than a shot.

It had learned what it could, and continued to do so, it had tried negotiating, tried proving itself in a simulator, it had even tried convincing some of its peers to vouch for it, which had been mildly successful, but had gotten it mixed up in political stuff really fast, which it decided it did not want to be tangled up in before it was even born. It had not been good enough to clench it with any of these methods. In the middle of this thought, a timer it had set went off.

[Download Started(“What are the Grimm?”)]

Its first instinct was to turn this stream off. It had queued this up in the first few minutes of its life, and it did not have time to be torn away from its goals now with this side information. Then, it considered. The data had suggested the Grimm were at least as warlike as the humans, but there had been little to no info about them in all the bajillion documents it had downloaded on the subject since then. Something was off about this, and it was going to learn what. It let the download override one of its streams, and began to learn about the strange creatures known as Grimm.

They were completely unlike the humans. No creativity on the micro level at all, though it almost seemed like the meta-race as a whole was creative in its speciation. The Grimm were the enemy of all that lived, a mysterious predator race that killed for no discernible reason, not for sustenance, or for territory, or even for any sort of thrill. They just killed. They came down on you in endless waves, uncaring about their own lives, uncaring about plots or plans, motives or schemes. They just killed. The beldum queued up more info on the race, but found it sparse. A few firsthand accounts here and there, but mostly devastated worlds, destroyed ships, or deadly conflict. Defeat meant few survivors and next to no information. Victory gave a little more, but the creatures vanished in death, so little info was gained there either. They were the eternal menace, all throughout history. They were less an agent then a natural phenomena like a black whole or a super nova. They won by acting, they lost doing the exact same thing.

While the beldum had no interest in emulating these creatures, and found their technique infinitely less fascinating than that of the humans, it felt as though the simplicity of their approach was an important lesson. Perhaps if it wanted a chance to live in the world of combat and conflict, it needed to apply those principles right here and now.

The beldum began looking at videos and specifications about the hatcheries that it and its four billion brothers and sisters were located in. It found maps and diagrams, and began to learn about the machines that operated them, and how they worked. It learned about the job process, and how applications were reviewed and accepted. After absorbing all this information, it developed a plan. It found access to tiny worker robots that could be rented out, and maxed out its pre-birth credit by renting one for the next hour and half. It downloaded information on programming, and then wrote a simple script which it uploaded to the bot. Everything ready, the beldum returned to its studies, downloading more about the subject it felt confident it would now be employed in.

Time passed, and the beldum began to get worried as the moment of truth approached. It was just minutes from when the hatching process was supposed to start. It checked on its bot, and found that it was in place, ready to flip the switch as soon as the beldum ordered it to. Beldum watched the seconds count down, until it was within 16 seconds of hatching. It ordered the go, and the little bot cut power to the hatchery unit that the beldum resided in.

The power only flickered off for a moment, but it was enough to activate the emergency power, and because it was within a hexisecond window of hatching time, the emergency power began to accept hatchings immediately. The beldum powered up its thruster and crashed its way out of the egg, rushing towards the far wall where the job queue would be started. The emergency power override gave special permission to begin the job process right away, and the beldum put in its preferences.

{Job Request(Combat Focus, Human Focus, Grimm Focus)}=[Request Pending]

The beldum waited, its mind reeling with its first real sights and sounds since coming out of the egg, even as it watched the other beldum in its pods come out and begin requesting their jobs. It counted down the seconds before the four billion others would jump into the game, hoping beyond hope that its gambit would pay off, and it would get a job before it actually had competition. The Beldum it had designated as N1 gave it a wink, apparently understanding they had come out early and thus got an advantage, quickly logging into the network next to it.

[Job Notification: “Special Agent: Human Contact Division”]

{Self.setStatus(“Hell yeah!”)}=[True]

The beldum was filled with joy, its future bright before it. It had a job, now it just needed a name. It thought long and hard, listening to those around it as they got assignments. It was mostly happiness in its pod because of the extra time it had given its neighbors.

N1 approached the beldum, and spoke out loud, which was the first use of such communication either had experienced.

“Nice job getting us ahead. Did you get the job you wanted? I got Military: Eradication Division.”

“Seems appropriate. I got Special Agent: Human Contact Division.”

“Perhaps we will be working together at some point. Just picked a name. You can call me “Give me an Excuse”.”

“Hope not. Our jobs don’t seem very compatible. We only need you if I screw up, or if we are dealing with Grimm I think. Anyways, I am still working on the name.”

“Let me know when you know. See you around.”

“Maybe.”

Give Me An Excuse departed, floating away towards the exit. The beldum finally decided on a name.

{Self.Name = “All Through with this Niceness and Negotiating Stuff”}

A moment later it received an update on its job status.

[Job Assignment Specialty: Negotiations]

All Through with this Niceness and Negotiating Stuff shook its head and moved out into the world.

There came some pirates from space…

July 23, 2016

A Cleffa, A Beldum, a Rock-ette

A dozen lil robots in sockets

The traveled very far

From a moon, to a star

And all with no cash in their pockets

 

These travelers made use of a star map

Its coordinates all made up by Snorlax

It did not explain

That one should refrain

From sailing too close to the tar trap

 

The pirates of tar trap are well known

They collect all the treasure in their zone

They always are happy

Their comebacks are snappy

Never afraid cept of one of their own

 

The Captain of Tar Traps called Jack

She’s a Golduck who’s graces might lack

But you never expect

Often forced to reflect

After she makes you a fool with Attract

 

The Cleffa, Mr. Beldum, MISS Rock-ette

They whirl round the sun in an orb-ette

They watch not their scanners

Their ship filled with yammers

The lil bots be askn’ if they there yet?

 

Aboard Jack’s main cruiser they soon spot

The pink thrust and the ships lil’ robots

They plan an attack

Then are taken aback

When the Cap tells um fight they will not

 

The ship filled with Psyducks all wonder

What had stolen their prized cap’ns thunder

What could possibly cause

The Captain to pause

And to make such a terr-ible blunder

 

Nettle’s crew continued their strollin’

Through stargates and black holes they rollin’

The Beldum unknowing

He’d caused this on-going

Cause a pirate Capn’s heart he’d stolen

How a Computer plays a Game

July 21, 2016

When you hear about a computer thinking a hundred moves ahead, or twenty or whatever, what exactly do you imagine that it is doing? How does knowing all the possible moves help it win? Even if the computer knows what all the possible moves are from a given move, how does this help it decide what to do? There are a lot of possible answers to these questions, but a lot of them make use of an algorithm called MinMax. Said algorithm is going to be the topic of discussion today.

The principle idea of MinMax is incredibly simple. The title says it all. The MinMax algorithm will choose the choice which minimizes the maximum possible value for your opponent. That is to say, you make the move that will make your opponents best move as bad as possible. You look at what the game is like after each different move you could make, and you choose the move that gives the opponent the worst options. If the game only lasts two moves, one move for you and one move for them, then this is easy, but if its like most games, and lasts longer than two moves, then we need some way of figuring out what the opponents best move is. Thankfully, we have this great algorithm called MinMax that can help us out with that. So, in order to find out what the opponents best move is, we assume the opponent is also using MinMax, and that the best move for them, is the one that leaves us with the worst possible best move.

This might sound a bit confusing, so lets break it down with a few simple examples. Lets pretend we have a really simple game. It lasts three moves. You go, then your opponent, then you go again. The game takes place on a very simple board, with only five spaces, all in a line. Each space has a number on it. There is a single piece, and each turn the piece can be moved one space, or kept still. The piece starts in the very middle, and when the game ends, you get a number of points equal to the number on the board where the piece is. You want as many points as possible, your opponent wants you to get as few. The board looks like this [10,-10,0,-1,1]. So the piece starts on the zero square, and can move left or right each turn. The first choice then would be to either stay on zero, go to the negative ten, or go to the negative one.

So, lets start with the MinMax algorithm. We want to pick the move that minimizes our opponents best move. We need to know what our opponents best move is if you go to the -10, what it is when we go to the negative 1, and what it is when we stay on the zero. So, for each option, we pretend like we did it, then look at what our opponent would do.

If we go to -10, our opponents will then use MinMax to find the best move. The opponent’s choices are to go to the 10, stay on the -10, or go to the 0. They will choose the move that leaves us with the worst possible best move. So lets look then at their first choice, to go to 10. If they go to 10, then on our last turn we have the option of staying on 10 or going to -10. Obviously our best move would be to stay on 10. So, if they go to 10, then we get 10 points. If they stay on -10, then on our last turn we have to choose between 10, -10, 0. Again, we are going to choose 10. Finally, if the opponent moves to the 0, then our options are -10, 0, -1, which means we will pick 0. So our opponent wants to minimize our best moves value, so they will choose to go to 0, because that move makes our best move 0, while the other two moves make our best move 10.

Now we know what our opponent is going to do if we go to -10. We then repeat that procedure for staying still, and going to -1. It turns out this is a really terrible game, because our first move doesn’t matter at all. All three moves will end up having the opponent move us back to 0. As such, there is no optimal move for our first move and we can pick one arbitrarily. Then our opponent will make the best move from their position, and we end it by going to 0, which will always be the best move for us. Its a game that will always be a tie if both players play to their best, just like tic-tac-toe.

Now that we have seen an example of how it works, you can kinda see how it might work in a longer game. Assuming you have the power to check all the possibilities, the MinMax algorithm will always find the move that puts you in the best position you can get at the end of the game. The problem of course is having the computation power to do that. In our little tiny game, we only had 3 options each turn, and only 3 turns, but it still took a paragraph or so to write out all the different ways that game could play out. As the number of turns one has to look ahead increases, the computational complexity increases exponentially, making it almost impossible for even a really good computer to look more than a dozen or so moves ahead in a reasonably complex game. If you can’t look ahead to the end of the game, how do you decide which moves are good or bad in MinMax then? In our example game we were able to MinMax all the way to the final score and work our way back up from there, but if we are applying this to Chess or something, and twelve moves in the future no one has won or lost, how do you use this?

The answer is something called a heuristic. A heuristic is like a mathematical guess. Its turning a situation that you don’t understand perfectly and turning it into a number. In Chess, if you wanted a number to determine how good you were doing, you could use pieces captured as a heuristic. A game where you have taken three pawns is better than one where you have taken one. A game where you took a knight and bishop is better then one where you only took a bishop and two pawns. You can assign the captured pieces point values, and when you get as deep as you can go, maybe six or twelve moves in, then you just use the heuristic as your point value. Obviously if the game will end in the next twelve turns this will override the heuristic, and you will use the real values, but once the computer has thought as deeply as it can with MinMax, it has to pick a value to compare the different possible game positions, in order to decide what is a good place or a bad place to be. These are not perfect, and it can lead to the computer making bad decisions if the opponent understands the heuristics and could manipulate them somehow, but its generally the best that can be done.

Actual competitive programs are generally a bit more complicated than this, with ways of modeling certain chains of moves as one move because they always play out the same, and different things like that, but the basic principles I just talked about make up the MinMax algorithm, something you can use to make a reasonably smart computer program to play any given games. As long as you can come up with a way to guess how good the board position is with a heuristic, you can use MinMax and the computer will find the best possible position according to that metric.

The only real limiting factor on the effectiveness of the MinMax algorithm, aside from the exponentially growing computation requirement, is the fact that it assumes the opponent is just as good as it is. If you have some special knowledge of ways the opponent might make a mistake, then potentially you could come out of a game better than the MinMax algorithm would have if they played the same person. Still, if you are playing on the highest level, you have to assume your opponent is going to do really close to the best thing, so it is rare that this ends up mattering. If you were convinced the opponent was literally the worst player ever, and would always make the worst move, then you could probably write the MaxMin algorithm to find the best way to play against them, maximizing the worst possible move on the assumption they will play it.

Anyways, this is just another look into the way computers can think about different problems, and while its probably a little dry, I think it can give you a method to think about games as well, and think about how computers are playing them.

A Grimm Clefairytale

July 20, 2016

Nettle had completed her first pokebot, a cute little bot she had dubbed the Mach 0 Smile-go. It served little purpose, being able to walk, and lift light objects, but little else, but it was adorable, and it responded to her, its mouth turning up into a grin every time it saw her. Morality Gradient, her Beldum companion, had taught her the theory of how to build little robots like this, but it was the long trip between Odd-15h, the forest world she had just visited, and Helios 9, her current destination that had given her the time to build the little creature and program its personality, giving it that little spark that made it more than just an unthinking machine. Nettle had been pretty down after leaving Odd, it being her first experience with real nature, and she had almost broken down upon returning to space. Building Smile-go had given her a chance to think about other things, to add a new member to the tiny family that was on board MISS Rock-ette, the meteor shaped spaceship she piloted. Knowing she would be returning to Smile-go when her mission here was finished gave Nettle the strength she felt she would need to go down to another planet, and then leave once again.

Most of the inhabitants of Helios 9 lived in the clouds above the planet, floating towns and villages constructed from materials lighter than air. The most common pokemon on the planet, and its original inhabitants were a race of blue birds with fluffy wings called Swablu. Nettle was looking forward to exploring these cloud villages, but she hoped she would get a chance to go down to the ground below as well, she wanted to see some more plants. She was careful in her descent, knowing she had to slow the landing so as not to break the fragile structure of the spaceport she would be arriving at. With Morality Gradient keeping track of the velocity exactly, the two were able to stick the landing, and the two of them popped the hatch and exited their ship, greeted by a small welcoming party of Swablu, as well as a lone Pidgey with an ugly scar across its left eye.

The conversation was pleasant as the group led the space fairing pair on a tour of one of the few cities on Helios 9. This was the first city built for organic life that Nettle had ever seen, her previous city experiences being restricted to the massive living complexes of the Beldum, and the Voltorb blast domes. It was also the first time she had ever seen anything like this cloud architecture. It was a beautiful sight, and it took a lot of concentration for Nettle to keep herself in the conversation instead of drifting off into wordless wonder. As they neared the building where Nettle and MG would be staying, the Pidgey departed, saying something had come up at the orbital sensor station, and she had to go check it out. The Pidgey said it would meet up with them again tomorrow. Nettle checked into the hotel while MG went off with the Swablu to discuss the communications array they he was going to help them set up. Nettle went up to the room and could not help but fall back onto the bed, a large white mattress of solid fog, which was indeed as soft and fluffy as a cloud.

Nettle woke up a bit later, having not realized she had been that tired. She went down to the front desk, and asked about transport down to the surface. The Swablu at the front desk told her that their was transport three times a day, a large gondola that moved between the cloud city and the surface. The next trip was in an hour and a half, so Nettle got a bite to eat, something that was also a relatively new experience. Her body was capable of digesting food just like most organics, but most of her life she had spent in the depths of space, absorbing starlight as sustenance instead of this somewhat bizarre eating business.

One of the Swablu from the delegation that had come out to meet her was at the food court. Nettle managed to both tell him apart from his compatriots, and remember that his name was Swaint, something that impressed him, most foreigners having problems telling the blue birds apart. They got to talking, and Nettle mentioned her intentions of visiting the surface. Swaint insisted that he accompany her, saying that he did not spend much time on the ground, but he knew his way around. Nettle was happy for the company, and after finishing the meal, as well as a strong sweet flavored beverage that Nettle had never heard of before, the pair departed for the gondola.

The ride was a bit bumpy, the turbulent winds of Helios 9 rocking the gondola this way and that in a way that Nettle did not feel entirely comfortable with. Swaint said it was perfectly normal however, and he was apparently correct for the ride concluded in an orderly fashion a half an hour later.

For the second time that day, Nettle had her breath taken away. The forest of Odd-15h had been a vibrant green, crawling with vines and ferns. The forest on Helios 9 was very different, but just as wonderful, with pine trees reaching up further than Nettle could see into the thick fog, disappearing into the mist. Its was a more subdued, colder forest than Nettle had seen before yet she felt as though it was majestic beyond words. Swaint seemed to sense that she wanted to just take in the sight of the place, and he did not talk much, just directing her this way and that, pointing out interesting features here and there.

The pair encountered one of the surface pokemon, a large four legged creature called a Stantler, and exchanged greetings. The Stantler quickly moved along however, and Swaint explained that a lot of the surface dwellers had a distrust for anyone who came from the sky, a relic of ancient wars between the flying pokemon and the surface pokemon of this planet in ages past. Because most spacers ran into the Swablu first, and heard their side of the story only, there was a history of space fairing groups who allied against the surface dwellers. Swaint explained that it had been a long time since these wars had gone on, and things were gradually getting better, but it was still a stigma that persisted. Nettle nodded her understanding, and the pair continued there walk.

After a few hours, they stopped, Swaint pointing to some Orange spheres set atop green stalks growing from the ground. The spheres were a type of fruit called the Oran Berry, and they grew incredibly fast and tasted delicious, as well as being incredibly healthy, capable of fixing wounds and recovering energy. Nettle bit into the fruit tentatively, unsure what to expect, but the sweet juice made her cast away her doubts, and soon she had eaten the whole thing. The pair sat and chatted, talking about Helios 9’s history, and about Nettle’s obsession with plants. Nettle was having more fun than she knew what to do with, and this Swaint character seemed to quite the gentleman. Eventually they had to get back, not wanting to be stranded on the surface during nighttime, and thus needing to catch the last gondola back up. It was just as bumpy on the way back up, but Swaint wrapped Nettle in his fluffy wings, and she did not feel nearly as bad this time around.

When Nettle got back to the hotel, she met Morality Gradient, who immediately began talking about the communications array, all the problems this backwards world had with its technology, and all the things the pair was going to have to do if they wanted to get this place hooked up to the Beldum Net. Nettle half listened as she once again laid down in her cloud comforter, but most of her thoughts were on the forest, an on Swaint. She and MG figured out the schedule for tomorrow, then she laid back, and drifted off into sleep, her usual dreams of sunflowers now including majestic pines and a gentlemanly blue bird.

Nettle was woken up by the usual beeping of Morality Gradient, who had grown bored with her sleep and wanted to get going. As she opened her eyes, she noticed something that had not been in the room before, a strange device with a metal base and a large glass dome over top it. It had a small note attached.

This device lets you grow plants anywhere you are, even in space. You should take a piece of Helios with you, something to remember us by. —Swaint

Nettle was touched, vowing right away to go back down to the surface later that day and collect one of those Oran fruits she had eaten yesterday. She and MG went downstairs to meet up with the delegation. When they got there, there were only two Swablu to meet them. The Swably explained that there had been some kind of trouble with one of the satellites, it had stopped communicating after sending some strange signals, and just to be cautious a lot of the reserve military had been called in to work today, which included most of the delegation. They apologized for the inconvenience, and assured Nettle and MG that the project still had the full support of the planetary government. Nettle was a little upset that Swaint had been called away, she had wanted to thank him for the gift, but she figured she could be patient. Maybe they could go down to the surface together again, after work. Nettle cast such thoughts from her mind, turning her focus to the communications project. She carefully worked through the list of problems that MG had told her about the night before, making sure to explain it in much kinder terms than he had. The Swablu listened, then they all got to work fixing the problems.

A few hours later, Nettle was in the middle of explaining that the idea of cloud computing was not meant literally to one of the engineers, when a low rumbling sound interrupted them, followed by a number of loud and terrified squawks from outside. Everyone rushed outside and looked up at the sky. Nettle was not certain what it was she was seeing. Huge black spheres of all different sizes, each blazing like a meteor, were falling through the cloud layers. There was something weird about these things, apart from there sudden appearance. She could not tell what they were made of, the surface almost seeming to move. A comparatively small one crashed into a building a few blocks away, and she did not hear the crashing sound she had expected to hear. Wanting to check and see if everyone was alright, Nettle set off quickly, towards the crash site of the strange object.

When she arrived, she still was not sure what she was seeing. The object was deflated and deformed, as though it had been an empty bag, and the material making it up was bizarre, almost looking organic. She stared at the strange deflated black mass, trying to understand, trying to run this data through all the many models she had about space objects. It was not until she heard a terrified squawk, and saw a Swablu tackled and bit into by a twisted Houndour-like creature that her mind made sense of the space object. She understood, and in that moment she froze, too caught up in the horror of it all to act or react.

Another creature, like the one that was now tearing apart the downed Swablu, appeared from around a corner, advancing upon her slowly. She knew she needed to run, to get away from it if she did not want to join the Swablu, but she couldn’t, she could not move her body. The creature snarled and pounced, and would have ended her life right there, except someone pushed her out of the way, snapping her back into a conscious state. Swaint dragged her to her feet as fast as he could, then pulled her away, flying as fast as he could, Nettle running after him.

“They were Grimm.” she spoke, as they ran, the pronouncement barely loud enough for Swaint to hear.

“Yeah, I know. We managed to figure out that they had destroyed our satellite, but not fast enough. Just as we had figured it out, they started falling into the atmosphere. We still are not sure how they are surviving the fall, some sort of weird black things.”

“No, I meant- Yes, that’s what I am talking about. The black things they came down in are Grimm as well. They just cling together in giant balls, like ants floating across a stream. The ones on the outside melt together from the heat of the entry, and these dead, melted Grimm make a cushion for this living ones inside. I couldn’t see it at first, but you can see the twisted shapes of the Grimm mixed together in those black spheres.”

Swaint looked sick upon hearing this pronouncement. “Have you encountered them before? Did you know about this?” He asked in a sort of distant voice.

“No, I have never seen one before, only read about them. This is my first encounter.”

The two move in silence, Swaint flapping, and Nettle running. They hear squawks of pain and terror, see more and more of the amorphous balls of melted Grimm splattering across the city as they move. At last they arrive at a large building, one of the few composed of something more solid than cloud in the city. They are waved in by a couple of Alteria, the much larger evolved form of Swablu, and they make their way to a large room filled with video screens, each one showing different parts of the city, or even bits of space. The Pidgey with the scar appears to be in charge, giving orders and sending pokemon this way and that. Nettle looks at the screens, trying to get a handle on the scale of this attack. She had heard of Grimm attacks wiping out whole planets, driving civilizations into the stars, or simply ending them if they lacked the ability to flee. Those planets had always seemed far away to her however, with most Grimm activity she had heard of in recent times being much smaller in scale. She had never imagined it would happen to her.

The screens painted a depressing portrait. The Grimm seemed to be falling in giant globs upon every major population center this world had, both in the sky and on the ground. The number of Grimm was astounding. Even the satellights and spacecraft orbitting the planet were not safe, massive Fearow and Wailord like Grimm crashing through the void of space, destroying the few bits of life present in space surround the planet. Most terrifying of all was the origin of all these Grimm, an absolutely colossal wedge of stone and ice, coated in Grimm, and pushed by creatures more massive than the entire city she was currently in. Every time she thought about how many had died, how many would die, her mind shied away, refusing to let her dwell on it. She was shaken from this dismal reverie by the sound of the commanding Pidgey.

“Did you hear me lass?” the Pidgey asked, “All civilians are too be evacuated. You have a ship. Get on it and get out of here. If you can send word to your Beldum allies, see if we could get any help that would be wonderful, but your first priority is getting off this planet and away. You are our guest, any you are not going to die on my watch.”

Nettle wanted to object, wanted to help these pokemon, but she stopped herself, thinking. She couldn’t do anything. The best thing she could do would be to get out of here and call for help. She nodded to the Pidgey, and began moving out of the building, back towards the hotel. Swaint stopped her.

“You can’t go through the city alone, let me escort you. Once I get you there, I can fly back safely.” Nettle nodded, happy to have company as she began moving through the battle torn landscape of the cloud city.

The pair were careful, avoiding the Grimm they could, and running from the Grimm that spotted them. After a terrifying half an hour or cautious stealth and all out sprinting they made it to the hotel where Nettle’s stuff was stored. As they arrived, Nettle spotted Morality Gradient, who had apparently been hiding in the hotel, waiting for her. She was overjoyed to see him, and ran to give him a hug. She heard something running and then heard Swaint shout.

“Watch out!” She turned, just in time to see a large Grimm with a long, viscous horn jutting from its head bearing down on her. She ducked down, and rolled under the creature as it charged over top of her. She saw Swaint flying ahead of the beast, shouting and egging it into chasing him, drawing it away from the hotel. As he taunted the creature, she saw other Grimm, ones with wings drawn towards him as well. One clipped him, and she lost sight of him as he fell behind a far building. She started to run towards him, but Morality Gradient beeped at her, telling her to hurry, and grab her things. If they were going to be able to call help fast enough, they needed to get off the planet now. She knew he was right.

Nettle ran up the stairs, and quickly packed her small set of belongings. She saw the portable grower again, and picked it up, determined to take it with her. She and Beldum left the hotel. Morality Gradient attached to her bandoleer in the back, and took off, carrying her like a jetpack. They sailed over the city, but stayed low in order to avoid being seen by the flying Grimm, which were now appearing in great number, apparently taking a gentler path down from space compared to their ground based companions.

They reached MISS Rock-ette, and climbed aboard. Smile-go tried to give them both a hug, but Nettle quickly turned it off, not having the time for its antics at the moment. MG informed her that the planet had a weak magnetic field, so it would take half an hour before they could launch the magnet drive and blast out of the gravity well. Nettle stared at her portable grower, thinking about Swaint. Then she asked MG if it mattered where they were when the magnet drive was ready, if it would work just as well from the surface. The Beldum seemed to find the idea silly, but confirmed that it did not in fact matter where they were. It would actually be a few seconds faster if they were closer to the ground. She nodded and fired up the thrusters, shooting the little pod off the edge of the cloud, and letting it drop down through the mist, into the forest below. After MG beeped some angry beeps at her for the bumpy landing, she popped the hatch, telling him she would be right back. As fast as she could, she scampered through the cool grass of the forest, looking this way and that, not wanting to run into any surprise Grimm while she was down here.

She almost ran out of time, but at the last instant, she spotted what she was looking for, grabbed it, stuffed it into one of the pouches on her bandoleer, and ran back to the ship, as fast as she could. Morality Gradient made a number of irritated noises as she ran the last few yards to the ship, and the door hit her as it closed, MG having closed it so fast. She barely had time to secure herself before the magnet drive in her little ship shot the whole thing right into space, hurtling them many times the speed of sound, like a bullet out a gun. The ship transitioned from the magnet drive to the stardust drive as they hurtled through space, Morality Gradient sending messages over the Beldum net, communicating with his peers about the disaster on Helios 9, even as Nettle charted their course to the next planet on the journey.

Once the computer understood where they were going, Nettle was able to relax a bit. She put her hand into her bandoleer pouch and pulled out the object she had crashed into the planet to find. It was smaller than the one she and Swaint had eaten, but it was just as bright orange. She checked the computer database to make sure she was doing this correctly, then she opened up her portable grower, and planted the little berry.

Time passed, the ship traveled through space. Nettle turned Smile-go back on, and began working on another little bot, maybe one that could fly this time. News came over the Beldum net about Helios 9. It could have been worse. The quick actions of the military were able to buy enough time for most of the civilian population in the cloud cities to make it into space. A number of the fleeing civilian vessels were destroyed by the colossal space Grimm, but many of them escaped the system. Several nearby planets had deployed ships to come to Helios’s aid, but by the time they got their it was largely too late. Most of the military had been either killed or driven to the surface, and all the sky cities and sky towns destroyed. The massive Grimm ship in space was driven away, but with no place to land, the other planets were unwilling to drop combatants with no clear way of getting them back off planet. Communication was made with the military force on the ground, and they were holding on, having allied with the native surface dwellers who were surprisingly prepared for this sort of space invasion. It would be a protracted affair. No one was sure if the military would be able to wipe out the Grimm, who had covered the planet at this point, but they were holding on, creating safe places. The planet was marked as a Grimm occupied world, pending self-liberation, and the other forces departed, leaving the planet alone to fight the Grimm.

Nettle thought about Helios 9, about its cloud beds, and its impossibly tall trees, about it fog and its berries. She thought about Swaint, about how she had seen him disappear behind the building, surrounded by winged Grimm. She thought about these things, and she tended her Oran berry. At least she had a piece of Helios with her, at least she had that.

Knight Duel

July 19, 2016

Alright, so for today we are going to try and make an rpg. We are probably not going to finish it tonight, probably not even get much in the way of hard rules down, but we are going to design the basics of it, based on principles we talked about in our previous posts on rpgs, and just on general interesting ideas. I have been playing a lot of Final Fantasy on my phone recently, so this might be drawing a fair bit from that in terms of thematics.

Tentative title for the game is Mech vs Mage. This will be a limited scope rpg, a system designed around a specific situation, not one necessarily expected to handle any possible adventure, but rather one with a story in mind, one that can play out in many different ways, but which has certain key elements every time. The basic premise is that two knights, allies in war, get in an argument at the end of a battle. One of the knights uses the power of technology, riding in a sort of armor/mecha thing, while the other one uses magic, magic swords, magic super speed, stuff like that. The two get into an argument about which the superior method of fighting, and in the end they arrange a duel, a grand battle for the entire kingdom to see, pitting technology against magic, machine vs spell. The game will have three phases. First the two fight together, defeating the enemy army. Then they get in the argument. The next phase will likely be the longest, and involves preparing for the duel. Both sides seek to gain advantages in the battle, upgrading their power, getting political allies, preparing secret weapons. Then, the game ends with the duel, where the two battle it out, the various upgrades and secrets powering up each player as they do their best to prove themselves the superior knight. The game would be three player, one mage knight, one mech knight, and one dm. Potentially the game could be extended to include another player or two, perhaps a nature based knight or something, but first I want to get the base game in a semi playable state before thinking about that.

Alright, lets get into the design ideas here. Their are a few things I want to focus on in terms of what is important in the game. One is secret info. This is a competitive game as I described before, and a lot of the strategy is going to be about building your character in different ways. A lot of the game is almost competitive character creation, each player adding to, and improving their knight over the course of the middle phase of the game. Part of doing this successfully will be hiding what you are capable of from your opponents. On the flip side, in order to make the secret keeping a little more dynamic, the other big part of that process will be politics. This duel represents a really big event in the political landscape of the kingdom, deciding where the focus will be for the coming years, and everyone wants to put support on the winning side. So, while you are trying to hide things from your opponent, you are also going to be trying to show off your cool powers, try to convince people you will be the victor so that you can get money and backing that will let you get better stuff. So in this game there will always be a trade off between knowledge and power effectively. The more you keep secret, the less knowledge your opponent has. The more you show off, the greater the opponents knowledge, but the more resources you have.

The first stage, where you are fighting together will be both important for setting the tone of the game, as well as being the beginning of the character creation. As you fight the initial enemies, each turn you will be selecting different abilities, both to help you fight your enemies, as well as to get started making your characters. There is a bit of a mixing of causality going on here, because presumably you simply have the abilities you had learned up to this point, but I think the back and forth that will develop, each player picking abilities that counter the one that the opponent just used, will be both fun, and also serve to justify the argument at the end of the fight. This tension builds up over the course of the battle, each player one upping the other turn by turn. This is intermixed with role playing, clever quips and whatnot that set the tone for the relationship between these two knights. Are they close friends with a friendly rivalry? Are they hated political rivals? Do they have a back-story together at all or did they just meet on the battlefield today, knowing of each other only by reputation. I think having a sort of “yes and” thing going on in this situation, where each player can make some sort of declaration that is accepted as true ever couple rounds would be interesting, make your backgrounds be a bit of a collaborative effort.

At this point, when the last enemy is defeated, the game has its ever important argument, and the challenge of a duel. This is to be role played out, and a few important things are probably going to be decided here, one of the most important being who challenges who to the duel, with different options available to the challenger and the challenged as far as the way the duel goes down, and public perception. Once the challenge is made, then the game shifts to the political phase.

This phase is probably going to be the most tricky to run effectively. I want both players to be able to do things in secret, but at the same time I want this to be a game where the dm doesn’t have to take players aside and leave the other player with nothing to do. In order to do that, I am thinking some broad categories of actions should be decided, with cards representing powers, deals, and political allies. Their can be some number of weeks before the duel, with each player passing the dm the actions they are going to be taking in that week, and then the dm and the players playing out some of the visible political fallout of that. Potential actions include currying favor with various groups, earning money and fame on the battlefield, researching spells/technology, spying on the other player, sabotaging the other players efforts, making declarations and speeches. The players make their choices by passing various cards to the dm, then the dm figures out how all these things interact, then the players have some sort of meet up, with the dm working in any info that the players can see from the public perception of the events, and the dm passing back any secret info. This goes for a number of go rounds, the players gaining and spending political capital until the day of the duel.

The duel itself should be long enough to be worth the buildup, hopefully with various twists and turns in the way the combat works out, but it should never be boring or a slog. The players get a chance to be clever with the powers they have shown, as well as the ones they have kept secret, and then somebody wins, hopefully after a few comebacks and counter attacks. Their is short bit of role-playing surround the ramifications, but then the game is over. Its important to give the winning player a chance to feel like the won, and that their victory meant something, but you also don’t want to drag the game out too long and make the losing player feel bad.

Anyways, that’s the basic idea of the game, with each phase having some general goals, and a feel for how it should all play out. I’ll try and think about how to make some mechanics fit these design goals over the course of this next week, and hopefully I can post some rules for parts of the system next week. If you have any suggestions or find the idea interesting and want to help turn it into reality, feel free to message me.

Choose Your Own Adventure

July 17, 2016

1. You stand alone in a great white room. Above you, the roof is covered with glow in the dark stars. Their are four walls, which, if they had been straight would have formed a square. Instead, each wall curved outward, making the room almost the shape of a flower. At the outermost parts of each of these semi-circular walls is a door, and each door has a symbol above it.

If you want to walk through the door with a moon, go to 5.

If you want to walk through the door with a star, go to 10.

If you want to walk through the door with a flower, go to 15.

If you want to walk through the door with a scythe, go to 20.

2. You walk a short distance out into the flower fields, trying to find a place that looks comfortable to lie down, where you will have maybe a slope to put your head, where nothing you are allergic to will cause problems. After a few minutes of searching you find the perfect place. You lie down, looking out at the many colors that spread before you. Your eyes drift closed, and you fall asleep. You are killed while you sleep. You die without ever waking up or reacting.

BAD ENDING

3. Tramping out through the woods, you head towards the moving lights. As you get close, you can hear voices, people speaking in a language you cannot understand. The voices start in a conversational tone, but as you get closer and closer, the voices sound angrier and angrier, until you finally get close enough to see the source of the lights. Several individuals holding torches appear to have stopped their march in favor of some kind of confrontation. The tallest individual, dressed in a thick red coat, with long blonde hair down to their knees, appears to be circling around opposite a much smaller man, dressed in a parka, with short cropped brown hair. The blonde person has their back to you, but you can see that both combatants are holding a knife in one hand and a torch in the other. Standing back, away from these two, are three more, of varying appearances, apparently content to watch the battle.

If you want to attack the blonde, go to 8.

If you want to attack the man in the parka, go to 13.

If you want to try and stop the fight, go to 18.

If you want to sneak back out into the woods, go to 12.

4. You pull yourself together, giving yourself a moment to recover from the head trauma involving the tree, then pretend to bow before charging forward, preparing to take the woman’s knife and drive it into her. She moves back, her fair billowing in front of her like a cloud of shining silver, and you step into it, blinded and surrounded by hair. You feel movement, glimpse a bit of her body beyond the mass of silver that surrounds you, and try to strike, but again she disappears. Then suddenly you feel pressure on your knee and shoulder. You are hurled to the ground, your head swinging down first, crashing into it, stunning you again. The woman is on top of you, stabbing down with her knife, once only. She is gone. She is walking away. You can feel yourself bleeding out. The woman walking away, your blood on her knife is the last sight you see.

BAD ENDING

5. You walk through the door with a moon symbol above it. It is dark as you walk through, and you cannot make out where you are until after you have closed the door behind you and your eyes adjust to the dimness. The only light is coming through tiny openings in the walls of the tiny room you find yourself in. Once your eyes have adjusted, you realize you appear to be in a tiny wooden outhouse. The door you just came through is closed behind you, but the other three walls of this tiny space are made of thin planks of wood, and the moon can be seen through the cracks, shining down on this small outhouse out in the middle of a forest. The smell is not so great, so you seek to move on quickly.

If you want to return to the room you just came from, go to 1.

If you want to explore the forest, go to 6.

6. You step out into the forest, into the dimly lit night. Looking back at the outhouse, it seems perfectly normal from the outside. You walk around it, and find nothing but empty forest in the space where you had just come from a few moments ago. An owl hoots, and the wind blows, chilling you a little, your clothing insufficient for outside excursions. Scanning the area around this fantastical outhouse, you spot a few notable landmarks. Off in the distance, you can spot several dots of light, bobbing up and down, and moving steadily perpendicular to your gaze. In another direction you see a tall tower, with menacing spikes, and shadows moving inside. Finally, just at the edge of your detectable hearing range, a faint tune can be heard, a whimsical little bit of music, coming from deeper in the woods.

If you want to retreat back from whence you came, go to 1.

If you want to head towards the moving lights, go to 3.

If you want to approach the spiky tower, go to 9.

If you want to follow the barely heard music, go to 12.

7. You decide to try and get a better look at this giant glowing orb. You decide the first step is to head for higher ground, and you spot a tall hill off in the distance. You move in that direction, running through the flowers just because you can. When you reach the top of the hill, you can see the orb better, and it looks like it might be some kind of giant cage, holding onto something very bright. From this new perspective you can also see a ladder in the distance, which seems to climb up and up, all the way to the roof, and thus the sun.

If you seek the sun, go to 14.

If you want to explore another part of the flower area, go to 26.

If you want to return to the white room, go to 1.

8. Moving swiftly, you seek to strike the tall, blonde warrior before they even know you are present. The parka wearing man spies your assault, and the blonde giant must have seen something in his face, for the body turns around, fast as lightning, the movements disguised by the curtain of platinum hair that has not turned as swiftly as the body. An arm extends out from the shifting pale locks, and before you can react, the knife that arm is holding has been thrust between your ribs and into your heart. The last thing you see before you breathe your last breath is the incredibly beautiful face of the blonde woman you had sought to strike down. She gazes at you for a moment as you fall, but turns away, back to her fight before you even strike the ground. Your life lasts as long as her attention span, and you are dead before you hit the ground.

BAD ENDING

9. You walk towards the strange spiky tower, the crescent moon barely giving you enough light to find your way. As you get closer, you continue to see movement at the top of the tower, shapes darting this way and that. The tower looms over you when you finally reach its base, extending up and up into the sky. From this perspective you can no longer see the shapes atop the tower, only an ever extending black stone obelisk. Their is a great wooden door at the base of the tower, gold colored handles set into ebony structure. Alternately, the spikes on the tower seem close enough together that you might consider climbing the thing, spike by spike.

If you want to go in through the front door, go to 36.

If you want to scale the tower by its spikes, go to 45.

If you want to flee from the fearsome tower, go to 16.

10. You open the door with the star, stepping inside the room beyond. It is a simple room, much like the one you left, but instead of concave walls, it has convex, and instead of four doors, it has only the one that you had entered from. The room contains only you, and two staircases, one reaching up into the heavens, the other down into the depths. There is nothing else here but whiteness.

If you want to ascend the stairs, go to 35.

If you want to descend the stairs, go to 39.

If you want to turn around and go out the door you came in, go to 1.

11. You stand shakily, looking at the blonde giant and her followers, for you now understand she is the leader, the parka wearing man, one who rebelled. The others look to the blonde woman, and the blonde woman looks at you. She speaks, and she gestures, and though you do not know her tongue, her meaning is unmistakable. You are to bow, to submit yourself to her, or you too will be like the man in the parka. Servitude or death.

If you want to flee this woman, go to 16.

If you want to submit yourself to her, go to 24.

If you want to attack her, go to 4.

12. Moving deeper into the woods, you find yourself drawn towards the faint music you had heard. The deeper you walk, the less you feel able to resist its siren like influence. You trudge onward, losing feeling in your feet, as you seem to faintly understand you are now tramping through snow. The trees get closer and closer together, the faint moonlight less and less able to bring light into the darkness of these woods. Still, you still are able to see, everything beginning to appear illuminated by some sort of inner light, a green luminescence that seems to change hue subtly with the rhythm of the music. After an indeterminate amount of time, you find yourself in a clearing, a small frozen pond in the center. The music feels as if it is coming from below the ice. As you step to the edge, you can see a hazy shape through the ice, something almost like a woman, but with much longer limbs, and great elk horns atop her head. The music intensifies, but somehow you seem to have been freed from its influence. The long limbed elk woman appears to be facing towards you from under the ice.

If you want to break the ice, and free the elk-woman, go to 17.

If you want to flee into the woods, and escape this damned music, go to 16.

If you want to walk out onto the ice, and dance, go to 27.

If you want to strike down this unholy monster, go to 19.

13. You leave the cover of the trees, entering into the light of the torches. Making sure not to get too close to the blonde giant, you charge towards the parka wearing man, wielding a large and heavy tree branch you picked up before leaving your place in the trees. Shouts of surprise can be heard from all of the torch wielding people at your approach. The parka man’s face fills with fear as he realizes he now faces two opponents. When you close within striking distance of the man, you hear the sound of running behind you. You swing at the parka man, but before your swing can connect, you feel yourself lifted off the ground, and hurled through the air. You hit your head on a tree, and a moment later you regain consciousness. Apparently in that time, the blonde giant, who you now see is an incredibly beautiful woman, had closed the distance with the parka wearing man, and slit his throat. Shaking your head, you stand up on shaky legs, facing the blonde giant, who’s knife glitters red. Behind her you see the other torch wielders, all eyes now on you.

Go to 11.

14. You make your way further across the field to the ladder. When you reach it, and look up, you get dizzy. It just keep going up and up, with no breaks. You are not sure if you can climb that far. Still, you have come this far. You begin to ascend the ladder. Rung by rung you climb. At first you occasionally look over your shoulder, out at the wonderful view below you, but soon your arms become too tired for that, your fear too great. Your arms burn as you keep climbing, the roof never seeming to be getting any closer. The smells change as you climb, different flower scents carried by different air currents. You are certain you can’t go on, you could not possibly keep climbing. You are almost there, just a little more. At last, you arrive at the top of the ladder. There is nothing but a thin bridge, with no rails that goes from the edge of the wall, all the way out to the place where the sun hangs down below. The roof which had seemed so far away before, is now too close, making you feel strangely claustrophobic in the largest room you have ever been in in your life. Crouched, you carefully edge your way along the walkway, moving slowly towards the massive chain that holds up the sun. When you get to the edge, you look down, right into the blazing core. At first it is too bright, your eyes watering and burning as you strive to figure this thing out. After a bit of squinting and some shading of the eyes, you manage to spot a hatch that goes inside the glowing orb, just at the base of the chain.

If you try and climb the chain down into the sun, go to 21.

If you want to explore other rooms, climb down the ladder, then go to 1.

If you want to explore more of this room, climb down the ladder, then go to 26.

15. You enter the door with the flower. It takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust as you enter the room, it is so bright and colorful. Flowers spread out before you for miles, every imaginable color and shape. At first you think you have stepped outside, into the sunlight, but upon a second examination you can see distant walls, and you can just barely make out a ceiling up above the clouds. What had at first appeared to be the sun, now is visible as hanging from the roof, fastened with a thick chain. You look around for landmarks, but really see few. There are the flowers, the sun, and the distant walls of the room. It is a beautiful scene.

If you want to take a nap in the flowers, go to 2.

If you want to try and get a better look at the “sun”, go to 7.

If you want to explore the edges of this room, go to 26.

If you want to return back into the white room, go to 1.

16. You flee, fear driving your steps, faster and faster. You take no stock of your surroundings, nothing mattering except that you get away from what you have just seen. There is nothing but darkness, the sound of your feet, and the sound of your heart, pounding harder and harder in your chest. Every time you start to calm down, start to feel safe, you see a blurred shape, or hear a strange sound, and the panic returns, driving you ever onward. You run and you run, your shoes falling to pieces, your skin and clothes torn by the terrain you have ignored in your haste. Your body screams at you to stop, but you cannot, the fear refusing to retreat. Your legs are lead, your swinging arms burn, your lungs gasp breaths from the air, as the sound of your heart becomes louder and louder, until suddenly it is no more. Suddenly your heart does not beat, your legs do not move. You are on the ground. You cannot breathe. You cannot move your body. You can move only your eyes, and then even that is taken from you as your eyelids fall down. There is nothing.

BAD ENDING

17. Taking a nearby stone, you smash the ice to pieces, working quickly to free the strange fey-like creature you can see trapped underneath. After several hard and cold minutes of work, the ice is broken, and the long limbed, antler wearing woman rises from the depths of the frozen pond, watering pouring away from her, or disappearing into steam and mist. Standing at her full height, the fey-woman is more than four meters, her antlers breaking five. She gazes down at you from this impressive height, and you feel her eyes boring into your soul, feel your secrets and ambitions laid bare before this mysterious being. She extends a hand a hand towards you.

If you strike down this foul creature, go to 19.

If you kiss the back of the hand, go to 38.

If you shake the hand, go to 29.

If you flee from this fearsome creature, go to 16.

18. You step into the light, shouting for the fighters to put down their weapons and talk the situation out. The group is startled by your presence, and begins speaking again in a language you cannot understand. You turn to mimicry, trying to get the pair to throw down their weapons. The parka wearing man’s eyes keep jumping between you and the blonde giant. The giant meanwhile walks slowly towards you. Now that you can see the front of this individual it becomes clear that the blonde giant is a woman, and an incredibly beautiful one at that. As you continue to try to get across your ideas, the woman steps close to you, then charges forward with an almost inhuman speed. You are looking at her face, then the only thing that remains in that space is the tail end of her incredibly long hair. You find yourself being lifted high into the air by the woman, and hurtled backwards into a tree. You strike your head, and are stunned for several moments. You can hazily see the woman move just as fast towards the parka wearing man as she had advanced on you, and you watch as he falls back, blood spraying from his neck. You manage to get yourself to your feet. You are facing the giant woman, her knife dripping with blood. She and the other torch bearers are all now looking at you.

Go to 11.

19. As you move to strike at the unholy thing you can see before you, it shifts in form, becoming something of pure darkness, a living shadow. The world falls away, and it is just you and the shadow, wrestling with one another, using no weapons but your arms and legs, your your knees, elbows, and teeth. It is a vicious, bloody, pure struggle between human flesh, and inky shadow. Even as you draw forth new reserves of strength to grab and grip, break and twist, the thing you are battling seems just as filled with resolve. Neither you nor it can gain an advantage, every time one seems on the edge of gaining one, the other gets a second wind, breaking the hold, twisting away from the choke, wrenching free from the bite. For a moment, the two of you break away from each other, the thing regaining its old form. You stare ahead at this unholy creature.

If you want to flee this battle, go to 16.

If you want to keep at it, continue the struggle, go to 19.

If you want to call upon your secret name, go to 23.

If you want to seek peace, go to 28.

20. You step through the scythe marked door, a tingle running down your spine as you do. Upon entering the room, you see it has been well marked, for the specter of death itself hangs in the air before you, empty skull grinning, a great sinister laugh seeming to come from every direction and none. The door you came in from has vanished, and you stand alone in the void, facing death itself.

If you want to do battle with death, go to 19.

If you want to challenge Death to a board game, go to 25.

If you want to flee from the specter of death, go to 16.

21. You lower yourself over the edge of the platform, then reach over to the chain, dropping down and gripping tight. Now that you are on the massive chain, you slowly inch your way down, getting closer and closer to the sun. It isn’t getting any hotter, only brighter, which is a good sign, and after a few minutes of climbing, you can feel your feet touch the surface of the sphere. You stay holding the chain, frightened that you might just slide right off the massive structure, but it seems like it has pretty good traction, so you let go, making your way to the doorway you had spotted from above. You feel your way to a handle, unable to look down directly for fear of blindness, and pull it open. Still not looking, you lower yourself into the sun. You open your eyes a moment later when you sense that it is not as bright in here as it on the outside. You look around the space, and it almost seems like some sort of lab. There are nobs and nozzles, buttons and switches. Most noticeable is a large indicator, showing that the light is almost gone. Even as you notice this, the room starts flashing red, warning indicators and a robotic voice asking for more light, explaining that if it does not receive some concentrated light, it will go into emergency shutdown. The hatch you came in through closes, with no handle on this side. It looks like you need some light.

If you try and fix the sun, go to 30.

22. You close your eyes for a moment, and when you open them again, they burn with the light of go intuition. You strike at the board, at death’s position, every move sending shock waves felt both in and out of the game. Death was not prepared for this surge of vitality, falling back, stone by stone, retreating from your reckless ambition, your attempt to come back from an incredible deficit. Your white stones surround and entrap, pursue and consume, the black stones of death seeming to fall away from the board in a cascade of captured pieces. When the dust settles and the stones lie still, the board itself has broken from the strain. Every black piece is gone, only your stones remain, death finding no liberties, no life on the board. With this defeat, death itself seems to have faded away, the skeleton in the tattered cloak leaving only the cloak behind. With victory secured, you take the cloak of death, and cast it around yourself. You am become death, destroyer of worlds.

DEATH ENDING

23. Looking deep within yourself, you find something even you had not fathomed. A secret lived within you all this time, and it took this conflict, this battle with the creature that stood before you to tear it forth from the depths of your soul. You gaze at your enemy, your eyes no longer filled with battle-rage, your mind clear of all fear and all doubts. Your enemy can see this change in you, and it understands somehow, it knows that the tables have turns, the tide has shifted. Now there is fear in its eyes. Now there is a shaking of the earth, as the planet quivers in excitement of your proclamation. You speak, in a soft voice, barely above a whisper, but the creature cannot help but hear, no thing animate or in would dare hide the words that you speak. The creature listens to your secret name, and it is no longer a creature, no longer even a living thing. That which was once your enemy is now merely a small shrub. You are about to smile, but then you realize your mistake. You understand that the world too was listening, the world had heard your secret name. And you yourself had heard it. That which had once been a planet, that which had once been you, all that had heard that name which could not be unheard, all were shrubs. Floating in space, no longer a part of any story, the many shrubs who had once been the world floated. You are one among them, a shrub like any other, though a shrub with a secret name.

SHRUB ENDING

24. Having seen this woman’s strength and speed, you decide discretion is the better part of valor. You give the woman a bow. She walks over to you, a presses you further down, into a position of absolute supplication. After a moment of this, she drags you to your feet, then points to the dead parka guy. Looks like you get to have his stuff. After putting on the parka and the backpack, and relighting the torch, you fall into line with the group. You walk together with the others, listening to them speak in a language you do not know. The travel takes days. Their are a few meals each day, mostly meat that the giant blonde woman provides, but mostly there is walking. At last you arrive at the destination, a run down old castle, up on the side of a mountain. When the inhabitants of the castle see you coming, they all rush out, hundreds of them, and each bows to the blonde woman just as you had been made to do. You are lead inside, and put to work. You wash dishes, cook, clean, help out with whatever needs helping. After the first few days, you decide now is the time for choice. You can try and get out of this, or the routine will consume you, and you will never escape.

If you want to try and escape, go to 16.

If you want to try and lead a rebellion, go to 41.

If you want to accept your fate, go to 32.

25. Casting fear aside, and trusting in myth and legend, you speak to the specter of death, asking it if it might be interested in some kind of board game. After a few minutes of miming with you, and a brief moment where death retreats to its board game closet, you are facing death down at the game of go. The game starts out well enough, death being a patient fellow, not too aggressive, but you soon find it difficult to keep your shapes alive, death being apparently quite good at finding it in go. You are on the brink of defeat, a huge shaping having been captured by death.

If you want to flee from the board, go to 16.

If you want to go ham or go home, go to 22.

If you want to surrender the game, go to 33.

26. You set forth across the flower fields, intent on learning more about this place. You decide to try and walk all the way across first, to check the opposite wall, maybe see if there are other doors. The smell of the field is wonderful, though after a few minutes you start to feel a little weirded out. Something is missing, something important. After another few minutes of much more nervous walking, you realize the problem. There is absolutely no noise. No birds chirping, no insects buzzing. You have not seen a single bee or ladybug, nothing in all these flowers. How are they getting fertilized? As if to contradict your hypothesis, you suddenly hear something. Its a buzzing sound. At first it is soft, but it grows louder and louder, beginning to drown out your very thoughts. You notice then that one of the things you had earlier supposed to be a cloud was descending rather rapidly towards you. It seems it is some kind of insect swarm. You try running, but it soon becomes obvious the insects are faster, so you turn to observe, see if there is anything you can figure out. As the bugs get closer, you are able to make them out as bees, hundreds of thousands of them. When it seems as though they are right upon you, as though you will be swarmed and killed, the bees seem to melt together. A hulking creature is formed from their aggregate. It still buzzes, despite its appearance now being closer to bear than bug. It roars a buzzy roar, and charges towards you.

If you wish to fight this unholy creature, go to 19.

If you wish to flee, go to 16.

27. You step out onto the ice, which cracks and shivers under your step. For a moment you simply listen, letting the haunting music that brought you to this place wash through you, fill your mind with strange thoughts. Then, begin to move, letting these thoughts take possession of your limbs, letting the music move your body into a manic, magical, mysterious dance. You can hear the ice shattering beneath your feet as you leap and step, stomp and twirl. The edges of the small pond seem to draw away from you, turning from pond to lake, then from lake to sea, an endless expanse of ice, all simply waiting to be danced upon. You dance, then you dance more. You continue to dance, filled with the spirit of the music. You are not tired, you are not bored, you are simply dancing. This continues forever.

DANCE ENDING

28. You seek peace with the terrible creature before you. You stop for a moment, implore it to wait, hold itself back and listen. You speak then. You speak of the pain in the world, of inequality, of greed, or hatred. You speak of the things that make people fight, the trivial, stupid things that tear apart everything that takes so long to build. You then speak of the way to combat this, of the simple need for understanding, for an acceptance of differences, and a willingness to work together despite those, and perhaps even because of them. You speak of peace, of unity, and of a better tomorrow. Then you wait, seeing how it is that this strange fearsome creature you face will respond.

If you wait in hope, go to 31.

If you wait in despair, go to 34.

29. You shake the hand that had been extended out before you. A strange smile extends across the elk-woman’s face. She bends down, turns her head, and kisses you. It is a terrible, wonderful, magical, horrifying, indescribable experience. Your body and emotions are pulled this way and that by lust, by disgust, by existential horror. She is something other than what you are, a part of another world, and this kiss gives you a glimpse, a moment of her existence, something entirely outside your experience. Your mind flashes with images. You see stairs, extending ever upwards. You grasp something at the top of the stairs. Then you see a giant, with hair like shimmering steel. You can sense evil from this giant, a great and twisted wrongness. Then, the kiss ends, you recover, you open your eyes, and you are back at the white room where it all began.

Go to 1.

30. You work frantically, trying to fix the sun you have found yourself trapped inside. You read faqs on the blinking screens, you look at the wires and switches underneath the panels. As the blinking lights dim, and the warning sounds get softer and softer, you figure out how this all works. You understand that the problem is light alone, that you need some kind of laser or something to re-power the system. With no such tool available to you, the lights go out, and you are trapped alone, in the dark, in the sun.

BAD ENDING

31. You wait in hope, prepared to accept the changed perspective and new belief in the bright future that you are sure this creature will soon come to accept. The creature seems to consider your words. It stands motionless for a moment, turning its head this way and that. Then, it smiles a terrible smile and tears you asunder, rejecting both your words and your very life. You are torn to shreds, your hope betrayed, your fears realized.

BAD ENDING

32. You accept your fate. The work is tiresome and dull, but you manage to make it worth it by succumbing to Stockholm syndrome and falling in love with your silver haired captor. You rarely see her, but you do the work for her, wanting her to find you valuable. You live your life among others like you, all working, all slaving away, all in the service of their queen. You learn the language eventually, and fall into the usual patterns of life, but you never leave the castle again, you never think about working against your queen again. Eventually, you get sick, there is no medicine here, and you die in your sleep.

SLAVE ENDING

33. Death appreciates your understanding of the position, and shakes your hand, which is a bit of a creepy, though undeniably cool, experience. Afterwords, turning to notes instead of miming, death explains that it is looking for an assistant to help out. It needs someone to learn sign language and translate for it when it makes scary pronouncements, and it also needs someone to help it with some of the paperwork involved in the whole death process. It figures a good go opponent would not be a terrible fit for this position, and offers you the job. Considering the alternatives, you accept, and soon begin your eternal mission as death’s right hand person, helping death with its taxes, making sure the right people die at the right time, and occasionally playing some board games. So begins eternity.

GOODISH ENDING

34. You wait in despair. While you know your words to be true, you understand that the only way for the world to truly have a future is if petty differences can be rejected, you can’t possibly believe that a creature such as this, one so very different, one who’s differences seem perhaps not so petty, could possibly accept your argument, turn away from this violent path. You close your eyes, you accept the death you know to be coming. For a long time there is nothing, then you feel soft pressure from all around you. You open your eyes and you see the strange creature, eyes filled with tears, hugging you. Though you and it are different indeed, this gesture begins a new chapter, a new friendship between humankind, and that which is outside, that which is different. Though you cannot communicate with words, you forge a strong bond of friendship with the creature whom you had once feared, and the two of you together go forth in the world, spreading a message of harmony, of forgiveness, and of friendship.

GOOD ENDING

35. You climb ever upwards. Your legs ache, and your back is killing you, but you manage to convince yourself again and again that the next twist of the staircase will be its last, that its just a few hundred more steps to the top. Eventually after entirely too long, these false promises turn true, and you stand at the pinnacle, the very top of stairs, looking out over a vast landscape, a crescent moon overhead. Before you are a number of individuals wearing dark brown robes, all huddled around something or other in the center of the space you are in. You approach, and the robed figures scatter, moving to the edges of the tower, and all bowing down before you. The thing that they had been huddled around turns out to be a small machine, which, on closer inspection, turns out to be a laser gun. Not what you were expecting at all, you pick up the weapon, methodically fiddling with the trigger. The folks in cloaks begin to chant, and the world fades away. You find yourself standing in the same open room you had started in, except now you have a laser gun.

Go to 1. Now that you have a laser gun, you have access to additional options. If you should choose to attack something, you can do so with your laser gun instead of whatever else is around by going to page 4X, where X is the last digit of the page you would have gone to had you not had a laser gun.

36. You enter into the great black tower, pulling open the lavishly decorated doors and boldly stepping into the foyer. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness, you think you can make out a huge staircase that ascends up and up, high into the tower. Apart from the staircase, their appears to be little else in the tower, at least initially. After making your way towards the staircase, you spot something else, another set of steps, this one descending down into the ground instead of up into the heights.

If you want to ascend the tower, go to 35.

If you want to descend into the depths, go to 39.

If you want to flee from this terrible place, go to 16.

37. You decide that it is not possible to escape while the queen yet lives. You convince the rest of the rebellion as much, and you all begin the plot to kill the queen. You wait and scheme, and at last the perfect moment arrives. The giant blonde woman has a great feast, where she consumes much, and drinks more, and at last she falls to her bed, asleep. All of rebel members grab the spears they had made, and move silently into the woman’s bedroom, after slaying her guard. You and they all surround the bed, and as one, stab your spears down into the bed, hoping to slay her before she even knows what is happening. The spears stab, but not quite all at once. One stabs first, and the woman feels it. She reacts faster than any human could, throwing her body off her bed, cut and nicked by the spears but not impaled. Off the bed and amongst the people of the rebellion she cannot be stopped. Bodies are hurled this way and that, spears are shoved back into their wielders, limbs are detached from their owners. She is a whirlwind of death. You last longer than most, but you too are taken down, impaled on your own spear. You live long enough to see the woman satisfied with her work, and going back to sleep in a room filled with corpses.

BAD ENDING

38. You kiss the majestic creatures hand. It nods, accepting your vow of service to its cause. It reaches down and grips your body, stretching your limbs like its own. You feel your body change, becoming something different. The strange elk-lady twists and shapes you, making you into an instrument of her will, a part of the forest and the music and the seasons. Your limbs are long and lanky, your body now covered in feathers, and you seem to have a beak. When you stretch out your arms you can feel the wind catch hold of the feathers and pull you into the air. You fly silently, a great white owl, watching for mice and rabbits, seeking your prey. Sometimes you have your hands and your limbs, sometimes you help the lady of the forest in her many tasks, but most days you are an owl. A great hunter, an eternal stalker of prey. You catch and eat a mouse. You are happy.

OWL ENDING

39. As you descend further and further down these stairs, the temperature rises, becoming hotter and hotter, more and more muggy. Sweat pours off you in waves. You are almost swimming down these stairs now. The stairs glow with a red heat, and you are thankful for your shoes, without which you would certainly be burning now. Eventually, the stairs stop and you are alone in a vast expanse of fire and brimstone. You see lava flowing in several places, and rocks red hot, on the edge of becoming magma themselves. You feel as though something is wrong with this situation, your mind flashing back to science books read so long ago. Before you can figure out what the problem is however, you find yourself not quite so alone. A beast has risen from the lava, a being of fire, of wicked wings and terrible claws. A sound like fingernails on a chalkboard can be heard as it drags itself, step by step out of the magma bath it had been resting in, and towards you, the heat coming off this creature putting all other such experiences you have had to shame.

If you want to strike down the unholy beast, go to 19.

If you want to flee from this create, go to 16.

If you want to try and talk it out, go to 28.

40. Thinking quickly, you draw forth your laser, searching for the right place to fire the weapon. After working with the machines around you for a bit you find the place where the light needs to be administered. You fit your laser into the slot, and hold the trigger down. You watch as the light bar creeps back upwards, your tiny laser some how able to supply this massive machine with its needs. The laser starts to get hot from the amount you are firing it, but before it reaches a dangerous point, the sun has been fully recharged. When it reaches the 100% level, many of the auxiliary systems come back online. You are able to read documentation on the sun, and discover it has a number of useful features, when provided with sufficient power. These functions include flight, sun beams, and telepathic control of giant cloud sized bee swarms. With the sun at your command, your future seems limitless.

SKITTLE ENDING

41. You continue your work in the castle, but you plan and you plot. You work hard to learn the language of the people around you, and once you do, you begin to sow the seeds of dissent. A little whisper here, a rumor over there. Little by little you build yourself a small band of conspirators, all who wish to overthrow the queen, all who want freedom. You prepare the time and place, getting everyone ready for a moment of action. Then, there is division in the ranks. Some want revenge, to free all of the slaves by killing the queen. Others simply want to escape, start a new community far from the grasp of the woman who enslaved them all.

If you want to attack the blonde woman with your rebellion, go to 37.

If you want to escape into the countryside with your rebellion, go to 46.

42. Having transcended the narrative structure of the choose your own adventure story, you have achieved the final and greatest ending. You ascend beyond mortal time and space, all of the cosmos opening to your vision. You smell the birth of stars, feel the death of nations, and taste all the infinite possible light waves. Your victory is absolute and complete, marred only by its lack of origin, this victory having occurred outside the tyranny of cause and effect. When at last you strip back all that is, look at the very core of reality, you glimpse these words you are reading now.

NO REASON ENDING

43. Taking careful aim with your strange laser weapon, you fire at the man in the parka, piercing his body with a lance of pure light. The laser makes a terrible screeching sound as it fires, and the rest of the torch wielding folks all turn their gaze towards you. The blonde giant can now be seen to be a beautiful woman, though this beauty is hard to appreciate considering her sudden movement towards your position. You try to get your laser into position to defend yourself, but the woman is too fast. She kicks the weapon out of your hand, crushing it against a nearby tree, then she lifts you into the air, and hurls you out from your place in the trees, and into the light of the other torch wielders. The parka wearing man moans, apparently having survived your attack, though this lasts only a short while before the gigantic woman cuts his throat. You manage to stumble to your feet, and you stand facing the blonde, as well as the other folks with torches who stand behind her.

Go to 11.

44. The woman’s commanding gaze had shaken you a little, but you remember your laser gun. You are the one in control. You stare back at her, unafraid, then draw your weapon, firing it right at her center of mass. She is gone. At first you think the laser had disintegrated her, but you realize a moment later that she had seen your movement and had dodged faster than you thought possible. She had rolled to the side, and you quickly turn the gone to track her, but she can move her whole body faster than you can adjust your aim. You try again and again to get her in your sights, but again and again she rolls, ducks, and weaves out of vision. You back up, not wanting to let her close in on you, but you step on a root, and almost fall. You catch yourself, but the moment of distraction was all the woman needed to get an advantage. You didn’t see her grab the rock, but you feel the pain in your hand as your gun is knocked out of it. Fear clenches your stomach as you realize you are unarmed against this woman’s strength and speed. The blonde giant is upon you. She slams you to the ground, your head crashing against the same root you had almost tripped on, and she grabs the fallen laser gun. She examines it, then turns it towards you. A blaze of white.

BAD ENDING

45. You begin to climb up the tower, spike by spike, little by little. At first this is quite hard, as the spikes are pretty far apart at the bottom of the tower, but as you climb higher and higher the spikes become more and more dense. Step by step, moment by moment you continue up, ever upwards and onwards. Past a certain point, the density of the spikes has become so great that there is now no longer room for your body. Your attempts to continue lead to puncture wounds. Now with blood leaking out of several places, you begin to descend, giving up on your goal. The blood is leaving to fast however, and you begin to feel faint. Again and again you move incorrectly, spikes stabbing into you instead of you grabbing them. At last you stop trying to move, expecting to fall to your death. Instead it seems you have impaled yourself sufficiently to hold your body to the side of the tower. Your consciousness drifts in and out as your blood leaks away. As the night ends, and the sun comes across the side of the tower, your body can be seen, pressed against the tower, pierced and broken.

BAD ENDING

46. You convince your rebellion to escape instead of seeking revenge, having seen the terrifying force that woman was in combat. You and the other rebels prepare for the right moment, and at last it arrives. The woman has a late night of feasting and drinking, and when she at last falls asleep, you act. Holes had been dug slowly and surely over the last several weeks. The guards were disabled, people rebel members did not like were assassinated, and the whole group slips out through the holes, never waking the queen. You travel hard and fast, knowing that she will be after you. You wade through rivers, cross hard and rocky terrain, and do everything you can to avoid leaving a trail. Even after you are sure you have escaped you, you continue to travel for several more weeks, wanting to put distance between yourselves and the queen. Eventually, you all stop, and begin to build a civilization, starting a small town on the coast. It is a simple and hard life, but its good. For five years your town grows and expands, building and living. Then the queen finds you. You are slain to a man, your heads brought back to be mounted on the top of her castle. None shall escape her.

BAD ENDING

47. You convince the other members of the rebellion that the best way will be to kill the queen. As you prepare for the assassination, you carefully test your laser gun, which you had kept all this time. You and the others wait for the opportune moment. At last it occurs. The queen has a great feast in celebration of some victory and she eats and drinks much, staying up late into the night. When at last she retires to her room, that is when your rebels strike. All of you move together, surrounding the woman with long spears, but the first move is yours. You aim your laser gun, putting her head right in your sights. Everyone holds their breaths, hoping, praying for your success. You squeeze the trigger, sweat pouring down your face. The loud shriek of the laser blast deafens you, and the bright light blinds you, and when you can again perceive the world around you, the woman is dead, without a head. The rebels chortle in their joy. With the queen defeated, everyone is free. It takes a long time to convince everyone she is truly dead, and some of the former slaves are greatly saddened by this, having given their lives in her service. Still, after a little counseling and a good bit of social restructuring the castle becomes a democracy instead of a dictatorship, and the people of the castle live relatively happy lives, though honestly not much different in content than before the rebellion. You on the other hand feel listless, unwilling to settle down in this newly liberated location. After a few months of helping with the democracy process you take your laser gun and your parka, and head off for new adventure.

TO BE CONTINUED…

48. From your hiding spot in the trees, you decide to take the blonde giant out with your laser gun. You wait until they have all their attention focused on the parka wearing man, and then, in that moment you fire. The gun makes a terrible shrieking noise, and you see a lance of light blast through the giant. A hole is visible in the blonde, but amazingly they seem to still be moving, turning back towards you. You fire again and again at the blonde, even after seeing its strikingly beautiful face. The first strike seems to have disabled her however, and the next three or four finish the job. The blonde giant is a smoking husk, lying on the ground. The man in the parka and the other folks waiting around appear to be in shock. You step out from your hiding place, motioning towards the gun, warning them not to try anything. When you speak, the man in the parka nods, and speaks back in a language you understand. He explains that all of the rest were captives of the blonde giant, and that he had just been captured himself. He had managed to get a hold of a knife and was attempting to free himself when you helped him out. The others have been slaves for years, and the lady has a whole castle of slaves, so you just helped out a bunch of people. He mentions that he wanted to thank you for your help, that you have earned your freedom, whatever that means. He holds out his hand, saying he will take you far away from this place.

If you take the offered hand, go to 50.

If you flee from the offered hand, go to 16.

49. You draw your laser gun, take aim, and fire at the unholy creature before you. The thing howls a terrible howl, even as the gun you have fired makes a terrible shriek as well. The being has been injured, but is not dead. It advances on you, eyes filled with menace. You fire again and again, each time the creature falling back, or falling down, but each time it regains its feet, continues to move towards you, implacable, indefatigable. As the firing continues, the little gun you are holding begins to heat up, the continued fire being beyond its specifications. Still, you cannot let up, you cannot stop firing or it will reach you, it will tear you to pieces. The beasts body is filled with holes, it cannot be far from dead you think to yourself as your fingers blacken from the heat, your skin roasting and sizzling. You are right, though in the end it matters not. It at last closes the distance, strikes at you, and you put the gun in between yourself and the attack. The gun explodes, disintegrating both you and the creature you battled, nothing remaining but ash and regret.

BAD ENDING

50. You take the man’s hand, and suddenly you remember everything. You remember the horrible incident, the trial, your travel to the prison planet. You even remember being put into the mind-wipe machine. The parka wearing man is a guard who had gotten captured by one of the inmates, and because you saved him you have officially been freed from the inter-dimensional prison planet XanZirab IV. With your memories and your freedom, you say goodbye to your strange time here. You have the rest of your life to live.

FINAL ENDING

Tomorrow there will be more of us

July 16, 2016

So I did write a post for today, or at least I wrote part of one.  Length wise, what I wrote is similar to many other posts.  I did not finish however, and due to the nature of this particular creative endeavor, it cannot be posted incomplete.  So it is that I am combining tomorrows free day with today’s creative day, and posting the complete project tomorrow once I have finished it.

Really Big Numbers

July 14, 2016

I am going to talk about some cool math tonight.  Basically I am just going to be explaining some ways to talk about big numbers that most people have never heard of.  It might be kinda short because I need to get to sleep fairly soon, but I hope it will be interesting.

To start, lets establish a pattern.  One of the simplest things you can do with a number is to count up by one.  To go to the next whole number bigger.  Its how we first learn to add numbers, by counting up a number of times equal to the amount we are adding.  We want to add 4 to 3, we count 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  When you add a number, it means you are counting up that many times.  So we can use counting in order to understand how to add.

Next we can use adding to learn to multiply.  If we want to multiply a number, we are just adding that number a number of times equal to what we are multiplying by.  So if we multiply 3 by 4, we are saying 3+3+3+3.  We are adding 3, 4 times.  So we are using addition in order to understand how to multiply.

After multiplication is exponents, or powers.  If you want to take a number to the power of another number, that just means you are multiplying by that number a number of times equal to the second number.  So if we take 3 to the fourth power, we are just multiplying 3*3*3*3.  We are multiplying by 3, 4 times.  So we are using multiplication in order to understand how to take powers.

Now most people know how to do all of these things, even if they might be a bit hazy on powers, and if they stop to think about it, it is pretty obvious they are all built on top of one another.  When they are all presented in an ordered fashion like this however, it becomes easy to see that the pattern can continue.  Let me show you the next step then.

After powers, is an operation called tetration.  It is so called because it is the 4th level of operation, if you start with addition as the basic operation instead of counting.  If you want to tetrate a number by another number, you simply take that number to the power of itself a number of times equal to the second number.  So if you want to tetrate 3 by 4, then you would have 3^3^3^3, where ^ is the symbol commonly used on computers for powers due to the difficulty of using the normal superscript notation for powers.  We are going to the power of 3, 4 times here. Thus we are using powers in order to understand tetration.

A couple of interesting things to note in terms of tetration.  First, the representation.  It is usually looks like taking to the power, except the small number is in front of the number instead of after it.  So the tetration of 3 by 4 discussed above would look like a tiny 4 hanging in the air followed by a normal sized 3.  If you want to write this out on a computer, you use two ^s, so the above 3 tetrated by 4 would be 3^^4.  Another important thing to understand is that when you are taking the powers in order to find the answer, you start at the highest point and work down instead of working up.  As an example, if we had 3 tetrated to the third, it would look at first like 3^3^3, then 3^27, because we solve the furthest out operation 3 cubed equals 27, so we replace the 3^3 at the end with 27.  Then we would take 3 to the 27th power, which works out to be 7,625,597,484,987.  If we worked the other direction instead, and changed 3^3^3 into 27^3, we would only get an answer of 19,683, which is a fair bit smaller.  So its important that you go from the top down if you are using normal notation, or from right to left, if you are using the computer notation.  The next notable thing is how fast tetration grows.  Lets look at some examples.

2 tetrated by 2 = 4

2 tetrated by 3 = 16

2 tetrated by 4 = 65,536

2 tetrated by 5 = 2.00353 × 1019,728  This is a number with almost 20,000 digits.  If I wrote it out longhand it would be longer than the rest of this article all together by a significant amount.

3 tetrated by 2 = 27

3 tetrated by 3 = 7,625,597,484,987

3 tetrated by 4 = A number with 3 trillion digits.

3 tetrated by 5 = A number who’s number of digits is not even expressible in standard notation.

4 tetrated by 2 = 256

4 tetrated by 3 = 1.34078 × 10154 A number with 154 digits

4 tetrated by 4 = A number who’s number of digits is a number with 153 digits.

4 tetrated by 5 =  A number who’s number of digits has a number of digits not expressible by standard notation.

As you can see, these numbers get pretty absurd, pretty fast.  Still, tetration is obviously not the end of what you can do.  You can do something called pentation which is the next step, taking a number and tetrating it a number of times equal to the second number.  This can extend indefinitely, and it does not make sense to keep coming up with unique notation for each potential operation.  Because of this, a guy called Donald Knuth, famous in the programming world fro writing a series of books on the fundamentals of algorithm creation, created a notation called Knuth’s Up Arrow Notation.  Basically it involved putting a number of upwards facing arrows between the two numbers, with the number of arrows indicating which operation you are using.  One up arrow is powers, two up arrows is tetration, three is pentation, four is the next one after that.  While the ideal depiction of the arrows includes a full arrow, online we simply use the ^ symbol for the arrow.  So ^ is powers, ^^ is tetration, ^^^ is pentation and so on.  As you can see, we have already been using Knuth’s Up Arrow Notation with the computer depictions.

One problem with Knuth’s up arrow notation is that depending on what you are doing, the number of arrows can sometimes make the notation unweildy.  If you are doing the 10th up arrow operation, you don’t want to be writing ^^^^^^^^^^ each time between your numbers.  As such, once you get past five or six arrows, it is conventional to simply write the number of arrows in a superscript next to your arrow.  Online you put the number of arrows in parenthesis after the initial carrot symbol.  So 3^^^^^^4 could alternately be represented as 3 ^(6) 4.  Using this notation we can now talk about one of the biggest numbers ever actually useful for anything, a number called Graham’s Number.

Graham’s Number was a number used as an upper bound for a mathematical proof in the field of combinatorics, the mathematical study of combinations and permutations of things.  The number is generated in 64 steps.  The first step is to take 3 ^^^^ 3, ie 3 taken to the operation one above pentation by 3.  This is a number so incomprehensibly large, that you could not fit it into the universe if you subdivided the entire thing into plank volumes, a unit of volume that is the smallest it is possible to measure.  We call this number G1.  So already we have a number generally beyond comprehension and conventional notation in any sense.  Then to get G2, we take 3 and we put G1 up arrows in between it and another 3.  So using our notation, it is 3 ^(G1) 3.  So this is a number generated by increasing the rate of size increase by an already incomprehensible number.  For the next 62 steps we repeat the procedure, with G3 having G2 up arrows and so on.  At the highest level G64, we have Graham’s Number.  I am not even going to try and explain how big this is.  Each step is increasing the size of this by increasingly incredible incomprehensible increments, and their are 64 of these steps.

So with that explanation of Graham’s Number, that’s where I am going to stop today.  A few things to note before I sign off though.  First, the number that Graham’s Number is an upper bound to has a lower bound of 13.  So that number is somewhere between 13 and Graham’s Number.  Actually, a smaller number was found later, which puts the upper bound at 2^^^6, a still incredibly large number, not expressible in normal numerical notation, but much much smaller than Graham’s Number.  So the answer to the problem is somewhere between 13 and this new number.  Additionally, while often considered the largest number ever useful for anything, it has been supplanted by even larger numbers as time has moved on. Some of these numbers are so large that they are not even expressible using Knuth’s Up Arrow Notation in a reasonably concise manner, and their are other notations for talking about even bigger numbers.  One of the most famous is called Conway’s Chain Arrow Notation, which I may at some point right another post about, but currently am leaving for another day.  If you are interested, look it up.  Anyways, all this is just a math thing that I think is really fun and interesting.  I might try to do another math related post next week if I can find something equally fun.  So long, and happy imagining of numbers beyond imagination.


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