Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

image of Xenograg
(Art by Isaura Simon)

Using Computers To Play Non-computer Games Better

November 25, 2022

Many years ago, I was the Computer Statistician of my High School’s varsity football team. It was an unique position on the managerial squad. One of our coaches had purchased a software application for analyzing opposing teams’ offenses. Team scouts would collect the kind of data the application could analyze. My after-hours job was mostly data entry of any newly-arrived scouting reports but, more importantly, of running the analysis report of our next opposing team as soon as all relevant data was entered.

These reports were printed out on wide fan-fold paper because the bulk of each one was numerous ASCII grids that corresponded to lateral field positions. These simple graphics helped non-technical coaches interpret the results—statistical breakdowns of behavioral tendencies in an opponent’s play-calling. The breakdown categories were the traditional ones scouts and coaches use without computers: 1st-and-10, 2nd-and-long, et. al.

So I learned early that computers could be used for more than just playing games. They could be used as tools to help me play other games better. Even games that had nothing to do with computers.

I had found Dungeons & Dragons in Middle School, and already knew a few things about probability and statistics. I had been an user of computers, though mostly for playing games. I had even hacked game data once or twice. That only made the game easier to play; it did not make me a better player.

As the football seasons progressed, I watched those reports be used by the coaches to make our team play better through adaptation to our opponents’ patterns of play. Knowledge was power.

All that led to computer programming. My first original programs were various tools and toys for or related to D&D. I still write them in my leisure time, today.

I intend to blog about them. Soon.

Japanese Versus Chinese Martial Arts Styles

November 23, 2022

“…The movement patterns here are typical of Japanese as opposed to Chinese styles of unarmed fighting—the Japanese think of the torso as a cylinder that should be kept upright when fighting. The Chinese are a bit more flexible….”

Tengu, Chapter 10

Motivation Is Emotional Investment

November 21, 2022

Motivation is the reason your characters do the things they do. Characters need to have a solid motivation for all the decisions they make throughout the story, but…the most important motivation you need to give them is the motivation to participate in the story in the first place. Motivation is the reason the stakes matter.

[Harry Potter’s] goal is to destroy Voldemort.

Voldemort will take over the wizarding world otherwise—this is what’s at stake.

But why does Harry want to stop Voldemort himself? Why not step back and let someone else do it? Because Voldemort killed Harry’s parents. That’s Harry’s motivation.

Motivation is the emotional investment in the story for both the character and the reader. It gives the characters depth, which makes them more engaging. The reader wouldn’t be very interested if, at any point, the protagonist could decide that the stakes aren’t such a big deal after all and go home. Motivation locks the character into the story.

5 Places to Look for your Character’s Motivation – Jackal Editing

Author’s emphases.

Human Beings Have Affinities with the Physical World

November 20, 2022

It’s important to understand the particular way in which human beings have affinities with the physical world according to the ancients. They believed in a quite literal way that nothing inside us is without a correspondence in nature. Worms, for example, are the shape of intestines and worms process matter as intestines do. The lungs that enable us to move freely through space with a bird-like freedom are the same shape as birds. The visible world is humanity turned inside out. Lung and bird are both expressions of the same cosmic spirit, but in different modes.

To the teachers of the Mystery schools it was significant that if you looked down on to the internal organs of the human body from the skies, their disposition reflected the solar system.

In the view of the ancients, then, all biology is astrobiology….

The Secret History of the World, p. 39

Author’s emphasis.

Power of Reflection

November 20, 2022

Human nature is so formed that any power I may have to resist my animal desires—indeed what stops me from becoming a mere animal—derives from my capacity for thought and reflection. Venus was traditionally depicted holding a mirror, but not out of vanity as is nowadays supposed. The mirror was a symbol of the power of reflection to modify desire.

The god of reflection was the god of the great reflector in the sky—the moon. In all ancient cultures the moon regulated not only fertility but thought.

The Secret History of the World, pp. 95-96

Author’s emphasis.

The Cossack-Sorcerers

November 19, 2022

Among these Cossacks who lived within the territory of the Zaporizhian Sich, there were said to be some with magic abilities, who were called the Cossack-Sorcerers. According to folklore, these were true war mages, of which legends were born. However, unlike the modern fantasy warriors, they did not throw lightning-bolts and issue fire from their staffs. Their weapons and abilities were somewhat different….

According to the people’s imagination, the Cossacks were able to find and hide treasures, to heal wounds with spells, and to evade and catch bullets. They could withstand hot rods, change the weather and open castle doors with their bare hands. They were able to float on the floor in boats, as if on the sea, to cross the rivers on rugs…and instantly transport themselves from one side of the steppe to another. They knew psychotherapy, understood herbalism, and also possessed the art of hypnosis. There were also claims about the super-human physical training the Cossacks endured, and much more….

How the Cossack-Sorcerers actually began is shrouded in secrecy. Many believe that the Cossacks of legend have come from the ancient Slavic Yazykh priests of the Magi. It is said that after Prince Vladimir the Great was converted from Slavic paganism to Christianity in 988 and christianized the Kievan Rus, the priests did not agree that the prince should have accepted a foreign faith from Byzantium and so fled to the steppe where the warlords set up, teaching their followers in the martial arts….

Just as the Zaporizhzhya Sich was a melting pot for different people, it became possible that such a variety could exist among the Cossacks, sharing their knowledge, skills and abilities with them. By mastering this knowledge, the Cossacks could combine the practice of divination, charisma, and mysticism with the illusion and art of battle, as did the Japanese ninja….

Cossack-Sorcerers: The Secretive and Magical Warrior Society of Ukraine – Ancient Origins

The Worst Ignorance

November 18, 2022
The worst ignorance
Doctor Strange:
The worst ignorance is always the ignorance you haven’t been aware of. My Cloak of Levitation has served me well more times than I care to think. But now, when it becomes time to repair its torn fabric after my disastrous battle with Khat—although I am Dr. Strange, whom no living being can contest in sorcerous power, lore, or skill, I find myself realizing that I know so very, very little.

— “Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts” #78 (1987)

Used without permission.

Bling on Role-play Characters

November 17, 2022

5. Bling: One of the things that D&D has historically not paid enough attention to is playing dress-up. I don’t mean that the players should show up in costume. I mean that the PCs should be spending much more time on fantastical Vancian couture, terrifying battle-masks or makeup inspired by various parts of real-world history, necklaces made of their enemy’s teeth, and actually wearing the jewelry they’ve pulled out of various tombs in order to advertise that they are successful stone-cold badasses. I’ve instituted a rule in a lot of my campaigns that if you openly wear articles of jewelry, they don’t count towards your encumbrance. Ten [coins] worth of encumbrance here and there can make a big difference when you want portable wealth. Also, you can use it to modify reaction rolls (people can immediately tell that a sorceress with a 5,000gp crown of onyx and platinum is a VIP, and they’d probably better not fuck with her, or anyone else who can accumulate and keep that kind of wealth) and morale rolls (enemies might fight harder for a chance to loot the PCs’ goods)….

OSR D&D as a post-apocalyptic setting – RPG.net

Emphasis mine.

There Can Always Be New Beginnings

November 11, 2022
General Susan Ivanova:
Babylon 5 was last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another. It changed the future and it changed us.
It taught us that we have to create the future…or others will do it for us.
It taught us that we have to care for one another; because if we don’t, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most unlikely of places.
Mostly, though, I think it gave us hope that there can always be new beginnings. Even for people like us.

— “Sleeping In Light” – Babylon 5, Season 5 (1998)

Aims of Magic: Malign Magic

November 2, 2022

Interestingly, this is a smaller category in terms of the varieties of activity found, but it has nonetheless been given a great deal of attention: the literature on modern witchcraft alone is vast. It is an interesting question as to why malign magic is not more common, and it is possible that creating and maintaining good relationships have always been more central to life than efforts at harm, though this might be seen as a romantic and unrealistically positive view of human groups.

Witches, witchcraft, and sorcery. These are people or activities that cast spells, effect unwanted transformations—such as turning someone into a frog (and counter-activity, often unwitting—kissing the frog to turn it back into a prince)—or cause harm. Such practices are very widespread: European witches are well-known, but witchcraft is also very prevalent and feared in Africa. Specific cultural differences are important: sorcery is found throughout coastal Papua New Guinea but is absent from New Guinea Highland cultures, a division that is widely recognized but poorly understood, deriving in some way from the separate historical trajectory the Highlands have followed.

Curses. Most common in competitive cultures, such as those from the Middle East to Greece and Rome, as were counter-curses. Curses can cause personal harm or illnesses, but they can also be used to help a sports team win or to make an opponent lose. Cursing is very well developed in the Mediterranean world but is probably global in its scope.

Magic as counter-culture. Ceremonial magic can be developed to deliberately attack or invert general cultural norms. This takes the form of so-called Black Magic, most famous in the recent West through Aleister Crowley and Thelema. Such attempts may involve a deliberate inversion of religious practices (the Black Mass) and use symbols in a manner similar to protective magic (mentioned above).

Magic: A History, p. 24

Aims of Magic: Benign Magic

November 2, 2022

Much magic involves attempts to do good in the world, or to avert bad outcomes. Benign magic is more common than its malign twin.

Relationship work. This is a very broad category, as people have multiple relationships with significant others, which can include the land on which people live, plants, animals, artefacts, houses, fellow humans and so on. Each relationship might have its own magic, so that if relationships have gone wrong in some way, or need to be rebalanced or readjusted, effective action can be taken….

Apotropaic/protective magic. This is linked to relationship work above and seeks to protect people, animals, plants, landscape or ancestors from harm, and involves practices such as those found in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (immuring cats or shoes in walls) or symbols, such as those used to keep out the devil.

Foretelling the future. This can often concern relatively local or personal issues—the health of a child, personal career prospects and so on. Here local fortune-telling or divination may take place, which we think of colloquially as reading the tea leaves. More learned forms of prediction came into being through astrology. Scrying the future can be even grander and more cosmic, through inspired prophecy, often of momentous events such as war or even the end of the world….

Understanding the past. Looking at the causes of things is also very important, with oracles a powerful technology for finding out the cause of an accident, a death or another misfortune. People want both to diagnose the cause of what happened and then to take appropriate remedial action. The classical anthropological case is the Azande poison oracle, although looking for past causes takes many forms.

Dying, death and the dead. Notions of how to die, what happens immediately after death and becoming more stably dead in the form of being an ancestor are all of great interest—the Ancient Egyptians created very elaborate means of dealing with dying and the dead, although this is a theme relevant to all humans. In addition to becoming an ancestor, widespread preoccupations include talking to the dead and making sure they do not bother the living.

Medicine, sickness, health and possession (mental and physical). Prior to the existence of germ theory (and even after its rise) people’s ideas of health often involved relationships with a range of spirits, demons or bad human relations that needed to be counteracted. Frequently, as in the case of Ancient Mesopotamia, dealing with relationships involved herbal remedies but also a series of spells or practices to negate the effects of demons or other malign forces. In most cases, little distinction is made between mind and body, something found increasingly in “Western whole-body approaches to well-being.

Understanding and effecting transformation. This involves activities such as craft production, with concerns about the practices of the smith, who is able to wield and control powerful forces, being common. Craft production often involved a series of magical practices vital to its efficacy. Alchemy was a series of varied attempts to transform base metals into gold, giving rise to more recent chemistry. People also worry about monsters and hybrids (griffins, sphinxes, etc.) or more usual transformations, such as a predator eating its prey. The arts shared between the Steppe and Europe in the first millennium BCE exhibit an obsession with transformation and ambiguity.

Manipulating desire. Siberian hunters feel they have to make reindeer desire them so that they will give themselves up during the hunt. People have ancient relationships with reindeer, going back to the Last Glaciation, and it is possible ideas of physical closeness have developed over millennia. Similar notions of sexual desire are also found in Aztec contexts. Many other cultures, such as those of Ancient Greece and Rome, concentrated efforts on love magic, with occasionally comic outcomes.

Magic: A History, pp. 19-24

Domination Magic: Dark Side of the Force

October 30, 2022

This is the first installment of a series on my (incomplete) thoughts concerning magic used to dominate other people.

Caveat: I am not knowledgeable about the Star Wars Expanded Universe. My questions here—to myself—may have been answered there. I am unbothered by that.

“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master.” — Darth Vader, Return of the Jedi (1983)

That line has fascinated me for decades. How much control does Emperor Palpatine have over Vader via the Force? Not total, as Sith apprentices frequently kill their masters. As to why not, total control would result in a mere puppet rather than the needed junior partner and successor. So partial control of some kind. Magical control. Something beyond the mundane tools of social control which might be ineffective against special subordinates. Enough to keep the subordinate in line without losing what makes them special.

This could simply be a magical analogue to physical coercion: causing pain to the target’s mind instead of their body until the desired behavior is performed. That analogue is sufficient but neither interesting nor creative.

But the important detail is the partial domination. Almost none at all, judging by the frequently successful rebellions.

Heroes Always Emerge In A Time Of Dying

October 26, 2022

Heroes always emerge in a time of dying—of self, of social sanctions, of society’s forms, of standard-brand religions, governments, economics, psychologies, and relationships. In answering the call of the eternal, they discover the courage to perform the first great task of the hero or heroine—to undergo all the gestations, growth, and trauma required for a new birth. This occurs so that they can then serve as midwife in the larger society for the continuum of births necessary to redeem both the time and the society in which they live and bring them to a higher level of functioning.

Thus, the second great task of the hero or heroine—as The Odyssey and many other myths show us—is to return to the world. Plato tells us that, after receiving illumination in the vast world of eternal realities, philosophers must go back into the cave of ordinary society. In just such a fashion, Jesus comes back from the desert. The Buddha returns from his ascetic meditations. And Odysseus returns, at last, from his voyage into the depth world. All are deeply changed; some are transformed. And they immediately begin teaching the lessons they have learned of palingenesia, of life renewed and deepened.

The Hero and the Goddess, p. 73

Author’s emphasis.

Tricking Monsters To Death

October 24, 2022

Another way to deal with monsters is to trick them to death. Almost any creature can be a mythic Trickster—an insect (grasshopper, spider, ant), a prey animal (rabbit, muskrat, mole), or even a small carnivore (lynx, fox, coyote, raven). All that’s required is that the creature display some trait or behavior that allows it to trick or confuse a predator (eye spots, crypsis and dynamic camouflage, autotomy, ingenious escape patterns, deftly hidden dens, the ability to misdirect predators by play-acting at being injured). By using these naturally occurring mimetic survival mechanisms, the mythic Trickster honors the life-sustaining cleverness of escape artists wherever they are found in nature.

Deadly Powers, p. 183

Author’s emphasis.

Sekigahara

October 22, 2022
Narrator:
That year, at dawn of the twenty-first day of the tenth month—the month without gods—the main armies clashed. It was in the mountains near Sekigahara, astride the North Road. By late afternoon, Toranaga had won the battle and the slaughter began.
Forty thousand heads were taken.

— “Shōgun” (1980)

The year is 1600 C.E.

The book and television mini-series are a fictionalized account of the events leading up to this historical battle which de facto unified Japan.

40,000 heads!

Subject to Divine, Human, and Demonic Manipulation

October 21, 2022

The story of Agobard and the sky sailors takes us to the heart of tenth-century [C.E.] cosmology, to the way people viewed the world. Natural events were not natural in the sense that nature was an interacting, self-explanatory, independent system. Rather, it was something subject to divine, human, and demonic manipulation. Today we understand the dynamics of nature as independent, interconnected, and self-regulating and ultimately explained by science. For tenth-century people, the borders between the natural and human worlds were permeable. Magic, miracles, and a whole constellation of intermediaries, such as the Blessed Virgin and the saints as well as those in league with the devil, could influence what happened for good or ill through weather, sickness, pestilence, and all types of disasters.

The Birth of the West, pp. 13-14

Monsters Are Made To Be So

October 18, 2022

The Champawat Tiger killed, as far as anyone was able to record, 436 human beings in her lifetime. Mostly they were women and children, gone out into the forest to collect firewood or livestock fodder. She killed strategically, never hitting the same location twice and constantly staying on the move.

By any stretch of the imagination that is more than enough to call her a monster. It’s a perfectly fair assessment, and the leap of faith to ascribe it supernatural power would be quite small, given the circumstances. It’s as close to a true monster as you’re liable to get.

When the tiger finally died at the hands of Jim Corbett, the body revealed a different story: The two canine teeth on the right side of her jaw had been broken by a hunter’s bullet some 8 years before.

The Champawat Tiger was starving.

The damage to her teeth meant that she was unable to hunt her normal prey, and given the long-term pressure of habitat loss she would have been hard-up to find sufficient food in the first place. The killings were acts of desperation, brought upon by circumstances that made life as a normal tiger impossible. Perhaps it’s still right to call her a monster, but she was not a monster because she was born with some innate malice—she was only a very large cat getting on in years, desperate for food.

Jim Corbett was called upon to hunt down another fifty maneaters over the course of the next 35 years. Together, those tigers had killed over 2000 people, for much the same reasons as the Champawat Tiger—injury, desperation, starvation, and habitat loss.

Would you look at that.

The root cause was British colonialism.

436 people dead because some dumb shit went trophy hunting, because he just had to prove how big and strong his penis was to all his dumb shit friends….

Monsters have a cause.

That is the lesson of the Champawat Tiger.

Monsters are made to be so.

D&D Doesn’t Understand What Monsters Are – Throne of Salt

Author’s emphases.

A Bad Age For a Man

October 16, 2022

Sharina watched the young man. He’d paused at the stern to let the woman precede him off the ship. “He’s only a boy,” she murmured.

“About twenty, I’d guess,” [Nonnus] said, this time with dispassionate appraisal. “Nobles don’t age as fast as common folk.”

As the youth strode across the ramp, his black cape fluttering in the sea breeze, Nonnus added, “It’s a bad age for a man, twenty. You have the strength to do almost anything you want, but you don’t have the judgment to know what the price of some of those things is going to be in later times.”

Lord of the Isles, Book I, Chapter 10

The Power To Crush Diamonds

October 5, 2022

“Mistress?” Cashel asked in a thick voice. “Is Benlo as powerful a wizard as you are?”

Tenoctris laughed and patted him on the arm. “Cashel,” she said, “I’m not powerful at all. I’ve read and I see, those are both important. But the skill I have is that of a diamond cutter who knows where to tap to split a stone on the line of cleavage. If you want raw power—Benlo could crush diamonds if he knew how to use the strength he has.”

Cashel opened his big, capable hands. “What good’s a crushed diamond, mistress?” he asked.

Tenoctris laughed again. “You’d be amazed at how few people understand that, Master Cashel,” she said….

Lord of the Isles, Book II, Chapter 12

Load and Fire

October 5, 2022
Sonny Crockett:
The Rojeros Gang. Is that right?
Jake Pierson (retired Texas Ranger):
Yeah, me and my partner wiped them out. They was bringing guns up from Juarez. We were just waiting for them. Me and my partner stood toe-to-toe with seven of those boys. All we had were our Peacemakers. Load and fire, load and fire. Rojeros had one of them Tommy guns; he and his boys were trying to pepper us with.
Suddenly, Roy yelled “Jake, look out!” and he stood up, and he took the bullet that would’ve killed me. I spent the rest of my life trying to make that up to him. Took care of his wife. Raised his son like he was my own.
But part of me died with Roy.

— “El Viejo” – Miami Vice, Season 3 (1986)