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Archive for the month “August, 2015”

The Paladin’s Test

Initiate Alysandra of the Order of the Silver Star shifted uncomfortably, deep in Reviere. Even after six years, the neatly-stacked bunk beds where her fellow human Initiates slept made her uncomfortable. It was normal and natural for humans to lie horizontal as they rested, she knew, but seeing them do so in the half-light of the dormitory still reminded her of endless rows of bodies. Worse still, there were none of the faint, rhythmic noises of a pair of Initiates snatching a moment of pleasure together before the endless cycle of prayer, meditation, and combat training that made up their daily lives began again.

Memories and visions swirled around Alysandra, flowing into each other. The stark stillness and darkness of the dormitory carried her back to her third year as an Initiate. Each year, the Order of the Silver Star tested their initiates, allowing only those who showed true devotion and ability to advance. The third-year tests had been brutal; over a third of the initiate class had failed out, including two of Alysdandra’s friends.

But worse than the night before the third year tests had been her first night in the dormitories. In the intervening six years, Alysdanra had learned much. Her scant experience in the Feaine Glaeddyv style had grown into full-fledged mastery of the blade, and she could even, in the proper environment with supervision from a ranked Paladin or Church Patron, produce minor miracles. But that first night, she had sat alone on her bed, knowing nothing of the life she had chosen, and knowing that she could never return home to her family.

There. In the darkness of the dormitory. The visions and dreams of the past faded as her Reviere ended, bringing her senses once more to the here and now. There had been movement, and (now that she was fully awake) noise. Footsteps, extremely faint.

She breathed. Mock-assaults on the dormitory had mostly ceased by the fourth year, but Alysandra knew that she was approaching the end of her seventh year now. Soon it would be time for her final test, the last test, the test that would decide once and for all if she was worthy to join the Order of the Silver Star as a Sister, or if she would be forced to leave in disgrace.

An eldritch green light sprung up above her bed. “Wake, Initiate Alysandra.” called the silent walker. It was Church Father Stanley, he saw. He carried what looked like a wisp candle, which should have cast phantom-illumination only he, it’s bearer, could see. Apparently, he had adjusted its magic to include her.

“Dress yourself silently, then follow me. Do not wake your fellow initiates.” Alysandra nodded, slipping soundlessly out of her bed and pulling on her breeches.

“Leave your sword and sword-belt.” whispered Father Stanley when she reached for them. “You will not have need of it for what is to come.”

Alysandra paused. It was the duty of a Paladin (or Paladin-Initiate) to be ever ready and vigilant to defend against evil…but it was also their duty to obey, and Church Father Stanley, though he might look unassuming to the uninitiated, thrummed with holy power to her trained senses. Any dangers he could not face would not be thwarted by a barely-trained initiate with a sword. Besides, she did have her boot-knife, so she was still keeping her oath to her mother never to go off alone with a human male unarmed.

She hesitated again, taking a look at her bed. The standing orders for Initiates were to keep their beds in perfect order before morning inspection. Father Stanley had told her to follow once he was dressed, but hadn’t mentioned the bed specifically. Was this part of the test?

“Leave the bed as it is.” said Stanley, with a faint cough that might have concealed a chuckle. “The state of your bed in the Initiate’s Dorm will not be your concern after tonight, one way or the other.”

Alysandra followed Church Father Stanley, her heart pounding in her chest. This was it. No one knew what the final test was until it was given. They said it was different for each initiate. They said that every Paladin who had taken it was sworn to secrecy. They said that they conjured a demon and let it possess you and only the pure of heart could drive it out on their own.

For a group whose tongues were meant to speak truth and holiness only, Initiates gossiped a great deal, Alysandra thought, then swallowed, mentally castigating herself for her uncharitable thought about her fellow initiates. She had participated in gossip herself, after all.

Church Father Stanley lead her down a staircase, her path illuminated by the not-light of the wisp candle. The stairwells were as dark as the dorms; her elven eyes could see clearly on a moonless, cloudy night with nothing more than the faint ghost of starlight, but true darkness still blinded her. Still, she had walked these stairs enough times that she could have followed the route blindfolded. Down the second floor landing, down the first floor landing, down to the basement…

Church Father Stanley paused there, clutched the holy symbol, and began a singsong chant. Alysandra had learned enough magic to know it was an illusion spell from its cadence, but it was far above any spell she had been trained to recognize. What was the Church Father doing?

Father Stanley then strode to a section of the basement landing and spoke another incantation, and a secret passage opened in the wall. He turned back to Aysandra and blinked.

“Initiate Alysandra.” he spoke, in normal tones. “Breathe. Your test has not yet begun. I will inform you when it has. And I have faith that you will pass it, with colors flying.”

He gave her a friendly smile, and Alysandra tried to force herself to relax. She had trained for this. She was prepared for this. She would face this test, and overcome it, and become a Paladin of the Silver Star.

She followed Father Stanley down further. The well-scrubbed stone and tile of the barracks had given way to slick magically-shaped stone. Great magic had carved this staircase out of the earth itself, she knew.

At the bottom of the secret staircase was a door, made of thick oak and reinforced with iron bands, with a large, intimidating lock, dwarven-made by its devices. Father Stanley paused, and started digging through a pouch at his neck.

“Tell me, Initiate Alysandra. Which virtue is greater; justice, or mercy?”

Of course there would be surprise questions before the Test proper.

“Church Father Stanley, Brother-Lieutenant Helanthis wrote in the Cantos of Duty, chapter two, verse six through sixteen that justice and mercy defined each other, and that one could not exist without the other!”

Father Stanley pulled a heavy iron key out from his neck-pouch, and unlocked the door.

“Well-quoted. Tell me, do you agree with Brother-Lieutenant Helanthis?”

Alysandra paused. What manner of question was that? No one, in her past six years of training, had asked her her opinion on anything.

Obviously it was a tactical question, meant to see if she would be confused, or blurt out an untruth if confronted with an unusual situation.

“Church Father Stanley, yes. I agree with him.”

“We shall see.” he responded, and opened the door.

Bright light (of the Continual Flame spell, placed on a transparent glass bead within a rounded mirror cover to intensify the light, Alysandra recongized) overwhelmed the false-light of the wisp candle as the door opened. In the room on the other side was a heavy post, studded with iron shackles. Slumped against the post, with his back to the door, illuminated by the Continual Flame spotlights, was an orc, or an unusually bestial orc-blooded human. He was naked from the waist up, and had (judging from the appearance of his trousers and the stench in the room, which made Alysandra’s nose wrinkle) been shackled here for some time. Some merciful soul had also placed a bag over the orc’s head, so that the bright light would not offend his sensitive eyes.

“Take heed, Initiate Alysandra, for your final test as an Initiate is about to begin. The man before you is a criminal. He was given information that ensured he would enter a particular house at a particular time, and find certain items of gold and jewelry freely available to him. He was found in that house by the constables, along with the corpse of the house’s owner upstairs.”

“The local law believes the orc to guilty of murder. He has professed his innocence of everything, despite being caught with stolen gold in his hands, and no one, save for us, wishes to look deeper, and pursue the true killer. This orc must confess to entering the dwelling and stealing the gold, or he will be hanged for murder falsely, and the true murderer will escape justice.”

“Didn’t do it!” called the orc. His voice, though distorted from the bag and slurred by his tusks, was a perfectly intelligible high thin whine, very different than the bass growl of most orc voices.

Alysandra took a breath and let it out, letting her negative judgements of the orc flow away the same way she had done for her fellow initiates earlier. It was wrong to judge an orc for being an orc. After all, Brother-Captain Klaru was of orcan blood, and none doubted his valor and zeal in the pursuit of evil.

“Through the trial, we have attempted begging, pleading, cajoling, reasoning, and one very ill-fated attempt at an enchantment spell. Nothing has worked.”

“Then how am I to-” Alysandra stopped as Father Stanley strode to the side of the room, and unlatched a cabinet there. Obviously it was her task to identify what her true task was, and to execute it-”

Alysandra gaped as Father Stanley withdrew a whip from the cabinet, padded slowly back, and placed it in her hand.

“Your test now begins, Initiate Alysandra. In order to save his life, you must persaude this orc, with force and with the necessary amount of pain, to confess to his crime before sun rises this morning, that we might save his life and bring justice to an innocent slain.”

“I…” her voice trailed off as Father Stanley’s warm expression faded to a cold, impartial glare. “I trust that you will find it within yourself to do what you know must be done. If so, you had best begin quickly. You do not have many hours of night remaining.”

How can you pin my hopes and dreams of being a Paladin on the cooperation of an orc? Alysandra wanted to scream. She bit back the rage, and breathed it out.

“Orc-”

“Didn’t do it!”

“-you have doubtless heard our conversation, and you must know that-”

“Didn’t do it!”

“-I will not hesitate to do what must be done-”

“Didn’t do it!”

“Listen to me, damn you!” she snapped, then bit her tongue. Apparently she hadn’t gotten rid of her anger at all. She shot a glance at Father Stanley, but his cold, stony glare remained.

She looked down at the whip in her hands. It wasn’t an animal whip, nor was it one of the cruel tools of the Southland slavers. It had a broad strip of leather at its tip, presumably to slow down and deliver impacts that would welt and bruise, but not injure. She breathed again. Many gave and received blows from devices like this entirely voluntarily. There would be no actual harm done to the orc. And from the many scars on the orc’s back, he had doubtless taken worse many times before. He was no innocent, that was certain.

“Orc, I entreat you, by the stars above and whatever gods you find favorable, confess your crime.”

“Didn’t do it! Swear it!”

She breathed again, and turned to Father Stanley, meeting his glare with one of her own. “Church Father Stanley, are you certain-”

“Certain? No. It could be that I was befuddled by an enchantment that none of my bretheren detected. It could be that we are still now in a complicated web of illusion. But to the extent that I trust my senses, Initiate Alysandra, then yes. I am certain that this orc was found tresspassing in a broken-into manor house, in possession of a sack of stolen gold and jewelry.”

That was it, then. There was no way out there. The whip in her hand was short, she saw, only a little longer than flail-length. She had trained to fight with flails.

She cracked the whip, and watched the arc of the leather tip carefully.

“This is your last chance, orc. For both our sakes. Please. Confess.”

“Didn’t do it-” moaned the orc again.

Alysandra raised her hand, and cracked the whip. She yelped in surprise as the tip impacted her outstreched palm. It had hurt, but it had been much less than any of her serious training accidents.

She took another breath, then another. Another quick glance at Father Stanley revealed that he was looking at her in bemusement.

“I will not inflict a fate on any helpless being a punishment I do not know.” she snapped, only remembering to add a belated “Church Father Stanley.” He did not correct her, however, and his gaze did soften a notch. It also, however, turned inexorably back to the orc.

She had the measure of the whip now. She lay it out sideways, and the leather tip lashed against the orc’s back, overtop his left shoulder blade. He squeaked, sounding more like a goblin than an orc.

Surprise, not pain. I need more… She delivered another blow, than another, then another, concentrating them all on the same spot, drawing a trio of squeaks.

“Confess!” she barked.

“Didn’t do it! Didn’t do it didn’t do it didn’t do-”

Her arm lashed out, and she laid a welt on the base of the orc’s spine. Another blow took the orc low on the ribs, then another onto the reddening spot on his shoulder blade, then another there for good measure, the last two drawing moaning cries.

“Confess!” she shouted again.

“Didn’t do it!” wailed the orc.

She delivered another dozen punishing blows. Shortened and slowed, the whip was still an effective tool for punishment, when used correctly. She studied the orc’s back, trying to identify any places where he had reacted unusually, when she realized that the orc was now whimpering softly.

Suddenly appalled at what she was doing, she turned back to Father Stanley. The glare was gone; he was now looking at her with something like pity.

“Continue.” he said.

“I…Father Stanley, I…”

He raised his hand, and a bubble of magic fizzed around the two of of them. This was a Selective Silence spell; it would let them speak for a few moments without the orc hearing anything.

“There is no glory here, Initiate Alysandra. To face an enemy on the battlefield, to stand endless watches against the darkness…even to toil in a hospital to help those poor souls who can be healed…there is glory there. But not here. Here there is only that which must be done. And I will tell you this, Initiate Alysandra. If you had reveled in this, if you had gloried in the infliction of pain, then you would have failed your final test. But it is not enough not to love this. You must hate that this must be done, and have the strength to continue regardless.”

The Selective Silence spell terminated abruptly. “I said continue.” repeated Father Stanley, his voice cold once more. Alysandra let out a shuddering breath. Even as she appreciated that Father Stanley was doing everything he could to help her cow the orc, she couldn’t help but think about the sun slowly rising, and the fate of both her and the orc being slowly sealed.

“I have been lenient with you.” Alysandra hissed at the orc. “That ends now. Confess or you will suffer.”

“Didn’t-”

The whip arced up, impacting heavily with the orc’s sensitive armpit.

“You did it!” she shouted back. “Say that you did it, and this ends! This will all end as soon as you confess!”

“Didn’t-”

The whip landed heavily on the back of the orc’s head, knocking him into the pole.

“Don’t you dare deny it one more time. Don’t you dare! Speak the truth!” Alysandra screamed. There was something within her rising, something wild and different than what she had felt on the practice fields or in the temple grounds at prayer. Was this what it felt like to be a Paladin?

The orc let out a sob, and his whole body cringed. Alysandra found herself leaning forward, willing him to confess, hearing his next words in her head, anticipating them, needing to hear them-

“Didn’t do it-”

The tip of the whip rose upwards and struck with all the force Alysandra could muster, between the orc’s legs, producing an agonized scream.

She pulled the whip back. The tip was wet, she suddenly noticed, with sweat or filth from its last blow or…

Or blood. Her assault had drawn blood from the orc’s back. It flowed only in tiny trickles, but it flowed regardless.

To draw blood from a captive…

The whip dropped from her hands.

“Father Stanley…I…”

The Selective Silence spell surrounded her again.

“You must continue, Initiate Alysandra.”

“Father Stanley, I cannot. I…I cannot do this.” She closed her eyes, and felt his approach more than heard it over the hiss of the spell.

“Initiate Alysandra.” said Father Stanley. His voice, surprisingly, was kind. “Seven years may be little among your people, but it is a great deal of time to us. And in that time, you have shown valor, courage, piety, obedience, fortitude…every virtue of a Paladin. You have spent the last seven years of your life, climbing a mountain few dare to attempt. And I tell you this, Initiate Alysandra; you have the strength within you to finish this. The end is in sight, Initiate Alysandra. I beg you not to throw yourself from the mountain when you are so close to ascending it. Breathe, Alysandra. Breathe. Then pick up the whip, and continue.”

“I…”

“Pick it up, Initiate Alysandra.”

He placed his hand on her shoulder, and pressed downward, and Alysandra found herself folding downwards into a crouch. Father Stanley might have been old for a human, but he was so woven with wards and protections that he could outfight any six initiates, and had.

Alysandra felt like she was drugged, or back in Reviere. She could count each heartbeat as it raced by. She had no home, and nowhere to go but the Order of the Silver Star. It could only be this way.

She breathed, and breathed, and breathed again. Father Stanley’s hand, it’s strength enhanced by his magics, squeezed her shoulder, firmly but (not yet) painfully.

“I said to p-” began Father Stanley, and that was what she was waiting for. Uncurling like a loosed bow, she snatched the dagger from her boot and rammed it into Father Stanley’s mouth opened around the sound of his command. His shielding magics clung to him, skin-tight, and did not deflect the dagger until it had grazed his palate, and he lurched back, gagging but unharmed, pulling her with him. There was a shock from her shoulder, quite painful, but she was beyond that now. She pressed into him using his arm for leverage, pushing him further into his stumble, then pulling him suddenly sideways as he tried to recover. He dropped her and swung at her with both arms, delivering two clumsy blows that would have broken bone if either had connected-

There. Seven years of arms training, another sixteen of Feaine Glaeddyv, all the horror and frustration of this night, and whatever fragment of divine spark she had left all came together in one moment, and with infinite calm and perfect precision, she stepped between Father Stanley’s arms, drove the knife into a weak point in his armoring spells, pulled upwards, pressed forward-

Father Stanley stopped moving abruptly, pinned against the wall, Alysandra’s knife pressed against his throat. He could strike her dead with one spoken spell, but would never be able to complete the spell before Alysandra opened his throat. There was a strange, unfamiliar look in his eyes.

“How dare you.” she said. “How dare the voice that sings praises to the Silver Star, that teaches children the Cantos of Duty, bring me down here and ask of me this? To demand of me this? How dare you speak of mercy, and order atrocity?”

She had been aiming to imitate his cold tone, but something else was creeping into her voice, some great passion altogether distinct from the wild fury she had felt when beating the orc, and she was not inclined to resist it.

“You would have me beat this orc half to death…for what? So you can preserve your relationship with the town watch? Because it would be too inconvenient to demand that they perform a true investigation when the only one to be saved is a lowly orc!?” She spat, furious. “You monstrous hypocrite! I curse the day I ever dreamed of joining your putrid order!” She pressed against him, heavily, adjusting the position of the knife.

“Take heed, Father Stanley.” she snarled. “We are leaving.” She jerked the knife, and felt him flinch, but she had only cut the string on his neck-pouch, which she had grabbed with her other hand. “We are leaving this town and this order. If you try to stop us, I will kill you. If you do not, then I will gag you, bind you, and shackle you to this pillar. And when we are free, I will send word that you are here, so that you will be released, and doubtless pursue us. And you will suffer no indignities between now and then. Do you know why, Father Stanley? Because you, for all that you are a loathsome, vile blight on all that is pure and good in this world, deserve better. No one deserves to be bound and interrogated and beaten. No one. No one!”

The room echoed with her words. Stanley must have lost control of the Selective Silence spell during the fight, Alysandra realized. But there was another sound. A rattling of chains, and a dull, repeating thud…

She wrapped her free arm around Father Stanley and pulled him from the wall, keeping the knife in place at his neck, looking for hazards. Had one of his cronies followed them down here?

Apparently not. The room was still empty save for them and the orc-

Who was standing upright now, and…applauding?

As she watched, the orc suddenly brought his hands down suddenly. There was a loud, crunching crack as the manacles that had been embedded several inches deep into aged oak were suddenly pulled loose, and then a spang as the orc, with apparent casualness, pulled the chain apart. Then the orc twisted his wrists, grasped a manacle in either hand, and twisted, and with a shriek of tortured iron, the ruins of the manacles fell to the floor. Then the orc pulled the sack from his face, revealing the beaming and squinting face of Brother-Captain Klaru.

“Well said, Initiate Alysandra. Well said indeed.” he said.

“Brother-Captain Klaru?” The wave of pure, righteous wrath that had been propelling Alysandra inexorably forwards stopped like a sparrow hitting a window. Her reflexes and combat training were will working, however, and so, without any actual intervention from her brain, Alysandra found herself droppping the pouch, transferring the knife from hand to hand, and saluting.

Brother-Captain Klaru returned the salute. “You may release Church Father Stanley whenever you choose, Initiate. I can assure you that he is no longer a threat to any defenseless captives. Although if you wish to keep ahold of him for a while longer and inspect the premises-”

Father Stanley let out a long, aggrieved sigh.

“What is going on?” asked Alysandra. She could feel the cool of the wall behind her, the warmth of Father Stanley’s body against hers, and could taste the tang of adrenaline’s leavings in her own mouth, so this couldn’t be Reviere-delerium, and was almost certainly not illusion. This was really happening, and had happened. But that meant…

“You…Father Stanley. You lied to me.”

“Of course I lied to you.” snapped Father Stanley. “I’m a Church Father, not a Paladin. We lie all the time.”

“But you…if you…”

“What?” asked Brother-Captain Klaru. “I didn’t do it.”

“I…”

I just flogged Brother-Captain Klaru between the legs. There no word for how much trouble I am in.

“I…Brother-Captain Klaru!” Initiate Alysandra pushed Father Stanley aside, and quickly re-sheathed her knife in her boot. “I’m sorry-that is, I apolo-I formally beg forgiveness for-”

“Peace, Initiate.” he said, raising a hand. “Take a moment, compose your thoughts. I’d tell you to breathe, but given how that worked for yon Father, I’d as soon let you turn blue and pass out if that’s you’re desire.”

Initiate Alysandra burst out laughing, not from the joke as from the insane absurdity of the fact that she was being jesting with at all.

“I…Brother-Captain, I hurt you.”

Brother-Captain Klaru’s face turned grave. “Yes.”

“I…I wasn’t forced, I wasn’t coerced. I didn’t even argue. Gods preserve me, I didn’t even say no! I…I withdraw my application to-”

“No, Initiate Alysandra.” interrupted Church Father Stanley. Idly, he drew a hand across his neck, healing the long, shallow cut left there, then looked at Brother-Captain Klaru, who shook his head.

“You have entered the final test of the Paladin of the Silver Star, Initiate. It is not your judgement that decides what happens now. And I judge you to be…imperfect. Yes, imperfect! You did not immediately act with perfect knowledge and perfect virtue! Shame! Five demerits!” His voice rose to a creaky parody of Church Father Thrurfun’s querulous mutter.

“Perhaps a little decorum is called for, Father-”

“I will not be decorous! I have spent the last three nights praying for forgiveness because of what I would have to do to her, to make her do, and now-”

“I…you…” said Alysandra. Of course he’s not a monster, it was a test, he had to to test me, to prove that I…

“That’s it. That’s the final test. The test to become a Paladin is…to see if we can stop wanting to become a Paladin.”

“You have the right of it, Initiate. We are granted power by the good gods, but virtue? On that, we are on our own. And many can resist evil when it comes snarling and dripping with poison, and some will stand fast when it whispers seductions and promises in our ears…but when evil clothes itself in the guise of virtue? Of the greater good, delivered to ones who deserve no better?”

“Is it like this? For every Paladin?”

“That you will not know, unless you are called to participate in the testing of an Initiate yourself. And in that case, you will swear not to speak of what transpires to those who were not present, just as we sworn and you will swear.”

“Ah, yes, thank you for reminding me! Well, just to make sure, and because I don’t think it was actually said; you pass. Bow thy head for the final time, Initiate Alysandra. Father Stanley, if you please?”

“Ng.” Here? Now? With your trousers still stinking?

But, she realized, it could only be this way. Because the duty of a Paladin was not performed on the parade ground, or the great cathedral. It was down in the dark, in the muck, that a Paladin’s virtue was test, and it was there that it was proven.

“We speak to the gods of good and the forces that stand for light in the darkness.” intoned Father Stanley. “In your sight, Initiate Alysandra offers her oath.”

The words were there, and flowed out of her, in time wit Brother-Captain Klaru’s own.

“I swear on my faith, in the sight of all good gods and all who serve them…”

“…that I will, now and forever in the future…

“…that I will defend innocence from wickedness, stand against evil, speak the truth, live with virtue, fight with valor, and when I die, die with honor.”

She felt the words echo within her. There was no awakening of magic, no rush of divine power within her. But then, there didn’t need to be. As she raised her head and met Brother-Captain Klaru’s gaze, she knew exactly who she was.

Brother-Captain Klaru rushed forward then, and embraced her, and she embraced him back, filthy trousers and all.

“Welcome to the Order.” he said, his voice choked with sudden emotion. “Welcome…Sister Alysandra.”

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The Master of Coin

It was Danni who first saw the strange creature, hovering in the sky in the village of Dorenston on Market Day. Danni was not yet 12, and was both inventive and given to flights of fancy, but she also had a touch of the fey about her, and (it was rumored) a Warlock not too far removed in her parentage, and who truly did see things others could not on occasion. It was her description of the creature that caused concern. An orb, perhaps a foot in diameter, metallic yet flexible, studded with glass lenses and strange implements, that simply spun in the air for a few heartbeats, then vanished, did not sound like something a girl would simple imagine.

It would probably have gone remarked, if Danni hadn’t told her cousin Melian, who tended bar in Dorenston Tavern, and if Jalak the Silver-Tongued hadn’t been stopping by that day, and if Jalak hadn’t been eager to trade tales of strange creatures with Kelder in exchange for hearing the bona-fide Tales of Heroism of his adventuring company.

But it did come to pass that Kelder heard of a strange orb, and that Kelder had heard many tales. And so it was that Kelder remembered, for he had a mind as keen as his rapier’s tip, and so it was that Kelder spoke to his friend Corim, Wizard of the Fourth Circle, and plans were arranged for Kelder’s band of heroic adventurers to be in Dorenston next Market Day.

As Kelder had predicted, the strange orb did indeed appear when and where it had before. But before it could complete its rotation, Corim had trapped it in a sphere of magical force, and bound an inverted summoning circle around it, preventing it from fleeing into whichever dimension from whence it had come.

“Hail to you, little one.” said Kelder to the imprisoned orb, which did nothing but continue to rotate and whir occasionally. “Let’s have a look at you, then. That’s only fair, since you seem to be looking at us. Who are you looking for, little one? And more importantly, why-”

There was a rising whine and a tremor as an outside force contested Corim’s circle, and at his warning and Kelder’s shouted command, the people of Dorenston backed a good ways away. They had heard tales of wizardly battles, from Jalak and others, and (with the exception of Danni, who had ducked behind a building and was watching carefully) had no desire to see one up close.

The rising magic ceased abruptly, and Shilandra, always alert to danger, shouted a warning and raised her bow, for a strange figure was now walking slowly up the road.

The figure appeared to be a human male. He walked slowly, hands raised palms-outward in the universal gesture of peace and supplication. He would have created slightly more peace and calm among Kelder’s adventurers were it not for his face, which was fixed and unmoving (albeit in a friendly smile), or if the formal black barrister’s robes he wore did not ring with the sound of metal on metal as he moved, or if he had left footprints in the dust as he approached.

“Hail to you!” called the probably-not-a-man. “I’m afraid I must insist that you release my drone at once.”

“Hail to as well, stranger.” replied Kelder. “And I’m afraid we’ll need an explanation before we can do that.” After a moment, he added “Oh, and we will not accept ‘So my drone can work these specifics acts of evil! Mwahahah!’ as an explanation.”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” said the figure, his expression shifting to one of contrite apology. “Were you not informed? Ah, well, we could only spread the initial word to the major cities. We weren’t expecting magic traps in village markets this early. If I swear to you that the drone is doing no harm and observes only transactions performed publicly, will you allow it to continue its rounds? We are on a schedule, you know.”

Kelder shot a glance at Lady Alysdandra, Paladin of the Silver Star, who nodded, confirming that the figure was either telling the truth, or carefully protected.

He then turned to Corim, who frowned and examined the stranger’s words for traps and loopholes, but found none, and nodded.

(Meanwhile, Danni, who only rarely got a chance to see real magic up close, looked carefully at the stranger with the gaze that pierced the veils and looked beyond the merely visible, let out a strangled squeak, and fainted.)

“If that orby thing isn’t spying on anyone, I don’t see any reason to keep it locked up. But while Corim undoes the circle and the wards…what is it that we weren’t told, stranger?”

“By the edict of Primus One-In-All, God of All That Is Lawful and Ordered, Master of the Clockwork Nirvana, Shaper of Hierarchies, Magister of-”

“Yes, yes, we’ve heard of him.”

“Oh, good! Well, I’m the new anthropomorphic personification of trade, commerce, and economic activity! While I have quieter and less direct methods of observation in most of the major cities, regular, short-term trade events like this lovely fair also fall under my purview! But don’t worry, once we’ve established a baseline of data gathered, direct appearances my by drones will be much more rare! Now, I’m afraid I must also…oh. Oh dear.”

The stranger’s face changed again, into a black scowl.

“Kastelin the Cunning, in Magiln, on the intersection of Broad Street and Kncut Lane. She is using alchemy and illusons to counterfit! This cannot be permitted! This must be stopped! This…”

The figure’s face shifted again, to an expression of rage that looked almost natural, then one final time, back to his initial friendly smile.

“Excuse me for asking, Kelder and friends of Kelder. I see that you have already accepted a contract that will take you through Magilin on your way to Leyanda. Would you, by any chance, be available for hire once you reach Magilin?”

– – – – – – – – –

The transaction happened, for the most part, quickly and smoothly. Guildmasters and craft cooperatives were sometimes observed by strange orbs of living clockwork, and were sometimes approached by figures who dressed all in black, and who left no sign of their passage, save for when they traded. They were men and women, of all the civilized humanoid races. Rumors were spoken of others as well, of a dappled black-and-white goblin who had begun to address the thief’s guilds, and of a great grey dragon who was raising a horde like none the world had seen before. But there were always rumors.

The new anthropomorphic personification did not make friends. Every incarnation of him had an uncanny ability to predict exactly how much a given individual would require to take on a job, and would offer nothing more. He always dealt fairly, honestly, and with the utmost and most exacting scrupulosity. And he priced himself accordingly.

– – – – – – – – –

“I say we call him Coin.” said Shilandra. “It’s a good name. I hear that people are talking about raising a Temple of the Coin over on God Lane. It fits him.”

There was a quiet sigh of displaced air as the anthropomorphic personification appeared.

“Ah, hello, my friends-” he began.

“You’re called Coin now.” Shilandra interrupted.

Coin took his new naming with the same shrug he took most attempts to humanize him. “As you will. I’m very pleased you are here. I have a job for you!”

“Another fraud case?” asked Alysandra. She hadn’t particularly enjoyed pursuing crimes against coinage and trade when there were bandits and murderers roaming the world undeterred.

“Very similar! We have identified a forger. Specifically, the forger responsible for the artifice scandal in Jorom, with lead directly to the speculation bubble that drove the Joromi crusades to acquire-”

“OK. Who are we arresting, and where do you want him?” interrupted Kelder. For an entity of cosmic and quasi-divine power, Coin was amazingly accepting of being interrupted and disrespected.

“Valak Klethi. And we want him dead. This is an assassination job, not an arrest.”

There was a moment of silence.

“That costs extra.” cut in Shilandra.

“I’m afraid it doesn’t. Valak is a trained and skilled artificer; transporting and imprisoning him would be indeed worthy of additional payout. Simply murdering him, however, is straightforward, simple, and entirely within your ability.”

“We’re not really assassins.” said Kelder. He shot a quick look to Alysandra, noting that her face had gone blank.

“Of course you are. Well over half of the jobs you have taken have involved the infiltration of a stronghold or dungeon and the death or destruction of the stronghold’s leader. Kalak Webfoot, Krayd the Butcher, Lyzarius Fire-Talon…”

“Those were monsters!” Shilandra responded.

“And only one of them started a war, and that war ended quickly and decisively because of your actions. Valak has also started a war once, and refuses to cease his trade. We simply do not have the capacity to detect and remove his forgeries from circulation without stopping him from producing them in the first place, and we do not have the power to do that in any way other than paying agents, such as yourselves, to stop him. Given his actions and his abilities, murder is the most efficient way to do this.”

“I respectfully decline to murder a man for committing forgery.” spoke Alysandra, in clipped, harsh tones. This was ordinarily a great violation of adventuring company protocol, but she had made her decision, and as she looked to her friends and siblings-in-battle, she knew they felt the same.

“Very well. In that case, I don’t believe we have any further business to discuss at the moment. Please feel free to help yourselves to the refreshments on your way out!” Then, with a quiet pop, Coin was gone again.

– – – – – – – – –

They said that Valak’s death opened the floodgates, but it was a very fast, very precise flood. Everyone knew that Coin would work with saints and sinner alike, and even the lowest scoundrel knew that Coin would pay well and fairly as agreed, and not send you into a deathtrap unknowing. He might pay some other low bastard to kill you instead, but only if that was cheaper than paying you not to do whatever he was going to kill you for.

The first confirmed counter-assassination was done by Withrax the Insatiable’s dragonborn agents. The red-scaled assassins sprung their trap in the middle of a crowded marketplace, trapping Coin in an inverted summoning circle and smashing him to ruin with warhammers forged with the energy of elemental Chaos. The intricate mechanical workings of Coin’s innards were exposed, revealing him to be a clockwork creation. The assassins teleported out moments later.

Moments after that, another Coin appeared. “I’m sorry about that!” he said to the shocked bystanders. “Inevitables are already being dispatched to handle the miscreants. Now, let’s see. Before I was attacked, we were discussing futures trading of wheat over the next three years…”

– – – – – – – – –

Withrax felt the discharge of the wards from deep within his lair. Just one, with a flavor to the magic that he knew well by now. So, the puppet wished to address him once more. Well, there was no risk there; he had long since taken the measure of the contrivance the mortals called Coin. With a growl, the guards and snares slid aside, allowing Coin passage.

Withrax growled again as Coin entered, palms upraised. The suggestion that Coin could threaten Withrax at all was deeply insulting. It would have been worth tearing the construct apart for, were it not for the opportunity to gloat. For Withrax, like most dragons, valued very, very little about his own safety, but one of those things was his fortune, and another was his pride. He had beaten Coin, and now he would gloat.

“I am impressed!” called Coin, from far below him. “I did not expect anyone to learn the dark arts of economics as quickly as you did, Withrax. Nor did I expect any to bue willing to spend as much as you have to assault the structures I have built. You have proven a formidable business rival.”

“I am your doom, little puppet.” growled Withrax. “I have taken the pretty patterns and promises you have woven to ensnare the mortals and made them my own. I have surpassed you, little godling.”

“I am here to negeotiate cessation of hostilities between us.” said Coin, exactly as he had the dozens of time before. This time was different, of course.

“And if I refuse? And if I set my agents to buy and sell as I have instructed them?”

“The economic shocks will destabilize the gold standard itself. You would wipe out at a stroke the value of your hoard.”

“Mmm, yes. And a dragon with a worthless hoard is a pitiful joke, a contemptuous pretender. But it remains a dragon still. What will you become, Master of Coins, when coins themselves become as dust?”

“I am willing to offer you five percent of my net operating budget for the duration of your natural life.”

The offer shook Withrax. He had learned enough to understand what that meant, how much more that could be than any simple sum of gold or treasure.

“Fifty percent.”

“We do not negotiate.” Coin returned.

“I know that you can spare more, little godling. I have learned more of your methods than you yourself know. You are weak, godling. There are techniques and methods within your Art that you yourself do not know. Perhaps, if you had prostrated yourself before me, I might have left you and your pitiful system intact, to serve me, and truly learn how much greater than you I am. Perhaps I could have taught you how you could have truly cut costs, truly grown efficient. I could have kept you alive on fifty percent. And now, I will trigger the order, and as you end, you will know that I-”

The mountain rumbled, and Withrax started. There was nothing from the wards-

The wards had been bypassed. But only the magic of an elder dragon could have done so without his knowledge.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t come to an accord.” said Coin. He sounded genuinely regretful. “If it makes you feel any better, this is an enormous inconvenience to me.”

“What have you done?”

The mountain shook again.

“In the event that you didn’t accept my offer, I also offered three and a quarter percent to every member of the Council of Wyrms to kill you and your agents. In truth, they would have held out for five each, but after I explained what your plan would do to the value of their hoards-”

It would have been best to ignore the construct. It would have been best to focus all of his power, all of his magic, all of his centuries of wit and cunning, on finding a way to escape, at any cost. But Withrax was prideful, and so instead tore Coin apart and melted his remains to rivulets of liquid metal, to mix with the gold of his hoard, and felt some manner of satisfaction from doing so. Then Withrax’s lair imploded.

– – – – – – – – –

The power of Coin was much reduced, in the months and years to come. Coin himself could spare far fewer avatars; it was said that the one Withrax had died to destroy was the very last of his discretionary bodies, and that until his debt to the Council of Wyrms was paid, he could communicate only through his drones. But the work Coin began continued, and the Council of Wyrms quietly (and sometimes, not so quietly) worked to ensure that the wheels and gears of the world’s economy turned, and collected their payment.

In Fairness: D&D Economics Again.

After having complained at Multiplexer last entry, I figure I might point out an interesting entry I don’t much disagree with here. The fundamental question; when your wizard casts that spell requiring 500 gp worth of diamond dust, how does the universe know that you spent 500 gp worth of diamond dust? What does it really mean for something to be worth 500 gp?

Well, in D&D, this is simple. Objects have costs independent of their market values, as absolute properties inherent to their nature. A standard longsword has observed properties of size, weight, dimensions, and price. Presumably, each granule of diamond dust has a very tiny cost, such that a small amount adds up to 500 gp. And you can end up in a weird situation, where an item can be easily down-convertable in a way which doesn’t reduce its price, but does reduce its value. A 5000 gp diamond has a lot more magical uses than 10 500 gp sacks of diamond dust, but you can presumably get that much dust out of a diamond and sell it accordingly.

Multiplexer rejects the inherent-cost property, however, and proposes a few alternatives. I happen to be tickled pink at the last one of those, in which the Great Modron March is actually a price audit for everything in the planes, and speculates that you could, with the right con in the right place, adjust the market price of a spell component. This is hilarious because, in another world, this actually happened. In EVE (of course), a mechanic was introduced in which destroying an enemy’s cargo awarded you honor points, which could be traded for regular currency at 1/10th the value of your raid. Destroy an enemy ship carrying a million in cargo? Get a hundred thousand’s worth of honor points. OK, that’s great. But how much is cargo worth?

EVE is unique among major MMORPGS for not having the fixed, inherent price structure of D&D and other worlds. Every item buys and sells for what players are willing to buy and sell it for. So, with no look-up to determine the price of a cargo haul other than actually putting it on the market and seeing what it’s worth, the EVE programmers just did a periodic audit of all of the transactions for each item and determined its average sell price.

So, Goonswarm (whose relationship to EVE could basically be summarized as “Imagine the Joker with the resources and respectability of Wayne Enterprises.”) spun up their false-flag factions and frenemy-alliances. They picked an item which was generally regarded as useless and was barely transacted upon by the normal economy, and then did thousands of buys and sells of huge lots of that item for wildly inflated prices, all the while creating huge hoards of it. Then, when that audit ticked over, that worthless item was suddenly worth an enormous honor value. Enough, actually, that even with that 1/10 loss, you could destroy a cargo of it, cash out your honor, buy more from people who hadn’t learned the trick and were happy to get their cargo of this worthless item off their hands at a good deal, and repeat the process.

D&D Economics, Part One Of Many

I’ll be honest: One large motivation for starting this blog is having a platform to respond to Multiplexer here. I find her work about 60% interesting insight to 40% “No! That is clearly contraindicated by the actual rules of the world you’re working in!”

This article in particular got my teeth up, because not only did it badly miss the actual point it was examining, it did so with cloying smugness. But the point it asks is a good one; in D&D games, there aren’t really appreciable laws of supply and demand. A longsword is 15 gp, now and forever, here in a city and elsewhere in a hamlet. Any place that sells longswords, sells them for 15 gp.

Now, Multiplexer imagines a world in which Primus, God of Law and organized systems, enforces this, instead of it being done by the laws of economics. What happens when you have fixed prices for goods? Shortages! Quality reduction! Poor allocation of goods! The eventual collapse of the market for low-level equipment leading to the destruction of all that is Lawful and Good!

Yeah, no. First, let’s remember that Primus is not a government. He’s a god. He’s enforcing a law of nature here. But OK, let’s play this out. Yea, it is said that a longsword is 15 gp, always and forever. So, what happens when a blacksmith decides to cut corners?

Absolutely nothing. See, Multiplexer missed the difference between absolute prices as enforced by a government and those enforced by a god; externalities. The blacksmith that does cut-rate work will find that it takes him longer to produce a sword that works as a sword, because his labor has been price-fixed too; he performs iron-mongery at a predictable rate based on his skill level. And if he buys cheaper ore to do his smelting, well, that doesn’t matter either, because iron has been price-fixed as well; iron is a trade good, with its own absolute worth. And while a blacksmith can produce a not-a-sword and put it out for display in a country with a mortal agency doing price controls, Nature cannot be fooled; you need to spend the crafting price in raw materials and labor (both of which are fixed) to make a 1d8 19-20/x2 crit range one-handed melee martial slashing weapon.

Now, this is all about what a longsword is, not what a longsword is worth. Let’s say that you have a regime that was just toppled across an empire, and people are overcome with revolutionary fervor. Let’s say that swords made with a stamp of the Evil Empire are disdained and looked on with extreme suspicion, while new Republic swords are the hot item. Let’s say that this evaluates out to every given buyer or seller in an area being willing to buy an Imperial-brand sword for only 5 gp, while paying 30 gp for a Republic-brand sword. What happens when there’s a local-but-persistent mismatch between the raw price code of an item and its value?

Arbitrage. People buy up Imperial swords and sell them elsewhere, to people who don’t care about their brand, and import blacksmiths to work overtime stamping out republic swords, and profit hugely. Generally, it doesn’t take long before everyone who’s willing to have a Republic sword at 30 gp has bought one and they’re selling for a bit less, while people are starting to find that patriotic fervor to get rid of their old Empire-brand goods is fading as their merchant buddies make gold hand over fist buying their swords for cheap and selling them at a huge mark-up elsewhere.

Now, this can’t happen in a price-fixed economy. That first Imperial sword can only be sold for 15 gp, from someone who only values it for a third that much, to someone who values it similarly. Why would you do that?

And here’s the fascinating thing; price controls mean everyone’s in an infinite-arbitrage environment. See, it doesn’t matter if you value the sword at 5 gp or 500 gp; you have to sell it and buy it for its fixed market price. If you buy such a sword, if anyone else chooses to buy it, they will buy it at 15 gp. And they’ll buy it knowing that even if every person they could want to sell it to values it at 5 gp, they’ll pay 15. They know, in short, that the value of the sword is fixed, and won’t go down or up as long as they don’t actually damage the sword. Plus, the few magical effects which work on the absolute gold piece value of an item will tell them it’s worth 15 gp. In short, they can have their irrational preference, but their ability to act on it in an economic way is limited.

Now, this means that people may not always get what they want. It means that some goods just don’t get traded on the open market, because of a mismatch between actual value and perceived value. But this is absolutely nothing new. Plenty of people decline to trade, e.g., every free hour they have doing unskilled labor, because they value their leisure more, even though their leisure produces no economic goods whatsoever.

Now, admittedly, there is one big point which Primus didn’t address, and which would be a really interesting topic to speculate on. What happens if Primus price-fixed adventuring itself?

But that is an exploration for another essay.

On difference and equality.

We have, I think, an interesting contrast in recent events, with Dylann Storm and Vester Flanagan. Both were similar, in attitudes and actions. Both raged at people of another race for their own woes and the degeneracy of the world around them, and both chose to express that rage through murder.

The media response has not been equal. It comes back to that evidence thing again. Some places on the internet Just Know that white Southerners are the root of all evil, and there they discuss Storm loudly. In others, it’s obvious that degenerate blacks are the root of all evil, and so Flanagan gets discussed and brought up. Both sides, of course, accuse the other of burying the lede on the actual, important, central example of events.

Both events happened, obviously. And both, while they were great tragedies, are entirely noncentral examples of how crime and murder in America usually happens. They are worth discussing, but only in the context of each other, to defy the first set of easy narratives, then an analysis of gun ownership and violent crime, to defy the second.

It would be nice if shocking acts of murder weren’t immediately politicized. That, sadly, is not the world we live in.

Teachers I have known.

Mr. A was my old Earth Science teacher in high school. He was damn good at his job; so good, he moved rapidly into administration at the school, then moved to administering another, more challenging school. He was as good an administrator as he was a teacher.

One time, following a lecture on tides and eclipses, Mr. A noticed me doodling on the whiteboard after class, trying to work out a model for what we had mentioned in class. He looked at my toy model, with a quarter-sized Earth, dime-sized moon, and grapefruit-sized sun, asked me what I was trying to do and nodded.

He removed my model with one swipe of the eraser, and took a marker, striding to the edge of the board. “Here you go. Here’s the moon.” He drew a dot on the edge of the board. “Here’s the Earth.” He added another dot. Then he strode purposefully to the other side of the board. “And here’s…” he said, drawing a vertical line tinged only with the faintest hint of a curve “…the friggin’ sun.”

I had, without realizing it, internalized the assumption that because the sun and the moon look about the same from our perspective on Earth that they are in any way comparable, and this attempt to put them in the same scale had been throwing me off but good. This wasn’t an exact demonstration of the relative scales of the objects of our solar system, but it made exactly the point I needed to be made, and Mr. A could identify the specific flaw in my thinking in need of correction and come up with a quick lesson to do so with about three second’s prep time and a whiteboard marker.

Like I said, damn good at his job.

Serious Stuff: Why Vox Day and Amanda Marcotte Are In My Reading List.

First, a word of warning. If either or both of the names in the title of this entry are unknown to you, I honestly believe that you will remain happier and more fulfilled if you keep it that way, stop reading now, and just consign both of them to your “People who make terrible arguments on the Internet and to whom I will give no more of my attention.” file. If you really want to know more, go ahead and keep reading.

The ability to cherry-pick emotive data points from a large sample size is epistemological poison. It’s something that can happen to you without you even realizing that you’re doing it, and it’s something that you may not have control over even when you realize that it’s happening.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you, like many people, leapt gleefully upon that South Park episode to give you an excuse to bully people (because it’s funny!), and started compiling a list of crimes that red-haired people committed, especially depraved crimes (because they’re not an official discriminated-against group, it’s all OK!). Let’s say that you kept putting these incidents out there. Will there be a lot of them? Well, yes. There are a lot of red-haired people, some of them statistically will be criminals, and some of those criminals will commit particularly heinous crimes. Now, let’s say that you happen to control the horizontal and the vertical of the particular fora on which you’re compiling this list, and you shut down any attempt from outsiders to post actual criminal statistics, or even just put up their own counter-list. Well, you can do that.

But the Internet is wide, and server space is cheap. (Case in point; I’m writing here gratis, courtesy of WordPress.) It’s more than likely that people who object to your characterization will start their own lists. But because this group will most likely be people who really hate the characterization of red-haired people as soulless predators rather than people who hate your well-poisoning, it’s very likely that they’ll start their own roll of crimes committed against gingers, by heinous criminals of other hair colors.

And then what happens? Both sides are being fed a continuous, supported-by-example stream pushing the narrative that a particular group of people are very definitely victims or very definitely predators. And even if you know intellectually the crime stats, it’s very easy to let your associations and impressions drive your unconscious behavior.

So, why do I read these two chuckleheads? Well, what I get out of it is two completely confident, two completely disjoint worldviews, each supported with a bevy of citations and examples. Because the world is complicated. Because the world is full of social justice going too far and social justice going not far enough, of examples of systemic discrimination and systemic equality, of false rape accusations ruining lives and true rape accusations going ignored and prosecuted. And because the world is thus, me having strong emotive reactions to topics in which people are trying really hard to influence me emotively is worse than useless. What reading these two back-to-back is meant to do is to instill a kind of narrative race condition, so that when I hear new information on a controversial topic, multiple contradictory data sets start throwing up narratives at the same time, so I can’t just fall into “Oh, it’s one of those people, we all know about those people.” that so plagues the internet. And these two are kind enough to give me a continual stream of curated events.

But why these two? Because they are both profoundly lazy. Because both Vox Day and Amanda Marcotte write for their subgroups and their subgroups only, and because the conclusions they tend to draw from their documented incidents tends to range from the intellectually bankrupt to the profoundly offensive. So, I don’t feel like I’m at risk of picking up any of their toxic memes, because both of them go out of their way to remind me what a terrible person I am for not being one of their groups every third paragraph or so.

Does it work? Well, I feel like it does. I’ll get back to you when I can design an experiment to control for unjustified epistemic certainty.

Book Review: The Millionare Next Door.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. The problem is the book is about 10% solid and crucial insight, 20% questionable and situational advice, 40% really weird classism, and the rest blather about what income brackets drive what kinds of cars.

The central thesis of the book is that in America, most of the millionaires aren’t trust-fund children who inherited their wealth from their wealthy dynastic family, but instead professionals and small business owners who maximized their income, minimized their expenses, and invested the difference. And this is true, and a valuable insight. These days, we hear a lot of people claiming that it is flatly impossible to work your way up the socioeconomic class ladder more than one of the half-rungs in a single generation. This is flatly untrue. It’s very uncommon and very difficult to make a large jump in your socioeconomic status in your lifetime, but quite a lot of people do it.

The book also has a rather weird metric for your expected accumulation of wealth by your age. It’s weird because it assumes that your wealth accumulation should scale linearly with your age. However, the entire point of the book is that wealth, properly managed, grows exponentially.

Then there’s the car thing. The book goes out of its way (really, really far out of its way, in fact) to let us know that many millionaires drive Detroit iron and no-nonsense Ford pickup trucks, and none of those fancy Italian imports or sports cars. The book even goes so far as to say that millionaires had a higher-than-average pounds-of-automobile-per-dollar-spent ratio. This strikes me as super-questionable. Now, I bet that if you have a high proportion of small business owners and tradesmen, you’ll get a lot of these cars, but I really don’t see a lot of them on the streets of San Francisco being driven by the startup millionaires there.

One point which does get raised in this chapter is the cost of living expectations for certain professions and classes. Many doctors and lawyers reported that they felt the need to drive an expensive car (or rather, to have it parked at their place of work) to conspicuously signal that they were prosperous, so as not to scare off clients or customers. This is interesting, but I feel like it’s missing the point. This would be a great segue into a full study of professionals by reported income and the car they drove, and some detailed digging into the outlier ends of the study to see if there was any causation between car and income. But we don’t get that, sadly. Heck, we don’t even get a single professional saying “Well, I looked at my average income in this two-year period when I had this car visible, this other two-year period, corrected for differing economic factors X, Y, and Z, and saw a significant difference in income.”

Then there’s the section on gifts of money to adult children, which the book calls financial outpatient care. It’s a bad thing, apparently; the majority of the reported millionaires received no significant inheritance or cash gifts from their family. The book lists several examples where these gifts can end up trapping a household into greater debt loads, either directly via a down payment on a house that the family would not have been able to afford otherwise and which sucks up income they could have otherwise invested. There’s also the fact that regular gifts of cash can limit the incentive of a household to work hard, strive, and struggle to achieve full economic self-sufficiency. Of course, lots of people do work hard, strive, and struggle to achieve full economic self-sufficiency, and fail for want of a single specific cash infusion at the right time. As with the cars, there’s a lesson here, about spending money on things that will help your children make more money, and not on things that will cost them more money, but it gets mangled in the attempt to exalt the millionaires who Did It All On Their Own 100%.

Finally, Millionaire Next Door used voluntary-report surveys to get data, which is always questionable, and there were very few attempts to control for confounders mentioned. Even if we trust that they reported accurately on the population of millionaires they found, we still have no data on the millionaires they didn’t find, and we similarly have no data on how many people shared the habits of the millionaires, but were not millionaires themselves.

I feel like this book is less wrong than maybe 70% of what I usually hear and read about household management and socioeconomic mobility, but still falls well short of Sturgeon’s Threshold thereby.

On anonymity.

So. My name actually is Robert Liguori. (Mostly. There’s an amusing story about my middle name/names that I may get into later.) I’m writing under my real name, as you may note.

This is widely considered a Bad Idea by most of the internet. It means that people can cross-reference my writings to my apparent age to my name, and identify who I am. “Aha!” they shout. “A Robert Liguori who talks about economics, programming, and music! I know that guy!”

(Note: That is not me. I do, however, recommend Robert J. Liguori’s pocket Java guide as a quite serviceable example of its species. I own a copy because having a book on programming with your name on the cover on your desk at work creates hilarity.)

But even with there being multiple Robert Liguoris (Roberts Liguori? ‘Robert Liguori’s?) around, and even with some of them being kind of eerily similar to me, I’m still putting myself out there.

But that’s OK. I don’t really feel that I’m at risk of being doxxed or outed or having a crazed mob of Twitterers calling my employer at all hours of the night demanding I be fired for my egregious outrage against the Cause of the Week. This is because I’m literate in basic statistics, of course, and can look at the relative rates of high-impact firings in my profession, and note that they are like bolts of lightning from the blue; horrifying and unfair, but also very, very rare. It’s also because I try to follow the wisdom of Paul Graham and Treebeard both, and so I’m not really a high-profile target for any group who’s likely to be throwing around the aforementioned crazed Twitter mobs. (This is not to be unfair to Twitter, of course. This is to fairly point out that Twitter is specifically calibrated for minimal nuance and content and maximal outrage, and that this calibration produces expected effects.)

So, here is the test case. Here I am, writing about what I choose to write about, under my real name. I’ve actually been doing this for years now, and I do get a kick out of people recognizing me on one site from the impression I’ve made on another. Nothing bad’s happened to me yet. In fact, something pretty good has happened to me; by writing under my real name, I feel the need to write things I can be proud of.

But, if disaster befalls me on account of this, I’ll try to let you all know.

My name is Robert and I’m a Javaholic.

As I begin the process of pulling out my writings from another place and render them into a format suitable to be published here, I ponder again my programming habits. I’ve just finished reading up on Python, and have been wanting to stretch my knowledge of awk, sed, and shell scripting in general. So, why am I writing yet another Java program that reads in a file as a list of strings, manipulates those strings, and then outputs that list into another file?

Laziness is the big one. I’ve been programming in Java for most of my professional life, and I’m comfortable with it. I can scan an error log, read an obscure error message, understand it, mutter “Goddamit, I used indexOf() instead of lastIndexOf().”, and find my mistake before I’d have finished Googling the error in another language.

Plus, because I have written a lot of Java text-parsing programs, I’m used to this. I have a library of functions to extend out basic string and file processing, and one day I will actually make a JAR of them instead of just copying ParseUtils.java into every project that needs me. (Don’t judge me! All of my object variables are set to public access as well!)

But I think it’s the debugging that I like the best. I can fire up Eclipse and step through every line of my program, inspect every variable as it changes, and easily get a feel for what’s happening and what can go wrong. And maybe one of these days I’ll see about finding an IDE for Python or similar, but for now, I code what I know.

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