Lost in Transit – A short story

[Transcript of laboratory 15 voice recorder during first human teleportation trial]

[Doctor James Hanover] Ok, Mister Johnson, please have a seat here, while the technicians get things finalised.
[Harry Johnson] No problem.
[Hanover] While they’re getting ready, let me just run through the procedure again. I know you signed the consent documents, but just to cover the main points…
[Johnson] Sure thing.
[Hanover] Great. So, when we pull the switch, a 3D scan will be taken of your full atomic structure. Your body will then be atomised and a perfect copy created in the chair that you can see on the other side of the laboratory.
[Johnson] You won’t forget that second part, will you?
[Hanover] *laughs* I assure you, we won’t. We have had hundreds of successful trials with rats, dogs… even a gorilla. All came through perfectly fine.
[Sally Jenkins] Everything is prepped Doctor Hanover.
[Hanover] Thanks, Sally. Now, just to be clear, Mister Johnson, the copy that appears at the other end won’t technically be you. It will be identical to you… not even your mother would be able to tell the difference…
[Johnson] What about my wife?
[Hanover] Or her. I just want to be sure you fully understand the implications.
[Johnson] Look, Doc, I was never one for weird metaphysical debates… you’re paying me well, I’m going to be the first man to ever teleport… as long as I can go back to my family afterwards, we’re good.
[Hanover] Super. In that case, just sit back, relax and we’ll see you again in a few moments. Sally, start the process.
[Jenkins] Process started. 3D scan compiling now.
[Barry Smith] Power levels nominal, no spikes.
[Jenkins] Scan compiled. Proceeding.
* Audible popping noise, caused by disintegration of Harry Johnson. *
[Smith] All levels still optimal.
[Hanover] *inaudible muttering*
[Jenkins] Production of subject copy beginning. He’s looking good… and… process complete.
* Cheers and general shouting from laboratory staff.*
[Hanover] Congratulations, Mister Johnson, you’ve just made history. How are you feeling?
[Hanover] Mister Johnson?
* Sounds of rapid movement and equipment being shifted *
[Jenkins] Breathing and pulse normal… blood pressure one ten over seventy.
[Smith] Starting atomic scan for comparison.
[Hanover] There must be something we’ve missed.
* More sounds of equiment use *
[Jenkins] EEG shows normal brain activity. Nervous system and reflex responses are as expected.
[Smith] Atomic scan shows a match, pre and post transfer. Differences are easily within expected limits for the time passed.
[Jenkins] There’s nothing wrong with him, Doctor Hanover… he’s just not doing anything.
[Hanover] Well, shit.

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How to make a magnetic hourglass

I was in Waterstones over Christmas and in their gifty section, they had a magnetic hourglass that looked pretty cool; essentially, a regular hourglass with some sort of ferrous “sand” and a magnetic in the base. However, it was £20, which seemed kind of expensive for something that would just sit on my desk, so I decided to make my own for far less cost.

I went through a few iterations before I found something that worked reasonably well. I initially tried using plastic champagne flutes from poundland (the ones with the detachable bases). I figured I could drill a hole through the stems of two flutes, attached them together and just cap the ends. However, the stems were too thin to get a firm (or straight) join, so I abandoned that plan pretty quickly.

Next (and this is where I started taking pictures), I tried a couple of small jars, separated by a disc with a hole in it. (The disc was just laminated card – nothing special.)
I didn’t really expect this to be a great solution, but I wanted proof that the iron filings I got off eBay and the magnet I got off the fridge would produce the intended effect.

It actually wasn’t a terrible result. The biggest issue was that the join was too wide and flat – I had to overload the hourglass to ensure that enough filings would fall through and there was a lot left in the top bulb. Still, the principle was sound.

My next thought was to use small cones in the join, instead of a flat disc. However, joining them presented similar issues to joining the champagne flutes (not straight, not stable) and I also wasn’t sure that they would bear the weight of the upper bulb.

I then went back to my previous version, but using vessels with much narrower necks. I settled on some plastic bottles for holding bath products (80p each in the supermarket), joined with a much smaller disc. (I just glued the bottles onto the disc one at a time – it’s fairly sturdy.)
This works pretty well – almost all the filings fall through and a quick shake before turning sends the rest down.

To create a base, I simply melted a couple of tea lights into a tealight holder and pressed a fridge magnet into it.

The final result is a neat little craft project, which cost about £4, plus a couple of things that were lying around the house.
Take that Waterstones!

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Campaign setting – The World’s Most Interesting Fast Food Restaurant

This is a silly idea that suddenly came to me. It is a short roleplaying campaign (I suspect 6-8 sessions before it gets boring) that could be played in most systems, with a bit of adjustment.

Basic concept:
The players are all ordinary people, working in a fast food restaurant, which just happens to be the most interesting fast food restaurant in the world. Each session basically involves them dealing with some problem or situation, while still trying to do their jobs.

System/Character creation:
You could run this in most systems, but you need to strip out anything that doesn’t fit with the characters being regular people. In d20 systems, it’s probably a skill cap of 14 and no magic or anything; in Savage Worlds, edges are out, combat skills are out and characters probably have less skill points than normal; in Cypher System, you’d just keep pools, edge and training… maybe descriptors. The point is that these are genuinely ordinary folk.
However, each player may choose a single “roleplaying-y” skill for their character. This might be bolted on at the end or done during creation, depending on the system and the skill. This is the only opportunity for a character to have any combat ability (and it has to be specific; if the character is a black belt, they have no skill in firearms). Alternatively, it could be something more esoteric; the character is a chemistry major and can cook up also sorts of weird stuff in the kitchen; the character knows a lot of people and can acquire anything, given some time; the character is an absolute charmer and can wrap people around their little finger… obviously, if the character has one of these, they have no combat abilities whatsoever.

Your characters all work in a fast food joint. It could be any sort of fast food – I’m picturing burgers personally, but pizza, sushi, whatever… The restaurant should be large enough that there is room for interesting things to happen, but not so large that your players are only a tiny part of the work force – your adventures should ideally take place on the graveyard shift or when the restaurant is short staffed, so that your players are the majority of the employees on site, with only a couple of interesting NPC employees to assist them.
Flesh out the restaurant a little, so that you know what areas it has. Is there one of those windows, so you can see into the kitchen? Is the office at the back or is there an upstairs? Does the restaurant have a basement? However, don’t map every inch of the restaurant, as you want some flexibility during play.

Each games session should cover one shift – any players who can’t make a session are simply not working that day. Every shift, something goes wrong in the restaurant:
The FBI are using it for a sting operation, but they’re short staffed themselves, so some of the characters will need to wear wires.
Two mafia dons have brought their grandchildren in for a treat and mustn’t be allowed to see each other.
Some criminals, fleeing the police, choose your restaurant to hole up and take hostages.
The owner of the company is visiting the restaurant for a surprise inspection, but he’s a bit of a recluse, so no one knows what he looks like… or even if he is definitely a he.
Some guys are filming a documentary about the Indian burial ground underneath the parking lot (this could be a campaign finale, explaining why the restaurant is such a weirdness magnet).

The players have to figure out how to resolve the situation (or just survive it), while still broadly operating as a restaurant (because they need their jobs). This should never be played as a serious campaign, but you’ll still need to agree where you are on a sliding scale of realism; you could play it that the characters need to obey the law, keep the restaurant intact, etc.. or you could play a much more slapstick version where the restaurant is pretty much destroyed at the end of every session, but happily gets rebuilt before the next shift.

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Business card advent calendar – midyear update

Ok, so I’m almost halfway through the year, slightly over halfway to advent, and slightly less than halfway through my advent calendar. However, I’ve found my rhythm, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be all done by the time the first of December arrives.

First update… I abandoned the idea of making little scenes in each cube. This was for two reasons; a lack of time and a lack of scenes. I could probably have found the time by abandoning some other projects, but I simply couldn’t come up with twenty four distinct moments in the Christmas story, without resorting to unnecessary details (the wise men pack for their trip, the shepherds argue over which sheep to give Jesus, etc…)
Fortunately, the cube structure is really quite strong, so I think it will support daily chocolates without too much difficulty.

Now, onto progress pictures…
Here you can see how the cubes structure is coming together:

These show how the cladding will look:

I cut the cards for the cladding myself, so I could get some Christmassy colours. This wasn’t too much of a pain… if you were looking to make one of these calendars on the cheap, you could cut all your cards yourself, though there are substantially more cards needed for the cubes than the cladding.

Anyway, expect a final update towards the end of the year, when I’ll show the full calendar, as well as the numbers for the front.

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Bullet Journalling – a two journal variation

[Note: This post assumes you have a rough idea what Bullet Journalling involves. If not, just Google the term and you’ll find lots of great info to get you started… then come back here, obviously. :-)]

I’ve always been a list maker – things to do, things to read, etc… I used to make heavy use of Evernote for organising my lists, but I often found that it was a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, particularly when it came to my to-do list. About three months ago, I came across bullet journalling and thought I’d try it as an alternative, to see if having a physical journal would help keep me slightly more focused. Overall it has been a big success, but I have found two issues that don’t quite work for me.

1) Carrying the journal around is not always convenient
It’s not a massive journal (A5, 250 pages, hardback), but it’s definitely not pocket sized. Most of the time, this is not a major issue, as I have my rucksack with me, so it can live in there. However, if I’m just popping out quickly or I’m going somewhere that the rucksack is inconvenient, then I’m forced to leave my journal behind. This very much defeats the point of the journal – it’s there so that I can jot down tasks or consult my calendar in the moment and not have to remember things until I get home.

2) I capture a lot of stuff that doesn’t become obsolete at the end of a year
I have very much embraced the idea of using my journal for everything – birthday lists, ideas for roleplaying campaigns, useful UNIX commands I’ve come across, books/games that have been recommended to me, etc… Although some of these may be done with by the time my journal is full, many of them will remain relevant for a considerable length of time after that. I don’t want to start a new year/journal and still have to carry the old journal around with me; I also don’t want to have to copy over 12 months of accumulated notes into a new journal each time.

With these two points in mind, I have adapted the bullet journalling principle into a two journal variation. The first journal is a small A6 one, that will generally be able to fit in my pocket. This journal just contains my future log, monthly calendars and daily journals. The second journal is A5, like my original one, though with half the number of pages. This journal contains everything else that I need – lists, ideas, commands, birthdays, etc…
Generally, I still have both with me; the big one in my rucksack and the small one in my jacket or pocket. However, if I don’t have my rucksack, I can manage with just the small one for short periods of time. The disadvantage of the small journal is that I’ll probably only get about six months out of it, but that’s not a major issue, as the only thing that will be copied to the next one is the remaining months on the future log. The larger journal will probably take much longer than a year to fill, as it won’t have any of the daily entries; when it does finally get finished, I can keep it alongside the subsequent one, as I will still be actively referring to it.

If you’re going to use this two journal approach, you should probably either start it pretty much from the beginning or wait until your current journal finishes. I had to copy over a couple of months’ worth of lists and ideas when I made the shift and I really wouldn’t want to copy any more than that.

This solution looks like it will work out fine for me, but if anyone else has their own solutions to the issues above, I’d be interested to hear in the comments.

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The Weave – A setting for the Cypher System

A while back, I brainstormed some ideas for different variations on cyphers in different settings for the Cypher System – Ideas for cyphers in different settings. This post is an expansion on one of those ideas, though it could be adapted for other systems, I’m sure. Suggestions or additions are welcome in the comments, as always.

Setting overview:
The universe is a tapestry. Whether this is proof of a divine creator or just a weird consequence of string theory is unknown and doesn’t really matter; the important thing is that time and space are constructed of carefully woven threads, known as The Weave.
A very small percentage of the population, colloquially known as Stitches, can perceive this weave and even interact with it to produce unusual effects. This is kept secret from the rest of the population; any Stitch who starts weaving magic in public is likely to be quickly silenced by the others in the community (though a couple of Stitches have made a living as professional stage magicians).
Most Stitches can only perceive the barest fragments of the Weave and maybe perform a couple of simple tricks. However, there are some who have a much greater grasp of it and who can produce truly magical effects.

Although this is a modern setting, Stitches can perform many unusual feats, so the Adept type and many of the more supernatural foci are still appropriate. All the characters are still human though, so foci such as Abides in Stone are not appropriate, and foci such as Slays Monsters will provide little benefit.
Any player wanting to play a heavily magical character should be willing to show some restraint in public or face the in-game consequences – this is something to discuss ahead of the game.

Artifacts are known as “patterns”. They are left over from the original weaving and will produce a specific effect when activated. They are still part of the weave itself, so they often appear as relatively innocuous objects. (e.g. a lighter that, when flicked, causes all glass in the vicinity to shatter; a violin that, when played, causes storm clouds to gather.)

Cyphers are known as “threads” and are loose threads in the Weave that Stitches can remove and use later to produce a one-time effect. More powerful threads could also be modelled as a broken pattern that will only work once, though they still obey the same rules as threads. (e.g. Something like the Volcanic Heart from Numenera, could be a pattern that was supposed to produce a regular fire on demand, but it’s stuck in a feedback loop, so as soon as you activate it, it will just keep generating heat until it burns itself out.)

Optional rule: Common threads – The majority of threads in the weave are of a few specific types (20 types, to make it easy to randomise and have decent variation). These are by far the most common type of thread found and are well enough understood that Stitches can carry more of them safely – up to five per cypher “slot”. Each type of common thread can produce several thematic effects, based on the the type, which can be chosen with each use.
For example, a “body” thread can be woven to have an effect on an individual; either recover 4 might points, recover 4 speed points or gain 1 armor for ten minutes.
As an addition, each of these threads could have an option for a trained character. For example, a character trained in medicine could also use a “body” thread to cure a disease.

The Agency – As global, clandestine conspiracies go, The Agency is pretty benevolent. They’ve decided, probably correctly, that the world is not ready to find out that certain individuals can rewrite parts of creation. They serve two purposes; firstly as a kind of supernatural police force (earning them the nickname, The Tapestry Police), dealing with things that the regular authorities are simply not equipped to handle; secondly they help keep Stitches off the public radar. They are not generally heavy handed in their duties; the first time someone breaks the masquerade, they’ll clean it up and have a quiet word, rather than instantly disappearing the person. Obviously repeat offenders are dealt with more severely.

The Guild of Weavers – A group of the most skilled Stitches, they study the weave and see how far they can develop their skills. Any PC with the adept type will either be a member or on their watchlist. They maintain good relations with The Agency, but secretly, the upper echelons are trying to build up enough of a following to reveal themselves to the world in such a spectacular fashion that there is no covering it up.

Order of the Divine Needle – A group of religious fanatics who subscribe to the belief that God created the Weave and that altering it is blasphemy. They’ll hunt down and kill Stitches where they can find them, though occasionally they will accept converts who have sworn never to touch the Weave again.

Froggers – This is the derogatory term for a loose alliance of doomsday cults, who all want to destroy the weave and end the world. Fortunately, the Weave is pretty robust, so they’ve only ever managed to cause localised damage to it, which can be passed off as a terrorist incident or natural disaster.

The Stitch ‘n’ Bitch – An underground club that only Stitches can enter, as the owner has placed an incredibly powerful pattern on the front door; a Stitch must tie off the final thread that connects the door to the club or it will simply open into an abandoned warehouse. The club is often used as neutral ground among Stitches, as the owner comes down very hard on those who cause trouble in his establishment; even the Agency treads with caution while under his roof.

Other setting notes:
Bobbins – Patterns are easily carried, as they are physical objects. However, threads are intangible, so the way that Stitches carry them round is by temporarily tying them to a trivial item, often referred to as a bobbin. Having random threads tied to it, often causes the bobbin to act in unusual ways; a coin might always land on its edge when tossed or a d6 might change all its sides to match whatever number it just rolled. Encourage players to invent their own bobbins that tie in with their character; if a PC loses their bobbin, they can simply create a new one by tying threads to a new object.

Tapestry spiders – These extradimensional parasites live outside the Weave. Occasionally they break into reality, where they manifest as black spider-like creatures, with too many legs and too many eyes, ranging anywhere from cat-sized to horse-sized. They seem to have no real purpose in coming through to reality; they generally just attack anyone in the vicinity and then disappear back into the Weave.

Optional rule: Gunshots – If you want to keep the setting relatively gritty and low-powered, I’ve been considering a rule to make firearms a little more dangerous. If a character take damage from a firearm, they are immediately moved one level down the damage track (this only happens once, even if hit multiple times). This level of damage cannot be recovered until they receive proper medical attention (this could come from another PC, but they would need to be trained, have access to proper medical supplies and have time to do a proper job).
The thinking behind this rule is that it only makes guns marginally more lethal (to die, a character would still have to empty two out of three pools), but it does provide a decent incentive not to get shot, as you can’t just make a couple of recovery rolls and be good as new. Obviously, if you’re playing a high-powered game as Agency super-soldiers or something, there’s probably no need for this rule.

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Deadlands, poker and Python

Today I’m managing to combine multiple interests into one post; roleplaying, maths and programming. I’ve written a program that simulates poker hands, which I will post further down, but first a little background.

For the non-roleplayers; Deadlands Reloaded is a roleplaying game that is set in the Weird West and one of the mechanics involves drawing cards and attempting to make the best poker hand possible. The number of cards drawn increases as your character gains experience; a very experienced character, who has taken all the relevant advances (and is dead… don’t ask), can be drawing 14 cards to try and make a five card poker hand. Obviously, at any level, it’s good to have some idea of how likely you are to make a particular hand, given your number of cards.

For the non-mathematicians; these odds are actually pretty hard to calculate. The probabilities of getting each hand with just five cards are well known; anyone with a solid grasp of probability can grind out the numbers. However if you’re drawing a lot more cards, this is very difficult. For example, calculating the odds of getting two pairs from 12 cards is reasonably easy, but you’ve got to subtract the odds that you also have a straight (because that would override the two pair). Even that is not as simple as calculating the odds of a straight; specifically you’ve got to calculate the odds of getting a straight in a hand that also has two pairs. I’m sure this is not technically impossible, but it’s a lot of hassle, particularly as you have to do it separately for every hand size… and then add wildcard jokers on top.

So, at this point, the mathematician part of my brain switched off and the statistical programmer part of my brain switched on. I might not be able to calculate the exact odds, but simulating a few thousand hands would give me a pretty reasonable idea.
Now, it should be noted that, while I’ve been intending to learn Python for years, I’ve only actually been learning it for a couple of weeks. This program involved a lot of Googling and is probably not as efficient as it could be. However, I’m pretty confident that it at least works correctly (though if anyone spots any weird edge cases with the jokers, do let me know).
The program below (Dropbox link, as I can’t embed it here directly), when submitted, will ask for three pieces of information:
1) The number of hands you want to simulate – I’ve been running about 10,000 at a time, as that seems like a good balance between run time and statistical robustness.
2) The number of cards to draw – it suggests 5-14, as that is the maximum number a Deadlands character will realistically draw, but you can enter 54 and get a royal flush every time if you really want.
3) Whether the red joker is allowed – high level characters in Deadlands can use the red joker as a wildcard without blowing themselves up… and not blowing up is always preferable.


Feel free to use this program in whatever way you want, though if you post it anywhere else online, do me the courtesy of crediting me.
If any more experienced Python programmers want to suggest code improvements, I’m all ears. In particular, does anyone know if I really need to make the variables global to pass them from function to function? It seems inelegant, but I couldn’t get it to work otherwise.

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