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INTERESTING

Interesting, especially given the differences of the cultures…

Dai tempi di Omero, i greci hanno idealizzato i loro antenati Micenei in poemi epici e tragedie classiche che glorificano le imprese di Ulisse, del re Agamennone e di altri eroi che entravano e uscivano dal favore degli dei ellenici. Sebbene i micenei raccontati nei poemi fossero frutto della fantasia, un team di studiosi ha compiuto una serie di analisi genetiche per appurare la discendenza dei moderni Greci.

Il DNA dei moderni greci è strettamente correlato agli antichissimi Micenei e Minoici

La Civiltà Micenea si sviluppò fra il 1.600 e il 1.200 a.C. nella zona di Micene, nel Peloponneso, per poi scomparire in modo repentino e misterioso, gettando però i semi per la cultura della Grecia Classica. I Minoici erano la popolazione dell’isola di Creta, oggi così chiamati grazie al nome del mitico Re Minosse, che costituirono la civiltà cretese fra il 2.000 e il 1.450 a.C.. I Micenei, contemporanei per lungo tempo dei Minoici, erano più combattivi di questi ultimi, che invece si dedicavano al commercio, e a un certo punto, fra il 1.450 e il 1.400 a.C., li assoggettarono al proprio controllo.

Sotto, la Porta dei Leoni a Micene. Fotografia di Andrea Trepte condivisa con licenza CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikipedia:

Epicamente non furono solo i Minoici a cadere, ma anche la città di Troia in Turchia, conquistata dai Micenei

In una ricerca del 2013, l’antico DNA di 19 persone vissute fra il 2.900 e il 1.700 a.C. (fra cui 10 minoici cretesi, 4 Micenei del sito archeologico di Micene e 5 persone di altre culture fra Grecia e Turchia) è stato confrontato con quello di 30 moderni Greci e altre 334 persone vissute in antichità in tutta l’area Mediterranea ed Eurasiatica.

I risultati sono stati sorprendenti

I micenei erano strettamente legati alle popolazioni minoiche, ed entrambi dovevano 3/4 del loro DNA ai primi agricoltori che vivevano in Grecia e nell’Anatolia sud-Occidentale. Entrambe le culture avevano un DNA connesso ai coltivatori caucasici nei pressi all’odierno Iran, suggerendo che la migrazione di persone dall’est avvenne prima che i micenei si separassero dai minoici. Tutte queste popolazioni, hanno un DNA profondamente diverso da quello delle popolazioni Africane ed Egiziane dell’epoca.

Rispetto agli abitanti di Creta, i Micenei portavano un’importante differenza:

Dal 4 al 16% del loro DNA proveniva da popolazioni del Nord-Europa o della Siberia

Uno degli autori dello studio, Iosif Lazaridis, genetista delle popolazioni presso l’Università di Harvard, afferma come sia quindi chiaro che le migrazioni dalla steppa eurasiatica proseguirono sino a poco prima del periodo Miceneo, ma non raggiunsero gli abitanti di Creta.

Sotto, affresco di una danzatrice al palazzo di Cnosso:

Non a caso, minoici e micenei si assomigliano. Negli affreschi, nelle ceramiche e in genere in tutte le opere d’arte, gli artisti di entrambe le culture dipingevano persone con gli occhi scuri e i capelli scuri, sebbene le due culture parlassero e scrivessero lingue diverse (Lineare A e Lineare B). I micenei erano più militaristi, e la loro arte era caratterizzata da lance e immagini di guerra, mentre l’arte minoica non era centrata sul culto della battaglia.

Sotto, una donna raffigurata a Micene:

E i greci moderni?

La parte forse più interessante dello studio è quella che raffronta la popolazione della moderna Grecia con quella degli antichissimi Greci. Fra i Micenei, i Minoici e i Greci Moderni esistono numerosissime sovrapposizioni genetiche. Per George Stamatoyannopoulos, co-autore dello studio, la continuità fra popolazioni vissute oltre 3.500 anni fa e i Greci moderni è sorprendente.

La Grecia subì le invasioni dei Persiani, dei Romani, dei popoli Barbari, il dominio dei Veneziani e dei Turchi Ottomani

Questo suggerisce che le componenti genetiche degli antenati dei Greci erano già consolidate durante l’età del bronzo (3.500-1.200 a.C.), dopo che la migrazione dei primi agricoltori dall’Anatolia stabilì il modello per il corredo genetico dei greci e, di fatto, per molti altri popoli europei.

Pittura a Cnosso:

La conclusione di Stamatoyannopoulos è che: “Ora sappiamo che i fondatori delle prima civiltà europea avanzata erano europei. Essi erano molto simili agli europei del neolitico e molto simili ai cretesi del giorno d’oggi“.

Il prossimo obiettivo dei genetisti è riuscire a identificare le connessioni fra il misterioso popolo Ittita e i moderni abitanti dell’odierna Anatolia.

Articolo parzialmente tradotto e da Science Mag., altre fonti sono le pagine Wikipedia riguardanti la Civiltà Micenea e Minoica.

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THE BLACK SARCOPHAGUS

THE MAGUS

ANOTHER GOD AWFUL GOOD DAY – AND THE RETURN OF THE MANTICORE

The Missal

Had another God awfully (in the true sense of the term God-awe-full) good and profitable. Plus it was an enormously fun day. This has become my consistent habit.

While I traveled today I finished up my lecture series on Ancient Religion in the Mediterranean World and then listened (or re-listened, haven’t heard it since I was in my twenties) to the First disc of Return of the Manticore, which was excellent indeed.

I really, really like progressive Rock groups, especially those that derive much of their work through adaptation of ancient, art, classical, and folk music, scores, and sources, as does ELP.

Plus I was able to score several truly useful treasures today including adding to my personal library two of the works formerly held in the library of Robert Jordan (really regret never meeting him, and a real shame too since he was a fellow South Carolinian and…

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THE GOTHS AND HUNS TO THE NORSE

Rather fascinating accounts…

 

FASA

I spent many great hours in my youth wargaming Star Trek in Star Fleet Battles, plus I developed my own Star Trek role playing game to match my SFB universe. I am seriously considering purchasing this game.

THE SHIP OF A MILLION YEARS

He’s got a point… the Thesean dilemma is true of all things that maintain at least some sense of their (original) integrity, even men.

But this gives me an idea for a science-fiction short story. About a ship whose components are gradually and intentionally replaced over time by new components of the exact same shape, design, and dimensions but with vastly different and more complex capabilities.

Adaptive pre-programmed (improvable future) design is one of the basic core principles of my personal method of design and invention.

 

BREAD AND CIRCUMSTANCE

Archaeologists discover bread that predates agriculture by 4,000 years

July 16, 2018
University of Copenhagen
One of the stone structures of the Shubayqa 1 site. The fireplace, where the bread was found, is in the middle. Credit: Alexis Pantos

At an archaeological site in northeastern Jordan, researchers have discovered the charred remains of a flatbread baked by hunter-gatherers 14,400 years ago. It is the oldest direct evidence of bread found to date, predating the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. The findings suggest that bread production based on wild cereals may have encouraged hunter-gatherers to cultivate cereals, and thus contributed to the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period.

A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London and University of Cambridge have analysed charred  remains from a 14,400-year-old Natufian hunter-gatherer site—a site known as Shubayqa 1 located in the Black Desert in northeastern Jordan. The results, which are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide the earliest empirical evidence for the production of bread:

“The presence of hundreds of charred food remains in the fireplaces from Shubayqa 1 is an exceptional find, and it has given us the chance to characterize 14,000-year-old food practices. The 24 remains analysed in this study show that wild ancestors of domesticated cereals such as barley, einkorn, and oat had been ground, sieved and kneaded prior to cooking. The remains are very similar to unleavened flatbreads identified at several Neolithic and Roman sites in Europe and Turkey. So we now know that bread-like products were produced long before the development of farming. The next step is to evaluate if the production and consumption of bread influenced the emergence of plant cultivation and domestication at all,” said University of Copenhagen archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, who is the first author of the study.

University of Copenhagen archaeologist Tobias Richter, who led the excavations at Shubayqa 1 in Jordan, explained:

“Natufian hunter-gatherers are of particular interest to us because they lived through a transitional period when people became more sedentary and their diet began to change. Flint sickle blades as well as ground stone tools found at Natufian sites in the Levant have long led archaeologists to suspect that people had begun to exploit plants in a different and perhaps more effective way. But the flat bread found at Shubayqa 1 is the earliest evidence of bread making recovered so far, and it shows that baking was invented before we had plant cultivation. So this evidence confirms some of our ideas. Indeed, it may be that the early and extremely time-consuming production of bread based on wild cereals may have been one of the key driving forces behind the later  where wild cereals were cultivated to provide more convenient sources of food.”

Dr. Amaia Arranz-Otaegui and Ali Shakaiteer sampling cereals in the Shubayqa area. Credit: Joe Roe

Charred remains under the microscope

The charred food remains were analysed with electron microscopy at a University College London lab by Ph.D. candidate Lara Gonzalez Carratero (UCL Institute of Archaeology), who is an expert on prehistoric bread:

“The identification of ‘bread’ or other cereal-based products in archaeology is not straightforward. There has been a tendency to simplify classification without really testing it against an identification criteria. We have established a new set of criteria to identify flat bread, dough and porridge like products in the archaeological record. Using Scanning Electron Microscopy we identified the microstructures and particles of each charred food remain,” said Gonzalez Carratero.

“Bread involves labour intensive processing which includes dehusking, grinding of cereals and kneading and baking. That it was produced before farming methods suggests it was seen as special, and the desire to make more of this special food probably contributed to the decision to begin to cultivate cereals. All of this relies on new methodological developments that allow us to identify the remains of  from very small charred fragments using high magnification,” said Professor Dorian Fuller (UCL Institute of Archaeology).

More information: Amaia Arranz-Otaegui el al., “Archaeobotanical evidence reveals the origins of bread 14,400 years ago in northeastern Jordan,” PNAS(2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1801071115

Provided by University of Copenhagen

Explore further: Archaeologists revise chronology of the last hunter-gatherers in the Near East

THE STAR TREK WARGAMING AND ROLEPLAYING UNIVERSE(S)

I spent a lotta time in my youth wargaming Star Fleet Battles and playing Star Trek the Roleplaying Game (or at least my own personal modifications of both). Both were superb games.

 

SUPERIOR WARFIGHTING

The soldiering superiority of the ancient technologically advanced combatant

 

THE ANCIENT DARK AGES

I’ve always greatly enjoyed Cline’s lectures even when I suspect he is wrong…

I MET HIM RISEN

Wyrdwend

I MET HIM RISEN

I met Him Risen from the Tomb
His grave the pangs of Heaven’s Womb
His flesh all healed and yet still scarred
His soul shone on, undimmed, unmarred
To man he graced an endless Gift
Life Unending, clear, and swift
Death a villain nevermore
Evil vanquished, God restored
A keyless Kingdom free to all
Let any man but heed his call
The Earth a shining, darkless Realm
The Easter’d Captain at the Helm, and
Kurios! the angels sang
I laughed to hear the bells had rang
Ascensions told, and service wrought
The Promise that all men had sought
Salvation from the lower things
That occupied his dreadful dreams
A New Man born, and so we all
He told me “John, now heed the call
Run and tell them ‘I await!’
The sky draws near, the seas elate
The mountains leveled, the valleys rise
The beast and…

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BETA READERS AND COMPOSING PARTNER(s) WANTED

Wyrdwend

BETA READERS AND COMPOSING PARTNER(s) WANTED

I am in immediate need of Beta Readers for both my fictional and non-fictional writings. These writings will include everything from my fictional science fiction, fantasy, detective, mystery, espionage, military, historical fiction, thriller, regional (Southern Western, and frontier writings), and literary writings to my middle grade and young adult and children’s stories and books. Non fictional writings will include my essays, articles, scientific papers, religious writings, writings on Theurgy, detective work, some of my business plans, and books on a variety of subjects. Other materials might include song lyrics or entire song cycles (such as for an album) and poems or games or other such matters I have created.

Rewards for giving me useful feedback will include things like autographed copies of my books, advance copies of works, discounts on published works, free copies of works, advice on how to get published, information on…

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THE LANTERN OF LORNOLN AND AD HOC ADVENTURE/CAMPAIGN/GAME DEVELOPMENT

THE LANTERN OF LORNOLN AND AD HOC ADVENTURE/CAMPAIGN/GAME DEVELOPMENT

As a DM I am practicing a new gaming technique with my players which I am calling Ad Hoc Development. I plan to write up a more detailed paper and post on the idea later on but for now I am posting this briefer synopsis here because of the fact that my players don’t visit here and won’t see it. They don’t even know this place exists.

Actually this is a very old technique for me (and for others as well I am sure) for it goes back to the time I was a teenager and used to do something similar as a DM. The idea is very simple. I simply watch what the players are doing, the problems they encounter in game, and then modify the adventure, campaign, or game on an ad hoc basis as events progress to offer them possible, yet not obvious or easy or expected solutions to the dilemmas that lay beyond their current capabilities to resolve. It is somewhat similar to the idea of a literary or mythological Deus Ex Machina/Machinae, but the idea is not to “save them from disaster” but to offer them an unexpected and useful possible solution to their in-game problems. Problems they don’t have the resources or abilities to yet solve for themselves.

The technique works in this way. First I observe what they are most having problems doing, then as they proceed through the adventure/campaign, etc. I simply provide some unusual device, creature, companion (man-at-arms, etc.), artifact, magic item, clue, etc. which should, if thoroughly investigated and experimented with (and that is the real key), allow them to resolve their current set of difficulties.

To that end I simply observed my new group of players as they explored the Sunless/Sunken Citadel. (The first adventure they are playing and decided that one of the very first things they needed was, obviously, light.) But rather than using the adventure as written, and I have kept the skeleton of the adventure intact, I simply greatly modified it and rather than preparing a large list of gear and magical items and devices they would need to find I simply give them things (usually buried in trash or debris or collapsed areas, on monster corpses, in modified treasure hoards, found in pit traps, or in other less expected places) that they will find useful.

One of the very first items I gave them was the Lantern of Lornoln. (Lornoln is what the original citadel was called in my new world before it sank and was destroyed, the name meaning “Light of the Mountains,” for it was the frontiers outpost or citadel at the foothills range of the Nol-Ilthic Mountain Range.)

Anyway they found the Lantern, which they now call the Lantern of Lornoln or just “the Light” for it looks like it is an old rectangular 4 sided (6 with top and bottom) lantern with sides made of glass or crystal and with a body made of brass.

Their first clue upon taking it that it was no ordinary lantern was how light it felt. Like it was made entirely of glass (or in modern terms even of plastic). So it was obviously not made of brass. Also the glass or crystal sides were entirely transparent and unblemished and unsullied or smudged, even in the debris, and this “glass” is extremely hard.

Instead of a wick or a place for oil the very bottom is covered in glyphs they cannot read and the wick is replaced by a single piece of brass like metal (a small metal rod about an inch and half tall and about one quarter of an inch in diameter). They experimented by sliding one of the glass panes back and then trying to pull or twist the metal bar (you could twist it until it clicked) at which time it lit and produced lumens equivalent to 6 torches in a sixty foot range but within a thirty foot range it is almost as if one is standing in broad daylight. The lantern also has a suppressive and frightening effect upon creatures that fear light or prefer the darkness. That is the only thing they experimented with as far as the lantern is concerned, because they were eager to explore the rest of the ruins of the citadel and night had not yet set in.

The lamp also has other functions which they must explore to discover.

1. The wick will burn, without producing any heat for eight hours straight and then it will extinguish itself for another four hours. This is the same functional procedure for all of the other “wick functions.”

Had they continued to turn the wick they would have discovered:

2. an infrared function in which the lantern is completely black or dark but will illuminate any living creature up to a distance of 120 feet as if they are aglow in an infra-red sheath, though the creatures so displayed are unaware they are lighted by the lamp.

3. an ultraviolet function which will softly illuminate an area of 20 feet in a purplish-blue haze and will illuminate anything hidden that can be seen by ultraviolet light.

4. a setting that will illuminate secret doors and passages, even through solid rock, up to a ten foot radius.

5. a secret setting can be gotten from the wick by clicking it down. That is the “night-light setting.” When people sleep within the radius of the night light (20 feet) they may have strange dreams and portents of nearby dangers or of near-time future events. If they are awake and in the area of the night-light then they can see creatures approaching from a distance of up to 120 feet but the night light makes those within the area of the (soft and almost ultraviolet like) glow appear much smaller than they really are and displaced (as if they are several feet from their real positions). This makes it hard for others to target the lantern users at night.

If they take some of the “glass panes out” (and these are made of magical, transparent crystals, not glass) and turn them around to face the other direction then these functions can be had out of the lantern:

6. the regular light can be focused out of just one pane as if a flashlight were being used to illuminate objects out to a distance of 100 meters and this beam can be seen from three miles away (on flat, open terrains).

7. one of the panes will allow anything illuminated by regular light to be examined as if under a low-powered microscope (60 times magnification).

8. one of the panes, when flipped, acts as a silvered mirror, can sometimes be used to see other people’s thoughts and true motives, and also has effects upon the undead and deceitful.

9 one of the panes, flipped, acts as a strobe light (if the regular light function is used) and can disorient another or make them nauseous. This works even on magical and highly intelligent and even psychic creatures.

The Lantern of Lornoln is, in fact, a Minor Artifact, though the party doesn’t know this yet, they simply think it a “magical light or lamp”

I created it ad hoc or on the spot as something for them to find (then developed it more later on as I thought about who might have created it and why and how it ended up where it did). I will reveal none of the various functions of the lantern to my players, only they can find these out through experimentation and/or research done by others. It is possible they will never discover all of the functions, or even that I will discover other functions as time goes along (in the game).

This is part of my ad hoc system. Even I may discover new functions for these things as time goes along. Plus I will encourage all of my players to devise their own possible uses for things (normal, magical, or miraculous things).

That too will be part of my ad hoc system – unique DM/GM and player innovations. Or put another way, rather than trying to pre-develop or prepare or preplan all aspects of an adventure, campaign, or game I am going to start leaving as many things as possible open to on the spot and ad hoc invention and creation as I can possibly and reasonably accommodate. See where that kind of experimentation leads.

(Of course some things will still have to be preplanned: certain items and magical devices created specifically for certain characters, particular heirlooms, legacies, etc. But as far as many and possibly even most treasures, artifacts, devices, items, and even creatures and NPCs I’m going to play those “by ear” – so to speak.)

Some of the other Ad Hoc creations I indulged in that first evening of play (Sunday) included:

A. There was a room supposed to be inhabited by two mephits (according to the module). I instead used it to allow the escape of a very unique (psychaec even) Homunculous (which is attempting to become the familiar of the party Sorcerer).

B. There was supposed to have bene a werewolf (I’ll describe the actual adventure in another place), but it actually was a Wolf-Hound who is in fact secretly a kind of unique chimera who has become the Animal Companion and protector of the party Druid. It can actively communicate with the Druid through dreams and visions.

C. There was a supposed to have been a set of magical crystals used to entrap mephits, I instead turned it into a magical crystal that creates “powdered water.” (Called Aqua Pulvis.) The party is aware it does something to water but don’t know yet what. It actually uses an alchemical alembic like device to reduce water to a powder which when then later remixed with clean water, or wine, will produce Aqua Vita. Once the user has drunk the powdered solution or suspension of Aqua Vitae then they will not need to consume any liquids again for seven days, nor will they lose liquids by sweat, urination, or by any other means. They will reach a perfect state of fluid homeostasis within their own bodies.

Some of the ideas I already have for future ad hoc items or treasures they find (based on my previous observations of the characters and my players) are: i. honeyed lepsis, ii. sthenetic or sthenotic tablets (tabula sthenae – like the Aqua Pulva an alchemical preparation), iii. A blessing pouch, and iv. a special magical notebook for research that automatically inscribes itself with clues and hints about how to locate information on various subjects of interest. Which I may call the Librum Incognita.

Of course I will not pre-develop these ideas at this point but attempt to let their capabilities sort of grow organically out of game events.

By the way I am also thinking of applying this principle to my novels and fictional writings as well. Not seeking to predevelop items and plot points but letting them shift on an ad hoc and unpredictable and unplanned basis.

As a matter of fact I should apply this same idea as a method for developing my own Real World Inventions. After all inventing with the intent of producing technologies and tools that are multi-functionally capable is one of the basic tenets of my personal approach to inventing.

So I will do that as well…

October 16th is the day!

This was a lot of fun and absolutely fascinating to play when I was a kid…

The Tékumel Foundation

The Tékumel Foundation is preparing to release the reprint of Empire of the Petal Throne on Monday, October 16th, 2017.  We’re all very excited about this, as it is the culmination of a lot of work on the part of a lot of people.  Some additional notes about the new release:

  • The Foundation is going to produce print-on-demand maps to provide reprints of the stunning maps included in the original boxed set.  We’re hoping to be able to release the maps of the City of Jakálla and the Eastern and Western maps of the Five Empires in the near future.
  • We will also be updating the PDF version when we release the print-on-demand edition, to a version matching the print-on-demand edition.  This will still be a picture PDF; the text-searchable version is in the works.
  • The ebook for Professor Barker’s second novel, Flamesong, is the next project on our list…

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Sci-Fi D&D FTW 2.0

Mephit James' Blog

After I posted my last thoughts about Sci-Fi adaptations, I got a few very helpful responses from people. In an effort to leave no moonrock unturned (see what I did there?) I’m back with a few more additions.

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Here at the End of All Things

Longreads

Adrian Daub | Longreads | August 2017 | 20 minutes (5,033 words)

1.

“The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars […].”

— Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science”

I spent my adolescence around maps of places that didn’t exist. An older cousin read The Lord of the Rings over the course of a hot summer when I was nine, and I watched in fascination as he traced the Fellowship’s progress across the foldout map that came with the book in those days. This, I decided, had to be what grown-up reading looked…

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ESSAYS IN GAME DESIGN – Essay Three: Where Has All The Magic Gone?

ESSAYS IN GAME DESIGN

Essay Three: Where Has All The Magic Gone?

Why don’t they make Magic Items like they used to?

I was looking through my AD&D books tonight and noticed how versatile and multi-functional so many of the magic items were.

They were powerful, and they were odd, and fascinating, and most important of all a lot of them could do all kinds of things.

By comparison so many of the magic items of more recent editions are bland, plain, uninspired, and uninspiring. It’s like using a piece of technology from the eighties or something. The items are overly specialized, technical, usually limited to one specific function, top-heavy in design and capabilities. A drag to own and use and usually good only for specific encounter types.

Older magic items were magical. They had so many functions they seemed like a modern mini-computer/cell phone/PDA/wristwatch/GPS/tricorder all in one. Impressive and extremely useful. Versatile. Fluid. A joy to own and use, employable in a wide range of circumstances. They were the Renaissance Men of Miracles, the Polymaths of Magic. And in addition most were mysterious. You had to figure them out as you went along. They could always have extra, hidden potential that you’d never know about til you screwed around with just the right thing and accidentally tripped some concealed latch. And you had Artifacts, and Incredible Devices, and Relics, with strange legends and ancient lore surrounding them. They weren’t just treasure types, they were items of real magic.

(In a purely imaginative sense, of course, but then again freeing the imagination, and being able to free the imagination, is a type of magic. Being enslaved to limited, prescribed, and proscribed function, technique, or technology is not magic. It is in many ways the very opposite of magic.)

We need to get back to that in modern fantasy games.

It made fantasy gaming fun instead of a technical exercise in weaponry calibres and target types.

Magic should have some, “Boy, now you’re really gonna see something!” to it, instead of “how many rounds ya got in that wand and what is the total count of damage points inflicted by it? I’m trying to calculate exactly how long this combat will last.”

Also,  magic used to be truly weird and fantastically dangerous.  To everyone including the Wizard employing it. Nowadays, and far too often it is merely a form of binary technology, on/off. And very rare is it for it to ever even fail.

So, where has all the magic gone?

It’s basically gone to hell with the idea that magic is about power shots and ammo counts rather than about mystery and wonder.

Somebody needs to dig some real magic up out of the grave and see if they can put a resurrection spell on it…

Endnote: I actually tend to think, that as far as game design goes, and even as regards gameplay to a certain extent, that the situation of “magicless magic” has actually improved considerably. Especially as regards Dungeons and Dragons and many of the related fantasy type games and role playing games. However, and against this general state of “magical improvement” has come the counter-tendency to reduce magic to a mere secondary or substitute form of technology as is far too often the case in literature, films, and video games. So I posted this essay anyway to remind game designers (even video game designers), DMs and GMS, and even players that they can be pursuing, even demanding real magic in their games, and by that I mean weird, strange, truly dangerous, multi-functional, and unpredictable magic that is anything but yet another substitute, secondary, or typical human technology. 

 

ZERO GAIN

Exclusive: one of the greatest conceptual breakthroughs in mathematics has been traced to the Bakhshali manuscript, dating from the 3rd or 4th century

In this close-up image you can see the use of a dot as a placeholder in the bottom line. This dot evolved into the use of zero as a number in its own right.
 In this close-up image you can see the use of a dot as a placeholder in the bottom line. This dot evolved into the use of zero as a number in its own right. Photograph: Courtesy of Bodleian Libraries/ University of Oxford

Nowt, nada, zilch: there is nothing new about nothingness. But the moment that the absence of stuff became zero, a number in its own right, is regarded as one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics.

Now scientists have traced the origins of this conceptual leap to an ancient Indian text, known as the Bakhshali manuscript – a text which has been housed in the UK since 1902.

Radiocarbon dating reveals the fragmentary text, which is inscribed on 70 pieces of birch bark and contains hundreds of zeroes, dates to as early as the 3rd or 4th century – about 500 years older than scholars previously believed. This makes it the world’s oldest recorded origin of the zero symbol that we use today.

The ‘front’ page (recto) of folio 16 which dates to 224-383 AD.
Pinterest
 The ‘front’ page (recto) of folio 16 which dates to 224-383 AD. Photograph: Courtesy of Bodleian Libraries/ University of Oxford

Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, said: “Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and our whole digital world is based on nothing or something. But there was a moment when there wasn’t this number.”

The Bakhshali manuscript was found in 1881, buried in a field in a village called Bakhshali, near Peshawar, in what is now a region of Pakistan. It was discovered by a local farmer and later acquired by the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Translations of the text, which is written in a form of Sanskrit, suggest it was a form of training manual for merchants trading across the Silk Road, and it includes practical arithmetic exercises and something approaching algebra. “There’s a lot of ‘If someone buys this and sells this how much have they got left?’” said Du Sautoy.

In the fragile document, zero does not yet feature as a number in its own right, but as a placeholder in a number system, just as the “0” in “101” indicates no tens. It features a problem to which the answer is zero, but here the answer is left blank.

Several ancient cultures independently came up with similar placeholder symbols. The Babylonians used a double wedge for nothing as part of cuneiform symbols dating back 5,000 years, while the Mayans used a shell to denote absence in their complex calendar system.

However the dot symbol in the Bakhshali script is the one that ultimately evolved into the hollow-centred version of the symbol that we use today. It also sowed the seed for zero as a number, which is first described in a text called Brahmasphutasiddhanta, written by the Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta in 628AD.

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“This becomes the birth of the concept of zero in it’s own right and this is a total revolution that happens out of India,” said Du Sautoy.

The development of zero as a mathematical concept may have been inspired by the region’s long philosophical tradition of contemplating the void and may explain why the concept took so long to catch on in Europe, which lacked the same cultural reference points.

“This is coming out of a culture that is quite happy to conceive of the void, to conceive of the infinite,” said Du Sautoy. “That is exciting to recognise, that culture is important in making big mathematical breakthroughs.”

Despite developing sophisticated maths and geometry, the ancient Greeks had no symbol for zero, for instance, showing that while the concept zero may now feel familiar, it is not an obvious one.

“The Europeans, even when it was introduced to them, were like ‘Why would we need a number for nothing?’” said Du Sautoy. “It’s a very abstract leap.”

Carbon dating reveals Bakhshali manuscript is centuries older than scholars believed and is formed of multiple leaves nearly 500 years different in age.
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 Carbon dating reveals Bakhshali manuscript is centuries older than scholars believed and is formed of multiple leaves nearly 500 years different in age. Photograph: Courtesy of Bodleian Libraries/ University of Oxford

In the latest study, three samples were extracted from the manuscript and analysed at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. The results revealed that the three samples tested date from three different centuries, one from 224-383 AD, another from 680-779 AD and another from 885-993 AD, raising further questions about how the manuscript came to be packaged together as a single document.

The development of zero in mathematics underpins an incredible range of further work, including the notion of infinity, the modern notion of the vacuum in quantum physics, and some of the deepest questions in cosmology of how the Universe arose – and how it might disappear from existence in some unimaginable future scenario.

Richard Ovenden, head of the Bodleian Library, said the results highlight a Western bias that has often seen the contributions of South Asian scholars being overlooked. “These surprising research results testify to the subcontinent’s rich and longstanding scientific tradition,” he said.

The manuscript will be on public display on 4 October, as part of a major exhibition, Illuminating India: 5000 Years of Science and Innovation, at the Science Museum in London.

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN: To Hell With Balance

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Two: To Hell With Balance

I’m gonna say something that might shock some of you guys. Then again, maybe not.

Balance, go to the Devil, and burn in hell. And while there sip septic tea with him til you’re really needed again. And chances are it won’t be often. But whatever the case, don’t call me, I’ll call you.

I’m working on a fantasy Role Playing Game, I’m not designing an algorithm, doing covalence equations, or writing a computer program to calculate a moonshot at apogee.

So sometimes in-game my players get their noses busted and spleens ruptured by a dragon that in real life they couldn’t ever easily kill. Not with bow-sticks and knives and harsh words anyways. Good, it’ll teach em a lesson about danger and risk and what it actually costs people.

And sometimes they’ll whip out their Horn of Resounding and bring down the walls of Jericho, or slay a few giants with the Jawbone of an ass. Good, sometimes you catch a miracle in midair, deserved or undeserved. Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes he gets you. That’s life.

But in any case, as far as the game goes, the player is fascinated, interested, intrigued, involved, worried, anxious, and maybe even occasionally excited again. Perhaps shocked and ecstatic from time to time too, just to boot.

Balance, he ain’t my god. I don’t owe him any real sacrifices. He’s more like the grey-skinned Graeæ sisters than bright Apollo. Only one eye to see with, a lot of double talk, the bite of a one-toothed wonder – and in the end, disaster, not glory. You can’t trust Balance to point the way to the future, cause he’s more consumed with his own reflection in the mirror than with anything remotely heroic happening. Static, stale, sterile, sluggish, and simple-minded. A dotard of dullness. No poetry of soul, just an arrested arithmetic of tedium. More Echo and Narcissus, more Sound and Fury, than Thunder and Lightning.

I liked the original version of D&D. I like the 4th Edition, at least many things about it. But I see now that this pernicious idea of “balance” that crept in like the Serpent at Eve in Paradise, balance as an end in itself, especially in a fantasy game of all things, is more assassins’ poison than golden Ambrosia. If I have to kill wonder and potential just to achieve balance, then I have to kill fantasy just to achieve boredom. Thank you modern RPG Fantasy Game Theory of Balance, but I think you’d be happier working as a stock-boy in the warehouse of modern mediocrity, than a gate-keeper to the temples at Mount Olympus.

So Balance, my fine feathered fowl of gutless acquittal, go to hell and burn awhile. Maybe you’ll cook into a decent potpie.

Invention is as invention does. So, I’m gonna start designing fantasy games and adventures again, even D&D ones, where magic happens, miracles save the day, monsters are dangerous and feral, the voice of God rumbles across the sky, kingdoms topple, heroes struggle, players say, “Now that’s what I’m talking ‘bout!” and imaginations catch fire.

Balance can burn in his own oven… and stew in his own juices.

 

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