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Emily Dresner-Thornber
Worked at ZeniMax Online Studio
Attended University of Michigan
Lives in Laurel, MD
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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Late posting again. Sorry about that!

Extending some of the metaphor of companies owning adventurers, this week we extend it to privateers. Why not outsource a huge war to private ships? But to get out of the wharf, privateers need investors, insurance, ships... and, of course, so does the country they're at war with!

And why not, once on the open water, go pirate? And start attacking everyone's ships for fun, levels and profts?

War! Kaplow! Kablooie!

#gaming #dungeonsanddragons
Time for everyone to make money regardless of alignment, God, or creed. The more unsavory, the better!
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Richard G's profile photoWinchell Chung's profile photoElie Thorne's profile photoEmily Dresner-Thornber's profile photo
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Merchantilism is a bridge between Agrarian Capitalism (ie, Manorial Capitalism or Medieval Capitalism) and Industrial Capitalism. It's the economic theory where the state's policies were to rig the system with high tariffs on foreign goods while flooding foreign markets with domestic goods. The venn diagram overlap between Merchantilism and Capitalism is pretty broad; the main difference is one favors monopolies and the other favors competition. Although modern capitalism seems to favor monopolies, too... (Or more commonly duopolies.) The other big difference is wealth extraction vs wealth creation.

Medieval (10th-14th c) Europe has a concept of Agrarian Capitalism -- small open markets for the limited sale of goods. Merchantilism and even some Capitalism was born mainly with double entry bookkeeping and was present in both the Italian city states and the low countries -- Antwerp, Bruges, etc. from the 14th c onward. Things happen earlier than one thinks. Medieval Europeans pre-double entry bookkeeping were not capitalist; they couldn't keep accurate accounts and often still did math in Roman numerals. In fa,ct the Church's rules against usury made it difficult to lend or build meaningful banks although canny Italians found hacks...

Keep in mind that history is not even. Things shoot forward in one place and then other places take centuries to keep up. You could come from progressive, rich, and enlightened Amsterdam and head to dying Pisa and then travel to the ruins of Constantinople and head east to Russia and each stop takes you further into the past. Also, Adam Smith's conception of capitalism was built on decades of a social movement and social thought built especially on David Hume. It didn't mystically appear one day.

Most GMs assume a modern economy with open markets when there are none which often makes trying to put modern rules on fantasy settings hilarious. :)
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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So there's an entire chain with the intro bit....

Murder Hobos venture down into the Underdark, get killed, and drop equipment all over the place. Deep Elves pick it up, dust it off, rebrand it with Underdark (tm) Logos, and find idiots to buy them at a markup. Thieves (addicted to mushrooms, natch) venture into hellmouths looking for something they can sell, and run into Deep Elves wearing Deep Elf Marketing Approved Spirit Wear. They buy up the "illegal" weapons and then find a buyer on the secondary market. The buyer uses these weapons to try to conquer the world. They're stopped by Murder Hobos, who later pick up the equipment, shave off the Underdark markings, and use them to venture into the Underdark...

Ah, the cycle of life.

It's ridiculously difficult to recruit, retain, and run large sprawling organizations when one cannot advertise, use courts, resort to the law, or do anything normal people do. So we take a look at some of evil's problems recruiting and hiring talent for their evil empires.

#gaming #dungeonsanddragons
No newspaper circulates with evil want-ads in the back. No Quest Givers sit around in taverns trying to get evil to go on evil missions and join Evil Empires.
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Halfway through the tale of the courier, I picked up on the nods to Narconomics (which I picked up on Emily's recommendation).

Irrational actors are going to get quickly bumped off by their rivals (or Murder Hobos looking for XP), leaving just the rational actors. Obviously, "rational" in this sense is in how they respond to the incentives inherent in being part of an evil empire, where all the things outlined in the post are true. (Seriously, read Narconomics, it's great.)
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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Hello friends!

Back to Fantasy!

This week I attached Arrow's Paradox (which is different from Arrow's Impossibility Theorem). It states that Intellectual Property has interesting properties -- unlike a normal product, it cannot be priced unless a buyer completely consumes the IP at which time the buyer possesses it and can simply walk away without paying. And this is born out over and over again on the Internet with any written IP. In fact, you reading this means you're trying to price it and when you get to the end the knowledge transference is complete and you have paid me nothing!

This clearly applies to magic spells. There's no way to know that the magic spell on the scroll is what it says on the tin unless a wizard casts the spell (at which time it is gone) or a neutral 3rd verifies the spell is the spell.

This goes right to patents (PTO is a neutral 3rd government party) and licenses and licensing fees and then to scab spells... and chaos. :)

Fun fun fun!

#gaming #economics #dungeonsanddragons
Spells have a special problem: they’re information. Spells are knowledge which, when learned, perform a specified effect.
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+Stephen John Smoogen Interesting option! Depending on the details, gods can be the ultimate trusted third party, and with means to enforce the rules.

I don't see why the seller can't demonstrate the spell in most cases. It may require a knowledgeable wizard to analyse the spell's action, but it probably can't be reverse-engineered simply by observing it (or the spell economy would be affected in other ways).
However, this would still hold for high-level or exotic spells as well as those with expensive components.
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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My best ideas come from +Fred Hicks who idly throws off something like: what happens when Shadowrunners muck with day trading?

I know a little bit about how HFTs are built - a little more than what is found in books and articles for reasons. Here I run the idea a little further -- quant algorithms, AI, combative trading in datacenters, and then subverting the entire process with 10M of cable.

And then it all turns into a heist and how to steal millions on a trade by doing a "simple" datacenter upgrade. Nothing like adding some lag into the processing to make things exciting.

#shadowrun #gaming
Algorithms become faster, smarter, and more efficient. Nastier. More aggressive.
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This is the best cyberpunk thing I've read in decades. 
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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This actually came from a paper on drivers in India and getting driver's licenses. The system is so incredibly corrupt that 70% of licensed drivers can't actually drive. Which may explain some things.

So we took that thought and went -- what happens when the Adventuring Economy gets pock-marked with corruption and bribery? In the Middle Ages, no government policed the Guilds either -- it pretty much always went like this. The Guilds were incredibly corrupt and to get "in" involved a network of bribes and bribery. Those who made Master were those who bought their way in. Others languished as Journeymen their entire lives hardly being able to even execute the trade for which they belonged.

I extend these thoughts to... dudes identifying things. And what if that guy identifying your sword is actually a Trickster Cleric, or a Warlock, or just some guy with some magic dust pretending to tell you that it really is a sword of +2 Flametongue? How do you know?

#dungeonomics #gaming
For strange reasons mostly associated with the vomiting hellmouth outside town and the theoretical quick riches found therein, the Diviner’s Guild in Drumport kept losing their working Diviners to …
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Not to mention where gratuities are a matter of course and expected.  I keep forgetting to tip the first day or two I'm in the US.  Silly custom.
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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Hey look!  I wrote a thing!

I spend an awful lot of time thinking about availability of information for healthy free market systems.  And quest givers have all the information.  The market really isn't healthy, so I try to figure out a way to retake the market back and let adventurers work with the same sort of power as the quest givers themselves to correct against the systemic principal-agent problem (which this really is).

There are many answers on how to fix this but I'm rolling with neutral evil bards.  Because neutral evil bards are awesome.

#dungeonsanddragons   #gaming  #economics 
It’s unlikely the old man is agenda free. Something is out there. The old man is using the party to kill it. Or feed it.
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Sweetie made very happy noises.... He really loved the ambassador coffee elf.
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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Late posting today. Sorry about that.

I've been wanting to really dig into the excesses of WIC/Dutch East India Company/British East India Company for a while now. I've sort of glanced off it a bit but this is the first time I start talking about company adventurers and company built settlements with no other point that to vomit up company adventurers into the local populance.

So here is the Company, explicitly based on WIC, a new organization I will joyously write about and pick at and use as a new bit of widget in the ever expanding Dungeonomics universe. And we know there will now be Company-based Wars and Company-paid Privateers and Company-based takeovers and the coming fight between the Company Marketing Department and our friends, the Deep Elf Marketing Department. And both financially backed and funded via the Transmuter Bankers.

This was, as always, fun to write!

#dungeonsanddragons #gaming
Out there, lurking in the deepest jungles, are things. Things waiting for the smart and adventurous to come around and pop them into their backpacks. Things customers pay enormous sacks of gold f…
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...and now I've read it, it seems right up my alley. I'm currently dusting off a years-old game idea where the orks/ogres/etc are in fact various native populations, you play members of a native group, and the VOC show up and you have to decide what to do about that. It's called Countercolonial Heistcrawl.
This: Successful Adventurers who Make and/or Skim a Pile of Loot are Unlikely to Keep Returning to Adventure to Gamble with Death
is true but they act as great advertisements for the happy possibilities of gambling if they come home. If they stay in the Outlands running the factories that's OK-ish, as long as they don't get the idea that they outrank  Company Men Newly Sent From The Metropole. If they start dealing with other companies that's terrible, but still not as bad as if they start dealing with the native powers orks, which makes them traitors not only to The Just and Munificent Company but also to the whole enterprise.
.............there are so many games in here, I am constantly surprised that nobody seems to have made a Company game, or that such a thing hasn't become a big player in the gameosphere.
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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Ever wanted to break evil out of a traditional pyramid structure? Want it to spread like a black menace across the land? Want evil hypergrowth?

The franchise model is from some (very) real world examples. While I used generic fantasy, extending branding and independent franchises to evil groups works for vampires, cyberpunk, gritty modern day rp... And orcs.

#gaming #dungeonsanddragons
A household evil name is more than a brand. It’s a stamp of evil quality. Murder Hobos know what they’re getting when they run with that brand.
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Thank you for these. They are inspiring me to work out a multi-cosm game where various 'corporate evil' take over other other cosms.

On a different note. I am trying to figure out how to 'simulate' gold-rush inflation in a game. So the MurderHobos(TM) go deal with the hellmouth and start dumping the loot they have gotten from it into the village that it has in. That of course starts a spiral of inflation and gold-rush type economies.. how does one simulate that to the players though ? [I know there is already a column (or thre?) you did on this but has anyone put together 'rules' for how to present it?
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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One of the most fascinating threads running through cyberpunk is taking a look at once functioning institutions and see how they slowly fall over. These institutions keep twitching uncontrollably like muscle memory but the core social institutions no longer exist.

Here, I take a look at Murder Hobo funding (a perennial favorite topic). I contrast what it is in the fantasy world with essentially no institutions - but also no protection from the depredations of Neutral Evil - against trying to get a professional services contract for hired killers from a purely corporate standpoint. We end up making Shadowrunners get lawyers to negotiate the language around indemnification clauses and then end up as budget lines on Accounts Receivable in some dim corporate office.

The nation-state institutions of courts and laws are gone, but the self-sustaining bureaucracy lumbers on.

#shadowrun #cyberpunk #gaming
Violence makes things messy and inconvenient. Corporations like things neat and convenient. And bureaucratic.
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I did like the implementation of corporate mercenaries in Bob Asprins' Cold Cash War. Especially when some smarty realised that there were no real loses occurring from the wargames and suggested that loses be made actionable. It was all still simulated, but a successful assassination might means you were sent off to manage a corporate warehouse in Yakutsk for the statuatory three years of being "dead."
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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I tried something a little different this week and decided to write about Shadowrun instead of Fantasy/D&D. I have a slight obsession with the physicality of things that we assume have no physical presence - money, data, information, communication.

It's also a problem I'm struggling with in the Big Data realm in real life. I need to move a few petabytes and it's impossible to do in a reasonable time frame so we're discussing putting it on a FedEx truck. Sneakernet has more bandwidth.

That problem is cast into a world of Mad Max and Shadowrun. What happens when you hire Shadowrunners to steal an entire corporation's worth of data instead of one or two files?

Anyway, if we like cyberpunk, I have more where this comes from....

#gaming #shadowrun
It’s impossible to put a dollar value on the worth of a refrigerated semi carrying the data of an entire corporation. One file is valuable, sure. Maybe a few files are valuable. But an entire tru…
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Needing to get their hands on the encryption key for the encrypted data would be a nice added level of difficulty. Possibly a two-part run with one part being black trench coat (steal the key) and the other part pink mohawk (steal truck). 
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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This came from an NPR Planet Money discussing issues with the Columbian drug business - in particular, the issues of dealing with a million dollar business entirely in cash. Where does one put it? Store it? Keep it? One of the DEA agents talked about spending a week and a fleet of U-Hauls emptying out one location of $20s.

A gold coin is ~9g. 9g is not much in the scheme of things. A gold coin is small, convenient, and portable. It takes 50 gold coins -- 50! -- for a 1lb bag. Still not too bad. 500gp is 10lbs. Someone lower Str is going to feel that - try carrying around a couple of textbooks all day. 5000gp is serious weight. 50,000 gp requires moving equipment...

So here we take a look at what one does with too many gold coins to easily carry, move, store, or spend.

#gaming #dungeonsanddragons 
That hoard comes out to roughly 588,000 gold, plus the associated weight of all the other interesting stuff sticking out of it. It’s a huge sum of cash. But there’s an issue.
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Heh! When we played TOEE we found a box of copper pieces under the bed of some bugbears we'd just murdered, decided its weight to value ratio was too low to bother hauling it out, and left it. On our next incursion we found the same box, full of presumably most of the same copper pieces, under the bed of the shiny new hobgoblins we'd just murdered.

So we took that to heart and eventually bought a portable hole. The cash logistics were paranoia making, however, especially when my Magic User/Thief got around to hiring henchlings, ended up with a pack of thieves (and one illusionist), and contemplated the effects of combining a bunch of bored henchlings too squishy to take along with our ever-growing hoard of shinies being meticulously counted by the local Cuthbertites (we'd talked them down to a small cut because we had a paladin of Cuthbert in the party, and they REALLY wanted to destroy the temple.) She found some long and distant side missions to send them on.

She, coff, also embezzled the entire hoard off a dracolisk (it was conveniently turned to stone along with the unfortunate thief who'd tried to steal it and she "lost" the statue convincingly), so ended the campaign with plans to secretly stock a dungeon at just the right power level to give her son more experience. He gets the XP if he doesn't know his mom set it up for him and it was a real challenge, right?
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Emily Dresner-Thornber

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What happens when Gnomes and Murder Hobos re-enact the Iowa Democratic Caucuses? Explosions! Mind control spells! And we will never speak again of the First Live Gnomish Caucus!

Two Easter Eggs:

Tom Dawes is mentioned as the home of a party machine by John Adams in 1763.

Andrew Jackson called the caucus process 'king caucus' in 1824.

#gaming #dungeonsanddragons
The back room gnomes said, have it your way. But, you have to follow our highly confusing rules for the nominating contest which we just made up.
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Work
Occupation
Software Architect
Skills
Python, C++, Ruby, Cloud Computing, Cloud Architecture, MySQL, Agile, SCRUM, Java, Web Application Security, Network Security, Massively Distributed Systems, Big EVERYTHING!, Big Data, System Architecture, Writing, Editing
Employment
  • ZeniMax Online Studio
    Principal Online Architect, 2011 - 2014
  • MerchantLink, LLC
    Software Architect, 2005 - 2011
  • SoftMed LLC
    Software Engineer, 2003 - 2005
  • NFR Security
    Software Engineer, 2001 - 2003
  • Media Station
    Software Engineer, 1998 - 2001
  • Luminal, Inc
    Director of Product Engineering, 2014 - 2015
  • Potomac Innovation
    Director of Engineering, 2016 - present
    Stuff and Things. Perhaps in AWS.
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Currently
Laurel, MD
Previously
Detroit, MI - Germantown, MD - Ann Arbor, MI - Brighton MI
Story
Tagline
Stuff and Things.
Introduction
System architect, computer security nerd, gamer, and knitter from Laurel, MD.  I write code!  I think about things!  I do stuff!
Education
  • University of Michigan
    Computer Engineering, 1990 - 1996
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