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Kiva Maginn
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+Filamena Young, Chrysoula tells me that White Picket Witches is yours. I just finished reading it, and it's one of only two settings in the collection that make me want to drop my gaming plans and play it instead.
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Summary: Do not give money to Snail Games, operators of Age of Wushu. You are throwing that money away.

I've been playing Age of Wushu quite a bit lately. It's Snail Games upcoming martial arts MMO, and while it's not officially launching until April 10th, they've been using their beta program as a soft launch, like many Chinese MMOs do. It's a fun, albeit occasionally tedious, sandbox game with a lot of interesting game systems.

This past Saturday night (March 23), as I was playing, I lost my connection to the game. That's happened once or twice before, and so I immediately logged back in. Moments later I lost my connection again. Frustrating! I logged back in again, and lost connection again. This time as I reconnected I noticed that my inventory had been opened and the contents changed.

I realized I was being hacked, in real time, as I watched.

By the time I was able to log into Snail Games' website and change my password, my character had been stripped of all valuable currency, including the microtransaction currency (which is, unaccountably, possible to trade to another player).

I immediately filed a support ticket and logged off so as not to change the state of my account. This was aggravating but I'd been through this once while playing World of Warcraft, and it would be a simple matter for customer service to roll my account back to just before the hack, recovering my lost currency.

I waited for all of Sunday and Monday. They didn't reply to my support ticket until Tuesday morning. Their response was a form reply which said, in summary: Too bad. This wasn't our fault so we're not going to do anything about it. They told me that I'd probably fallen for a phishing scam, or shared my account information, or downloaded a keylogger. None of those were true, of course.

The end result was that I'd given them $30 USD, received stored-value microtransaction currency for that money, and then lost that currency. My $30 was essentially gone, as surely as if I'd lit it on fire, and the only people capable of recovering it had told me that I was simply out of luck, and that in fact it was my fault for giving them money in the first place.

Let's break down the ways in which this is completely unacceptable.

Snail Games has extraordinarily lax account security. They logged the IP address of the attacker, showing it to me on the login screen, but didn't do anything with that information. They cheerfully allowed a foreign IP address which had never before accessed my account to not only log in, but kick me offline in the process. This is somewhat like a police officer watching a man in a balaclava stroll through your front door with a gun, and giving him a smile and a nod.

They also don't require any sort of verification or authentication of the email you use to register. You can type literally any address into the form during registration and create an account. They don't send you email to confirm the registration. They don't send you email at all, in fact. They have no security questions. The only way they know an account belongs to you is your knowledge of the password.

Snail Games' entire game is built around microtransactions. It's 'free to play', in the sense of 'free' that only applies to a certain kind of online game. You can technically play it for free, just like you can technically cross the United States on foot. Realistically, playing the game requires a minimum of ten dollars a month spent on account features and virtual currency. This distinguishes the game from, for instance, World of Warcraft, where the money you've paid is a flat monthly fee, unconnected to the contents of your account. If you give Snail Games money, that money is directly converted to a stored value currency that can be stolen by a hacker.

You'd think this would require more, not fewer, account security procedures. Snail Games apparently disagrees.

This is 2013. We've endured over a decade of online games struggling for some kind of account security regime that is at least hacker-resistant, if not hacker-proof. Throughout this process there's been one constant: if your customer service can make things right, they do so. In fact, given the inevitability that accounts will be hacked, the ability to restore a hacked character to a prior state, or compensate the affected user, is just as critical as stopping hackers in the first place.

This is especially true in a free-to-play model, where your customer must renegotiate their trust in their relationship with you each time they make a new purchase. You only get one shot at this trusted relationship. If you fail even once, that customer is lost to you forever. Given the small proportion of free-to-play customers who convert to paying customers, you cannot afford to lose even one payer.

Worse yet, if word gets around that your company cannot be trusted, your failure cascades outwards to other potential customers. Who would give money to a company that, as its stated customer service policy, refuses to recompensate or roll back a hacked account? Especially a company with security procedures as lax as I've described, virtually guaranteeing that a hack will eventually happen to even the most carefully guarded account?

(As an aside here: yes, I shouldn't have given them money either. In my defense, I made two assumptions: first, that the logged IP displayed on the login screen meant that they were using the IP address as part of a security scheme; second, that their customer service policy was a modern, sane one that involved recompensating paying customers victimized by hacks.)

Unfortunately, it's very unlikely that any of these observations will make an impact on Snail Games (though I'd like to believe that if this is shared widely enough, they might make an official response). The game's US release is very clearly an afterthought for Snail, as their slipshod localization efforts and miniscule customer support staff demonstrates. If potential players don't trust them (and they shouldn't!) and the game therefore fails to reach an audience, Snail will simply write the game off. Their core market is, and always has been, in China, with a completely different support infrastructure.

So all I can really hope to accomplish is to warn you off. Do not give your money to Snail Games. It is not safe with them. Inevitably you will be hacked and lose your investment. When this happens, regardless of how valuable a customer you've been, Snail will not help you recover your loss.
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Ok, I've now been running +13th Age for a while, and there's a thing I realized after Friday's game.

I've been winging it on encounter creation. I just kind of slap some stats together according to the guidelines, toss a couple of interesting-sounding powers onto each enemy, and run with it.

Every single fight has been well-balanced. Every one. Normally I am the cheating-est GM, manipulating die rolls behind the scenes to make the fights more or less dangerous to create the appropriate level of drama. But I'm running this in Hangouts, using the Roll20 app, so all my die rolls are out in public.

And I haven't needed to manipulate the dice. Haven't even been tempted. The players get their asses kicked, they go down, they make death saves, they pull out some kind of desperate last-ditch effort and win.

This is the game doing this, not me. Shit, I wouldn't even know where to begin balancing an encounter. I just build stories and hope for the best.

Goddamn this is a fun game to GM.
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I need an astrophysics geek to tell me how far, in km, the L1 and L2 points for the Mars-Sun system are from Mars.

It's complicated.
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I realized this post had fallen out of the active forums at SA, and wanted to preserve it for posterity, particularly given recent political events.

Who is Ayn Rand?

Alice Rosenbaum, immigrated from Russia to America, worked as a screenwriter for a while, then had her breakout success with her novel 'The Fountainhead'. She followed this with another novel, 'Atlas Shrugged', and founded a media/education empire dedicated to spreading the word about her philosophical system, Objectivism.

Why is Objectivism relevant?

The Tea Partiers and their occasional bedfellows, libertarians, claim Rand as the source of a lot of their intellectual ammunition. They don't seem to have a really clear grasp of what her ideas actually entailed, but then again, neither do most of Rand's detractors, so they're at least in plenty of company.

Because of this, the ill-informed Rand disciples and ill-informed Rand detractors are usually talking past one another. When one person says 'I heard she was a fascist!' and another says 'I heard she supported Traditional American Values!' and they're both completely dead wrong, the conversation is essentially valueless. You can't convince a Tea Partier to give up Rand if you don't know anything about Rand.

What the fuck do I know?

My school didn't offer minors, so I couldn't actually minor in Philosophy, but I took a shit-ton of philosophy classes. I did this because I was a hard-line Objectivist, a True Believer in Rand, Branden and the Holy Galt, and I wanted intellectual ammunition with which to attack all those Other, Wrong Philosophies. I was insufferable. Once I'd gotten away from the pampered bullshit world of college, my hard-line Objectivism gave way to a laid-back libertarianism, and ultimately I had a long, hard look at what I really believed in and discovered that I was a socialist (in the pathetic, non-radical Chomsky kind of way).

So when I see people bash Rand, I mostly spend a lot of time thinking 'you're doing it wrong.' Her ideas are poison, but the most common criticisms leveled at her are completely incorrect. When I was an Objectivist, it was really, really easy to ignore critical comments from the left, because nearly every single leftist I argued with had clearly never read Rand, and had only a kind of pop-culture mass-media level of understanding of her ideas.

What is this post about?

I'm going to try to outline the major ideas of Objectivism. I'm not going to quote passages if I can help it, because that's dull and also I don't really feel like plowing back through hundreds of pages of her tortured prose. I'm also not promising that what I say would pass muster at a Leonard Peikoff lecture, or would be agreeable to the people who run the Ayn Rand Institute. I'm not current on their output, because I haven't really paid much attention to Objectivism for almost ten years. I also haven't done formal logic or serious academic writing since I left college 15 years ago, so if you're looking for rigor instead of casual information, you should go read 'Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology' instead of this post.

I'm not going to focus much on the details of her conclusions on specific issues, because they're often arbitrary and built of absurd rationalizations. I'm also not going to talk much about her rape fetish, because it's inconsistent with the rest of her ideas, as well as so obviously wrong and evil as to need no real explanation.

Why bother with this at all?

Because I'm tired of seeing posts that derail into incredulous discussions of Rand, especially when those discussions read like 10-year-olds talking about sex -- mostly myth and oral tradition mixed with one guy who read a book one time.

The Ground Rules of Objectivism

These are the basic principles that she assumes to be true. If you disagree with these principles, you're going to have little common ground to discuss her ideas with a Believer. That doesn't make them true, of course, but you may want to exit here if you disagree with them.

1. Reality exists. Rand believed that the world as we perceive it is pretty much what it is. Sensory data is, by and large, trustworthy, and reports on an external state that is the same for every person experiencing it. This is where 'Objectivism' comes from, partially: there is an objective reality that is independent of the observer. You've probably seen this formulated as 'A is A'.

A corollary of this principle is that 'truth' and 'falsehood' are absolutes. A statement either conforms to the real, objective reality, or it does not. Rand hated the phrase 'true for me'.

2. Humans are rational animals. Rand extended her idea of objective external reality to objective internal reality, and generalized that to all people. So we're all conscious beings, and our internal states are just as real as the external world we all share. As well, though you can't perceive another person's thoughts and emotions, you can assume they have them, because you have them.

'Reason' and 'rationality' is something that comes up frequently in her writing. When she talks about 'reason' she means something specific: the application of Aristotelian logic to observed reality. She calls observed reality 'concretes' and ephemeral ideas 'abstracts'. Proper application of reason allows the construction of abstracts from concretes, which then have the same truth status as concretes themselves. There's a lot of stuff under the covers of the word 'proper', there, but you can assume she meant a strict algorithm by which it's possible to infalliably build mental 'objects' with the same reality as physical, observable objects.

Rational Animals

'Man is a rational animal'. There are two assertions here, and if you're not objecting to the ground rules, above, this is probably where Rand will lose you.

First, 'Man is an animal'. Rand asserts that animals are driven to fulfill their purpose, survival, and they do so with the tools they have available. For almost all animals, these tools are physical capacity and instinct. A shark uses its speed and aggression to kill other animals and survive. Sharks might do other things that aren't killing other animals to survive, but when Rand talks about a shark in its role as a shark, as opposed to any other role it might be fulfilling, she's talking about speed, aggression, and killing. She'll often use 'qua' for this form, if she felt like being explicit: 'a shark qua shark', meaning 'a shark, fulfilling its purpose as a fast aggressive animal-eating survival machine'.

So what she means when she says that 'man is an animal' is that humans are also driven to survive, using their available tools. Humans might do other things aside from try to survive, but when they're using their tools for survival to try and survive, they're acting as 'man qua man' (a particular construction you'll see all over Rand's work). When she says 'man qua man', she means 'humans as rational beings using the power of their intellects to survive.' We'll talk about 'values' in a moment.

Second, 'Man is rational.' She asserts that there's only one real tool that humans have for survival: reason. And remember that by reason, she means the ability to use Aristotelian logic to build abstract concepts and arrive at abstract conclusions from concrete sensory data. Animals use instinct; humans use reason.

There are a lot of other concepts she's introducing when she says 'reason', including language, memory and transmitted knowledge, emotional states, and so forth. Getting at the core of what she means when she says 'reason is man's only tool for survival' is probably beyond the scope of this post. All of them, though, derive from humanity's unique ability to build abstractions and then treat those abstractions as though they were concretes. We don't know that the rumbling sound down-river means a waterfall and a drop from a deadly height, but we can logically deduce that the waterfall exists, and act as though it was something we'd actually perceived.

Rand believes these things are axiomatic, and that any disagreement with them is counterfactual nonsense.

Values

So, we've talked about survival. Survival provides the foundational value of Objectivism. Living organisms value that which allows them to survive. Sharks, from our earlier example, 'value' tasty fish and seals. Humans, however, are a special case, because humans don't have instinct to provide them with inherent values. Humans have to acquire their values, beyond the range-of-the-moment needs for food. And humans also have to decide to pursue their values, or ignore them. This is Rand's basic formulation of free will: that humans, uniquely, can decide to survive, or not survive, as they see fit.

There's a diference, though, and it's a really important one to understanding how this fits together, between 'survival' in the sense you might normally think of it, and 'survival' in the sense that it's meant here. She's not talking about simply eating food and getting sleep. She means the whole enterprise of pursuing values using reason. If you're just eating food and shitting and sleeping, you're not really acting as a human. You're doing the 'animal' part of 'rational animal'.

So, for humans, the thing you're trying to do is survive using your reason. You might be able to survive in some other way, and you might be able to use your reason in ways that are counter to your survival, but when you bring them both together, using reason to survive, you're being virtuous. Virtue is kind of a nebulous term here, so let's just say that 'good' or 'virtuous' behavior is behavior in which you're using reason as your tool to survive.

There's a secondary assertion here which is maybe more tenuous, but which Rand steals straight from Aristotle, so I'll toss it out there: Happiness is what happens when a rational being acts according to his rational nature. In other words, if you're good, you'll be happy, and if you're happy, it's because you're being good. Happiness becomes a quick shorthand for 'engaged in virtuous behavior'. It's kind of an empty assertion, ultimately, because she's very quick to discount anything that doesn't fit this model as 'not real happiness'. She uses the term 'purpose' to describe a person acting according to his rational nature. Your 'purpose' is the productive, value-creating thing you do (or could do).

To digress a bit about purpose: it's self-evident that different people have different purposes. Someone who's a great chef, and loves to cook, has a different purpose (cooking) than someone who's a skilled engineer, who loves to write code (coding). It then follows that, in the service of each of their distinct purposes, they'll value different things. Ultimately everyone's purpose derives from the same root, and everyone's values derive from the ultimate value implied by that root. But as people are different from each other, people's purposes and values are also different from each other. (We're going to use that concept in a moment.)

We're about to make the jump to selfishness and capitalism, but let me try to summarize really quickly: Humans are rational animals. Animals hold personal survival as their highest value. Reason is a human's only tool for survival. Thus the exercise of reason is virtuous, and in fact defines 'virtue' for a human. You are 'good' insofar as you consciously use your reason to pursue your purpose and values, the ultimate source of which is the ultimate value for everyone: personal survival.

Other People

Rand doesn't distinguish between 'good for me' and 'good for you' (remember she hates 'true for me' and believes that reality is objective, not subjective; if an action is 'good' it has to be universally good for all humans, not just the actor). So in this sense she's kind of Kantian; humans are inherently valuable, whether you're speaking of yourself or another human, and regardless of whether you're the actor or the other human is the actor. (This is also the first place where you may have a totally incorrect idea about Rand's philosophy. Lots of people seem to think that she's advocating for some kind of Nietzchean superman who rules over the weak, and think that 'fuck you, got mine' is encoded into her ideas. It's the opposite: she asserts the unique, inherent value of each human being in pretty much the same terms as Kant.)

This means that 'good' encompasses not only me using my reason to pursue my values, but each person doing so. If I say 'fuck reason, I'm gonna smoke weed', that's evil, but if I stop you from using your reason to pursue your values, that's evil, too. This is once again the 'objective reality' thing: if something is good, it's good absolutely, not good for you. If something is evil, it's evil for everyone.

However, only you can live your life. This follows from 'life' being basically a mental operation; you do your own thinking, so you live your own life. If you choose not to think, nobody can make you think. Because each person can only live their own life, it follows that each person should do so. She called this 'selfishness'. When she said 'you should be selfish,' she meant 'you should go out and live your own life, and only your own life, doing your own thinking, and seeking to attain your own values and achieve your own happiness.'

Trade

Even in a pre-agricultural society, some people are going to be good at hunting, and others at spear making. They'll have different purposes, and thus different values. I'm a great tanner, and you are a great hunter. I need some meat, and you need to get some hides tanned. We compare values: I will make my skill at tanning available to you, in exchange for your skill at hunting.

Rand says that trade of this form, where people reach an agreement in which each person gains more value than he loses in the trade, is the only ethical way for two people to interact. In fact, you can use an example like this to model almost every human interaction, from a mother nursing a child to a corporate merger. (Your mileage may vary as to how accurate you think the model is in each of those situations, of course.)

Other kinds of interactions -- ones which don't involve rational people making rational, equitable decisions about their exchange of value -- are bad, and probably unethical. They're characterized by one party getting what he thinks is a bad deal, either because he was duped, or because he was not free to decline the deal. Rand identifies these two ways in which an interaction can be unethical as 'fraud' and 'force', and they're pretty much the foundational definition of evil in Objectivism.

Politics

This brings us, finally, to the real world. Rand believed that the free exchange of goods and services, so that each participant is able to determine for himself whether the exchange was fair and beneficial to him and act accordingly, was the only ethical means of organizing a society. She called this 'laissez-faire capitalism', though it's important to point out that Rand steadfastly refused to read anything by any other author, so she probably had no idea what anyone else thought 'capitalism' meant.

Any person attempting to bring force or fraud into a mutually beneficial exchange is evil. This means individuals -- a mugger, for instance, using a gun, or a con artist using a ruse -- but also means organizations, and particularly government. So let's talk about Rand's view of the government.

She believed the government had only one purpose: to prevent the use of force and fraud in human interactions, by holding an absolute monopoly on the use of force. In practice, this means a proper government consists of three functions: the courts, to enforce contracts; the police, to prevent and punish the use of force; and the military, to protect the nation from the use of force by other nations. Every other possible function of the government is either directly evil -- customs and border control, for instance -- or indirectly evil, in that it interferes with free and fair exchanges between people. Note that 'interference' can be pretty indirect, and the easiest rubric to use is 'are there taxes involved?' We'll talk about taxes shortly.

I'll get more specific about some government functions and her take on them in a moment, but let's position Rand relative to her closest neighbors, conservatives and anarchists. She detested both groups (though she hated conservatives worse). Conservatives advocate limited government, but they do so with no underlying philosophical argument -- 'how things used to be' is the only explanation they offer. Anarchists, on the other hand, believe that even just the police, courts and military are Too Much Government. Because of the special place in her pantheon of evil that 'force' holds, Rand was contemptuous of the idea of private military forces and private police forces, suggesting that the right word for such a thing was 'gang'.

Rights

Briefly: Rand argued that the only real rights were negative rights -- a right to be free from something. She argued that rights came from inherent properties of a person. A person must think to survive, so they must therefore have the right to think. A person must be able to exchange with other people, whether ideas, money, goods, services, or bodily fluids; therefore people must have the right to travel, freely assemble, and exchange. And so forth, and so on. She absolutely did not believe in positive rights, because they could not be self contained within the nature of one person. It's not possible, for instance, to have a 'right' to shelter, if there's no-one to provide that shelter. And even if there is someone to provide it, your 'right' cannot, by definition, violate someone else's rights, and if I'm compelled, directly or indirectly, to provide you with shelter, I'm having my rights violated.

Specific Issues

Ok, let's talk about what Rand believed about specific issues. I want to make a point here that's important for understanding her belief system, and why it's so utterly incompatible with the Tea Partiers. Rand did not ever argue from outcomes. She believed, of course, that capitalism would lead to the best possible outcome, but that's not why she was a capitalist. It followed logically from her premises (or, at least, she believed it did) and thus regardless of outcome must be correct.

So when I say 'Rand believed X', keep in mind that these were beliefs she held as a result of the underlying philosophical structure she'd built. Whether the particular belief led to a desirable outcome or not was irrelevant. As well, the beliefs she held were always considered in the context of an individual. She didn't think about 'society', and in fact considered that absurd, because ethical considerations are relevant only to people, and there's no such person as 'society'. All her arguments were in the context of an ideal individual actor.

So, about taxes.
Taxes are theft. I own my mind, and all its products. If you want what I've got -- my thought or the product of my thought -- you have to exchange with me, and I have to be able to say 'no' and choose not to trade. The government uses force to compel me into the exchange. Even though I might benefit from the taxes, remember that outcomes don't matter. If I don't pay taxes, I go to jail; if I don't go to jail, I get shot. So ultimately taxes are collected, in one of Rand's favorite phrases, 'at the point of a gun.'

So she was an atheist, right?
Rand was an absolute atheist, with no room whatsoever for compromise with religion. This wasn't a consequence of her philosophy, it was a source of her philosophy. The only things that exist are actual observable reality, and those things that can be arrived at through deductive and inductive logic. God is not one of those things. As for organized religious practice, it fell firmly into the 'fraud' side of 'fraud and force'. In short, modern conservative Christians who claim to be adherents of her philosophy are ignorant, insane, or both.

Did she hate The Negroes?
Racism falls into a special category that Rand talks about constantly: 'collectivism'. Loosely, it's the sin of treating a group of individuals as a single entity. Collectivism was the catch-all category for pretty much every political and economic ideology that Rand opposed. Racism was particularly offensive to her because she thought treating a group of people as a single entity based on something like place of residence or chosen ideology ('the people of New York', 'the Democratic Party') was awful, but at least involved categorization based on something chosen. Collectivism based on skin color or ethnicity was, in her view, the lowest and most absurd form of collectivism. Note that this didn't mean she wasn't a racist herself, though there's no direct evidence that she was; she advocated the modern Republican talking point of 'color blindness', with all the flaws implied by that.

Did she believe weird things about women?
She had a rape fetish. It pretty much dictated her ideas about gender. So they're all useless and can be ignored without further discussion.

People always call her a 'fascist'. Is she?
Or, 'why does Glen Beck think fascism and communism are the same thing?' Rand didn't have any interest in subtleties. In her view, if the state -- whether that state was a fascist or communist state -- could demand property, service, or lives from its people, it was an evil state. Her term for both fascism and communism was 'statism'. Again, remember that outcomes don't matter, only principles: it doesn't matter who the beneficiary of the state was, or was intended to be. All that matters is the individual will have to give up property or life to the state.

Of course, this doesn't mean fascism couldn't be an outcome of an Objectivist state, just in the way that Stalinism could be an outcome of a Marxist state. How likely it is, relative to any other outcome, is left as an exercise for the reader.

What about the poor?
Poverty is temporary. Rand aggressively discounted the idea of 'class'. In a free and fair market, only merit determines wealth and success. If you are good, you will get rich. If you are not good, you will get as rich as you can given your abilities. Long-term poverty is a result of an idea we talked about briefly above: that you have free will and can decide to survive or not. So if you're poor, and you've been poor a long time, it's because you're choosing not to use your reason to pursue survival.

But what about the mentally ill, handicapped, etc?
Rand liked to talk about 'lifeboat ethics'. In lifeboat ethics, you have to throw someone overboard in a lifeboat if you're all to survive. What do you do, and how do you decide what to do? She considered this useless, because for the vast majority of all cases, you're not in a lifeboat, nor are you in any other immediate danger or crisis. You shouldn't, in her view, develop a system of ethics based on special cases and crises. So if you know an actual mentally ill person, and you want to help them, no Objectivist will stop you -- but that person's existence doesn't obligate you or anyone else to provide help. Not satisfied with that answer? That's basically all you get.

Did she Love America?
Rand was a big fan of America as envisioned by the original authors of the Constitution. She believed the awesomeness of America peaked in the late 1800s, and it had been in decline ever since. There are two important caveats to that, though. First, she wasn't a conservative, in the sense of 'traditionalist'. She thought 'tradition' was a terrible metric to use in evaluating ideas. Something old wasn't necessarily better than something new. Second, she thought that literally everything wrong with America was a direct consequence of slavery, and its enshrinement in the Constitution.

Did she Love Are Troops?
Not really. She believed the military should be strictly defensive, and entirely volunteer. The draft horrified her as a kind of ultimate expression of what's wrong with statism: that the state could just take your life away from you for no reason other than it wanted to.

Was she Pro-Choice?
Yes, and very much so. She took a definitional view: a human is an independent entity. A fetus that cannot survive outside the womb isn't independent, and therefore isn't a human, but rather a potential human. And, before it's a human, it's basically a parasite in a woman's body, that she can do with as she chooses.

What about censorship?
Look at the list of three legitimate things the government is allowed in Objectivism. If it's not clearly one of those three things, she was against the government doing it.

Hey did you see that comic where she--
Yes.

Why are all Objectivists such utter shits?
Because they're trying to live their lives according to a nearly impossible ideal. They're constantly evaluating themselves and everyone else they interact with for signs of 'irrationality'. They're usually repressing their emotions as 'not rational', even when they are. Rand also thought compromise was evil, and so they're all going through life refusing to compromise on anything, ever. And because it's nearly impossible to remember why Rand believed all this stuff, they're also constantly re-reading Rand so they can quote her at need.

So you're a socialist now? How did that happen? What changed your mind?
Ok, roll way back up to the top of this post. I mentioned that 'reason is man's only tool for survival'. That's where I ended up disagreeing. (In short, I think 'other humans' are humanity's tools for survival. Reason is nice to have, but we're more tribal monkeys than anything else, and our communities are our real tools.)

It's a deep, foundational disagreement, so almost everything else in Objectivism kind of becomes pointless afterwards. I still basically believe the two items under 'Ground Rules', but just about everything else I think is kind of bullshit. 

There are, of course, lots and lots of other things you can identify as wrong in her work. Feel free to do so. There's a reasonable chance that anything you find, some smarty-pants Objectivist has already thought of and argued against (though their counterarguments are often pretty weak, as anything Rand didn't herself say is automatically suspect; she didn't really like people doing original work based on her ideas).

Was she really crazy?
She was addicted to amphetamines for the latter half of her life, and she had a severe falling out (over sex) with her primary disciple. So she saw enemies absolutely everywhere. She wasn't crazy so much as profoundly paranoid, especially when her work didn't provoke the kind of awe-struck reaction from the world that she'd been hoping for.

I want to read more about this stuff. Where should I go?
The wikipedia article is actually surprisingly comprehensive, and doesn't have a lot of crufty argument in it. If you want to read her actual words, try the title essay from 'The Virtue of Selfishness'. If you want to read more about her crazy-ass life, read 'Judgement Day' by Nathaniel Branden (it's a good read regardless of whether you agree with Rand or not). If you want to read her fiction, you're probably best off reading Anthem, which is short and sci-fi, or just reading the 50-page speech from Atlas Shrugged, ignoring the rest of the book.
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Couple of other things from 13th Age that were notable:

Wizard feat, 'Vance’s Polysyllabic Verbalizations'. Give all your daily spells hilarious Vancian names. They take longer to cast, but do Extra Stuff. The stuff is basically up to you and the GM to work out. And it can be different every time you use it. And you can have multiple names for the same spell.

There are no minions, 4e style. Instead there are mooks. Mooks have fewer hp, but more importantly, they're damaged as a group. So 10 kobolds with 7hp each are damaged as a single 70-point pool. If you do 12 damage to a kobold, you kill it and put 5 more damage on the group. If you then do 10 more damage, you kill the next kobold, and the one standing next to him.

There are three defenses: AC, Physical Defense, and Mental Defense. For each one there's an ability modifier, but instead of it being always 'dex for AC, con for PD, wis for MD', each defense has a set of three scores associated with it. You use the score in the middle.

You can only really use a number of magic items equal to your level; more than that, and Weird Stuff starts to happen. Also, magic items slot into 'chakras' so that you can't carry around two different magic swords and swap between them whenever you like. They're sort of... tied to you, on a deep level, and ditching one to replace it is a Big Deal. (Magic items also can't normally be purchased or crafted. They're Rare and Strange and Setting-Relevant.)

Icons are a big deal. Big enough that I don't think I can really explain them in a way that does the idea justice. The quick summary: there are Really Important People in the setting, and you are connected to them in story-relevant and possibly mechanically-relevant ways. There is a Lich King. You maybe used to be his right-hand man. 
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Ok, these are in no particular order; they're just things that jumped out at me as I was reading the PDF.

Fighter powers use a system called 'Flexible Attacks'. This system is goddamn genius. You make your attack roll against your target. After the roll, you can then choose one of your powers to apply. They have requirements based on the natural die roll, so '16+' or 'any even hit' or 'any even miss'. So you make the roll and then you can spend an applicable power, if you want. That's pretty much 100% of my objection to powers-as-resource and to-hit rolls gone, right there.

There are no skills. Instead, you spend 8 points (more or less) on Backgrounds, which are descriptive statements about your character. Like 'Veteran of the Eastern War' or 'Raised by Wolves'. When you go to do something skill-like, if you can explain how your background applies ('This is just like when we had to escape the Lich King's forces after the Battle of Foobar!') you add it to your roll. That roll is: d20 + ability + level. That's it. And your backgrounds only increase if you spend a feat on adding to them; otherwise your progression is just 1 per level for everything you do.

An idea that's more philosophy than hard-and-fast rule is 'Fail Forward'. Basically, you don't ever fail a skill check. If you roll a failure, you still succeed, but there are complications. So you fail a climb roll, but you don't fall off the cliff or just sit there, stuck; instead you dislodge a rock that crashes into the den of an angry cave bear. You fail a persuade roll, but the guard still lets you inside; he just also immediately alerts his sergeant that he's not sure those caterers are really who they claim they are.

Weapon damage and armor class are embedded in the classes, rather than the items. Rogues wear light armor and use daggers because that's more effective for them than heavy armor and greatswords. You can basically choose your equipment based on the flavor you want for your character. And if you absolutely must be a wizard in plate mail, you can; it just doesn't do you a lot of good.

Attack rolls are dirt simple: d20 + level + the ability score your class uses for attacks.

There is no xp. This is one of the more important house rules I used for my 3e game, it's one of the reasons I like FATE, and I'm very happy to see it here. Your characters level up when the GM says, 'Hey, that was the end of that plot arc. Have levels, everyone!'
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So far, almost every page of the +13th Age preorder PDF has had at least one truly awesome idea on it.

Later I will nerd-spasm about these awesome ideas, when I've had time to finish reading and digesting.
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When you read the 1e DMG, you can't escape Gygax's extraordinary focus on loot, loot and more loot. Loot is why adventurers go adventuring. Loot is what they're hoping to get out of their trips into danger. Loot is the alpha and omega, the prime mover of the kind of fantasy stories Gygax loved.

One of the underappreciated ideas from early D&D is the 'gold piece equals experience point' rule. You steal a thousand gold pieces from the orcs? You get a thousand experience, once you get that gold out of the dungeon, regardless of what you then do with it. Spend it, invest it, give it to charity, use it to line your underwear with rubies, it doesn't matter. It converts to experience when it's taken out of danger and into safety.

This was a very contentious rule from very early on -- Gygax even addresses the controversy in the actual text explaining the rule in the DMG. From his perspective, it's an abstraction that represents fighters training, mages studying, and so forth; what he doesn't say, but is strongly implied by the way he talks about treasure elsewhere, is that all that is just handwaving for the real reason the party is trying to get their hands on loot: Because that's what Conan, Fafhrd, and the Gray Mouser did.

The rule had an interesting consequence: for lair encounters, 75% or more of the value of the encounter was in its loot. Wandering, or non-lair, encounters had little or no value because the loot wasn't on the monsters themselves. You might get a handful of copper off the orcs, but the real payoff was finding their camp and hauling off their chest of silver pieces. Players were therefore given strong incentive to avoid fighting monsters on their way to get loot.

It's moderately common in Conan stories for him to sneak into a guarded lair to steal something, and then sneak back out. This is behavior that makes perfect sense in the world of loot-as-experience; why risk his life in a fight where he might get stabbed, when he can avoid all the risk and still get the treasure?

In game terms, we might offer that the loot is its own reward, that Conan wants to get rich. But he clearly doesn't -- he's lost as many fortunes as he's gained, he's given up cushy court positions for the chance to steal a single valuable item, he's thrown treasure away to save a woman's life. The gold piece itself is insufficient reward for obtaining a gold piece. The experience reward attaches game mechanical rewards to Conan's behavior. He wants loot for the sake of acquiring it, and once he has it, it's irrelevant to him. He drinks and wenches for a week or a month, ends up robbed of everything by a pretty girl while passed out, and sets off once more on adventure.

Later editions of D&D shuffled that particular mechanic quietly offstage, because it was apparently nonsensical, and couldn't really be justified in terms of the world's fiction. Instead, experience came from killing monsters. That makes sense -- your character becomes better able to kill stuff by killing stuff, right? The gp=xp rule became a point of mockery to be trotted out by sneering oWoD players in their arguments for why D&D was an absurd game played only by the shallow and stupid.

I assert that this was the moment when D&D stopped being about anything other than combat.

Why would you sneak past the guards, when the guards are delicious bags of xp waiting to be popped? Why would you negotiate with the bandits when you can murder them all instead, for more xp? And once we've established that we're going to kill literally every enemy we meet, we demand that the mechanics that drive that killing be sophisticated and interesting. It then becomes self-reinforcing; the fighting is the most important thing, so it gets the most mechanics, which ensures we want to do more of it to use those mechanics.

As this migration away from loot as a motivator progressed, smart games were looking for other ways to reward players. If your game is an epic story about saving the world, rewards tied to killing are pretty nonsensical. Instead you get rewards for accomplishments -- points for completing arcs of the story, for major story milestones. You save the world, you get this many xp. You stop the invasion, this many xp.

Games based on D&D started doing this, too; both NWN and Baldur's Gate put big fat experience rewards on quest completion, so much so that the rewards for enemy-killing seem almost an afterthought. Which, of course, they really are at that point.

But now we're really far astray from Conan and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The modern fantasy game is more suited to playing Aragorn, and Conan makes very little sense in that world. What do you say about a guy who could care less about saving the world, and becomes motivated to intervene only when he decides to rescue the pretty girl, or steal the legendary gem?

The Dresden flavor of Fate has the idea of 'milestones', where you get different types of advancement based on your progression through a story. If you discover the first part of the villain's plan, you get a minor milestone. Foil the plan and send the villain packing, you get a significant milestone. Defeat the overarching conspiracy behind all the various villain plots, get a major milestone. Each type of milestone gives you more ways to improve and tweak your character. You're playing to get those milestones, because they represent both your progress through the story and its setting, and your out-of-character desire for advancement.

So I thought, what if I made a game where milestones were tied to loot? Not just any loot, not just some handful of gold pieces, but amazing or legendary pieces of treasure?

So, say you hear rumors of a legendary sword once wielded by Koros the War God. If you get it, that's a major milestone. You also hear about the Seven Jewels of Navar, which were lost, which can be put into the Golden Diadem of the Emperor, also lost. Each Jewel is a significant milestone; the Diadem is a major milestone, if you assemble it.

At the smaller scale, stealing a merchant's favorite horse or carrying off the baron's jeweled signet might be minor milestones you tackle along the way, or as unconnected interludes to break up the tension of the main story.

For a different system, one might even construct a 'menu' of options: here's a list of all the rumored treasures and villains you've heard of, and here's how many xp you'll get for going after each of them.

I'm not necessarily saying that Conan-style gameplay is the right way to play; I just think it's a bit of a shame that we've lost that particular style of fantasy in favor of all-epic-save-the-world stories, all the time. There's something to be said for the 'fuck you, gimme those gems' mode of interacting with a fantasy world.
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Here, I made one of my own. Feel free to re-share.
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