Author Topic: Need help collapsing a D&D empire  (Read 8427 times)

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bihlbo

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Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« on: September 17, 2011, 05:17:35 AM »
My gaming group is going to be playing a game using Pathfinder, but my intent is to use the setting to illustrate how PF's crunchy bits, when taken to an extreme, can cause an empire to fall apart.

In the setting, long ago casters were a very rare breed and magic was more limited. The mundanes of the world were the only ones who mattered, and your clerics and wizards didn't survive without patronage by people with political and military might. One of your little city-states had good luck with their cloistered mages giving them battlefield advantages, so they got more folk trained to do the same. They start taking over everything and building up more magical might. All these efforts eventually lead to the magic of the world being used exactly as you see it used in Pathfinder (no longer limited, rare, and weak).

A century or two later the Empire has conquered or absorbed all neighbors and spread out over a huge area. Virtually no one has to worry anymore about crazy dangers like rampaging manticores, orcs, dragons, unhinged necromancers, or plagues. Lots of problems are solved by magic, and the empire is full of plenty of high-level spellcasters to get things done.

The question and thing with which I need help is this:
In what way is the magic system in Pathfinder the sole cause of the Empire's collapse?


Only read the following if you're especially curious.
Not that it affects the question, but my intent is to play a few game sessions in this setting to illustrate the decay of the Empire. They players will realize or later discover through investigation that if the classes, spells, and system in Pathfinder had not been used, the Empire certainly would not have fallen the way it did. Then, we're going to fast-forward a very long time and use a different system (one with different strengths and weaknesses) in the same setting. References to things like summoned iron walls and planar binding will pop up from time to time as elements of a past civilization whose learning and advances were lost to the sands of time. Sort of like the idea that the Atlanteans had gravity-control technology that we can't reproduce today. Think of it like playing a few game sessions using Exalted, then zooming forward in time and using Vampire, claiming that it's the same setting.
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bihlbo

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2011, 05:33:13 AM »
Ideas that don't work, and why

Invading Monsters - This has no tie to D&D magic. Call the monsters dragons, ghouls, fey, or Mongols and the story plays out the same way.

Casters Just Leave - While it doesn't make sense that your level 14 wizard or druid would stick around the prime material plane when there's a non-finite array of planes that are more exciting and easier to control, this concept relies on the cosmology of D&D more than the system of classes and magic it uses. If the conclusion is "If only they had closed off access to the planes this never would have happened" then it doesn't accomplish the goal.

Casters just like, totally fight a lot - This is a very likely scenario, but only because we attribute human characteristics to humanoid characters in our RPGs. Yeah, they're totally going to fight, because we expect people with even a little bit of power to be total jerks most of the time. But, this scenario attributes the collapse of the Empire to the personalities and moral failings of the casters of the Empire, not on the system the casters use.

Metagame Reasons - While the DMG lays out a scenario in which it can take a crap-covered farmer a whole summer to become a level 20 druid, that's only because of the way XP and game session/encounter pacing works. The people of the world aren't cognizant of "experience points", but they totally know that last month some wizards learned they could gain access to unlimited, free wishes and "holy crap, that tower made of human flesh that appeared last night sure is disturbing." Also, "Someone should do something about it... too bad I'm a monk and completely irrelevant in this crazy new world."
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Solo

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2011, 07:15:28 AM »
Quote
In what way is the magic system in Pathfinder the sole cause of the Empire's collapse?
Save or die spells?

"I am the Black Mage! I cast the spells that makes the peoples fall down!"

The Legend RPG, which I worked on and encourage you to read.

bihlbo

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2011, 07:51:15 AM »
Quote
In what way is the magic system in Pathfinder the sole cause of the Empire's collapse?
Save or die spells?
Haha. You're just trolling, right?  :clap
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veekie

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2011, 10:25:19 PM »
I can't actually think of any way a PF magic system would break an empire any more than regular 3.5 magic system. Its all down the people in the end.

However, you can work with the crafting system. Crafters can make a lot of items with hidden defects for lack of skill, and the cursed aspect isn't obvious. Crafting also no longer takes XP, so you can have a right full industry.
The mind transcends the body.
It's also a little cold because of that.
Please get it a blanket.

I wish I could read your mind,
I can barely read mine.

"Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. At 2:15, it begins rolling up characters."

[spoiler]
"Just what do you think the moon up in the sky is? Everyone sees that big, round shiny thing and thinks there must be something round up there, right? That's just silly. The truth is much more awesome than that. You can almost never see the real Moon, and its appearance is death to humans. You can only see the Moon when it's reflected in things. And the things it reflects in, like water or glass, can all be broken, right? Since the moon you see in the sky is just being reflected in the heavens, if you tear open the heavens it's easy to break it~"
-Ibuki Suika, on overkill

To sumbolaion diakoneto moi, basilisk ouranionon.
Epigenentheto, apoleia keraune hos timeis pteirei.
Hekatonkatis kai khiliakis astrapsato.
Khiliarkhou Astrape!
[/spoiler]

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oslecamo

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2011, 02:39:25 AM »
I can't actually think of any way a PF magic system would break an empire any more than regular 3.5 magic system. Its all down the people in the end.

However, you can work with the crafting system. Crafters can make a lot of items with hidden defects for lack of skill, and the cursed aspect isn't obvious. Crafting also no longer takes XP, so you can have a right full industry.

Screw industry, you can have a right full cyborg revolution with PFs rules for easily making animated objects with brains. Get them building others of their kind whitout rest and you have empires colapasing under mecha armies!

bihlbo

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2011, 03:56:51 AM »
I can't actually think of any way a PF magic system would break an empire any more than regular 3.5 magic system.
This is true enough that I haven't been quibbling between the two when researching stuff. When enough good stuff sticks to the wall I can go back and make sure PF didn't change the fulcrums.

One of the ways things might fall apart is because of the 15-minute work day. The power imbalance is going to result in a lot of tension, tension which could be released through blood. Spellcasters are to an extent unkillable by a mundane, but only if they are prepared. As soon as they lose that preparation or have to prepare for something other than defeating an assassin, they are pretty much just low-level commoners with too many trinkets. Magic items can be used extensively to shore up this weakness, but how far does that get you?

In the end, spellcasters may become all potential, no execution - all because of the constant threat of death. All that pressure building up... when the top blows and the ones with magic finally put an end to things, they either have to win completely or they lose everything. Because even if the monk is a terrible class, it is still tremendously powerful against a sorcerer who's out of spell slots and magic items.
« Last Edit: September 20, 2011, 03:58:56 AM by bihlbo »
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Hansie

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #7 on: September 20, 2011, 05:03:32 PM »
Seems very meta-gamey to me, no matter how you do it.

Essentially, you are telling the players that the rules of the game are what destroyed the game world.   This seems like it is designed to draw attention to the inconsistencies and gaps in the rules, rather than to in-game story.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with meta-gaming, and this could end up being pretty fun.

If you were looking for fluffy explanations (not directly tied to the mechanics), there would be plenty of directions to go. 

I've always liked the idea that arcane casting is, in some way, blasphemous, no matter how good the intentions of the caster, like a little tear in the fabric of reality.  Add enough rips to that fabric, and who knows what happens... or how the mundanes/divine casters would react.

Perhaps the Gods have something to do with it.  Some caster gets to powerful, pisses them off, and they go on a mage-hunt, ripping every shred of arcane knowledge from the world.

veekie

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2011, 10:07:13 PM »
I'm thinking its less a case of stasis than mutually assured destruction.

Any given spellcaster only requires a handful of slots to protect himself.
Any given spellcaster will be far worse at protecting himself than slaying others.
Any given mid level spellcaster only requires a small investment to completely alter the conditions of living with Fabricate, Planar Bindings and permanent magic items.

Therefore, its far more likely that the casters took over manufacturing, and food production after ganking their rivals and organizing into allied bands(sorta like the Cold War blocs). The economy became magically powered. At some point the infrastructure fails, and it all goes to hell.

So Eras:
Ascent to power - Magic becomes more commonplace.
Power grab - Rise to power. Establish power bases and kill immediate rivals
The Apprentice - Training the next generation of magi
Tippyverse - Magic proliferation as talents are put to use in changing society. Societies with great improvements in quality of life enjoy population boom, which breeds more magi to support them with. However, rise of substandard magi also means defective and cursed magic items infiltrate society.
And Man Grew Proud - Society grows decadent and impractical. People living where its scenic instead of where its easy to grow food, because magic produces all food to desired tastes. Architecture likewise transforms, as fortifications are impractical defenses against magic users of any power, they do not bother.
The Fall - Whatever resource magic draws upon is overtapped. Most spells are weakened and a majority of magic items cut out entirely.
The Crash - The aftermath of magical failure. Society is entirely dependent on magic for everything in life. Knowledge was stored in Silent Image projectors, most farmers know nothing about crops, but rather decorative plants, structures fail without maintenance. Mass starvation, and most wealth is rendered moot.
The mind transcends the body.
It's also a little cold because of that.
Please get it a blanket.

I wish I could read your mind,
I can barely read mine.

"Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. At 2:15, it begins rolling up characters."

[spoiler]
"Just what do you think the moon up in the sky is? Everyone sees that big, round shiny thing and thinks there must be something round up there, right? That's just silly. The truth is much more awesome than that. You can almost never see the real Moon, and its appearance is death to humans. You can only see the Moon when it's reflected in things. And the things it reflects in, like water or glass, can all be broken, right? Since the moon you see in the sky is just being reflected in the heavens, if you tear open the heavens it's easy to break it~"
-Ibuki Suika, on overkill

To sumbolaion diakoneto moi, basilisk ouranionon.
Epigenentheto, apoleia keraune hos timeis pteirei.
Hekatonkatis kai khiliakis astrapsato.
Khiliarkhou Astrape!
[/spoiler]

There is no higher price than 'free'.

"I won't die. I've been ordered not to die."

bihlbo

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2011, 03:07:05 AM »
Seems very meta-gamey to me, no matter how you do it.

Essentially, you are telling the players that the rules of the game are what destroyed the game world.   This seems like it is designed to draw attention to the inconsistencies and gaps in the rules, rather than to in-game story.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with meta-gaming, and this could end up being pretty fun.

Perhaps the Gods have something to do with it.  Some caster gets to powerful, pisses them off, and they go on a mage-hunt, ripping every shred of arcane knowledge from the world.

It sounds like you understand exactly what I'm going for. Sure, it's going to be a little meta in that the big bad guys of the world don't have super powers described as "GM fiat". They have the spells in the book. You don't get to tell a story that involves a scary necromancer who launches a plan to control all the undead in the world with the power of a beholder's corpse - because that can't be explained in the core rules. But you can tell a story about a cleric who went crazy, discovered a horde of treasure, then used it to create a massive amount of powerful, uncontrolled undead who eventually killed him while his eyes were shut praying for spells.

Pissing a god off is easy. Doing it specifically with D&D magic is the trick. Chain-binding efreeti is bound to piss off the efreeti, who have, let's say, some pull with the lord of the plane of fire. The fluff is super-easy to come up with. I need help coming up with mechanic explanations that lend themselves well to inspired fluff.
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bihlbo

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #10 on: September 21, 2011, 03:24:38 AM »
I'm thinking its less a case of stasis than mutually assured destruction. [snip]
That's awesome stuff veekie! Some if it dovetails on my preliminary ideas, which were partially based on how many believe the Mayan empire fell. Run out of what makes the world go round and you go back to wearing leaves and eating people.

The only problem with this type of plan is that magic has no defined resource. Make one up? Sure, that's cool, and easy to do, but how do you make it a resource that is so intrinsic to D&D that after the players learn of it they have a hard time imagining D&D magic functioning any other way? Also, when the world runs out of oil, how do the cars keep going? I plan on running the game long in the future of this collapsed empire, and I want magic to be an option for players. What resource replaces the one that killed the empire once it was tapped?
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veekie

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2011, 05:52:16 AM »
The usual method is to have some sort of ambient source of power that naturally regenerates, and normally does so at such a rate that there would be no problems keeping it going despite large numbers of magi. However, overdrawing simply causes it to run out, and while all those magic items exist, it simply couldn't regenerate, since they were draining faster than its rate of recovery.
So you'd need time to pass, time for those devices to fail and break down. Then magic can heal.

Perhaps magic itself is literally powered by imagination and dreams, which the decadent society is not particularly rich in(or at least, not compared to the consumption rate required to power it). So while people live, it WILL recover(accretion of motes of fantasy over a century) , but you just need to take the drain off first.
The mind transcends the body.
It's also a little cold because of that.
Please get it a blanket.

I wish I could read your mind,
I can barely read mine.

"Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. At 2:15, it begins rolling up characters."

[spoiler]
"Just what do you think the moon up in the sky is? Everyone sees that big, round shiny thing and thinks there must be something round up there, right? That's just silly. The truth is much more awesome than that. You can almost never see the real Moon, and its appearance is death to humans. You can only see the Moon when it's reflected in things. And the things it reflects in, like water or glass, can all be broken, right? Since the moon you see in the sky is just being reflected in the heavens, if you tear open the heavens it's easy to break it~"
-Ibuki Suika, on overkill

To sumbolaion diakoneto moi, basilisk ouranionon.
Epigenentheto, apoleia keraune hos timeis pteirei.
Hekatonkatis kai khiliakis astrapsato.
Khiliarkhou Astrape!
[/spoiler]

There is no higher price than 'free'.

"I won't die. I've been ordered not to die."

PhaedrusXY

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2011, 10:38:10 PM »
You don't really need the whole thing to be based on the "resource" of magic running out.

Widespread knowledge of magical power results in more people with power. Magic can be used for mass destruction. So you're literally talking about a world in which lots of people are walking around with weapons of mass destruction. While more powerful "good" mages could be doing their best to prevent others from just using these resources to inflict wanton mass destruction on large populations, it only takes one guy getting of a "locate city bomb" to destroy a populous (or even most of the world, if it is optimized enough). So there is one doomsday scenario, wholly within the RAW.

Another one is "massive spawning undead takover the world". In most D&D campaigns, I don't see how this hasn't already happened, in fact... It only takes one exponential spawn explosion in a metropolis to generate enough of these to doom everyone...
[spoiler]
A couple of water benders, a dike, a flaming arrow, and a few barrels of blasting jelly?

Sounds like the makings of a gay porn film.
...thanks
[/spoiler]

Hansie

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2011, 02:00:40 AM »
A simple solution: the world reacts to the use of magic by building a tolerance to it.  This can happen in a couple of ways.

First, by design.  If wars are fought with magic, it only makes sense that people will turn to anti-magic, whether it's in the form of anti-magic fields, spell resistance, or crazy saving throw bonuses.  As these proliferate, wars go back to being won by the guy who commands the most burly men with big sharp sticks.  Mages return to their ivory towers and their lives of pointlessly arguing over how many homunculi they can fit on the end of a pin.  The magical economy crashes, and everyone returns to the dark ages.  Future generations listen to stories about what the old mages could do and laugh.  Occasionally someone dredges up some old knowledge and tries to use it for nefarious purposes, but they are easily defeated by peasants with their old anti-magic charms, which their grandmothers told them never to leave home without.

Second, by evolution. This is a bit fluffier.  Life will find a way.  If magic is everywhere, eventually everything will be right soaked with it, and will develop the same tolerance as above, only naturally.  Peasants of the future have built in spell resistance, or super-high saving throws, and laugh at the silly parlor tricks of the old mages. D&D wizards still exist, but no one cares.  The world itself could develop the same immunity as sentient beings.

veekie

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #14 on: September 22, 2011, 09:50:43 AM »
Magic resistance won't crash a civilisation.
Spellcasters have two aspects:
Weapon of Mass Destruction
Utopia Enabler

Magic resistance only tempers the destructive aspect, resulting in a world gone tippyverse.
Widespread knowledge of magical power results in more people with power. Magic can be used for mass destruction. So you're literally talking about a world in which lots of people are walking around with weapons of mass destruction.
Fixed.

Yeah but he mentioned he didn't want it to be about "people are jerks", which is what it boils down to. I figured I could turn it into more, the world would be split in utopian/dystopian portions, depending on who the local strongman is, magic as a tool for conquest is fast and immediate, but its not so hot for holding territories so much as mutually assured destruction, whereas, without the XP nor spells known component for crafting(because PF allows crafting of wondrous items without the prereqs, it just takes a skill check at a higher DC), the more utopian concepts can be realized with large numbers of weak casters.

So you advance the whole shebang a few centuries and magic does everything in the civilized bastions, while in darklordpolis all non magi are crushed under the bootheels of their superiors. When you turn the magic OFF, the utopians crash and burn, nobody knows how to do anything without magic. The dark lords are overthrown, but their peasants are likely ignorant of just about anything as a control measure.
So you have a society with:
A) dispossessed mages, the ones making the world turn can no longer do it.
B) falling crowns, the darklords will face their revolts
C) failing facilities. Just imagine a modern city without electricity or oil.
D) lost knowledge. The peasants will have concepts of how to eke out a living from dirt, but no technology whatsoever. The utopians will have a lot of art, philosophy and magic theory, but the intermediate, PRACTICAL arts are for the most part lost.

Besides, the Locate City Bomb doesn't exist in pure PF(rather than PF/3.5 hybrid) yet. The components aren't present, so you'd have to settle for spawnpocalypse.
The mind transcends the body.
It's also a little cold because of that.
Please get it a blanket.

I wish I could read your mind,
I can barely read mine.

"Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. At 2:15, it begins rolling up characters."

[spoiler]
"Just what do you think the moon up in the sky is? Everyone sees that big, round shiny thing and thinks there must be something round up there, right? That's just silly. The truth is much more awesome than that. You can almost never see the real Moon, and its appearance is death to humans. You can only see the Moon when it's reflected in things. And the things it reflects in, like water or glass, can all be broken, right? Since the moon you see in the sky is just being reflected in the heavens, if you tear open the heavens it's easy to break it~"
-Ibuki Suika, on overkill

To sumbolaion diakoneto moi, basilisk ouranionon.
Epigenentheto, apoleia keraune hos timeis pteirei.
Hekatonkatis kai khiliakis astrapsato.
Khiliarkhou Astrape!
[/spoiler]

There is no higher price than 'free'.

"I won't die. I've been ordered not to die."

glassgnawer

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #15 on: September 22, 2011, 10:46:52 AM »
Hmm, honestly i don't know how to solve the problem without some kind of "people are jerks" scenario (a magocracy, war, dystopia, revolt, whatever). You can try "vain mages summoned an entity from beyond, and world came to and end" (or "magic is really a living thing") but IMO it falls under wandering monsters (kinda). You can try to justify mages infigthing/creating a reign of terror with warhammerish "magic immanently corrupts" (instead of "people are jerks") but that's a) smells of homebrew and b) isn't much different from the "jerks" thingy. Alternatively, you can try a society with growing dependency of magic - then even a relatively minor magic mishap would become a pretty big deal - but again, it's a different take on "jerks" scenario.  

Oh, and sorry guys for going AWOL suddenly, RL got better of me.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2011, 10:54:19 AM by glassgnawer »
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skydragonknight

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #16 on: September 22, 2011, 11:14:25 AM »
Along with what Veekie says, perhaps the overuse of magic is creating dead magic zones? Or, perhaps, overuse of conjuration magic weakens the planar barriers and the Blood War finds its way onto the Plane...
It always seems like the barrels around here have something in them.

veekie

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #17 on: September 22, 2011, 11:49:16 AM »
Its mostly because mages, other than the ability to edit physics at their word, are basically people in every sense of the word. They are not compelled to be magical or to use magic, and thus its just another tool. The only way around the people using the tool being at fault is the tool itself being inherently corrupt, misunderstood, misused or failing.
The mind transcends the body.
It's also a little cold because of that.
Please get it a blanket.

I wish I could read your mind,
I can barely read mine.

"Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. At 2:15, it begins rolling up characters."

[spoiler]
"Just what do you think the moon up in the sky is? Everyone sees that big, round shiny thing and thinks there must be something round up there, right? That's just silly. The truth is much more awesome than that. You can almost never see the real Moon, and its appearance is death to humans. You can only see the Moon when it's reflected in things. And the things it reflects in, like water or glass, can all be broken, right? Since the moon you see in the sky is just being reflected in the heavens, if you tear open the heavens it's easy to break it~"
-Ibuki Suika, on overkill

To sumbolaion diakoneto moi, basilisk ouranionon.
Epigenentheto, apoleia keraune hos timeis pteirei.
Hekatonkatis kai khiliakis astrapsato.
Khiliarkhou Astrape!
[/spoiler]

There is no higher price than 'free'.

"I won't die. I've been ordered not to die."

skydragonknight

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #18 on: September 22, 2011, 01:34:40 PM »
Well, I assume that the society advances as new spells are developed. But what happens when magical experiments go horribly wrong?
It always seems like the barrels around here have something in them.

veekie

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Re: Need help collapsing a D&D empire
« Reply #19 on: September 22, 2011, 02:45:04 PM »
Depends on how horribly, we talking Resident Evil wrong or LHC theory wrong?
The mind transcends the body.
It's also a little cold because of that.
Please get it a blanket.

I wish I could read your mind,
I can barely read mine.

"Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. At 2:15, it begins rolling up characters."

[spoiler]
"Just what do you think the moon up in the sky is? Everyone sees that big, round shiny thing and thinks there must be something round up there, right? That's just silly. The truth is much more awesome than that. You can almost never see the real Moon, and its appearance is death to humans. You can only see the Moon when it's reflected in things. And the things it reflects in, like water or glass, can all be broken, right? Since the moon you see in the sky is just being reflected in the heavens, if you tear open the heavens it's easy to break it~"
-Ibuki Suika, on overkill

To sumbolaion diakoneto moi, basilisk ouranionon.
Epigenentheto, apoleia keraune hos timeis pteirei.
Hekatonkatis kai khiliakis astrapsato.
Khiliarkhou Astrape!
[/spoiler]

There is no higher price than 'free'.

"I won't die. I've been ordered not to die."