Chapter 209: Team Building Exercise

on April 11, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Just About Manages

It was only after we settled around a table with a handful of figurines to get to work that I had a twinge of doubt about my decision to put myself on a team with both Andreas and Wisdom.

It wasn’t the old stereotype about dwarves and elves not getting along that worried me. While their cultures valued different things, the same was true of humans and elves or humans and dwarves. People who lived underneath mountains rarely had a reason to go to war against people who lived in forests.

No, it was the realization that while I knew the other two… kind of, in the case of Wisdom… they didn’t know each other at all. I felt like I’d volunteered myself to be the middleman. Given the general state of my social skills, this seemed like a recipe for disaster.

Wisdom thought otherwise.

“This should work out pretty well, I think,” she said. “We’ve got one person who knows the game, one person who can do illusion, and one person who knows design… the only way this could work out better is if we were all the same person, but at least we have covered all the bases among the three of us?”

“I think you’re either giving me a bit too much credit in design skills or way too much credit somewhere else,” I said.

“Oh? Isn’t that how you know the queen’s sister’s girlfriend?” she asked.

“We’re in a design class together,” I said. “But it’s not what I’m actually studying. It’s not exactly the most relevant thing in the world to this… more like form and function type stuff, I guess.”

“Oh,” she said. “Well… I guess not every contribution to a group has to fit neatly into a clearly delineated diagram without any overlap. Anyway, I would consider it a favor if we could win this competition.”

“I don’t think anyone was planning to give it less than their best,” Andreas said. He sounded slightly insulted, but it was just possible he was trying to figure out if she’d meant it as an insult.

“The thing is, I could really use a ring like that,” she said. “The basic functionality is… well, basic… but Sternbauer? That’s the sort of thing that gets you noticed around Treehome.”

“I never realized the middlings had such an appreciation for dwarven craft,” Andreas said.

“Sternbauer is practically elven,” she said. ” Sparkly stones? Shiny silver? Armor that doesn’t weigh anything?”

“Clan Sternbauer doesn’t make armor,” Andreas said, sounding horrified at the idea. “They make jewelry and… and… fripperies, and things.”

“Are you even being serious right now?” Wisdom said. She reached into the neckline of her gauzy, multilayered gown and pulled up an undergarment of shiny metal links so small that it looked like satin fabric. “What do you call that?”

“A slip,” Andreas said, looking down and to the side and blushing.

“It’s mail,” she said.

“Armor is for catching weapons, not keeping you decent under your skirts,” he said.

“This thing has stopped seven arrows,” she said.

“Oh, arrows,” he said. “Well, if we’re going to count arrows as weapons, I guess we can count that as armor. It wouldn’t do nothing against a good hammer.”

“You don’t think an arrow could take you out just as easily as a hammer, and from a longer distance?” she asked.

“Not if I’ve got my longjohns on.”

“Maybe we should be focused on the task at hand?” I said.

“Yes, please,” Wisdom said. “See? You’re contributing already. Managerial skills are very valuable in a teamwork-based environment. ”

“So, how is this going to work?” Andreas asked, picking up one of the rough figures. “I can’t see playing dress-up by committee getting us anywhere, I have to say, but I’m not sure what else to do.”

“Maybe we should ignore the actual figures and come up with a concept,” I said. “I mean, if we were doing a whole design process, we’d start with sketches… there’s no reason you can’t do a larger that’s not tied to the figure, right?”

“No, that’s even easier,” Wisdom said. She waggled her fingers in the air and a tiny… though several times larger than the one-inch figure… mannequin-like figure shimmered into the air. “How’s this for a canvas?”

“Perfect,” I said.

“Okay, before we do anything, just give me three seconds to sustain it… you know, this is the kind of thing that ring would be really handy for,” she said. She put her hands on the tabletop beneath the image. “Actual wood… I was afraid I’d be working with some pressboard abomination. There. I’ve put a loose enchantment in the table that will keep the figure there until we’re done with it. Not only will that make it easier on me, but with our underlying figure being self-sustaining, we can add or remove other elements more easily without affecting it.”

“Which is more like the way it would be with the actual figure,” I said.

“Right, but it’s the same basic problem,” Andreas said. “I mean, am I going to design the boots while you do the head? It’ll be three people trying to paint one picture, and only one of us can hold the brush.”

“Well, I didn’t want to just grab the reins,” Wisdom said. “But you have a point. Whoever’s navigating, I have to drive. I’m comfortable taking command, but I’m not sure it’s my strong suit.”

“Okay, well, instead of all three of us trying to figure out where to start from a blank slate, why don’t you start us off with something off the top of your head,” I said. “Then we can suggest refinements.”

“What if we just start with something like this?” she said. She twirled her finger around the tiny figure, and a swirl of color surrounded it. The shapeless swirling image seemed to adhere to the stone as she spun it, like cotton candy sticking to a paper cone. When all the energy had left her finger to cling to the piece, the blank stone figure had become a detailed… if androgynous… figure in bright silver armor with an eagle motif including a beaked helmet, wielding a pair of long swords.

“That was cool… but how much of the transition was strictly necessary?” I asked.

“It was all helpful. There’s always an element of show business to illusion,” she said. “It’s actually more energy intensive to create an illusion when people are watching because you have to overcome the background belief levels, but if you can engage the audience so you’re not just making them think something is there when it clearly wasn’t, the relationship inverts.”

“So, the more impressive an illusion is, the easier it is to do?” I asked. “I’d think it would be the other way around.”

“Not quite exactly,” she said. “Because many of the things that make an illusion impressive are difficult and draining… but the more people are impressed by what I do with the things I do, the easier they are. When people like what they see, they want it to be real. Anyway, what do you think?”

“It’s pretty cool,” I said. “Not what I would have done, but I kind of like the overall aesthetic… I think it might be a bit more modern than what most people go for in the game. I mean, I don’t think it’s meant to represent a specific historical period exactly, but the armor I’ve seen seems more old timey and simpler.”

“But is that because people want that, or because that’s easier?” she asked. We both looked at Andreas.

“Oh, there’s plenty of modern and even fantasy touches among the pieces of them that can afford to customize. The thing is that most pieces aren’t as flashy as this,” Andres said. “The whole point is that it’s an army. You’ve got your officers and your heroes, of course, and your beasts, and they all need to stand out… and if everyone on the field stands out like that, then no one will, if you catch my meaning. I’d start simpler. ”

“Well, there’s a question in there, isn’t there?” Wisdom said. “Are we making heroes, or soldiers? If the game has both, would there be an advantage to focusing on one over the other?”

“Business wise?” Andreas said. “People will need to buy more rank-and-file soldiers to field an army, but there could still be more money overall in the specialized figures.”

“What’s the actual breakdown between soldiers and more unique figures?” I asked.

“Well, different people prefer different mixes,” he said. “For instance, Hazel’s started collecting as many heroes and monsters as she can as part of her new strategy… well, she calls it a strategy. Anyway, the more typical rule of thumb is for there to be one special for every two units you field, and about ten pieces in each of those units.”

“Ten soldiers in a unit?” Wisdom said. “That doesn’t sound like a very large army, unless there are a multitude of units on the field. I’d think that would bog down play, compared to fewer units with more people.”

“It’s to keep things simple… and space efficient,” Andreas said. “Remember that this is a game that was born underground and is growing up in dorm room floors and lounge tables. Armies that would have thousands of individual fighters in real life are going to be represented by a few hundred pieces, and those that would have hundreds will have even less.”

“So it’s scaled down warfare on more than one level,” Wisdom said.

“Aye, you could look at it like that,” he said. “It’s commonly thought that each individual ordinary soldier piece might be taken to stand in for a group of seven or eight or ten actual soldiers…”

“Which is it?” Wisdom asked.

“Well, Shiel says eight,” he said. “But seven seems more natural, and most humans seem to default to ten. It doesn’t really matter, see, though, because the unit sizes relative to each other depends on how many soldier pieces are there. If you’ve got ten pieces in a unit, then it could be seventy men, or eighty, or a hundred… but whatever it is, it’s the same strength as an identical unit on the other side with ten pieces in it. The rules don’t really get into this. It’s just a way of thinking about it, to explain why units tend to stay at a manageable size.”

“So, to get back to the point,” I said. “It might be worth it to focus on the special figures, if they go for more than twenty times the price of the others.”

“They really don’t,” he said. “They have about twenty times the point value, maybe, but they don’t take that much extra work, and since you can’t field a whole army of them, there’s a limit to the demand.”

“Okay, that’s worth thinking about,” Wisdom said. “But I really meant more in terms of impressing our peers and winning the contest.”

“Well, I don’t think we’re limited to coming up with a single figure,” I said. “What if we create a range of them? To start with, let’s try scaling back the specialized elements. I mean, if that’s a ranger we’re looking at, then let’s try to figure out what a foot soldier in the same company or whatever would look like.”

“Okay,” Wisdom said. She raised her hand.

“Wait… is there some way you can preserve the armor pieces we already have, for future comparisons?” I asked.

“You want me to just make a separate figure?” she asked.

“That could work, for side-by-side comparisons,” I said. “What I was actually thinking was if you could just sort of put them aside… kind of like what Andreas said about playing dress-up, I guess. This way we can see what we’re working with, in terms of pieces rather than whole outfits.”

“I could see that being useful,” she said. “Hang on, let me adjust my enchantment and then add some more pseudo-solid properties to the images, so they till make sense independent of the figure.”

It took her a minute to be satisfied with the functionality of her revised spellwork, but once she had separated the figure from its illusory equipment it took her no time at all to whip up a more modest version.

“Still not quite what I would do,” Andreas said. “But I think it’s a bit closer to the mark, generally.”

“Well, what would you do?” she said.

“I wouldn’t have gone with eagles to begin with, personally,” he said. “But staying with that, what about of we armored things up a little? I mean, heavier armor.”

“Okay,” Wisdom said. She copied the armor pieces and moved the copies aside, and then started adding overlapping plates to the originals.

“That’s more like it,” he said. “But you know, now that I’m looking at it… the original helmet looked a bit like a ceremonial headdress by itself, but if you put it it back with the heavy armor…”

He pointed at the helmet that he meant, his stubby finger actually going through the image.

“Oh, hold on!” Wisdom said. “You just gave me an idea.”

“Well, can we see the crested helm and the armor together first?” he said.

“Yeah, I think we should probably do one thing at a time,” I said.

“Trust me, this will save time in the long run,” she said. “I’ve been picking apart the illusionary music box before the meetings and I think I now how to… aha… yes. Do that again, Andreas.”

“Do what?”

“Put your finger on the helmet you want,” she said.

“Like thi… whoa!” he said, as this time the image sort of moved with his fingertip instead of ethereally passing it through. When he pulled his finger back reflexively, it moved with him… until his hand was clear of the tabletop, at which point it vanished.

“Oh, whoops, it’s outside the field now. Let me refine this a little,” Wisdom said. “I need to add some boundaries.”

She concentrated, and the tiny helmet slid back into view over the edge of the table

“That’s… really kind of neat,” I said.

“So, I can just drag that onto his head?” Andreas said.

“Yeah, it should snap to when it gets close enough,” she said, and it did.

“That’s smooth,” Andreas said.

“Isn’t that complicated?” I asked.

“Pseudo properties,” she said. “It’s defined as a helmet so it wants to be a helmet. It’s why you can put on an illusionary jacket and the arms will move with yours. But Andreas, you were saying you didn’t like the eagles?”

“Well, I said I wouldn’t have done them,” he said. “In fact, I wouldn’t have thought of birds at all… but if I were to make a bird armor, I would’ve gone with something like rooks.”

“Rooks are like ravens?” Wisdom asked.

“Yeah, but there’s no sense in switching shafts before it’s sunk,” he said.

“I don’t understand that metaphor,” she said.

“Well, you don’t know if a mine will pay out before…”

“Oh, mining,” she said. “I thought you were talking about archery.”

“Why would I be talking about archery?” he asked.

“I think I have to agree with Andreas,” I said, trying to head off any further cultural misunderstandings. “I mean, some corvids would be cool, but I think we should we focus on…”

“It’s no problem, though,” she said. “Everything we create is an array inside of an array. That’s how I copied it so quickly before. Look, I can copy it again, then just adjust…”

She waved a hand and then ghostly copies of all the eagle armor pieces… both on and off the figure… slid three inches diagonally away from where they hung in the air, then shimmered and the avian elements turned black.

“Okay, that’s more of a black eagle than a rook, but you get the idea,” she said. “It would take a little fine-tuning.”

“It’s really as easy as that?” Andreas asked, sounding impressed. I was, too.

“It really is,” she said. “Watch, I’ll make a golden eagle armor.”

She did.

“Could you do a phoenix?” I suggested. The idea popped into my head unbidden… I’d been thinking about adding elemental effects or other enhancements to the figures’ weapons, and the whole bird theme was giving me inspiration. “With like a subtle flame aura?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” she said, and she did that, too. The air above the tabletop was getting a little crowded, so she moved the sets around and got them sorted into their own little areas.

“Hang on,” Andreas said. “Could you make it so that we could do that?”

“What, copy, manipulate the groupings, or make adjustments?” she asked.

“Both,” he said. “I mean, all of the above.”

“It would take some doing?” Wisdom said. “But it’s something that could be done.”

“Guys, I think we’re getting a bit far afield here,” I said, but without much enthusiasm… this was turning out to be more interesting than any individual armor set by itself.

“Oh, by all means, please continue,” Acantha said, and the three of us looked up with a guilty start to find that all eyes were on our table. “I really think you’re onto something.”


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49 Responses to “Chapter 209: Team Building Exercise”

  1. Order of Chaos says:

    Loved this chapter! I’m liking Wisdom and we got some juicy stuff on illusion magic.
    Thanks AE and good work.
    “Clan Sternbauer doesn’t make armor,” Andreas said, sounding horrified at the idea. “They make jewelry and… and… fripperies, and things.”
    Love that line.

    Current score: 6
  2. Guitardrumr says:

    I get the feeling that those three just won the competition…

    Current score: 5
    • TheTurnipKing says:

      I get the feeling they just accidently invented the equivalent of the point and click UI.

      Current score: 6
  3. Potatohead says:

    Lemee try this haiku thing…

    Dwarves would call naming
    undergarments as armor
    A slip of the tongue

    Current score: 12
  4. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    This is sounding kind of like an illusory dollmaker… which is really really cool, mind you, I’ve lost entirely too much time to those things. >_> But yeah, the ability to do up figures from sets like this sounds pretty great.

    Current score: 2
  5. Grant says:

    Loved this chapter. That is all.

    Current score: 0
  6. Nezeltha says:

    … I wanna play this game.

    Current score: 3
    • Zergonapal says:

      Well there is Mantic’s Kings of War, which is pretty abstracted and Warhammer Fantasy Battles which sounds more like the Stone Soldiers game. You can use miniatures from the first to play the second too, which is good because Games Workshop who produce Warhammer are a pretty boutique company when it comes to gaming miniatures. Though you will have to paint them or pay someone to paint the miniatures, no illusionary enchantments unfortunately.

      Current score: 1
      • Anvildude says:

        More like a petty boutique, really. Five times the price for only twice the quality, and only on some of their models.

        Current score: 1
      • Lunaroki says:

        Just pointing out that technically the game is called Soldier Stones, not Stone Soldiers. I know, I always find myself thinking Stone Soldiers too. It seems to just feel more natural than the game’s actual name.

        Current score: 1
        • TheTurnipKing says:

          It’s probably something that’s lost in the translation from the Kobol

          Current score: 2
  7. Zukira Phaera says:

    won the competition – hell I think they’ve redefined the project direction and in a great way.

    Current score: 6
  8. Anvildude says:

    This is interesting in many ways.

    First off- loved the line “[an arrow wouldn’t kill me,] not if I had my long-johns on.” Just a lovely bit of Dwarvishness. I’ve always had a more Dwarven sensibility in my fantasy, and so I’m rather glad you’re giving your dwarves such an interesting culture and place in this society.

    Secondly- I have to wonder if this may be the birth of MU’s version of Photoshop or Flash, instead of Warhammer. That’d be a bit of a turnabout.

    Current score: 5
    • Ilya says:

      Yea, with base background and layering, totally illusion photoshop 🙂
      How long before Acanta will patent “illusion art for non-mages – draw with your fingers”?

      Current score: 2
  9. Nigel says:

    …and how long before Mackenzie does a Mech Knights version?

    Current score: 3
    • Lunaroki says:

      Oh yes! That would so totally rock! Not that they could market it without some licensing issues, but as a proof of concept thing it could wind up being really impressive.

      Current score: 1
  10. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    ” Sparkly stones? Shiny silver? Armor that doesn’t weigh anything?”

    Extraneous space between the opening quotes and “Sparkly”.

    there’s no reason you can’t do a larger * that’s not tied to the figure, right?”

    Seems to be missing a word after “larger”.

    so they till make sense independent of the figure.”

    Thinking “till” should be “still”.

    what about of we armored things up a little?

    The “of” needs to be “if”.

    Current score: 0
  11. pedestrian says:

    Isn’t there something in TOMU canon about an Unmentionable Emperor? Cause that imagery brings to my warped mind a picture of the guy on the throne in his long-johns.

    I guess Andreas would insist that his skivvies protect him from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

    And that almost all modern women’s fashions were originally mens combat gear. Be interesting to visualize what future designers will make of today’s battle outfits.

    Current score: 2
  12. Arancaytar says:

    “Could you make it so that we could do that?”

    More importantly, could you make it so the customers could do that? Because frankly, that kind of illusion-editor would be more awesome than any single design you could come up with.

    Current score: 5
    • zeel says:

      Yes, I can see the entire project changing directions at that. A ilusion design interface would possibly be far more useful than the original plan, and the market for it would be far broader.

      Current score: 3
  13. That one guy says:

    Heck yeah. How many people have sat down to play an MMORPG and (the first night anyway) spent way more time designing a character and fiddling around with everything than actually playing the game? 😉

    Current score: 5
  14. Order of Chaos says:

    Can I just point out that only a small part of Wisdom is armored and that small bit of armor has stopped seven arrows. No one has shot at the rest of her, that’s just how elves roll.

    Current score: 2
    • Order of Chaos says:

      I just reread it. I’m wrong. Sorry.

      Current score: 0
      • Potegoe says:

        well to be fair that probably still is just how elves roll, I’m sure thats where 6/7 arrows hit at the least

        Current score: 2
        • erianaiel says:

          All elves have a natural “10d6 attract weapons”
          Not sure though if it is arrows or blunt weapons.

          Current score: 0
      • Arancaytar says:

        Yeah, I’d estimate it covers all of her center mass.

        Of course, none of her fellow middlings would ever shoot her in the face. That’d be unsporting! 😛

        Current score: 3
        • pedestrian says:

          ….and mess up her makeup and hairdo!

          Current score: 3
          • Order of Chaos says:

            How fast can an elf dodge? Maybe she could move her armored parts into the way if she jumped at the right time.

            Current score: 1
        • TheTurnipKing says:

          Elves are like cats. They love to mess each other up, but it’s not fun if they don’t have to live with the scars.

          Current score: 1
  15. Potegoe says:

    Sternbauer the dwarven undergarment that doesn’t chafe

    Current score: 1
    • Potegoe says:

      somehow i missed a word and didn’t notice til now.

      “Sternbauer micromail the dwarven undergarment that doesn’t chafe”

      Current score: 3
      • Readaholic says:

        I wonder – does Sternbauer have a model called “Jewels” who just so happens to wear a fake beard when modelling micromail?

        Current score: 3
  16. Potegoe says:

    and now they shall sell photoshop

    Current score: 1
  17. Zathras IX says:

    Show business has
    Elements of illusion—
    And vice versa

    Current score: 2
  18. TogashiSoka says:

    I’m calling it… Designing a customizable illusionary UI process to be used by mock copies of Andreas and Wisdom (and others???) thanks to Coach’s spiffy Mockboxes.

    Boom! Mass produced, high quality pieces via free labor!

    …If only Acantha had a source of energy reserve to tap into for powering the whole project…

    … oh wait, I know….

    Current score: 1
  19. zeel says:

    So I guess just how big a breakthrough we are looking at depends on what similar systems already exist. I mean I got the impression that christal balls were used for all sorts of things, but those were limited to viewing inside the ball (unless you know how to project them). So is there no illusion creation system for non-illusionists in this world? Just how big of a breakthrough is this?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      To extrapolate (before I read the next chapter), I see this going one of the following ways:

      1. They build a system to make illusions to decorate stone soldiers, which they personally use.

      2. They do the above, but market that as the product and sell the system to others.

      3. This is an unprecedented breakthrough, and they take this too a whole new level (photoshop for illusion) and drop the soldiers from the equation.

      Current score: 0
  20. William Carr says:

    Xerox Parc called, they want their GUI back !

    Yes, the Elven girl just invented Drag and Drop.

    Going on Apple history, she will next invent Quicktime, a way of animating transitions, icons and motion clips, then HyperCard, a way of staging all those separate themes onto virtual index cards to make storing thousands of them easy.

    That, of course, could evolve into OpenDoc, the open architecture format Apple attempted to create but gave up against developer resistance.

    Turns out that developers make 1/3rd of their profits on upgrades. They didn’t like the idea that users could buy Photoshop once but then plug in the tool sets they preferred from third parties.

    Come to think of it, Acantha is going to go Microsoft on us any second.

    Current score: 0
  21. Mist says:

    Scale is also just a single property. Much easier to do fine work on head sized model than 1:32 or 1:300

    Current score: 0
  22. Arancaytar says:

    an array inside of an array

    Enchantment has data structures 😀

    Current score: 1