OT: Magisterius University and the Methods of Obstinancy

on May 6, 2013 in Other Tales

This story is canon, except when it isn’t.

It was summer, my first summer at Magisterius University. The student union and some of the other buildings on campus had been covered with banners welcoming IPAC, the Inter-Planar Arcanists’ Conference, an organization whose conference was apparently being hosted by our world in this indeterminate cycle. The banners said it was the “2T7?th ????ual” conference, and I had a feeling that there were other characters that my brain couldn’t even discern enough to be sure it was missing them.

I didn’t know how many inter-planar arcanists a single conference could bring in, but the campus was empty enough during the summer session that any influx of people seemed like a crowd. Most of the people with IPAC badges could have passed as local, clothes and all… some were dressed in traditional wizard attire and some in modern clothes. There were some people who stood out, wearing things like form-fitting body suits or bulky armor, and there were some people who were clearly from another plane, like a group of robed mages who vaguely fit the model that my brain associated with “elf” but who didn’t look like any elf I knew. It was like someone had heard a description of an elf and tried to draw it. The ears were pointed, but they weren’t just larger than human ears, they were long and floppy. If they were elves, then wherever they came from, it was clear that their elves were different.

I could have called it a testament to my personal growth that I didn’t mind going to the student union for lunch when I knew it would be full of strange people who all knew each other, but really, it was more that I still felt like it was empty. The IPACers were a brief intrusion. They didn’t know me, I wasn’t wearing one of their badges. They would be forming into little cliques and discussion groups. I could just get my food and sit down at a table by myself on the edge of the room and read my book or sketch out enchantment ideas in my notebook, like I always did. I could block out the conversations happening around me easily enough… I’d always been able to turn off the world around me. The trick I’d been working on was not doing so, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t do it when I needed to.

…except when I couldn’t, because there were some topics I could never seem to ignore.

“I’m just saying, it doesn’t make any sense,” a young woman… well, probably a few years older than me, but not old enough that I didn’t want to reflexively think of her as a girl was saying. “I understand that magic forms the basis of the technology here and that somewhat lessens the need for scientific advances in physics and chemistry, but that doesn’t mean ‘science doesn’t work here’. It just means no one’s doing it, or doing it right.”

“Who cares?” another woman said. She was taller than the other… a bit taller than me, and skinny. Really skinny, like I’d been when I’d first left my grandmother’s house. Her hair was orange. The other woman’s was blonde, a kind of tawny blonde. Her build reminded me of Puddy’s, and her hair kind of did, too, though it lacked the strawberry notes that were common in Puddy’s family.

Even though the evidence suggested that she was not from around here, I couldn’t help wondering if she wasn’t another La Belle cousin… few people could annoy me in so few words. If I hadn’t just got a tray full of food and sat down, I would have walked out of the room. I couldn’t see any good coming of arguing with this person, but sitting there and listening to her seemed unbearable.

“I care,” she said. “The lack of intellectual curiosity here is criminal… and in a university. I get if the rules of magic are somewhat subjective, because you get that just about anywhere you go, but it seems like if somebody were to make an orderly investigation of the universe, they could at least figure out how to magic it better. Or how to do things without magic. Or how to use magic and science together.”

I shouldn’t have been listening… even if I couldn’t block them out, I shouldn’t have been actively listening. But I couldn’t help myself, and I also couldn’t help letting out a muffled snerk, because this woman sounded exactly like the villain in about half a dozen cheesy kids’ shows I could think of. Taking over the world by science? Talk about a tired fantasy trope.

The woman must have had ears like a cat, because they twitched and she turned around to look at me. I was kind of shocked to see how similar her face was to the other woman… I’d assumed they were friends, but now they looked like sisters.

“Something funny?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “It’s just… you sound like you think you’re the first person who’s ever thought of this stuff.”

“Maybe not the first,” she said. “But there can’t be many people who’ve thought these things, or acted on any of them, because at this point it wouldn’t take much to significantly advance the state of scientific inquiry in your world. No offense intended.”

“None taken,” and I meant that, because I thought this might actually be fun. “We do have scientists… the ones who are still around don’t tend to be serious about it, because if they were, they would either figure out they’re barking up the wrong tree or they’re dead, because in this case, the tree is carnivorous, on fire, and doesn’t like being barked at.”

“Magic and active gods complicates things, I know,” she said. “You think this is the first universe I’ve ever been in? But that doesn’t meant here aren’t real, verifiable rules underlying how it all works, and the scientific method can still be used to determine them, and knowing more of them with more certainty allows you to do more. That’s what science is. Not… electricity and internal combustion engines.”

“I’ve heard this before,” I said. “You’re not saying anything new.”

“You’ve heard of ‘internal combustion engines’?”

“Five, six hundred years ago, people were making models of them,” I said. “They didn’t very well. The ‘combustion’ part usually went okay, but the ‘internal’ and ‘engine’ parts were iffier.”

“Okay,” she said. “So, some people have obviously understood the principle, they just lacked the know-how to actually do it. You bring in someone who understands the math… or how to work it out…”

“How do you work out the math if the math changes?” I asked.

“If the math changed, then the universe wouldn’t work,” she said. “I mean, there are going to be certain tolerances, and if this universe is a bit more chaotic then you might not get as much efficiency out of an engine, but it should be possible to improve it in ways that allow for that chaos… and if not, then you could at least figure out why, and come up with something that does work.”

“We do have something that works,” I said. “Carriages with animated wheel assemblies.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” she said. “You have magic, so you give up and never look for anything else.”

“Or we’ve spent more time… and lives… investigating other things than you know or want to acknowledge, and we went with what works,” I said. “I think that, crudely, that’s what your ‘scientific method’ says we should do.”

“So you’re using science,” she said.

“No,” I said. “We’re avoiding science, which doesn’t work, in a manner that happens to coincide with what smarter scientists would conclude is the best course of action.”

“Okay, but how about this?” she said, holding up a cupcake. “You’ve got open kitchens back there so I can see your food prep area and it doesn’t look that different from what I’d expect. That means someone probably baked this. They didn’t just wave a wand and say… ‘expecto patisserie’… they baked a muffin. From a recipe. That’s a replicable process. It was probably created by trial and error.”

“…yeah,” I said.

“So, we can expect a process arrived at through trial and error to be replicable,” she said.

“No, you can expect that process to,” I said. “Usually. And many other processes, especially simple and necessary ones like cooking.”

“Okay, so you’ve laid out two hypothetical rules that replicable processes must obey,” she said. “Simple and necessary. Those can be tested and refined…”

“Your funeral,” I said. “Baking works because it works, but it doesn’t have to work.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

“Okay, let’s do a little… philosophical investigation,” I said, thinking back to a book of brain puzzlers I’d found in the library. I could tweak one of them a little… well, okay, a lot… to demonstrate a point. I picked up my notebook and crossed the gap to their table.

“You mean an experiment?” she said.

“You can call it that,” I said. “It would be a thought experiment, so I guess it’s safe… but anyway, it’s more of a demonstration. Let’s play a game. Let’s say there’s a rule about the universe that I know and you don’t. It describes a relationship among sets of three numbers grouped in a particular order. ‘2, 4, 6,’ is one such set. You give me another set of numbers and I’ll tell you ‘yes’ if it fits the rule and ‘no’ if it doesn’t. You can do this as many times as you think you need to, in order to feel confident making a guess about the rule.”

“I’ve done this one before,” she said.

“I didn’t make it up, but I’m adding a twist,” I said. “So think carefully before you make your guess.”

“You’re not just going to lie, or change the rule in the middle?”

“No,” I said. “Take it as a rule that within the context of the game, including the statement of the rules, I can’t lie. And as another rule that the rules are immutable once stated.”

“Are there any other rules?”

“No,” I said. “And to keep it honest, I’ll write the rule down on a sheet of paper and give it to you, so you can verify it afterwards.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

I took out a piece of paper and thought about how to formulate the intended message in the shortest possible way. It took me a while to think of it.

“While we’re still canon, please,” the thin sister said.

“I want to make sure it’s worded right,” I said, and then it came to me, something better than what I’d been thinking of. I folded up the paper several times, and handed it to her. “Put this in your pocket or something.”

She did.

“Okay,” she said. “I know how this is supposed to go, and I know the actual solution, or the normal solution, but I don’t know what change you made, so I guess I’ll start by playing along. 10, 12, 14?”

“Yes,” I said.

“13, 15, 17.”


“So odd and even sequences numbers both satisfy the rule,” she said. “-2, 0, 2?”


“-2, -4, -6?”


“-6, -4, -2?”

“Yes,” I said.

“So here’s the part where I’m supposed to guess that each one is two more than the next one. -17, 32, and a million and six.”

“Yes,” I said.

“-17, 32, and 31.”


“2.5, 4.5, 6.5”


“3, pi, 4?”

“…yes,” I said.

“i… um… 10, 20?”

I had to stop and think about that. I hadn’t taken any of the math electives in high school, but I’d heard people griping about them.

“i as in the number i?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“That’s imaginary, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Then, no,” I said.

“Well… I could keep trying numbers, but you’ve said yes to everything that satisfies the rule that I’m thinking of and no to everything I’ve suggested that doesn’t, and if your shocking twist is that you added ‘except one very specific number I arbitrarily excluded’ then we could be here for millions of years without me finding out what it is by guessing, I’m going to guess the rule describes any real numbers in ascending order,” she said. “But I’m adding a secondary guess that if it’s not that, then it’s that with some such exclusion that I’m unlikely to hit without making millions of guesses. But don’t you see? That makes the rule difficult to know, not unknowable. It’s still possible to determine what it is through an orderly process, and it’s easy to rule out false possibilities.”

She looked pretty smug, to the point that I almost felt bad for what I was doing.

“No,” I said. “And no. Your description does not describe my twist.”

“Well, then, I give up,” she said. “Let me see what you wrote, and then I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it.”

“That doesn’t sound very scientific,” I said.

She pulled the paper out, unfolded it, then scowled at it.

“Read it aloud for the class,” her sister said.

“’The rule describes any set of three numbers that I say it describes, when I say it describes them’,” she said. “That’s not fair.”

“No, it’s not,” I said. “I thought you’d like it better than my first idea, which was to just write, ‘It literally doesn’t matter what I write here because you can’t see this information while the game is in play, so the information effectively doesn’t exist until then. The rule is whatever I say it is, it doesn’t have to be the same each time, and I don’t have to tell you the truth.’ I just thought that writing something that long would make you suspicious.”

“But you said that you weren’t lying and the rules don’t change,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “And in my original plan I would have been lying to you and changing the rules. I figured out a way that I technically didn’t need to do that, but I still could have. It was always an option.”

“No it wasn’t!” she said. “You specifically excluded those possibilities.”

“Yes, while lying,” I said. “Don’t you see?”

“Okay, but you stated those rules first,” she said. “They should take precedence over any later, unstated rules that allow you to lie about them.”

“According to who?” I asked. “And who says there’s a rule that allows me to lie? Who says I need rules to lie? You can’t apply the logic of someone who is honest and bound by rules to someone… or something… that isn’t.”

“But you were giving me consistent, predictable results.”

“I was,” I said. “Because it served my interests to… but if you’d kept playing past your first guess, I would have started giving you results that were inconsistent with the former ones, and if you thought to repeat one of your sets of numbers I would have given you the opposite result.”

“This doesn’t prove anything,” she said hotly.

“I’m not trying to prove anything,” I said. “I’m demonstrating something.”

“Okay, but, the rule is that the rule describes anything you say it describes?” she said. “So it would still be possible to predict which numbers you will say the rule describes, it would just require someone to learn enough about your nature. If you’re a metaphor for the universe, then all you’ve done is describe how science works and why your world needs it more.”

“Okay, but does anyone in your world have the ability to learn that much about a human mind?” I asked. “Because in this world, people don’t even know themselves in that much detail… and if we’re talking about a mind the size of a world, then it’s that much bigger and more complicated. And if your only source of information about how a subject is to interrogate the subject…”

“This is where you tell me that the world can lie,” she said.

“No, this is where I say that your results depend entirely on the willingness of the subject to be interrogated,” I said. “And that’s going to change, moment-by-moment, because your subject is going to be reacting to your questions. Maybe at the start of a session, the subject is happy to answer your simple questions and likes the attention, but then it begins to find the whole thing tedious, then it gets suspicious of you, then it gets angry…”

“But even if it’s not answering the questions, those reactions tell us something,” she said.

“Yeah, but we’re not talking about like, an uncooperative murder suspect here,” I said. “We’re talking about a universe. Okay, let me back this up a bit. You ever played a roleplaying game before? I mean, the tabletop kind with rules and dice.”

I hadn’t… I’d done a small amount of tapestry roleplay back during my fanfic days, but I hadn’t had any kind of real-life social circle when I’d first been of an age to appreciate such things, and my grandmother would have approved of them even less than she did of most things in general, but I’d lived on the periphery of all things geeky for as long as I could remember, so I’d haunted some weave sites that were devoted to talking about them.

“Yes,” she said.

“Okay, so you know the District Manager has a screen to hide their dice behind…”

“District Manager?”

“Okay, General Manager, if you want to go generic,” I said. “So all the players are in theory bound by the rules of the game and have to roll their dice out in the open, but all the rules are actually interpreted and applied by the GM, who rolls dice behind the screen. You have to take the GM’s word for it that whatever result they call out has any relationship at all to the numbers on the dice, which you also don’t know.”

“But you can’t run a universe like that!”

“Says who?” I asked. “Obviously, people get through gaming sessions that way every week. Some GMs are more consistent about the rules and dice than others, some are open about their fudging and some lie, but they all get through it. I mean, you’ve played these games… do they become unplayable when the GM fudges things?”

“Yes,” she said. “Completely.”

“She’s not kidding,” her sister said. “Dude, you have no idea how lucky you are that she stopped playing your shitty number game before you started openly fucking with her, no idea. She will upend the whole card table if she thinks a GM isn’t playing fair. The only sessions she’s ever made it through were ones she ran herself.”

“And I suppose you followed the rules exactly as they were written when you ran things?” I asked.

“I made sensible departures where it didn’t undermine the fairness of the game, or the dramatic needs of the scene,” she said. “But if everything is up in the air all the time, then… well, if the rules say that a fighter with a great sword can hit a ghoul on a roll of 14 or higher, how’s the fighter’s player supposed to make an informed decision about what to do when the rule might not apply?”

“Because they can guess that it probably will, and that if it doesn’t, the made up rule that briefly takes its place will make some kind of sense in context, and hopefully that context will be ‘the GM thought this would be awesome’ rather than ‘the GM is a dick’,” I said. “The game doesn’t have to be perfectly consistent to be played all the way through, just consistent enough. And an inconsistent universe is capable of being consistent enough, in spots. According to our understanding of the universe, our world is a spot like that.”

I gestured up at the ceiling, but meaning the one above.

“The dome of the sky is a globe… which I guess sounds weird if you’re not from a round world… that keeps out the formless chaos outside, preserving what might otherwise have been a very brief random island of consistency,” I said. “That’s the closest thing we have to a consensus, anyway, drawn from the different myths we have available.”

“You’re drawing conclusions from myths?”

“What are we going to do, go up and tap on the sky?” I asked. “Try to bore a hole in it to see what’s on the other side? Apart from all the reasons that introducing a hole into our protection from the chaos would be a bad idea, it’s not possible, and if it were, it’s impossible to reach the sky.”

“You have magical technology,” she said. “I’ve seen airships. Is there an altitude limit?”

“No, there’s no limit on altitude,” I said. “Literally no limit, because no matter how high you go, the sky is farther than that.”

“So how do you know it’s a solid dome and not, say, an optical effect?”

“Because we’ve… not me, personally, it hasn’t happened in my lifetime… but we’ve seen things walking on it. Well, crawling. Well, swarming,” I said. “There have been breaks before.”

“How can you see them if they’re infinitely far away?”

“They aren’t infinitely far away,” I said. “They’re just farther away than you are, for any earthly definition of ‘you’.”

“But how can that possibly work?” she asked. “Perspective…”

“…is a matter of perspective,” I said. “Look, the people of this world have engaged invaders from outside the shell in aerial and ground combat before, so we know how big they were on the ground, how big they looked when they were up on the dome, and how big they looked when they were on the dome and we were in the air. And the results were mostly consistent: when they were on the dome, they looked the same size no matter how high up the observer was. Most of the time.”

“If the distance from the ground to the dome isn’t fixed, how can someone from the dome reach the ground?”

“By falling,” I said. “The distance from the ground to the dome isn’t fixed, but the distance from the dome to the ground might be. Or it might be variable, but not intraversable.”

“How could we even move and see and stuff in a universe where that’s possible? And what do you mean by ‘most of the time’?”

“Some people reported that the things on the dome got ‘bigger’ the ‘closer’ they got. It’s possible the people who reported that could have actually approached the dome, which has happened a few times in history.”

“You said it was impossible.”

“It is, except when it’s not,” I said. “That’s like, hero stuff. I don’t know if it’s this world, or the universe, or the gods who made this world what it is using their influence, but a couple of times when there was great need, mortals have ascended to the celestial dome.”

“So, this universe is subjective. It works on story logic.”

“It’s been described as subjective,” I said. “But the key point that gets drilled into the heads of people of an inquiring mind is that knowing that it appears to be subjective doesn’t tell you who or what it’s subject to, or how. Investigations of the idea that the universe works the way we think or expect or believe it should work tend to end… badly.”

“But still, you said ’when there’s great need…’ that implies that someone is making that determination. And you’re not the least bit curious about what constitutes great need?” she asked. “No one’s ever investigated what the cases where someone reached the dome had in common?”

“What’s the GM do when you try to look behind the screen?” I asked.

“You don’t, that would be cheating,” she said. “And you’d be justifiably kicked out of the group, or just be punished in game.”

“Right. And what happens when you start memorizing the rules and trying to use them to argue that the world must work a certain way, that you must be allowed to do something because of this, that, and the other thing? Or when the GM lets you do something once because they think it’s awesome or necessary for the story, but you turn around and try to turn that into the precedent for a general rule about how the game always works?”

“I don’t play that way.”

“No, but unless gaming culture is very different in our worlds, you’ve probably seen or read about it people who do,” I said. “Let’s stick with the last one. Imagine a gamer who is allowed to break the rules once because it’s cool and because the story will suck and the game will end if they don’t. They propose an exception and the GM grants it. But then the player acts like they’ve discovered a new superpower, instead of pulling off a once-in-a-lifetime miraculous feat. What’s the GM going to do?”

“Well, to use your logic, we can’t know what the GM will do and they’ll get pissed off if we try to guess,” she said.

“Now you’re getting into the spirit of it,” I said. “But at a bare minimum, doesn’t it seem likely that the GM is likely to think twice before granting that kind of exception again? Be more grudging about it, impose more restrictions, or even just flat out stop doing it?

“Okay, but by not investigating the ‘dome of the sky’, you’re making a prediction about what the ‘GM’ is likely to do, and acting on it,” she said.

“Okay, yes,” I said. “But there’s only so far you can take that before the GM notices that you’re playing them instead of playing the game, and no one likes to think they’re being studied or manipulated, especially when they’re supposed to be in control. It’s like the thing with recipes: baking a cupcake is fine. It’s… non-threatening.”

“The universe can be threatened?”

“Non-invasive, then,” I said. “And the universe… which is big, vast, complicated, and inscrutable, is the only arbiter of what is and isn’t invasive, and that determination can change depending on circumstances which are also big, vast, complicated, and inscrutable. And it can also fuck with you just because it’s noticed that you’re trying to figure something out.”

“Then no one would be able to figure out the recipes for cupcakes!”

“You’re demanding consistency of an inconsistent system,” I said. “And saying that it can’t be inconsistent unless it’s consistently so. I don’t know about where you’re from, but here order vs. chaos is kind of a big deal, and one of the constants is that order cannot be chaotic, but chaos can be orderly. That is, if I can find one inconsistency in universe, that proves it’s inconsistent, but finding instances of seeming consistency in an inconsistent universe don’t prove it’s consistent.”

“And pointing it out might make the universe angry,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“I take back what I said before when I said this universe must run on story logic,” she said. “Because there is no logic and this would all make a horrible story. If you ask me…”

“Um… better not,” her sister said in a warning tone.

“…if you ask me,” she repeated, “this whole world seems like it’s just a bunch of sloppy writing by an overly touching author.”

“Wasn’t me this time!” her sister bellowed up at the ceiling. “Dandy, not me!”

“Come on, Will,” the woman said, addressing another woman I hadn’t noticed who was slumped over another table, asleep under masses of curly dark hair. “I think I’ve had just about as much of this world as I can stand. Let’s just go to our next session.”

The dark-haired woman propped herself up, giving her sister… she had the same facial features as the others… a withering look, but then got to her feet and stretched. She moved slowly, but despite her really large size, with a surprising amount of grace. She reached into the pocket of her baggy jeans as she walked past the table and dropped something in front of me. It seemed so random that I had a hard time immediately processing what it was, but it was a worn, cheap black bra, exactly like the type I tended to wear. I felt like I’d just witnessed a bit of conjuring and had to reassure myself that I was still wearing the one I’d put on that morning, but if anything, the one in front of me would have been a bit small on me now. I’d gone up half a cup size since graduating high school.

Wherever she’d got the bra from and whatever it was supposed to mean to me, she slinked away on the heels of her already-departing bossy sister. The redhead was trailing after them, but she stopped and looked over her shoulder.

“For the record, I have no idea what she sees in you,” she said, and then she was gone.

What the hell was that about? I thought. Science universes must be weird.

Author’s Note: I was going to write a story very much like this one anyway, but it’s final form was drastically influenced by me reading half of “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” this morning, after finding out that the author had put in a plug for TOMU. The allusions to that story (in particular, chapter 8 of it) should not be taken as a critique or parody, but homage.

I’m sure if I didn’t say otherwise, some people would see this as an attempt to refute the way that other story works, but they’re different animals. My setting is supposed to be what happens when a D&D-style fantasy world reaches the modern age, his is what it means when a fantasy story happens in “the real world”.

I think I’d have to learn a lot more about a lot of things before I could set out to refute Less Wrong’s work if I wanted to, and it’s possible that his protagonist would have fared better in Dandy’s place.

The Hex Kittens grudgingly appear courtesy of me.

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

Characters: , , ,

77 Responses to “OT: Magisterius University and the Methods of Obstinancy”

  1. tigr says:

    Ook;) One comment, Dandy is never introduced, and then spontaneously referred to as such…
    Also, what was the thing with the bra at the end about? That completely puzzled me…
    …..maybe that was the point. 🙂
    I loved this OT, and how meta it was. I’m not sure if it could get /more/ meta…..

    Current score: 0
    • Whoops, thanks for the catch. The parts where Mackenzie refers to her as “Dandy” in the middle were written first, when the idea first came to me, and as I built the rest around that, where it grew into the idea that she wouldn’t be introduced. By that point I’d forgotten I’d used her name.

      Fixed now.

      Current score: 0
    • Oni says:

      The bra was a reference to when a lot of the stuff she had on her/with her got randomly tossed “elsewhere”, I think when she got teleported into to labyrinth. It’s been a while since I re-read that section, but I’m pretty sure that was the incident. I believe it (the bra) was teleported into AE’s other-other story (sue me, I read Void Dogs and donated to it, but didn’t get into the other one), but I could be completely wrong.

      Current score: 0
      • Erianaiel says:

        I believe Mackenzie’s knife ended up saving somebody’s life in Seven-Seas.
        Not sure if the bed and some of her clothes ended up there as well or in one of the other two projects (Star Harbour Nights or Void Dogs). They did show up somewhere.
        The bra initially showed up, as mentioned by others, in this story and if Pussywillow could give it to Mackenzie she must have ‘liberated’ a priceless and unique magical artifact from the archives of Ylim. Which of course she is totally awesome enough to do without anybody even noticing.

        Current score: 0
        • Angnor says:

          The bed ended up in Void Dogs, and was used in defense of the ship. There used to be a list somewhere…

          Current score: 0
  2. Jane says:

    So that’s what happened to the bra!
    Nice. Very nice. (The story, not the bra.)

    Current score: 0
    • Luke Licens says:

      You spend too much time in the archive, my friend. I applaud your dedication.

      Current score: 0
      • Cadnawes says:

        This was originally a comment asking for relevant chapters, but further down someone took care of that. That’ll teach me about not reading all the comments first.

        Current score: 0
  3. Jennifer says:

    I love you so much. This chapter was so full of win. I’m a huge HPMOR fan; and, on an unrelated note I LOVE the chapters where you discuss science; and on another unrelated note I really enjoy SHN; and random recurring call backs to things like the teleportation accident (and the resulting missing bra) are always extremely awesome, not to mention crossover references. So…just… YAY!

    Current score: 0
    • AvalonAwoken says:

      I’m so happy to see other readers who know both (all three, actually) stories enough to really see the awesomeness that Alexandra just laid out. I’ve always thought that only she could pull off a world built on inconsistent consistency (or should that be inconsistent inconsistency?) in a way that would still be compelling. I thought having it spelled out might detract, but it really doesn’t.

      Current score: 0
  4. Daemion says:


    Awesome. This clears up a lot of the discussion we had in the comments of chapter 146. I think I was on the right track there. ^^

    I miss Star Harbor Nights… there were so many hints on things to come and it irritates me when I don’t know how a story plays out.

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      Ah, thanks for mentioning Star Harbor Nights, or I wouldn’t have known the reference. I never read it – started it once, but for some reason didn’t keep going. I’ll have to try it again.

      Current score: 0
    • Kimmi says:

      Want More Star Harbor nights!

      … that is all

      Current score: 0
  5. Julian Morrison says:

    There *is* a way to manipulate a GM’d universe, that *doesn’t* piss the GM off, and it’s: attempt to be maximally epic. Arrange things such that both the “win” and “lose” scenario which are epic are long term wins, while any “lose” scenario that would suck for your value system, would also be a dull flop storywise.

    Current score: 0
    • Julian Morrison says:

      Of course the above may be functionally indistinguishable from “be a hero”.

      Current score: 0
      • TheEyes says:

        I think you just described Coach Callahan’s personal philosophy. 🙂

        Current score: 1
        • Cadnawes says:

          Which is probably why she’s still alive.

          Current score: 0
    • LurkerDreams says:

      Fortune favors the bold. Eventually the GM loses interest and wants to play a different game. Maybe said GM decides “Ok but that character was pretty epic, and cameos are cool…Epic level character ascends to godhood.”

      Current score: 0
  6. Arkeus says:

    This was quite delicious.I stopped reading MoR because i found it half-assed, kinda stupid (which isn’t that big of a deal for a fic) AND it was obviously plot-driven in a way that it contradicted the themes of the story (which IS a big deal to me); However, this was a very nice homage, and all of this talk was REALLY delicious.

    Current score: 0
    • Anvildude says:

      You know, I was wondering why I always got this nigling feeling of disconnect when reading that story- I still enjoy it, but I think you’re completely right about the themes contradicting the plot.

      Current score: 0
      • AvalonAwoken says:

        I wasn’t going to respond initially to Arkeus (mostly because of the dismissive attitude of calling something stupid without providing any reason), and just chalk it up to different strokes, but when you seconded her/him, the curiosity won out. What do you mean by themes contradicting plot? One of the things that struck me most about MoR was how well the world, plot, and message reinforced each other.

        Current score: 0
        • Raemon says:

          My guess is they mean “contradicted the themes of the original Harry Potter”, which I’d say is fairly accurate in many ways. (I say this as someone who absolutely loves HPMoR)

          Current score: 0
        • a says:

          One of the themes of MoR is that even though human intuition works on story logic, reality doesn’t follow plot-like patterns. However, MoR is very plot-like.

          Personally I’m not sure what they are complaining about…it’s still *is* a story at the end of the day, and if it didn’t follow any plot patterns it wouldn’t be fun to read.

          Current score: 0
  7. Helge says:

    I like how this story describes the magical universe of MU as one that makes up its rules as it goes along and is jealous (or shy?) of being investigated. However, all these in-jokes have me confused. Where did the bra come from? Is that a MU plot point I’ve forgotten? And do I now have to find where I can read the hex kittens stories about the Binder sisters? Argh!

    Current score: 0
    • Jennifer says:

      When Mackenzie was transported to the labyrinth, she lost all of her clothing in the teleport accident. Various articles of clothing have randomly appeared in some of the other stories/universes that Alexandra Erin has written as a result of this. The bra was mentioned in THIS story as having appeared (in Chapter 27 of V2) through a rift in one of the northern regions of the world.

      Current score: 0
      • TheTurnipKing says:

        The fact that she got it back perhaps does a better job of explaining how the universe operates than anything else.

        Current score: 0
      • Helge says:

        Thanks for the pointer. I went back and re-read that chapter. I’d forgotten all about the famous bra of Ylim! 😀

        Current score: 0
      • Cadnawes says:

        Ahhhh, thanks.

        Current score: 0
  8. Alex says:

    Loved this story. Definitely cleared up a few of my misconceptions about science in ToMU. Also, I’ve noticed that about the middle half of Star Harbor is missing; any possibility of re-uploading it?

    Current score: 0
  9. Lakanna says:

    The Binder sisters! I miss Star Harbor Nights. Awesome chat, and it completely doesn’t explain the inexplicability of the MU universe. Which is kinda the point, huh?

    Current score: 0
  10. Navi1101 says:




    (^ My reaction to the end of this story.)


    Current score: 0
  11. partyboy says:

    The bra is the same thing as where grace drops something, what i don’t know from what it is at the moment, of by nicky

    Current score: 0
    • Athena says:

      You think she was breezing Mack? Hahaha, I doubt it – that’s more than likely Mack’s bra, the missing one, from her Freshman year; remember, it was the only thing that didn’t, eventually, turn up.

      Current score: 0
  12. zeel says:

    . . .

    Loved it.

    I love the way this universe works. I have an (understandably) hard time thinking about it, it’s just so damn foreign. Which is why it’s so damn fun to think about!

    Certainly my new favorite OT.

    Current score: 0
  13. carson says:

    Got it. MUniverse is like Quantum Physics. Except when it’s not.

    Carry on, then.

    Current score: 0
    • Erianaiel says:

      Which makes it exactly like Quantum Physics.
      Which is like Quantum physics. Except when it is not.

      Current score: 1
    • Burnsidhe says:

      This thought struck me when I was thinking it over.

      Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle deals with either knowing how fast a particle/wave is moving, or where the particle is in the wave motion.

      What if it works slightly differently in the MUniverse? What if you can know either how fast a particle is moving, where the particle is, or *which* kind of particle it is?

      Current score: 0
  14. SurahAhriman says:

    I was considering congratulating you on the HPMOR endorsement, but considering that you’ve been doing this a lot longer than EY (and making a living off it!), I wasn’t sure if it would be taken as the compliment I intended. I love the works both of you have done, and loved seeing one give a shout-out to the other.

    But given how this chapter went, I have to ask, have you ever seen the also-HPMOR-recommended “Harry Potter and the Natural Twenty”?

    Current score: 1
    • AvalonAwoken says:

      They are both successful at crafting amazing stories with admirable depth that they send out into the world. AE has been doing it longer and making a living at it; EY writes his in addition to doing work that he believes is important to helping people. That means they are both inspirational, and I’m incredibly thankful for them, and glad that they enjoy each others’ work.

      Current score: 0
  15. pedestrian says:

    Well Alexandra, dammit! Arghhh!! Now I’ve got to peel this onion you just dropped into our laps….This is going to take some pondering.

    Before we try and count the number of angels dancing on this pin, we have to comprehend the insanities of our own prejudices defining our own reality.

    For instance: that military personnel, who would be using nuclear weaponry, are carefully preselected for religious belief.

    It is a rational decision that the people with access to extinction-level weapons, should each have a personal belief-system that disobedience to orders will be punished in their after-life by a supernatural deity.

    Current score: 0
  16. Zathras IX says:

    The Inter-Planar
    Arcanists’ Conference does
    Things by the numbers

    Current score: 0
  17. Zergonapal says:

    I think I need to read my logic notes again before commenting in full.
    But I remember reading somewhere that humans exist because the universe wanted someone to observe it, or perhaps admire it 😉

    Current score: 1
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      Not so it had someone to pick on and/or bully? Cuz I could see that as an option too. Depends on how sadistic the universe happens to be.

      Current score: 0
  18. Robert T says:

    So, just as I’ve always figured, the ToMu universe is *literally* the inside of a D&D game set a couple hundred years after your typical setting. There’s a GM and everything, but of course the *characters* can’t do anything about that. My main question is why didn’t the fan of “science” figure this out as quickly as I did? 😛

    Current score: 0
  19. TheTurnipKing says:

    “They didn’t very well.”

    Current score: 0
  20. Mist says:

    Beautiful. And well written because its a challenge to write such a brain twister and keep it cannon, interesting and clear.
    Now just hoping my^h^h the-universe-i-currently-think-i-perceive’s period of apparent stability holds until morning…

    Current score: 0
  21. Zergonapal says:

    Mack has it all wrong, its not that the universe gets mad when people look at it too closely. The universe is just incredibly shy and gets absolutely mortified if someone tries to peek under her skirt.
    By comparison that would make our universe a shameless exhibitionist.

    Current score: 1
    • Luke Licens says:

      The theoretical physicists would probably call our universe a shameless flirt and an unbearable tease. No matter how close you seem to get, you never quite close the deal…

      Current score: 2
  22. Krey says:

    I’d actually been pondering lately how attempts at science would work in this world. My first instinct went with the girls idea about it simply not being pursued, but I know AE has said it was other than that. This clears things up some, though I wonder still how much of a difference there really is between “alchemy” and “chemistry”.
    Despite the warnings I still wanna go in there and see what works. If I chuck pure elements at each other really fast will they smash apart into sub-elements? I know most myths have everything, even the elements born of 2 more primal creations.

    Current score: 0
    • TheTurnipKing says:

      I thought it made it pretty clear that the difference between alchemy and chemistry is that chemistry is reliable.

      The easiest thing to do is consider the nature of divine powers to be a kind of celestial “Dungeon Master” who exists largely to keep you from getting too big for your britches. Another way to think of it would be as a safeguard against some of the depredations of science – the tradtitional “grey goo” problem of nanorobotics would never get off the ground in a universe with divine safeguards.

      Current score: 1
      • Luke Licens says:

        It’s been made pretty clear that the intrinsic nature of the universe goes beyond the powers of the gods, if you recall the celestial picnic. While the universe may be subject to their whims (except when it isn’t) they are always subject to the universe.

        Current score: 0
        • pedestrian says:

          Then your interpretation has the gods of the Muniverse not as players but as super powerful game pieces. Such as the Queen piece in Chess.

          To paraphrase Dodson: “Every morning, we must learn to believe six impossible things. Every morning, for the rest of our lives.”

          Sorry, I’m doing this off of my feeble memory. I gave my Alice books to my granddaughter and Wikipedia is down this morning.

          “The dome of the sky is a globe… which I guess sounds weird if you’re not from a round world…”

          The MU-Earth is round but not spherical? Our-Earth is an oblate spheroid but not round. Topologists claim that the same mathematics can be used to describe a coffee cup and a doughnut. But you would not drink out of the doughnut. You would not eat the cup.

          “…that keeps out the formless chaos outside, preserving what might otherwise have been a very brief random island of consistency,”

          This actually is a succinct interpretation of the Meta-Universe hypothesis. Of a infinite multitude of bubble universes nested within one another, crowding one another, absorbing one another. Like a mass of soap bubbles inside of larger bubbles.

          “Dammit! It’s bubbles all the way down!”

          Current score: 0
          • DevanGelic says:

            *ahem* “It’s Turtles. All the WAY down.”

            Current score: 0
            • pedestrian says:

              why not turtles blowing bubbles?

              Current score: 0
      • Brenda says:

        Chemistry requires a lot more elements. Also atoms, molecules, electrons… Fires in the lab are a chemical reaction, not just an imbalance between the four elements…

        Current score: 0
  23. Curt says:

    Hah!, that’s why the Gnomes have basic mechanics in the MUniverse, they are so quite about it the universe doesn’t notice. Like the player who actually takes massive liberties in a game but are so subtle and fun to play with that no one notices that they got everything they wanted and then some.

    Man alive I miss Star Harbour Nights. I still can’t find the old story that explained the different types of mutants, Darkwell, something-erupty (Grant-type?) and then the really dangerous type of Darkwell who erupts… Chrystalid, was it? This was before Perfection, I’m sure.

    Current score: 1
  24. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    Oh my. An excellent story. Answered a lot of questions I’d had about this universe.


    ““Because we’ve… not me, personally, it hasn’t happened in my lifetime… but we’ve seen things walking on it. Well, crawling. Well, swarming,” I said. “There have been breaks before.”


    “Look, the people of this world have engaged invaders from outside the shell in aerial and ground combat before, so we know how big they were on the ground, how big they looked when they were up on the dome, and how big they looked when they were on the dome and we were in the air. And the results were mostly consistent: when they were on the dome, they looked the same size no matter how high up the observer was. Most of the time.””

    This sounds amazing and terrifying and if this part is canon I would really like to see it discussed more elsewhere. Things crawling on the sky is the image of some damn epic battles.

    Current score: 0
  25. Erm says:

    expecto patisserie

    😀 😀 😀

    While we’re still canon, please

    Aw. I wish they’d stay.

    Current score: 0
  26. anon y mouse says:

    “But that doesn’t meant here aren’t real” – mean there?

    “They didn’t very well” – didn’t work very well?

    “you’ve probably seen or read about it people who do,” – about it, or about people who do, maybe?

    Current score: 0
  27. Erianaiel says:

    One thing I am sure I misunderstood, but, who is the fourth Bender sister?

    We know that Pussywillow was sleeping nearby (and overlooked in a very gnomish way as usual).
    The redhead would be Tigerlily.
    So who is the sister who calls out to Dandilion that (this time) it is not her fault?

    Current score: 0
    • …that’s still Lily, the only character who’s been referred to as “the sister” at that point (Willow hasn’t woken up), and she’s not talking to Dandy, who’s still right there.

      Current score: 0
  28. Joe says:

    Wow, Mack’s universe is a real dick, isn’t it?

    Current score: 1
    • Blargrarg says:

      Powerful Herbert, he who kickith ass at world or warcraft but can’t get a date to save his life, he who bought the xbox on the first day and cursed the skies when it kept crashing, he who hides behind a screen of paper, ect.

      On his throne in sunken [his mother’s basement] sits dread Hubert, waiting.

      Current score: 1
      • pedestrian says:

        “Herbert” sounds like the Goblin’s dread chthonic deities.

        Or the GOP’s Foreign Fund Raising organization

        Current score: 0
  29. DevanGelic says:

    Just wondering if Alexandra Erin writes with a mac or windows? If Mac, does she use AeonTimeline which has the ability to create fantasy calanders and timelines? Oh and if she uses Scrivener? or another program to compile here books/stories?

    Current score: 0
  30. Blargrarg says:


    Current score: 1
  31. Seajewel says:

    So happy to read this. I love how you sometimes weave in responses to fan speculation this way. I was getting so annoyed by the commenter who kept declaring that science works of course in MU, nobody bothered to try it is all. (I dislike commenters who tell you that what they think is the way it is, even when we know from past stories that they are wrong, or at least just plain guessing.)
    Love the touch about gnomes getting away with science. I don’t know how your brain comes up with so much awesome.

    Current score: 0
  32. sengachi says:

    The thing is not that the scientific method cannot be done upon Mack’s universe. It is that it cannot be done from inside the universe as an inherent property of the universe is an aversion to self-analysis. All you need is an outside observer.

    Current score: 3
  33. blackgutter says:

    So the rules in the universe are completely arbitrary and only work if the GM (or in this case, the author) want them to? Effectively that means that anything can happen at any time simply because the universe wants it to for no rhyme or reason other than it wants something to happen, or because someone is trying to see how it is working, and then punishing them for doing so. So shouldn’t someone try to talk to the GM to see what will or will not work?

    And how can cupcakes be baked? If you can find out the recipe for that through trail and error, why is nothing else able to found out that way? None of the advances that have happened in the story should be possible because the Universe would have stopped it because it prevents understanding of the rules of itself

    Current score: 2
    • This story exists to answer those questions.

      “I made sensible departures where it didn’t undermine the fairness of the game, or the dramatic needs of the scene,” she said. “But if everything is up in the air all the time, then… well, if the rules say that a fighter with a great sword can hit a ghoul on a roll of 14 or higher, how’s the fighter’s player supposed to make an informed decision about what to do when the rule might not apply?”

      “Because they can guess that it probably will, and that if it doesn’t, the made up rule that briefly takes its place will make some kind of sense in context, and hopefully that context will be ‘the GM thought this would be awesome’ rather than ‘the GM is a dick’,” I said. “The game doesn’t have to be perfectly consistent to be played all the way through, just consistent enough. And an inconsistent universe is capable of being consistent enough, in spots. According to our understanding of the universe, our world is a spot like that.”

      The fact that those advances were made–and that cupcakes can be baked–tells you that the universe didn’t resent those intrusions, so I’m not sure why you’re here acting like it must have. Your basic mistake is mistaking what the universe could do with what the universe will do. At any given moment, you personally *could do* anything that is within the scope of your abilities. This includes setting fire to the building you’re in, taking off all your clothes and running naked through the streets, or attacking everyone you see. Will you? Probably not.

      Every roleplaying game works arbitrated by a GM works in the manner that you describe. It’s just that in a functional game, most of the time the GM will go along with the established conventions and expected rulings. But every GM (including rules lawyer Dandy) makes judgment calls and departures as seems necessary, and can get persnickety when questioned… or even just let random, unrelated moods affect things, being generous in some cases, capricious in others, and a stickler for the rules as written in still others.

      Current score: 1
  34. blackgutter says:

    I understand that the GM makes up the rules for the universe and stops things it doesn’t like happening, but does that mean it allows some patterns to be found? Or that you have to constantly guess what to do for something to work because the story would be bad if you were to find it out easily? (I.E. terry Pratchett’s narrivanium.)

    So when advances are made, that means that people don’t understand how they work so that they don’t upset the universe? I thought the whole point of this was saying that you can’t try to find patterns in this universe or it will change itself to stop that from happening.

    If the people know that trying to find patterns angers the universe, and knowing that in of itself will not cause a change in reality,why cant they ask the universe itself what it will, and what it won’t allow? (I.E. what patterns you can find out, and what you have to find by “Instinct”.)

    Because it seems it is less than about finding patterns than trying to manipulate reality. For instance, if I could open a portal to the plane of fire and control it enough to use it to power a forge, would that count as finding a pattern in the universe, and would it would backfire because reality would change it to stop me?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      You can find patterns – but that doesn’t mean that those patterns will hold true. It’s hard to think of a good illustration out of the real world, since our world does conform to patterns.

      I think the core elements are:
      The universe is inherently chaotic
      The MU world is an island of consistancy
      Knowing that something has been consistent so far does not imply that it will be so in the future
      The world is subjective
      It is not subject to you
      Nobody likes a smartass

      It follows that you thus can do science – it simply will prove nothing, and it might piss the universe off enough to “end things badly”.

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        Oh, illustration. . .

        Consider a bowl of alphabet soup. You put the spoon in and out comes, too your supprise, a word. This is like the MU world, a tiny string of ostensibly consistant letters in a bowl of randomness. The difference is that the bowl is universal in size and will get pissed off if you try too hard to find the letters.

        Current score: 0
  35. Cyggles says:

    The solution, it seems, is simple. If the universe is subjective, then it must be subject to something. So the key, then, is to become powerful enough to become that thing.

    It’s been done before. We can do it again.

    Son, it’s time to kill the gods.

    Current score: 3
  36. Lara says:

    “The rule describes any set of three numbers that I say it describes, when I say it describes them.”
    Cue my ugly laughter.

    Current score: 0