Friday, July 31, 2015

The Scorpion King 3: Going Beyond Anachronism

The Mummy II introduced the character of the scorpion king as someone who had lost everything and made a deal with death himself (Anubis) to get revenge.

The scorpion king was a very early king of Egypt and almost nothing has been left behind so our knowledge is pretty lacking.  I wouldn't even call it fragmentary because that would imply there are more fragments than there actually are.  He was, we think, the first king of upper Egypt.  Beyond that, we've got practically nothing.

As such he's almost a blank slate you can do just about anything with.

So they did.  The Scorpion King showed his rise to power, but people who know about continuity knew that he had to lose everything and sell his soul in order to get revenge because the second The Mummy movie couldn't happen without it.  Not that preventing the The Mummy sequels would have been a bad thing.

The Scorpion King II avoided the problem of the main character's downfall by being a prequel.

Then we come to this movie.  This movie, where the commander of Roman centurions sends the last of the Akkadians, former king of Egypt who ruled a thousand years before the Akkadians existed, to help defend an Indian kingdom of much vagueness, where there happen to be Ninja around, from an evil horde commanded by a Confederate.

But I get ahead of myself.

This movie starts with Mathias being listless.  He's lost everything, sold his soul, gotten revenge, but he isn't dead yet so it's unclear what he's supposed to do with his life between now and his death.  When he dies Anubis will take his soul and make him into a ... I don't even know.  Undead isn't even the right word.  A something or other servant.  But until then, what's a former ruler to do?

We open with him in prison, where someone taunts him with his "legendary failures."  We're reminded that he's the last Akkadian.  That means that this takes place circa 2154 BCE because that's when the Akkadians ceased to be a thing so, as the last Akkadian is still alive, 2154 BCE must be in living memory.

We're reminded that he was king.  He became that when he kicked Memnon's ass.  Memnon was involved in the Trojan War, so 1200 BCE.  We're reminded that he was the scorpion king, so this must have taken place around 3200 BCE because that's when the scorpion king ruled.

We're reminded of the downfall of the people he was king of, though this appears to have been a result of plague so maybe he hasn't sold his soul just yet.  Whatever.

He almost singlehandedly decimated a civilization that took over three thousand years to build, we are told.  Um ... I'm not even going to try to date this.  Most civilizations don't last that long.  China is the longest lasting civilization that we know of thus far and it didn't reach three thousand years until two hundred years after the prophet Muhammad.

What civilization could he have destroyed that took three thousand years to build.  Even if we go with the Trojan War dating and assume that Mathias was singlehandedly responsible for the bronze age collapse... the Mycenaeans were only 500 years old, the Hittites about the same, the Egyptians come closest but they were only 2,000 years old at the time of the collapse.

This can't be dated because it's bullshit.

Anyway, Mathias kicks ass, does not take names, and breaks free from his bonds, kills everyone present, and we get to the title:

The Scorpion King III
The Battle For Redemption

We get a nice voice over saying that he lost everything (wasn't that the point of the last scene?) returned to the mercenary lifestyle, and wants nothing more than to die well in pursuit of mercenary gold (if the gold belonged to mercenaries they wouldn't need to hire him) and gain freedom from the pain that haunts him.

King Horus (played by Hellboy, and dressed in garb I can't place) is flanked on both sides by the Roman centurions he commands.  Wait, that's not what the voice over says.  I switched to the images.

Direct quotes in bold:

He faces a terrible crisis.  His brother, Talus, a disaffected Confederate cavalry man from central casting, has taken a legion of soldiers (crusaders, though I'm not sure which crusade they're from) to the far east to pillage its treasures and amass an army powerful enough to return and conquer Horus' kingdom.  Now Talus marches on the palace (Hindu temple) of king Ramusan, Horace's last ally in the known world and guardian of the legendary book of the dead (Egyptian book of the dead written in FUCKING HIEROGLYPHS) and blah blah blah.  There's nothing more of value in the voice over.

We return to narrative to find a meeting between Horus (or should it be Horace given that he commands Romans?) and Mathias.  Looking at his clothing more, I think Horace is, maybe, a Late Roman Era Barbarian king.  But why, then, does he command Romans?

They walk through ruins, because in the old days the ruined structures of today were already ruined, and Mathias is told that it's a suicide mission, but he'll be well paid if he lives, and he's being assigned a partner.  Only survivor of the siege of Babylon.  The siege was in 689 BCE.  He doesn't look Babylonian though.  I have a feeling he was an immigrant from Britannia or Germania, though from an earlier period than Horace.  Horace is a refined barbarian who might sit on the throne (Could he be Alaric?) or maybe even a late middle ages king.  Olaf is an oaf and a lout.

Olaf has a random limerick (earliest example 13th century AD) about Sodom (no firm date.)  He wants a meal that involves a stuffed sheep's stomach, couldn't quite make out the details but that settles it.  This Babylonian is from Caledonia.  My guess of Britannia was only slightly off.

After being sufficiently annoyed by the haggis-wanting Babylonian working for the maybe-medieval king who rules Roman Centurians, Mathias starts a fist fight with Olaf.

Arab bandits try to rob them at sword point, but when the two combatants don't even take notice they conclude the two are stupid and simply take what they want.  "That was the easiest robbery we have done in years," one says as they walk away with our two heroes' swords, horses, and supplies in general.

Unfortunately for the robbers, Mathias and Olaf settle their differences and join the robbers for drinks which does not go well for the robbers.

And fuck.  Olaf is from Germania.  He's a Teuton from Germania.  Let's break this down.

The Teuton's history is incomplete at best, but they didn't come into Germania until the second century BC.  So he's from sometime after 200 BC timeframe because before that time there were no Teuton's from Germania.  But Germania is a Roman term for the area that was coined by Julius Caesar.  All of the dialog is translated to English so we can't dismiss Germania as meaning Germany-esque.  Germania is the name he's using.  Which means that it's well after Julius Caesar because he's using a foreigner's word to describe his homeland and that takes fucking time.

This man is from AD.  (Well, I've been using Common Era abbreviations, so he's from CE.)

And this man, from after the BCE/CE change over, was the only survivor of the siege of Babylon 689 years from before that change over happened.

Mathias asks, "What the fuck are you doing here?" but in more movie appropriate terms, and we learn that our dark haired Tuton from Germania came to fight in the great desert wars, but has yet to earn the fortune he had hoped for.

Anyway, they go to sleep and awake to find themselves surrounded by a pack of tigers.  Tigers don't hunt in packs.

Tigers' historic range is actually pretty vast, but given the Hindu temple-palace I'm guessing this means they've reached India.


Meanwhile back at base.  The Roman Centurions deliver to their medieval king a message that his Confederate brother has declared war on his Hindu-temple-living ally and the medieval king orders his generals be summoned for they will march tonight.  The camera pulls back to reveal his Saracen army waiting just outside his battle tent.

I had completely forgotten, or failed to notice in the first place, the Saracen army.  Now I know why he and his brother are at odds.  Talus' army (from the glimpse we were given during voice over) is composed of Christian crusaders.  Horace here commands an army of Saracens.  Of course they fight each other.  It's tradition.

Part of me wonders if this movie was the result of a costume department being told, "Give us warrior costumes," and when they asked, "What kind of warrior costumes?" they were simply told, "Old ones," and said, "Fuck it," and thus every costume in the movie is in fact a prank on their part.

But we haven't gotten started yet.  We're less than twenty minutes into the journey to anachronism and beyond.


We finally get to see our Confederate outside of the glimpse we got in expository voice over.  I swear every time I see him I think he's about to say that he has to go away for a bit to help Jesse James rob a bank.

But he doesn't.

Mathias was told that in addition to the king who makes a Hindu Temple his palace, there is another anti-Talus force in the area.  A group of rebels following a leader known only as "Cobra".

Here at the center of his camp our Confederate has some of his own Roman soldiers, though a crusader can be seen in the background.

The Roman soldiers tell him that they've caught one of Cobra's rebels.  An ambiguously Asian man whose time period I cannot place.  Talus is concerned that Cobra hasn't been seen in days which could indicate that Cobra has been spending time on something of import.  Perhaps a major sneak attack that's about to happen.

When the rebel doesn't respond (a rebel against a Confederate, doesn't that mean he's a loyalist?) Talus says that perhaps he should speak louder, rips off one of the rebel's ears, and asks, "Might you hear me now?" into the ear.

Our disaffected post-war Confederate who commands Romans and Crusaders alike works for Verizon.  No wonder he's so evil.

Also, he used the term Heathen as a pejorative, which makes since given that he's a Confederate, but why did the Roman centurions even understand?

Talus knows that Horace will send an army, so he wants to take out the Hindu-temple-palace king's forces tonight.  Apparently he'd been waiting to find out what Cobra was up to, but feels he can wait no longer.


We get to finally see the people who live in and around the Hindu-temple-palace, which will randomly change into something more like a European stone fort when under attack, and it sent me into an ultimately useless research flurry because I'm sure that the weapons and costume being used by the soldiers there are enough to get a pretty good idea of the time period, but damned if I can do it myself.

Regardless we're in the magical land of red turbans.  Except, wait, that looked like a Persian "immortal" circa 480 BC.

And when the fuck did Talus get Saracens on his side?  Granted they aren't from the same time period as his brother's Saracens, but it's really seeming like everyone will fight for anyone in this setting.

And now that I say that, there are Talus Saracens that are dressed exactly like Horace Saracens.  How the hell are you supposed to tell if these end of the First Crusade Saracens are serving the Confederate soldier or the Medieval King?  And why don't the Roman Centurions ever do any fighting?  Are they just meant to stand around and look intimidating at headquarters?

They've unleashed the War Elephants!!!!


Ok, I think the Persian immortals are actually fighting against the possibly Sikh Hindu-Temple-Palace people.  That was very much not clear before.  So the Saracens and the Persians are beating the possibly Sikh Hindu-Temple-Palace people but the last Akadian who hails from a time before Akaddia and the Tuton who comes from Germania before there was a Germania and before the Tutons were in it will come to the rescue.

The Tuton, you see, is well versed in the ways of gorillas and chimps suggests that they use gorilla warfare which just happens to be guerrilla warfare in spite of the fact that those words are entirely unrelated and ... oh my fucking god this makes no sense.


King "I'm the only one of my people who doesn't wear a turban" concludes that he should never have trusted an outsider to come to his aid (xenophobic much?) and not, "Armies take a long time to move so it sort of make sense that the one that was nearest us would make it here first."

Meanwhile our outsiders are actually making great warfare preparations.

Shortly after a battle elephant falls the plan reaches its conclusion and, just before they're set on fire, I finally see one of the Christian Crusaders from the intro among the Saracens and the Persian Immortals.


The two are introduced as, "Akkadian and ... this guy."

It turns out that there are disappointments all around after the victory.  The local king thought there would be more than two men.  Our two heroes thought they would be paid.

Unfortunately the money meant for them has been spent keeping the kingdom alive.  He's broke.

It seems no one will be happy until Horace arrives at the head of his Roman/Saracen army.  Then there will be payment for our heroes and more men to defend the kingdom.

Until then the king has another offer.  He offers his daughter's hand in marriage.  He doesn't show her, but instead brings out a really non-representative painting that's two steps short of Picasso.  Mathias accepts because the necklace she's wearing in the painting is a legendary treasure.

Then comes the complication.  She's been kidnapped by the bad guy to blackmail the kingdom into surrendering.


In the bad guy's camp we're back to Romans and Saracens.  What the hell happened to the Christian Crusaders from the open?

In his casual wear our Confederate Verizon Spokesman has a much more "rich playboy of indeterminate modern era" look.  He has a harem of willing woman, and the princess tied to a post.  Her clothing, especially her veil, gives off a slight Hollywood Arabic/Belly Dance feel.  I don't think it actually fits into any real life era anywhere.

Outside our heroes formulate a plan.  Well... twelve percent of a plan.

The King is going to create a distraction with his army, but they still need to get in, save the princess, liberate the legendary treasure they actually care about, and get out.

They notice that slaves seem to be forced to fight on the mythical front lines (I say mythical because it's possible for an army to get from the good king's base to the bad king's base without ever crossing these "lines" so I don't think they exist) and Mathias sells them Olaf.

Olaf gains admittance as a slave, Mathias as someone they've done business with.

Hindu-Temple-Place King shows up with his army and the whole of space and time collapses in on itself.


On the good side we have battle elephants, and maybe-Sikhs, and maybe Chinese peasants, and maybe Japanese peasants, and and one maybe samurai, and possibly a medieval knight.

On the bad side we have Roman centurions (they do fight), and FUCKING TROJANS, and Saracens, and maybe hoplites, and the Christian Crusaders their hour come round at last, and trebuchets, and maybe Sikhs of their own but wearing different colors, and all these things and more are led by Mr. Confederate cavalry man on his horse.

Mathias slips in to save the princess, I notice that the bad side contains maybe Chinese peasants too as they're escorting Olaf, and that is when the Ninja show up.


I'm going to give you a moment to digest that.


So, just to recap, a kingdom in probably India has been caught in the crossfire between a medieval or Late-Roman-Period-barbarian king and his Confederate brother and as a result the last Akkadian (circa 2154 BCE) who happens to be the scorpion king (circa 3200 BC) that defeated Memnon (circa 1200 BCE) and a Tuton from Gemania (some time AD/CE) who survived the Siege of Babylon (689 BCE) are sneaking into the Confederate's camp under cover of a battle between [various groups of indeterminate time and place that are all east of Constantinople] on one side and a Roman-Persian-Trojan-Saracen coalition of trebuchet users and that is when the Ninja show up.

The ninja take the princess, and run straight through the battle.  Except for the individual one who has the princess as that one is on horseback and rides straight through the battle.

Mr. Confederate first sees Mathias while Mathias is standing in the middle of the battle fighting Ninja.

I'm not even going to try to place the telescope the Confederate uses to do said spotting beyond: No.  Just no.

The Ninja have the opportunity to kill Mathias twice, and don't, before they steal an elephant and leave.


Talus hires Mathias and Olaf to recover the princess as he plans to marry her.  He says he'll give bonuses if they bring back Cobra's head.

Now Mathias and Olaf have been hired by all sides of the war (well, except Cobra) which, I think, is the mercenary equivalent of bingo.

Ninja are magic so soon there's random slow motion, impossible jumps, and lots of wooshing sounds.


Unfortunately for the ninja, the underdogs always win so after they've kicked Mathias and Olaf's single collective ass for a bit, the tide starts to turn.  The Ninja call in reinforcements, Cobra turns out to be the princess (shocking twist, I know) and since in a fair fight she's already utterly lost in most embarrassing fashion (it's one thing to lose a fight, it's quite another to lose in a way that causes your entire army to be ready to surrender), princess-ninja resorts to being a cheating asshole to knock out Mathias.

Romantic comedy rules say that these two will end up married.

It turns out that the reason that princess-ninja is so pissed off is that she's fucked up big and she doesn't take personal responsibility for anything.

There is a real problem with movies writing female characters as complete and utter assholes and expecting you not to notice.  In defense of this movie, I didn't notice the first time I saw it.  But here's the score:
  • The princess is Cobra, leader of the resistance.
  • The princess in a constant state of lying to her father so that he does not know that.
  • The princess lost the legendary treasure that is her necklace which, as this is the The Mummy universe, is not just something of historic and intrinsic value but instead a magical MacGuffin of doom and thus by losing it to the most evil man alive at this point in history she's brought us all to brink of destruction.
  • To fix the massive fuck up of the last point she staged her own kidnapping, letting Talus think he'd really kidnapped her, but didn't bother to tell her father or any of her public allies that it was staged.
  • As a result her father tried to save her, causing uncounted deaths and severely weakening an army that couldn't defend the kingdom as it was.
  • Thus, by her mendacity her kingdom is doomed and all her people will die or be enslaved unless she can gain outside help.
  • Therefore she blames Mathias, the only outside help that she could possibly get at this stage.
She's brought almost certain destruction down upon on everything and everyone she's ever cared about because she wanted to play secret agent.  Not be a secret agent; secret agents are agents of someone, they have a boss.  In her case it would be the king and none of the senseless slaughter would have taken place if the king had been allowed to know the truth.

No, she wanted to play a secret agent, and part of that meant keeping the play time secret from daddy, and as a result she's almost certainly doomed her entire kingdom.  Mathias and Olaf are the only unknown quantities, and thus the only way she can keep "almost certainly" from becoming "definitely" and yet she goes out of her way to alienate them.

I did not remember her being this much of an ass at all.

She's then surprised when trying to alienate them leaves them feeling alienated.

She almost does a decent job of recruiting them even after the horrid start by showing them the victims of Talus and appealing to their hearts, but then fucks it up when she decides to press Mathias on his past.  Recall that everything he cared about was lost.  His love, his people, his kingdom.  Reminding him of his "legendary failures" was something that was done to him at the beginning of the movie by people he then killed.


The Hindu-Temple-Palace people's army was already out matched at the beginning of the movie and nearly fell when Mathias and Olaf first showed up.  Now they've taken heavy losses in a diversionary battle that took place only because the princess couldn't be bothered to tell anyone her plan.

Romans, Saracens, and Crusaders march on the kingdom of the Hindu-Temple-Palace.

The kingdom is crushed.  Her father is killed.  Talus gets the book of the dead.

It was the only possible outcome from the moment she decided to let herself get "kidnapped" without letting the good guys know there were air-quotes involved.

This, however, places Mathias in a stronger position.  He has no history of saving kingdoms, but if you want to eliminate the ruler of a bad kingdom and replace him, Mathias has done that before.


The burned out ruins of a place we've never actually seen before that is, presumably, supposed to be part of the kingdom that was crushed reminds Mathias of the destruction of his own people (the ones he ruled, not the people he was a part of) in spite of the two mass deaths being unrelated in all possible ways.

Mathias ends up sticking around.

Olaf and Mathias must learn to forget gravity and think like insects and ... um what's the point of all this?  Granted Cobra and her Ninja have learned the art of the Ninja in negative 4,600 years, or, you know, negative 3,500ish years or ... the point is negative a lot of years.  But even if they've learned it in negative time, what the hell are Olaf and Mathias supposed to pick up in a night?

Olaf does badly.  Mathias does well, then flirt-fights with Cobra but suffers from the fact that he can't shut the fuck up and when he's talking is a really good time to punch him, kick him, elbow him, knee him, or otherwise bash him in the ribs.

Basically, he kept on winning for a while, reaching a point where the fight stopped, assuming the fight was over and letting his guard down, Cobra kept on showing him the fight wasn't over by delivering a blow when his guard was thus down.


Talus isn't wasting his time trying to teach people an entire new fighting style in a night.  Nor is he flirting.  He uses the book to summon three godlings.  The female one is Japanese (land of the rising sun), one of the male ones is a generic white barbarian, the other is a lion spirit whose first name is "Zulu" and is, of course, black.

He commands them all, though Tsukai, the female Japanese spirit, at least has the decency to be somewhat perturbed that a mortal has dared summon her.

Talus is unimpressed, even though apparently this summoning can change weather patterns (it's raining where he is, not so where the good guys are) and the summonings were accompanied by pyrotechnics.  He requires a demonstration, and orders them to kill every member of his army present.  They do it in seconds.

Waste of an army.

He assigns the generic white barbarian to guard him, and sends the others to slaughter Cobra's men mercilessly.


The black guy dies first.


The remaining two warriors are assigned to guard the book.  While they are bound to obey, they're not supposed to be slaves.  Unfortunately people who are bound to obey are slaves if their master wishes it because they're, you know, bound to obey.

Talus makes a point of this by repeating that they're slaves many, many times finally singing the word as he walks away.


Mathais has a plan.

Talus, on the other hand, has a party.  The Confederate's US southern accent is coming out.  I guess even he noticed his odd costuming.  The Centurions and Saracens are celebrating with a Persian Immortal in the background, the drums begin to beat and the dancers from India come out.

Also there's a random very blond very white woman.  Given that their Tuton is tanned with brown hair, I wasn't sure this movie knew blonde people existed (which wouldn't be a bad thing, given where it takes place.  Wait.  Where does it take place?)

Mathias and Olaf come in with the princess captured and a decapitated head they claim belongs to Cobra.  (Talus had his godlings use magic to seek out Cobra, but never thought to ask them who Cobra was and thus doesn't know the princess is Cobra.)

Talus promises them their gold and invites them to a wedding, or an execution "Either way, it's a feast."


Olaf goes for the book, Mathias goes for the medallion, the princess (who I'm not sure if I should call by her given name, Silda, or her chosen name, Cobra) stalls Talus who doesn't want to wait for the wedding to have sex.

Because narrowly avoiding rape is the subject of comedy-suspense.  Or that's how the movie tries to sell it.

It does actually manage to be funny after the possibility of coerced sex is gone and it's become a strange combat scene.  Talus is wearing only his pants.  (Barbarian!)  Pocketless pants.  No scabbard, not much space to hide a weapon, and he finds himself in dire need of a weapon.  The funny part is when he finds he's stored too many objects of import down his pants and has to try more than once before he manages to pull out the dagger that he was hiding down there.


Olaf dresses up as a Saracen to sneak in and get the book, but he's kind of crap at sneaking.


Warriors from infinite time periods storm the castle.


Cobra fights Tsukai.  Olaf fights generic white barbarian spirit.  Mathias gives chase to Talus.

Something I didn't remember, and not the random high speed chariot chase scene that's completely random and makes no sense given the semi-established topography, Tsukai points out that Cobra's deception is killing her people.  It totally is.

Before she let herself be captured it prevented the two anti-Talus forces in the area from coordinating their efforts.  After she let herself be captured it literally led to enough of the army being killed to collapse the entire kingdom.

We've already established this here, but it's nice that the movie notices.

The army, though, is magically restored enough to storm the castle.  As I noted.

Mathius gets the medallion from Talus and leaves him to the army.  He turns the godlings with the medallion and an incantation from the book.  Also the help of Cobra's dad who is somehow still alive (but only just) in spite of being mortally wounded fucking ages ago.  (Where has he been all this time?)

Cobra apologizes for the deceit, her father says there's nothing to forgive, he's proud of her, and "My people are in good hands," before he finally succumbs to his wounds.

It's not clear if he's referring to Cobra or Mathias.

Hellboy Horace the maybe-Late-Roman-Barbarian maybe-medieval king finally shows up with his strange army of centurions and Saracens.  Mathias has been made king and tells him that while the people are grateful for the help, they will not accept foreign rule.

Hellboy actually smiles.  He says that he must confer with his generals, but it's pretty clear that he's not going to fight.  Our people in the nowhere and neverwhen have their freedom, if being ruled by an outsider who has only been there a week or two at most is indeed freedom.


This is how The Scorpion King 3: Going Beyond Anachronism ends.

Credits roll.

Some people make a lot of the scenes shown in the credits, but all that we can truly say for sure is that Olaf had a lot to drink, Mathias and Cobra kissed a lot, and Cobra gave Mathias the magical MacGuffin of doom necklace.  Mathias actually had it at the end of the movie so he must have given it back to Cobra only to have her give it back to him.

Some say that this is foreshadowing that he hasn't sold his soul yet and will at some point in the future loose everything again and use the magical MacGuffin of doom necklace to contact Anubis to make the soul selling deal.

I think that's reading way too much into one scene with no dialog.


I got the movie because I thought that Hellboy was going to be much bigger part of it, given how he was featured on the cover, and I tend to like him as an actor.

Get bait and switched in by the Hellboy, stay for the anachronism.  Though after the Ninja show up there really aren't anymore great moments of, "Wait, what millennium is this again?"  You just can't top Ninja.

There was a river.  Maybe they could have had riverboat pirate-ninja with Cajun accents.  That would have been fun.

I'm selling copies of the "The Princess Who Saved Herself" book at 75% of the cover price

Through mysterious and esoteric means (I bought a bulk lot of 20) I have come into possession of a bunch of copies of the book The Princess Who Saved Herself, which is based, somewhat loosely, on the song of the same name:

This is the kickstarter that got the book funded.

I know a kid, maybe two, who could use a copy.  I might look into how to donate one to the local library, or a local school, but that still leaves me with a bunch I have no use for and I was hoping that I could sell them.  The price of buying the book directly, not including shipping, is 20 USD (United States Dollars).  I got it in bulk, thus didn't have to pay that much per unit, and was thinking that $15 would be a reasonable price.

If I understand media mail correctly, domestic shipping (to anywhere in the US) should be less than three dollars.  (Though buying direct has a shipping price of $4, is there something they know that I don't?)  International rates I do not yet understand, so if you're not in the US and want to buy a copy from me you'll either have to wait for me to figure it out or help me figure it out.

But, that's the gist of it.  I've got these books, I want to sell them, I'm giving readers of Stealing Commas first crack at them.

To order, make a donation of appropriate amount ($15 for the book plus $3 for shipping is 18 which is, as I said, 75% of what you'd pay to buy direct) and attach a note to the donation saying you made the donation to purchase a copy of the book.  (Without said note I might mistake it for an ordinary donation, though $18 is an irregular figure so maybe not.)

As always, the donate button is on the right side of the blog at the top.


Here are some pictures:

This is my copy of the book (you didn't honestly think I'd just give the ones I'm not selling to children, libraries, and schools, did you?) and it's already a bit dinged up.  The book is white, not off-white.  I had to darken it a little because the original version of the picture had the colors washed out a bit.  I thought having the right color for the colors in the picture was more important than the plain background being just right.

Anyway, we can see some similarities to the song right there on the cover:
She never wore her socks, she had a pet snake
She bought a red guitar (and yes she did eat a whole cake)
(but not in that image)
And they started up a band and the dragon played the bass.
This is the back cover:

That is Gloria Chen Epstein Takahara de la Garza Champion beginning her epic quest to eat a whole cake.

If you look closely you can also see that the list price is indeed $20.00

Here are some inside pages where we see one of the various differences from the song:

The giant bee is in no way part of the song.  Where did the bee come from?  You'll have to buy the book to find out.

Actually you can look online because the bee's origins are part of the free sample pages released before the book was ready for sale.  But I'm trying to move merchandise here, buy the book.


At first I was disappointingly underwhelmed by the book.  I wasn't sure what was wrong, but something wasn't right.  Then I realized I was reading it with the wrong cadance.  Rhythm matters so much in spoken word, and children's books are made to be read aloud.  Once I read the book with the proper rythm ... it's fucking awesome.

So I do honestly recommend the book, even if you're not going to buy it from me.

But if you are, remember: donate button at the top left, $18 (15 for book, 3 for shipping), and make sure to tell me that the money is for the book.  I'm pretty sure Paypal will automatically give me your address, but just in case, it couldn't hurt to include that too.

Oh, one last thing.  Why does this book have a list price of $20 in the first place?  It's hard cover which makes a lot of sense because it's a kids' book and thus needs all of the protection it can get.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A totally non-scientific case study on player violence and morality in video games (Dishonored)

I've been doing a bad job taking care of my body this past week.  Hydration, food, and sleep are not always the easiest things to achieve, especially since you have to work constantly to maintain a hydrated, nourished, well rested state once you have achieved it.  There's no winning, just a constant slog.

When I got the money to avert the badness of of having a bill bounce through various accounts each of which would return an answer of insufficient funds and likely charge a fee for trying to over draw, I didn't immediately put up notice that I'd gotten the money.  I told myself that it was because the transaction hadn't moved out of limbo yet and I wanted to make sure badness was averted before I announced, "Badness Averted!" but the truth is I just wasn't up for writing any more that day even though it only would have taken a sentence.

Bad body care leads to bad blog care.

I did get to it the very next day, but as I said in the note, I hoped to quickly have a new post so the SOS wouldn't be the most recent.  That ... didn't happen.

One thing that did happen is I played a new game.  I think.  I definitely finished it in that time, but I'm a little hazy on exactly when I started playing.  I think it played the whole thing in the past three days.


Initially I had my doubts about Dishonored:
Dishonored is an immersive first-person action game that casts you as a supernatural assassin driven by revenge.
Um ... yeah.  You've already lost me.  I would want to be an assassin why?  And while revenge plots can be well done, it's not exactly going to make me feel good about myself that I have attained revenge.

But it was part of a package deal with stuff I did want and something about it drew me in enough to tally it as part of the "stuff that's interesting enough to consider paying for" part of the equation when evaluating whether the package deal was better than just getting the stuff I definitely wanted individually.  (Of course more goes into the equation because if I got stuff individually I wouldn't need to fork out the money all at once, and there are channels that can get me hopefully-working copies of a game for cheap-cheap-cheap and ... yeah.)

So, since I had the game, I played it.

Setting first.


Dishonored takes place in a fictional world, thus freeing it from any need to conform to any culture or place in real history and allowing for elements that do not fit into our world.

The technology level is greatly influenced by the fact that this is a world with magic.  The natural philosophers (for any who don't know, "natural philosophers" is another term for "scientists" which is now well beyond antiquated in the real world) do what any scientist would do when confronted by magic: they study it.

And the magic isn't hiding, the whales (called "leviathans" by a mostly dead mostly disembodied voice), for instance, have it inside of them when the whaling industry makes whale oil it isn't like earthly whale oil.  The power it produces and things it allows one to do when burned is entirely unlike what earth fuel allows.

The study of magic leads to some devices that we couldn't possibly produce today while other things are very much in line with things in earthly history.

Personal weapons technology is at that point where pistols exist, but it's still a really good idea to have a sword.  The way I put it when talking to Lonespark is, "Pistols exist, but they're flintlocks, so people use swords."  Apparently if I'd looked things up I would have found that they're wheellocks which is a design even older than flintlocks.

The game is set during its world's industrial revolution, and the backdrop is a massive rat related plague.

The prologue is six months into the plague.  The main character is Corvo officially the bodyguard to the empress, unofficially the person she trusts most in the world, and definitely treated like family by the empress and her daughter.  It's never clear to me whether or not Corvo is the royal consort (and thus possibly father to the empress' daughter) but in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter.

Regardless of any sexual or blood relations, the empress and her daughter treat Corvo as family and they appear to be the only people he treats as family.

Having been convinced that the mission was too important to entrust to anyone she trusted less, the empress sent Corvo away as a royal emissary in spite of the fact that that's highly unusual and not remotely in the job description of royal bodyguard.  It's not clear why someone with absolute trust needed to be sent as what he was doing was sailing to other countries and asking, "Have you ever dealt with a plague like this before?  Can you help us?"

It might be that he was being trusted to negotiate and possibly authorized to give up so much that absolute trust was needed to make sure the negotiator didn't abuse that power.

Regardless, the mission was a failure.  Corvo returns two days early with the news that all of the other nations responded, basically, with, "Fuck off and die."  They won't help, plan to blockade the country, and maybe they'll deal with whoever is left alive later, when the plague has run its course.

And that's when the empress, her name is  Jessamine by the way (don't want to give the impression that she never gets a name), is assassinated right in front of Corvo and he can't do anything to stop it because the assassins are magic.  Emily, the daughter and heir, is kidnapped.

It isn't hard to figure out who is responsible since two of the most powerful men in the empire are first on the scene and quick to blame Corvo in spite of the fact that there's really no reason to jump to that conclusion.  The abduction of Emily proves that at least someone in the responsible group (which could have been a group of one, though it wasn't) got away and Corvo didn't leave with that at-least-someone implying that he isn't on the same side as said at-least-someone.

Corvo is stripped of his rank, thus dishonored thus the title, and thrown into prison.

The game proper begins six months later.  The plague has now been going on for a year the bodies are piling up, draconian quarantine measures are not containing it, the institutional religion has gone full blown inquisition except with more people goosestepping the streets to pick up those to be inquisited.  Everything has gone to hell, not that it was going all that well beforehand, and Corvo is finally to be put to death.

Precisely why they chose this point isn't clear, but it could just be that six months of imprisonment and torture haven't yielded a coerced confession, so the ruling powers figure they're not going to get one and would be better off finally getting rid of him.

If you didn't catch that the two guys who immediately accused you of kidnapping and assassination and sent you to prison were the bad guys behind it, they show up for one last talk where they tell you that it's nothing personal which ... is actually true.  Usually when someone says, "It's nothing personal," it's complete bullshit, but they had done everything in their power to make sure that Corvo was out of town and thus never had any intention of having Corvo take the fall.  Him being there just delivered them a convenient fall guy.

The first mission is escaping from prison.  You get a cell key and a note from mysterious benefactors telling you that a guard has been bribed to leave a weapon lying around, letting you know where a bomb capable of blowing through the prison's outer defenses has been stashed, and telling you that a nearby sewer entrance has been left unlocked.

Dunwall, for that is where the game takes place, has a combined sewer and storm drain system which means that the absurdly spacious sewers aren't actually that absurd.  Storm drains can be downright gigantic and Dunwall's don't even come near that level.

Anyway, that's where we start, so time to talk about playing, which leads us to violence and morality.


The guards aren't in on the conspiracy --the conspiracy is probably very small in fact.  Most people I meet won't be in on it.  Unless I'm facing one of the powerful men behind it or one of the assassins, I'm probably going to face people who actually think I killed the empress.

They're guards doing their jobs.  I don't particularly want to kill them.

Not killing them is hard.  It takes stealth.  If three guards are coming at me with swords and all I have is a sword of my own ... unless I can find a FAST escape either I'm going to die or kill.

I save early, I save often.  It takes me forever to deal with the first three guards I meet.  Two are stationary, one has a short patrol, and all are near each other.  I have to find a moment when no one is looking at a given guard, put him in a chokehold, get his unconscious body out of sight before anyone looks, do it all quietly, and hope the other guards think he went off to take a piss or something.  Then repeat.

Ok, the part about hoping the other guards assumed the missing one toddled off to the bathroom isn't true, in games like this guards not being on duty is never met with immediate lockdown because if the bad guys read the evil overlord list you'd never stand a chance.  There's no need to hope about that.  But everything else is fucking hard.

It would be so, so, SO much easier to use my sword to attack these people.  No working on perfect timing, no reloading every time I make a tiny mistake.  I can get behind one easy, the other two won't know what's going on until he's dead.  I can probably get the second before he's fully in a combat state of mind.  Then the odds are one on one and whoever's left is just a prison guard while I'm basically an in-universe Secret Service of one.  I can blow through these three with ease, get passed this damned first part of the first fucking level, and actually play the game.

It would be so much easier.

But these people are innocent prison guards.  They don't know I'm falsely accused.  Everyone says that.  (See: The Shawshank Redemption)  They think I killed an innocent monarch, thus ushering in this present draconian era, and kidnapped a child.  A ten year old.

Why didn't it say that in the game description?
Dishonored is an immersive first-person action game that casts you as a supernatural fugitive driven to save the child you were falsely accused of kidnapping.
It should probably be passed through some propagandists to make sure that the end sentence is ad-perfect, but that's way more interesting than an assassin driven by revenge.  And it makes sense why what you're doing is so important.  With the exception of the corrupt people at the top who were in on the job, the authorities are trying to solve the kidnapping by starting from the premise you were a part of it.  Starting from a false premise is going to lead to them spinning their wheels.

You were there, you know what really happened, you've already got a step up on the proper authorities and, since the proper authorities won't listen to you, it falls to you to save her.

But that's not how the advertised it.

Anyway, back to the game.  These people aren't trying to kill me because they're bad, they're doing it because they think I'm a complete monster, I've escaped from my cell, and I'm armed.

They don't deserve to die.  They've done nothing wrong that I know of.  Even if they do deserve to die, it has nothing to do with me and it isn't my place to kill them.

I'm in this prison, a day from being executed, because someone decided to play god.  "I decide who lives and dies," is not a good road.  It does not have a happy ending.  For those who recognize that quote, consider that he's the ONLY person in that entire show who actually-for-sure-definitely died.  (We know because after he died for the final final time his heart was donated to someone who needed it.)

Someone decided the world would be a better place without the empress and look where that led.  I need to choose a different road.  It would be easy to kill them, but it would be wrong.

I eventually get through these guards, and the next, and the next.  Everything tells me to kill.  The first weapon I get is a sword, then a gun, then a crossbow.  These are not used to play nice.

As I sneak over exposed piping to get over my opponents I learn that I can do a drop assassination.  It sounds cool.  I'm sure it looks cool.  But it's an assassination.  I was put in this prison because I was accused of being a monster.  I will not become that monster.

I will not play with the toys I have been given, they are not seemly.

As I reach the prison wall I realize I could drop all stealth.  I could run to the wall, plant my explosive, run for cover, BOOM, and then be gone before the smoke clears.

But if I did one of the guards might get caught in the blast.  I have to take them down, non-lethally, and drag them to a place that I know they'll be safe.

Into the river, into the sewer.  Onward.

At some point I get to have mystical, magical, never cause an allergic reaction, or a stroke, or a heart to stop, or any other damaging thing tranquilizer darts for my crossbow because they come standard in various games with non-lethal options, but they're rare and I can't carry that many at a time.  I also get a cooler sword, the opportunity to upgrade my pistol in myriad ways, a truly horrific type of mine, grenades, explosive arrows, explosive bullets, a thousand ways to kill people, magical charms that help to kill people, magical powers that help to kill people . . . lots of stuff that involves killing people.

As one commentator put it:
Making the decision to go through the game like that carries some costs. [It] is always more circuitous, more difficult, and requires more sneaking around. It also requires perfection – all it takes is one mistake to derail any carefully laid strategy, and the nonlethal escape isn’t always an option. And it cuts off a vast array of game content. Most of the toys you’re given to play with are violent in some way, and choosing to be dogmatic about your playthrough eliminates a wide swath of content.
But I have no intention of killing innocent guards and policemen.

Samuel the boatman meets me at the sewer exit and takes me to meet my mysterious benefactors.  Before I've even met them I'm already wary.  I'd never have made it out of prison without them, that's for sure.  The bribes and favors they must have called in to get me the key to my cell, to get the weapon left out where no weapon should ever be left, to get a bomb into the damned prison, to make sure that the sewer, which was the only possible way to make a viable getaway once I was outside, would be unlocked, to smuggle even more gear into the sewers for me ... they've done a lot for me.  But all I know about them is that they think I'm innocent and they oppose the current regime.

I'm not a pawn, but I'm still a piece that they can play toward their own ends, which might not be my own.  A knight is a powerful piece, even more so if your opponent doesn't notice you have it, but for all its power it has no more self determination than a pawn, and can be sacrificed just as easily if the situation calls for it.

Samuel, the boat man, though, him I quickly come to trust.  He's not a player like my benefactors, he's another piece on the board.  If my benefactors live down to my fears, I'm confident that he'll see it as as much of a betrayal as I will.

The Loyalists, as they call themselves, have made an abandoned pub in a quarantined part of town their headquarters.  The barriers erected as part of the quarantine make it accessible only by boat.  Everyone who lived here has died or been driven off.  The Loyalists have it all to themselves.

They call themselves, "The Loyalists," presumably because, "The people committing high treason because we think the people in charge committed high treason first and therefore do not recognize them as legitimate," is a bit of a mouthful and doesn't have the same ring to it.

These people think that I'm not the assassin I was accused to being and, therefore, would like me to assassinate people for them.  Wonderful logic there.  Does make sense though, when you think about it.  I was there when it happened, I was close to the person who was murdered and the child who was taken, I had everything taken away from me.  If anyone is primed to go on a blood soaked rampage of revenge, it's me.  And I've already been condemned as an assassin anyway, so what do I really have to lose?

Just my morality.  Just my ability to truly know that I'm different than the bad guys.

Are we the badies? (That's a video link, via this Slacktivist post, which you should read.)  To hide the fact that I'm the most wanted person in the empire I have a mask that looks like a metal skull.  A skull.


Taking a moment out to talk about game design, one of the problems that the game suffers from is that it moves too fast.  I understand the desire that drives that.

It goes mission, downtime, mission, downtime and so on with the downtime playable.  The only time skips are travel time (which is never that long since all the action takes place in a single city) and when you go to sleep.  This is a good form for a game in general to take.  Long cutscenes, large periods of time where your character is twiddling his (we need more protagonists where you can choose, damn it, Corvo never even speaks in the game so all it would have taken was one single extra model being made called "female-bodied-Corvo", and I know the game is trying to portray an unfairly patriarchal culture but Corvo is from one of the islands that said, "fuck off and die," to Dunwall so I think that the Empress has some leeway in who she picks and seriously what the fuck?  Oh, wait, this is a parenthetical) thumbs, and such are generally not good things.

BUT (in capital letters at the start of a sentence at the start of a paragraph) the game has you taking down the regime by first targeting the power base and then going in for the leader when the lack of power base has left him exposed.  That takes time.  What possible difference could it make that you removed his financial support if you're going to storm the castle (have fun) the next day?  An in-game note saying that lack of funds left the approach you took under guarded does not make up for this because it doesn't make sense.  Are we seriously meant to believe that the Evil Overlord's financial backer paid him the city police's wages every day, so her absence would be felt in full force the very next day, and still somehow managed to keep her identity a secret?

How the fuck is that even supposed to work?

"Hey honey.  How was your day at the office?  Here's all of the money you need to pay your larger-than-the-taxes-can-support police force tomorrow.  I love the fact that I only give you one day's worth at a time.  It gives us an excuse to meet every night.  Don't worry, I remembered to come in the back way so no one knows there's a connection between us."

Your missions put massive cracks in his power base but for his power to erode there needs to be time for those cracks to weather, expand, and --you know-- generally exhibit erosion.

Aside over, we return to talking about killing and lack thereof.


My first night's sleep brings a visit from The Outsider.  My understanding is that the expanded universe of the franchise gives him a backstory and honestly I'm against that.  I like the description given in one of the loading screens:
The Outsider is a figure of myth, neither good nor evil.
The Outsider is a figure of the Void.  All magic flows from the Void.  It is said that the Void is beyond time and space.  In my sleep the Outsider draws me into the void.  A floating mess of debris and frozen scenes from points in time and space.  The slain empress.  Emily being held captive, she's written a note for me that she had hoped to put in a bottle in hopes it found me.  The usurper looking over a map of the city and planning where to place defenses as if looking at the pieces on a chessboard.  Civilians being gunned down by war machines.  A random whale, hanging in the air.

The Outsider places his mark upon my left hand, and gives me the ability to teleport short distances.  He has me travel through the frozen scenes, forcing me to use my new ability to avoid falling into the nothingness below.

He gives me "the heart of a living thing" kept alive by magic and clockwork (mostly magic) it gives me the ability to see his artifacts and learn secrets.  I believe it to be the heart of the empress, robbed of the sleep of death and trapped in the one part of her body that remains alive.

He tells me that he has given me the power, but what I do with it is up to me.  Just like the others.

One of the others is obviously the assassin, Daud, who killed the Empress and kidnapped Emily.

When I wake up there's evidence it was more than a dream.  The mark is still on my hand, things have been placed in my room, one of them a book that describes a frightening woman whose name has been forgotten.  People call her "Granny Rags".

I still have the heart.  I can still teleport.  There are powers available to me if I collect the Outsider's runes, carved from whale bones, the bones of the leviathans.

Again I am faced with the option of killing.  Five and a half of the powers available to me are neither lethal nor immoral, though they can all be used to augment killing people.  The "and a half" is because powers can be gained and then upgraded.  One of the non-lethal ones can be upgraded to be lethal.  Three and a half are about killing, some brutally so.  The remaining power is possession.  Not lethal, but taking over a person or animal's body violates consent like whoa.

They send me to murder the high overseer.  He's one of the two people I know to be behind the assassination of the empress, he leads a religion so powerful it has foot soldiers that are, at the very least, considered the equals of the city guards.  They can kill and abduct people as they see fit.

Samuel takes me to the point on the river-shore nearest my destination and gives me the lay of the land.  City guards stand between me and my destination if I take the direct route.  A single gang controls side streets in the area, and as for the unaffiliated ... Granny Rags lives here.


Almost immediately my rationale for not killing is tested.  Guards are throwing the dead into a barge so they can be taken off and dumped in the flooded district, a place that was abandoned when the levees broke because resources had to be directed to dealing with the plague.  Except, you know how I said that they were throwing the dead?

One of the guards comments that he thinks one of the bodies they threw was still moving.  They have a nice laugh about how it ain't movin' now.  If he thought the person was alive, and threw the person anyway, he's a killer.  That prospect amuses him.

No longer can I tell myself these are good people just doing their jobs.  The heart lets me learn about them, sometimes what I learn is nice.  Sometimes it lets me know that someone is a monster.

It's tempting to take my sword and strike down the guilty.  No one else will do it, after all.

I see Granny Rags.  She asks me to get rid of three thugs at her door.  I do.  I knock them out and carry them to a place where they can wake up in safety.  She gives me a reward.  A rune.  Runes mean power, and I'm going to need supernatural power to get through this.  When the empress was murdered I didn't have power and that allowed them to simply cast me aside.  Granny Rags will give me another rune if I go on a mission for her.

A doctor nearby is investigating the plague, as such he has diseased rat guts on hand.  Go in, steal them, and put it into the gang's elixir.  Elixir is what you consume to avoid contracting the plague.  Once you have the plague there is no cure, but if you're healthy and you take a daily dose of elixir (or the competing product: remedy) you won't get it.  The trouble is that there isn't enough to go around.

Granny Rags is asking me to commit an act of bio terrorism.  She thinks that's ok.  And I have no doubt she's murdered people before.  I cannot, possibly, consider her innocent.  I could kill her in hopes of saving others.

I walk away.  It takes me into gang territory.  They're not just criminals, they're killers.  They've also imprisoned someone and won't let him out until he coughs up something of value.  So they're kidnappers too.

They're armed with swords and fire.  It would be so much easier to just fight through them lethally.  I don't.

I stay my blade, do what I can to help whoever they're oppressing at this particular moment, and move on.

I reach the overseer's main temple.  Oh, wait, rewind.

Granny Rags had a shrine to the Outsider.  He appears to me at his shrines.  He points out that I'm going to confront the head of a cult that's devoted to hating him.  He's not wrong.  They cast him as a devil figure right down to having a saying about idle hands.

The religion may have been good once.  Or maybe it never was.  Its history includes purges and various things that aren't exactly associated with the good parts of religion.  Still, it seems to have had good parts.  Samuel hopes that once this dark time is over they'll start having regular services again.  He doesn't strike me as the type to knowingly associate with evil.

But the services aren't held anymore.  They're on full inquistion mode.  They abduct whoever they suspect of witchcraft and those they suspect are always found guilty.

They hide their faces behind masks and hide their consciences from themselves.  They are the overseers.

When I reach the outer perimeter of their compound I find that they've put someone in the stocks and, if I understood the conversation correctly, intended to leave him there until he's died from exposure.

This is the only case I know of where someone they're punishing is actually guilty.  He is a traitor.  He's in league with The Loyalists.

I knock out the guard and set him free.  I soon find myself at a confrontation between overseers.  One has removed his mask because he's acting not as an overseer, but as a brother.  His sister is accused of witchcraft, he says she's innocent.

Two other overseers respond, basically, that they're going to take a "kill it with fire" approach toward her.  Guilty or not, these people are talking about gruesome premeditated murder.  It's tempting, oh so tempting, to cut them down.

I stay my hand.  I render the overseers unconscious and let the brother and sister go their own way.

The high overseer I've been sent to stop wasn't just involved in the plot to kill the empress, he's also part of the ongoing kidnapping of Emily, and he's plotting to murder a leader in the city guard tonight because the man isn't corruptible enough for his liking.

There is a way to eliminate him without killing him, though.   A special mark called "The Heretic's Brand" is applied to members of the priesthood who have betrayed the religion.  When someone is given it, whatever their status, they are effectively unpersoned.  No questions asked.  You do not hurt them, you do not help them, you do not speak to them.  The religion is powerful enough that the branded also lose their citizenship and it is a mild criminal offence to give a branded person aid of any kind.

Of course it's no ordinary brand otherwise it could be forged.  You need the actual brand, and it isn't applied with heat (too easy to fake, no doubt) but with a special chemical that outsiders wouldn't be able to fake.  There is only one brand and it's kept locked up.

But that didn't stop me.  I prevented him from murdering the guardsman, I knocked him out, I carried him to the special chamber where the ceremony must take place, I took the brand, and I excommunicated the fucker.


One of the servants of the loyalists is berated by another for not knowing how to curtsy when the next Empress will soon be there.  I want to be able to tell her that curtsying isn't important, a ten year old girl who takes the throne in time of plague doesn't need people who curtsy, she needs strength and this servant has more than enough of it if she'd let it show.

The game doesn't actually let me talk to people.  As I said above, Corvo is a silent protagonist.

Another of the servants is told that she's as important as me.  That, from when we rescue her until we put her on the throne, Emily will be in her charge.  She dreams of adventure on the deck of a ship, but she was born a woman in a culture with high patriarchy, so she's consigned a life of serving those who can afford to not do work themselves.  Well, she also could have joined a brothel, but the only one we see in the game prefers slaves to volunteers.  Slaves have lower wages, after all.

If she shared the side she keeps hidden with Emily, Emily would like that.  I'd like to tell her that.  I'd also like to tell her that one of the men spies on her while she's bathing so she's going to want to cover up the keyhole the next time she needs to get clean.  And I want to tell the man to not fucking do that.

But I can't do these things.

Since I freed Martin, the overseer loyal to our cause, the leaders of the Loyalists have been a former admiral, an aristocrat, and now Martin the overseer.  This is a good mix for the cause.  The military, the nobles, and the overseers are the power groups in the city and we have one person from each.

It is also, however, an unnerving group.  Martin has always wanted to be High Overseer, a position I just made vacant.  When I did I recovered a journal that the High Overseer had been keeping on his person so that the wouldn't have to remember everything.  On the one hand it's let us learn where Emily is being held.  Yay.  On the other hand its principle function was keeping all of his blackmail straight.

He rose to the position by blackmailing key players in the religious faction.  Now Martin can use the same blackmail to rise to the same position.

Is what I'm doing taking down the corrupt regime with a side effect of putting The Loyalists in power, or is it putting The Loyalists in power with a side effect of taking down a corrupt regime?

My next target will be the older brothers of our aristocrat.  With them out of the way he controls their voting bloc.  My final target will be taking out the Lord Regent.  With him out of the way the admiral will take control of the military.

These people are giving me the resources I need to save Emily and topple the usurpers, but they're also the ones who have the most to gain from me doing so.  I wonder, are their motives noble, or is it simple lust for power?

When I sleep I hope to be visited by the Outsider again.  I want his perspective.

I only sleep.  No messages from the Void.


Emily is being held at the favorite brothel of the aristocrat's older brothers.  Presumably this is to allow them to raise Emily in sufficiently noble ways.  That she hasn't been killed is evidence that the plan is to turn her into the new regime's figurehead.

Since eliminating the older brothers and rescuing Emily at the same time is more efficient, I go when they're there.  The problem is that since they're there the brothel is being heavily guarded.  Worse still, it's in roughly the same area I was just in, which means that my escapades have shown that security needed to be beefed up in the area, now movement is even harder.

Which means that a non-lethal approach is even harder.

The leader of the gang I opted not to attack with plague requests a meeting with me.  He says he knows that I'm here to do some killing, and figures that the only people in the area worth killing are the ones I have, indeed, been sent to kill.  He offers a better way in, in exchange for me finding one of his agents who went missing.

It takes me to the same place Granny Rags wanted to send me for a sample of plague.  Unfortunately his informant is quite dead.  Fortunately the informant left a message.

Unfortunately the recording ends with him dying before he can say who the gang's unknown enemy really is.  The gang leader, Slackjaw, keeps his end and gives me access to an abandoned building that allows me to take an approach with less security.

He then makes an interesting offer.  He wants the combination to a certain safe.  The person with the combination is in that very brothel.  If I get the combination, he'll take care of the aristocrats for me without killing anyone.

There is no moral way to navigate this particular minefield.  The combination guy is strapped into an interrogation device for some S&M play.  Pull the lever and he gets a powerful zap.  He'll enjoy the first few times (he's blindfolded and doesn't know you're not the girl who is supposed to be at the controls), but he also has a heart condition and has to call it off pretty quickly for fear that too much would damage his health or possibly even kill him.

The only way to get the combination is to zap him, twice, after he says his safe word.

What the everloving fuck?  He's blindfolded, in a soundproofed room (so his screams can't disturb the other guests), strapped to a machine designed to inflict pain, and afraid that if he gets zapped too many times it'll damage his heart.  This kind of situation is what threats are for.  He'd give up the combination without being tortured.

Even moreso, if you do zap him once after he's said the safeword and repeatedly frob him (frobbing is how you use objects like switches and kitchen sinks, and how you "talk" to people) he'll tell you that he'll give you whatever you want, but then you can't tell him what you want until you zap him again.

What the everloving fuck?

Torture or murder?  That's the choice.

I repeat: What the everloving fuck.

As you can tell from the fact that I know it takes two zaps, I gave him the two zaps rather than killed two people.

While at the brothel I encountered more people who made me think that, maybe, if I played god, decided who lived and died, and killed them the world would be a better place.  But mostly what I really wanted to do was help the women escape.  Some of the prostitutes appear to be there by choice, and if that's good for them then yay, but most of them are tricked into coming by promise of work in a factory, then they arrive in a new city on a new island with no resources and are forced into sex work.

Emily may be the only one who is actually physically confined, but most slaves have no chains.  Other means are used to keep them from escaping.

There's nothing I can do for them.  The game isn't about them.

Emily, it turns out is a resourceful and indomitable 10 year old.  She has had multiple escape attempts and even made it as far as the outer door on the most recent attempt.  Not the front door, instead a discrete door used by people who want to come and go without being seen walking through the doors.  Because of its placement, she was mere footsteps from freedom when they caught her.

Of course then she would have been in plague-afflicted pseudo-gang-territory.  (It's not exactly gang territory and it's not exactly not.)  Even if she had made it out, she might still have needed to be rescued.  Still, at least she's trying to be a self rescuing princess and, while not succeeding, doing a pretty good job of reaching "almost".

Emily goes to safety, I return to Slackjaw with the combination.  (After looting the safe.  It had a rune and a master painting in it.)  He tells me what he plans to do.  It's poetic justice but it also involves mutilation which I would have liked to have known going in.  The brothers run a mine where workers are kept deep underground and treated as slaves.  Slackjaw is going to make them workers in their own horrific mine.  I'm not sure if the mutilation is something that's done to all of the workers, or it's just to prevent them from telling anyone who they really are.


Next up is a kidnapping.  Without the aristocrats the Lord Regent has lost the support of parliament.  He still commands the military (including the police force), but you don't turn a prosperous city into a totalitarian draconian terror state without a lot more funding.  That hasn't been a problem, for him because his mistress is also his financial backer.  Take her out of the picture and, since he doesn't control parliament anymore, he's not going to be able to afford to fund his police state and is going to have to start making cutbacks.

So, why a kidnapping when I've been ordered to kill everyone else?

We don't know who the mistress is.  The Royal Physician who is a genius, inventor, and painter, however, probably does given that he painted a portrait of said mistress.

Honestly I don't know why we didn't recruit him from the start.  He is one of only two people to develop a vaccine against the plague.  The other one works for the Loyalists and together they represent the two brightest minds in the empire.  Put them both in the same room and maybe they can come up with a cure.

Anyway, abduct him, take a nap, wake up to Emily

It turns out that the paranoia is great and, therefore, the genius-painter guy was only allowed to see his subject from behind and never told her full name.  Instead he knows her family name but there are three potentials in the family.

The good luck for me is that the sisters are putting on a masquerade ball, a masked assassin will fit right in.

Again there's a non-lethal option, and again it's extremely icky.  Instead of killing her I can deliver her to someone who claims to love her who promises to keep her far away forevermore.

Um... that is so horribly wrong in so many ways.  I ... I just ... I can't even.

But I've been trying so damned hard to refrain from killing people.  I deliver her up and pray that I'm delivering her to what amounts to a comfortable prison rather than someone who is going to try to force her to love him.  (That is, I pray that what I just did wasn't rapetastic.)


The servant who can't curtsy (Cecelia) tells me that she has a secret hideaway, an abandoned apartment across the street from the loyalist headquarters with good strong doors.  She lets me have the key and tells me to go there if something bad happens, she sure will.

She isn't the only one who has been having such thoughts.  The admiral has been concerned that having this many people here is, sooner or later, going to tip someone off to the fact that the place isn't abandoned or that gangs might move in if they think it is abandoned but realize there is no plague here.

Next I storm the castle to take out the leader of the bad people.


In the castle I break my streak of not killing anyone.  I come face to face with the torturer and he seems immune to my tranquilzer darts.  His job is to torture people (who the fuck makes that a job) he enjoys his work.  I don't feel bad about killing Count Rugen minus the coolness factor.

I stop by the place from which propaganda is spewed and the person there tells me that the Lord Regent (arrogant ass that he is) has recorded his crimes in his own words.  If I can get that recording ... non-lethal option.

I do, and his crimes are worse than I would have imagined.

Various people had noticed that something wasn't right about the plague.  It came from somewhere, but instead of appearing in the shipyards and spreading to the rest of the city from there, it started in the poorer districts where the ragged people go, coming out of places only they would know.  This is made even stranger by the fact that the plague rats were not the same as the native rats, which meant that they had to imported.

If it had started in some upscale district then one might think that a rich naturalist had unknowingly brought the plague when importing an exotic species, but the poor had no way to get rats from the mainland.

Instead it was as if someone had put the the plague there.  The empress commanded her spymaster (head of her intelligence services) to investigate if this was a covert attack by a foreign power.  That led to her downfall.

The spymaster, the man who became Lord Regent, was the one who unleashed the plague on the poor.  He wanted to get rid of the members of society he saw as useless.  It might have worked out just like he planned, though plague is a hard thing to control, but the empress refused to treat sick people like criminals, refused to simply cordon off the the poor areas and let population die, and so the plague spread.

When she asked that he investigate whether the plague was an attack, the then-spymaster realized that the truth would come out if that line of reasoning were to be followed, so she had to go.  Also he thought that the plague, which had now spread far beyond his intentions, could be stopped with suitably oppressive measures.

So he had her killed and took over.  His original plan might have worked if it had been handled his way, but after six months the plague was beyond control.  When he took over and took Draco as a role model even the most Draconian measures couldn't stop the plague.

And then he recorded his justification for posterity, presumably so that if someone found out what he did after his death and thought him horrible he'd have already recorded his counter argument of, "No, I was totes right."

Regardless, broadcasting his recording gets him immediately arrested.


Back with The Loyalists everyone's in a celebratory mood.  I'm uneasy.  If something is going to go horribly wrong, now is the time.  Until Emily is on the throne, our work isn't done.  Even then we haven't dealt with the assassin yet.

If I'm being played, I've just lost my value.

I'm offered a drink, no choice but to take it.  I don't drop dead.  That's a good sign.

As the others celebrate, I start to experience something odd.  Moments of ... wrong.  Wrong color, wrong sound.

I worry that it's a sign a supernatural attack is coming, the magic has been described as music, and the overseers developed an atonal "music box" that can negate magic within earshot.  This strange sound could be the precursor to something horrible.

I talk to our equipment guy, upgrade my gear, stock up on ammunition.  I try to talk to anyone about this sudden wrongness, but the limits of the interface mean I can't bring it up and none of them notice.

Finally I go to bed, convinced I'll wake up to something horrible.

And collapse to the ground before I make it to the bed.

Oh.  It wasn't magic.  It was poison.  The reason no one else noticed it was that I was the only one who was poisoned.

The leaders, the admiral, the aristocrat, and the overseer tell me it's nothing personal ... which, bullshit.  When the treasonous assholes framed me for assassination and kidnapping it wasn't personal because I wasn't even supposed to be there that day.  I was the Dante Hicks of that particular story.  This, though, this is personal.

They decided that they'd cement their rule if they rescued Emily from me and came forward with my body.  It would also save them from being punished for the fact that, while the Lord Regent and his allies were illegitimate rulers, everything The Loyalists had done here was treason.

Samuel checks me and tells them I'm dead.  He's left to deal with my body.  It's a good thing none of them were willing to put in the poison themselves.  Granted they watched Samuel put it in so he had to poison me, but he was able to put in only half of the intended lethal dose.  He apologizes to me for doing even that much, puts me in a raft in the river so I'll be far from those that tried to kill me, and promises to try to find me.


The assassins find me in the flooded district.  They recognize the poison, but say the poisoning was amateur work and I'll live (if their boss allows me to.)

Daud is an assassin for hire, but he doesn't just take contracts assigned specifically to him.  There are two bounties on my head.  One under my name, one for what I did as the man in the mask.  He figures the price will be even better alive rather than dead.

He throws away my gear and locks me up.

The Outsider visits me again:

Here you are at last, in a ruined and drowning world, held captive by the man who killed your Empress, the assassin Daud. Your friends poisoned you and dumped your body in the river. Did they do it to protect themselves, so no one would ever know what they'd done? Or was it because they were a single move away from controlling an empire, and they knew you'd never let them manipulate Emily? Maybe none of these. Perhaps that's just the nature of man.

Thanks sunshine, that really brightens my outlook on life.

I escape, of course.  But in these assassins I see something I have not seen before, or have not allowed myself to see.  I see acceptable targets.  They aren't under any illusions, they definitely aren't innocent, and they don't even have a cause.  They're killers.

I don't have my gear, I don't have my tranquilizer darts, and I don't have the patience to try to take them down non-lethally unarmed.

I've reached my breaking point.  I cut them down.

I recover my gear.

With sword and crossbow I kill them.  I cut a swath of blood through the flooded district.  When I near their base I get into a fight where I'm nearly outmatched.  They're on all sides and at least one is able to possess animals.  The animals get tranquilizer darts.  The mindless plague victims that border on zombiehood did too, the assassins die.

After using a tranquilizer darts on a doggish thing they're still loaded into my crossbow and I end up needing to fire, and fire fast, to stay alive.  The assassin is thus spared, falling toward the ground where he'll nap until the effect wears off.  I won't have that.  I kill him, defenseless as he is, with my sword before he hits the ground.  A few more dead bodies and I'm at the man himself.  Daud.  The one who killed the empress right in front of me.

He's recording an entry in his journal.  Says he didn't think an empress would be any different, but it was and now he feels the entire weight of this dying city on him.  Says he'd take it back if he could.  He'd give up all of his gold just to not do that one job.  Then he notices me.

The fight is on.

When he's beaten but not yet dead he uses his magic to teleport away.  I find him a short distance away waxing philosophical and asking for mercy.

The heart, the empress' heart, tells me things about him.  

The two that stand out are:
His hands do violence. But there is a different dream in his heart.
Why have you brought me here? Am I meant to forgive this man for what he did?
No.  Never.  I'd never expect or require that someone forgive the person who murdered them.  But the decision here is mine.

I let him live.

He says:
You choose mercy; extraordinary.
No.  No, what's extraordinary is that I would spare him after I killed all the others.  His underlings didn't deserve to die any more than he did.  They didn't deserve mercy any less.  Sure, none of them asked, but I didn't exactly give them the chance.  Is his life somehow more valuable because he had the power to teleport away before he died, thus giving him a chance to ask for mercy?

What possible reason could there be to spare him and not them?

The path back to where I last saw Emily takes me through the quarantine.  I see them dumping the bodies.  I hear the survivors talking about the grim situation.

There's no hospital, I told you that.  You think they round people up because there's a cure?
They're city guards; they're supposed to protect people.
They did.  The protect the healthy people from people like us.

It is said that a third of the city has died.

One man only wanted to die at home.

One woman tells me that she's not going to try to escape.  This is Dunwall.  Soon the plague will be everywhere.  The city will crumble before us and it won't matter if you're inside or outside quarantine.

I make my escape without even finding myself facing an opponent.

The sewers are the last leg of the journey.  The trouble is, some asshole's gone and locked the way through and the only key on this side of the gate is on Slackjaw.  After his gang was attacked by magically controlled rats Slackjaw led an expedition to find out who was behind it.  One sewer crawl later and I find Slackjaw locked up by Granny Rags.  She's going to cook him, possibly eat him, and definitely carve his bones into occult objects.

She'll give me a rune if I help.  Step one is to kill him.  Don't want him crawling out of the pot while he's being boiled.  Of course I don't help her.  I say I'll help her and then I turn on her.  I spared Daud, the assassin, but he never cooked anyone.

Turns out she can't be killed that easily, but before Slackjaw was ultimately captured he was able to find the way to kill her for good in one of her books.  There are lessons here.  One is that if you stop to read books in a death match with a supernatural murderer you might end up on the menu.  The other is that it's good if someone stopped to read books during or, better still, before the deathmatch with the supernatural murderer.

Granny Rags tells me that he's not worth saving, perhaps she's right.  He lives by a code, but that doesn't mean he's not a murderer who leads a gang of murderers.  But I've had my fill of deciding who lives and dies based on some criteria of worth.  Granny Rags is the one doing a horrible thing to Slackjaw.  Who gives a fuck what he deserves?  He's the victim and he needs saving.  In this case, that seems to require killing Granny Rags, but it's not based on some estimation of her worth, it's based on the fact that she's trying to kill someone right here right now.

After I save him Slackjaw gives a little speech, I think the start is interesting.
Wanna know somethin' funny?  When we were kids we were all scared of Granny Rags.  Thought she was a terrible witch.  Then we grew up and figured she was just a sad old lady.  We were right the first time.  Now ain't that funny?
I'm not sure that I'd call that funny, but there's something else on my mind.  Granny Rags was touched by the Outsider, even has shrines to him.  Daud was gifted with power too.  The torturer had a shrine to the Outsider.  One shrine was built by someone who didn't know anything about this stuff found a rune, ended up building a shrine to it, and was driven to malice and murder at nigh Smeagolesque speed.

In another place someone brought a rune in and the plague rats followed, killing almost everyone.  Emily found one and held onto it for luck, but it gave her nightmares.

Everyone I see who is associated with the Outsider is evil.  What does that make me?  The only person associated with the Outsider who doesn't appear to be evil is the Outsider himself who finds the mercy I showed to Daud fascinating.

I go on, through the sewers.  It's only when I find myself attacking an acid spitting death clam with a sword again and again and again, in spite of the fact that the sword can't physically harm it and all I seem to be doing is causing senseless pain, that I realize something somewhere has gone horribly wrong.

Daud saw in me what he could have been.  My masters at The Loyalists wanted me to be an assassin for them.  To kill for them.  I chose not to kill.

But I have become like Daud.  When I laid waste to his assassins my hands became soaked in blood.

Daud said that he would have given up all of his gold to undo the killing of the Empress.  He couldn't.  I, however, can take back what I have done.

I give up all of my progress since I was poisoned, and start fresh from there.  I don't kill unless I need to, and Granny Rags is the only one I need to kill.


Actually, I just checked, and I could have rendered her unconscious after destroying her resurrection charm, but I honestly didn't even consider it at the time


It isn't easy.  Daud's assassins like to stand at the edge of rooftops so just shooting them with tranq-darts leaves them falling to their deaths.  To not kill them you need to get behind them so you can catch them.

It was a lot harder, but it was better.

I reached what had been our headquarters.  Cecelia is the first one I meet.  She made it into the abandoned apartment she'd told me about before.  She escaped execution only because the servants were lured to their deaths with promise of bonuses and an asshole servant (who still didn't deserve to die) told her that she wouldn't get one.

Emily's tutor who dreamed of the sea was also spared.  The admiral owed her uncle.

Cecelia didn't know what happened to the two geniuses.

When I approached the locked up and fortified building of The Loyalists resident genius I heard him and the other genius finally having a conversation.  About damned time, too.  They even thought that maybe together they could finally make a cure.  (They can.)

At first I was confused.  I didn't see them anywhere.  I wondered if what I was hearing was a recording to trick people into thinking they were still in there.  When I got to the main workshop I realized what was happening: their calm polite conversation was taking place while they both hid under the workshop tables.

Before everything had gone to shit they'd collaborated on a defensive measure that could knock out (or incinerate) any enemy in the quarantined block.  Good news is that since they made it beforehand the two other survivors are considered "not enemy" (the turncoats would be too, but they're not here so it hardly matters) presumably they do something to make that apply to me as well.

I get them the parts they need to finish it (they're too afraid to step outside, and it is pretty fucking dangerous.)  I don't tell them to make the others burn.  We're back to innocent guards who think we're the baddies.

After this, though, I'm on my own.  There's only one last place to go, and no one else is a warrior.

I go to the place the new regime has set up shop.  I don't kill anyone.  Slowly, methodically, and having to save often, I make my way to her at the top of a fortified tower.

When I get there everything has fallen apart.  The admiral is talking to the dead bodies of the aristocrat and the overseer, asking if they remember how it started.  If they remember when they were still people with good intentions and a noble cause.

He doesn't try to put up a fight.  He knows he can't win.  He resigns himself to his fate, whatever that may be.  I don't kill him.  (I don't leave him walking around either; I'm not stupid.)

When I let Emily out of the closet she's locked in everything is finally over.

The Outsider gives me a glimpse of my future.  Emily will lean on me as an adviser when she's still young, but she'll grow to be Emily the Wise.  That, combined with the cure to the plague that the two geniuses make will usher in a golden age for the city and the empire.  When I do finally die I'll be buried beside the fallen empress.  Emily and the empire will go on without me.