Tuesday 28 March 2023

The Terrible Salt

For a generation, the tides at Vincha stopped completely. What was once an enormous tidal flat was lost under bitter waters. Now they have returned, and the brave and curious are gathering to see what was hidden under the terrible salt.

This adventure features an enormous tidal flat, miles and miles wide. Adventurers who set out from Vincha have a strange and dangerous land to explore, and will need to learn its rhythms to return with anything valuable.

The Terrible Salt is something of an experiment in tangibility. Unlike many of my adventures, there's no wandering monster table. Instead, the tides and the crab swarm move in defined ways from their starting points.

The crab swarm is extremely dangerous. It will outnumber most parties, and unless they have good magic (or horses), it will overrun them and eat them. Avoiding notice is better than trying to flee (since the crabs never stop), but this will require that the players stay aware of their environment.

Being spotted by crabs or trapped by the tides doesn't mean certain death, but players may have to ride out an uncomfortable few days being baked by the sun and freezing at night, all without any drinkable water or means of lighting a fire.

The greatest danger in this scenario is facing both crabs and tides at once, either:

  • the crab swarm comes in at the same time as the tide, and you're fighting waist-high crabs in chest-deep water
  • the party is fleeing the crabs, but is then forced by the tide to shelter on a rocky island before they can shake the pursuit

Fortunately, the map is littered with high spots that should allow the party lots of opportunity to scout out their surroundings and avoid danger. (This scenario contains a compressed version of my take on how far you can see on a hex map.)

As I finished the writing, the coral consorts became my favorite part. The implications of these srange marriages transformed the Salt Lords into something more interesting: an ethically neutral but alien presence in the scenario, inviting the party (or whomever) to take a terrifying step into a different world.

The coral consorts themselves make very interesting maguffins: imagine having to go and talk to a knowledgeable NPC somewhere, but learning that they married the sea and need to be found on the slopes of the Salt Lords' citadel. Good luck!

As always, thank you to my patrons on Patreon, who graciously support this project! Because of your generosity, the text and art pieces are released under CC-BY-NC 4.0, for your own non-commercial use.

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EDIT: Some additional hooks!

Wealthy relatives of the doomed expedition members want their bodies (or heirlooms) reclaimed from wherever they wound up

The players need to contact an NPC to learn something, last known to have retired to Vincha. However, she 'married the sea' and is now somewhere on the slopes of the citadel

The other end of the inland sea (beyond the citadel) is a prosperous area. If a reliable way to cross the sea (possibly with the blessing of the Salt Lords) can be found, an important trade route could open up

Crabs have been attacking Vincha; myths say that they serve the Salt Lords' will, and that when they are happy the crabs are kept at bay

From the top of the citadel, when the clouds part, you can see anywhere in the world (or so say the songs)

Every river for a thousand leagues drains into the flats. The Salt Lords know everything that happens along their lengths; they have the answers you seek.

Too long have the Salt Lords stolen the vulnerable, taking them away to marry the sea. Put an end to it.

On the south shore of the inland sea is a tower. Well, more of a ruin than a tower. It stood watch at the mouth of a pass that reaches all the way to Urchlund.

News of the tides restarting has reached Fair Riot, and it's said a Duke is coming to survey lands that he claims are his. Now, maybe they are and maybe they aren't, but a map of the flats would surely be worth good coin and a Duke's favor besides.

In my nan's time, people used to go out on the flats looking for oysters. She said there was an old well on one of the rocks with water you can drink. That would be an incredibly useful staging area for further exploration.

Oysters out on the flats would be an incredible boon to Vincha, if only it were safe. The baron has a sack of silver for whomever can lure those crabs away and deal with them for good.

Sunday 26 March 2023

Incident Report

On Monday, July 20, the Mentor™ learning service suffered an outage that lasted from 4:53AM until service was fully restored on Wednesday, July 22 at 6:11PM.

At Mentor, we don't consider this an acceptable level of service. We sincerely apologize our valued users, institutional customers, and the family and friends of Kyle H. We commit to doing better in the future. This incident report explains what happened, as part of our commitment to openness and transparency.

The roots of the incident start some three months earlier. In April, an automated A/B test of a curriculum modification was proposed by our internal TeachSmart AI. This is normal, and such tests are conducted daily to improve learning outcomes for all Mentor™ students.

Unfortunately, this modification (CT-665.9) was unusual in that it recommended that students begin their learning sessions with a prayer to 'Entity Bezaal'. At Mentor, we have several procedures to ensure that controversial or problematic curriculum modifications don't make it to the public, including random inspection of proposed modifications by our Trust & Safety team.

However, CT-665.9 was not selected for random inspection. This itself is also not unusual; M&L (mindfulness and learning mindset) modifications are inspected at a lower frequency than core curriculum modifications. As a result, CT-665.9 was rolled out to a subset of our students immediately.

CT-665.9 performed well, but not spectacularly, for some time after the test began. Apparently July 19 is a special day to Entity Bezaal (we cannot print the exact name of the celebration), and the invoking prayers suddenly achieved a much greater effect. Learning outcomes in the A group showed a 31% improvement, which is unheard of for an M&L test.

At 5:40 PM on July 19, our Trust & Safety team reviewed the content of CT-665.9 and removed it from production.

Shortly after, at 7:10 PM, a group of individuals breached the Mentor facility in Denver, Colorado, which houses both our primary data center and the offices of our Trust & Safety team.

While Mentor has a strong commitment to both electronic and physical security, our associates on-site at that time initially believed they were facing a group of costumed LARPers from another department. (We believe in a good work-life balance at Mentor, and LARPing in the office had occurred there previously.)

This misunderstanding became obvious at 7:17 PM, when the intruders' greater invocation (we cannot print the exact name) melted the inner wall of our production data center. Mentor employee Kyle H attempted to hold off the intruders with a fire extinguisher, allowing other staff to escape to wade through the caustic mucus and escape.

At 9:47 PM, our secondary incident response team arrived on site and attempted to regain control of our Denver facility. This was initially impossible because of the inhuman strength of the intruders, even after the arrival of Denver police. At 12:02 AM (the morning of July 20), however, this faded abruptly and by 12:50 AM July 20, all floors of the were secured.

Several members of the Northfield High School math team are now in custody (They can't be identified because of their age.)

By Wednesday, our response team had vacuumed up enough of the caustic mucus that we could resume full production operations. Regrettably, Kyle H had been magically transformed into a cone snail during the fighting, and was accidentally crushed by the secondary incident response team during this process. Our condolences go out to Kyle's family and friends; his brave actions on that day saved many lives.

Effective immediately, Mentor is putting in place several enhanced procedures to make sure we don't experience this again.

  • LARPing is no longer permitted at Mentor offices or events
  • Basic fire extinguisher safety courses will be made available to all employees and contractors
  • On the recommendation of TeachAI, all employees will begin their shifts with a prayer to counter-entity Ademilos, may his tentacles surround and protect us.
Again, we apologize for the interruption to our services. Our users have come to expect only the highest in educational outcomes from Mentor, and we regret any disruption this outage has caused.

All hail Ademilos!