Tasmir’s Reversible Bag Saturday, Oct 20 2007 

In which our intrepid hero jumps on a train of thought and somehow arrives at a new magic item for D&D.

Unless you’re heavily into philosophy, you might want to skip ahead.

As previously mentioned, I have a bunch of old emails, Facebook messages and other people’s blogs backlogged, all waiting to be read.

One of the latter is Accelerating Future, the blog of Michael Anissimov, with whom I first became acquainted via an interview at 10 Zen Monkeys.

Like Anissimov, I consider myself a transhumanist. However, unlike many other transhumanists, I’m extremely skeptical when it comes to the subject of the singularity.

In Accelerando, science-fiction author Charles Stross derisively refers to the singularity as “The Rapture of the Nerds”—a sentiment with which I’m inclined to agree. I lump it in with Marx’ workers taking control of the means of production, and the one where Jesus finally relieves us of some of the world’s most odious fundamentalists.

In short, it’s all too eschatological for my liking.

One of the problems is one of the most common definitions of the singularity is that point at which the aggregate expansion of knowledge becomes infinite.

However, if there is a finite (but really big) amount of matter in the universe, then there are a finite (but really, really big) number of connections that can be made between each particle. Unless the transfer of information between these is truly instantaneous, then the accumulation of knowledge, ipso facto, can never be actually be infinite.

The Transhumanism FAQ skirts this by defining the singularity thus:

Some thinkers conjecture that there will be a point in the future when the rate of technological development becomes so rapid that the progress-curve becomes nearly vertical. Within a very brief time (months, days, or even just hours), the world might be transformed almost beyond recognition. This hypothetical point is referred to as the singularity. The most likely cause of a singularity would be the creation of some form of rapidly self-enhancing greater-than-human intelligence.

Whilst better, I don’t find this explanation satisfactory, either—the term “near-vertical” is too open to interpretation, and the gradient of the curve is easily altered simply by changing the scale of the axes. The gradient is entirely subjective to the parameters used to interpret the progress-curve.

The FAQ goes on to state:

The singularity-hypothesis is sometimes paired with the claim that it is impossible for us to predict what comes after the singularity.

Existentially speaking, it’s impossible to predict the next moment with total certainty (barring undisprovable—and hence epistemically meaningless—concepts such as precognition), but we can make assumptions that usually pan out. For those assumptions to catastrophically fail, the perceivable universe must continually and radically change faster than an individual’s ability to correlate moment-to-moment: an eternal cognitive dissonance.

Fortunately, the mind has defences against such things, and such states don’t last long before the poor victim goes insane. Catastrophic cognitive dissonance is an unstable state. It’s also too specific to individuals to satisfy the implicitly global transcendence of the singularity.

In the end, the whole singularity argument seems like a lot of hand-waving to justify the more antisocial fantasies of a few dispossessed geeks.

Anyway, as I pondered universal finiteness, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend in high school regarding topology.

Imagine that you have a tissue box. “Inside” and “outside” are pretty arbitrary concepts; if you turn the tissue box inside-out, then everything that was formally inside the box—adjacent to the inner surface—could be said to exchange with everything that was outside. You therefore have a tissue box that contains the entire universe.

Except, of course, for a small volume which is now adjacent to the inside-out outer surface. That bit has now been, supposedly, excised from the continuum of the universe itself.

It’s pretty easy to disprove, though. For a start, you can see through the plastic at the top of the box to the internal “outside” which means that photons—at the very least— interpenetrate the tissue box. It isn’t a closed system.

But what if you could create something like it? As I thought about this, I dozed off, and an idea for a magic item for D&D was born.

Little is known of Tasmir’s personal life, but his legacy as a theorist lives on, nearly sixty years after his mysterious disappearance. His acumen both as a conjurer and a psionic nomad brought him unique insights into the structure of the multiverse, and to this day, wizards and psionicists alike puzzle over copies of his notebooks, striving to unravel the secrets of reality itself.

Despite his noble motives in his quest for knowledge, one of the less abstruse fruits of Tasmir’s researches has become especially prized by thieves and smugglers: his reversible bag.

All materials within the shaded box (excluding the name “Tasmir”) are designated Open Game Content:

Tasmir’s reversible bag functions in all respects as a type I bag of holding (see DMG v3.5, p248).

However, when turned inside out, it shifts the contents into a pocket demiplane of identical size to the now-interior of the bag—generally an area 2 feet by 4 feet in size. Whilst closed, the interior of the reversed bag operates under a nondetection effect.

Moderate abjuration, moderate conjuration; CL 9th; Craft Wondrous Item, rope trick, secret chest; Price 37,500 gp; Weight 15 lb.

Admittedly, it’s not too impressive an item. I had a pretty cool backstory worked out for it, but the system kind of let me down.

I initially had an idea that something like genesis would be a good base for the secondary effect, but it was too powerful (and expensive). There wasn’t anything like a genesis lite in the SRD; the closest I could come to it was secret chest, which is already the prerequisite for the bag of holding.

That said, the secondary effect is probably closer in spirit to secret chest than the holding property is. But the bag of holding does little to prevent divination, so I whacked the nondetection effect on.

I’m a bit curious about combined magic/psionic items and how well they’d work together; it seems a shame to have two parallel systems with no crossover items to utilise them both. I think Bruce Cordell did a pretty good job of differentiating them in flavour, but there should be somewhere where they meet in the middle.

I’d hoped that Tasmir’s reversible bag would be an example of this. Apparently not.


    Re-Examining the Craft Skill Tuesday, May 1 2007 

    In which our intrepid hero addresses shortcomings in one of the most versatile skills in D&D.

    As mentioned in a previous post, my old D&D character, Thune, was envisioned as a legendary spearwright in the making. A master of the weapon, he was also to be a noted maker of spears.

    It was during brainstorming for Thune that I came across a number of irregularities with the rules for weaponcrafting.

    Firstly, a 20th-level Expert—with 23 ranks in the appropriate Craft skill—can still only produce masterwork items, at best. Sure, he can make them relatively easily and reliably, but in the end, he can’t make anything a lucky character with only one rank can’t.

    Part of the problem is that the various Item Creation feats all require spellcasting ability to some degree.

    Atlas Games’ otherwise brilliant Nyambe rulebook contains an uber-smith prestige class called the Inyanga Yensimbi, but given that the Craft Magic Arms and Armor feat is one of its prerequisites, it also has an implied prerequisite of at least five levels in a spellcasting class. The Gifted Maker prestige class from Mongoose Publishing’s Ultimate Prestige Classes Vol 1, however, goes some way to addressing this issue.

    Secondly, with particular regard to armour- and weaponsmithing, I find it hard to believe that a smith otherwise unfamiliar with an item can create a normal example of a longsword, say, or a suit of armour, let alone a masterwork one. It seems absurd that a smith can craft a masterwork weapon when they’ve never even picked one up.

    To address this last problem, I suggest the following addendum to the rules for the Craft skill. All materials within the shaded box are designated Open Game Content:

    Craft (General): You must possess at least 5 ranks in a relevant Craft skill in order to attempt to create any masterwork item.

    Craft (Armorsmithing): In order to craft a given type of armor, you must first be proficient in its use.

    For example, to craft a suit of chainmail requires the Armor Proficiency (Medium) feat—and its prerequisite, Armor Proficiency (Light); to produce a buckler, you must have the Shield Proficiency feat. Note that some classes provide these feats as class features.

    Craft (Weaponsmithing): In order to craft a given weapon, you must first be proficient in its use; masterwork weapons require at least a Weapon Focus with that weapon.

    Synergy: If you have Weapon Focus with a given weapon, you receive a +1 bonus on Craft checks related to that weapon; if you have Weapon Specialization, then this bonus increases to +2. If your game features greater degrees of weapon proficiency, then each additional “level” bestows a further +1 (cumulative) bonus.

    Craft (non-combat-related subskills): To make an item related to a skill that cannot be used untrained (see the table on p63 of PHB v3.5), you must possess at least one rank in that skill; in order to make a masterwork item, you must possess at least 5 ranks in the relevant skill.

    For example, if you wish to make masterwork cooking implements, you must first have at least 5 ranks in the Profession (Cook) skill; in order to create a masterwork violin, you must have at least 5 ranks in Perform (Violin); and to create an alchemist’s lab (see p129 of PHB v3.5), you must have at least 5 ranks in Craft (Alchemy).

    These modifications seem to mesh quite well with the Craft rules in Skirmisher Publishing’s Experts. However, given that I only own the 3e edition (and not the 3.5), I can’t guarantee how well the above works with the latest version.