“So you gave her your personal passwords, your credit card number, and your Social Security number even though you’d only just met?” said Officer Carruthers incredulously.

“You don’t understand!” wailed the quivering lump of pale manflesh in the precinct office. “She had dyed hair…she was so vibrant and quirky, I just…I just felt a connection!”

“Even so, Mr. Daniels, surely you must have had some idea that things weren’t on the level,” added Chief Strong, trying and failing to sound sympathetic rather than annoyed.

“She said she wanted to grind for loot for me in Dungeons of Krull,” blubbered Daniels, “and she wanted to register so we could play together!”

“Gentlemen I believe I may be of some assistance here.” At the sound of that familiar voice, both Carruthers and Strong recoiled. “Not again.”

“Yes, gentlemen, it is I: Sherwood Greg. Collector, scholar, dungeon master, level 25 elven sorceress, head of the Council of Twelve, and overall coordinator for Nerdicon.” The rotund form of Sherman Gregward, as he was known to the state, waddled into the office. If nothing else, he made Daniels look svelte by comparison.

“What is it, Gregward?” snapped Chief Strong. “Can’t you see that we’re in the middle of something? How’d you get in here, anyway?”

“I heard the cry of a kindred spirit in need, echoing throughout the blogisphere,” said Sherwood Greg grandly. “And it just so happens that your man at the front desk is a fan of Glowworm, and now has a complimentary ticket to the cast and crew panel at this year’s Nerdicon.”

The officers exchanged looks of intense annoyance. “Well, we’ve got a fairly straightforward case of identity theft here, Gregward,” said Officer Carruthers. “So I don’t know what help you can be.”

“On the contrary, our mutual friend Mr. Daniels–AKA Armageddetron82–has fallen victim to a recent trend that I like to call the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl Scam.’ Namely, a savvy con artist aping the two-dimensional wish-fulfillment female characters so prevalent in entertainment for the purposes of cutting-edge fraud and social engineering.”

“I think we had figured that part out,” said Chief Strong. “What can you do that we can’t?”

“I can offer myself up as bait, of course,” said Sherwood Greg. “For I assure you that seeing the con artist who has been ravaging the local nerdgeek and geeknerd community brought to justice is foremost on my mind, and I am a far more tempting target than either of you could ever hope to be.”

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“Welcome to the Copy Shop of Graglock the Wise! What’ll it be, sir?”

“I need 150 black and white copies of this spell, 150 color copies of this scroll, and 150 double-sided copies of these hexes.”

“Would you like them on standard parchment? We also have papyrus, vellum, 70 weight dragonskin, Dreadfiber, and mithrilstock.”

“All of it on standard parchment.”

“Are you sure? The vellum holds up better in continental climates, the papyrus is guaranteed for 3000 years, the dragonskin is fire retardant…”

“Stop trying to upsell me. Can you do it or not?”

“Well, we can have Xeroxes the scribe copy your spell with his enchanted quill, though he is low on toner and the copies are coming out a little fuzzy. It’ll be done by the end of the day.”

“And what about the rest?”

“Well, we need at least 24 hours to do color copying, since the ink takes time to mix and it takes a team of four scribes. Cee, Emm, Why, and Kay have been grumbling about overtime, too.”

“And the double-sided hexes? What about those?”

“Our double-sided color scribe isn’t working right now. We can do one side and then put it back in to do the other, but I’m not going to lie, that could cause ha;f of the hex to be upside down.”

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“Gentlemen, I give you Ruins & Rogues, 1st edition,” said Matt. “The Old Testament. Fire and brimstone. Death around every corner.” With a flourish, he opened his bag and took put a stack of books with brightly colored if crudely drawn covers.

“Wow, is that a 1st edition Adventurer’s Guidebook?” cried Chris.

“With the rare first printing inclusion of copyrighted characters from the Tolkien estate,” Matt said proudly. “Bought them at an estate sale on Dounton Street East.”

“What’s this?” Jeff, the third member of Matt’s erstwhile Ruins & Rogues group took up a sheaf of papers between the Ruins & Rogues Creature Compendium and the Ruins & Rogues Interverse Manual.

“Oh, it’s the campaign that whoever owned this stuff before was playing,” Matt said. “It’s MS3TK-worthy, you’ve got to see this.”

“Got to see this is right,” Chris chortled, taking up a character sheet with a 1984 date. “Drake Midnight: level five barbarian of Clan War Bear. Nineteen strength, nineteen agility, four intelligence.” He held up a crude illustration of a Viking in a horny helmet wielding two axes bug enough for their own Congressmen. “Look, it’s straight out of Napoleon Dynamite’s sketchbook. Hope those straps are velcro. Hilarious!”

“Hilarious is this map right here,” countered Jeff. “Titcave Mound, home of the Priestesses of Lost Memory. Or is that lost mammary? Look at these booby statues they drew!”

“It’s a wonder they got in there at all considering their healer was Chastity Witchmourner,” Matt added. “Her character sheet includes her measurements and a nice little doodle of what I can only assume is a 12-year-old smuggling beach balls. Looks like the player–one ‘Steve’–was pretty into it. I hope this stain is from the fried chicken they were eating!”

All three had a good laugh before settling down to the business of filling out their new character sheets, with Mat promising that the old campaign would be incorporated into their new one for kicks and giggles. Before the playing got started in earnest, though, Matt excused himself to fetch more snacks.

The basement door opened onto a vast and red-skied vista illuminating a temple carved into the living rock of the mountainside with impossibly busty caryatids supporting it. A flamingly redheaded woman of similar proportions, and wearing what must have been about three cubic inches of chainmail, was rushing toward him.

“Drake had gone berserk with War Bear battle lust!” she cried. “You must help me!”

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Sourced from the Ruins & Rogues Adventurer’s Guidebook, 2nd Edition

Librarian Sub-Classes

At level 30 librarians earn their usual 1 skill point but also gain 100 hit points and an extra equipment slot. At this point they may also choose one of the following sub-classes:

Stealthy and deadly, the Booksassin moves as silently as a turned page and strikes as deeply and unexpectedly as a papercut. This sub-class focuses on speed, surprise, and damage at the expense of durability, legibility, and archival quality. Booksassins may use the Tome Travel ability once per day to travel through bookshelves as if casting a teleport spell of equivalent level and do automatic quintuple damage upon emerging from one.

Dewey Deathimal
The Dewey Deathimal classifies and shelves hard-hitting magical and quasi-magical attacks, casting them over a wide area like a shush quiets an unruly mob. This sub-class focuses on intelligence-based area of effect attack spells at the expense of granularity, adaptability, and clarity. Once per day, the Dewey Deathimal may use Books to Bats, which causes all nearby tomes to animate, flap through the air, and descend on all targets in a designated area bringing death from a thousand papercuts.

As punishing as an overdue library book and as well-stocked as a private college library, the Bibliothief focuses on collection development at all costs. This grants major bonuses to the Acquisitions and Prestidigitation skills at the cost of Cataloging and Circulation. Bibliothieves can use the Bookwalk ability to walk across the tops of shelves and gain a bonus to all Book Acquisition rolls (which the sub-class can apply to any item with words on it, not just books).

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Dale’s Remote Piloted Drone loomed large on Cam’s viewscreen, attached to one of the many pieces of icy debris that made up planet HD 11765d’s ring.

“Cam and Ev,” Dale’s voice said. “I wouldn’t have figured you two to be the ones to find me.” His transmission was a nightmare of static and interference, with no video link. With a start, Cam realized that he was transmitting from his RPD to theirs rather than simply linking to their pilot stations on Earth, which was a lot more reliable and less expensive.

“Switch to a earthbound link, will you?” Ev said. Her image on the left of Cam’s screen was scowling. “I can barely hear you.”

“No,” Dale cried. “I’m totally off the grid here, at least as much as that’s possible. I’ve hacked my RPD to pieces to keep their prying eyes away, and I’m not letting them listen in on an earthbound link.”

“Who’s ‘them,’ Dale?” said Cam. “The government that set up the remote relay network? The company that you leased your RPD from? The people buying the mineral and colonization rights you’re charting and selling? This whole thing has always been about listening in. It’s the only way to cash in.”

“Wrong!” Dale cried. “Wrong. I’m on the cusp of something big, Cam. Really big. If they knew…knew for sure…they’d disconnect me.”

“Big whoop,” Ev said. “You’d lose your RPD and have to get a job on Earth instead of sitting in your apartment hooked up all the time.”

“No…that’s not it at all,” Dale said. “If what I’ve found is true, they can erase me as surely and completely as you trashing a bad song. If what I’ve found is true…there isn’t an Earth to go back to, at least not one we’ll ever be able to reach.”

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Officer Caruthers rubbed the back of his head. “Chief Strong has brought in an…outside advisor.”

Detective Gorrister sighed. “Strong and his outside advisors. This isn’t another radio psychic, is it?”

The apartment door nudged open, and a large man waddled in. He was dressed in Lincoln Green, and his greasy dark hair was thin in front and long and flowing in back, as if it were being grown out for a comb-over. “Hardly,” the man said. “Like any expert, I am here because of my overwhelming knowledge of and appreciation for the applicable lore.”

“Sherman Gregward,” Caruthers said. “He helped us out with that hostage situation a few months ago.”

“Please address me by my true name, Sherwood Greg, if you please,” intoned the man. “Collector, scholar, dungeon master, level 24 elven sorceress, head of the Council of Twelve, and overall coordinator for Nerdicon. Pre-registration for Nerdicon ’13 begins next week, and I’ve got plenty of plus ones if anyone’s interested.”

Gorrister gripped the bridge of her nose. “And what, exactly, do you bring to the table, Maid Marion?”

Sherwood Greg walked to a nearby end table and slapped down a thick deck of worn cards. “That’s what I bring to the table,” he said.

“A deck of Magick: Battle of Warlocks cards?” Corruthers snapped. “Tell me you’re joking.”

“You tell me, detective.” The corpulent collector cut the deck and revealed a card called The Multiphase Fleshwalker. It depicted a beautiful woman with one leg and one arm denuded of flesh, drawn in a quasi-realistic fantasy style, with the following text beneath it:

Strength 6/Defense 6
Costs three cornfields to activate
Restore one life to casting warlock
Protect casting warlock from life damage for one turn when rotated
Once rotated, may not be used unless caster rotates an additional six cornfields
“They restore one’s flesh at the cost of their own, and are always looking for a lifeforce to drain to restore the beauty they so desperately crave but never attain.”

“Holy shit,” said Caruthers. “It’s just like the murder.”

Sherwood Greg nodded toward the mutilated corpse behind the two officers. “Looks like someone is desperate to restore their life points,” he said.

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Ethical Question the Fifth:

You are in a store and a nearby customer drops a cheap glass cup, which shatters. They pretend to ignore it, and no one witnessed the accident except you. Do you:

A. Confront the customer and demand that they take responsibility for their actions?
They can easily afford to pay for a cheap piece of glass and should learn a lesson about honesty.

B. Report the customer to the store? It is the store’s merchandise and they should be the ones to decide what action to take, if any, against the customer.

C. Report the breakage to the store but not mention the customer?
The broken glass could injure someone and its cleanup is the main priority.

D. Do nothing? The glass is not valuable enough to justify doing anything; the story will discover it in time and confrontation with the customer is pointless.

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I’d had my share of tough video game bosses before. Oozerip the Resurrected from Genesis Dragon, who could only be beaten using a sword that took nearly 100 hours to craft in-game. Cindersoul from Revelation Song, who could only be made vulnerable to damage by completing an epic series of 99 sidequests. Larakoxe from Velocity Skipper, who could only be damaged one out of every 100 rounds. I’d beaten them all.

Even Cycoss, the legendarily tough optional boss from Oblivion Power who had one billion hit points (in a game where the maximum damage was 9999) had fallen to me.

But the Shadow Lady, the hidden final boss of Past Beta VIII, was tougher than them all. Apparently invulnerable to all damage, her first attack struck for more hit points than the player could possibly accumulate.

In fact, as far as I could see, she had never been beaten without the aid of a cheat, which in my mind robbed the endeavor of all its noble qualities. I resolved to beat the Shadow Lady the old-fashioned way.

As I sit here on the rubble which used to be my parents’ house, I wish I hadn’t.