September 1, 2016 - Russell Newquist

Archive Daily Archives: September 1, 2016

Free Will is Real


candlesI received the following tragic e-mail from a friend and former co-worker this morning:

My 9 month old nephew just died and it brought up thoughts about destiny versus free will.  So many people have beliefs that Daniel Dennett calls “good tricks”.  My mom died when I was 2 and I was told she was in heaven just as many believe my nephew is in heaven… I like to believe that too.  And a destiny versus free will conversation doesn’t change that “good trick” belief.

People who believe this was all part of God’s plan get to be ignorant of human mistakes.  That can be very alleviating for people.

So I encourage you to share a writing about destiny and free will with this event in mind.  Consider the good tricks – in that a belief can be helpful without being true.

First, the same response I gave him in e-mail: my thoughts and prayers are with the young child and the family. There is no doubt this is a terrible tragedy.

What my friend refers to in the final paragraph is a longstanding debate we’ve had about free will. As a Catholic, I firmly believe in it. My friend’s beliefs lean toward a strange, relaxed sort of Calvinism. In discussions past, he has indicated that he doesn’t believe in it.

One argument in particular that I’ve made to him in the past, however, did strike home. It’s worth repeating here, especially since he requested it.

Even if free will is an illusion, we must act as if it’s real.

The plain and simple reality is that if we begin acting as if we don’t believe in it, society breaks down – and rapidly. When we don’t hold people accountable for their actions – “because they don’t have free will” – then people become unaccountable. Again, whether or not free will is real, we know this to be the way humans respond. Free Will is one of those things we must believe in, or else it all falls apart.

Since my friend also asks for tricks of the mind to help him through this, I leave him with one last bit of thought. If I may be so bold as to brutally summarize William James’ excellent essay, “The Will to Believe” in one sentence, it is this: religion is worth believing in because even if it is wrong, it makes your life measurably better in the here and now. I encourage him, and all of you, to read the whole thing.

I began by a reference to Fitz James Stephen; let me end by a quotation from him. ” What do you think of yourself? What do you think of the world? . . . These are questions with which all must deal as it seems good to them. They are riddles of the Sphinx, and in some way or other we must deal with them. . . . In all important transactions of life we have to take a leap in the dark…. If wc decide to leave the riddles unanswered, that is a choice; if we waver in our answer, that, too, is a choice: but whatever choice we make, we make it at our peril. If a man chooses to turn his back altogether on God and the future, no one can prevent him; no one can show beyond reasonable doubt that he is mistaken. If a man thinks otherwise and acts as he thinks, I do not see that any one can prove that he is mistaken. Each must act as he thinks best; and if he is wrong, so much the worse for him. We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist through which we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still we shall be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road we shall be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is any right one. What must we do? ‘ Be strong and of a good courage.’ Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes. . . . If death ends all, we cannot meet death better.”

Author Gladiatorial Challenge: The Second Challenge!


Round one of the author gladiatorial challenge went to Brian, as he turned a battle with a barbed devil into an existential discussion of shoes. But Declan turned in a fantastic entry as well, so both contestants move along to stage two!

Gelatinous_CubeThe crowd erupts as our hero stands over the fallen corpse of the barbed devil. Weary and wary, she pauses to catch her breath. The Gamelord oozes dark mirth as he joins in with lazy applause of his own. Clearly he has more planned for her. Suddenly the torches go out. A moment later, the stars themselves go dark. As the applause fades to silence, so does our hero’s vision.

She awakens some time later. She isn’t sure how long it’s been, but she’s feeling strangely refreshed. Her small cell features no windows and no obvious light fixtures. There is but a single, simple door, but it closes tight with no cracks. Even so, the room is strangely well lit. She rises from the hard bed and gathers her belongings. Testing at the door, she finds that it opens easily.

She steps out of the room into a sewer of sorts. At least, that’s what it smells like. The same strange, pale ambient light fills the corridors. Water and muck line the floors. Still, it beats staying in a cage. The first obligation of a prisoner is to escape. She steps out into the catacombs.

She hears the dark laughter of the Gamelord, but she can’t place the source. Then, across the hallway, she sees it. The gelatinous cube approaches. Ten feet to a side, green in tint, it moves toward her, slowly and silently. Bones and remains are visible through the translucent gel, as well as strange objects: a tennis racket; a pair of running shoes; a stop sign. The creature closes in, blocking our hero’s only escape.

Our second challenge is a Gelatinous Cube.

One of the dungeon’s most unusual and specialized predators, gelatinous cubes spend their existence mindlessly roaming dungeon halls and dark caverns, swallowing up organic material such as plants, refuse, carrion, and even living creatures. Materials the cube cannot digest, such as metal and stone, can eventually fill up the creature’s mass with such detritus, and at times the creature may excrete some of this material out of its body. Often the treasure and possessions of past victims remain inside the gelatinous cube, leaving a ghostly impression of their material remains.

As before, both champions face the same challenge, one at a time. The fights will be posted in the order in which they are received. Authors are encouraged to be creative, over-the-top, and above all awesome. The Gamemaster reserves the right to require edits to combat under the standard Gamemaster “no, it really happened this way” clause. The more entertaining, exciting, and awesome the feat is, the more likely it is to be approved. Stats of the creature are available at the link in standard D20ish format, but there is absolutely no requirement for the combat to stick to D20 rules. Descriptions of D20 rules are discouraged; they make for great gaming but boring reading.


If you enjoy these characters, please remember to stop by and patronize the authors by buying their books. Brian Niemeier’s Souldancer and Declan Finn’s Honor at Stake are both well worth the purchase.