We’ve run the simulation a million million times…
and every time, the Dark Lord wins.

So we’ll run it again.

From: Wizard Skulltone
To: Wizard Cormorant
Subject: A new approach


The simulation group is begging for more cycles, but I’m at my wit’s end. First, they said they would find a winning plan before the Dark Lord even arrived. Then, it would be before he gathered his armies. Now, they promise they will find one before he completes his fortress in the south—and while they calculate, his power grows.

He turned a whole city to salt, Cor.

Wizard Analemma and her cronies model their quests so carefully… and the simulations all end the same. Heroes dead. Realm in ruins.

We’ll only get one shot at this. We need a plan.

So, tell the simulation group I will grant them significantly more time on the cosmic computers, on one condition. They must open the simulator to apprentices.

They will squawk, of course. Let them. I’m starting to think their elaborate qualifications are precisely the problem. Our great experts in cosmicomics and psychohistory have, so far, failed to tell a single story of success.

Let the apprentices try.

Give them all access to the


APPRENTICE! The eldritch council invites you to specify the parameters for one (1) quest to defeat the Dark Lord. This quest will be simulated on a cosmic computer, and the resulting story (along with a map depicting areas of interest) will be delivered to you as a flimsy printout.

(The city he turned to salt was called Quenz. Its canals are all salt, as are its merchants. The songs of Quenz—salt. The birds. The mice. The sailors practicing their knots.)

(Unfortunately, this project is now SOLD OUT.)

Here is some non-diegetic fine print:

  1. You are buying a piece of paper; I just want to be really clear about that. Honestly it will look like a policy update from a credit card company.
  2. Your story will be generated in part by an AI writing system. Hey, that’s fun! The printout will include a kind of “technology colophon” explaining the process. You can read my newsletter for a bit more context.
  3. Plain (cheap!) letters can’t be tracked en route, and their delivery times are, in my experience, highly variable. Also, it’s possible (though unlikely) that your printout will never make it, in which case you will receive a refund. I mean, obviously!

From: Wizard Cormorant
To: Wizard Skulltone
Subject: Re: A new approach

I’ve conveyed your instructions to the simulation group. You were right; they squawked.

While I was down there, I took the opportunity to complain about the printouts, but Analemma claims nothing can be done. The simulation code is apparently ten thousand years old.

I think I understand your urgency, Skulltone. You’ve felt it too, haven’t you? A probing malevolence. Cold filaments through the firewall.

He knows!

This is an offering from Robin Sloan