Less [adjective] than Zeus

Fermat’s Last Stand: Soundtrack and Adventure Log

Two years ago an impromptu role-playing group put on a very successful Dungeons and Discourse adventure, complete with several musical numbers. Last week, we completed our first sequel to that adventure, Fermat’s Last Stand. Below is the log and twelve all-new songs. If you want to sing along, you can click through to the versions on the YouTube main site, which include the lyrics in the description (you may have to press “show more”).

Several groups played Fermat’s Last Stand simultaneously and got somewhat different experiences out of it. I’m basing this log on my own group’s progress, but adding some of the best features of the other groups’ campaigns and smoothing over some hiccups to make a sort of Platonic ideal. If anyone from the other groups didn’t finish yet, then for goodness’ sake don’t read further!

Credits and acknowledgements are at the bottom.


Centuries ago, brilliant mathematician Pierre de Fermat came up with a proof so elegant that the God of Truth himself, mighty Aleithos, grew jealous. Taking inspiration from Fermat’s failure to fit his discovery in the margin of his notebooks, Aleithos afflicted the genius with the curse of macrographia: handwriting so large that his equations could never fit on any conceivable writing surface. Worse, when he tried to dictate his findings, his listeners were stricken with the same affliction. Constantly boasting of his proof but unable to publish it, Fermat was driven from land to land, until he eventually left civilization entirely and sailed across the sea, disappearing from history.

Recently, a shipwrecked man with curious features appeared in the court of Origin, saying he was the last survivor of a great civilization beyond the ocean, long since destroyed by plague. Centuries ago, his people had taken in Fermat and worshipped him as a god. And in their greatest temple, upon a titanic gold obelisk the size of a mountain, he had at last written his Theorem out in full. The man disappeared before he could say any more, but left behind a cloak in which were found a series of maps and directions written in a strange language.

Now people from all over the world are heading -yward, hoping to discover Fermat’s Last Obelisk and win unimaginable wealth and wisdom.

Fermat’s Last Stand

Years ago, Princess Cerune and a hardy band of adventurers crossed Mount Improbable and solved the paradox that had trapped Bertrand Russell and his kingdom in a magical sleep. Upon awakening, Russell implicated the mysterious Bayesian Conspiracy in his downfall, and urged the Princess to gather more information on their activities.

Now Cerune shows up in Summerglass, looking for a new party to travel with. Her quest for the Conspiracy is taking her to the great city of Origin, which sits at the confluence of the rivers Ordinate and Abcissa in the center of the Cartesian Plain. At the very center of Origin stands the infinitely tall ZAxis Tower, and at its base lives the Wizard of 0 = Z, legendary omniscient ruler of Origin. According to rumor, the Wizard will answer one question from any petitioner, and Cerune intends to ask him for information about the Bayesians. But the way to Origin will be long and hard, and she needs companions for the road ahead.

Six local philosophers take up her call. Markas, a physicist with a shadowy past. Chance and Carver, two ethicists whose values are in constant conflict. Alison, a radical feminist Marxist fleeing an embarrassing past as a princess. Cornelius, a hedge fund trader possessing the power of the free market. And Vivace, a local seminary student who gained mysterious powers after being bitten by a radioactive Jesuit.

But as they discuss their plans at a local tavern, others overhear their conversation, especially the part about “omniscient wizard will answer one question from any petitioner.” Daniel Dennett, a friend of Cerune’s from their last adventure, asks to join the party, explaining he has a particularly difficult puzzle to set before the Wizard:

Blaise Pascal, also an old friend of Cerune’s, disagrees with Dennett’s approach, explaining the problem he thinks they should get the Wizard to answer:

And suddenly a newcomer intrudes. Friedrich Nietzsche, who happens to be passing through Summerglass, explains that everyone is wrong, and tells the party the conundrum they ought to ask instead:

After some discussion, all three agree to join the party, which has now swollen to ten people. They stock up on supplies and leave Summerglass, heading -xward to Origin.

Their first obstacle is the Slough of Anarchy. This swamp was previously the Slough of Despotism until Cerune’s last adventure, when she and her companions killed the Leviathan who was oppressing the native people. But when the natives asked the regicides for help forming a replacement government, the few words of advice they gave – to avoid violence and oppression – got elevated into unbreakable laws and the Slough turned into a minarchy with avoidance of state force as its only guiding law. As a result, the whols swamp has become a lawless realm of bandits and con men, and Cerune & Co barely manage to make it alive to its capital of Malmesbury, where the former Hobbesgoblins (now just goblins) eke out a frontier existence.

Even worse, each night they fall asleep they are visited by some kind of apparition, a figure who angrily accuses them of summoning him, strikes at them with a powerful Prismatic Spray spell, and then disappears to parts unknown before our heroes can so much as counterattack. Distressed, Cerune splits from the party and decides to go to Origin on her own, while the others decide to press on and prove her wrong.

Their luck reaches its nadir the second night in Malmesbury, when their nocturnal visitor arrives and demolishes an entire floor of their hotel with his Prismatic Spray. But this time the party manages to corner him and force him to identify as Sir Isaac Newton. He describes the destructive Prismatic Spray spell as an incidental discovery in his attempts to puzzle out the nature of light:

This clue allows our heroes to finally work out how they are accidentally summoning him: Pascal sleeps on his large square shield each night, and one Pascal x square meter produces a Newton. Pleased that they have puzzled out the mystery of his summoning and freed him from these sudden accidental teleportations, Newton gives them a powerful artifact, the Prism of True Seeing, which he says will allow them to dispel magical illusions.

Encouraged by this victory, the party successfully kills a few alligators the next day and gets back in the black. Paying off their creditors, including the owner of the hotel damaged by Newton, they continue onward. But this requires navigating the complicated Slough railway system, an infrastructure dominated by scams and fly-by-night companies trying to separate unwary travelers from their money. The good news is that the city is full of Reputation Agents, businesses which for a price will inform you which other businesses are legitimate; the bad news is that some of the Reputation Agents are themselves illegitimate or bribeable, forcing the party to seek out an endless chain of Meta-Reputation Agents. Although they successfully solve several game theoretic problems and construct a framework for ensuring legitimate commerce in a minarchist society, they totally drop the ball on the object-level problem and end up on a train that breaks halfway through and strands them in the middle of the jungle, doomed to be eaten by snakes unless they can find some sort of railway engineer.

Markas puzzles out a solution to this problem that shares several features with the party’s last stroke of genius. They place Pascal on a square-meter object to summon Newton. Then they push a cart into Newton at one meter per second; Newton, surprised, pushes back, transforming him into James Watt (1 Watt = power required to push an object at 1 m/s against opposition of one Newton). James Watt is able to fix the train, allowing them to continue onward.

They are just about to reach Origin when Nietzsche, who has been growing gradually more erratic, turns on them, hoping to prove his worth as a superior being to the Wizard by overpowering and defeating his comrades. There is a climatic battle in the train car, and Nietzsche is defeated just as they pull into Origin. The party rushes into the hustle and bustle of the city, hoping to avoid awkward questions about Nietzsche’s death.

The great city of Origin is even more crowded than usual. Some of the crowd are treasure-seekers heading -yward on their way to seek Fermat’s Last Obelisk; others are failed treasure-seekers heading back +yward after having been attacked or capsized by the dreaded Mathematical Pirates, who seem to be unusually active in the -yward seas. There is a long queue for people trying to meet the Wizard, but the party rejoins with Cerune, who is impressed they have made it this far, and finds she has obtained an appointment at the ZAxis Tower that very morning.

The Wizard of 0=Z is a form of blazing fire in the center of a vast audience chamber. His speech seems to shake the very earth, and all who see him are struck with terror. Dennett is the first to approach, and asks the Wizard how the brain thinks; the Wizard explains that it is made of res cogitans, a substance with the property of thinking. Next Pascal asks how the heart feels emotions; the Wizard explains it is made of res sententia, a substance with the property of feeling. The Wizard continues in this matter, giving each of the travelers’ philosophical quandaries a Mysterious Answer, until finally Cerune asks him where she can find the Bayesian Conspiracy. Unable to deflect her question, the Wizard sets her a condition: he will only answer her question after she has brought him the broom of the Wicked Witch Of The Negative X Coordinate.

So the party – now minus Dennett and Pascal – travels -xward to the supposed castle of the Wicked Witch. But when they reach the -x coast, the “castle” turns out to be a cottage in a pleasant little village, and the “Wicked Witch” turns out to be Simone de Beauvoir, who invites them in for tea.

de Beauvoir explains that she used to work as the Wizard’s maid, but that while hanging around him and his friends she began to pick up some magic. She learned she had a talent for it, even enchanting the Wizard’s broom to clean on its own. When she realized none of the other magicians of Origin could perform such feats, she demanded a seat among them as a great thaumaturge. The people of Origin refused, saying women should stay in their place and not try to do mens’ work. Enraged, she took her magic broom and left Origin along with a group of like-minded women to form this commune on the -xward coast. She is disappointed that most of the women in Origin continue to accept their oppression without comment, and hopes to one day lead a revolution among them.

She and Alison immediately hit it off, and everyone decides to join forces to cut the Wizard down to size. de Beauvoir, during her time with the Wizard, got the impression that a lot of his much-vaunted “magic” was mere illusion. She suggests the party head back to Origin and try to blow his cover.

So Cerune and the six philosophers head back to Origin, where they sneak into the ZAxis Tower under cover of night. They look at the Wizard through Newton’s Prism of True Seeing, and see not a form of fire but a rather ordinary-looking man. When they confront him, he attacks them with fire, stones, and wild beasts, but the Prism of True Seeing allows the party to recognize all of these attacks as illusion, and they stand their ground.

Finally, defeated, the Wizard admits he is no Wizard at all. He is Rene Descartes, previously a philosopher in Origin. While investigating radical skepticism, Descartes had realized that all his sensory perceptions were being controlled by an all-powerful deceiving demon who had mastered the art of illusions. Descartes offered the demon a partnership, and together they took over Origin using Descartes’ cleverness and his former tormenter’s dark powers.

Cerune and her friends are ready to expose Descartes, but he points out that before his rise to power, Origin was poorly ruled and in the midst of a generation-long civil war. He claims that removing him would create a power vacuum that would plunge the city, now prosperous, into further bloodshed. After some discussion among the party’s two ethicists, they agree and leave the Wizard in power, but not before making him promise to call off his grudge against Simone de Beauvoir.

Sadly, the Wizard has no idea where to find the Bayesian Conspiracy, and Cerune is not willing to give up on her quest. In the libraries of Origin they find rumors of a second omniscient entity who answers the questions of travelers: the Turing Oracle. They decide to journey -yward to Cyberia, where the Oracle is said to hold court.

This journey takes them to the -yward coast, where makeshift camps of treasure-seekers dot the landscape, and signs of the devastation wrought by the dreaded Mathematical Pirates mark nearly every town and settlement. Our heroes fall in with a band of treasure-seekers traveling -xward, and they start discussing the puzzling clues on the supposed map to Fermat’s Obelisk. They are able to successfully decrypt some of the ciphers, which reveal the location of the fabled land of Terra Fermat as being beyond Omelas in the Sea of Speculation. Leaving the giddy treasure-seekers to pursue their discovery, the characters push on to Cyberia.

There they are told the Turing Oracle is no longer open for visitors. They break in anyway, but the Oracle explains through tears that the source of her power has been stolen. When legendary computer scientist Alan Turing died, he uploaded his consciousness into a wearable ultracomputer placed around his corpse, the Shroud of Turing. This turned him into a superintelligent man-machine hybrid, and allowed him to cybernetically communicate his will to followers around the world. Now, all communication from Turing has gone dark, suggesting that the Shroud of Turing has been stolen. The Oracle says she will answer the party’s questions if and only if they can recover the Shroud of Turing and restore her power.

Unfortunately, no one knows where Alan Turing has been buried, and therefore where the Shroud – and any clues to its disappearance – would be likely to be. Finally Cerune tracks down a local historian, who explains his hypothesis that Turing was buried in a church sitting on St. Cathol’s Rock in the middle of the Holy Sea – a claim he calls the Church-Turing Thesis. Believing this sounds plausible, everyone charters a boat and heads toward St. Cathol’s Rock.

The church, when they reach it, has been abandoned by all its former caretakers except a single monk who remains holed up in the library trying to finish a great masterwork on theology. Our heroes identify him as Thomas Aquinas through conversations like the following:

Vivace: Wait, are you Thomas Aquinas?

Aquinas: OBJECTION ONE: It would seem that I am not Thomas Aquinas. For the name “Thomas Aquinas” signifies a certain individual in medieval Europe on Earth, and this is neither Earth nor medieval. OBJECTION TWO: Further, Thomas Aquinas is a Saint, but men cannot be sainted until after their deaths, and I am still alive. ON THE CONTRARY, Scripture says in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am”. I ANSWER THAT one may be Thomas Aquinas in two senses. First, one may be the literal personage of Thomas Aquinas, and thus be the medieval European monk. But creatures may in their essence resemble Thomas Aquinas more or less closely, and to those who partake the genus of Thomas Aquinas most closely, we can say by analogy that they, too, are Thomas Aquinas. REPLY OBJECTION ONE: I am Thomas Aquinas in the analogical, but not in the strict sense. REPLY OBJECTION TWO: The original Thomas Aquinas is dead, and therefore eligible for sainthood. Insofar as I resemble him, I am also a saint.

Vivace: Do you always talk like that?

Aquinas: OBJECTION ONE: It would seem I must always talk like this. For all creatures must behave according to their natures, and it is in the nature of Thomas Aquinas to analyze questions through logical disputation. OBJECTION TWO: Further, things strive to the perfection of their natural ends, replacing what is less good with what is more good. A properly ordered soul would not desire to reject what is better for what is worse. But I am a saint. Therefore I cannot reject a better mode of speech for a worse. ON THE CONTRARY, St. John Chrysostom condemns “those who use flowery language, not to inspire compunction, but to win vain praise.” I ANSWER THAT it is possible for me to stop talking like this. For to determine my proper actions, we must look to my proper end, and the proper end of humans is the glory of God. The end of speech, especially of religious speech, is to encourage proper reverence for the Divine, and any manner of speaking which does not compel the listener, or irritates them into departure, frustrates this end. REPLY OBJECTION ONE: It is not speaking this way qua speaking this way which is in the nature of Thomas Aquinas, but rather a desire for the glorification of God, from which speaking this way naturally proceeds. But if speaking this way were to fail to glorify God, it would be in the nature of Thomas Aquinas to speak otherwise. REPLY OBJECTION TWO: Speaking this way is good not in and of itself, but because it partakes of a greater end, namely the glorification of God.

This naturally annoys some of the harder-headed characters like Markas and Chance, who begin murmuring about the uselessness of theology and angels dancing on pinheads and such; Aquinas responds by defending the legitimacy of his chosen field:

Aquinas is originally reluctant to disclose the location of Turing’s grave, arguing that disturbing the dead is a sin and that the Turing Oracle’s prophecy reeks of witchcraft; Vivace is able to match him Bible quote for Bible quote and eventually wear him down. He directs everyone to the crypt of the church, where they find Turing’s gravesite. It has indeed been broken into and despoiled, its Shroud gone. The only clues are a green feather and a protractor. Markas very reasonably decides that people who have parrots and protractors are very likely Mathematical Pirates. The latest reports place the Mathematical Pirates around Omelas, so they continue south toward that great subcontinent of fabled wealth, eventually getting caught in a storm and shipwrecked on its +yward shore.

They stumble into a village in the hills nearby, only to find it has been struck by tragedy. The main export of Omelas is benthamite, a greenish metallic substance composed of pure utility. But yesterday morning the village’s menfolk went into the benthamite mines for their daily labor but did not return. Now the women and children fear something terrible has happened. They ask our heroes to go investigate; the party’s ethicists say they have no choice, and Cornelius agrees, motivated by the prospect of obtaining some of the world’s most valuable commodity.

The mines are dark, and the characters are likely to get eaten by grues. But they manage to fight off the grues (as well as their even scarier sisters, the bleens) and make it to the bottom of the mineshaft, where the village men are cowering. These villagers explain that they dug too greedily, and too deep, and awoke a chthonic being from primordial time – a Utility Monster. The monster has declared that it is trying to sleep and that the noise of footfalls bothers it, and politely asked everyone to keep quiet. Because its needs vastly outweigh those of all other beings, the menfolk of the village, good utilitarians all, have chosen to remain in the bottom of the mineshaft and starve to death rather than risk waking the monster up again by leaving.

Carver and Chance get into a long and heated debate about whether this is really the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the noise from the debate itself wakes the enraged monster, who decides to teach them a lesson by eating everybody. The party members flee and end up lost in the subterranean tunnel system (although they do end up gathering a few benthamite nuggets for their troubles). Finally, they find a corridor that looks sort of man-made, and follow it to the surface. They end up exiting a manhole and just barely avoiding getting hit by a trolley on a huge urban thoroughfare. They have stumbled into the City of Omelas, capital of its namesake subcontinent and one of the great metropolises of the world.

The City of Omelas, they soon learn, is surrounded by a protective bubble, a force-field that allows no one to enter or leave. Their sudden appearance is met with shock, interest, and fear, as they apparently wandered in through a previously unknown hole in the city’s defenses. While the City Guard starts filling in the sewers, Cerune and Co decide to have a talk with the King and figure out why they are being kept in the city and what they can do to get out. They head to the Royal Palace, even though the city’s transportation system does not exactly inspire confidence.

Nevertheless, they make it to the Royal Palace with only a few dilemmas and even fewer deaths, and request an audience with King Jeremy I. The King is just as anxious to see them as they are to see him, and so our heroes are ushered into the throne room and treated to a stirring rendition of the Omelas National Anthem:

The King is sympathetic to their story, but tells them that letting them out of Omelas is completely out of the question. No one goes in or out of Omelas on account of the Sorcerer, the shadowy enemy who is besieging the city. The Sorceror knows the True Names of all things and so controls all things. If the force field protecting the city is suspended even for a tiny fraction of a second, the Sorceror will seize upon the breach and raze Omelas to the ground.

Alison asks how exactly Omelas produces such an unbreachable force field anyway, at which point King Jeremy becomes angry and expels them from his presence.

So they head off to the force field, looking to see if they can find any weaknesses or any routes out of there. There are none – but when Chance places his hand up against the field, he hears what sounds like an infinitely sorrowful voice, saying simply “Find me”. He conjectures that it is someone involved in creating the force field, and after bribing a bunch of guards, soldiers, and policemen with the benthamite nuggets they took from the Utility Monster’s lair, our heroes gain access to the force field generating station.

There they find a young child forcibly restrained and being horribly tortured in a variety of different ways. Vivace rushes in to free the child, but just before he can unlock the restraints, the child shrieks at him to stop. Surprised, they hold back and wait as he explains his story.

He is (he tells them), Prince John Stuart, the son of the king. When the Sorcerer attacked Omelas, the Omelasian wizards said that they could form an unbreakable magical defense around the city, but that the ritual required a commensurately awful sacrifice – the torture of an innocent child. Unwilling to ask any of his subjects to make such a terrible sacrifice yet unwilling to let his city fall, the young Prince volunteered himself. When his father the King objected, the Prince snuck out of the palace at night, offered himself to the wizards, and by the time the King learned what had happened the force field was already in place and could not be disrupted without terrible repercussions.

But John Stuart is now reaching the end of his ability to bear such pain, and when he gives in the force field will fall. He promises Cerune and her friends that he will risk briefly suspending the force field to let them out of the city if they promise to defeat the Sorcerer for him. They agree to this deal and sneak out to the city walls, where the Prince keeps his side of the promise and flickers the force field just long enough to let them escape. Despite the danger, the Sorcerer’s forces do not spot the flicker, and the city remains safe for the time being.

Sure enough, they see a great war-camp surrounding the city on its -xward side, and in its center a great dark tower. They enter the camp pretending to be mercenaries, and the ruse works well enough: they are hired and brought before the Sorcerer to swear allegiance. The Sorcerer asks the names of his latest recruit, and they all tell him – except Alison, who remembering the story about the Sorcerer controling things by speaking their True Names, gives a pseudonym. Sure enough, the Sorcerer demonstrates his power to control those soldiers whose names he knows, and he orders them to continue his effort to besiege Omelas.

While he is talking, his daughter enters the room. He introduces her as the Princess Mary, but makes no remark upon her complexion, which is completely gray from her skin to her eyes to her lips to her hair. Mary begs her father for more books on neuroscience, but the Sorcerer angrily orders her away, and it seems their relation is not at all a happy one.

The Sorcerer dismisses them, and the still-free-willed Alison helps the others shake off the Sorcerer’s control. None can think of anything they have learned that would help them assassinate the Sorcerer, but Markas has meanwhile fallen madly in love with the beautiful albeit monochrome Princess Mary, and proposes the idea of breaking into her room and stealing her away from her obviously abusive father. Although his plan is clearly emotionally motivated, it isn’t a bad idea – they need to figure out if the Sorcerer has any weaknesses, and his uncanny daughter seems like the best person to ask

So they break into the Sorcerer’s tower that night, bribing the guards with their last few pieces of benthamite, and find Mary’s room. Mary, in tears, tells our heroes her story. When she was born, an astrologer said that the day she fully understood the color red, her father’s kingdom would fall. Her father, alarmed, used his magic to place a curse on Mary, turning her gray and preventing her from seeing in color. This gave Mary a permanent and unrelenting hatred for her father, and she spends her days studying optics and neuroscience, trying to learn to understand the color red despite her inability to see it. Markas tries to get her to run away with them, but Mary declines, saying her quest for knowledge – and revenge – comes first:

But Markas gives her the Prism of True Seeing. In an instant, the curse is dispelled, and Mary is able to see red for the first time. Overjoyed, she promises to help the characters in their quest to overthrow the Sorcerer. She tells them his secret: the Sorcerer is an accomplished philosopher of language, whose inquiries into the meanings of words have allowed him to discover their True Names and use them to gain power over them. But his magic can be nullified through the use of his own True Name: Saul Kripke.

And so while Mary goes forth to start a mutiny among the soldiers, our heroes confront Kripke directly in his throne room. At first Kripke seems invulnerable, but Cerune and the others manage to dispel his magic by working his True Name into a song about his identity and his work:

With the Sorcerer’s magic defeated, Mary is able to organize an uprising among his soldiers. They come in and arrest him, and Alison convinces everyone to declare the Sorcerer’s newly liberated realm, which comprises the entire -xward part of the Omelas subcontinent, to be a People’s Republic. Mary, abandoning her royal garb, gets herself installed as Premier, a peace is struck with the City of Omelas, and although Cornelius grumbles, the entire affair seems to be going well – until a rider comes from further up the subcontinent claiming that a village is on fire. With most of the military being occupied in protecting the fragile peace and evacuating their siege camp, the seven characters agree to investigate the attack and spread the good news of the liberation on the way there.

When they reach the coast, they stumble unaware into exactly the people responsible – a landing party of Mathematical Pirates. The pirates, sated with the last day’s plunder, are not hostile – instead asking if the party’s mathematicians can solve a certain dilemma they have gotten themselves into. This Markas does with little effort, impressing the buccaneers – maybe a little too much. At a word from the first mate, Infinitely Long John Silver, the Mathematical Pirates draw their swords, telling our heroes that they have been conscripted as the newest members of the pirate crew. Faced with the prospect of facing dozens of bloodthirsty pirates armed with highly advanced theorems and lemmas, and hoping to recover the stolen Shroud of Turing, they accept this with good grace and allow themselves to be marched to a secret rendezvous point.

There, they are taken on board the ship Hypatia’s Revenge and brought before Captain Pierre Simone de Laplace, who declares them to be Official Mathematical Pirates. There is great rejoicing, the grog is brought out, and everyone joins together in a raucous mathematical pirate shanty:

The party, Captain Laplace tells them, have come at an especially auspicious time: the Mathematical Pirates are just about to leave known waters to sail far to the -ymost side of the world in search of Terra Fermat, drawn by the legend of the mountain-sized golden obelisk stating a simple and intuitive proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. Laplace brings out the Shroud of Turing, and says that its ultracomputational powers provide the last link in the puzzle by allowing him to solve the cryptographic locks protecting the obelisk’s treasure chamber. But any hopes of stealing the Shroud and returning to Omelas are dashed when Laplace declares they set forth that very night. The Hypatia’s Revenge strikes forth into uncharted seas, and our heroes are lone among hundreds of cutthroat albeit extremely erudite buccaneers.

Not wanting to be drawn into such a foolhardy adventure, Chance suggests trying something desperate. Some of the other Mathematical Pirates don’t seem to share Laplace’s single-minded obsession with Fermat’s Last Obelisk. Perhaps if they murdered the captain, his replacement would be more amenable to abandoning the Shroud and returning to a friendlier coast? This leads to a bit of research trying to determine how exactly a dead captain is replaced, information which Markas finds in the Pirate Code under the heading “Laplace’s Law of Succession”. This law declares that if Captain Laplace is killed, whoever among the crew wins a trial of mathematical skill will succeed him. Markas is confident he can win that contest and take control of the pirate ship, resolving all their worries.

So our party breaks into Laplace’s chambers late at night, intending to kill him in his sleep. Unfortunately, his parrot notices and wakes the Captain up with his habitual cry: “Prime factors of eight! Prime factors of eight!” The captain, seeing that the seven assailants have him cornered, grabs the Shroud of Turing and teleports away to parts unknown using the ninth-level Logician spell Infinite Egress. Meanwhile, a horde of angry pirates breaks into Laplace’s quarters and asks what the party has done to their captain. Swords and protractors are drawn, and the situation looks grim.

Just as Markas and Infinitely Long John Silver are about to begin an extremely deadly mathematical duel, they are interrupted by a sudden hail of cannonfire. While distracted by the attempted mutiny, the Mathematical Pirates have allowed themselves to be caught unawares by their arch-enemies, the Empirical Pirates. Ambushed and without a captain, the Mathematicians are easy prey for their Empiricist brethren. Seeing which way the tide is turning, the party joins with the Empiricist attackers, and Markas personally sends Infinitely Long John Silver to Davy Hilbert’s locker.

The party hopes the Empirical Pirates will be somewhat less set on foolhardy quests than their Mathematical colleagues. Markas calls for a parley with the Empiricist leader, famed natural-philosopher-turned-privateer Captain Hooke. But Hooke, having captured Laplace’s trove of clues and maps to the great treasure, is equally set on its capture. Abandoning his own ship because of damage taken during the fight, he loads the remaining Empirical Pirates onto the Hypatia’s Revenge and continues its voyage to the edge of the world.

After many days at sea, the ship reaches the shores of a strange land, filled with dense jungle and smoking volcanoes. Hooke says that his pilfered documents declare it to be the legendary Terra Fermat, and the Empirical Pirates and adventurers disembark. They push through the jungle, barely avoiding a host of colorful poisonous animals, until they come to a city of ruined ziggurats, strange idols, and a temple built into a volcano. The door to the volcano temple, disconcertingly, is wide open. Hooke leads the landing party inside.

The crew starts very quickly getting picked off by various nefarious traps that have been built in to the temple passages, and there are a series of odd puzzles and complicated mechanisms that fling those without the proper passkeys into lava, further decimating the group. By the time they reach the holy of holies, it is down to Captain Hooke, a few trusted lieutenants, and our plucky heroes, lost on in a strange land terribly far from home.

The center of the temple is filled with unimaginable riches in the form of gold, precious jewels, and works of primitive but disconcerting art. Yet there is no sign of the obelisk. As they push aside diamonds and emeralds looking for any hint of the Theorem’s whereabouts, Captain Hooke gets felled by a mysterious arrow. So too do the few remaining pirate lieutenants. Before their attacker can kill the original seven, Chance casts the spell Arrow Impossibility Theorem, preventing arrows from being fired within a certain radius, and Cornelius casts No-Ghost Theorem, dispelling invisibility enchantments around people and objects.

There stands revealed Captain Laplace, previously hidden from view by his Veil of Ignorance spell. In his Villain Monologue, Laplace explains that Fermat’s Last Obelisk is likely just a myth, a tale told to scare undergraduates. He himself had fanned the legend, posing as the original “shipwrecked sailor” who spread the story. His goal was to “crowdsource” certain odd riddles he had picked up from ancient texts, by inspiring a cottage industry of treasure-seekers desperate to solve them. When the party had unwittingly played into his hands by deciphering the clues, it had allowed him to pursue an entirely different treasure spoken of only in the oldest and mustiest books, a treasure beyond the very comprehension of the fools who chattered about Fermat’s Last Obelisk.

He picks up a strange, glimmering sphere from the treasure chamber and tells the characters that it is the Eye of Aixitl, the most powerful computing device in the world – and as if to punctuate his point he throws the Shroud of Turing – which he had used to access the temple before Hooke had even arrived – on the ground derisively. In all they had done, he says, they had been the puppets of himself and of the other Secret Masters – puppets of the Bayesian Conspiracy.

Laughing maniacally, he declares: “You will always remember this as the day you almost caught Captain Pierre Simon de Laplace!”. Then he casts Infinite Egress and vanishes, cryptically telling his parrot to stay behind and take care of the witnesses.

The parrot morphs into a hideous and enormous hell-creature, Laplace’s Demon, and brutally attacks the party by concentrating the heat from the volcano into scorching projectiles. Alison, who has been fighting off a poison she contracted in the jungle, quickly falls to its onslaught, and Cornelius and Carver perish as well. The others fight back with everything they have. Markas uses Tegmark’s Ultimate Ensemble to flit among universes, making it impossible for him to die. Vivace casts Summon Bonum to call an angelic host to his defense. And Chance turns to Nietzschean metaphysics and casts Eternal Recurrence, allowing his party’s spells to repeat an unlimited number of times.

Laplace’s Demon responds with his own grimoire of Logical and Empirical spells, casting Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Cloak to disguise his location from view by declaring his speed, and Cantor’s Diagonal Slash to deal a different amount of damage each round. The increasingly desperate heroes counter with new spells of their own: Sieve of Eratosthenes to block attacks that deal non-prime amounts of damage, and Inverse Communion to turn their enemy’s flesh and blood into bread and wine.

After a truly epic battle the demon collapses with a fall that shakes the temple to its foundations. A wall falls over, showing the four surviving adventurers a sight not beheld for centuries.

In the heart of the volcano stands a golden obelisk the size of a small mountain, covered with vast hieroglyphic markings. Vivace uses his last few points of Will to cast a spell that allows him to translate the inscription. It reads:

No three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation a^n + b^n = c^n for any integer value of n greater than two. I have a discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this colossal golden obelisk is too small to contain.

Wounded, angry, and dejected, the four survivors limp out of the temple and back through the jungle. On the coast they discover even worse news: before departing entirely, Captain Laplace had taken the time to torch their pirate ship, leaving them stranded on the island.

Vivace struggles valiantly to try to mantain the virtue of Hope, while the more secular Markas has no such compunctions. Not only, he says, are they stranded on a desert island. Not only has their entire quest been playing into the hands of the Bayesian Conspiracy. Not only are three of their party dead, and Laplace escaped. But Fermat’s Last Theorem, the most beautiful result in all of mathematics, has been lost forever.

Cerune disagrees, saying that no knowledge is ever truly lost, and that just as the Theorem might one day be rediscovered, so they must not lose hope that their quest might bear fruit:

The story of Cerune, the Bayesian Conspiracy, and all the rest will be continued in a third and final adventure in this campaign, Maximum Entropy Prior. ETA is approximately “several years”.


Utmost thanks to everyone who worked to make this a reality / extremely compelling fantasy.

My special eternal gratitude goes to everyone who helped create the music. I accept full blame for the lyrics, but the vocals, recording work, and occasional instrumentals were handled by a whole crew of people. Buck Shlegeris and his band were responsible for the amazing “Mathematical Pirate Shanty”. Parts in “Philosopher Kripke” were voiced by myself and by Leah Libresco. And everything else was produced and sung by Michael Blume and by my lovely girlfriend Alicorn, who between them took all the other male and female parts.

Ari Rahikkala solved a few technical problems, Ezra B hacked together a sort of karaoke version of “Hymn to Him” for an emergency, and Nisan helped coordinate recruitment and publicity.

Grudging acknowledgement also goes to the players, named here in a haphazard combination of real and online names according to preference. Markas was voiced by David S, Carver by Sam B, Cornelius by Joe M, Chance by Berry, Alison by Ozy Franz, and Vivace by KarmaKaiser.

There were also several simultaneous runthroughs of Fermat’s Last Stand run by different DMs. None of them really communicated with me and I am not sure whether or not they actually took place. But if Charlie, Karl, falenas108 and gyukuro actually did their adventures like they said they would, they deserve major Virtue Points as well, as do their (supposed?) players Pleeppleep, Aretae, Romeo Stevens, Rick JS, Nathan from LA, tster75, Tarn Fletcher, JohnWBH, Ben from Oxford, Slow Learner, Avantika, and Thomas Eliot.

The readerships of Slate Star Codex, Less Wrong, and Unequally Yoked helped come up with some spell names and generally encouraged the creative process.

The Bayesian Conspiracy was stolen from Eliezer Yudkowsky and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (read it! No, seriously, read it!), large portions of the plot were stolen from The Wizard of Oz, songs were stolen from their respective sources, the Omelas Transit Authority symbol was stolen from Leah and portions of the Mathematical Pirate Shanty were stolen from various sites with mathematician/pirate jokes that somehow actually already existed because the Internet is amazing.

If you liked this adventure, you may want to read the prequel as well, or use the associated Dungeons and Discourse Rulebook to create an adventure of your own.

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30 Responses to Fermat’s Last Stand: Soundtrack and Adventure Log

  1. Sniffnoy says:


    So, wait, just what are the sources on the songs? Philosopher Kripke in particular is bugging me, I know I’ve heard it before.

    (Also, some nitpickery: The superscripts aren’t working in your statement of Fermat’s last theorem; a Newton is a Pascal times a square meter, not divided by one; and a Watt is a unit of power, not force.)

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  2. tster75 says:


    I was in Karl’s group, and we did actually finish our campaign, although I think we missed a few bits. But we also had something your game didn’t:

    Near the beginning of the game we had a random encounter with a Davidson’s Swampman, which could take the form of whatever it touched. Apparently we were supposed to kill it, but instead we convinced it to join our group with the promise that we would find a form for it to take. We called it Sam, to be gender-neutral. We found a Dire C Elegans for him, but according to Sam it wasn’t a very interesting form. After we killed Nietzche, Sam took his form, which let him use all of Nietzche’s spells. Then we killed Aquinas, so Sam took his form too. When we got to Kripke, Karl decided that this was too game-breaking, so he had Kripke capture Sam for experimentation. But by that time we had gotten attached to him, so intead of following the plot, we went on a rescue mission, and kind of forced Karl into giving Sam back. Then we betrayed and killed Kripke, so Sam took his form as well. After we banished Laplace’s Demon, Sam had managed to take its form too, so he used his newfound almighty powers to revive one of us that had died.

    The moral of this story is that it’s important to make friends, because you might accidentally give them godlike powers.

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    • Avantika says:

      I was also in Karl’s group, which did indeed exist and not only finished the game, but won – or possibly broke it? As described above. Looks like there was a lot of differences in the trajectories of the two games. It was fun to hear all the songs at last.

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  3. Doug S. says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading (and listening to) that.

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  4. Joe says:

    This is awesome!! I don’t know how you found the time.

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  5. g says:

    I have wanted there to be a Kripke/Krupke mashup since, er, whichever of “West Side Story” and Saul Kripke I encountered later. Thank you for making one!

    (To my shame, it never occurred to me that obviously it needs to be “Professor” that goes in front of “Kripke”. D’oh!)

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    • g says:

      (One reason why “Philosopher Kripke” never occurred to me, I realise, is that I was hung up on “Professor Kripke”, which has exactly the right sounds to match “Officer Krupke” but puts the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABles.)

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  6. Buck says:

    I’m pretty sure you mixed up Laplace’s and Maxwell’s demons.

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  7. Deiseach says:

    the Shroud of Turing

    I don’t know if I should kiss you or punch you for that one :-)

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  8. This is a work of genius or at least mania. Somehow I missed that you had written up a whole manual. How well do the rules work?

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    • Slow Learner says:

      Quite well – our group had a very entertaining game, and I think the only real problems we hit in the mechanics were:
      1) Guns are a bit over-powered for anyone with a high Precision score.
      2) Getting a Davidson’s Swampman to join the party will break the campaign.

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  9. Error says:

    This is perhaps the most epic geekery I have ever heard of. I regret only that almost no one I know will get the references when I link it to all of them.

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  10. Erin says:

    Whoa, this is awesome. Do you by any chance have the lyrics from the finale of the previous game, the We Didn’t Start the Fire one? Apologies if they’re already posted and I just can’t find them.

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  11. If anyone questions the plausibility of the Hypatia’s Revenge, remind them that people in our world who torrent paywalled academic papers actually are mathematical pirates.

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  12. Pingback: How to Persuade Economists about Irrationality | Pursuit of Truthiness

  13. Pingback: If the Phantom Tollbooth were a musical for grad students…

  14. Timotheos says:

    Just too cool!
    Keep up the good work; your making Lewis Carroll proud!

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  15. Cong says:

    How does one read the prequel? I have a LiveJounrnal account but am informed that access is denied.

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  16. Pingback: Den matematiske piratvisa | Bjørn Are Davidsens blogg

  17. Pingback: Feasting with the Angelic Doctor

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