Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Cubes That Saved Everyone

 The Time of Fire and Madness had finally come, and the whole world strained underneath it. 

Strange lights fell from the night sky, started strange fires, and then leapt away again.  Many summoned them, but not one of the Serpents responded.  Flesh rebelled against its masters, and the stars trembled in their matrix.

The wonderful city of Avadeiga was dying.  The crops had all burnt up, and the animals had begun rotting while they were still alive.  When the graneries were opened only a fetid must was found inside.  Some fled to what would become the Madlands.  Others began an open rebellion (after all, the regium did not go hungry).

Amid this chaos, the wonderful theurges peered forward and saw a time when the fields would grow again.  It was no so far away.

But the wonderful logicians pointed out that it was still too far.  They would be dead and forgotten before sanity returned here, or anywhere.  Anything that preserved them over those long years would be subject to the same corruption.

And the wonderful mathematicians had an idea.  If the forests would be incinerated, then they must become seeds.  Numerous and subtle and redundant.  A million points from which the forest could someday regrow.  A book could be reduced, and so could a man.  With all of their power and wisdom, could they not reduce a city in the same way?

And so a messenger was sent to the granaries, to summon back the wonderful biomancers.

The Grid

Fresh leylines were placed.  The entire city was wired with a three-dimensional grid.  It was split up into cubes, each one 10' by 10' by 10.  Each cube would be reduced and encoded.  And when the time was right, the code could be used to reconstruct the original.

The code itself would be written in the germline of an organism.  The organism could multiply and grow, and as it did, it would create more copies of the code.  The people of Avadeiga would be saved a thousand times over.

For the organism, they chose an ooze.  

An ooze can survive in the cracks inside a rock, subsisting on the small amounts of moisture and organics that filter down.  You can set an ooze on fire, but unless you are careful to burn every last bit, some bit of jelly will escape and regrow.

All the apocalypses piled on top of each other would not be enough to extierpate the last ooze.

And so each germline (there were about 40,000) encoded a 10' cube of the city--another sector on the hard drive that backed up a everyone.

Gelatinous Cubes

If you gather enough gelatinous cubes in one place, you can observe this behavior.  They'll congregate, exchange names ("234-68-3"), assemble into the shape of the original city, and test for quorum.  

If quorum is reached, the cubes will form a continuous chrysalix (a chrysalis made from multiple primary organisms) and begin differentiating into the people, buildings, books, and plants of Lost Avadeiga.

If quorum is not reached, the cubes will reconvene at the next equinox.

The cubes behave like regular oozes in most respects, but when they are engaging in these programmed behaviors, they are entirely systematic.  They can respond to certain command-phrases, and can speak a certain number of fixed statements.  The most famous ululation of the cubes is "ZOOG!", which is their SYN-ACK initiator.

The voice is that of Avadeiga's Principle Biomancer, Yevanon, whose voice has been inscribed on the germline of every gelatinous cube, in order to be poorly reproduced on the vibrating facets of the cubes.

Carnosus and the Vudra

Gelatinous cubes have reached quorum at least once before, many centuries ago.  The result was the Madlander city of Carnosus, a shifting labyrinth of self-assembling cubes.

While the inhabitants originally hunted for more cubes to rebuild their city, subsequent generations cared little for their parents' struggles.  New houses were built where the old ones were not, and the lost generation was forgotten.  The sages of Avadeiga had completed their resurrection, but it was woefully incomplete.

Instead, the future generations turned their attentions towards mastery of the oozes that birthed their city, and abandoned the idea of a fully resurrected Avadeiga.  The result were the vudra and the sludge vampires (an exiled clan of the vudra).

Mutant Cubes and Weaponized Cubespawn

 Any system composed of cooperating subunits is subject to exploitation when on of the subunits chooses it's own success over the success of the system.

Cancer is a clear example of this.  A cell (and soon, a group of cells) exploits the body's systems in order to acquire more blood, more food, and more growth.  Local success, systemic failure.

Some gelatinous cubes are known to be mutants, and are capable of spawning flawed copies of Avadeigans when advantageous.  In most cases this amounts to nothing more than spawning a confused, aggressive version of one of Avadeiga's inhabitants.  Once the cubespawn has served its purpose (usually by killing the cube's enemies) both will be reabsorbed.

Cubespawn usually die quickly if left on their own.  The same mutations that allow them to be spawned without quorum also tend to inject fatal defects into their own germlines--missing eyes or digestive systems. 

At the same time, cubespawn should be viewed as rational humans in their own right.  They knew that their doomed city would be cubed off and encoded in a gelatinous matrix.  Is it any wonder that they assume that the cube is their ally in these fights?

There are also gelatinous cubes that are far more intelligent than the others.  Their primary mode of conversation is to carry around a skeleton and use it for pantomime.

by Scott Harshbarger


  1. Never thought I'd enjoy gelatinous cubes this much.

  2. Good stuff! Added to my Blog Database. (Yes, I have a page for Centerra on my blog. I'm planning on stealing bits to add to my world.)

  3. This is cool, and I like how it connects to your previous post or at least could connect. Hopefully this doesn't sound too pedantic, but rather than thinking of each cube as a computer or hard drive, it might make more sense to think of it as a connectionist neural network (an idea I've explored as well).

    As block storage, it would be too fragile- any damage to any part is then lost forever. It's also inefficient, requiring a one to one relationship between unit of information and unit of storage. If instead all information is stored as patterns- as combinations distributed across the entire network, damage in parts can be interpolated, extrapolated, or outright fixed (in theory, although probably with loss), and the amount of information that can be stored is exponentially greater (... than the number of atoms in the universe...).

    This also lends itself well to distortions- the information is necessarily filtered by the network itself, and also, activation of the network necessarily changes it, it's always read/write, like human memory.

    This doesn't preclude the idea of mutant / cancer oozes, but it gives you more range to explore. Maybe some sub-systems have mutually exclusive objectives, or it's just a pattern that the whole system erroneously converged on- a feedback loop. Maybe the mutant is a pattern that has been fundamentally distorted.

    I may or may not have gone into greater depths on this on my blog at some point:

    1. Max:

      Block storage is fun because it is fragile.

      I don't think that storing things as patterns is any more efficient or error-proof, unless you're thinking about compression + error-proofing, which can be done. Like, have you ever looked into the error-proofing in a QR code? You can write on a QR code and tear pieces off and it will still scan.

      Anyway, gelatinous cubes have error-proofing, too. When they take quorum, they also form into weird structures called polygonids (trigonids, tetragonids, etc) that look nothing like cubes. People think this is just cube sex but they're wrong.

      Anyway, during this time, the cubes all look at each other's checksums, and eat anyone who doesn't have a pure genome. This behavior only occurs in polygonids because the good cubes need to be able to gang up on the mutant cubes. It's basically a trio of eugenicists voting who to kill.

      It's also possible that the mutant cubes now outnumber the pure cubes and consistently murder them whenever they find them at an assembly.

    2. The fragility of block storage is fun until your SSD with all your family photos dies and you realize you never got around to storing them on the cloud :p.

      That being said, ya I believe you're correct that encoding is an option as well, although I think if you're trying to encode actual humans, you might be better off trying to encode humans the way humans encode information, which is to say, a distributed neural network, but those could themselves be encoded as blocks in the block storage system. A hash algorithm or however the information are going to be stored by the cubes is a) probably a much smaller space than a combinatorial distributed network, but I may be wrong about that, but b) a multilevel "deep" neural network isn't just encoding information, but the relationships between them as a function of the degree of co-activation of "neurons" between those respective patterns, in a way that I don't think you get in a hash map or other kinds of encoding per se. Admittedly I'm not explaining that nearly sufficiently but can attempt to do so if we keep talking about this. Also, I am relatively knowledgeable about data structures but by no means an expert so I may be misunderstanding or underestimating what can be done with a hash map or some other kind of encoding method as well or just conflating certain things that I shouldn't be.

      The polygonid idea is a cool way of thinking about that as well, it's interesting to see some of these deeper mechanisms that weren't in the post (or was it and I'm just forgetting 0.o?). Was that idea on the spot or are there other ideas you didn't include in the post but that inform the overall concept in these regards?

  4. I like this concept of avoiding the inevitability of time.

    Could definitely see some PCs trying it a Magical Industrial Revolution game. The encoding process was, presumably, messy. "Congratulations! You are being rescue-digested. Please do not resist."

    If the original inhabitant wasn't sedated/prepared, they're presumably recreated in their last emotional state. Pompeii, but unending.

    If art and treasure was encoded, it might explain why dungeons have some anomalous features. Who made these tapestries? Two oozes, passing through.

  5. It seems amazing that there could be any number of copies of the city, of varying quality, out in the Madlands or elsewhere. An entire population cloned as many times as practicality and random chance allow. I wonder how two such cities would react to being each other's neighbor.

  6. I've seen a fair amount on the psychology of immortals (and their degradation), some on this very blog, so this emphasis instead on the mechanism of immortality/resurrection (and its degradation) is real neat.

  7. I was expecting the gelatinous cubes to either have troubles assembling in the right shape and thus ending up with a body horror freakshow of a bioglitch, or making copies of the city repeatedly without people realizing there are too many copies of them running around the world. Pretty cool anyway, didn't expect it to turn out like this!

  8. Thanks for sharing this! I’m delighted with this information, where such important moments are captured. All the best!

  9. As I said in my first post I just stumbled onto your site. You've got a lot of stuff, where do I start?

    1. As an avid reader it's hard to recommend anywhere to start, I'd recommend checking out this post here (, gives a slight rundown of a few things. That being said if you're looking for (mostly) fantasy stuff I'd look through the centerra tag, it's a pretty good time