This post has the following content warnings:
abrogail thrune's terrible terrible relationship advice
Next Post »
+ Show First Post
Total: 66
Posts Per Page:





Dear Abrogail,

All of the potential partners in my social circles are incredibly boring. My inferiors are incredibly predictable because they parrot official doctrine on anything of significance. My ostensible peers can't hold up their side of an argument for more than five minutes. The ranks of my superiors accessible to me, while potentially interesting as obstacles to be overcome on my way to greater power, are not interesting in conversation or in the bedroom, and they are scarce enough that I have explored most of the options and exhausted what interest existed. There's one exception, who manages this by being a heretic, and while the Church is fully aware and has so far declined to squash him, I'm pretty sure he'd fall apart disappointingly quickly if I even gestured in the direction of trying to break him. And then I wouldn't have anyone left to amuse me except in a torture chamber, which I have, unfortunately, never found diverting for more than an hour a day. (Even when they're unusually unpleasant and therefore particularly amusing to squash.) Should I just play gently with the clever heretic, or do I have better options I haven't explored?




Dear Boring,

While it's possible that you simply happen to be struggling far below your proper place, more likely is that you're failing to send the right social signals to convince people that they stand to benefit by having interesting conversations with you.  The heretic of whom you think fondly, who's inept enough that you know him for a heretic, is evidently somebody who's clever around people even when that's not in his own interest.

If this proves unsolvable for you, then sure, go with the clever heretic.  But if you're high enough to have inferiors, consider asking yourself whether you've visibly rewarded the first incremental moves in the direction of having interesting behaviors or thoughts around you.

There are plenty of topics in Cheliax about which I've yet neglected to make people aware of my own, correct opinion.  If people are only discussing topics with you on which there exists an orthodox opinion to parrot, it means they don't want to have a real conversation with you.

Or, I suppose, it's possible that you're just vastly more intelligent and interesting than the people around you.  If that's really so, climb your social ladder quickly, or apply to wizard school.  I'm here at the top, and I guarantee I'm not boring.


Dear Abrogail,

My boyfriend is really good at hurting me, and he makes me feel like I’m his, and I want to be his, but I’m a better wizard than him, and I think he might be afraid to go all the way because he’s worried I might retaliate? When I actually think I’m way too pathetic to ever seriously hurt him? But I don’t want to just tell him ‘I’m yours, you can do whatever you want and I won’t fight back’, because then I’d be consenting, and it’d be bad and fake and I wouldn’t really be his. Is there any way for me to drop hints about how pathetic and weak I am without cheapening our relationship?


Dear Consenting:

Mostly, I suspect you're not going to solve this problem to your own satisfaction, and this relationship is doomed.

There's many creative solutions you could deploy if you're fine with clever manipulations: for example, you could tell your priest about your situation and that you intend to pose as a heretic, and then allow your boyfriend to discover your apparent heresy, after which he'd think to have the upper hand on you.

But ultimately, we have a situation where your boyfriend is weaker and less daring than you want your man to be.  I worry that even after you're done with clever manipulations, you'll still feel dissatisfied, because the ultimate problem here is that you are consenting.

You don't have to end this relationship while you look for another one!  Secretly flirt with dangerous, strong men until you find one that's good at hurting you, and values the way you hurt for him enough to tear you away from your current boyfriend whether you like that or not.


Dear Abrogail,

My eldest child (age 8) has been struggling somewhat in his lessons. Yesterday, he came back from school with one of his worst composition scores yet, and then when we set him to do extra writing exercises on that material, he broke down in tears halfway through and started complaining about how the letters kept moving around! Obviously we had to address that, so I made him go back to the exercises and slapped his hand whenever he stopped writing, or twice if he started making up things about magical moving letters. My husband says this was counterproductive because you can't write if your hand is injured, and I should've gone for some other punishment instead. I think that if my child can't write just because his hand is hurting a little he's never going to amount to anything. Who's in the right?


Dear Slappy,

I'd be more INFURIATED at how incompetent you are at hurting people, except for how EVERYBODY IN THIS COUNTRY EXCEPT ME is terrible at it.  Nonetheless, shut up and listen.  You're not going to understand, because NOBODY ever understands except ME, but listen anyways.

Torture is not a magic wand that makes people better at things when you apply it.  It works great as a magic wand for producing terror and regret, but for that to IMPROVE PERFORMANCE there has to be some kind of AQUEDUCT going from the FEAR LAKE to the RESULTS FARM.

If somebody knows HOW to achieve a result and is just feeling reluctant about the effort or inconvenience involved, telling them they'll get hurt unless they achieve the result works GREAT.  If somebody DOESN'T KNOW HOW to do something, you can't TORTURE THEM INTO KNOWING.

I can't take a sixth-circle wizard and tell them that if they don't close the Worldwound in a year, I'll make an artistic production of their suffering such that when they get to Hell their owner will feel impressed and competitive about it, and have them actually close the Worldwound.  I tried that just to see if that might work, if maybe all the wizards were just being lazy and unmotivated about actually getting the Worldwound fixed, but no, they actually don't know how to do it, and don't know how to figure out how to do it, no matter how desperate they are.

People need to know, see, feel, that doing one thing leads to more pain, and doing something else leads to less pain.  They need to know how to achieve their goal of hurting less.

You can, by means of pain selectively applied, cause your boy to keep trying to write, to keep his hand moving on the paper.  If he doesn't know how to write then you can only solve this by teaching him how to write.

Now, often people do know how to do something, and don't want to, and whine that they don't know how.  But you know when that whining is, maybe, a bit more believable?  When it comes from an eight-year-old boy, especially one whom you've already hurt and that hasn't fixed the problem yet.

It's worth hurting an eight-year-old boy some, maybe, to see if that fixes things, to incentivize them not to try whining as their first strategy.  But eight-year-olds aren't paladins, Slappy.  It's not that hard to break their resistance.  If they're still not doing it after you hurt them a few times, it's because they don't know how, not because they're testing your resolve.

Let me tell you one of the secrets of Hell, Slappy.  If you go to Hell carrying high enough rank in Asmodeus's tyranny that the lesser devils there will answer your questions, and ask them, "Why did you hurt that petitioner?", they give reasons like, "Because I thought it would be funny", "So that in the future they will fear more to waste precious ink and be more careful in their copying", "So that this section of the Count's palace shall have an artistic ornament befitting His place in Hell".

If you then go back to Cheliax and ask mortals why they hurt people, they say, "Because he fucked up on his job", "Because she scorned me", "Because they did not show me the respect due my rank."

See the difference, Slappy?

Of course you don't.

I'll spell it out for you:  If you ask mortals why they hurt people, they talk about things that ALREADY HAPPENED, while if you ask devils why they hurt people, they talk about things THEY WANTED TO MAKE HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE.  Which makes sense, see, because you CAN'T CHANGE THE PAST, so if you were trying to use torture to actually DO ANYTHING PURPOSEFUL it would be something having to do with the FUTURE.

It was at this point, Slappy, that I realized that the reason why mortals can never do anything right with torture is that they ARE NOT TRYING TO DO THINGS except by COINCIDENCE.  They're acting out their own anger, frustration, unhappiness, by hurting people.  That does, in the end, support Asmodeus's tyranny in the mortal world; for subordinates often do know methods to avoid angering their superiors, and often, one of those methods is to do well at their jobs.  But it's not the way of Hell.

What are you doing, Slappy?  You're getting angry at your boy's lack of performance and you're hurting him and you feel like that ought to make him better and he doesn't get better so you feel frustrated and you act that out by hurting him more.  Do you know what that makes you?  It doesn't make you good at Asmodeanism, it makes you BAD AT TORTURE.

You're slapping him on the hand he uses to write.  Don't fucking tell me it's because you want to teach him to overcome adversity.  When somebody is STRUGGLING TO DO SOMETHING AT ALL and get to ANY rewards at the end of the problem that will teach their brain there's an ALTERNATIVE AT ALL that leads to LESS PAIN, is not when you add on ADDITIONAL ADVERSITY to teach your EIGHT-YEAR-OLD BOY how to be TOUGH.  Teach him that by adding adversity to something he can ALREADY DO and punishing him for failure at THAT.

You fucking obviously didn't carefully plan out a torture scheme that would involve slapping his hand, so you could simultaneously teach him how to write at all and how to overcome adversity in the form of hand pain.  You acted out your frustration in the first way that came to mind, by slapping his hand, and when your husband pointed out the possible issue you made up the adversity thing AFTERWARDS.  That doesn't make you good at Asmodeanism, it makes you BAD AT TORTURE.

But you're not going to understand any of that.  So if I had to leave you with a simple rule, it would be this:  Only try hurting your boy for long enough that it would break his resolve if he did know how to do the work and was just trying to resist you about that, and if that doesn't work, STOP and go TEACH HIM INSTEAD.

When he finally shows he can solve the problem, do NOT tell him immediately after that now he needs to go do all his work or get hurt, because then you're torturing him into NOT LEARNING THINGS.  Give him plainer food until he learns, restore his usual rations after he learns successfully.  As soon as he LEARNS TO DO THE WORK BETTER he should notice his life becoming IMMEDIATELY LESS UNPLEASANT.  Do not make this connection complicated.  Your little boy is even stupider than you are.

And don't tell me you're hurting your boy because it's fun, either.  Your boy is somebody you're currently treating as a valuable investment, and you shouldn't throw away that investment because you're flailing to find an excuse for why you're hurting him.  But if you want to deliberately stop with that policy and treat him as a fun torture doll instead, then sure, by all means, have fun!  Just don't act surprised when he breaks and stops being useful.

PS:  I have no idea what your boy means by 'letters moving around'.  But what people say when they're in pain often means SOMETHING, especially after you've hurt them enough that they could not reasonably be trying to deliberately annoy you.  So possibly consider paying attention to that part too, and asking questions, instead of getting FRUSTRATED and applying pain in response to EVENTS THAT ALREADY HAPPENED IN THE PAST.  It doesn't make any sense to you, yes, but 8-year-olds do not always express themselves perfectly the first time.  LISTEN TO PEOPLE WHILE YOU TORTURE THEM.


Dear Abrogail,

My father is a barmy old fool with a heart softer than a pillow stuffed with angel feathers--except where it comes to the treatment of his own family--but he plies the influential priests, merchants, and Crown agents in our town with bribes and threats. And he has poisoned their opinion against me, I have no one else to whom I can turn for advice.

He treats the halflings on our estate in a most un-Asmodean way--lets them have the run of the place, basically--, and beats me if I have the least bit of fun at their expense. One of my family's rightful possessions is especially infuriating. The old fool consults her constantly, and defers to her advice and demands as if she were the master and he the slave. To hear him say it she has made him wealthy and reversed the family's fortunes, and I am to treat her and the other slips with whatever respect she demands in return for it. This arrangement is kept secret to all outside the household. To test the unbelievably dire imprecations directed at me by my father I whispered the secret to a schoolboy I'd always hated, who that evening was in the river dead. I'm uncertain how they learned of it, but I suspect the slip of some sorcerous power; she is unnaturally perceptive. 

I live every day in a building ruled by its own servants, and my pride cannot withstand it. What should I do?


Dear Loser,

Learn this well:  Your value as a person isn't determined by names like 'slave', 'servant', 'halfling', 'slip'.

What does determine your value as a person, then?  The strength and grandeur by which you dominate everything about yourself; your usefulness to your superiors.

If your father dominates your town with bribes and threats, then he is an admirable person, at least by townie standards.  If he judges you less useful to him than halfling slaves, and your place accordingly below them in his household, I shan't gainsay it without knowing more of the matter.

You haven't told me a single thing about your father to make me believe he has a heart stuffed with angel feathers - just that he has a treasured adviser whom you hate for being better-treated than yourself.  But if you really believe your father guilty of heresy, why not turn him in to the town's highest priest over it?

To be clear, if that priest is then found dead in the river, we shall, in fact, have a problem on our hands; and if you afterwards steal a horse and set off to the nearest larger city to report to the temple there, you will be well rewarded.


Dear Abrogail,


I have a lover who is brilliant, fascinating, generous and clever. But I was presented with an opportunity to overthrow an important ally of hers and the source of her power base and make it my own, and of course I'm going to take it. Is there any way to keep her as I embark on my plan to betray her, or is it stupid to even consider it?  If I drop her for now, and pick her back up again when I'm more powerful and have her boss's job, will that work fine?


- Chosen


Dear Romance Novel Protagonist:

I must say, your situation sounds a bit... patterned.  Are you, by any chance, incredibly beautiful?  Do you have an enemy who is even more incredibly beautiful than you?

But let's leave that aside.

If you were in this situation in real life, and you didn't realistically think your lover would side with you against her ally, then yes, the way to keep this lover is to come back later when you've got her boss's job.

But that would be boring, wouldn't it?  Can you get her to think that her ally has betrayed her, or will soon betray her?  Can you find her dark secret and force her to your side against all her previous bonds?  Can you just be that good in bed?

Try!  You only lead one mortal life, and the less boring it is, the more your eventual keeper in Hell might feel an impulse to try to preserve anything interesting about you!  And if it all goes wrong in this mortal life, flee to the Imperial Censor's Office and tell them I commanded that you be allowed to try your hand at writing romance novels.


Dear Abrogail,

An older student at the academy decided he fancied me and has been cornering me in-between class and feeling me up and occasionally hurting me after lessons. He's much stronger than me and so I've been going along with things and it's been great - except he can't seem to hurt me nearly enough for my taste. I've been pretending to be in a lot more pain than I am but I worry that this means I'm doing something wrong. Should I be honest with him about how I feel?


Dear Painslut:

On a strategic level, you need to decide if this is a boy you're interested in simply because of how he feels you up and hurts you, or if he's useful for other reasons.  If he's useful for other reasons, then you want to figure out what level of pain tolerance he finds most pleasing, and fake that.  If he's only useful to you as a sadist, then why pretend he's pleasing you more than he does?  Are you concerned you won't be able to find anybody else who can hurt you?  You live in fucking Cheliax!  We have priests of Asmodeus who can help you with this sort of problem!

On a tactical level, you say he can't seem to hurt you enough for your taste.  How do you know?  Have you tried pretending less and seeing if he ramps up the amount that he hurts you?  Have you tried telling him defiantly that you're not making any sounds he doesn't force out of you?

Being honest with him strikes me as frankly an extreme tactic to try in a relationship.  Maybe after everything else fails you, try honesty, but first ask yourself if a relationship that requires honesty to preserve is a relationship worth preserving.


Dear Abrogail,

My master doesn't beat me less when I don't burn dinner than when I do. I've been experimenting to see if any other aspects of my behavior meaningfully impact how much he punishes me, and the only thing that works more often than chance is staying away as much as I can when he happens to be in a bad mood. If I get him killed, how likely is it that my next master will be better? 


Dear Beaten:

I wish I could tell you that your next master would probably be better, but everybody in Cheliax is INCREDIBLY BAD AT TORTURE.  If you've only had this one master and no others to compare, it's hard to guess whether your next master will, for example, beat you even more harshly even after taking account that he beats you less invariably - the amount he beats you when you don't burn dinner might be more than your last master beat you when you did burn dinner.

With no ability to guess the results on that level, I think you should fall back on a different decision-making process:  If you've decided somebody is an idiot, and you have the power to kill him and get away with it, and you're otherwise not sure of the consequences, you should kill him.

Why?  Because, while the new situation you end up in might be worse, maybe you'll be able to escape that situation too, or change it.  The alternative is being stuck forever in the place you are right now.  


Dear Abrogail,

I’m a sorcerer, and I enjoy mind-reading people while I hurt them. I have found that there is a particular mindset that pleases me most; it’s hard to put into words, but if I had to try, it would be something like “I don’t deserve this; what is happening to me is Fundamentally Wrong, but it’s happening anyway”. Now, I haven’t tried to cultivate this mindset in any loyal Chelish citizens, because it seems difficult if not impossible to do without encouraging heresy. However, fortunately, foreigners and traitors tend to come pre-loaded with it! Unfortunately, there is a very limited supply of foreigners and traitors, and my hobby is getting quite expensive. Do you have any suggestions on how to get this need met more efficiently?


Dear Picky:

There's so many obvious solutions to your problem, it's hard to advise you without knowing which solutions have already failed.  What happened when you asked the Inquisitors if you could work for them?  Were you too bad at healing-efficient torture?  What happened when you asked the travel office about geases so you could obtain a travel permit for a torture vacation in Galt?  What did your priest say when you went to them for counsel?

You're such a horrendously awful person that it really seems like you ought to be able to work with my government in some way.  That you aren't already working with us implies there's some other obstacle here that's your actual problem, and you left that key information out of your letter.  All I can do is state the obvious:

There is not, in fact, a limited supply of foreigners and traitors.  So your real problem is whatever prevents you from usefully cooperating with others in hurting them.


Dear Abrogail, 

I went to a military academy, and after having my team consistently win the battle games the academy made us play, my team is now being stripped apart, the rest of the academy is turning against me, and the academy went over and corrected all the exploits I found in the battle game rules I used to win (I'm also being tortured at a higher rate than the rest of the school population per infraction)! I am obviously the best commander this school has seen in ages (excluding Sir. Rackham probably), but all my superiors are mysteriously against me. 

I would normally simply move to a different military academy, then appropriately punish my present superiors after gaining enough resources to do so, but they have isolated me from any communication channels (except for this one, which I'm mysteriously able to access via a magical book we've all been given). In absence of any advice on your part, I plan on simply refusing to do what they say until they cave to my demands or I cave to their torture, but I fear this is unAsmodean.

Sander Wilbin



Dear Cheater,

Now, as much as I am deeply sympathetic here, "corrected all the exploits I found in the battle game rules" does hint at what could have mysteriously turned all your superiors against you.

The sad fact of the matter, Cheater, is that problems given you in school aren't compacts.  If you find the compact-flaws in them, your superiors won't praise you for Asmodean cleverness, they'll just hurt you.

Compacts are executed between two parties who each have something to bring to a bargaining-table, and the cleverer wins the compact.  When you're given problems in school, that's not a compact to which you consented, even under pressure; it's a matter of tyranny, commands enforced with fire and lash.  Your superiors in school have all the power, you have none, and if they believe you're breaking the rules as they see them, they'll hurt you.  The written rules don't matter, what they say the rules are doesn't matter, all that matters is whether they think you're not acting submissive enough.

Try to see it from your superiors' perspective!  They have their own pride.  How do you think they feel when they see you acting like that, when you're supposed to be a mere student, something that's beneath them?  That's right, they're angry, and they have reason to be.

It is, in fact, a defect of subordination if you treat every command from your superiors and every task they set you as something to exploit.  You can tell you're being a bad slave because you're getting hurt.

My advice to you is to think sincerely about whether you have, in fact, been a bad student, in this mortal world where not everybody can phrase their orders with the care of a greater devil executing a compact.  Then apologize to your superiors, admit your fault, and ask to be given another chance.  In the future, when you find what seems like a compact-flaw within a military game, ask your superiors first before exploiting it.  They'll still know you're clever, and you'll seem much less insubordinate.

If I were your superior, I'd test your repentance then by giving you a game that you couldn't win without exploiting a loophole.  If that happens, ask if you're allowed to exploit the loophole, and if you don't get back a clear positive answer, lose the game!  It's not the end of the world.


Dear Abrogail,

I was beginning to form an alliance with one of the more interesting students at my wizarding school, when he betrayed me and offended my pride and that of my family. I fear he has made me into a heretic. Naturally, I tortured him pretty severely over it. But now I find myself feeling conflicted—normally torturing is more fun than this.

He was the only student (other than myself) with any true ambition, and I expect he will ultimately prove superior to me. His alliance would have been valuable, and I have no one else to turn to. Can the relationship be salvaged? 


Dear Confused:

Your account of this affair sounds nearly incoherent and suggestive of incipient heresy and/or mental disturbance.  Get yourself to a priest.


Dear Abrogail,

My family recently moved here so I've transferred to a Cheliax academy. I've found myself having a lot of trouble fitting in - things are just so different here than in Nidal. At first all the students would gather around and hit me - like a normal school - but after a few weeks they seemed to... get bored of this or something? 

One of the most confusing parts about Cheliax are these "relationships" people seem to have. As far as I can tell it's like how some people will preferentially hurt each other, except only one side is doing the hurting? I'm so confused. 

I saw your column and wondered if you would have advice for someone like me who's so much out of her depth.


Dear Nidalian:

I can only imagine how confusing Cheliax must be to you!  There really isn't much I can do in one letter to help you.  Mostly, I counsel patience.  Go on looking visibly like you might be a useful possession to somebody, and someone will eventually put in the work required to take control of you, reshape you, explain things to you, find a place for you in Cheliax and hammer you into it.

But if I were to try to guess what might lie at the core of your confusion:

In Cheliax, everybody is hurting others or being hurt themselves for reasons.  Even when it seems like somebody is just hurting you for no reason at all, they're probably deriving sexual satisfaction from it, or the pride of crushing you down.

Understanding the reasons why people hurt one another will be the key to your making sense of Cheliax.  And that starts with the idea that people can have reasons for hurting each other at all; and that your first guess at the reason isn't always correct, nor will people tell you the reasons honestly if you ask them.


Dear Abrogail, 

After extensively reading your column, I have become concerned that I might be incredibly bad at torture. I had not previously thought that it was likely, since both my personal and professional lives have been going very smoothly, but if almost everyone in Cheliax is incredibly bad at torture, I have no specific reason to think that I'm overwhelmingly better at torture than everyone around me. How can I get better at torture?


Dear Correct:

If your grasp of what you currently can and can't do with pain is so vague that the thought "Perhaps I am bad at torture" can suddenly strike you as a thunderbolt of possible bad news, when that doesn't really say anything at all about what you currently can and can't do with pain, your first step is to replace your concept of "I am good at torture" or "I am bad at torture" with "I currently think I am competent to accomplish the following specific ends by inflicting these kinds of patterned suffering..."

Then you can start thinking about how to verify whether anything on that list is true, or how to try an experiment about adding a new item to that list.

Total: 66
Posts Per Page: