It was a dark and stormy night. That fact was barely noticed in a dorm room at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where five traditionalist gamers played a game of WarSpell. A game master and four players sat around a table with paper and pencils, real dice rolled on a real table. Cans of soft drinks and snacks were ready to hand and rule books and character sheets were out and ready for the start of tonight’s game. They all had computers, of course, and internet access but this was a traditional game of WarSpell using the traditional version five rules. Which was before the major rewrite in version six, of which all five heartily disapproved.
Bob Andrews was the gamemaster and a physics post grad. “The storms are getting worse and all attempts to reach the good gods have failed. What are you guys going to do?” He was, of course, not talking about the storm outside the dorm room, but the weather in the game world which had been getting worse and worse over the last few games.
David W. Harper, who played the Dwarf Wimglo, a warrior mage, was pre-law. “We have a new spell,” he informed the game master. Actually, David had a new spell that he had created with little consultation with the other members of the group.
Bob rolled his eyes histrionically. “Come on, Dave. You’re supposed to clear new spells with me,”
While Eddy Ferguson said, “What’s this we, paleface,” then looked at Bob. “This is the first I’ve heard about any new spell.” Eddy, while legally a Cherokee, had blond hair and blue eyes and the palest face in the group. He played Redsebolt, a half-elven paladin of Commi, protector of the masses. “Did he mention it to you guys?”
“We can at least look at it,” said Dan Dawson. David had mentioned the spell to Dan, but not in any detail. Dan’s character was the Dragon of Reme, a great worm that would normally have been opposed to the rest, save that in this extreme situation he felt they must all work together or all die.
In this gaming group they did the spells in much greater detail than the rules dictated. Mostly because Bob was more than a bit anal, and insisted that magic, like physics, must follow consistent rules. He had worked out on his own a set of symbolic representations that were used by the group to craft spells. They worked within the rules of WarSpell and he and the group had an agreement that if the spell followed the rules, it worked. Of course, Bob hadn’t told the players the rules. They had to work them out, just like in the real world. And getting a spell wrong could have fatal consequences for the player-character and any other folks in the area. Since it was only a game, the players weren’t all that slowed by the danger. They could always roll up a new character and, as to non-player characters, who cared? It wasn’t like they were real.
They read through the spell. It was a doozy. It used the power of several very powerful magical artifacts to try to poke a hole through the interference to let the prayers reach the gods that they firmly believed were being blocked from hearing their prayers.
Bob knew that wasn’t the case. Bob was a committed atheist and had created his universe with no capital G Gods, just powerful beings that the locals thought were gods. The gods they prayed to were not the creators of the universe that they were believed to be. More importantly, the reason for the storms was that Kloudina, goddess of weather, was no longer tweaking the unstable weather because she and the rest of the good gods as well as most of the evil gods had been killed in a great battle in the plane of the gods some months before. Which was why none of the clerical types were getting through. There was no one left to get through to.
“Hey, wait a minute,” complained Sariah Davis. “I have no desire to sacrifice Ragnok.” Ragnok was the artifact magic sword Sariah’s character, Sariah Karth, the paladin of the god of law, carried. It carried the soul of a warrior penitent condemned to live in the sword till the end of time for his evil acts in life. It was an immensely powerful magic item that had brought down more than one evil demigod.
“I’m sacrificing my ax,” David pointed out. “If we don’t contact the gods and get the weather straightened out, everyone dies anyway.”
Just then there was a flash through the window, followed less than a second later by thunder and the lights flickered, almost as though making David’s point.
* * *
In the same place, in an alternate universe, there was an MIT lab investigating the electroweak force and the interaction of extreme magnetic fields on nuclear decay. They were not investigating the many worlds theory. That theory had been completely debunked in their universe and only crackpots even discussed it.
They powered up the coils to make the magnetic bottle that they hoped would increase the likelihood of individual fusions to a controlled degree. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
* * *
In the game universe, yet another alternate universe, Dwarf Wimglo slammed his mighty ax on the conference table “By the great Gimli, if we fail to reach the gods, the world ends! How can we scruple any sacrifice against that?”
“Peace, Wimglo. I know the stakes. But, by his curse the Ragnok must stay within the sword till the very end of the world. To release him doth threaten creation,” Sariah Karth told him.
“And what do we risk by doing nothing?” offered Red Seabolt. “Thousands died in the quakes and storms. We must reach the good gods and aid them as we may, else all ends.”
After that their conversation shifted into the minutia of the spell’s structure. It was half spell and half prayer, and gathered all the magic energy that they could channel, even sacrificing their magical items to add to the punch.
“That part works,” the dragon in human form said, “but the phrasing of this passage?” He pointed a clawed forefinger at the passage. “Combine our power and selves with our creators,” he read. “Why not say ‘the gods’?”
“It simply scans better with the next line. Art is important in prayers, even more than in spells.”
The drake nodded its silver head.
* * *
Bob Andrews grinned as the players talked themselves into wasting their most precious possessions on a spell that couldn’t work, and found it hard not to laugh as Dan Dawson pointed out that calling the gods ‘their creators’ wasn’t part of standard prayers and David answered that it scanned better.
As per previous agreement, they actually acted out the spell-casting, though not exactly in real time or with real magic items, those being a bit scarce in this magicless world. David lifted his toy ax and started intoning.
* * *
Dwarf Wimglo lifted his mighty ax and began to intone the first syllables of the spell.
* * *
Dan Dawson lifted his right hand, thumb and little finger touching, and turned it in the air as he joined the chant.
* * *
The great dragon lifted its right front claw, grasped the magic with his claws and twisted, intoning his part.
* * *
Sariah lifted her toy knife, but this time it felt different than it had ever felt before. There was a tingling in the air, like ozone or something. She didn’t let it affect her as she went through the motions, but this game was starting to feel a lot more realistic than usual. It was cool.
* * *
Sariah lifted the Ragnok and felt it try to squirm from her power as it always did. But there was something different about it. She wasn’t sure what, but perhaps it welcomed the final release from its long imprisonment.
* * *
Eddy lifted his plastic shield and started intoning. He almost lost his place, might have if he hadn’t had a minor in drama. This was weird. It felt as if the shield that was in fact made of plastic and weighed maybe two ounces, was actually made of true silver, four feet wide and weighing forty pounds.
* * *
Red Seabolt lifted the shield gifted to him by Saint Trotsky, the first priest of Commi. It would never fail to protect the masses. Then Red called out to join with his creator that they might better serve the people together. The shield was light on his arm as it had never been before.
* * *
The magnetic fields were fully powered now and the readings they were getting were well outside parameters. Garrett Vince read the dials and and pushed the emergency cut-off button, but nothing happened. Which was flatly impossible without power. The field should have collapsed in microseconds. He looked back at the controls and couldn’t believe his eyes. He sat frozen for utterly unimportant seconds as power from somewhere else held open a gate that his experiment had opened. They were unimportant seconds because it was already too late.
* * *
Ax was followed by sword was followed by shield was followed by claw in two universes connected by a third, as the spell reached out to merge the created with their creators. But their creators weren’t the gods they thought they were, and time and causality across the universes doesn’t align. They — all the characters in that room — were player characters. Their creators were the players who had rolled them up and given them life by playing them. The mighty spell reached out and did what it could, following the laws of magic and physics across three universes. Laws that were, at best, understood imperfectly.
And energy flowed.
One universe, the one in which Red Seabolt, the Great Drake, Sariah Karth and Dwarf Wimglo were real people of flesh and blood and magic . . . that universe collapsed and everyone and everything in it died because Wimglo had wanted a line that scanned well with the next. There were only four survivors out of that entire universe and that only partly.
* * *
The damage to Garrett Vince’s universe was much less. There was a minor explosion in the two-to-five kiloton range and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in that world was history. It would never be rebuilt.
* * *
In the universe of Bob Andrews, David W. Harper and their friends, the results were quite different. Even, in their way, somewhat benign. Their universe got just a little bit wider in one dimension, the ninth. Just wide enough so that magical energy would work. And, just as the spell had been designed to do, the player characters, and all like them, were Merged with their creators — the players who had created them. David Harper suddenly had the memories of his life and death as Dwarf Wimglo. Sariah Davis gained the memories of Sariah Karth; Eddy Ferguson found himself a paladin of a god he had made up as a joke; and Dan Dawson remembered soaring through the sky as a dragon.
Bob Andrews wasn’t a player in that game but the magic of a collapsing universe was much too strong to be contained by such picayune considerations. It spread and mutated within the meaning of the spell. He was Merged with a character he had played in another game.
The magic flowed out in a sphere centered on that dorm room at MIT. A sphere that covered the earth and kept right on growing. It took that sphere some four hours to engulf the earth and still longer to reach beyond it. But it expanded at a constant speed, a speed that would become as important to the physics of the new universe as C was to the old. Much slower, of course. And as it expanded, anyone who had played a game of WarSpell at any time in their life was affected. The spell Merged them with one of the characters they had played.
Arguably, it was a new universe, created as that other one was destroyed. But that would all be learned later, over years of experimentation.
Some twenty odd million people experienced the merge. Half on the merge, world half on game worlds, for the merge went both ways. Each player gained the memories and abilities of a character they had played, and that character gained theirs. For each pair it was instant. The connection happened, copying both ways, then was over. It left two people, one on the merge world, and one on a game world, who had a common set of memories and abilities. And usually very different circumstances.