Tortellini

Warfare on the Shattered Plains

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Hi all, I'm a refugee from TWG... :) This has been on my mind for a while, but it needed some thinking. Basically, the way the Alethi are managing the war is not optimal by far. Also, there should be some consequences from gathering so many gemhearts:

1. Economics

Dalinar is actually concerned about inflation at one point (p.409), but after 6 years, the massive influx of new gems should have a drastic effect on the economy in Alethkar and probably all of Roshar. We need to separate what happens in the warcamps with what is carried away from the camps into the world by the many merchants trading with the camps.

First of all, different types of gemstones have different worths, and these are sort of fixed - e.g. Emerald ~ 2 Sapphire ~ 50x Diamond. It is unclear where these differences in value come from, but likely causes are rarity of the gem and usefulness in soulcasting. Emerald is worth a lot because it can soulcast food.

Now, the gemhearts coming from the Chasmfiends are not defined in type to my knowledge, so they could be equally distributed, following the general ratity of the gems in Roshar, or be only of specific types. In any case, the armies need large amounts of Emeralds for soulcasting food and also wood, the two materials that are specifally mentioned as being soulcast a lot. So all the other gemstones should depreciate in value world-wide (more so in Alethkar due to distances), since they are being traded for goods from the merchants. That should lead to serious inflation for most types of gems, and to a relative increase in the value of Emeralds, since few of those would make it out of the warcamps. We haven't seen the effects of this yet, but I am wondering - should this not be noticable in Karbranth already? Maybe Shallan is not concerned with economics, and we haven't had much insight.

2. Siege Warfare on the plains

Completely different, but I was really wondering - we know the armies cannot move towards the center of the Plains due to exposure to highstorms. But at the same time they are neglecting the potential power of their soulcasters completely:

- There are permanent, wooden bridges between chasms, but they get burned by the Parshendi occasionally. This is in fact the reason the wooden bridges stop after a while - they are too difficult to maintain (is stated somewhere in the book). But why are these bridges not soulcast into stone, or metal? This would be an incredibly powerful way of protecting the permanent bridges. This would drastically increase the range of the armies, since all types of temporary bridges cost a lot of time and have other issues.

- Once we are soulcasting on the plateaus - let's build a small castle! With the expanded reach of stone bridges, getting an army out to protect builders while they prepare to soulcast a fortification is easy. This should be possible even without stone bridges, in fact. The biggest advantage of the Parshendi is their ability to jump the chasms, so their maneuverability is vastly better than the Alethis'. However, this means they have literally no way of getting any siege equipment to the plateaus - any fortification high enough not to be jumped and smooth enough not to be climbed would allow a few troops to hold of a much stronger force. Of course, protection against the storms would require something more streamlined than an Earth-type castle, but that should still be possible. Such a castle can be used to maintain further bridges within the Plains and to cut off retreat paths for Parshendi forces. In fact, once the area is secured, more bridges can connect plateaus for more room, and some barracks for further troops. Suddenly, you have a fortified camp within the plains. (Side note - all structures are vulnerable to Shardblades, so a Shardbearer is needed for defense. There are enough among the Alethi for this to work, though.)

- If it works once, let's do it again - a string of such fortifications can work its way towards the center of the Plains with very little the Parshendi can do about it. In fact, depending on the speed of soulcasting large structures, the Tower could be in permanently human hands within a day, and that would be just the start. In a week or two, you could be at the very center of the Plains, in range to strike decisive blows at the Parshendi.

Is there a problem with this approach that I haven't considered? Or have the Alethi just not come up with this solution? They are very offensive-focused, so this turtle-style approach is not really the first thing they would think of maybe. Still, this would be just what Dalinar needs to end the war once and for all...

Final remark: If a chull can pull a siege bridge, it can pull a ballista, or a catapult. Siege engines were historically not very useful against infantry, because usually infantry could be ordered into loose formations. However, on the plateaus the size of the plateau often seems to demand close formations - the Alethi at least bring as many soldiers as can fit. Catapults with burning oil ammo could wreak havoc on Parshendi occupied with cutting out a gemheart. There are lots of things the Alethi could be working on.

I haven't seen much discussion about this topic, but maybe I missed it. What do you guys think?

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Nice post.

1)

It was my understanding that the gemhearts are exclusively used to generate food. I haven't read the book in a few months and there is the possibility that food was simply the only use mentioned in the text, but this would result in only the value of emerald going down.

Even this depreciation of relative value might not have to happen, though, or at least not to any large extent, because the vast majority of the soulcasting done with the gemhearts is simply for the purpose of supporting the encampments of the Highprinces. This could either be just for food production or for all types of soulcasting, but the economic result is essentially the same either way. The war on the Shattered Plains, which would otherwise be a massive drain on the food production and general economies of all of the Alethi Princedoms, would therefore be much closer to an economic neutral, self-sustaining with minimal input and output.

The soldiers that would otherwise be producing food without the need for soulcasting are now eating food that is only being produced by soulcasting which, in turn, would not have been possible without their efforts.

2)

Quite an interesting extrapolation of the strategic benefits of soulcasting on the large scale. Barring practical limitations, I agree that this would be an excellent strategy for the conquest of the Shattered Plains, much like the "ink spot" method used to counter guerrilla warfare.

Practical limitations are the key of the matter though, so I have to wonder exactly how well the Alethi would be able to deploy soulcasting strategically.

As to the stone bridges, there is the question of exactly how quickly and/or economically wooden bridges could be "transmuted." Especially if gemhearts are limited to food, the cost may simply be prohibitive.

As to creating/transmuting complex structures, my understanding was that soulcast buildings were basically limited to domes. Even if this is not the case, and greater complexity is possible, the question once again comes down to the limits of what can be soulcast in bulk.

As a small piece of evidence that soulcasting many small objects is more economical than a few large ones, I would like to note that one of Bridge Four's duties was to collect smallish stones because they could be soulcast into food more easily than large ones.

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As a small piece of evidence that soulcasting many small objects is more economical than a few large ones, I would like to note that one of Bridge Four's duties was to collect smallish stones because they could be soulcast into food more easily than large ones.

actually, i don't think size was mentioned as an issue, other than having to be light enough to be carried. what the soulcasters needed were stones that had natural variability, which were easier to soulcast into food.

as for the OP - military section, Kurkistan addressed most issues regarding the feasibility of soulcasting bridges and fortifications on the plains. i'd just like to point out that such undertakings would likely require elhokar to either take direct control of the entire war effort, or appoint someone as high prince of war (wink wink, nudge nudge).

i think maybe you could be of great value advising dalinar on the best strategy to pursue, tortellini.

another thing you have to consider, however, is that the parshendi have been relatively quick to counter any new tactics employed by the alethi. if you soulcast the permanent bridges to stone, the parshendi might just come along during a highstorm and soulcast them into smoke, and you've just lost some valuable raw material. you would have to place permanent guards on those bridges, housed in highstorm proof guardhouses, or maybe even make covered bridges.

it'll be interesting to see how dalinar goes about this in the second book. :D

edit: just wanted to add that i think the reason the war on the shattered plains is so poorly run is a direct result of the highprinces way of thinking. pooling their resources is so abhorrent to them, they feel justified in sacrificing efficiency.

Edited by Sunblesser
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Hey great post.

The problem with inflation is that the gems of a certain size can only handle so much power flowing through them before the "circuit trips" so to speak. The gems break and are unusable, they must be replaced. I think that the gemhearts are cut down to usable size for the soulcasting fabrials, and the remnants used for spheres. As the gems in fabrials need to be replaced after using them either too much or too hard. This probably keeps the inflaton to the minimum. Although the Alethi could have increased their standard of living as far as soulcasting goes in proportion to their newfound wealth. This happens with people all the time, just look at the broke NFL players and the lottery winners who go bankrupt a year or two later.

I admit mostly conjecture but it's my theory. this would also account for not soulcasting bridges and castles as they'd waste gems for an unproven method of warfare.

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Hey all, great to see some discussion! :)

Kurkistan: It's true, I sort of assumed that gemhearts are mixed somehow, but things would be completely different if Chasmfiends give only Emeralds (and since that's the gem for food, it could fit). What speaks for that is that no one ever mentions the type of gem when they harvest one - if you could win a Diamond or an Emerald, that would make a huge difference on the profitability of the battle, so it should be discussed. On the other hand, Dalinar does not mention Emeralds when worrying about inflation. I am paraphrasing a little, but he is worrying "What will happen if our scarcest resource, the gemstones, become commonplace?", and it's not Emeralds specifically...

And you are absolutely right, the gemstones consumed within the Warcamps are irrelevant. The merchants are taking gems out of the camps though. However, I neglected a different effect - the Highprinces are still collecting taxes probably. These taxes, which are an additional flow of gems from Alethkar to the camps, may balance out what the merchants bring back so the net effect could still be neutral. So you are right, neither inflation or deflation is indicated for sure at the moment. This depends on the actual consumption of gems in the camps as well (see below)

As for soulcasting structures - there is indeed a lot of uncertainty about this, I am guessing a lot too! :) A few indicators can be gathered from the map of Sadeas's camp and the view of the warcamps. Sadeas's camp shows us that the barracks (which were described as soulcast) are rectangular, so it's not just domes. The overview shows several castle-type buildings, including Elhokar's castle, which is described as soulcast the first time Dalinar enters. This tells us that

a) Tall, vertical stone buildings can survive Highstorms, the do not necessarily have to be streamlined.

B) It is possible to soulcast large, complex structures. However, the effort could have been very significant, it does not tell us if fast souldcasting of a field fort is feasible.

c) Castles do have some strategic worth, even in a war where Shardblades are around - I am actually not so sure about this, as any Shardbearer who isn't occupied by an opposing one could hack through most walls unless they are thicker than the length of the blade. Moats however would be very efficient... Also, it would take some time to remove the rocks from the wall, and even Shardplate must be vulnerable to having tons of rocks, or even burning oil, dropped on top of it while the Shardbearer is slashing at the wall.

Sunblesser: Hehe, thanks for the compliment :) I agree that probably the Alethi are just not thinking about it the right way yet. I would hope that either Jasnah, who is prone to pointing out stupidity anywhere, or Shallan with her creativity will provide these ideas to the men, who may be stuck in traditional thinking about warfare... But the competition between the Highprinces might actually be helpful for this idea - competition should drive innovation. We can see that with Sadeas's new bridges, which - horrible as they are - give him an edge, and others seem to pick up on the idea.

And yes, the bridges would still need to be protected, but it would up the risk a lot for the Parshendi if they would have to bring a soulcaster or Shardbearer (who can also make short work of a stone bridge) to the Alethi side of the Plains. Especially if a forward keep is in the plateaus, then all the bridges behind it are very risky, since you might be cut off by Shardbearers that were based there.

Basically, the current terrain vastly benefits the Parshendi, but with sufficient soulcasters and ample gems, the Alethi have the means to shift the balance significantly.

Logain: You're right - it's actually true that large gemstones are not always consumed in soulcasting - that is probably adding to the value of the gemhearts! An Emerald gemheart is worth even more than its parts in Spheres, since it can be used better for repetetive soulcasting. I wonder how this works exactly, do they last indefinitely if you're careful? And if a stone cracks, can the pieces still be recycled as smaller stones, e.g. in Broams? Ah, we know so little about soulcasting... :huh:

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Yes, if a stone cracks it can be used in smaller pieces. The issue with soulcasting is large amounts of power can crack gemstones. It seems to me that large gemstones crack when they run out of stormlight, but smaller ones like Broams are so small that they cannot crack anymore.

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On a general note, I despair at the number of times I'm going to need to reread the early books in the Stormlight archive just to remember all of these details for each new book. Its a happy despair, but still despair.

@Sunblesser

Ah, thanks for catching that.

@Tortellini

Ok then, soulcasing complex structures is a go! Now the only question remaining, as you noted, is cost.

As to point 'c,' I completely agree on the strategic effectiveness of fortifications, even, nay especially, against Shardbearers. Nothing says "armor piercing" quite like a ballista bolt to the face.

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I'm guessing that what can be soulcast with a gem (or at least what can be soulcast easily), is its "Soulcasting Properties", as outlined in the Ars Arcanum. Emeralds are for "Wood, Plants, Moss", which is what most food (at least as we know it) is made of. (We do know they have chickens, but meat would require cooking, unless they can Soulcast pre-cooked meat - Alethi Fried Chicken, if you will.) I think it is a reasonable possibility that all gemhearts are emeralds, in which case they are increasing the supply of the very thing they've increased demand of. There are some things to think of with inflation and deflation that are different from situations we are accustomed to:

Thing I: The gems have intrinsic value; they are not strictly fiat money (although exchange rates among them might be). Thus, even if total quantity in the market doubled in a few years, their market price would not likely be cut in half, although it would decrease.

Thing II: Growing out of the previous point, people would be genuinely better off if there were more gems. If there are twice as many dollars in the form of Federal Reserve Notes, we are no better off (unless we decide we like them as wallpaper). If there are twice as many emerald broams, those could be used to soulcast food, making an overall improvement for people.

If the ratios among gems is fixed by fiat, Gresham's Law will take effect, as people start only exchanging their most undervalued currencies. As we don't see people doing that, there's a good chance they aren't fixed (or at least not very strictly) by fiat.

The most efficient approach is to let each Highprince (or anyone else) compete for the gems independently, reaping whatever rewards they gain. The competition will encourage efficiency and innovation. I am not condoning what they do to slaves or Parshendi, simply saying that the way they work now will lead them to find the most efficient method. If at any point a Highprince finds that the costs of keeping up his army exceed the benefits from selling (or using) the gemhearts, he will leave the war. Dalinar's idea of making them all distribute their spoils is dangerous - if he intends to end the war by rendering it impractical, he may be successful, but he will disrupt incentives and may just make them inefficient.

Concerning soulcasting bridges, I believe it should be completely possible. As for why they haven't done it yet...it's hard to say. Perhaps they are afraid of having bridges they couldn't take down in an emergency. As for the fortress in the plains, perhaps they find the logistics of moving supplies there unfeasible? Or they don't want to split their forces that way lest they become more vulnerable? I agree, both seem like brilliantly good ideas, which is why I have to think that there's some reason no one has adopted them after several years.

Edited by Musicspren
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wouldnt it just be way more expensive to soulcast some quite large bridges when u can just replace them every once in a while if they get burnt rly cheaply comparatively?

especially remembering soulcasting is heavily taxed by the king

Edited by Wispsy
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@Wipsy

The important thing wouldn't so much be cost as strategic value, if the cost was managable. There is far more utility in having reliable, if somewhat expensive, bridges than there is in cheap ones that you don't know will be there in the morning.

Also, the king's soulcasting tax wouldn't apply if the construction of stone bridges was supported by the crown. Although, the tax could be used to explain why none of the High Princes have taken the initiative and implemented a strategy like this on their own. . .

The most efficient approach is to let each Highprince (or anyone else) compete for the gems independently, reaping whatever rewards they gain. The competition will encourage efficiency and innovation. I am not condoning what they do to slaves or Parshendi, simply saying that the way they work now will lead them to find the most efficient method. If at any point a Highprince finds that the costs of keeping up his army exceed the benefits from selling (or using) the gemhearts, he will leave the war. Dalinar's idea of making them all distribute their spoils is dangerous - if he intends to end the war by rendering it impractical, he may be successful, but he will disrupt incentives and may just make them inefficient.

I believe that your theory is somewhat flawed.

First of all, an optimal outcome achieved through independent action assumes that the various High Princes are rational actors whose sole goal is the acquisition of gemhearts in the largest quantity possible. This assumption would allow for uninhibited cooperation and experimentation until a Nash equilibrium was achieved.

We can put aside the question of the rationality of the High Princes for the moment: just about any seemingly "irrational" behavior could be accounted for as the expression of an unknown or poorly-weighted goal aside from acquiring gemhearts.

Speaking of ulterior motives: the High Princes have goals other than the acquisition of gemhearts. They want honor, prestige, and recognition above that of their peers, the very people who they ought be be cooperating with in order to acquire gemhearts.

This eliminates the possibility of cooperation, which is essential for maximal outcomes. Any model which completely excludes the possibility of cooperation is almost certainly weaker than one which allows it.

I would also like to question the goal which you have assumed as most important in your "free market" system of competition: the gemhearts, as opposed to the goal of winning the war. These goals need not be mutually exclusive, as they become in the non-cooperative model. In fact, the most efficient way to acquire a maximum number of gemhearts would be to focus almost exclusively on winning the war.

The way it works out, even the best competitive strategy between 10 disunited factions is unlikely to win the war against the Parshendi in any timely manner. At best, this "optimal" solution will simply ensure that most of the gemhearts obtainable by the Alethi are secured, while the Parshendi bunker down on their side of the Shattered Plains and live off of the gemhearts that the Alethi can't even dream of reaching. The Parshendi might die off very slowly from that point, but there would be no incentive (and no capability) for a single gemheart-focused High Prince to expend the resources necessary to wipe them out, and in so doing open up the Shattered Plains to his competition.

And that brings us to the most efficient way to actually acquire gemhearts on the Shattered Plains: to win the war. With the Parshendi gone and unquestioned control of the Shatterd Plains, the Alethi could simply leave a relatively small permanent expeditionary force on the Shattered Plains. This force could carefully cull the Chasmfiend population and ensure a steady stream of gemhearts to be distributed fairly with minimal risk or cost to all parties.

As I alluded to, no individual actor is either capable of or willing to decisively defeat the Parshendi. The model which they are operating under in the books and which is implicit in your own post prohibits any cooperation, even for the goal of acquiring gemhearts. Therefore, the most efficient way to achieve both the "proper" goal of satisfying the Vengeance Pact and the secondary goal of maximizing revenue from gemhearts is to step outside of the competitive system in place between the Alethi and decisively win the war against the Parshendi.

tl;dr: Shortsightedness of no-cooperation models means that cooperation to quickly win the war is best in all scenarios.

Concerning soulcasting bridges, I believe it should be completely possible. As for why they haven't done it yet...it's hard to say. Perhaps they are afraid of having bridges they couldn't take down in an emergency. As for the fortress in the plains, perhaps they find the logistics of moving supplies there unfeasible? Or they don't want to split their forces that way lest they become more vulnerable? I agree, both seem like brilliantly good ideas, which is why I have to think that there's some reason no one has adopted them after several years.

And as for the "the logistics of moving supplies" out to boarder forts, it's my impression that soulcasting is just about the most awesome logistical support ever. Compact and almost infinitely renewable, either a continuous soulcaster on station or a rotating one could keep a fort supplied easily without the need for frequent and vulnerable supply convoys.

Edited by Kurkistan
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I believe dalinar is on your side, but it seems like the other highprinces disagree, I don't think it's rly about the war for them it's about the competition! :P

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If at any point a Highprince finds that the costs of keeping up his army exceed the benefits from selling (or using) the gemhearts, he will leave the war.

This is quite simply not true. The culture and politics of Alethi society would never allow him to leave the war. To simply leave the war, for any reason, a Highprince would have to be even further disconnected with regular Alethi thought patterns then is Dalinar.

Concerning soulcasting bridges, I believe it should be completely possible. As for why they haven't done it yet...it's hard to say. Perhaps they are afraid of having bridges they couldn't take down in an emergency. As for the fortress in the plains, perhaps they find the logistics of moving supplies there unfeasible? Or they don't want to split their forces that way lest they become more vulnerable? I agree, both seem like brilliantly good ideas, which is why I have to think that there's some reason no one has adopted them after several years.

There is another factor here that has not yet been brought up.

It would be interesting to see one of those barracks get made - they were soulcast directly from air into stone. Unfortunately, Soulcastings happened at night and under strict guard to keep the holy rite from being witnessed by anyone other than ardents or very high-ranking lighteyes.

Soulcasting is heavily tied up in religion. To use it in any sort of innovation, especially one that might result in unwanted witnesses, would be a daring and provocative move indeed. The Highprinces are all much to comfortable to try anything of that kind, though it will be interesting to see what Dalinar does once he is made Highprince of War. Somehow, I think anything along these lines would be to dangerous for him to attempt for quite some time, there is already a risk that appointing him Highprince of War will splinter the Alethi unity, without adding further reasons for the others to attack him. But I guess we will see.

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I believe that your theory is somewhat flawed.

First of all, an optimal outcome achieved through independent action assumes that the various High Princes are rational actors whose sole goal is the acquisition of gemhearts in the largest quantity possible. This assumption would allow for uninhibited cooperation and experimentation until a Nash equilibrium was achieved.

We can put aside the question of the rationality of the High Princes for the moment: just about any seemingly "irrational" behavior could be accounted for as the expression of an unknown or poorly-weighted goal aside from acquiring gemhearts.

Thanks for bringing in Nash Equilibrium; I don't know a great deal of game theory, but that's good to think about. It's true that cooperation could lead problems like was seen with Dalinar and Sadaes, where they work together until one sees an attack is hopeless. It should not hurt innovation, however, as they would still want to make themselves fastest. An argument could be that they would hold back to avoid making others faster in the process. However, I can't think of anything that they wouldn't help the inventor more than others who would use it. For example, Soulcast stone bridges, if placed out far enough, might help other warcamps, but if they are placed in front of one Highprince's camp, they will help him far more than they help any other highprince, because any others would have to go out of their way to use the bridge.

Speaking of ulterior motives: the High Princes have goals other than the acquisition of gemhearts. They want honor, prestige, and recognition above that of their peers, the very people who they ought be be cooperating with in order to acquire gemhearts.

This eliminates the possibility of cooperation, which is essential for maximal outcomes. Any model which completely excludes the possibility of cooperation is almost certainly weaker than one which allows it.

That's true, and it will limit the amount of cooperation they will do, and that will decrease their efficiency. I disagree that it would completely stop it; gemhearts are so valuable, I believe the Highprinces would accept sharing the prestige somewhat to acquire them.

WoK p.114:

Paying and feeding thousands of troops was not cheap, but a single gemheart could cover a highprince's expenses for months

That gives an idea how valuable they are. If a highprince could acquire even 10% more gemhearts by cooperating, he could gain the value of paying and feeding hundreds of troops for months, enough to offset some sharing of the glory.

The danger with Dalinar's idea is that if they are forced to work together, they may expend more resources than are efficient to retrieve gemhearts. (Apologies for lumping soldiers into resources; doing so is wrongheaded, but I fear that will be the Alethi approach, even if Dalinar is fairer to slaves). Dalinar will have difficulty determining what is the most efficient approach for each assault, even with good intentions.

I would also like to question the goal which you have assumed as most important in your "free market" system of competition: the gemhearts, as opposed to the goal of winning the war. These goals need not be mutually exclusive, as they become in the non-cooperative model. In fact, the most efficient way to acquire a maximum number of gemhearts would be to focus almost exclusively on winning the war.

The way it works out, even the best competitive strategy between 10 disunited factions is unlikely to win the war against the Parshendi in any timely manner. At best, this "optimal" solution will simply ensure that most of the gemhearts obtainable by the Alethi are secured, while the Parshendi bunker down on their side of the Shattered Plains and live off of the gemhearts that the Alethi can't even dream of reaching. The Parshendi might die off very slowly from that point, but there would be no incentive (and no capability) for a single gemheart-focused High Prince to expend the resources necessary to wipe them out, and in so doing open up the Shattered Plains to his competition.

I have assumed the gemhearts are most important to almost everyone there, given what we saw in the books. They fight the Parshendi because they are in the way and because they have the Thrill, but we don't see people trying to find where all the Parshendi are and launch even small attacks on them. To most, I believe the Parshendi are an obstacle, just like the chasms. It's true that no single hIghprince would be willing to launch a large-scale attack on the Parshendi core alone, but if they felt they would be better off (they could defeat the Parshendi decisively), I believe they would agree to attack together for once. As it is, they don't even seem to be attempting small guerrilla assaults.

And that brings us to the most efficient way to actually acquire gemhearts on the Shattered Plains: to win the war. With the Parshendi gone and unquestioned control of the Shatterd Plains, the Alethi could simply leave a relatively small permanent expeditionary force on the Shattered Plains. This force could carefully cull the Chasmfiend population and ensure a steady stream of gemhearts to be distributed fairly with minimal risk or cost to all parties.

As I alluded to, no individual actor is either capable of or willing to decisively defeat the Parshendi. The model which they are operating under in the books and which is implicit in your own post prohibits any cooperation, even for the goal of acquiring gemhearts. Therefore, the most efficient way to achieve both the "proper" goal of satisfying the Vengeance Pact and the secondary goal of maximizing revenue from gemhearts is to step outside of the competitive system in place between the Alethi and decisively win the war against the Parshendi.

That may be an excellent thought, but I see two potential flaws. One is that we really don't know how many Parshendi there are, or what tactical advantages they might have at their core. There are estimates, of course, but no one is quite sure what they would really be up against, or how great their costs would be. The other problem is that if the Alethi did succeed in defeating them, I see a strong possibility that they would fight among themselves for the gemhearts. They would still race to plateaus, and probably still be dying, just at their own hands, rather than those of the Parshendi. This might be mitigated somewhat by granting each highprince "ownership" of a portion of the plains, but there would probably still be border squabbles. Thus, although defeating the Parshendi seems like the best plan (again, ignoring any regard for Parshendi lives because I believe most Alethi unfortunately will), I worry about the consequences afterwards. I suspect the Thrill comes from killing another Highprince's soldiers just like it does from killing Parshendi.

And as for the "the logistics of moving supplies" out to border forts, it's my impression that soulcasting is just about the most awesome logistical support ever. Compact and almost infinitely renewable, either a continuous soulcaster on station or a rotating one could keep a fort supplied easily without the need for frequent and vulnerable supply convoys.

The only objection I can think of there is that they might not have enough soulcasters to manage that. But I'm not very convinced by my own arguments on the Soulcast bridges/fortress, just trying to figure out why they wouldn't have already done it.

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Thanks for bringing in Nash Equilibrium; I don't know a great deal of game theory, but that's good to think about. It's true that cooperation could lead problems like was seen with Dalinar and Sadaes, where they work together until one sees an attack is hopeless. It should not hurt innovation, however, as they would still want to make themselves fastest. An argument could be that they would hold back to avoid making others faster in the process. However, I can't think of anything that they wouldn't help the inventor more than others who would use it. For example, Soulcast stone bridges, if placed out far enough, might help other warcamps, but if they are placed in front of one Highprince's camp, they will help him far more than they help any other highprince, because any others would have to go out of their way to use the bridge.

As it turns out, I don't know that much about game theory either :unsure:. I misremembered what a Nash equilibrium was and just linked to it without reading the page. I really meant to talk about the optimal solution for all players, not just the solution that they would come to when taking each other into account, which is actually what happens in the status quo. I was trying to contest that forced cooperation against their inclinations was the only way to achieve truly optimal outcomes, while the Nash equilibrium reached by competition was sub-optimal. Oops.

As to innovations being of essentially equal value to all once they are discovered, I completely agree. In all but the narrowest cases, it is far easier to use a new idea than to come up with one. In a non-regulated competitive system, though, this function of innovation will actually make it less likely than in a cooperative one. An example would be intellectual property laws. The originator takes all of the initial risk, investing capital into the innovation, and is rewarded with control over the end product. The inventor is incentivized to innovate by the rewards gained from either sole use of the new innovation or from fees received for licensing it out.

I would hazard to guess that the Alethi High Princes do not have a patent office for military innovation, so any High Prince which takes the risk of attempting innovation will simply see all of the other High Princes copy him at minimal cost to themselves. This will be a net loss in the game because all of the other actors have gained an essentially free bonus while the initial investor was the only one to invest in the innovation. Therefore, innovation is disincentivized in a non-regulated competitive system.

That's true, and it will limit the amount of cooperation they will do, and that will decrease their efficiency. I disagree that it would completely stop it; gemhearts are so valuable, I believe the Highprinces would accept sharing the prestige somewhat to acquire them.

WoK p.114:

That gives an idea how valuable they are. If a highprince could acquire even 10% more gemhearts by cooperating, he could gain the value of paying and feeding hundreds of troops for months, enough to offset some sharing of the glory.

I would say that our main disagreement is the degree to which the High Princes would be willing to cooperate. While reading the book, especially given Dalinar's frustrations when trying to organize a join plateau assault, I got the impression that cooperation was simply out of the question. They didn't even bother to set up a rotating duty to police the outlying areas, forcing Dalinar to sacrifice resources for universal benefit with no proportionally larger benefit on his own part (links back to innovation argument).

The danger with Dalinar's idea is that if they are forced to work together, they may expend more resources than are efficient to retrieve gemhearts. (Apologies for lumping soldiers into resources; doing so is wrongheaded, but I fear that will be the Alethi approach, even if Dalinar is fairer to slaves). Dalinar will have difficulty determining what is the most efficient approach for each assault, even with good intentions.

An interesting possibility, but I think it may actually be to our benefit here to look at exactly what resources are being utilized: the soldiers, as you noted. The major costs of fighting the war come from maintaining the camps and replacing soldiers lost in plateau assaults.

The price of the camps are essentially fixed, and so not worthy of consideration.

The price of lost soldiers, however, is determined by how many battles occur and how those battles go. It's a simple fact that the more off-balance troop ratios are, the fewer casualties are dealt to the larger side, barring tactical concerns and generalship.

A 100 vs. 100 fight might have about equal casualties, while a 100 vs. 10 fight would result in almost none of the 100 being killed, certainly not an equal number to those lost on the other side.

The Shattered Plains themselves create a very interesting tactical situation, as noted in the books, because the size of the contested plateau places an effective limit on the number of troops deployed, as well as the fact that the size of the army limits how fast it can move for the Alethi. We saw, however, that the joint strategy employed by Dalinar and Sadeas was extremely effective, both outnumbering the Parshendi and attacking from two sides.

With more than two armies, say five for instance, all moving efficiently as separate units and converging from separate routes, any battle would be virtually guaranteed to the Alethi, with crushing casualty ratios. Moreover, with multiple armies, Parshendi on contested plateuas could conceivably be cut off completely from retreat, allowing the destruction of entire enemy forces in detail.

Therefore, we see that it would be virtually impossible for Dalinar to waster "resources" by forcing cooperation because any cooperative effort is guaranteed to minimize Alethi casualties, as evidenced by his successful cooperation with Sadeas.

I have assumed the gemhearts are most important to almost everyone there, given what we saw in the books. They fight the Parshendi because they are in the way and because they have the Thrill, but we don't see people trying to find where all the Parshendi are and launch even small attacks on them. To most, I believe the Parshendi are an obstacle, just like the chasms. It's true that no single hIghprince would be willing to launch a large-scale attack on the Parshendi core alone, but if they felt they would be better off (they could defeat the Parshendi decisively), I believe they would agree to attack together for once. As it is, they don't even seem to be attempting small guerrilla assaults.

I believe that in the book attempted scouting parties had simply failed, killed by exposure to highstorms, chasmfiends, or Parshendi. A reconnaissance in force, properly supported logistically, would be necessary for both scouting and attack. The reason no one has done that is because of prohibitive cost and minimal individual gain, especially considering the probability that any one High Prince's army would be defeated by the Parshendi.

As to possible cooperation to attack the Parshendi if they felt it necessary, I think this is us disagreeing again on the amount of cooperation the High Princes are willing to consider. In both a world where gemhearts are preeminent and one where defeating the Parshendi is preeminent, what the High Princes are doing in the status quo is essentially optimal, barring cooperation.

That may be an excellent thought, but I see two potential flaws. One is that we really don't know how many Parshendi there are, or what tactical advantages they might have at their core. There are estimates, of course, but no one is quite sure what they would really be up against, or how great their costs would be. The other problem is that if the Alethi did succeed in defeating them, I see a strong possibility that they would fight among themselves for the gemhearts. They would still race to plateaus, and probably still be dying, just at their own hands, rather than those of the Parshendi. This might be mitigated somewhat by granting each highprince "ownership" of a portion of the plains, but there would probably still be border squabbles. Thus, although defeating the Parshendi seems like the best plan (again, ignoring any regard for Parshendi lives because I believe most Alethi unfortunately will), I worry about the consequences afterwards. I suspect the Thrill comes from killing another Highprince's soldiers just like it does from killing Parshendi.

A valid point. I was a bit optimistic about future cooperation after the defeat of the Parshendi. Something to be considered, certainly.

EDIT: But, on reflection, this actually serves as further argument for enforced cooperation as the only way to gain optimal results across the board. Instead of wasting resources fighting each other, staking and enforcing claims for plateaus, the High Princes would be forced to accept an equal distribution of gemhearts earned from a cost-effective process.

As a general note, congratulations on being a far more moral person than I am. As soon as I entered into pseudo-game theory mode I threw the moral hazards of treating sentient beings as resources out the window. :)

Edited by Kurkistan
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Soulcasting is heavily tied up in religion. To use it in any sort of innovation, especially one that might result in unwanted witnesses, would be a daring and provocative move indeed.

I don't think this is really an issue. First of all, the existing barracks and castles are already soulcast, the book confirms that. Second, they actually soulcast the contents of the latrine into smoke every few months, to get rid of them. They do this even though they already have a pretty good sewage system in the chasms - just channel the latrine to the chasm and problem solved after each highstorm... So, given the context, soulcasting can't be that holy...

However, I can't think of anything that they wouldn't help the inventor more than others who would use it. For example, Soulcast stone bridges, if placed out far enough, might help other warcamps, but if they are placed in front of one Highprince's camp, they will help him far more than they help any other highprince, because any others would have to go out of their way to use the bridge.

Actually, plateaus are bought and sold between highprinces, and you are not allowed to use another's plateau without permission. I am unsure what allows a highprince to actually lay claim to a plateau, since it must stop somewhere (no competition otherwise), but probably a permanent bridge would allow a highprince to stake a claim...

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the cost of soulcasting the bridges would actually be less, as they already need to soulcast to build the bridges. in chapter 15, page 233, dalinar is manipulating Vamah into using his soulcasters to make wood for fortifing his camp. so they already use soulcasters to make wood from air, why don't they just soulcast bridges from air and make them stone instead of wood? It would just mean changing the type of gemstone.

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^And, actually, wood requires emerald to soulcast while stone only requires garnets. That would make it a lot cheaper.

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Man, times like this I miss the ol' TWG forum. We had something like 15 pages on the subject of bridge warfare and the Shattered Plains.

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Man, times like this I miss the ol' TWG forum. We had something like 15 pages on the subject of bridge warfare and the Shattered Plains.

I seem to remember someone saying that stone bridges cannot be constructed the same way as wooden ones, because of structural differences. If the bridges were changed into metal instead, it might work. This would also decrease the weight of siege bridges considerably, especially if they could turn it into aluminum or titanium instead of steel.

One more thought to consider:

Does siege weaponry exist? I don't know if battles are fought over fortresses, every one that we see is on an open plain. Besieging a building would take a long time, and they would only need to defend until the next Highstorm, unless you build a city of stone barracks to attack from. This leads me to believe that there are no large weapons that require multiple people to use on Roshar, because it was never used, and would not be practical.

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titanium wasn't discovered until the late 18th century in our history, Roshar appears to be several hundred years behind that technologically, it's likely they aren't aware of it.

Aluminum is quite soft and not a good idea for bridges that might be attacked, not to mention which have to endure the storms.

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Another thing to think about here is the affect of a highstorm on the bridges. Why aren't the permanent wooden bridges blown away now? With highstorms as frequent as they are would't this be a factor for consideration as well? This could be part of the reference above to maintenance. I agree with the stone bridges. The only hinderances I see are from enemy soulcasters/shardbearers. I don't think that the highstorms would affect them as badly and maintenance costs would be much less with comparisons to emeralds vs. garnets.

My last point here is to why inflation isn't a worry yet. If you think about the costs of the army: recruiting, pay, taxes for soulcasting, and basic necessities, including food and weapons, it is IMO that these costs are being paid for by the gemhearts. Therefore, focusing on the future as Dalinar does, you have to look at what will happen when the war is over and people gather gemhearts for profit without the worries of entire armies and their state costs. Remember that the Highprinces are still responsible for a small country back in Alethkar.

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In regards to the problem with the bridges, I think the issue is pretty obvious. As other people have already stated, soul casting is extremely tied into religion with the Ardents basically secluding themselves not letting anyone outside of the order who has the "right" to witness the act take place even have the opportunity to do so. Also, since the number of soul casters is limited (from what Jasnah and Shallan have said), the risk of having an Ardent who has been "trained" actually get killed in battle thereby limiting the number of supplies that can be created is a huge risk. Not to mention if the soul caster is somehow damaged or lost. (Edit: Based on what I read, I can also infer that Ardents for all intents and purposes are not counted as men and war is the most masculine of arts. They can help on the back lines, but actually doing anything on the front lines would severely go against vorinism as it's practiced)

Another issue is that any bridge created that can't be removed is another bridge the Parshendi can use to get back to the camps much faster. At the very least, since nothing has been revealed concretely about their stamina, I imagine that jumping from plateau to plateau is not energy efficient at all so at the very least it slows down the Parshendi movements or leaves them fatigued if they were to attempt a frontal assault.

The last issue is that it's just not efficient most likely to waste a gem soulcasting a bridge that can and will be destroyed when the Alethi leave the front lines. It makes much more sense to have a mobile bridge that moves along with the column of soldiers and can be deployed as need be. A target moving through the air (as Parshendi are apt to do when jumping) provides a tempting moment of vulnerability both in flight as well as at the moment of landing. Heck, even the act of starting the jump exposes a moment of weakness.

The way things are done in the book make sense for the Alethi theologically as well as strategically.

Edited by Catchfraze
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Let me start by stating that I will not touch on the economics of the issue, but I am a History professor and my chosen field of study (and passion) is Medieval and Ancient Warfare. Now, about the issue of permanent bridges and forward bases:

I caught myself thinking why they did not used those, every single time I was reading a battle scene. Permanent bridges, be it made of metal or stone, are just ideal for the type of war they are fighting here and they don't need to worry about 90% of the problems of building and maintaining such structures because of soulcasting.

The "problem" of the Parshendi using the bridges is actually inexistent. They already can run through the Shattered Plains on foot, jump over the chasms and arrive for battle without adverse effects. Bridge or no bridge, they way be battle-ready, so the creation of permanent bridges only helps the Alethi without helping the Parshendi. Again, no reason not to build them.

They also don't need to worry about the Parshendi destroying the bridges. If it is made of stone, reinforced with pillars and everything, then I wish good luck to any man trying to destroy them with hand-held weapons. And the Parshendi don't use siege weapons so... They will be pretty safe, I think.

Now, about the fortifications. I believe that building a structure on top of the stone pillars will make them too vulnerable to the storms. The solution is actually to build them inside of the stone! With soulcasting, they could hollow a pillar in no time and turn it into a perfectly protected and resilient fortification. And if they are cough in a siege (what I believe is impossible in the Shattered Plains due the storms), they just can use soulcasters to generate food and water until help come.

Now, about the other issues people raised:

I don't think this is really an issue. First of all, the existing barracks and castles are already soulcast, the book confirms that. Second, they actually soulcast the contents of the latrine into smoke every few months, to get rid of them. They do this even though they already have a pretty good sewage system in the chasms - just channel the latrine to the chasm and problem solved after each highstorm... So, given the context, soulcasting can't be that holy...

There goes the argument about religious implications. They use soulcasting to get rid of human excrement. There is not much less holy than that.

the cost of soulcasting the bridges would actually be less, as they already need to soulcast to build the bridges. in chapter 15, page 233, dalinar is manipulating Vamah into using his soulcasters to make wood for fortifing his camp. so they already use soulcasters to make wood from air, why don't they just soulcast bridges from air and make them stone instead of wood? It would just mean changing the type of gemstone.

^And, actually, wood requires emerald to soulcast while stone only requires garnets. That would make it a lot cheaper.

And there goes the argument about costs. And if this don't convince you, they could just use good old engineering. I believe this would be MORE costly, actually.

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In regards to the whole "holy" argument going on, it's not a matter of what the soul caster is used for (i.e, human waste), but more a matter of how. It's been said multiple times throughout the story that there is secrecy involved in their usage. An ardent soul casting out in the open to make a permanent bridge to span the chasms is not only vulnerable, but it would expose how exactly the soul casting is performed.

I still maintain my argument that the reason why it wasn't done doesn't really pertain to the cost of the act, but the religious stigmata and the vulnerability it would expose the ardents to whilst performing the act.

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This has already been raised but I suspect a lot of the "stupidity" is because we have 10 war camps competing with each other.

Looking at the map on page 182 (hardback) or here:

http://isaacstewart.com/images/wok/tWoK_MAP-3_SHATTERED_PLAINS-webres.jpg

We see that the war camps are tightly clustered together. For the first few chasms outside each war camp, they would be pretty much exclusive to that war camp and there definitely are some permanent bridges around (see pages 102-103). I suspect these are pretty much only right outside the war camps.

If we consider the relative size of the war camps to the shattered plains then the number of permanent bridges required to make a significant difference to mobility would be very large, as would the "free rider" problem. If one Highprince decides to make an "express way" to the big tower plateau, then the immediately adjacent war camps would be able to use maybe 90% of it, and even those furthest away would probably be able to use 50% of it. The Highprinces are as much concerned about one-upping each other as fighting the Parshendi so they wouldn't too keen on an idea that costs them a lot but where their immediate neighbors get most of the benefit at zero cost.

So, given the competitive costs and benefits no single Highprince would make the first step in isolation - from the sounds of things, the costs of basic materials is very high, much higher than it would be on a typical war on Earth. However, if the war camps could be united forcibly to work together for the benefit of the group, then the cost/benefits change entirely - if everyone shares the costs of building a wide array of permanent bridges, then everyone would benefit equally and no single High Prince would gain an upper hand or lose out in costs.

However, again looking at the maps, I suspect even then the costs would be very large. Even a theoretical (^-^) dictator wouldn't be able to force the Highprinces to commit economic suicide. The Highprinces are currently winning, what, 50% of the total available gem hearts? Maybe if they start winning 90% due to increased mobility and organisation then it would be worth the cost to the group. It would probably require such a payoff in gemhearts just for it to become possible to Soulcast so much anyway.

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