2020/05/18

Playing with Fantasy XVII

More fantasy RPG thoughts. Many about my setting's languages.
  • I'm kinda an idiot, apparently. I had been thinking that I had to combine, like, Medium animated objects with the system for making intelligent magic items, for the magic android-type dealies I wanted in my setting. But…like…wyrwoods? They're magic androids. They rebelled against their creators when they were made to fight each other.

    Obviously I'm gonna modify some things, like their being able to make more of themselves, and their having rebelled against their creators. Mine are also Medium, not Small, since they're designed to resemble normal humans if you don't examine them closely, unlike wyrwoods.
  • In the Holy Roman Empire, a full-time combatant was someone who owned four or five carucates of land, each consisting of eight bovates, defined as the land one man behind one ox could till in a ploughing season. That's 32–40 people and oxen worth of tillage per year. There's a hell of a lot more complexity involved (if you only owned one carucate, you and two other guys combined to send one of you to war in the name of all three of you, presumably on a part-time basis), but "forty peasants for every full-time combatant" seems like a good ballpark figure. Now, urbanization rates vary; in 1300 Italy was 15 percent urban, while France seems to have been more like 5 percent. That means that in an Italy-like society (like the urban branch of my main culture), a Pathfinder "metropolis" of more than 25,000 represents a total population of at least 166,666, while in a France-like one (like the settled rural branch), it represents a total population of 500,000.

    Combining the two concepts, and treating the three smallest Pathfinder settlement-sizes (thorpe, 20 or fewer; hamlet, 21–60; and village, 61–200) as not being urban but as being rural settlements, we can get thorpes not having any full-time combatants; only the largest hamlets having exactly one; and villages having between one and five. Because all their population can be treated as being "peasants" for this (abstract) calculation. Then, though, you have to go with two systems depending on urbanization-rate. (This is going to make it look like the rural society would have vastly more forces at its disposal, but what it actually means is that a rural society will have fewer settlements than an urban society with the same total population. Also a comparatively smaller city does represent greater total wealth, in a rural-centered society, since they have a higher threshold before they come together into a city like that.)

    For the urban culture, a small town (201–2,000 people) represents 1,340–13,333 peasants, while for the rural one, it represents 4,020–40,000. That means the urban people can have 33–333 full-time combatants for every small town, while the rural can have 100–1,000. A large town (2,001–5,000) represents 13,340–33,333 peasants, therefore 333–833 full-time combatants for the urban society, and 40,020–100,000 and 1,000–2,500 combatants for the rural. A small city (5,001–10,000) represents 33,040–66,666 peasants and 833–1,666 combatants for the urban society, and 100,020–200,000 peasants and 2,500–5,000 combatants for the rural. A large city (10,001–25,000) represents 66,673–166,666 peasants and 1,666–4,166 combatants for the urban society, and 200,020–500,000 peasants and 5,000–12,500 combatants for the rural. And a metropolis (25,001 or more) represents at least 166,673 peasants and more than 4,166 combatants for the urban society, and at least 500,020 peasants and more than 12,500 combatants for the rural.
  • Been working on Babel texts for my D&D conlangs. Decided the Draconic one is number invariable (because just ganking the pluralization from Dovahzul crosses the line into actual plagiarism), and uses two genitives, one of them inalienable. The inalienable applies, though, not only to things like relatives and body-parts, but to every single thing in a dragon's hoard: so if you steal from one, it's like you're mutilating them (also if they give you something, it's like giving you a lock of their hair, which is typically inalienably possessed but not inalienable in actual fact).

    Applied the Great Vowel Shift to my Goblinese, to get rid of the long vowels of Elven (at least the ones that still inflect pronouns and verbs, not the ones in the noun stems—those just turned short), and gave it an approximant R vs. the trilled R that Elven uses (allophonically a flap, because sometimes you can't be bothered to trill). Went with only using the plural markers (which had been long vowels) on Goblinese verbs, and so needed something to mark the words for number: went with determiners (think, like, articles, but they don't mark definiteness) derived from pronouns, preceding the nouns. Was going to have the determiners inflect for case too, but there's really no point. Also realized I needed demonstratives in my Elven, but they don't produce the determiners in Goblinese, the regular pronouns do.

    I had always wanted to have a conlang that inflected only its noun-determiners for case, the way German does with its articles (okay German also inflects nouns themselves for the genitive), and got a chance with my Common, to make it clearly simpler than the human languages it descends from. Also decided the steppe culture would have phonological differences other than only having a, i, and u vowels (it turns e and o in its relatives into i and u, respectively, and lengthens pre-existing i and u). Namely, r is a trill instead of a tap, and the labiodental fricatives (f and v) are realized as labials (φ and β).
  • Had my Halfling language reinterpret all the short vowels of the 'Thalassocratic Valyrian' language as preceding geminated consonanats, adding vowels after final consonants, in order to let them get rid of vowel-length. This made it sound a lot like Italian.

    Also all the descendants of the ancient form of that language merged at least two of its genders. The one spoken by the people that stayed as a witch-empire merged all the inanimates into the air gender (which had gone for abstracts and flying animates as well as gases), and reconceptualized the fire gender as simply the animate (changing how flying animates inflect).

    The halflings and sea-nomads kept the air and fire (though they also put the flying animates in fire), and then combined the water and earth into a mud gender, with the halflings using the earth inflections and the nomads using the water ones. ("Mud" gender reminds me of the mud-clans that some Native American groups have, arising from the blending of earth and water moieties.)
  • My Gnomish was giving me a lot of headache; it turns out in practice to be a lot less polysynthetic than I'd described it as being. One thing I did was give it four voices in its verb prefixes, one for each case it inflects verbs for (nominative, accusative, benefactive, instrumental)—active for nominative, passive for accusative, applicative for benefactive, and causative for instrumental. Which…was a real headache, 0/10 would not recommend. Still it worked out to sounding cool.
  • Another thing I realized, doing the Babels, is I need my Dwarven to be able to end words on vowels, because the unmarked nominative case of the pronouns ends in a vowel. So now the word divider is a diamond basically made of one-third of the hexagon the consonants are. You can still fit vowels in its corners, like you can around the hexagon consonants.

    Was going to have my Ogrish break up Dwarven's long vowels with a glottal stop (something like the ğ in Turkish, with the diphthongs and long vowels in pre-republican loanwords), but decided instead that it does the main thing long vowels do in Dwarven, mark imperfects, by the adverb "still"; the other thing long vowels do, mark pronouns as plural, is achieved by reduplications (nouns pluralize with "many"). It also replaces the past tense with "before" and the future with "after". Think I'll just have the interrogative mood be done by tone, the way it is in most Western European languages, and then the subjunctive (which is mostly a hortative or imperative) with "better", or something?

    Ogrish replaces case with word-order for the nominative and accusative, and the dative is kinda redundant with prepositions. The volitional genitive is now prefixing the noun with "take" and the nonvolitional with "receive". Also think they don't inflect verbs for personal, only animate and inanimate (they also don't distinguish people from animals in the kitchen).
  • You know, realistically, wargs and other magical carnivores would be terribly OP against ordinary horses. You can probably get warhorses to stand their ground against them—ordinary horses, not even warhorses, stood their ground in tiger-hunts, after all—but you're not going to want to get into a cavalry press with them, since they can bite your horse's throat out. At the very least horse-armor is not optional if you're at all likely to fight such beasties. Plus they can give signals that carry for miles, howling (or roaring, in the case of things like the panthers my elves ride).

    One thing that would be an advantage for horses is that carnivorans probably don't have quite as easy a time as heavy cavalry, since there's nothing in their makeup analogous to a herd-animal's stampeding instinct. Of course they're intelligent so you can train them to do it anyway—probably with training more reminiscent of training human infantry phalanxes—but it's still probably not how they'd naturally do it. (The elves and gnomes of my setting, and goblins, are culturally more inclined to be like light cavalry anyway.)

    Huh actually come to think of it my dwarves are more likely to do, like, heavy mounted infantry, riding their giant wolverines up to an enemy, dismounting, and then rider and mount fighting independently—and then maybe re-mounting and rushing off to other engagements as they defeat enemies. (That or the dwarves work more like Early Modern cuirassiers or dragoons, since dwarves have firearms.) Though the ogres and their giant boars would make good super heavy cavalry (porkery?), that being a very instinctive way of fighting for swine anyway.
  • I like the idea of the bulette (which is pronounced "bulèt" not "bulé", since it ends in E), as a "land shark" and a thing you can use kinda like a sandworm, but I don't much care for its design. I much prefer making it more specifically shark-like, but having it breathe air and "swim" through sand and dirt.

    Now, of course, it can only swim through loose sand, but given that the deepest "dune sea" in the current world is 140 feet deep, and some in the Mesozoic were hundreds of meters, it's not entirely unworkable. A cubic meter of sand only masses 63% more than the equivalent volume of water, which is quite doable if the cartilage is replaced or reinforced with something stronger (hey my giant bugs are more mineralized than real ones, and cartilage and chitin are very similar). Maybe also reinforce the skin-denticles, which already act as an exoskeleton in the water.

    And it gets its water from prey, giving it an obvious incentive to be far more aggressive than real sharks. Mine are the result of magical experiments to make a dangerous harbor-guardian (important, when you're a maritime witch-empire and your setting includes sahuagin), modified to remove the weaknesses of normal sharks, and the sahuagin's power to control them.

2020/04/06

Playing with Fantasy XVI

Fantasy-game thoughts, icosahedral.
  • In a discussion of dissociated mechanics, someone said that barbarians only having a given number of rage-uses per day, is partly dissociated, because while they could be building stamina, it's weird that it only affects their rage. But only part of their rage duration or uses is their stamina: the part that comes from their Constitution modifier. The part that increases level by level? That's them getting better at controlling their rage, and thus being able to do it for longer without getting tired, even though everything else about their bodies' stamina is the same (at least until they start increasing their Constitution with magic items and every-fourth-level ability increases).
  • Decided, along with overhauling my calendar, that the humans are going back to using dates as their given names, too: specifically the date of their adulthood ceremony. Then the date of their own or parents' wedding as their surname, and the date of their accession to a noble title or full initiation to one of the beast-god societies, if applicable, as a middle name. Also decided the names will start with the day-signs instead of the month names, giving the humans thirty-one (or thirty, depending on the month) ways to start their names, rather than only twelve.

    Then it occurred to me they could use the subdomains' names as alternate day-signs, resulting in ninety-two possible beginnings for human names. (Ninety-two, rather than ninety three, because Good, Law, and Chaos don't have two subdomains. Since I don't, exactly, have things like inevitables or azatas, in my campaign, I just have "Celestial" as the subdomain for Good and "Elemental" as one for Law and Chaos, along with Celestial, since there are lawful and chaotic celestials as well as elementals—which in my campaign are based on divs.)

    Also decided that the witch-clerics of the modern humans' evil state will use Evil (subdomain Fiend) and Death (subdomains Murder and Undead) in their names, in place of Good and Repose—but only secretly (all the people initiated to their evil mysteries make sure to schedule their weddings and their children's adulthood ceremonies on days with the Good or Repose day-sign). I'm not sure how the Celestial, Elemental, and Fiend subdomains will work in terms of spells and domain powers; I'm leaning toward the Agathion subdomain for Celestial, Devil for Fiend, and then probably the Protean one (with a different name and changed flavor-text, since it's also going for Law) for Elemental?
  • For human names before their adulthood ceremony, decided to use the 1-point evolutions available to summoners' eidolons (eidola?), and the different appearances that spirit-animals (shaman familiars) have (as the sign of their special ability). Those being two things you can, by taking the Evolved Familiar or Spirit's Gift feats, give your familiar: human religion before the beast-gods having been run by adepts, who have familiars, which they can modify by those feats. This actually goes even for the evil Atlantean/seagoing Valyrians, whose pre-witchery religion was the same as other humans.
  • If you, like me, were wondering how to stat apprentice wizards who aren't quite first level, I think the "instructor" archetype, which has apprentices instead of a familiar, has the solution. You stat them as 1st-level characters with "NPC class" ability scores (presumably d6 hit dice) and the Magical Aptitude feat (+2 to Use Magic Device and Spellcraft). Maybe treat them as an archetype of commoner?

    Personally I'd also give them the ability to cast two 0th-level spells per day. A 1st-level wizard only gets one 1st-level spell, after all (minus bonus spells), and three 0th-level, so someone less wizard-y than them should get zero 1st-level and one less 0th-level, but still really ought to be able to cast some spells. (Plus the 0th-level spells have always had an implication of "these are things you use to practice magic".)

    When they finish their apprenticeship (in the instructor's case, when their master reaches 3rd level or any other level above that), they become 1st-level wizards, with "PC class" ability scores.
  • I love how people still pretend "linear warriors, quadratic wizards" is valid. It really never was, at least till very high levels (15+), if the DM was not an idiot who allowed the 15-minute adventuring day, but in Pathfinder? Pathfinder introduced the Vital Strike feat-line, which can let martial classes do multiple damage-dice once a round, without even needing a rogue's special sneak-attack circumstances (and once "flanked by allies" became a sneak-attack condition—which is entirely realistic—it stopped really being very hard for them to do that, either). Pretty sure I'm gonna swing my sword more than the six or seven times you can cast fireball or ice storm in a day, no matter what your level is. And martial classes get bigger hit dice and better armor for much cheaper (go look up stoneskin's material component—and mage armor is the equivalent of a chain shirt, albeit one that imposes no ACP).
  • These articles are really useful for city-design, for RPGs or regular fantasy-writing, or any other kind of worldbuilding. A city built before modern transport is typically a "market center" (which also has the majority of the residential buildings), inside a zone dedicated to horticulture—orchards and flower-gardens—and the raising of dairy animals and trough-fed livestock like pigs.

    Out from the horticulture zone you have woodland that's used for, among other things, gathering firewood. Then is the agricultural zone (as the caption on one of the pictures says, that actually goes in concentric rings from intensive agriculture to various kinds of crop rotation), and then the pasturage, which likewise transitions (partly depending on the particular husbandry approaches of the cultures involved) from settled ranching to transhumance. The horticulture ring and the intensive agriculture ring are partly made possible by the fertilizer produced in the city, by people and domestic animals (yes the ranch and transhumance animals also produce fertilizer but it's a lot harder to collect).

    One thing about all this, is it suddenly makes it a lot less odd that people despise thieves, in fantasy settings: with orchards and woodland right there, you need a damn good excuse to be stealing to get by, rather than just taking day-labor in the orchards or cutting firewood (or wood to be turned into charcoal) to sell back in the city. The "sick relative who needs constant care and can't be left for a whole day while picking fruit or gathering firewood" is useful there, though you do then have to figure out what they're going to do if that thief then goes adventuring. Killing 'em off is the obvious solution, but by the same token tends to be seen as a bit lazy.
  • Possibly the coffee cultivar you would grow, though not in the highlands that coffee tends to favor, during an Ice Age, is Mozambique coffee, Coffea racemosa. It apparently has a much higher cold-tolerance than C. arabica or C. canephora ("robusta"). Unfortunately it has half the caffeine of C. arabica, but the hybrid of the two apparently has the same cold-tolerance as C. racemosaC. canephora has twice the caffeine of C. arabica, also, so you could probably get a hybrid with the caffeine levels you expect that's still cold-resistant.
  • In general I try to restrict my Pathfinder setting to the archetypes found in the main expansions, the ones under the "RPG" heading over at Archives of Nethys. There are a couple exceptions, notably eldritch archer maguses, which are from Heroes of the Streets, because an archer magus only makes sense, and primalist wizards from Inner Sea Magic. Wild mages were one of my favorite things in 2nd Edition, and 5e's making them a sorcerer archetype is a genuinely clownish misinterpretation—sorcerers don't have the theoretical grounding required to be wild mages, whose original fluff was full of references to quantum mechanics. (Just in general it's ludicrous that 5e gave the sorcerers most of the metamagic, when that was actually the wizards' wheelhouse.)

    Archetypes I particularly like often involve spellcasting from a different ability-score, like the feyspeaker druid that casts from Charisma (probably the form my setting's gnome druids take, minus the fey-based fluff), or the empyreal and sage sorcerers, who are "wildblooded" versions of, respectively, the celestial bloodline that casts from Wisdom (and are, thus, the most common dwarf sorcerers) and the arcane bloodline that casts from Intelligence (making them the main elf sorcerers). My elves also have living grimoire inquisitors who guard their wizard-towers; I can see a lot of NPC potential in the chronicler of worlds bard, even if it does leave a lot of "Astinus of Palanthas" taste in your mouth. I really wish there were a Charisma-based witch other than the seducer archetype, though.
  • I don't have the hybrid classes (slayer, shaman, etc.) from the Advanced Class Guide; I think they're too much trouble. But I think the deliverer ("divine assassin", "god's blade") archetype of slayers can be fairly easily adapted to be a ninja archetype, instead—its special abilities replace slayer talents, which are basically the same thing as ninja tricks, so the balancing shouldn't be too different. (I think it would balance out as about the same, ninjas using rogue attack-bonuses and hit dice instead of ranger ones, but having a faster sneak-attack progression than slayers.)

2020/03/14

Sierra Foxtrot 17

SF thoughts.
  • Apparently the specific energy of carbon nanotube springs is actually 7.2 megajoules per kilogram, not 0.3. Which probably doesn't mean that of boron nitride nanotube springs is 72 megajoules, not 3, since boron nitride nanotubes are more massive than carbon ones, averaging 2 grams per cubic centimeter rather than 1.35. But since I think a spring's energy is linear with respect to the mass, we can conclude that the difference of their densities (1.35/2=.675), times the difference of their stiffness (tenfold) produces the difference of their specific energy, 6.75. Which still means that the BNNT spring has a specific energy of 48.6 megajoules per kilogram, compared to gasoline's 46.4. (Though I think I, or my source, transposed some digits, because gasoline's energy density is 34.2 gigajoules per cubic meter, not 32.4. Which still means BNNT springs are competitive with gasoline.)

    What that means is that the zled equivalent of a UH-60 Black Hawk, using electric motors instead of internal-combustion ones, with the equivalent of 2766 kilos of jet fuel (specific energy 43 megajoules per kilogram, energy density 35 gigajoules per cubic meter) taken up by BNNT springs, has a range of 11,296 kilometers, compared to the Black Hawk's 2,221—first because its two 1410-kilowatt internal combustion motors become two 402.857-kilowatt electric ones (electric aircraft motors being 3.5 times as efficient), and second (less importantly) because BNNT springs require 11.5% less fuel mass. And if zledo had something like the JetPack Aviation JB-10 jetpack, which they wouldn't because jetpacks are deathtraps irrespective of what powers them, they'd be able to get a hair under four times (395.58%) its eight-minute flight time, over half an hour, from the same mass of power-supply.

    Electric cars (or tanks) are slightly less impressive; electric car engines are only twice as efficient as internal-combustion, instead of three and a half times like electric aircraft, and gasoline is only 4.5% less efficient (as a function of mass) than BNNT springs rather than 11.5% (diesel is 6.6% less). But that still lets a HMMWV with an equivalent mass of spring to its gas supply have 2.13 times the range of diesel or 2.09 times the range of gasoline, and lets an M1 have those range-improvements over gasoline or diesel, or 2.26 times its range on jet fuel. All of which is just assuming the vehicles are made of the same aerospace or automotive alloys as now, which they aren't; the frames are made of far lighter microlattice and the armor (on the tank) is replaced with far lighter metallic foam.
  • For humans, lithium-air batteries—specific energy 40.1 megajoules per kilogram, energy density 37.8 gigajoules per cubic meter—are slightly inferior to fossil fuels, but the superiority of electric motors makes up the difference. A Black Hawk with electric motors powered by lithium-air batteries the same size as its fuel capacity has a range of 7,249 kilometers, and a JB-10 (which, again, they'd never use, because deathtrap), it'd get 3.26 times the range of the jet-fuel powered one. A lithium-air powered HMMWV gets 1.759 times the range of a diesel one, 1.728 times a gasoline one; a lithium-air powered M1 Abrams has those improvements to its range over the gas and diesel ones, and 1.865 times the range of one powered by jet fuel.
  • I think the main artificial birth-control of the humans in my setting involves interfering at either the primary or secondary phase of ovarian folliculogenesis, probably with medical nanobots, but also artificially stimulating the hormone glands (with other medical nanobots) so that the fluctuation that's normally associated with ovulation can still happen. It's not perfect, of course, but it's less disruptive than modern hormone-based contraception. Presumably the nanobots use metadata from each other to ensure a normal hormonal cycle.

    Another thing they do, while interfering in the development of ovarian follicles, is perform gene-therapy to ensure that the DNA-repair genes involved in homologous recombinational repair don't get depleted, so that people who, with 24th-century medicine, are quite able to have children up into their eighties (the average age of menopause in my setting is 82, because human lifespan is 130 years) are actually able to do it. (Or at least, that's what they do for the well-informed and wealthy; it's sorta darkly ironic to suggest medical professionals would do that for ordinary people.)

    Actually come to think of it the main side-effects might be from that gene-therapy, what with gene-therapy being accomplished by infecting the patient with a modified retrovirus. Fortunately ovarian aging isn't something that has to be counteracted with every dose of the treatment; it's probably a "once or twice a year" kind of thing. Actually yeah, I can work with that; there's another gene-therapy in my plot, maybe I'll have the character say she's not used to gene-therapy side effects, since she isn't rich enough for the ovarian anti-aging treatments.
  • Lot of possibilities for aliens in the fact puffins have photoluminscent beaks and some chameleons and frogs have glowing bones.
  • It's fascinating how post-Abrams Trek doesn't so much hate science, as deny that there is such a thing. Now, it's nonsense when fans (entirely justifiably complaining about how bad Picard and Discovery are) say that the older shows were semi-plausible. They were nonsense; anyone with a high-school level understanding of science should know they're nonsense. But this new crap makes them look absolutely diamond-hard. Star Trek always had a tendency to conflate science and technology with magic, but at least it was internally consistent magic, like in a serious fantasy story for adults; post-Abrams Trek, on the other hand, is treating it like magic in a children's fantasy, like early Harry Potter.
  • It seems there is an Earthly parallel to the khângây concept of ever-increasing circles of solidarity, multiple degrees of kin then compatriots than foreign allies. Anyway the term for it is asabiyya, the Arab group solidarity concept, but without the "amoral familism" that plagues Arab culture.

    Where the Arab saying is "I against my brother; my brother and I against my cousin; I, my brother, and my cousin against the stranger", the khângây would instead say "I help myself; I help my brother; my brother and I help my cousin; my brother, my cousin and I help our compatriot; my kin, my compatriot, and I help our ally; my kin, my compatriot, my ally, and I help the stranger". Rather than only ceasing to fight who's nearest when someone further off comes along, it's who takes priority in terms of aid.

    As the khângây develop into a "world government" system, they add a layer for "the whole species", and then, after first contact, "sapient life"—though their first contact was with the thoikh, so they probably actually waited till first contact with zledo, who turned out not to be dangerous and crazy.
  • Searching the blog thinks I haven't mentioned it, but birds don't have blood-types. Nope. They can receive blood from exactly any bird, and the only issue is that you have to do the transfusions more often the less related the birds are—you can even do different species, genera, and so on, probably even unto paleognaths and neognaths (at which point you're probably going to have to transfuse really often, though). Decided the same goes for zledo, so character profiles will all list "N/A" for blood type.

    Incidentally a lot of nonhuman mammals appear to lack either universal-recipient or universal-donor blood-types, with only dogs having both (DEA 1.1 positive and negative, respectively). (Well and chimps, but they have mostly the same blood-groups as us.) Cats don't have a universal donor; horses don't have a universal recipient. Rabbits, not in that article, don't have a universal recipient either. (Rabbit blood-types, by the way, are A, B, O, S—or rather Š/Ш, they were first described in the Eastern Bloc—and L.)
  • Another difference between birds and mammals is they don't get respiratory viruses, apart from bird flu, very much; most of what looks like a cold, in birds, is bacterial infections. The issue there is that they don't go away on their own, but need antibiotics. (They can also reinfect with the same illness, unlike with a cold virus. Find a good bird vet, if you have pet birds, clearly.)

    Zledo, I decided, do get illnesses comparable to colds, caused by a virus(-analogue) rather than a microbe (or maybe even by a prion), but with flu-like symptoms, because their pneumatized body cavity means that sinus congestion results not only in headaches but in aches throughout the whole body. (Something similar seems to happen in birds with aspergillosis, a fungal infection. Find a bird vet!)
  • Discovered this researching my Pathfinder setting's dragons, but turns out, birds don't have beaks to save weight. Nope. They have beaks to save time, specifically while in the egg. Teeth take a while to form—dinosaurs spent three to six months in the egg, compared to most birds' one-and-a-half to four weeks—whereas the keratin sheath on a beak is much faster. (Though beaks are also lighter—mercifully I don't have to recalculate my dragons' mass—but that doesn't explain why ground-bound dinosaurs sometimes developed them.)

2020/02/18

Playing with Fantasy XV

Thoughts about fantasy games. Actually I think all of them are Pathfinder.
  • Decided my elves don't quite grow up as quick as humans. Almost, but not quite: now their twenty-five is our fifteen. I arrived at this because the half-elf's fifteen, in the d20 core rules, is twenty; if you assume half-elves' life-cycle is an average of the elf and human ones, twenty times two is forty, and forty minus fifteen is twenty-five. Think I'll have the gnomes do twenty and dwarves do fifteen. Elven middle-age still comes at 420, because their total lifespan is twelve times ours.
  • It occurred to me, speaking of elven biology, that their low Constitution score can simply be a matter of having more fast-twitch than slow-twitch muscles. That's what makes chimps and Neanderthals so much stronger than we are, but at the price of endurance. That lets an elf much thinner than a human have the same strength (a chimp has between one and a half and two times the strength of a human the same mass), and also explains why they're comparatively more delicate. This makes much more sense for elves than the bird-musculature I'd posited before, since among other things that would cause issues for the pneumatically-muscled giant races, two of which are scaled-up elves.

    Interestingly Neanderthal muscle could also give you D&D setting warrior-women. Maybe some populations of anatomically-modern humans, in a D&D world, have a version of Neanderthal-style musculature and a lack of role-specialization, but directed to allowing the females to exert the same force as men, over a limited time. Certainly in a world with several times as many potential threats to a family as exist in the real world, the ability of females to exert the same power as males would boost survival rates. One of my favorite things about Golarion is the main barbarians, the Kellids, like Amiri's people, are less based on any real-world culture than they are, basically, Hollywood cavemen with steel.
  • I wonder if anyone's done a playtest where undead damage-reduction doesn't apply on critical hits? In Pathfinder they made undead no longer immune to critical hits, since crits are iconic to both vampire and zombie fiction, but what if they made it so that, like in most fictional portrayals of zombies and vampires, the only hits they're not going to be mostly able to shrug off—damage reduction—are the ones that hit a vital? It probably makes overcoming the DR too onerous; maybe you could have it be an alternative for weapon-types that don't work on them? Skeletons take bludgeoning and zombies slashing, so maybe if you crit with the wrong kind of weapon you get to ignore DR—like you successfully chop through a skeleton's bone or stab a zombie's brain? Might houserule that.

    In my setting I make it explicit that skeletons are held together by invisible actuators made of the same kind of "force" as magic missiles, and since that can't be sliced through with a blade, their DR is only defeated by bludgeoning weapons (which just smash the bones themselves). Likewise since zombies' tissues are often in no condition to move them or hold them up, their muscle is supplemented or replaced by the force-actuators; I even have both kinds of undead get supplemental eyes, the iconic pinpoints of evil light, since zombies' eyes may be compromised and a skeletons' are always gone. Since they're moved by something other than muscle, they move more like puppets than the "shambling wounded living person" gait zombies are usually portrayed with.
  • Also have it so mindless undead are actually, y' know, mindless. In most fantasy video games, if you shoot one skeleton in a group, the others are aggroed. But "one of us was killed, there's an enemy here" is actually more complex than a mindless being should be able to do. So if you kill a skeleton without being directly perceptible to its fellows, like say with blunt arrows, the rest should not be aggroed. You should be able to use that to your advantage, like by aggroing the members of a horde of skeletons one at a time. (I'd also say that broadhead arrows—which to my knowledge are not statted in Pathfinder—should do slashing damage, with the default piercing-damage arrow being a bodkin-pointed one. So the adventurer expecting the possibility of the undead should carry three quivers: blunts for skeletons, broadheads for zombies, and bodkins for living targets.)
  • It bugs me more than it should that Pathfinder treats helmets as optional. Literally every other piece of armor was more so. Not sure what the mechanical effect would be; off the top of my head, treat the AC as 1 worse (like with "hastily donned" armor) solely for the purpose of confirming critical hits, if you don't wear one? Seems not too burdensome.

    My humans and elves wear lamellar armor, metallic or otherwise, including at least part of their helmets. Elves' helmets are something like jingasa made from their leaves (since they want to keep their hearing unobstructed). Human ones have a mostly-solid one, often sculpted to resemble the head of their initiation-society's animal god—the wolf, bear, and tiger ones sculpted so their face comes out the animal's open mouth, whereas the owl one has a visor like a barn-owl face—with lamellar aventails. The kingfishers (they have magi and clerics as well as mages) will have a different-shaped visor from owls, possibly with the same function as a plague-doctor mask since she's the god of medicine? Not sure what to do with the foxes (or wildcat bards); on the one hand the kind of leather you make armor from seems like it can be sculpted fairly easily, so they can probably just have a leather-lamellar version of the other societies' helmets, but on the other hand rangers, rogues, and bards like to be able to hear. Maybe jingasa like the elves wear, but with cat (or fox) ears on top?

    Gnomes and dwarves wear plate or "leather"/"hide" armor of more conventional type, made of coralline algae or mushrooms. Obviously gnomish helmets will, like elven ones, be like jingasa, but made from a single mushroom cap rather than interlaced leaves. Dwarves, I think, have something more like Roman helmets, but with face-masks like on samurai helmets or certain Slavic ones.
  • It's only on my latest playthrough of Kingmaker that I discovered lesser restoration actually does serve a purpose (it doesn't undo most ability damage, which is "permanent" and thus requires restoration proper). Namely, it undoes fatigue. That becomes really important when you're, say, being plagued by nightmares from an undead dude who wants you to kill the bandit chief who murdered him; it also could be important much later, when there's a trap that exhausts your party. On a prior playthrough I had to backtrack quite a bit after that trap, because I didn't know I could cure their exhaustion. Read those spell descriptions, kids!
  • The average percentage of a bird's body mass that's bone seems to be about 12.05%. Avian bone has a density of about 2.15 grams per cubic centimeter (compared to human bone's density of 1.16 grams per cubic centimeter); if we replace it with that aerogel-density aerospace metamaterial I talked about for my spaceships, 0.16 grams per cubic centimeter—7.44% as much mass—we get an 11.15% reduction to the total body mass. That gets the weight of the biggest dragons down from 28.74 tons to 25.53 tons, only 1.2 tons more than Palaeoloxodon namadicus. Feathers are about 6% of the weight of a bird; replacing the β-keratins, density 0.89 grams per cubic centimeter, with the same microlattice metamaterial as in the bones—17.98% as much mass—results in a further 4.92% reduction in weight, which brings the weight down to 24.27 tons, pretty much exactly the same weight as P. namadicus. And it's just cool to have dragons' feather-scale things made of the same stuff as their bones (and vice-versa); their placoderm "tooth-beak" structures are also made of the same stuff.

    Never did crunch the numbers for the weight savings of not having teeth. Probably not much; say they weigh 24 tons even. Then, assuming unchanging proportions, the Gargantuan one, 60 feet long, weighs 3 tons; the Huge one, 30 feet long, weighs 750 pounds; the Large one, 15 feet, weighs 93 pounds 12 ounces; the Medium one, 7 feet 6 inches, weighs 11 pounds 11.5 ounces; the Small one, 3 feet 9 inches, weighs 1 pound 7.4 ounces; and the Tiny one, 1 foot 10.5 inches, weighs 2.9 ounces. That might seem insane, but we are talking about a creature that weighs 44.92% less than a bird of the same dimensions would, and its body's a lot longer and thinner than a bird's (unless you're going to count Coelophysis as a bird, which I do taxonomically, but not conversationally). You're basically talking a weight one size-category less than you'd think, with the one that's the same size-category as a horse weighing only what a large dog does. That's not too far outside the realm of possibility; a garter-snake the same length as the Tiny dragon weighs 5 ounces, not all that much more.
  • Decided that the calendar of the twelve creature-types other than fey is inelegant. Going, instead, with the nine psychic disciplines from Occult Adventures, plus the two from Ultimate Wilderness, and then the "formless adept" archetype from Occult Adventures (whose "formless body" class feature replaces the psychic disciplines). The calendar had always, remember, come from the snake people (though the PC-race humanoids get it from gnomes, since humans sprang up much later and the others aren't from the same planet), so basing it on psychic disciplines makes sense. The only thing that this makes particularly difficult is the calendar is a part of human surnames, so I'll have to change the first half of some characters' names.

    Also reworking the "Tainish Egyptians" on the other continent slightly. Their calendar will just number the months, the way modern East Asian versions of the Gregorian do; since all other humanoids got the calendar from the gnomes, it isn't unreasonable for some versions of it to work the way East Asian adoptions of the Western calendar do. I also think I'm not going to have them worship their ascended sages, though I don't know what, exactly, they will worship. Maybe somehow the animal-god pantheon, through a completely independent covenant from the one on the other continent? I shied away from that since their quasi-Egyptianness made animal-gods seem a bit too unimaginative, but it works better with other themes of the setting.

    Also think I'll have the "Tainish Egyptian" continent be enemies with the araneas rather than the snake people, since the "Thalassocratic Valyrians" were the ones who fought with snake people. It isn't too inconvenient, since both use psychic magic in my setting.
  • Realized I was wrong: the nonhuman PC-races do have NPC-class members. They're children. Rather than making up 95% of the population like humanity's first-level commoners, their children will be in all five NPC classes (maybe only four, without commoners?), but only at first level, and will make up 40% the population, as children do in a society with the equivalent of modern medicine but without our sexual mores—like the society that had the Baby Boom. Children also make up a bit over 40% of the 95% of humans that are first-level commoners (more than 40% because they're 40% of the entire human population, which also includes other NPC classes and the PC ones), but that's implicitly included in the existent numbers.

    And now I realize I'll have to also add in the goblin races' children (who are only adepts, experts, and warriors, no commoners or aristocrats), and ogres'/orcs' children. In the case of hobgoblins and bugbears things work like with the PC-race humanoids, since those two are only in PC classes as adults; the goblins work like humans, with their 1st-level children already incorporated as a part of their 1st-level NPC-class population (except they're not commoners). Likewise, the ogres have first-, second-, and third-level NPC-class members as their children, but orcs incorporate their children into their 1st-level population. Same goes for troglodytes and kobolds.

    It was pretty easy to do this for giants. And I also need to stat up my beast-people, cat, hyena, and yak, but this time around I'll remember that children are a part of the population numbers.

2020/02/07

De romanicorum theoriarum XVI

Speculative fiction thoughts, fewer of them about Pathfinder.
  • The reason marine mammals have flat tails and swim up-and-down rather than side-to-side like fish, is that mammals evolved a different gait—a dolphin or whale is essentially doing with its torso what the torso of a dog or rabbit does when they run. That's why ichthyosaurs (whose taxonomic relations are far from clear) had fish-like rather than dolphin-like tails: reptiles still use the ancestral, fish-like side-to-side motion, when they run. (Dinosaurs didn't, but in between they evolved bipedalism—the ancestor of all dinosaurs was a biped, with some lineages later dropping back to all fours. You can see it in how different the forefeet are from hindfeet, obviously in hadrosaurs but even in ceratopsians, sauropods, and thyreophorans—they're all modified hands.)

    Bipedal dinosaurs did not modify the orientation of their forelimbs from those of the ancestral reptiles, although they did move them to face in front of their bodies. Like a lizard, the palms of a bipedal dinosaur like a dromaeosaur face out when the arms are spread, and each other when the hands are put toward each other: because palms that face each other are better for grabbing. The default position of a dinosaur's hands, when it has hands, is not with the thumbs toward each other and the palms toward the ground, like yours are (relax and let your hands fall, and you'll see this). It's with the palms toward each other and the thumbs pointing up, because a bipedal dinosaur is not a modified quadruped like you are—a quadrupedal dinosaur is a modified biped.
  • Searching the blog claims I haven't mentioned it here, even though I could swear I did, but the smart birds, all of which are psittacopasserines (the songbird-and-parrot superorder), took a different route to intelligence from primates. We got smart and then learned to talk, but they learned to talk and then got smart. What I mean is, the reason corvid and parrot brains got so advanced, is the need for processing power for ever more complex song. They then became able to handle other kinds of cognitive task. Whereas we got smart for those cognitive tasks, and then developed language.

    But it occurred to me, maybe a further justification of zled intelligence despite their being more powerful than humans, aside from their world being as scary as the Mesozoic, is that they had a sort of evolutionary feedback loop like birds did, for boosting their intelligence. Maybe they descend from something like a predatory howler-monkey, but with a far more complex repertoire of calls, like a songbird or parrot (and, y' know, roaring rather than hooting, birdsong, or mimicry), and the processing led to their ancestors increasing in intelligence before tool-use was a factor.

    The main interspecies reason their ancestors would've roared would be to warn potential predators that gangs of arboreal jackal-baboons are around and would take a dim view of preying on their young, while the intraspecies reason would be the same as the one for wolves howling and lions roaring, announcing to conspecifics "if you can hear this, you're in our territory". (The complex calls would, of course, be mainly for the latter purpose.)
  • Realized the best choice for making the elemental outsider-race in my setting would be to repurpose divs, as "neutral, chaotic neutral, or lawful neutral" outsiders. Only with mephits, with the "young" template to turn them tiny and knock a point off their CR, instead of doru divs. Of course I gave the divs a variable elemental affinity/immunity, rather than fire, and change their cultures to be more like normal genies (Pathfinder divs are corrupted genies—though their ultimate origin is the daevas of Zoroastrianism). Also gave them, as I said, pterosaur wings. Which they can use as legs, giving them the Bull Rush resistance of something like a centaur. (The reason pterosaurs, even giant azhdarchids, could take off in a leap, despite being bigger than any bird let alone any bat that ever was, is their wings were still forelegs, and the massive muscles for flapping them were also available for pushing off with.)

    I had said that all nonevil humans become agathions, in my setting, and elves become azatas. I think I also mentioned dwarves become inevitables (but with no axiomites to command them)? Well I decided nonevil gnomes become kami, and nonevil giants become asuras (but not evil). I went down the list of outsiders that constitute races, planeborne as we knew them in my day—aeon, agathion, angel, archon, asura, azata, daemon, demodand, demon, devil, div, elemental, inevitable, kami, kyton, oni, protean, psychopomp, qlippoth, rakshasa, titan—and figured out which ones were the best fit to be the "petitioners" of my humanoid races. I also still have elementals, they're just the div-types' spirits channeled into elemental matter temporarily; the rest of them just aren't there, any more than the fey are. I think my setting's dragons will just reincarnate?
  • I've said that skeptics often seem to be magicians and special-effects people, i.e. professional fakers—their skepticism turns out to be merely projection. So I'm not exactly surprised that James Randi's "challenge" was rigged, requiring a far higher standard than science normally does, and potentially requiring far more resources to produce the tests than the prize-money could cover—and isn't really epistemically or scientifically valid anyway. Conmen always assume everyone else is dishonest.
  • They're putting the X-Men in the MCU—starting with the New Mutants, because we totally care about them. Also the movie about them seems to be a horror movie? Maybe it's just one of those cases where the advertisers criminally misrepresent the work in question, like how they always make kids' movies look gratingly obnoxious. Anyway, though, if Marvel could try to put its craniorectal inversion into remission for a moment, they have a chance to do something cool, and introduce diversity in a justifiable way that doesn't utterly gut characterization, but actually updates it in a meaningful way.

    Namely, Magneto would be around 90 this year, if he was in his early teens (the age mutant powers usually manifest, and the age he's depicted as having been) in 1944. So instead, have him be Rwandan. Change his name to Érique and find a Tutsi surname that sounds like "magnet". Then have his flashback be to turning Hutu machetes into curlicues. (They can also make Xavier be black, too—played by Lance Reddick or someone—since Cameroon, Cape Verde, and Brazil are all more likely to have "Xavier" as a surname than anywhere in Europe.)

    Yes that complicates Wanda and Pietro, two clearly not-Lance-Reddick's-children people, but it's not like Marvel doesn't have a peckish Anti-Monitor worth of plotholes at the best of times.
  • Henceforth Star Trek: Picard shall be known as The Normandylorian, and the bioroid girl, Dahj, shall be known as Baby Data.
  • Occurs to me I can just have the aquatic eldritch abominations of my setting be "sea snake" nagas. Also thought I'd make them the main one of the subterranean world. This reduces me to two, nagas and araneas. Which is a Jim Stafford song. 'Course, there are three kinds of evil naga (dark, deep, and spirit)—I'm pointedly ignoring slime nagas—and only one kind of aranea.

    Maybe repurpose proteans and qlippoths into, respectively, nagas and araneas? The former are various kinds of snake; the latter often have more than a few spider aspects. I never actually called them "araneas" or "nagas" in my setting—they're "silk lords" and "serpent lords". I don't think I need too much stat-shifting, though I'll probably have to use some other CR 20 outsider's special attack in place of the iathavos qlippoth's abyssal transformation power—since spiders by definition do not swallow their prey.

    Still going to have the serpentfolk ("snake people") and ettercaps, though I gave the latter back their hands (don't know why Pathfinder changed them to having sickle-hands; they're not mantises, they're spiders. Of course, a mantis actually still has a tarsus on the end of its arm; the claw is actually the preceding joint, the tibia. A mantis's claws are really on its frontmost heels.
  • Ooh, actually I like that; if the snake-spirit creatures have all the scaly servants—serpentfolk, lizardfolk, sahuagin—maybe the spider ones should have the chitinous ones, like formians and thriae. Maybe some treaty keeps them from also creating crab or lobster servants and encroaching on the snakes' aquatic territory? Yeah, sea for snakes, surface for spiders, and underground for whichever can get it, works. Ooh, instead of ettercaps, still have araneas, but as the equivalent not of the nagas but of the serpentfolk.
  • Actually watched The Witcher. It's…not shit gravy. I like how subtly Slavic everything is; not only the curious cheerful pessimism, but also, I've got a nagging suspicion about half the seemingly fantastical wordplay is actually just ordinary Polish figures of speech. You get the feeling that you're reading subtitles and the dialogue is really in Polish, even though it isn't. I also like how most of the cast of both sexes are actually attractive, particularly after the homely-as-a-mud-fence, seemingly-selected-for-dumpiness cast of The Mandalorian (though Henry Cavill is a bit too much of a pretty-boy for Geralt, who's supposed to be a lot more grizzled). And it gets bonus points for much better armor design than Game of Thrones, though. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised that Nilfgaard actually seems to be more the Soviets than the Northern "Crusade" (which was never preached as such by any competent ecclesiastic authority). Even if Nilfgaard had been the Romantic Nationalist version of the Teutonic Knights, at least Sapkowski isn't Czech, so we're spared the fantasy version of the Romantic Nationalist (read "laughable unhistoric self-serving propaganda") conception of the Hussites.

    Still, though, really not much more than my initial assessment of "Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with the VIN numbers melted off"—albeit executed pretty well. It's got far too much subscription-TV T&A and gore, and is just generally a little too sordid to take seriously even as dark fantasy. It's not quite unwatchably grimdark, unlike Game of Thrones. It also made me realize: fantasy worlds should be places where most "superstitions" are as accurate as the average person's understanding of science, in our world. There'd be common misconceptions, but the basic rules should actually be known. Because this is information you can actually go out and find for yourself, in these worlds. I deduct significant points for the "demihumans"-as-oppressed-minority thing, also seen in Dragon Age (I also deduct them for snooty bigoted elves, so we're clear): Find. Another. Angle. The half-elves being deformed is somewhat interesting, but it would be more interesting if the deformities were modeled on real-world interspecies hybrids, rather than just having random normal-human deformities (I'm not only saying that because their idea is similar to mine; mine is cooler).

2020/01/21

De romanicorum theoriarum XV

Speculative fiction thoughts, a lot of 'em about Pathfinder.
  • Not only are Mandalorians paper tigers, only alive because the Jedi are too nice to annihilate them, but they're also belligerent nomads who historically made most of their living stealing and slaving, and yet they inexplicably get treated as some kind of noble warrior. They're space Kurds.

    Or space Spartans (except nomadic), who only had a c. 48.5% win-rate, almost exactly 50% win-or-draw, no better than any other Greek city-state, despite their absolutely nightmarish child-soldier childrearing, and had a population something like 80% slaves. (For comparison, Rome was c. 30–40% slave.) Okay that might be slightly unfair to the Mandalorians; you can be adopted into them, you couldn't even rejoin the Spartan citizen class if you, or an ancestor, were ever rejected from it.

    And "this is the Way" is the most irritating meme since "winter is coming". It's a bit less grating in the show proper, though. (But it's too bad The Witcher is now outperforming The Mandalorian. I guess "same premise but with T&A" wins every time. Or that putting something on Disney+ hurts its ratings. Both?)
  • Aside from how Arataka Reigen is proof that a rogue can absolutely be lawful good, we know his specific rogue archetype—clearly he calls his sneak attack "self-defense rush". He's probably in my top five favorite characters in all of fiction.
  • It occurs to me that the elves, dwarves, and gnomes of my setting have yet another advantage over humans: their mounts all have darkvision. You can't use cavalry at night, horses being as diurnal as we are (the tapeta lucida notwithstanding)—and a lot more likely to die if they trip on something in the dark. People who ride magic animals that have the same night-vision as elves and dwarves have no such limitation. The riders of such creatures can also sleep in the saddle much more safely, and the mounts can stand watch and rest at the same time—I crunched it, if they have the same senses as the mundane animals they're based on, their Perception score while asleep is the same as an average, NPC-class human's is, wide awake.

    Somewhat relatedly, rather than breed special chargers from Equus ferus, the rural-settled culture of my humans will, instead, have domesticated Equus giganteus. Seem like a logistical problem, since chargers can't survive on grazing and have to be fed in stalls? (Presumably charger-sized mustangs would starve.) Nope. In an ice age, plains are dominated by C3 grasses like wheat, rice, and rye, rather than C4 grasses like corn, millet, and sorghum. They have much higher protein content—the shift from C3 grasses to C4 ones, when the glaciers melted, is thought to have been a factor in E. giganteus going extinct (though humans probably played a role too). The other human cultures, and people who aren't super-heavy cavalry in that culture, ride regular old Equus ferus, though.

    (And no, it's not weird to domesticate more than one species of horse; the Tibetan wild ass is semi-domesticated, along with the fully domesticated African one, i.e. the donkey.)
  • Speaking of logistics, I mentioned my dwarves doing their farming with piped-in lighting—they also might use something like a Dawnflower's light, obviously minus the Sarenrae branding. But the "high" elves also pose some issues, since they live above the treeline (except where their sacred tree is concerned, because the World Tree doesn't care about elevation), meaning most plants won't grow in their cities. They also have a sharp limit on their arable land, living at mountaintops.

    They're also (the dwarves are too, but their space isn't as constrained since they have whole caverns to raise herds in) mostly carnivorous, though they only raise small things like poultry and squirrels domestically. I think a lot of it can be done with Dawnflower's light hydroponics and druidic magic (e.g. plant growth) increasing agricultural yields, to grow more fodder for the domestic animals that are the main thing they eat. Like the dwarves, their farms are underground.
  • Epithet Erased is freaking amazing, though I do admittedly weight "heroine cuteness" excessively. There isn't a single character in it that I don't like or that the writers mistreat to no purpose, two rarities in animated works. About the worst I can say about it is that while the swearing scene in like the third episode is funny, it does prevent it being recommendable to parents, who are hard-up for things that will entertain their children and aren't terrible. Anyway, the first season's over now and they need you to go subscribe to VRV or donate to the Patreon.
  • As I think I mentioned before, I watched Chivalry of a Failed Knight on Youtube, because I didn't want to spring for Hulu. Well, I got Hulu for Christmas, and was all set to rewatch it on the up-and-up. But then I discover that some slavering beast, forgotten of God and man, wholly foreign to all decent people and right reason, had decided that that series should only stream dubbed. "Well, you can finally get this wine that wasn't sold in your country, but the only supplier pees in every bottle."

    Oh well. It's still got Weakest Undefeated Bahamut—subbed not dubbed—which, while fundamentally just a standard magic-school harem series, is extremely solid in terms of setting and characters. And pacing—nary an episode happens where you don't think "oh wow the end credits should be by any time now"…and then the eyecatch comes, because that was just the midpoint. Besides, standard magic-school harems are a breath of the sea air off the Grey Havens compared to isekai.
  • Turns out it's actually really simple for my nonhuman races to use their talking critters as mounts or companions. For ordinary purposes, of course, they just ride them; the talking critters don't usually fight beside them, but, for instance, watch the humans' horses while the humanoids are all down in a dungeon. But for purposes of class features like paladin or cavalier mounts or ranger or druid companions, they have to wait a bit and spend a feat to get Monstrous Mount. Since none of the mounts are quite as OP as griffons, they don't have that kind of prerequisite; the ones that paladins ride may have an unusual alignment relative to the rest of their races, of course, but there isn't an alignment requirement for the rider like on a worg.

    Of course in practice this might mean nonhumans are likely to choose the other option that doesn't involve a mount or companion—the other version of paladin's divine bond or ranger's hunter's bond (honestly does anyone actually still take paladin mount in Pathfinder, now they have the other option?). I also think druids will still much more likely take actual animals as their animal companions—elf and gnome druids are also more likely to take plant or fungus companions anyway (and either might just take a domain, instead). For cavaliers, I think the nonhumans are more likely in the first place to take archetypes that replace the mount class feature with something else, like green knight, esquire, or musketeer. "Animal trainer" is kinda humans' "hat", after all.

    Still gotta work out what the prerequisites for having these guys as mounts are, and what Monstrous Mount Mastery lets you do with them. But it speaks to the elegance of Pathfinder that there was already a rule in place for what I wanted to do.
  • Decided that I'm not going to use the aboleths as the illithid stand-in of my setting; that's the role they play in Golarion, after all. Instead, thought I'd just have the kraken do it. It makes perfect sense for evil quasi-squid to be the origin of a bunch of fish-races like skum and sahuagin, after all, and be the things the gillmen ("gill people"—"gill man" being, by the way, what The Creature from the Black Lagoon is known as, to the cognoscenti). Might restat them as aberrations (just involves shifting around some hit-dice, saves, and so forth).

    Perhaps relatedly, since my outsiders and aberrations are ultimately the same thing, thought I'd have my elemental spirits—I might have to retool some things from core Pathfinder to get enough of them—also follow the "winged humanoid" theme the celestials and fiends do. Only, bird and bat wings are already taken. So how about pterosaur wings? Works well with a sort of more "primal" theme elementals generally have (presumably the fiends have bat wings because mammals' attempt at flight is an abrogation of the natural order that succeeds only through sheer perversity).

    It's odd that there isn't really a hierarchy of elementals like there are for fiends, celestials, proteans, inevitables, and aeons. (Which I'll insist on calling "planeborne", berk.)
  • I know I've mentioned that the "can't stop the signal" tagline for Serenity is dumb. As I said at the time, actually you can stop signals, it's called jamming, and since they released that "signal" while a space battle was happening overhead, it would very likely have been choked off from the get-go. (You mainly use jamming in space battles because missiles are the chief weapon.)

    But the stupidity of this is perhaps illustrated by something else. Now, we all expect something like Halo to know you'd jam enemy communications as a prelude to attack. That's Halo, like the definition of military science fiction. But do you know who else know that comm-jamming is inextricable from an attack, in technological war? The Star Wars prequel trilogy, that's who. In both Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, people—the Naboo in the first one, the Separatists in the second—know they're about to be attacked because someone is jamming them. When Star Wars—all of whose militaries would be deeply outclassed by a few lances of Grunts with no Elite leadership above Minor (since Grunts, unlike clones, battle-droids, or stormtroopers, are acquainted with grenades)—understands science fictional warfare better than you, it's flat-out shameful.

    Everything wrong with the Star Wars sequels, incidentally (at least that isn't Rian "Taken King" Johnson's detribution), is partly Joss Whedon's fault. Aside from how he helped make the MCU's early installments successful, helping Disney to Take Star Wars, the deeply unfitting snark that disfigures dialogue in The Force Awakens really became a thing in pop culture because of his influence.

2019/12/18

Mélange VI

Random thoughts.
  • Watching And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online? reminded me of real MMOs with a marriage mechanic (e.g.). Seems super awkward. Maybe it's just because I play Destiny with my sister, but unless you're playing with your actual girl-/boyfriend (in which case you can go to hell), it seems like it would either be very uncomfortable, or just too much of a metagame thing, doing it just for the mechanical bonus.

    Seems like it might be better to have the spouse as a person-shaped "non-combat pet"; presumably works best in games like ESO where you can acquire real-estate, since having your spouse follow you around adventuring would be very odd. (Huh, is ESO a community-property setting, concerning homes and other assets owned by one half of a Ritual of Mara pairing?) Maybe if you sleep at home you get a bonus for the next few hours or character levels, like the "Lover's Comfort" rest bonus in Skyrim? (Or an aisai bentô item you can use later, like Skyrim's "Homecooked Meal".)

    Actually an option to sleep with your character's spouse in the euphemistic as well as literal sense (no need to actually be graphic about it, of course) could allow the creation of other "non-combat pet" NPCs: namely children. Rather than being like Skyrim where practically every single child except Jarl Balgruuf's kids and Hadvar's cousin Dorthe is adopted (I guess making Redguard children for the Redguard couples was too hard). That could be a kinda cool mechanic, and would make the world feel a lot realer (if done right, a big "if" in game-design).
  • Thinking of how the Clone Wars were just to keep the Jedi from seeing Order 66 coming, made me realize that Lucas is actually really good at plot, and theme. Now I wonder if Yoda actually meant his warning to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, that going to save his friends at Bespin would really undo his training and doom them all. Now it seems like that was actually a test, to see whether Luke would fall into the same errors the Jedi Order of old had, of forsaking attachment—the whole point of the fall of the Jedi Order was that the Jedi had forgotten that one attachment, to other sentient beings, was the whole reason their order existed in the first place.

    Basically you can view Star Wars, before it was Taken by Disney, as being the Mahayana Buddhist version of Narnia. The old Jedi Order can be compared to Theravada Buddhism, pursuing the path of the arhat, concerned only with releasing oneself but not others from the Cycle of Rebirth. What Luke does, first at Bespin and then with Vader, is the bodhisattva path: of replacing the final desire to be extinguished, desire for Nirvana, with the desire to bring others to Nirvana, and vowing not to enter Nirvana till others do. While attachment to others cannot come at the expense of other goods—that was the path to Anakin's downfall—it's that same attachment to others that can result in their salvation. Including Anakin's.

    Indeed it was the whole attempt to do away with attachment that led to Anakin's excessive attachment, and his pathological fear. The thought you try to put away from yourself becomes the thought that you cannot put away.
  • Got the Pathfinder Monster Codex, and decided my campaign will have boggards, though not called that since that's actually a synonym for bugbear. While their constant cannibalism is indeed how many frogs behave, that's because most frogs are stupid creatures that jump on and devour anything that moves, not something intrinsic to their nature if they were intelligent enough to talk. After all, boggards are not described as being exceedingly likely to engage in necrophilia, but the same stupidity that makes frogs eat each other, also totally routinely makes them try to mate with dead frogs.

    Personally, since my setting takes place during an Ice Age, I think it'd make more sense to have them behave like the viviparous toad, Nimaphrynoides occidentalis, since live birth means you aren't dependent on the availability of standing water to reproduce. Oddly parental care in frogs seems to be more typically the male rather than the female, with the tree-frogs that exhibit care by both parents having evolved it as modified male care. (I assume the relative infrequency of cannibalism in toads is just that most toads are toothless.) Intelligent frogs can still regard you as food without this "constantly eating each other" nonsense.

    (Unlike in core Pathfinder none of my races eat their own, and far fewer—only ogres/orcs, hyena people, lizard people, frog people, and maybe some cat people—eat other intelligent beings. Goblins hunt other humanoids for Predator-style trophies, but taboo eating intelligent beings.)
  • All the idiots saying "if Baby Yoda is 50, then 900-year-old Yoda is in his mid-30s": first off, they never said Baby Yoda was specifically two. Second off, he's about a foot and a half tall, being as long as Mando's forearm. Yoda is 2.2 feet tall, according to the official sources. 1.5 divided by 2.2, times the average height of an adult male human, yields 3 feet 11 inches—the average height for a six-and-a-half-year-old, according to the CDC. Which is still quite a young little child, and probably easy to mistake for a toddler (he's not really a baby) if you're not familiar with the relative sizes involved. And if he's six and a half, Yoda's 900 becomes 117. (Yes the child has that hover-stroller thing, but we put children who can walk in those all the time, because their legs are short and they get tired, not some age cutoff. Yoda is shorter as an adult than the 3rd pecentile of American two-year-olds.)
  • Redoing some things about my setting's scripts. Decided the giants will be the ones who have the "increasingly complex zigzags" numerical notation, since it makes sense with their octal numbers, which can use the zigzag's corner as a representation of the space between fingers; think the main human script will use the Hebrew or Greek type of numerals, since they have 27 letters. Then they just repurposed the first nine as digits, and maybe use a space for zero, like Chinese rod-numerals did?

    Also thinking I'll actually have the Thalassocratic Valyrians' script be the one that gets the Etro script treatment, something like cuneiform since they have more than a little influence from Mesopotamia; the other human scripts will be uncial, blackletter, and runic versions of theirs. And then the Tainish Egyptians on the other side of the world will have something similar to the symbols on the Lantern of Osiris in the current "season" of Destiny 2, which also appear on the thing Osiris used in the first expansion to navigate the Infinite Forest. (Is that Vex writing? I think it's Vex writing.)

    I realized my Dwarven had words that end on vowels (which was going to cause trouble for their script), a -ka suffix that marked nouns as feminine (like the -t suffix in most Afro-Asiatic languages), but I changed it to an -ok suffix. Also the pronouns—the only non-triliteral words in the entire language—had ended in vowels, and their roots still do in every case except the unmarked nominative; in the nominative, though, they switch vowel and consonant, so the word doesn't end on a vowel.
  • Can we talk for a minute about how Frozen and Frozen II are unworthy to scrub the toilets of Tangled and Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure? Tangled had very probably the best Disney princess since Aurora, and the best Disney prince period. Mother Gothel is one of the best villains in all media—someone pointed out, watch how she uses touch, and its withdrawal, to manipulate Rapunzel. And Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure is the best fantasy outside a video game in the English language. It's a better expansion on the original than the Aladdin animated series, high praise indeed, although unfortunately I can't give you a link to the best example without spoiling an incredible twist that you need to see.

    Frozen, meanwhile, is a Frankenstein's monster sewn together out of the corpses of more drafts than the David Lynch Dune, any one of which would've been a better movie. Its villain, who has absolutely no reason to exist and is not necessary for the plot, is not only the only person in a position of power who actually lifts a finger to help the people of their kingdom, he also makes his own plan more difficult (let that guy shoot Elsa and he just has to worry about finding and wooing Anna, which'll be easier she's grieving), just to fake out an audience he isn't supposed to know he has. It's also based on a story from the 1840s where a girl saves a boy, helped almost entirely by female characters, but sure Disney, keep pretending you improved on the source material.

    Frozen II is a sequel that nobody over the age of ten actually wanted, and its theme is hilarious hypocrisy considering Disney's concurrent pusillanimity RE: Hong Kong and the live-action Mulan (also Xinjiang but the Mulan star hasn't actually endorsed the Konzentrationslageraufseher there, like she did the HKPF's "fraternal assistance"). (One also wonders how it's received in, oh, say, Turkey, pretending for a moment that most Turks understand how that movie's theme could be relevant to them.)
  • Incidentally, Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure has characters who quite neatly slot into Pathfinder classes. Eugene's a rogue, of course, as are most of his social circle, but Lance is a bard (see the third season); Cass is a cavalier, Varian is an alchemist (duh), Adira is probably a cavalier too, Lord Demanitus was a wizard or possibly a summoner, and of course Mother Gothel is a witch. Rapunzel is a cleric, with the power of her hair being her channel energy ability; the Moonstone Opal is an artifact that switches her channel ability from positive to negative energy whether she wants it to or not. (I judge the quality of a fantasy show partly by whether it makes me want to play a tabletop game.)
  • Watching Bokutachi wa Benkyô ga Dekinai (whose title means "We Can't Study" not "We Never Learn"), specifically the episode where Ururaka and Kirisu-sensei have that conversation in the locker-room about how Ururaka shouldn't worry about feeling nervous in her swim-meets, because she always will (Kirisu speaking from experience, having been a figure-skater), revealed something. Namely, though the Bechdel test is absolutely worthless for most purposes, it's actually a very valuable tool in evaluating, of all things, harem series. If a harem series doesn't pass the Bechdel test, it's probably too purely wish-fulfillment to be worth the time.

    The "test's" relevance to other genres is more variable, because the female characters may have other reasons for never having conversations about something else—if, for example, the major female characters know each other because their boyfriends/husbands are friends, they're not all that likely to talk about anything else. E.g. Kaya and Miho in Bakuman happen to have been school-friends before they got married, but if they weren't they would only know each other through their husbands; even as it is most of their conversations afterwards probably involve the topic of their husbands in heavy rotation, since almost every major event in both their lives has been related to those two and their manga careers. But in a harem series, where it's a given that the girls are there for the harem, if they can't have any other conversation then there probably isn't enough work put in.

    Also…does anyone apply a reverse Bechdel test to works for a female audience? (If you don't think it's an issue—that and a female version of everything feminists complain about in supposedly male-centered media—go read some shojo manga. Or josei. And then we can remind you of the only-qualified value of the test, because something like Dolls by Naked Ape passes the reverse-Bechdel with flying colors…because it's deliberate slash-ship bait. Just like how every yuri manga, for an audience so pathetic their masculinity is threatened by having a fictional dude be the POV-character who gets their wish-fulfillment harem, passes the original version.)
  • I decided that the modern human witch-nation in my setting, as opposed to Evil Atlantis/Thalassocratic Valyrians, are actual witches (as in as a character-class), but the dark elves aren't; they're just scary druid-archetypes. Their goddess is not a fiend and doesn't deal with fiends, any more than the goblin or ogre gods do, she just has utilitarian evils and blood-sacrifice of speaking beings, but not deliberate taboo-breaking. (There isn't much to pick between Rome and Carthage in practice, even if the Romans don't pretend their infanticide is holy.)

    I think the modern witch-nation will still have clerics but they use the same mechanic as the witches, which mechanic I haven't entirely worked out; I think the clerics use a deliberately twisted version of their god's iconography, and specifically pervert their dearest taboos (infanticide for the guardian-mother goddess, necromancy for the death god, etc.)—and all really draw power from the ape-goddess. The very word for "ape" in many Indo-European languages has an implication of undesirable mimicry, e.g. simia and "similar" have the same first two syllables for a reason, and the verb "to ape" means what it does for the same reason.

2019/12/03

Sierra and Two Foxtrots VI

SF and fantasy thoughts. None tabletop RPG-related!
  • Mandalorians are severely oversold. In Karen Traviss's works, of course, but even outside them. In reality, the idea these guys were a credible threat to the Jedi is ludicrous. Even without using the Force to enhance his perceptions, a human Jedi can focus on up to eight objects (all humans can). Humans can also continue to perceive objects up to 17,500 meters per second, 0.5% the speed of light (though not necessarily to actually notice, or otherwise begin to focus on, an object moving anywhere near that fast; you're quite likely to never see a bullet in flight, for instance, which is why Jedi use precognition to block shots with their lightsabers).

    Since "size matters not", neither does inertia, so a Jedi can move something—say, a Mandalorian's helmet—at any speed they can still perceive, i.e. up to 0.5% the speed of light. Anything that impacts anything else at that speed does so with the force of a quarter its weight in TNT. If a Mandalorian helmet weighs the same as a modern riot helmet, a quarter its weight is about 12 ounces of dynamite. And even at a minuscule fraction of that theoretical maximum, their heads can still be made to impact the ground so hard their heads and helmets crush like overripe grapes wrapped in foil. One unarmed Jedi can kill eight Mandalorians in less than a second.

    That fact is why Palpatine went to all the trouble of starting a war and playing half the galaxy against the other half, to put enough death and malice into the Force that Order 66 would get lost in the shuffle and the Jedi wouldn't see it coming.
  • Which is of course not to say that The Mandalorian is not the best thing Disney has done with Star Wars since getting their grubby paws on it, because it is (well, second-best); it's just important to remember that Mandalorians are something of a paper tiger. (At the very least they should've had—in Clone Wars or Rebels, say—a Sith do the helmet-smash thing, and then inform them that the only reason they were ever able to fight the Jedi is the Jedi were going easy on them.)
  • Dragon Prince is mostly pretty good, except that you would never let a deaf lady be a soldier (maybe a behind-the-lines officer). Even if she weren't ambush bait and incapable of doing guard-duty, and she is, enemies with spyglasses would be able to see her signing.

    But there is one huge flaw in the worldbuilding: how is it only now, and only Callum, that figured out how to do magic as a human? And how is Esran's ability to talk to animals not magic? Humans were so desperate to get magic that they decided to call out to the Deep and live as death and devastation. Nobody tried Callum's method before? Or noticed people who can talk to animals? Bullshit.

    I do also deduct a significant number of points automatically for there being no major male elf protagonist. (Seriously, someone needs to tell people who produce fantasy, particularly fantasy art, that the elf species has a male half.)
  • Come to think of it, the existence of male elves is something that Warhammer Fantasy did actually grasp (but guess what the playable elf in Vermintide isn't). Pity they tore the setting apart in the stupidest way possible and then sewed the pieces of its corpse together into "Age of Sigmar". (The dumbest of the decisions in question being Malekith being the true Phoenix King all along.)

    Usually when someone guts an IP and hangs themselves with its entrails, it's ideologically motivated—Disney Star Wars, Star Trek Discovery, Marvel Comics. But in the case of Warhammer Endtimes, it was simple greed: Fantasy Battle wasn't selling as well as 40K, so they decided to destroy it and make something more like 40K. Apparently the fact they could retool their generic fantasy races into things that could be copyrighted was a big part of the decision. Unfortunately it seems people are still buying the minis and playing the game, but the funny thing is you can basically never find any actual fans defending it as anything but a pis aller.

    Another shameless cash-grab own-goal by Games Workshop would be Warhammer Adventures, which are middle-grade novels set in the 40K and Age of Sigmar universes. At the point where I run out of fingers counting the reasons that each child in the 40K branch of the series would be executed by their own government, it is officially not a kid-appropriate setting.
  • So the real theme of Elder Scrolls Online is probably "Beauty of Dawn"—which is basically a sampler of references to Elder Scrolls lore. "Days and nights of venom and blood" is a quote from Brief History of the Empire, describing the post-Reman dynasty anarchy of the Second Era. The Serpent is of course one of the signs of the Tamrielic zodiac. "Beauty of dawn" is what "Tamriel" means in Ayleidoon. And, of course, there's a reference to the White-Gold Tower.
  • Between Granblue Fantasy and Cerberus, for some inexplicable reason anime based on phone games are actually often really good. Chain Chronicle: The Light of Haecceitas might be too, if it didn't start in the middle and thus make it very hard to give a damn about anything that happens; I give it bonus points for including the Scholastic term for "individual identity" (literally "thisness").

    If you also consider stuff like Sengoku Basara (except for End of Judgment, which was absolutely phoned in), Tales of Zestiria, and of course Ace Attorney, it's clear anime can just in general buck the curse that plagues adaptations of video games. Probably because the people making the adaptations actually give a shit about the games and their stories.
  • Related to that issue with Chain Chronicle, the anime of To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts is an absolute train-wreck, and a monkey could see why. They front-load the backstory, rather than us only finding out about it when Nancy does like in the manga. It'd be like if Trigun (which really needs to get the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood treatment) had had its first episode be Vash and Knives on the ship.

    Just in general, if your anime is about a drifter with a dark past and some ordinary person cast into contact with them, you have to keep the past "dark" in the other sense or you'll strangle all narrative tension. First give us a chance to see how the character is perceived; then make us suspect that there's more to them than meets the eye; and only then show us the backstory. You can't do it out of order.
  • It occurs to me, the mechanic of the Altars of Sorrow, in Shadowkeep, where killing Hive enemies adds time back to your clock, is not just a game mechanic. It's actually a direct aspect of the story and setting. It's the Sword Logic. The Hive give you additional opportunities to thwart their dealings with the Darkness, when they die—because the Sword Logic says that they deserve to be thwarted if they die instead of killing. (Of course the Darkness says that those who cannot claim and hold existence might as well never have existed…while talking to someone who was returned to existence by the Traveler.)

2019/11/24

Playing with Fantasy XIV

Had more RPG thoughts.
  • Decided only the Thalassocratic Valyrians/Evil Atlanteans, in my setting, will have their clergy as witches. And instead, the dark elves and dark dwarves have actual divine casters, just evil ones—the elves evil druids, the dwarves evil clerics. Therefore the evil gnomes, whom I need to rework because they're not spriggans—more like redcaps—have evil oracles. Also decided that the modern human society that engages in "witchcraft", as anthropology knows it, has evil clerics, druids, and oracles, as D&D knows them. (There are dwarf and gnome druids, elf and gnome clerics, and dwarf and elf oracles, though none of them is the majority of their people's priesthoods, but the evil branches of the races only have their respective original form. And maybe witches proper too? Not sure there.)

    See, the way I'd already had it working, is that the dark elves, goblins, and ogres (including orcs) worship evil gods, whereas witches worship fiends. The dark dwarves worship their undead priest-king as a god, a bit more like Diirinka of the derro rather than Laduguer (or Droskar, in Pathfinder) of the duergar—though Diirinka was always an actual god, not a divinized mortal, and my evil dwarves' lich-god doesn't have a betrayed, insane brother (Diinkarazan—they ran afoul of Ilsensine, the illithid god, and Diirinka abandoned him). But in Pathfinder rules being a divinized mortal instead of a proper god just means clerics can only choose from four domains instead of five. I still need to work out what, exactly, the modern witch-nation worships, though.

    Still working on how to mechanically model the deliberate perversion of taboo that powers witchcraft. There's some things in Horror Adventures, which I recently got, that might work as models, like the human sacrifice feats. Also things like the sin-eater inquisitor archetype from Ultimate Magic.
  • Maybe something with an ape god, as the patron of the witch-nation that still has normal divine casters? All the witches of my setting are human nationalists with an inferiority complex; I have their ideology resemble stuff like that crypto-Gnostic Jingo element I've complained about in everything from post-Chris Claremont X-Men comics to Mass Effect and Halo 4. (Plus a more directly, purely Gnostic idea, that I complain about in cosmic horror, that just because the world doesn't exist to validate you, it must be wholly evil, hostile, and meaningless. Which makes sense as the ideology of witches, given that they worship eldritch abominations. Not that the benign deities aren't pretty eldritch too.)

    The reason it's an ape, aside from that being the proper patron for partisans of a race of jumped-up monkeys, is that all the patron deities of the other evil subraces, except the dark dwarves who serve their lich-emperor (well, and I haven't hammered out how the gnomes do it), are outcast members of their own pantheons—the goblin and dark-elf deities from the elven pantheon, the ogre god the dwarven, and the god who turned stone and wood giants into fire and frost giants, the giantish. So it makes sense to have a former member of the pantheon of animal gods as the patron of modern human witch-clerics. And an ape is likely to get exiled from an animal-god pantheon.

    I might have the ape god be female, since I do want to avoid parallels with the Great Sage, Heaven's Equal. I might tie it into something I've been considering for the mythic backstory of humans and their gods.
  • I realized, familiars would absolutely revolutionize society. They can understand fairly complicated instructions, being as smart as orcs even as the familiars of first-level wizards. And the flying ones can ferry messages to miles and miles away within a day—a raven can fly 100 miles in a day, while an eagle, and probably an owl, can do a full 225. You can send a message and get a reply back, with precision addressing that messenger pigeons could never dream of, same-day, to anyone 50 to 112 miles away. That would be almost telegraph-like. (Sure, a master and familiar can only stay in empathic bond within a mile, but the master just has to stay where he was for his familiar to be able to come back to him.)

    Of course this is much more of a thing in peacetime, for maintaining trade-networks; in wartime you'd probably have sentries (and friendly familiars) patrolling, to shoot down enemy familiars. Anyone with 7th-level casters at their disposal can also fill the forests with birds (etc., depending what those casters' familiars are) that report to the familiars—"hey everyone tell me if you see humans in green shirts" is something that the "communicate with animals of their kind" power is almost certainly up to. (And given pigeons can be trained to recognize the names of allergens on ingredient-lists—they don't know what they're seeing, of course, but they can be trained to recognize very complex shapes—someone with a bird familiar just needs to be able to show the other birds the enemy's heraldry.)
  • I had been wanting my elves to have some kind of facial markings, like many characters in anime (or the elves in Dragon Prince), but I could never figure out what. Decided, though: some sort of fractal, branching design. Because their chief gods are the Trunk Father and the Root Mother, the god and goddess of the World Tree, which ramify and radicate (respectively) in fractal patterns. So it's something like the cross tattoos worn by Coptic and Croatian Christians, except without the "desperate defiance of nightmarish oppression in their own countries" thing.

    I might have the goblins and dark elves have their own versions, perhaps with the goblins replacing some or most of the branches with thorns—which are modified branches, but that's what their god is, Thorn Father—and then the dark elves, whose goddess, Haustorium Mother (yes elves have a non-technical word for that), is a parasitic vine on the World Tree, shift the proportion of the branches to be more vine-like. (Of course so far all I have is this sort of verbal description, I haven't sat down and hammered out what any of this stuff actually specifically looks like.)
  • Maybe the fractals will be whip-curves, since elves are art nouveau and dwarves are art deco. And maybe the dwarves could do an art-deco version of a similar design, since some coralline algae also branch. I think gnomes are prairie style, and those designs, in e.g. wallpaper, actually work quite well with the kind of fractal structures seen in fungi. I think where elves and dwarves focus on microcosm's relation to macrocosm, and vice-versa, in their mysticism, gnomes are more about ever-more fine-tuned introspection, the way fungal fractal structures are internal subdividing rather than branching out.

    I don't have most humans painting their faces, though maybe the ones who revere the feline animal-gods might—with face-markings different from any extant felid, since the worshiped ones are all sabertooths. The ones who revere the owl wear helmet-visors or cloth masks shaped like barn-owl faces. Most others just wear their animal's skin as a cloak or cape, after ritually hunting one (the bird-god people also adorn themselves with feathers of their animal). Which is another reason the hedgehog made less sense, their hide is about enough for a very inconvenient tea-cozy.
  • There's a lot of controversy about Diplomacy (and its post-3e descendants) in d20 games, because it's alleged you could theoretically use it to get Sauron to stop looking for the Ring or trying to conquer Middle-Earth, step onto a boat, sail to Valinor, and turn himself in. Only, look up the skill(s) on any SRD, and the table of DCs for the possible uses: do you see "abandon reason for living that's literally older than the universe" on the list? Hell no you don't. You can't make people act in truly uncharacteristic ways with all but the highest-level compulsion or charm spells; did you genuinely believe that mere smooth-talk was more effective?

    All Diplomacy lets you do is improve NPC attitudes. The highest they can go is "friendly", not "blindly obedient" or "willing to existentially reinvent themselves". Maybe it's just that, having played 2nd Edition, I remember—though ironically I never actually used—the "reaction check" rules, for seeing how NPCs would be disposed toward the PCs? That's all Diplomacy effects.

    Relatedly, the "my bard seduces it" thing. Anyone that that person could "seduce" in real life would be up on statutory charges; even Deadpool cosplayers and unironic fans of Reaper from Overwatch tell them to grow up. Aside from there being no official seduction rules in any D&D or Pathfinder book that I know of (this ain't GURPS—not even the World of Darkness has a seduction skill as such), at best you can flatter and flirt with an NPC to make them advance a truly plot-related goal—if their alignment says they'd do that for someone they're attracted to. What, did you think "pick-up artists" were telling the truth, and you can just talk your way into anyone's pants that you want?
  • Speaking of rules people don't understand but criticize anyway, I read a blogger claiming that "roll for initiative" ruins the game, because it (allegedly) forces you into a combat action. What if, they say, when the party encounters a group of potential enemies, you want to shout "hold it!" before anyone can make a hostile move, and go with diplomacy (or Diplomacy) instead? Which is refuted by repeating their own statement back to them: before anyone makes a hostile move, you say? Hmm, maybe there should be a system for determining whether you have the time to act before someone else does. Whether you have the…what's the word again? It's right on the tip of my tongue. Oh, right. "Initiative."
  • I realized, I'm going to have to revise a lot about my setting's equipment lists. Not only because all the nonhumans are very different from in the default settings, but also because the planet is in an Ice Age. Like, where the hell would they grow cacao or coffee? These people are probably getting their caffeine and theobromine from tea, since that'll grow in Tibet, whereas coffee and cacao are both tropical. They'd probably also need to grow New World-type grapes, too—they don't have to taste like Mogen David (or grape Kool-Aid), it just takes a bit more careful of handling—since those are far more cold-tolerant than Old World species. You probably can't grow Old World grapes in Newfoundland or Massachusetts, but the "fox grape" will grow there.

    Just in general there are a number of assumptions about those equipment-lists that bug me. E.g., caviar is super expensive now because of hoity-toity food snobs; it was expensive in Byzantium because it had to be imported from Kievan Rus. But what if you were from Rus? For much of Russian history caviar was no more a luxury (as such) than cod roe or salmon roe are in modern Japan. 19th-century Russian bars used to give away caviar sandwiches, because its saltiness made the patrons thirstier (same as free peanuts in the West). Or pigeons as "street meat"? It's only from the 1930s that humanity betrayed one of its most loyal vassals in that way. Before then, pigeons were like dogs: sometimes destructive or unclean, when feral and overpopulated, but not rejected outright as unconnected to humanity.
  • One thing I decided, in keeping with that thing last time about my nonhumans making everything spicy, because they have fewer taste-buds than humans, is elves add chili pepper to their wine, gnomes ginger to their mead, and dwarves cinnamon to kumis and black pepper to beer.