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.

2019/11/04

Playing with Fantasy XIII

Fantasy RPG thoughts.
  • Decided not to go with the Cybertronian-based Giantish. No Cybertronian script is very good. Neither is Zentraedi. I considered something that draws inspiration from Kilrathi and Kzinti, since Giantish is also the language of cat-, yak-, and hyena-people ("gnolls") in my setting. But that led me to David Peterson's Irathient script, since they're very vaguely cat-people, but I went octagonal instead of round (don't judge me, I know I have a problem), and mine isn't an abugida—they're a pain in the ass to font.

    Think I might (this'll require more working out) incorporate something reminiscent of the Giantish runes from the 5e adventure "Storm King's Thunder", and also maybe separate approving, neutral, and disapproving forms as seen in the Thassilonian runes from Pathfinder (except those are logograms…though they don't bloody look it), since the Runelords are known for enslaving giants. Maybe just writing in different colors? Yeah that's probably simplest.

    Ooh that could be cool: have the giants consider black text neutral, and then, say, blue as approving, and scarlet as disapproving. But then the beast-people, who also use their script, see it as black being neutral, blue approving, and dark yellow disapproving, since with red-green colorblindness (which they have from their animal half) you see scarlet as dark yellow. Probably you mostly only write proper names or short declarative sentences (like accusations or proclamations) in the special colors.
  • Decided to somewhat revamp my Dwarven; now the dark dwarves use a square version and the regular dwarves use a somewhat different version of the hexagonal. I also redid their numerals a little, made them simpler. The hexagonal Dwarven script marks its vowels with triangular characters that fit into the gaps between the hexagonal consonant letters, at the top for short vowels and at top and bottom for long vowels. So the square script, instead, has square-but-smaller characters for the vowels, and it writes the long vowels atop one another.

    One thing I worried this might mean is Dwarven having no spaces between words, but then I decided no, it marks word bounds with empty squares or triangles, depending on whether we're dealing with the square or hexagonal script. Two, top and bottom, between words that both start and end with consonants, and only one, at the bottom, between words that start with vowels (it has no words that end on vowels). Not sure if I need a separate way to mark sentences; thinking I'll just put a smaller diamond or reversed triangle, respectively, inside the word-divider symbols.
  • Still need a good alphabet for the Tainish Egyptians on the other continent. Kinda unsure what direction to take it; maybe something like one of the weirder JRPG scripts (e.g. Hymmnos or the Etro script). Probably something very like Etro, actually, though of course my version would be less obviously a cipher of the Roman alphabet, and not crosses/daggers. I'll probably come up with base glyph-shapes similar to Roman, Greek, or Cyrillic, then do something like Etro to them.

    The humans of the main continent, both Landlubber Númenoreans and Thalassocratic Valyrians, use a script that originally looked like a mix of Roman, Greek, and Cyrillic letters. The modern cultures write it in (depending which one we're talking about) an uncial reminiscent of the one used for the Late Medieval and Early Modern version of Cyrillic; in a blackletter whose particulars I still haven't worked out yet; or in a runic script that's basically the original version with the curved lines changed to angles.
  • I apparently haven't mentioned this on my blog, but the animal-god that governed healing and divination, for my setting's humans, was Hedgehog, because they're immune to snake venom. Decided, though, that it should be Kingfisher: not only are they also immune to certain venoms, notably pufferfish, they're able to aim despite water's refraction, so they have both a medicine and a divination aspect.
  • Decided to get down to brass tacks about my setting's human ethnicities. The Thalassocratic Valyrians have African facial features and hair-texture, but their eyes are green or amber, their hair red, and their skin is pale pink to various shades of reddish-brown (they always have pheomelanin, in other words). The Landlubber Númenoreans have Asian facial features and hair texture, but their eyes are blue, gray, or hazel, their hair blond to light brown, and their skin is olive to dusky (only moderate levels of eumelanin, in other words). Finally the Tainish Egyptians and Hardic Hyksos both have Australian Aborigine features and hair, but with brown or black eyes and hair, and dusky to "mahogany" skin (so, higher levels of eumelanin).

    Decided also that the dark folk ("Dark People") have only black eumelanin, no metter their age, even in their skin, and thus are always gray rather than any shade of brown. Unlike normal humans this coloring even extends to their mucous membranes, though their blood is still red (they consider red unlucky, though fortunately they normally can't perceive colors in the lightless caverns they live in—they have darkvision). The gillmen ("Gill People"), meanwhile, replace their melanocytes with various combinations of xanthophores, leucophores, and cyanophores, resulting in their skin being various shades of green, yellow, blue, and gray.
  • Still getting to grips with my nonhuman skin-colors. I think the elves will be slightly bluish or greenish, due to a combination of blue structural coloring (as seen in blue-faced monkeys, though less pronounced) and yellow carotenoids used in lieu of melanin. Dwarves' skin is orangish, also from a carotenoid, without structural coloring. Gnomes' skin is pale purple or pink, the former from structural coloring similar to that of elves, the latter due to having red carotenoids (red and violet make magenta, and pale magenta is pink).
  • Not directly about RPGs but important to writing settings for them, it seems like George Rape-Rape Martin has absolutely no idea of the scale of literally anything. I've talked about how he was shocked how big a 500-foot wall actually is; he also has people melting gold in campfires (I guess Westerosi camp cooks are big on stir-fry cooked on orange-hot woks?). And apparently the Valyrian Empire ("Freehold"…except that's not what a freehold is; the word you want is "confederacy") is simultaneously too ancient and too recent.

    See, the thing was founded 8298 years before the main action of the books, which, if they're the (brain-damaged edgelord middle-schooler version of) the War of the Roses, 1455 to 1485, puts its founding in 6843 BC. Yet it only fell 312 years before the main action. Among other problems with this: that has one government lasting for 7,986 years; the language of the Empire's founding would stand in relation to the classical language of the setting roughly as Proto-Afro-Asiatic does to Middle Egyptian (which was a classical language in the New Kingdom and Greco-Roman era); the change of Valyrian society comparable to the transition from late Imperial Rome to Early Modern Western Europe takes only 312 years, putting the "Fall of Rome" only in 1143; and, related to that last point, the Astapori and Meereen daughter-languages have only had 312 years to do their linguistic drifting.

    You could have a diglossia, classical Valyrian and the more modern language spoken side-by-side, analogous to the situation that existed till recently in Welsh, Norwegian, Greek, or Chinese, but that's explicitly not what Martin describes. What he describes is something like the Romance languages forming over around a millennium from Vulgar Latin—except he forgot he only gave himself 312 years for all that change to happen in. (Seriously why is it so important that the Doom of Valyria be so damn recent? Did he just pull these numbers out of a hat?)
  • Even if the big numbers for ancient history are doubled, as Martin retconned it when people pointed out it was stupid totally meant to do from the beginning, the fall of Valyria (which isn't ancient history) is still too recent for the changes that have supposedly happened since—and you're still talking about an ancient state whose founding is in 2694 BC, i.e. the last phase of the Yamnaya Culture, generally identified with the first speakers of Proto-Indo-European. That is admittedly also contemporary with the beginning of Old Kingdom Egypt—but you may notice that in 1143 AD (when the Valyrian Freehold fell after "only" 3,837 years), Egypt wasn't ruled by the Old Kingdom or even the same system as the Old Kingdom—it was, in fact, thirty-three dynasties, two empires, and four caliphates from the founding of the Old Kingdom. And the Valyrian houses of which Targaryen is the last surviving example have all been there from the beginning, which would be like if the Fatimid caliphate was still dealing with the same nomarch families in Egypt that Narmer was.
  • This is funny and all, but wouldn't dwarves know humans eat salt? I mean who do you think probably sells it to them? For dwarves salt mining would be a relaxed way to make a living, compared to mining for ores or more exotic things. And they're much more likely to sell humans an unworked raw material like salt than works of their craft that could be used against them by a freaking alien, which is what other "races" really are. Though I do endorse that idea about dwarves using actual poisons for spices.

    Along the same lines, elves and gnomes, who both get +2 to Perception, could have food that seems really bland by human standards, but is actually, relative to their perceptions, quite adequately seasoned, and they view human cooking the way Indian and Cajun people view the Anglo versions of their cuisine. (This isn't the case in my setting, where elves, dwarves, and gnomes are all carnivores, and thus have fewer taste buds—dogs have 1,700 to humans' 10,000—and they find human foods bland, but in a standard D&D or Pathfinder setting elves and gnomes are often nearly vegetarian, and herbivores have over twice as many taste-buds as humans.)

    Halflings in both standard D&D/Pathfinder and my specific setting would also probably have bland foods, since they also get the +2 to Perception. (In my setting, where they're modified humans, they indiscriminately have stronger senses than other humans, resulting in their cuisine seeming very bland to the "big people", and virtually flavorless to the nonhumans.)

2019/10/29

Quettasuligelliendor

Title is a fairly half-baked attempt at "land delighting in spirit-words" to Quenya, which translates Kotodama no Sakiwau Kuni, one of the poetic names of Japan.

Did some more thinking about Japanese translations of Lord of the Rings. "Brandybuck" would be "Sakaishika", which is bizarrely well suited to being nicknamed "Sakashika". Then "Oldbuck" would be "Furushika"; "Meriadoc" would be, say, "Tamnosiki" (an imaginary Ainu name meaning "sword center"—the important thing is just sounding alien to all the other names but similar to the nickname), because "Merry" would be "Tanoshi". "Gamgee" would be "Karimura", while "Samwise" would be "Nakamasa"; "Hamfast" would unfortunately have to be "Uchitsugi", losing the rhyming of Sam and Ham or Ran and Ban.

"Peregrin" and "Pippin" are a bit harder. The former I would render as "Hanasemono", and the short form to Hata—a bit of a stretch, but one I can probably get away with. "Took" is going to stay, of course (well, as Tûku), since it's just "Tûk" in the Westron and the Hobbits themselves don't know what it means.

"Baggins", of course, is "Fukuro"—Japanese is one of very few languages where Bilbo and Frodo's surname is not translated to a word involving the local word for "bag" already. "Bag End" would thus be "Fukurokôji", already the Japanese for "cul-de-sac" (maybe changed to "Fukuro Komichi", the second word being the native Japanese reading of kôji, the better to keep with the etymological rule). "Sackville Bagginses" would be "Byôchô Fukuro", using the Sino-Japanese reading because "Sackville" is from French roots (presumably it translates an ultimately Sindarin name that that branch of the Bagginses use, to be pompous). "Bilbo" apparently may mean "two-edged sword", which is of course "Mitsurugi" as a Japanese name; "Frodo" could be "Masaru" but that's the same element as in Sam's name; I'd go with "Satoru", different reading of the same kanji. Or we could go with the "Daur" epithet in Elvish, which also means "high, lofty, noble", and call him "Sugureru".

"Shire" becomes "Koori". "Hobbit" would be "Anazumi"—presumably you can use the Middle Japanese roots to come up with the equivalent of Rohirric "holbytla", but good luck finding Middle Japanese online (Old Japanese, which I said to use for Dalish and the Dwarf names, is even worse).

While I can't find the Middle Japanese words themselves, I can say that "Éomer" and "Éowyn" are "Noruaki" and "Noruyuki", respectively—or rather whatever are the Middle Japanese roots of those words, should they be different. "Éothéod" would likewise be "Norutami", and "Theoden" would be "Tamitake". "Riddermark" would be "Norukoori".

2019/10/22

Rannm Thawts Twel

Random thoughts. Turns out "twel", along with "twal", is the actual Scots form of "twelve".
  • I once said that androids de-frag, and that they dream about the memories while processing them. But then I discover that solid-state storage doesn't defrag; it's fast enough for fragmentation not to be much of an issue, and defragging is extra write-rewrite cycles, which is just extra wear on the device. So now I just vaguely describe it as "memory optimization".

    Incidentally their processing uses quantum computing, but their storage is some kind of ("classical") 3D storage, though I don't think it's exactly optical storage (if it is, it's a super easily-rewritten one). Not just in the AIs (though those are the highest-end ones), but also in things like phones. The no-cloning theorem makes quantum ROM probably a physical impossibility.
  • I love how the same people who deny that the forced labor by Irish POWs from Cromwell's wars was slavery (it may not have been as bad as black slavery but it sure as hell wasn't not slavery), will turn around and claim that serfdom was pretty much equivalent to slavery. Never mind serfs had exactly every right of freemen except traveling without permission and owning purely military weapons (they could carry their tools for self-defense)—far more rights than indentured servants, which all non-black unfree labor in the New World is, a priori, declared to have been, without checking the particular rights of a particular population of unfree non-black labor. This is, of course, a classic argument known to the Schoolmen as si est caput, vinco; si est navia, amittis.
  • The only issue I have with the Joker movie, is that it isn't one. The Joker doesn't have a tragic backstory; he's basically just the platonic form of an asshole. He does monstrously evil things because he finds them amusing, period, the end—a troll on a borderline genocidal scale. That was also something Nolan got wrong: the Joker does not have a message to teach, he's an absolute nihilist.

    It's interesting that the "basically pure evil" Joker is opposed by a subtle, borderline antiheroic hero like Batman—whereas the platonic form of a do-gooder, Superman, is opposed by the subtle, borderline antivillainous Lex Luthor. I don't know if anyone at DC meant that to happen, or maybe the writers just noticed things were kinda pointing that way on their own and ran with it, but it's still cool.
  • Am I the only one a bit disappointed that Destiny 2: Shadowkeep doesn't involve any ill effects from Eris picking up the piece of Oryx's soul that was left inside his sword? Like…Eris, that's exactly what you're not supposed to do. I mean maybe it doesn't count as replacing him and allowing him to be immortal, since Toland the Shithead refers to you as "squanderer" when he meets you in the Dreaming City, but still: don't touch shards of dead demon lords. That's like…Fantasy-Universe Survival 101, Eris.

    Still, pretty cool, especially since the Nightmares were only the beginning, and then the Vex invasion starts. And you get to go back to the Black Garden. I especially like how basically everything on the Moon except Sorrow's Harbor is just the places you went on the Moon in the first Destiny—but with scarlet spiky walls here and there (which, e.g., allow extra cover in the part of the World's Grave where you fight Omnigul's Nightmare, which lemme tell ya, is a huge improvement over the original version).

    Also, real Legend of Zelda vibe. I mean, the main bad guys are "Nightmares" à la Link's Awakening; the particular form taken by the Darkness in the final cutscene of the main questline is à la Ocarina of Time; and a huge portion of it is asset-reuse, à la Majora's Mask (not a complaint, just an observation).
  • Will say, though, that the book of Vex-related lore (basically a neo-Grimoire) that you find, Aspect, is infuriating to me, and probably nobody else. Namely, its chapters are named things like "Mirative", "Irrealis", or "Jussive". Those are moods. Aspects are related to tenses, and express things like the completion ("inchoative", "progressive") or repetition ("frequentative", "iterative") of the verb's action. Moods express the verb's relation to reality or the knowledge or attitude of someone (the speaker, the subject, sometimes the interlocutor)—that the action of the verb is doubtful, surprising, desired, or normative on someone or something.
  • Hmm. Is An X of Y and Z (A Song of Ice and Fire, et al.; A Court of Thrones and Roses) worse than long-winded nonsense like High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even In Another World! or Do You Love Your Mom When Her Normal Attack Is Two Attacks at Full Power? I mean just in terms of titles. (Though "is edgelord dark-fantasy bullshit, whether neckbeard or YA, as bad as isekai?" is also a valid question. Though most isekai is also dark-fantasy bullshit, for similar demographics.)

    Also annoying, though not to the same degree, is the [Character Name] and the X, often specifically [Character Name] and the X of Y, e.g. most of the Harry Potter books. (Now I want to see if I can get a paper about "periphrastic genitive constructions in fantasy-novel titles" past peer-review. Actually you could probably seriously look into what, exactly, makes fantasy series have titles in those two formats; there's actually been research into why light novels have the kind of titles they do, after all.)
  • Turns out I was worrying over nothing, years ago, when I said it's anachronistic to have leaf-spring suspension carriages in a medieval-based setting. I mean it still is, but instead, they had a chain-based suspension, called a "rocking carriage" (char branlant)—back to at least the 1300s and quite likely Roman times. Unfortunately period-accurate wagons would, in a visual medium, strike most of the audience as anachronistic…because they were covered wagons visually indistinguishable from the ones we know from the Oregon Trail (though actually the medieval wagon probably had a more advanced suspension…since it had one).
  • I wonder, when they translate Lord of the Rings into non-European languages, how much of the setting do they translate? E.g. I would not be surprised if Frodo's pseudonym, recommended by Gandalf, were "Okanoshita" or "Okashita", in Japanese, but the thing is, "Frodo" is just as much a translation; his name is actually "Maura" (and his surname "Labingi" and his house "Laban-neg"). To do justice to the translation convention that's a part of Tolkien's world, all the Common Tongue names would have to be rendered by Japanese equivalents, since they were converted from Westron to English.

    And then, of course, you'd have to convert the names of the Dwarves from Old Norse (representing Dale-tongue) to something like Okinawan, and then the Rohirrim to maybe, say, Old Japanese. Or maybe Dale to Old Japanese and the Rohirrim to Middle Japanese. That of course deletes the link between Thorin and Company and the Dvergatál. No idea what the Meriadoc/Kalimac names, representing a whole different language-group from Westron, would be—maybe Ainu? Actually yeah that'd work perfectly. There's presumably some Ainu word that sounds like the native Japanese for "cheerful" (tanoshi).

    Upon looking, sadly, I discover that the Japanese form of Frodo's house's name is simply "Baggu-Endo". I mean I'm not really surprised, but come on.
  • A search of Le Blogue suggests I haven't mentioned it, and it bears repeating even if I had, but the pilot episode of Star Wars: Resisty Resistance features both pirates and monkeys.

2019/10/11

Fin Lovaas do Dii Reyliik

I was always saying that it was a shame nobody wrote a certain song parody. So I wrote it myself.
The Last Dragonborn (with apologies to America)
When the last Septim dies lighting the last dragonfires
And Crystalline Law falls in the Summerset Isles
In the shadow of the Snow Throat, where the weave of time was torn
He will fight the World-Eater, the Last Dragonborn.

When the wyrm-cult’s betrayer from Apocrypha rises
And the Gardener of Men his machinations devises
And the might of the Voice holds Ehlnofey wills to scorn
In the distance hear the Shouting of the Last Dragonborn
Zu'u nahlaas, zu'u nahlaas

When a shadow is cast over Magnus’s window
And vampires seek to enslave all who live down below
Then look to the Scrolls where new prophecies yet can warn
Listen, hear the Voice, of the Last Dragonborn
Zu'u nahlaas, zu'u nahlaas

2019/09/29

Welterfindung Vier

Worldbuilding thoughts.
  • Apparently China had a positional numerical system, in its rod-numerals—they didn't have a zero-sign but they didn't need one, because they just used a space—all the way back in 475 BC. Then they apparently stopped freaking using it because abaci allow faster calculations and have no need for a zero marker. Which suggests, as I may have mentioned before, that other cultures may have had zero at one point and then lost it when other methods became more useful.

    The Maya get lots of credit for coming up with zero on their own—but they don't lose any credit for not having the concepts of multiplication or division or any fractions beside half and quarter. (The Nahuatls had multiplication, division, and fractions, but no zero.) There are Old World Neolithic sites as precisely placed as anything the Maya made, but no culture in the Old World had zero (that we know of) till the Chinese—and it wasn't till AD 458 that we had a symbol for it in a positional numeral system.
  • Maybe if elves dislike the idea of creating half-elves it's because, if they're possible at all, they're likely to be stunted, sterile, and have all kinds of health problems, like pumapards. The objection would be like a reverse incest taboo, too far to result in healthy offspring rather than too close.

    Even ligers, which aren't between two different branches of the Felidae like pumapards, have problems mostly related to their freakish size, from joint issues to requiring C-section deliveries or having their mothers die giving birth—but also have plenty of other birth-defects, like a congenital neurological disorder (which seems to afflict a whole eighth of them).

    Maybe the half-elves with stats you see in the D&D rules are the ones that buck the odds and manage to not die in infancy. (The ones in my setting are artificial transgenic organisms, more like glowing mice than ligers, made by a fantasy-transhuman empire to be slave-soldiers.)
  • I am an idiot. I had had the races with darkvision in my setting, all of whose eyes glow when they use it, have some way to make their eyes stop glowing. But…it's passive super low frequency radar, using (half of) the eyeball's surface as its antenna. Eyelids are transparent to SLF waves. They can conceal the glowing of their eyes by shutting them.

    Presumably, so they aren't seeing in darkvision while trying to sleep, they have a nictitating membrane lined with something that blocks off the radar when they sleep. Or maybe a nictitating membrane they can close over their eye-antennas and still "see" through with radar, while hiding the glow? Then their outer eyelids are the ones that block the radar.

    Yeah that second one sounds more plausible. Some animals can consciously close their nictitating membranes. Pity; them being able to fight with their eyes shut seemed a lot cooler. (Though their eyes being milky for a moment, then clearing to reveal a glow, then the glow fading as their pupil dilates open is pretty cool too.)
  • The flipside of that half-elf thing, occasioned by my brother playing Bloodborne and its Cosmic Horror "strange births" thing—which began as an allegory of race-mixing and eugenics, fun fact—is, I really want to write a story about someone who's like Wilbur Whateley in "The Dunwich Horror", but he's the hero. Because, well…a much more intelligent work of fiction than anything by Lovecraft says why.

    It's funny how speculative fiction portrays the people opposed to the creation of artificial life as being the ones who say the beings so created should be killed because of their origin. I mean it's not like the people in the real world who oppose creating artificial life are also the most consistent opponents of killing people because of disease or birth-defects or other "accidents of birth". Or anything.
  • Been looking around at stuff about writing YA novels. One theme that I keep seeing is "don't worry whether parents will approve, you need to be authentic to what teenagers actually experience"—especially about sex. They're very selective about this—e.g. teenagers also experience being convinced by white supremacists, not a lot of YA writing-advice recommends that.

    More to the point, you are an adult. If an adult writes explicit sex-scenes intended to be read by minors, well, there was this show hosted by Chris Hanson a few years back (till 2015 in fact), that shows how that goes. Unless you also trick their parents (usually) into paying you for doing it, I guess? The parents are arguably your real customers; you can't ignore their sensibilities.
  • It's also interesting to me that so little YA ever really criticizes our society. They pretty much just present things we don't do, and everyone agrees we shouldn't, as bad; at most they set up a straw man of some aspect of society (standardized testing, for instance) and then pummel it mercilessly. I guess even if teens can handle ideas their parents might not be comfortable with them being exposed to, we still have to make sure their middle-school social studies teachers are happy.

    I mean, for just one example, how about a setting where hereditary power means people can be raised from birth to understand their obligations, while elected power is an opportunity for the venal to engage in self-aggrandizement? Those both happen to be accurate accounts of the political conditions of the real world—they're just not exhaustively complete accounts. The point is that they're no more incomplete than the apple-polishing you get in YA.
  • I was trying to figure out what people would steal, in my SF setting, since they use an entirely electronic currency. Obviously you can rob the people doing business in precious metals, but A, that's not many people, and B, you're picking a fight with black marketers by going after their customers (or the black marketers themselves).

    But it occurred to me, handhelds. You'd steal computers. Not for things like account information, because that would be overwhelmingly biometrically keyed, but for the hardware itself—quantum processors are always going to be a valuable commodity, even when they become common enough to be in phones. Some parts of modern phones are worth a couple hundred bucks.
  • It occurred to me that zled lasers' triggers, being on the side of the grip and pressed with the thumb, would necessarily come into ambidexterity issues—but then I remembered zled handedness is not like human handedness. Human handedness isn't even like dog handedness, and our last common ancestor with the dogs (we're both in the Boreoeutheria) was somewhere between 80 and 100 million years ago. Without the particular pressures that create humans' weird, across-all-tasks handedness, there's no reason to think zledo would not all fight right-handed. (They eat with their left, and work most tools, but write with their right because communication is, lateralization-wise, the same as conflict.)

2019/09/11

Das Rollenspiel Fünf

RPG thoughts, mostly my Pathfinder setting but also some Horizon Zero Dawn and Elder Scrolls Online stuff.
  • This article seems like a lot of point-missing. The issue with Horizon Zero Dawn's "diversity" isn't that they should be white: it's that they should be a sort of generic light brown. This game is so far in the future that underground bunkers have ten- or twenty-foot stalactites growing from their ceiling, and the main culture live in one valley. Unless they spent most of their history as rabid segregationists, they would be so thoroughly intermixed they wouldn't be recognizable as our "racial" categories.

    So we're clear, stalactites grow one centimeter per century. That's an inch every 250 years. The amount of time required for those stalactites to form is far more time than it took humans to evolve non-black skin-colors in the first place, so it's ludicrous to suppose they'd have retained currently recognizable phenotypes that far in the future.

    Other than that it's an awesome game; much as Red Dead Redemption 2 is sometimes called "Breath of the West", this is "Breath of the Nuclear Semiotics". About the only real complaint is the voice-work, while seldom truly bad, is almost all just passable. But things could be much worse. And, not a complaint, but an observation: why does everyone have nano-bots that take stuff over look like evil Sour Vines? 'Cause the stuff you use to override the mechs here, is basically blue SIVA.
  • It's often said it makes no sense for people in fantasy worlds to still build castles when there are things like dragons and wizards with fireballs, but there are two issues with that. First is, a dragon is not really the kind of thing most people can reliably "field", and wizards may not be either—even in a D&D setting, far more magic-heavy than almost any literary fantasy, there's a relative dearth of spellcasters who can fly into a good position to attack and cast something like fireball. (Not least because that only has a range of 600 to 1400 feet, depending on level. And "magically treated walls" have saves against any magical attack that could affect them.)

    Second is that just because you might have an aerial bombardment, doesn't mean fortified shelters aren't useful. I mean, take something like this, and stick one of these at each corner. Tell me what you get. Those are a German air-raid shelter (called a Hochbunker—"high bunker"—because it's not underground) and a German flak (Flugabwehrkanone, i.e. "anti-air cannon") tower. Besides, as I think I've said before, a D&D setting's level of artillery-equivalent firepower is more Napoleonic Wars than World War, apart from the air that many if not most powers won't really have much access to.

    Maybe for ordinary conflicts they use real-world style fortifications (though probably, again, more 18th- and early-19th-century than medieval), and then when flying wizards or, powers forbid, dragons, get involved, they retreat into a hardened bunker-like keep. (Instead of concrete, maybe they use stone shape—as available as those wizards' fireballs, to divine casters—to mold single large pieces of rock, to make the bunkers.)
  • Got around to doing my Undercommon (reptile- and fish-people, in my setting) writing. It's a nice small script, since they can't make many sounds ("ka nama kaa lajerama"). The aquatic version is more complicated and ornate; I drew inspiration from Dwemeris and Falmeris, in Elder Scrolls (as I've said, Falmer writing totally looks like something the Deep Ones would write in, and not just those Deep Ones). Since the aquatic version replaces all the hissing noises with "glub" sounds, I think their version also modifies its letters, something more like the dakuten (the ”-like diacritic added to a kana to show it's voiced), to actually reflect their pronunciation. Maybe the most ancient form works more like French or Tibetan, with the spelling of the land version but the pronunciation of the sea version?

    Also working on a script for the spider-people, araneas in stats but more like Nerubians from Warcraft, but with psychic magic. I think theirs will look a bit like the version of Forerunner script that started to appear with Halo 4, but maybe more triangular than hexagonal? (Confusingly the Forerunner glyphs that are based on hexagons are called "circular script", while the more runic-like scripts that fit in rectangles are called "hexagonal script".) Might also take some elements from basically a triangular version of the "seal script" form of 'Phags-pa. I considered octagons, but my experience making my dark-dwarven made me reconsider that. (The octagon-based one looked so bad, I've reconsidered the whole thing; dwarves now all use the same script. Though ogres still use a modified version of dwarven writing.)
  • I'm not sure how to feel about Elder Scrolls Online (I got it recently). There's some solid stuff there, to be sure, but the balancing is super off. Maybe Destiny just spoiled me on how approachable an MMO ought to be? I don't know. I do know I hate its crafting-system; far too complicated, and this is me we're talking about. Also all ranged attacks seem to go through solid objects, so cover is meaningless, which is straight-up bullshit.

    I do like that the First Aldmeri Dominion is one of the good-guy factions; it was also fun to go to Morrowind (on Mages' Guild business) and meet Almalexia. It was funny 'cause I was saying, semi-in-character, that I'm not all that in awe of a mortal who stole a shard of divine power, and then I go into her audience-chamber and she's floating in the air. All right, all right, point made—still never gonna be an et'Ada, though.

    They could've put in more work making Valenwood stand apart, though then again I haven't been to Falinesti yet. (It moves. It's a walking city built in a giant tree.) High Rock was, well, High Rock; and Hammerfell was fine except there weren't nearly enough wayshrines and I had to backtrack a lot when I got killed by possessed Imperial soldiers.
  • I will admit that part of what makes ESO's crafting so obnoxious, the rune system used in enchanting, does involve something interesting: the runes seem to be a syllabary where the vowel and consonant (most of them are CV syllables) are expressed in two separate strokes, consistent across different combinations, to make one character.

    I don't know what the canonical status of this system is, relative to the franchise as a whole. Everything else we've seen suggests that Ysgramor derived the runes used for Nedic languages (the branch of the Ehlnofex language-group that includes all human languages except maybe Yokudan/Redguard and Akaviri) from some branch of Elven runes, probably Falmeris.

    Which probably means most human languages of Tamriel are written in script that looks no more different from any Mer script than Ayleidoon is from Dwemeris or either is from Falmeris.
  • People are bad about coming up with numerals for their conlangs (or addressing how their conlangs express numbers at all). I've done it for my Elven and Dwarven, and recently Gnomish; both my Elven and Dwarven use symbols derived from which knuckle of which finger you have your thumb on, because their numbers are dozenal. My Gnomish, on the other hand, has numeral symbols derived from counting on both hands and both feet, or the fronts and backs of hands, since they're vigesimal. My dragons, meanwhile, use senary (base-6), since their wings have three fingers each. I briefly considered having dragons use base-10, counting the same as elves and dwarves but with five joints per finger (the numbers of bones in bird toes is super variable)—that's how the spider-people get base-10, counting on the joints of their pedipalp-hands' two fingers, with their thumb.

    See, there are 27 letters in my Draconic script, and I thought maybe they'd do something like Greek or Hebrew numerals, and have the first third of the alphabet be 1-9, the next third 10-90 by tens, and the last third (Hebrew and Greek have to pad out their letter roster to reach 27) being 100-900 by hundreds. But dragons are the one race in a D&D setting who absolutely need to deal in numbers over a few thousand, since they use giant piles of metal coins as nesting material and obsessively count every single tarnished, half-defaced penny in their hoards. So they use positional notation (and may well have introduced it to other races, since elves and even dwarves probably dealt in vast fortunes much later than dragons did). Dragons are probably born knowing levels of arithmetic nobody else has to bother with, levels we pass off to computers, in the real world.

    "Entire species of Fenton Crackshells" seems like a fun characterization of dragons, to me.
  • So instead, my Draconic language uses senary, but their writing uses something like the Cistercian numerical cipher, to have each digit represent a number up to 1295 (one shy of the fourth power of six). It's just a diagonal stroke and up to five little "dots", like the first five cuneiform numerals. And then the dots are either lined up to top or bottom and centered right or left, or centered top or bottom and lined up right or left, similar to the cipher but simpler (I only need to worry about five, not nine).

    And then, my dragons do positional numerals based on those. Like one digit is 1–1295, and then a second digit represents the fourth through sixth power of six, allowing two digit numbers to represent any number between 1 and 10,077,695. Then the third digit would represent the ninth through twelfth power, so you can get all the way to 2,176,782,335 before you have to add in a fourth digit. Four-digit numbers go all the way to 470,184,984,575—a number even dragons don't need that often. This essentially means conceptualizing numbers in base-6 but writing them in base-1296, much as the human version of the cipher could be used for base-10,000 positional notation, if you felt like it.

    (You can use the Cistercian cipher to write any number from 1 to 99,999,999—1 short of a myriad-squared—as a two-digit number. You'd have to have zero, though—maybe as a bare vertical line—and you'd probably modify the shapes of some of the symbols so, for instance, it's not ambiguous whether the "floating" short stroke is to the right of one line or to the left of the next line. I'd connect them via the existing diagonal line since the "diagonal, short vertical" combination isn't used.)
  • Given the scaled-people serve giant cave catfish (the aboleths), who have two big tentacle-barbels, and nagas, who might count on the two forks of their tongues (you tell me what snakes with human faces count on), decided that they use a Greek or Hebrew type of numeral system, but binary.

    E.g. A (if that were their first letter, which it's not) is 1, B is 2, 3 is written BA, C is 4, 5 is written CA, 6 is written CB, 7 is CBA, and D is 8. Then E would be 16, F 32, and so on; their script only has 13 letters, which lets them write up to 4,096 with one letter. Verbally I think that means they express a number like 666 (written JHEDB if they used our alphabet) as "five hundred twelve, one hundred twenty-eight, sixteen, eight, two". Except of course that "five hundred twelve" and "one hundred twenty-eight" are one word each, the way "billion" is. (Or maybe not? Maybe go four, eight, hextet for 16, two hextets for 32, four hextets for 64, eight hextets for 128, and then 256 is a square hextet? I like that one; then 512 is two square hextets, 1024 is four square hextets, 2048 is eight square hextets, and 4096 is a cubed hextet, analogous to a billion except with the fourth power as superbase instead of the third.)

    I basically just don't want to have to figure out how many fingers fish-people have, and all the races in question (except kobolds and troglodytes, which escaped) were slaves to things without hands. Your boss understanding your numbers is more important than you understanding them.
  • Also did my human script's numerals; 1 to 5 are basically like 1, 2, and 3 in ours, cursive tally marks, but instead of linking strokes they just have extra strokes count as talles—2 looks like a backwards 7, 3 looks like Z, 4 looks like a backwards 3, and 5 looks like a stacked-up Z crammed into the height of one character. Then for 6 to 9 I reverse 1 to 4 (the single stroke for 1 is at the angle of the 2's down-stroke), because when you're counting on fingers your second hand is reversed from your first one. 0 is an hourglass-shape representing two fists. Almost all my writing-systems, except Draconic and Undercommon in fact, have a symbol for "10" in whatever base (ten, onedozen, onescore, etc.)—being older than the use of zero. (In the human script it's a reversed 5 sign, as 9 is a reversed 4 sign.)

    I think I might also have a Greek- or Hebrew-style use of my human alphabet, which has 27 signs in one version and 26 in another, once I figure out what that extra character is doing (it might be a vowel lengthener?). Both Greek and Hebrew have to use extra forms of their letters when being used as numerals (the word-final forms, mainly) since neither alphabet has 27 letters; Cyrillic and Glagolitic only use part of their alphabets, since the basic Cyrillic has between 33 and 44 depending how old of a version you use, and Glagolitic has 47. Armenian has exactly 36 letters (till two extras were added for transcribing foreign words), so they could do up to thousands the alphabetic way. Ethiopian oddly has 26 letters but only goes to tens when using them as numerals; then it does something weird for hundreds.

    Think my Giantish numerals will be acrophonic, since I haven't done that one yet. Giantish uses octal numbers rather than decimal, counting on the space between fingers—a tiny number of New World languages do it that way.
  • An idea I had in my setting is that the undead are not, exactly, reanimated corpses, so much as they're puppets made from corpses but controlled by invisible tendrils of malice. Otherwise, how do skeletons move? Or zombies, really, since their muscle is usually rotted too—just one of several reasons the "zombie apocalypse" is stupid if it's not magic. (Maybe in zombies' case the malice-tendril "actuators" are supplementary to whatever muscle they retain, which explains why they have a higher Strength score than skeletons do.)