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.)

2019/09/03

Sierra Foxtrot 16

SF thoughts.
  • It turns out (I was worried) that it is, indeed, possible, for Lhãsai to have two appreciable-size moons that are in a Trojan orbit. The way it works, apparently, is that the bigger satellite has to be at least 100 times as big as the smaller one, and probably ought to be 1% the size of its primary. 0.01% of Lhãsai's mass (which is 1.189 times Earth's mass) is still bigger than a fairly big moon, like Tethys.

    Lhãsai's larger moon is 0.96% as massive as Lhãsai is, has a diameter of 3,211 kilometers, and orbits at an average distance of 414,500 kilometers. This gives it an angular size of 26.6 arcminutes, about 86% the size of Luna in Earth's sky; the smaller moon has the same orbital distance (Trojan orbit, remember) and has a diameter of 845 kilometers, giving it an angular size of 7 arcminutes, or about 23% the size of Luna.

    Interestingly, since Lhãsai's orbital distance and the diameter of λ Serpentis mean mÕskoi has an angular diameter of 30.5 arcminutes in Lhãsai's sky, it's impossible for the larger of Lhãsai's moons to completely eclipse the sun, though they can get close—their equivalent of a total eclipse is a ring of the sun showing around the silhouette of the moon.
  • It occurs to me that zled electronics have sound as a non-optional component, since zledo are less visually-oriented, more audially-oriented, than humans. The sounds would be very low, only audible to the user from the usual distance you hold a phone, which from a human's one-sixth as good of hearing would be totally inaudible. Since zled hearing can pinpoint a sound to at least 5° (human hearing can do 1° right in front but only within 15° if it's to either side), and given people hold smartphones an average of 40 centimeters away, it's only 3.493 centimeters for them to have full 3D audio effects even sidelong—far less than the width of a handheld even if theirs weren't slightly bigger than ours.

    This idea was occasioned by a fascinating article about how interfaces take too much inspiration from movies, which are based on what looks good, and not on how our hands actually interact with things. I think he's actually wrong, given that handheld computing is still fundamentally about conveying visually-symbolized information; tactile is always going to take a back seat to visual. About the only thing affected by the tactile difference between vellum or parchment, and paper, is paper's smoothness allowed a more flowing handwriting to develop. But in worldbuilding for alien cultures, who aren't as "put all their points in vision" as us, this kind of thing is important.
  • Speaking of zledo and tactile sensation, decided that their fingertips are much tougher than ours, but no less sensitive. See, I'd long ago decided their fingertips, and the other pads on their hands, were covered in scales, which scales are, like those of birds, actually modified versions of their hair (feathers in the case of birds). And you can stick each of those "scale"-hairs into a vacuole willed with liquid, like the one a cat's whisker sits in. In zled finger scales they're oil-glands not blood, but it still lets them have that sensation-magnifying effect. (This also means, I realized—I should have before—that when a zled gets a burn on his hand, it smells like burning hair, even if his fur isn't touched.)
  • Adding one colony to the Solar System, in my setting: Venus. No I haven't taken leave of my senses, you can put cloud cities there, above the sulfuric-acid rainclouds—at an altitude of 50 kilometers the conditions almost approximate those on Earth, as in 1 atmosphere of pressure and 273 to 323 Kelvin temperatures. (Though the atmosphere is CO2 instead of O2.) Even up that high it's as good as Earth's atmosphere at blocking radiation.

    About the one real downside is the winds up that high go at 95 meters per second, which is just shy of Hurricane Patricia's windspeed, fast enough that a cloud city would circle the planet every 4 Julian days. So you'd definitely need to have your colonies equipped with something to protect from the winds; you'd probably have something akin to airlocks for vehicles (not just the wind, also it's not breathable air out there), and tether people working on the outside.

    I think I'll name the cities Ourania, Pandemos, Peitho, and Philommeides. Or some of those.
  • The Venus colonies are the only non-station colonies in the Solar System before the invention of true, topological artificial gravity, because Venus's 91% Earth's gravity is almost certainly close enough to be safe for humans to gestate and grow up in. Mars's 38% Earth gravity is a lot more questionable, so they didn't build any permanent habitations on Mars till they had topo grav. (They did build research-stations akin to the Antarctic ones; an adult can probably survive Martian gravity indefinitely, at least if they're strict about their exercise regimen.) Other than that they built one O'Neill Island (not sure if it's a Two or Three…actually it might be a Stanford torus?) in the lunar Lagrange point.
  • Everything the media calls "liquid body armor", isn't. What it is, is polymer-fiber armor (along the lines of Kevlar), soaked in a shear-thickening or magnetorheological fluid. That reacts to impacts by hardening, purely mechanically in the first place or via something akin to piezloelectricity in the second.

    Fibers treated with a liquid are not "liquid armor", any more than water-proofed tent fabrics are "liquid shelter". Yes, the treatment itself becomes the armor, sort of, while the shelter is just made leak-proof—but it's not a liquid when it's on the armor fibers, it's like a wax. Just like the tent's waterproofing.
  • I think I'll have there be a rule, in my setting's space-travel, that when communicating between species, aliens speak a UN official language and the humans speak whatever language the aliens do (zledo have one official language, the khângây have three, nobody knows how many the thoikh have but they seem to all have at least one in common). Apparently on the Apollo-Soyuz missions, the Russians would speak English and the Americans would speak Russian, on the assumption it's easier to listen and act in your own language and speak in a foreign one, rather than vice-versa.
  • Zledo of course have sign-languages, but deafness, probably pretty rare with their modern tech, is more significant in their lives than it is in ours—closer to blindness, and then some (more like being a blind eagle). Think they keep knowledge of their sign-languages alive, though, not only for historical and linguistic interest but for communication while (for instance) artillery fire is happening (they use chorded keyboards and just text each other, of course, but you can't rely on that in a fight), or while wearing spacesuits whose communications are damaged. I think their military gesturing is probably at least as advanced as a typical village sign language.

    One thought is that maybe their main form of sign-language started as a taboo-avoidance sign language like those used by some Australian Aborigines (and once used by Armenian women, apparently), in one of their cultures, and was then spread back to the rest of the society that now uses it by returning missionaries. Thought I'd have the other big one used in a different group of civilizations, by traders? Like maybe one of their sign-languages is like Australian Aboriginal sign languages, and the other is like Plains Indian signs. Maybe their military signing is a standardized pidgin (creole?) of the two forms?

    One thing that occurred to me is that hearing zledo can hear someone signing behind them, without turning—I doubt they can actually tell what's being signed, but the sound of the gestures is probably really obvious and fairly distinctive.
  • Come to think of it, how come nobody's realized the obvious? The best gestural interface, for many purposes, is actually a spoken interface…but using sign language.

2019/08/29

Das Rollenspiel Vier

Fantasy RPG thoughts, mostly relating to my campaign.
  • About the one mechanical difference between my stuff and official Pathfinder, aside from some changes to the races (I made gnomes electricity-resistant, since fungi apparently quite like electric current), is that in my thing, witches detect on the same line as evil clerics for spells like detect evil. (Realized, I don't have any evil gods with clerics, though I do have some neutral gods whose clerics can be evil.)

    In general, in my campaign, a cleric who wants to be the equivalent of an ordinary D&D "evil cleric" won't just switch deities and do an atonement: they'll retrain, using the rules in Ultimate Campaign, into a witch. (I would let them swap their ability scores entirely, since witches are Int-based and clerics Wis-based, treating each difference of ability-scores as if it were an ability-score increase.)

    I had had the snake people and tide things (sahuagin) have evil clerics, but then decided no, they have psychics with the faith discipline.
  • I did also decide the planes are different (think I've said part of this before). I more or less left the Ethereal and Astral alone, but the Outer and Inner aren't there, and you get to the Shadow Plane via the Ethereal. Basically in my setting the Material Plane has layers, with the higher and lower layers being the ones the spirits of the dead, and "outsiders", live on. I think the (incorporeal) undead and fiends inhabit the Shadow Plane? And then if you go (down?) through enough layers you might get to the Negative Energy Plane, where the (un)death-entity resides, plotting to retake the cosmos from life.

    And then the celestials and good dead will be in a plane that's not unlike the First World/Plane of Faerie, minus the psychopathic immortals screwing everything up. The gods of my Pathfinder setting didn't create the worlds, they're just the firstborn thinking beings within it; those of them that decided to learn about and safeguard the cosmos they found themselves in became "gods", while those that decided to subjugate and modify it, and destroy it if they felt like it, became "fiends" and moved to a different set of planar layers. If you go "up" enough layers on that side, you get to the Positive Energy Plane.

    Don't think I have any one thing corresponding to the death-entity, in the Positive plane, but that's thematically interesting: evil is solitary, cold and dead, where good is multiplicitous, complex, and lively. The (un)death that has its ultimate form in the entity that inhabits the Negative Energy Plane has, as its opposite, not an equally singular entity, not even one that can take over other beings as the undeath-power can, but every living thing in the cosmos. Everything it has besides its Negative Energy "throne", the evil has to steal.
  • Put in some work on my Pathfinder setting's writing systems. Decided the giantish would take inspiration from the Aligned continuity version of Cybertronian (which in turn seems to be based on the "ancient Autobot" writing from the first cartoon). At first I was going to just add a feature to each letter, relative to the letter before, and then just go down my list of sounds, so while the letters' shapes were systemized what sounds they are is random—like Ogham. Ogham is that way because it's not purely autochthonous (it's influenced by Roman, Greek, or even runic—it has sounds found in Proto-Germanic but not Primitive Irish, and works similar to cipher runes). So I was thinking Giantish was inspired by written Draconic, but not actually based on the Draconic script. But it was uninspiring; so I redid it, wound up with something much more like Cybertronian proper.

    As for the Draconic writing that was going to inspire giantish writing, it is, like Dovahzul's writing, similar to cuneiform and written with dragons' claws. But Dovahzul breaks a rule of cuneiform by having strokes that are more than 90° off from other strokes—in proper cuneiform there are vertical and horizontal strokes in one direction each, and one or two diagonal strokes whose angles are between the vertical and horizontal direction, plus a mark made with the end of the stylus. (The Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet breaks this rule in one sign by having an upward pointing diagonal stroke.) I keep the rule (but with curves not diagonals), but the vertical strokes go upward, not downward—dragon writing, originally used for territory marking, is designed to be scratched into an object that a dragon is perching on, but read by beings approaching it. It's easier to claw toward yourself than away.
  • Gnomish, meanwhile, took some inspiration from the new version of "Gnommish" that Disney imposed on Artemis Fowl when they bought it. For once they were right; the original version of Gnommish was embarrassing, probably worse than the original version of Espruar(!). Only I didn't like the curved lines; instead, I went with diamond-shapes, twice as tall as they are wide. I also made a dark-dwarf version of my dwarven script, this one based on octagons instead of hexagons. I do not recommend octagons to the conlanger—conscripter?—they're all kinds of hassle that hexagons aren't.
  • I had had my Common Tongue be a simplified form of the language of one of my human cultures, used for trade—and often known as "the trade language" or "trade [culture name]"—but I decided that it's actually derived from two of them. Its vocabulary varies by region; basically it's a dialect continuum that corresponds to one of the main ones at one end, and the other at its other end, but is always more comprehensible to foreigners to a region than the local language's "pure" form would be.

    It gets part of its cross-linguistic usability by taking a lot of terms from the language of the evil-Atlantean culture, much like how you can probably understand a Wikipedia article on something in chemistry, in almost any Western European language you know just a little of, since all their chemistry terms are from the same Greco-Roman sources ours are. (Evil-Atlantean had a lot of influence on their languages even though they hated that civilization, like how there are a bunch of Turkish-derived terms in Russian.)

    I also decided that the Common Tongue is often known as Plain Speech, which, aside from "common" and "plain" being rough synonyms, "plain" is also the translation of the name of a dialect continuum whose usability is increased by retaining elements of an older source.
  • Someone arguing against the idea of alignments in D&D said that the "tells the DM what kind of game you want" function is better served by asking the players specifically what kind of game they want. Fine, true…but what about each and every NPC? Sure you should have these things worked out for the major ones, but every single monster? Seeing hobgoblins are lawful evil or orcs are chaotic evil tells the DM at a glance that hobgoblins will fight to the last man, but orcs will cut and run, ever man for himself, the second a battle starts going against them.

    In my thing the exception to orcs' chaotic evil behavior is orcs defending their homes, because being able to defend a territory and a harem is what makes an orc chief a chief, and every subordinate orc, the sons of a chief, would be protecting his mother (or at least fighting to guard her retreat) even if he has designs on his father's position. Also you need to be around to take advantage of your leader's falling in battle, though the guy most associated with that is neutral evil, not chaotic. No good usurping the leadership of your tribe if your whole tribe gets killed, after all.
  • I'd really like to use the Words of Power system from Ultimate Magic, and I may actually make a script at some point with one logogram for each of the Words. But I sure as hell can't use it at the tabletop, because it's crazy complicated and basically just gives a "fluff" improvement. You know me; the only person who loves fluff more than me is Nakano Kuroto. But even I balk at trying to use the Words of Power system in an actual game—and my players would flat-out rebel, and I wouldn't blame them.
  • Decided that humans make some equipment (rather than all their equipment) out of the bones of certain animal-intelligence magical beasts, like hydras, and the bone has the qualities of noqual. (Also decided gnomish fungus equipment has the quality of singing steel, which is basically mithral except for its speeding up bardic performance; and elven leaves are basically mithral with the quality of wyroot.) Also decided the dwarf equipment, made of a coralline alga, has the qualities of fire-forged steel for weapons and frost-forged steel for armor, rather than those of mithral, since "lighter" isn't really that important to dwarves. (Elves can also "wake up" their leaves to give them the quality of alchemical silver, while dwarves can do the same with their alga to give it the quality of cold iron.)

    I also think I'm shifting to the "innate bonuses" system, where all magic items in certain slots (belts, necklaces, cloaks, headbands) give the bonuses associated with belts of giant strength, incredible dexterity, or mighty constitution, amulets of natural armor, cloaks of resistance, and headbands of vast intelligence, inspired wisdom, or alluring charisma (also headbands of mental prowess and belts of physical perfection). I mostly did this so elves can have cloaks of elvenkind without penalizing their saves and dwarves can have belts of dwarvenkind beneficial bandoliers without sacrificing ability boosts, but I also thought of a cool flavor-y thing with humans: amulets of their gods, based on the talismans in Occult Adventures, that basically every human of a PC class will wear.

2019/08/08

Welterfindung Drei

Worldbuilding.
  • I had thought I'd need to specify something else, rather than gold, for the black-market medium of exchange, in my setting. Gold is 47.74 times as abundant in the Solar System at large (I like that number), as it is in the Earth's crust, .148 parts per million to .0031; assuming all other things being equal, that drops its value down from $45,644.41 per kilo ($1,419.69 per troy ounce) to $956.10—$29.73 per troy ounce, gold's price somewhere between 1933 and 1934. But reading stuff about post-Civil War bimetallism leads me to think the really old numbers aren't adjusted for inflation? If not, we're actually talking $585.78 per troy ounce or $18,838.33 per kilogram, its value in April of 2006. So maybe never mind?
  • This was brought to my attention by the blithering idiocy of Malthusian ignoramuses and their apocryphal population apocalypses, and their incredible rudeness to people who have more than two children, but the fact a "replacement" fertility-rate is 2.1 children per woman, means that every tenth woman needs to have three kids. Every woman who only has one child, however, means every fifth woman needs to have three, or every tenth one to have four; every woman who has no children means that three women in ten have to have three, or every fifth to have three and every other one of those, to have four, or every tenth to have five. So you can see the utter imbecility of freaking out every time someone has more than two kids: you need them to have that many, especially with your modern-Western welfare state (which needs the tax-rolls to stay large to remain funded), even if infrastructure and innovation was not very largely a function of population.

    When a significant proportion of your society's females choose not to have children, whether by becoming nuns or choosing to have marriages or other sexual relationships that are childless, your society needs a certain portion of its people to have large families. If you can't understand that, congratulations, you know less about how these things work than Robert Heinlein and Josef Stalin, i.e. less than a braindead ideologue and a shortsightedly amoral monster. (Stalin, like Bismarck but unlike Hitler, kept the fourth crack propaganda commandment, and never got high on his own supply. Though the Nazis did understand that aspect of these matters; it was things like "strategy is about more than taking important cities" that they didn't understand. Stalin's famine was almost certainly at least as much a deliberate pacification-measure—same as the Irish potato one—as it was incompetent policy; he wasn't Mao.)

    Speaking of famines, Churchill's half-Holocaust in Bengal was explicitly based on Malthusian malarkey. He actually said, while refusing no-strings-attached, free-of-charge food aid, that the Bengalis had brought it on themselves by "breeding like rabbits".
  • Decided to move the main city and cosmodrome (with space elevator) on Mars, in my book. I had had it at Tuscaloosa Crater, right at 0° latitude, and name it Nergal City (Nergal being the Sumerian god they associated with Mars). But decided, no, it'll be at Endeavour Crater, and be named Opportunity City. Because Oppy rocked. Endeavour Crater is still within the 10° of the equator required for you to put a space-elevator there, being at 2°16′48″ S, 5°13′48″ W. You can make the crater into a sweet lake to put seaplane entry vehicles on.

    At first I was worried I wouldn't get to use the Mars variant of the Groucho joke ("because in Alabama the Tuscaloosa"), but then I discovered I had not actually written that joke in the dialogue—I come up with a lot of ideas for material that I then forget to actually use. Maybe I'll have them make a joke about not using Tuscaloosa Crater because of something to do with that. Like, say, that they couldn't keep the crews organized ("task are looser").
  • Relevant to worldbuilding, sort of, but a thing I was thinking about: I read this thing by a deaf special-ed teacher complaining that their hearing coworkers would straight-up refuse to sign during off-hours, because they didn't want to have to "think about communication". Dick move, but it occurred to me that rustic villagers, who supposedly hate and fear anyone different from them, would never do that. Most modern sign language developed from "village sign", a recognized classification in the linguistics of sign languages, e.g. ASL is specifically from villages in New England. Villagers may think in terms of "us" vs. "them", but if you're a deaf villager, guess what? You're "us", not "them".
  • You often see idiot libertarian SF fans who think believe, in real life or in worldbuilding, that legalizing prostitution makes human-trafficking go away. It doesn't. Germany and Netherlands are neck and neck for highest rate of human-trafficking in Europe, not only despite both having legalized prostitution but after they legalized prostitution.

    Why does legalizing prostitution not reduce trafficking, but appear to increase it? Legalization increases demand (a lot more people "demand" something if they won't go to prison for getting it), and it also lets traffickers operate more openly. Which is harder to cover up, a whole brothel, or the fact the workers in the brothel aren't there willingly?

    On sexual matters, libertarians are naive hippies who think people are basically good, just like socialists.
  • Was reading a review of the game Stellaris, and the thing it says about "sectors"—"Paradox figured the name 'sector' sounds spacey enough, and they're right. The Such-and-such Sector. It has a nice ring to it. You can imagine a starship captain telling his navigator to go there."—reminded me that I hate that kind of thing. What the hell is a sector and why would that be a meaningful unit of a space-government? Most of a "sector" is going to be empty space, for one. More importantly, the idea of an entire, meaningful subdivision of interstellar territory dedicated to the kinds of things sub-planetary governments get from particular regions ("Ukraine grows most of the USSR's grain"; "the US gets most of its copper from the Four Corners") is ludicrous. It's goofy and bizarre for one star system, let alone an entire chunk of interstellar space containing multiple star systems.

    You'd much more likely divide an interstellar government into individual star-systems, and then administer each planet within the system (you'd also have regions of the planets administered by descending levels of government, down to at least the level of a single county or municipality). Whether you'd admin the system itself separately from the planets, or have whoever governs the most significant planet also govern the system as a whole, is up to you, depending partly on how important planets are to your setting's space-colonization methods. You might then have certain star-systems combined under some higher-level administrator, but they wouldn't be anything as regular-sounding as a "sector". A "region", maybe, but it wouldn't exist as the kind of economic unit a region of a continent does, unless one is the only place where a resource is produced. But that's still not the whole region.

    It also occurs to me you could do something interesting with people or activities taking place in interstellar space, something like (the fictional version of) international waters, and then some—though the energy costs of actually living there are pretty steep if you don't periodically raid or trade with the people who live closer to the starlight.
  • A bunch of people claim that robots-being-oppressed stories make no sense, because people treat Roombas like pets, but here's the thing: people also treat pets like pets. But consider how they treat other people. Pets don't make the kinds of demands on you that actual people do—or that strong AIs would. Roombas do not "need to be taught their place" because they can't get "uppity" in the first place. Strong AIs could and would. We commodify other people all the time, treat them like appliances or industrial products; people who are actually industrial products would get it even worse.
  • It is often remarked—I might've done it here at some point—that it's dumb how Star Trek describes all wars on one planet or within a species as "civil wars", even when the planets don't have world governments. But…is it? A civil war isn't just a war within one state; the US Civil War in fact was not one, but only a secession attempt. No; a civil war requires something else: war over control of the central government.

    So possibly, what Star Trek calls "civil wars" are wars where people are fighting not over the usual things nations fight over, but specifically over control of the central government…of the planet. Or, to establish a central government over the planet—wars of world conquest. Maybe each of the "civil wars" the Enterprise gets involved in (because the Prime Directive is a quantum event) is fomented by that planet's equivalent of Khan.
  • I noticed this watching Krypton, which is mostly pretty cool (Superman theme for the win), but: make sure, in your setting, that your characters' social mores reflect their society's values. E.g. in some of the second-season flashbacks about Seg-El and Lyta Zod, it's implied that there is some concern over her being unfaithful to her eugenically arranged marriage, if she hooks up with him. But…why would there be? Kryptonians are clearly a super-decadent semi-transhuman society with a more or less perpetual sexual free-for-all—and they aren't fertile. They breed by test-tube.

    Adultery taboos are so strong largely because uncertainty as to parentage screws up successions; since your heirs are only going to be artificially produced in the first place, thus there are no succession concerns, you wouldn't care who your spouse goes to bed with. (That was part of why homosexuality was valued in Greece and China—though their misogyny was a bigger concern—and the main reason it was, among the Maya. Homosexual relationships let the adolescent sons of the aristocracy fool around with the help, without siring bastards who might complicate their alliance-marriages.)

2019/07/22

De romanicorum theoriarum XIV

SF and fantasy thoughts. Many concerning my own writing and DMing.
  • No sooner did I say monks are useless than I decide to make their style-feats and vows the basis of naming for my Tainish-Egyptian culture. Why not Egypt with warrior monks? They totally had some Taoist-like elements in their culture…and liked to shave their heads. Now they also worship a dozen heroes who sacrificed themselves to form a sort of spirit-barrier and allow their people to use clerical magic (albeit with only four domains each instead of the five of full deities); decided they're a married couple for each of the six "mythic paths" from Mythic Adventures (which I'm otherwise not really using).

    Based their clan-names, though, on the types of basic familiar listed in the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player's Guide, plus the abilities that familiars acquire—the familiars in question being those available to the adepts that were the main priests of human society without clericalism. Even on the first continent I decided there weren't even oracular or druidic priests, just adepts—until one of the human nations became witches and started subjugating the others, who eventually covenanted with gods and became able to wield clerical magic, which gives energy-channeling.
  • Decided the Hyksos/Sea Peoples language that's based on Le Guin's Old Speech will just work like Chinese, grammatically. (Maybe Old Chinese, which had a few affixes, like a fricative suffix indicating a participle, and a nasal or fricative prefix that de-transitivizes verbs—basically shifting between the two senses of the English word "smell".) Also gave their culture names based on two groups of mesmerist class-abilities (from Occult Adventures), to reflect their having once been enslaved by the snake people (whose magic is all psychic, remember). Anyway while I was researching it, I noticed people are dummies—though it's probably selection bias, since we are talking about people who are big enough fans of Le Guin to care to catalogue her languages (zing!).

    See, a bunch of them said that one of the languages descended from Old Speech (Hardic) having "hundreds" of runes must mean it's logographic. But no, if it's hundreds rather than (tens of) thousands, you're probably talking syllabary. A syllabary for Mandarin Chinese would be 300-something characters, something between 1000 and 2000 if each tone of each syllable is a different character (compared to the circa-50,000 logograms there are in Chinese, the 20,000 you'll see listed in a typical dictionary, or the 3000 to 8000 a literate Chinese person usually knows). A syllabary for Cantonese would be two to four times as big as Mandarin's, since it has a bit more than twice as many possible syllables—mainly ending words on more consonants—and has more tones. (I would just mark a syllable's tone with a diacritic, because I'm not a masochist. Though some people count a letter with a diacritic as a separate grapheme.)
  • Here's how Hollywood could save two franchises it's utterly wrecked, at a blow.

    You start with a large person chasing a young man, who hits it with something, scraping some skin off the face to reveal the iconic "hyperalloy" skeleton. Barely fazed, the Terminator corners the young man—who is identified, either by its words or by the display through its eyes, as John Connor. Suddenly, though, a pair of jagged metal claws punch through the Terminator's torso from behind, instantly rendering it inert. A seven-foot figure, with a mane of dreadlocks and a glowing-eyed mask, flickers into visibility behind the now-dead cyborg, and a raspy voice, not unlike a parrot's, says "Come…with me…if you want…to live."

    That one's free, Hollywood, you can have that one.
  • Recently decided that my SF setting's Japan, Taiwan, and Korea all learn Australian English, where nowadays they learn American. See, a major part of my future history is a decline in America's global influence, and also an end to various regional hegemonic ambitions. Without the economic or military need to cozy up to a superpower, East Asian countries often learn the language of a regional neighbor, instead. (They also learn Chinese at least as often as English, since they're both UN official languages that also make economic sense.) Mainland China, of course (including Hong Kong) still learns British, as do Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and most points west of those like India. Think Vietnam might go either way, the way Thailand does now.
  • Disney's laughable bungling of Star Wars is, indeed, as many have said, because they're American liberals. But not because of anything directly ideological; just because their party-loyalty as Democrats has them want to make it so that, when people think of huge Kennedy-Johnson blunders, the Vietnam War is not the first example that comes to their minds.

    Actually I kid. In reality, Rian Johnson the Taken King, father of Master Codebreaker the Eater of Hope and the sisters Rose Tiko the Unraveler and Amilyn Holdo the Weaver, Deathsingers, has done all this to chase the idea of heroism, which he calls the Lying God, down galactic arms in a howling pack of moons. Hence why he corrupted the wielder of the Light, Jake Skywalker, once the hero Luke, whose new name means "The Eternal Abyss" in languages forgotten but not dead—using Rey the Nobody, formerly Rey the Secret-Parented.

    But I kid again. Or rather I exaggerate very slightly for comedic effect. Nevertheless, was I the only one amused by how Disney-Marvel Avengers: Endgame has Thanos say "As long as there are those who remember what was, there will always be those who cannot accept what can be"? Oh, you mean like Star Wars fans? Irony is ever the weapon of Nemesis.
  • Speaking of franchises they killed, entirely unnecessarily, I know that I've said I think Jurassic World should've been a hard reboot, not a soft one. But here's an example of what I mean by that: suppose you have the scene in the kitchen, only instead of the raptors Deinonychus making that weird chainsaw noise, they make no noise—the kids just turn around, and one is just there, having approached entirely soundlessly. See, we think, based on their eye anatomy, that many if not most dromaeosaurs were nocturnal. They also had feathers. So you could be talking about something like this:
    A barn owl the size of a large jaguar. Owl skulls don't have the facial disks (which are basically ears); I think they're cartilage, and that means dinosaurs could've had 'em too, if they lived anything like owls. If you're going to make dinosaurs out to be monsters (rather than, what they are, just dangerous animals—really Jurassic Park is the same basic movie as The Ghost and the Darkness), why not go with the most monstrous of extant dinosaurs as your model?

    And if you wanted to make them super-intelligent—which, so far as we can determine, they weren't—why not some corvid DNA splicing? Maybe to make them more tractable, since corvids are indeed trainable—in the same sense that cats are. Similarly you could get your pack-hunting dinos (we have no evidence actual dinosaurs did that), by the simple expedient of giving them Harris hawk DNA. Those are popular for falconry because they hunt in packs (!) and therefore are much easier to train.
  • I love being right, especially because the poor bastard didn't deserve what happened to him. Kinda seems like Mara is doing something stupid, like she believes she has to go and side with the Darkness (the ones who did all this to the Awoken) because the Traveler's getting too strong.
  • Crunched some numbers for my Pathfinder setting's population. Decided that there's one 20th-level human of each PC class, two 19th level, four 18th-level, and so on; the NPC classes in the NPC Codex only go up to 10th, so I only gave them that progression. But once I have all that, I then make there be 19 times the total number of PC-class members (because they're only 5% the population), and the remainder is 1st-level commoners.

    Things are more complex with civilized nonhumans. Elves, dwarves, and gnomes have no commoners; instead, the 95% are all 1st-level members of the PC classes. This gives them a somewhat smaller but much more powerful (like, CR 1/2 vs. CR 1/3) population. I did the same for bugbears and hobgoblins, except in fewer classes, and bugbears start out at 3rd level (1st- and 2nd-level bugbears stat as hobgoblins), then gave goblins a setup similar to humans except instead of commoners, the 95% are all the NPC classes they belong to (hobgoblins and bugbears don't have NPC-class members, in my setting). Ogres and orcs both work like goblins, but with a somewhat different class makeup.

    Still have to work up my beast-people and reptilian humanoid numbers, and gotta figure out if my giants should have markedly lower ones than the other humanoids (ogres are not giants in my setting, but slot into the subtype formerly known as orc). But I think I'm looking at a total population on par with some point in the 19th or early 20th century, but distributed very differently. Supportable with late-medieval tech? Maybe not, but late-medieval tech and magic? Now I think we're talking.
  • Borrowed Detroit: Become Human from my sister's friend, and…wow. What a pretentious cliché-storm, huh? They should've called this thing "Detrite: Become Humdrum". Or even "Lifetime: Television for Women presents Blade Runner Meets AI: Artificial Intelligence"; that would've been more honest, anyway. Like, that lady (Amanda) that you meet, the first time you have to have to get rebooted as R. Daneel Olivaw Connor? That is a woman who plays chess with J. F. Sebastian and is going to get murdered by Roy Batty sticking his thumbs in her eyes; nothing you say can convince me otherwise.

    Every single depiction is tired and shopworn, without a single original concept or story-beat in the entire thing. From the alcoholic cop to the out-of-work abusive dad to the "ride in the back of the bus" nonsense to the ridiculous idea that defunct androids would not be stripped for their incredibly advanced and almost certainly both expensive and proprietary components. Nothing in this series of cutscenes separated by clunky quicktime events game happens for any other reason than because it's a cliche of the robot genre, whether it makes any sense at all in this setting or not.

    I don't even know if I'm going to finish it, but I'm super glad I'm only borrowing it.

2019/07/04

De fabularum mirabilium VII

Fantasy thoughts.
  • Decided to add some human civilizations to my Pathfinder setting, from the other side of the world—they warred with the ancient "Atlantis" analogue (so, Mu/Lemuria, I guess, except I think they're not also a fallen civilization). I already used Valyrian as a model for the evil Atlanteans' language (and Númenorean as the basis of the other human languages); I had thought I might model it on Marc Okrand's Atlantean ("Adlantisag"), from the Disney animated Stargate Atlantis: The Lost Empire, but then I thought no, Tainish from Unsounded (which has orthography decisions that make hanyu pinyin look intuitive). Obviously I need other human societies for the other side of the planet, but it's super hard to find conlangs for fictional humans. I could possibly use something from Earthsea as a model (yech)? Maybe Edgar Rice Burroughs's stuff?
  • Thought I might give 'em an Egyptian feel, make 'em super proud and more than a little warlike but not witches (I wonder what the Egyptians thought of Carthage, given they didn't even like Greco-Roman pragmatic infanticide?). Maybe some Incan or Mound-Builder elements, too. (Though those both did practice human sacrifice—the Inca one mainly of children. The Inca were just generally a deceptively unpleasant society, the more you research them.) The evil Atlanteans are kinda more like Sumer and the rest of Mesopotamia, with some Chinese (especially Neoconfucian) elements.

    Not sure how the people on the other side of the world will look; maybe Australian Aboriginal facial features and hair texture with brown hair and amber eyes? (On the first hemisphere they're African—thinking specifically Sudanese?—facial features and hair texture with red hair, ivory to terra-cotta skin, and green eyes, and Asian/Native American faces and hair with blond hair, alabaster to dusky skin, and blue eyes—though the two are now often intermixed.) I'd had the first hemisphere have brown hair and amber eyes as variations of the blond-blue group, but no reason I can't change it.

    It's not weird to have everyone have one main phenotype in a whole hemisphere; the New World does, after all.
  • I find the reactions to the ending of Game of Thrones absolutely hilarious. For eight seasons they crowed about how this was a show with "no heroes", where "anyone can die", and looked down their noses at any work of fiction with characters who weren't either psychopaths or ineffectual, or whose story did something other than "subvert expectations" (never mind things are usually the "expectation" because they are the most narratively satisfying and make the most internal story-sense). Then Daenerys started sacking cities, and they whined that she was supposed to be a hero; she got shanked and they whined that she wasn't supposed to die. Like…wasn't this what you liked?
  • Maybe, in keeping with using Valyrian for a villainous society because I hate George Rape-Rape, I should have the culture that speaks something based on Old Speech be evil somehow. (Okay so Le Guin is just pompous, miseducated, and overrated, as opposed to Martin's utterly disgusting. Though some have recently reinterpreted "Those Who Walk Away From Omelas" as a rationalization of fandom's conspiracy of silence about child predators like Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Nevertheless.) Maybe Sea Peoples/Hyksos, if the Tainish-based guys are Egyptians?

    That would be an interesting parallelism to the first continent, since there, the ancient civilization is evil and it's the people who began as "barbarians" on its margins who are the protagonists. The Egyptian idea is also interesting in view of the fact the planet's in an Ice Age: maybe they're tundra Egyptians rather than "normal" desert, and their calendar is organized around a fertile period caused by glacial runoff? (Ancient Egypt's calendar had three seasons, inundation, growing, and harvest.) I'll have to research some more about ice-age climates.
  • People complain about "homogeneous" nonhuman races in fantasy settings, but it's a "justified trope" in the case of many of them. They live many times a human's lifespan, if not forever, so why would their culture shift? E.g. in my setting, where elves live twelve times as long as humans: the time separating us from the late form of Proto-Indo-European, about 10,000 years, is only the equivalent of the time since English replaced its dative and instrumental cases with prepositions. (And most languages don't undergo a Great Vowel Shift; the 12th-century version of most languages would be fairly comprehensible to their modern speakers.)

    Even the time separating the elves from their ancestors who left the moons is only the time separating the modern Hellenic Republic from the lifetime of Pericles and Democritus. And unlike Greeks or Englishmen in almost all of that time-period, elves are not only all literate, but have the magical equivalent of multimedia recording, so their speech, dress, and other habits will change a lot less than humans have in similar periods. (Our dress and social mores shifted since the introduction of recording media, but those changes have to do with external factors; our speech has certainly changed much less than it would've without recordings.)
  • I recently got about three-quarters of the way through Ordination, first book of the "Paladin Trilogy" by Daniel M. Ford. I stopped because I suddenly realized I didn't give a damn about the story. There were two issues.

    The first is the aggressive genericness of the setting. It reads like D&D tie-in fiction, carefully purged of anything that would make a D&D setting worthwhile. There isn't anything particularly unique or interesting about any of the three main locations. The fortress the protagonist leaves at the beginning, the muddy-gritty port city he tracks the enslaved villagers to, or the dirt-farm village he takes them back to, all feel like generic locales from an RPG.

    The second, though, is the religion the protagonist is tasked with (re)founding. Ford is at such utter pains to assure us that it won't offend our modern Western secular sensibilities that he makes it in no way interesting. And the blinded monks are just ridiculous, an ugly caricature of asceticism. Actually I guess these are just one issue: shallowness. Shallow generic setting, shallow stereotyped religions—come to think of it the characters are pretty one-note too.
  • Remember how, on the basis of "twentyscore", I said you might (and my dwarves and elves do) call 1728X/1000XII "twelvegross"? You can (they do) also call, say, 36X/30XII "threedozen". Gotta leave 288X/200XII as "two gross", though, since "two hundred" isn't one word. (3456X/2000XII would likewise be "two twelvegross".) I also realized that 8000X/1000XX can just be "onescore twentyscore", the way 1000 is (sometimes) "ten hundred". Still have no earthly idea how they'd say 160,000X/10,000XX, though. "Twentyscore twentyscore"? You could call, say, 3 million "three thousand thousand", though normally "thousand thousand" is only poetic.
  • A trope in fantasy that I do not care for, particularly, is the "ancient things are better" trope. Ironically it's the Renaissance in a nutshell: "forget your cutting-edge warship design, we're just going with a reconstructed Roman quinquereme". You don't get that in the actual Middle Ages; though the medievals rightly admired Roman roads and aqueducts, and their pop culture depicted Vergil as a wizard, they didn't restrict themselves to Roman knowledge in things like agriculture, manufacturing, or building stone chimneys instead of open firepits in the middle of wooden houses. (Nor in philosophy, medicine, what we'd call "science", or law.)

    Especially common with swords, in fantasy, and I can see it when the sword is both historically significant and magical, like Narsil-Andúril. But something mundane, like "Valyrian steel", would be mostly Valyrian rust by just a few centuries later, if not very, very carefully maintained anyway. The medievals not only didn't bother trying to use Late Imperial spathae, they didn't even copy them. They innovated, changing the design of the fuller (e.g. stopping it several inches short of the tip, to improve its strength for stabbing), the taper of the blade, the proportions of the hilt and the shape of the guard, the angle the cutting-edge was sharpened to.

    And while I love me some "sealed ancient evil awakens" plots, you could change things up once in a while. Like, have some wizard's new research be the plot driver. (IIRC Warcraft strikes a good balance there.) Always remember, "modern progress" is a medieval concept.
  • An idea I had is to have the cities of the elves, dwarves, and gnomes in my setting have something a bit like a mythal from Forgotten Realms, and a bit like a Superintendent AI from Halo: but have it be a celestial. I'm thinking have it be one with a CR equal to a character who can cast the highest level spell available in the settlement in question (e.g. a CR 15 celestial, or a CR 16 one like a planetar anyway, for a "metropolis" where 8th-level spells are available). Like the city's priests bargain with the celestial, à la the "Binding Outsiders" rules from Ultimate Magic, and it becomes something like the tutelary spirit for the city. I'll have to work out the specific game-mechanic effects.

2019/06/26

Playing with Fantasy XII

Fantasy RPG thoughts.
  • I realized, elves' weights can be, more or less, attributed to them having muscle like a bird, requiring only 25% as much mass to do the same amount of work as human muscle. (An elf otherwise proportioned exactly like a human would be slightly heavier than the rules say, but the difference is probably within the range of variation between human body-types, too.) That would also explain their Constitution penalty—"robust" means both "resilient" and "opposite of gracile", for a reason. A lack of sheer mass can account for a lot of things; that's why even small amounts of alcohol are often fatal for birds, for example.
  • Had an interesting idea for my Draconic: have it, in written form and in things like sayings and aphorisms, always be three words long, or in sub-units of three words. There are two reasons for this. One, of course, is thu'umme, which are always three words long (except for "Devour Dragon Soul"—the shout only Miraak can use and only during the boss-fight with him—which is four, Zii los dii du); the other is four-character idioms. China is, after all, also associated with dragons, and given dragons in my setting mostly do their writing by scratching runes into boundary-markers, they would probably develop the same preference for terseness that Classical Chinese has.

    Also thought dragons could give two-part names to their wyvaran ("wyrm-kin") servants, which have no ties to either wyverns or kobolds in my setting, but were just made by the dragons based on the model of humanoid races—something between dragon-kin and draconians (I'll acknowledge the 4e/5e "dragonborn" when I get back from my dogsled tour of hell). Wyvaran names derive from the gems listed in Ultimate Equipment, and the precious metals you can make coins from. (Slightly changed my dragons' names so now the third element is types of treasure rather than their energy type. For most purposes, though, they go by an honorific consisting of their energy type and their age-category.)
  • Another thought I had for dragons is to give them "teeth" like a placoderm, e.g. Dunkleosteus. See, the reason birds lost their teeth, and replaced them with beaks, is that teeth are heavy. A placoderm does not, exactly, have teeth, but the cutting plates it uses instead make a shape much like the teeth of a carnivorous mammal, and if made of horn (I think those of the actual placoderms were just bone and maybe enamel) would be as light as a beak.

    So my dragons have chameleon pupils in eyes otherwise like those of a raptor, placoderm mouths—and the short face that goes with it—and Archaeopteryx wings, except with weird scale-feathers (I'm calling them "plates"). They use their wing-hands for manipulation; their other four feet are, I think, like those of a wolverine or (other) marten, with semi-retractable claws. I kinda wanted them to have a head-shape like a blunt-nosed shark, like tiger or bull sharks, but it would look goofy.
  • Was worried that elf swords, being a single leaf, gripped by the stem, would be dangerous to stab with, since you need a guard for that (though a shashka appears not to really need one—it's better for stabbing than most other sabers), and I couldn't think of a cool way to do one. Realized, though, if you put a cloth loop at the top of the hilt, where the guard would go, you can stick one finger through that and it'll keep your hand from sliding too far forward. (I'd already decided they wrap the hilt in cloth, made from the bark of the same tree the blade comes from.)

    Decided you maintain an elven, dwarven, or gnomish weapon (which are made from leaves, coralline algae, and fungi, respectively) by rubbing it with a nutrient-rich oil—because they're alive. Among other things, this lets them resist nonmagical rust without any other maintenance, by metabolizing the air away from the metallic portions of the weapon, like how some plants with nitrogen-fixing root nodules have hemoglobin, for keeping oxygen away from their symbiotic cyanobacteria. (Though even if they weren't alive, oiling the weapon regularly would probably prevent rust…)
  • I decided not to even have monks; they're possibly the least worthwhile class in the whole history of D&D. If I recall, Gygax admitted they were a mistake all the way back in 1st Edition, that's why they weren't in 2nd. If you were gonna have them, you'd pretty much have to go qinggong, and even then "unchained" only, with the fighter's hit die and attack progression. And really, if you want a barehanded martial artist, why not go with the unarmed fighter archetype? Or, if you like the "disciplined, mystical warrior" aspect, the enlightened paladin archetype from one of the Golarion books?

    About the only worthwhile thing monks contribute in Pathfinder (they contribute basically nothing in D&D proper) is the mechanic that makes the ninja rogue-archetype work. Well, and maybe the drunken master archetype from the Advanced Player's Guide and the elemental monk from another Golarion book, but the ability to play a drunken kung-fu practitioner or a bender à la Avatar still isn't worth it. Not least because the Avatar one is already available as the kineticist class from Occult Adventures, in a much more robust form (like the water one being able to armor themselves).
  • Speaking of archetypes that don't really justify their parent class's existence, I'm not going to use vigilantes, from Ultimate Intrigue—I've said D&D is "sword and sorcery superheroes" but that's a bit on the nose. Nevertheless, one of its archetypes does something that I respect. Namely, the magical child. It's a vigilante with some nerfed skill-points and fewer armor proficiencies and vigilante talents, in exchange for having a familiar and spellcasting like a summoner (also not using those, too complicated)…and the ability to transform in half the time, using magic. (No word on if they have to say "Htaed htrof sllac ohw eno eht ma i tub gnimrahc dna ylevol" to do it…)
  • Since I'm getting rid of monks, I had to redo my giants' names. They had been (I mentioned this before) named after cavalier orders and monk vows, but aside from how I'm getting rid of monks, it never really made much sense for giants to have cavaliers—certainly not so prominently as to name their kids after their orders. (I'm also still not sure which cavalier orders I'm having in my campaign.)

    I decided instead that Giantish names would be the various things you can make with the Craft and Artistry skills, plus the four quality-levels you can get locks in (presumably you could list those four levels for every item in the game, rather than only some of them having a common vs. masterwork distinction). I had been thinking of my giants' culture as based on tools and craft for a long time.
  • I apparently haven't mentioned it here but I realized, a good "hook" for my orcs and ogres, is to have them live or die by the audacity of their deeds. A chief who can win against overwhelming odds attracts more followers and wives, while one who fails loses them. (He's also likely to get Starscreamed by a follower, who may be one of his sons—that "knock off the old man, have a ready-made harem of all the wives except his own mother" thing I've talked about before.)

    Notice I say one who fails, not one who runs away. Every ogre or orc chief has a complex calculus of whether the payoff is worth it, in terms of how it affects him (and indirectly his followers, since you're not a chief without them). Fortunately for everyone concerned, they're also utterly shameless, so they have no qualms running away if they don't like the cost-benefit analysis; both fortunately and unfortunately, though, they're also not very bright, so they may do the calculations wrong and wind up getting killed. But usually only after making a lot of trouble.

    The interesting thing about this is it makes the orc penchant for cruelty a side-effect of their pure-ego mindset; they can't resist to gloat and power-trip over captives. (Here too it's fortunate they're not too bright, so they tend to accidentally kill their captives before they can get too creative tormenting them.) Another aspect is females gain prestige by the status of their husband and sons, by bearing sons, and by the status of their daughters' husbands—and each of a chief's wives is constantly backstabbing the others. (Females also gain status by being "wise women".)
  • My goblins, on the other hand, are fundamentally "lawful evil" even when individually they may be more neutral or even chaotic evil. A goblin (or hobgoblin, or bugbear) chief, like an ogre chief, is able to attract wives and followers by his deeds, but those deeds are more than just audacious slaughter—actually being able to maintain plans and infrastructure is a big part of them. Of course, so is ritual hunting of intelligent beings (which intelligent beings are not eaten). The wives usually at least tolerate each other, and often regard each other as sisters (if they aren't actually sisters or half-sisters—and they don't have the "Ottoman succession" murderous sibling-rivalries the ogres have).

    Thus, I went back to goblins being neutral evil, hobgoblins lawful evil, and bugbears chaotic evil. Or, rather, hobgoblins lawful evil, goblins neutral evil with lawful tendencies, and bugbears neutral evil with chaotic tendencies but dependent on lawful hobgoblin vassals. All three have similar familial arrangements, but goblins are much less ambitious or organized than hobgoblins (because survival is a more pressing concern for a weaker race), whereas bugbears are so strong they attract followers of the other two goblin races, and can completely devote themselves to hunting. Thus, except within their own families, bugbears are "chaotic".

2019/06/17

SIerra Foxtrot 15

SF thoughts. Mostly concerned with my attempts to work out zled astronomical nomenclature and related astrogational matters, and some military stuff.
  • Turns out 37 G. Gruis is too young, with the high estimate for its age being 4.1 billion years. So it won't work for the khângây sun. (I started looking into it because it's a double star and I don't know if those can support life, though the other is just an M-type red dwarf.) Considered putting them at 5 G. Capricornis, sandwiched between its two Neptune-like planets. But then decided no, I'll put them at α Mensae, the dimmest α-star in Earth's sky. The latter is a bit old at 5.4 billion years old, but mÕskoi, now being λ Serpentis, is 5.25 billion years old (taking the average of the estimates). That's not that much older than 4.54 billion years; both planets are drier than Earth, so maybe it took them longer to form life.
  • Decided to continue pursuing the zled celestial-coordinate naming after all. Realized I can express everything in microradians. At first I considered writing them in base-32, AKA duotrigesimal. See, there are 32 letters in the Zbin-Ãld alphabet; their normal numerals are letters of the alphabet—because they use acrophonic numerals, where each digit is represented by the number's first letter, except marked to indicate it's a number, the way Greek numerals are. Duotrigesimal, with only letters and not numerals (because it would be too confusing to use both), is a natural binary-derived code for them, the way hex is for us.

    The entire sky can only ever be up to 6,283,185 microradians, a full circle rounded to the nearest whole unit. That's only a five-digit number in base-32. And the Third Fundamental Catalogue of 1937, compiled to create a celestial reference-frame, is only accurate to within an arcsecond, so for "traditional" (i.e. "pre-space colonization") names of stars I think a microradian's nearly 5 times that precision is plenty. (Incidentally, I was actually wrong about the Bonner Durchmusterung system; it actually just gives the declination degree and then the order the stars were counted, starting from 0 right-ascension. Anyway, see below.)
  • But then I tried it out. The numbers were horrible, complete gibberish, like reading off the default password of a wifi router. Thought better of the whole duotrigesimal thing; now it's just decimal.

    I had had them calling the stars by the names of constellations I worked out—when they were at 59 Virginis, though, I think, not even 18 Scorpii (it's been a while since there's been a convenient tool for generating alien sky-maps, like the now sadly defunct "Extrasolar Skies" website was)—and then a number. Given how the Durchmusterung designations work, I just list the stars by one of fifteen constellations (or asterisms?) that occur at various points along their celestial equator (like a zodiac, but that's the ecliptic), and then by their declination; there are fifteen because 6,283,185 is divisible by both three and five.

    Given how zledo arrange large numbers (paired digits, not trios or quartets like most Earth languages), the number of microradians in the declination sounds okay—Sol's declination, for example, is 1.939186 radians, or 1,939,186 microradians. In speech that comes to "one million ninety-three myriad ninety-one hundred eighty-six", or, in practice usually, just "one ninety-three ninety-one eighty-six".
  • Turns out I might need the zled artillery to start using the topological defect warheads at a smaller scale than I'd planned, what with militaries now already working on plasma shields to protect things from the concussive force of explosions. Then again you might just have to get somewhat closer hits, because the plasma shields don't stop anything except the pressure-wave from blasts; with anti-tank fire (the context the shields are usually mentioned in), you probably want a relatively direct hit anyway, since the main thing we use against tanks nowadays is "long rod" explosively formed penetrators. (Actually you'd probably be protecting things a lot less armored than tanks, like AFVs, with the shields—we don't lob ordinary, big-blast artillery shells at tanks, it's not a very efficient way to destroy them.)
  • Oddly, English actually has a vocabulary for dealing with vigesimal (base-twenty) and duodecimal/dozenal (base-twelve), as well as decimal (I actually realized this working on my Pathfinder setting). For vigesimal, the numbers are the same from one to nineteen, and then you say "onescore". Forty is twoscore, then threescore is sixty, fourscore is eighty—all the way to nineteenscore, three hundred eighty. Then, four hundred is "twentyscore" (yes, real term), and then eight hundred (for example) is "two twentyscore". Things are a bit clunkier in duodecimal/dozenal, because the term for one thousand seven hundred twenty-eight is "great gross", which is inelegant. Personally instead I'd go (on the model of "twentyscore") with "twelvegross". E.g., three thousand six hundred twenty-four—3624X, 2120XII—is "two twelvegross one gross two dozen".

    I'm not sure how either one goes for powers above score squared or dozen cubed—the dozenal equivalent of a myriad might be "dozen twelvegross", though, the way the thousand-superbase equivalent is "ten thousand". (In a D&D setting it's not an issue since numbers above the thousands come up very seldom in practice.)

    Interestingly there's a system halfway between dozenal/duodecimal and decimal, the "long hundred", where a "hundred" is defined as twelve tens not ten tens, and a thousand is twelve times ten times ten (or ten "long" hunreds, I guess?)—with ten tens being "tenty" and eleven tens being "eleventy". Tolkien did not coin the term "eleventy-one". That was actually the norm in West and I think North Germanic languages up to quite recent times; there are medieval glosses of Latin documents, for those languages, that specify that Latin defines one hundred "tenty-wise". The advantage, of course, is that incorporating the twelves increases the number of factors you get to work with; if I had my druthers the metric system would be ten long hundreds ("long thousands", an actual term) not ten "short"/"tenty-wise" hundreds. (Incidentally, sixty has most of the same advantages in this regard that the long hundred has—which is probably why Mesopotamian numbers are sexagesimal.)
  • Of course, for actual astrogation (I am very pleased that Blogger or my browser, whichever one is checking my spelling, knows that word), zledo don't use anything as provincial as equatorial coordinates derived from their homeworld: they use galactic coordinates. Those are the same between Earth and Lhãsai, except they actually center theirs at Sagittarius A*, and their longitude is 273,957,125 nanoradians (15°41'47.7126") to the west of ours (through λ Serpentis not Sol), and their latitude plane ("equator") is 2,094,395 nanoradians (0°07'12") south of ours. That, and their coordinate system does rotate over time—the way a planetary one does—because it's utterly bizarre that it currently doesn't. (I would dearly love to know the intellectual pedigree of that decision.)

    I think in my future the humans will also have decided that their galactic coordinate system should rotate; I'll have to figure out the year they decide that. Then I just go with the number of years separating that from 2000 and multiply it by 5.7 milliseconds-of-arc (no not "milliarcseconds" that's stupid). I like 2140; if it's 2140 then the zled longitude is 273,957,122 nanoradians (15°41'46.9146") west of ours, because its coordinate changes from 0°07'12" S, 15°41'47.7126" E, to 0°07'12"S, 15°41'46.9146" E.

    The only other issue is what unit to express their "altitude" from the galactic center in. For that I figure I'll define something as a "unit circle" and then express distances as a fraction of that. Unfortunately the size of a galaxy is quite literally nebulous, but I could for example work with the current estimated radius of 129,000 light-years. λ Serpentis is 29,346.864055 light years from the galactic center, which is 0.22749507019 galactic radii, or, say, round it down to 0.227495 (a precision of about an eighth of a light year), which is 45,499/200,000—"four myriad fifty-four hundred ninety-nine twenty-myriadths", in zled terms. (I could also maybe do some multiple of the thickness of the thing; the galaxy is very far from spherical, after all.)
  • In a star-system, on the other hand, zledo just project a latitude/longitude system out from the star, with its equator at the system's ecliptic, and define north, south, east, west, up, and down relative to that (up and down being "away from the star" and "toward the star", same as they are when longitude and latitude are defined relative to a planet instead). Though they measure latitude and longitude in a full circle not a half one, and in radians not degrees. Think they just define altitude in actual length units, though they could treat some distance (say, the astropause or the inner termination shock) as a unit-circle and express distances as a fraction of that. But it's really hard to find information on the astrosphere of other stars, so I'm not doing it that way.
  • Realized I need some way for zled armor to dump the energy when it gets hit. Decided to have a series of fans suck air through, on planets (doesn't have to be breathable air—the suit's respirator-system is completely separate), and sort of "wings" with radiators, in space. The latter has the advantage of looking cool and science fiction-y, with an actual justification. You could probably lower the efficiency of the armor by hitting it with something that'll gum up the air-intakes, but zledo aren't going to sit still while you do that (plus it's still composite metal foam wrapped in boron nitride nanotubes, as far as human weapons are concerned). The radiator "wings" are more vulnerable, but they presumably mainly use those for EVAs, not fighting. (If you're getting shot at by small arms in a vacuum, odds are something is very pear-shaped anyway. Most of the things someone's going to shoot you with in space will vaporize you, no matter what armor you have.)

    Might also need to work in that the zledo came up with this metamaterial armor because they switched to lasers to defeat composite metal foam, since lugging around the kind of ammo that can beat it ballistically is a hassle; the new foam is still only effective against lasers out to the ranges where full-powered rifle rounds are effective against our highest levels of body-armor. I'm also switching the graphene layer of their armor (and uniforms) to boron nitride nanosheets, for the simple reason that graphene's strength decreases when you stack multiple layers of it, while that of the BN nanosheets doesn't. The BN ones also have, I think, higher thermal conductivity, and seem to be less chemically volatile than graphene. (Also apparently BN nanosheets can be used for adsorption of chemicals—like odors, which give away zledo's feelings, which they consider immodest—which means they don't need a separate layer for that, just for anechoic effect.)