2017/12/17

De romanicorum theoriarum XI

  • Turns out I can actually pretty much avoid the need for any cases at all, in my gnomish language, by using the benefactive and instrumental for two different forms of genitive. I just use prepositions instead of an oblique case.

    I'd initially just had person (first, second, third animate, third inanimate) indicated by which of four vowels each suffix used, and used four other, related vowels for the plural; then I'd mark the inflections (subject, object, benefactive, instrumental) with consonants.

    But since I'd built the word-roots around vowel-harmony, that was inelegant. So instead I based the inflections on the vowels (one set each for each of my two vowel-harmony classes), and the person indicated with consonants, with different consonants for singular and plural.
  • Much is made, by people who get their news from the popular media, of that incident with the Facebook bots having to be shut down after they were set to interact with each other. Histrionics from all sides about "AIs creating their own language" and other malarkey. All that really happened was the programmers forgot to set a constraint on the outputs generated when the two bots started using each other's outputs as inputs, so that all their outputs would remain human-readable. Absent such a constraint, the programs did something we've observed for years and can easily predict and correct—they came up with their own shorthand, along the lines of saying "this" five times to mean "five of this".

    A minor hiccup. So far from them having to shut down the project in terror at what they'd wrought, as the media presented it, the programmers just had to switch them back to talking normal, since the goal was developing automated systems that people can use. Interpreting this as the incipient creation of strong AI and the harbinger of the robot uprising is like if you took your dog to a kennel, it picked up a bad habit from another dog, and you shot your dog in fear of its soon gaining the ability to take on human shape. (As that Snopes article notes, Elon Musk probably bears some of the blame. Musk who is not, you'll note, a computer scientist, neurologist, or philosopher, but a materials-scientist who also has a bachelor's in economics.)
  • Decided that my cultures will have specific types of names. Elves are named aspects of the World Tree, or of foxes or crows (their two moieties—though they have bilateral kinship unlike most moieties). Dark elves are likewise named after aspects of assassin vines, and bats and seals (they were a different society on their homeworld and so have different moieties); goblins use a psychoactive conifer shrub (something like Ephedra, AKA "Mormon tea"), shrikes, and cats. Dwarves are all named jobs, in the form "imperfect verb, noun", ("makes shields"="armorer"). That also goes for dark dwarves and ogres/orcs, of course with more sinister jobs; dark dwarves' jobs are mostly "magic mad science" related, while those of ogres are more related to their savage lifestyle. Gnomes (including spriggans) are named qualities like "cheerful" or "inventive", with the spriggan names being less cheery than the normal gnome ones. (Think I might use the same kinds of names for kobolds; it's pretty common to be influenced by your enemies.)

    I had had my humans (and halflings) named "something to do with daytime or summer" plus "part of one of the totem animals", while the Ancients were named combinations of "something to do with the sea and wind" plus "part of a fiend". (In ancient times I think they were both named "any natural condition favorable to any purpose" plus "aspect of man".) But that was too similar to my elves' naming-scheme, and the results often didn't sound good in my languages. So instead I now have the adults named after dates (children I think just have single-word nicknames); I don't think they use their birthdate, since that can be used to witch you, but maybe the date of their adulthood ceremony (which I guess they do on an individual basis rather than communally, or else everyone the same age would have the same name). Then they take a middle name, based on the date they acceded to power or were initiated into a totem-society, and their last name is either their own or their parents' wedding-date, depending if they're married or not. (Hey, you never forget your anniversary if you're using it as a surname.)
  • If you'll recall, my humans divide the year into tenths ("year-tithes"). Had had them named after the totem animals, but decided the calendar actually predated the adoption of that religion, and was inherited from the Ancients. Now "year-tithes" are named for the ten mysteries oracles had, as originally presented in the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide, since oracles were the first priests humans had (and are the only non-witch priests the Ancients still have). As I said, if half the tithes have thirty-six days and half have thirty-seven, you get 365 days. (I'm ignoring leap years.) Conveniently, given that people take their names from dates—so that people don't have to have "thirty-five" in their names—there are thirty-seven cleric domains, if you count the four that were added to the original thirty-three, so they can be called e.g. "War-Wind" instead of "31-Wind". There are also thirty-seven witch-patrons (or rather themes for them), excluding some of the ones from more obscure expansions; those are used by the Ancients instead of the cleric domains, and by witches of other societies as pseudonyms (using the date of their initiation as witches). Presumably people once had more unwieldy names?

    The elves' and dwarves' native calendars are just the days of the month—originally the number of cycles the planet made in their sky in the course of their homeworlds' (the moons) day. Elves name the days of their month after the twenty-seven schools and sub-schools of arcane magic, and dwarves use the sixteen different kinds of thing you can make an alchemy bomb do. Those two are used something like the days of the week on our calendar, so a given date would be something like "Abjuration-Frost, 31st of Wind", or whatever. Also gave my gnomes a calendar of twenty divisions—think maybe they'll use vigesimal numbers—named for the twenty sorcerer bloodlines in the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player's Guide; think their calendar is used by the elves and dwarves, too, for measuring the planet's years. (Presumably elves and dwarves used to have their own way of measuring the year, since you can see the year changing from the moon—though the math is a lot more complicated since your point of view does an epicycle every couple dozen days—but the gnomish one is almost certainly simpler and more convenient for living on the planet.)
  • I would still like to know why the people who write Halo, who can clearly do all kinds of top-notch research and worldbuilding based on it, can't get it through their heads how fusion works. I've mentioned how you can't make a fusion reactor go critical.

    But in the fifth one, you actually hear them talking about cooling the reactor. Uh...there is no cooling system in a fusion reactor, not directly; there's shielding and there might be something to dump the waste-heat but the whole thing works by getting everything very, very hot. Also the core temperature that's mentioned—1373 Kelvin—isn't hot enough to do any kind of fusion (it's a bit over a hundred Kelvin shy of the melting point of most steel). The bare minimum for fusion is 13 million Kelvin.

    Also, maybe the UNSC doesn't have better reactor-safety protocol than the Covenant; maybe the Covenant just use something more dangerous as a power-source. Fission, for instance, would be much more dangerous than fusion...in any setting where fusion didn't behave exactly like fission, anyway. It's possible that whatever powers Covenant technology involves a much more volatile reaction than fusion; we're talking about people who use rockets that expel a propellant with negative mass, after all.
  • A lot of fiction, e.g. Burroughs's Mars, presents ancestor-worship as the only good religion, and worship of other things as bad. But one of the most evil ideologies ever, Neo-Confucianism—probably the world's first totalitarian movement—involves ancestor-worship, and props up other cults only insofar as it can use them for social control. It brutally persecutes any religion it can't make into a state ministry, and corrupts those that are amenable to being used that way (had "State Shinto" had any right to the name, it would've feared the wrath of the Eight Hundred Myriad Gods). Stoicism acted similarly with the Roman household cult, which wasn't distinguished from ancestor-worship the way the (e.g.) Korean one is.

    So in my setting, I decided, the humans' ancestor-cults led indirectly to the Ancients' corruption, by encouraging a type of extended family "amoral familism" as typified by the Arab saying "me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousin; me, my brother, and my cousin against the world". The Ancients had no reason not to enslave all the rest of mankind, and the other humans had no reason to work together, until the common bond of the totem-cult came along. Plus the ancestors would not be all that strong, not compared to the fiend-lords, which would lead the Ancients down the path of witchery ("if I cannot persuade heaven, I shall appeal to hell") as well as giving an incentive for the others to accept the totems' law.
  • Realized I can actually have a worldbuilding reason (besides "they thought it was as cool as I do") for the revived samurai of my future Japan, to talk like period-drama characters. The speech-mannerism actually originates from the people running the red-light districts of, IIRC, Edo, but as that was the center of the samurai subculture it makes sense they'd pick it up. There's more to it than just using humble and honorific verbs in the plain rather than the polite register—humble and honorific terms are typically used for talking to and about customers, who obviously get polite usage too—but that's the most noticeable feature of it.

    The reason the revived samurai—my "SF trope made realistic" version of cyberpunk's "street samurai"—talk that way, is that they began as infosec contractors, who later also became freelance personal security. Now, contractors, in Japan, talk about their customers using honorific terms, and their own company with humble ones. But those verbs tend to be longer—"de gozaimasu"/"de irasshaimasu" rather than "desu" or "da", for example. You waste several extra morae (the equivalent of one short-vowel, single consonant syllable—long vowels and geminated consonants count extra) just to say the same thing. You can cut down by two or three by switching them to the plain forms. And it makes you sound (kind of) like a samurai.

    Given that, in Japan as here, IT people tend to also be other kinds of nerd—there is a reason Akihabara was originally mostly amateur-radio shops—it stands to reason that they would probably like sounding like fictional characters. From "humble and honorific verbs, but in the plain form rather than polite" to "talk like a samurai" is only a matter of switching some personal references and using some peculiar idioms (like katajikenai—something like "embarrassed"—for "thank you").
  • Will people kindly quit trying to make Lucifer a sympathetic character? Not because of any moral issues but because no angel is something we can really feel empathy for. They make Azathoth and Yog-Sothoth look like comforting anthropomorphisms; at least those two kind of interact with time as we know it.

    Angels don't. An angel is like a color or a number—they're basically self-aware concepts. And while they have self-awareness, that self-awareness is fundamentally unlike ours. For example, they don't learn; they just know everything they can know, by the simple fact of being themselves (the good ones are also granted knowledge by the grace of God). Learning is a change, you have to exist in time to do it.

    Where traditional Islamic and Jewish thought says they have no free will, Christian theology instead says they only exercise it once—they don't exist within time, so they don't choose what they're going to do, only what they're going to be, and all their action from that point onward (as we have to conceive of it, being native to space-time) is simply in other beings partaking of their essence.
  • Decided, since my campaign doesn't use the Pathfinder cosmology (e.g. I use only the wings-and-horns fiends, plus succubi), that my version of the nightshades (undead fiends) will not actually be undead fiends, but rather fiends of undeath. I.e. they are the immortal servants of the power of (un)death, something like a Gravemind, or Nekron in Green Lantern—a resentful power of lifelessness and the cold dark void that enviously desires the destruction and enslavement of all living beings.

    Not sure what my setting's celestials are, other than that I use the "angels" (or aasimar as we knew that group of sixers in my day, berk) as the main ones, the equivalent of the nightshades for the fiends. Think I'll have agathions, with more variable alignments, as the servants of the totem gods and azatas as the servants of the elvish deities; the inevitables (with an alignment shift) become the servants of the dwarf gods and I guess the aeons (also alignment-shifted) servants of the gnomish ones?

    I know in my setting elementals are the more neutral outsiders, rather than things like psychopomps and aeons; there's also room for things like kami and house spirits.

2017/11/12

Mélange III

The random thoughts are the Spice! The Spice is the random thoughts!
  • Discovered, while working on my conlangs, Proto-Indo-European was freaking weird. The vowel is basically optional, its specific quality depending only on stress or accent; it defaulted to *e but could be *o or *[nothing] in some circumstances. The *a, *u, and *i vowels were originally a *e followed by an *h, *y, or *w sound (respectively), not independent phonemes. The same root could also appear prefixed with an *s or *h, seemingly at random; the *h seems to have turned into an *a at a late point.

    The fact that the vowels were so variable lends, I think, credence to the theory that Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic (like Berber or Semitic) are related, although the latter can put the vowels around its three consonants in almost any arrangement and the former always only puts them in the middle of its up-to-three before or after. (I'm not sure if *s- or *h- count against the "up to three at the beginning" rule; both seem to have been appended at random. Again, the *h often turned into an *a later on.)
  • I'm alternately amused and irritated when anime talk about the Spanish Inquisition as being so horrible. Because, Japan? Buddy? The Tokugawa shogunate killed 100,000-200,000 in 220 years, just at the Kozukappara execution-ground, and another 100,000 at Suzugamori; I can't find any numbers for the Itabashi one (apparently Kondô Isami is as important as every other person executed there put together), but it was probably comparable. And that doesn't count the hundreds if not thousands of harakiri that members of the warrior class were forced to commit. The Spanish Inquisition, aside from using much milder tortures than the shogunate, executed 3000-5000 people in 356 years. I.e., the shogunate killed something like 100 times as many people, in less than two-thirds as long.
  • Apparently there's another reason not to use particle beam personal weapons: they're freaking impossible. If the beam's plasma is at a higher pressure than the air, it just becomes a cloud instead of a beam. If the plasma is at a lower pressure, you're putting less energy downrange. Plus, the beam's impact with the air is going to irradiate you—Winchell Chung compares it to "sending a load of red-hot buckshot through a room full of dynamite...when you are standing inside the room".

    Looks like a lot of particle-beam weapons would also have inferior penetration to lasers for the equivalent amount of energy, since more of the energy put into a laser beam hits the target (most of the energy put into a particle beam is wasted on getting the particles moving in the first place). Basically the only time you're going to bother with particle beams is when you have big facilities with the power to burn, like how our current laser weapons and rail-/coilguns are vehicle-only. And even then, in space.
  • I don't know what to think of Star Trek: Discovery. A lot of people are offended by the political subtext that apparently lies just below the surface, but I mean, Star Trek has always had that element of a children's hospital head-injury ward putting on PSA skits. I kinda like most of the new characters, going from the first episode, though apparently the ship in the pilot isn't the one we're going to be seeing for most of it. I don't know how much of the crew in the pilot is going to carry over.

    Now, of course, the Klingon "villains" are clearly 100% in the right, in their resistance to Federation cultural imperialism, but that, too, is not unheard-of for Star Trek villains. One of the people criticizing Discovery actually complained that post-Abrams Trek wasn't "cerebral". I mean, it's not; but the implication was that this is one of its variances from Trek canon. I'm pretty sure the choice between mindless action and mindless tedium in a staff-meeting is simply a matter of taste.

    And a lot of people complaining about the politics involved also complained that the Klingon scenes were in Klingon. Um...what? All aliens should talk alien languages all the time, if remotely practicable; complaints about having to read subtitles are quite inaudible to me, I consume most of my television in subtitled form. Similarly, the new look of Klingons? Yes please. They had to do something; the ol' "only a rubber forehead" approach just wasn't going to cut it, when these are the main alien of the second or third most popular science fiction franchise in the Western world.
  • On the other hand, the new Ducktales? Holy mackerel is it good. While making Webby just the product of Dipper and Mabel doing the Fusion Dance might not be the most creative choice, Webby in the original was awfully close to Scrappy Doo territory, and that's no way to live.

    Having Donald as a semi-regular is a nice touch, though I think the nephews should talk a bit more like him—occasionally in the original they would devolve into Donald-esque squawking if they got angry. Apparently (presumably after Gizmo Duck shows up), they may have Darkwing, which is astounding.

    About the only way it could be better would be if they can figure out a way to give Donald elemental magic and a zipper on his hat.
  • Another thing that was good was, I just got Battle Chasers: Nightwar. It's a really good JRPG that doesn't happen to have been made in Japan. One thing I thought was funny was that you have the option of putting the voices in Japanese—an option you don't have in most imported games, despite the fact the Japanese audio for those didn't cost any extra money. You don't really have to, though, since the English voice-work is actually really good. Unlike Breath of the Wild, which has some of the worst I've seen in years.
  • Mention of Breath of the Wild reminds me of something people say that happens to be the opposite of the truth, namely that doing the unexpected is a good thing, in writing. It's really not, not when the expected thing is narratively satisfying and makes artistic, aesthetic sense. In Breath of the Wild, for instance, the relatives of the dead Champions ought to replace them as the masters of the Divine Beasts. It was the obvious choice—in the sense that the obvious choice in a mystery is to have the protagonist brood in the shower while washing themselves in the manner generally learned when around ten years old, rather than slipping on the soap and dying, and the plot then being sidetracked onto dealing with that fact.

    One writer who gets undeserved praise for doing this a lot, is George "Rape Rape" Martin. Whenever something would make narrative sense, whether it be by genre convention or just not being puerile, mean-spirited, and subconsciously misogynist, he does the opposite. Then the kind of people who probably mistake a painting hung the wrong way up for a bold artistic statement lavish him with praise. Except when the expected thing is actually stupid, like people dying only when someone else does something—if your setting is "everyone can die", in the name of "realism", they really ought to die more often in riding accidents or from bad water while on campaign, than murder. That unexamined trope is in full force, though.

    As in politics, "subversion" is only a good thing when it serves a definite, genuinely desirable purpose—and is proportional to the aims sought. When it doesn't, it's just vandalism. Or terrorism.
  • I had worried about whether zledo having red and blue camouflage markings makes sense, but there could be an explanation. Part is that their typical mammal-analogue prey is as crepuscular as they are; night vision is as monochrome for them as for Earth animals. The main thing camouflage does in that kind of light is break up silhouettes.

    Another part is that their non-crepuscular prey—or the main predators of their ancestors, remember that their world is basically Mesozoic in many regards—can see in near-UV, and the markings, which are anthocyanin, might show up in that wavelength the same way that markings on the plants do. No reason their plants wouldn't have markings visible in near-UV, for pollinators, like ours. There are also plenty of things about minerals that are "shiny" in near-UV, so the camouflage would also give some benefit without plants around.

    Besides, a lot of animals have better camouflage in brush than in open land, e.g. tigers. Maybe the zled "race" (which I'm now calling "ecotype", since that's what the visible "races" are) that loses its spots in adulthood only had to worry about that sort of predation in childhood, like the predators aren't big enough to take adults.

2017/10/24

De fabularum mirabilium III

Fantasy thoughts, only a few of them related to the icosahedral amusements, and most of those indirectly.
  • Came up with a Common Tongue for my D&D/Pathfinder setting. After fooling around with something inspired by Proto-Indo-European, decided to go with something inspired by Númenorean, but with an agreement system vaguely similar to Bantu or Nahuatl. My Elvish and Dwarvish languages, like most Elvish and Dwarvish languages, are also influenced by Tolkien's, but my Elvish has elements of Basque and Tibetan and my Dwarvish has elements of Polynesian (like having volitional and non-volitional genitives—tell me that doesn't seem like something dwarves would do) and Japanese. Both are also really "verb-heavy", where the base-form of almost every part of speech is a verb.

    Based my fiendish language a bit on Black Speech, but, like my Elvish and Dwarvish, made very verb-heavy. (Had briefly fooled around with basing it on R'lyehian, but only I could pronounce the result, and it was a chore even for me. My fiendish does separate stems from inflections with apostrophes, though, because of R'lyehian. Yes it's a cheap way to make a word look outlandish; sometimes you're just in the mood for cup ramen, though.) Inspired by the fact parts of Black Speech are pidgin Valarin (e.g. nazg "ring" is from naškad), my celestials actually speak the same language, but with a different set of roots (basically everything in fiendish is a pejorative and everything in celestial is an honorific term), some sound-changes, and the apostrophes deleted or turned into H or a doubled consonant. Elementals speak the same language too, but with a more normal mix of pejoratives, honorifics, and neutral terms. (I'm guessing the fiends also talk the celestial register to their superiors.)

    Based my "evil Atlantean" human language on Valyrian from Game of Thrones, since Martin is basically Earth-3's Tolkien (he's certainly not "America's Tolkien", unless Girls' Generation is the Korean Bolshoi; that laurel is probably for the brows of Howard or Leiber). But since I have nothing but respect for David Peterson, who created Valyrian for the show (because Martin is not a linguist), I also took inspiration for my Gnomish language from his Shiväisith, the Dark Elf language he created for Thor: The Dark World. Only, because I wanted a highly polysynthetic Gnomish (inspired by Dragonlance gnomes' interminable names), I made it verb-heavy again, and had every verb inflect for (up to) its subject, its object, its instrumental, and its benefactive. (Nouns, thus, only inflect—apart from the inflections of the verb forming their stem—for two cases, namely genitive and oblique, everything else being word-order and agreement with the sentence's main verb.)
  • Other than that, made a Giantish language inspired by Zentraedi (the Robotech RPG version not the impossible-to-pronounce Studio Nue version), a Draconic language inspired by Dovahzul (as iconically the speech of dragons as Quenya is the speech of elves), and a scaly-creatures-other-than-dragons language, influenced by the Parseltongue language they created for the Harry Potter movies. (Yeah, they actually made one, for the, like, twelve words of Parseltongue spoken in eight films. At least they used it at all; Hack Snyder cut the one scene where Russell Crowe's Jor-El speaks in the Kryptonian conlang, in Man of Steel.)

    The scaly-creatures language, I decided, is my setting's equivalent of Undercommon, spoken by kobolds and troglodytes (actually the same race, like goblins and hobgoblins), lizardfolk, serpentfolk, skum, and sahuagin; the last two replace the fricatives that are the language's only consonants, with liquids and liquid-stop combos. (I.e., "glub" noises.) I think it'll originally have been the speech of the nagas—who, as aberrations, also speak Fiendish, but they made a bunch of servants and gave them a language that suited their mouths. Of course, the skum (and sahuagin, and maybe the kobolds and troglodytes) were made by the aboleths, but maybe they had help from the naga on making intelligent reptilians.

    Did my damnedest to make sure "ka nama kaa lajerama" is not pronounceable to the scaly-kind language's speakers.
  • Turns out the numbered ages found in fantasy might come from Augustine, who divided history into six or maybe seven ages: antediluvian, Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian captivity, Babylonian captivity to Christ, and the current age until the end of the world. The seventh would be after the Second Coming. Interestingly, and to my knowledge wholly independently, some Nahuatl Christians, going off some of what the Guadalupana said, characterize Christ as the ruler of a sixth of the "suns" that divide up Nahuatl cosmology—one that exists after the end, and thus outside, of the cycle of the previous five.
  • I'm always a little amused by the people who say you can't have temperate forests, deserts, and frozen terrain as close together as fantasy portrays them. I mean, sure, in a quasi-European setting maybe not—though it's something like 100 kilometers from the Bardenas Reales desert to the Navarran Pyrenees, so only if we assume quasi-European means northern Europe.

    But I'm from Arizona; the largest contiguous stand of ponderosa pines in the world, temperate forest, is maybe an hour's drive (a day on horseback, though getting down would take longer without the highway cut into the rock) from the deserts below the Mogollon Rim. The record low in my hometown is -30° Fahrenheit (-34.4° Celsius); the record high in my mother's is 117° Fahrenheit (47.2° Celsius). Every climatic condition except true tropics is found in Arizona; we even have arctic conditions (minus the six-month daytimes) atop a couple of the mountains.

    Those deserts in Spain, by the way, are the reason the US southwest has common-law principles governing its water-rights.
  • People who don't like "simple" good vs. evil stories in fantasy, are mostly complaining about something that doesn't exist. Tolkien, for example, isn't "good vs. evil" in any simplistic sense. Maybe it looks that way if you ignore that the Rohirrim hunt the Púkel-men and quite possibly Dunlendings for sport; or if you don't know why, exactly, there are any Eldar in Middle-Earth in the first place. It's actually just "vs. evil", hampered at every turn by the fact most of them aren't actually "good".

    And other than Orcs and Trolls (which are bioroids engineered for psychopathy), plenty of Sauron's minions are not actually evil. E.g. the Haradrim: why do you believe the men of Gondor are right about them being "ever ready to [Sauron's] will"? Tolkien was a German in the British Army in the Great War (a fact that refutes just about everything idiots say about his work); he knew quite well that people who are in the right on the war itself might have quite a few unfair perceptions of their enemy.

    Sword and sorcery is even more "vs. evil", good optional. Conan is a thug with a couple rules and Fafhrd and the Mouser don't even have all that many of those. But the things they fight, regularly golf with Cthulhu.
  • I had thought that isekai was bad because it's used so much in bad light novels, and light novels are usually bad. But then I discovered that no, isekai is just bad, period, with a few individual exceptions. I discovered this from reading the first of Andre Norton's Witch World novels—or the first half of it, and then I had to stop because I didn't give a damn. Norton isn't a bad writer in herself but I can't get into those books.

    And I think I know what it is: you waste a whole chapter on establishing a person as an inhabitant of our world, and then you send them to another world and have to establish that. Rather than wasting all that time on the person who's going to another world, use the time establishing an inhabitant of the world, and establishing the world through them and their place in it. Why bother with them being from our world? They can still need all the exposition the audience requires them to get; just make them be from somewhere Podunk-y, like the Shire.

    Which is not to say that there is no difference between the Witch World books and In Another World With My Smartphone—only one of them is actually a tie-in to advertise euthanasia, after all.
  • I decided to make my male ogres just be ogres, again, instead of hill giants, like how my male hobgoblins are no longer bugbears. Decided to reflect the increased dimorphism of my "savage humanoid" races by putting males and females in different classes: male goblins, ogres, and orcs are warriors, female goblins are experts, female ogres and orcs are commoners, male hobgoblins are rangers (as I've mentioned before), and female hobgoblins are alchemists. (I guess this converts ogres to an "advances only by class-levels" race.)

    One thing this means is female orcs actually have Intelligence 11, since the stat-block you use for commoners gives them Int 13 and orcs are at -2 to Int (and Wis, and Cha). Maybe only female orcs speak Common as well as "Orcish" (Ogrish, in my setting), since the males have Int 7? I use the ability adjustments from D&D 3.5 for ogres, since I'm giving them class-based rather than monster ability scores; female ogres have Int 10 and Str 20, while the males have Int 5 and Str 24 (I assume that the "ability-score boost every four levels" applies to monsters too).

    I think male goblins and hobgoblins sometimes engage in peaceable trade with other races, since their wives, being experts and alchemists, produce things like weapons and armor (and potions, in the hobgoblins' case). Basically like the goblins in Warcraft except the males are the merchants and the females are the mad scientists, rather than all being both.
  • Guess this means I should do the same with kobolds and troglodytes; kobolds are already statted as warriors, but I'll probably change that to experts, with the troglodytes being the warrior ones. At least in my setting, they don't have much sexual dimorphism, being gregarious intelligent reptiles and, therefore, monogamous (K-selected non-mammals are more frequently monogamous because, lacking the ability to feed their young from the mother's metabolism, paternal care is more important).

    Ditto for the lizardfolk, except make them all warriors, other than the lizard scions, which I'll probably give levels in fighter (which makes them a mite tougher, whereas statting as warriors made the average ogre a bit weaker). Might re-stat the serpentfolk as adepts or maybe witches, which would make them a bit weaker (as monstrous humanoids they have d10 hit dice), but drastically increase their magic. Obviously the degenerates wouldn't change. I don't think my setting has boggards, and not just because that's properly a synonym of "bugbear". If it did I'd stat them as warriors.

    It occurs to me that it probably sucks to be a reptilian humanoid in an Ice Age setting, but the reptiles did survive the last glacial period. Presumably they only live in the warm(ish) lowlands; a reptile actually has several advantages in a steppe environment, since they're adapted to dry conditions.

2017/09/24

Sierra Plus One, Foxtrot Plus Two

More fantasy and SF thoughts.
  • People keep whining about the idea of "evil races" in things like D&D. But, aside from the fact psychopathy has a congenital component and probably also an environmental one—if you are raised by orcs you'll act like an orc even if it's not innate—there have been cultures that act, at least toward others, like orcs, and others whose internal dealings were, at times, pretty orc-like. Besides, bonobos and chimpanzees are pretty "evil"; if something, like Tree of Life, gave them intelligence without changing their behavior, you'd have orcs, straight up—even without Protectors being psychopaths.

    Even if we taboo orcs, the fact remains that the difference between drow and other elves, minus its physical manifestation, happens all the time in history. New nations routinely form from the adoption of a new ideology or way of life. The only difference between Serb, Croat, and Bosnian, or Pakistani and Indian, is religion. The Apache are Navajos who wear their hair down, use more than six types of animal "medicine", and don't bother about the four sacred mountains; the Comanche are Shoshone who got Spanish horses left behind after the Pueblo Revolt and became horse-nomads.

    Still trying to figure out how "Germans became evil when they adopted the ideology of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei" is an unremarkable statement but "the Illythiiri became evil when they adopted the worship of Araushnee, now called Lolth" is somehow a hate-crime.
  • That O'Neill Cylinder-based space colony is a bit big. Apparently, though, his Island Two—a modified Bernal Sphere 1800 meters in diameter—might also be large enough for weather. A hemisphere of the same volume is only 2,857.32 meters in diameter. That's a base area of 6,412,210 square meters, slightly larger than the city of Falls Church, Virginia, which has about 14,000 people.
  • Going back to the 64- and 32-millimeter zled laser lenses; they don't lose that much range relative to the 86- and 43-millimeter ones, and they're a lot easier to design around (like, instead of the long laser being 4 millimeters shy of four inches—as big as a Soviet anti-aircraft gun—it's one millimeter shy of three).

    Zledo are a bit bigger than humans, of course, so they can carry a bigger weapon than us—even so, though, a 64-millimeter laser is the equivalent of one of those 50-millimeter mortars from World War II. But you could totally stick some manner of grip or stock on one of those, and carry it as a main infantry weapon, without getting a second look.

    Making the anti-materiel laser be the one with the 86-millimeter lens; sniper weapons often look pretty awkward.
  • Apparently while helping with the movie (franchise) of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, among the many ways Rowling revealed herself to be unteachable rabble, is she had the skinwalkers be Native American wizards, persecuted by medicine-men because medicine-men are fakes. And what does the Social Justice internet say is the problem with this? Oh, it's cultural appropriation. Really? That's your problem with this "Philip Pullman on steroids" crap? That's like criticizing Nazi Germany for its tax policies!

    And as my sister points out, it's a wasted opportunity. They could've had skinwalkers be (what they are) dark wizards for whom the creation of a horcrux is Tuesday—and that be why American wizards had nothing to do with Voldemort or Grindelwald. Hard to worry about anyone else's Dark Lords when you have to deal with dark wizards who've been doing it since at least the 1100s, possible even the 900s. (The cannibalism at Chaco may well indicate such things—skinwalkers aren't originally Navajo, they're the Hopi popwaktu, and in Hopi culture, as in the rest of the language-group, it's cannibalism that makes the witch.)

    Ah, but that would involve knowing about things, doing research. They're against that, in Britain. Start researching things and before you know it, you might get silly notions like that Papists are people, and maybe shouldn't be robbed and murdered at every opportunity. And then they have to bring in backwoods German squires to replace entire dynasties dating back over half a millennium, and murder hundreds of thousands of people for objecting to it. Best to avoid the possibility altogether.
  • Speaking of people doing bad sequels to their own work, I'm glad that I'm not the only one who noticed how much cheaper lightning- and metal-bending got, in Korra compared to Avatar. Now, admittedly, all bending got a lot cheaper (primary school child masters elements it normally takes Avatars years to master), but lightning bending is supposed to be like, say, Bankai, in Bleach, while metal bending was straight-up Visored-ness. I can see Toph maybe having students who can do it, but a whole police force? Also Toph "Chaotic Neutral" Beifong, as a cop? Right.
  • It may have occurred to you, regarding that thing in the last post, that just because objects are invisible in near-IR on the day side of a planet, doesn't mean they're completely hidden. But using any other kind of IR you'd still be competing with a star, and as for radar (a radio telescope would still be "radar" if you're "detecting and ranging" with it, though it'd be a much more impressive kind than we currently use), spaceships can use the exact same kinds of radar countermeasures airplanes use—which would doubtless be pretty impressive for a spacefaring civilization. Plus a spacefaring civilization, since its engines are likely to involve manipulating a lot of plasma, can do plasma stealth.

    Remember, while you're trying to figure out what to do about the enemy, your enemy is not quietly waiting. If you use an active radio telescope (much more effective than the passive kind), then you might as well broadcast a locator-beacon to your enemy's weapons. The passive kind, which mainly finds objects by their occultation of background objects, takes time to analyze. And the only missiles a spaceship carries are probably going to be nukes (since conventional explosives, if they work at all, are drastically nerfed in a vacuum). It only took two nukes to force a surrender, on Earth—how many of your population centers does your opponent have to wipe off the map before you capitulate? I'm guessing not all that many.
  • Read magic is a staple of D&D, the one spell wizards don't have to prepare. But you know the explanation the post-3e books give, that every mage uses the magical notation in a different way? I kind of see what they were getting at, something like the many different ciphers used by alchemists (Tim Marcoh's Philosopher's Stone notes are a cookbook, remember?...whereas Roy Mustang's are disguised as his little black book). But it's inelegant.

    Had a better idea. How about, magical notation is from before writing, possibly before speech as mortals know it? The symbols used for it are not the encoding of sounds or syllables or even words. What magical notation is, is proto-writing. And for that, you need to already know the gist; the symbols act as more of a cheat-sheet. What read magic does, is tell you the gist. There were ritual manuals written along those lines in Mesoamerican cultures that hadn't adopted true writing, like the Nahuatls and Mixtecs. (Those were the main thing the Spanish burned—remember the rituals in question—while doing everything they could to preserve secular history and even religious mythology. Most of our knowledge of pre-Columbian native culture, including religion, comes from writings by Spanish friars.)

    Not only does that make for a cooler worldbuilding element, it keeps things like not needing to use it on stuff you've used it on before, stuff you wrote yourself, or stuff whose author is present with you.
  • The whole "Ages" thing in a lot of fantasy, usually numbered, kinda annoys me. I think it does come from Tolkien (hey, we found one!); I'm not sure where he got it. Hesiod, maybe? Wherever he got it, the four-plus-one Eras of Tamriel, the five(ish) Ages of Krynn (which aren't usually numbered...at least as a D&D setting), etc., are clearly inspired by him, or (barely possibly) by something like Hesiod.

    It's odd to me, because in lots of cultures (pretty much all the Romance-speaking ones, for instance, and a lot of the Slavic, Baltic, and Celtic ones), the word that is the equivalent of "age"...means "century". In French, Latin, Irish, Polish, Russian, and Lithuanian, among many others, we're in the twenty-first "age". No cataclysm, no massive shift in the relations of gods (or Valar) and men—just the rolling over of the calendar.

    Now, you can do it that way. Not only Hesiod but the Nahuatls and Hopi have that kind of thing (though the Hopi and Nahuatls actually have different worlds—but a couple of Hesiod's are pretty similar to some of the Nahuatl "suns"). But you don't have to do it; assuming that the "just the calendar rolling over" kind is the "cosmic transition" kind, is how you get the Mayan calendar 2012 nonsense. If you do decide to go that route, know why.

2017/08/18

Sierra and Two Foxtrots IV

Fantasy and SF thoughts.
  • Much is being made, at least among fantasy writers, of a recent study (or rather re-examination) of Viking Age Scandinavian burials. It turns out that scholars had assumed every burial with weapons was a man, rather than, y'know, looking at the bones; as it happens half the burials with weapons were actually female. This, of course, is being cited as proving that women fought just as often as men in that society.

    Only, blatherskite. Being buried with weapons no more makes you a warrior than it makes you a man, particularly not when you're Indo-European and therefore the elite (you know, the people who get the fancy burials) are the "warrior" class even if they don't actually fight. Besides, we also know from textual evidence (a lot less open to interpretation than bones) that the "shield maiden" was almost certainly the female equivalent of the berserker "complex", and therefore semi-útangarðr. (Besides, the highly slanted nature of "whose burials are we most likely to see" tells us exactly nothing about the "average" warrior of that society.)

    The Norse would be far from the only society to have fictive warrior-status in its women, incidentally. South Athabaskans didn't let women fight—in the Apache formulation, because "women walk too heavy", and also because men who are with women will "hold themselves back in their minds", the latter basically being why the Israelis don't have co-ed units. But the real names of Navajo and Apache women, known only to their medicine man and maternal grandparents (for day-to-day purposes Navajos and Apaches are known by sobriquets, like "Shorty"), contain just as many references to warfare as those of men.
  • Been getting into debates with people who genuinely think a planet can beat a spacefaring opponent. But even if the space-force has to preserve the planet for their own use (and thus can't just lob Chicxulub meteors), they still have an overwhelming advantage. On a planet, you can basically only observe things that are on the night side. The sun gets in the way on the day side. (Which is basically Dicta Boelcke #1, by the way—"Try to secure the upper hand before attacking; if possible, keep the sun behind you.") And people on the night side can't attack them either, because the planet is in the way of any sensors they might use. It's impossible to use over-the-horizon weapons on something you can't target.

    There is a possible workaround, if you park enough military hardware in orbit, particularly in your planetary and natural-satellite Lagrange points; you might, then, be able to get enough of a triangulation to spot—and target—enemy ships without the sun getting in the way. But it's a gamble, since the enemy has a huge mobility advantage over anything stuck in one orbit. If you're going to defend a planet, you really need a space-force of your own. Otherwise a remotely competent enemy with sufficient forces at his disposal, can pretty much always just shred your orbiting defenses and park in sun-synchronous orbit, then threaten your population centers with over-the-horizon bombardment.

    I suppose technically you could just saturation-bomb every possible sun-synchronous orbital position...but you have no actual way of knowing your enemy is in one rather than than staying on the day side "manually".
  • This actually came to me explaining why I don't like Rick and Morty (because if you're more than very mildly amused by it you're not old enough to watch it), but the summary of my contempt for Grimdark, is that "mature" and "not appropriate for children" are actually two different things. (Admittedly Rick and Morty's problem is less simply Grimdark than that "man this is Grimdark" is pretty much the only joke—that and, as my brother pointed out, they regularly announce what the subtext is, like the elcor from Mass Effect. Either way, people who are particularly impressed by it are mostly just demonstrating they were too young to watch The Venture Brothers.)

    I also discovered, hearteningly, that the only justifications people can now make for A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones are, one, "it's fantasy, it doesn't have to make sense" and two, "well it makes a lot of money so it must be good". The second one is tantamount to arguing that a Pet Rock is a good product, except in the sense of being a demonstration of marketing skill. The latter, though, is interesting, because no fantasy fan would say it. A fantasy fan would know about "suspension of disbelief", verisimilitude, what Tolkien called "secondary belief". So the interesting question is, does this slasher-flick softcore soap opera mainly appeal to people who don't actually like fantasy? Seems like it.
  • Messing around with other conlangs made me realize, I can just have Zbin-Ãld use "compound stems" for things like auxiliary verbs. So now the causative is just going to be applying inflections to a stem composed of "verb" plus "cause". That streamlines things immensely (I think I'll just inflect it for the main verb, in terms of the two groups of verb-inflections I have).

    This presumably means I can also have compound nouns and compounds of verb and noun, since Zbin-Ãld verbs and nouns are built from the same kind of root, unlike adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions. Probably have to decide which kinds of compounding (probably, as I've said, all the possibilities can be found in Sanskrit) are permissible.
  • Am I the only one who feels that the relative obscurity of Warhammer allows lots of things to rip it off unchallenged? I mean, The Witcher makes a lot more sense when you discover that Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, not Dungeons & Dragons, was the main fantasy RPG in Poland. I've mentioned the obvious knockoff elements in Elder Scrolls, from Sigmar Talos to the high elves randomly having the dragon-god be a bird, because Asuryan is a phoenix.

    At least in Warcraft's case it makes sense: it was actually going to be a licensed Warhammer RTS and then the deal fell through. (Starcraft has less of an excuse, though I suppose it does mostly lack the "demon invasion" aspect of 40K.) But Destiny, for example, doesn't have that excuse; it's shockingly similar to Warhammer 40K (or, as I said a couple months ago, Warhammer Fantasy Battle in space). But even freaking Legend of Korra, with the portals at the poles that Chaos Vaatu broke through before they were closed by Caledor Dragontamer Avatar Wan?

    The problem is, Warhammer isn't the greatest setting (FB is better than 40K, but not by a whole whole lot). And even though it isn't, I'd rather have straight Warhammer than a thinly veiled knockoff. (And some Warhammer games that aren't RTSes or multiplayer-only.) I'd also rather people would do fantasy and space opera in ways different than how Warhammer does them. Like, rather than ripping off the Imperium of Man, you could always rip off the Galactic Padishah Empire that it's a ripoff of?
  • Doing research for a short story involving space-stations, I discover that apparently, an O'Neill cylinder is big enough that it can get rain-clouds. As I think I've mentioned, my colonies aren't O'Neill cylinders, since they generate their gravity topologically rather than by rotation; they're shaped like mushrooms, with a dome over a flat area for buildings, and a big shaft of machinery.

    If (to save on math) we assume the dome is a half sphere, then to have the same volume as an O'Neill cylinder (1,608,495,438,640 cubic meters, i.e. 1,608.5 cubic km), it has to be a whopping 18,315 meters in diameter. Hmm, I guess that's reasonable? For a big colony-colony, not some "starbase" crap. It's only 263.5 square kilometers, which is only about the size of Orlando, Florida. That's actually quite doable; apparently I was worrying over nothing.

    Of course, it's not going to be populated like Orlando; more like, say, Los Alamos County, New Mexico.
  • Isekai really is a plague. I was thinking of getting Stranger of Sword City because it looks amazing, and because I need something other than Halo 5 and Master Chief Collection to justify owning an XBox One. But while playing the demo I discovered, you came to the fantasy world from ours, and despite there being five races, your character has to be a mangy monkey.

    Why? Why would you do that? You really can't come up with a hook for a fantasy game better than "you're a person from our world sent to another one"? If you didn't care enough about your world to come up with a way for me to relate to it as an inhabitant of it, it doesn't bode well for anything else about the world you were supposed to be creating. And why bother having all those races if the main character can't be one?

    I don't play games to do things I can do in real life. Let me be someone and something else for a little while. That's why I play games.
  • It turns out "a bunch of ice comets colliding with it" is probably not where Earth got its water. Apparently there's an "ocean" under North America, around the inner mantle, that contains something like three times as much water as the entire planet's oceans; it seeped out over time and formed the oceans as we know them. Now, I don't know that "ocean" is actually the word; it seems to be percolated into stone—specifically ringwoodite, a mineral mostly associated with meteors—like most groundwater. I doubt anything particularly large is swimming around in it. But it's not impossible that it could be. If you don't see worldbuilding opportunities in that, you're no son of mine.
  • I was trying to do a knockoff of the Lovecraftian language seen in the Cthulhu chant (often conflated with Aklo, but that's a written language in the source material), and, thus, looked up how "Cthulhu" is actually supposed to be pronounced, so as to know what sounds a language inspired by it ought to have.

    It's perhaps my fault for expecting more from Lovecraft (who didn't know "Abdul al-Hazred" is a name like Attack of the the Eye Creatures), but apparently, there is no T at all. Nope, it's a K followed by what amounts to a velarized ⟨ɬ⟩ (or a voiceless ⟨ʟ⟩), followed by the vowel from "hook", then an l, a glottal stop, and long u—⟨kʟ̝̊ʊlʔ.ɬuː⟩. I know I can see putting a T in that, can't you? (I suppose using a T to mark an L as unvoiced has a precedent, namely the word "Tlingit", but that still has an L there, and "Cthulhu" doesn't.)

    But anyway, I realized, what if we can reduce a bunch of seemingly intractable consonant clusters to a velarized L? Maybe "phnglui" is just ⟨pʰnʟui⟩; maybe "mglw'nafh" is just ⟨mʟʷʔnafʰ⟩ and "wgah'nagl" is just ⟨wᵚaʔnaʟ⟩. (Maybe "-⟨ʔna⟩-" represents some kind of inflection?) In practice all those ⟨ʟ⟩s are probably ⟨ɫ⟩s, since I doubt very strongly that H. P. Lovecraft was familiar with a consonant that only occurs in Hiw, Melpa, and Wahgi (ʟ̝̊ only occurs in the language of the village of Archib, Dagestan, in the Russian Caucasus—spoken by fewer than 1,000 people).

2017/07/15

Rannm Thawts Nine

ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin. Post #585—which is 32 × 5 × 13.
  • Apparently, calling the stuff that powers magic "mana" wasn't completely random; the term had been used in anthropology ever since an 1891 book on Melanesian religion. However, that doesn't explain why they started using the Polynesian term throughout anthropology—not when they already had the Latin word numen, which gives us the English word "numinous".

    I suppose it could just be because anthropologists were not studying ancient Rome. But still, it's odd that anthropologists use a Melanesian term for something that had a European name. One might posit that it's because anthropologists believe Melanesians a fit subject for study, in a way that Europeans somehow aren't. Why do they call the modern Western kinship system "Eskimo" and that of ancient Rome "Sudanese"? Wouldn't it make more sense to call the Eskimo one, say, "Italian," and the Sudanese one "Roman"? The latter terms must surely be more meaningful to a modern westerner.

    It also does not escape my notice that the sort of people who make the most noise about institutional racial biases and the "othering" of non-Western cultures (never mind that if you're Western, the non-Western is "other" by definition, that's what "non-Western" means—and that to the non-Western, the West is "other" in turn), never mention things like this. One might suggest it's because they don't actually know any anthropology...
  • Crunched some numbers. Given the 68 megajoules per cubic meter energy-absorption of composite metallic foam, it seems like, at the thicknesses typical of personal body armor (6 to 10 millimeters), the minimum "spot radius" for a c. 10 kilojoule laser beam to penetrate the armor, is in the centimeters range—possibly even tens of centimeters. So it looks like the main determinant in what range a laser can penetrate such armor, is the boron-carbide plate.

    Thought I'd go with 7-millimeter B4C plates for the lighter armor worn by Peacekeepers, since those probably ought to be the typical thickness of the hard inserts in our body armor. That, even a zled hand laser with a 4.29-centimeter lens can penetrate from a bit over 280 meters, in near-infrared; in near ultraviolet, the penetration range goes up to over 1300 meters. The long laser with an 8.58-centimeter lens can penetrate 7 millimeters of B4C from 821 meters away in near-IR, and over 3900 meters in near-UV.

    The VAJRA suits, meanwhile, have 10-millimeter B4C plates, which the lasers penetrate at about seven-eighths the ranges of the 7 millimeter ones.
  • You will perhaps recall the aspersions I cast on Ursula LeGuin characterizing the word "ichor" as "the infallible touchstone of the seventh-rate". As I said, the real sign of the seventh-rater is probably something like dressing up drearily overdone hippie-dippy Liberal Protestantism in poorly-understood watered-down Taoism. (This leaves to one side the issue that every combatant vessel below sixth-rate is "unrated" or a "sloop-of-war", and also leaves aside unflattering comparisons between LeGuin and types of ship that are not even accounted sloops—like garbage scows—which was tempting, and would've been gratifying, but was gratuitous. This is me becoming a better man.)

    But I think I've hit on a real touchstone, seldom-fallible at least, for detecting writers who fall short of the standard required to be considered sixth-rate, though I remain uncertain as to whether it distinguishes the unrated/sloop writer from the non-combatant writer. Namely, if they mistook lines from Dead Poets Society for serious writing advice, intended for a literate audience. You know why you say "very tired" and not "exhausted"? Because "exhausted" means that you have no energy left—it literally means "burned out". You know why you say "very sad" and not "morose"? Well because "morose" doesn't even mean that, it means sullen and ill-tempered.

    Why it's almost like the hack who wrote Dead Poets Society was a half-educated pretentious dilettante who acquired his vocabulary via thesauruses (Devil's catechisms!), rather than through actual literacy. Oh but that can't be right; it's so beloved of shallow English majors. That must be because it's good, and not at all because it panders to their laughably false-to-facts self-conceit as much as Ender's Game or John Green do to the self-conceits of their audiences. (Admittedly, Dead Poets Society and John Green have an awful lot of audience overlap...)
  • Not entirely new news but apparently it's 100% official they're making four Avatar sequels. I understand the desire to milk the cash-cow but Cameron is, if possible, more offensively incompetent than Michael Bay, more clichéd than Roland Emmerich, and almost as hamfisted as Paul Verhoeven.

    I'm not exaggerating. Go to a fanfic site and read a story about someone's Sonic OC. The dialogue's almost certainly not going to be more sanctimonious than Sigourney Weaver's lines in Avatar, or Sarah Conner's rants in Terminator 2, or the corporate straw men in everything the hack makes. I'd probably pick the "protagonist's mother listing masturbation euphemisms" scene from the first Transformers, if I had to choose.

    However, it occurred to me, that if they must found a franchise on this cinematic squirt of foamy diarrhea, the first one would require a retroactive subtitle. Also something to distinguish it from the other Avatar. I suggest "The Last Rainforest". (That's certainly what I intend to call it.)
  • Did a little more number crunching. Given the minimum size to be Colossal in D&D, the damage done by a Colossal boulder that falls as little as 30 feet (which is the same as maximum fireball damage, 10d6), the density of basalt (the most common rock), and the velocity an object has after a fall that long in Earth gravity...a maxed out D&D fireball is the equivalent of just under 250 kilos of TNT—but purely as heat, with no concussive effect.
  • I know I've mentioned my dislike of "person from our world goes to another world" stories. I didn't get into their most irritating habit, congratulating the audience for the achievement of living in the only morally admirable society/era in all of space and time. (It's particularly irksome in light novels, which are written in a country that would have to acquit about 40 times as many people to be as lenient as the Spanish Inquisition.)

    Apparently, though, Kadokawa agrees with me that "going to another world" stories (isekai in Japanese) are lame. Their "Entertainment Novels that Adults Want to Read" Contest, for which the submission deadline is July 16, forbids isekai. It also requires that the protagonist be an adult male—I guess they were tired of the "ordinary high school student", too. (It's actually to appeal to older audiences, but still, that need to shoehorn the Japanese school system into every setting is easily as obnoxious as the "other world" thing.)
  • Speaking of, I was watching Natsume Yûjinchô on CrunchyRoll, and I'm impressed by how stupid it isn't. None of this "yôkai are born from human emotion" nonsense here; and when one of them becomes a god, while it's because he used the power of human emotion, human emotion didn't create him. When he dies with his last worshipper, it's not because he was created by their worship, but because he'd invested so much of his power in it (like the One Ring but bittersweet rather than evil).

    I think it's so mature partly because it's from a manga. Where light novels, and shows based on them, cater to the ridiculous conceits of neckbeard man-children (hence the idiot phenomenologically anthropocentric "clap your hands if you believe"—as in the West, your Japanese neckbeard is usually a secularist), a manga can take a more intelligent, "we don't know where spiritual things come from, but it probably has nothing to do with our monkey butts" approach. (And remember, Natsuyû is shojo—it's still more mature than light novels.)
  • Thinking about it, Young Justice (of which we're apparently getting a third season, finally, sometime this year) is not only a how-to of making a comics adaptation, it's also a how-to of doing animated storytelling. It uses its time-skip so it can meter out how much the audience knows about certain events. It masterfully balances multiple entire rogues' galleries and "families" of hero protégés. It even uses animation, and that with a fairly limited style, to convey the relationship between Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, and of both with Bruce—and the effect the death of Jason Todd had on them.

2017/06/09

Playing with Fantasy V

Fantasy game thoughts.
  • Got Tales of Vesperia for my 360; I was going into fantasy-game withdrawal (normally a Zelda being recently out would be a more than sufficient fix, but...yeah). The only real question (other than what kind of idiot Empire doesn't understand that granting guild-charters gives it a hell of a lot more power with the guilds than making guild-members forfeit their citizenship), is when, exactly, did we all decide it was wrong to act in dubbing anime and games?

    See, the thing is...I don't know if you've noticed this, but Japanese voice-acting is not exactly staid or understated. They can convey an entire rant's worth of emotion in a single word. Japanese actors scream like berserkers, speechify like skalds, and laugh like maniacs, and they do it all con mucho gusto. Meanwhile the English dub? The first thing my brother and I did was laugh for thirty seconds straight at the flat way Flynn's VA says the phrase "oh no" in the opening cutscene.

    Oh well, at least they did a better job than the English dub of Breath of the Wild. Admittedly, so did Hal P. Warren when he dubbed "Manos": The Hands of Fate...
  • Read through the Pathfinder Advanced Race Guide; decided to stop worrying about the game-balance based "this trait replaces that trait" business and just give all my races the abilities I want. None of them results in a race requiring more "points" than sulis (half-janni). And not just the non-human ones; I also gave humans the "reflexive improvisation" trait that half-elves can take in one of the PF Campaign Setting books (it's apparently OGL, since it appears on the PFSRD wiki), plus the "eye for talent" option (without replacing any other traits) from the Advanced Race Guide itself. If humans are good at anything, it's half-assing things we don't really understand, and training animals.

    I no longer need to sacrifice elves being immune to sleep-spells for them to have the elemental resistance I'd given them, but Pathfinder elves don't do the "four hours of trance" (which we grognards still occasionally call "reverie"). Decided that, basically, elves are wired something like birds; they can sleep with only half their brain at once, which protects them from magic sleep by the other half of the brain immediately waking them up. (This also means that elves could be on lookout while resting, since birds do it.) Maybe they still only need four hours of their version of sleep, but per half of their brain? (They wouldn't need to lack a corpus callosum, like birds, because there are a bunch of aquatic mammals that do it too—though they do have a partly reduced corpus callosum.)

    Gave dwarves 120-foot darkvision, because my dwarves are almost as subterranean as the duergar are. They also have an energy resistance and the cave-dweller trait. My gnomes have, in addition to their illusion affinity, the "dreamspeaker" trait; they're born of mushrooms growing at the foot of the World Tree, after all. I gave my halflings a couple traits to reflect their history as modified human slaves. I'm also adding traits to the major humanoids, who are primarily NPC races; my orcs get a lot of the optional traits both of orcs and of half-orcs, and my goblins get some of their options, too (goblins and hobgoblins also get some from each other's lists, since I made them less different). I mostly got rid of the racial weapon-categories.
  • Has anyone noticed that there almost isn't any such thing as science fiction, in video games? Mass Effect is Dragon Age in space—not only do the asari look like human females and actively pursue romance with other species, but they can also breed with them. Why? Well because there are half-elves and half-orcs in the Standard Fantasy Setting.

    Or take Destiny. Destiny is Warhammer 40,000 minus the "evil vs. evil" aspect, and focused on individuals and small teams rather than entire units. The Hive are basically a cross between Necrons and Khorne worshipers (or, even more, if the Undead of Nehekhara were also Khorne worshipers), the Cabal are the Tau, the Fallen are space-Skavens (are there Skavens in 40K?), and the Vex are robot Lizardmen in space. (So I guess Destiny is actually more "Warhammer Fantasy Battle in Space" than Warhammer 40K is...)

    Would it kill you people to just set your fantasy games in a fantasy setting, rather than decking them out in science-fiction accoutrements they have no right to?
  • Decided to scale the Homotherium-based creatures up, as much as the "Colonial Spanish Horse" is from its ancestor the tarpan—700-800 pounds, compared to 550—and I get a beastie 15 hands to 15 hands 2 (inches) tall and weighing 1,120 to 1,280 pounds (i.e. 15h1 tall and 1,200 on average). The rationale would be that, as intelligent beings, they would be able to get bigger than wild creatures, since they can gather food more successfully (as domestic animals with reliable fodder get bigger than wild ones). (Incidentally, why did we call the Homotherinae "scimitar-toothed", when the correct term was obviously "pruner-toothed"?)

    That allows me, in turn, to go back to the 6'3" (male) elves, which I liked; an elf that tall on a 15h1 cat is like an average Mongolian man on a 13h2 horse, and 13 hands on the dot is the average for Mongolian horses. This makes the female elf 6'1"; males would weigh 135 pounds and females 118, if we're keeping the same approximate height-weight ratio as in the Pathfinder core rules. Think I'll have my dark elves (which aren't drow) keep the default Pathfinder elf heights.

    It also occurred to me, there's no real need to reinvent the wheel: my talking beasts can just speak Sylvan. I don't much use the fey, etc., creatures that primarily use it, but it's also used by plant creatures, after all. (The relative lack of fey in my setting makes druids' "Resist Nature's Lure" ability less useful, but on the other hand the bonuses in question also apply to spells like entangle.)
  • Not restricted to fantasy games, but endemic to fantasy in general, how is it possible that people still think "peaceful orcs, evil imperialist elves" is a new and exciting idea? I mean, this is far from the only stultifyingly shopworn cliché being talked up as if it's the most astounding innovation ("this damsel rescues herself"; "the handsome prince is actually stupid and/or evil"), but, I mean, seriously? Skyrim sold 20 million copies, people; elven imperialists figure rather prominently in it. (Admittedly their orcs are still warlike, but in a "Noble Savage" sort of way—which I only forgive in Warcraft, because they justify it with worldbuilding.) And the odds are pretty good that your version is not as well thought-out as the Thalmor.
  • It occurs to me that my elves making everything from leaves (and bark), and my gnomes making everything from mushrooms, is, quite inadvertently, a callback to the tiny little fairies with the flower-petal clothes. Except not tiny and "twee".

    I decided that both their stuff and the gnomes' mushroom-chitin stuff is actually as much of an improvement as mithral and "darkleaf cloth", from the Pathfinder Ultimate Equipment; it only increases costs as much as darkleaf cloth, rather than as much as mithral, because it's only got the hardness of wood. (It is, therefore, inferior to darkleaf cloth as-written, which has the hardness of steel for some reason, but items made from it have the same sunder resistance and eligibility for Weapon Finesse as elven curveblades—which no longer exist.)

    For weapons, though, since they're only half-as-heavy masterwork, I'll have them cost as much as wooden versions of metal items, as described in the Forgotten Realms Unapproachable East book: +400 gp for weapons doing 1d6 damage or less, +800 for weapons doing more damage. Hell, for metal weapons they're also inferior in terms of hardness, but the sunder-resistance and Weapon Finesse probably make up the difference.
  • How come karma-systems basically don't exist any more? I mean, sure, Mass Effect still presumably has its idiotic version of one, and in Elder Scrolls games you can make people like you by doing them favors and acquire a criminal record by committing crimes, but, like, remember Escape Velocity? About the only people you couldn't in some way build a relationship with, in the original, was the alien (because they were the "wholly inscrutable" type of alien); and in EV Override the only aliens you couldn't build one with were the Voinians (because they're basically Scarrans).

    I also think games could stand to adjust more of the experience for what race you choose to play as; that'd enhance replayability, which might keep more people coming back for DLC too. Not that Dragon Age giving each race a different opening mission is preferable, but that's more Dragon Age being "decolonization as understood by an emotionally disabled eighth-grader" than a problem with the concept in itself. In WoW, after all, each race has a different "starting experience", and it's not painfully earnest agitprop from a middle-school creative-writing club.
  • I mentioned a few years ago that my setting's half-elves and half-orcs are made in experiments, the equivalent of test-tube babies. I decided that making such hybrids is a major feature of the surviving city of the fallen human civilization; they make the half-elves and half-orcs as servants (agents and cannon-fodder, respectively), but also traffic with darksome creatures to make dhampirs and tieflings, who actually outrank humans in their city-state's hierarchy. (There are also "savage humanoid" slaves, like orcs and goblins, at the very bottom.)

    The dhampirs are the city-state's royalty, though I'm torn as to whether they should be its actual leaders, or if the actual undead (or maybe a cosmic force of undeath, something like the Black in Green Lantern) should be the power behind its throne. Certainly the undead have a lot of power and influence in the city. Either way I'm going for something like a late Númenorean vibe—they're ruled by the undead because they fear death. Most of the undead encountered elsewhere in my setting are members of the same civilization.
  • Again more fantasy in general than fantasy games only, but certainly germane to them, I did a bit of digging on my own, and, apparently, the claim that medieval Europe was more racially diverse than often presented...has no actual basis whatsoever. We don't and can't know, because they didn't and couldn't keep any such records, since they didn't have the concept of race as we understand it. It's made up—or a misinterpretation of something else. Namely, medieval literature was pretty racially diverse; there were four Saracen Knights of the Round Table, for instance, as well as the half-Moorish half-brother of Percival, Feirefiz, who gains Percival's ability to see the Holy Grail as soon as he converts to Christianity. (Irritatingly, one writer on the subject seemed to think that knights recognizing someone of noble birth, despite his impoverished circumstances, by his refined features, was racism. Poppycock; as well say the Princess and the Pea is about the superior sensory acuity of the Herrenvolk. It's caste, not race, they're talking about.)

2017/05/09

Painted in Colors of My Choosing

Surrounded by the world painted in colors of my choosing,
Where do I find meaning in the scars I could not choose?
In the heart of a world where only I am the hero,
I'm onstage, appearing in every scene until the end
What do I do? I can't even pretend to be empty

—Bump of Chicken, "Hello World", Blood Blockade Battlefront
Been thinking about something, when I was going through some of the higher-numbered Pathfinder Bestiaries.

I really like Pathfinder's basic ruleset, but I find the DarkerAndEdgier that seems to dominate most Paizo products, particularly their adventures and many of their monsters, to be bottomlessly puerile. I mean, seriously, "we made ogres a cross between the hillbillies in The Hills Have Eyes and the ones in Deliverance"? That's only particularly impressive to people for whom those movies represent the thrill of transgression, i.e. for people who still cannot obtain R-rated materials on their own behalf—or people arrested in that phase of development.

DarkerAndEdgier appeals only to comfortable people in peaceful times; always remember what the last director of the Grand Guignol said, about why it closed down. Also, that kind of Cosmic Horror only works if you want the theme of your setting to be "all goodness and standards are an illusion, a veneer over the caperings of thirsting, mindless gods". The "horror" is the cosmos, hence the name, not the scary entities themselves but the fact that they are destined to win—have already won, they represent the true nature of reality—and that there isn't even an Odin to fight beside at that Ragnarök.

Besides, the subconscious motivation behind Cosmic Horror as a phenomenon in literary history was, transparently, just the petulant tantrums of 19th-century people upset at their little certainties being kicked over. What did Lovecraft find horrifying, aside from perfectly inoffensive sea-creatures? Negroes and non-Euclidean geometry. What did Arthur Machen find his horror in? Impregnation of "our" women by the "other", and neopaganism (he appeared to believe the latter represented a resurgence of the real thing, which is cute, but that doesn't affect the point).

(And, seriously, trying to make tentacles frightening is just...goofy. Tentacles are not frightening—well, jellyfish tentacles are, but rationally, because they can hurt you, not in a "creepy" sort of way. Octopus tentacles are the manipulatory appendages of what amounts to a curiously intelligent snail. In the immortal words of Gabriel Gale:
Why isn't it quite as logical the other way round? Why not say the octopus is as wonderful as the flower, instead of the flower as ordinary as the octopus? Why not say that crackens and cuttles and all the sea-monsters are themselves flowers; fearful and wonderful flowers in that terrible twilight garden of God. I do not doubt that God can be as fond of a shark as I am of a buttercup.
The same goes for trying to make snakes "hideous", so beloved of Howard. Look dude, I avoid snakes for purely practical reasons, like I avoid wolverines; but a wolverine is just a roided-out pine marten, and a snake is just a lizard without legs. There's nothing intrinsically scary about lizards, any more than about weasels.

The whole thing is a "1950s sitcom-housewife leaping on chair because she saw a mouse" level of unseemly.)

While I do like creepiness in my fantasy, I prefer the creepiness of something like the manga Seeds of Anxiety (Fuan no Tane)—I highly recommend you check it out, but nowhere near bedtime—or Belloc's "The Wing of Dalua". It's not a vision of cosmic meaninglessness (which amounts to a Victorian saying "if I can't have my Early Modern conceptions of cosmic meaning, there must not be any at all"), but as a glimpse of the fact that, though the cosmos is a place governed by order, not all of that order even pertains to us, let alone being beneficial to us. (The "cosmic meaninglessness" thing I find more depressing—not to say "tiresome"—than really creepy.)

Rather than the same tired neo-Freudian/closet-misogynist "pregnancy as monster" stuff, I like my body-horror more along the lines of the plants in Trigun or the feathered elves in Übel Blatt—where the shapes of beings mostly human in character and desires, are not the only shapes their bodies can take. (Machen occasionally approaches this idea but gets bogged down in the same whining about tentacles as Lovecraft, or rather strident shrieking about how "hideous" and "malevolent" Pan is. Never mind that as Greek gods went, Pan was no more rapacious than Zeus, and vastly less petty.) If I have to have the more directly, morally-relevant, "atrocity" kind of body horror, something like those spiders made of legs (in a flying fortress powered by the suffering of dying girls) in Hitsugi no Chaika, is quite adequate to my purposes.

A creepy element that most modern fantasy, so wed to a rather limited conception of goodness, always forgets, is something like Talking God in Navajo mythology, and his habit of appearing right behind you without having made any noise. Something similar is on display in the short story "The Ikon" by Maurice Baring. The scary supernatural entities in that story? Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Equal to the Apostles. I like that theme both because, remember, the thing angels always have to open with, in the Bible, is "be not afraid"; and also because...what on earth made you think that something being holy meant you had nothing to fear from it?

Related to the thing I like about Fuan no Tane and "The Wing of Dalua", is that too much of Pathfinder is anthropocentric. E.g., while in D&D some of the spirits of the dead always did become fiends, celestials, etc.—which I never much liked—the demons in Pathfinder's setting are born of mortal sins. Uh...what? They should be so old that mortal sin cannot possibly be a factor; they should be ancient beyond our comprehension.

Now, the demon-qlippoth dichotomy is based on the tanar'ri-obyrith dichotomy in post-3.5e D&D, but aside from how that was stupid (almost as stupid as their making Tharizdun the Big Bad of the entire D&D cosmology, rather than just a very old evil god sealed away by the powers of good), it still makes the demons dependent on mortals. Why should that be? They shouldn't give a damn about mortals except as potential pawns and playthings. (It also gives Paizo more chances to indulge their weird "we hate pregnancy" tic, with the qlippoth obsession with trying to wipe out mortal life so more demons aren't born from their sins, but at least there it makes sense, unlike with the drakainia, which is just adolescent edgelordliness.)

In a weird way I think the bizarre anthropocentrism is actually related to the Cosmic Horror. As I said, Cosmic Horror's petulant subtext, the dying curse of Early Modern humanism, is "if we're not the most important thing in the world, then nothing is important". And "some of the most powerful spiritual entities in the cosmos are birthed from mortal sin" is actually the same thing, in reverse, beings of vast power being born from our acts.

Actually, while human beings and their actions are of great importance and value, their values are an attempt (however imperfect) to grapple with an external reality. That reality is vastly bigger than they are, and while it matters greatly how well they acclimate themselves to it, it is "indifferent" to them at least in the sense that they are essentially incapable of changing it—let alone having originated it.

2017/04/19

Mélange II

The random thoughts must flow. Post #582, which is 2×3×97.
  • In my continued quest to end up on a watch-list somewhere (did I ever mention that I once googled "explosive more powerful than TNT" and "how far do you evacuate from a bomb" in the same week?), I have been doing some research on what weapons-inspectors look for. (Actually that would probably only result in being on a watch-list if I was an official of certain governments, and they're probably already on "watch-lists" a lot more direct than the metadata kind.)

    The reason for this research on my part is, I needed to figure out how you'd discover that a space-station had been armed, when it wasn't supposed to be. So far what I have is a "Hall effect" type ion-thruster, for attitude control, that's actually a particle beam in disguise, detectable because it's a very odd configuration for a Hall effect thruster. And also (I'm still sketchy on some details ) some kind of obvious "embarked craft" that don't show up as such, because they're actually missiles. Something to do with the tankage and refrigeration thereof, since what do you need all that slush hydrogen for on a largely-immobile space station?

    The latter is different from modern weapons detection, yet also similar; I don't think you'd have the issues with storing nuclear-propelled missiles'propellant that there are with the liquid propellants of a lot of chemical rockets (which are corrosive and thus can't be left in the tanks long-term). The need to fuel missiles right before launch, and therefore a need to have facilities that can do that, is how we detected certain Chinese missile silos, in the 1980s and I think '90s. Still, not a whole lot looks like a fusion-rocket propellant tank except a fusion-rocket propellant tank.
  • Had occasion to read Arthur Machen: The Great God Pan, The White People, and The Novel of the Black Seal. That first thing, Stephen King called "...One of the best horror stories ever written. Maybe the best in the English language." Which, given that King is one of the worst major writers ever published, in English or any other language, tells you something. Its climaxes are rushed, and its central conceit was actually done better by Lovecraft in "The Dunwich Horror" (crossed with "From Beyond").

    Similarly The Black Seal is simplistic. The thing about "the good people" is not that they're called that because they're the opposite; if they were simply bad half the difficulty of dealing with them would vanish. They're called that because you want to stay on their good side—which they do in fact have. They are as likely to help as to hurt you, and which one they intend is almost entirely unpredictable. That is why they're frightening, the unpredictability—that and the fact that if you treat them as hostile when they weren't, their very well-honed sense of vindictiveness (coupled with their completely non-existent sense of proportion) comes into play.

    All in all The White People is probably the best of the three, although if anything it's even more rushed than the others, and the conceit about "great sins" is almost endearingly naïve. You actually do have to do something "socially" evil to be a genuine "great sinner"—incest, fratricide, cannibalism, or necrophilia are the usual methods. Interestingly the concept of an "Aklo" language comes from that story...but it's letters. (Which is reconcilable with Lovecraft's use of the term, by the way.)
  • Does...does anyone actually know anything about the evidence for this oft-quoted "medieval Europe was more racially diverse than it's portrayed" claim? I ask because so far as I know we only have the most perfunctory knowledge of medieval demographics, beyond mere population numbers. Also our entire concept of "race" is an Early Modern one; medievals simply didn't think in those terms. To the medievals a Mongol Nestorian and a dark-skinned Ethiopian were brothers in Christ (if perhaps separated by heresy or schism), and fellow citizens of the oekumene, by definition never worse than a "funny foreigner". Whereas it was the blond-haired blue-eyed Norseman who was the barely human savage. (White supremacists get very angry when you point out Ethiopians have more claim to be "Westerners" than Scandinavians do.)

    Given they didn't think in anything like our terms about the subject, how can we say definitively what their circumstances were with regard to it? They certainly wouldn't keep any records pertaining to a concept their civilization lacked, in any form that we could easily interpret—certainly not, at the very least, without lots of interpolation. (Leaving to one side that they didn't keep records of that sort on really any subject; modern highly-detailed censuses developed with the modern centralized, bureaucratic state. Medieval censuses, if they happened at all, were very basic things like "who, where, what holdings"—I don't even think the Domesday Book makes any distinction between Saxons and Normans apart from what the reader can guess from their names.) So, again, if anyone can actually set the evidence before me, I'd really appreciate it.
  • Discovered that, although the acetylcholine-related nerve-gases—which is most of them—don't work on zledo (who haven't got acetylcholine), the few that are based on tetrodotoxin and saxitoxin, which are sodium channel-blockers, might. They might have effects more like calcium-channel blockers since zledo use sodium for the things Earth life uses calcium for—their "spicy" is our "jellyfish venom"—but since among the calcium-channel blockers are ω-agatoxin and ω-conotoxin, we can conclude that a saxitoxin nerve-agent would be effective. It'd probably have to be modified somewhat, of course, to work on their physiology, but we know you can weaponize them: we did, they're called the "T-series" nerve agents (saxitoxin specifically is TZ).
  • It seems Chinese, at least as used by the PLA, has special radio forms of some of the numbers—zero is dòng "hole" instead of líng, one is yāo "small" instead of , two is liǎng "double" instead of èr, seven is guǎi "cane" instead of , and nine is gōu "hook" instead of jiǔ. This is, of course, important because in my book I not only use the Chinese names of stars along with the Western ones, I also have colonists use the radio forms of letters and numbers.

    There's also a Japanese radio syllabary (iroha "ABCs" for "i", rôma "Rome" for "ro", hagaki "postcard" for "ha", etc.), but it comes up less in the book, as you'd expect given the relative global influence of Japan and China. Though come to think of it I do have my future Japan indexing things like units and equipment in "iroha" order (a trend of de-Westernization is common in most of my future Asian countries), and a few groups of Japanese nationals are major secondary characters.
  • I confess to a fair amount of Schadenfreude that the new Mass Effect is having so many problems. I don't like BioWare; they are simultaneously puerile gutter-wallowing and trite preachiness, like if Mark Millar got born again and started writing Chick Tracts. They also absolutely suck at worldbuilding (particularly in Mass Effect—having romance options with aliens makes no sense, you stupid horny monkey)—and one of the examples of that is also evidence of their hypocrisy. Namely, as I think I've said, the asari are not only a blatant insult to the audience's intelligence, they're also a laughably egregious instance of the "male gaze".

    Still, though, did they mean to make it look like Isayama Hajime was their art director? I mean it: look at those Uncanny Valley folks (plotting a war on the mountain people to take their treasure), and their eyes that never quite focus. Don't they remind you of that (in)famous panel where Jean says "What is it Ehren?" while cocking his head in such a manner as to suggest he's actually a marionette made, and hastily, from his own corpse? And then there's those character designs themselves; most people in the game look like they fell out of the tree they make the Ugly Stick from, and hit every branch on the way down. With their head, resulting in massive brain damage.
    Personally I hope this makes people go back and reevaluate their bizarrely inflated assessment of previous BioWare works, although if Dragon Age: Inquisition couldn't do it, I probably shouldn't get my hopes up.
  • In more encouraging news, a name to watch is David J. Peterson, the least of whose achievements is making conlang silk purses from the sow's ears that are the Dothraki and Valyrian cultures in Game of Thrones. He also made the Dark Elf language in Thor: The Dark World, the English-based creole language used by the people who stayed on Earth in The 100, the languages in Defiance, the languages in Emerald City, and the language used by the druids in the TV series of Shannara (there is a TV series of Shannara, which came as news to me anyway). Some of these languages—I have read up on them on their shows' various wikis—actually make me want to watch some of these shows, and the only one of them that's actually genuinely good is Thor. (Though no consideration on Earth, not even my love of conlangs, could make me watch Game of Thrones or, probably, Defiance.)
  • Much interesting stuff in paleontology that I haven't mentioned here. Of course the big one is that Burmese amber with the feathered tail of a small coelurosaur preserved in it. "DIP-V-15103", AKA "Eva", is its name. Apparently it was a juvenile, with brown feathers on the back and white feathers on the underside (at least on its tail). I still maintain that we need to start phasing out the word "dinosaur"; maybe eventually we'll actually get the fact the things were more bird than reptile (to the extent birds are not reptiles) to penetrate the popular consciousness. (I am probably alone in thinking Jurassic World should've been a reboot, not a sequel, so they could have more accurate animals.)
  • And then there's how apparently (according to at least a slight majority of studies of the subject), Smilodon had very little sexual dimorphism. At least S. fatalis; there probably aren't enough S. gracilis or S. populator specimens to compare like that (no La Brea tar pits in the range of S. populator or while S. gracilis was around). A somewhat more doubtful set of findings suggests Smilodon might've lived in groups, or possibly hunted in packs.

    Combined (given what reduced dimorphism often means), these two facts suggest that they may have actually lived in monogamous, nuclear-family groups—or even packs—unlike any modern felid (but like some other feliforms, like some hyenas and many mongooses). Because clearly, "cat as big as a small horse with the teeth of a tyrannosaur" wasn't scary enough; let's also have them form wolf-packs! (It's also possible they lived like jaguars, which have unusually low dimorphism despite having the same mating-system as other non-gregarious cats.)

    Incidentally, given that Smilodon appears to have lived in forest and bush, it's most likely we should restore it with a spotted coat (the tiger's coat is too unusual to assume for something extinct, but isn't impossible). Probably like a lynx or wildcat, but conceivably even something like a jaguar, ocelot, or clouded leopard.
  • Given that monogamy is always easier to make a culture around—most humans do not "normally" practice polygamy even when their culture gives them the option—and that they're ridden by people who live in forests, my elves' "blood cats", which are intelligent, should probably be like a Homotherium with some Smilodon traits (keeping the nearly-certain Homotherium gregariousness but in the form of Smilodon possible monogamy—think Cape hunting dogs). That would also justify their mass, the same as S. populator—which was suggested for one Homotherium specimen by one researcher, but is probably either excessively high, or represents an extreme outlier.

    Also decided that the orcs ride mammoths too, but with the "Young"/small-version template applied. I.e., something like the pygmy or Channel Islands mammoth, Mammuthus exilis. They were only the size of a large buffalo, 5 feet 7 inches tall and 1,680 pounds. (I also decided the ogres specifically ride something like a steppe mammoth Mammuthus trogontherii (or M. armeniacus, 12 feet 10 inches to 14 feet 10 inches tall and 23,000 to 31,600 pounds—African bush elephants only get to 13 feet tall and 22,930 pounds.) Something I thought would be cool for intelligent elephants enslaved by ogres is that they are regularly mistreated by their masters...and eat them when they get pushed too far. Because normal elephants do that, very possibly because they know how much it freaks us out.

2017/03/31

Sierra and Two Foxtrots III

Fantasy and SF thoughts. Less than half an hour to get it in this month.
  • Breath of the Wild is less troublesome than I thought it was going to be, and it's not that hard to get to all of the plot. I don't even mind the item-durability all that much. I do like a Zelda game where I get to craft potions, though I wish that if they were going to give us the item-durability RPG mechanic we didn't actually want, they would also give us the weapon shop mechanic that normally supports it. At the very least let me sell weapons I don't need.

    This is my least favorite Zelda, though. Not the game, the person: she's just not very sympathetic. On the other hand I don't actually find her unforgivable, and she does eventually grow on you. It helps that her being a terrible Zelda is literally what caused every problem in the game's story.

    All-in-all though, I think this may actually rank behind Skyward Sword for me. It just actually has very little you can do: you have only six items and a camera—and you get them all pretty much at the very beginning of the game; you can fight; you can cook; and that's it. Knowing "that's something I'll be able to reach with an item that I get later" gives you something to look forward to, "curates" the experience as 'twere, and that is actually something that improves the game.

    Props for a few (implied) mentions of Fi, though—the most underrated of all secondary Zelda girls. (Midna is better but everybody loves Midna.)
  • You know what is the absolute most common "I think everyone in the world is WEIRD" giveaway in modern fantasy? Having characters or cultures choose names because they like the way they sound—or worse, because the syllables have "spiritual meaning" to an individual. Thing is, that's not how most people are named. They're mostly named based on what their name means—literally, lexically, denotation-and-connotation, not "spiritually", means. Divine epithets, averting misfortune, profession names, toponyms, names chosen in hopes they will grant a blessing or inspire virtue in their bearers—those are what most of humanity considers when picking its names (some of those, admittedly, are more common as surnames than personal ones).

    Also? Speaking as someone with four teachers in his family...your idiot do-it-yourself spellings need to stop. You hurt everyone involved, from the child you saddled with your paean to your own narcissistic self-regard to the teacher who has to listen to your hellish drop whining that they didn't magically divine how, exactly, you were violating the principles of phonemic writing. Still worse (except I can tie it back to writing) is to name a character in fantasy a novelty spelling of a generic name (let's all pause to scoff at the evil king Jeff—clearly named after the Roman god of biscuits). Or worse than that (somewhere in genocide country, probably) is to name the character a novelty spelling of a trendy name at the time of the book's writing. That won't date it at all.
  • Though I can probably leave my service-rifle round alone, as I said at the end of that last one, my anti-materiel rifle's round is probably underpowered. Thought I'd base it on a couple of wildcat cartridges made by lunatics, that neck a 20 millimeter down to .50 BMG. I can't find the propellant load for the necked-down versions, but the typical 20 millimeter cartridge has 38 grams of propellant; that comes to 15.9664 grams of ONC, which has a volume of 7,750.68 cubic millimeters. Sticking a 60-millimeter-long 13 millemeter bullet into that gives us a "casing" 48 millimeters in length, sticking out from the bullet 3.7 millimeters on each side and coming up its sides 44.3 millimeters. So, "13×48 millimeter" is the anti-materiel round's designation.

    Incidentally, .30-06 is about as much more powerful than 6.8 Remington SPC as .357 Magnum is than 9 millimeter Parabellum—which was already how my pistols were set up. However, since a part of how a SLAP-type system works is a smaller round (increased sectional density means superior penetration), decided to make the pistol round as much smaller than its model as the 7 millimeter rifle-round is: this gives us an 8.16 millimeter bullet, comparable to the bullets used in the Roth-Steyr pistol adopted by the Austro-Hungarian cavalry in 1907 (the first auto-loading pistol adopted by any national military), and the 8×22 millimeter Nambu pistol used in Imperial Japan.

    The "hottest" load I can find for .357 Magnum (what you'd want for an AP round) is 1.5552 grams; with ONC that comes to 653.4454 milligrams. That has a volume of 317.2065 cubic millimeters. Assuming the dimensions of 8×22 Nambu (case, or rather rim, diameter 10.5 millimeters, bullet diameter 8.16), but the bullet-length of the 7.92 Kurz (which actually has an 8.22 millimeter bullet—Germans name their calibers slightly differently) of 25.8 millimeters, we get a "casing" 18.91 millimeters long, which comes up the side of the round 17.74 millimeters (total length is 26.97 millimeters). So, "8.16×18 millimeter".
  • I am unimpressed by the push for "representation" and "diversity" in fantasy, because the result always winds up looking like modern industrialized republics—and the acronym that describes those people is "WEIRD" for a reason, in case you think that doesn't make them basically worthless for "representation" or "diversity" purposes. I live in a place where not getting witched by a shape-shifter is not an unheard-of excuse for being late to work, your breathtakingly shallow (literally skin-deep) tokenism simply doesn't impress me.

    It's especially irksome because if you want to have African cultures in fantasy...you basically wind up with the Rohirrim, except infantry not horsemen. The only difference between most African chiefdoms and European feudalism is feudalism was less absolutist; you don't even have that difference if you're talking about New World ones like the Powhattan Confederacy. Meanwhile Mesoamerica is ancient Greco-Roman decadence, except the competitive spectator sport that winds up with people dead is a ball-game rather than direct gladiatorial combat. The same basically goes for most of the settled cultures of Africa, though the sport-resulting-in-death is less of an exact parallel—but in some African cultures (including possibly the one that built Great Zimbabwe?) some more ritualistic kinds of fighting can blur the lines between war-dance, martial sport, and death-game.

    Since any inclusion of something non-Western is going to bring accusations of "appropriation" (from people who don't object to many things legitimately described that way), let's just let writers stick to the forms native to their own culture. They're not going to be portraying anything actually different anyway.
  • Realized, I forgot to factor in that zled lasers are only 85% efficient (over 30% is unusually efficient for ours, though there are a few papers on achieving 71% or 57.7% efficiency, in a laboratory setting), when I was calculating how big their CNT springs need to be.

    At 9,991 joules per shot and 48 shots, the long laser requires 479,568 joules just to fire, but in practice, 564,197.647 joules. That's a spring with a mass of 1.881 kilograms and a volume of 165.94 cubic centimeters, which at the long laser's diameter of 8.58 means the spring is 2.87 centimeters long. The hand laser is 3,197 joules per shot and 16 shots, 51,152 joules for working with and 60,178.824 joules in total. That spring's mass is 200.596 grams, and its volume is 17.70 cubic centimeters, which given a hand laser has a diameter of 4.29 centimeters comes to a spring 1.225 centimeters thick.

    Of course, the springs have casings the same thickness as the walls of the laser (the springs themselves are the same diameter as the lens); since it's 5.85 millimeters, and on the top and bottom, that makes the long laser's spring cartridge a total of 4.04 centimeters long, and the hand laser's one 2.395 centimeters.
  • I do not, myself, care for the Dark Lord trope. Tolkien really did almost all that can be done with it. But because of him, people try to shoehorn it into all of fantasy, even things like Conan where it's ludicrously out of place. (Until people realize that Conan is like the Man with No Name from the Dollars trilogy, or Zatoichi—not someone who is directly involved in good vs. evil plots even when he's clearly the good guy—they will keep failing to make a proper Conan movie.)

    Personally, I prefer something like Slayers, or most RPG settings, where there are Dark Lords, plural, and they don't necessarily get along. (Even in Tolkien Ungoliant only sorta works for Melkor, and Shelob doesn't work for Sauron at all; it's less clear whether Durin's Bane does, or if he just got woken up by Sauron reaching out to every evil force in Middle-Earth.) It's just much more satisfying to have more than one possible villain.

    Actually the closest anyone ever came to involving Conan in a good vs. evil plot and having it work (other than Chronicles of Riddick, which doesn't count) was the animated show where the villains were the Serpent People of Valusia. It didn't actually work all that well even then; I'm just kindly disposed toward anything featuring the Serpent People. Ka nama kaa lajerama, mammajamma.
  • Why is it that, when people make heroines who fight alongside the dudes, they don't give them spears? Or even more, glaives or halberds? A naginata was a woman's weapon in Japan, for a reason; weapon-handbooks on both ends of Eurasia were agreed that that sort of weapon, the spear that can also cut, was worth three swords. Particularly if you're a woman—the leverage on a pole-weapon neutralizes most of a man's strength advantage, and the pole also undoes the reach advantage. Indeed, I think a pole-weapon might actually be an even better weapon for a woman than a bow, since (particularly before compound bows were invented) a bow actually requires significant upper-body strength to shoot more than a few times.
  • Mention of glaives reminds me, where did Warcraft get the strange idea that a glaive is a spinny blade-weapon, like a cross between a chakram and a hunga-munga/mambele type-thing? It's Krull, isn't it, and their stupid flying starfish weapon? Sigh. At least I can actually see the night-elves using it, since it's similar to one of the Predator's weapons and night elves, too, are hunters who can turn invisible (at least at night, and only if they're female).

    The throwing-blade version makes the fact that modern French uses "glaive" to mean "gladius" look sensible; at least that's actually what the word comes from—or at least it's the Latin reflex of the same Celtic root (cf. Welsh cleddyf, Irish claíomh—both of which end in a V sound, unlike gladius). (Apparently in the medieval period glaives may have been called "faussarts", related to "fauchard" and "falchion", incidentally. "Glaive" is only attested for them from the 1400s; all the earlier uses of that word refer to ordinary mostly-only-stabbing spears.)
  • Has...um...has anyone noticed that pretty much the closest thing to an actual science fiction movie last year, was freaking Independence Day 2? Which was by no means as bad as the first one, don't get me wrong; it's just that even when Roland Emmerich makes a good movie—for the first time in his life, as far as I can recall—he still has to give it the dialogue of a bad movie. Because if you take away trite cliché, what does Emmerich have? Characters staring at each other silently, I guess.

    It's actually a serviceable sci-fi action movie. It would've been better without the "we uploaded our minds to computers, allowing the production-design department to only have to re-use their alien-designs from the previous movie, rather than coming up with a new one" thing. It would also be better if, instead of the humans (who in this setting, remember, are so stupid, they shoot things the size of cities with air-to-air missiles) being the only ones who ever beat a mothership, the other aliens are just impressed humans managed it without any real space-travel capability to speak of, and decided to come give us a hand.

    Did you know humans don't have to be the best at everything? Especially when you can only make them that way by implying even species that can upload their minds to computers can't come up with a virus that could be uploaded from a PowerBook 5300.