2017/03/23

As New as Foam

Poetry must be as new as foam and as old as the rock.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Because materials tech delights in making the SF writer's life more difficult, I've just discovered something requiring me to rewrite certain parts of my book. There's this stuff, called "composite metal foam" or CMF, consisting of beads of one metal suspended in a solid expanse of another, that can stop a 7.62 AP round cold—and even disintegrate it on impact. It also absorbs up to 68 megajoules per cubic meter. This, of course, necessitates rewriting certain parts of my book—but fortunately, less than it might seem.

First order of business is that the VAJRA armor now consists of an over-suit of a thick layer of CMF sandwiched between boron carbide and high-density polymer (which is how they're talking about using it for armor), over the same softer magnetorheological fluid armor as before. Call it CMF-MRF. This probably lightens, and thus speeds up, VAJRA wearers. The more typical PK armor is now thinner CMF plates over a sheer-thickening fluid suit, instead of thicker sheer-thickening panels over a thinner undersuit—say CMF-STF. I think, then, that the special-ops armor, which before had just been the sheer-thickening fluid undersuit, will now be the undersuit with thicker panels of magnetorheological fluid over it—that one would be MRF-STF.

The second order of business is to change the main rifle round my Peacekeepers use. I think that a 7 millimeter round with performance on par with a .50 BMG saboted light-armor penetrator (which uses a 7.62 millimeter bullet in a necked-down cartridge) would probably be sufficient for anything short of the VAJRA armor, since SLAP rounds have superior anti-armor capability to .50 BMG and nobody seriously proposes that CMF armor would be much use against even regular .50 BMG. Apparently the propellant load for the SLAP round is 17.8197 grams, which, converted to octanitrocubane, would be 7.4843 grams. That has a volume of 3,633.16 cubic millimeters. If we do the old trick of treating the 7 millimeter by 31 millimeter bullet as a cylinder, then subtract its volume from a cylinder with the same diameter as a 6.8 Remington round, 10.7 millimeters, we get a propellant "casing" 53.67 millimeters long, and since we were preferring the propellant only stick out 1.85 millimeters past the end of the bullet itself, the propellant would go 20 millimeters past the end of the bullet. Base it on the .30-06, maybe instead? That gives us a propellant "casing" 42.67 millimeters long, and since it sticks out on the edges fully 2.5 millimeters...it still sticks out 9 millimeters in front of the bullet. Maybe just "telescope" the round all the way in, with the 6.8 Remington dimensions, for an overall length of 53.67 millimeters, 3.7 millimeters shorter than 5.56 NATO. Presumably they use a combination of the Tkachev Balanced Automatic Recoil System and some sort of shock-absorber, to account for the recoil of this beast on full-auto.

It occurs to me they probably still use the old size of ammo for non-armored targets; since the magazines would almost not be compatible, you could have loading a magazine for one or the other automatically, and purely mechanically, switch the gas-system (and so on) to accommodate one or the other. I also think you can only use the purely-mechanical AP system against the normal troopers CMF armor; against the much thicker VAJRA plates, you probably need something like HEIAP rounds.

Considering doing something similar with their handgun rounds, but not sure what.

It's not a problem for the zledo, of course, because their lasers put about 10 megajoules into a dot a few millimeters in diameter, or smaller—which, at a depth of tens of centimeters, comes to millions of megajoules per cubic meter, so it'll go through VAJRA armor like the proverbial hot knife through butter. I am shifting the precise nature of their adaptive armor, though: against ballistic attacks it shifts its structure to be a composite foam more advanced than human materials-science can create, and against energy attacks it becomes a superconductor, spreading the energy throughout its structure. Of course, a powerful enough laser—or an explosive—from close enough can still punch through it before it can conduct all the energy away, but it's a vast improvement over purely mechanical armor technology.

Late Addendum: Discovered that, supposedly, the 7.62 NATO saboted light-armor penetrator round has performance against armor that's comparable to more conventional .50 BMG armor-piercing rounds, while the .50 BMG rounds of that type are comparable to 20 millimeter. Since 7 millimeter is more like 7.62 than it is like .50 BMG, maybe I don't need to so drastically re-interpret the rounds, especially since the AP ones can just use osmium or iridium (ultra-dense, ultra-hard metals being easy to acquire for a spacefaring civilization). Good, that saves on re-writing.

2017/02/28

Playing with Fantasy IV

Fantasy-game thoughts.
  • Using a different set of estimates for the giant prehistoric wolverine Megalictis gives me a shoulder height of 4 feet 4 inches, quite respectable for something being ridden by 5-foot dwarves, and a body-length of 9 feet 11 inches. Decided they and the elves' cats are magical beasts, as smart as griffins or "worgs"; the wolverines, cats, and goblins' wolves can all speak a language I'm calling Bestial, and understand their masters' language, but can't speak it.

    The relationship those creatures have with their masters is basically "fictive kinship", specifically the humanoid becoming something like a parent to the "mount". Helps that Homotherium were probably gregarious, and that while wolverines aren't, they do often travel with their fathers for a number of years. Actually the most questionable are the "worgs", since I based them on amphicyonids rather than actual canids, but they are closer to canids than to ursids. Also "magical beast".
  • Not gonna go with macuahuitl for the elves after all (yes, "macuahuitl"; in Classical Nahuatl, anyway, inanimates had no plural). Just giving them swords, hewing-spears, and bows, with the blades as leaves and the hilt or shaft as a stem of varying length. Decided that since all their weapons and armor have half the hardness of steel (being made of wood), it makes no sense to make them cost as much as mithral or even the "darkleaf" from the Arms and Equipment Guide, so I'm just having them cost as much as darkwood despite having the qualities of darkleaf (which, for weapons, means "only as good as darkwood" in the first place). Gnomes' mushroom equipment will be similar, since the Arms and Equipment Guide gave chitin weapons and armor half the weight of normal, and they don't have to fight giant bugs to get it; gnomes make a different set of equipment from their chitin, though (and grow special calcified mushrooms, for things like hard weapon-edges and studded "leather" studs).

    Was conflicted as to what to do with the dwarves; there aren't really any materials I can use as a basis for their volcanic-glass equipment, adamantine, especially as of 3.5 and Pathfinder, being crazy OP. Decided to just have it give the benefit that "dwarvencraft" items do, in Races of Stone, of doubling the benefit of masterwork items—and then give it the base price (half) and base weight (75%) that stone and obsidian do, without the "fragile" quality (and with hardness 8, rather than "half the hardness of the base weapon", since the base weapon, if metal, actually has hardness 10). Instead of the stoneplate and stone lamellar from Pathfinder, thought I'd use stoneplate and stonemail that are simply stone versions of plate and mail.

    I think the members of those races pay only 25% the normal price (base + masterwork + 10 gp per pound-before-weight-reduction for darkwood and chitin, ½ base + masterwork × 2 for dwarf), if they buy stuff at home and among their people—this was based on the prices of guns in campaigns where firearms are more common. (Dwarves also pay that for firearms, since those are their main ranged weapons. Gnomes prefer crossbows, I decided, and halflings like blowguns, because my halflings are swamp nomads.) They still pay full price if they don't want to schlepp all the way back home.
  • Decided my goblins use falchions while my orcs use great-axes and great-clubs; the orcs' gear is stone, since they, like the ogres they're a branch of, are primitives (and are also mutant dwarves, with an affinity for stone but lacking the dwarfish ability to make stone weapons that aren't "fragile"). The hobgoblins also have a penchant for dual-wielding; where Pathfinder stats them as fighters, I statted them as rangers (partly because I made all my goblins more like bugbears in terms of their fondness for stealth, a ranger's forte rather than a fighter's).

    Made the main difference between goblins and hobgoblins just be scope and ambition—since hobgoblins don't have that Charisma penalty. They're both lawful (without bugbears, there's no need to have one goblin race for each ethical alignment), and that lawfulness means that they can form large bands, when each son of a chief starts his own family and becomes his father's vassal. Hobgoblins can then combine these bands into tribes, while goblins seldom do—and hobgoblins take goblins as vassals.

    The orcs, meanwhile, and ogres, are differentiated by the fact male orcs live with their females, while male ogres live somewhat apart from them—since female orcs are less able to defend themselves than female ogres, and male orcs eat less than male ogres. Both orcs and ogres kick their sons out at adulthood, to avoid that "kills father, takes over the harem of all the females but own mother" thing I've talked about with apes and lions. Sometimes after establishing their own harems the sons come back to be their father's vassals, but their fathers wisely don't completely trust them.

    Not a fan of the way ogres, and to a lesser extent orcs, are depicted in the Pathfinder rules and setting. Unnecessary Grimdark is puerile, and almost no Grimdark is necessary in a game, which people play for fun.
  • Something I realized: in western games at least, I generally prefer settings with multiple entire pantheons to settings where an entire world has one pantheon. 3e and earlier Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk are vastly preferable to Dragonlance, 4e and later D&D, or the Elder Scrolls setting. Though admittedly part of that is I dislike Dragonlance just in general, 4e and later were a cluster-flunk in every way, and Elder Scrolls, while less irritating than the Post-Colonial Studies 101 seen in Dragon Age, is still Comparative Religion 101.

    Then again, the exception to the rule would be games originating as tactical systems that later branched out to other genres, where people wear big shoulder armor. The Warhammer Fantasy setting has multiple pantheons and the Warcraft setting basically doesn't (though the Night Elves are basically the only people who worship Elune, they're not really the only ones who worship Cenarius), but Warcraft is far better. Maybe that's just because Sigmar, while less annoying than Talos, is nothing on the Light, which is the only successful CrystalDragonJesus I am aware of.

    No, Eru Ilúvatar doesn't count. He's pretty much just Jesus, or at least Ha-Shem, without the Crystal Dragon.
  • One thing I thought would be cool, after having read The Jungle Book, is to have each of the animal-god initiation societies that teach the humans of my setting their class-skills, have poems about the Law for each animal's society. I decided the easiest one to do would be something approximating the Kalevala or Hiawatha, at least in terms of having trochaic meter (but looser with the number of feet). Nice thing is that that meter is so insistent that the poetry doesn't have to rhyme; rhyming poetry in a world where people don't speak English always rubs me the wrong way, if it's not written in a conlang like the Song of the Dragonborn. Poetry and song really are how pre-modern societies teach their laws, and even how they teach techniques—bāguàzhǎng, for instance, is recorded in a series of songs, because its original practitioners were mostly illiterate.

    Kinda want to have elves and dwarves also having such songs and poems, minus the totem societies of course, and in different poetical styles. Except not about teaching a "Law" like the ones in the Jungle Book so much as, say, explicating cosmology; they're far more advanced than the "Migration Era skipped straight to Renaissance" barbarians-in-plate-armor that the humans represent. Trouble is it's really hard to find meters as insistent as the Kalevala/Hiawatha one, that can carry un-rhymed, non-alliterative verse—especially because almost all post-antiquity European poetry is either rhymed or alliterative (and it's very hard to write the ancient varieties that aren't, in English—it's actually linguistically impossible to do some of them in French). I really don't do poetry, anyway (I know a bit about it but knowing about something and being able to do it are two different things).
  • Seems like I'm the least excited about the new Zelda of anyone I know; I'm deeply skeptical about some of the choices they made, and some of the other choices just represent elements I always hate in games. In the former case, a main story you can miss parts of just sounds like "we hid your anxiety medication", to me. In the latter, item durability is, all by itself, a major factor (possibly the determining factor) in why I don't feel any need to actually play Oblivion beyond the little bit I have.

    And I don't play Zelda to be wowed by innovative game design; my favorite installments, Twilight Princess and Link to the Past, were absolutely typical games of their hardware generation, distinguished not by any unusual gameplay but by the fact they were The Legend of Zelda. Skyward Sword is one of my least favorites, though more because it has an almost unplayably slow middle section, and takes forever to get going, than because of the Wii remote—but the irritation of having to use the Wii remote reduces my patience for slow plotting.

    Still, "new Zelda". In a way I suppose I should resent that Nintendo has this kind of hold on me, but the fact remains they're doing the best work in fantasy since Tolkien.
  • The best work in fantasy in English is also in games, namely Warcraft, although I actually "consume" Warcraft via tie-in novels—because MMO is my least favorite (or rather "most hated") type of game. And about those tie-in novels: say what you will, but not one of the ones available at my library failed to bring tears to my eyes at least once. Sure, there are some questionable aspects to the writing; people tapped for tie-in novels are often not actually writers, per se, in their own right (and when they try to become so—as seen with Margaret Weis and R. A. Salvatore—the results tend to be disastrous).

    But still, Warcraft has far and away the best setting, the best worldbuilding and mythopoeia, of any fantasy currently on offer, and they have managed to capture at least one aspect of medieval reality that none of the more prestigious fantasy writers seem to even know existed. Namely, "I am a warrior, but my son has a religious calling, so I don't know what to make of him", as seen in the fictional biography of Anduin Wrynn, son of Varian, and the actual biography of (among other people) Thomas Aquinas. We return to the Light being the best "non-copyright-infringing Christianity" in all of fantasy fiction.
  • It occurs to me that oracles, cavaliers, and summoners might have a use as NPC classes. Like, for instance, my goblins belong to NPC classes (males are warriors, females are experts), so their priests are adepts. But my hobgoblins are in PC classes (males are rangers, females are alchemists), so it makes sense their priests would be oracles. (I might also have oracles as the common priests of human communities that aren't quite podunk enough for just an adept.)

    And the mostly-fallen evil human civilization, whose priests are witches, might also have summoners, in a relationship to their witch-priests somewhat analogous to the one between clerics and druids (the eidolon being the analogue of a druid's animal companion, in this comparison). That got me to thinking, they also probably have cavaliers serving a somewhat similar role to other cultures' paladins. Firstly because the anti-paladin is OP if you don't actively want to kill your PCs.

    But more to the point, the code of conduct, which forbids "willingly and altruistically" committing good acts and requires the anti-paladin to always place his own interests and desires above all else, means they are not going to be a feature of any civilization that likes existing—Megatron is regularly called an idiot for keeping Starscream around, but only the Kingdom of Idiots would have an entire class of Starscreams as a normal part of its normal cultural repertoire.

    Okay so Starscream is actually neutral evil not chaotic (Soundwave is lawful evil, because he's a monk). Point still stands.

2017/02/15

De romanicorum physicalium 11

SF thoughts.
  • It is, I realized, not entirely accurate to say English uses its simple present for a frequentive (or usitative). I mean, it does; but that's not the only thing it does. It also, in the presence of expressions referring to the future, uses it as a "non-past", the condition where a language inflects the past tense and uses the same form for present and future, distinguishing them by words like "tomorrow". "Tomorrow we die", for the obvious example.

    Japanese is probably the best-known "past/non-past" language (that's recognized as such). There are also "future/non-future" languages, where the future is marked and then the past and present are distinguished by words like "yesterday". One of them? Hopi. Ironically. You know, the language with no constructions referring to time, according to Benjamin Whorf. Except for explicitly marked future tense, I guess? (Also, again, seriously, these are subsistence agriculturalists with an annual rain-dance whose rituals mostly take place after sundown. Pretty sure they have a concept of "time".)
  • The concept of "hypergamy", much beloved of Men's Rights weenies, is just one of many examples of how their understanding of ethology is shallow Lysenkoism. Because the thing is, in neither the ape mating-systems fools think humans have, nor the canid-like one they actually have, are females' and males' status comparable. In both systems, the hierarchies are mostly separate; you're trying to find the distance between points on two different graphs.

    The only interaction male and female dominance has in ape mating-systems is that females rebuff the advances of less-dominant males—but the thing is, they do so largely independent of their position within the female hierarchy. Because for male apes, "dominance" and "access to females" are two aspects of the same thing. (Things are a bit more complicated among some New World monkeys where females are more aggressive just in general, the higher up in the hierarchy they are, but that doesn't really change the basic point.) And there isn't even that element in canid hierarchies, because in those, the "alpha pair" are usually the parents of all the other group-members, the rest of whom are each other's siblings. And the "alpha female" (mother) enforces the female hierarchy, e.g. for feeding precedence, while the "alpha male" (father) enforces the male one; and while "never the twain shall meet" is probably putting it a bit strong, seldom indeed dae the tane meet the ither nor the tither meet the ane.

    And to the extent their argument is anthropological/sociological rather than ethological, they're still missing the biological fact that males compete for access to females, not the other way around. That's why female hypergamy, in sociological terms, is infinitely more common than male, in almost all societies—though then again part of that is that matrilocal societies generally have fairly "flat" social hierarchies. But just like the feminists they claim to disagree with, the idea that males and females are actually different is deeply, deeply offensive to them, as is the fact humans are animals that happen to know it, rather than angels wearing suits. (See also their whining about things like the draft and "women and children first", which are "Bateman's Principle", one, and two, something even Heinlein understood. When Heinlein understands something about human sexuality, and you don't, just...damn.)
  • More than once I've seen a vegan try to attack the idea humans are omnivores with a series of pictures, usually "picture of tiger's mouth, labeled 'carnivore'; picture of bear's mouth, labeled 'omnivore'; picture of horse's mouth, labeled 'herbivore'"—and then "which one is most like human teeth?". Very cute...but complete nonsense. Because know what other mouth we can put in there? This one. This one is labeled "herbivore". Note the canines and incisors, indistinguishable from those of a(nother) bear; the changes are in the molars and premolars, and you need to be a zoologist to reliably tell the modifications that have occurred to support the primarily vegetable diet.

    Bears' teeth look the way they do because they're members of the order Carnivora; whether they eat a mix of forage and meat like most bears or nothing but grass like pandas, they're still not going to be all that different from the jackal- or weasel-like thing they evolved from. (Come to think of it, the polar bear is a hypercarnivore.) The most modified teeth of any carnivoran, other than maybe the walrus (and those are still just really big canines), are those of what is technically an obligate carnivore: the aardwolf, a member of the hyena family. It mostly eats bugs, but that's still animals.

    Another kind of animal that has the dentition it does purely because of its taxonomy: primates. To my knowledge, the most reduced canines among the primates (or at least the great apes) are "chimp, bonobo, human", in ascending order. But, guess what are the most actively predatory great apes? "Chimp, bonobo, human"—again, in that order. (Bonobos in particular appear to have a taste for meat that's still alive when they start eating it.) The only obligate-carnivore primates, the tarsiers, have a very weird dentition, one that further demonstrates the vacuousness of the appeal to dentition. A tarsier's incisors, enlarged into something vaguely reminiscent of glire buck-teeth, seeming to be their main "killing" teeth. Unless those are a very odd tooth-comb?
  • It occurred to me that the defect gun the zledo use as the main cannon on their big ships doesn't quite work like a beam-weapon. First because what it shoots is intrinsically curved; cosmic strings (behave as if they) are completely massless if they're straight, but they acquire mass (kind of) if they curve. I suppose that just makes it more like a ballistic weapon than a beam one, except the curve isn't determined by the location of the nearest gravity well.

    The other thing, though, is that unlike a beam, a cosmic string-based weapon is still connected to what it issues from, like hitting a heavy hard thing with a metal bat and you being the one who gets hurt. They can still probably use it to smash things far out of their own weight class, the way that mere bone can bite through steel if it has to, but there is an upward limit; they can dig a bunker out of its hole, but they can't crack a planet in half.
  • BMW made a self-stabilizing motorcycle. They allege it's accident-proof and you can ride it without a helmet, but you can still fall off it because of something you do, and cars might still hit you. Still, quite a bit less of a death-trap.

    There's an unbreakable LED that looks like an actual light-bulb. (Which they don't always, even though a key way to integrate a new technology is to match it to people's pre-existing expectations.) I wonder if they fixed the "one light of a multi-light fixture randomly turns off" problem?

    Production design, people. It's absolutely key to science fiction as a genre.
  • Interstellar, Arrival (not to be confused with The Arrival), there are probably others (Passengers, maybe?)—please stop making science fiction movies about the Power of Love™. That trope worked well in exactly one place, Macross, because the Zentraedi being engineered soldiers with their sexual behavior partially repressed made it work. It won't work anywhere else. And even in Macross, all "love" does is change the behavior of people, it doesn't bend time and space.

    "Of course! Love," Elsa says, in the tone of someone remembering where she left her keys. (Also.)
  • While we're at it, please stop with the completely forgettable, semi-interchangeable post-apocalyptic societies like in The 100 or Wayward Pines. And the evil future corporations, like in Dark Matter (which is actually good) and Incorporated (which certainly isn't)—both of which air on a network owned by General Freaking Electric.

    Other than a few mining companies and some third-world manufacturers, no corporations are as brutal in protection of their bottom line as Hollywood (or electronics megacorporations that also own movie/television studios), or treat their employees as badly. (I don't watch most of these shows—have they had "making weapons is evil" yet? You know, on a network owned by the people who brought you the Vulcan cannon and its relatives.)

    Come to think of it, didn't Matt Damon basically rip off Elysium for Incorporated? The only difference is you took out the space colonies—which all by itself makes you subject to summary execution for crimes against science fiction, space-colonies being an absolute good in themselves where remotely plausible. Maybe the people behind Elysium figure getting ripped off is just karma?
  • I actually realized this researching my D&D setting, but strictly speaking I probably shouldn't be calling what the plants have on Lhãsai "flowers". They're as much cones as they are flowers, see, because an alien planet's autotrophs are not actually plants in our biological sense (though they're likely to be analogous and are "plants" in the conversational and philosophical sense). An alien world is unlikely to have the gymnosperm-angiosperm divide, though it might have something comparable.

    Technically also the "fruit" of alien plants might be called arils...but if it comes to that, why not just call arils fruit? While conifers' seed-apparatus tend more to the "nut" end than the "berry" end most of the time, yews, junipers, and podocarps all have fruit analogous to those of angiosperms. (And, again, nuts are fruits: so why aren't the edible, hard, fleshy seeds of plants like piñon pine? Hell, if it comes to that "nut" is more a culinary than a botanical term, that's why peanuts really are nuts even though they're a legume.)

2017/01/23

Das Rollenspiel Drei

More RPG stuff. Did you know the Greek word for "pathfinder", ιχνηλάτης (ikhnilatis), also means "hound"?
  • On that note, decided to just take the plunge and switch to Pathfinder; it's an interesting re-balancing of the rules and using gestalt characters was making my game too high-powered for my liking. I decided to slightly re-tool some things so my races would fit into the balancing, like I had to get rid of the poisonous flesh for elves and gnomes, but I am still keeping things like my male ogres having the stats of hill giants. Had to make my male hobgoblins be hobgoblins again, because for some weird reason Paizo has never statted bugbears out as a player-character race—but it has done ogres. Rather than use the third-party stats for Homotherium that are actually there on the Pathfinder SRD wiki (you nerds), I just applied the "giant animal" template to the cheetah, knocked 10 feet off its speed, and replaced its sprint special ability with a bleed.

    Had to jettison dwarves as psionic because it seemed like a lot of trouble; now dwarves' main non-divine spell-casters are alchemists—in my setting, they invented it. The gnomes now invented sorcery (I think the "bloodline" traits are more "what monsters did you emulate", like the blue mages in Final Fantasy), while elves invented wizardry. One thing I discovered is that Pathfinder's witch class is basically the modified sha'ir I was using; it makes an excellent villain class. I also decided that elvish society is primarily made up of spell-casters and martial classes with some spells—paladins and clerics, rangers and druids, and wizards and magi. (I think only my elves have magi, and only the evil ancient civilization has witches, who are its priests. My dwarves also use guns but don't have gunslingers, and I have no use for inquisitors, cavaliers, oracles, or summoners.)

    I still don't care for their characterization of ogres, orcs, or the goblin races, especially not goblins.
  • Crunched some numbers, wanted to see something. If you make a dragon the same proportions as a snow-leopard, but big enough to be Colossal, you wind up with a creature 120 feet long—of which 48 feet is tail—28.8 feet tall at the shoulder, and weighing 379,721.816 pounds. (In Draconomicon, they try to claim a dragon that size would weigh 1.28 million pounds. Um...no?) Only, birds are a lot less dense than mammals, overall; the lightest ones are 602 kilos per cubic meter to mammals' 1,080. That gives us a dragon that size that weighs 211,659.753 pounds, or a bit under 106 (short, this is America dammit) tons.

    Now, you absolutely cannot give a dragon of that scale wings that fit inside a football field (or two), and have a wing-loading anything like the maximum wing-loading of a bird, 25 kilos per square meter. But you can get a wing-loading on par with many airliners, 115.8 kilos per square meter (the area is 8,924.6 square feet, specifically), if you give it the proportional wingspan of an Andean condor but make its wings—starting where the shoulders are on a snow leopard—triangular, going all the way to the end of the tail (something like the wings on the gold dragon in the illustrations in the 3e Monster Manual). If I'm doing the takeoff-velocity formula right, that results in a (sea-level) takeoff speed of 87.94 miles per hour. Apparently flux capacitors are involved.

    While that's a speed over anything an animal can actually achieve, it's not much over. I envision dragons having a cheetah-like sprint, where they get up to speed in the same three seconds a cheetah takes, albeit they need 186 feet of "runway" to do it. And that's the biggest ones; smaller dragons have a proportionally easier time taking off. (We're ignoring things like how an organism that size can move that fast without breaking its bones, because there's a reason all their body-parts are worth more than their weight in gold and their skin alone can make armor equivalent to steel.)
  • The way I envision my dragons, incidentally, their wings are not contiguous, batlike or pterosaur-like affairs, but more like bird-wings, except scales, not feathers; something like pangolins? Their entire bodies are lined with special mobile scales, like a bird's contour-feathers; lines of big ones along their back join the main wing when it's extended, and lock together the way feathers do, to make an aerodynamic surface.

    I think their hind-limbs have feather-scales that extend in flight to form stabilizer-like structures, while their forelimbs fold up tight to their chest (or maybe stick out to make a canard?); the rest of their body, up to their head and along their neck, shifts so its feather-scales make a "blended wing-body" arrangement, to maximize lift. Seems weird to have the entire body lined with mobile structures that are not actually skeletal limbs, but stegosaurs did it. (So do birds.) Their tails are also mostly just empty space, like the tail of a snow-leopard; the scales along it flatten out to continue the blended wing-body.

    One thing this causes in game-terms, I think, is that a dragon's wing-strikes become "reach" weapons, with (according to the Pathfinder rules) twice the usual reach, 40 feet. (Giving them a snow-leopard's proportions means their reach with a bite is no longer any different from their other reach.) Or maybe they count as "tall" where their wings are concerned, and have a reach of 60 feet? That seems more realistic.
  • I was thinking about my elves, and how in Warcraft III the Night Elves don't exactly mine, they just stick roots down gold-mines. And then I was considering that since my elves base all their technology on the leaves of the darkwood tree, maybe they replace almost every other job with "Profession (herbalist)," too?

    One thought I had was that rather than mining, the elves could breed a tree that, if planted in appropriate places, can suck up as much gold into its leaves as Moringa oleifera does iron—4 milligrams per 100 grams of leaves. Then they require 708,738.078 grams of leaves—0.78125 (short) tons—for each ounce of gold. The goldmine in the US with the lowest ratio of dirt to gold, Turquoise Ridge, still required 2.217 tons of dirt for each ounce of gold, in 2013. (And the average yield of Moringa oleifera during dry years—which are what you use for an Ice Age setting—is 615.604 pounds of leaves per acre, i.e. each ounce of gold produced by a "mining field" requires only 2.538 acres of plants. And with plant growth, that goes down to 1.692 acres.) You can also use those same plants to produce oil from their seeds.

    Among the jobs I think they can replace with Profession (herbalist), other than Profession (miner), are Craft (armor, bows, carpentry, locks, pottery, traps, and weapons)—maybe also Craft (shipbuilding), which gladdens the heart of the Spelljammer fan—and Profession (architect, engineer, farmer, gardener, and woodcutter). They also can probably substitute herbalist products for many leather goods, so effectively Profession (tanner) and Craft (leather) are replaced. Maybe even Craft (alchemy) with specially bred plants? They don't have alchemists, in my setting that's a dwarf thing that the dwarves also taught to humans. (There is precedent in third-party rules for using Profession in place of Craft, indeed with (herbalist) specifically, using it to make alchemical products.)

    I also think my elves' "composite" bows are actually cable-backed—using vines or fibers from the darkwood tree as "cable", which is also what they make their bowstrings out of. (I imagine a darkwood tree as looking like a black locust with leaves/needles like a yew, and cones like a tamarack or Japanese larch, except with wood more like an African blackwood, apart from weight.)
  • Searching the blog doesn't think I've mentioned it, but my gnomes had ridden rheas (smaller New World ostriches, basically), back when the elves still rode elk. Decided to have them ride deer now. A whitetail deer is roughly the same size (39 inches at the shoulder), relative to a 3-foot-9-inch gnome male, that the 60-inch average horse is to a 5-foot-9-inch human male.

    My dwarves rode big rams (or very stocky muskoxen, which are actually a giant goat). Considering maybe something like the large estimate for Megalictis ferox, the giant prehistoric wolverine—which probably only weighed 60 kilograms but for which the high estimate is "the size of a black bear". If, since this is a fantasy creature based on Megalictis, we interpret that liberally—a maximum weight of 409 kilograms—that gives it a shoulder height of 39 inches, which relative to my 5-foot-tall male dwarf is like a 46-inch pony for a human male. (But on much thicker legs than a horse.) The reason to use a wolverine is they're burrowing animals, like dwarves; actually the Megalictis was apparently even more so than the modern wolverine. I think I'll apply the "giant animal" template to the wolverine, rather than use the "dire" wolverine; mine only weigh 902 pounds, after all, not 2,000, and are only 8 feet 11 inches long, not 12. (And maybe convert it to a magical beast.)

    I'm also going to apply the "giant" template to hyenas for the things my "gnolls" and dark elves ride, since Dinocrocuta was a 3 or 4 inches short of 8 feet long and weighed only 838 pounds. I'm gonna fudge the definition of "Large" on that one. Hyaenodon, which Pathfinder identifies the dire hyena with, was not related to hyenas (even to the degree Dinocrocuta was—at least that's a carnivoran, and indeed a feliform; Hyaenodon is a creodont to the extent there is such a thing, and it doesn't even really look much like a hyena). And the largest Hyaenodon species I can can verify dimensions for (there's a bigger estimate out there for it but it seems to be unreliable), H. gigas, seems to have been 6 feet 11 inches long and weighed 440 pounds—Medium, not Large—not 12 feet long and 2,000 pounds. (The smallest weighed eleven pounds.)
  • Why this obsession with identifying the "dire" animals with prehistoric things, and then not even getting them right? There really was a "dire" wolf, for instance, but it's not even as big as Epicyon and even the largest Epicyon was only 375 pounds and 5 feet 6 inches long—thoroughly Medium. (Likewise, I'll be giant-sizing the regular boar, too, to make the things orcs ride—I'm going to base its size on Daeodon, like their dire boar, but apply those mass numbers to a javelina, which is at least roughly set up like an entelodont, dentition-wise. While they at least got Daeodon's size about right, like all entelodonts, its teeth were not like a pig's. Also, this far out, we'll probably never know if entelodonts had the special pig-javelina nasal disc.)

    Still unsure what to make ogres ride. Might go back to giving them big scary elephants. (Only the African elephants, or something like Palaeoloxodon namadicus, are big enough. Many elephants are actually only Large, since their body-lengths are well under 16 feet—Asian ones are 11 feet long, woolly mammoths were 11 and a half feet, Columbian mammoths were 13 feet to 14 feet 8 inches long—and a mount has to be one size larger than its rider. It's really hard to find body-lengths for extinct elephants, by the way, most of them only list heights.) Oddly enough, elephants are one of the most purely herbivorous animals on the planet...but they sometimes eat human corpses, apparently purely out of anger (one famous case involved a cow Asian elephant whose calf had been killed, I think by a poacher, tracking him down, killing him, and eating him). That's thematically appropriate for something ogres ride; there's also the fact male elephants have "periodic homicidal mania" as a normal part of their life-cycle, the musth.
  • It occurred to me while thinking about the elves' mining trees that since most of my dwarves' technology is based on glass, they probably do a lot of "daylighting" and "light tubes", for their lighting and agriculture. At first I'd considered having them do it by growing root-vegetables on the outsides of their mountains, and running preternaturally long, deep root-networks down into the caves below that the dwarves would then harvest; but that seems to be "applying eyedrops from the second floor". Now they can pipe light in directly using complex arrangements of glass tubes and mirrors.

    I am of two minds as to whether they do agriculture on the higher levels of their cities, to reduce the distance they have to pipe light through on a major scale, and on lower levels just pipe in enough for room-lighting. (And adequate room-lighting means something significantly less when you have three times human night-vision—my dwarves don't have darkvision, they have the same "superior low-light vision", three times as good as human rather than twice, as my elves.) On the one hand that makes sense, but on the other hand they originally lived on one of the moons, so they probably piped light from one side of the moon to the other, during the half-month that was their night. Also moon-native crops of the kind favored by dwarves probably have drastically reduced light-requirements relative to normal plants. Could always be a mix of the two; maybe they pipe in lots and lots of light for growing newer crops they acquired a taste for since moving to the "Earth" and grow hardier, less light-hungry plants lower down.

    Other dwarfish agricultural products I thought of include fish-farms and fungi; they probably use the manure from the fish-farms as compost, baking it properly rather than applying it "raw" like in premodern societies (and it suddenly occurs to me a cool worldbuilding thing would be if dwarves have a taboo on eating uncooked food, what with fire being so significant in their culture—China traditionally has a taboo like that, mostly because of the aforementioned "raw manure" issues). Another thing is they probably still herd some kind of livestock (I'm thinking giant rabbits or marmots the size of sheep, since those are burrowing animals); since they don't also ride them or use them to pull weight they probably don't have the taboo on slaughtering them that they had had with their huge rams. They also, I think, milk their big wolverines. Since wolverines are mustelids, and the only mustelid whose milk I can find a nutrition breakdown for is the mink, dwarves are probably the people in my setting known for their kumis: because mink-milk is higher in sugar than horse milk, or even human milk.
  • It occurs to me, maybe give the elves weapons basically made from single stems lined with needles, like on the branches of a yew, that have had their needles modified to have very sharp edges (which many pine-needles do, but these would be hardened) and woven together to make a mostly-contiguous cutting edge. Maybe give them the stats of the "terbutje" (which is actually spelled "tebutje" and called "maccuahuitl" when lined with stone instead of shark-teeth), minus the fragile quality and with the bonus against sundering and Weapon Finesse applicability of the "elven curveblade". Not its threat-range, though, no need to be too generous.

    Considering my humans are very loosely based on Mesoamerica and my elves are very loosely based on the Spanish (except both are much nicer people than their real-world models), it makes a kind of sense to give the elves a form of maccuahuitl while the humans use swords: it's just switching them around. Think I'll also give them the "great terbutje" and the tepoztopilli ("pole maccuahuitl", the glaive to the macuahuitl's sword.) Though actually, "tepoztopilli" seems to have originally referred to Spanish lances, since tepoztli means "metal"; the actual indigenous type was probably called "maccuahtopilli"..."pole maccuahuitl".

    Can't very well call them Nahuatl words though; think I'll go with "(great) elf-blade" for the terbutjes and "elf-spear" (maybe elf-lance" since that's what we conflate it with—or "elf pole-blade"?) for the tepoztopilli.

    Late Addendum: Or could have the darkwood's leaves be vaguely oaklike, like various Phyllocladus species. That'd not only make for better maccuahuitl "teeth", it'd make more sense for scale mail.

2016/12/21

Boys, and Others, Named Sue

I did some research, while I was writing that thing about Star Wars Mary Sues (apparently I was wrong, the one in Rogue One is not a Mary Sue, the marketers just did their usual thing of showing you the most obnoxious scenes from the movie...some of which weren't actually in the final cut of the movie). Seems a bunch of people really don't like other people pointing out the simple, objective, Phil-Dick-had-issues-with-women-and-ontology fact, that Rey in Force Awakens is a Mary Sue. Well, she's better at more things than Alucard in Hellsing, with less work. And Alucard is such a horrendous Mary Sue that even if the show he's in was not bestially stupid and both aesthetically and morally disgusting, it would be unwatchable just because of how insufferable a Sue he is.

Also, interviewing Daisy Ridley about whether her character is a Mary Sue makes only slightly more sense than interviewing Pal about whether his character in Lassie Come Home is unrealistically intelligent. Do people really not understand that writers, not actors, create characters? (Granting for the moment that Miss "Mouth and Eyes Wide Open Is an Emotion, Right?" is an actor; she makes Keanu Reeves look like Sir Anthony Hopkins but I suppose she still counts as an actor...like Uwe Boll is a filmmaker.) And remember, Ridley is from a country where women with personal experience of domestic violence by men, nevertheless immediately denounce the sexism of the idea men are stronger than women. Duckspeak by an inhabitant of Airstrip One is the opposite of an argument.

Again: if you think nobody ever calls a male character a Mary Sue, you are as much as admitting that you don't actually read much analysis of fiction. Because again, Alucard and Edward Cullen, and Kirito in Sword Art Online, and Eragon, and even Batman (which is the only one that's really disputable) have been called Mary Sues (or some stupid, unnecessary male equivalent—they're called "Mary Sue" because that was the name of the character in the satirical short story "A Trekkie's Tale", a parody of fanfic self-insert characters that is the origin of the term in the first place).

It's probably shorter to list the light-novel protagonists who don't get called Mary Sues, and most of them deserve it, too. It's arguably not true that Adlet Mayer, for instance, is a Sue, but you can be forgiven for thinking different; the only LN protagonists I can think of who can't at least plausibly be considered Sues are Aikawa Ayumu and Yoshii Akihisa, and that's mostly because "even the people who like them treat them like they hate them" is roughly half of what happens in both their series. You don't believe we denounce male characters as Sues because you don't pay attention when we're not talking about your personal hobbyhorses; this necessarily makes your conception of what we do or don't talk about more than a little skewed.

2016/12/12

Gaily in the Dark


"The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.

...

"The wise men know what wicked things
Are written on the sky,
They trim sad lamps, they touch sad strings,
Hearing the heavy purple wings,
Where the forgotten seraph kings
Still plot how God shall die.

...

"But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.
Random thoughts, thought I'd give it a new name. It occurs to me that these last three are progressively becoming less focused: fantasy RPGs to fantasy and SF to random thoughts. Also, this is post #575, which is 52×23.
  • Decided no, my elves are going to be bigger than humans: specifically as much bigger as they are in Pathfinder, 6'1" on average for males and 5'11" for females—which incidentally gives the same mass-ratio as in the common raven. I realized that one of those guys riding a 55-inch Homotherium is no different from a 5'6" Mongol riding a 12.2 hand Mongol horse, and they do that.

    Went with vampire bats, specifically hairy-legged vampire bats, for the model of the dark elves, since the males of those are smaller than the female. Interesting ideas came about from associating the two; in hairy-legged vampire "society" the females take care of each other while adult males are kinda on their own. So what if dark elves are matriarchal with males being treated as permanent outsiders, kinda like a reverse Confucianism? (A wife is a stranger taken into a clan, in traditional Confucian cultures and even more in Neo-Confucian ones; that fact has consequences in ancestor worship—some of them directly causing the "gendercide" problem in China and South Korea, only one of which has a One Child Policy—and in some aspects of the kinship-system.)

    Decided that most of the special animals native to the elf home-world (one of the moons) have peculiar coloring: elves have blue or green hair and yellow or orange eyes, while their crows have pale blue feathers when immature and then turn dark red, and have purplish black eyes. Their foxes have blue fur and orange eyes, while their riding-cats are yellow-green with dark green markings, patterned like a serval's, and have pale yellow eyes.
  • There was a preview for the Trolls movie, when I went to see Moana. This particular ad had an interview with Justin Timberlake, in which he used the phrase "an embarrassment of riches". Which...a recent Penny Arcade reminded me of.

    Another preview there, was for the actually animated, not mostly-live-action, Smurfs movie. I kinda think we should all go see it just to reward them for realizing that a live-action Smurfs movie was a sin against God.
  • And the subject of cosmically ill-advised adaptations reminds me that there is a sentence that sums up the Peter Jackson Hobbit, e.g. its introducing of a "romance" between one of the Firstborn and one of the Adopted. Namely:
    ...As the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar.
    Or in other words, it's not so much an adaptation as it is a, well, marring.
  • Incidentally Moana strongly suggests to me that they should do either Journey to the West or (at least part of) the Kalevala next. Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, Lemminkäinen—someone needs to make a movie about those guys, other than "Jack Frost" as was done on MST3K. And with their Maui they've demonstrated they can do justice to the Great Sage Equal to Heaven.

    The only issue is Disney might not be willing to do either story, both being very male-centered; if their Star Wars output so far is any indication, all Disney pictures from now on must, apparently, be all Girl Power™ all the time, and that all too often of the highest Mary Sue concentrations (even Moana, though its eponymous protagonist is not a Sue, relegates a figure on par with Nanabozho, or Coyote and Raven at their most mythically significant, to sidekick status).

    You can't really introduce a female character to Journey to the West without doing violence to the plot; you might be able to pull it off in the Kalevala, but it'd still take some doing.
  • And yes, both much-vaunted Star Wars heroines are Mary Sues; Rey ticks about every box on any "litmus test" you care to name other than the sexual ones precluded by their PG rating. And the protagonist of Who the Hell Is Kyle Katarn? Rogue One looks to be another, what with her shockingly pat dialogue and clichéed "maverick pilot" persona, like the second coming of reboot-Starbuck.

    Now, before anyone embarrasses themselves, these characters are not being called Mary Sues just because they're female. There are lots of male Mary Sues, like Alucard and Edward Cullen (a lot of Sues of both sexes are vampires), or Kirito in Sword Art Online. Actually it might be truer to say that the Star Wars Sues are female because they're Sues, rather than the other way around.

    A case could be made that the blatant power-fantasy/"inexplicably impressing the canon characters" wish-fulfillment that the characters represent, for the AscendedFanboys who are RunningTheAsylum, would've been noticed, had they resembled their (uniformly male) creators in the obvious category of gender; but as women, well, their OCs (do not steal!) are just empowering women and giving girls a Strong Female Character™ role-model, you guys, really, geez, why do you hate women so much?
  • That male writers give themselves a pass for writing female Mary Sues, when they'd notice what a bad job they were doing if the character was male, is a possible explanation for Korra, as well. Her borderline-psychopathic selfishness, for which she is not once seriously challenged (in an "unambiguously shown as in the wrong" way) is a definite Sue trait, as is her not having to travel the world seeking teachers in order to master the elements, but being 75% of the equal of any of her predecessors by the time she's, like, six.

    Then again Legend of Korra is, as Jonah Goldberg said of Obamacare, "like a Claymation version of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen staged entirely with characters sculpted out of fecal matter: the mother of all shit shows." It's entirely possible those hacks, who make Jar-Jar Abrams look like J. Michael Straczynski, might've just straight-up made a Feminist!Sue, while they were driving through the previous Avatar's setting like a drunken gardener at a petting-zoo whose riding-mower has no rearview mirror. ("You mean a spectacle almost as revolting as that labored analogy?"—Jonah Goldberg's couch.)
  • Was debating the philosophy of writing fight-scenes with people that either don't know anything about fighting, don't know how to question the tropes they've been handed by other writers, or both. One thing I was having a hard time explaining to them (mostly because it's hard to do without being rude) is that you shouldn't describe it as "X threw a punch". You should describe it as "X punched [at]...something". (The "at" mainly for when something else interferes with actually punching the first something.)

    A punch, a kick, et cetera, is not an intransitive act: it has an object. You're trying to hit something. I think it's related to stage-fighting, the well-recognized problem where stage-fighters will attack the weapon, not the person. (The way it's supposed to work, you wind up with your weapon blocked because when you try to attack them, they put their weapon in the way. The way it works out too often, in practice, in stage-fighting and choreographed fights, is that you wind up with your weapon blocked because you swung toward the weapon they were going to block with to begin with.)

    Likewise, characters with guns should not "squeeze off rounds" and should only seldom "return fire", and then only to drive the enemy back to cover. When a character is doing suppressive fire, say so. When they are shooting at something specific, say so. Shooting from the hip is a bad idea; unless your objective is simply to shoot in the enemy's general direction to keep him from coming out, you should be shooting at something. Hell, maybe mention that your character is actually using the sights on their gun!
  • This Cracked article about dinosaur movies' weird tropes, missed one. Namely, "Triceratops is no danger". You see that in Jurassic Park, for instance. Now, aside from how "herbivore" != "safe"—bulls are herbivores, hippos are herbivores—is the fact ceratopsians may not be herbivores. There are some indications they were omnivores—basically Mesozoic pigs.

    And you know how dangerous pigs are, right? (Besides, again, it really doesn't matter—aside from how just because it doesn't want to eat you doesn't mean it doesn't want to kill you, apparently sometimes horses acquire a taste for human flesh.)

    On the other hand, that Cracked article is dead right about one thing: dinosaurs do hate cars. Anyone who's ever parked under a fruit-tree can tell you that.
  • A thought occurred to me: if you're going to have the six-limbed, four-legs-and-two-wings dragons, and their flight be even significantly powered by actual wing-flapping, their anatomy changes markedly. Namely, they would basically have the equivalent of a bird's "keelbone" on their back—probably modified vertebral processes as the keelbone is a modified sternum—and the motion of flapping their wings would work somewhat differently (because the downstroke is the opposite motion for the bones).

    This would give dragons a pronounced humpbacked silhouette, like an upside-down pigeon breast; however, that can probably play out in as many ways as the avian chest does. One idea I had is that if dragons went away (only to return in a quasi-apocalypse), as dragons are wont to do in works from Skyrim to Dragonlance, their bones might be reconstructed as having huge spines on the back, when those are actually the attachment-points for the flapping-muscles.

    I'm partial to dragons that are less reptilian; a lot of anime and manga, for example, have dragons whose heads seem to take more inspiration from sharks. Another thing I thought of is a fully functioning third eye, which was, as I mentioned, a feature of some Sarcopterygii and some of both the jawed and jawless armored fish.

2016/11/26

Sierra and Two Foxtrots II

SF and fantasy thoughts.
  • Decided that instead of wargs (which D&D likes to misspell as "worg" even though the Old Norse is vargr and the Old English is, well, warg), my goblins ride amphicyonids—the goblin-goblins something like one of the Daphoenodon species, the hobgoblins and bugbears something more like Ischyrocyon, probably I. gidleyi.

    Both they and the elves train the prehistoric beasts they ride to give signals, the "goblin hounds" by howling, and the Homotherium "blood cats" by roaring (yes, both Homotherium and the other machaerodontids—sabertooths—could roar, we know because the degree of ossification in their vocal anatomy is discernible in fossils). This is of course assuming that amphicyonids were social and had the howling behavior to go with it, for which there is no evidence one way or another, but these are actually magical creatures based on them so whatever.

    Both roaring and howling carry 5-6 miles; I've seen things saying 10 miles for howling but given 6 miles is a little under 10 kilometers, that can probably be attributed to a unit mix-up.
  • Occurred to me, zledo, and people fighting zledo, are probably going to need anechoic linings in their clothes, probably based on acoustic metamaterials, like in that article. Ambient noise, especially in places with electric current in the walls, might prevent the "can hear your heartbeat from 25 meters" issues, but they're still going to be a lot harder to sneak up on, without help.

    You especially want to sound-proof the actuators of a power-lifting exosuit, which of course would let you wear the kinds of heavier clothes that a sound-proofed lining would probably require. (And maybe some kind of refrigerated lining like in mascot suits.) Then again in the equatorial region where my first and third books take place, you probably wear refrigerated clothes anyway.
  • I was looking up how much people can "shoulder press" (lift over their heads), and found two interesting points, when I put in the average weights of male and female humans as given in the 3e Player's Handbook.

    One is that the average male's median lift was 145 pounds, while the average female's median was 73. I.e., the average male is just about exactly twice as strong as the average female, in this particular (purely upper-body) exercise.

    The other interesting thing is the mean of those two values is 109 pounds...which is almost exactly between the "lift overhead" (=maximum carried weight) numbers for Strength 10 and Strength 11, in the PHB's encumbrance table. Remember The Alexandrian on "casual realism"?
  • Doing the same test with the average male and female weights globally, gives a median lift-weight for the average (69 kilo) male of 57 kilos, and for the average (54 kilo) female of 29.5 kilos. Which is interesting because the gap is only slightly smaller: males can basically shoulder-press twice as much as females, if both are the average weight of their sex. (Remember how the average male has 50% more muscle-mass than the average female? It's also more concentrated in the upper body.)
  • It's odd that nobody noticed in this "political climate", and I really don't want to throw any fuel on those (witch-burning) fires, but you know what characters just objectively, unquestionably, got "white-washed"? The Lord-of-Admirals, and the rest of the human characters in the flashbacks to before the Forerunner-Flood War. They should all be a lot darker.

    Light skin doesn't appear in genus Homo till well after 100,000 years ago, specifically 30,000 to 18,000 years ago. The Neanderthals (who may have passed it onto some Eurasian populations but not, directly, the ones we associate with light skin) might've had it a bit sooner, by 40,000 years ago, but that's still less than 100,000.

    Apparently the weird hair-colors in Europeans and Levantines are because they have a small percentage of Neanderthal blood (you probably heard about that), though other Eurasians also have that small percent of Neanderthal blood, or more, and yet have black hair. Blond Polynesians and Australian Aborigines seem to have gotten their blond hair by autochthonous mutations, by the bye.
  • Googling le blogue suggests I haven't mentioned it, but the music of the After Colony timeline of Gundam is, inexplicably, almost uniformly better than that of the Universal Century timeline. There's some good music in some of the other timelines, but other than one or two songs in The 08th MS Team, none of the UC timeline's music comes close.

    One factor, I think, is that there's a unifying "theme" to Gundam Wing music, a sort of "she wore a yellow ribbon" vibe that's very suitable to military science fiction. You obviously can't hold crappy 1970s music, or the fact Kill-'Em-All Tomino was initially pretending it was a kids' show, against the original Gundam, but that doesn't explain why every UC installment after that also has thoroughly forgettable music.
  • Whenever people talk about "representation" in fantasy, I always want to quote them Penny Arcade: "A universe of possibilities, and you're fixated on the local flavor." And also, from the newspost of that same strip, "Boring, terrestrial, and (quite frankly) myopic." You understand that your fantasy humans did not have the same history as our humans did? You understand that that means you can mix and match phenotypes and cultures to your heart's content? Unless you are very concerned about having your fantasy filmed (and why on Earth would you actually waste time filming actors when animation is preferable in exactly every way?), you are in no way constrained by what is found in the real world.

    The main human ethnic group in my D&D setting, for instance is blond- to black-haired; black-, brown-, or blue-eyed; pink-, tan-, olive-, or dusky-skinned, and has hair-texture and facial features like Asians; one of the three main cultures usually has lighter skin but darker hair and eyes than one of the others, while the third has the full gamut of skin color, darker hair, but lighter eyes. There's another human group, mostly assimilated with the other cultures but sometimes without much genetic mixing (plus some rumored enclaves of its original culture), which has green eyes, red hair, ivory to terra cotta skin, and the facial features and hair-texture of Sub-Saharan Africans. Your word for the day is Mukokuseki.
  • Apparently the ancestral condition of vertebrates was to have a parietal ("third") eye, although nowadays it only exists as a light-sensitive organ in tuataras and some lizards and snakes, and the amphibians. Lampreys have one with an actual socket; so, apparently, did both the jawed and jawless armored fish, and some early sarcopterygians (lobe-finned fish). The parietal bone in mammals (and birds) derives from a structure that was between the eyes in fish and basal amphibians, and is still pretty far forward in modern amphibians and "lower" reptiles.

2016/11/16

Playing With Fantasy III

Fantasy RPG thoughts.
  • While I was trying to figure out exactly how elves riding deer in my D&D setting would work, I came across something much cooler for them to ride: Homotherium. It's a genus of saber-toothed cat, or rather "scimitar-toothed", which means the teeth are shorter and more serrated (never mind that that's not the difference between scimitars and sabers). It may actually be only one species, since the only major difference is the size of the individuals and most modern big cats vary hugely across their range.

    Anyway the reason they're going to ride Homotheria, or "blood cats" (hang on)—apart from the Rule of Cool—is because they were cursorial predators, like cheetahs. Except cheetahs don't live in prides, and these things apparently did (which would probably make them easier to domesticate, provided you're crazy enough to try; the social structure of horses is fairly similar to that of lions, after all). They had long, thick forelegs and shorter hindlegs, and the same respiratory adaptations as cheetahs. Now, most specimens are probably too small to be steeds, but apparently they found one individual that would weigh 400 kilograms, which is bigger than a Siberian tiger (other than the ones that get fat in zoos).

    Anyway the reason they are called "blood cats", is that the way Homotherium hunted, was probably by making big, jagged wounds on its prey with its teeth—all of which were serrated. Then it would just follow the animal while it bled to death. Basically it's a variant on persistence hunting that adds something to diminish the quarry's ability to "persist".
  • Another thing I decided, therefore, is that the dark elves of my setting ride giant "hyenas"—and I put "hyenas" in quotes because the thing in question is actually Dinocrocuta, a prehistoric feliform Carnivoran that only looks like a hyena, it's probably actually more closely related to things like civets. The blood cats are a gift to the elves from their hunting-god; since the dark elves alienated their gods, they needed to find another thing to ride, and Dinocrocuta weighed 380 kilograms and stood 140 centimeters at the shoulder. (That's also how tall Homotherium would be at 400 kilos, given its height at 250.)

    That seems short—it's 13.3 hands, or 55 inches (that's not a decimal point)—and at first made me think I might have to go back to the 5-foot-6-inch elves, but then I looked around a bit, and that's the same height as the average Mongolian horse. Now, even modern Mongol males only average 5 feet 6.5 inches/168 centimeters, but then again, that's an average; there are probably plenty of Mongols in the American/"D&D average human" height-range who don't find their horses' shortness a problem. (Go find some videos of Mongol horsemanship on YouTube, and notice how tiny the horses look under their riders. Apparently that's just how they're tailoring horses this season.) I think I'll just make elves the same height as humans, rather than slightly taller; maybe change the size-ratios of their sexes (since otherwise the female ones are only an inch taller than human females). If I use the mass-ratios of American crows (female 95.4% the mass of the male), I get a female elf who's 5-foot-8 if the male is 5-foot-9.

    The other people who ride Dinocrocutae ("giant hyenas", I ain't reinventing the wheel) in my setting, are "gnolls", or "hyena people" as my setting calls them. (There is exactly zero reason for "gnoll" to refer to hyena-guys.) I use striped, rather than spotted hyenas, because spotted hyenas are weird and I like striped hyenas' ridiculous mohawk-manes and their derpy-looking faces. (I might also have a brown-hyena subrace, who would look like something from Bill Peet or The Labyrinth.) In my setting hyena people are just one of several kinds of beast people made by the decadent ancient civilization.
  • Another cool thing I thought of is, if elves are riding pack-hunting cursorial cats, they don't need hounds any more. I'd had them use dogs, originally like Spanish greyhounds but then more like wolves, to hunt with; elves, or at least the fairies, are actually known for their hunting, in folklore. But if they're riding what is basically a giant saber-toothed cheetah-lion, they already have their hunting pack right there, without even needing to dismount. (Maybe an elf who's hunting rides the senior female or dominant male of a pride and controls them that way?)
  • Other things with animals I did: elves keep foxes the way humans keep cats, getting a bonus to Listen from fox familiars (foxes' hearing is probably better than wildcats').

    Removed Scent from all the felids; cats can't smell well enough for anything like it. Might give them Blind-fight as a bonus feat, though, since they can hear well enough to catch prey if they're blind. I replaced regular rhinos with woolly and giant ones (gave the stats of the regular one to the woolly, advanced it till it became Huge for the giant), since my setting's in an Ice Age, and explicitly made my elephants (woolly) mammoths and mastodons. (There is no need for the woolly mammoth stats in one of the "environment" sourcebooks, they're just somewhat large elephants with more hair. This is how you end up with separate stats for margays and cats, people.) Used the "serval" stats from the "desert" one of those "environment" books for lynxes and bobcats.

    Also, as I think I've mentioned, changing the ravens so they don't do claw damage. (Seriously, did anyone think for one second about that? Ravens are known for pecking—e.g., "your eyes out". Their claws are about as dangerous as a kitten's.)
  • My dark elves, who are aquatic (and make their living as river-pirates), had been wearing shark-skin armor as described in...I want to say the aquatic one of the "environment" books?

    But then it occurred to me, they worship a plant that's parasitizing the World Tree (the World Tree itself is what the other elves worship), so they could maybe make their gear out of vines, like the ones that make up most of the bodies of Cuscuta and Cassytha parasitic plants, the way other elves make their equipment from leaves, wood, and bark. (Of special plants, both cases—trees that are shoots of the World Tree, for normal elves, and, presumably, something that parasitizes them, for dark elves. A version of assassin vines?)

    So, "mail" woven from the vines, and various rope/whip weapons. Another thing this causes: where before the dark elves' weapons had been red, like some mistletoes and the parasitic conifer Parasitaxus, now their stuff ranges from red to sickly yellow.
  • Since my dark elves are not drow, and don't really care about spiders (I'm not sure if they do particularly care about any animals—I'd thought thrushes but they're not specifically mistletoe-themed any more), there's a whole wealth of spider-related stuff that needs to be reassigned so it's not wasted. So I kinda turned the aranea into a knockoff of the Nerubians in Warcraft, minus the "vaguely Egyptian" stuff—vast subterranean empires ruled by evil wizards.

    Changed their shape-shifting; now they only have two forms, any generic humanoid whose shape they feel like adopting, and spider, but instead of the aranea's spider-form they're more human-like, with an elevated cephalothorax and their pedipalp-hands situated lower down, like real arms. I also gave the araneas—or "web lords" as they're now called—a ranged attack with their urticating hairs, since there really are spiders that pluck those out and throw them. Rather than drow-like matriarchy (which seems to be based on the "widow" type of spiders), their matriarchy is tarantula-derived, with the males living for a much shorter time and thus being a limited resource that females compete over. (That's not really how it works for tarantulas of course but they don't really have a society.)

    They also make their armor out of webbing, and sell web-armor to my dark dwarves, who having alienated the dwarfish gods have no access to the glass that other dwarves make equipment out of. I think I'll also give the web-lords the ettercaps as a slave-race, like umber hulks for the neogi or grimlocks, often, for illithids. Maybe also formians as a vassal-race, rather than a slave one; there are spiders (herbivorous ones, or mostly—also social, with females tending each other's young) that deliberately nurture ants in order to have the ants protect the plants they eat.
  • Was statting up my giants; decided to have fire and frost, of course, plus versions of the forest and bog giants from Monster Manual II. Gave the bog-giants a more stone-giant like set of stats, minus the hard skin. I don't know why all, or most, of the giants are described as being gross, dirty, and smelly; the ones in Norse mythology aren't, nor Irish. I haven't actually read the original versions of the Cornish ones, but I would be surprised if they were like that.

    Couldn't really fit in hill giants as such, but thought I might have them as sort of "silverback" ogres, with the ogres one meets the rest of the time being the young males. That'd also give me an easy way to stick in ettins, as mutant ogres. My ogres don't speak Giant, but Ogre, a pidgin form of Dwarfish since they're mutant dwarves. My orcs are also a smaller subrace of them. (The word "orc" comes from Latin Orcus, also the etymology of "ogre". That's probably why after 3rd Edition, orcs started speaking Giant.) Maybe I'll use the Orogs from the 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms setting as female ogres, who, with the dimorphism I gave them, are not Large, but Medium.

    My orcs, because Twilight Princess, use huge boars (though not dire boars) as their mounts. Not sure what I'll have ogres do; maybe mammoths like the giants in Skyrim. The boars came with the orcs from the moon they used to inhabit with the dwarves, and I'd thought I'd have the ogres' mammoths be the same, but maybe ogres back home didn't want to bother with steeds, they can carry most things they'd need and walk as fast as elephants do.
  • It occurred to me that so far from being "murder hobos", the way everybody I know plays D&D, is basically "sword and sorcery superheroes". Low levels are your Batman and Green Arrow, mid-levels are your Flash and Superman, high levels are your Green Lantern and Justice League. A dungeon is basically a supervillain hideout with more variation in its mooks. (And some comic book locales don't even have that difference.)

    Clearly I'm not the only one who's noticed this, since the even-numbered editions, at least, were kicked off with crises little different from those that prune and re-plant continuity in comics. Some of them, like the Spellplague on Faerûn in 4e and Krynn's Fifth Age in 2e (or the Fifth Age that technically turned Dragonlance into a different game), were arguably comparable to the New 52, or killing off Barry in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but that only supports my thesis.

2016/10/31

Sierra Foxtrot 10

SF thoughts. 40 minutes to get it in this month!
  • They caused skin cells to become stem cells and then turned those stem-cells into ova, without causing massive tumors this time (or at least so they say; I wouldn't be surprised if the science-journalists are glossing over a lot of messy detail). If this breakthrough applies to humans—which it might not, the experiment was mice and human ova are notoriously delicate—on the one hand it means artificial reproductive technology doesn't need to strip women's ovary-follicles anymore, which is perhaps a good thing (in the sense that improving the conditions for your slaves is a good thing...except they're still slaves, which is not dissimilar to the Build-A-Bairn Workshop that is artificial reproductive technology).

    But now I have to retool something in my book, because now I can't have muggers harvesting ovaries from their victims, which kicked off a major plotline in my third book. It's actually genuinely difficult to come up with street-crime in a cashless society, you can't mug people for things that require their biometrics to work and in a 24th century society smartphones are no longer very valuable (they also almost already have systems that make it hard to re-sell them, so by then they'll almost certainly be that way). One thing I might do, since it would require the least re-writing, is have them be regular muggers; the person they're attacking is an investigative journalist, so she might have a reason to be flashing around precious metals.

    (Incidentally a bunch of articles, about the effect on crime of going cashless, seem to think you'd put drug-dealers out of business. Sweet innocents, black markets would just switch to doing business in gold and similar precious substances; one peculiar effect of a switch to a cashless economy would be to bring back the gold-standard, and not in the "convertible to bullion" sense, in the "English colonists using Spanish pieces-of-eight" sense.)
  • Turns out I was wrong when I said English sometimes uses its present progressive for a semelfactive aspect. It uses it for a seriative, or something like it (semelfactive is one instance of a repeated series, seriative is one of a series of distinct acts). If I'm reading the description right; it's always iffy explaining verb-aspects to people whose grammar doesn't mark them explicitly.
  • One's research into the future of warfare would be a lot easier if journalists were literate, and would take the trouble to actually understand the things they themselves write.

    Take for instance all these journalists claiming the Army doesn't want its tanks, and thinks they're useless, so the contracts to keep manufacturing them are scandalous boondoggles. But actually, when you read all the quotes that the writers themselves cite, all the Army ever seems to be saying is that they don't need more tanks, and the contracts to expand the tank "fleet" may constitute a boondoggle.

    But, of course, "Army's tank-needs being met, questions need for further tank procurement" doesn't cater to anybody's fantasy about "push-button war" the way "tanks are obsolete" does. And that's always at least the subtext—all too often the text; it is frequently about two paragraphs before armchair generals start in with the "spend the money that goes to tanks on drones" ritualistic chanting.
  • The khângây languages inflect their words by pronouncing them to different tunes. The ones they don't bother teaching to aliens have phonemic chording (they don't teach them to aliens because most people cannot produce a chord with their voice-box), with verbs being pronounced as a chord of the notes their subject and object are on. (Maybe the ones aliens do learn mark gender/number/etc. agreement by having the words all in the same key?)

    But I discovered, there's actually a conlang that does something similar (to the one without chording, of course). It's called Solresol, and its words are composed entirely of seven phonemes (plus pauses between words): do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti. Words, therefore, have many syllables, while khângây words have relatively few, since they use notes for inflections and distinguish actual words themselves by the same system as other languages, vowels and consonants. Maybe the one that doesn't have phonemic chording has a whole bunch of key-changes within a sentence that the others don't, the way Chinese has far fewer possible syllables than English but has to make up the difference with tone?

    It also occurs to me that maybe the khângây languages are written something like Byzantine hymns, with the notes of a word being expressed above or below the consonant-and-vowel line. Of course unlike Byzantine notation, theirs would be absolute instead of relative, because Byzantine notation's relative method seems like a pain in the butt.
  • I don't think I've mentioned it before but the thing about all those projections of drastically increased human lifespans, is they are generalizing from data that basically doesn't exist. See, we're not living longer because we've found anything like a way to push back the actual potential lifespan of the human animal. We're only living longer, on average , because fewer of us are dying young.

    Living into one's eighties, nineties, or even over a hundred was never unheard-of; it's just that more of us do it now than before. And, incidentally, the current life-expectancy? Still just over half the projected physiological maximum of this kind of animal. Get the average up to more than c. 8/15ths of the way there, before you start worrying about pushing it past that point.
  • If you wondered, St. Barbara and St. Maximilian Kolbe might be patron saints of rocket-scientists (okay so Kolbe isn't official but he should be), but St. Joseph Cupertino is the patron saint of astronauts, because his levitation looks an awful lot like weightlessness. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of cosmonauts, I think, because he's patron saint of pretty much everything Russians do (think the Guadalupana for Mexicans).

    I'm not sure who should be patron saint of space-colonization; really anybody involved in a colonial effort anywhere would do, or St. George who is among other things patron saint of explorers. Mary Help of Christians is patron saint of Australia, while of course the Guadalupana is patron of the New World (as are Innocent of Alaska and Herman of Alaska, on the Orthodox side of things).
  • Mob Psycho 100 is a breath of fresh air, so good I can actually tolerate its art. Why? Its theme. "You're not special, superpowers won't make you happy, and we are all commoners." Or in other words, "Everybody's special. Which means that no one is." The thing should be required viewing for everybody who writes that kind of story. (Ironically a lot of the fan discussion is whining about how "conformist" it is. Congratulations on being, like Claw's 7th Division, "middle-schoolers who never grew up".)
  • I don't know how I managed to miss the TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) exoskeleton. Projected for 2018, it's intended for people who have to kick in doors; rather than issuing one to everybody, you issue one to the point-man and the more lightly armored guys come in after.

    Interestingly, it, like the Big Dog, sidesteps problems with batteries by getting its power from good ol' internal combustion, specifically one using a "high efficiency hybrid cycle" that's 60-75% efficient and quiet, to boot. (Technically it uses the engine to charge a battery but the same is true of lots of other things that still don't count as battery-powered.)

2016/10/11

Blood and Treasure III

Speculative biology and material culture.
  • A thought occurred to me: if I simply give zled males and females the same muscle-mass percentage (61%), without changing their overall mass, then their dimorphism isn't nearly as strange. Because extreme as it seems (males weighing roughly half again what females do), if it's the same percent of both male and female zled bodies, it's the same ratio of muscle mass between the sexes as humans have.

    It's just that male humans are 42% muscle and females are 36%, and male humans mass 69 kilos to females' 54. 42% of 69 kilos is 28.98 kilos; 36% of 54 kilos is 19.44 kilos. That's 49.1% more total muscle mass for male humans—which is also how much more muscle-mass a male zled has than a female one, now, it's just that a male zled is that much bigger than the female overall, while a male human seems closer in size to a female one.
  • That incident where a Tesla-driver got killed by his self-driving mode not knowing the side of a semi from clear skies, made me think: why not put radar in self-driving cars? It doesn't have to be powerful, just ten or twenty meters range or so, and it would prevent the kinds of problems caused by image-recognition software.

    Another use of radar that makes perfect sense to me, is using it Halo-style to detect where people are in a building, when cops investigate it. This, apparently, has been ruled to be a violation of privacy, but...what? If the cops have sufficient grounds to be shining a flashlight inside a structure, then they have sufficient grounds to be pinging it with radar motion-detectors. It is exactly the same thing as shining a flashlight, it's just a different kind of light being used. (Okay so technically radar isn't an optical wavelength. Still "light" in the broader "all EM radiation" sense.)

    I get the feeling this is like those incidents where kids had porn on their iPhones, or whatever, at school. There is no need for a new school rule, there are rules that cover both phones and porn at school; at most you need to make the inspections more often. But because a new technology is in play, clearly, we need to panic.
  • Incidentally, in case you wondered, the dimorphism of humans is even less pronounced in terms of muscle-mass percentage, compared to genus Pan. Bonobo males average 52% muscle, while females average 37%. A male human is only 42% muscle, to the female human's 36%. I would like to also give you numbers for chimpanzees, but apparently the muscle-mass percentage of Pan troglodytes is a secret.
  • Zledo have bird-like eye anatomy, a sclerotic ring and a nictitating membrane that covers the eye, and coats it in a thicker, more viscous kind of tears than what comes from the other two eyelids. In a split from the avian model, both types of tears drain directly into the nose, like in Carnivora mammals.

    I think, though, that like many animals other than humans (dogs, cats, elephants), many animals on the zled homeworld shed tears when in pain. But zledo, who are more intelligent than dogs or cats and have a complex social life like humans, shed tears like humans (and perhaps elephants—the evidence is anecdotal and inconclusive) when emotionally distressed, as well as when in physical pain.

    I actually have a worldbuilding reason that zledo need tears.
  • I forgot one of my basic tricks: use plant things in alien animals (and vice-versa). So decided, zled milk, that's liquid inside their body but solidifies in air? It's not like lanolin (an animal wax). It's like cocoa butter! Except a wax, not a pure fat. But still, cocoa butter's melting point is between 307 and 311 K, which is to say 2 Kelvin less than zled body temperature. (It's also less, at least at the low end, than human body temperature, hence the "melt in your mouth" aspect of chocolate.)

    Or maybe jojoba ester, which is used as a substitute for spermaceti (sperm whale wax) in many cosmetics, which melt anywhere between 288 and 343 Kelvin—except those have to be transesterified from jojoba oil. (Then again maybe I could've just used an animal model, spermaceti, in the first place. It's liquid above about 303 Kelvin, and even apparently smells like raw milk, but solidifies at lower temperatures.)

    I was thinking it might have to do something weird to be dissolved in water, since waxes don't, but then again neither does butter-fat, so whatever keeps Earth-milk emulsified might work on the wax-like substance dissolved in zled milk. Upon examination, I discover that the enzymes that do that on Earth are called "lipases", specifically the bile-salt dependent lipase, which is also produced in the pancreas.
  • Discovered, from an 18- to 20-inch barrel, .30-06 is not particularly preferable to .308 Winchester. If you want to get the better performance, you have to go with at least 22 inches. What that means is that my Peacekeeper rifles got two inches longer—but since they're bullpup, that means the main one is only two inches longer than the M4 carbine, and the USMC-cadre one is an inch shorter.

    Also, didn't mention here (I did on the DeviantArt, on the story it shows up in there), but the Peacekeeper rifle, being chambered in a battle-rifle round, obviously isn't called an "assault" rifle. It's called an automatic rifle, or just a rifle. Although in German, and more importantly (globally-speaking, no offense Germany) French, the distinction between "battle rifle" and "assault rifle" does not appear to exist (and Russian calls both "automatic [rifle]", which seems to also be what Chinese does). The distinction does seem to exist in Spanish, and I don't know enough Arabic to look.
  • In other news RE: my guns, decided to go back to ring-shaped grips on zled lasers. I saw Bubuki/Buranki, and fell in love with the series of circles that make up the grip and stock of Shizuru's Tsurarai. Think this means the springs load via a break-top mechanism, always my preference anyway. Also think maybe the bottom-rear portion of the ring-grip will be an accessory-rail, for attaching a stock, one that retracts into itself when the laser is on a belt.

    Kinda giving some thought to having the swords also have a ring-shaped hilt. Maybe with an arrangement where the hilt is a ring, then there's another ring at right angles to it forming a guard, and then a half-ring forming "sword-breaker" quillions. The ring-shaped hilt, aside from being cool, also has room to let you use it in both hands, without needing a long katana-type hilt. I don't think the leverage is quite as good but when you're as strong as a zled that doesn't matter as much.
  • Can you believe I apparently (if Google is searching this blog accurately) haven't mentioned "pinkhouse" agriculture? The way that works is, you do hydroponics in big racks where plants grow stacked up, and you light them with lamps that glow bright magenta, through using a mix of red and blue LEDs (you use LEDs because they're really efficient, not only in terms of your power-bill but in terms of waste-heat, which means you can get them closer to the plants without a risk of burning them or starting a fire). This makes the plants grow better—as in 20% faster.

    The advantages for space-colonies are obvious. And I think I've mentioned here or there that modern zled farming is mostly under their cities? (Aside from plants, they raise colonies of a sort of termite-locust thing, except probably not anything like that destructive if it gets out.) This lets them leave most of their planet as wilderness, which allows them to hunt—a major concern for a civilization where "professional hunter" is a common job and it's taboo to domesticate any vertebrate-analogue prey animal.

    If it seems weird that they have lots of professional hunters, consider that we have them too, they just hunt fish.