2019/05/31

True Places Never Are

Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.
—Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 12: "Biographical"
Damn but space coordinates are confusing. I was trying to figure out how zledo work the galactic coordinate system; I wanted to rename their stars so they're their actual coordinate (i.e. something like the Bonner Durchmusterung—"Bonn Observatory Perusal," roughly—star catalog, which lists each star as "BD" followed by its declination). The center of the galaxy, Sagittarius A* ("Sagittarius A-Star"), is 26,673 light years from Earth, give or take 42; our "galactic" coordinate system puts the sun at the center and runs one of the planes not through the actual equatorial plane of the galaxy, but through the sun, which is about 56.75 (give or take 6.2) light years above the equatorial plane.

That was only one headache; I also think that coordinates for anything round (like a galaxy) should be polar—especially for the zledo, who conceptualize orbits as movement in the sky of the center object (in this case, Sagittarius A*), and refer to distance from the center as "altitude", just as one might exactly describe an object's location on Earth in terms of its longitude, latitude, and elevation. So, what this means is that first I have to convert all the galactic coordinates of each star from the Sol-centered one to one centered on Sagittarius A*, and then convert those units to polar ones. (You remember that, from trig, right?) One piece of good news, I was worried that the galactic-coordinates' equatorial plane was tilted to go through Sol, but, mercifully, it's only shifted upward by 56.75 light-years. There's also the question of where to stick the prime meridian; that, zledo will stick on a line through mÕskoi (as we stuck Earth's through the Royal Obervatory in Greenwich).

Further credit given where due to our galactic-coordinate system, it appears to define north correctly, as being on your left if you face spinward (east) with your feet pointed at the center (nadir).

I worried about what units to express the distances in (spherical coordinates have polar angle and azimuthal angle, and then a distance, as two-dimensional polar coordinates have the angle and then the distance), but I actually don't have to. I can just treat, say, the virial radius of the Milky Way, which seems to be about 258,000 parsecs, as a unit circle, and then express distances as a fraction of that. Or, since the actual important part of the galaxy is more like half that many light-years—and whatever idiot called them "kilolight-years" instead of "light-millennia" should be pistol-whipped—I might use that definition of the galactic radius as my unit-circle, and express "altitudes" as a fraction of that.

But then it occurred to me, most of the West's more recognizable, systematic star names come from 1603 (Bayer designations), 1725 (Flamsteed designations), or 1879 (Gould designations); Chinese ones date to the Han (206 BC-220 AD) and Jin (266-420 AD) Dynasties, but were truly put on a systematic footing by the Jesuit missionary Ignaz Kögler, who compiled the Yíxiàng Kǎochéng between 1736 and 1744, with a revision, the Yíxiàng Kǎochéng Xùbiān, a century later, in 1844. Meanwhile we only even had our Sol-centered "galactic" coordinates starting in 1932, with a major correction in 1958.

So zledo could use an older, more Lhãsai-centered coordinate system, analogous to our right-ascension and declination one (but radians—they didn't always use radians, of course, but rather fractions of a circle, but radians' advantages eventually became clear), for naming stars. That's…not much easier, though, if any, because now, I have to define a celestial coordinate system relative to a planet whose ecliptic lines up roughly with Orion. (I checked, in Celestia: λ Serpentis does indeed have a recognizable Orion in its sky. There's probably someone who can actually tell me how the ecliptic plane of λ Serpentis is oriented, but since I can't find any such thing on the interwebs, neither can my readers—yet, probably, damn the inexorable march of science.)

Oh well. This kind of research is a necessary part of my creative process. I'll eventually hash it all out.

2019/05/29

Swords and Plowshares IV

Material culture thoughts, though also some language ones. Hey, languages are classed as tools in Swahili (and I think other Bantu languages)—kiSwahili "coastal language" is the same noun-class as kitab "book". (Both, incidentally, are Arabic loan-words, though interestingly kitab treats the first syllable of the Arabic word for "book" as if it was the Swahili classifier-prefix for tools.)
  • Decided to redo my zled units so the dhaelã is 1.2 billion Planck masses, or 26.1174 kilograms. Sounds big, but it's very close to the Attic talent of 25.86 kilograms. This makes the heigõsu equal to 6.188627 newtons, the yadhõplai equal to 0.392984 joules, and the the dothã nal-yadhõplai to 0.759143 watts (oddly close to 1/1000th of a horsepower).
  • Turns out that the animacy system in Navajo (which ranks nouns according to something like nine degrees of animacy—weird feature, gods and babies are less animate than adult humans) is a part of its direct-inverse system, also known as a "hierarchical alignment" because nouns are classed (usually in relation to transitive verbs) according to a hierarchy of things like saliency or animacy. Apparently even the linguists are still researching this stuff, but keep abreast of it, it could be cool for conlangs.
  • While reworking zled armor I've decided that their inner and middle suits are different. The innermost suit is just a mechanical counterpressure spacesuit; their skin is so loose that they don't need to stuff any extra padding in anywhere. Then the middle suit is artificial silk (or rather "cocoon-protein fiber", since silk is a specific one from Earth) soaked in a dilatant gel, with a heat dissipating lining—but that one's just graphene, which also has antiballistic properties. Then the outer suit is the metamaterial foam with both the second-sound and CMF properties, sandwiched in a layer of boron nitride nanotubes coated with a diamond-hard organyl-protected peptide (since zledo aren't from Earth, they don't use phenylalanine).

    Think the zled uniforms are the same stuff as the middle layer, artificial silk ("cocoon-protein fiber") soaked in dilatant, with a heat-dissipator graphene lining. The uniforms also have a layer that adsorbs (not absorbs) odors, so as to conceal the wearer's emotions. I also decided that zled soldiers wear cloaks made out of auxetic foam, to protect them from blasts—that had been what the middle layer of their armor was, but being under the hard outer layer would probably prevent it from expanding properly, which is how auxetic blast protection works (and would probably actually channel the force of explosions directly into the body).

    Their civilian levies (something like our National Guard) wear the same middle layer, but not the pressure suit—their civilian spacers do have a pressure suit and they can put levy armor over it, which is also what pirates do. The outer layer of civilian armor is just an advanced CMF armor, so it doesn't have the laser resistance of the military's stuff. (Most military body-armor is designed for shrapnel rather than direct small-arms fire, remember.)
  • Both civilian-levy and regular military armors' outer layer is powered, though only enough to negate its own weight—zledo don't need any particular help beyond that, what with being able to throw a small car, split a skull with a single slap, leap 10 meters horizontally or 5 vertically, and run 40 kilometers per hour (11 and 1/9th meters per second, in the space colonies where only SI is used), and all.

    Human troops (not the VAJRA powered-armor wearers) also have power-lifting systems, worn under their armor, to let them "hump" their packs and armor more easily, and also boost their strength a bit—enabling them to do a four-minute mile (6 and 2/3rds meters per second, in the colonies). Not sure exactly how much raw strength boost that gives; probably enough to let them control the recoil of a SAW without a tripod, though.

    And yes, my human space-colonies express their traffic's speed-limits in meters per second.
  • Damn but boron is important in my setting though, eh? Boron nitride nanotubes in zled armor and the springs that power all their stuff, boron carbide as the backing of the plates in humans' VAJRA armor; maybe I should add boron filaments in something like a civilian armor jacket or something, round out the list. I guess, like, leave instructions for your descendants to invest in boron, on the commodities exchange, starting around the 2200s. Make a killing.

    Lot of foams, too—composite metal foams, quasi-crystalline metamaterial foams, anti-blast auxetic foams—and gels, like the dilatant and magnetorrheological gels used in armors, and the gel that is the metal-air batteries. (The composite metal foams are like "styrofoam", incidentally, not, like, soap bubbles; the auxetic anti-blast foam is like "foam rubber", except not as fine-textured—and some auxetic foams are made of metal.)
  • I really need to get down to brass tacks about my robots' batteries. I keep seeing wildly conflicting reports for the energy density of silicon-air batteries, from 8.47 kilowatt-hours per kilogram to 14.23. Might have to go back to lithium-air ones, at 11.14 kilowatt-hours per kilogram, which is comparable to gasoline's 12.2. (Silicon-air being 16.6% better than gasoline was probably a pipe-dream, actually. Maybe by the 24th century, but still.)

    I had actually done my computations of the battery-requirements for my bots based on lithium-air, I think; and 24 hours of activity on a single charge is actually unnecessarily strict, not least because the bots can eat to extract chemical energy à la EATR, and then use the energy gained that way to breathe, and re-oxidize their metal-air battery. (EATR reminds me: have I mentioned lately how much I hate your society's "we don't know fiction from reality" panicking over every robotics development that comes along?)
  • I try to make it clear in my books that the five major zled languages are not their only ones. One of the characters occasionally talks to members of his nation (mostly country people) in their pre-imperial language, and their major language is not the same language as the one the empire speaks even though it derives from it. (Zled linguists theorize their old language is related to one of the big ones, but the similarities could just be areal.)

    Two of the other zled civilizations/ecotypes have an official language and then a bunch of related languages, which I should probably make clearer. Think something like Hindi plus all those other Indic languages, or Arabic plus Berber, Neo-Aramaic, Hebrew, and the Ethiopian languages. Or Mandarin and all the other Chinese languages, only the northern examples of which are "dialects" (here we repeat the mit an Armey un Flot quote).
  • I honestly should probably rewrite my whole setting to use something slightly more realistic than the topological confinement fusion drive, since those airframe materials as light as aerogel now make it feasible to have a ship with almost any mass-fraction you want. (Though the big determinant of a ship's top speed is exhaust velocity—but a high exhaust-velocity, mediocre-thrust engine, like magnetic confinement fusion, suddenly gets a lot more feasible.) A ship's mass can be little more than that of the crew and environment systems plus the engine and propellant tanks (and any armor its role might require), with the rest of the structure accounting for a tiny percentage of the whole. I'm not going to rewrite that part, though, partly because it's a huge headache but also because topological confinement fusion is a Cool Idea. I like those in science fiction.
  • Turns out that the khângây use of tone, as grammatical rather than lexical, is the typical use of tone in African languages. Where languages like Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese use a difference of tones to distinguish words, languages like Maasai, Igbo, or Dogon use it to distinguish things like case. Of course, nobody couples that system with a Mesoamerican style agreement system (where verbs are a chord of their subject and object notes), because humans cannot produce chords with their mouths.

2019/05/24

De fabularum mirabilium VI

Fantasy thoughts. Two in a day, yo.
  • Both Skyrim and Kingmaker have this trope where you go to a place—Avanchnzel and Labyrinthian in Skyrim, the Abandoned Hut the Stag Lord used to live in in Kingmaker—and a bunch of spectral apparitions re-enact the place's past, without a word of explanation as to why this happens. (I'll make an allowance for when you see Nyrissa's past in Kingmaker, because "it's Fairyland" is an adequate explanation. You could probably make the case that Nyrissa is showing you the Stag Lord's, too, but that's fudging the Author's Saving Throw for him.)

    In general it's just very lazy. Much better is the Resident Evil, finding journals everywhere, approach. You could easily find journals of Savos Aren's friends in Labyrinthian, the way you find those of the Nchuan-Zel expedition in Markarth; or those of Watches-the-Roots, From-Deepest-Fathoms, Breya, and Drennen in Avanchnzel; or the Stag Lord and his father. You even do find some scraps of the latter's journals. It's even easier if it's some kind of ancient thing—fill in the backstory in monumental bas reliefs as the characters explore a ruin. (You get a bit of that in Vordakai's tomb.)

    If you must do it in visions, have it be in a dream as they camp out near the ruins. Come on. (Also games should make "having to sleep" a thing again.)
  • In George "Rape-Rape" Martin's continuing quest to do exactly everything wrong, his dragon-eggs have scales. You know, like how bird eggs have feathers. And shark eggs are covered in denticles. And Gila monster eggs are beaded. Right? I had thought it was one of the many stupidities of the show (like its "keyboard on demo-mode" opening theme), but nope, that's in the book. I really ought to have known; the prop people, like the costume people and David Peterson in his capacity as conlang people, actually do their jobs. It's the writing and music people who are phoning it in, and the former are constrained by the source material.

    It occurred to me, though, that I kinda want my dragon eggs to be something weird. I considered something like shark eggs (or rather egg-cases), but shark egg-cases are such weird shapes due to being laid underwater. But it occurred to me, what if my dragon eggs are transparent, like many mollusc eggs are, but with a hard shell made of a gem-mineral? D&D dragons, after all, eat gems, so they can probably also put gem-mineral shells around their eggs. Maybe color-coded, with the wholly transparent shells being ice-dragons, the ruby ones being the fire-dragons, etc. (I don't exactly have chromatic dragons, in my setting.)
  • I realized that I can get a subjunctive into my Elven language by just adding a prefix to another prefix. And since my Elven verbs, like Tibetan ones, are marked for volitionality, the subjunctive-as-order can be readily distinguished from the subjunctive-as-wish. (I think the volitionality also gives something like a passive voice, which most ergative languages haven't got—though Mayan ones do. That's certainly one of its functions in Tibetan, the other main one being distinguishing something like "hear" from "listen" or "get X killed" from "kill X".)
  • There was another silliness in Game of Thrones. (The show; I don't know about the book but I wouldn't be surprised given Martin was shocked how high a 500-foot wall is, when he saw it in the show. Meaning he never looked at a 500-foot building in a photo, and drew lines to see what it'd look like as a wall.) Anyway, the silliness in at least the show, is that (people have crunched the numbers) the only way a certain scene of shooting down dragons would work, given the depicted ranges, is if the ballistae had a "muzzle" velocity of 2000 meters per second.

    I did some digging. The bolts of the kind of siege-engine that shoots bolts typically weigh about 2.4 kilos. (They also usually have a "muzzle velocity" of 60-150 meters per second.) One of those, at 2000 meters per second, is a "muzzle energy" of 4.8 megajoules. Given recoil force is 10% of "muzzle energy", that means every bolt launched from the device subjects it to 480 kilojoules of recoil—the equivalent of 114.7 grams of TNT, or, basically, two hand-grenades, set off inside the ballista (or whatever), every single time it's used. The thing would explode into splinters with one shot.

    Incidentally, 150 meters per second is an energy of 27 kilojoules—almost exactly half again the muzzle-energy of a .50 BMG round.
  • It occurs to me that a good way to explain the alignments, in D&D, is not so much "law vs. chaos" (a stupid idea unreflectively ganked from Moorcock) but "law vs. charter"—that is, whether the individual or society views things in terms of obligations, or in terms of rights. And then "good vs. evil" is simply whether they're going to use their rights or obligations, toward their proper ends, or abuse them, for their own gain. (Or respect others' rights and keep their obligations toward others, vs. ignoring others' rights or exploiting others' obligations.)

    Then ethical neutrality comes down to favoring neither rights and obligations (whether respected or exploited), but respecting or exploiting either as seems most prudent. Moral neutrality would be neither taking pains to respect rights or obligations, nor specifically exploiting or ignoring them—or possibly doing both in (roughly) equal measure.
  • Ballistae actually aren't tension weapons at all—they aren't giant crossbows. They're torsion weapons. Their two arms are separate, each sitting in the middle of two big twisted springs, and their "bowstring" is just suspended between the arms to hold the projectile in place. Interestingly a lot of ballista variants (e.g. the scorpio and the onager—though apparently the onager is considered a kind of scorpio) often shot catapult stones, not bolts. Then there was the polybolos, a repeating ballista that also holds the distinction of being the first use of the chain-drive. (Though not quite the first repeating missile weapon, that honor going to the Chinese repeating crossbow, invented in the 4th century BC—its association with Zhuge Liang, 181-234 AD, notwithstanding—whereas the polybolos was 3rd century BC.) China actually did use giant crossbows—repeating ones, in fact—as artillery, though.
  • Thinking I might change the settled rural culture's weapon familiarities from heavy pick, lance, and whip-as-martial to longsword, lance, and whip-as-martial. Though the heavy pick is a great cavalry weapon, in Pathfinder (for some dumb reason) it's not bludgeoning-or-piercing, it's only piercing. And the only thing the pick has going for it is a high critical multiplier.

    (Also the two main kinds of undead mook, zombies and skeletons, have their damage reduction defeated by slashing and bludgeoning, respectively; no undead mook loses its damage reduction to piercing, only rakshasas do, and they're not in my setting.)

    Might give the heavy pick to the nomadic horse culture, actually, since it's somewhat similar to Plains cultures' "war clubs" (which were really hammers), and replace the hooked lance. I'd had their main melee weapon be regular clubs and greatclubs, but those are simple weapons, so almost all of them will know how to use them anyway.
  • I considered using the spiritualist emotional focuses (anger, dedication, despair, fear, hatred, jealousy, and zeal), from Occult Adventures, as the names of days of the week; the rationale for such odd weekdays being that the serpentfolk named them, as they named the months after the creature subtypes—I decided to have some of the barely-humanoid humanoids (serpentfolk, araneas, sahuagin) use psychic magic, instead of normal divine or arcane magic.

    But then I realized I can go with the energy types—acid, cold, electricity, fire, force, negative, positive, sonic—and just combine negative and positive into one day. Obviously they'd be named something other than "Acidday"; I'm thinking the English translations would be something like "Vitriol, Frost, Lightning, Flame, Distortion, Life, Ringing". But I'll probably translate them into my Common for my actual calendar, the way the Elder Scrolls setting does.

Sierra Foxtrot 14

SF thoughts.
  • Had considered using the parallax microradian as the zled equivalent of a light-year, and then maybe the picoradian for in-system measures and then "ten yoctoradians" for a day-to-day one. But, I hadn't considered that the "parallax" in question is from Earth's orbit, so I'd need to calculate what a parallax radian is from Lhãsai's orbit, instead (from Earth's you just convert arcseconds to radians). Apparently I never wrote down the orbital distance I had decided for Lhãsai around mÕskoi, and while trying to re-calculate it online, I discovered that science had determined 18 Scorpii, which I'd been using as mÕskoi, to be too young, by at least half a billion if not a full billion years.

    Fortunately I found that λ Serpentis is a similar star not that far from 18 Scorpii, so they don't have to move that much. And it has a nice Bayer designation with a Greek letter—lama in the Greek radio alphabet, which, for extra cool, means "blade". Its Chinese designation, similarly, is (Tiānshìyòuyuán)Shǔzēngyī, the First Shǔ Addition (to the Celestial Market Enclosure). That'd be Shǔzēngyāo on the radio, and thus in space-colonies. It's definitely old enough, at 3.8 to 8.7 billion years; I can also still fit Lhãsai's old orbital period inside its habitable zone, which saves a huge headache in rewriting.
  • Self-driving cars won't be. They will be driven by an algorithm, by the existing traffic and road conditions, and to a large extent, by tech conglomerates like Google. It will be like if you could get into a carriage and tell your horse your destination, but had no reins—and your horse is controlled directly by the goddess Epona or Demeter in her guise as Great Mare. (You might be able to take the wheel, but I wouldn't count on that being the normal procedure.)
  • Still wanted to give the zledo some sort of 'natural' unit. Turns out the zled "parsec" is just the semimajor axis of Lhãsai's orbit in AU, times our parsec, which means their "parallax radian" is also that much bigger. The old "parallax microradian" was 0.67275 light-years, or 6,364,666,884,499.273 kilometers; the zled parallax microradian is 7,078,947,990,186.918 kilometers. The parallax picoradian would be 70,789,479.902 kilometers, and the parallax yoctoradian would be 7.079 millimeters, ten of which would make 7.079 centimeters.

    But having realized that the parsec (or any other unit based on a parallax angle) isn't exactly a natural unit, it occurred to me that 100 million Bohr radii is 5.291(772) millimeters. Obviously that's not a very useful unit on its own (half a centimeter), but multiply that by 12 (1.2 billion Bohr radii) and you get 6.350 centimeters, which is about half the old zled unit, the bãgh, which was 12.87. 100 of them is 6.350 meters, a good length for e.g. surveying. And then 10,000 ("one myriad") bãghã, 12 trillion Bohr radii, is 635.01 meters, roughly comparable to a kilometer. A million-bãghã, 1.2 quadrillion Bohr radii is 63,501.265 meters, comparable to the Byzantine "day's journey" of 47 kilometers. A hundred-million-bãgh/120 quadrillion Bohr radii is 6,350.127 kilometers, and then a "myriad million"-bãgh/12 quintillion Bohr radius one, 635,012.563 kilometers—the latter two useful for things like low planetary orbit and lunar orbit.

    For larger ones I'd go with a trillion-bãgh one, which is 1.2 sextillion Bohr radii and 63,501,265.296 kilometers, or 0.424 AU—not quite three-fifths of a zled AU. 100 trillion bãghã is 120 sextillion Bohr radii, 6,350,126,529.6 kilometers or a little over 42.448 AU—38.165 zled AU. "1 myriad trillion" bãghã, 12 septillion Bohr radii, is 635,012,652,960 kilometers, 4,244.797 AU (3,816.488 zled AU) or 0.067 light-years; finally a quintillion bãghã, 1.2 octillion Bohr radii, is 6,350,126,529,600 kilometers, 424,479.740 AU, or 6.712 light years, just a little over two parsecs.
  • Come to think of it, the zled mass unit, the dhaelã, is 2.22 kilos. But the Planck mass is 21.7645 micrograms; 100 million times that, is 2.17645 kilograms. So I guess I can "metricize" their mass unit, too. Maybe 120 million, so it divides by 12 more easily? That's still relatively close at 2.6117 kilos—also almost exactly 7 Troy pounds. Then 100 of those, 12 billion Planck mass, is 261.174 kilos.

    Deriving the equivalent of newtons, joules, and watts from all this was a bit of a headache, but the result was interesting. Even though the mass unit was bigger than the kilogram, the length and time units being much smaller than meters and seconds made the derived units a lot smaller. Their newton is not quite two-thirds, closer to seven-elevenths, of ours, and then their joule is like a twenty-fifth of ours. Their watt's something like three-fortieths ours.

    I'm just naming their derived units "thrust", heigõsu and "work", yadhõplai, and then I'm just calling their power unit "dothã of work".
  • I'll leave their time units, the dothã, the aech (120 dothã'o), and the zbeihõlt (120 aecho, alone; in their colonies they derive those from the rotation-period of the planet they're on. The "standard" dothã is 1/172,800th of a Lhãsai day, because they make it twelve zbeihõlto each of 120 aecho each of 120 dothã'o (and, again, their "stellar" aech is the same length as a "stellar" minute).

    Though 1043—10 tredecillion, or, if you're continental Western European, 10 septillion—Planck times is a similar length, at 0.539121 seconds. But just like how we define the second as exactly 1/86,400th of a Julian day (1/60th of the minute that's 1/60th of the hour that's 1/24th of the day), because it's useful to astronomers, zledo define the dothã relative to their "standard" day, and don't worry about anything else. (The zled day is about 166,000 of the "10 tredecillion Planck times" unit.)
  • Turns out there are contact-lenses you can wear for up to 30 days without taking them out, now, so you probably wouldn't need to do nano-bot eyedrops all that often while wearing the filter ones. That certainly saves on rewriting, though I am gonna add zled military and police occasionally being glad of their filter-contacts. (Presumably they're a form of photochromic lenses, since they don't stop you from seeing color—maybe they're like ballistic ear-plugs and kick in instantly when they're hit with sufficient intensity of light.) Also occurs to me that zled signalers, their computer techs, might wear similar ones, but for filtering out certain light-wavelengths from screens.

    Another bit of safety equipment that's widespread in my setting, is suppressors: decided all my firearms are integrally suppressed. The sonic boom from supersonic ammo still makes a gunshot noticeable (though I don't think it's loud enough to be a hearing-loss risk), but it no longer gives away your position as much. (A big deal, fighting zledo.) Even their revolvers are suppressed, by just sealing the cylinder gap in such a way as to allow the cylinder to still rotate freely—presumably they have to be lubricated regularly. I was worried they might not be able to suppress shotguns, but as it turns out, we actually have suppressed shotguns now. (You'd still want shooting earplugs for blast noise, though.)
  • Apparently the projected energy density of carbon nanotube springs is 3.4 gigajoules per cubic meter. But apparently boron nitride nanotubes are an order of magnitude stiffer than carbon ones. 34 gigajoules per cubic meter is slightly higher energy density than gasoline, which is 32.4 gigajoules. Um…do zledo actually need to power anything smaller than a spaceship or a city with anything other than springs? I think I might have 'em even power their powered armor with springs now. Certainly their semi-feudal, subsidiarity-preserving social order would likely prefer to power things like cars with BNNT springs rather than with beamed power, since BNNT springs preserve privacy so much better. (Though they don't have quite our concept of privacy—with their hearing it's not really a custom you'd acquire.)

    Anyway. At a laser efficiency of 85%, the hand laser's sixteen shots, which are now 3,143.825 Joules (80,000 yadhõplai'o) each, requires ((3,143.825×16)÷.85=)59,177.882 Joules. That, with BNNT spring energy density, has a volume of 1.74052 cubic centimeters, and, with a cross-section as big as the hand laser's lens, is 0.220 centimeters high. Meanwhile the long laser's 48 shots of 10,060.240 Joules (256,000 yadhõplai'o) each, comes to ((10,060.240×48)÷.85=)568,107.689 Joules, which comes to a spring volume of 16.70904 cubic centimeters; with a cross-section as big as the long laser's lens, that's 0.528 centimeters high. The hand laser's spring cartridge (the proper term is "barrel", but in the context of weapons that would be confusing) is much more casing than it is spring.
  • Had to change references to superconductors in my descriptions of zled armor, since "superconductor" normally means electricity, not heat. Heat superconductivity is a thing, though, it's called "second sound"—so named because the heat propagates through the material analogously to how sound propagates in air. It occurs in superfluids, like liquid helium, and certain kinds of crystals. Basically zled armor changes its structure instantly, or at least in microseconds, from one like composite metal foam (vs. kinetic attacks) to one like those crystals, presumably somehow without changing its volume. They use lasers because lasers can, from close enough, put enough energy into a small area fast enough that the structure can't cope with it—though a laser shot still takes several hundred microseconds, i.e. an appreciable fraction of a millisecond, so the laser has to be within a certain range, to concentrate the energy into a small enough dot. Lasers can go through CMF like it's not even there; a 1.5 kilojoule laser, in a 1 millimeter diameter dot, having to penetrate a 1-inch-thick CMF plate, is 75,229 megajoules per cubic meter…whereas CMF can stand up to 68.

    Actually leaning toward changing all the references to "adaptive" armor to just "metamaterial" armor. Say, a dielectric foam "quasicrystal" with Umklapp scattering low enough to enable second-sound heat transfer, that can also deal with kinetic attacks as well as composite metal foam? If it's a metamaterial its composition is less important than its structure—because if I knew what kind of dielectric foam had that kind of thermal conductivity and the armor properties of CMF foam, I'd be patenting it. (Also apparently no second sound heat conduction has ever been observed at anything hotter than 120 Kelvin, i.e. -153.15° Celsius or -243.67° Fahrenheit.) And then I think sandwich the foam between layers of boron nitride nanotube weave, the outer side having a coating of n-tert-butoxycarbonyl-protected diphenylalanine, to stop blades (BN also stops neutron radiation). Then after a fight you use a nano-assembler to check for damaged BN nanotubes and fix scratches in the BOC-protected Phe? I think a foam that manages to have both properties, with an outer layer that imparts two others, is somewhat more plausible than an armor that can shift between all three.

2019/04/27

Kind of a High End Gift Shop III

Speculative material culture. Mostly military but a lot of it has civilian applications (and implications).
  • I was looking at the absorbency of EM radiation in water vapor, for zled lasers—since one of the main planets in my book is really rainy—and turns out, the optimum wavelength, with the lowest absorption, seems to be in the blue and green wavelengths (which is part, I believe, of why water looks blue-green). At least at "small arms" range, within 5 km or so. Nice thing with lasers is if you can see your enemy, you can basically shoot them, assuming your setup can focus a beam out to their range—they actually do work like Hollywood sniper rifles.

    Of course, using visual-wavelength lasers means eye-protection becomes important, though of course even human medicine let alone zled medicine can repair retinas. Prevention is still preferable to cure, though—and presumably needing your retinas regrown means you have to redo all your biometric logins. (Not an issue for zledo, who use the pores in their noses, of course.) I may have to add in mention of all their combat personnel (which includes their cops) putting in filter contacts every morning.

    Or maybe they leave them in and put in eyedrops every morning to protect their eyes? Ooh, nanobot eyedrops? That's it!
  • Redoing my handgun round. Now instead of 8.16 millimeter it's exactly 8 millimeters, and instead of the propellant going 18 millimeters up the side, it goes 13.96. I based the revamped version on the 8 millimeter Kurz round used in the Sturmgewehr 44, which can get a muzzle energy of 2,197.55 Joules from a 6.998 gram bullet, using 1.847 grams of propellant—which comes to 776.1 milligrams if you replace the nitrocellulose with denatured ONC.

    776.1 milligrams of ONC has a volume of 392.168 cubic millimeters; the "shoulder" diameter of 8 millimeter Kurz is 11.4 millimeters. A propellant "casing" of that diameter thus has a thickness of 1.7 millimeters around an 8 millimeter bullet, and goes 13.96 millimeters up the side; its designation thus becomes "8 × 14". A normal 8 mm Kurz bullet (pointier than most handgun rounds) is 24 millimeters long, which means the overall length of this thing is 25.7 millimeters, or just over an inch.
  • Since I think I did my handgun round different than I did my rifle rounds, let's double check. My rifle bullet is 7 millimeter by 31 millimeters. The propellant "casing" sticks out from it 1.6 millimeters, for a diameter of 10.2 millimeters—it was 1.85 millimeters and a diameter of 10.7 millimeters, but I'm using the "shoulder" diameter of the model cartridge (6.8 Remington SPC) now. Its 1.497 grams of denatured ONC propellant has a volume of 726.699 cubic millimeters. That, calculated the new way, goes 21.9 millimeters up the sides of the 31 millimeter bullet, resulting in an overall length of 32.6 millimeters; I guess we'll change these to "7 × 22" rifle rounds.

    The antimateriel round is 13 millimeters by 60 millimters and its 15.966 grams of ONC propellant has a volume of 7,750.68 cubic millimeters. Going with .50 BMG's "shoulder" diameter of 18.7 millimeters, we have a "casing" that sticks out 2.85 millimeters on each side and goes 54.4 millimeters up the side of bullet, resulting in a 62.85 millimeter-long round, which I guess would be called "13 × 54".
  • Apparently power of a cartridge rises with the fourth power of propellant mass. Which is interesting, because another thing that rises with the fourth power of something else, is the efficiency of a heat-radiator, which increases with the fourth power of temperature (but only linearly with area, so you really want to make your radiator as hot as possible—hence why I make mine out of magnetically-constrained plasma).
  • Some impressive people at MIT and the Lawrence Livermore National Lab are working on a metamaterial that's only as dense as aerogel, but thousands of times stronger. What this will eventually mean is you can replace a lot of the structural parts of a space vehicle or aircraft with something 17.56 times lighter than aerospace aluminum alloy (0.16 grams per cubic centimeter vs. 2.81).

    Now, you can't replace everything with this stuff. Armor, for example: density is at least partly non-negotiable, for that—especially for armor against energy weapons. But you can make all the other parts of a vehicle out of something that weighs only 5.7% as much, which means you might as well just have to pay for the fuel to move the armor and engines (and fuel/propellant tanks—aerogel is highly porous, so you can't really use it for that).

    Occurs to me that another application is the frames of tanks, including the walking kind. You might well be able to have an M1 Abrams-equivalent tank with the mass and therefore mileage of a Bradley (given the armor alone on the Abrams seems to be over 20 tons).
  • Let's crunch the numbers for a walking mecha. Atlas, the Boston Dynamics walking robot, masses 150 kilos and is 1.8 meters tall; scale it up to 10 meters and its mass becomes 25,720 kilos. Except that if you swap out the structural meta-aerogel for the alloy in its frame, which seems to be a titanium-aluminum one (like TC4, density of 4.43 grams per cubic centimeter), you drive the weight down to a paltry 928.94 kilos. Where before it took 634.43 kilowatts to power it, it now takes only 22.9. So basically the only major power-constraint on the mecha becomes the weight of its armor and weapons.

    Suppose we take the Advanced Bomb Suit used by US military EOD as the model of mecha armor, EOD suits being about the only full-body armor we make. That masses 27.2 kilograms when made (almost entirely) of Kevlar; a composite metal foam has one-third the density of typical tank armor, which is made of (among other things) steel alloy with a density of 7.8 grams per cubic centimeter, which yields a density for CMF armor of 2.6 g/cc. Kevlar's is 1.44, so an ABS made of CMF would mass 49 kilos; scaled up for a 10-meter mecha and you get 8,420.97 kilos. Moving that plus the 928.94 kilo frame—total mass 9,849.91 kilos—still only uses 242.97 kilowatts.

    If we give that the equivalent of two M261 rocket launchers, each holding the equivalent of 19 Hydra 70 rockets—each massing 470.38 kilos, so total mass 940.75 kilos—and a 1,282 kilo tank gun like the L7 used on western tanks, plus 40 rounds of the equivalent of M829 anti-armor shells, total weight 744 kilos, we still have a mass of only 12,816.66 kilos, requiring only 316.15 kilowatts of power.
  • Of course, the tank-guns I'm using for a model aren't electromagnetically accelerated, and the ones on this weapon-system would be. A railgun is apparently only capable of about 50% efficiency in converting power to muzzle energy; given the muzzle energy of an L7 gun is 20.9529 megajoules, and 10 of those shots per minute is a net power of 3,492,150 watts, i.e. 3,492.15 kilowatts. You can do that four times when the tank carries 40 shells, which comes to 13,968.6 kilowatts—a power requirement of 27,937.2 kilowatts given 50% power-plant efficiency. That increases the total power-requirement to 28,253.35, of which almost all is the guns.

    Suppose that we give it the same size of power-plant as on Atlas when it has a battery, which (given it can run off a 3.7 kilowatt-hour battery for 1 hour, and the average energy-density of lithium-ion batteries of 182.5 watts per kilo), presumably masses 20.27 kilos—which comes to 3,476.33 kilos on a 10 meter version, bringing the total mass up to 16,292.99 kilos, say 16,293 for simplicity, and an energy-requirement of 401.9 kilowatts (28,339.1 with the railgun). Going with the energy-density of optimized silicon-air batteries, 14.2286 kW·hr per kilo, 3,476.33 kilos yields 49,463.31 kilowatt-hours—21,526.11 not counting the railgun. That's enough to provide 53.56 hours of operation.
  • Hell, 16,293 kilos is far under the 27,400 kilo max takeoff weight of the V-22 Osprey: let's slap a pair of 440 kilo airplane engines (but not turboprops) on there, for a weight of 17,173 kilos and a powerplant requirement of 423.6 kilowatts. You'd also swap out the 2,026 kilos of tank gun and shells for 529.5 kilos of an M61 Vulcan equivalent plus feed system and ammo, but that only brings the total power requirement to move the thing by 37 kilowatts, to 386.6.

    Of course the Vulcan is also electromagnetic, with a muzzle energy of 54 kilojoules and a fire rate of 6,600 per minute, which comes to an energy of 5,940 kilowatts, 11,880 with 50% efficiency. Except it can't fire the full 6,600; it carries a fraction of as many (an F16 carries 511, for example). That brings the actual practical energy requirement down to 919.8 kilowatts, for a total to walk around and fight with the thing, of 1,306.4 kilowatts. That'll let this model walk around for 125.57 hours.

    But, this is the flying one—something along the lines of the OZ-07AMS mobile suit. And its engines would require (assuming an average improvement over internal-combustion engines of 3.5×, and the Osprey's engines having a power output of 4,596 kW) 1,310.29 kilowatts, each, and it has two, so 2,620.56 kilowatts; of course, it either flies or walks, never both. Flying and shooting requires 3,530.36 kilowatts, and the thing can fly around for 18.52 hours.

2019/04/10

Mélange V

Random thoughts. Title seemed appropriate given I talk a little about Dune at the end.
  • Recall a few posts back, when I said it's dumb that anyone assumes humans are from a particularly hardcore planet, when it's entirely possible that aliens are from a Pleistocene or even Mesozoic biosphere (or a Snowball Earth glaciation)? One variation on the "humans would be really hardcore" idea, is called "Space Australia".

    Which is appropriate, because Australia? Nowhere near as dangerous as North America. Lazy pop culture stereotypes aren't always (or even often) based in statistical reality. Four people a year die from black-widow bites, in the US; nobody has died of a spider-bite in Australia since 1979. Now, there are 13.3 times as many people here as in Australia, so more chances for spiders to kill someone, but that still means they should be having one death every three years or so—not one in forty. And then there's how they have a handful of deadly snakes, two kinds of deadly croc, one barely deadly spider and maybe a scorpion or two, a couple sharks, and jellyfish.

    The US has almost as many deadly snakes, a couple kinds of deadly gator or croc, one very deadly spider and at least one deadly scorpion, a couple sharks…and then also wolves, wolverines, pumas, bobcats, lynxes, jaguars (though those haven't killed anyone here), three kinds of bear, a couple kinds of pinniped, at least four deadly species of deer (most deaths of any wild vertebrate), peccaries (one of the most aggressive animals on the planet), buffalo, and arguably some wild sheep or goats though those probably haven't actually killed anyone. (We also get the same jellyfish as Australia, the irukandji, but only in Hawaii, which is cheating.)
  • Was trying to come up with something to make my setting's dhampirs stand out, and thus researched the dentition of vampire bats. Turns out, Nosferatu wasn't insane, giving their vampire "buckteeth" fangs: vampire bats use sharp front incisors to open veins. Though they do also have sharp eyeteeth. But it's definitely something to keep in mind with vampires: give 'em six fangs, not two or four.
  • Apparently Anthem is a Destiny clone entirely by accident. This is mentioned in the now-notorious (because extremely important and true) Schreier article at Kotaku: it was harshly tabooed, at BioWare (by their own management, not EA), to compare Anthem to Destiny. Which presumably explains why they didn't, as I noted, move one inch out of their way to reduce the similarities: they were forbidden from discussing the fact there were similarities. (They were also apparently forbidden to compare how other looter-shooters handled things like classes or weapons, or what the MMO "industry" as a whole considered reasonable drop-rates for various types of loot.)

    It actually makes sense that the similarities are unintentional (though some of them are downright eerie, like the backstory involving Iron Lords in all but name, or the midpoint of the campaign featuring the protagonist making a deal with shady characters who have pretensions to royalty). While BioWare are hacks, who mistake middle-school creative-writing tawdriness and hamfisted identity-politics preaching for depth, they're not the kind of hack who would point-by-point copy a competitor's product. At the very least they would disguise the mimicry better. The similarities are so blatant they were almost certainly accidental.
  • Tangentially-relatedly, bunch of people are whining about the SJW-soapboxing on Twitter of developers involved in the fourth Dragon Age game. But if you put up with Inquisition, and fans of the Dragon Age franchise almost all did, you have forfeited the right to complain. They already splashed this slop into the trough once before, and you happily trotted over and gobbled it up. It's a bit late to pretend to have a discerning palate now.
  • I have also used the slop-trough imagery in reference to Star Wars, and how The Last Jedi had managed to alienate people who stuck with the franchise despite the prequel trilogy and the novels of Karen Traviss. Someone on Facebook responded to my use of that comparison by calling me a Star Wars fanboy, which is odd; does one often refer to one's own people with a pig metaphor?

    The fact is that Star Wars fanboys were almost impossible to piss off, until Rian "Taken King" Johnson decided to desecrate a hundred beloved characters from his director's chair, and observe the change in the chair, and how the universe shrank from him in terror. The Worm his god—to give postmodernism its true name—was pleased: "A film-franchise is a fine flesh, oh director ours. Let us feast of it."
  • I considered, inspired partly by the "hand cannons" in Destiny, having my SF setting's revolvers (mainly used only by cops as a backup weapon) use "annular" (ring-shaped) magazines to load their cylinders. Presumably they'd have a "chambering" mechanism, like on a more conventional firearm, where the round is lined up with the barrel in order to be fired.

    However, the idea of firing directly from the magazine actually seems sort of dangerous; I think instead I'll keep it as I'd had it, with there being something that holds the caseless rounds in the revolver-cylinder's chambers—maybe a moon-clip. (I incline to use break-top revolvers; there was at least one chambered in .357 magnum, so it's definitely possible.)

    You know come to think of it, it's sort of unclear how exactly hand cannons work.
  • It's only recently that I got the hang of the romance mechanic in Kingmaker (though I already got the, ahem, Harrim ending). Gotta say, not terribly impressed. I've romanced, in various playthroughs, Octavia, Valerie, and "Kaessi". Octavia is passive-aggressive in the extreme, while Val is more straightforward but still pretty messed up. If you say you want a more serious relationship (which seemed in character for my paladin), she gets mad at you and either ends her "route" or at least stalls it—fortunately you can reload the scene. That's some deeply questionable shit, though.

    And you have to sleep with the lawful evil tiefer twin, Kanera, to get the "flag" for the chaotic good one, Kalikke—whose first flag triggers when her sister changes places with her while sleeping next to you, which is pretty screwed up if you think about it. Maybe things are better if you go gay male (for Regongar) or straight female (Regongar or Tristian)? I mean Reg is at least almost certainly not passive-aggressive; and Tristian is a cinnamon roll. Maybe hold out for Nyrissa's route, but apparently her flags only trigger if you don't go too far down anyone else's route.

    Also it feels like an ulterior motive for a paladin of Sarenrae (my preferred PC) to save someone for any reason other than emulating the mercy of the Dawnflower.
  • So apparently people think the Game of Thrones theme is "epic". Uh…how? It sounds like they left a synthesizer on demo-mode, set to "vaguely medieval". Like, if you had a character humming or whistling it, in something else, nobody would say anything like "oh they're whistling that because there's cutthroat dynastic politcs afoot". They would say "that character is whistling some generic formless tune".
  • Speaking of smutty subscription-TV soap operas, The Handmaid's Tale is, as I've said somewhere if not here, The Turner Diaries for people who read The New Yorker. But it's also a ripoff of Dune—it basically copies the framing device wholesale, and the "Handmaids" are (a boring version of) the Bene Gesserit, but victims of Evil Patriarchy™ rather than agents of their own multigenerational Foundation-esque conspiracy.

    Now I don't know if Atwood actually ripped off Dune, but I think it's reasonable to think she did. Admittedly Dune is probably very challenging (in every sense of the word) for a litfic hack, but it's also one of the very few works of science fiction a litfic hack might be expected to have read. (And desperately deny that it is science fiction, despite the telekinetic FTL drives, energy shields, nuclear-power aristocracy, and genetic-engineering cults.)

2019/03/25

Rannm Thawts Leven

Random thoughts. 'Lot of 'em are about anime this time, and a couple of cultural or scientific issues, with only a few about RPGs.
  • Decided to go back to a twelve-month year, in my Pathfinder setting, but I really don't like the Julio-Gregorian calendar starting on January 1st. Or February having 28 or 29 days. I decided to go with New Year being on February 4th, around Imbolc/Candlemas, and the beginning of the Chinese solar term "spring begins", because starting your year anywhere other than when a season starts—like, say, ten days after the winter solstice, which by the way is midwinter not the first day of winter—is stupid. I have seven 30-day months and five 31-day ones; I even put leap-years back, by having every fourth year have its last month (the only 30-day one that follows another 30-day one) have 31 days. Except not when the year is divisible by 100, unless it's also divisible by 400, but not by 4,000. (If you add that last one to the Gregorian calendar it only loses one day every 19,500 years—which seems like too long to bother about for us, but we don't know any elves who live over a millennium.)

    The moons now, thus, have a c. 30.5 day period, and synch up with the solar calendar. Not 30.5 exactly, since they actually synch up with the leap-years too. Also decided to give the months the names of the creature-types other than fey (which don't exist in my setting); having a month for "undead" is no weirder than Golarion having a month for Zon-Kuthon the god of torture and subjugation. Think I'll also have the humans give each day of the month the names of the cleric domains, since there are 31 of them if you leave out Death and Evil, and go back to having them use their own or their parents' wedding anniversary as a surname, and the date of their accession to a title or initiation into a society as a middle name. The days leave out the scary domains, while the months don't leave out scary types, because the humans adopted clerical worship later, and they aren't the ones who named the months. I'm not sure who did; I'm leaning toward maybe the snake people.

    I guess an "improved" Gregorian year of 365.24225 days, divided by twelve, gives a month for the two moons of 30 days, 10 hours, 29 minutes, 4.2 seconds—i.e. 30.4368542 days.
  • Despite what the more-environmentalist-than-thou still seem to believe, bees aren't going extinct. They're not even endangered. Not the Afro-European honeybee, anyway. Some bees in the New World are endangered, though…and it's mostly the imported honeybee's fault. They're an invasive species, which drives indigenous bees out of their foraging territories; they also exacerbate the problem of invasive plant species, because most New World bees won't pollinate them, but imported honeybees will. (Also when the African strain is in play they kill people and domestic animals. And probably endangered wild animals.)
  • I initially passed over The Good-for-nothing Magic Instructor and the Akashic Record, to accurately translate the Japanese title, because the stupid fanservice-y uniforms the girls wear. But oddly, the rest of the show hasn't got all that much fanservice, and is actually a pretty solid fantasy-action show. If anything it could actually stand to go into the "romance" angle more, which is normally the reverse of the case for light-novel series. Glenn also isn't the usual generic LN protagonist, albeit mostly because he usually acts like a complete tool (but, like, in a funny way; fiction is full of people who are amusing to watch but who you'd murder if you knew them).

    Even if it wasn't pretty decent all by itself, it gets bonus one bajillion points just for not being isekai.

    Also watched 2014's Seikoku no Dragonar/Dragonar Academy—I've been scouring Crunchyroll and the Funimation streaming-service for all their remotely tolerable fantasy series (and I'm pretty much done, though I should probably go back over the list just to be sure). While Dragonar is by no means actually good—it has far too much utterly unmotivated fanservice to graduate beyond "so-so"—the depth of its worldbuilding absolutely crushes most shows from a half-decade later. It's mostly just an ecchi quasi-harem series, but there's so much more work put into its setting than in almost everything more recent, that it feels like a much higher-quality show than it actually is.
  • Another show from 2014 that I skipped at the time, I think because I had read part of the manga adaptation and wasn't impressed, was Madan no Ô to Vanadiis (the English title of which, Lord Marksman and Vanadis, seems to be somewhat more accurate, since he uses arrows not bullets and isn't a king, though it seems he eventually becomes one—on the other hand Senki, written 戦姫, means "war/battle princess", not "war maiden").

    Watched it just recently (turns out I wasn't quite done with the streaming-services' list of fantasy anime), and, again, it's amazing how much better it is than more recent stuff. The obvious comparison is to Grancrest War, but it's like comparing a Chik-Fil-A chicken sandwich to a McDonald's one. They are recognizably the same kind of thing, and neither is bad, but only one of them (Madan no Ô) is really, genuinely good.

    One of these works, among other things, is by someone who clearly likes military history. And the worldbuilding just blows most later works clean out of the water. About the only problem with it is its ending is incredibly rushed. Meanwhile how many damn seasons has Sword Art Online gotten? "We are being digested by an amoral universe."
  • Not available on a streaming-service I have access to (Hulu doesn't seem worth it), but Chivalry of a Failed Knight is actually pretty good (I was really curious so I watched it on YouTube). As at least one YouTuber points out, it has the protagonist and main girl become a couple only four episodes in, which is a miracle for something based on a light novel—usually they prefer "will they or won't they?" jerking around till the audience has whiplash.

    Another one that isn't awful, is Weakest Undefeated Bahamut (I don't care to look up the official English title). I haven't actually been able to watch the anime but I've read the light novel. It's not quite as good as RakuKishi plot-wise, I think, but it has better worldbuilding (though nowhere near Vanadis or even Dragonar). So, if you have Hulu, there are two other recent fantasy anime that aren't arguments in the Problem of Evil. With that, though, I've pretty much exhausted the possibilities.
  • Much is made of "vocal fry"; many people either hate when young women use it, or denounce those who hate when young women use it for supposedly being sexist, and "attacking women's speech".

    Here's the thing, though: "vocal fry" is the opposite of falsetto. That's the main reason women's use of it attracts comment; it's much less noticeable when men use vocal fry, just as falsetto makes much less of a change in most women's voices (to the point many denied that women could do falsetto till ridiculously recently—decades after Julia Child went on the air, for one thing—and Italians apparently still do).

    Do you think if many young men suddenly started talking like Monty Python pepperpots people wouldn't find it irritating? Not even the most deranged MRAs would defend that or accuse anyone of "attacking men's speech", get over yourselves.
  • Realized I hadn't come up with weapon familiarities for the ancient "evil Atlantean" humans of my setting. Decided to give them trident and spiked shield, those being good weapons for an ancient maritime empire, and have bola and net be martial weapons for them, since they're slavers.

    Decided the lizardfolk ("scaled people") use stone javelins, atlatls, halberds, and axes, while troglodytes ("cave things") use stone heavy and light picks, atlatls, and bows; kobolds (also "cave things") use heavy and light picks made of metal, plus light and heavy crossbows (scaled for Small creatures they do the same damage as Medium creatures' longbows).

    Sahuagin ("tide things") are all proficient with tridents and treat harpoons and nets as martial weapons. (They only get three because their other major weapon is underwater crossbows, which are simple not martial.)
  • Shouldn't the two heads of something like an ettin—in my setting just a two-headed hill-giant variant, as cyclopes are, though I had had ettins as two-headed ogres—be considered two separate entities? And an ettin be "they" unless you're only talking about one of its heads? They're basically conjoined twins, after all, and those are "them", not a singular. You could do something pretty cool with having each of the heads have separate mental ability scores, and maybe they belong to two separate classes—give one the spellcasting of an adept, say, and the other that of a bard.

2019/02/28

Mélange IV

Random thoughts. Mostly about Pathfinder, still, but I also talk about video games and movies, a bit.
  • I'm not using them in my game, but if I did, I think the "elven" weapons in Pathfinder would basically be various sizes of shashka—the thorn blade and leaf blade are both dual-typed, piercing and slashing (I would actually extend this out to the curve blade, too). The shashka has a less pronounced curve than a typical scimitar, saber, or szabla, which presumably makes it easier to stab with.

    I'd personally further modify that list of weapons by making the "Aldori dueling sword" an "elven" weapon, and making the curve blade not only piercing as well as slashing but making it eligible for "Slashing Grace" (which currently only applies to light one-handed weapons, whips, and the dueling sword…I think maybe also scimitars, or would that render "Dervish Dance" redundant?).
  • Decided to do "weapon familiarity" for human ethnicities, too. The urban intrigue-y duel-happy society are always proficient with rapier and jutte and treat estoc as martial; the rural one, with politics centered on a heavy-cavalry elite but not exactly in the manner of European chivalry, are proficient with lance and heavy pick and treat whips as martial weapons. The land-nomads (whose main dismounted weapon is morningstar or greatclub—I follow Kingmaker in making the greatclub simple, because it always should have been) are proficient with bow and hooked lance and treat lassos as martial, while the sea-nomads are proficient with trident and treat harpoon and net as martial weapons. Halflings, who are small humans, in my setting, are proficient with atlatls (which don't have a plural in Classical Nahuatl, being inanimate) and treat bolas and boomerangs as martial weapons.
  • In my campaign, elves are proficient with longswords and bows, and treat bastard swords and fighting fans as martial weapons. Dark elves, on the other hand, are proficient with light and heavy flails and treat spiked chains and scorpion whips as martial. Dwarves are proficient with warhammer and earthbreaker and treat pistols and muskets as martial; "dark" dwarves are proficient with heavy pick and mattock, and treat net and bola as martial weapons—their gear is made of the silk and chitin of giant spiders, acquired by trading with the aranea. Gnomes are proficient with battleaxe and treat heavy and light repeating crossbows and "dwarven" waraxes as martial weapons. (This gives them a one-handed weapon that does 1d8 damage despite being Small.)

    Goblins are proficient with bows, falchions, and butterfly swords—butterfly swords are just small falchions, and perfect for dual-wielding, since my male hobgoblins are mostly rangers—and treat mancatcher as martial, because they get all their agricultural labor from non-goblin slaves. Ogres (including orcs) are proficient with battleaxe, throwing axe, and greataxe, and treat the orc double axe (the only "racial" exotic I keep with its original owner if I have it at all) as martial. Of course, ogres/orcs in my setting make most of their weapons from stone, so the typical "orc double axe" is two knapped-flint blades lashed to one axe-haft. (Incidentally, has anyone noticed that the so-called "war clubs" used by Plains cultures, would more accurately be called "stone warhammers"?)
  • Anthem really, really is just Destiny in powered armor. I mean, Legion of Dawn? Yeah I liked them better when they were called Iron Lords. The Scars are just time-locked Vex pretending to be Fallen (they even look like Spider's guys from the Tangled Shore). The Fall of Freemark is just the Six Fronts but they lose (it helps to be immortal, who knew).

    The thing that starts the game off, with the Heart of Rage, was kinda like the Great Disaster, except the people in the Last City weren't dumb enough to turn on the Guardians over the defeat at the hands of Crota, since they knew they really needed these son-bitches to survive. (And Crota was an actively hostile demon god, not just an unusually virulent natural disaster, so picking a fight with him was a much worse decision.) Maybe it's like the fall of the Iron Lords, actually?

    Shall we discuss the whole part in the middle of the main campaign where the protagonist makes a bargain with a piratical type with pretensions to royalty? I was half expecting Queen Mara Princess Zhim to make her entrance after the Freelancer is startled by seeing Scars with blue markings instead of orange, acting as guards.
  • I totally accept the BioWare devs' assertion that they started on these ideas before Destiny even came out; basically everyone was bruiting these ideas for MMO shooters at the time. Here's the thing, though: they didn't think, in all the time between the first E3 trailer and release, to maybe tweak anything in the final product so it's less reminiscent of Destiny?

    They were already trying to carve out a niche in the same "market space" as Destiny; they really should've put in some effort to set themselves apart. (And not go the "well, Destiny doesn't look like a PS2 game, so we're unique in that regard" route, the one taken by Warframe.) I don't know how you would do that, but they needed to. They're doing so badly in sales because most of the people who might want what Anthem gives them, are already getting it from Destiny.

    However, I don't care how bad of decisions EA has made with this game, no way no how should it be reviewing worse than Mass Effect Andromeda. This is me defending a BioWare game, that should tell you how unfair that is. Yes Anthem is nothing to write home about, but Andromeda is something to scrawl on the walls of a padded cell about!
  • Aquaman absolutely got robbed at the Oscars—not even getting a production-design or visual effects nomination? Really? That movie was the first truly DC Comics movie that doesn't even have the trifling issues Justice League did. It did what DC does best: "here's most of a century of continuity in one plot, but you're not going to feel overwhelmed by it in the slightest".

    Personally I would say it's even a Best Picture candidate, but the Academy doesn't nominate comic book movies for that unless there was an "Oscars so white" hashtag the year before a comic book movie with a mostly-black cast came out. (I'm not saying Black Panther didn't deserve the nomination: I'm saying deserving it, isn't why it got nominated.)
  • I know I said Cyberpunk 2077 was dumb, given how cyberpunk has been played out for about a quarter-century, but apparently it's based on a tabletop game. It's still dumb, though, because that game is, as far as I can tell, the one that introduced the CyberneticsEatYourSoul trope. And they eat it less if you implant it into your brain than getting it for your limbs, because that's totally logical. Cyberpunk, capital-C or otherwise, is dumb-dumb-dumb. It is, like all the *punk subgenres it spawned, long on aesthetic and criminally short on make-a-lick-of-sense.
  • So it occurred to me that even though I don't have azatas, agathions, or archons in my setting, I can use the cleric subdomains that derive from them, for the nonhuman races' gods—like how the 3e Forgotten Realms books had "Elf" and "Dwarf" and "Drow" domains. You could use the Azata subdomain as one for the elven gods, for example, and in my setting, anyway, Archon for dwarves and Agathion for either humans or gnomes.

    Could also give Demon to the dark gnomes (not sure if they have any divine casters at all, let alone any who have domain access) or maybe witch-humans' inquisitors, Devil to the goblins' inquisitors, and Daemon to either dark-elf or witch-human inquisitors. Most of my evil societies have witches for their priesthoods, not clerics, but most of them do have inquisitors.
  • Relatedly I think azatas are what elves become when they die. Mortals in my setting are worshiped when they die, and the celestials are explicitly the same kind of being as deities. It would be weird if every dead mortal became something stronger than all but the greatest celestials, so the "average" mortal doesn't really become a deity; they just become a sort of deified form of their mortal self. It gets harder with the other races, though, which don't resemble any celestial type as much as elves resemble azatas. I think I might have to have dwarves become inevitables, gnomes become aeons, and humans become agathions. This would necessarily entail changing their alignment to "any non-evil", of course, and changing a whole bunch of the fluff. Of course, what evil dead mortals become, is something else: undead.

2019/01/26

Worthy of Your Soul

Title's a reference to this. Review of the CRPG Pathfinder: Kingmaker.

Hoo boy. This is a big subject; it's a big game. Let's start with the good. First off, this is a marvelous translation of a tabletop game to a computer. I never played things like Neverwinter Nights, so I was not prepared to have my characters' weapons actually expressed to me in terms of literal dice. Also I get to play an eldritch archer, the ranged-oriented "archetype" (think a 2e "kit" applied to a Pathfinder class) of magus; I might do another playthrough as a divine hunter, the ranged-oriented paladin archetype. I like martial-oriented classes that aren't professional meat-shields. (I don't think frequently choosing the neutral good option will muck up paladinhood, so long as I also choose the lawful ones now and then; it's only evil acts that paladins have to avoid.)

Second off, I like how all the companions' whose backstories involve them rejecting various gods of the setting—the former paladin of the goddess of beauty (though I still don't know how "art for art's sake" can have a paladin order), the dwarf apostate who worships the god who will end the world—have character arcs that consist of them learning not to be kneejerk self-righteous fools. A lot of people on the Steam community are very unhappy with that, although they mostly misrepresent what happens in order to do it. Valerie (said ex-paladin) doesn't grovel before her former goddess and admit she was completely wrong; she just admits that just because she disagrees with the people who worship the art-god is no reason for her to treat all artists (such as bards) like criminals and social parasites.

Just in general I really like the companions. About the only major issue I have is that Nok-Nok, the goblin rogue you acquire in the third arc, is not chaotic evil, I don't care if he does worship a demon lord; he's chaotic neutral, pretty much right down the line. I don't really like Pathfinder core-setting gnomes but Jubilost is a very tolerable example of one (yes he's obnoxious, but "gnome alchemist travel-writer who talks vaguely like a male Dorothy Parker" is a very amusing take). Probably my favorite (or perhaps tied with Nok-Nok, though part of the latter's appeal is when he one-shotted a hill giant with a knife) is Amiri, who I have chosen to dub "bandere", for her hilarious-slash-adorable bashfulness.

I really like how almost every companion's "arc" consists of them reconciling their own wishes with the society and tradition that they usually partly rejected in order to become adventurers, or otherwise realizing that the world does not revolve around them while simultaneously not rejecting their own identities. Existentialism isn't much as a real philosophy but it can make for good themes in fiction, as anime can attest.

Third off, the story is mostly excellent. There's some false notes here or there (bonus dormitat Homerus) but overall it's very far from being the warmed-over Dragonlance that I've come to expect from Western fantasy games that aren't Warcraft (and I won't play that because I loathe MMOs that aren't also FPSs). Don't assume anyone is your friend, is my advice, because a lot of people will turn on you in this game, usually for very good reasons of their own, but also be willing to forgive them if you get the chance. At least one of them is a huge advantage in a fight if not for a story-based RP reason. That you can basically redeem every antagonist in this game except for three of the six "Big Bads" of the separate arcs is a huge selling-point, to me.

On to the bad. There's really only two issues. The more basic is simply that this is not a triple-A game and it was probably released a bit earlier than it should've been; if you read the early discussions of issues with it, it becomes clear that what they released was probably a mid-stage beta, and what we're getting now is probably a late beta. It's buggy and the load-times take forever; it was doing weird things with "developer tools" on my machine for a while, too. (That may have been Steam rather than the game, since I only got Steam for this game.)

The other issue, more directly relevant to game "quality" (though you're seriously going to want some hacky-sacks to juggle or something, during the loads—especially since you have to schlep through your palace and then through your capital, to get back out to the world map, starting in the second chapter) is that a lot of the quests will give you a very sub-optimal ending (as in "the lost child you were looking for flipping dies") if you don't know exactly what to do. A tip: talk to everyone in the final area the quest takes you through, that usually leads the way. You also need a walkthrough, though; accept it. There's one part where you're set up to be able to avoid a problem by not doing something, and then an NPC goes and does it anyway. Apparently there's a way to not have that NPC do it, without murdering them; I'll have to try it on another playthrough and see. (It was funny in the Steam forums, a bunch of people defending the effective railroading by saying "oh well it worked better in the tabletop adventures the game's based on". Really? Because if I tried that shit at the table, as a DM, my players would lynch me with my mouth stuffed full of dice.)

Another gameplay issue is that the kingdom-management aspect of the game, after which the whole work is arguably named, is mostly a chore and very often counterproductive. Trying to manage each arc's crises by assigning advisors to deal with the hordes of monsters, bandits, etc., is usually a recipe for disaster; just go handle it personally by resolving that arc's plot. Still, the kingdom-management does give you bonuses, e.g. my current party have permanent poison immunity while in territory that I control (presumably a blessing placed on my followers via my domain's priests).

All in all the game does one thing very well: it is a tabletop RPG in computer form. So the "score" I give it depends on how much you itch to see a tabletop experience translated about as faithfully as it can be. If that is, for you as for me, an abiding yearning, the game is easily an 8 out of 10 overall, and storywise a 9.5; knock a point off both if you do not ceaselessly hunger and thirst for the specific kind of thing this game is.

2019/01/25

Playing with Fantasy XI

Fantasy gaming thoughts. Will also be reviewing Kingmaker, the official Pathfinder CRPG, in the coming days.
  • Decided to scrap the fiendish, celestial, and elemental language, Primordial as I (and 4e and 5e) called it (except mine also includes Aklo/Deep Speech), because the glossolalia thing is thematically interesting and I still don't like how my conlang was going. They also use proto-writing instead of real writing, because the concepts they use cannot be directly divided into words, let alone sounds.

    Of course in some ways a language-that-isn't-a-language—because it works like speaking a common language, in-game—is, in its written form, really more language-independent ideograms than it is proto-writing. But a proto-writing like Naxi Dongba or Nigerian Nsibidi has quite a bit of overlap, in how it "behaves", with a language-independent ideographic script like iConji or Blissymbols.
  • I can't find it to link it, a thousand pardons for the inadequacy of my Google-fu, but I found an article that makes an interesting point: the main thing alignment does, in practice, is tell your DM what kind of game you, the player, would like to play. "I'm lawful good, so please give me the chance to uphold righteousness and social order." "I'm chaotic good, so I expect to right wrongs without necessarily following the rules to do it." "I'm chaotic neutral, I'm down for pretty much whatever." If all your players have created lawful good characters, don't give them a "black and gray morality" story.

    The two-axis alignment system is actually a very convenient storytelling shorthand just in general; it tells you what variety of hero or villain you're getting. Transformers offers excellent examples: Optimus is lawful good, Bumblebee and Ratchet are neutral good, Cliffjumper is chaotic good. Megatron and Shockwave are chaotic evil, Starscream is neutral evil, Soundwave is lawful evil. Megatron can work as chaotic evil because he's at the head of his faction, he can't be a follower; Shockwave isn't even trusted by other Decepticons for the same reason. Soundwave is absolutely loyal to the Decepticon cause.

    Or, since I've said D&D as usually played is more "sword-and-sorcery superheroes" than it is "murder hobos", Superman is lawful good, the Flash and Aquaman are neutral good, Batman is chaotic good; Ra's Al-Ghul is lawful evil, Sinestro and Lobo are two very different kinds of neutral evil, the Joker is chaotic evil.
  • Apologists for the "murder-hobo" playstyle, and similar puerile "gritty" themes that only appeal to literal or mental adolescents, often compare it to the Wild West. Only, by "the Wild West" they mean movies, like those by Sam Peckinpah, or Unforgiven—not history. In real history the villain of Unforgiven would've been lynched; if the prostitutes don't feel safe, they leave, and that might mean the miners and cowboys annoy the "respectable" women, and we ain't having that. (Why did you think those towns tolerated the brothels? These people jailed you for spitting on the sidewalk.)

    "Gunslingers" (anachronistic term, they were really called "badmen") were not as simple as fiction would have them be, neither for good or for ill. Almost all of them were down-on-their-luck itinerants from a society with a long history of dueling customs—they weren't Pennsylvania Quakers who moved out West and randomly acquired itchy trigger-fingers. (One could probably cite the Southern cultural aversion to manual labor—pre-existing in the parts of Britain their ancestors came from, but reinforced by slavery—as a factor in the "badman" lifestyle; a lot of the towns and farms were made by immigrants, often from Central Europe.) And even they had a code of sorts, one that largely precluded the "attack any NPC who looks at them funny" aspect of the "murder-hobo" stereotype, among other things. A "badman" who flouted the code could not be assured of help from past compatriots, and might see current ones leaving him; you can't maintain a lifestyle like that by working with people you can't trust.

    Take the claim that "kill the orcs, take their treasure" is just like how the settlers dealt with Native Americans. In the real world, public opinion was actually quite likely to side with the natives against the cavalry, let alone against some random cowboys or outlaws making trouble. The public was likely to side with Native Americans even when the Native Americans were absolutely in the wrong, as in the case of most conflicts with the Southern Plains cultures—19th-century polite society preferred not to talk about the kinds of things Southern Plains cultures did, in both raiding and war.
  • Was deciding what archetypes I have in my setting, and man, clerics get short shrift in that regard. Only a few of the archetypes are even worth it, and even those mostly have reduced spellcasting compared to the standard one. I suppose it's okay, though.

    The samurai archetype of cavalier and the ninja archetype of rogue are both available as indigenous warrior-vassals and covert agents, rather than coming from a fantasy-counterpart Asia (because none of the cultures are the fantasy counterparts of anywhere, or at least of any one real-world place); my "barbarians" are also not generally foreign berserkers, but come from a tradition within the setting's "mainstream" cultures.

    Hot dang but the green knight archetype from Ultimate Wilderness is OP (to be fair so was the source material), and not very like any other cavalier. Still a valuable addition to a setting in terms of "flavor", though—basically even more "druidic paladins" than rangers are.
  • Got Kingmaker, the Pathfinder game reminiscent of Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights. I'll do a full review later. For now I'll just say that, while overall I'm impressed by how faithfully they've ported a tabletop game to a computer, there are a number of problems that make the experience far less than flawless. At least one quest sets up something cool only to railroad you into it not working, and a bunch of things give absolutely no indication of how you make them work. Also, in a game with a "kingdom management" component, that's basically named after its kingdom management component, it makes no sense for it to be genuinely harmful to try to solve things via the kingdom-management mechanic rather than up and handling them all yourself.
  • Was thinking of doing it before, but Kingmaker cinched it: instead of all my hill giants being the fallen version of the giants they were, as frost and fire giants are fallen wood and stone giants, respectively, the hill giants will be the unfallen ones and the fallen ones will be cyclopes. I don't like the Pathfinder version of cyclopes as remnants of a fallen, advanced civilization (this comes up at several points in Kingmaker).

    Another thing I'm glad I'm doing different is my gnomes aren't mutant fey; my setting doesn't really have fey. Especially distasteful is "the Bleaching", the illness Pathfinder gnomes contract if they get into a rut. In my day we called that "Banality". Borrowing ideas from White Wolf (other than their core mechanic) is no way to live, son. Especially because Changeling was the second weakest of the major "Old" World of Darkness games (and Mage was only worse for its moronic setting, the game itself was better)—and being weaker than Werewolf takes some doing.

    I did actually consider having all my nonhuman races acquire something like the Bleaching, and that be how they would die, but that was when I wanted them to all be immortal. (I still toy with the idea.) But it wouldn't be boredom; it would be existential crisis, in the real, "inability to reconcile subjectivity with facticity or heed the call of conscience" sense. Remember, the Old Norse for things like elves and dwarves (and trolls) is vættir, from the same root as "be" and "was"—which is the same use of "being" as a common noun as found in existentialism (also a direct calque, possibly accidental, of "entity").
  • Kinda changing some of the flavor of druids and the Green Faith (to the extent the latter even exists) in my setting. Druidic as a language doesn't exist, for one thing. More significantly, the whole "resist civilization for the sake of nature" aspect is gone. Only humans even have the concept "civilization" as something distinct from "nature"; they look out into the wilds from their settlements, in fear, and assume that their fear is born of a conscious, antagonistic agenda.

    It's not. Every other race (who invented druidism before there even were humans) would no more object to settlers building a town than they'd object to prairie dogs building one; they no more object to loggers taking logs than they object to birds taking twigs. They only make an issue when these things are done to excess, which admittedly is a permanent risk with humans. Every other race knows that human(oid)s are a part of "nature", and only incidentally at odds with it.

    Of course, those "incidents" can still be pretty big, and that's when things like Green Knights get involved.
  • I guess a 120-foot dragon based on Coelophysis would be about 9 feet 3 inches wide, since in this image it's about one-thirteenth as wide as it is long (not counting the hips, since on my dragons the hindlegs are more like the forelegs). That means its 260-foot wingspan has each wing at 125 feet 4.5 inches. Which, conveniently, divides in half to make the wings basically "reach" weapons, which for a Colossal creature extend to 60 feet (ignoring the other 2 feet 8.25 inches)—although dragons are not otherwise "tall" creatures (for "long" Colossal creatures a "reach" weapon would only extend to 40 feet). A bird's wings could actually be used as weapons for more like two-thirds or even three-quarters their total length, but it could be that dragons' wing-buffets use the wing's "wrist", or that (if I decide to have them deal slashing damage instead, since they have Archaeopteryx-like wing-claws) the claw is treated as originating at the wrist.