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.

2018/12/27

De romanicorum theoriarum XIII

SF and fantasy thoughts, lot of 'em relating to upcoming games.
  • Lot of interesting games coming up—some of 'em, like Project Awakening, don't appear to have names yet. I might have to figure out how to afford a PS4. (Or borrow my sister's.) Lot of dumb ones too, though, like Cyberpunk 2077. I mean on the one hand, cyberpunk was basically played out as a genre by five years after the World Wide Web went online, so it's really great to be making a game in that genre a year shy of a quarter-century later. I mean we all remember all those movies about the hippies and counterculture movement—as current things—that came out in 1994, right?

    On the other hand, even without that issue, it's dumb. For example, you probably saw that trailer, right, with the faux noir narration about how The City draws so many people by making all these promises that often turn out to be lies? I mean on the one hand faux noir is quintessentially cyberpunk (and the best reason to hate it), but on the other hand…people have to physically move to another physical location? In a cyberpunk future? This is a genre that pretends technology will let you do real-time telepresence on the other side of the planet, let alone another city in the same country.

    Just because talking about The City, and its insomnia or whatever, is noir, doesn't automatically make it also cyberpunk. Not when people don't actually have to come there. (Admittedly that never stopped the genre "classics", but they didn't have a real global computer network that almost does away with a need to physically relocate now.)
  • I read The Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook (the first trilogy of what seems to have become a huge franchise). It's not terrible, but it's got two big things keeping it from being really good. (Spoilers ahead.)

    One is, in the first book, how Croaker just sort of tries to ignore his "brothers" raping the "amazon brigades" of the Rebel, and then mass-murdering them. Mercenary companies actually might not rape or massacre much at all—this season's enemies might be next season's clients, no use burning bridges. Certainly they'd be unlikely to in a culture that could romanticize sexuality the way theirs is explicitly described as doing. And even if they did, it would be more like "marriage by capture", as it often was for Caribbean pirates; they would be very, very reluctant to just kill these women when they could keep them around. (See, for example, Achilles in the Iliad—product of a far more misogynistic, casually murderous society than the one depicted in these books.)

    More importantly (you can handwave that first issue as not being totally unprecedented), in the last book: while the Lady doesn't quite get Megatron-in-Predacons Rising levels of cheap grace, it comes close. Especially considering that Raven has much more work to do getting back in Darling's good graces than the Lady does getting into Croaker's. (Also, seriously, "issues with commitment"? This Lifetime-movie shit is the best complication for Raven's character-arc you can come up with?) Frankly the attempt to ingratiate the Lady to us felt very rushed, and needed a lot more effort put in; she's a monster many times over. Just because Savathûn and Xivu Arath have been oppressed by Oryx and fought against him, and may not be quite as bad, doesn't mean they're not bad enough.

    Still, it's dark fantasy that's not utter puerile crap, so, it exceeded my admittedly pessimal expectations. Sure's hell won't be reading any of the further books, though.
  • Also read all the way to the end of Märchen Awakens Romance, and (skip to the next one to avoid more Black Company spoilers and possibly MÄR ones) it's interesting the similarities between the two stories, except that (arguably per usual) the shonen manga version is actually the more mature. Not only is the ultimate villain of MÄR, King, more than just "some guy who was really good at one kind of magic", but the secondary villain, Queen, doesn't get cheap grace.

    Also MÄR Omega has much less of a "setting down the milking stool by the cash-cow" feeling than the continued Chronicles, even though a shonen manga sequel almost certainly has an element of that. (At least, I don't hate Kai as much as I hate the idea of Lady taking up as Annalist after Croaker. That's not really a spoiler, the warning above notwithstanding; you open the fifth volume and it tells you that on the first page.)
  • While Anthem does indeed look like a less intelligent version of Destiny, and that's a pity because EA and BioWare are behemoths in the gaming economy and it's bad for all of us when they fumble, I still can't restrain my Schadenfreude that the BioWare fanboys are so angry about it. Though it is pretty funny they're complaining about a lack of "deep" story. A lobotomized dating sim wed to themes that were overplayed by Clinton's second term (or Reagan's, in Dragon Age's case) isn't "deep".

    I really don't know what to think of Anthem, other than that I already own Destiny and I don't hate Bungie; I do hate BioWare, for simultaneously making puerile "green-skinned space babe" games and then still getting up on their little identity-politics soapbox. And while Activision is obnoxious, EA's microtransaction shenanigans were a major factor in recent Congressional hearings. It takes talent to make the money-grubbers at Activision look blameless and innocent.
  • Similarly the recent "controversy" over the upcoming Dragon Age game, and the political tweets by some of its production team. Inquisition had all those issues, and you obediently trotted over and gobbled up whatever slop they plopped into the trough. You forfeited the right to complain. But do we have to swing back and forth between Susie Soapbox and Miles Edgelord (what first name do you think goes with that surname)?

    Although, a lot of the edgelord stuff in the earlier games was still coming from the same ideological place as the later preaching—moralizing mixed into exploitation is at least as old as slasher films ("premarital sex attracts the attention of supernatural evil/homicidal maniacs not named David Berkowitz") if not as old as fiction. But even if that weren't the case, both sides of the ping-pong table are middle school stuff. Grow up.
  • There's a Gizmodo article about the Sundance entries next year, that basically reads like (what it probably is) a reprinting of a bunch of press releases. One, Greener Grass, is yet another "suburbia is evil" movie—now, when the socio-economic character of suburbia is changing rapidly. Even if it weren't, this dead horse was beaten to stiff peaks decades ago, between Pleasantville, two Stepford Wives, Edward Scissorhands, The Burbs (which gets a partial pass for being a comedy), and too many crappy pretentious non-genre movies to count (notably American Beauty). Straw suburbia is also the setting of most of the early Spielberg movies, like E.T. the Extraterrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. They spent that nickel a long time ago—remember, it was something like 1945 when Lewis mentioned having started a poem that began "Who damned suburbia?/'I,' said Superbia." And he spoke of the poem as something he'd already been working on for years.
  • People have actually said that Warframe has a better story than Destiny. The only way I can imagine anyone could think that is if they actively dislike story, as such, and thus prefer Warframe for mostly not having one. Because what story it does have, is incredibly derivative, and not in a "makes it fresh again" way like Destiny is really good at, but in a "really tired and hackneyed" way.

    Admittedly I automatically flunk you if you suggest there might be a strange alien menace and even that turns out to really be of human origin, if you're not VanDread. But nothing else about Warframe's story is interesting either. When the only good thing I can say for your setting is one of its fictional scripts is very pretty (though one of the others could never really be used), you have a problem.

    (Upon reflection they may've just meant that more of the story is actually in the game, but I'll take something, that I have to look up on a wiki, over nothing, basically, that is actually given to me in a straightforward manner.)
  • Was thinking about how part of why medieval taxes could be ad-hoc and one time only, like our bond-issues, is that their government was run by landowners whose serfs owed them a certain amount of labor or produce. Now, obviously, you can't have government by landlords now, nor would you want to, but what about investment? Think that's how the zledo do it, with the nobles living (and funding a lot of their equipment) from investments, with only very low taxes going for regular necessities (you probably couldn't pay all military salaries just off the investments of its officers), and funding for major things like wars or equipment upgrades being passed by a vote, like a bond-issue.

2018/11/26

Playing with Fantasy X

More fantasy game thoughts.
  • Had a thought: what if dragons use pneumatic natural muscle (i.e. like pneumatic artificial muscle except for that second word)? Like if each of their muscle fibers is a small air-sac that inflates or deflates in order to extend or contract? From what I can find a bird's body is about 57.7% muscle; a pneumatic artificial muscle has twice the power-to-weight ratio of bird muscle (400 watts per kilogram compared to a bird's 200—a human's is 50 watts, in case you were wondering). That means that replacing the normal muscle-fibers in a dragon with pneumatic muscle would result in a 28.85% reduction in weight. (That comes to 39.63% of the weight of a mammal-based dragon.)

    This gets the otter-based dragons down to about 49 short tons. Giving that a bird-maximum wing-loading of 25 kilos per square meter (which is 5.12 pounds per square foot), I can actually get by (for my "approximately kite-shaped" dragons), with a wing-span roughly equal to 137 or 138 feet. Far from un-doable for a dragon 120 feet long, since the damn thing is going to have to learn to store itself somewhere anyway. With airplane-like takeoffs facilitated by the cheetah-sprint, I think I can drive that down to a wingspan of 63 feet, with the "kite" only running half the length of the dragon's body, to still have a takeoff speed of 88(.35) miles per hour.
  • Suppose I, instead, base the dragon on Coelophysis—say with the mass of the wings taken from the thicker body and bigger legs, to produce a winged, almost serpentine dragon with equal-length forelegs and hindlegs. Coelophysis was 9.8 feet long and weighed 44 pounds; making that 120 feet long gives us a dragon weighing only 40.39 (short) tons before reducing the weight of its muscle. With the pneumatic muscle (a Coelophysis was probably only as dense as a bird so we can't reduce the rest of the density), we get a mass of 28.74 tons.

    With a bird's maximum wing-loading, and a "basically square" kite wing, that would only need a 105-foot wingspan. If we give it bird-wings with the wing-proportions usually posited for Argentavis magnificens, the maximum wing-loading of a bird requires a wing-span of 260 feet. You can knock a couple dozen off that with the neck and tail kites, but really, like I said above, the thing is going to have to learn to store itself somewhere anyway, so there's no real reason not to just give it the c. 130-foot long wings. It's not like birds' wings aren't several times the length of their bodies, after all.

    Guess we don't need the cheetah-sprint takeoffs after all.
  • Pneumatic muscle also gives you giants with human (or elf, or dwarf) proportions that don't break the bank—being exactly eight times as strong as human muscle (400 watts per kilogram vs 50), it scales exactly right for something twice the dimensions. Perfect for 12-foot elf-based giants, 10-foot dwarf-based ones, and 11 foot 6 inch (male) human-based ones (the female human-based ones are 10 feet 8 inches).
  • Decided to redo my naming systems, because my humans' date-naming actually seems quite strange if you're not from Mesoamerica, and it felt weird to have humans named after in-game things and the elves, dwarves, and gnomes using more ordinary name-systems. Now the dwarves are named for the fighter (melee) weapon-groups (plus firearms) and the enchantments that paladins can apply to them via divine bond, elves are named the fifteen wizard-spell schools (including universal and the six elementalist schools) combined with the basic metamagic feats, and gnomes are named compounds of the sorcerer bloodlines and the things bardic music can do. The gnomes' nicknames work more streamlined now—now a gnome who, say, kills an aboleth, can add "aberrant" and "deadly" from those two lists. Humans are named a combination of oracle mysteries and oracle curses (with the curse part being apotropaic).

    Also changed it so dwarves have clan names derived from a combination of the kinds of aura a paladin makes and the cleric domains other than Death and Evil (in Pathfinder the good aspect of death-gods is the Repose domain, which was not OGL in 3.x). The elves' "grove names" now come from a combination of the cleric domains and subdomains that druids can access (if they decide not to take an animal companion), and the ranger favored terrains. Gnomes' surnames now work like human names, combination of oracle mystery and curse. And the humans have surnames deriving from the druid domains, like elves' grove names, but take an honorific middle name upon full initiation into a society or accession to a title, that derives from a cleric domain (again except Death and Evil).
  • Since I no longer needed the calendar to double as the humans' name system, or fit all the possible domains (or to incorporate obscure domains like Ruins to fill out a number), I decided to give the planet's two moons a trojan orbit, where they are always in the same phase but rise and set six hours apart, and have an orbital period of exactly twenty-four and one-third days.

    I'll probably just number the days, though all the wizard schools and subschools, plus universal, makes twenty-five, as does the cleric domains if you take out the element and alignment ones. Every third month (on the actual calendar every first month of a group of three) has twenty-five days instead of twenty four. That allows you to have a 365-day year with exactly fifteen months, which bear the names of the fifteen oracle mysteries (in human languages or Gnomish; the elves and dwarves use versions of the Gnomish names).

    Relatedly decided there's no reason to have the elves live "almost" twelve times as long: just let them live exactly twelve times as long (and gnomes nine times, and dwarves six). But since they're in no hurry, the randomly-generated starting ages reflect the fact they age that much more slowly—they're adults at the same age but they feel no pressure to go out and adventure.
  • Black dwarves are now named similarly to other dwarves but with antipaladin enchantments, and have house names derived from the basic types of damage an alchemist bomb can do plus the discoveries that change a bomb's behavior. Ogres (including orcs), meanwhile, are named for the barbarian rage-totems and certain other kinds of rage, and only have their father's name as surnames (their father's names also go for their bands, and young males drop it when striking out on their own).

    Dark elves are now named the original Advanced Player's Guide witch hexes plus the types of witch familiar (including the poppet, mask, and arcane bonded item versions from some of the archetypes). Goblins' personal names come from a combination of the inquisitor judgments and the domain-like inquisitions; their bands take their names from their patriarch. Goblins whose patriarch is vassal to another goblin patriarch have a string of names, in descending order of closeness to the goblin in question.

    Witches of all cultures take the name of one of the witch-patron themes combined with the auras an antipaladin can project, in Primordial (maybe in their own language?), as an honorific. Giants (and beast-people) take the names of the cavalier orders and monk vows. And dragons have three-part names (can't imagine why) composed of natural attack, special quality like energy immunity or fear aura, and then the type of energy their type of dragon uses.
  • As might be implied, the goblin priesthood (aside from adepts) are now inquisitors, not full-fledged divine casters like clerics or even oracles; the dark elf and black dwarf ones were already witches (black dwarves also have a lot of alchemists, who as I've mentioned are dwarves' main arcane casters). Orcs and ogres have bards—orc ones treat their Charisma as 2 higher for spellcasting (and Performance) purposes, the same way the "scarred witch-doctor" archetype in the Advanced Race Guide does with Intelligence.

    All the non-renegade "civilized" humanoids have all three kinds of divine caster (cleric, druid, oracle), and the races who don't, like goblins, dark elves, and black dwarves (though not ogres) still have domains listed for their gods, because inquisitors use them even if they don't have clerics. Think I might give the spriggans (who I might make more like redcaps, since the size-change is weird) a combination of oracles and inquisitors; they split off from other gnomes before gnomes adopted clerical or druid magic from other humanoids.
  • Still a bit unclear what the antenna requirements for passive SLF radar darkvision would be, so I'm hedging my bets and putting the antenna all over the surface of the eyeball—but it connects to the optic nerve and processes like light. Think the pupil dilates all the way shut while using it. And maybe the sclera glow while darkvision is being used, unless the organism deliberately stops. One thing this means is that I go back to 3e/PF darkvision rather than 5e darkvision, since passive radar works more like that. (Oh and you can't read with it any more, just like in 2e. Always wondered how they handwaved the drow wizards of Faerûn suddenly no longer being the only drow who ever use real light, when they had been for two editions previous.)

2018/10/26

De fabularum mirabilium V

Fantasy thoughts. Mostly RPG but I also talk about a book I didn't finish.
  • I was trying to come up with terms for the human-hybrid races that don't involve made-up words, most of which ("tiefling") were concocted so TSR/WOTC could copyright the words, in the 1990s. Most of the time this is easy—tiefling becomes "deepspawn" (since my setting is not Faerûn), or maybe, less literally, "netherborn" or something; dhampir (though a real thing in folklore) is something to do with "teeth" and "thirst"—but "suli" was giving me some trouble.

    However, on a hunch, I looked up the Arabic for "halfbreed", which led me to the Arabic for "pedigree", which is "sulâla"; presumably "suli" is a garbled version of something related to that. "Element breed"? I might actually go with the four Pathfinder genasi-analogues (look berk the planetouched are the planetouched) rather than suli. That becomes quite easy: "flamebreed", "wavebreed", "windbreed", and "stonebreed".
  • As I've mentioned, I based my common tongue partly on Numenorean and Westron. Now, the difficulty is that Tolkien didn't really get around to addressing the verbs (I think every conlanger knows exactly what that's like). I was worried as to how I would express the imperative and the passive, but, fortunately, those are the two parts of their verb he did get around to! The passive is expressed by placing the accusative before the verb, and the imperative is expressed by not giving the verb a subject.

    Now, Tolkien didn't use a pseudo-Mesoamerican syntax like I'm using, but his principle is even easier in mine. Prefixing the verb with the accusative, "him-killed" (instead of "they-killed-him"), means "he was killed," or "man him-killed" means "the man was killed"; suffixing the verb with its accusative without a nominative ("kill-her" means, well, "kill her"; "kill-her girl" means "kill the girl") makes the imperative quite obvious. (Now I need to figure out how to have tenses work…)
  • Got a few chapters into the first book of the Watergivers series by Glenda Larke. It isn't bad, but it's not really good either; the very best thing I can say for it is it handles sexual exploitation as sensitively as I've ever seen done. The worldbuilding is a mess, and I can't shake the feeling it was intended as some kind of global-warming allegory, never mind that dryness is more usually the product of cooling, not warming. (Overall; there were droughts in the New World during the Medieval Warm Period.) Particularly the bugs they all ride, and use for projectile weapons; they seem like unmotivated weirdness for its own sake—also living things will never be as good of a weapon as something that doesn't need to eat…or drink, more to the point in a setting like this. What, did you just really like Morrowind, with all the giant bugs?

    And I frankly don't give a damn about most of the characters. You could do something interesting with a girl brought up to be an o-iran who doesn't want to (and yes, o-iran is the word; the exact recapitulation of the ukiyo almost has footnotes), but Larke largely didn't. Likewise the hillbilly kid who's got the powers of a stormlord is extraordinarily unappealing and pointless, and his dialect can't decide whether it wants to be Southern US or Northern UK. And the middle-aged bureaucrat who disappoints his father…is a middle-aged bureaucrat who disappoints his father, what could possess you to give us that as a protagonist? You need to give me something cool, and these people are very much not. (I'm trying to come up with something else about the book to mention, but seriously, nothing about this world or characters sticks in my mind.)
  • I had been thinking of having my Dwarven script be partly based on Mongolian square script, but with hexagons instead of squares; I felt weird about using a real-world script when my Elven script is mostly purely original, but then I discovered the Tau writing in Warhammer 40K. That's just an alphabetization of the same basic concept as square script. My version actually works out a bit different.

    I also decided that dwarf clan names are "geologic feature" plus an adjective. Although in Dwarven, things like "lava tube" and "karst cave" are single words, because they have a very extensive vocabulary for talking about minerals. (This is accomplished mainly by exploiting my languages' verb-heaviness, and the fact I generated three roots for every entry in my dictionary.)
  • Between the ogres in Pathfinder's default setting being the hillbillies from The Hills Have Eyes crossed with the ones from Deliverance, and the kytons being the cenobites from the Hellraiser franchise, I think we can conclude they were heavily influenced by the offerings available at video stores in the late 2000s. Their DarkerAndEdgier impulses, particularly on display in the early days of the Pathfinder line: reminiscent of college freshmen out from under their parents' roof for the first time, the "parents" here being Hasbro/WOTC and their restrictive corporate policies. (Also, um, does…does Clive Barker know "cenobite" just means "monks who live in groups, as opposed to hermits"?)
  • It's always presented, in the Dragonlance-tier of fantasy, as being racist that elves disapprove the begetting of half-elves. But…you don't think it would strike us as odd, people pursuing relationships with someone who lives in dog-years? (In canon D&D, elves live just under seven years to a human's one. And that's unusually short-lived elves; the Warcraft ones, for example, live for thousands of years without a Nordrassil making them immortal.) For elves, a "lifelong" relationship with a human is at best only a major fling, no bigger a commitment than getting a cat; of course they would frown on that!

    Keep wanting to just kibosh my elves' mortality, and maybe my dwarves' and gnomes, too. My setting doesn't have fey, after all, and there really isn't any game-balance concern involved—gathlain and ghorans don't have lifespans listed, after all. Maybe have them reincarnate with parts of their memories intact when they're about to hit one of their higher age-categories, like ghorans do every couple decades? On balance my current "elves live just under twelve times longer than humans, gnomes nine times, dwarves six times" is probably plenty; there's no real need to make 'em live much longer.

    (In my setting there are no interracial interspecies relationships, with the half-elves and half-orcs, etc., being the alchemical equivalent of test-tube babies—"ampule babies"?)
  • Was worried about the cats elves ride being marked like snow-leopards, when they're more grassland creatures (they're based on Homotherium), but the tigrina cat and at least one subspecies of Pampas cat (possibly a closely related separate species), the Pantanal cat, are found in grasslands as well as forests, and have markings reminiscent of a snow leopard. (And panthers ridden by elves are going to spend a lot of time in forests no matter what they're based on.)

    Also decided that the elves in my setting have hair-colors derived from plants: "wood" elves have hair the green of yew needles, while "high" elves have hair the color of blue spruce, and both have crimson or yellow eyes, like the cones of their respective trees (though the crimson cones are male and the yellow ones female, on a spruce, while the reverse is true of yews). The "dark" elves meanwhile have hair the dark red of Parasitaxus leaves, and eyes the white or blue-white of its cones. Goblins have mustard-yellow hair, like Ephedra leaves (vestigial little scales on the stalks)—and are covered in fur the same neon green as Ephedra skin, and have eyes the same bright yellow or scarlet as its cones.

    Decided to do the dwarves the same (my gnomes were always colored like fungi), with the red dwarves' hair colored like typical red algae, the black dwarves like "black beard" algae (both types of which are genera within Rhodophyta), and orcs-and-ogres like all those "red" algae that are green. I was worried I couldn't do white dwarves, but somehow "staghorn algae" can be pale gray. Think I'll have them have the same color eyes as hair.
  • I really like the idea of darkvision as passive radar. Apparently the field strength of naturally occurring radio noise, which is a frequency of 50-60 Hz, is 150 to 600 femtoteslas, comparable to the magnetic field of an animal's nervous system, which we know biological systems can detect. So, perhaps using a special kind of photoreceptor (radioreceptor?) cell as an antenna? I had thought you would need to pack the whole outer surface of the eyeball with special rod-cell antenna, arranged fractally, because the wavelength is hundreds of kilometers, but apparently small antennas that can be connected to a computer's sound-card are sufficient, so presumably the retina itself can just be packed with a third kind of cell, along with the rods and cones, and form a fractal antenna there? You don't even need to come up with a different thing for aquatic races, super low-frequency radio isn't blocked by water.

2018/09/21

Sierra Foxtrot 13

SF thoughts. Grandfathering in Destiny even though I consider it to be much closer to fantasy, because I want to write a fantasy post later, and not double up.

I admit to being a bit nonplussed by Forsaken at first. Part of it was it brought back the obnoxious gear-grind of the original Destiny, after the heaping portions offered by the previous versions of Destiny 2; but I had some legit plot issues, too. Then I made it to the Dreaming City, AKA "Space Gondolin, complete with dragon lairing in its ruins", and all was forgiven (a boss fight whose theme incorporated "Bow to No One" from The Taken King—basically the Queen's theme—didn't hurt either). Or nearly all; read on.

Okay the bow was pretty sweet too, that took the edge off before the final payoff. (Kinda bummed how Taken spooge got splashed everywhere when someone completed the main raid, though.)
  • The expanded lore that came with Forsaken is mostly dreck. To try and avoid spoilers, I'll just say that "less is more" is a principle they should've stuck to. Giving us more backstory on the Awoken, at least that backstory, turns what were cool spooky space-elves into run-of-the-mill pseudo-transhuman space-colonists; it reads like the prequels Ann McCaffrey wrote to her Dragonrider books, about when Pern was first colonized. The attempt to humanize Mara by showing us her relationships actually just makes her seem less sympathetic; someone as inscrutable as she used to be can be given the benefit of the doubt, but now that we know she cares about these people the same way we would, she seems very callous. Also the questionable parallel drawn between her family and the Osmium Dynasty seems like a slapdash afterthought. The epilogue (or rather the real ending), in the Dreaming City, fixes this somewhat, but the epilogue should not be more engaging than the actual main story.

    There really is no reason to give us any backstory on Mara's relationships at all. We need them for Oryx, Savathûn, and Xivu Arath because their spiritual corruption is the point, just as we need them for Malfurion and Illidan Stormrage because their increasingly vicious sibling-rivalry is the point there. But we no more need a backstory for Mara than we need to see Galadriel's childhood in Valinor or Hondo Ohnaka's backstory as a young Weequay coming up on the mean streets of who-gives-a-damn (and Mara is basically what you'd get if Galadriel and Hondo did the Fusion Dance). Those few minutes in her throne-room when you're asking for directions to the Black Garden really tell you absolutely everything you need to know about her, and her brother too, as characters.
  • Also? Mara the Deva-King of Paranirmita-Vasavartin is actually more like the person who first compares Mara the (future) Queen of the Reef to him, than he is like the Queen herself. Queen Mara (minor spoiler) draws her people back into a mortal world because they can't avoid struggle (which makes her standoffishness about helping Earth seem out-of-character, now…); Mararaja controls sentient beings by offering to take their struggles away, in an immortal world. Like Oryx does when he Takes them. (Not coincidentally, the historical figure who deliberately chose to compare himself to Mararaja had, as his motto, "All the world by force of arms." Which is the Sword Logic.)

    …And now I wish they'd dubbed Oryx with Wakamoto Norio, in Japanese.
  • I don't think it's a spoiler to say Uldren dies at the end; anyway the poor son-bitch has been hard done by. The story, at least until the Dreaming City epilogue, is trying to treat him as much less sympathetic than he actually is. It's almost as bad as how Transformers Prime writers treated Starscream and Breakdown—narrator again writing checks about audience sympathy or antipathy that the narrative never deposited the funds to cash.

    About the only way I can see them salvaging this would be for him to be raised up as a Guardian—given some of the shit they get up to with the Light (see e.g. the Warlords, without even getting into Dredgen Yor), it stands to reason some of the "devotion, sacrifice, death" that produced them in the first place was less than squeaky clean. (May I suggest he call himself "Crow", presumably due to the accoutrements he finds with his remains? If the fluff-text for the Prodigal Mask means what I think it does, I may be some kind of precognitive—I swear on my honor that I came up with this idea before I ever saw a Prodigal armor-piece.)

    Lastly, mah boy Variks: what the hell? Y'all who've read the new lore know what I'm referring to. He best not become a villain, Bungie, at this point you've killed off or face-heel turned almost every character I give two shits about except Zavala and Failsafe. (I only give a shit about Sloane, Ikora, Asher, Tess, etc.—you could double the shits I gave about Anastasia Bray by having someone point out the short form of her name is "Tasha", though.)
  • Onto other matters: seriously where do people get the idea humans are warriors? Many, indeed possibly most human civilizations go in for militarism, as an ideology, precisely because most of us aren't warriors, and we therefore regard those who are as special. And people who aren't civilized, tend to blur the line separating military enmity from personal malice, or battle from massacre. That would, again, be because warfare is felt as something unnatural, an exception to the usual rules.

    Much like how humans do in fact know when they're beaten, and we're speaking a language that proves it, the idea humans would be particularly remarkable as warriors is so much species-Jingoism. Anything that gets to the stars had to become the dominant species of its biosphere to do it, and who's to say ours is even the hardest biosphere out there? This biosphere was a lot scarier just 10,000 years ago, to say nothing of 65 million years ago.
  • I know I've mentioned this before but ideas like "space down" are dumb. "Down" is toward the main gravity-well you're in, period. In orbit of a planet or other body massive enough to orbit stably, it's toward the center of the body's mass; in interplanetary space it's toward the system primary; in interstellar space it's toward the galactic core. (Okay you probably need an arbitrary definition for intergalactic space, unless you can use the center a given galaxy-cluster orbits around, but we're not getting there any time remotely conceivable.)

    Similarly "galactic north" doesn't mean "toward the core"; that's "galactic down" (or "nadir"). Galactic north is the direction on your left when you point your feet at the core and face "spinward" ("galactic east"). "Leeward" is galactic west, "rimward" is galactic up or galactic zenith, and galactic south is the direction on your right when you face spinward with your feet pointed at the core. There's a reason (beside sun-worship or the reverence for Jerusalem) that premodern maps usually put east, not north, at the top.
  • The guy behind Wolfram Alpha, Stephen Wolfram, wrote a book called A New Kind of Science, wherein he makes an interesting claim:
    …Even with a single very simple initial condition the actual evolution of a system will generate blocks that correspond to essentially all possible initial conditions. And this means that whatever behavior would be seen with a given overall initial condition, that same behavior will also be seen at appropriate places in the single pattern generated from a specific initial condition.
    Now, while technically this might be true in theory (at least in a Newtonian/relativistic universe, not so much in a quantum one), empirically, in practice, it's not, because you'd basically need the capability to predict or track all the behavior of the system (and indeed of its initial conditions).

    But what's interesting is, his "new kind of science" is actually a very old kind of magic: because that concept underpins divination. The same fates or inevitable causes govern the stars (tea leaves, bird-flights, etc.) as govern your fortunes, so if you look at one it can give you information about the other.

    "Magic and technology alike arise from emptiness."—Abe no Seimei's correction to Clarke's Third Law.
  • This article has an interesting discussion of the questionable subtext of a lot of our TV and movie portrayals of robots; ignore the politics—and the fact it's "gynoid" not "gyroid"—and its point, that much of our robot-fiction is curiously dependent on conniving-woman tropes that would raise protest in any other context, is still interesting. (One does have to be charitable in Dick's case; he was a paranoid psychotic—admittedly one who very unwisely fooled around with psychedelics—who was treated very badly by several of the women in his life. I doubt Westworld is written by schizophrenics.)

    Of course, aside from how this demonstrates yet again that Hollywood is the people they accuse everyone else of being, the question is, what to do about it? I personally wouldn't mind more robot portrayals where they are just speculation about "what if we could create artificial intelligence"; but robots have been stand-ins for various politics-relevant groups since R.U.R. itself (incidentally, is anyone else weirded out that the guy who came up with the programming language Python is named Guido van Rossum?). That's true at the best of times, let alone a time like now when everything's hyper politicized.

    I would think the best solution is for people to treat their robots as characters (i.e. made-up real people) rather than symbols—which is where Phil Dick goes wrong both in his specific portrayals of women, and as an artist generally. And be alert to how people will perceive symbolism even if they don't intend it, which is presumably where Westworld went wrong.
  • This article in Time claims that the "galactic empire" makes no sense, because empires suppress innovation as a threat to their power. Fair enough; certainly one can point to China, even if it's the opposite of true of Western Empires (here excluding Byzantium, although they were quite enthusiastic for machinery that Italian engineers invented). Certainly being headed by kings and emperors didn't stop medieval Europe from being hugely innovative in technology and inventing little trifles like "the scientific method". Of course, that's partly because they had the opposite of the absolutist system the word "empire" normally conjures up.

    But then the article (and the book it's talking about, if it's not misrepresented egregiously) goes on to claim that all such premodern social organization is one where all resources flow only one way and the elite takes everything from everyone else. Because serious economists can actually say "all systems other than our own are pure zero-sum affairs" and nobody point at them and laugh—our society has actually reached this point. I looked; Acemoglu and Robinson do not appear to be Marxists, which would at least explain their puerile characterization of any economic system as purely zero-sum (which isn't even entirely true of slavery), even if it would be very far from excusing it.

2018/08/14

Playing With Fantasy IX

FRPG thoughts.
  • It was annoying to come up with a list of random adjectives for my setting's humans to name their children prior to their taking adult names, in my D&D/Pathfinder setting. So I made it so instead, they name them after days of their two months—the day of whichever month their post-birth blessing was performed. It just has to be done within one of whichever month of the date of birth, so it doesn't indicate a child's birthday (if they used both days, of course, it would indirectly indicate that...so they don't).

    This is also the type of name used by the beast people ("gnolls", "catfolk", and a more mundane version of minotaur), except they're named in Giantish rather than any of the human languages. It's genuinely difficult to come up with a way to randomly generate a number between 1 and 27 (the number of days in the longer month)—to my knowledge the only combo is 26d2-25, which is unwieldy if you're not using a simulated roller—but 3d10-2 gives 1-28, and you can just make 28 "roll again". 1-16 is easy, it's 3d6-2.

    Late addendum: Realized there's a flaw, namely that you only have 43 names to choose from. So maybe they have two blessings done, one for each moon (there are actually reasons that would matter), and use both names. It just has to be within both months of birth, so the combination doesn't reveal birthdates.
  • On that note, thought I'd also come up with a table for gnomes' nicknames, since like in 3e my setting's gnomes are known throughout their lives by a number of different nicknames based on things they've done. (This becomes confusing for strangers when every gnome has a different name for every social circle, because each gnome has been seen doing different things by each group of acquaintances. I think gnomes get around this by making extensive use of fictive-kinship terms and other honorifics.)

    My gnomes also have surnames incorporating both their parents' names and their home settlement's name. Basically I like gnomes to have long names; it's the one thing about Dragonlance gnomes I actually like (well, the mad-inventor thing becomes tolerable once we're talking spaceships powered by giant hamsters running in wheels). There are cultures where people's full names are very long (the Arab world, for example), and much of Latin America has people known by nicknames to most of their acquaintances.
  • Decided to add a race of coastal nomads who, like the halflings, are descended from the Ancients. They're something like seafaring gypsies, in terms of keeping to themselves and living more in vehicles than in permanent dwellings, but they don't exactly have the more negative aspects associated with gypsy/Romani culture (which negative associations vary in their justness). They do think they're better than the people their ancestors regarded as "barbarians", but that mostly just makes them less likely to assimilate, and maybe be less tractable when haggling over trade-goods with the settled people. Of course, since they don't keep the totem-religion but only the ancestor-worship, with its attendant "amoral familism", they do have a slight tendency to try to rip off outsiders, though. Also at least some of the outsiders are descended from the people who sacked their ancestors' cities.

    The other nations of humans typically view these nomads with the usual distrust that settled people view such peoples with; of course there are also periodically rumors about them being witches, resulting in persecutions, and that sort of thing. (The common people of the Ancients, I decided, weren't actually much given to witchcraft, though their calendar still derives from witch-patrons.) There are also members of the other human nations that are descended from Ancients and have some or all of their phenotype, but they're culturally members of whatever group they live in. Human groups don't just vanish, even if they adopt the culture of another group. The Ancient-descended ones also aren't the only nomads in my setting, there also being a nomadic branch of the main human cultures, something like the Eurasian steppe cultures, or maybe a colder version of Bedouins.
  • Gave the gnomes electricity resistance, to go along with the elves' cold resistance and dwarves' fire resistance. Fungi, the gnomes' associated kingdom of life, apparently gets a big growth-boost when lightning strikes the tree it's on. (Elves are associated with plants, and conifers, at least, are among the most cold-resistant large life-forms on the planet. Dwarves are red algae, because the group contains a lot of extremophiles that like heat.)

    I keep going back and forth on whether the nonhumans should have poisonous blood/bodily fluids. I really like the idea as worldbuilding, but the "Toxic" trait in the Advanced Race Guide isn't what I had in mind; more like the Poison Flesh trait of the ningyo in Bestiary 4. But I can't figure out if that balances like "Toxic"; maybe if I give it the same damage as the "Life-Stealing Venom" variant of the "Toxic" trait? And maybe the same onset time and save-characteristics.

    (Though really the ningyo themselves ought to have a very slight chance of the consumption of their flesh bestowing immortality. Or at least extreme longevity.) I think the merpeople in my setting (you know how I feel about "merfolk"), if I do decide to have them, will be more like the Japanese kind, or like purely aquatic sirens.
  • My brother and I were watching Record of Lodoss War, since it's on Crunchyroll at the moment, and he pointed out that the reason that it's not a violation of the Geneva Convention, unlike most more recent fantasy anime, is it's not based on video games, it's based on tabletop RPGs (indeed it began as a write-up of a D&D game). Admittedly Chaika the Coffin Princess and Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash could go either way, but definitely feel more like a tabletop RPG—though Grimgar (maybe Chaika off in the background?) does have an Adventurer's Guild, that cancer upon fantasy that originates in video games.
  • A thought occurred to me: maybe giant insects, at least the cow- and dog-sized ones you're mainly dealing with in D&D—maybe up to elephant size?—have their hearts modified into something like a diaphragm, that can draw in air through their spiracles, allowing them to breathe actively. Maybe they also have an ability to actually circulate their respiratory fluid, as I think molluscs can (I think molluscs just can't get big on land—though the biggest snails are roughly the same size as Goliath beetles—because they don't mineralize their chitinous exoskeleton). Presumably, like molluscs and arachnids, giant insects have pale blue blood with hemocyanin in it, rather than just clear hemolymph.

    And then maybe their exoskeletons are made thicker and more bone-like, with much thicker limbs than the original version—think coconut crabs, not spiders. Their muscles would become something more powerful, like vertebrate muscle tissue (if you were the size of an ant, you'd be about 35 times as strong as an ant is).

    Now, the big issue is flying; I can't think of a way that a giant bee or moth could fly, realistically, if it's not magic. Maybe the air-sacs, found in most flying insects, get modified to hold some kind of gas, say ammonia—which is lighter than air. Woodlice (pillbugs) excrete ammonia as their urine-analogue, directly venting it into the air; maybe flying giant insects have their air-sacs modified into something similar to whatever serves woodlice as the equivalent of a urinary bladder. I expect they also need a bigger wing, of course, but I wouldn't bother to crunch all the numbers; you just need a 'figleaf' so the animal is vaguely plausible, it doesn't have to be 100% hard science fiction.
  • On that note the "vermin" creature type probably shouldn't exist, they should just be animals. We're discovering every day that arthropods and molluscs are no different from vertebrates, albeit not usually the cream of the crop of vertebrates. At the very least the vermin type ought to have an Int score of 1, rather than "—"; more likely vermin ought to be a subtype of animal.

    Maybe the "animals" and mind-affecting powers don't work on vermin—having them do so, while justifiable, would change game-balance—because they're designed with vertebrates (and intelligent beings, since aberrations are not vertebrates) in mind, not because vermin are mindless. Because they aren't, at least no more than the dumber lizards are.
  • Decided that what powers magic in my setting is a spiritual "tension" between two things. For wizards, magi, and alchemists, it's the tension of the mind being made to conform itself to external reality; for sorcerers, bards, and summoners, of the emotions conforming to an experience. For divine casters, it's conforming oneself to one's deity's code of conduct. And for witches, it's violating taboo, and using the resistance of the cosmos to having its nature twisted like that. This has no real mechanical effect, but has "fluff" significance, also important if you're a narrativist-simulationist, as I am (I'll probably come up with a way for at least the witch version to have game importance, like the three moons of Krynn).
  • I kinda like the wound points and vigor points option in Ultimate Combat, or Starfinder's hit points, stamina points, and resolve points, but really, neither is that much of a mechanical difference from the default hit-point system. All three are based on the way fiction portrays it, people being able to get by with superficial wounds until someone hits something vital. (Also vigor points and especially resolve points probably ought to be increased by your Wisdom bonus.)

    Not a fan of the wound-thresholds introduced in Pathfinder Unchained, where being down to 75% your max hit points makes you "grazed" and imposes a -1 penalty to attacks, saves, skill checks, ability checks, AC, and (for some reason) caster level; 50% makes you "wounded" and imposes a -2 penalty, and 25% makes you "critical" and imposes a -3 penalty. I suppose maybe for a horror game that would make sense, but otherwise we don't really do this "the rich get richer" thing, not since 3rd Edition.

    Ideally, someone would come up with a d20 version of the World of Darkness wound-category system. (World of Darkness was kinda the opposite of contemporary D&D, having a great system but a really dumb setting. With 3rd Edition D&D fixing everything about D&D except hit-points—which were never a deal-breaker—and New World of Darkness making the settings, if possible, even dumber, that contest is now as over as Nintendo vs. Sega.)
  • People say that feats like Eschew Materials are useless, because D&D ignores components. That's not actually true. What D&D ignores is components under most circumstances, unless they cost real money, but when your enemy takes your clothes (including your component pouch), your ability to cast without components is suddenly going to become important. Ditto Silent Casting and enemies gagging you.