2017/06/09

Playing with Fantasy V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017/05/09

Painted in Colors of My Choosing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017/04/19

Mélange II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017/03/31

Sierra and Two Foxtrots III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017/03/23

As New as Foam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late Addendum: Discovered that, supposedly, the 7.62 NATO saboted light-armor penetrator round has performance against armor that's comparable to more conventional .50 BMG armor-piercing rounds, while the .50 BMG rounds of that type are comparable to 20 millimeter. "Since 7 millimeter, except based on .30-06" is quite a bit like 5.56 NATO from 7.62 NATO , maybe I don't need to so drastically re-interpret the rounds, especially since the AP ones can just use osmium or iridium (ultra-dense, ultra-hard metals being easy to acquire for a spacefaring civilization). Good, that saves on re-writing.

2017/02/28

Playing with Fantasy IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017/02/15

De romanicorum physicalium 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017/01/23

Das Rollenspiel Drei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016/12/21

Boys, and Others, Named Sue

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

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

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

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

2016/12/12

Gaily in the Dark


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

...

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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