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.


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.


Sierra and Two Foxtrots II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Playing With Fantasy III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sierra Foxtrot 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blood and Treasure III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rannm Thawts Eight

Thoughts, "uncorrelated but not uncaused", as it is written in the tomes of the learned.
  • I had thought that Suicide Squad represented a shift to DC movies being like DC shows, and actually taking place in a comic-book world, in the same way that The Flash, Arrow, and even Legends of Tomorrow are unafraid to be what they actually are. (Although Arrow took a season or two to ease the mundanes into it—wasting Brother Blood in the process. I accept that, though, since it laid the groundwork for everything to follow.)

    But it turns out the shift of the "cinematic universe" started sooner: with Batman vs. Superman. It's got flaws; it's not actually accurate to say its Luthor is trying too hard to be the Joker, but he does come across as a very coked-up, sleep-deprived Luthor. (But, if you just imagine Clancy Brown saying his lines, you'll realize he's actually a tenable interpretation of Luthor, although he's supposed to be more Objectivist/Nietzschean than simply destructive and malevolent.) It still unfortunately has Snyder's Man of Steel Superman, a whiny little Hamlet-figure rather than "even more powerful Vash/less aggressive Goku", which is the real nature of the character (at least pre-New 52). And perhaps most importantly, "Secret identities? What the hell are those?"

    And yet still, most of the negative reviews, which I was all too willing to believe, were wrong; it is actually a Superman movie. The "they stop fighting because Clark says 'Martha'" accusation, for example, is unfounded. What actually happens, is Clark says "you're going to let Martha die", which, I mean, Bruce Wayne—every time he closes his eyes, he sees those pearls falling. Saying "you're going to let [same name as one of the parents you're obsessed with] die" is guaranteed to get his attention.
  • There is a lot of talk in discussions of the rationality of Christianity and the "science vs. religion" business of how pagans, unlike Christians, worshiped "immanent nature gods". But...no they didn't. The gods of paganism are only immanent within nature in a very late phase of pagan thought, as the people begin abandoning their old religions for philosophical schools, or reinterpreting them in the terms of philosophical schools (the related idea that gods are divinized ancestors originates with Euhemeros, who was contemporary with Alexander). It's fitting that "religion is a bad attempt at science" is used against Christians by their enemies, frankly, because it was used by Christians against pagans, with exactly as little justification. Nemesis is a pagan goddess, after all.

    In actuality, pagans who really believe their gods are real (which may well not include any phase of the Greco-Roman civilization that we have direct records of) absolutely don't think of them as immanent within nature. Even the Greco-Romans don't usually, neither in myth or in ritual; what, exactly, about "nature" is "immanent" in Hades' taking of a black goat sacrificed at a crossroads at midnight, by worshipers who turn their back to the carcass? "Immanent within nature" seems to have been the private theory of a few thinkers, no more typical than Young Earth Creationists are of Christianity. And when you get to people who lack the cosmopolitan, Pascal's Bet-hedging agnosticism of the civilized pagans, people who know their lives are "on the knees of the gods"—because for hunter-gatherers and pure-subsistence agriculturalists, they are—"immanent in nature" is the last thing you'd say...even of the gods of nature.

    The Hopi Kachinas, for example, are not the rain. They send the rain, or even just good luck with the rain, if it is in accord with cosmic order to do so, in answer to the Snake Clan's prayers. (Anyone who defends praying for the sick and then makes fun of rain-dances: are you a hypocrite or just an idiot?) While the Navajo goddess Changing Woman is somehow related to the seasons, and she's married to the Sun...what, exactly, about "nature" produces He-Kills-Hostile-Gods and Born-for-the-Water?
  • Decided instead of eight seasons, in my campaign's calendar, to go with "year-tithes", tenths of a year (for the human, solar calendar; the lunar elements remain unchanged). The interesting thing about year-tithes is that if half of them have thirty-seven days and half have thirty-six, you wind up with a 365-day year. (Ignoring leap years.) This is also convenient because in my campaign's human civilization there are ten major deities.

    Also did my dragons. Made them all chaotic neutral, since a dragon is basically a gigantic cat. Instead of making them just color-coded, I gave them slightly more complex color-schemes based on where they live—swamps, forests, glaciers, volcanoes, and then instead of deserts my lightning-breathing blue dragons live on clouds (I never understood why blue dragons lived in deserts).

    I also have shadow dragons, more or less unchanged; also giving thought to somehow incorporating amethyst dragons (I need one whose breath-weapon is force, that being my sixth "element").
  • Because people commenting on memes I was reading(?) on Facebook are obsessed with him, I had occasion to look up the work of John Green. Vapid YA chick-lit? To be sure. Also, gut-wrenchingly pretentious. And yet despite that, also really, really stupid. For example, in The Fault in Our Stars: "That's the thing about pain. It demands to be felt." This is listed as "profound" at several websites about writing and literature and such-like, every single one of which has no excuse not to know better. Because no, see, the actual thing about pain is, it's a feeling. You just said "That's the thing about a kind of feeling. It demands to be felt." Who knew L. H. Franzibald actually existed?

    And then there's such gems of impossibly pretentious, stultifyingly stilted and stagey verbal masturbation as "I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence." If you meet someone who claims to be sixteen and he says things like that, don't say I didn't warn you when he starts reanimating the dead or emitting brainwashing-waves to turn people into his puppets, or something. Because clearly, that is a demon-lord, and one half-assing his human disguise, at that. Is John Green concerned at all with his characters not sounding like they were written by entirely-too-impressed-with-themselves middle-school creative-writing club members? Seems like not.

    (There's apparently also a scene, in The Fault in Our Stars—which I am apparently not the first to think of calling The Fart in Our Stalls—of the protagonists making out in Ann Frank's house. At which, I am told, literally, "everybody claps". J. M. Greenzibald should just name his next book Lord of the God-Kings and have done. Although honestly that's actually a lateral move from An Abundance of Katherines.)
  • I was trying, in my campaign, to come up with a cosmology that was not the Great Ring, dear though it is to my planewalker heart. Basically went with a thing sorta sketched out in the Manual of the Planes of having Shadow and Ethereal merged, and replacing the Astral with "Spirit-world"...which as it turned out is basically the Oriental Adventures, "Rokugan" cosmology (minus the "Taint" aspect of the Shadowlands).

    Decided to call them "Dusk Country" and "Dawn Country", respectively, evoking the idea that the twilit parts of the day represent a "thinning" of the boundary between this world and that. There are actually three of both planes: one Dusk and one Dawn for the planet, and one of each for each moon. I think the people originally from the moons (elves and dwarves) go to the appropriate Dawn Country, despite currently living on the planet; it's only the Material Plane of the moons that's been taken over by fiends and monsters.
  • I have not mentioned it here, I think, but apparently, IQ tests only measure how much you think like the people who write the tests. That's why we have to re-norm them upwards every decade or so; we're not getting smarter, the mass media is making us more homogeneous. And it's trivially obvious that the average person 100 years ago was not mildly mentally handicapped, but that's where they score based on where the tests are currently normed—again, because we are more uniform and homogenized than they were. (Presumably the over-100 scores just mean you think more consistently than the people who wrote the tests, but still along the same lines.)

    A test, grouping objects with the objects they "go with", was given to the Kpelle people of Liberia. They scored low, because they insisted on putting vegetables with the tools you use to process them, rather than with other plants or maybe other foods. When asked, they said they did so because a wise man would never do it differently (the most useful way to arrange plants really is with the tools you process them with). The researchers said "Okay, so what would an idiot do?" Then they grouped the objects in the prescribed, high-scoring manner. Your "smart" is literally someone else's "idiot".

    I was thinking of this when I came across that stat, chanted by self-righteous WEIRD people who think they understand science, that "spanking children lowers their IQ". Actually, spanking children is primarily a class-/non-WEIRD "marker", and the less like the WEIRD people who write IQ tests you are, the more likely you are to spank your children. They, then, will score lower, because the culture you pass onto them is less like that of the test-writers.
  • A term I think I invented is "Neon Kowloon". It describes the aesthetic of movies like Blade Runner, the rain and squalor and inexplicably ubiquitous Asianica(?), where everyone's umbrella has a glowing tube, all the Coca-Cola ads were imported from Taiwan, and stubbly detectives eat ramen at street-stalls in the rain.

    It's the aesthetic that cyberpunk was trying for, mostly unsuccessfully; apparently William Gibson landed on the same concept around the same time and freaked out about twenty minutes into Blade Runner, worrying that people would think Neuromancer, then in-progress, was ripping it off. But really the same "Japan will take over the world" vibe was in the back of everybody's minds at the time, so it would've been stupid if people had thought he ripped off the movie (which I don't think they did think, although they did seem to think it was actually good, so maybe "think" is not the word I want). Besides, Blade Runner doesn't have any stupid VR video-game user interfaces.

    I don't include Firefly in "Neon Kowloon" because fundamentally it describes an interesting aesthetic and production-design, something that Firefly has not, in fact, got. At all. Firefly is all the shallow orientalism of the cyberpunk that's trying for Neon Kowloon, but without even their partial success at actually capturing it.
  • My brother recently got me into Young Justice, and, while it ain't bad, it does have the (fairly common) issue that it doesn't so much "end" as it just stops. Also apparently all black males in the DC Universe are Kevin Michael Richardson this time around? Which, I mean, I like his voice as much as anybody, but there are limits to even his range as a voice-actor. Certainly he ain't no John Stewart, for instance—he's a rather booming, hail-fellow-well-met type, and John is actually the most unassuming of the 2814 Lanterns. (In part, I think, because he's a sniper, and not in the Jun-A266 "oddly chatty for a sniper" sort of way.)


Playing with Fantasy II

Fantasy RPG thoughts.
  • I like psionics; as I've mentioned, it's the thing my dwarves use instead of arcane magic. Only...I hate power-points. I also consider the sorcerer kinda a waste, just a wizard who doesn't know what he's doing. So, decided, in my campaign: sorcerers are still powered by Charisma, get their spells according to the same table, but those spells? Psionic powers. This doesn't hurt dwarves, as it normally would, because my dwarves take a penalty to Dexterity, not Charisma.

    (In 3.5 the psion became Int-based, rather than each ability-score powering one of the psionic disciplines. They also introduced "wilders", psion-sorcerers powered by Charisma who were very much the answer to a question nobody asked.)

    In my setting, where wizards are powered by Int and therefore, manipulate things by knowledge about them, sorcerers (=psions) are powered by Charisma, and manipulate things by feelings about them. So they also have an element of the wilder. Don't think I'll have psychic warriors; there never really was an arcane-magic equivalent (as a basic class), so it's not like they fill a necessary void.
  • Decided my campaign's calendar will be lunisolar but work out like the more-or-less purely solar Mesoamerican ones. While the solar year is divided into eight seasons (or rather, both the beginnings and high-points of the seasons are marked, a bit like on the Chinese calendar), the phases of the two moons provide each day with a secondary name.

    There are two sets of day-names, one based on one moon's twenty-seven day period, and the other on the other moon's sixteen-day period; they sync up every 432 days, and then they also sync up with the year every 432 years (I'm skipping the fact neither moons nor planets are actually likely to have periods evenly divisible into days). Those two sets of day names come from the elves and dwarves, each of whom is from one of the moons, originally.

    And the reason that they assign a different name to each day of the planet? Why, when you live on the moon, the planet is always visible overhead, if you're on the right side of it. And the fact it runs through a full cycle of phases every twenty-four hours would quite certainly get noticed, as would the fact that there is a certain number of those cycles in each of your world's days (which from the planet are the moon's phases).
  • It's actually something of a challenge to model witchcraft, as an anthropological phenomenon, in a D&D game. None of the normal classes really cut it; certainly warlocks (which in 3.5 at least were also crazy OP, at least at low levels) won't do. I considered the goofy cultists of the demon- and devil-lords, from Book of Vile Darkness (blech), but still not enough like a skinwalker.

    Instead, I decided to gestalt the "mountebank", as updated to 3.5e in Dragon Magazine Compendium, with the sha'ir from the same book. Only instead of elemental and genie-based powers, gave the sha'ir evil powers and ties to fiends. Likewise changed the basis of the mountebank's powers from "bargains with demon lord" to "deliberate breaking of taboo".

    The resulting witches are both the mages and the priests of an ancient human civilization that once tormented my campaign-setting, but who are vanished now. (I think I mentioned them before, the ones the elves and dwarves caused an Ice Age to break the naval power of?)
  • Along with being sorcerer-based, my psions now have familiars. Because I hate psicrystals, they're talking rocks. Another thing I did is that both elves and dwarves normally take familiars from animals native to the moons they left behind, weird technicolor critters with modified anatomy, like green nocturnal ravens with slit-pupils or fire-resistant yellow bats (which, being based on flying foxes, have no echolocation but do have Scent, and give a bonus to their master's Intimidation checks rather than Listen, because flying foxes are really territorial).
  • Don't think I mentioned it here, but I have had some chance to play 5e with my brother and his friends. In general, I approve of most of the decisions they made, or at least don't disapprove (although trying to minimize your references to gender more or less renders the entire drow culture non-existent, what with them being reverse-Taliban and all). This is, at least, an Impressionist painting of Dungeons & Dragons, even if it falls short of the detail some of us would like.

    I won't, however, be making the switch myself, because aside from how there is nothing good in 5e that's not there in 3e, is the fact that they have all the classes use the same attack table. Which...what? Fighters are good at, y' know, fighting, that's why their attacks get better every level. Wizards are not good at it. Clerics and rogues are only okay at it. (Also? Adding a "path" for monks to have elemental powers à la Avatar, is stupid. Shades of 4e's sad MMORPG mimicry.)
  • My setting only has one "race" of fiends, made up of basically every "guy with horns and wings" fiend, from imp to balor, regardless of Blood War faction or home plane (since my cosmology's different). Then I added succubi.

    Also added an ability like the one "pseudonatural creatures" have: the fiend can do something that reveals it's not a guy with horns and wings, but rather an eldritch abomination that operates by fundamentally different laws. Like by opening its mouth to reveal a functioning eyeball, bending a joint the wrong way, or opening a vertical mouth in the middle of its chest. (This is actually stronger than how the pseudonatural creature does it, since that only imposes a -1 penalty on attacks against the creature, while the fiends make anyone who fails a save be "shaken"—a -2 penalty to several rolls—for the duration of the encounter.)

    I'm having trouble coming up with how to mechanically represent the context, but I think I'll have elves and maybe dwarves occasionally do something similar, except with half the penalty (-1 rather than -2), and probably applied to their own social rolls. Your eyes glowing and your body hair turning to leaves, or flames and smoke erupting from your eyes, whenever you're agitated, is probably a matter of some social delicacy. (Presumably the penalty applies in reverse, to Intimidate checks.)
  • I decided to base all my races' size-dimorphism on animals. Elves and dwarves have males 15% heavier and about 5% taller, which is the mass-ratio, and its cube-root, for foxes and wolves. Gnomes have males and females almost the same size, because male and female beavers (monogamous rodents!) are very close in size.

    Goblins and ogres (which includes orcs) are polygamist. So, goblins (and hobgoblins), I based on cats (since they're mutant elves and elves are foxes), with males 30% heavier and 11% taller (the ratio seen in a lot of species, e.g. snow leopards). Ogres I based on apes, males twice as heavy and 21% taller, though there isn't a direct tie to dwarves (whose ratios are based on wolves). One thing this means is female ogres are actually Medium-sized, not Large (though they're at the big end).

    Decided to keep females larger, for the dark elves (who, aside from matriarchy, don't look or act much like drow, since they worship a mistletoe parasitizing the World Tree and revere thrushes instead of spiders). Turns out tanuki have the opposite dimorphism ratio from foxes, so used them. For the dark dwarves (who are mostly duergar, except for coloring, with some elements of derro), I used dingoes, since they're a sleazy wolf subspecies. (Oddly, though coyotes are gross, they are apparently more consistently monogamous than wolves are.)
  • Decided that elves using axes was weird to no purpose, so now they're back to using bows and swords (although the bastard sword is a martial weapon, for them, so they can use it one-handed at leisure). Also decided to have gnomes use axes, since they're forest-dwellers. This leaves dwarves using picks and hammers, since they're subterranean smiths.

    Also gave the elves' leaf-armor an overhaul; now their more heavily-armored warriors wear scale armor made of dark-leaf, from the Arms and Equipment Guide (the alchemically-treated leaves of the darkwood tree). Lighter-armored elves, instead of wearing leather, wear wood and bark armor, from the same book...but it's half as heavy and has two points lower armor-check penalty, because it's made of darkwood. Based gnomes' equipment, made from mushrooms, on "chitin" armor (since that's what mushrooms are made of), but applied to more than just heavy armor (and not as expensive). My dark elves, who are pirates, now wear masterwork shark-skin armor. And gave the orcs and ogres stone weapons.

    I also went back to using coins instead of trade-beads, though they're triangular and have holes in them for threading them on cash-strings. My players found learning a new currency system more trouble than it was worth, even though it was just a re-skin of the old one.


Sierra Foxtrot 9

Thoughts sur l'SF.
  • Watched Tremors 2: Aftershocks and Tremors 3: Back to Perfection. Graboids make a certain degree of sense, although that line in the first one about them "predating the fossil record" is gibberish. I can even kinda see them being Precambrian; things a bit like graboids do actually show up in the Ediacaran, the last Precambrian era. But what makes no sense, is the shrieker and ass-blaster phases. Specifically (leaving to one side that the shriekers as portrayed probably violate conservation of mass—with only minimal tweaking they wouldn't), they hunt by infrared.

    The trouble is, endothermy appears to have shown up some time in the Permian, when it becomes a distinctive feature of at least some therapsids and avemetatarsalians—which you probably know by their extant members, mammals and birds. Even if we assume the graboids only appear at the very tail-end of the Ediacaran (542 million years ago), and that the earliest therapsids (275 million years ago) were endothermic, which they may not have been (though by the Triassic it seems like both therapsids and avemetatarsalians were—indeed "an endothermic archosaur that survived the Permian-Triassic 'Great Dying' extinction-event" seems to be the common ancestor of all the avemetatarsalians), that still gives us a gap of 267 million years in which the later two phases of the graboid life-cycle hunt by a sense that is completely useless. All the available prey before the therapsids show up is exothermic—in infrared, they're invisible.
  • In my continuing quest to not have d20 Future be useless, I think one needs to revise the space-vehicle rules to be in line with the Alternity ones. That gives a PL 7/PL 8 scale of 60 miles per hex (1 megameter per hex in 30-second rounds, converted to 6-second rounds in which one normally only moves for half the round, rounded to the nearest 10 miles). It gives a PL 6 scale of 1650 feet per hex (50 km per hex in 5-minute rounds, divided into 6-second rounds that are only half movement—rounded off).

    The "tactical" speeds of human and zled ships, .6% c and 1% c, respectively, are (respectively) 5,901,426.3 feet per second and 9,835,711 feet per second. That gives speeds of 3,577 and 5,961 hexes on the PL 6 scale, but 31 hexes and 18.6 hexes on the PL 7/PL 8 scale. So maybe go with 310 miles, i.e. 500 km, per hex, for the latter scale? Gives speeds of 3.6 hexes for the humans, and almost exactly 6 hexes for zled ships. Maybe round off speeds to the nearest half-hex, have the human ship do 4 hexes on even-numbered and 3 on odd-numbered rounds, or something. (Or we can do 155 miles per hex and give the zled ships a speed of 12 hexes and the human ones a speed of 7, I suppose that'd work.)
  • I said, a few years ago, that zled powered-armor was STANAG 4569 level 4 (vehicle) armor. That means it can stand up to 14.5-millimeter AP rounds from 200 meters. Two other things this means is it can withstand a 10-kilo anti-tank mine, and can also withstand 155-millimeter artillery detonating 30 meters away.

    Level 5 can withstand 25-millimeter armor-piercing discarding sabot rounds fired from 500 meters and 155-millimeter artillery from 25 meters away, while Level 6 can take 30-millimeter armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot rounds, also at 500 meters, and 155-millimeter artillery from merely 10 meters away. For those two, they don't even bother listing anti-tank mines it can withstand, they'd probably have to be too big to be a practical risk (because there are no actual mines that big and it kinda defeats that whole "IED" thing if I need a forklift to transport my bomb and a backhoe to dig the hole for it).

    Notice there is no NATO-rated armor-level that can withstand a direct hit from artillery? Yeah there's a reason for that. Artillery is the Win Button in any conflict where you don't have to worry about what it does to infrastructure (or other kinds of collateral damage), provided you support it correctly. (It's even pretty good against tanks, provided it can target them, since the range of artillery guns is usually about twice that of a tank gun and they shoot much bigger shells.)
  • Even granting the "strong" position on climate-change, or at least the "as strong as is not shoeless hobo apocalyptic ranting" position, it seems to me that the problem is still mostly a matter of you people planning things very, very badly. Because you build cities on flood-plains. And below sea-level, in hurricane-prone areas. I don't see why the entire global economy and many nations' economic development should be hobbled because some people are stupid.

    Admittedly, some of this poor planning affects me personally. Two of my state's major cities would be in deep trouble during a prolonged drought...like the kind this region had during the Medieval Warm Period. But honestly, our problems have (relatively) simple solutions. We should be investing in large-scale desalination and trans-continental water pipelines anyway. (How to make them cheap? Thorium fission. Which, again, we should be doing anyway.)

    You worried about the sea-levels rising? Well don't; a few stretches of swamp will become full-blown shallow bays, and that's really pretty much it. (Okay so Venice is kinda screwed, as perhaps are parts of Florida and Cajun country.) But pumping in desalinated ocean water to irrigate the now drought-plagued southwest might make up the difference.
  • Looking into what, exactly, humans would use as a nerve-agent against zledo yielded disappointingly little in the way of results; almost all our nerve-agents involve preventing acetylcholine from breaking down, and zled physiology doesn't use it. (That's why they're immune to sarin and alcohol doesn't affect them quite the same way.)

    One thing I did decide, though, is that caffeine is considered toxic, by them; they use a lot more sodium-gated nerve channels than we do, and apparently caffeine blocks those in some animals (notably guinea pigs). Presumably not very strongly—so I decided it was once used as a blood-pressure medicine, the way we use calcium-channel blockers. "Here, have a hot cup of Amlodipine." (Nine and a half times the maximum dose, by the way, although Amlodipine is unusually strong compared to some of the other CCBs.)

    Another thing that means is that our novocaine/lidocaine type anesthetics are basically ω (omega) conotoxin, which we also use as an anesthetic, but it's "100 to 1000 times as effective as morphine". So in the doses we usually get novocaine and lidocaine in, zledo would be re-enacting scenes from Pulp Fiction.
  • Another thing I discovered, researching that, is that not using calcium in their nervous system apparently means they wouldn't be susceptible to lead-poisoning, or at least much less badly. It's transported into the nervous system by "calcium ATPase pumps". (Incidentally, they don't use ATP either, nor its relatives; they use some other group of nucleoside phosphates, since their genetic material, being based on sulfones instead of ribose, uses different nucleosides in the first place. I don't know enough to say what they do use, though.)
  • What's with all the people predicting that we're not going to have people delivering our stuff anymore? Perhaps I can excuse it because a lot of the people writing about it are European, but even they should know better. Here's the thing: drones, unless they're the size of Predators and basically forbidden from being anywhere near populated areas (because shit, you want a 9/11 every other week?), have a range in the double-digits of kilometers. Go look at a map of the Western US: inside a drone's range from pretty much any major city, there's nothing.

    No, what'll happen instead is that the warehouses of your online-shopping sites will ship things out, and then, from regional hubs, the drones will depart. Yes, I am in fact endorsing the idea there won't be postal services; there really won't be much reason to keep them around, in a future where people don't send anything but packages, considering that private parcel-services already do that just as well.
  • Something occurred to me: if my space colonies raise ostriches for meat rather than cattle, what about milk? Well, if I recall correctly, about 2.14 million humans live in space in the mid-24th century of my setting. Apparently the average per-capita milk consumption of China, the US, Russia, Brazil, Uganda, India, and Mexico (which make up most of my future's colonists) is about 120 kilos per year. One dairy cow can currently produce up to 12,240 kilos a year, which seems like a reasonable thing to expect of genetically-enhanced space-cows.

    So to produce enough milk for all those people, requires a mere 21,010 dairy cows. Apparently you also need at least one bull per 50 cows; if we want to keep the numbers tidy, say 318 bulls with 33 cows each and 239 bulls with 44 cows each (look, we high-functioning borderline-obsessive people have our own-idea of "tidy numbers"), you're talking a total of 21,567 cows. That shouldn't be too resource-intensive for planetary colonies, though maybe for station-colonies; maybe stationers do with some kind of milk-substitute (you probably can't get milk from an "in vitro" cloned udder, not attached to a cow, without resources nearly comparable to the cows, if not worse once you factor in lab facilities).

    What? You wondered too.


Rannm Thawts Seven

Didn't feel right not having a post this month. Last day to get it in. Random thoughts.
  • One cool thing in powered armor is that there may be ways to use the power-assist systems not only for strength and speed, but for flexibility. Basically the same actuators that let it carry increased loads (or at least cancel out its weight) also expand or contract sections around its joints, so you get very nearly the full range of motion you have stark naked. Another thing that that might let it do, is more or less put itself on, or at least be put on in whole sections rather than piece-by-piece.
  • Was thinking about the xiāngshēng (generating) and xiāngkè (overcoming) cycle of the Chinese elements—the pentagon and the pentagram, respectively, that together make up the Seiman or Seal of (Abe no) Seimei. And I thought it'd be cool to make one like that for the D&D energy types—maybe even come up with a cosmology where those are the "elements" (there are ice para-elementals and lightning quasi-elementals that could easily be "promoted" to full-blown elemental status).

    An easy relation is sonic between fire and ice, because of thermo-acoustic cooling (and heating)—like in the gimmick used by not-Justin-at-all in Enen no Shôbôtai; not sure how to connect those three to acid and electric, but acid and electric definitely connect to each other (since "acid" is a description of the electric properties of a liquid). Maybe electricity to fire via thermo-electricity and then acid to cold? Though acids generally require relatively high temperatures to work.

    Still no idea how to arrange them, since you're simultaneously "overcoming" fire and "generating" cold, in thermo-acoustic cooling. Maybe electricity in between (since you need something to get the sound from)? But that still leaves acid out. (Similarly, what do you use for acid elementals? I'd considered magma para-elementals but with acid-damage instead of fire, but turns out ooze para-elementals do acid damage. Also I needed to go to the Planescape fan-site to find lightning quasi-elementals' 3e stats, they seem to have taken the quasi-elemental planes out of the canonical cosmology.)
  • I realized the real problem with the Many Worlds Interpretation (not to be confused with Multiverse Theory). It's intrinsically unverifiable, or very nearly so; it makes string theory look like "thus do I refute thee" in terms of empirical demonstration. Those other universes are giant Russell's Teapots. Ironically, many people adopt Many Worlds because they fear the possible metaphysical implications of the Copenhagen Interpretation, which might lead to the very thing Russell's Teapot is intended as an (almost laughably wide of the mark) attack on.
  • You know "minimalist shoes", the sneakers with the toes and all? One of the big brands, Vibram FiveFingers, got sued for over three million bucks for making false health claims. The people who advocate such shoes (by making legally actionable false health claims) often say that your feet are perfectly designed for walking. Only...what? No they aren't. They're hastily jury-rigged for walking, at least bipedally; because as little as 3.9 million years (and no more than 4.2 million), we were still quadrupeds. (Our backs and intestines and a bunch of our other features are also less than optimized for our current posture—and we choke a lot more than other animals do, because of the weird throat-anatomy required for talking.)

    It occurred to me, though, zledo might be better optimized for bipedalism. I toy with two reasons; the first is that it might be more common in their biosphere, as it was in the Mesozoic, and even the norm for their lineage as it was for dinosaurs (the quadrupedal dinosaurs' ancestors dropped back to all fours, at some point). The second, and the one I lean towards, is that, apparently, all the "lesser" apes are almost exclusively bipedal, when they're on the ground, and zledo were originally mostly arboreal, similar to those apes (and they're still a lot more arboreal than we are). I'm not sure why "lesser" apes walk on their hind legs, on the ground; could be their hands are so specialized for brachiating that they don't work as forefeet any more.

    Which, it occurs to me, might explain why zledo have tails, and long ones. Apparently gibbons, on the ground, walk around with their arms out, to balance. Maybe the zledo's ancestors did that, and had short tails as a result, but as they increasingly needed their hands for things like making tools, they started using their tails to balance, instead.
  • Was going through old Dragon magazines in PDF format, and noticed something: prior to the 1990s, what we call "post-apocalyptic" was called "post-holocaust". Probably because they had a particular apocalypse in mind, and it involved burning. I think it's also interesting how the mechanism of the apocalypse became vaguer after that point, since there was no longer the (semi-)immanent threat of nuclear annihilation.
  • Pepper spray does not work on birds. See, the whole reason that capsaicin exists is because to birds, it just tastes like vanilla, but it mimics the structure of the neurotransmitter that mammals use to detect heat (the whole family of neurotransmitters that capsaicin affects—also those that peppermint does—are called "vanillinoid"). Being painful and unpleasant for mammals, but harmless and tasty for (fruit-eating) birds, is a mechanism to protect the seeds of peppers, which get crushed by mammals' teeth but survive birds' beaks intact.

    The fact that pepper spray does not work on birds involves risks for people like mail carriers, in some places—because peacocks and turkeys, for instance, are very aggressive (to say nothing of rheas, emus, cassowaries, and ostriches, for people in the southern hemisphere). It's apparently a genuine problem in some Northeastern US states, getting attacked by wild turkeys while delivering mail, because their pepper-spray (for dogs) doesn't work.

    So, instead? I would suggest someone working on an aerosolized artificial grape flavoring. The main ingredient, methyl anthranilate, apparently affects birds the way capsaicin affects mammals (by a parallel mechanism, I think—they don't use the same neurotransmitters we do, but they do use similar ones). It's used as a bird repellent for certain crops, and on golf-courses, so coming up with a spray-form shouldn't be too hard. (I imagine that keeping birds, or certain kinds of birds, from eating their fruit, was why certain New World grapes—notably the thing we would eventually breed the Concord grape from—evolved to have methyl anthranilate in their skins, in the first place. Maybe for some reason it's better for the grapes if mammals eat them?)
  • People give shows a lot of flak for portraying hackers and such-like doing a bunch of really fast typing, which, fair enough; most of hacking is throwing some programs at something and getting a burrito while they find a weakness. But sometimes, people expand that to include showing a whole bunch of typing by programmers. But programmers still do a lot of pretty fast typing, at least if they actually write their own code (apparently some programmers just dictate what they want and a coder puts it in actual code, which seems weird to me but I suppose it's not unlike being a medieval Hungarian leader and having all your decrees transcribed from Hungarian into Latin).

    I don't actually show much, if any, of the hacking in my books, on the hackers' end; I don't know enough not to embarrass myself. But I do think zled signalers actually do some really fast typing while hacking...because they sometimes have to write ad-hoc hacking programs. I bet that happens a lot more often in "cyberwarfare"—during actual wartime conditions—than under most other circumstances, especially if the opponent is an alien. You don't even know what "ad hoc" means till you're trying to figure out how to find and exploit weaknesses in a system whose entire design-philosophy is literally from another planet. It's not the kind of thing you can actually just upload from a PowerBook 5300.
  • Speaking of why "spicy" flavors evolve, apparently cinnamon-trees have "spicy" bark in order to keep worms out. Which is pretty hardcore, if you think about it. "Oh, you want to lay your eggs inside me? I'm gonna burn your larvae alive."

    Incidentally, in certain parts of the US, actual cinnamon is relatively rare—because what they usually use instead is actually casia, a member of the same genus with a much stronger flavor. "Casia" is also one of the few known loan-words surviving from Sumerian, where it was called "katsi" and was a popular spice for mutton.