2018/08/14

Playing With Fantasy IX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018/07/31

Sierra Foxtrot 12

Post #600, SF thoughts.
  • I know I've mentioned (what is incontrovertible) that Rey is easily as much a Mary Sue as Korra (or, before you embarrass yourself, as Ender Wiggin, Harry Potter, Kirigaya Kazuto, or Alucard). And that The Last Jedi was mean-spirited in its treatment of Luke—and Snoke. But I haven't mentioned how it makes the previous eight movies completely incoherent.

    If Force-ghost Yoda can lightning Luke's shrine, why couldn't Force-ghost Qui-Gon lightning Palpatine? If you can use hyperdrives to kamikaze capital ships, why does anyone ever do anything else? This is a setting where droids are cheap, plentiful, and generally considered less-than-persons; every battle would just come down to who mobilizes their droid Tokubetsu Kôgekitai first.

    Also seriously those bombers at the beginning: where are your Y-wings and B-wings? The Rebels Pirate Monkeys Resisty already have bombers that aren't sitting ducks while they attack.
  • Absolutely the champ of this anime season is Cells at Work, which has no business being as educational and entertaining as it is. About the only way it could be better is if viruses looked like Angels from Evangelion, and then vaccines were giant robots for fighting them, made from the same material. (I don't know if moe anthropomorphisms of cellular biology count as SF, and I don't care, either; I just needed to mention how great Cells at Work is.)
  • I was thinking that maybe the widespread gun-control in (the human parts of) my SF setting might not be possible with things like 3D printing of weapons, although doing that in such a way that the weapons are worth a damn is likely to remain relatively expensive. The "Liberator" (which can't actually beat metal detectors) has been compared to "holding a centerfire cartridge with a pair of vice grip pliers and hitting the firing pin with a leather punch".

    But then I realized that, given their firearms use caseless ammunition, and non-caseless isn't much good against their armor, they can enforce gun control by requiring a taggant in all caseless propellants, as we now require it in plastic explosives. It's likely to be very hard to make your own denatured octanitrocubane, after all. Presumably the high-end black-market gunrunners make their own taggant-free propellant, as do assassins.

    Of course, just because all the firearm propellant involves taggants doesn't mean they'd be stupid enough to stop using metal detectors. My future UN is an oppressive regime, not a straw dystopia.
  • Zledo don't have any gun-control; it's technically legal for their civilians to own artillery, up to things designed for taking out fortresses. It's never an issue, though, because they aren't allowed to store the ammunition in residential areas. (All their arms manufacturing takes place outside population centers, to reduce collateral damage in wartime—their Weaponeer Sodality all live outside of "city limits".) Even if they own isolated land where they can stockpile ammunition for their legally-owned artillery, the costs are still prohibitive. Aside from how artillery shells ain't cheap (one standard round for the M109 howitzer costs about $650), the liability and other forms of insurance would quickly outstrip any private budget.

    Technically speaking, the Second Amendment in our constitution applies to artillery; privately-owned cannon were once commonplace. About the only weapon it doesn't actually apply to are WMDs, because those can be used to overthrow a constitutional order, including the one the 2A is a part of, whereas the Confederacy wasn't even able to use artillery to quit this constitutional order. (And nowadays, just like zledo, it would largely be moot if we did legalize it, because of the insurance and liability costs involved—like, tens of thousands of dollars in premiums per month, if fire-codes actually allowed you to have it in a residential area at all.)
  • My NotUsingTheZWord approach to SF writing—where I say "volumetric display" instead of "hologram" and "fighter with prosthetic enhancement" rather than "cyborg"—might have some research to back it up. Apparently, interpreting that study with the appropriate sodium intake, reading words that indicate something is science fiction causes readers to read less carefully.

    That other study mentioned in that article, claiming lit-fic made its readers more empathetic, is utter nonsense, of course. People who read lit-fic can't even get inside the heads of the inhabitants of "flyover country"; SF readers can get inside the heads of Kzinti. Did the study get a false positive because lit-fic involves so much more silent-film pantomimic emoting?
  • I was unsure how to have Zbin-Ãld express the concept "for themselves" or "their own", since my other reflexive involved putting both the ergative and absolutive particles on the same word (yes they mark the absolutive—Indo-European originally marked all of its cases, too, and so does Japanese when it's bothering to mark them at all). "For themselves" is benefactive (not a marked case in Zbin-Ãld, it's the oblique case and "for") and "their own" is genitive (that one is its own case).

    Then it occurred to me I can make a word for "self" from the word assigned to "nature" (as in "natural world") by the word-list generator I used, since zledo have no concept of "nature" in that sense as a distinct thing—where you say "naturally" they say "expectably". Basically the construction in "for themselves" is something like "for their same self", and then "their own" is the genitive of "same self". I don't think "self" inflects for its referent's number, though, unlike in English.
  • Decided to give Zbin-Ãld gendered pronouns for all three persons. Or rather to inflect all their pronouns for noun-class/paradigm: although male names are in one paradigm and female in the other, they're not exactly "masculine" or "feminine" grammatical gender (their names are respectively "blue paradigm" and "red paradigm", among zledo, after the moons and the two colors their markings come in). In the singular, when referring to specific people, you use the one that goes with their name, so it matches their "gender" in that sense, but when speaking of a common noun ("a child", "the noble") or in the plural ("zledo") you use the one for the word that goes with whatever noun you're referring to.

    Thus if you say "people" (or "mortal men"), sõ'ã, which is in the same paradigm as masculine names, you use the "masculine" pronouns, but if you say "zledo", which is in the paradigm for feminine names, you use the "feminine" pronouns. It gets counterintuitive for Indo-European speakers when they leave the referent implicit and use one or the other paradigm seemingly at random, based on what particular word they were thinking of people as. I was thinking I might get some rhetorical effect out of it—like when you count humans with the marker for "small animal" in Japanese, to add oomph to concepts like "just one man"—but with only two paradigms, roughly evenly distributed, you can't really do that.
  • Between Life having "thinking muscle" and Annihilation having a telepathic, reality-warping fungus, can we just make a rule that you're not allowed to have the damned Gravemind in your SF movie? I mean come on people. Come up with something else. At least rip off a different video game (although even video games—*cough*—rip off the Gravemind). You haven't tried zooplankton that learned to fly by Social Darwinist witchcraft as your totally-science-fiction-and-not-fantasy antagonist or plot-mover, yet. Or a space pirate who was born a bug-lizard and became an immortal dragon.

2018/07/14

De romanicorum theoriarum XII

Fantasy and SF thoughts.
  • Hoo-boy the new Lost in Space is so much wasted potential. First off, everyone is playing constant keepie-uppie with the Conflict Ball; the incessant bitching about John's re-enlisting was almost as tiresome as the contrived, interminably dragged-out refusal to mention what they were all so mad at him for. Second off, "Lisa, in this house we respect the laws of thermodynamics!" Maybe you don't know how quickly ice actually freezes (or rather doesn't)? And third off, Dr. Smith as a woman is unobjectionable, but Dr. Smith as a non-persnickety woman who at no point alliterates a string of insults is unforgivable.
  • "Cautious optimism" for Destiny 2: Forsaken. I think the supposed death of Cayde-6 is a fakeout; I also hope they'll do more than just have Uldren (and ideally Mara) be merely villains, rather than "wavering between the light and the dark". If they do something stupid like have Mara "bows to no one" Sov have been Taken by Oryx, or otherwise under the control of anything but her own agenda, well..."When it begins, you will hear the sound of children screaming—as though from a great distance."

    I find on playing back through, in "meditations" and with an alt, that Warmind really grows on you. I think I lost something about the experience the first time by shotgunning it (I did its whole campaign in like one evening); its only real weakness is it is damned short. Thus my cautious optimism: these people do more or less know what they're doing. It's actually said they didn't make Warmind (even) better because they were working on Forsaken, so it will presumably be pretty good.

    Not sure what to make of the addition of bows but the added class-abilities look pretty solid. Maybe I'll have a reason to do those missions that reward you with upgrade points that you don't currently need...
  • Decided to go back to orcs riding boars. The ones orcs ride are like javelinas the size of cows (I used the mass of the extinct true pig Notochoerus but the proportions of a collared peccary), with four vertical canines instead of curled tusks, while the ones ogres ride are javelinas the size of Hippopotamus gorgops (not a pig, but in the same sub-branch of the Artiodactyla). Of course for pigs to go nuts and periodically eat the people who've enslaved them is less shocking than for elephants; pigs are scary.

    Also gave the bugbears a "grim-hound" with a mass based on the high estimate for the short-faced bear (because my bugbears are Large); used the proportions of Daphoenodon robustus for the grim-hounds. Decided my setting's totem animals are prehistoric megafauna: the bears are short-faced, the "tiger" is actually Machairodus (the high estimates for whose mass are actually above those of Smilodon), the "wolf" is Epicyon (as are the dogs...), and so on. Since there's all this megafauna about, used the stats of wooly rhinos for wooly rhinos, then applied the "Giant" template to make Elasmotherium. Decided that my hill giants (giant humans, remember) ride them. Not sure who rides the mammoths (used the steppe mammoth rather than the wooly one, since it was bigger), but someone does.

    Gave the cats the elves ride the same mass as Machairodus but the proportions of Homotherium. Decided that rather than riding the giant hyenas ridden by the hyena people ("gnolls")—which are Dinocrocuta the feliform carnivoran, not Hyaenodon the, well, hyaenodont—the dark elves ride speaking hyenas with the same proportions, basically the crocotta (or leucrocotta) of myth rather than the leucrotta of D&D. (While percrocutids are not hyenids, the African civet demonstrates that the whole branch of the feliform carnivorans is set up similarly.)
  • On the subject of sizing things, decided that elves, dwarves, and gnomes have the sexes the same height but different weights, like the elves in 3e. Made the elves the same average height as Pathfinder elves, i.e. both six feet even. Also decided that male hobgoblins and male orcs are the same size as, respectively, male elves and male dwarves; female orcs and hobgoblins are smaller (because of their polygynous dimorphism), as are goblins of both sexes, while bugbears and ogres are bigger. Basically hobgoblins look like haggard, hard-bitten elves while orcs look like degenerate dwarves.
  • People have compared the difference between 5e and Pathfinder to the difference back in the '90s between Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition and the BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia version of (not-advanced) Dungeons & Dragons. In many ways the comparison is apt; not only does Pathfinder bring back many 2e elements that 3e had jettisoned ("treasure types", direct XP values rather than CR-to-XP conversion), it's also a lot more complicated than the alternative ("complicated" doesn't necessarily mean "good", especially where rules are concerned). On the other hand, all its sins on its head, Pathfinder isn't within a zettameter of as needlessly complexified as 2nd Edition was.

    I think having two rulesets, one more accessible and one more geared to the hardcore enthusiast, is a good choice; Wizards/Hasbro could've been the owner of both but they decided mindlessly aping MMORPGs and having non-combat challenges become harder if you got creative was the way to go. It'll be interesting to see if Pathfinder 2nd Edition just irons out some crinkles or goes the "Island of Dr. Moreau" route; some of the differences between Pathfinder and Starfinder are alarming if they indicate a shift of design philosophy. Still worth a look. If they mess it up, it's not like the Pathfinder SRDs (or the SRD app I have on my phone) are going anywhere.
  • Krypton, unlike Lost in Space, features very little wasted potential, although they really need to do more (and better) with Adam Strange. The fact they actually use the Superman theme is a nice touch. (The fact Justice League uses the Batman theme, and also, in a more understated way, the Superman one, is also a nice touch. Though actually having it be noticeable that they used the Superman one would be nice.) The fact the credo of the House of Zod involves kneeling to no-one was well-received, as well.
  • Not directly F/SF related, but relevant to a lot of it so it's going here, is, people often don't realize how unrealistic many treatments of women in combat are. Mainly, they don't understand just how much stronger men are than women (the average man has fully 50% more muscle mass than the average woman). And I think that is because people don't roughhouse with the opposite sex, much, after the early teens. Guys might remember being beaten up by girls (who didn't require special training) or girls being better at sports than them, from around the age of middle school. They might not realize that, about a decade later, they get a huge growth of muscle. Adult female athletes perform on par with high-school male athletes—the big growth of muscle happens usually in the early to mid-20s, after high-school.

    Which is not of course to say that the opposite view, that no woman could ever beat a man in combat, isn't also unrealistic. Give a girl a halberd and she might be only worth two men with swords instead of three, but that still means she can trounce any one man with a sword. The thing is that realistically, any armed person is actually quite dangerous—hence also why yes, you do actually have to use lethal force with enemy soldiers. (Also many men have serious psychological issues with being willing to do harm to women, which isn't something we should be in any hurry to do anything about. The real reason Alex Armstrong loses to Olivié Armstrong in FMA, for example, is that she's fighting him willing to kill, and he's not; remember, he later goes literally toe to toe with a homunculus she needed a tank to fight.)
  • Lot of fantasy doesn't understand what a soul is. From Warhammer to Nanatsu no Taizai ("Arthurian Dragon Ball"), you've got demons able to consume and annihilate souls. (Yet in Nanatsu no Taizai they act like the Demon Tribe have the same right to exist as those who don't eternally annihilate innocent people as a part of their metabolism. It's like Tokyo Ghoul on steroids: if you eat people, you are basically never going to be a "victim", sorry.)

    Now, some of the confusion certainly comes from the fact "soul" is also the pre-scientific term for "life-force", and demons eating that is unobjectionable. But that excuse isn't there for Japanese works, because the Chinese conception of "soul" involves the two elements hún (Japanese kon, 魂), meaning the mind/essence part, and (Japanese haku, 魄), meaning the life-force animating part. Demons can only consume the second half of the compound konpaku soul.

    The only thing I can think of that really understands what destroying the other kind of "soul" would entail, is Shakugan no Shana, and it doesn't understand that that's what it's doing. Having your reference to "to be" (which is part of what a soul is) stolen by Crimson Denizens, deletes you from all of time and experience, as though you never existed.
  • Realized it's actually better to go back to the reduplicated tense/aspect particles, to mark the Zbin-Ãld causative; verbs also switch to the opposite declension in the antipassive. All my moods, I decided, are made with adverbs ("possibly", "ideally", etc.); even the negative is made with the "not/no" that also makes "nobody, nothing" etc. when used with nouns and pronouns. I think I can make the yes-no interrogative with "any" ("Did you see?"="See at all?"), and then the other kind of interrogative with "what".

    Was thinking I needed to do something convoluted to achieve the subjunctive, but really, I can just have the actual word "if" introduce one clause and then "then" or "and" introduce the other, in that kind of subjunctive. Then for the imperative, hortative, and jussive senses of subjunctive I can just have a construction of "I beg/ask/command you and you [do X]". Maybe the more "clipped" version is just a statement, maybe in the future tense? "You'll go there." That's the more polite imperative in Navajo.

2018/06/13

Rannm Thawts Ten

Random thoughts.
  • People keep citing Clarke's Third Law (the "sufficiently advanced technology" one) as if it's a real scientific principle. It's not. It's Clarke demonstrating that island savages are prone to Cargo Cultism, no matter what island they live on. Because magic doesn't have to take thermodynamics into account; technology does. Go look up how hard it is just to make things float, via technology; now consider how easy it generally is for wizards (moving objects up to 5 pounds is a zeroth-level spell, in D&D).

    This is not only why hover-tanks and "nanomachines are magic" plots are stupid, it's also why shows like Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There are stupid. A wizard who can make portals isn't going to be impressed by physics, except in the sense that you're impressed by things some disabled people can do; they can already do things our physics says are probably impossible and almost certainly practically impossible even if they can technically happen.

    And a "great red dragon" in a blatantly D&D-based setting isn't going to be impressed by your tank shells, son; it's wholly immune to the half that's fire damage and little if any of the half that's just regular damage is going to get through its damage reduction. Those five or so HP of damage you might do are going to piss it off, though—it'll probably take about six seconds to land, dig open the hatch, and turn the crew (and upholstery) into a fine coating of white ash inside the tank. Maybe you don't know how many attacks a dragon gets in a full-attack action?
  • The reason critics praise "subversion," even when it's manifestly moronic, and will defend even mean-spirited, incoherent dreck like Star Wars: The Last One Anybody Will See in Theaters, has little to do with politics or being adherents of post-structuralist or postmodern ideologies, and much to do with the fact critics are unhappy people, basically damned while still alive. You see, to be a critic is to do something that real humans do for fun, as your job.

    Film critics, for example, go to see every movie, whether they want to or not. They see far more movies than anyone else. Hence why they habitually mistake all tropes for clichés (the fact they don't know tropes from clichés is why assertions that they're some kind of ideologues are doubtful: they would need real educations for that). Hence also why they will snap up anything novel, no matter how mean-spirited or half-assed. They're dead inside, and novelty is the only thing that makes them feel anything.
  • It is 100% fair to call Thundercats Roar badly-drawn crap. Ditto Steven Universe, though its bad art is the least of that show's problems. But it is not fair to call that art-style "CalArts"; that term, as a form of abuse, was actually coined by John Kricfalusi, the talentless psychopath behind Ren and Stimpy. And he actually applied it to the usual form of Disney animation. Which he presumably didn't like because, unlike his art, it doesn't look like an unsolicited dick pic. (I'm not really picking that analogy at random.) Also the hacks behind Steven Universe went to the School of Visual Arts in New York.

    The art-style of Steven Universe and Thundercats Roar, aside from being much closer to Kricfalusi's art style than to the one the mongrel was attacking, really ought to be called "Tumblr Arts", because that's the place you'll see it most. Remember that "let people enjoy things" comic that's the only defense that people with no taste can make of the trash they're into? That art style. Now, admittedly, good shows have been made in a similar style—Gravity Falls and Star vs. the Forces of Evil, for instance. But those shows are made by people who know what they're doing, unlike Steven Universe or Thundercats Roar.
  • My Common Tongue has an agreement system somewhat similar to Uto-Aztecan or Bantu. Because they're prefixes rather than unbound morphemes, it's kinda hard to use possessives predicatively ("this dog is mine" vs. "this is my dog") in Uto-Aztecan languages, and predicative possessives are important in a particular type of phrasing that I like. Tribute must be paid to the greatest fantasy currently being done in English, as once 'twas paid unto Tolkien and Howard and Vance. But there is an equivalent, in Nahuatl: you basically say "O [...] that I have" rather than "O [...] mine".

    The power of undeath behind the nightshades, by the bye, talks in trochaic heptameter. I'm not sure how that actually works in the Common Tongue; I also haven't really worked out how the beast-totem chants being in trochaic tetrameter ("Kalevala meter") works. I should probably give their poetry more kennings and parallelisms, which A, work largely independent of language (one of the reasons the Bible is such a great work of literature is its parallelisms usually translate well—in which you may certainly see the hand of God if you choose), and B, are the two features that define Nahuatl poetry.
  • It occurs to me, that theme I like about how individualism and collectivism are both really bad for civilization, and are fundamentally errors with regard to the Problem of Universals, is also kinda similar to the existentialist concept of "bad faith". Except that existentialism mainly starts from the ethics end and I start at the epistemology/metaphysics end. Existentialist epistemology is generally pretty vague, if not actually incoherent; it thus tends to be too easily corrupted into Postmodernism and Social Constructionism, where all truth is reduced to power-relationships—or as those schools' most consistent adherents know the concept, the Sword Logic.
  • I don't understand people's inability to be pleased. There are mongrels claiming that the writers of Halo 5 didn't know who the game is about (you're actually fighting logic if you just deny that it's the best game in the series except ODST and maybe Reach). I admit I automatically award significant bonus-points just for not involving the Flood, who as I've said turn a top-notch shooter into third-rate survival horror, and for having been actually playtested (not like that's the only reason Halo 3 is better than Halo 2, but it's a big one...though admittedly Halo 3 does have the level "Cortana").

    Others of these beasts of the field will claim that Destiny 2 is worse than the first one in every way, which is actually the opposite of true. The second has a better inventory system, a better interface, better loot, and public events are much easier to participate in. Yes, Warmind was kinda lackluster, and while Curse of Osiris isn't terrible it could've stood to be longer and go more places (there was apparently some funny business with the experience calculation, which is an issue of the game as a product but not of the game as a "text").

    However, it's not like The Dark Below was particularly brilliant, and I personally don't give a damn about Rise of Iron beyond its resolution of the Fallen plotline making Destiny 2 make sense. Hell The Taken King is near-universally regarded as the best expansion of the first game (I don't know how so many people can misspell "House of Wolves" like that), and that was when your character became a mime, for no apparent reason. Also the Taken show up in various areas before your character has actually encountered them in the game's story (which you'll note they don't, in the second game).
  • Reading a lot of tie-in novels lately; there's a summer-reading thing at my local library. I find I like tie-in fantasy more because I don't have to sit while Sandon Branderson or somebody lucubrates on forty-three different kinds of metamorphic rock and how each affects the color of your astral cord when you mix your astral-projection potion in a mortar made of it.

    One thing I noticed is that not only are the Warhammer Fantasy novels less pointlessly grimdark than ASoIaF (despite being the people who literally invented it), they're actually less pointlessly grimdark than the Pathfinder ones. Ain't even passing references to people being raped by ogres (or "greenskins"), in Warhammer. It's basically impossible for Pathfinder to mention ogres without that coming up.

    I'm really looking forward to Kingmaker, but I can't escape the worry that I'm going to be subjected to something out of a tenth-grade creative-writing club-member's attempt to be edgy.
  • Noticed something watching E3: people are actually praising "gritty" environments. Um...what? Every game has "gritty" environments, and basically has ever since the hardware was up to displaying that many objects on-screen. Actually what they should be praising is the few games where everything isn't bombed-out hovels plagued by nuclear mutants. At least Destiny is the ruins of a bunch of space-colonies, but would it seriously kill you people to have a video game where people don't all have gravel-pits in the middle of the living room?

    Sure, the occasional bombed-out building makes sense, in a shooter or war-game, even an RPG or open-world. Every building being a bombed-out shell? No. Halo 5, especially in the Sanghelios levels, hit a nice balance between clean modern buildings, ancient ruins, and bombed wreckage, and when the Guardian started breaking things in Sunaion it actually meant something. I suppose this is just a broader thing about how post-apocalyptic settings are fundamentally lazy; even in Destiny the "wreckage of
    the Golden Age" thing is the weakest part of the setting.
  • Tangentially related to the tie-ins thing, it is utterly inexplicable to me that 40K is more popular than Fantasy Battle. The black-and-gray morality of WHFB was Flanderized into evil-vs.-evil; the Empire that could maintain cordial relations with elves and dwarfs became genocidal totalitarians. The one time science fiction (in the very broad sense of "set in space in the future") does better than (traditional) fantasy, and it's the markedly inferior product!

2018/05/22

Playing with Fantasy VIII

Fantasy game thoughts.
  • I'm not tired any more, so I did the number-crunching. A dragon of the dimensions of a river otter, but 120 feet long, and only as dense as a bird so massing 69.6 (short) tons, with a wingspan of 108 feet, would, assuming its neck and tail include feathers to act as lifting-area and it is, thus, basically kite-shaped (but leaving off say 10% of the length, for the head itself—a square kite, basically, although the back is longer and the front is shorter), have a wing-area of 5,832 square feet and a wing-loading of 116.5 kilograms per square meter. That results in a takeoff speed of 88.2 miles per hour. The wings are also not just triangles, they're shaped more like a bird-wing, but that's the net total area.

    I wonder if the really big dragons run down mountain slopes to get up to speed more quickly. For the gold-dragon sized ones, the younger age-categories would weigh only 35.5%, 9.6%, 1.7%, and 0.23% as much, at the Gargantuan, Huge, Large, and Medium age-categories respectively, and yet their wing area would be only 50.2%, 21%, 6.7%, and 1.8% the area, so the wing-loading goes down drastically. (Small and Tiny, found in smaller types of dragons at young age-categories, are 0.03% and 0.004% as heavy and have wings with 0.4% and 0.1% the area.) Actually, let me crunch the takeoff speeds for 'em all: Gargantuan, 74.2 mph; Huge, 59.7 mph; Large, 44.8 mph; Medium, 32.2 mph; Small, 22.8 mph; Tiny, 16.1 mph. I.e. the large one just has to move as fast as a fast horse to take off.

    You can actually move something built like an otter pretty quickly; rabbits, after all, have a similar body-plan.
  • I'd been struggling with my Fiendish/Celestial/Primordial/(Aklo) language. There isn't enough of a corpus of Valarin, Black Speech, or whatever you want to call the Cthulhu gibberish (it's not Aklo, I'll tell you that for free) to easily make a language based on any of them. (Though they did do a pretty good job with the "Faceless" language in WoW, but like I said, basing the phonics on Cthulhu gibberish was a chore to pronounce even for me.)

    I eventually buckled down, bit the bullet, and just overhauled the grammar to the point of actual usefulness, but along the way I toyed with just declaring that there is no such language, as we think of language. I had two rationales (or rationalizations) for that. One, they're divine beings, so glossolalia (speaking in tongues) as their mode of expression makes a kind of sense; and two, my setting is partly based on Native American ideas, with only Old World material culture. The Navajo gods are defined as unable to speak. (Yes, even "Talking God"; he metaphorically speaks for them, as their leader.)

    The way that would have worked, if I hadn't eventually gotten down to business, is that anyone who speaks the divine/extraplanar language would be able to understand anyone else speaking it, as if they spoke the same language, but really they're just babbling glossolalia at each other.
  • One thing I decided along the way is that all the "outsiders", not just the fiendish ones, have names in Primordial, but the gods prefer the names in the languages their mortal children have given them. Whereas the fiends prefer to be called on by their original names, if not in their own languages, because they view mortals as livestock, not even pets let alone children.

    Now, of course, I have to come up with a system for creating names for fiends, which system I can also use for the courtesy-names of mortal witches. (Actually maybe just human witches, the dark-elf and black-dwarf witches don't worship fiends like human ones do, they worship gods that happen to be hostile to the other gods. Goblins and orcs don't have witches.)

    Think maybe the fiends' names will have a third element, though, to keep the talking pond-scum in its place.
  • I think I can get a reasonable lift out of the Pathfinder Ultimate Combat airship, with a steam-filled envelope (I draw the line at letting a fantasy society have helium, and hydrogen is suicide). Steam has about 61% (actually 20/33) as much lift as helium, so you need 65% more volume; medieval ships the size of their airship's gondola, 20 feet by 60 feet, typically have displacements of 20 to 30 tons, plus 30 tons of cargo. A helium-envelope to lift 55 tons would be 1,581,715.41 cubic feet, so a steam one is 2,609,830.43 cubic feet. Assuming the same proportions as its gondola, that means an envelope 355.32 feet long and 118.44 feet wide (and tall).

    Of course, we're glossing over the fact it's really hard to contain superheated steam safely. Handwave it with "magically treated" material, and so on. I think the steam is magically generated somehow (fire and water elementals in some kind of ethically questionable harness?). The "magical engine" in the vehicle description is vague; my gut instinct, of course, is that it should be a pretty chair that eats the day's spellcasting of a spellcaster who sits in it, but that doesn't really match the actual description (also it's probably copyright infringement). I picture it as a big stone pillar with runes that both indicate and let you control your altitude and speed.
  • One thing the Elder Scrolls setting does remarkably well, but that most of the audience probably missed, is Gnostic twaddle (though really if you're not familiar with Gnostic twaddle it probably speaks to your good judgment). Read, for example, The 36 Lessons of Vivec, and then read something like the Gospel of Judas: the exact same type of self-satisfied, self-important bafflegab, dressing up deeply shallow pseudo-philosophy in big, impressive-sounding buzzwords. I don't mean this as a criticism; it's a fascinating way to develop a setting, by giving its mystics authentic esoteric gobbledygook. (Also, as I think I've said before, it's nice that all those people with comparative religion degrees are finding work.)
  • Decided that, just as my setting only has one kind of fiend, it only has the angel-type celestials. Other than that there's the elementals. I might keep the guardinals agathions, eladrin azatas, and inevitables as servitors of the human, elf, and dwarf gods. But then again maybe not, since I can't really find anything appropriate to use for servitors of the gnome gods. (The Pathfinder "Dimension of Dreams" is sorely lacking in anything one might use that way, practically everything you meet there being straight-up evil instead of merely incredibly dangerous through no fault of their own, as would make sense in a world run on "dream logic".)

    I was starting to think I'd use a lot more fey than I'd thought I would—fauns but not satyrs; dryads, hamadryads, nereids, and oceanids but not nymphs; atomies and pixies but not the others—but no, I think I'll just have things like genies count as "fey" for purposes like a druid's Resist Nature's Lure ability. The last straw was how Pathfinder conflates rusalka with bludička (the ara-mitama of the rusalka), which completely screws up the ending of the opera. Also vodyanoi certainly do not "resemble humanoid salamanders". They're water goblins. Their theme-song is even often called that, in English.

    Basically the whole edifice of the "fey" creature type, in a world with elves and dwarves (or goblins), was weird from the get-go; and Pathfinder trying to make the gnomes more a part of it than the others was even more bizarre. Elves, dwarves, and goblins actually are fairies (except in Germanic languages instead of Romance ones), whereas gnomes are elemental spirits from an alchemist's cosmological speculations. (Also though seriously the other word Paracelsus used for them, in his Latin notes? Pygmaeus…the Greco-Latin for "dwarf"! What a man whose real name was Philipp Bombast von Hohenheim might mean by "dwarf" is left as an exercise for the student.)

    Basically, what D&D calls a gnome really should've been called a brownie, since the actual gnomes were just dwarves. Yes I realize "jinn" is pretty much just "fairy" in Arabic. Even I'm not that much of a stickler, though.
  • People complain about feasting in fantasy novels. I'm not sure why; probably the stupid idea that what does not directly advance the "plot" is bad, never mind a well-written feast actually advances plot too quickly, if anything. I can see complaining about a paper-thin Ren Faire cliché storm feast (giant turkey-legs, huge carcasses being spit-roasted), but I mean, can you find Japan on a map? Or any other Pacific island? Heard of the Tlingit? And, yes, the Norse? Feasts are a huge deal, anthropologically; they cement relationships and allow the elite to display their power without having to kill anyone. Gifts are given at feasts, and songs are sung. If you can't figure out how these things are a convenience to a fantasy story, you have no business reading them, let alone writing them.

    I'd actually like to see feasts in fantasy games—have that be where you find out the ancient prophecy you're supposed to fulfill, or where you're gifted your plot-significant weapon, from the largess of a mighty chief. Oh, but they'd be boring to sit through? Most of the Thieves' Guild questline in Skyrim consists of standing around while NPCs talk; a feast would at least establish setting, even if you stupidly decided not to have them be where key story-development occurs. You should get a feast every time you become a thane, and maybe have a skald sing something that gives you a tip for fighting Alduin, make the last fight easier. That would certainly be better than entire Mephala and Boethiah questlines that wound up being cut anyway.
  • Decided that the giants in my setting are from the gas giants in the system (Neptune- and Uranus-type gas giants, with solid cores); they had to abandon their worlds at the same time the elves and dwarves abandoned the moons. Decided that wood and frost giants have the proportions of elves, while stone and fire have the proportions of dwarves and hill have the proportions of humans (this results in a 12-foot-6-inch fire or stone giant to a 15-foot wood or frost giant, and a 13-foot-9-inch hill giant). Each group of proportions is from a different gas giant.

    Also decided that the fire and frost giants are the giant equivalents of orcs or black dwarves and goblins or dark elves, respectively, changed by trafficking with a dark power (an outcast member of their pantheon). My wood and stone giants have cold and fire resist 5, while the "changed" equivalents have full immunity to the energy-type in question. The hill giants were all changed, the way the frost and fire giants were, but mine are a bit smarter than the ones in the core rules (say Int 8 or 9 instead of 6). They're giant humans, basically.

    Might change it so giants advance by class-levels like other humanoids, and have all the hill giants be barbarians while the others are mostly warriors.

2018/05/12

Sierra Foxtrot 11

SF thoughts.
  • Was doing some research on quantum computing. Turns out, while quantum processing is hugely advantageous, storage still pretty much has to be "classical" (here meaning just "not quantum"), certainly if you ever want to copy things; but quantum computing would tend to work with much bigger memories. The solution is apparently to find some way to store your data in three dimensions. Some people recommend DNA, but that seems really suspect, and (given how much we still don't understand about DNA, and how complicated it is even when we do understand it) prone to all kinds of bugs. I think a better method would be so-called "holographic data storage".
  • I have, like most thinking people, only what tolerance for "dark matter is magic" is strictly necessary to keep watching shows like The Flash. (A show that, like Arrow, has a bigger problem, namely that they're clearly having Hal "I'm such a bad boyfriend my girlfriend became a supervillain" Jordan write their romance subplots.) The thing about dark matter is it doesn't interact with normal matter, except by gravity, so while it has very weird properties, they probably aren't very useful. Better that than "nanomachines are magic", though, I suppose.

    But if you must have something relating to dark matter be related to your mystical foofaraw, at least dress it up a bit. Destiny, for example, although they have dark matter be an indicator of the reality-warping powers of the Darkness (no idea if there's some similar indicator of the powers of the Light), at least say "sterile neutrinos", which you have to look up to know they're associated with dark matter. (Regular, "active" neutrinos interact via the weak force, only.) And no, SIVA isn't magic nanomachines, it can only kind of infect Ghosts, for a reason—in that setting, "magic nanomachines" would be meant literally.
  • I think it's ironic, since the Dune series was written as an attack on the idea of hero-worship, that the only parts of it anyone remembers are the parts that would lead to hero-worship. (Well, I also often quote Harkonnen's line about "Never trust a traitor, even one you created yourself.") It's like François Truffaut's famous line, "...Some films claim to be antiwar, but I don't think I've really seen an antiwar film. Every film about war ends up being pro-war."

    It's also ironic that Herbert actually listed the Jesuits as one of the great tyrannical systems of history, in one of the sequels. Um...what? No like seriously what? The Jesuits were suppressed in 1773 at the behest of the European empires, because they didn't like all these priests gumming up their tyrannical systems. Jesuit missionaries made a nuisance of themselves, advocating for the natives and building communities that allowed the natives to be self-sufficient and independent of the colonial governments.

    Was Herbert maybe thinking of the Dominicans? At least that would make sense with the Spanish Inquisition, even though the Inquisition was the mildest Early Modern ideological court-system. (Of course, because of the Inquisition, Spain had basically no witch-hunts. Unlike most of the people who pretend to be so shocked by the Inquisition doing much milder things than all their own courts were doing outside their witch-hunts.)
  • Remember how I was wondering how termites replace their queens if the old one dies, when all the candidates would be the daughters of the old queen and thus also of the king? Turns out, termite queens can parthenogenetically produce clones of themselves to replace them; some of them are on hand in any given colony at any one time, in case the old queen dies.

    No idea how you get new kings if the old one dies, though (termites aren't Hymenoptera, their eggs require fertilization each time they're produced, like the rest of us do it). Maybe a queen dies too when her mate does, and then one of her clones does a mating flight with a king from outside, that isn't the son of the old queen.

    Turns out that termites are in the order Blattodea, same as cockroaches, not just related to it (Isoptera, their old order, turns out not to exist). They have a bunch of behaviors in common, like pheromone trails and kin-recognition. Of course, cockroaches' aversion to light doesn't extend to all being blind, as non-alate termites typically are. The order's closest relative is the one mantises are in, Mantodea.
  • I'm curious, people who subscribe to the "stronger" climate-change predictions (the milder, likelier ones are less likely to show up in science fiction, as well as being harder to milk political capital out of): why do you keep saying we're going to see droughts?

    Cold is dry; in a Glacial Maximum, most of Africa and significant chunks of Eurasia and the Americas are uninhabitable desert. Heat is wet, because less of the water is locked up in glaciers—even in warmer phases of this glaciation period, large portions of the Sahara are forest.

    If your conception of climate change involves global cooling, e.g. us accidentally skewing things back toward a glacial maximum (or even just a higher level of glaciation), then of course this remonstration is not directed at you.
  • You've probably come across the idea of the "motherhood statement", and the idea that good science fiction comes from "burning the motherhood statement" (it's usually mentioned in the "standard" version of the Turkey City Lexicon, for instance). Which I think just proves a significant portion of the science fiction fandom actually doesn't give a damn about science, except as window-dressing for their actually Gnostic views. Because, I mean, are we supposed to just deny evolutionary theory? Even Heinlein knows that what you're "for", biologically speaking, is reproduction—"motherhood"—and nearly everything else is in service to that. If you're more unrealistic and Gnostic in your views of human sexuality and families than Heinlein, you have a problem.
  • Apparently rats laugh when they're tickled, and their ears droop and turn pink when they're happy. The really interesting thing is that when they laugh, we can't hear it—it's too high-pitched. (Many rodent vocalizations are, that's why things that hunt them, like foxes and cats, have such good high-frequency hearing.)

    Another thing this presumably means is that blushing and laughter either predate the split between Euarchonta (tree-shrews, colugos, and primates) and Glires (rodents and lagomorphs), or else independently evolved in both. My money is maybe on the first one? Though I wonder what purpose flushing with blood when emotional serves in a rodent: the ability to see red only evolved with the simians (though the evolution of color vision is complicated, between Old World and New World monkeys).
  • Speaking of the unusual ability to see long wavelengths of light, vampire bats and pit-vipers independently evolved infrared vision that uses thermoreceptors near their noses and connects to their optic nerves. A lot of the brain-structures involved are even analogous, despite the last common ancestor of bats and snakes being a basal reptiliomorph from about a third of a billion years ago.
  • Something people are apparently realizing is unrealistic in a lot of science fiction, is the Gattaca-type stuff where society's "haves" have designer children and the "have-nots" don't (and which Gundam SEED should've been about, but wasn't, because that show is stupid). Now, it is true that realistically it won't make enough of a difference, because genetic enhancement is still partly a crapshoot if you don't utterly reorganize everything else in the subject's life to also work toward your desired result. But the assertion of unrealism is itself unrealistic, for one reason.

    Namely, just because you're not remotely guaranteed to get the super kid you want, won't stop people from trying. This is a species that practiced trepanning, footbinding, and tightlacing, do you think it's going to let a little thing like "it isn't actually all that likely to work" stop it?

    I'd actually like plots with yuppie-scum whining about all the money they wasted to make their kid a genetic shoo-in for the Ivy League, and then it turns out the only League their kid cares about is the "of Legends" variety. But I don't think people (certainly not people who are published by "traditional", i.e. gatekept, publishing houses) are quite ready to face that specific social commentary; hits a bit close to home given where and by whom the publishing industry is run. (Of course, given the median Harvard grade is A- and the mode is A, the Ivy League has other issues...)

2018/04/08

Playing with Fantasy VII

Fantasy RPG thoughts.
  • I'd gotten rid of trolls in my campaign, but then I got to thinking, maybe make 'em like a yeti-sasquatch-abominable snowman thing? Could just call 'em "abominations". "Snow abomination" = frost troll, maybe. Apparently the main Nepali name, himamaanav, just means "snow man" (they may well call the child's ice-sculpture something else, like "snow Bodhidharma"); one of the Tibetan names, meaning "wild man", is "mi-go". How exactly Lovecraft managed to equate the two is a question for the ages.

    I never much cared for the troll social behavior as presented starting I think in 3rd Edition (at least I don't remember any mention of troll matriarchs back in 2nd). Think mine'll be more like certain reptiles, which lay their eggs and then their young are on their own. Nobody ever said trolls don't lay eggs, and none of the rest of their behavior seems to go with K-selection. How do trolls without "adult supervision" not overrun an ecosystem? Young ones can get eaten by big predators—stomach acid stops their regeneration.
  • It occurs to me that having a glowing iris but a dark pupil, combined with sclera having the same appearance as the iris—the norm for non-human animals—would give you the "whole eye glows" glowing eyes seen in Warcraft. Especially if you also have it so the pupil completely seals shut and the iris and sclera are the receptor for whatever energy darkvision perceives? Maybe darkvision is something like a parietal eye or the heat-sensing "pits" in a pit-viper or a vampire bat, but built into the outer surface of the eye rather than a separate organ. And sensing some weird magical energy (or maybe radar, which is honestly the thing most like how darkvision behaves, but if you can see your surroundings by passive radar on a planet's surface, you live in a very odd environment).

    My fiends also all have three eyes, and the third is the one that gives them see-in-darkness and an at-will deathwatch ability. I was also toying with doing something weird with dragon eyes. One that was basically automatic was comparable visual acuity to a bird of prey (de rigueur for a flying predator—and presumably pretty easy to accomplish when your eyeball is the size of a shot-put ball), but then I thought maybe two pupils so they can do parallax-based depth perception from a single eye? But then, even better, was monocular depth-perception via "corneal accommodation", like a chameleon. After all, sub in the breath-weapon for the chameleon tongue and you've got a dragon. Presumably they don't put the eye on a turret the way chameleons do (since their head is a lot more mobile than a chameleon's).
  • Decided to use a river otter, specifically the giant river otter, as the model for dragon anatomy. A 120-foot dragon is about 15.24 times the dimensions of the otter; an otter that size would weigh just under 125 short tons. Using the density of a (very light) bird as against a mammal (602 kilos per cubic meter vs. 1,080, i.e. 55.7% the density), that results in a body-weight of a mere 69.6 tons. I'm too tired to compute the flight mechanics; realistically you'd probably have to model it as a non-biological ornithopter anyway. A cheetah-like sprint before takeoff can still probably meet the case with some fudging.

    One thing that occurred to me is, if you've got wings on your back, you have a second pair of shoulder-blades. And probably a second clavicle, too. If a dragon moves through the air like a cross between the swimming motions of a penguin and an otter—weren't those in Avatar: The Last Airbender?—it's going to need a lot more range of motion than the "swinging forward and back" motions found in the animals that lack clavicles, like certain carnivorans (I think mainly cursorial ones like canids and some hyenas?). Actually it'd probably be more like a wishbone ("furcula" is the formal term), since it's for flapping.

    I don't know why I had been thinking a dragon with two wings as well as hind- and forefeet would require a keelbone on its back; all it would need is a second collarbone (or rather a wishbone), lower down than tetrapods have them. Maybe the forelegs attach like normal quadruped limbs, while the wings attach like bird-wings (or human arms) do. Then partway down the ribcage changes to become like that of a bird, with a "keelbone" from part of the sternum (still think dragon sternums are built more like vertebrae, with long crests except on the bottom instead of the top, than like a normal sternum). Is the wishbone stuck in the middle of the ribcage? Or does it loop around it? Huh.
  • I mentioned that elves' composite bows, in my setting, are actually cable-backed bows (except to strengthen good materials further, not make weak materials serviceable). I decided, since I'd wanted elves' bows to be compound but it didn't really fit with them (maybe gnomes or dwarves but elves don't have pulleys on the ends of their bows, it's just not in the picture), that elves use a double bow or father-and-son bow, also known—in our world, obviously, not theirs—as the Penobscot or Wabenaki bow.

    It's basically a recurve bow with a second, smaller bow (usually a flatbow not a recurve one) attached to the front and facing the other way. The string passes through the ends of the larger bow and attaches to the ends of the smaller one. I don't really understand the mechanism but I've seen people compare it to a compound bow, though more because of its "smooth" draw than that you can necessarily hold it at full draw quite so easily. Think maybe just give it 10 feet of range on the composite longbow, like the composite longbow has on the regular one.

    Apparently there's also a thing called a "string silencer" for bows, basically a pom-pom/tassle type of thing, or an actual ball of fur, woven into bowstrings. It silences the shot (important especially for deerhunting, in the real world) by absorbing the residual kinetic energy of the release, and basically dividing it up into the various parts of the pom-pom/hairs of the fur-scrap. Some of them are X-shaped or little hooks, instead, but it's all roughly the same idea.
  • Know a word I hate? "Folk." I particularly loathe how it's used in d20-family RPGs. "Lizardfolk", "merfolk", "serpentfolk"—I keep wanting to say "You don't have to talk in that stupid voice to me, I'm not a tourist." The word's just so forcedly Ye Olde. A much better word? "People". I come from a place where "people" is an actual term used in these ritual-myth types of contexts ("Holy People," "People of Darkness," "Antelope People," etc.)—and it doesn't require adopting some rural British accent to pronounce the word like you're serious.

    Another good word is "thing"; I don't know where people got the idea that that word is somehow a sign of bad writing. I especially don't know why the d20 RPG-writers don't understand how inherently evocative it is, given "crypt thing" (and, with Pathfinder's questionable inclusion of Cthulhu Mythos stuff, "elder thing"). I decided to call my lizard-people "scaled things", at least most of the time—maybe "lizard people" ("scaled people"?) to their faces? My troglodytes and kobolds (two branches of the same race) are collectively "cave things"; my sahuagin are "tide things".
  • Not directly RPG-relevant but certainly can come up in them, people always complain about peasant heroes being able to hold their own in combat. Now, while there are things they certainly shouldn't know right off (how to use a shield most effectively, how to move in armor), how to swing something shaped roughly like an agricultural tool isn't one of them. Also, they would probably be familiar with whatever's used for hunting in their society. Bans on hunting actually only appeared in Western Europe in the mid- to late 1400s (they wouldn't have been an issue in the putative life of any of the several people who went to make up the legend of Robin Hood). Even then they were mostly limited to "King's Land"; before that anyone could hunt anywhere they weren't trespassing just by being present. Remember, the Confederacy didn't have to train its sharpshooters: they were a bunch of backwoods boys who'd grown up shooting squirrels for the family stew-pot—Union soldiers are markedly easier targets. No reason your peasant hero shouldn't know his way around the shortbow.
  • Decided to slightly retool my nonhuman names, mostly so I could make a table that produces a large number of them (because the humans' being named from the calendar results in 465 possible names, 36-37 "day signs" plus the 1-10 single-word number-names times 10 "year-tithes"). It just took a slight modification of elves' and dwarves' two-part names, but I'd had gnomes be named single adjectives: which would mean having to come up with over 300 individual adjectives. Decided instead to give 'em "action plus adverb" two-part names. The rest of their naming still works similarly.

    Decided that elves don't exactly have clans, as such, but just give the name of the ancestral grove or tree of their parent of the same sex. (How come "boys are in father's line, girls are in mother's" isn't more common? I can't even find one example of a society that uses it.) All the ancestral trees and groves on the planet originally grew on the Silver Moon; the trees came with them when they left. Of course, most of the time an elf just gives their two- or three-part name, personal name, the name derived from both parents, and the name derived from the spouse's if married (actually I think that last one is a middle name). I'll eventually come up with tables for the grove names, and gnome epithets and dwarf clans.

    Eventually I'll come up with tables for the NPC races, too. Dark elves and goblin("oid")s use modified elf names, ogres/orcs and dark dwarves use modified dwarf names, and kobolds/troglodytes and spriggans use modified gnome names (except the kobold/troglodyte ones are in Undercommon). That still leaves giant names, though, which I also have used by hyena-, cat-, and yak-people.
  • Somewhat relatedly (and relevant to fantasy games because they're if anything more beholden to Tolkien than fantasy literature is), I think I've mentioned that at least part of Black Speech, in Tolkien, is pidgin Valarin (nazg "ring" appears to be from nashkad, for instance). The interesting thing about that, I think, is that by all indications what Sauron did to create it was make it less harsh-sounding—remember, the thing the angels always open with, in the Bible, is "be not afraid". The Eldar found it physically unpleasant to speak Valarin (hence why the Valar mostly use Quenya with them); it's possible other beings, not being as robust as the Eldar, might even find it physically dangerous—"our ejective consonants cause tissue trauma," say.

2018/03/26

Sierra and Two Foxtrots V

Fantasy and SF thoughts. Mostly the former because it's a broader subject and I've been working on my Pathfinder setting.
  • Decided to go with two-tiered elf and gnome equipment. The ordinary stuff is just equivalent to masterwork steel, wood, or leather, with the Sunder resistance of a curve blade and weapons also having the curve blade's Weapon Finesse eligibility. Maybe they weigh only 75% as much? And then the high-end stuff is mithral or darkleaf cloth (in terms of hardness and hit points), except you can make "wooden" shields, and still with the Sunder resistance and Weapon Finesse eligibility. Dwarf stuff would just be like mithral or three-quarters-weight masterwork steel, respectively—but still made from extremophile coralline algae. (I don't think dwarves will have a darkleaf cloth equivalent.)

    Don't know how to price 'em. Figure that maybe the simplest way to price the "mithral"/"darkleaf cloth" weapons is "base plus alchemical silver (or cold iron, in the dwarf-stuff's case), plus masterwork plus 10 gp per pound of base weight" ("half weight" being the only benefit darkwood offers beyond masterwork, to a weapon). And then have the armor cost what mithral normally does. The steel(-equivalent) should probably be just masterwork? Plus 5 gp per pound since it reduces the weight half as much as darkwood would. We're ignoring the Sunder resistance in pricing, because there's no one weapon that's equivalent to a curve blade that we can say the curve blade is the modified form of.

    I think gnome "mithral" weapons won't overcome damage-reduction, so maybe theirs just cost base plus masterwork plus 10 gp per pound of base weight.
  • I'd had zled spaceship and aircraft autocannons use the metric-patching system, but decided that was still too easily miniaturized; now they only use it for engines and launch-catapults, and use electromagnetically accelerated autocannons (quench guns, I think—a type of Gauss/coilgun). The khângây already use quench vulcans as personal small-arms (not as practical as lasers but the zledo are the soldiers, khângây are artists and artisans and thus more prone to going by the Rule of Cool).

    It occurs to me that the easiest way to do ammo for mass-driver weapons is to use iridium or osmium bullets, with a "driving band" of ferromagnetic material. In the space ones they're spherical, since there's no aerodynamic concerns, and have "driving spots" something like the dimples on a golf ball; the ones for use in atmosphere are shaped as Sears-Haack bodies with the "driving band" around the middle. I think the atmosphere ones have the coil set up to impart spin like a rifle, too.

    Think zled artillery, too, will mostly be mass-driver based—maybe some lasers for ground- and air-applications. Their missiles, I think, only use metric-patching in space; I'm not sure what their ground propulsion is. Probably some superconducting electric ducted fan, but maybe pulse detonation engines. Which work the same as other jet/rocket engines except that those use deflagration, combustion at subsonic velocities, while detonation is combustion at supersonic velocities—basically a conventional-explosives Orion drive. Yes, they're very loud.
  • Zled air-travel, I decided, is accomplished using vacuum-airships for short flights and some sort of electric turbine flight for long flights. A vacuum airship is quite simple: you make the envelop lighter-than-air by pumping the air out. You land by just pumping air back in. It's hard to do without extremely airtight envelopes, of course, but given they're a spacefaring civilization they can store hydrogen, so that's not an issue.

    The other issue is that if a vacuum cell gets a puncture, the whole thing implodes; they get around it by using a compartmentalized structure that avoids chain-reactions, and making the cells out of very durable smart materials. Their airships are also aerodynamic, so they can glide to a landing if they lose the vacuum cells; the outer hull and inner envelope aren't directly in contact.
  • Not going that route myself, but if you wanted to get rid of verbal components for spellcasting—like if you wanted to make it more like the video-games that are the main source of current fantasy preconceptions nowadays (although canonically most of those do have spoken spells, it'd just get annoying to hear over and over)—you could use a modified version of the psychic magic from the Pathfinder Occult Adventures. What I'd do is still have somatic and material components, but replace verbal with thought components for wizards and emotion components for sorcerers. I would leave divine spellcasters with verbal components, though, since they still pray. I think witches, too, since their personal relationship with their shadowy patrons is fundamental to that class's "flavor".

    I also think that, if you're going to work out (e.g. for fluff-text) how incantations work, the arcane casters should use very different types of spells from the divine ones. Weird and abstruse is the way to go for the arcane ones; think of the spells in Bleach, for example (which I think are based on the real chants sometimes used in onmyôdô). Stuff like "Scattered beast bones! Spire, crimson crystal, steel wheels! The wind if it moves, the sky if it stops, the tone of the spear striking fills the lone castle!" Meanwhile the divine casters (and witches) should probably have more Slayers-like incantations, since they're invoking powerful beings like in that setting. The same spell might thus be "O source of all power, O thunder that roams the sky, gathering in my hand, become a power!"

    Of course a lot of the time those might be shortened to, say, "Hadô 63: Raikôhô!" or "Dig Volt!" (Or "What I seek is thunder: Izuchi!")
  • Apparently opioids don't work on reptiles. Or not the same; they have an effect, but instead of sedating them and numbing them, opioids make reptiles agitated and cause them to increase their body-temperatures (I think by the same means certain lizards and snakes do it, during the mating/brooding season). Presumably related to us and diapsids using some different nerve-channels (see also capsaicin).

    This is (of course) an issue for vets who have to treat injured reptiles; it's also potentially of use to SF writers. Or fantasy, which has been rife with reptile-people back at least to the Kull stories and Pellucidar (I consider Hollow Earth—also Sword and Planet—to be fantasy). The cultural associations of opium—opium dens, the Opium Wars, etc.—work pretty well with something like the Serpent People, for example.
  • Revised my dragons slightly: their necks and tails have featherlike-scales that spread out in flight to form a wing that almost makes them kite-shaped. (They might have a "mane" running almost their whole length when on the ground, in other words—maybe they have a double fan of the scales on the middle of their back, to act like vertical stabilizers.) They also undulate, vertically, through the sky, like the motion an otter makes when swimming, in order to "flap" with their entire length. Part of this was inspired by the Revered Dragons in Skyrim, whose necks and tails are lined with "fins" that would drastically increase their lifting area.
  • Thought I might go with 5e's darkvision, and give it to all my nonhuman races except the animal hybrids (cat-, hyena-, and yak-people), which I think have 3e low-light vision. Where 3e/Pathfinder darkvision is basically immune to darkness, 5e treats poor light as normal light and total darkness as dim light. (For those playing along at home, dim light means that creatures have concealment, imposing a 20% miss-chance on attacks against them, and can use the Stealth skill to, as 'twas known in the Before Time, "hide in shadows".) Low-light vision is kinda meh, but 3e darkvision seems slightly OP. 5e's seems to be a good compromise.

    Relatedly (in my day your eyes glowed red when you used the equivalent of darkvision), I mentioned before how glowing eyes would probably make your vision blurry (the night-vision of animals with tapeta lucida is blurry). I proposed a mere ring around the iris, for glowing robot eyes. Maybe for humanoid eyes you only need to have the pupil black? Most glowing eyes (e.g. Warcraft elves) are a solid color, with no pupils (probably the pupils glow as an inappropriate analogy with the tapetum lucidum), but that has got to be artistic license. Something more like the Awoken, in Destiny, who have glowing irises but black pupils, is more plausible.
  • I like to think about the basic day-to-day technology of my future society. For example, they affix things to other things using "seta-tape"—"setae" being the bristles on the underside of a gecko's feet that let it walk on walls. Basically it's an adhesive that leaves no gunk. A tokay gecko's feet can support 2.05 kilos of weight, something like 40 times its body-mass; presumably if you have to attach something bigger than that, you just use more tape. And, again, no gunk—you just move the taped object in a certain way relative to the surface it's stuck to, and it comes off, like a gecko taking a step.

2018/03/02

Playing with Fantasy VI

Fantasy game thoughts, mostly (as I've been working on my setting a lot lately) of the icosahedral variety.
  • Was working on writing-systems for my D&D/Pathfinder setting. Realized, a good "hook" for things like that, is to use a shape in most of your characters. I use circles and parts thereof, in various sizes, in my elvish one; rectangles in my dwarvish one; and am probably going to go with triangles in the gnomish one I'm still working on. I also have a dark-elf version of elvish that uses triangles instead of circles (yes "pointier is shorthand for evil"—maybe "bouba and kiki" works for elves too). Based my elvish and dwarvish scripts' numbers on the fact they use base-12 and count on their knuckles; will incorporate the fact gnomes use base-20 into theirs, but I haven't worked out, yet, how I'll convey that they're counting on their toes, too. (Just now decided giants will use a square-y script, with a different basis than dwarvish, and have base-8 numbers, from counting on the gaps between fingers.)

    Kind of thinking my fiendish writing should be reminiscent of the symbols from Dead Space, and Hive runes from Destiny, but the thing there is that I also have my celestials and elementals use the same language. Maybe something like the elf/dark-elf versions of elvish? (Goblins, being mutant elves, also use a degenerate form of elvish—I think with the circle or triangle replaced by "slash marks" in some way?; ogres and orcs likewise use degenerate dwarvish, since they're mutant dwarves.) I also think my "undercommon", which in my setting is primarily the language of subterranean reptiles like kobolds and serpent people—and has a dialect spoken by aquatic things like sahuagin—will look a bit like Dwemeris, from Elder Scrolls, except the aquatic version will look more like Falmeris. (Seriously look at it, Falmer writing looks like the Deep Ones use it to write their prayers. And not the "Deep Ones" who blinded and enslaved the Falmer.)
  • Putting bugbears back in my setting, as something like "noble" goblins (which would make goblins "common" and hobgoblins "elite"). Or come to think of it a four-way division, with barghests as the top. "Low, middle, high, great," like the field-officer ranks of the People's Liberation Army? (Okay that's actually "small, middle, high, great.") "Lesser, common, high, great?" Then again barghests aren't mundane goblins; maybe something more like "lesser, common, high or great, holy." ("Minor, major, ultra, zealot"?)

    Thought I might have the bugbears go back to being chaotic evil, and the goblins neutral evil; the drow had a strict religious code and yet were chaotic evil, after all (at least in 1st and 2nd Edition, 3rd and 5th made them neutral evil possibly because their strict code seemed un-chaotic—but Pathfinder put them back as chaotic). Went only partway in that direction, though; the hobgoblins and barghests are lawful evil, the goblins neutral evil with lawful tendencies, and the bugbears straight neutral evil. Basically as the elite of goblins the bugbears just form smaller groups and tend to be more self-indulgent—a strict code for hunting your human sacrifices doesn't really require you be lawful across the board, after all.

    Interestingly, if I make bugbears as much bigger than my goblins as the ones in the Pathfinder core rules are bigger than their goblins, the males wind up being Large—over eight feet tall. (The females are still Medium, because my setting's goblins have feline-like sexual dimorphism.) Decided both sexes of bugbear go on the ritual hunts; the females have goblin and hobgoblin servants, or their husband's goblin and hobgoblin junior wives, do what female goblins and hobgoblins do, for their families. I'll still stat 'em by class-levels, though—females as ninjas and males as rangers; don't wanna waste that Large-creature Strength bonus.
  • Also gave my bugbears and hobgoblins Intimidating Prowess as a bonus feat, and all three a +2 to Intimidate checks (which I'm taking away from the half-orcs). Plus gave the goblin races bonuses to saves against fear effects. Basically my goblins are obsessed with fear, it's the cornerstone of their culture; where other "savage humanoids" might use torture, goblins use terror. To elicit a scream by any other means is, in their view, a sign of weakness.
  • I've mentioned that elves' equipment is like mithral and darkleaf cloth, but only costs as much as the cloth, because they have the hardness of wood. Decided that instead, the stuff that would be made of mithral, is made of the leaves of the elves' sacred trees, and the stuff that would be made of darkleaf cloth is made of the trees' bark. The leaves have metal in them (so elf druids can't wear it), giving them the hardness and hit points of steel; the bark doesn't (druids wear light or heavy bark, i.e. "leather" and "hide" armor), but it has the hardness and hit points of wood rather than just leather.

    While they're both weaker than mithral or darkleaf, they cost the same (respectively); the difference is made up by the fact they all give the same resistance to Sunder attempts granted by elven curveblades (which don't exist), and, in the case of weapons, also allow Weapon Finesse to be used with weapons that aren't light. I think that, like mithral, weapons made from it also count as alchemical silver automatically—I'd had that be an option that costs extra. Indeed given that all a mithral weapon is is a half-weight masterwork silvered weapon that's slightly more durable (whereas the armor has a lot of advantages), I'll just have the weapons cost twice what an alchemical silver weapon would, plus masterwork cost.

    Guess the gnome stuff, made from the chitin of their mushrooms, is going to be the same (lower hardness and hit points, sunder resistance and Weapon Finesse eligibility), with the "mithral"-equivalent being mineralized chitin (with metal, though, instead of calcium).
  • Was unclear what I should do with dwarf stone items, besides having them count as cold iron (but easier to enchant). 3.5e/Pathfinder adamantine is insanely OP, so I clearly couldn't do that. Then I realized I could just make them be like straight-up mithral as written, higher hardness and hit points included, and with the effect of cold iron instead of silver (and the weapons only costing as much as masterwork plus double cold iron). That's convenient; the original mithril in Tolkien was actually associated with dwarves, after all, not elves. I'd also decided that the dwarf stuff is actually made of a highly mineralized algae, something like one of the "coralline" algaes, but looking more like ordinary translucent stone; the dwarves grow it in volcanic pools and treat it with some elaborate cocktail of metallic salts to produce a metallic "shell".
  • My setting now has two other surviving cities of the Ancients, and they're my setting's equivalent of dark folk and gillmen. The king of each of the three city-states regards himself as the true heir of their empire, and they're as likely to fight with each other as with the other humans or non-human races. The other two didn't exactly hybridize with anything (huh, maybe the gill-men technically hybridized with skum or sahuagin?), and consider it creepy how the one that did has "polluted" its people's blood, but they're all run by basically "mad scientist" spell-casters.

    Also decided their artificial hybrids include half-ogres, though they only make males—at the size of my female ogres, averaged with the height of a human female, you get a Medium creature, while averaging the male ogre with a human male makes a Large one, so all a female half-ogre would be is a large half-orc. My half-elves, half-orcs, and half-ogres use half the ability adjustments of elves, orcs, or ogres, and then have +1 to one score of their choice—i.e., the average of the ability-adjustments of humans, elves, orcs, and ogres. (There's nothing in the Advanced Race Guide for +1 ability adjustments, but these are NPC races in my setting.)
  • Was looking for stuff about worldbuilding for RPGs. A lot of them seem to think you should have a creation-myth, but I don't really feel a need. Maybe it's just that I've studied enough mythologies to know that actually having a creation-myth is the exception, not the rule. (Seriously most Native Americans haven't got one, the Emergence Narrative you find in the Arido- and Mesoamerican "cultural complexes" is quasi-cosmogonic but not quite the same thing; and e.g. Celtic mythology doesn't even really have that, at least in the parts of it that have survived to us.)

    I do have some cosmogonic stuff—there was a Titanomachy between what are now fiends and celestials, over whether the mortal races would be, basically, livestock or pets—but honestly, mythology and religion have relatively little to do with each other.

    Many of the most important gods in real polytheist religions have strangely little mythic role. I can't think of anything Inari does in Japanese mythology, for example, and Hecate, though important as the guardian of children (as the goddess of the night and its terrors), doesn't show up in any Greek myths that I know of. (Okay so that's kinda cheating, Greek myths as we know them have about as much to do with actual Greek religion as an anime like Kannagi does with actual Shinto.) Does any era of Vedic religion really have a creation myth? I can't think of one.
  • I had at first thought that I'd do what The Alexandrian recommends, and use their alternate rules for raise dead-type effects (he removed them, so death would still be permanent and dramatic; a few other things were changed, to make the game a bit less lethal since that "safety net" was removed). But then I read the actual Pathfinder rules; its version of the assassin prestige class has abilities (true death and angel of death) that make it harder to bring the victims back from the dead. Besides, only a tiny number of people will actually have access to 9th-level clerics or 10th-level oracles (for raise dead) within nine or ten days, let alone 13th/14th for resurrection or 17th/18th for true resurrection (which admittedly don't have a time-limit). Remember, only 5% of the population are "adventurer" material, and, assuming an even distribution of ability scores, only one in 120 has the Wisdom required to be a cleric—one in 360 if we assume even odds of becoming a druid or monk instead. (Oracles are even worse, with inquisitor, paladin, cavalier, bard, summoner, and sorcerer also available to people with that Charisma score. Wow, went a little too far the other way RE: Charisma once having been the universal dump-stat, huh?)

    A couple of people who also dislike the raise dead spells claim they would make wars last forever; but that's actually untrue, since most feudal wars actually don't end in the death of either of the factions' leaders. Most end in surrenders and the exile or house-arrest of the losers. You might actually have the threat of an enemy being raised or resurrected as an ensurer of good behavior, at least for people who can't spring for a 4th- or 10th-level assassin's services (and the people who can, are people whose enemies are disproportionately likely to know high-level clerics or oracles): "I'll go into exile and let you run the kingdom, but anything happens to me and my allies will raise or resurrect me, and then I'm coming for you." Maybe a "church" with a standing threat to raise or resurrect any rival you murder (ascertained by speak with dead spells) would act as a fantasy Peace of God to ensure a setting's elite behave themselves. (Of course there would be ways around that but it'd still make it much more difficult to just casually murder a rival—that sort of thing reduces unwanted behavior, it doesn't completely eliminate it.)
  • Hmm. That actually has interesting worldbuilding implications. Presumably there'd be a taboo on cremation much like the one that exists in Judaism and many Christian communities; probably instead they cast sanctify corpse on the dead to keep them from being reanimated as undead (maybe they do burn them if they're killed by undead?). Maybe truly hated individuals, like heresiarchs, witches, and traitors, are burned after death and the ashes disposed of, like in Hellenistic Egyptian lynchings (which may actually involve a real-world version of all this, given Egyptian afterlife beliefs emphasize an intact corpse). Of course doing it to an ordinary political rival would be seen as beyond the pale, at least in places less insanely violent than Hellenistic Alexandria—as it was in the Middle Ages.

2018/02/21

De romanicorum physicalium 12

This would have been out sooner but as it turns out, Destiny is basically only technically an MMORPG. The Ms are mostly optional and the O is largely a technicality. Take those letters off and you have one of my favorite kinds of game, especially since this one is also an FPS instead of a click-fest.

SF thoughts.
  • If I could single out one piece of cant that makes a mess of too much worldbuilding, it would be the idea (arising from Marxist dogma) that it's elites that mistreat minorities. Overwhelmingly, the elite protects minorities, and the majority abuses them. I know, blasphemy, the idea that the masses are not the locus of all virtues. But while the masses can rein in the excesses of demagogues (the popular conception of that is also exactly backwards), it's generally the masses' own excesses being reined in by their non-revolutionary elites.

    Often the elite isn't protecting the minority out of the goodness of its heart, of course. Many times the minority makes useful cat's paws, to do things the elite doesn't want to dirty its hands with—members of the disaffected group having fewer potentially-troublesome ties to the masses the elite needs trodden down. (Then when the pitchforks and torches come out, the minority can be thrown under the bus: "I had no idea he was doing that! I only knew what he told me!") Generally, when the elite abuses the minority, it's as a piece of populist pandering.
  • You may recall my possibly unseemly speculation that Firefly's sanitized version of prostitution might be related to the fact the good guys are the Space Confederacy. Now, I was being facetious; but my sister did point out that the Companions are basically a "coon song" version of prostitution. That was the sub-genre of blackface minstrel song that had to do with an idealized, whitewashed version of Antebellum plantation life, capitalizing on the self-pitying nostalgia of the losing side in a war. The Companions are the same thing applied to an industry that may well challenge communism and total war for its efficiency in producing human strife and unhappiness.
  • I don't think I've mentioned this before, but even if I have, it bears repeating: a lot of people criticize the hive-mind trope in science fiction, as well they should, but they seldom mention the little fact that a hive is not a society at all. It's a family; the "queen" would more properly be termed the "mother". (In termites, there is also a father; they don't mate once and then have the male die, like the order Hymenoptera.) All the other members of a colony are siblings, each other's sisters (and brothers, in termites). Once you understand that, that a hive of eusocial creatures is a huge nuclear family, most of the tropes based on them are revealed to be even worse than you hopefully thought they were. (Okay some species of termite have multiple breeding pairs, often sisters I think, so presumably the members are sometimes cousins instead of siblings. All that means is they're an extended instead of nuclear family.)

    I was reminded of this by the CinemaSins of Ender's Game—which movie, to say something nice(?), doesn't seem to be any worse than the book. But that was especially stupid, because in that, the "Formics" die (or at least go unconscious) when their queen is killed. Which is totally what happens in eusocial species! Oh, right, that would be idiotic: one of the workers just takes royal jelly and becomes the new queen. (I'm unclear how exactly this works in termites, who need a breeding pair to produce eggs—surely getting both from the same hive is genetically counterproductive? Though then again the drone that fertilizes a Hymenopteran queen is typically her nephew, hatched from an unfertilized egg laid by one of her sisters.) Certainly the need to establish the new breeding female or breeding pair and re-organize the colony around its new breeding-caste would make them vulnerable, but the death of a queen wouldn't kill them. Card should probably be embarrassed that the undead zooplankton witches are more realistic than his aliens...
  • Arrival, aside from being one of those sci-fi movies where the plot hinges on the Power of Love™, is also one of those sci-fi movies with intellectual pretensions that still somehow can't resolve things without time-travel. (Interstellar, too—is the Power of Love™ some kind of space-time warping thing, like an Elder Scroll?) Admittedly Arrival has more right to its intellectual pretensions than most sci-fi movies, though I question some of their assumptions about linguistics—and find the nigh-literal StarfishAliens fairly uninspired.

    But seriously, time travel is a scourge. As I think I've said, I largely tolerate it only in fantasy. (Which fantasy can be set in space; the Vex are among the best examples of how to do time-travel writing, like a decentralized skinwalker Skynet...although their resemblance to Crow T. Robot rather undercuts their menace.) Time travel is too, well, weird, and involves math almost nobody knows, scientifically speaking; its inclusion in science fiction is thus very, very iffy. And unless the entire plot hinges on it, explicitly, like Back to the Future, its inclusion is almost certainly lazy writing.
  • I also watched the CinemaSins of Lucy and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. As it turns out, The Fifth Element is Besson's most intelligent work.
    Because Lucy is bottomlessly stupid (we knew that, of course, but I hadn't realized how much so). Not only does it repeat the "ten percent of your brain" thing, it has "dolphins are smarter than humans" too (their sonar isn't even better, as the movie also asserts). It also has the person who's using the more than ten percent (and not rapidly losing bowel-continence and having her breathing, swallowing, blinking, balance, and eyeball-tracking disrupted) become a pointlessly amoral psychopath. And be able to read all languages instantly, because languages aren't conventional, you can just figure out what their symbols mean, from first principles. Yet curiously she can still only speak English. Her ability to predict others' actions—and read their minds!—comes and goes purely "because plot". Then because it wasn't stupid enough, it has "evolving into pure energy" and a form of time travel!

    Valerian isn't quite as overtly contemptuous of its audience's intelligence—but it does sub in some typical European ethno-cluelessness, in the form of the obviously-based-on-idealized-Africans Pearls of the planet Mül, who "lived in harmony with the elements" before the mean old humans came along, and the rest of the Noble Savage foofarah. (Except they have light skin, which I actually attribute to light colors being easier to design around but which I'm certainly not going to stop anyone from attributing to less noble motives, because Besson has forfeited my charity.) The two main leads are as poorly-cast for the roles as they are weird-looking and unappealing in themselves; the plot is pure childishness involving behavior nobody would put in a story after their age reached double digits. Reading a number upside-down is a plot complication a six-year-old would include; vowing to kill someone who has a gun to your head is asking him to shoot you.

    To say something nice, Besson wasn't the worst filmmaker whose works I watched CinemaSins about. That laurel is for the brows of the war-criminals behind Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars.
  • It may perhaps come as little surprise that I don't have much regard for the Turing test; being able to pass as a thing is not being the thing. Apparently it's worse than that—apparently the test requires that the people the AI has to fool have no background in psychology, anthropology, or computers. Which is like saying "if it can convince people with no background in metallurgy that it's gold, it is gold." There's...there's actually a mineral that takes its name from that, you know? The name also involves reference to fools? Just sayin'.
  • There's this assumption running around that a big alien, or an "uplifted" animal, will necessarily have a deep voice. (Destiny notably averts it; the Cabal make high-pitched piggy sounds.) But actually, humans (and felids) have unusually deep voices, for communicating. Yes, felids too, and not just the big ones; compare the sound a housecat makes to the sound a comparably-sized dog makes. A horse, too, makes some pretty high-pitched noises—if you've ever heard an angry one, it sounds like a bear bellowing in falsetto. (I think bears might also have the modified voices you see in felids and humans.)

    Now, of course, aliens might've gone a similar route to humans, voice-wise; certainly zledo have deeper voices than humans, in my stuff. But they don't necessarily have to have; dog howls can carry pretty far, so you don't need to have chosen that particular method for improving your communication-abilities. But things like Planet of the Apes apes should have surprisingly high-pitched voices. It doesn't have to be ridiculous (though it would take deft handling); Charlemagne had a high-pitched voice despite being big enough to occasionally grab an unsuspecting courtier and toss him in the air like a baby.
  • With all the "diversity" and PCnikstvo in the Disney Star Wars installments, it's interesting that they've actually been drastically decreasing the diversity in one key way. Namely, species. Where the original trilogy had a lot of aliens (Chewie, Akbar, Nien Nunb, etc.), and even the sequels had, if anything, more (Newt Gunray, Jarjar, Darth Maul, Watto, Dexter Jettster), the sequels and other Disney installments have lots and lots of humans.

    Akbar is utterly squandered in The Last...One You'll See in Theaters; there is exactly zero reason that DJ, for example, had to be human, and in either of the previous two trilogies he wouldn't have been. One of the two Whill monks in Rogue One could easily have been an alien. Personally, I call it "apewashing". There really is no reason, except creative bankruptcy, to make a character in something like that a mangy monkey, when they could be something interesting.

    I honestly do not care what breed of mangy monkey you're giving me, if you're substituting that mangy monkey for something more interesting. As I've said before, quoting Penny Arcade, "A universe of possibilities, and you're fixated on the local flavor."