2018/11/26

Playing with Fantasy X

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018/10/26

De fabularum mirabilium V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018/09/21

Sierra Foxtrot 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018/08/14

Playing With Fantasy IX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.