2018/01/23

De fabularum mirabilium IV

Fantasy thoughts. Many of them have to do with games, though I think only one mainly with my game; all are related in some way to writing or more general worldbuilding, though.
  • Binge-watching all the cutscenes from both Destiny games, and then reading a bunch of the "grimoires", leads me to conclude that getting deep into the lore of MMOs that I don't intend to play, may well be my new hobby. The Queen of the Reef, particularly, is awesome.

    Given that the Guardians are those raised from the dead after having died in battle, in order to fight in defense of a cosmic order that's besieged from all sides, I think we can conclude the Traveler's proper name is actually "Odin"; that would make the "Ghosts" more properly called "Valkyries". We are talking about people who named their super-soldiers' powered armor "MJOLNIR" and "GUNGNIR", after all.

    Destiny also reveals yet again that the best fantasy-writing is in video games; I think it's even safe to say that Destiny has usurped the place that Star Wars once held in my heart. While I still wish they would just do straight-up fantasy rather than setting their fantasy in an ostensibly sci-fi setting, the fact remains that Destiny is better "science-fantasy" than the corpse of what was once a great film franchise. (E.g. Kylo Ren's backstory vs. the fall of Dredgen Yor: compare and contrast.)
  • Got Skyrim Special Edition for Christmas. Should've called it "Skyrim: Actually Finished Edition" (as the Game of the Year Edition should also have been called), because seriously, the DLC was actually content necessary to make it a complete game.

    Not sure I like everything that happens in the Dragonborn main quest, but I love the side-quests, and the use of Morrowind music for the parts on Solstheim; Dawnguard hinting at the potential for redemption for the Falmer is also welcome (as is the chance to use the Aetherial Staff to summon Dwemer automata). Hearthfire allowing adoptions is a neat little bit of fluff, but the house-building mechanic is extraordinarily clunky and confusing.

    Of course, this being Elder Scrolls, it's still got more bugs than LV-426. On the Switch, incidentally, the Candlelight or Magelight spells are not optional if you don't play it exclusively on the dock, through a TV.
  • Another game received over the holidays is, my brother got Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It seems to be more of a spiritual successor to Xenosaga than the previous two Xenoblades, and so far has very little of the tiresome pseudo-Gnosticism that disfigures every previous installment except (mostly) X. You can also download the Japanese audio as a day-one patch, and thus be spared listening to the British voice-cast, who appeared to believe they were being hired to do some low-budget animated children's fairy-tale adaptations, if their deliberately cutesy-poo delivery is any indication.

    Unfortunately the subtitles are still the closed-captioning of the dub, rather than translation of the Japanese. One thing that's interesting is that they changed almost every character's name, except for (so far) Rex, Nia, and Tora—"Pyra" is really Homura, "Brighid" is really Kagutsuchi, etc. I don't know why; presumably they gave the cat-people pseudo-Celtic names because Nia's English voice-actress is Welsh, but the rest is suspiciously like 4Kids trying to pass off o-nigiri as "donuts"—they even called them "dumplings" in Xenoblade! (Is "riceball" too hard to say?)

    The other thing is, Rex talks constantly about being manly and various things being the manly thing to do—that's all gone, in the dub and dub-based "subtitles". I guess, just like how references to ghosts and depictions of skeletons and zombies have to be censored for Chinese release, and some religious ones have to be scrubbed for parts of the Islamic world, references to manliness now have to be removed for Western audiences. It's an odd feeling, the discovery that one's society demands the kind of censorship once restricted to dictatorships and theocracies.
  • Have you read Unsounded? If not, start (possibly by the convenient link I have thoughtfully provided). It is, in essence, an undead paladin babysitting a fantasy Thenardier; it's better than that sounds, and frankly that even sounds pretty good. It has just about the best worldbuilding of any recent fantasy—a definite Brandon Sanderson influence seems detectable in the magic-system, except in Unsounded it's actually interesting and used by characters you give a damn about.
  • Something I really like about the Elder Scrolls, especially Skyrim, is that although the dungeons are essentially linear, they aren't actually laid out that way. You go down into the second level of Ustengrav, for instance, and there's a big ol' hole in the ceiling that allows there to be forest plants growing in the middle of what you'd been thinking of as a Nord crypt. That's good design; it really makes it feel real, in a way a lot of RPG dungeons don't. (Not sure how well that actually maps to the world outside the dungeon, but...)

    I also really like how, in Dawnguard, everything associated with the main questline has these buildings that, when I first saw them, reminded me of the Ayleid ruins in Oblivion—because as it turned out, it was (pre-fall) Falmer—i.e. Snow Elf—architecture. (I kinda figured, since I knew from the wiki that there'd be Falmer in the main quest, but it was still pretty cool how it shows up in the very first part of the questline.) They do that a lot, like how Brynjolf's scam at the beginning of the Thieves' Guild line involves "Falmer blood" and the second-to-last quest is a raid on a Falmer stronghold.
  • A while back, this over-credentialed (I almost said "over-educated", but...no) ignoramus was claiming that "most" fantasy doesn't have speaking spells, "except D&D tie-ins". Okay I'll give you Slayers, that began as some kind of RPG world—same goes for Harpy Gee (also highly recommended), as the name would imply. But, first off, the most successful fantasy nowadays is all in games—and in games, the spells are almost always canonically spoken, they just don't have them saying spells every time when you're playing, because it'd get annoying fast—as it does in Tales games. (Though honestly, being able to tell what spells an enemy was using by hearing them would be pretty cool, the way you can with draugar using shouts in Skyrim.)

    Second off, almost every written fantasy has spoken spells. Tolkien certainly does; every writer connected to the Lovecraft Circle did. Magic requires "incantations" in Melnibon√©; there is at least runic magic in The Kingkiller Chronicle and gestural "signs" in The Witcher ("speech" is not restricted to aural/oral communication, linguistically, in any meaningful way). About the only exceptions are Sanderson's stuff and The Wheel of Time. (Well, and A Song of Ice and Fire, I think, but magic as something mortals directly control is pretty thin on the ground in that setting.) And in comics? Pretty sure the spells are spoken in Battle Chasers. They're spoken in Unsounded—it's unusual that Duane doesn't have to talk to use magic—but the artist just doesn't like to draw the rune-talk stuff every time (I hardly blame her).
  • The reason they were denying that fantasy magic usually uses speech, is that I was saying it's unlikely for people who live in a magical world to have naming-customs remotely like those of the modern West, because they generally live in a world where words incontrovertbly have power. They'd have customs more like the ancient Near East or more recent Far East.

    A lot of fantasy involves the concept of "true names", but that's a very modern convention, dating I believe to the Romantics; in the real traditions, "true name" just means "real name". The ones most Navajos don't normally use, because they use pseudonyms instead? As did pre-Meiji Japanese women. Because knowing someone's real name, in the actual traditions, is what gives you the power a "true" name gives in modern fantasy.

    If you're going to write any kind of fantasy other than urban, you need to have at least a basic understanding of anthropology. Not knowing this stuff makes for bad worldbuilding, people who are modern WEIRD people despite living under conditions more alien than most of the WEIRD people's ancestors ever were. The world doesn't need more Melanie Rawns, Mercedes Lackeys, or Terry Goodkinds.
  • Was working out the age-charts for my campaign setting's races; a lot of people seem to have a big problem with nonhuman races being long-lived. Which I find odd; I actually think the D&D races are too short-lived. Their elves, after all, are "venerable" at 350 and live an additional 4d% years, i.e. they not only may well spend over half their life in senile decrepitude, but they never live longer than 750 years. Yet the "fluff" still treats them as the ageless elves that inhabit worlds like Middle-Earth and Mallus (the Warhammer Fantasy world—no known elf has ever died of old age, in that setting, though in that setting one imagines that dying of old age is always relatively uncommon).

    There's also the fact that elves in D&D are only adults at 110 (though physically they mature only slightly slower than humans), so they have a paltry 65 years (less than 9% of their maximum lifespan) before they're middle-aged at 175. Humans have 20 years, over 18% of their potential lifespan, between their listed adulthood and middle-age categories. Are the elves literally retarded, as in severely developmentally delayed? A +2 to intelligence (as elves get in Pathfinder) is acquired by a human at a mere 53 years of age, and that old bastard also gets that bonus to Wisdom and Charisma. One wonders if Gygax's spite at having to include high fantasy races in his sword-and-sorcery game (something he apparently resented) is in play here, and left unmodified by later editions of the game.

    Instead, decided that all the "PC race" nonhumans mature at the same speed as humans, i.e. they're all adults at 15, but then they age slower. The relative factor varies by race; elves do it a twelfth as fast, for instance, so they can live to be 1140—(110-15)×12. I didn't quite have the other age-categories be exactly multiplied, since it's hard to make up the dice-pools for random maximum age—"24d20"? "40d12"?—but I rounded to the nearest convenient number (e.g. elves are "venerable" at 740, maximum lifespan of +4d%, so average lifespan is 982 years).
  • Finally, has anyone else noticed the weird "Ember Island Katara", mostly-unmotivated, catchphrases about "hope", in many recent Star Wars offerings? Destiny's replacing of Star Wars in my esteem has suggested something to me; something one might want to start, say, a hashtag campaign around, if the overly forgiving fans defend Episode VIII: The Last...One You'll See in the Theater too irritatingly. Namely, "This is not hope."

1 comment:

Matthew said...

You're right. Unsounded is good. Disturbing, but quite good.