2019/04/10

Mélange V

Random thoughts. Title seemed appropriate given I talk a little about Dune at the end.
  • Recall a few posts back, when I said it's dumb that anyone assumes humans are from a particularly hardcore planet, when it's entirely possible that aliens are from a Pleistocene or even Mesozoic biosphere (or a Snowball Earth glaciation)? One variation on the "humans would be really hardcore" idea, is called "Space Australia".

    Which is appropriate, because Australia? Nowhere near as dangerous as North America. Lazy pop culture stereotypes aren't always (or even often) based in statistical reality. Four people a year die from black-widow bites, in the US; nobody has died of a spider-bite in Australia since 1979. Now, there are 13.3 times as many people here as in Australia, so more chances for spiders to kill someone, but that still means they should be having one death every three years or so—not one in forty. And then there's how they have a handful of deadly snakes, two kinds of deadly croc, one barely deadly spider and maybe a scorpion or two, a couple sharks, and jellyfish.

    The US has almost as many deadly snakes, a couple kinds of deadly gator or croc, one very deadly spider and at least one deadly scorpion, a couple sharks…and then also wolves, wolverines, pumas, bobcats, lynxes, jaguars (though those haven't killed anyone here), three kinds of bear, a couple kinds of pinniped, at least four deadly species of deer (most deaths of any wild vertebrate), peccaries (one of the most aggressive animals on the planet), buffalo, and arguably some wild sheep or goats though those probably haven't actually killed anyone. (We also get the same jellyfish as Australia, the irukandji, but only in Hawaii, which is cheating.)
  • Was trying to come up with something to make my setting's dhampirs stand out, and thus researched the dentition of vampire bats. Turns out, Nosferatu wasn't insane, giving their vampire "buckteeth" fangs: vampire bats use sharp front incisors to open veins. Though they do also have sharp eyeteeth. But it's definitely something to keep in mind with vampires: give 'em six fangs, not two or four.
  • Apparently Anthem is a Destiny clone entirely by accident. This is mentioned in the now-notorious (because extremely important and true) Schreier article at Kotaku: it was harshly tabooed, at BioWare (by their own management, not EA), to compare Anthem to Destiny. Which presumably explains why they didn't, as I noted, move one inch out of their way to reduce the similarities: they were forbidden from discussing the fact there were similarities. (They were also apparently forbidden to compare how other looter-shooters handled things like classes or weapons, or what the MMO "industry" as a whole considered reasonable drop-rates for various types of loot.)

    It actually makes sense that the similarities are unintentional (though some of them are downright eerie, like the backstory involving Iron Lords in all but name, or the midpoint of the campaign featuring the protagonist making a deal with shady characters who have pretensions to royalty). While BioWare are hacks, who mistake middle-school creative-writing tawdriness and hamfisted identity-politics preaching for depth, they're not the kind of hack who would point-by-point copy a competitor's product. At the very least they would disguise the mimicry better. The similarities are so blatant they were almost certainly accidental.
  • Tangentially-relatedly, bunch of people are whining about the SJW-soapboxing on Twitter of developers involved in the fourth Dragon Age game. But if you put up with Inquisition, and fans of the Dragon Age franchise almost all did, you have forfeited the right to complain. They already splashed this slop into the trough once before, and you happily trotted over and gobbled it up. It's a bit late to pretend to have a discerning palate now.
  • I have also used the slop-trough imagery in reference to Star Wars, and how The Last Jedi had managed to alienate people who stuck with the franchise despite the prequel trilogy and the novels of Karen Traviss. Someone on Facebook responded to my use of that comparison by calling me a Star Wars fanboy, which is odd; does one often refer to one's own people with a pig metaphor?

    The fact is that Star Wars fanboys were almost impossible to piss off, until Rian "Taken King" Johnson decided to desecrate a hundred beloved characters from his director's chair, and observe the change in the chair, and how the universe shrank from him in terror. The Worm his god—to give postmodernism its true name—was pleased: "A film-franchise is a fine flesh, oh director ours. Let us feast of it."
  • I considered, inspired partly by the "hand cannons" in Destiny, having my SF setting's revolvers (mainly used only by cops as a backup weapon) use "annular" (ring-shaped) magazines to load their cylinders. Presumably they'd have a "chambering" mechanism, like on a more conventional firearm, where the round is lined up with the barrel in order to be fired.

    However, the idea of firing directly from the magazine actually seems sort of dangerous; I think instead I'll keep it as I'd had it, with there being something that holds the caseless rounds in the revolver-cylinder's chambers—maybe a moon-clip. (I incline to use break-top revolvers; there was at least one chambered in .357 magnum, so it's definitely possible.)

    You know come to think of it, it's sort of unclear how exactly hand cannons work.
  • It's only recently that I got the hang of the romance mechanic in Kingmaker (though I already got the, ahem, Harrim ending). Gotta say, not terribly impressed. I've romanced, in various playthroughs, Octavia, Valerie, and "Kaessi". Octavia is passive-aggressive in the extreme, while Val is more straightforward but still pretty messed up. If you say you want a more serious relationship (which seemed in character for my paladin), she gets mad at you and either ends her "route" or at least stalls it—fortunately you can reload the scene. That's some deeply questionable shit, though.

    And you have to sleep with the lawful evil tiefer twin, Kanera, to get the "flag" for the chaotic good one, Kalikke—whose first flag triggers when her sister changes places with her while sleeping next to you, which is pretty screwed up if you think about it. Maybe things are better if you go gay male (for Regongar) or straight female (Regongar or Tristian)? I mean Reg is at least almost certainly not passive-aggressive; and Tristian is a cinnamon roll. Maybe hold out for Nyrissa's route, but apparently her flags only trigger if you don't go too far down anyone else's route.

    Also it feels like an ulterior motive for a paladin of Sarenrae (my preferred PC) to save someone for any reason other than emulating the mercy of the Dawnflower.
  • So apparently people think the Game of Thrones theme is "epic". Uh…how? It sounds like they left a synthesizer on demo-mode, set to "vaguely medieval". Like, if you had a character humming or whistling it, in something else, nobody would say anything like "oh they're whistling that because there's cutthroat dynastic politcs afoot". They would say "that character is whistling some generic formless tune".
  • Speaking of smutty subscription-TV soap operas, The Handmaid's Tale is, as I've said somewhere if not here, The Turner Diaries for people who read The New Yorker. But it's also a ripoff of Dune—it basically copies the framing device wholesale, and the "Handmaids" are (a boring version of) the Bene Gesserit, but victims of Evil Patriarchy™ rather than agents of their own multigenerational Foundation-esque conspiracy.

    Now I don't know if Atwood actually ripped off Dune, but I think it's reasonable to think she did. Admittedly Dune is probably very challenging (in every sense of the word) for a litfic hack, but it's also one of the very few works of science fiction a litfic hack might be expected to have read. (And desperately deny that it is science fiction, despite the telekinetic FTL drives, energy shields, nuclear-power aristocracy, and genetic-engineering cults.)

2019/03/25

Rannm Thawts Leven

Random thoughts. 'Lot of 'em are about anime this time, and a couple of cultural or scientific issues, with only a few about RPGs.
  • Decided to go back to a twelve-month year, in my Pathfinder setting, but I really don't like the Julio-Gregorian calendar starting on January 1st. Or February having 28 or 29 days. I decided to go with New Year being on February 4th, around Imbolc/Candlemas, and the beginning of the Chinese solar term "spring begins", because starting your year anywhere other than when a season starts—like, say, ten days after the winter solstice, which by the way is midwinter not the first day of winter—is stupid. I have seven 30-day months and five 31-day ones; I even put leap-years back, by having every fourth year have its last month (the only 30-day one that follows another 30-day one) have 31 days. Except not when the year is divisible by 100, unless it's also divisible by 400, but not by 4,000. (If you add that last one to the Gregorian calendar it only loses one day every 19,500 years—which seems like too long to bother about for us, but we don't know any elves who live over a millennium.)

    The moons now, thus, have a c. 30.5 day period, and synch up with the solar calendar. Not 30.5 exactly, since they actually synch up with the leap-years too. Also decided to give the months the names of the creature-types other than fey (which don't exist in my setting); having a month for "undead" is no weirder than Golarion having a month for Zon-Kuthon the god of torture and subjugation. Think I'll also have the humans give each day of the month the names of the cleric domains, since there are 31 of them if you leave out Death and Evil, and go back to having them use their own or their parents' wedding anniversary as a surname, and the date of their accession to a title or initiation into a society as a middle name. The days leave out the scary domains, while the months don't leave out scary types, because the humans adopted clerical worship later, and they aren't the ones who named the months. I'm not sure who did; I'm leaning toward maybe the snake people.

    I guess an "improved" Gregorian year of 365.24225 days, divided by twelve, gives a month for the two moons of 30 days, 10 hours, 29 minutes, 4.2 seconds—i.e. 30.4368542 days.
  • Despite what the more-environmentalist-than-thou still seem to believe, bees aren't going extinct. They're not even endangered. Not the Afro-European honeybee, anyway. Some bees in the New World are endangered, though…and it's mostly the imported honeybee's fault. They're an invasive species, which drives indigenous bees out of their foraging territories; they also exacerbate the problem of invasive plant species, because most New World bees won't pollinate them, but imported honeybees will. (Also when the African strain is in play they kill people and domestic animals. And probably endangered wild animals.)
  • I initially passed over The Good-for-nothing Magic Instructor and the Akashic Record, to accurately translate the Japanese title, because the stupid fanservice-y uniforms the girls wear. But oddly, the rest of the show hasn't got all that much fanservice, and is actually a pretty solid fantasy-action show. If anything it could actually stand to go into the "romance" angle more, which is normally the reverse of the case for light-novel series. Glenn also isn't the usual generic LN protagonist, albeit mostly because he usually acts like a complete tool (but, like, in a funny way; fiction is full of people who are amusing to watch but who you'd murder if you knew them).

    Even if it wasn't pretty decent all by itself, it gets bonus one bajillion points just for not being isekai.

    Also watched 2014's Seikoku no Dragonar/Dragonar Academy—I've been scouring Crunchyroll and the Funimation streaming-service for all their remotely tolerable fantasy series (and I'm pretty much done, though I should probably go back over the list just to be sure). While Dragonar is by no means actually good—it has far too much utterly unmotivated fanservice to graduate beyond "so-so"—the depth of its worldbuilding absolutely crushes most shows from a half-decade later. It's mostly just an ecchi quasi-harem series, but there's so much more work put into its setting than in almost everything more recent, that it feels like a much higher-quality show than it actually is.
  • Another show from 2014 that I skipped at the time, I think because I had read part of the manga adaptation and wasn't impressed, was Madan no Ô to Vanadiis (the English title of which, Lord Marksman and Vanadis, seems to be somewhat more accurate, since he uses arrows not bullets and isn't a king, though it seems he eventually becomes one—on the other hand Senki, written 戦姫, means "war/battle princess", not "war maiden").

    Watched it just recently (turns out I wasn't quite done with the streaming-services' list of fantasy anime), and, again, it's amazing how much better it is than more recent stuff. The obvious comparison is to Grancrest War, but it's like comparing a Chik-Fil-A chicken sandwich to a McDonald's one. They are recognizably the same kind of thing, and neither is bad, but only one of them (Madan no Ô) is really, genuinely good.

    One of these works, among other things, is by someone who clearly likes military history. And the worldbuilding just blows most later works clean out of the water. About the only problem with it is its ending is incredibly rushed. Meanwhile how many damn seasons has Sword Art Online gotten? "We are being digested by an amoral universe."
  • Not available on a streaming-service I have access to (Hulu doesn't seem worth it), but Chivalry of a Failed Knight is actually pretty good (I was really curious so I watched it on YouTube). As at least one YouTuber points out, it has the protagonist and main girl become a couple only four episodes in, which is a miracle for something based on a light novel—usually they prefer "will they or won't they?" jerking around till the audience has whiplash.

    Another one that isn't awful, is Weakest Undefeated Bahamut (I don't care to look up the official English title). I haven't actually been able to watch the anime but I've read the light novel. It's not quite as good as RakuKishi plot-wise, I think, but it has better worldbuilding (though nowhere near Vanadis or even Dragonar). So, if you have Hulu, there are two other recent fantasy anime that aren't arguments in the Problem of Evil. With that, though, I've pretty much exhausted the possibilities.
  • Much is made of "vocal fry"; many people either hate when young women use it, or denounce those who hate when young women use it for supposedly being sexist, and "attacking women's speech".

    Here's the thing, though: "vocal fry" is the opposite of falsetto. That's the main reason women's use of it attracts comment; it's much less noticeable when men use vocal fry, just as falsetto makes much less of a change in most women's voices (to the point many denied that women could do falsetto till ridiculously recently—decades after Julia Child went on the air, for one thing—and Italians apparently still do).

    Do you think if many young men suddenly started talking like Monty Python pepperpots people wouldn't find it irritating? Not even the most deranged MRAs would defend that or accuse anyone of "attacking men's speech", get over yourselves.
  • Realized I hadn't come up with weapon familiarities for the ancient "evil Atlantean" humans of my setting. Decided to give them trident and spiked shield, those being good weapons for an ancient maritime empire, and have bola and net be martial weapons for them, since they're slavers.

    Decided the lizardfolk ("scaled people") use stone javelins, atlatls, halberds, and axes, while troglodytes ("cave things") use stone heavy and light picks, atlatls, and bows; kobolds (also "cave things") use heavy and light picks made of metal, plus light and heavy crossbows (scaled for Small creatures they do the same damage as Medium creatures' longbows).

    Sahuagin ("tide things") are all proficient with tridents and treat harpoons and nets as martial weapons. (They only get three because their other major weapon is underwater crossbows, which are simple not martial.)
  • Shouldn't the two heads of something like an ettin—in my setting just a two-headed hill-giant variant, as cyclopes are, though I had had ettins as two-headed ogres—be considered two separate entities? And an ettin be "they" unless you're only talking about one of its heads? They're basically conjoined twins, after all, and those are "them", not a singular. You could do something pretty cool with having each of the heads have separate mental ability scores, and maybe they belong to two separate classes—give one the spellcasting of an adept, say, and the other that of a bard.

2019/02/28

Mélange IV

Random thoughts. Mostly about Pathfinder, still, but I also talk about video games and movies, a bit.
  • I'm not using them in my game, but if I did, I think the "elven" weapons in Pathfinder would basically be various sizes of shashka—the thorn blade and leaf blade are both dual-typed, piercing and slashing (I would actually extend this out to the curve blade, too). The shashka has a less pronounced curve than a typical scimitar, saber, or szabla, which presumably makes it easier to stab with.

    I'd personally further modify that list of weapons by making the "Aldori dueling sword" an "elven" weapon, and making the curve blade not only piercing as well as slashing but making it eligible for "Slashing Grace" (which currently only applies to light one-handed weapons, whips, and the dueling sword…I think maybe also scimitars, or would that render "Dervish Dance" redundant?).
  • Decided to do "weapon familiarity" for human ethnicities, too. The urban intrigue-y duel-happy society are always proficient with rapier and jutte and treat estoc as martial; the rural one, with politics centered on a heavy-cavalry elite but not exactly in the manner of European chivalry, are proficient with lance and heavy pick and treat whips as martial weapons. The land-nomads (whose main dismounted weapon is morningstar or greatclub—I follow Kingmaker in making the greatclub simple, because it always should have been) are proficient with bow and hooked lance and treat lassos as martial, while the sea-nomads are proficient with trident and treat harpoon and net as martial weapons. Halflings, who are small humans, in my setting, are proficient with atlatls (which don't have a plural in Classical Nahuatl, being inanimate) and treat bolas and boomerangs as martial weapons.
  • In my campaign, elves are proficient with longswords and bows, and treat bastard swords and fighting fans as martial weapons. Dark elves, on the other hand, are proficient with light and heavy flails and treat spiked chains and scorpion whips as martial. Dwarves are proficient with warhammer and earthbreaker and treat pistols and muskets as martial; "dark" dwarves are proficient with heavy pick and mattock, and treat net and bola as martial weapons—their gear is made of the silk and chitin of giant spiders, acquired by trading with the aranea. Gnomes are proficient with battleaxe and treat heavy and light repeating crossbows and "dwarven" waraxes as martial weapons. (This gives them a one-handed weapon that does 1d8 damage despite being Small.)

    Goblins are proficient with bows, falchions, and butterfly swords—butterfly swords are just small falchions, and perfect for dual-wielding, since my male hobgoblins are mostly rangers—and treat mancatcher as martial, because they get all their agricultural labor from non-goblin slaves. Ogres (including orcs) are proficient with battleaxe, throwing axe, and greataxe, and treat the orc double axe (the only "racial" exotic I keep with its original owner if I have it at all) as martial. Of course, ogres/orcs in my setting make most of their weapons from stone, so the typical "orc double axe" is two knapped-flint blades lashed to one axe-haft. (Incidentally, has anyone noticed that the so-called "war clubs" used by Plains cultures, would more accurately be called "stone warhammers"?)
  • Anthem really, really is just Destiny in powered armor. I mean, Legion of Dawn? Yeah I liked them better when they were called Iron Lords. The Scars are just time-locked Vex pretending to be Fallen (they even look like Spider's guys from the Tangled Shore). The Fall of Freemark is just the Six Fronts but they lose (it helps to be immortal, who knew).

    The thing that starts the game off, with the Heart of Rage, was kinda like the Great Disaster, except the people in the Last City weren't dumb enough to turn on the Guardians over the defeat at the hands of Crota, since they knew they really needed these son-bitches to survive. (And Crota was an actively hostile demon god, not just an unusually virulent natural disaster, so picking a fight with him was a much worse decision.) Maybe it's like the fall of the Iron Lords, actually?

    Shall we discuss the whole part in the middle of the main campaign where the protagonist makes a bargain with a piratical type with pretensions to royalty? I was half expecting Queen Mara Princess Zhim to make her entrance after the Freelancer is startled by seeing Scars with blue markings instead of orange, acting as guards.
  • I totally accept the BioWare devs' assertion that they started on these ideas before Destiny even came out; basically everyone was bruiting these ideas for MMO shooters at the time. Here's the thing, though: they didn't think, in all the time between the first E3 trailer and release, to maybe tweak anything in the final product so it's less reminiscent of Destiny?

    They were already trying to carve out a niche in the same "market space" as Destiny; they really should've put in some effort to set themselves apart. (And not go the "well, Destiny doesn't look like a PS2 game, so we're unique in that regard" route, the one taken by Warframe.) I don't know how you would do that, but they needed to. They're doing so badly in sales because most of the people who might want what Anthem gives them, are already getting it from Destiny.

    However, I don't care how bad of decisions EA has made with this game, no way no how should it be reviewing worse than Mass Effect Andromeda. This is me defending a BioWare game, that should tell you how unfair that is. Yes Anthem is nothing to write home about, but Andromeda is something to scrawl on the walls of a padded cell about!
  • Aquaman absolutely got robbed at the Oscars—not even getting a production-design or visual effects nomination? Really? That movie was the first truly DC Comics movie that doesn't even have the trifling issues Justice League did. It did what DC does best: "here's most of a century of continuity in one plot, but you're not going to feel overwhelmed by it in the slightest".

    Personally I would say it's even a Best Picture candidate, but the Academy doesn't nominate comic book movies for that unless there was an "Oscars so white" hashtag the year before a comic book movie with a mostly-black cast came out. (I'm not saying Black Panther didn't deserve the nomination: I'm saying deserving it, isn't why it got nominated.)
  • I know I said Cyberpunk 2077 was dumb, given how cyberpunk has been played out for about a quarter-century, but apparently it's based on a tabletop game. It's still dumb, though, because that game is, as far as I can tell, the one that introduced the CyberneticsEatYourSoul trope. And they eat it less if you implant it into your brain than getting it for your limbs, because that's totally logical. Cyberpunk, capital-C or otherwise, is dumb-dumb-dumb. It is, like all the *punk subgenres it spawned, long on aesthetic and criminally short on make-a-lick-of-sense.
  • So it occurred to me that even though I don't have azatas, agathions, or archons in my setting, I can use the cleric subdomains that derive from them, for the nonhuman races' gods—like how the 3e Forgotten Realms books had "Elf" and "Dwarf" and "Drow" domains. You could use the Azata subdomain as one for the elven gods, for example, and in my setting, anyway, Archon for dwarves and Agathion for either humans or gnomes.

    Could also give Demon to the dark gnomes (not sure if they have any divine casters at all, let alone any who have domain access) or maybe witch-humans' inquisitors, Devil to the goblins' inquisitors, and Daemon to either dark-elf or witch-human inquisitors. Most of my evil societies have witches for their priesthoods, not clerics, but most of them do have inquisitors.
  • Relatedly I think azatas are what elves become when they die. Mortals in my setting are worshiped when they die, and the celestials are explicitly the same kind of being as deities. It would be weird if every dead mortal became something stronger than all but the greatest celestials, so the "average" mortal doesn't really become a deity; they just become a sort of deified form of their mortal self. It gets harder with the other races, though, which don't resemble any celestial type as much as elves resemble azatas. I think I might have to have dwarves become inevitables, gnomes become aeons, and humans become agathions. This would necessarily entail changing their alignment to "any non-evil", of course, and changing a whole bunch of the fluff. Of course, what evil dead mortals become, is something else: undead.

2019/01/26

Worthy of Your Soul

Title's a reference to this. Review of the CRPG Pathfinder: Kingmaker.

Hoo boy. This is a big subject; it's a big game. Let's start with the good. First off, this is a marvelous translation of a tabletop game to a computer. I never played things like Neverwinter Nights, so I was not prepared to have my characters' weapons actually expressed to me in terms of literal dice. Also I get to play an eldritch archer, the ranged-oriented "archetype" (think a 2e "kit" applied to a Pathfinder class) of magus; I might do another playthrough as a divine hunter, the ranged-oriented paladin archetype. I like martial-oriented classes that aren't professional meat-shields. (I don't think frequently choosing the neutral good option will muck up paladinhood, so long as I also choose the lawful ones now and then; it's only evil acts that paladins have to avoid.)

Second off, I like how all the companions' whose backstories involve them rejecting various gods of the setting—the former paladin of the goddess of beauty (though I still don't know how "art for art's sake" can have a paladin order), the dwarf apostate who worships the god who will end the world—have character arcs that consist of them learning not to be kneejerk self-righteous fools. A lot of people on the Steam community are very unhappy with that, although they mostly misrepresent what happens in order to do it. Valerie (said ex-paladin) doesn't grovel before her former goddess and admit she was completely wrong; she just admits that just because she disagrees with the people who worship the art-god is no reason for her to treat all artists (such as bards) like criminals and social parasites.

Just in general I really like the companions. About the only major issue I have is that Nok-Nok, the goblin rogue you acquire in the third arc, is not chaotic evil, I don't care if he does worship a demon lord; he's chaotic neutral, pretty much right down the line. I don't really like Pathfinder core-setting gnomes but Jubilost is a very tolerable example of one (yes he's obnoxious, but "gnome alchemist travel-writer who talks vaguely like a male Dorothy Parker" is a very amusing take). Probably my favorite (or perhaps tied with Nok-Nok, though part of the latter's appeal is when he one-shotted a hill giant with a knife) is Amiri, who I have chosen to dub "bandere", for her hilarious-slash-adorable bashfulness.

I really like how almost every companion's "arc" consists of them reconciling their own wishes with the society and tradition that they usually partly rejected in order to become adventurers, or otherwise realizing that the world does not revolve around them while simultaneously not rejecting their own identities. Existentialism isn't much as a real philosophy but it can make for good themes in fiction, as anime can attest.

Third off, the story is mostly excellent. There's some false notes here or there (bonus dormitat Homerus) but overall it's very far from being the warmed-over Dragonlance that I've come to expect from Western fantasy games that aren't Warcraft (and I won't play that because I loathe MMOs that aren't also FPSs). Don't assume anyone is your friend, is my advice, because a lot of people will turn on you in this game, usually for very good reasons of their own, but also be willing to forgive them if you get the chance. At least one of them is a huge advantage in a fight if not for a story-based RP reason. That you can basically redeem every antagonist in this game except for three of the six "Big Bads" of the separate arcs is a huge selling-point, to me.

On to the bad. There's really only two issues. The more basic is simply that this is not a triple-A game and it was probably released a bit earlier than it should've been; if you read the early discussions of issues with it, it becomes clear that what they released was probably a mid-stage beta, and what we're getting now is probably a late beta. It's buggy and the load-times take forever; it was doing weird things with "developer tools" on my machine for a while, too. (That may have been Steam rather than the game, since I only got Steam for this game.)

The other issue, more directly relevant to game "quality" (though you're seriously going to want some hacky-sacks to juggle or something, during the loads—especially since you have to schlep through your palace and then through your capital, to get back out to the world map, starting in the second chapter) is that a lot of the quests will give you a very sub-optimal ending (as in "the lost child you were looking for flipping dies") if you don't know exactly what to do. A tip: talk to everyone in the final area the quest takes you through, that usually leads the way. You also need a walkthrough, though; accept it. There's one part where you're set up to be able to avoid a problem by not doing something, and then an NPC goes and does it anyway. Apparently there's a way to not have that NPC do it, without murdering them; I'll have to try it on another playthrough and see. (It was funny in the Steam forums, a bunch of people defending the effective railroading by saying "oh well it worked better in the tabletop adventures the game's based on". Really? Because if I tried that shit at the table, as a DM, my players would lynch me with my mouth stuffed full of dice.)

Another gameplay issue is that the kingdom-management aspect of the game, after which the whole work is arguably named, is mostly a chore and very often counterproductive. Trying to manage each arc's crises by assigning advisors to deal with the hordes of monsters, bandits, etc., is usually a recipe for disaster; just go handle it personally by resolving that arc's plot. Still, the kingdom-management does give you bonuses, e.g. my current party have permanent poison immunity while in territory that I control (presumably a blessing placed on my followers via my domain's priests).

All in all the game does one thing very well: it is a tabletop RPG in computer form. So the "score" I give it depends on how much you itch to see a tabletop experience translated about as faithfully as it can be. If that is, for you as for me, an abiding yearning, the game is easily an 8 out of 10 overall, and storywise a 9.5; knock a point off both if you do not ceaselessly hunger and thirst for the specific kind of thing this game is.

2019/01/25

Playing with Fantasy XI

Fantasy gaming thoughts. Will also be reviewing Kingmaker, the official Pathfinder CRPG, in the coming days.
  • Decided to scrap the fiendish, celestial, and elemental language, Primordial as I (and 4e and 5e) called it (except mine also includes Aklo/Deep Speech), because the glossolalia thing is thematically interesting and I still don't like how my conlang was going. They also use proto-writing instead of real writing, because the concepts they use cannot be directly divided into words, let alone sounds.

    Of course in some ways a language-that-isn't-a-language—because it works like speaking a common language, in-game—is, in its written form, really more language-independent ideograms than it is proto-writing. But a proto-writing like Naxi Dongba or Nigerian Nsibidi has quite a bit of overlap, in how it "behaves", with a language-independent ideographic script like iConji or Blissymbols.
  • I can't find it to link it, a thousand pardons for the inadequacy of my Google-fu, but I found an article that makes an interesting point: the main thing alignment does, in practice, is tell your DM what kind of game you, the player, would like to play. "I'm lawful good, so please give me the chance to uphold righteousness and social order." "I'm chaotic good, so I expect to right wrongs without necessarily following the rules to do it." "I'm chaotic neutral, I'm down for pretty much whatever." If all your players have created lawful good characters, don't give them a "black and gray morality" story.

    The two-axis alignment system is actually a very convenient storytelling shorthand just in general; it tells you what variety of hero or villain you're getting. Transformers offers excellent examples: Optimus is lawful good, Bumblebee and Ratchet are neutral good, Cliffjumper is chaotic good. Megatron and Shockwave are chaotic evil, Starscream is neutral evil, Soundwave is lawful evil. Megatron can work as chaotic evil because he's at the head of his faction, he can't be a follower; Shockwave isn't even trusted by other Decepticons for the same reason. Soundwave is absolutely loyal to the Decepticon cause.

    Or, since I've said D&D as usually played is more "sword-and-sorcery superheroes" than it is "murder hobos", Superman is lawful good, the Flash and Aquaman are neutral good, Batman is chaotic good; Ra's Al-Ghul is lawful evil, Sinestro and Lobo are two very different kinds of neutral evil, the Joker is chaotic evil.
  • Apologists for the "murder-hobo" playstyle, and similar puerile "gritty" themes that only appeal to literal or mental adolescents, often compare it to the Wild West. Only, by "the Wild West" they mean movies, like those by Sam Peckinpah, or Unforgiven—not history. In real history the villain of Unforgiven would've been lynched; if the prostitutes don't feel safe, they leave, and that might mean the miners and cowboys annoy the "respectable" women, and we ain't having that. (Why did you think those towns tolerated the brothels? These people jailed you for spitting on the sidewalk.)

    "Gunslingers" (anachronistic term, they were really called "badmen") were not as simple as fiction would have them be, neither for good or for ill. Almost all of them were down-on-their-luck itinerants from a society with a long history of dueling customs—they weren't Pennsylvania Quakers who moved out West and randomly acquired itchy trigger-fingers. (One could probably cite the Southern cultural aversion to manual labor—pre-existing in the parts of Britain their ancestors came from, but reinforced by slavery—as a factor in the "badman" lifestyle; a lot of the towns and farms were made by immigrants, often from Central Europe.) And even they had a code of sorts, one that largely precluded the "attack any NPC who looks at them funny" aspect of the "murder-hobo" stereotype, among other things. A "badman" who flouted the code could not be assured of help from past compatriots, and might see current ones leaving him; you can't maintain a lifestyle like that by working with people you can't trust.

    Take the claim that "kill the orcs, take their treasure" is just like how the settlers dealt with Native Americans. In the real world, public opinion was actually quite likely to side with the natives against the cavalry, let alone against some random cowboys or outlaws making trouble. The public was likely to side with Native Americans even when the Native Americans were absolutely in the wrong, as in the case of most conflicts with the Southern Plains cultures—19th-century polite society preferred not to talk about the kinds of things Southern Plains cultures did, in both raiding and war.
  • Was deciding what archetypes I have in my setting, and man, clerics get short shrift in that regard. Only a few of the archetypes are even worth it, and even those mostly have reduced spellcasting compared to the standard one. I suppose it's okay, though.

    The samurai archetype of cavalier and the ninja archetype of rogue are both available as indigenous warrior-vassals and covert agents, rather than coming from a fantasy-counterpart Asia (because none of the cultures are the fantasy counterparts of anywhere, or at least of any one real-world place); my "barbarians" are also not generally foreign berserkers, but come from a tradition within the setting's "mainstream" cultures.

    Hot dang but the green knight archetype from Ultimate Wilderness is OP (to be fair so was the source material), and not very like any other cavalier. Still a valuable addition to a setting in terms of "flavor", though—basically even more "druidic paladins" than rangers are.
  • Got Kingmaker, the Pathfinder game reminiscent of Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights. I'll do a full review later. For now I'll just say that, while overall I'm impressed by how faithfully they've ported a tabletop game to a computer, there are a number of problems that make the experience far less than flawless. At least one quest sets up something cool only to railroad you into it not working, and a bunch of things give absolutely no indication of how you make them work. Also, in a game with a "kingdom management" component, that's basically named after its kingdom management component, it makes no sense for it to be genuinely harmful to try to solve things via the kingdom-management mechanic rather than up and handling them all yourself.
  • Was thinking of doing it before, but Kingmaker cinched it: instead of all my hill giants being the fallen version of the giants they were, as frost and fire giants are fallen wood and stone giants, respectively, the hill giants will be the unfallen ones and the fallen ones will be cyclopes. I don't like the Pathfinder version of cyclopes as remnants of a fallen, advanced civilization (this comes up at several points in Kingmaker).

    Another thing I'm glad I'm doing different is my gnomes aren't mutant fey; my setting doesn't really have fey. Especially distasteful is "the Bleaching", the illness Pathfinder gnomes contract if they get into a rut. In my day we called that "Banality". Borrowing ideas from White Wolf (other than their core mechanic) is no way to live, son. Especially because Changeling was the second weakest of the major "Old" World of Darkness games (and Mage was only worse for its moronic setting, the game itself was better)—and being weaker than Werewolf takes some doing.

    I did actually consider having all my nonhuman races acquire something like the Bleaching, and that be how they would die, but that was when I wanted them to all be immortal. (I still toy with the idea.) But it wouldn't be boredom; it would be existential crisis, in the real, "inability to reconcile subjectivity with facticity or heed the call of conscience" sense. Remember, the Old Norse for things like elves and dwarves (and trolls) is vættir, from the same root as "be" and "was"—which is the same use of "being" as a common noun as found in existentialism (also a direct calque, possibly accidental, of "entity").
  • Kinda changing some of the flavor of druids and the Green Faith (to the extent the latter even exists) in my setting. Druidic as a language doesn't exist, for one thing. More significantly, the whole "resist civilization for the sake of nature" aspect is gone. Only humans even have the concept "civilization" as something distinct from "nature"; they look out into the wilds from their settlements, in fear, and assume that their fear is born of a conscious, antagonistic agenda.

    It's not. Every other race (who invented druidism before there even were humans) would no more object to settlers building a town than they'd object to prairie dogs building one; they no more object to loggers taking logs than they object to birds taking twigs. They only make an issue when these things are done to excess, which admittedly is a permanent risk with humans. Every other race knows that human(oid)s are a part of "nature", and only incidentally at odds with it.

    Of course, those "incidents" can still be pretty big, and that's when things like Green Knights get involved.
  • I guess a 120-foot dragon based on Coelophysis would be about 9 feet 3 inches wide, since in this image it's about one-thirteenth as wide as it is long (not counting the hips, since on my dragons the hindlegs are more like the forelegs). That means its 260-foot wingspan has each wing at 125 feet 4.5 inches. Which, conveniently, divides in half to make the wings basically "reach" weapons, which for a Colossal creature extend to 60 feet (ignoring the other 2 feet 8.25 inches)—although dragons are not otherwise "tall" creatures (for "long" Colossal creatures a "reach" weapon would only extend to 40 feet). A bird's wings could actually be used as weapons for more like two-thirds or even three-quarters their total length, but it could be that dragons' wing-buffets use the wing's "wrist", or that (if I decide to have them deal slashing damage instead, since they have Archaeopteryx-like wing-claws) the claw is treated as originating at the wrist.