De romanicorum theoriarum XVI

Speculative fiction thoughts, fewer of them about Pathfinder.
  • The reason marine mammals have flat tails and swim up-and-down rather than side-to-side like fish, is that mammals evolved a different gait—a dolphin or whale is essentially doing with its torso what the torso of a dog or rabbit does when they run. That's why ichthyosaurs (whose taxonomic relations are far from clear) had fish-like rather than dolphin-like tails: reptiles still use the ancestral, fish-like side-to-side motion, when they run. (Dinosaurs didn't, but in between they evolved bipedalism—the ancestor of all dinosaurs was a biped, with some lineages later dropping back to all fours. You can see it in how different the forefeet are from hindfeet, obviously in hadrosaurs but even in ceratopsians, sauropods, and thyreophorans—they're all modified hands.)

    Bipedal dinosaurs did not modify the orientation of their forelimbs from those of the ancestral reptiles, although they did move them to face in front of their bodies. Like a lizard, the palms of a bipedal dinosaur like a dromaeosaur face out when the arms are spread, and each other when the hands are put toward each other: because palms that face each other are better for grabbing. The default position of a dinosaur's hands, when it has hands, is not with the thumbs toward each other and the palms toward the ground, like yours are (relax and let your hands fall, and you'll see this). It's with the palms toward each other and the thumbs pointing up, because a bipedal dinosaur is not a modified quadruped like you are—a quadrupedal dinosaur is a modified biped.
  • Searching the blog claims I haven't mentioned it here, even though I could swear I did, but the smart birds, all of which are psittacopasserines (the songbird-and-parrot superorder), took a different route to intelligence from primates. We got smart and then learned to talk, but they learned to talk and then got smart. What I mean is, the reason corvid and parrot brains got so advanced, is the need for processing power for ever more complex song. They then became able to handle other kinds of cognitive task. Whereas we got smart for those cognitive tasks, and then developed language.

    But it occurred to me, maybe a further justification of zled intelligence despite their being more powerful than humans, aside from their world being as scary as the Mesozoic, is that they had a sort of evolutionary feedback loop like birds did, for boosting their intelligence. Maybe they descend from something like a predatory howler-monkey, but with a far more complex repertoire of calls, like a songbird or parrot (and, y' know, roaring rather than hooting, birdsong, or mimicry), and the processing led to their ancestors increasing in intelligence before tool-use was a factor.

    The main interspecies reason their ancestors would've roared would be to warn potential predators that gangs of arboreal jackal-baboons are around and would take a dim view of preying on their young, while the intraspecies reason would be the same as the one for wolves howling and lions roaring, announcing to conspecifics "if you can hear this, you're in our territory". (The complex calls would, of course, be mainly for the latter purpose.)
  • Realized the best choice for making the elemental outsider-race in my setting would be to repurpose divs, as "neutral, chaotic neutral, or lawful neutral" outsiders. Only with mephits, with the "young" template to turn them tiny and knock a point off their CR, instead of doru divs. Of course I gave the divs a variable elemental affinity/immunity, rather than fire, and change their cultures to be more like normal genies (Pathfinder divs are corrupted genies—though their ultimate origin is the daevas of Zoroastrianism). Also gave them, as I said, pterosaur wings. Which they can use as legs, giving them the Bull Rush resistance of something like a centaur. (The reason pterosaurs, even giant azhdarchids, could take off in a leap, despite being bigger than any bird let alone any bat that ever was, is their wings were still forelegs, and the massive muscles for flapping them were also available for pushing off with.)

    I had said that all nonevil humans become agathions, in my setting, and elves become azatas. I think I also mentioned dwarves become inevitables (but with no axiomites to command them)? Well I decided nonevil gnomes become kami, and nonevil giants become asuras (but not evil). I went down the list of outsiders that constitute races, planeborne as we knew them in my day—aeon, agathion, angel, archon, asura, azata, daemon, demodand, demon, devil, div, elemental, inevitable, kami, kyton, oni, protean, psychopomp, qlippoth, rakshasa, titan—and figured out which ones were the best fit to be the "petitioners" of my humanoid races. I also still have elementals, they're just the div-types' spirits channeled into elemental matter temporarily; the rest of them just aren't there, any more than the fey are. I think my setting's dragons will just reincarnate?
  • I've said that skeptics often seem to be magicians and special-effects people, i.e. professional fakers—their skepticism turns out to be merely projection. So I'm not exactly surprised that James Randi's "challenge" was rigged, requiring a far higher standard than science normally does, and potentially requiring far more resources to produce the tests than the prize-money could cover—and isn't really epistemically or scientifically valid anyway. Conmen always assume everyone else is dishonest.
  • They're putting the X-Men in the MCU—starting with the New Mutants, because we totally care about them. Also the movie about them seems to be a horror movie? Maybe it's just one of those cases where the advertisers criminally misrepresent the work in question, like how they always make kids' movies look gratingly obnoxious. Anyway, though, if Marvel could try to put its craniorectal inversion into remission for a moment, they have a chance to do something cool, and introduce diversity in a justifiable way that doesn't utterly gut characterization, but actually updates it in a meaningful way.

    Namely, Magneto would be around 90 this year, if he was in his early teens (the age mutant powers usually manifest, and the age he's depicted as having been) in 1944. So instead, have him be Rwandan. Change his name to Érique and find a Tutsi surname that sounds like "magnet". Then have his flashback be to turning Hutu machetes into curlicues. (They can also make Xavier be black, too—played by Lance Reddick or someone—since Cameroon, Cape Verde, and Brazil are all more likely to have "Xavier" as a surname than anywhere in Europe.)

    Yes that complicates Wanda and Pietro, two clearly not-Lance-Reddick's-children people, but it's not like Marvel doesn't have a peckish Anti-Monitor worth of plotholes at the best of times.
  • Henceforth Star Trek: Picard shall be known as The Normandylorian, and the bioroid girl, Dahj, shall be known as Baby Data.
  • Occurs to me I can just have the aquatic eldritch abominations of my setting be "sea snake" nagas. Also thought I'd make them the main one of the subterranean world. This reduces me to two, nagas and araneas. Which is a Jim Stafford song. 'Course, there are three kinds of evil naga (dark, deep, and spirit)—I'm pointedly ignoring slime nagas—and only one kind of aranea.

    Maybe repurpose proteans and qlippoths into, respectively, nagas and araneas? The former are various kinds of snake; the latter often have more than a few spider aspects. I never actually called them "araneas" or "nagas" in my setting—they're "silk lords" and "serpent lords". I don't think I need too much stat-shifting, though I'll probably have to use some other CR 20 outsider's special attack in place of the iathavos qlippoth's abyssal transformation power—since spiders by definition do not swallow their prey.

    Still going to have the serpentfolk ("snake people") and ettercaps, though I gave the latter back their hands (don't know why Pathfinder changed them to having sickle-hands; they're not mantises, they're spiders. Of course, a mantis actually still has a tarsus on the end of its arm; the claw is actually the preceding joint, the tibia. A mantis's claws are really on its frontmost heels.
  • Ooh, actually I like that; if the snake-spirit creatures have all the scaly servants—serpentfolk, lizardfolk, sahuagin—maybe the spider ones should have the chitinous ones, like formians and thriae. Maybe some treaty keeps them from also creating crab or lobster servants and encroaching on the snakes' aquatic territory? Yeah, sea for snakes, surface for spiders, and underground for whichever can get it, works. Ooh, instead of ettercaps, still have araneas, but as the equivalent not of the nagas but of the serpentfolk.
  • Actually watched The Witcher. It's…not shit gravy. I like how subtly Slavic everything is; not only the curious cheerful pessimism, but also, I've got a nagging suspicion about half the seemingly fantastical wordplay is actually just ordinary Polish figures of speech. You get the feeling that you're reading subtitles and the dialogue is really in Polish, even though it isn't. I also like how most of the cast of both sexes are actually attractive, particularly after the homely-as-a-mud-fence, seemingly-selected-for-dumpiness cast of The Mandalorian (though Henry Cavill is a bit too much of a pretty-boy for Geralt, who's supposed to be a lot more grizzled). And it gets bonus points for much better armor design than Game of Thrones, though. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised that Nilfgaard actually seems to be more the Soviets than the Northern "Crusade" (which was never preached as such by any competent ecclesiastic authority). Even if Nilfgaard had been the Romantic Nationalist version of the Teutonic Knights, at least Sapkowski isn't Czech, so we're spared the fantasy version of the Romantic Nationalist (read "laughable unhistoric self-serving propaganda") conception of the Hussites.

    Still, though, really not much more than my initial assessment of "Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with the VIN numbers melted off"—albeit executed pretty well. It's got far too much subscription-TV T&A and gore, and is just generally a little too sordid to take seriously even as dark fantasy. It's not quite unwatchably grimdark, unlike Game of Thrones. It also made me realize: fantasy worlds should be places where most "superstitions" are as accurate as the average person's understanding of science, in our world. There'd be common misconceptions, but the basic rules should actually be known. Because this is information you can actually go out and find for yourself, in these worlds. I deduct significant points for the "demihumans"-as-oppressed-minority thing, also seen in Dragon Age (I also deduct them for snooty bigoted elves, so we're clear): Find. Another. Angle. The half-elves being deformed is somewhat interesting, but it would be more interesting if the deformities were modeled on real-world interspecies hybrids, rather than just having random normal-human deformities (I'm not only saying that because their idea is similar to mine; mine is cooler).

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