Playing with Fantasy II

Fantasy RPG thoughts.
  • I like psionics; as I've mentioned, it's the thing my dwarves use instead of arcane magic. Only...I hate power-points. I also consider the sorcerer kinda a waste, just a wizard who doesn't know what he's doing. So, decided, in my campaign: sorcerers are still powered by Charisma, get their spells according to the same table, but those spells? Psionic powers. This doesn't hurt dwarves, as it normally would, because my dwarves take a penalty to Dexterity, not Charisma.

    (In 3.5 the psion became Int-based, rather than each ability-score powering one of the psionic disciplines. They also introduced "wilders", psion-sorcerers powered by Charisma who were very much the answer to a question nobody asked.)

    In my setting, where wizards are powered by Int and therefore, manipulate things by knowledge about them, sorcerers (=psions) are powered by Charisma, and manipulate things by feelings about them. So they also have an element of the wilder. Don't think I'll have psychic warriors; there never really was an arcane-magic equivalent (as a basic class), so it's not like they fill a necessary void.
  • Decided my campaign's calendar will be lunisolar but work out like the more-or-less purely solar Mesoamerican ones. While the solar year is divided into eight seasons (or rather, both the beginnings and high-points of the seasons are marked, a bit like on the Chinese calendar), the phases of the two moons provide each day with a secondary name.

    There are two sets of day-names, one based on one moon's twenty-seven day period, and the other on the other moon's sixteen-day period; they sync up every 432 days, and then they also sync up with the year every 432 years (I'm skipping the fact neither moons nor planets are actually likely to have periods evenly divisible into days). Those two sets of day names come from the elves and dwarves, each of whom is from one of the moons, originally.

    And the reason that they assign a different name to each day of the planet? Why, when you live on the moon, the planet is always visible overhead, if you're on the right side of it. And the fact it runs through a full cycle of phases every twenty-four hours would quite certainly get noticed, as would the fact that there is a certain number of those cycles in each of your world's days (which from the planet are the moon's phases).
  • It's actually something of a challenge to model witchcraft, as an anthropological phenomenon, in a D&D game. None of the normal classes really cut it; certainly warlocks (which in 3.5 at least were also crazy OP, at least at low levels) won't do. I considered the goofy cultists of the demon- and devil-lords, from Book of Vile Darkness (blech), but still not enough like a skinwalker.

    Instead, I decided to gestalt the "mountebank", as updated to 3.5e in Dragon Magazine Compendium, with the sha'ir from the same book. Only instead of elemental and genie-based powers, gave the sha'ir evil powers and ties to fiends. Likewise changed the basis of the mountebank's powers from "bargains with demon lord" to "deliberate breaking of taboo".

    The resulting witches are both the mages and the priests of an ancient human civilization that once tormented my campaign-setting, but who are vanished now. (I think I mentioned them before, the ones the elves and dwarves caused an Ice Age to break the naval power of?)
  • Along with being sorcerer-based, my psions now have familiars. Because I hate psicrystals, they're talking rocks. Another thing I did is that both elves and dwarves normally take familiars from animals native to the moons they left behind, weird technicolor critters with modified anatomy, like green nocturnal ravens with slit-pupils or fire-resistant yellow bats (which, being based on flying foxes, have no echolocation but do have Scent, and give a bonus to their master's Intimidation checks rather than Listen, because flying foxes are really territorial).
  • Don't think I mentioned it here, but I have had some chance to play 5e with my brother and his friends. In general, I approve of most of the decisions they made, or at least don't disapprove (although trying to minimize your references to gender more or less renders the entire drow culture non-existent, what with them being reverse-Taliban and all). This is, at least, an Impressionist painting of Dungeons & Dragons, even if it falls short of the detail some of us would like.

    I won't, however, be making the switch myself, because aside from how there is nothing good in 5e that's not there in 3e, is the fact that they have all the classes use the same attack table. Which...what? Fighters are good at, y' know, fighting, that's why their attacks get better every level. Wizards are not good at it. Clerics and rogues are only okay at it. (Also? Adding a "path" for monks to have elemental powers à la Avatar, is stupid. Shades of 4e's sad MMORPG mimicry.)
  • My setting only has one "race" of fiends, made up of basically every "guy with horns and wings" fiend, from imp to balor, regardless of Blood War faction or home plane (since my cosmology's different). Then I added succubi.

    Also added an ability like the one "pseudonatural creatures" have: the fiend can do something that reveals it's not a guy with horns and wings, but rather an eldritch abomination that operates by fundamentally different laws. Like by opening its mouth to reveal a functioning eyeball, bending a joint the wrong way, or opening a vertical mouth in the middle of its chest. (This is actually stronger than how the pseudonatural creature does it, since that only imposes a -1 penalty on attacks against the creature, while the fiends make anyone who fails a save be "shaken"—a -2 penalty to several rolls—for the duration of the encounter.)

    I'm having trouble coming up with how to mechanically represent the context, but I think I'll have elves and maybe dwarves occasionally do something similar, except with half the penalty (-1 rather than -2), and probably applied to their own social rolls. Your eyes glowing and your body hair turning to leaves, or flames and smoke erupting from your eyes, whenever you're agitated, is probably a matter of some social delicacy. (Presumably the penalty applies in reverse, to Intimidate checks.)
  • I decided to base all my races' size-dimorphism on animals. Elves and dwarves have males 15% heavier and about 5% taller, which is the mass-ratio, and its cube-root, for foxes and wolves. Gnomes have males and females almost the same size, because male and female beavers (monogamous rodents!) are very close in size.

    Goblins and ogres (which includes orcs) are polygamist. So, goblins (and hobgoblins), I based on cats (since they're mutant elves and elves are foxes), with males 30% heavier and 11% taller (the ratio seen in a lot of species, e.g. snow leopards). Ogres I based on apes, males twice as heavy and 21% taller, though there isn't a direct tie to dwarves (whose ratios are based on wolves). One thing this means is female ogres are actually Medium-sized, not Large (though they're at the big end).

    Decided to keep females larger, for the dark elves (who, aside from matriarchy, don't look or act much like drow, since they worship a mistletoe parasitizing the World Tree and revere thrushes instead of spiders). Turns out tanuki have the opposite dimorphism ratio from foxes, so used them. For the dark dwarves (who are mostly duergar, except for coloring, with some elements of derro), I used dingoes, since they're a sleazy wolf subspecies. (Oddly, though coyotes are gross, they are apparently more consistently monogamous than wolves are.)
  • Decided that elves using axes was weird to no purpose, so now they're back to using bows and swords (although the bastard sword is a martial weapon, for them, so they can use it one-handed at leisure). Also decided to have gnomes use axes, since they're forest-dwellers. This leaves dwarves using picks and hammers, since they're subterranean smiths.

    Also gave the elves' leaf-armor an overhaul; now their more heavily-armored warriors wear scale armor made of dark-leaf, from the Arms and Equipment Guide (the alchemically-treated leaves of the darkwood tree). Lighter-armored elves, instead of wearing leather, wear wood and bark armor, from the same book...but it's half as heavy and has two points lower armor-check penalty, because it's made of darkwood. Based gnomes' equipment, made from mushrooms, on "chitin" armor (since that's what mushrooms are made of), but applied to more than just heavy armor (and not as expensive). My dark elves, who are pirates, now wear masterwork shark-skin armor. And gave the orcs and ogres stone weapons.

    I also went back to using coins instead of trade-beads, though they're triangular and have holes in them for threading them on cash-strings. My players found learning a new currency system more trouble than it was worth, even though it was just a re-skin of the old one.


Sierra Foxtrot 9

Thoughts sur l'SF.
  • Watched Tremors 2: Aftershocks and Tremors 3: Back to Perfection. Graboids make a certain degree of sense, although that line in the first one about them "predating the fossil record" is gibberish. I can even kinda see them being Precambrian; things a bit like graboids do actually show up in the Ediacaran, the last Precambrian era. But what makes no sense, is the shrieker and ass-blaster phases. Specifically (leaving to one side that the shriekers as portrayed probably violate conservation of mass—with only minimal tweaking they wouldn't), they hunt by infrared.

    The trouble is, endothermy appears to have shown up some time in the Permian, when it becomes a distinctive feature of at least some therapsids and avemetatarsalians—which you probably know by their extant members, mammals and birds. Even if we assume the graboids only appear at the very tail-end of the Ediacaran (542 million years ago), and that the earliest therapsids (275 million years ago) were endothermic, which they may not have been (though by the Triassic it seems like both therapsids and avemetatarsalians were—indeed "an endothermic archosaur that survived the Permian-Triassic 'Great Dying' extinction-event" seems to be the common ancestor of all the avemetatarsalians), that still gives us a gap of 267 million years in which the later two phases of the graboid life-cycle hunt by a sense that is completely useless. All the available prey before the therapsids show up is exothermic—in infrared, they're invisible.
  • In my continuing quest to not have d20 Future be useless, I think one needs to revise the space-vehicle rules to be in line with the Alternity ones. That gives a PL 7/PL 8 scale of 60 miles per hex (1 megameter per hex in 30-second rounds, converted to 6-second rounds in which one normally only moves for half the round, rounded to the nearest 10 miles). It gives a PL 6 scale of 1650 feet per hex (50 km per hex in 5-minute rounds, divided into 6-second rounds that are only half movement—rounded off).

    The "tactical" speeds of human and zled ships, .6% c and 1% c, respectively, are (respectively) 5,901,426.3 feet per second and 9,835,711 feet per second. That gives speeds of 3,577 and 5,961 hexes on the PL 6 scale, but 31 hexes and 18.6 hexes on the PL 7/PL 8 scale. So maybe go with 310 miles, i.e. 500 km, per hex, for the latter scale? Gives speeds of 3.6 hexes for the humans, and almost exactly 6 hexes for zled ships. Maybe round off speeds to the nearest half-hex, have the human ship do 4 hexes on even-numbered and 3 on odd-numbered rounds, or something. (Or we can do 155 miles per hex and give the zled ships a speed of 12 hexes and the human ones a speed of 7, I suppose that'd work.)
  • I said, a few years ago, that zled powered-armor was STANAG 4569 level 4 (vehicle) armor. That means it can stand up to 14.5-millimeter AP rounds from 200 meters. Two other things this means is it can withstand a 10-kilo anti-tank mine, and can also withstand 155-millimeter artillery detonating 30 meters away.

    Level 5 can withstand 25-millimeter armor-piercing discarding sabot rounds fired from 500 meters and 155-millimeter artillery from 25 meters away, while Level 6 can take 30-millimeter armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot rounds, also at 500 meters, and 155-millimeter artillery from merely 10 meters away. For those two, they don't even bother listing anti-tank mines it can withstand, they'd probably have to be too big to be a practical risk (because there are no actual mines that big and it kinda defeats that whole "IED" thing if I need a forklift to transport my bomb and a backhoe to dig the hole for it).

    Notice there is no NATO-rated armor-level that can withstand a direct hit from artillery? Yeah there's a reason for that. Artillery is the Win Button in any conflict where you don't have to worry about what it does to infrastructure (or other kinds of collateral damage), provided you support it correctly. (It's even pretty good against tanks, provided it can target them, since the range of artillery guns is usually about twice that of a tank gun and they shoot much bigger shells.)
  • Even granting the "strong" position on climate-change, or at least the "as strong as is not shoeless hobo apocalyptic ranting" position, it seems to me that the problem is still mostly a matter of you people planning things very, very badly. Because you build cities on flood-plains. And below sea-level, in hurricane-prone areas. I don't see why the entire global economy and many nations' economic development should be hobbled because some people are stupid.

    Admittedly, some of this poor planning affects me personally. Two of my state's major cities would be in deep trouble during a prolonged drought...like the kind this region had during the Medieval Warm Period. But honestly, our problems have (relatively) simple solutions. We should be investing in large-scale desalination and trans-continental water pipelines anyway. (How to make them cheap? Thorium fission. Which, again, we should be doing anyway.)

    You worried about the sea-levels rising? Well don't; a few stretches of swamp will become full-blown shallow bays, and that's really pretty much it. (Okay so Venice is kinda screwed, as perhaps are parts of Florida and Cajun country.) But pumping in desalinated ocean water to irrigate the now drought-plagued southwest might make up the difference.
  • Looking into what, exactly, humans would use as a nerve-agent against zledo yielded disappointingly little in the way of results; almost all our nerve-agents involve preventing acetylcholine from breaking down, and zled physiology doesn't use it. (That's why they're immune to sarin and alcohol doesn't affect them quite the same way.)

    One thing I did decide, though, is that caffeine is considered toxic, by them; they use a lot more sodium-gated nerve channels than we do, and apparently caffeine blocks those in some animals (notably guinea pigs). Presumably not very strongly—so I decided it was once used as a blood-pressure medicine, the way we use calcium-channel blockers. "Here, have a hot cup of Amlodipine." (Nine and a half times the maximum dose, by the way, although Amlodipine is unusually strong compared to some of the other CCBs.)

    Another thing that means is that our novocaine/lidocaine type anesthetics are basically ω (omega) conotoxin, which we also use as an anesthetic, but it's "100 to 1000 times as effective as morphine". So in the doses we usually get novocaine and lidocaine in, zledo would be re-enacting scenes from Pulp Fiction.
  • Another thing I discovered, researching that, is that not using calcium in their nervous system apparently means they wouldn't be susceptible to lead-poisoning, or at least much less badly. It's transported into the nervous system by "calcium ATPase pumps". (Incidentally, they don't use ATP either, nor its relatives; they use some other group of nucleoside phosphates, since their genetic material, being based on sulfones instead of ribose, uses different nucleosides in the first place. I don't know enough to say what they do use, though.)
  • What's with all the people predicting that we're not going to have people delivering our stuff anymore? Perhaps I can excuse it because a lot of the people writing about it are European, but even they should know better. Here's the thing: drones, unless they're the size of Predators and basically forbidden from being anywhere near populated areas (because shit, you want a 9/11 every other week?), have a range in the double-digits of kilometers. Go look at a map of the Western US: inside a drone's range from pretty much any major city, there's nothing.

    No, what'll happen instead is that the warehouses of your online-shopping sites will ship things out, and then, from regional hubs, the drones will depart. Yes, I am in fact endorsing the idea there won't be postal services; there really won't be much reason to keep them around, in a future where people don't send anything but packages, considering that private parcel-services already do that just as well.
  • Something occurred to me: if my space colonies raise ostriches for meat rather than cattle, what about milk? Well, if I recall correctly, about 2.14 million humans live in space in the mid-24th century of my setting. Apparently the average per-capita milk consumption of China, the US, Russia, Brazil, Uganda, India, and Mexico (which make up most of my future's colonists) is about 120 kilos per year. One dairy cow can currently produce up to 12,240 kilos a year, which seems like a reasonable thing to expect of genetically-enhanced space-cows.

    So to produce enough milk for all those people, requires a mere 21,010 dairy cows. Apparently you also need at least one bull per 50 cows; if we want to keep the numbers tidy, say 318 bulls with 33 cows each and 239 bulls with 44 cows each (look, we high-functioning borderline-obsessive people have our own-idea of "tidy numbers"), you're talking a total of 21,567 cows. That shouldn't be too resource-intensive for planetary colonies, though maybe for station-colonies; maybe stationers do with some kind of milk-substitute (you probably can't get milk from an "in vitro" cloned udder, not attached to a cow, without resources nearly comparable to the cows, if not worse once you factor in lab facilities).

    What? You wondered too.