Sierra and Two Foxtrots II

SF and fantasy thoughts.
  • Decided that instead of wargs (which D&D likes to misspell as "worg" even though the Old Norse is vargr and the Old English is, well, warg), my goblins ride amphicyonids—the goblin-goblins something like one of the Daphoenodon species, the hobgoblins and bugbears something more like Ischyrocyon, probably I. gidleyi.

    Both they and the elves train the prehistoric beasts they ride to give signals, the "goblin hounds" by howling, and the Homotherium "blood cats" by roaring (yes, both Homotherium and the other machaerodontids—sabertooths—could roar, we know because the degree of ossification in their vocal anatomy is discernible in fossils). This is of course assuming that amphicyonids were social and had the howling behavior to go with it, for which there is no evidence one way or another, but these are actually magical creatures based on them so whatever.

    Both roaring and howling carry 5-6 miles; I've seen things saying 10 miles for howling but given 6 miles is a little under 10 kilometers, that can probably be attributed to a unit mix-up.
  • Occurred to me, zledo, and people fighting zledo, are probably going to need anechoic linings in their clothes, probably based on acoustic metamaterials, like in that article. Ambient noise, especially in places with electric current in the walls, might prevent the "can hear your heartbeat from 25 meters" issues, but they're still going to be a lot harder to sneak up on, without help.

    You especially want to sound-proof the actuators of a power-lifting exosuit, which of course would let you wear the kinds of heavier clothes that a sound-proofed lining would probably require. (And maybe some kind of refrigerated lining like in mascot suits.) Then again in the equatorial region where my first and third books take place, you probably wear refrigerated clothes anyway.
  • I was looking up how much people can "shoulder press" (lift over their heads), and found two interesting points, when I put in the average weights of male and female humans as given in the 3e Player's Handbook.

    One is that the average male's median lift was 145 pounds, while the average female's median was 73. I.e., the average male is just about exactly twice as strong as the average female, in this particular (purely upper-body) exercise.

    The other interesting thing is the mean of those two values is 109 pounds...which is almost exactly between the "lift overhead" (=maximum carried weight) numbers for Strength 10 and Strength 11, in the PHB's encumbrance table. Remember The Alexandrian on "casual realism"?
  • Doing the same test with the average male and female weights globally, gives a median lift-weight for the average (69 kilo) male of 57 kilos, and for the average (54 kilo) female of 29.5 kilos. Which is interesting because the gap is only slightly smaller: males can basically shoulder-press twice as much as females, if both are the average weight of their sex. (Remember how the average male has 50% more muscle-mass than the average female? It's also more concentrated in the upper body.)
  • It's odd that nobody noticed in this "political climate", and I really don't want to throw any fuel on those (witch-burning) fires, but you know what characters just objectively, unquestionably, got "white-washed"? The Lord-of-Admirals, and the rest of the human characters in the flashbacks to before the Forerunner-Flood War. They should all be a lot darker.

    Light skin doesn't appear in genus Homo till well after 100,000 years ago, specifically 30,000 to 18,000 years ago. The Neanderthals (who may have passed it onto some Eurasian populations but not, directly, the ones we associate with light skin) might've had it a bit sooner, by 40,000 years ago, but that's still less than 100,000.

    Apparently the weird hair-colors in Europeans and Levantines are because they have a small percentage of Neanderthal blood (you probably heard about that), though other Eurasians also have that small percent of Neanderthal blood, or more, and yet have black hair. Blond Polynesians and Australian Aborigines seem to have gotten their blond hair by autochthonous mutations, by the bye.
  • Googling le blogue suggests I haven't mentioned it, but the music of the After Colony timeline of Gundam is, inexplicably, almost uniformly better than that of the Universal Century timeline. There's some good music in some of the other timelines, but other than one or two songs in The 08th MS Team, none of the UC timeline's music comes close.

    One factor, I think, is that there's a unifying "theme" to Gundam Wing music, a sort of "she wore a yellow ribbon" vibe that's very suitable to military science fiction. You obviously can't hold crappy 1970s music, or the fact Kill-'Em-All Tomino was initially pretending it was a kids' show, against the original Gundam, but that doesn't explain why every UC installment after that also has thoroughly forgettable music.
  • Whenever people talk about "representation" in fantasy, I always want to quote them Penny Arcade: "A universe of possibilities, and you're fixated on the local flavor." And also, from the newspost of that same strip, "Boring, terrestrial, and (quite frankly) myopic." You understand that your fantasy humans did not have the same history as our humans did? You understand that that means you can mix and match phenotypes and cultures to your heart's content? Unless you are very concerned about having your fantasy filmed (and why on Earth would you actually waste time filming actors when animation is preferable in exactly every way?), you are in no way constrained by what is found in the real world.

    The main human ethnic group in my D&D setting, for instance is blond- to black-haired; black-, brown-, or blue-eyed; pink-, tan-, olive-, or dusky-skinned, and has hair-texture and facial features like Asians; one of the three main cultures usually has lighter skin but darker hair and eyes than one of the others, while the third has the full gamut of skin color, darker hair, but lighter eyes. There's another human group, mostly assimilated with the other cultures but sometimes without much genetic mixing (plus some rumored enclaves of its original culture), which has green eyes, red hair, ivory to terra cotta skin, and the facial features and hair-texture of Sub-Saharan Africans. Your word for the day is Mukokuseki.
  • Apparently the ancestral condition of vertebrates was to have a parietal ("third") eye, although nowadays it only exists as a light-sensitive organ in tuataras and some lizards and snakes, and the amphibians. Lampreys have one with an actual socket; so, apparently, did both the jawed and jawless armored fish, and some early sarcopterygians (lobe-finned fish). The parietal bone in mammals (and birds) derives from a structure that was between the eyes in fish and basal amphibians, and is still pretty far forward in modern amphibians and "lower" reptiles.


Playing With Fantasy III

Fantasy RPG thoughts.
  • While I was trying to figure out exactly how elves riding deer in my D&D setting would work, I came across something much cooler for them to ride: Homotherium. It's a genus of saber-toothed cat, or rather "scimitar-toothed", which means the teeth are shorter and more serrated (never mind that that's not the difference between scimitars and sabers). It may actually be only one species, since the only major difference is the size of the individuals and most modern big cats vary hugely across their range.

    Anyway the reason they're going to ride Homotheria, or "blood cats" (hang on)—apart from the Rule of Cool—is because they were cursorial predators, like cheetahs. Except cheetahs don't live in prides, and these things apparently did (which would probably make them easier to domesticate, provided you're crazy enough to try; the social structure of horses is fairly similar to that of lions, after all). They had long, thick forelegs and shorter hindlegs, and the same respiratory adaptations as cheetahs. Now, most specimens are probably too small to be steeds, but apparently they found one individual that would weigh 400 kilograms, which is bigger than a Siberian tiger (other than the ones that get fat in zoos).

    Anyway the reason they are called "blood cats", is that the way Homotherium hunted, was probably by making big, jagged wounds on its prey with its teeth—all of which were serrated. Then it would just follow the animal while it bled to death. Basically it's a variant on persistence hunting that adds something to diminish the quarry's ability to "persist".
  • Another thing I decided, therefore, is that the dark elves of my setting ride giant "hyenas"—and I put "hyenas" in quotes because the thing in question is actually Dinocrocuta, a prehistoric feliform Carnivoran that only looks like a hyena, it's probably actually more closely related to things like civets. The blood cats are a gift to the elves from their hunting-god; since the dark elves alienated their gods, they needed to find another thing to ride, and Dinocrocuta weighed 380 kilograms and stood 140 centimeters at the shoulder. (That's also how tall Homotherium would be at 400 kilos, given its height at 250.)

    That seems short—it's 13.3 hands, or 55 inches (that's not a decimal point)—and at first made me think I might have to go back to the 5-foot-6-inch elves, but then I looked around a bit, and that's the same height as the average Mongolian horse. Now, even modern Mongol males only average 5 feet 6.5 inches/168 centimeters, but then again, that's an average; there are probably plenty of Mongols in the American/"D&D average human" height-range who don't find their horses' shortness a problem. (Go find some videos of Mongol horsemanship on YouTube, and notice how tiny the horses look under their riders. Apparently that's just how they're tailoring horses this season.) I think I'll just make elves the same height as humans, rather than slightly taller; maybe change the size-ratios of their sexes (since otherwise the female ones are only an inch taller than human females). If I use the mass-ratios of American crows (female 95.4% the mass of the male), I get a female elf who's 5-foot-8 if the male is 5-foot-9.

    The other people who ride Dinocrocutae ("giant hyenas", I ain't reinventing the wheel) in my setting, are "gnolls", or "hyena people" as my setting calls them. (There is exactly zero reason for "gnoll" to refer to hyena-guys.) I use striped, rather than spotted hyenas, because spotted hyenas are weird and I like striped hyenas' ridiculous mohawk-manes and their derpy-looking faces. (I might also have a brown-hyena subrace, who would look like something from Bill Peet or The Labyrinth.) In my setting hyena people are just one of several kinds of beast people made by the decadent ancient civilization.
  • Another cool thing I thought of is, if elves are riding pack-hunting cursorial cats, they don't need hounds any more. I'd had them use dogs, originally like Spanish greyhounds but then more like wolves, to hunt with; elves, or at least the fairies, are actually known for their hunting, in folklore. But if they're riding what is basically a giant saber-toothed cheetah-lion, they already have their hunting pack right there, without even needing to dismount. (Maybe an elf who's hunting rides the senior female or dominant male of a pride and controls them that way?)
  • Other things with animals I did: elves keep foxes the way humans keep cats, getting a bonus to Listen from fox familiars (foxes' hearing is probably better than wildcats').

    Removed Scent from all the felids; cats can't smell well enough for anything like it. Might give them Blind-fight as a bonus feat, though, since they can hear well enough to catch prey if they're blind. I replaced regular rhinos with woolly and giant ones (gave the stats of the regular one to the woolly, advanced it till it became Huge for the giant), since my setting's in an Ice Age, and explicitly made my elephants (woolly) mammoths and mastodons. (There is no need for the woolly mammoth stats in one of the "environment" sourcebooks, they're just somewhat large elephants with more hair. This is how you end up with separate stats for margays and cats, people.) Used the "serval" stats from the "desert" one of those "environment" books for lynxes and bobcats.

    Also, as I think I've mentioned, changing the ravens so they don't do claw damage. (Seriously, did anyone think for one second about that? Ravens are known for pecking—e.g., "your eyes out". Their claws are about as dangerous as a kitten's.)
  • My dark elves, who are aquatic (and make their living as river-pirates), had been wearing shark-skin armor as described in...I want to say the aquatic one of the "environment" books?

    But then it occurred to me, they worship a plant that's parasitizing the World Tree (the World Tree itself is what the other elves worship), so they could maybe make their gear out of vines, like the ones that make up most of the bodies of Cuscuta and Cassytha parasitic plants, the way other elves make their equipment from leaves, wood, and bark. (Of special plants, both cases—trees that are shoots of the World Tree, for normal elves, and, presumably, something that parasitizes them, for dark elves. A version of assassin vines?)

    So, "mail" woven from the vines, and various rope/whip weapons. Another thing this causes: where before the dark elves' weapons had been red, like some mistletoes and the parasitic conifer Parasitaxus, now their stuff ranges from red to sickly yellow.
  • Since my dark elves are not drow, and don't really care about spiders (I'm not sure if they do particularly care about any animals—I'd thought thrushes but they're not specifically mistletoe-themed any more), there's a whole wealth of spider-related stuff that needs to be reassigned so it's not wasted. So I kinda turned the aranea into a knockoff of the Nerubians in Warcraft, minus the "vaguely Egyptian" stuff—vast subterranean empires ruled by evil wizards.

    Changed their shape-shifting; now they only have two forms, any generic humanoid whose shape they feel like adopting, and spider, but instead of the aranea's spider-form they're more human-like, with an elevated cephalothorax and their pedipalp-hands situated lower down, like real arms. I also gave the araneas—or "web lords" as they're now called—a ranged attack with their urticating hairs, since there really are spiders that pluck those out and throw them. Rather than drow-like matriarchy (which seems to be based on the "widow" type of spiders), their matriarchy is tarantula-derived, with the males living for a much shorter time and thus being a limited resource that females compete over. (That's not really how it works for tarantulas of course but they don't really have a society.)

    They also make their armor out of webbing, and sell web-armor to my dark dwarves, who having alienated the dwarfish gods have no access to the glass that other dwarves make equipment out of. I think I'll also give the web-lords the ettercaps as a slave-race, like umber hulks for the neogi or grimlocks, often, for illithids. Maybe also formians as a vassal-race, rather than a slave one; there are spiders (herbivorous ones, or mostly—also social, with females tending each other's young) that deliberately nurture ants in order to have the ants protect the plants they eat.
  • Was statting up my giants; decided to have fire and frost, of course, plus versions of the forest and bog giants from Monster Manual II. Gave the bog-giants a more stone-giant like set of stats, minus the hard skin. I don't know why all, or most, of the giants are described as being gross, dirty, and smelly; the ones in Norse mythology aren't, nor Irish. I haven't actually read the original versions of the Cornish ones, but I would be surprised if they were like that.

    Couldn't really fit in hill giants as such, but thought I might have them as sort of "silverback" ogres, with the ogres one meets the rest of the time being the young males. That'd also give me an easy way to stick in ettins, as mutant ogres. My ogres don't speak Giant, but Ogre, a pidgin form of Dwarfish since they're mutant dwarves. My orcs are also a smaller subrace of them. (The word "orc" comes from Latin Orcus, also the etymology of "ogre". That's probably why after 3rd Edition, orcs started speaking Giant.) Maybe I'll use the Orogs from the 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms setting as female ogres, who, with the dimorphism I gave them, are not Large, but Medium.

    My orcs, because Twilight Princess, use huge boars (though not dire boars) as their mounts. Not sure what I'll have ogres do; maybe mammoths like the giants in Skyrim. The boars came with the orcs from the moon they used to inhabit with the dwarves, and I'd thought I'd have the ogres' mammoths be the same, but maybe ogres back home didn't want to bother with steeds, they can carry most things they'd need and walk as fast as elephants do.
  • It occurred to me that so far from being "murder hobos", the way everybody I know plays D&D, is basically "sword and sorcery superheroes". Low levels are your Batman and Green Arrow, mid-levels are your Flash and Superman, high levels are your Green Lantern and Justice League. A dungeon is basically a supervillain hideout with more variation in its mooks. (And some comic book locales don't even have that difference.)

    Clearly I'm not the only one who's noticed this, since the even-numbered editions, at least, were kicked off with crises little different from those that prune and re-plant continuity in comics. Some of them, like the Spellplague on Faerûn in 4e and Krynn's Fifth Age in 2e (or the Fifth Age that technically turned Dragonlance into a different game), were arguably comparable to the New 52, or killing off Barry in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but that only supports my thesis.