Playing with Fantasy IV

Fantasy-game thoughts.
  • Using a different set of estimates for the giant prehistoric wolverine Megalictis gives me a shoulder height of 4 feet 4 inches, quite respectable for something being ridden by 5-foot dwarves, and a body-length of 9 feet 11 inches. Decided they and the elves' cats are magical beasts, as smart as griffins or "worgs"; the wolverines, cats, and goblins' wolves can all speak a language I'm calling Bestial, and understand their masters' language, but can't speak it.

    The relationship those creatures have with their masters is basically "fictive kinship", specifically the humanoid becoming something like a parent to the "mount". Helps that Homotherium were probably gregarious, and that while wolverines aren't, they do often travel with their fathers for a number of years. Actually the most questionable are the "worgs", since I based them on amphicyonids rather than actual canids, but they are closer to canids than to ursids. Also "magical beast".
  • Not gonna go with macuahuitl for the elves after all (yes, "macuahuitl"; in Classical Nahuatl, anyway, inanimates had no plural). Just giving them swords, hewing-spears, and bows, with the blades as leaves and the hilt or shaft as a stem of varying length. Decided that since all their weapons and armor have half the hardness of steel (being made of wood), it makes no sense to make them cost as much as mithral or even the "darkleaf" from the Arms and Equipment Guide, so I'm just having them cost as much as darkwood despite having the qualities of darkleaf (which, for weapons, means "only as good as darkwood" in the first place). Gnomes' mushroom equipment will be similar, since the Arms and Equipment Guide gave chitin weapons and armor half the weight of normal, and they don't have to fight giant bugs to get it; gnomes make a different set of equipment from their chitin, though (and grow special calcified mushrooms, for things like hard weapon-edges and studded "leather" studs).

    Was conflicted as to what to do with the dwarves; there aren't really any materials I can use as a basis for their volcanic-glass equipment, adamantine, especially as of 3.5 and Pathfinder, being crazy OP. Decided to just have it give the benefit that "dwarvencraft" items do, in Races of Stone, of doubling the benefit of masterwork items—and then give it the base price (half) and base weight (75%) that stone and obsidian do, without the "fragile" quality (and with hardness 8, rather than "half the hardness of the base weapon", since the base weapon, if metal, actually has hardness 10). Instead of the stoneplate and stone lamellar from Pathfinder, thought I'd use stoneplate and stonemail that are simply stone versions of plate and mail.

    I think the members of those races pay only 25% the normal price (base + masterwork + 10 gp per pound-before-weight-reduction for darkwood and chitin, ½ base + masterwork × 2 for dwarf), if they buy stuff at home and among their people—this was based on the prices of guns in campaigns where firearms are more common. (Dwarves also pay that for firearms, since those are their main ranged weapons. Gnomes prefer crossbows, I decided, and halflings like blowguns, because my halflings are swamp nomads.) They still pay full price if they don't want to schlepp all the way back home.
  • Decided my goblins use falchions while my orcs use great-axes and great-clubs; the orcs' gear is stone, since they, like the ogres they're a branch of, are primitives (and are also mutant dwarves, with an affinity for stone but lacking the dwarfish ability to make stone weapons that aren't "fragile"). The hobgoblins also have a penchant for dual-wielding; where Pathfinder stats them as fighters, I statted them as rangers (partly because I made all my goblins more like bugbears in terms of their fondness for stealth, a ranger's forte rather than a fighter's).

    Made the main difference between goblins and hobgoblins just be scope and ambition—since hobgoblins don't have that Charisma penalty. They're both lawful (without bugbears, there's no need to have one goblin race for each ethical alignment), and that lawfulness means that they can form large bands, when each son of a chief starts his own family and becomes his father's vassal. Hobgoblins can then combine these bands into tribes, while goblins seldom do—and hobgoblins take goblins as vassals.

    The orcs, meanwhile, and ogres, are differentiated by the fact male orcs live with their females, while male ogres live somewhat apart from them—since female orcs are less able to defend themselves than female ogres, and male orcs eat less than male ogres. Both orcs and ogres kick their sons out at adulthood, to avoid that "kills father, takes over the harem of all the females but own mother" thing I've talked about with apes and lions. Sometimes after establishing their own harems the sons come back to be their father's vassals, but their fathers wisely don't completely trust them.

    Not a fan of the way ogres, and to a lesser extent orcs, are depicted in the Pathfinder rules and setting. Unnecessary Grimdark is puerile, and almost no Grimdark is necessary in a game, which people play for fun.
  • Something I realized: in western games at least, I generally prefer settings with multiple entire pantheons to settings where an entire world has one pantheon. 3e and earlier Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk are vastly preferable to Dragonlance, 4e and later D&D, or the Elder Scrolls setting. Though admittedly part of that is I dislike Dragonlance just in general, 4e and later were a cluster-flunk in every way, and Elder Scrolls, while less irritating than the Post-Colonial Studies 101 seen in Dragon Age, is still Comparative Religion 101.

    Then again, the exception to the rule would be games originating as tactical systems that later branched out to other genres, where people wear big shoulder armor. The Warhammer Fantasy setting has multiple pantheons and the Warcraft setting basically doesn't (though the Night Elves are basically the only people who worship Elune, they're not really the only ones who worship Cenarius), but Warcraft is far better. Maybe that's just because Sigmar, while less annoying than Talos, is nothing on the Light, which is the only successful CrystalDragonJesus I am aware of.

    No, Eru Ilúvatar doesn't count. He's pretty much just Jesus, or at least Ha-Shem, without the Crystal Dragon.
  • One thing I thought would be cool, after having read The Jungle Book, is to have each of the animal-god initiation societies that teach the humans of my setting their class-skills, have poems about the Law for each animal's society. I decided the easiest one to do would be something approximating the Kalevala or Hiawatha, at least in terms of having trochaic meter (but looser with the number of feet). Nice thing is that that meter is so insistent that the poetry doesn't have to rhyme; rhyming poetry in a world where people don't speak English always rubs me the wrong way, if it's not written in a conlang like the Song of the Dragonborn. Poetry and song really are how pre-modern societies teach their laws, and even how they teach techniques—bāguàzhǎng, for instance, is recorded in a series of songs, because its original practitioners were mostly illiterate.

    Kinda want to have elves and dwarves also having such songs and poems, minus the totem societies of course, and in different poetical styles. Except not about teaching a "Law" like the ones in the Jungle Book so much as, say, explicating cosmology; they're far more advanced than the "Migration Era skipped straight to Renaissance" barbarians-in-plate-armor that the humans represent. Trouble is it's really hard to find meters as insistent as the Kalevala/Hiawatha one, that can carry un-rhymed, non-alliterative verse—especially because almost all post-antiquity European poetry is either rhymed or alliterative (and it's very hard to write the ancient varieties that aren't, in English—it's actually linguistically impossible to do some of them in French). I really don't do poetry, anyway (I know a bit about it but knowing about something and being able to do it are two different things).
  • Seems like I'm the least excited about the new Zelda of anyone I know; I'm deeply skeptical about some of the choices they made, and some of the other choices just represent elements I always hate in games. In the former case, a main story you can miss parts of just sounds like "we hid your anxiety medication", to me. In the latter, item durability is, all by itself, a major factor (possibly the determining factor) in why I don't feel any need to actually play Oblivion beyond the little bit I have.

    And I don't play Zelda to be wowed by innovative game design; my favorite installments, Twilight Princess and Link to the Past, were absolutely typical games of their hardware generation, distinguished not by any unusual gameplay but by the fact they were The Legend of Zelda. Skyward Sword is one of my least favorites, though more because it has an almost unplayably slow middle section, and takes forever to get going, than because of the Wii remote—but the irritation of having to use the Wii remote reduces my patience for slow plotting.

    Still, "new Zelda". In a way I suppose I should resent that Nintendo has this kind of hold on me, but the fact remains they're doing the best work in fantasy since Tolkien.
  • The best work in fantasy in English is also in games, namely Warcraft, although I actually "consume" Warcraft via tie-in novels—because MMO is my least favorite (or rather "most hated") type of game. And about those tie-in novels: say what you will, but not one of the ones available at my library failed to bring tears to my eyes at least once. Sure, there are some questionable aspects to the writing; people tapped for tie-in novels are often not actually writers, per se, in their own right (and when they try to become so—as seen with Margaret Weis and R. A. Salvatore—the results tend to be disastrous).

    But still, Warcraft has far and away the best setting, the best worldbuilding and mythopoeia, of any fantasy currently on offer, and they have managed to capture at least one aspect of medieval reality that none of the more prestigious fantasy writers seem to even know existed. Namely, "I am a warrior, but my son has a religious calling, so I don't know what to make of him", as seen in the fictional biography of Anduin Wrynn, son of Varian, and the actual biography of (among other people) Thomas Aquinas. We return to the Light being the best "non-copyright-infringing Christianity" in all of fantasy fiction.
  • It occurs to me that oracles, cavaliers, and summoners might have a use as NPC classes. Like, for instance, my goblins belong to NPC classes (males are warriors, females are experts), so their priests are adepts. But my hobgoblins are in PC classes (males are rangers, females are alchemists), so it makes sense their priests would be oracles. (I might also have oracles as the common priests of human communities that aren't quite podunk enough for just an adept.)

    And the mostly-fallen evil human civilization, whose priests are witches, might also have summoners, in a relationship to their witch-priests somewhat analogous to the one between clerics and druids (the eidolon being the analogue of a druid's animal companion, in this comparison). That got me to thinking, they also probably have cavaliers serving a somewhat similar role to other cultures' paladins. Firstly because the anti-paladin is OP if you don't actively want to kill your PCs.

    But more to the point, the code of conduct, which forbids "willingly and altruistically" committing good acts and requires the anti-paladin to always place his own interests and desires above all else, means they are not going to be a feature of any civilization that likes existing—Megatron is regularly called an idiot for keeping Starscream around, but only the Kingdom of Idiots would have an entire class of Starscreams as a normal part of its normal cultural repertoire.

    Okay so Starscream is actually neutral evil not chaotic (Soundwave is lawful evil, because he's a monk). Point still stands.


De romanicorum physicalium 11

SF thoughts.
  • It is, I realized, not entirely accurate to say English uses its simple present for a frequentive (or usitative). I mean, it does; but that's not the only thing it does. It also, in the presence of expressions referring to the future, uses it as a "non-past", the condition where a language inflects the past tense and uses the same form for present and future, distinguishing them by words like "tomorrow". "Tomorrow we die", for the obvious example.

    Japanese is probably the best-known "past/non-past" language (that's recognized as such). There are also "future/non-future" languages, where the future is marked and then the past and present are distinguished by words like "yesterday". One of them? Hopi. Ironically. You know, the language with no constructions referring to time, according to Benjamin Whorf. Except for explicitly marked future tense, I guess? (Also, again, seriously, these are subsistence agriculturalists with an annual rain-dance whose rituals mostly take place after sundown. Pretty sure they have a concept of "time".)
  • The concept of "hypergamy", much beloved of Men's Rights weenies, is just one of many examples of how their understanding of ethology is shallow Lysenkoism. Because the thing is, in neither the ape mating-systems fools think humans have, nor the canid-like one they actually have, are females' and males' status comparable. In both systems, the hierarchies are mostly separate; you're trying to find the distance between points on two different graphs.

    The only interaction male and female dominance has in ape mating-systems is that females rebuff the advances of less-dominant males—but the thing is, they do so largely independent of their position within the female hierarchy. Because for male apes, "dominance" and "access to females" are two aspects of the same thing. (Things are a bit more complicated among some New World monkeys where females are more aggressive just in general, the higher up in the hierarchy they are, but that doesn't really change the basic point.) And there isn't even that element in canid hierarchies, because in those, the "alpha pair" are usually the parents of all the other group-members, the rest of whom are each other's siblings. And the "alpha female" (mother) enforces the female hierarchy, e.g. for feeding precedence, while the "alpha male" (father) enforces the male one; and while "never the twain shall meet" is probably putting it a bit strong, seldom indeed dae the tane meet the ither nor the tither meet the ane.

    And to the extent their argument is anthropological/sociological rather than ethological, they're still missing the biological fact that males compete for access to females, not the other way around. That's why female hypergamy, in sociological terms, is infinitely more common than male, in almost all societies—though then again part of that is that matrilocal societies generally have fairly "flat" social hierarchies. But just like the feminists they claim to disagree with, the idea that males and females are actually different is deeply, deeply offensive to them, as is the fact humans are animals that happen to know it, rather than angels wearing suits. (See also their whining about things like the draft and "women and children first", which are "Bateman's Principle", one, and two, something even Heinlein understood. When Heinlein understands something about human sexuality, and you don't, just...damn.)
  • More than once I've seen a vegan try to attack the idea humans are omnivores with a series of pictures, usually "picture of tiger's mouth, labeled 'carnivore'; picture of bear's mouth, labeled 'omnivore'; picture of horse's mouth, labeled 'herbivore'"—and then "which one is most like human teeth?". Very cute...but complete nonsense. Because know what other mouth we can put in there? This one. This one is labeled "herbivore". Note the canines and incisors, indistinguishable from those of a(nother) bear; the changes are in the molars and premolars, and you need to be a zoologist to reliably tell the modifications that have occurred to support the primarily vegetable diet.

    Bears' teeth look the way they do because they're members of the order Carnivora; whether they eat a mix of forage and meat like most bears or nothing but grass like pandas, they're still not going to be all that different from the jackal- or weasel-like thing they evolved from. (Come to think of it, the polar bear is a hypercarnivore.) The most modified teeth of any carnivoran, other than maybe the walrus (and those are still just really big canines), are those of what is technically an obligate carnivore: the aardwolf, a member of the hyena family. It mostly eats bugs, but that's still animals.

    Another kind of animal that has the dentition it does purely because of its taxonomy: primates. To my knowledge, the most reduced canines among the primates (or at least the great apes) are "chimp, bonobo, human", in ascending order. But, guess what are the most actively predatory great apes? "Chimp, bonobo, human"—again, in that order. (Bonobos in particular appear to have a taste for meat that's still alive when they start eating it.) The only obligate-carnivore primates, the tarsiers, have a very weird dentition, one that further demonstrates the vacuousness of the appeal to dentition. A tarsier's incisors, enlarged into something vaguely reminiscent of glire buck-teeth, seeming to be their main "killing" teeth. Unless those are a very odd tooth-comb?
  • It occurred to me that the defect gun the zledo use as the main cannon on their big ships doesn't quite work like a beam-weapon. First because what it shoots is intrinsically curved; cosmic strings (behave as if they) are completely massless if they're straight, but they acquire mass (kind of) if they curve. I suppose that just makes it more like a ballistic weapon than a beam one, except the curve isn't determined by the location of the nearest gravity well.

    The other thing, though, is that unlike a beam, a cosmic string-based weapon is still connected to what it issues from, like hitting a heavy hard thing with a metal bat and you being the one who gets hurt. They can still probably use it to smash things far out of their own weight class, the way that mere bone can bite through steel if it has to, but there is an upward limit; they can dig a bunker out of its hole, but they can't crack a planet in half.
  • BMW made a self-stabilizing motorcycle. They allege it's accident-proof and you can ride it without a helmet, but you can still fall off it because of something you do, and cars might still hit you. Still, quite a bit less of a death-trap.

    There's an unbreakable LED that looks like an actual light-bulb. (Which they don't always, even though a key way to integrate a new technology is to match it to people's pre-existing expectations.) I wonder if they fixed the "one light of a multi-light fixture randomly turns off" problem?

    Production design, people. It's absolutely key to science fiction as a genre.
  • Interstellar, Arrival (not to be confused with The Arrival), there are probably others (Passengers, maybe?)—please stop making science fiction movies about the Power of Love™. That trope worked well in exactly one place, Macross, because the Zentraedi being engineered soldiers with their sexual behavior partially repressed made it work. It won't work anywhere else. And even in Macross, all "love" does is change the behavior of people, it doesn't bend time and space.

    "Of course! Love," Elsa says, in the tone of someone remembering where she left her keys. (Also.)
  • While we're at it, please stop with the completely forgettable, semi-interchangeable post-apocalyptic societies like in The 100 or Wayward Pines. And the evil future corporations, like in Dark Matter (which is actually good) and Incorporated (which certainly isn't)—both of which air on a network owned by General Freaking Electric.

    Other than a few mining companies and some third-world manufacturers, no corporations are as brutal in protection of their bottom line as Hollywood (or electronics megacorporations that also own movie/television studios), or treat their employees as badly. (I don't watch most of these shows—have they had "making weapons is evil" yet? You know, on a network owned by the people who brought you the Vulcan cannon and its relatives.)

    Come to think of it, didn't Matt Damon basically rip off Elysium for Incorporated? The only difference is you took out the space colonies—which all by itself makes you subject to summary execution for crimes against science fiction, space-colonies being an absolute good in themselves where remotely plausible. Maybe the people behind Elysium figure getting ripped off is just karma?
  • I actually realized this researching my D&D setting, but strictly speaking I probably shouldn't be calling what the plants have on Lhãsai "flowers". They're as much cones as they are flowers, see, because an alien planet's autotrophs are not actually plants in our biological sense (though they're likely to be analogous and are "plants" in the conversational and philosophical sense). An alien world is unlikely to have the gymnosperm-angiosperm divide, though it might have something comparable.

    Technically also the "fruit" of alien plants might be called arils...but if it comes to that, why not just call arils fruit? While conifers' seed-apparatus tend more to the "nut" end than the "berry" end most of the time, yews, junipers, and podocarps all have fruit analogous to those of angiosperms. (And, again, nuts are fruits: so why aren't the edible, hard, fleshy seeds of plants like piñon pine? Hell, if it comes to that "nut" is more a culinary than a botanical term, that's why peanuts really are nuts even though they're a legume.)