Playing with Fantasy VIII

Fantasy game thoughts.
  • I'm not tired any more, so I did the number-crunching. A dragon of the dimensions of a river otter, but 120 feet long, and only as dense as a bird so massing 69.6 (short) tons, with a wingspan of 108 feet, would, assuming its neck and tail include feathers to act as lifting-area and it is, thus, basically kite-shaped (but leaving off say 10% of the length, for the head itself—a square kite, basically, although the back is longer and the front is shorter), have a wing-area of 5,832 square feet and a wing-loading of 116.5 kilograms per square meter. That results in a takeoff speed of 88.2 miles per hour. The wings are also not just triangles, they're shaped more like a bird-wing, but that's the net total area.

    I wonder if the really big dragons run down mountain slopes to get up to speed more quickly. For the gold-dragon sized ones, the younger age-categories would weigh only 35.5%, 9.6%, 1.7%, and 0.23% as much, at the Gargantuan, Huge, Large, and Medium age-categories respectively, and yet their wing area would be only 50.2%, 21%, 6.7%, and 1.8% the area, so the wing-loading goes down drastically. (Small and Tiny, found in smaller types of dragons at young age-categories, are 0.03% and 0.004% as heavy and have wings with 0.4% and 0.1% the area.) Actually, let me crunch the takeoff speeds for 'em all: Gargantuan, 74.2 mph; Huge, 59.7 mph; Large, 44.8 mph; Medium, 32.2 mph; Small, 22.8 mph; Tiny, 16.1 mph. I.e. the large one just has to move as fast as a fast horse to take off.

    You can actually move something built like an otter pretty quickly; rabbits, after all, have a similar body-plan.
  • I'd been struggling with my Fiendish/Celestial/Primordial/(Aklo) language. There isn't enough of a corpus of Valarin, Black Speech, or whatever you want to call the Cthulhu gibberish (it's not Aklo, I'll tell you that for free) to easily make a language based on any of them. (Though they did do a pretty good job with the "Faceless" language in WoW, but like I said, basing the phonics on Cthulhu gibberish was a chore to pronounce even for me.)

    I eventually buckled down, bit the bullet, and just overhauled the grammar to the point of actual usefulness, but along the way I toyed with just declaring that there is no such language, as we think of language. I had two rationales (or rationalizations) for that. One, they're divine beings, so glossolalia (speaking in tongues) as their mode of expression makes a kind of sense; and two, my setting is partly based on Native American ideas, with only Old World material culture. The Navajo gods are defined as unable to speak. (Yes, even "Talking God"; he metaphorically speaks for them, as their leader.)

    The way that would have worked, if I hadn't eventually gotten down to business, is that anyone who speaks the divine/extraplanar language would be able to understand anyone else speaking it, as if they spoke the same language, but really they're just babbling glossolalia at each other.
  • One thing I decided along the way is that all the "outsiders", not just the fiendish ones, have names in Primordial, but the gods prefer the names in the languages their mortal children have given them. Whereas the fiends prefer to be called on by their original names, if not in their own languages, because they view mortals as livestock, not even pets let alone children.

    Now, of course, I have to come up with a system for creating names for fiends, which system I can also use for the courtesy-names of mortal witches. (Actually maybe just human witches, the dark-elf and black-dwarf witches don't worship fiends like human ones do, they worship gods that happen to be hostile to the other gods. Goblins and orcs don't have witches.)

    Think maybe the fiends' names will have a third element, though, to keep the talking pond-scum in its place.
  • I think I can get a reasonable lift out of the Pathfinder Ultimate Combat airship, with a steam-filled envelope (I draw the line at letting a fantasy society have helium, and hydrogen is suicide). Steam has about 61% (actually 20/33) as much lift as helium, so you need 65% more volume; medieval ships the size of their airship's gondola, 20 feet by 60 feet, typically have displacements of 20 to 30 tons, plus 30 tons of cargo. A helium-envelope to lift 55 tons would be 1,581,715.41 cubic feet, so a steam one is 2,609,830.43 cubic feet. Assuming the same proportions as its gondola, that means an envelope 355.32 feet long and 118.44 feet wide (and tall).

    Of course, we're glossing over the fact it's really hard to contain superheated steam safely. Handwave it with "magically treated" material, and so on. I think the steam is magically generated somehow (fire and water elementals in some kind of ethically questionable harness?). The "magical engine" in the vehicle description is vague; my gut instinct, of course, is that it should be a pretty chair that eats the day's spellcasting of a spellcaster who sits in it, but that doesn't really match the actual description (also it's probably copyright infringement). I picture it as a big stone pillar with runes that both indicate and let you control your altitude and speed.
  • One thing the Elder Scrolls setting does remarkably well, but that most of the audience probably missed, is Gnostic twaddle (though really if you're not familiar with Gnostic twaddle it probably speaks to your good judgment). Read, for example, The 36 Lessons of Vivec, and then read something like the Gospel of Judas: the exact same type of self-satisfied, self-important bafflegab, dressing up deeply shallow pseudo-philosophy in big, impressive-sounding buzzwords. I don't mean this as a criticism; it's a fascinating way to develop a setting, by giving its mystics authentic esoteric gobbledygook. (Also, as I think I've said before, it's nice that all those people with comparative religion degrees are finding work.)
  • Decided that, just as my setting only has one kind of fiend, it only has the angel-type celestials. Other than that there's the elementals. I might keep the guardinals agathions, eladrin azatas, and inevitables as servitors of the human, elf, and dwarf gods. But then again maybe not, since I can't really find anything appropriate to use for servitors of the gnome gods. (The Pathfinder "Dimension of Dreams" is sorely lacking in anything one might use that way, practically everything you meet there being straight-up evil instead of merely incredibly dangerous through no fault of their own, as would make sense in a world run on "dream logic".)

    I was starting to think I'd use a lot more fey than I'd thought I would—fauns but not satyrs; dryads, hamadryads, nereids, and oceanids but not nymphs; atomies and pixies but not the others—but no, I think I'll just have things like genies count as "fey" for purposes like a druid's Resist Nature's Lure ability. The last straw was how Pathfinder conflates rusalka with bludička (the ara-mitama of the rusalka), which completely screws up the ending of the opera. Also vodyanoi certainly do not "resemble humanoid salamanders". They're water goblins. Their theme-song is even often called that, in English.

    Basically the whole edifice of the "fey" creature type, in a world with elves and dwarves (or goblins), was weird from the get-go; and Pathfinder trying to make the gnomes more a part of it than the others was even more bizarre. Elves, dwarves, and goblins actually are fairies (except in Germanic languages instead of Romance ones), whereas gnomes are elemental spirits from an alchemist's cosmological speculations. (Also though seriously the other word Paracelsus used for them, in his Latin notes? Pygmaeus…the Greco-Latin for "dwarf"! What a man whose real name was Philipp Bombast von Hohenheim might mean by "dwarf" is left as an exercise for the student.)

    Basically, what D&D calls a gnome really should've been called a brownie, since the actual gnomes were just dwarves. Yes I realize "jinn" is pretty much just "fairy" in Arabic. Even I'm not that much of a stickler, though.
  • People complain about feasting in fantasy novels. I'm not sure why; probably the stupid idea that what does not directly advance the "plot" is bad, never mind a well-written feast actually advances plot too quickly, if anything. I can see complaining about a paper-thin Ren Faire cliché storm feast (giant turkey-legs, huge carcasses being spit-roasted), but I mean, can you find Japan on a map? Or any other Pacific island? Heard of the Tlingit? And, yes, the Norse? Feasts are a huge deal, anthropologically; they cement relationships and allow the elite to display their power without having to kill anyone. Gifts are given at feasts, and songs are sung. If you can't figure out how these things are a convenience to a fantasy story, you have no business reading them, let alone writing them.

    I'd actually like to see feasts in fantasy games—have that be where you find out the ancient prophecy you're supposed to fulfill, or where you're gifted your plot-significant weapon, from the largess of a mighty chief. Oh, but they'd be boring to sit through? Most of the Thieves' Guild questline in Skyrim consists of standing around while NPCs talk; a feast would at least establish setting, even if you stupidly decided not to have them be where key story-development occurs. You should get a feast every time you become a thane, and maybe have a skald sing something that gives you a tip for fighting Alduin, make the last fight easier. That would certainly be better than entire Mephala and Boethiah questlines that wound up being cut anyway.
  • Decided that the giants in my setting are from the gas giants in the system (Neptune- and Uranus-type gas giants, with solid cores); they had to abandon their worlds at the same time the elves and dwarves abandoned the moons. Decided that wood and frost giants have the proportions of elves, while stone and fire have the proportions of dwarves and hill have the proportions of humans (this results in a 12-foot-6-inch fire or stone giant to a 15-foot wood or frost giant, and a 13-foot-9-inch hill giant). Each group of proportions is from a different gas giant.

    Also decided that the fire and frost giants are the giant equivalents of orcs or black dwarves and goblins or dark elves, respectively, changed by trafficking with a dark power (an outcast member of their pantheon). My wood and stone giants have cold and fire resist 5, while the "changed" equivalents have full immunity to the energy-type in question. The hill giants were all changed, the way the frost and fire giants were, but mine are a bit smarter than the ones in the core rules (say Int 8 or 9 instead of 6). They're giant humans, basically.

    Might change it so giants advance by class-levels like other humanoids, and have all the hill giants be barbarians while the others are mostly warriors.


Sierra Foxtrot 11

SF thoughts.
  • Was doing some research on quantum computing. Turns out, while quantum processing is hugely advantageous, storage still pretty much has to be "classical" (here meaning just "not quantum"), certainly if you ever want to copy things; but quantum computing would tend to work with much bigger memories. The solution is apparently to find some way to store your data in three dimensions. Some people recommend DNA, but that seems really suspect, and (given how much we still don't understand about DNA, and how complicated it is even when we do understand it) prone to all kinds of bugs. I think a better method would be so-called "holographic data storage".
  • I have, like most thinking people, only what tolerance for "dark matter is magic" is strictly necessary to keep watching shows like The Flash. (A show that, like Arrow, has a bigger problem, namely that they're clearly having Hal "I'm such a bad boyfriend my girlfriend became a supervillain" Jordan write their romance subplots.) The thing about dark matter is it doesn't interact with normal matter, except by gravity, so while it has very weird properties, they probably aren't very useful. Better that than "nanomachines are magic", though, I suppose.

    But if you must have something relating to dark matter be related to your mystical foofaraw, at least dress it up a bit. Destiny, for example, although they have dark matter be an indicator of the reality-warping powers of the Darkness (no idea if there's some similar indicator of the powers of the Light), at least say "sterile neutrinos", which you have to look up to know they're associated with dark matter. (Regular, "active" neutrinos interact via the weak force, only.) And no, SIVA isn't magic nanomachines, it can only kind of infect Ghosts, for a reason—in that setting, "magic nanomachines" would be meant literally.
  • I think it's ironic, since the Dune series was written as an attack on the idea of hero-worship, that the only parts of it anyone remembers are the parts that would lead to hero-worship. (Well, I also often quote Harkonnen's line about "Never trust a traitor, even one you created yourself.") It's like François Truffaut's famous line, "...Some films claim to be antiwar, but I don't think I've really seen an antiwar film. Every film about war ends up being pro-war."

    It's also ironic that Herbert actually listed the Jesuits as one of the great tyrannical systems of history, in one of the sequels. Um...what? No like seriously what? The Jesuits were suppressed in 1773 at the behest of the European empires, because they didn't like all these priests gumming up their tyrannical systems. Jesuit missionaries made a nuisance of themselves, advocating for the natives and building communities that allowed the natives to be self-sufficient and independent of the colonial governments.

    Was Herbert maybe thinking of the Dominicans? At least that would make sense with the Spanish Inquisition, even though the Inquisition was the mildest Early Modern ideological court-system. (Of course, because of the Inquisition, Spain had basically no witch-hunts. Unlike most of the people who pretend to be so shocked by the Inquisition doing much milder things than all their own courts were doing outside their witch-hunts.)
  • Remember how I was wondering how termites replace their queens if the old one dies, when all the candidates would be the daughters of the old queen and thus also of the king? Turns out, termite queens can parthenogenetically produce clones of themselves to replace them; some of them are on hand in any given colony at any one time, in case the old queen dies.

    No idea how you get new kings if the old one dies, though (termites aren't Hymenoptera, their eggs require fertilization each time they're produced, like the rest of us do it). Maybe a queen dies too when her mate does, and then one of her clones does a mating flight with a king from outside, that isn't the son of the old queen.

    Turns out that termites are in the order Blattodea, same as cockroaches, not just related to it (Isoptera, their old order, turns out not to exist). They have a bunch of behaviors in common, like pheromone trails and kin-recognition. Of course, cockroaches' aversion to light doesn't extend to all being blind, as non-alate termites typically are. The order's closest relative is the one mantises are in, Mantodea.
  • I'm curious, people who subscribe to the "stronger" climate-change predictions (the milder, likelier ones are less likely to show up in science fiction, as well as being harder to milk political capital out of): why do you keep saying we're going to see droughts?

    Cold is dry; in a Glacial Maximum, most of Africa and significant chunks of Eurasia and the Americas are uninhabitable desert. Heat is wet, because less of the water is locked up in glaciers—even in warmer phases of this glaciation period, large portions of the Sahara are forest.

    If your conception of climate change involves global cooling, e.g. us accidentally skewing things back toward a glacial maximum (or even just a higher level of glaciation), then of course this remonstration is not directed at you.
  • You've probably come across the idea of the "motherhood statement", and the idea that good science fiction comes from "burning the motherhood statement" (it's usually mentioned in the "standard" version of the Turkey City Lexicon, for instance). Which I think just proves a significant portion of the science fiction fandom actually doesn't give a damn about science, except as window-dressing for their actually Gnostic views. Because, I mean, are we supposed to just deny evolutionary theory? Even Heinlein knows that what you're "for", biologically speaking, is reproduction—"motherhood"—and nearly everything else is in service to that. If you're more unrealistic and Gnostic in your views of human sexuality and families than Heinlein, you have a problem.
  • Apparently rats laugh when they're tickled, and their ears droop and turn pink when they're happy. The really interesting thing is that when they laugh, we can't hear it—it's too high-pitched. (Many rodent vocalizations are, that's why things that hunt them, like foxes and cats, have such good high-frequency hearing.)

    Another thing this presumably means is that blushing and laughter either predate the split between Euarchonta (tree-shrews, colugos, and primates) and Glires (rodents and lagomorphs), or else independently evolved in both. My money is maybe on the first one? Though I wonder what purpose flushing with blood when emotional serves in a rodent: the ability to see red only evolved with the simians (though the evolution of color vision is complicated, between Old World and New World monkeys).
  • Speaking of the unusual ability to see long wavelengths of light, vampire bats and pit-vipers independently evolved infrared vision that uses thermoreceptors near their noses and connects to their optic nerves. A lot of the brain-structures involved are even analogous, despite the last common ancestor of bats and snakes being a basal reptiliomorph from about a third of a billion years ago.
  • Something people are apparently realizing is unrealistic in a lot of science fiction, is the Gattaca-type stuff where society's "haves" have designer children and the "have-nots" don't (and which Gundam SEED should've been about, but wasn't, because that show is stupid). Now, it is true that realistically it won't make enough of a difference, because genetic enhancement is still partly a crapshoot if you don't utterly reorganize everything else in the subject's life to also work toward your desired result. But the assertion of unrealism is itself unrealistic, for one reason.

    Namely, just because you're not remotely guaranteed to get the super kid you want, won't stop people from trying. This is a species that practiced trepanning, footbinding, and tightlacing, do you think it's going to let a little thing like "it isn't actually all that likely to work" stop it?

    I'd actually like plots with yuppie-scum whining about all the money they wasted to make their kid a genetic shoo-in for the Ivy League, and then it turns out the only League their kid cares about is the "of Legends" variety. But I don't think people (certainly not people who are published by "traditional", i.e. gatekept, publishing houses) are quite ready to face that specific social commentary; hits a bit close to home given where and by whom the publishing industry is run. (Of course, given the median Harvard grade is A- and the mode is A, the Ivy League has other issues...)