De romanicorum theoriarum XIV

SF and fantasy thoughts. Many concerning my own writing and DMing.
  • No sooner did I say monks are useless than I decide to make their style-feats and vows the basis of naming for my Tainish-Egyptian culture. Why not Egypt with warrior monks? They totally had some Taoist-like elements in their culture…and liked to shave their heads. Now they also worship a dozen heroes who sacrificed themselves to form a sort of spirit-barrier and allow their people to use clerical magic (albeit with only four domains each instead of the five of full deities); decided they're a married couple for each of the six "mythic paths" from Mythic Adventures (which I'm otherwise not really using).

    Based their clan-names, though, on the types of basic familiar listed in the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player's Guide, plus the abilities that familiars acquire—the familiars in question being those available to the adepts that were the main priests of human society without clericalism. Even on the first continent I decided there weren't even oracular or druidic priests, just adepts—until one of the human nations became witches and started subjugating the others, who eventually covenanted with gods and became able to wield clerical magic, which gives energy-channeling.
  • Decided the Hyksos/Sea Peoples language that's based on Le Guin's Old Speech will just work like Chinese, grammatically. (Maybe Old Chinese, which had a few affixes, like a fricative suffix indicating a participle, and a nasal or fricative prefix that de-transitivizes verbs—basically shifting between the two senses of the English word "smell".) Also gave their culture names based on two groups of mesmerist class-abilities (from Occult Adventures), to reflect their having once been enslaved by the snake people (whose magic is all psychic, remember). Anyway while I was researching it, I noticed people are dummies—though it's probably selection bias, since we are talking about people who are big enough fans of Le Guin to care to catalogue her languages (zing!).

    See, a bunch of them said that one of the languages descended from Old Speech (Hardic) having "hundreds" of runes must mean it's logographic. But no, if it's hundreds rather than (tens of) thousands, you're probably talking syllabary. A syllabary for Mandarin Chinese would be 300-something characters, something between 1000 and 2000 if each tone of each syllable is a different character (compared to the circa-50,000 logograms there are in Chinese, the 20,000 you'll see listed in a typical dictionary, or the 3000 to 8000 a literate Chinese person usually knows). A syllabary for Cantonese would be two to four times as big as Mandarin's, since it has a bit more than twice as many possible syllables—mainly ending words on more consonants—and has more tones. (I would just mark a syllable's tone with a diacritic, because I'm not a masochist. Though some people count a letter with a diacritic as a separate grapheme.)
  • Here's how Hollywood could save two franchises it's utterly wrecked, at a blow.

    You start with a large person chasing a young man, who hits it with something, scraping some skin off the face to reveal the iconic "hyperalloy" skeleton. Barely fazed, the Terminator corners the young man—who is identified, either by its words or by the display through its eyes, as John Connor. Suddenly, though, a pair of jagged metal claws punch through the Terminator's torso from behind, instantly rendering it inert. A seven-foot figure, with a mane of dreadlocks and a glowing-eyed mask, flickers into visibility behind the now-dead cyborg, and a raspy voice, not unlike a parrot's, says "Come…with me…if you want…to live."

    That one's free, Hollywood, you can have that one.
  • Recently decided that my SF setting's Japan, Taiwan, and Korea all learn Australian English, where nowadays they learn American. See, a major part of my future history is a decline in America's global influence, and also an end to various regional hegemonic ambitions. Without the economic or military need to cozy up to a superpower, East Asian countries often learn the language of a regional neighbor, instead. (They also learn Chinese at least as often as English, since they're both UN official languages that also make economic sense.) Mainland China, of course (including Hong Kong) still learns British, as do Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and most points west of those like India. Think Vietnam might go either way, the way Thailand does now.
  • Disney's laughable bungling of Star Wars is, indeed, as many have said, because they're American liberals. But not because of anything directly ideological; just because their party-loyalty as Democrats has them want to make it so that, when people think of huge Kennedy-Johnson blunders, the Vietnam War is not the first example that comes to their minds.

    Actually I kid. In reality, Rian Johnson the Taken King, father of Master Codebreaker the Eater of Hope and the sisters Rose Tiko the Unraveler and Amilyn Holdo the Weaver, Deathsingers, has done all this to chase the idea of heroism, which he calls the Lying God, down galactic arms in a howling pack of moons. Hence why he corrupted the wielder of the Light, Jake Skywalker, once the hero Luke, whose new name means "The Eternal Abyss" in languages forgotten but not dead—using Rey the Nobody, formerly Rey the Secret-Parented.

    But I kid again. Or rather I exaggerate very slightly for comedic effect. Nevertheless, was I the only one amused by how Disney-Marvel Avengers: Endgame has Thanos say "As long as there are those who remember what was, there will always be those who cannot accept what can be"? Oh, you mean like Star Wars fans? Irony is ever the weapon of Nemesis.
  • Speaking of franchises they killed, entirely unnecessarily, I know that I've said I think Jurassic World should've been a hard reboot, not a soft one. But here's an example of what I mean by that: suppose you have the scene in the kitchen, only instead of the raptors Deinonychus making that weird chainsaw noise, they make no noise—the kids just turn around, and one is just there, having approached entirely soundlessly. See, we think, based on their eye anatomy, that many if not most dromaeosaurs were nocturnal. They also had feathers. So you could be talking about something like this:
    A barn owl the size of a large jaguar. Owl skulls don't have the facial disks (which are basically ears); I think they're cartilage, and that means dinosaurs could've had 'em too, if they lived anything like owls. If you're going to make dinosaurs out to be monsters (rather than, what they are, just dangerous animals—really Jurassic Park is the same basic movie as The Ghost and the Darkness), why not go with the most monstrous of extant dinosaurs as your model?

    And if you wanted to make them super-intelligent—which, so far as we can determine, they weren't—why not some corvid DNA splicing? Maybe to make them more tractable, since corvids are indeed trainable—in the same sense that cats are. Similarly you could get your pack-hunting dinos (we have no evidence actual dinosaurs did that), by the simple expedient of giving them Harris hawk DNA. Those are popular for falconry because they hunt in packs (!) and therefore are much easier to train.
  • I love being right, especially because the poor bastard didn't deserve what happened to him. Kinda seems like Mara is doing something stupid, like she believes she has to go and side with the Darkness (the ones who did all this to the Awoken) because the Traveler's getting too strong.
  • Crunched some numbers for my Pathfinder setting's population. Decided that there's one 20th-level human of each PC class, two 19th level, four 18th-level, and so on; the NPC classes in the NPC Codex only go up to 10th, so I only gave them that progression. But once I have all that, I then make there be 19 times the total number of PC-class members (because they're only 5% the population), and the remainder is 1st-level commoners.

    Things are more complex with civilized nonhumans. Elves, dwarves, and gnomes have no commoners; instead, the 95% are all 1st-level members of the PC classes. This gives them a somewhat smaller but much more powerful (like, CR 1/2 vs. CR 1/3) population. I did the same for bugbears and hobgoblins, except in fewer classes, and bugbears start out at 3rd level (1st- and 2nd-level bugbears stat as hobgoblins), then gave goblins a setup similar to humans except instead of commoners, the 95% are all the NPC classes they belong to (hobgoblins and bugbears don't have NPC-class members, in my setting). Ogres and orcs both work like goblins, but with a somewhat different class makeup.

    Still have to work up my beast-people and reptilian humanoid numbers, and gotta figure out if my giants should have markedly lower ones than the other humanoids (ogres are not giants in my setting, but slot into the subtype formerly known as orc). But I think I'm looking at a total population on par with some point in the 19th or early 20th century, but distributed very differently. Supportable with late-medieval tech? Maybe not, but late-medieval tech and magic? Now I think we're talking.
  • Borrowed Detroit: Become Human from my sister's friend, and…wow. What a pretentious cliché-storm, huh? They should've called this thing "Detrite: Become Humdrum". Or even "Lifetime: Television for Women presents Blade Runner Meets AI: Artificial Intelligence"; that would've been more honest, anyway. Like, that lady (Amanda) that you meet, the first time you have to get rebooted as R. Daneel Olivaw Connor? That is a woman who plays chess with J. F. Sebastian and is going to get murdered by Roy Batty sticking his thumbs in her eyes; nothing you say can convince me otherwise.

    Every single depiction is tired and shopworn, without a single original concept or story-beat in the entire thing. From the alcoholic cop to the out-of-work abusive dad to the "ride in the back of the bus" nonsense to the ridiculous idea that defunct androids would not be stripped for their incredibly advanced and almost certainly both expensive and proprietary components. Nothing in this series of cutscenes separated by clunky quicktime events game happens for any other reason than because it's a cliche of the robot genre, whether it makes any sense at all in this setting or not.

    I don't even know if I'm going to finish it, but I'm super glad I'm only borrowing it.


De fabularum mirabilium VII

Fantasy thoughts.
  • Decided to add some human civilizations to my Pathfinder setting, from the other side of the world—they warred with the ancient "Atlantis" analogue (so, Mu/Lemuria, I guess, except I think they're not also a fallen civilization). I already used Valyrian as a model for the evil Atlanteans' language (and Númenorean as the basis of the other human languages); I had thought I might model it on Marc Okrand's Atlantean ("Adlantisag"), from the Disney animated Stargate Atlantis: The Lost Empire, but then I thought no, Tainish from Unsounded (which has orthography decisions that make hanyu pinyin look intuitive). Obviously I need other human societies for the other side of the planet, but it's super hard to find conlangs for fictional humans. I could possibly use something from Earthsea as a model (yech)? Maybe Edgar Rice Burroughs's stuff?
  • Thought I might give 'em an Egyptian feel, make 'em super proud and more than a little warlike but not witches (I wonder what the Egyptians thought of Carthage, given they didn't even like Greco-Roman pragmatic infanticide?). Maybe some Incan or Mound-Builder elements, too. (Though those both did practice human sacrifice—the Inca one mainly of children. The Inca were just generally a deceptively unpleasant society, the more you research them.) The evil Atlanteans are kinda more like Sumer and the rest of Mesopotamia, with some Chinese (especially Neoconfucian) elements.

    Not sure how the people on the other side of the world will look; maybe Australian Aboriginal facial features and hair texture with brown hair and amber eyes? (On the first hemisphere they're African—thinking specifically Sudanese?—facial features and hair texture with red hair, ivory to terra-cotta skin, and green eyes, and Asian/Native American faces and hair with blond hair, alabaster to dusky skin, and blue eyes—though the two are now often intermixed.) I'd had the first hemisphere have brown hair and amber eyes as variations of the blond-blue group, but no reason I can't change it.

    It's not weird to have everyone have one main phenotype in a whole hemisphere; the New World does, after all.
  • I find the reactions to the ending of Game of Thrones absolutely hilarious. For eight seasons they crowed about how this was a show with "no heroes", where "anyone can die", and looked down their noses at any work of fiction with characters who weren't either psychopaths or ineffectual, or whose story did something other than "subvert expectations" (never mind things are usually the "expectation" because they are the most narratively satisfying and make the most internal story-sense). Then Daenerys started sacking cities, and they whined that she was supposed to be a hero; she got shanked and they whined that she wasn't supposed to die. Like…wasn't this what you liked?
  • Maybe, in keeping with using Valyrian for a villainous society because I hate George Rape-Rape, I should have the culture that speaks something based on Old Speech be evil somehow. (Okay so Le Guin is just pompous, miseducated, and overrated, as opposed to Martin's utterly disgusting. Though some have recently reinterpreted "Those Who Walk Away From Omelas" as a rationalization of fandom's conspiracy of silence about child predators like Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Nevertheless.) Maybe Sea Peoples/Hyksos, if the Tainish-based guys are Egyptians?

    That would be an interesting parallelism to the first continent, since there, the ancient civilization is evil and it's the people who began as "barbarians" on its margins who are the protagonists. The Egyptian idea is also interesting in view of the fact the planet's in an Ice Age: maybe they're tundra Egyptians rather than "normal" desert, and their calendar is organized around a fertile period caused by glacial runoff? (Ancient Egypt's calendar had three seasons, inundation, growing, and harvest.) I'll have to research some more about ice-age climates.
  • People complain about "homogeneous" nonhuman races in fantasy settings, but it's a "justified trope" in the case of many of them. They live many times a human's lifespan, if not forever, so why would their culture shift? E.g. in my setting, where elves live twelve times as long as humans: the time separating us from the late form of Proto-Indo-European, about 10,000 years, is only the equivalent of the time since English replaced its dative and instrumental cases with prepositions. (And most languages don't undergo a Great Vowel Shift; the 12th-century version of most languages would be fairly comprehensible to their modern speakers.)

    Even the time separating the elves from their ancestors who left the moons is only the time separating the modern Hellenic Republic from the lifetime of Pericles and Democritus. And unlike Greeks or Englishmen in almost all of that time-period, elves are not only all literate, but have the magical equivalent of multimedia recording, so their speech, dress, and other habits will change a lot less than humans have in similar periods. (Our dress and social mores shifted since the introduction of recording media, but those changes have to do with external factors; our speech has certainly changed much less than it would've without recordings.)
  • I recently got about three-quarters of the way through Ordination, first book of the "Paladin Trilogy" by Daniel M. Ford. I stopped because I suddenly realized I didn't give a damn about the story. There were two issues.

    The first is the aggressive genericness of the setting. It reads like D&D tie-in fiction, carefully purged of anything that would make a D&D setting worthwhile. There isn't anything particularly unique or interesting about any of the three main locations. The fortress the protagonist leaves at the beginning, the muddy-gritty port city he tracks the enslaved villagers to, or the dirt-farm village he takes them back to, all feel like generic locales from an RPG.

    The second, though, is the religion the protagonist is tasked with (re)founding. Ford is at such utter pains to assure us that it won't offend our modern Western secular sensibilities that he makes it in no way interesting. And the blinded monks are just ridiculous, an ugly caricature of asceticism. Actually I guess these are just one issue: shallowness. Shallow generic setting, shallow stereotyped religions—come to think of it the characters are pretty one-note too.
  • Remember how, on the basis of "twentyscore", I said you might (and my dwarves and elves do) call 1728X/1000XII "twelvegross"? You can (they do) also call, say, 36X/30XII "threedozen". Gotta leave 288X/200XII as "two gross", though, since "two hundred" isn't one word. (3456X/2000XII would likewise be "two twelvegross".) I also realized that 8000X/1000XX can just be "onescore twentyscore", the way 1000 is (sometimes) "ten hundred". Still have no earthly idea how they'd say 160,000X/10,000XX, though. "Twentyscore twentyscore"? You could call, say, 3 million "three thousand thousand", though normally "thousand thousand" is only poetic.
  • A trope in fantasy that I do not care for, particularly, is the "ancient things are better" trope. Ironically it's the Renaissance in a nutshell: "forget your cutting-edge warship design, we're just going with a reconstructed Roman quinquereme". You don't get that in the actual Middle Ages; though the medievals rightly admired Roman roads and aqueducts, and their pop culture depicted Vergil as a wizard, they didn't restrict themselves to Roman knowledge in things like agriculture, manufacturing, or building stone chimneys instead of open firepits in the middle of wooden houses. (Nor in philosophy, medicine, what we'd call "science", or law.)

    Especially common with swords, in fantasy, and I can see it when the sword is both historically significant and magical, like Narsil-Andúril. But something mundane, like "Valyrian steel", would be mostly Valyrian rust by just a few centuries later, if not very, very carefully maintained anyway. The medievals not only didn't bother trying to use Late Imperial spathae, they didn't even copy them. They innovated, changing the design of the fuller (e.g. stopping it several inches short of the tip, to improve its strength for stabbing), the taper of the blade, the proportions of the hilt and the shape of the guard, the angle the cutting-edge was sharpened to.

    And while I love me some "sealed ancient evil awakens" plots, you could change things up once in a while. Like, have some wizard's new research be the plot driver. (IIRC Warcraft strikes a good balance there.) Always remember, "modern progress" is a medieval concept.
  • An idea I had is to have the cities of the elves, dwarves, and gnomes in my setting have something a bit like a mythal from Forgotten Realms, and a bit like a Superintendent AI from Halo: but have it be a celestial. I'm thinking have it be one with a CR equal to a character who can cast the highest level spell available in the settlement in question (e.g. a CR 15 celestial, or a CR 16 one like a planetar anyway, for a "metropolis" where 8th-level spells are available). Like the city's priests bargain with the celestial, à la the "Binding Outsiders" rules from Ultimate Magic, and it becomes something like the tutelary spirit for the city. I'll have to work out the specific game-mechanic effects.