Welterfindung Vier

Worldbuilding thoughts.
  • Apparently China had a positional numerical system, in its rod-numerals—they didn't have a zero-sign but they didn't need one, because they just used a space—all the way back in 475 BC. Then they apparently stopped freaking using it because abaci allow faster calculations and have no need for a zero marker. Which suggests, as I may have mentioned before, that other cultures may have had zero at one point and then lost it when other methods became more useful.

    The Maya get lots of credit for coming up with zero on their own—but they don't lose any credit for not having the concepts of multiplication or division or any fractions beside half and quarter. (The Nahuatls had multiplication, division, and fractions, but no zero.) There are Old World Neolithic sites as precisely placed as anything the Maya made, but no culture in the Old World had zero (that we know of) till the Chinese—and it wasn't till AD 458 that we had a symbol for it in a positional numeral system.
  • Maybe if elves dislike the idea of creating half-elves it's because, if they're possible at all, they're likely to be stunted, sterile, and have all kinds of health problems, like pumapards. The objection would be like a reverse incest taboo, too far to result in healthy offspring rather than too close.

    Even ligers, which aren't between two different branches of the Felidae like pumapards, have problems mostly related to their freakish size, from joint issues to requiring C-section deliveries or having their mothers die giving birth—but also have plenty of other birth-defects, like a congenital neurological disorder (which seems to afflict a whole eighth of them).

    Maybe the half-elves with stats you see in the D&D rules are the ones that buck the odds and manage to not die in infancy. (The ones in my setting are artificial transgenic organisms, more like glowing mice than ligers, made by a fantasy-transhuman empire to be slave-soldiers.)
  • I am an idiot. I had had the races with darkvision in my setting, all of whose eyes glow when they use it, have some way to make their eyes stop glowing. But…it's passive super low frequency radar, using (half of) the eyeball's surface as its antenna. Eyelids are transparent to SLF waves. They can conceal the glowing of their eyes by shutting them.

    Presumably, so they aren't seeing in darkvision while trying to sleep, they have a nictitating membrane lined with something that blocks off the radar when they sleep. Or maybe a nictitating membrane they can close over their eye-antennas and still "see" through with radar, while hiding the glow? Then their outer eyelids are the ones that block the radar.

    Yeah that second one sounds more plausible. Some animals can consciously close their nictitating membranes. Pity; them being able to fight with their eyes shut seemed a lot cooler. (Though their eyes being milky for a moment, then clearing to reveal a glow, then the glow fading as their pupil dilates open is pretty cool too.)
  • The flipside of that half-elf thing, occasioned by my brother playing Bloodborne and its Cosmic Horror "strange births" thing—which began as an allegory of race-mixing and eugenics, fun fact—is, I really want to write a story about someone who's like Wilbur Whateley in "The Dunwich Horror", but he's the hero. Because, well…a much more intelligent work of fiction than anything by Lovecraft says why.

    It's funny how speculative fiction portrays the people opposed to the creation of artificial life as being the ones who say the beings so created should be killed because of their origin. I mean it's not like the people in the real world who oppose creating artificial life are also the most consistent opponents of killing people because of disease or birth-defects or other "accidents of birth". Or anything.
  • Been looking around at stuff about writing YA novels. One theme that I keep seeing is "don't worry whether parents will approve, you need to be authentic to what teenagers actually experience"—especially about sex. They're very selective about this—e.g. teenagers also experience being convinced by white supremacists, not a lot of YA writing-advice recommends that.

    More to the point, you are an adult. If an adult writes explicit sex-scenes intended to be read by minors, well, there was this show hosted by Chris Hanson a few years back (till 2015 in fact), that shows how that goes. Unless you also trick their parents (usually) into paying you for doing it, I guess? The parents are arguably your real customers; you can't ignore their sensibilities.
  • It's also interesting to me that so little YA ever really criticizes our society. They pretty much just present things we don't do, and everyone agrees we shouldn't, as bad; at most they set up a straw man of some aspect of society (standardized testing, for instance) and then pummel it mercilessly. I guess even if teens can handle ideas their parents might not be comfortable with them being exposed to, we still have to make sure their middle-school social studies teachers are happy.

    I mean, for just one example, how about a setting where hereditary power means people can be raised from birth to understand their obligations, while elected power is an opportunity for the venal to engage in self-aggrandizement? Those both happen to be accurate accounts of the political conditions of the real world—they're just not exhaustively complete accounts. The point is that they're no more incomplete than the apple-polishing you get in YA.
  • I was trying to figure out what people would steal, in my SF setting, since they use an entirely electronic currency. Obviously you can rob the people doing business in precious metals, but A, that's not many people, and B, you're picking a fight with black marketers by going after their customers (or the black marketers themselves).

    But it occurred to me, handhelds. You'd steal computers. Not for things like account information, because that would be overwhelmingly biometrically keyed, but for the hardware itself—quantum processors are always going to be a valuable commodity, even when they become common enough to be in phones. Some parts of modern phones are worth a couple hundred bucks.
  • It occurred to me that zled lasers' triggers, being on the side of the grip and pressed with the thumb, would necessarily come into ambidexterity issues—but then I remembered zled handedness is not like human handedness. Human handedness isn't even like dog handedness, and our last common ancestor with the dogs (we're both in the Boreoeutheria) was somewhere between 80 and 100 million years ago. Without the particular pressures that create humans' weird, across-all-tasks handedness, there's no reason to think zledo would not all fight right-handed. (They eat with their left, and work most tools, but write with their right because communication is, lateralization-wise, the same as conflict.)


Das Rollenspiel Fünf

RPG thoughts, mostly my Pathfinder setting but also some Horizon Zero Dawn and Elder Scrolls Online stuff.
  • This article seems like a lot of point-missing. The issue with Horizon Zero Dawn's "diversity" isn't that they should be white: it's that they should be a sort of generic light brown. This game is so far in the future that underground bunkers have ten- or twenty-foot stalactites growing from their ceiling, and the main culture live in one valley. Unless they spent most of their history as rabid segregationists, they would be so thoroughly intermixed they wouldn't be recognizable as our "racial" categories.

    So we're clear, stalactites grow one centimeter per century. That's an inch every 250 years. The amount of time required for those stalactites to form is far more time than it took humans to evolve non-black skin-colors in the first place, so it's ludicrous to suppose they'd have retained currently recognizable phenotypes that far in the future.

    Other than that it's an awesome game; much as Red Dead Redemption 2 is sometimes called "Breath of the West", this is "Breath of the Nuclear Semiotics". About the only real complaint is the voice-work, while seldom truly bad, is almost all just passable. But things could be much worse. And, not a complaint, but an observation: why does everyone have nano-bots that take stuff over look like evil Sour Vines? 'Cause the stuff you use to override the mechs here, is basically blue SIVA.
  • It's often said it makes no sense for people in fantasy worlds to still build castles when there are things like dragons and wizards with fireballs, but there are two issues with that. First is, a dragon is not really the kind of thing most people can reliably "field", and wizards may not be either—even in a D&D setting, far more magic-heavy than almost any literary fantasy, there's a relative dearth of spellcasters who can fly into a good position to attack and cast something like fireball. (Not least because that only has a range of 600 to 1400 feet, depending on level. And "magically treated walls" have saves against any magical attack that could affect them.)

    Second is that just because you might have an aerial bombardment, doesn't mean fortified shelters aren't useful. I mean, take something like this, and stick one of these at each corner. Tell me what you get. Those are a German air-raid shelter (called a Hochbunker—"high bunker"—because it's not underground) and a German flak (Flugabwehrkanone, i.e. "anti-air cannon") tower. Besides, as I think I've said before, a D&D setting's level of artillery-equivalent firepower is more Napoleonic Wars than World War, apart from the air that many if not most powers won't really have much access to.

    Maybe for ordinary conflicts they use real-world style fortifications (though probably, again, more 18th- and early-19th-century than medieval), and then when flying wizards or, powers forbid, dragons, get involved, they retreat into a hardened bunker-like keep. (Instead of concrete, maybe they use stone shape—as available as those wizards' fireballs, to divine casters—to mold single large pieces of rock, to make the bunkers.)
  • Got around to doing my Undercommon (reptile- and fish-people, in my setting) writing. It's a nice small script, since they can't make many sounds ("ka nama kaa lajerama"). The aquatic version is more complicated and ornate; I drew inspiration from Dwemeris and Falmeris, in Elder Scrolls (as I've said, Falmer writing totally looks like something the Deep Ones would write in, and not just those Deep Ones). Since the aquatic version replaces all the hissing noises with "glub" sounds, I think their version also modifies its letters, something more like the dakuten (the ”-like diacritic added to a kana to show it's voiced), to actually reflect their pronunciation. Maybe the most ancient form works more like French or Tibetan, with the spelling of the land version but the pronunciation of the sea version?

    Also working on a script for the spider-people, araneas in stats but more like Nerubians from Warcraft, but with psychic magic. I think theirs will look a bit like the version of Forerunner script that started to appear with Halo 4, but maybe more triangular than hexagonal? (Confusingly the Forerunner glyphs that are based on hexagons are called "circular script", while the more runic-like scripts that fit in rectangles are called "hexagonal script".) Might also take some elements from basically a triangular version of the "seal script" form of 'Phags-pa. I considered octagons, but my experience making my dark-dwarven made me reconsider that. (The octagon-based one looked so bad, I've reconsidered the whole thing; dwarves now all use the same script. Though ogres still use a modified version of dwarven writing.)
  • I'm not sure how to feel about Elder Scrolls Online (I got it recently). There's some solid stuff there, to be sure, but the balancing is super off. Maybe Destiny just spoiled me on how approachable an MMO ought to be? I don't know. I do know I hate its crafting-system; far too complicated, and this is me we're talking about. Also all ranged attacks seem to go through solid objects, so cover is meaningless, which is straight-up bullshit.

    I do like that the First Aldmeri Dominion is one of the good-guy factions; it was also fun to go to Morrowind (on Mages' Guild business) and meet Almalexia. It was funny 'cause I was saying, semi-in-character, that I'm not all that in awe of a mortal who stole a shard of divine power, and then I go into her audience-chamber and she's floating in the air. All right, all right, point made—still never gonna be an et'Ada, though.

    They could've put in more work making Valenwood stand apart, though then again I haven't been to Falinesti yet. (It moves. It's a walking city built in a giant tree.) High Rock was, well, High Rock; and Hammerfell was fine except there weren't nearly enough wayshrines and I had to backtrack a lot when I got killed by possessed Imperial soldiers.
  • I will admit that part of what makes ESO's crafting so obnoxious, the rune system used in enchanting, does involve something interesting: the runes seem to be a syllabary where the vowel and consonant (most of them are CV syllables) are expressed in two separate strokes, consistent across different combinations, to make one character.

    I don't know what the canonical status of this system is, relative to the franchise as a whole. Everything else we've seen suggests that Ysgramor derived the runes used for Nedic languages (the branch of the Ehlnofex language-group that includes all human languages except maybe Yokudan/Redguard and Akaviri) from some branch of Elven runes, probably Falmeris.

    Which probably means most human languages of Tamriel are written in script that looks no more different from any Mer script than Ayleidoon is from Dwemeris or either is from Falmeris.
  • People are bad about coming up with numerals for their conlangs (or addressing how their conlangs express numbers at all). I've done it for my Elven and Dwarven, and recently Gnomish; both my Elven and Dwarven use symbols derived from which knuckle of which finger you have your thumb on, because their numbers are dozenal. My Gnomish, on the other hand, has numeral symbols derived from counting on both hands and both feet, or the fronts and backs of hands, since they're vigesimal. My dragons, meanwhile, use senary (base-6), since their wings have three fingers each. I briefly considered having dragons use base-10, counting the same as elves and dwarves but with five joints per finger (the numbers of bones in bird toes is super variable)—that's how the spider-people get base-10, counting on the joints of their pedipalp-hands' two fingers, with their thumb.

    See, there are 27 letters in my Draconic script, and I thought maybe they'd do something like Greek or Hebrew numerals, and have the first third of the alphabet be 1-9, the next third 10-90 by tens, and the last third (Hebrew and Greek have to pad out their letter roster to reach 27) being 100-900 by hundreds. But dragons are the one race in a D&D setting who absolutely need to deal in numbers over a few thousand, since they use giant piles of metal coins as nesting material and obsessively count every single tarnished, half-defaced penny in their hoards. So they use positional notation (and may well have introduced it to other races, since elves and even dwarves probably dealt in vast fortunes much later than dragons did). Dragons are probably born knowing levels of arithmetic nobody else has to bother with, levels we pass off to computers, in the real world.

    "Entire species of Fenton Crackshells" seems like a fun characterization of dragons, to me.
  • So instead, my Draconic language uses senary, but their writing uses something like the Cistercian numerical cipher, to have each digit represent a number up to 1295 (one shy of the fourth power of six). It's just a diagonal stroke and up to five little "dots", like the first five cuneiform numerals. And then the dots are either lined up to top or bottom and centered right or left, or centered top or bottom and lined up right or left, similar to the cipher but simpler (I only need to worry about five, not nine).

    And then, my dragons do positional numerals based on those. Like one digit is 1–1295, and then a second digit represents the fourth through sixth power of six, allowing two digit numbers to represent any number between 1 and 10,077,695. Then the third digit would represent the ninth through twelfth power, so you can get all the way to 2,176,782,335 before you have to add in a fourth digit. Four-digit numbers go all the way to 470,184,984,575—a number even dragons don't need that often. This essentially means conceptualizing numbers in base-6 but writing them in base-1296, much as the human version of the cipher could be used for base-10,000 positional notation, if you felt like it.

    (You can use the Cistercian cipher to write any number from 1 to 99,999,999—1 short of a myriad-squared—as a two-digit number. You'd have to have zero, though—maybe as a bare vertical line—and you'd probably modify the shapes of some of the symbols so, for instance, it's not ambiguous whether the "floating" short stroke is to the right of one line or to the left of the next line. I'd connect them via the existing diagonal line since the "diagonal, short vertical" combination isn't used.)
  • Given the scaled-people serve giant cave catfish (the aboleths), who have two big tentacle-barbels, and nagas, who might count on the two forks of their tongues (you tell me what snakes with human faces count on), decided that they use a Greek or Hebrew type of numeral system, but binary.

    E.g. A (if that were their first letter, which it's not) is 1, B is 2, 3 is written BA, C is 4, 5 is written CA, 6 is written CB, 7 is CBA, and D is 8. Then E would be 16, F 32, and so on; their script only has 13 letters, which lets them write up to 4,096 with one letter. Verbally I think that means they express a number like 666 (written JHEDB if they used our alphabet) as "five hundred twelve, one hundred twenty-eight, sixteen, eight, two". Except of course that "five hundred twelve" and "one hundred twenty-eight" are one word each, the way "billion" is. (Or maybe not? Maybe go four, eight, hextet for 16, two hextets for 32, four hextets for 64, eight hextets for 128, and then 256 is a square hextet? I like that one; then 512 is two square hextets, 1024 is four square hextets, 2048 is eight square hextets, and 4096 is a cubed hextet, analogous to a billion except with the fourth power as superbase instead of the third.)

    I basically just don't want to have to figure out how many fingers fish-people have, and all the races in question (except kobolds and troglodytes, which escaped) were slaves to things without hands. Your boss understanding your numbers is more important than you understanding them.
  • Also did my human script's numerals; 1 to 5 are basically like 1, 2, and 3 in ours, cursive tally marks, but instead of linking strokes they just have extra strokes count as talles—2 looks like a backwards 7, 3 looks like Z, 4 looks like a backwards 3, and 5 looks like a stacked-up Z crammed into the height of one character. Then for 6 to 9 I reverse 1 to 4 (the single stroke for 1 is at the angle of the 2's down-stroke), because when you're counting on fingers your second hand is reversed from your first one. 0 is an hourglass-shape representing two fists. Almost all my writing-systems, except Draconic and Undercommon in fact, have a symbol for "10" in whatever base (ten, onedozen, onescore, etc.)—being older than the use of zero. (In the human script it's a reversed 5 sign, as 9 is a reversed 4 sign.)

    I think I might also have a Greek- or Hebrew-style use of my human alphabet, which has 27 signs in one version and 26 in another, once I figure out what that extra character is doing (it might be a vowel lengthener?). Both Greek and Hebrew have to use extra forms of their letters when being used as numerals (the word-final forms, mainly) since neither alphabet has 27 letters; Cyrillic and Glagolitic only use part of their alphabets, since the basic Cyrillic has between 33 and 44 depending how old of a version you use, and Glagolitic has 47. Armenian has exactly 36 letters (till two extras were added for transcribing foreign words), so they could do up to thousands the alphabetic way. Ethiopian oddly has 26 letters but only goes to tens when using them as numerals; then it does something weird for hundreds.

    Think my Giantish numerals will be acrophonic, since I haven't done that one yet. Giantish uses octal numbers rather than decimal, counting on the space between fingers—a tiny number of New World languages do it that way.
  • An idea I had in my setting is that the undead are not, exactly, reanimated corpses, so much as they're puppets made from corpses but controlled by invisible tendrils of malice. Otherwise, how do skeletons move? Or zombies, really, since their muscle is usually rotted too—just one of several reasons the "zombie apocalypse" is stupid if it's not magic. (Maybe in zombies' case the malice-tendril "actuators" are supplementary to whatever muscle they retain, which explains why they have a higher Strength score than skeletons do.)


Sierra Foxtrot 16

SF thoughts.
  • It turns out (I was worried) that it is, indeed, possible, for Lhãsai to have two appreciable-size moons that are in a Trojan orbit. The way it works, apparently, is that the bigger satellite has to be at least 100 times as big as the smaller one, and probably ought to be 1% the size of its primary. 0.01% of Lhãsai's mass (which is 1.189 times Earth's mass) is still bigger than a fairly big moon, like Tethys.

    Lhãsai's larger moon is 0.96% as massive as Lhãsai is, has a diameter of 3,211 kilometers, and orbits at an average distance of 414,500 kilometers. This gives it an angular size of 26.6 arcminutes, about 86% the size of Luna in Earth's sky; the smaller moon has the same orbital distance (Trojan orbit, remember) and has a diameter of 845 kilometers, giving it an angular size of 7 arcminutes, or about 23% the size of Luna.

    Interestingly, since Lhãsai's orbital distance and the diameter of λ Serpentis mean mÕskoi has an angular diameter of 30.5 arcminutes in Lhãsai's sky, it's impossible for the larger of Lhãsai's moons to completely eclipse the sun, though they can get close—their equivalent of a total eclipse is a ring of the sun showing around the silhouette of the moon.
  • It occurs to me that zled electronics have sound as a non-optional component, since zledo are less visually-oriented, more audially-oriented, than humans. The sounds would be very low, only audible to the user from the usual distance you hold a phone, which from a human's one-sixth as good of hearing would be totally inaudible. Since zled hearing can pinpoint a sound to at least 5° (human hearing can do 1° right in front but only within 15° if it's to either side), and given people hold smartphones an average of 40 centimeters away, it's only 3.493 centimeters for them to have full 3D audio effects even sidelong—far less than the width of a handheld even if theirs weren't slightly bigger than ours.

    This idea was occasioned by a fascinating article about how interfaces take too much inspiration from movies, which are based on what looks good, and not on how our hands actually interact with things. I think he's actually wrong, given that handheld computing is still fundamentally about conveying visually-symbolized information; tactile is always going to take a back seat to visual. About the only thing affected by the tactile difference between vellum or parchment, and paper, is paper's smoothness allowed a more flowing handwriting to develop. But in worldbuilding for alien cultures, who aren't as "put all their points in vision" as us, this kind of thing is important.
  • Speaking of zledo and tactile sensation, decided that their fingertips are much tougher than ours, but no less sensitive. See, I'd long ago decided their fingertips, and the other pads on their hands, were covered in scales, which scales are, like those of birds, actually modified versions of their hair (feathers in the case of birds). And you can stick each of those "scale"-hairs into a vacuole willed with liquid, like the one a cat's whisker sits in. In zled finger scales they're oil-glands not blood, but it still lets them have that sensation-magnifying effect. (This also means, I realized—I should have before—that when a zled gets a burn on his hand, it smells like burning hair, even if his fur isn't touched.)
  • Adding one colony to the Solar System, in my setting: Venus. No I haven't taken leave of my senses, you can put cloud cities there, above the sulfuric-acid rainclouds—at an altitude of 50 kilometers the conditions almost approximate those on Earth, as in 1 atmosphere of pressure and 273 to 323 Kelvin temperatures. (Though the atmosphere is CO2 instead of O2.) Even up that high it's as good as Earth's atmosphere at blocking radiation.

    About the one real downside is the winds up that high go at 95 meters per second, which is just shy of Hurricane Patricia's windspeed, fast enough that a cloud city would circle the planet every 4 Julian days. So you'd definitely need to have your colonies equipped with something to protect from the winds; you'd probably have something akin to airlocks for vehicles (not just the wind, also it's not breathable air out there), and tether people working on the outside.

    I think I'll name the cities Ourania, Pandemos, Peitho, and Philommeides. Or some of those.
  • The Venus colonies are the only non-station colonies in the Solar System before the invention of true, topological artificial gravity, because Venus's 91% Earth's gravity is almost certainly close enough to be safe for humans to gestate and grow up in. Mars's 38% Earth gravity is a lot more questionable, so they didn't build any permanent habitations on Mars till they had topo grav. (They did build research-stations akin to the Antarctic ones; an adult can probably survive Martian gravity indefinitely, at least if they're strict about their exercise regimen.) Other than that they built one O'Neill Island (not sure if it's a Two or Three…actually it might be a Stanford torus?) in the lunar Lagrange point.
  • Everything the media calls "liquid body armor", isn't. What it is, is polymer-fiber armor (along the lines of Kevlar), soaked in a shear-thickening or magnetorheological fluid. That reacts to impacts by hardening, purely mechanically in the first place or via something akin to piezloelectricity in the second.

    Fibers treated with a liquid are not "liquid armor", any more than water-proofed tent fabrics are "liquid shelter". Yes, the treatment itself becomes the armor, sort of, while the shelter is just made leak-proof—but it's not a liquid when it's on the armor fibers, it's like a wax. Just like the tent's waterproofing.
  • I think I'll have there be a rule, in my setting's space-travel, that when communicating between species, aliens speak a UN official language and the humans speak whatever language the aliens do (zledo have one official language, the khângây have three, nobody knows how many the thoikh have but they seem to all have at least one in common). Apparently on the Apollo-Soyuz missions, the Russians would speak English and the Americans would speak Russian, on the assumption it's easier to listen and act in your own language and speak in a foreign one, rather than vice-versa.
  • Zledo of course have sign-languages, but deafness, probably pretty rare with their modern tech, is more significant in their lives than it is in ours—closer to blindness, and then some (more like being a blind eagle). Think they keep knowledge of their sign-languages alive, though, not only for historical and linguistic interest but for communication while (for instance) artillery fire is happening (they use chorded keyboards and just text each other, of course, but you can't rely on that in a fight), or while wearing spacesuits whose communications are damaged. I think their military gesturing is probably at least as advanced as a typical village sign language.

    One thought is that maybe their main form of sign-language started as a taboo-avoidance sign language like those used by some Australian Aborigines (and once used by Armenian women, apparently), in one of their cultures, and was then spread back to the rest of the society that now uses it by returning missionaries. Thought I'd have the other big one used in a different group of civilizations, by traders? Like maybe one of their sign-languages is like Australian Aboriginal sign languages, and the other is like Plains Indian signs. Maybe their military signing is a standardized pidgin (creole?) of the two forms?

    One thing that occurred to me is that hearing zledo can hear someone signing behind them, without turning—I doubt they can actually tell what's being signed, but the sound of the gestures is probably really obvious and fairly distinctive.
  • Come to think of it, how come nobody's realized the obvious? The best gestural interface, for many purposes, is actually a spoken interface…but using sign language.