Playing with Fantasy XIV

Had more RPG thoughts.
  • Decided only the Thalassocratic Valyrians/Evil Atlanteans, in my setting, will have their clergy as witches. And instead, the dark elves and dark dwarves have actual divine casters, just evil ones—the elves evil druids, the dwarves evil clerics. Therefore the evil gnomes, whom I need to rework because they're not spriggans—more like redcaps—have evil oracles. Also decided that the modern human society that engages in "witchcraft", as anthropology knows it, has evil clerics, druids, and oracles, as D&D knows them. (There are dwarf and gnome druids, elf and gnome clerics, and dwarf and elf oracles, though none of them is the majority of their people's priesthoods, but the evil branches of the races only have their respective original form. And maybe witches proper too? Not sure there.)

    See, the way I'd already had it working, is that the dark elves, goblins, and ogres (including orcs) worship evil gods, whereas witches worship fiends. The dark dwarves worship their undead priest-king as a god, a bit more like Diirinka of the derro rather than Laduguer (or Droskar, in Pathfinder) of the duergar—though Diirinka was always an actual god, not a divinized mortal, and my evil dwarves' lich-god doesn't have a betrayed, insane brother (Diinkarazan—they ran afoul of Ilsensine, the illithid god, and Diirinka abandoned him). But in Pathfinder rules being a divinized mortal instead of a proper god just means clerics can only choose from four domains instead of five. I still need to work out what, exactly, the modern witch-nation worships, though.

    Still working on how to mechanically model the deliberate perversion of taboo that powers witchcraft. There's some things in Horror Adventures, which I recently got, that might work as models, like the human sacrifice feats. Also things like the sin-eater inquisitor archetype from Ultimate Magic.
  • Maybe something with an ape god, as the patron of the witch-nation that still has normal divine casters? All the witches of my setting are human nationalists with an inferiority complex; I have their ideology resemble stuff like that crypto-Gnostic Jingo element I've complained about in everything from post-Chris Claremont X-Men comics to Mass Effect and Halo 4. (Plus a more directly, purely Gnostic idea, that I complain about in cosmic horror, that just because the world doesn't exist to validate you, it must be wholly evil, hostile, and meaningless. Which makes sense as the ideology of witches, given that they worship eldritch abominations. Not that the benign deities aren't pretty eldritch too.)

    The reason it's an ape, aside from that being the proper patron for partisans of a race of jumped-up monkeys, is that all the patron deities of the other evil subraces, except the dark dwarves who serve their lich-emperor (well, and I haven't hammered out how the gnomes do it), are outcast members of their own pantheons—the goblin and dark-elf deities from the elven pantheon, the ogre god the dwarven, and the god who turned stone and wood giants into fire and frost giants, the giantish. So it makes sense to have a former member of the pantheon of animal gods as the patron of modern human witch-clerics. And an ape is likely to get exiled from an animal-god pantheon.

    I might have the ape god be female, since I do want to avoid parallels with the Great Sage, Heaven's Equal. I might tie it into something I've been considering for the mythic backstory of humans and their gods.
  • I realized, familiars would absolutely revolutionize society. They can understand fairly complicated instructions, being as smart as orcs even as the familiars of first-level wizards. And the flying ones can ferry messages to miles and miles away within a day—a raven can fly 100 miles in a day, while an eagle, and probably an owl, can do a full 225. You can send a message and get a reply back, with precision addressing that messenger pigeons could never dream of, same-day, to anyone 50 to 112 miles away. That would be almost telegraph-like. (Sure, a master and familiar can only stay in empathic bond within a mile, but the master just has to stay where he was for his familiar to be able to come back to him.)

    Of course this is much more of a thing in peacetime, for maintaining trade-networks; in wartime you'd probably have sentries (and friendly familiars) patrolling, to shoot down enemy familiars. Anyone with 7th-level casters at their disposal can also fill the forests with birds (etc., depending what those casters' familiars are) that report to the familiars—"hey everyone tell me if you see humans in green shirts" is something that the "communicate with animals of their kind" power is almost certainly up to. (And given pigeons can be trained to recognize the names of allergens on ingredient-lists—they don't know what they're seeing, of course, but they can be trained to recognize very complex shapes—someone with a bird familiar just needs to be able to show the other birds the enemy's heraldry.)
  • I had been wanting my elves to have some kind of facial markings, like many characters in anime (or the elves in Dragon Prince), but I could never figure out what. Decided, though: some sort of fractal, branching design. Because their chief gods are the Trunk Father and the Root Mother, the god and goddess of the World Tree, which ramify and radicate (respectively) in fractal patterns. So it's something like the cross tattoos worn by Coptic and Croatian Christians, except without the "desperate defiance of nightmarish oppression in their own countries" thing.

    I might have the goblins and dark elves have their own versions, perhaps with the goblins replacing some or most of the branches with thorns—which are modified branches, but that's what their god is, Thorn Father—and then the dark elves, whose goddess, Haustorium Mother (yes elves have a non-technical word for that), is a parasitic vine on the World Tree, shift the proportion of the branches to be more vine-like. (Of course so far all I have is this sort of verbal description, I haven't sat down and hammered out what any of this stuff actually specifically looks like.)
  • Maybe the fractals will be whip-curves, since elves are art nouveau and dwarves are art deco. And maybe the dwarves could do an art-deco version of a similar design, since some coralline algae also branch. I think gnomes are prairie style, and those designs, in e.g. wallpaper, actually work quite well with the kind of fractal structures seen in fungi. I think where elves and dwarves focus on microcosm's relation to macrocosm, and vice-versa, in their mysticism, gnomes are more about ever-more fine-tuned introspection, the way fungal fractal structures are internal subdividing rather than branching out.

    I don't have most humans painting their faces, though maybe the ones who revere the feline animal-gods might—with face-markings different from any extant felid, since the worshiped ones are all sabertooths. The ones who revere the owl wear helmet-visors or cloth masks shaped like barn-owl faces. Most others just wear their animal's skin as a cloak or cape, after ritually hunting one (the bird-god people also adorn themselves with feathers of their animal). Which is another reason the hedgehog made less sense, their hide is about enough for a very inconvenient tea-cozy.
  • There's a lot of controversy about Diplomacy (and its post-3e descendants) in d20 games, because it's alleged you could theoretically use it to get Sauron to stop looking for the Ring or trying to conquer Middle-Earth, step onto a boat, sail to Valinor, and turn himself in. Only, look up the skill(s) on any SRD, and the table of DCs for the possible uses: do you see "abandon reason for living that's literally older than the universe" on the list? Hell no you don't. You can't make people act in truly uncharacteristic ways with all but the highest-level compulsion or charm spells; did you genuinely believe that mere smooth-talk was more effective?

    All Diplomacy lets you do is improve NPC attitudes. The highest they can go is "friendly", not "blindly obedient" or "willing to existentially reinvent themselves". Maybe it's just that, having played 2nd Edition, I remember—though ironically I never actually used—the "reaction check" rules, for seeing how NPCs would be disposed toward the PCs? That's all Diplomacy effects.

    Relatedly, the "my bard seduces it" thing. Anyone that that person could "seduce" in real life would be up on statutory charges; even Deadpool cosplayers and unironic fans of Reaper from Overwatch tell them to grow up. Aside from there being no official seduction rules in any D&D or Pathfinder book that I know of (this ain't GURPS—not even the World of Darkness has a seduction skill as such), at best you can flatter and flirt with an NPC to make them advance a truly plot-related goal—if their alignment says they'd do that for someone they're attracted to. What, did you think "pick-up artists" were telling the truth, and you can just talk your way into anyone's pants that you want?
  • Speaking of rules people don't understand but criticize anyway, I read a blogger claiming that "roll for initiative" ruins the game, because it (allegedly) forces you into a combat action. What if, they say, when the party encounters a group of potential enemies, you want to shout "hold it!" before anyone can make a hostile move, and go with diplomacy (or Diplomacy) instead? Which is refuted by repeating their own statement back to them: before anyone makes a hostile move, you say? Hmm, maybe there should be a system for determining whether you have the time to act before someone else does. Whether you have the…what's the word again? It's right on the tip of my tongue. Oh, right. "Initiative."
  • I realized, I'm going to have to revise a lot about my setting's equipment lists. Not only because all the nonhumans are very different from in the default settings, but also because the planet is in an Ice Age. Like, where the hell would they grow cacao or coffee? These people are probably getting their caffeine and theobromine from tea, since that'll grow in Tibet, whereas coffee and cacao are both tropical. They'd probably also need to grow New World-type grapes, too—they don't have to taste like Mogen David (or grape Kool-Aid), it just takes a bit more careful of handling—since those are far more cold-tolerant than Old World species. You probably can't grow Old World grapes in Newfoundland or Massachusetts, but the "fox grape" will grow there.

    Just in general there are a number of assumptions about those equipment-lists that bug me. E.g., caviar is super expensive now because of hoity-toity food snobs; it was expensive in Byzantium because it had to be imported from Kievan Rus. But what if you were from Rus? For much of Russian history caviar was no more a luxury (as such) than cod roe or salmon roe are in modern Japan. 19th-century Russian bars used to give away caviar sandwiches, because its saltiness made the patrons thirstier (same as free peanuts in the West). Or pigeons as "street meat"? It's only from the 1930s that humanity betrayed one of its most loyal vassals in that way. Before then, pigeons were like dogs: sometimes destructive or unclean, when feral and overpopulated, but not rejected outright as unconnected to humanity.
  • One thing I decided, in keeping with that thing last time about my nonhumans making everything spicy, because they have fewer taste-buds than humans, is elves add chili pepper to their wine, gnomes ginger to their mead, and dwarves cinnamon to kumis and black pepper to beer.


Playing with Fantasy XIII

Fantasy RPG thoughts.
  • Decided not to go with the Cybertronian-based Giantish. No Cybertronian script is very good. Neither is Zentraedi. I considered something that draws inspiration from Kilrathi and Kzinti, since Giantish is also the language of cat-, yak-, and hyena-people ("gnolls") in my setting. But that led me to David Peterson's Irathient script, since they're very vaguely cat-people, but I went octagonal instead of round (don't judge me, I know I have a problem), and mine isn't an abugida—they're a pain in the ass to font.

    Think I might (this'll require more working out) incorporate something reminiscent of the Giantish runes from the 5e adventure "Storm King's Thunder", and also maybe separate approving, neutral, and disapproving forms as seen in the Thassilonian runes from Pathfinder (except those are logograms…though they don't bloody look it), since the Runelords are known for enslaving giants. Maybe just writing in different colors? Yeah that's probably simplest.

    Ooh that could be cool: have the giants consider black text neutral, and then, say, blue as approving, and scarlet as disapproving. But then the beast-people, who also use their script, see it as black being neutral, blue approving, and dark yellow disapproving, since with red-green colorblindness (which they have from their animal half) you see scarlet as dark yellow. Probably you mostly only write proper names or short declarative sentences (like accusations or proclamations) in the special colors.
  • Decided to somewhat revamp my Dwarven; now the dark dwarves use a square version and the regular dwarves use a somewhat different version of the hexagonal. I also redid their numerals a little, made them simpler. The hexagonal Dwarven script marks its vowels with triangular characters that fit into the gaps between the hexagonal consonant letters, at the top for short vowels and at top and bottom for long vowels. So the square script, instead, has square-but-smaller characters for the vowels, and it writes the long vowels atop one another.

    One thing I worried this might mean is Dwarven having no spaces between words, but then I decided no, it marks word bounds with empty squares or triangles, depending on whether we're dealing with the square or hexagonal script. Two, top and bottom, between words that both start and end with consonants, and only one, at the bottom, between words that start with vowels (it has no words that end on vowels). Not sure if I need a separate way to mark sentences; thinking I'll just put a smaller diamond or reversed triangle, respectively, inside the word-divider symbols.
  • Still need a good alphabet for the Tainish Egyptians on the other continent. Kinda unsure what direction to take it; maybe something like one of the weirder JRPG scripts (e.g. Hymmnos or the Etro script). Probably something very like Etro, actually, though of course my version would be less obviously a cipher of the Roman alphabet, and not crosses/daggers. I'll probably come up with base glyph-shapes similar to Roman, Greek, or Cyrillic, then do something like Etro to them.

    The humans of the main continent, both Landlubber Númenoreans and Thalassocratic Valyrians, use a script that originally looked like a mix of Roman, Greek, and Cyrillic letters. The modern cultures write it in (depending which one we're talking about) an uncial reminiscent of the one used for the Late Medieval and Early Modern version of Cyrillic; in a blackletter whose particulars I still haven't worked out yet; or in a runic script that's basically the original version with the curved lines changed to angles.
  • I apparently haven't mentioned this on my blog, but the animal-god that governed healing and divination, for my setting's humans, was Hedgehog, because they're immune to snake venom. Decided, though, that it should be Kingfisher: not only are they also immune to certain venoms, notably pufferfish, they're able to aim despite water's refraction, so they have both a medicine and a divination aspect.
  • Decided to get down to brass tacks about my setting's human ethnicities. The Thalassocratic Valyrians have African facial features and hair-texture, but their eyes are green or amber, their hair red, and their skin is pale pink to various shades of reddish-brown (they always have pheomelanin, in other words). The Landlubber Númenoreans have Asian facial features and hair texture, but their eyes are blue, gray, or hazel, their hair blond to light brown, and their skin is olive to dusky (only moderate levels of eumelanin, in other words). Finally the Tainish Egyptians and Hardic Hyksos both have Australian Aborigine features and hair, but with brown or black eyes and hair, and dusky to "mahogany" skin (so, higher levels of eumelanin).

    Decided also that the dark folk ("Dark People") have only black eumelanin, no metter their age, even in their skin, and thus are always gray rather than any shade of brown. Unlike normal humans this coloring even extends to their mucous membranes, though their blood is still red (they consider red unlucky, though fortunately they normally can't perceive colors in the lightless caverns they live in—they have darkvision). The gillmen ("Gill People"), meanwhile, replace their melanocytes with various combinations of xanthophores, leucophores, and cyanophores, resulting in their skin being various shades of green, yellow, blue, and gray.
  • Still getting to grips with my nonhuman skin-colors. I think the elves will be slightly bluish or greenish, due to a combination of blue structural coloring (as seen in blue-faced monkeys, though less pronounced) and yellow carotenoids used in lieu of melanin. Dwarves' skin is orangish, also from a carotenoid, without structural coloring. Gnomes' skin is pale purple or pink, the former from structural coloring similar to that of elves, the latter due to having red carotenoids (red and violet make magenta, and pale magenta is pink).
  • Not directly about RPGs but important to writing settings for them, it seems like George Rape-Rape Martin has absolutely no idea of the scale of literally anything. I've talked about how he was shocked how big a 500-foot wall actually is; he also has people melting gold in campfires (I guess Westerosi camp cooks are big on stir-fry cooked on orange-hot woks?). And apparently the Valyrian Empire ("Freehold"…except that's not what a freehold is; the word you want is "confederacy") is simultaneously too ancient and too recent.

    See, the thing was founded 8298 years before the main action of the books, which, if they're the (brain-damaged edgelord middle-schooler version of) the War of the Roses, 1455 to 1485, puts its founding in 6843 BC. Yet it only fell 312 years before the main action. Among other problems with this: that has one government lasting for 7,986 years; the language of the Empire's founding would stand in relation to the classical language of the setting roughly as Proto-Afro-Asiatic does to Middle Egyptian (which was a classical language in the New Kingdom and Greco-Roman era); the change of Valyrian society comparable to the transition from late Imperial Rome to Early Modern Western Europe takes only 312 years, putting the "Fall of Rome" only in 1143; and, related to that last point, the Astapori and Meereen daughter-languages have only had 312 years to do their linguistic drifting.

    You could have a diglossia, classical Valyrian and the more modern language spoken side-by-side, analogous to the situation that existed till recently in Welsh, Norwegian, Greek, or Chinese, but that's explicitly not what Martin describes. What he describes is something like the Romance languages forming over around a millennium from Vulgar Latin—except he forgot he only gave himself 312 years for all that change to happen in. (Seriously why is it so important that the Doom of Valyria be so damn recent? Did he just pull these numbers out of a hat?)
  • Even if the big numbers for ancient history are doubled, as Martin retconned it when people pointed out it was stupid totally meant to do from the beginning, the fall of Valyria (which isn't ancient history) is still too recent for the changes that have supposedly happened since—and you're still talking about an ancient state whose founding is in 2694 BC, i.e. the last phase of the Yamnaya Culture, generally identified with the first speakers of Proto-Indo-European. That is admittedly also contemporary with the beginning of Old Kingdom Egypt—but you may notice that in 1143 AD (when the Valyrian Freehold fell after "only" 3,837 years), Egypt wasn't ruled by the Old Kingdom or even the same system as the Old Kingdom—it was, in fact, thirty-three dynasties, two empires, and four caliphates from the founding of the Old Kingdom. And the Valyrian houses of which Targaryen is the last surviving example have all been there from the beginning, which would be like if the Fatimid caliphate was still dealing with the same nomarch families in Egypt that Narmer was.
  • This is funny and all, but wouldn't dwarves know humans eat salt? I mean who do you think probably sells it to them? For dwarves salt mining would be a relaxed way to make a living, compared to mining for ores or more exotic things. And they're much more likely to sell humans an unworked raw material like salt than works of their craft that could be used against them by a freaking alien, which is what other "races" really are. Though I do endorse that idea about dwarves using actual poisons for spices.

    Along the same lines, elves and gnomes, who both get +2 to Perception, could have food that seems really bland by human standards, but is actually, relative to their perceptions, quite adequately seasoned, and they view human cooking the way Indian and Cajun people view the Anglo versions of their cuisine. (This isn't the case in my setting, where elves, dwarves, and gnomes are all carnivores, and thus have fewer taste buds—dogs have 1,700 to humans' 10,000—and they find human foods bland, but in a standard D&D or Pathfinder setting elves and gnomes are often nearly vegetarian, and herbivores have over twice as many taste-buds as humans.)

    Halflings in both standard D&D/Pathfinder and my specific setting would also probably have bland foods, since they also get the +2 to Perception. (In my setting, where they're modified humans, they indiscriminately have stronger senses than other humans, resulting in their cuisine seeming very bland to the "big people", and virtually flavorless to the nonhumans.)