Playing with Fantasy XV

Thoughts about fantasy games. Actually I think all of them are Pathfinder.
  • Decided my elves don't quite grow up as quick as humans. Almost, but not quite: now their twenty-five is our fifteen. I arrived at this because the half-elf's fifteen, in the d20 core rules, is twenty; if you assume half-elves' life-cycle is an average of the elf and human ones, twenty times two is forty, and forty minus fifteen is twenty-five. Think I'll have the gnomes do twenty and dwarves do fifteen. Elven middle-age still comes at 420, because their total lifespan is twelve times ours.
  • It occurred to me, speaking of elven biology, that their low Constitution score can simply be a matter of having more fast-twitch than slow-twitch muscles. That's what makes chimps and Neanderthals so much stronger than we are, but at the price of endurance. That lets an elf much thinner than a human have the same strength (a chimp has between one and a half and two times the strength of a human the same mass), and also explains why they're comparatively more delicate. This makes much more sense for elves than the bird-musculature I'd posited before, since among other things that would cause issues for the pneumatically-muscled giant races, two of which are scaled-up elves.

    Interestingly Neanderthal muscle could also give you D&D setting warrior-women. Maybe some populations of anatomically-modern humans, in a D&D world, have a version of Neanderthal-style musculature and a lack of role-specialization, but directed to allowing the females to exert the same force as men, over a limited time. Certainly in a world with several times as many potential threats to a family as exist in the real world, the ability of females to exert the same power as males would boost survival rates. One of my favorite things about Golarion is the main barbarians, the Kellids, like Amiri's people, are less based on any real-world culture than they are, basically, Hollywood cavemen with steel.
  • I wonder if anyone's done a playtest where undead damage-reduction doesn't apply on critical hits? In Pathfinder they made undead no longer immune to critical hits, since crits are iconic to both vampire and zombie fiction, but what if they made it so that, like in most fictional portrayals of zombies and vampires, the only hits they're not going to be mostly able to shrug off—damage reduction—are the ones that hit a vital? It probably makes overcoming the DR too onerous; maybe you could have it be an alternative for weapon-types that don't work on them? Skeletons take bludgeoning and zombies slashing, so maybe if you crit with the wrong kind of weapon you get to ignore DR—like you successfully chop through a skeleton's bone or stab a zombie's brain? Might houserule that.

    In my setting I make it explicit that skeletons are held together by invisible actuators made of the same kind of "force" as magic missiles, and since that can't be sliced through with a blade, their DR is only defeated by bludgeoning weapons (which just smash the bones themselves). Likewise since zombies' tissues are often in no condition to move them or hold them up, their muscle is supplemented or replaced by the force-actuators; I even have both kinds of undead get supplemental eyes, the iconic pinpoints of evil light, since zombies' eyes may be compromised and a skeletons' are always gone. Since they're moved by something other than muscle, they move more like puppets than the "shambling wounded living person" gait zombies are usually portrayed with.
  • Also have it so mindless undead are actually, y' know, mindless. In most fantasy video games, if you shoot one skeleton in a group, the others are aggroed. But "one of us was killed, there's an enemy here" is actually more complex than a mindless being should be able to do. So if you kill a skeleton without being directly perceptible to its fellows, like say with blunt arrows, the rest should not be aggroed. You should be able to use that to your advantage, like by aggroing the members of a horde of skeletons one at a time. (I'd also say that broadhead arrows—which to my knowledge are not statted in Pathfinder—should do slashing damage, with the default piercing-damage arrow being a bodkin-pointed one. So the adventurer expecting the possibility of the undead should carry three quivers: blunts for skeletons, broadheads for zombies, and bodkins for living targets.)
  • It bugs me more than it should that Pathfinder treats helmets as optional. Literally every other piece of armor was more so. Not sure what the mechanical effect would be; off the top of my head, treat the AC as 1 worse (like with "hastily donned" armor) solely for the purpose of confirming critical hits, if you don't wear one? Seems not too burdensome.

    My humans and elves wear lamellar armor, metallic or otherwise, including at least part of their helmets. Elves' helmets are something like jingasa made from their leaves (since they want to keep their hearing unobstructed). Human ones have a mostly-solid one, often sculpted to resemble the head of their initiation-society's animal god—the wolf, bear, and tiger ones sculpted so their face comes out the animal's open mouth, whereas the owl one has a visor like a barn-owl face—with lamellar aventails. The kingfishers (they have magi and clerics as well as mages) will have a different-shaped visor from owls, possibly with the same function as a plague-doctor mask since she's the god of medicine? Not sure what to do with the foxes (or wildcat bards); on the one hand the kind of leather you make armor from seems like it can be sculpted fairly easily, so they can probably just have a leather-lamellar version of the other societies' helmets, but on the other hand rangers, rogues, and bards like to be able to hear. Maybe jingasa like the elves wear, but with cat (or fox) ears on top?

    Gnomes and dwarves wear plate or "leather"/"hide" armor of more conventional type, made of coralline algae or mushrooms. Obviously gnomish helmets will, like elven ones, be like jingasa, but made from a single mushroom cap rather than interlaced leaves. Dwarves, I think, have something more like Roman helmets, but with face-masks like on samurai helmets or certain Slavic ones.
  • It's only on my latest playthrough of Kingmaker that I discovered lesser restoration actually does serve a purpose (it doesn't undo most ability damage, which is "permanent" and thus requires restoration proper). Namely, it undoes fatigue. That becomes really important when you're, say, being plagued by nightmares from an undead dude who wants you to kill the bandit chief who murdered him; it also could be important much later, when there's a trap that exhausts your party. On a prior playthrough I had to backtrack quite a bit after that trap, because I didn't know I could cure their exhaustion. Read those spell descriptions, kids!
  • The average percentage of a bird's body mass that's bone seems to be about 12.05%. Avian bone has a density of about 2.15 grams per cubic centimeter (compared to human bone's density of 1.16 grams per cubic centimeter); if we replace it with that aerogel-density aerospace metamaterial I talked about for my spaceships, 0.16 grams per cubic centimeter—7.44% as much mass—we get an 11.15% reduction to the total body mass. That gets the weight of the biggest dragons down from 28.74 tons to 25.53 tons, only 1.2 tons more than Palaeoloxodon namadicus. Feathers are about 6% of the weight of a bird; replacing the β-keratins, density 0.89 grams per cubic centimeter, with the same microlattice metamaterial as in the bones—17.98% as much mass—results in a further 4.92% reduction in weight, which brings the weight down to 24.27 tons, pretty much exactly the same weight as P. namadicus. And it's just cool to have dragons' feather-scale things made of the same stuff as their bones (and vice-versa); their placoderm "tooth-beak" structures are also made of the same stuff.

    Never did crunch the numbers for the weight savings of not having teeth. Probably not much; say they weigh 24 tons even. Then, assuming unchanging proportions, the Gargantuan one, 60 feet long, weighs 3 tons; the Huge one, 30 feet long, weighs 750 pounds; the Large one, 15 feet, weighs 93 pounds 12 ounces; the Medium one, 7 feet 6 inches, weighs 11 pounds 11.5 ounces; the Small one, 3 feet 9 inches, weighs 1 pound 7.4 ounces; and the Tiny one, 1 foot 10.5 inches, weighs 2.9 ounces. That might seem insane, but we are talking about a creature that weighs 44.92% less than a bird of the same dimensions would, and its body's a lot longer and thinner than a bird's (unless you're going to count Coelophysis as a bird, which I do taxonomically, but not conversationally). You're basically talking a weight one size-category less than you'd think, with the one that's the same size-category as a horse weighing only what a large dog does. That's not too far outside the realm of possibility; a garter-snake the same length as the Tiny dragon weighs 5 ounces, not all that much more.
  • Decided that the calendar of the twelve creature-types other than fey is inelegant. Going, instead, with the nine psychic disciplines from Occult Adventures, plus the two from Ultimate Wilderness, and then the "formless adept" archetype from Occult Adventures (whose "formless body" class feature replaces the psychic disciplines). The calendar had always, remember, come from the snake people (though the PC-race humanoids get it from gnomes, since humans sprang up much later and the others aren't from the same planet), so basing it on psychic disciplines makes sense. The only thing that this makes particularly difficult is the calendar is a part of human surnames, so I'll have to change the first half of some characters' names.

    Also reworking the "Tainish Egyptians" on the other continent slightly. Their calendar will just number the months, the way modern East Asian versions of the Gregorian do; since all other humanoids got the calendar from the gnomes, it isn't unreasonable for some versions of it to work the way East Asian adoptions of the Western calendar do. I also think I'm not going to have them worship their ascended sages, though I don't know what, exactly, they will worship. Maybe somehow the animal-god pantheon, through a completely independent covenant from the one on the other continent? I shied away from that since their quasi-Egyptianness made animal-gods seem a bit too unimaginative, but it works better with other themes of the setting.

    Also think I'll have the "Tainish Egyptian" continent be enemies with the araneas rather than the snake people, since the "Thalassocratic Valyrians" were the ones who fought with snake people. It isn't too inconvenient, since both use psychic magic in my setting.
  • Realized I was wrong: the nonhuman PC-races do have NPC-class members. They're children. Rather than making up 95% of the population like humanity's first-level commoners, their children will be in all five NPC classes (maybe only four, without commoners?), but only at first level, and will make up 40% the population, as children do in a society with the equivalent of modern medicine but without our sexual mores—like the society that had the Baby Boom. Children also make up a bit over 40% of the 95% of humans that are first-level commoners (more than 40% because they're 40% of the entire human population, which also includes other NPC classes and the PC ones), but that's implicitly included in the existent numbers.

    And now I realize I'll have to also add in the goblin races' children (who are only adepts, experts, and warriors, no commoners or aristocrats), and ogres'/orcs' children. In the case of hobgoblins and bugbears things work like with the PC-race humanoids, since those two are only in PC classes as adults; the goblins work like humans, with their 1st-level children already incorporated as a part of their 1st-level NPC-class population (except they're not commoners). Likewise, the ogres have first-, second-, and third-level NPC-class members as their children, but orcs incorporate their children into their 1st-level population. Same goes for troglodytes and kobolds.

    It was pretty easy to do this for giants. And I also need to stat up my beast-people, cat, hyena, and yak, but this time around I'll remember that children are a part of the population numbers.


De romanicorum theoriarum XVI

Speculative fiction thoughts, fewer of them about Pathfinder.
  • The reason marine mammals have flat tails and swim up-and-down rather than side-to-side like fish, is that mammals evolved a different gait—a dolphin or whale is essentially doing with its torso what the torso of a dog or rabbit does when they run. That's why ichthyosaurs (whose taxonomic relations are far from clear) had fish-like rather than dolphin-like tails: reptiles still use the ancestral, fish-like side-to-side motion, when they run. (Dinosaurs didn't, but in between they evolved bipedalism—the ancestor of all dinosaurs was a biped, with some lineages later dropping back to all fours. You can see it in how different the forefeet are from hindfeet, obviously in hadrosaurs but even in ceratopsians, sauropods, and thyreophorans—they're all modified hands.)

    Bipedal dinosaurs did not modify the orientation of their forelimbs from those of the ancestral reptiles, although they did move them to face in front of their bodies. Like a lizard, the palms of a bipedal dinosaur like a dromaeosaur face out when the arms are spread, and each other when the hands are put toward each other: because palms that face each other are better for grabbing. The default position of a dinosaur's hands, when it has hands, is not with the thumbs toward each other and the palms toward the ground, like yours are (relax and let your hands fall, and you'll see this). It's with the palms toward each other and the thumbs pointing up, because a bipedal dinosaur is not a modified quadruped like you are—a quadrupedal dinosaur is a modified biped.
  • Searching the blog claims I haven't mentioned it here, even though I could swear I did, but the smart birds, all of which are psittacopasserines (the songbird-and-parrot superorder), took a different route to intelligence from primates. We got smart and then learned to talk, but they learned to talk and then got smart. What I mean is, the reason corvid and parrot brains got so advanced, is the need for processing power for ever more complex song. They then became able to handle other kinds of cognitive task. Whereas we got smart for those cognitive tasks, and then developed language.

    But it occurred to me, maybe a further justification of zled intelligence despite their being more powerful than humans, aside from their world being as scary as the Mesozoic, is that they had a sort of evolutionary feedback loop like birds did, for boosting their intelligence. Maybe they descend from something like a predatory howler-monkey, but with a far more complex repertoire of calls, like a songbird or parrot (and, y' know, roaring rather than hooting, birdsong, or mimicry), and the processing led to their ancestors increasing in intelligence before tool-use was a factor.

    The main interspecies reason their ancestors would've roared would be to warn potential predators that gangs of arboreal jackal-baboons are around and would take a dim view of preying on their young, while the intraspecies reason would be the same as the one for wolves howling and lions roaring, announcing to conspecifics "if you can hear this, you're in our territory". (The complex calls would, of course, be mainly for the latter purpose.)
  • Realized the best choice for making the elemental outsider-race in my setting would be to repurpose divs, as "neutral, chaotic neutral, or lawful neutral" outsiders. Only with mephits, with the "young" template to turn them tiny and knock a point off their CR, instead of doru divs. Of course I gave the divs a variable elemental affinity/immunity, rather than fire, and change their cultures to be more like normal genies (Pathfinder divs are corrupted genies—though their ultimate origin is the daevas of Zoroastrianism). Also gave them, as I said, pterosaur wings. Which they can use as legs, giving them the Bull Rush resistance of something like a centaur. (The reason pterosaurs, even giant azhdarchids, could take off in a leap, despite being bigger than any bird let alone any bat that ever was, is their wings were still forelegs, and the massive muscles for flapping them were also available for pushing off with.)

    I had said that all nonevil humans become agathions, in my setting, and elves become azatas. I think I also mentioned dwarves become inevitables (but with no axiomites to command them)? Well I decided nonevil gnomes become kami, and nonevil giants become asuras (but not evil). I went down the list of outsiders that constitute races, planeborne as we knew them in my day—aeon, agathion, angel, archon, asura, azata, daemon, demodand, demon, devil, div, elemental, inevitable, kami, kyton, oni, protean, psychopomp, qlippoth, rakshasa, titan—and figured out which ones were the best fit to be the "petitioners" of my humanoid races. I also still have elementals, they're just the div-types' spirits channeled into elemental matter temporarily; the rest of them just aren't there, any more than the fey are. I think my setting's dragons will just reincarnate?
  • I've said that skeptics often seem to be magicians and special-effects people, i.e. professional fakers—their skepticism turns out to be merely projection. So I'm not exactly surprised that James Randi's "challenge" was rigged, requiring a far higher standard than science normally does, and potentially requiring far more resources to produce the tests than the prize-money could cover—and isn't really epistemically or scientifically valid anyway. Conmen always assume everyone else is dishonest.
  • They're putting the X-Men in the MCU—starting with the New Mutants, because we totally care about them. Also the movie about them seems to be a horror movie? Maybe it's just one of those cases where the advertisers criminally misrepresent the work in question, like how they always make kids' movies look gratingly obnoxious. Anyway, though, if Marvel could try to put its craniorectal inversion into remission for a moment, they have a chance to do something cool, and introduce diversity in a justifiable way that doesn't utterly gut characterization, but actually updates it in a meaningful way.

    Namely, Magneto would be around 90 this year, if he was in his early teens (the age mutant powers usually manifest, and the age he's depicted as having been) in 1944. So instead, have him be Rwandan. Change his name to Érique and find a Tutsi surname that sounds like "magnet". Then have his flashback be to turning Hutu machetes into curlicues. (They can also make Xavier be black, too—played by Lance Reddick or someone—since Cameroon, Cape Verde, and Brazil are all more likely to have "Xavier" as a surname than anywhere in Europe.)

    Yes that complicates Wanda and Pietro, two clearly not-Lance-Reddick's-children people, but it's not like Marvel doesn't have a peckish Anti-Monitor worth of plotholes at the best of times.
  • Henceforth Star Trek: Picard shall be known as The Normandylorian, and the bioroid girl, Dahj, shall be known as Baby Data.
  • Occurs to me I can just have the aquatic eldritch abominations of my setting be "sea snake" nagas. Also thought I'd make them the main one of the subterranean world. This reduces me to two, nagas and araneas. Which is a Jim Stafford song. 'Course, there are three kinds of evil naga (dark, deep, and spirit)—I'm pointedly ignoring slime nagas—and only one kind of aranea.

    Maybe repurpose proteans and qlippoths into, respectively, nagas and araneas? The former are various kinds of snake; the latter often have more than a few spider aspects. I never actually called them "araneas" or "nagas" in my setting—they're "silk lords" and "serpent lords". I don't think I need too much stat-shifting, though I'll probably have to use some other CR 20 outsider's special attack in place of the iathavos qlippoth's abyssal transformation power—since spiders by definition do not swallow their prey.

    Still going to have the serpentfolk ("snake people") and ettercaps, though I gave the latter back their hands (don't know why Pathfinder changed them to having sickle-hands; they're not mantises, they're spiders. Of course, a mantis actually still has a tarsus on the end of its arm; the claw is actually the preceding joint, the tibia. A mantis's claws are really on its frontmost heels.
  • Ooh, actually I like that; if the snake-spirit creatures have all the scaly servants—serpentfolk, lizardfolk, sahuagin—maybe the spider ones should have the chitinous ones, like formians and thriae. Maybe some treaty keeps them from also creating crab or lobster servants and encroaching on the snakes' aquatic territory? Yeah, sea for snakes, surface for spiders, and underground for whichever can get it, works. Ooh, instead of ettercaps, still have araneas, but as the equivalent not of the nagas but of the serpentfolk.
  • Actually watched The Witcher. It's…not shit gravy. I like how subtly Slavic everything is; not only the curious cheerful pessimism, but also, I've got a nagging suspicion about half the seemingly fantastical wordplay is actually just ordinary Polish figures of speech. You get the feeling that you're reading subtitles and the dialogue is really in Polish, even though it isn't. I also like how most of the cast of both sexes are actually attractive, particularly after the homely-as-a-mud-fence, seemingly-selected-for-dumpiness cast of The Mandalorian (though Henry Cavill is a bit too much of a pretty-boy for Geralt, who's supposed to be a lot more grizzled). And it gets bonus points for much better armor design than Game of Thrones, though. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised that Nilfgaard actually seems to be more the Soviets than the Northern "Crusade" (which was never preached as such by any competent ecclesiastic authority). Even if Nilfgaard had been the Romantic Nationalist version of the Teutonic Knights, at least Sapkowski isn't Czech, so we're spared the fantasy version of the Romantic Nationalist (read "laughable unhistoric self-serving propaganda") conception of the Hussites.

    Still, though, really not much more than my initial assessment of "Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with the VIN numbers melted off"—albeit executed pretty well. It's got far too much subscription-TV T&A and gore, and is just generally a little too sordid to take seriously even as dark fantasy. It's not quite unwatchably grimdark, unlike Game of Thrones. It also made me realize: fantasy worlds should be places where most "superstitions" are as accurate as the average person's understanding of science, in our world. There'd be common misconceptions, but the basic rules should actually be known. Because this is information you can actually go out and find for yourself, in these worlds. I deduct significant points for the "demihumans"-as-oppressed-minority thing, also seen in Dragon Age (I also deduct them for snooty bigoted elves, so we're clear): Find. Another. Angle. The half-elves being deformed is somewhat interesting, but it would be more interesting if the deformities were modeled on real-world interspecies hybrids, rather than just having random normal-human deformities (I'm not only saying that because their idea is similar to mine; mine is cooler).