Sunday, April 29, 2007

Transformers On The Brain

I want to see the movie. It looks wicked cool. And I never even saw the TV show. Except for a couple of episodes of Armada. I always kind of wanted to watch it more often, but I never got around to it.

I've seen enough, though, to know that it's awesome. And now I can't stop thinking about the movie. Even if it's not very good, it's going to have giant, CGI robots. That turn into cars. You don't get enough of that in your modern cinema going experience.

And, of course, my newfound interest in all things Transformer has led me back to Optimus Rhyme. Found the website a while ago through MC Chris's, liked it, and now I'm back into it. Rap music about robots. Truly, one of the greatest styles of artistic expression ever devised.

There's no way I can stop these thoughts cause I'm hardcoded

Robot angst. Everyone knows I'm all over that.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Extra Late Sci-Fi Rant Response

You may have read John Harrison's rant on how world-building is useless and counterproductive.

My initial reaction to this is, "Er . . . isn't world-building kind of the defining point of science fiction?" The point of a science fiction story--the reason you'd write a given story in a science fiction setting, rather than a contemporary or historical one--is that the world allows you to do something that would be impossible in a normal, real world milieu.

Maybe he's using a different definition of "world-building" than I am. He implies that "world-building" somehow involves exhaustively categorizing every feature of a world. I don't know of any writer, ever, who's done that. Even Tolkien didn't do that. As an example -- he never actually "finished" his languages.

But he created enough to give his world an underlying structure. Enough so that he could name things "Morgoth" and "Mordor," or "Minas Tirith" and "Minas Morgul," and have a reason for it. The reader need never even find out what the pattern means, but the fact that it's there lends the world verisimilitude.

The feeling of being real. Which is why we read science fiction.

Friday, April 27, 2007

This Pleases Me

Can I take a moment to call out the current Something Positive story arc? Written by Eric Burns.

It rocks.

Especially today's. It's just . . . so perfect. The Watching Hour, indeed.

I love watching people learn to play roleplaying games. The moment of realization. "Wait, you mean I can be . . . ?"

And Fred is my favorite character. So, yeah. Bring it on.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On To Something

Best. Theory. Ever.

Alberto Gonzales and Kyle Sampson (his ex-chief of staff) are gamers, and that's why they can't remember anything about the firings. They were too busy rolling dice.

Now I Understand Libertarians

Things that make me stabby: morons.

Paternalistic, moralizing, misinformed morons.

Dahlia Lithwick
knows what the score is.

What I find amusing is how, apparently, Kennedy thinks that a medical procedure being disturbing is a reason to ban it. He has these examples, like if he can prove something is gross, then it clearly ought to be banned.

Because taking someone's heart out of their chest and putting someone else's back in isn't weird at all.

Incidentally, there's no such thing as "partial birth abortion," medically speaking. It's a scare term, invented by opponents of abortion to get people to squick out. Usually what they're talking about is "dilation and extraction."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Praise Be To Kord

I want to start a new religion. One where you worship whatever you want, as long as it comes from a roleplaying game, video game, or similar source.

I'd call it "video game polytheism," except that'd rule out Vecna and Pelor and all that gang. And I'd call it "RPG polytheism," except that'd rule out Mar and whatnot.

It'd mostly be an excuse to go "By the nine!" in casual conversation. Not that I need one.

I spend too much time thinking up ways to make people think I'm weird.

Dice Quiz



I am a d12


Take the quiz at dicepool.com

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Quotes

"The meaning of life is 'bucket'" -- Richard

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." - James D. Nicoll

"I'm coming up there to get you! I'm walking up the steps now!" -- Batman, Ninja Master of Surprise

"Without my power ring, I'm superpowerless--except from the waist down!" -- Green Lantern, Hal Jordan

"So I built a third scientist! That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp!" -- John Seavey

"Lawyers make me think of the 70s." -- Qwerty

"Fear! The crack that might flood your brain with light!" -- Guildenstern

"Step away from the lobster trap." -- Batman

"The time to stop talking is when the other person nods his head affirmatively but says nothing." -- Henry H. Haskins

"Those of us make stuff up for a living face a wide variety of possible ways to make ourselves crazy." -- Robin D. Laws

"I heard a rumor that you're an idiot. Any truth to that?" -- Owyn

"The dumber people think you are, the more surprised they are going to be when you kill them." -- William Clayton

"Reality is a pie of which I do not require another slice." -- Shelley Winters

"It's an empty journey to triumph if you don't plant the seeds of catastrophe along the way." -- Tim Jones

"The safest way to approach lava is to have another person with you and he goes first." -- Volcano photographer Villi Knudsen

"Laughter is the best medicine. Next to sex, of course. And medicine." -- Vice Pope Doug

"True freedom is found by looking inside mountains filled with lava." -- Riff

"All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it." -- H. L. Mencken

"I wish I could find out who was responsible for the 'orcs look like orangutans, half-orcs look like Kramer' artistic decision." -- pawsplay, on RPGnet

"It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a Viking to raze a village." -- Jeff Meija, a.k.a. "the Evil DM"

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." -- Lazarus Long

"It's all good clean fun until someone gets their sword polished with poison." -- Captain Blank

"How many boards could the Mongols hoard if the Mongol horde got bored?" -- Calvin

"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

"Dhaaaaa!" -- Dimo
“You cut his arm off!” – Lars
“Um . . . dis vos de right von, yah?” Ognian
“It’s melting!” – Lars
“Yop. Dot vas it.” – Ognian

Archery II

It occurred to me that I should look at Arcana Evolved and Iron Heroes for archery possibilities.

AE recommends either the hawk totem warrior or the ritual warrior as archers. Both are satisfactory feat-wise (bonus progression, roughly every four levels) but I'd probably go with a ritual warrior, because the special abilities are better. Or rather, more interesting to me. More of their abilities are directly focused on archer-ing -- combat rites, giving you short duration bonuses on various things -- and they get ability score bonuses. The hawk totem warrior eventually gets the ability to fly, and to do various archer-type things while flying, but I'm not really all that interested in that, and the ritual warrior would definitely be more interesting in the early game.

Race-wise, quickling faens have both the advantages and disadvantages of halflings -- bonus to dexterity, smaller weapons -- but they also have the possibility of evolved levels, which give bonuses to dexterity and ground speed. They've also got the option of metamorphosing into a spryte, which would give further bonuses to dexterity and the ability to fly in exchange for becoming tiny size. Which could actually be worth it, because it'd make the character very hard to hit.

Then there's litorians, who also get a bonus to dexterity. A couple of those racial levels could also be worth it, because they give bonuses to dexterity and strength, as well as increased speed and a couple of odd items, like scent.

All told, I'd probably end up going human. There are enough awesome combat feats in AE that it'd be worth it.

Iron Heroes provides one very obvious option: an actual "archer" class. They get a lot of ranged goodies: a +1.25 base attack progression when using ranged weapons, an aim pool, and the best access to projectile feat masteries. Out of all the classes I've looked at, they're the most focused on straight up archery. Every other class has some other thing that they do. Archers are exclusively about chucking things at people.

Racial options would be a little different. IH doesn't have race, as it is normally understood. Everyone's human, but instead of getting an extra feat and skill point you get two traits. For an archer character, I'd spend one trait on Dextrous, giving +2 Dex and -2 Con, and I'd consider using both traits for it, which would eliminate the Con penalty. Otherwise, trait selection would depend on the other aspects of the character -- background, any other skills I wanted to have, and so on.

Comparing these two options, the archer looks much more attractive than the ritual warrior. Mostly because, with the archer, I wouldn't have to manage combat rituals. Partially because Iron Heroes generally looks like a lot of fun to play. Partially because the racial options are better. (I like the AE races. I really do. I just don't like those two races.)

Compared to the options I considered the other day, archer still comes out ahead. The only trouble with it is that I'd have to be able to convince everyone to play Iron Heroes. It'd be much easier to play a ritual warrior in an otherwise "normal" campaign.

Don't Do This!

Does anyone else read Erfworld: The Battle for Gobwin's Knob?

Is anyone else really ticked off with it right now?

Skipping time, I can deal with. Skipping a battle, I can deal with. It was obvious what was going to happen; it didn't need to be shown.

What I can't deal with is this "Charlie" nonsense.

Creating suspense by arbitrarily hiding things from the reader isn't cool. Unless you've got an in-text reason for why the reader doesn't know everything (significant) that the character does. (i.e., the unreliable narrator)

Unless, of course, it's not going to be important. We never hear about Charlie again, so why waste a page showing who he is? This, I somehow doubt, because if it wasn't going to be important it wouldn't have come up at all.

Plus, it'd edge dangerously close to telling, rather than showing. The characters talking about how unreasonable Stanley is, rather than showing how unreasonable he is.

Upshot: Irritating. I like Erfworld, but this sort of thing had better not happen on a regular basis.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Secret Project Update

It's incredibly weird, hearing people say words I've written. Especially when those words are mostly about robot mongeese.

Just for the record: I'm aware that "mongeese" is wrong, and that the actual plural is "mongooses." But mongeese is funnier.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Archery Musings

Now I've got this inexplicable desire to play an archer. I'm considering making my next D&D character a ranger. Or, alternatively, a fighter with appropriate feats. But the favored enemy option intrigues me, as does having some kind of scouting creature.

A bard might also make an interesting archer. Though I've played a bard twice already. Neither time was particularly satisfactory, although the first time it was certainly entertaining, and the second time the fun flow problems were caused by the game, not the character. And the GM. Who was horrible. But that's a rant that doesn't need to be repeated.

Anyway. The first time I played, it was fun, but mostly because I was having a lot of fun with limericks. I did an entire character journal in limerick. The game only lasted two sessions, but those two sessions were pretty awesome. Being the first KordCon campaign probably had something to do with it.

The problem I had with the bard is that I had a hard time feeling useful. This may have been because of the level. Using bardic music felt like a meaningful contribution, but I could only use that once per day. At higher levels, with the ability to provide those bonuses in every encounter, the bard thing might be better. Because then I'd be something other than "not as sneaky as the rogue, not as magic-y as the wizard, and not as fight-y as the fighter."

But, anyway. Archer. Elf or human would work--I was thinking halfling, because there you'd have both a racial ability modifier and a size modifier increasing your attack bonus. Except then I remember about reduced damage dice, on account of being sized small. Now, a halfling wizard specializing in rays, that would be awesome.

I'd probably end up deciding race based on setting. In Eberron, I'd totally go with an elf. Elves are awesome in Eberron. Basically anywhere else I know about, I'd probably play a human.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Art Ramblings

Finally found some acceptable desktop pictures.

As much as I love the actual game, one of my favorite moments in D&D was when I realized that the art had signatures on it. I went through all my books and I discovered that the same handful of guys had done most of the art. I became aware of the style of the pieces.

The art is one of my favorite things about the books. I love character art. I like drawing it, too, so having a lot to study is handy. The galleries on the D&D website are nice, but it doesn't quite compare to having the actual piece in a book in front of you. Resolution's better, for one thing.

And I've recently discovered that I really love pictures of magic items. One of my favorite things about the Magic Item Compendium (more on it soon) is the art, though I expect that to change once I actually get to use some of it in-game. The pictures convey a sense of possibility that the words don't really quite capture.

The pieces with a lot of magic items are particularly cool. Just the idea of having all these awesome things in one place--I never thought about just how interesting a magic item shop must be. (Or just how cool magic rings are.) Also: I want to make a store that sells only magic boots. And only magic boots.

Actually, I like any kind of art where a lot of things are lined up against each other. I don't know why, but those are often my favorite character pieces--those ones where they show all the races lined up against each other, or a bunch of different character options, all in the same picture. Like the pictures in Oriental Adventures of samurai and shugenja from all the different clans.

More miscellaneous favorites include depictions of an angel-killer weapon, from the BoVD, the mystery afraid of the dark, from the Tome of Magic, and "Faces of Evil" from Savage Species.

That last one, particularly, is much better when viewed on the page, because then you can read that the papers read "Plan A," "Plan B," "Plan C," and "Plan D," and that the book is titled "How to Pick Up Chicks." Which is particularly funny if you assume, as I do, that the character reading it is an incubus. The only other option that I can think of would be a half-demon, which isn't nearly as fun--and this was a 3.0 supplement, before they'd removed mention of incubi from the core game.

Entirely unrelated rant: Why'd they take out the line about succubi sometimes appearing as male in 3.5? Did they need to cut thirteen words that badly? It's not like you can't still use them that way (the stats are exactly the same, this no longer being 1973, *cough*) but it's no longer suggested. Maybe they figured it was self-evident. Maybe they got a lot of complaints.

It's all very mysterious.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Say No More

I was going to write a post about all the biological weirdness in D&D. Especially how everything can breed with every other thing. Apparently this was a big thing in the 80s. Breeding. And cross-breeding. Weird decade, all around.

I was going to write a response to Rae, who pointed out that D&D has biological problems with more than just nightvision. I was going to write about how it's actually worse than she says--according to the standard definition of species, celestials, fiends, and dragons are all the same species as . . . everything.

It was going to be this big long thing. Except that I remembered.

This game has owlbears.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Nightvision!

Elves and gnomes ought to be colorblind. Unless their low-light vision is magical, which the rules don't indicate.

I'd say orcs and dwarves, too, except that darkvision basically has to be magical. No animal on earth can see in absolute darkness. Animals that can see in the dark are just very efficient with the available light.

One of the ways to maximize this efficiency is by having lots of rod cells and few cone cells. Cones register color, but need more light to function. Rods only register greyscale, but don't need as much light. Since there's a limited amount of real estate in an eye, a creature can either be good at seeing color or good at seeing in the dark.

Maybe I'm missing something. Or maybe elves and gnomes just have extra-dimensional spaces inside their eyes.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Children of Men

Children of Men was better than I thought it'd be.

See, I have this love-hate relationship with science fiction movies. I love science fiction. I hate science fiction movies. They always get it wrong.

Science fiction is about extrapolation. You start with "what if?" and you work from there. The complications need to tie into the world, what makes it different from the real world, what makes it science fiction.

Otherwise, it's not science fiction. If it could work in a different setting--if your story is "a western, in space," it's not science fiction. It's got the trappings, but not the mechanics.

Note that this doesn't mean that shows like Firefly aren't science fiction. (I use "western" because it's traditional, when making this particular point.) Firefly is actually an example of the reverse of this phenomena. It's got western flavor, but develops its plots in a science fictional manner: pick an aspect of the setting, figure out how that aspect could cause problems for the protagonists.

Science fiction movies--or rather, the movies people call science fiction--don't generally do this. Or they don't do it well. They tend to be too concerned with blowing things up and making philosophical points.

The Matrix is an example. I loathe this movie, with a totally unwarranted passion. And I mean the original, not the latter two--haven't even seen the third. People think it's deep, and they think it's science fiction. It's not. It (or rather, it's hack writers/directors) starts with a philosophical point it wants to make, and then puts together a patchwork setting that exists only to make this point. It's got no depth, except for some idiocy about vitamins. And that doesn't even count, because it was old hat when Asimov was writing robot novels.

I guess that's what I like about Children of Men, at least now, before I've had the chance to really think about it. It's got depth. It's got a number of different challenges and plot twists, all based on the setting. It brings up things that are never fully explained ("your parents were in New York when it happened") because they don't need to be, but they still make sense.

It's got a sense of verisimilitude. The story comes from the world, not the other way around.

And I liked the music--felt all future-y without being stupid, and there was a lot of Beetles, which made sense in the context of the world.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Plan 9 From Outer Space

I watched Plan 9 From Outer Space a couple of nights ago. It's a spectacularly bad movie, and everyone should see it. After watching Ed Wood.

I have nothing else to say. Because I'm busy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Alignment

I am currently pondering the Dungeons and Dragons alignment system.

I'm wondering if it's possible to take it out of the game. And if I should. Or if I should go the Eberron route and just maybe make it kind of not matter so much.

It's not that I dislike the system, in the abstract. I'm just thinking about it's in-game effect, and whether I really want players to be able to tell whether or not someone is "evil" with a first level spell. And what I want that to mean.

I want to run a campaign that involves the players trying to figure out whether various people are on their side. I don't know if this is actually a good idea; the concept may change at some undetermined future point, but that's where it is right now. I do know that having the alignment system in place, as it is written, will make that difficult. More difficult than it would be, without it in.

Because that's what the alignment system is for: telling you whether a given person is on your side. Yeah, there's a lot of silliness in the books about how it's a "guide to develop your character," and I am aware that it's possible (more than possible) for two evil-aligned or chaotic-aligned or even good-aligned groups to come to blows, but that's still basically what it's for. It tells you, the player, whether or not a given creature is okay to kill.

This is cool. If what you want to do is kill wizards, it's an excellent system. Having some elaborate system, ideally involving extended surveillance and social puzzle-solving, to figure out whether you can kill the wizard would, in this sort of game, be actively detrimental to the game play experience.

However. While I've had fun running "kill the wizard" type games in the past, that's not what I'm planning at the moment. I'm planning a game that involves the calculations and challenges that the alignment system is explicitly designed to bypass. Something involving politics as well as wizard killing. And while I'm pretty sure that the alignment system, as written, is going to interfere with that, I'm not exactly sure what I should do about it.

Should I change the actual mechanics of alignment, or just adjust what the little words "mean"? Should I remove references to it entirely, or change them to something else? By which I mean--should detect evil be entirely purged, or changed to, say, detect foe?

Making any change to the system is going to alter cleric and paladin power. Changing things to "detect foe" and "smite foe" would make them more powerful; removing them from the game would make them less powerful. But how much more or less powerful? Is there any way to tell?

Do I need to change anything? Is it really going to be that big of a problem? Or can I get away with, say, banning paladins?

These are questions I may not even be qualified to answer.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Define: Dingus

I should probably explain what I mean by "dingus."

The dictionary definition gets the broad sense of it. It's an object, that you either can't name or don't want to bother naming. Comes from German. Used in the Maltese Falcon, to refer to the eponymous bird.

I tend to use it more specifically: A dingus is an object, in a story, that the characters in the story want. This, then, drives the plot.

"Object" is maybe not exactly the right word. Because I use it to describe characters. Although, technically, there's usually something else that could be described as the dingus in that sort of situation--like with Jack Sparrow, in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 it's actually his soul that matters. Calling the character the dingus still works, though, because it's a word that describes an element's function in the story.

I picked it up from The Big List of RPG Plots, by S. John Ross. Which is a wicked handy web page, for GMs and writers. And people who want to make fun of GMs and writers for use clich├ęd plots. (Which every plot is, if you break it down far enough. It's just one of those things they aren't making any more of.)

It's a cool word. It's a way to simplify complex plots, which makes it handy for talking about story in general, and for talking about (and designing) RPG plots in particular.

RPGs really demand simplicity from their plots--or, rather, they demand that the plots have a simple core. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the big one is that the players need to be able to figure out what to do next fairly quickly. If the GM has an understanding of the plot on a very basic level, such that dingus thinking can provide, it's easier to help players figure that out. Being able to analyze the plot simply is useful whenever you're talking about (or designing) any story, but it's particularly vital in an RPG.

Plus, it's fun to say. Which is the real reason why I use it.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Cope

If you have any interest in game design at all, you should be reading James Wallis's blog, Cope. (Loving the subtitle, by the way.)

I've been meaning to link to him for some time. He writes about storytelling in games--Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Half Life 2, as examples--as well as more basic "don't do this!" issues.

I finally got around to it today because he writes about Will Wright, talking about Spore, and storytelling in games. Read it, read what it links to. It's interesting. And important.