Game Pile: Usurper

I went on a bit of a rollercoaster with Usurper.

First, I backed the game on kickstarter because it had some very modest targets, and a nice aesthetic, and stated it was using Gamecrafter. I thought it looked like a very good early effort for a game designer, backed it, and forgot about it for a few months.

Then it arrived.

What arrived was, as a game, a really robust little draft-position-play kind of game, with a thematic space I can only describe as ‘excellently obtuse.’ I had a look, I considered how I was going to approach talking about this game, and I put together a little list of thoughts that I laid out in the template for this article. As part of doing that, then, I went to get my due diligance and the links to people’s works, and places where you can buy the game, and found, to my surprise…

You can’t.

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Should Megatron Even Be A Gun?

The classic villain of the Transformers canon is the generically named villain Megatron. In almost forty years of reimagining and endless marketing, we have seen Megatron in a lot of different ways. He’s been an unassailable, all-powerful figure at the top of a hierarchy, a strongman ruler who can oversee an army, a gatekeeper of power, a rebel leader attacking an empire, a damaged soldier, a gladiator and an avatar of oblivion. Across the major histories of Transformers, Megatron’s image of himself has varied, from series to series, writer to writer (and in particular projects, episode to episode), but it is reassuring to see how consistently this character is recognisably himself.

Of course, to know that, you’d have to watch a lot of transformers media, and that’s not how lots of people partake of them. Most people, at least, most of the people who don’t watch the Bay movies and think ‘oh yeah that’s about right,’ bring the same thing to mind when they talk about Megatron.

They think about a gun.

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The Fuck You Rain

Okay, okay, I want to jot this down.

I’m writing this on the 25th of March. Scheduling means this isn’t going up until May. But cast your mind back to those days, we were so innocent, so youthful, everything was different back in March and oh god I hope that’s not true. Point is though, this is the first time this blog has needed a timely post and not been able to just bump things for it. Wild, huh?

Thing is, this week has been rainy. In fact, in my area, it’s been raining for two weeks, and specifically it’s been raining nonstop for ten days up until yesterday. From me, now, the 25th, not uh, whenever you’re reading this.

If it’s raining, there’s stuff that doesn’t happen. People aren’t going places as much. If I go to the store, it’s because I’m getting a lift with a friend or getting the bus, and getting the bus in the rain sucks. Still, things need to be done because they need to be done so they get done but some things you can’t do.

Like laundry.

Today, it was sunny. It was bright. It was twenty eight degrees. So if you were like any normal person, like, say, us, you did a load of laundry, first thing in the morning and you bolted out to get it up, on the line, in the blazing morning sun. You got your stuff drying as fast as possible after almost two weeks of not being able to get a load of underwear clean. And it’s Australia, so it’s sunny as hell when it’s sunny, and that means that you wind up, right, with a nice, reassuring warmth that says yes: The laundry will get done.

And at like, noon, today, suddenly, a peal of thunder

The heavens opened.

And for twenty solid minutes there was just a vertical river of a rain that as far as I can tell, served no greater narrative purpose than to ruin the day of every single neighbour we have who was sensible enough to do the clever thing and put their laundry out to dry during this blessed wellspring of warm sunlight. And the thing is, the thing is, it’s not just that your laundry got rained on for twenty minutes – it’s worse. It’s worse, because when it was raining you had no idea it would pass.

If you saw this rain, you’d look at the sheet of water out of the sky and your struggling t-shirts and go: well, fuck, I guess I need to get out there and rescue whatever dryness they have. You bolt out in the water and splash around in the water that’s puddling in the backyard under the line, or the mud, and you’re not dressed for this rain, because it’s a hot day up until exactly this point. And it sheets down over you and you get the laundry in off the line and bolt inside and then you look at the laundry and

let’s face it

It’s soaking wet.

You didn’t save shit.

And then, like, maybe two minutes after that? The rain stops. The sun comes out. And the rest of the day is warm and sunny.

But can you trust that?

 

 

 

 

I did not get caught in this storm, mind you.

I’d forgotten to do the laundry in the morning.

Story Pile: Moneyball

Lots of movies are about games. Most of them are kind of bad – sports movies famously depicting weird strategies or rules loopholes or just bad versions of how their games are played to create the most dramatic moments. And if your sport is one of the heavily merchandised sports in the United States, your sport has absolutely got a set of movies, filling the niches of What If Sports, What If Sports But Girl, What If Sports But Animal, and eventually, What If Sports But Your Dad Cries. Moneyball is firmly in that last category, a rhapsodic story about how important a game Baseball is to culture, which is why it’s mostly only played by three countries, and I know someone’s coming along to go hey, you forgot Poland and I do not care.

Ostensibly, Moneyball, a 2010 film about a 2002 season of ‘Baseball,’ the 1845 game, follows Billy Beane, a lone, hard man, a bitter and tormented man, a baseball man, where he took the conventional wisdom to the table, rejected the model of running a baseball team and defeated the system with facts, and logic, showing that once and for all, baseball doesn’t care about your feelings.

I promise, promise, promise, this tone is necessary.

Because Moneyball as a movie owns bones.

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O Whacking Day

I am not actively a big fan of the Simpsons. I mean, they’re part of my sense of humour, I know a lot of the memes, I get a bunch of references but that’s because The Simpsons is a kind of cultural background radiation. It’s not something I’ve actively watched on TV at any point in the past twenty-five years, which is kind of amazing to consider. Like, I haven’t watched an episode of the Simpsons since I was back in the cult, it was that long ago, and yet I’m reasonably conversant on the whole subject.

It doesn’t matter, though because apparently, the majority of the stuff The Simpsons fans reference all came about in that five year window, and I’m sure that there’s no other influence on this like the age of my friends. Based entirely on this I will simply assert that this is when The Simpsons stopped being good, and never bother thinking about anything after that point.

One episode in this ‘classic’ period, and the one which asks us to celebrate it tomorrow – I tell you early so you can get organised – on May the tenth, is the twentieth episode of the fourth season episode (blaze it), Whacking Day.

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5 Alternatives To Classics

In literary circles it’s not uncommon for core texts to be seen as fundamentally important, perhaps because of their long-term impact, or their origination of important ideas to a particular grouping of texts. This is seen as one of those ideas that can legitimise a field – it’s not so much that videogames have been waiting for their Citizen Kane as much as is that they’ve been waiting for their advocates to be taken seriously inside and out of academia.

In board games, this conversation about a ‘canon’ is even harder to manage – it tends to be not about games as critically meaningful units of culture, because that’s… that’s real hard. Typically instead we get sales numbers, and that can create the idea that the gaming marketplace is itself fundamentally rational and never elevates anything bad and there’s no such thing as a distribution network.

Now, I think some of these ‘classic’ games aren’t… really interesting to me. And for me, as long as I have some games in my collection, I feel replace or displace other games in the same general field. Don’t think ‘I have to get these classics,’ just give them a play and see if you like them. There are almost always good alternatives, and now I’m gunna talk about some.

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Knowing You’re Being Tested (If You’re A Thing)

There’s a term in AI Safety, coined I think by Robert Miles, about the dangers of test protocols and devices that can respond to them. The idea as he proposes it is that in the context of an AI that is being tested to see how compliant it is to a task, if it recognises the difference between a test and a real environment, it makes sense for the AI to lie about its own behaviour, pass the test, then execute things by its normal protocols.

The idea runs pretty much like this: AI as crafted have priorities. Let’s say it wants to press red buttons and not blue buttons. You want to make sure it presses blue buttons and not red buttons. So, you pull it in for a test. If the AI is capable of telling it’s being tested, the best way for it to continue pressing red buttons is to in this moment, press blue buttons to pass the test. There are more red buttons in the world then there are in the test, so it stands to reason that pressing these blue buttons will yield more red buttons over time.

And so you pull the thing into a test environment and it presses the blue buttons the way it should and you release it and still keep getting reports of all these red buttons being pushed. But because the AI behaves the way it ‘should’ in testing, you’re left with this really weird black hole in your ability to locate the problem. After all, the AI is doing what it should in tests!

This is a phenomenon that doesn’t just apply to high level AI though. It’s more a sort of general warning about the way testing environments are constructed, and what you have to do to deal with actors in testing spaces that are trying to pass the test. When playtesters are trying to convince you they had a good time, when they are concerned about your emotional reactions, they will do things that try to end the playtest session. They will be trying to live up to and comply with your expectations.

It’s also about the tools you use. Forms for feedback can unconsciously push people towards giving you the answers you want rather than the answers they intend to give. This is especially true for any testing involving kids, because kids are inclined to giving emotional responses that they perceive you want. What’s more, kids are really good at inferring the unstated – so if you ask them if thing A is true or false, they may often infer thing B, even if you don’t want them to.

The important thing is that your test results and feedback can get all sorts of unconsidered factors. It’s worth noting that Robert Miles’ position was explicitly about things where a thinking entity made a deliberate choice to disrupt the test, though.

The term he uses for this is Volkswagoning.

Minecraft: XP Furnace Design

Back in the days of Minecraft’s 1.15 patch, I shared this picture on Twitter:

This is something I was working on in a creative world for a collaborative server space. What I wanted to make was an XP Furnace system that could be used for players who needed to repair their mending equipment conveniently, something that just worked on its own over time. This design was made to be tileable, where each piece could be put directly next to one another without interfering with one another, and to be user approachable. I didn’t want a user to have to do anything with it – just let them take the stuff out of the furnace and get the XP that the furnace had in it was the ideal.

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Harmonising the Jedi

There’s this idea in religious studies, but usually something you only examine as a member of that religion, where you try to take conflicting or seemingly conflicting incidents in different texts and try to construct an explanation for how those things work together. This idea, of trying to bring these works together, is known as harmonisation. It’s a way that multiple conflicting canons – in the religious sense – can be ‘explained’ into one another. It also, when you understand it as a practice, makes a lot of changed texts make sense.

Like Star Wars movies.

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Story Pile: Tenchi Muyo (Kinda)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, or one like it.

The story starts in a remote, boring little bucolic space where nothing is happening but there’s talk about an old mystery that connects to a family line. Our hero, Tenchi Masaki, wants to go explore the interesting thing, but his grandfather tells him he has to do his chores, instead. When he slips from his grandfather’s attention, he winds up exploring an old cave he’s been told not to, whereupon he gets a sweet laser sword that’s a relic from a more civilised age, and also wakes up an ancient demon, which kicks off a series of events resulting in his whole house being teleported next to the same bucolic shrine, meaning it’s easy to hide spaceships coming and going, and you don’t have to draw as many backgrounds in a city or non-major characters.

Along the way, he discovers the demon is actually a cool space pirate who wants to jump him, she’s being hunted by a haughty princess, who wants to jump him, and then a steadily coagulating core of Other Girls arrive to join in the queue of Wants To Jump Him.

It’s not a hentai.

There’s space-faring adventurers, battles with spacefaring criminal types, a vast empire, and deep powerful forces that well up from inside Tenchi (who is secretly a prince).

Now I may have described The Most Generic Anime Plot ever, but the good news is that’s because I also described The Most Generic Anime ever, an anime that has been part of the background of anime for a while now.

Content Warning: Mentions of incest.

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Bidding for Second Place

I have this game idea where it’s a bidding game, but the second place is the one that wins it.

That’s it, that’s the whole of the idea.

There are a couple of games that already work on this principle. The idea that you want to avoid overdoing your efforts to hit a target is something that’s been in games since, well, Snakes and Ladders, where you have to land on the last tile with the exact, correct roll. Curling and Bowls are both games about getting as close as possible to a target without actually touching it, which implies the same vision of doing ‘exactly enough.’

In the case of the auction game, though, you aren’t sure about what you’re trying to do; you aren’t just expending resources that you want to save, but you’re also trying to hit just behind the player who bids the most. I think there’s interesting tension there, in the form of being second.

The problem I’m wondering about is what kind of theme can fit this?

In an auction, the idea that the first place loses the thing somehow is confusing. I can’t imagine why someone would do this, unless the auction was deliberately set up to be unfair. Blind auctions in the real world sometimes have rules like buy-in, so you have to place a bid in the hopes of getting something and you may not even get all the money you bid back,  which is a great swizz for people engaging in these kinds of nonsense trades.

The problem is that auction games about auctions are… weird? They need something to justify the mechanics, why they’re not just, you know, an auction. Consider that many auction games rely on expending resources that are limited – like cards. In the real world, money’s fungible – so you can just make change and bid the amount you want. Once you start introducing game mechanics to auctions, you need to introduce enough that they explain why the auction is being run like a real mickey mouse outfit.

Here then are some thoughts about what this ‘hit second’ auction may be all about:

  • You’re bidding on religious iconography, and the church keeps identifying the richest person based on the high bid, swooping on them to demand tithing
  • You’re extremely exciteable idiots, meaning that ‘winning’ the auction results in you throwing a huge party immediately, and forgetting to pick up the item
  • You’re raiding hackers, and the first person to break a server are the people who are immediately driven away – you get prestige, but not resources
  • You’re all contingents of a raiding army – the highest value represents the biggest army, which is put to the task of destroying enemies, while the second biggest must do the work of developing the land
  • You’re Canadian, and too polite to take the thing if you win
  • You’re artists working in a fragile medium like ice, and the person who tries to do the most has their artwork collapse
  • You’re dealing with rallying Australian voters, and Tall Poppy syndrome syndrome means the top position loses
  • You’re cultists rousing Cthulhoid horrors – and the cult that gets too much attention gets eaten
  • You’re smuggling stuff past cops, and the people who move the most product are the ones who get caught.

What about you? Got some ideas?

The Cataphasis of Haruhi Suzumiya

Anime is an art movement that has encapsulated thousands of different competing threads and there’s no true centralising canon because it’s fragmented across all sorts of cultural anchor points. Australians of my age that are into anime so often got started because Aggro’s Cartoon Connection screened Sailor Moon, the ABC screened Astro Boy, Cheez TV screened Teknoman and SBS, in the late 90s, screened Neon Genesis Evangelion, meaning that those four anime are sometimes seen as ‘common ground’ topics. Common ground for one age bracket in one country, and even then, only sometimes.

There are some events that can be looked upon, in the english-speaking anime fandom, though, in terms of their impact on shared cultural spaces, typically conventions, but also just, anime releases that somehow managed to be widespread enough at the right time that they became foundation to the conversation. The big three of Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. Evangelion movies. Fullmetal Alchemist, then Fullmetal Alchemist again. A collection of trans girls and boys and nonbinary people that can trace a lineage from Ranma 1/2 through to Kampfer and Haku and Soul Eater and maybe a few tracing lines to Vandread.

There is a category of people I can annoy enormously by responding to a Touhou picture with which anime is this from?

There’s only so much room for any given series to suck up a lot of the oxygen in the fandom space. You can’t typically have five or six ‘big name’ anime that ‘everyone’ has an opinion on. One of those ‘event’ Anime, that rose, became incredibly prominent, and then deformed the culture at large, becoming one of the rings in the tree trunk that is this strange cultural enclaves, was the enormous franchise known as Haruhi Suzumiya.

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Game Pile: Syndicate Wars

The rain rattles down against endless shimmering towers of silver and glass, black sludgy water, stinging on the way down, even the treatments making it ‘safe’ leaving it bitter, acrid, and faintly radioactive. No-one who knows better would be about in weather like this.

But nobody knows better.

The people mill around you, chips on their necks keeping them docile. What are they seeing? Do they even see the rain and the lines it leaves on the glass around them? Probably not. Every city runs its own sim, its own explanation for the world around them as the citizens move about, processing information and doing jobs and not noticing the world as it really is.

Imagine keeping a labor force like this in pods.

A world sized prison for humans, plugged into a vast wireless network of perception manipulators? Unnecessary. After all, if there’s ever a serious problem, they solve it with agents. Heavy, boot-and-coat wearing walking battle platforms, with no personality and big scary fuckin’ guns.

Agents from one corp, agents from another corp, they clash, and everyone else is left dead. More now we got the cult weirdoes, and the gangers who fell out of the network trying to stage an uprising.

This is the world now.

You fell out of the system, after that virus hit. And you get to see the world, as it is – as it tears itself apart.

This is Syndicate Wars.

Content Warning: Drugs.

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April 2021 Wrapup!

Thus ends Talen Month, a month which is, surprisingly, tricky to actually fill out. It’s often tricky because it kind of behooves me to make it a month of bangers. There’s no room for the ‘eh, it’s not that good,’ kind of stuff, or ‘unexpectedly meh’ kind of coverage. I’m trying to build the structure for this month over the rest of the year – any time a real favourite idea comes up, I put it in the hopper and plan on hitting it hard in April.

If you thought ‘hey the articles this month were kinda big,’ well, they were. A typical post on the blog ranges between 300 to 1200 words, with only a very few big beefy entries that crest 2000 words. This month, the average was 1200, with a full 15 articles over 1000 words. That’s even setting aside the extra media entries – three videos and a podcast, which don’t fit normal word count stuff.

This April had a lot of stuff in it! And that stuff’s real good, in my opinion!

April is a month with five Game Piles, and it seems that this month the subtheme was ‘oh hey, remember that?’ In addition to  this, I talked about One Must Fall 2097 and how its design was influenced by the keyboard. I talked about Heretic and how it iterated on the Doom engine. Then I talked about Ai: The Somnium Files with Nixie, which was fun. There’s another Game Pile going up tomorrow, and it’ll be about Syndicate Wars. Yeah, Syndicate Wars, no doubt a game you’re all thirsting to hear my opinions about.

I warn you, it will not be erotically charged.

There was also an article about Final Fantasy VI, which  got inexplicably linked to on Critical Distance. I mean, I’m grateful and glad, and I hope it holds to the principle of the site to maintain a list of thoughtful writing about videogames, but also, I guess I’ve now enshrined ‘girl hot’ as a type of proper videogame critique.

It’s been a month to consider my branding, the way my Youtube Channel presents itself. It has been pointed out to me that my Youtube Channel doesn’t really do anything to encourage someone to engage with it, I don’t do calls to action, and I don’t give the channel a clear identity. That’s something to work on.

No central theme to Story Pile this month, though! I talked about Only You Can Save Mankind, a book by Terry Pratchett that ruined me for every ‘metatextually clever’ window pane story, Robotecha series that kinda doesn’t exist (with a followup of some disjointed stuff from the series that stick with me), the movie The Mighty Ducks, and the book The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, part of the Animorphs series (that I said you shouldn’t read).  The unifying theme here appears to be ‘1992-1999.’

We only got one Magic: the Gathering article this month, but it was an article of custom made Sultai monsters. On the other hand, I did flaunt my ass by showing some of my D&D worldbuilding from years ago, and updated it to now, examining the Gods of War in Cobrin’Seil. We also looked at The Ardent from 4th Edition and the Fochlucan Lyrist from 3.5. Then we learned how to be Rock Howard, and how to do an unarmed character that doesn’t completely suck ass in the context of a game all about hitting people with weapons.

I’ve been basically daring myself to write about Bleach, a series I love deeply despite being as immensely flawed as it is. We got ourselves a Bleach weekend, where we talked about the sword as a storytelling vehicle in Bleach, then some examples of stuff it did with that.

There wasn’t that much in the way of game-making or politics this month, though I did reserve some time to talk about the fundamentally punitive way games are structured in common discourse around D&D.

I also wrote a bit about some characters I like, mine and other people’s. Dinobot from Beast Wars, Kaede from Last Blade, the Thraddash from Star Control 2 and Carcer from City of Heroes.

 

This month’s shirt was a reference to Only You Can Save Mankind which also creates an interesting little weirdo totemic item, a sort of memory of what it meant to be one of the people penning these ‘important’ things on ‘important’ technology, that have all passed by and stopped being meaningful useful any more.

Beyond that? It’s been a busy one. Teaching, PhD research, and blogging, and it’s been weirdly hard to get to sleep this month. Daylight saving shifted, which normally means I get more time with my friends on the internet, but weirdly, it just hasn’t worked out that way so far.

Celebrating Talen’s Birthday, 2021

It’s my birthday today. I have turned an age that doesn’t feel right. I still think of myself as an Outsized Boy, inappropriately aged since I have this early period of my life when I stepped blinking out into reality while completely confused about things like ‘how do I even be a human?’ Like the first seventeen or so years of my life were ripped away from me, leaving me with this ridiculously inappropriate ‘age’ while all my cultural touchstones of my ‘childhood’ started in the late 90s.

It is also my birthday here, in Australia. Over there in America, it’s not quite there yet. You’re a day out. This is the kind of time delay that means all sense of immediacy and engagement with my birthday can both drag, and flicker past. I’m not writing this on my birthday, after all.

What to do for a birthday.

Hm.

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Story Pile: The Hork-Bajir Chronicles

Hey, remember how I gave that list, ‘five reasons you shouldn’t read Animorphs?’ The ways that the books aren’t necessarily fully transitive to your experiences now, and that doesn’t mean that you should necessarily take my love of the series to heart and follow through on it? Maybe then I should follow that up with a good way to ease yourself into the story, or some sort of reading list that skips awkward bits?

Or, and hear me out, I could talk about one book in the franchise, that occurs near the tail end of it, and is both the earliest point in the narrative and a standalone science fiction story and a deep lore dive that features no human characters at all.

Let’s do that one.

Let’s do the incomprehensible one.

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T-shirt: Quiet Voice

I thought a lot about this month’s shirt.

I mean, it’s the me month right? Am I going to put a logo on a shirt that you can put out there that shows off like… me? That seems weird. Plus, my current setup is a little… let’s say it’s branding obtuse. Like, go on and ask me what ‘press dot exe’ means sometime, except Shelf, who knows.

Anyway, I thought at first about making some kind of logo for myself, then I did a few dumb deep-cut jokes about game logos and then I thought about making fan merch for a game that obviously a lot of people care about but which is completely unrecognisable to even other fans.

Also, it’s the Me Month. So I wanted it to be really easy.

I actually wound up making three designs today (today!). I also almost mad a fan-design for Carcer, based on a drawing a friend made of a spooky ghost. But that’s their art, not mine, and so that got scrapped. Maybe some of those other designs will come up later. The fine thing, the most important thing:

I really wanted this month’s shirt to be easy.

Like, if I was going to do something for myself, today, I think it’d be giving myself a break.

So I made something that gives me nostalgia and which I know will probably never sell a second copy.

 

Here’s the design! It’s a 3.5 inch diskette and that is my handwriting. It’s meant to be like the disk that Johnny used to get the game in the book of the same name – complete with the fading text. It’s just a simple, small little thing, it wasn’t hard to make, and it reminds me of something that I care about a lot.

It also has a message that has more and more become part of my life. We’re the only people going to be saving us. It’s not coming from space and all.

Here it is on a shirt.

You can get it over on Redbubble.

4e: The Ardent

I write a fair bit about 4th edition D&D. There’s at least one article a month, with the How To Be series, and I think they’re lots of fun. They’re exercises in character construction, working from a character aesthetic and trying to find a way to make that fit in the power boundaries and existing options of 4th edition D&D. Part of why I like to do this is to attack the idea that character creation in 4e was boring.

Stil, there are some things that are just… very much from D&D. They’re just things that fit within the universe of D&D as it is, and don’t really translate well to other sources. One such class is the Ardent. The Ardent is a psionic leader; it does team support, healing and buffing and positioning, but powered by the power of the mind.

Psionics in D&D has a weird place, because for some people (like me) it feels like a clear intrusion of science fiction into the fantasy landscape of D&D and therefore makes all the arcane and divine importance of magic as a discipline less important, and for some people (like me, now) that’s 100% correct and rules. Complaints about psionics from back in the day tend to be about how the system was broken not about how the system broke the fiction of the universe after all. Psionics has come to be a favourite system because it tends to be contained in a way that magic isn’t. Magic gets expanded constantly, while there’s an understanding that the psionic system is going to get a limited amount of space, and the psionic classes tend to get a small number of tools they need to make hte most out of. That creates a depth of mastery, where you want to make choices that give you a toolkit you then have to maximise, rather than the disappointing feeling of a wizard’s infinitely wide toolkit, or a sorcerer’s maximally efficient one. It strikes a middle space – and it stands apart from the wizard.

The Ardent takes this idea space and looks at psionics as a way to express the self. It is literally a romantic class (though no Ardent I’ve played has ever had a successful romance) – a class who can use their feelings, their love, their rage, their will to succeed, their excitement at avoiding an attack, and turn that into a tangible force where they can use it to punch an enemy in the face. I love this stuff – I love the idea of a literal avatar of your own feelings. It’s like the thrill of a cleric, where your ideology drives your actions, but you don’t have to have a Dad who is also a Cop on hand.

Ardents use weapons; Ardents wear armour. I like that. These are both things that will cost your character somewhat, but they get you to have a big physical expression of what kind of person they are in their aesthetic. Robes tend to be robes – but armour can look like a lot of different things. Using an axe or a hammer or a polearm or a sword – they also express different ideas. Plus, weapons have a big space of fun synergies that you can pick up if you want to find something interesting to do with your feats, but also don’t demand it.

Ardents are a Charisma-first class. That is, you make attack and damage rolls with your charisma. I wrote about them a while back, about how you can be hot and hit people with your hotness, which I still find fun. Charisma as a way to express a driven character who, whether or not they have social anxiety or stress out over public interactions, can use the force of how they feel to change the world. That’s cool!

Also, it’s a leader. I like playing defenders, because they get to be tough and I can make a big, tangible showing of what good I am contributing. I like protecting my friends. I get some of the same with the leader’s job – making people better at what they do, contributing to their wellbeing, and, with the right build, absolutely wielding the strikers in the group like a bloody blunt instrument.

They get this power? Forward thinking cut. You can fire it off in three versions:

  • Hit someone. Your ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls. You can do this when you charge.
  • Shift 1, charge, then you can hit someone, and an ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls.
  • One or two Allies you can see can each charge creatures other than the target as a free action, with a bonus to damage equal to your con mod.

Now that, that escalated quickly.

Being able to charge in quick for free, as an at will power? that’s grand. The boost being until your next turn means you can charge next to a tank, stand in their defensive space, and watch as the bonus applies to all their attacks of opportunity or mark punishment. That power, on its own, is fine. The second version lets you shift away from someone holding you in place, and then charge off away from them, to join another ally. That’s also great, a tool you want in the toybox.

The third version is fucking nova gas.

It can be hard to concentrate these attacks – you may notice this means you, the Ardent, charge at a minion or buddy next to the villain, and you throw two of your allies at the villain as a free action so they start their turns mixing it up with them. You can use this to deploy a defender into the middle of a bunch of enemies.

Oh and did I mention that you give pepole a bonus to damage rolls based on how many attacks of opportunity they provoke?

And that this is one power?

And that you have other stuff you can do, including a conga line power where you pinball an enemy around between all your allies and let them all get an attack in?

I think about this a lot when I think about this class. It’s very D&D, but it’s also this very beautifully Tactics Game at the same time. It’s a game that lets you play out the fantasy of being a battlefield commander, inspiring and invigorating your allies. It’s so perfect for a lot of things I want out of characters I play.

Oh, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to find some builds in the future that use the Ardent. I like it a lot, and there are some characters who can probably be represented by a physically violent but emotionaly driven, armoured weapon wielder. I mean if she didn’t have such a loud ‘hit it harder’ theme, Chandra Nalaar could have done it.

Game Pile: Ai The Somnium Files (Again!)

Last year, I did a video about Ai: The Somnium Files. That video was mostly about the game as a top-down experience, and what you can learn from making that kind of game, and how it was deliberately unsubtle. I didn’t spend much time just talking about how much I love it and the things in it. Because I like it so much, I wanted to spend some time talking about it again and also platforming a beloved friend, Nixie!

In the video, Nixie mentions this video by Dr Cullen PhD, so there’s that link. Nixie has her own Twitter, and her own Patreon you can check out.

If you want a full size version of the thumbnail, here!

How To Be: Rock Howard (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

It’s April, it’s Talen Month, and that means we’re going to talk about a character I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time, and a character who I have a deep appreciation for. There’s not a lot of characters that fit in that mould and work well with 4th Edition’s heightened adventure reality, but when I had the idea to tackle this character, I did so with full and wholehearted knowledge that damnit, I wanted to take care of this character in my month.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Rock Howard.

NesTea

Time to time I’ll go back and look at classic Real-Time Strategy games, like Gene Wars or Krush Kill N Destroy and I’ll walk away with the twofold message that those games are badly made, but also, which I don’t put out there on screen or anything, that I am really mediocre at playing them. Mediocre is overstating it, really, because when I play an RTS where I know the game is well-regarded and skill-tested, I am regularly overwhelmed.

There was a time, though, around 2010, when I wasn’t actively bad at playing RTSes. Or one RTS, really. One specific RTS – Starcraft 2.

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CoX: Carcer

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.

In this case, this character’s backstory requires some Content Warning for parental abuse, and themes of mental health and trauma, as well as uh, Death Gods?


The vitals; Poor and poorer for it. Born in Croatoa. Raised in Kings. Single father. Bad father. Empathy powers, started in high school. Got hurt. Got insular. Had to deal with his feelings, and everyone else’s feelings.

Then Mot happened, and he had to deal with nothing but Mot’s feelings.

Carcer, only name given, has done some dumb things to try and deal with his situation. Ink black skin, a death god’s powers, the damage persisted after the sealing of Mot. A damaged, surly, aggressive boy, he’s been trying to use what he’s got to do some good. Continue reading

3.5 Memories: The Complete Adventurer

Before I go on to bang about something big and complicated in this book, I want to note, up front, that this book has Wraithstrike, one of my favourite 3.5 D&D spells, and which introduced the idea of spellcasters spending spell slots for short-term, immediate impact in combat, something I love and which always thrilled me when I got to play with it. If I only got this book for that one category of spell, I’d be pretty okay with it.

Just some uncritical, unvarnished, un-preambled praise.

Going back through my old 3.5 books is sometimes an exercise in wondering, in hindsight, just what exactly justified the book’s cost. At the time I was actively playing 3.5 D&D, the books were purchaseable research tools, things to leaf through and read and cross-reference. It was like getting a complex box of lego, and you could share your creations with other people.

Most of these books, I look at the spines and I have a warm thought or two. It tends to be something like oh yeah, remember how this lets you do that or that. Most any given book has an absolute dogshit class, one really embarrassingly weak thing, and one really busted thing in it. There’s always some stuff that’s, you know, decent, or stuff that becomes decent when you know what you’re doing. Basically, these books were themselves, even if never used to build a character, fun to play with.

Sometimes you’d find a book that had in it something that resisted play. Something with an obvious allure to it, but something that was hard to see how to make it work. These were often a bit like Finger Traps, kind of like Rubiks Cubes – puzzles where the impracticality of solving them was the point. Character options that asked an interesting question.

For the Complete Adventurer, the question was the Fochlucan Lyrist.

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5 Five Iron Frenzy Songs That Made People Mad

It’s no great secret that I love the band Five Iron Frenzy. I often give them such lofty praise as ‘the one good Christian band,’ or ‘great ska’ or ‘the one thing that stuck with me from church.’ But did you knooooowwww that they aren’t, in fact, popular? or rather, that in the spaces they’re from, they have this habit of annoying people?

Come along, check it out, and enjoy learning about just some of the ways that a Christian Ska band from Colorado managed to piss off lots of people in the superstructure that meant they got to be something as niche as an internationally famous Christian ska band at all.

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Transformers: Dinobot

When we talk about characters in the Transformers franchise – we, I say, like you’re taking part in this conversation. When I, when I bring them up unprompted, when I talk about The Transformers, there’s a sort of corpus of ‘the main characters’ that represent the typical, classic forms. I don’t need to explain who Optimus Prime is, because he’s Optimus fucking Prime. I like talking about the groups and characters that have an idea I find interesting, which the media doesn’t necessarily carry out. It’s stuff like the way that Blades is clearly holding himself together through caring for his found family (which annoyingly has two cops), or the way that the Stunticons can be read as a group of trans girls waiting to escape an abusive father figure.

What’s a rarity, then, is where the character as depicted in the media they’re from is just, like, no, that’s it, that’s the tweet. That’s the thing I like. The character as depicted, in the story, is a good character and I like them.

Such is the case with Beast Wars’ Dinobot.

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Gods of Cobrin’Seil: Faces Of War

I spoke earlier in the year about ways to view gods in Cobrin’Seil, and the story mechanisms I used to consider them. I said, at the time, that I wasn’t planning on talking more about the gods in my setting, unless there was interest. Then there was interest.

This involved digging up the text I had on these gods – the historical information for comparison. Obviously, looking back on your old writing is going to come with some problems. In this case, some of it just basic assumptions, some if it is awkward phrasing, some of it is indelicate language, and uh,

also,

I cut a title from this text for Adeblen. The original title was unremarkably edgy, and I would normally leave it in, but it uses a Content Warningy word, and there’s nothing really, like… related to it. I would normally leave the text as is and use it as a teaching moment? But like: Don’t give characters titles that include words you’re not comfortable saying at the gaming table any more. Seems pretty easy teaching.

Now, with that, here’s the old text presented for the gods Palescai and Adeblen. This text is presented as is and I’ll workshop it on the other end.

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