3.5: The Misfit Children Of The Complete Books

Dungeons & Dragons is a beast of structures. One of those structures is a class, which gives you a collection of mechanical abilities to express how you operate in the world. One of the other structures is a book release schedule, which gives you a sequence of products that Wizards would be very happy to sell you, and would make your game better, no really, check it out, this will totally address problems you’ve mentioned and noticed. Back in 3.5, the first wave of these was the Complete books, the Complete Warrior, Complete Adventurer, Complete Arcane and Complete Divine, which I will note, did not in fact, complete those options. Blatant false advertising in my imho.

Each of these books had three classes in them, meaning that after the initial release of the Player’s Handbook, we were presented within the first six months with twelve more classes to select from, which makes sense. Binches love classes. I have a long-standing opinion that every Complete book that presents new classes presents one legitimately interesting class and at least one complete turkey. What you almost never got was a powerful class out of a Complete book.

Of these classes, I actually think I have to revise my assessment. Like, some books didn’t really have an option that managed to reach the high water mark of fine.

But that’s a list! We can look at a list!

Presented then, in an itemised list, are the twelve classes of the Complete Books, 3.5 edition’s misbegotten I Guess player options. We’re going to look at the worst book to the best book, in terms of whether or not the classes are powerful. This is non-scientific and you’re reading along because I’m charming, so don’t get too het up about it.

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Bad Maps And The Vast Forests of Corrindale

North of Dal Raeda, the first landmark most obviously seen is the vast, sprawling city of Eresh, the centre and capital of the Eresh Protectorates. The heart of the highway system that crisscrosses the continent of Bidestra, it serves as a gateway towards the dragon ruins of Amenti in the west and the dread realms of mist to the east. No highway leads directly north though –

For north of Eresh lies the forest of Corrindale.

The vast, spreading, deep and uncharted woods of Corrindale, reaching far enough north to encircle ancient mountain cities, to taste the snowy skies and paying host to its own mysterious community of druids and kobolds, host to cities of Orc and Elf and uh

and uh

stuff.

There’s lots of stuff in that there Corrindale forest. And it’s uh

It’s real big.

Right like just the top part of that map?

Yeah it’s all Corrindale Forest.

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Asset Brainstorm #7 — Graffiti Constructor (2?)

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.


This month, as a brainstorm project, Fox wanted to know what I’d do with this toolkit available on Itch.io, by uh, Free Game Assets?

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Story Pile: Reaper Man

Man.

The Discworld is incredible.

There are 41 Discworld novels, and with one exception, each novel is a standalone piece that requires no background reading in any other novel to work as itself; some concepts may be explained more thoroughly when they’re more focal, but if a story is about or includes stuff like L-Space or the Auditors or the strange mythology of the Nac Mac Feegles, the story that includes them will include an explanation of what they are and why you should care about them. Once you understand that concept, or recognise that character, though, you can see them show up in other people’s stories, and their presence connects the books one to another. There’s a web throughout the story where some characters are fleshed out through cameo appearances in other stories. It’s one of the masteries of the writing; that many of these characters have such whole identities that when you see Fred Colon for a quick joke in a novel where he’s not advancing the plot, he’s still believably Fred Colon and all these characters are whole people with realised inner lives.

The character who shows up in almost every Discworld novel with only two exceptions I’m aware of, is Discworld’s version of Death. There are five ‘Death’ novels, where they focus on the specific character and characters in his orbit, counting in order Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, Hogfather and finally Thief of Time. These books can be read in sequence to read the development of the character, his relationships, and his life – such as it is.

Reaper Man tells the story of when Death became a person for a while. A person who could live, a person who could die, and what it meant for Death to confront Death.

Spoilers below the fold. Also I guess content warning, because this is a book about Death.

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I wanna Steal A Thing From Biblios

I like watching board game reviews. Part of why I like watching them is because they often rely on telling you how a mechanic works in a broad sense but never the refined ways that design interacts with all the pieces. Just recently I watched a review from Shut Up And Sit Down for Steve Finn’s Biblios (the one that’s not in print) and got treated to this beautiful brain-expander of a board design:

The idea presented in the review is there are cards that affect public information, and this central card with the dice on them is used to represent that public information. You can do things that may make say, the green dice ‘worth more’ so it dials up. Or you may do something to depress the market for yellow dice things and reduce the value of that dice. I don’t know, I’ve never played Biblios.

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Game Pile: Quake

In 2021, Quake got put on Steam in a new, updated version that made the resolution work better with my monitor. I promised myself I would finally put down some of my thoughts about Quake.

It so happens while watching speedruns I realised I hadn’t done that yet.

And I needed to to hit this deadline.

Sooo…

June Game Project — They Were Roommates

Every month of 2022, I am trying, as part of both my PhD project and my all-purpose general game development, develop if not a whole game for game development, a project start, such that I can make playtest prototypes. This is a sort of report of the process throughout the month.


They Were Roommates (temporary name, change this) is a game about getting all your bags in order and finding a solution – any solution – to getting a room where you can all spend the night for a con, even despite any inconveniences.

You ever go to a convention? A travel-from-your-home, get-a-hotel-room, spend-the-weekend, indulge-and-experience-and-relate kind of convention? In my experience, every con has sort of more or less the same kind of stuff, even if there’s an emphasis. You’ll find videogames at an anime con and anime at a gaming con, if you know where to look (usually near my table where I’m selling it). The general mish-mosh of interests mean that even at non-furry cons, there are some furries.

I started this month looking at some avatars for a game design that I kind of liked. After consideration though I jumped through some hoops and put that design onto a backburner (in part because I have some ideas for a different game using those pieces).

Image

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Shirt: Friend Of Blåhaj

Hey, it’s Pride month, and so I needed to make sure I really made some fun queer-friendly design, right?

Well:

I made a cute design of a shark with a banner on it!

There’s a collection of them – with different banners and backgrounds – but I’m trying to not overload myself with dozens of designs for every possible flag or application. It’s available as a sticker, badge, mask and cap design if you don’t want to spend T-Shirt money (or if t-shirts are weird and expensive for you, or just generally not set up well for your body).

If you want this design with another banner like ace or agender or something please let me know so I can set that up but I am defaulting to just these two because they’re the most convenient for me to make and setting up two versions of every possible flag represents a huge time offering.

Story Pile: Revolutionary Girl Utena

When I hear people talk about ’90s anime’ it seems to be used to refer to the early 90s, with long-running, heavily episodic series that often didn’t have satisfying endings, but that was okay because you were always there for the ride. Stuff like Ranma 1/2 (take a drink), Yu Yu Hakusho, Sailor Moon, and Dragonball. Thing is, while that stuff has lasted (and is great and fine), that is the early 90s. Seemingly split in half, it’s the late 90s where the anime making a splash in English language areas took a sharp turn; you got Cowboy Bebop, Serial Experiments Lain and Trigun, all anime I remember watching at the time. I don’t know if I saw the change at the time, but I do now in hindsight.

Revolutionary GIrl Utena was one of the Very Noticeable anime of the late 1990s; from that period when suddenly the anime you were getting were a bit less ‘whacky hammerspace’ and a bit more ‘you need to watch every episode and also here the villain fist-fights a rogue kangaroo.’

Revolutionary Girl Utena is visually splendid, has lovely music, is steeped knee-deep in metaphorical symbolism, and queer in the way that its faintest fig leaf stands between it and the audience. It’s a fairy tale but one where the fairies are like, the horrifying kind. Revolutionary Girl Utena was my, and many other anime fans’ introduction to an anime that resisted easy answers.

Anyway, there are some sort-of-spoilers after the fold, if you really care about spoilers for a 25 year old anime you weren’t going to watch don’t lie to me.

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CoX: Trancer

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.


One, the story of a cosplayer who looks like one of the most famous girls in gaming, with a relentless online presence. Two, an overachieving supergeek whose boundless energy got an Explorer Position in Portal Corps. Three, there’s the story of a dimensional fold gone wrong, an accident that tethered her to a time-warping extradimensional supertech, and the gun-toting wise-cracking speed demon heroine that comes out the other side.

Zoe (or Emily, or Zoe, depends on the day) is what happens when these three stories collide in one absolute explosion of a girl. She’s incredibly Online, openly queer, and proudly cocksure. You might know her from Cosplay compilations, from her hero work, or maybe from her twitter feed, a high-volume mix of theoretical superphysics, cosplay, more adult content than is strictly professional and all the selfies in the world!

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Game Pile: A Buncha Queer Stuff (I Didn’t Finish)

This time last year, I collected a list of the kinds of games I’d try to play by this time next year. to make Game Piles about. They had something about them that appealed to me, and I wanted to use my platform, as much as I could, to direct some atetention to them, or to what they were trying to do, and I already owned them so the plan was nice and simple: These were the games I’d play for Pride Month.

And Iiii didn’t, or I did, or something about them made them unsuitable, or whatever!

Now this isn’t me going ‘I tried these games and they were bad, so now I’m gunna drag them.’ I think all these games have charm and you should check them out if the pitch works for you. They just didn’t make good Game Piles for me, but I still want them visible for Pride Month.

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David And Jonathon Were Gay Right

Content Warning: I’m going to talk about a Biblical figure who I think is probably a historical figure, but whose story was probably nothing at all like what we’re presented with, and also, is possibly very important to fundamentalist and orthodox visions of that Biblical history.

I’m going to talk about a Biblical character and there are people who find that personally offensive. If you think ‘I’m going to get mad about what he says about King David’ then you read it anyway, then uh yes, you have fallen for my elaborate trap where I told you not to read it.

POINT IS I’m gunna bully a dead king and you can’t stop me.

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Story Pile: The Wire

There are certain shows and films that I am cautious about being too overly enthusiastic about recommending. Breaking Bad, in which a mediocre white teacher snaps and becomes the most dangerous man in the world for about twenty people, is a show that I figure I’m probably going to always want to like cautiously. The Raid, a movie that millenial white guy film buffs tout like it’s their Asian friend that justifies Asian Cinema, that’s one too. And I’m dreadfully worried about what it might communicate if I pontificate overmuch about The Wire.

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4e: Dodge Roll Or Die

If you’ve read my How To Be Series you may have noticed the way that lightly or unarmoured characters present a potential contention for the project. In some cases it’s that characters don’t obviously have much armour on and there’s the counterpoint of characters who definitely don’t have much armour on.

What’s the problem? Just put the character in armour, right? Or just don’t wear armour and use something else instead?

In 4th edition, the system is built around some general math that in general makes it so that the DM can rely on players being able to handle the things the game expects them to handle. There is some tolerance — characters have a real floor of 10+half your level, there’s only so bad you can be at it — but there are archetypes like the Paladin where the game positions you by default to be good at defending yourself with shields and blocks and heavy armour.

What if you don’t want to do that?

Is there an option for you?

original screenshot from Topless Robot, if you’re curious
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The Endless Love Of An 80s Trans Elephant

About two years ago I made the joke that Lotsa Heart Elephant said Trans Rights.

It’s not a smart or deep joke. See this here is Lotsa Heart Elephant. They’re a pink elephant with a love heart decal, from the 1980s American Greetings Card owned and produced TV series The Care Bears. Now you might notice, Lotsa Heart isn’t a bear! That’s because in expanding the line of merchandisable properties, American Greetings introduced the Care Bear Cousins, who were the same basic thing, but different types of animal.

I feel like explaining the Care Bears lore, which I would normally do at this point, would be a little bit of a waste of your time and mine because while it is bonkers in only the special way that extremely incompetent multimedia empires of the 1980s could be. Like, at one point it veers into harmonising the Care Bears with actual literal Protestant Christianity.

But Lotsa Heart is a character who, amongst these greeting-card level characters, has tried on the genders.

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Nurse Chapel Is Bi Now?

I have no idea who this character is but I asked a friend who likes Star Trek a lot, and when they were done talking the sun had come up, so, I figured I’d go check that out and see what was what. And oh boy, howdy, did I learn a lot.

Particularly, I learned that there’s basically nothing about Star Trek that hasn’t been written down.

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Transformers: Acid Storm

It’s weird that the Transformers series are het, right?

It’s not weird, when you look at it from the outside, that it’s primarily an advertising vehicle made to sell toys to a particular market, which has been isolated to the cooties-averse category of young boys aged seven to eleven, as set out in around the 1980s, and every change to the franchise since then has been a matter of a modest step away from that same base narrative. In the original G1 continuity, there are around 400 characters, and of them, there were three women, but there were a few dozen stories about robots getting crushes on human women, or vice versa. The default was heterosexuality, which, y’know, that’s what heterosexuality wants.

But the robots are robots and they have an enormous amount of control over their identity and expression. Like, there’s no Robo Boobies to signal femininity, unless you actively choose to have them. When you view these creatures as people of a culture, then it kind of stands to reason there’d be robots that chose a different gender. Heck, they’re called trans formers, why would they have a specific gender as a constant?

Anyway, hey, let’s talk about Acid Storm!

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The Unbeard

A beard is a slang term describing a person who — knowingly or unknowingly — is recruited as a companion to someone in order to hide, well, usually, to hide that they’re gay. That’s uh, that’s the point, a Beard is someone you go on dates with or even marry, so that you can convince the people around you observing your life that you’re straight. Oh, you can make the case that if you tell your wife you’re going to Vegas to hang out with Tony Baloney for a minigolf tournament, and the inherent Dudes Rockness of that covers for the fact that you are, in fact, going to Vegas for some entirely heterosexual infidelity, and that makes Mr Baloney your beard, but let’s not kid ourselves, when people talk about ‘someone’s beard’ they mean the gay thing.

Beards are a longstanding tradition in media, and you can view them in terms of the real world people doing real things, or you can consider them as a media trope. In sitcoms, it was not uncommon for a Love Interest to get dropped in to a media vehicle for a bunch of male comedians just to make sure that this show full of dudes who hung out with dudes and did all their emotional engagement with dudes didn’t look, ah, gay?

What I want to present to you now is the Unbeard: A heterosexual love interest who is so unconvincing and undeveloped that it makes the character interested in them seem gay.

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Asset Brainstorm #6 — Pixbattlers

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.


Let’s spin the wheel and find what shows up when I look at itch.io’s asset page. Ohoh, what’s this? Pixbattlers, they say?

For the purpose of this exercise, I’m using the pay-what-you-want asset Apolonia in all my examples.

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Game Pile: The Androsynth

Talking about Star Control 2 is a process of pulling apart an encyclopedia of a game and turning all the phrases in it around until they catch the light. A sprawling epic you can fit on a floppy disk, it was one of the most thoroughly crafted games I ever experienced, supported both by its own historical text (Star Control 1), supplementary text (the manuals) and even the first version of The Author’s Twitter (a set of IRC interviews with the developers back in the days before twitter was a thing). Then there’s the implied spaces of that text, where just by dint of being science fiction made by dorks in the 90s, and drawing on a trope space like that with no real shame, there were a host of things in this universe that even one-note gag characters presented to be the point-and-click adventure temporary problems you routed around were still imbued with personality and culture.

It was also that particular characteristic of writing of the time, which I saw as well in other ‘expansive’ universes where every individual character had basically a single hook to get them into your head. In the same way that you can point at each member of the Transformers core cast as a set of speech tics and single personality traits, it’s not hard to look at the cultures of the Star Control 2 universe as kind of two simple ideas mashed together. Xenocidal spiders, capitalist slavers, sweet plants, blue lesbians, miscellaneous shitposters (malicious), miscellaneous shitposters (harmless), lovecraftian fish — they hold together simply, and they do their job.

I talked about the Ur-Quan, the Thraddash and the Dynarri (a culture represented by an individual). I mean ostensibly, I do want to talk about all the interesting cultures of Star Control 2, and probably get to the Supox as well, but there’s one culture, one group, that deserves special attention for being an absentee. It’s not like the Taalo, who you only know of through their absence — an alien culture you encounter in the backstory of the Ur-Quan. Rather, it’s one of the cultures you met in Star Control and then, in Star Control 2

are gone.

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3.5: Sex Is Bad

The Satanic Panic did things to the culture. We can pretend it wasn’t really a thing (because it was a thing about a thing that wasn’t a thing), but undeniably, a bunch of angry parent-types bellowing about the way their kids were being exploited until the exploitation changed colour did pervert the course of business interests. It was largely, just not worth the fuss to do things that could annoy that vocal body, and you could just change the decals on some of the stuff you did. I mean, having a bunch of weird outsider kids who liked playing D&D doing things like ‘being friends’ could be super upsetting for the parents of those kids, especially if those kids were having fun with their friends and not wanting to have fun with their family. Maybe the family sucked? Anyway, point is, that the Satanic Panic had a direct and meaningful impact on the big business juggernaut that was Wizards of the Coast. Famously, they stopped using demonic imagery on Magic: The Gathering for seven years.

Was that why 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons and its followup edition 3.5 thought sex was bad?

Nah probably not, this was probably just further building on the game’s pre-existing protestant ideology that thought Sex Was Bad. Let’s talk about the Ace Rights prestige class.

Content Warning: Acephobia! And uh… amazingly, just general talk about sexual assault? THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A FUN ONE.

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Azurill Says Trans Rights

Okay, get a load of this. This here is an Azurill.

History has been kind to this little mouse, but that helps that it started out as kinda mean in the origin. Azurill is a particular type of Pokemon we tend to group as a baby Pokemon; when they first showed up, Azurill couldn’t be found in the wild, but you could breed one, and then it would evolve into a Marill, which you could encounter in the wild. This was some of that gameplay thingummy, where there were Pokemon that, if you wanted to catch ’em all, you’d have to, you know, make sure some of ’em all were even around to catch.

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