Half-Elves (But really Elves)

My earlier treatment of Orcs in Cobrin’Seil was intended, at first, to be a comprehensive examination of the half races. Elves and orcs and humans, the big three that show up in most of the editions of D&D’s player handbooks and most of the settings for them. As I did this though I realised that for all they may work just fine as different versions of the same thing for your setting, I don’t like them feeling so similar and especially not when I laid out my idea that Orcs are made of meat.

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Half-Orcs (but really Orcs)

I have these in my D&D setting, and I have them because, removed from any ontological questions, they are cool things. An orc is like a human, but bigger and usually more physically brawny, and green, and being able to play a half-orc means you have a bunch of outcaster cred, you get to play with the way you look in a way that’s got meaningful signifiers attached to it, and you can funnel your intentions through the lens of ‘how people see orcs.’ The orc – and the elf, but more on that another time – are perfectly good fantasy tools that let you play around with the space of meaningfully physically distinct humantypes, and half-thems are great tools for giving players a way to play as outsiders learning about their world.

Interesting things happen at borders.

I like ’em! But they often, in many settings, don’t make much sense. Part of why they don’t make much sense is how they relate to the half that gets mentioned, the not-human part of orcs, and why they can breed with humans. Questions get asked, and I’m the kind of world builder who’s curious enough to want an answer, and an answer that doesn’t make me wrinkle my nose and go ‘well that’s stupid.’

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Breath of the Wild Recipes And Assumptions

Okay, so, let’s face it, everything I put on the internet is just a vast extelligence of the various different ways I can manage of my thought process, my extrusive thoughts if you will and if you hear me opine about something in person you might see me tweet about it kinda in an adjacent way and then maybe you’ll see me blog about it. It’s a process. It’s a process that’s largely reflective of thinking a bit too much about media that don’t want to be thought too much about at all, of taking the frictionless experience of interfacing with reality and deliberately grinding away at it like a sandblaster until there is nothing to examine but the friction, and with that I want to mouth off about something in Breath of the Wild while simultaneously presenting you, my viewer, with what amounts to a youtube comment because I can’t just throw my words into that trashcan like a normal person would.

Plus, Brian David Gilbert is pretty much getting paid to do the kind of thing I do for free as a wheelie pop and he’s also annoyingly attractive and he’s talked about having love and support from his family since he was very young so it’s clearly only an academic opinion and not deep abiding jealousy that drives me to take this forty minute festival of comically missing the point to task for missing the wrong point, dad.

First, the context.

For those of you who don’t want to watch forty minutes of a wispy millenial beaurocratic wunderkind show you that he can compile a list and fail at cookery (even though the video is extremely funny), I’d like to take an issue with the premise of this video in a way that I think would be way more interesting but also feature less of Anime Gomez Addams choking down milky carrots.

BDG premises this article on the question is Link a good cook, a question that seeks to extrapolate that by having Brian – a bad cook – attempt to replicate the food Link makes – badly – and then present Brian’s findings as to what those foods should restore based on how good a job he, a person I want to remind you is very bad at this, can do at it. There’s some winnowing of the expansive recipe list done for this, and he allows himself a small handful of concessions, including the addition of a neutral oil. Attempts at accuracy fly out the window at the first post, because, as he points out, Link doesn’t have to deal with potential salmonella. While making these recipes, he presents that a number of the recipes Links makes are impossible to make the way they’re presented in the game.

The rationalisation is thus: If a recipe has ingredients involved, that is all you can use as its ingredients. That means only the recipes that call for rock salt can have any salt; only those recipes that call for Goron spices can have spices. The bread cannot have a yeasting agent, the fruit cake cannot have icing or cream and the pie cannot have a crust.

Here’s the thing, though: Those game objects, as much as we see them, do have those things.

When you make a recipe, you don’t list the things you already have. Recipes always come with a degree of assumed availability. Salt, pepper, basic spices, oils and tools are generally left out. In fact, you can tell a lot about a chef about what they don’t assume they need to list on the recipe. I know a patissiere who didn’t think they needed to mention how much butter you’d need for a recipe, because you’d just add more until you had enough. I know a family who do not think they need to tell you to have onions and cilantro because they are givens for everything. Many recipes require water, and never mention water as ‘an ingredient,’ because it’s a staple.

And that’s what I find more interesting. Because Link can make a baked, crusty bread, with tools available to him in the form of a wok. And the thing is, you can turn a wok into an oven: Assuming you have a circular stone and lid for the wok. A number of the recipes require mixing in a variety of different ways, require combining components in separate containers, and they all are displayed in a variey of bowls and breadboards. The apple pie is flecked with cinnamon, the fruit cake is adorned with some variety of frosting and has fruit on it rather than through it, suggesting it is a sponge cake with fruit on top. There’s rice, which again, is pretty difficult to prepare in a wok without water.

Here’s the thing, then. Here’s what I’d rather, and which would have no doubt made a much less interesting kitchen-based video and instead been about visiting people who are good at cooking and talking to them about what they can do and their tools: I want to see a clear breakdown of all the various bits and pieces of cooking equipment Link is always carrying on his person, so much so that it isn’t even worth mentioning to him that he’s got it.

Story Pile: Hanna

Nothing quite kills your SEO like a movie getting a series, especially a series with a really similar name. Thanks, Amazon, thanks.

Anyway, Hanna is a 2011 action thriller movie with a deliberately European tone to its story of a runaway super-deadly badass hero who is trying to escape the threat of the  man who says they’re just coming to help but their form of help involves containment tanks and people with unhelpfully vague names like ‘Project Control.’ This one’s note of being interesting is that our badass one-person war machine isn’t just not a dude this time, but isn’t even an adult.

She’s a girl! She’s a little girl, or at least, a teenage girl! And you hit all those normal beats, all your action movie standby points. The first capture, the escape, the on the run, the escalation, the inevitable confrontation in something laced with imagery and all throughout lots and lots of murder, usually by or of assholes. It’s got an excellent couple of fight scenes where Saorise Ronan, who was at the time sixteen or seventeen sells the hell out of being a tiny little murder machine capable of fighting and leveraging her size against much larger opponents, and there’s one of those ‘look at what I can do’ action sequences in a shipping yard. If you like watching bad dudes getting just wrecked when they underestimate a little girl, then this movie is going to give you some good stuff.

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Making Draft Complicated To Simplify Draft

You know drafting games? I like drafting games. Magic: The Gathering is a drafting game, and it’s really good at it. You draft a deck, then spend some time playing that deck, and that’s fun. We made LFG, a single box card game where you draft a group of heroes to go on an adventure, adventure pending.

Draft is very appealing to me as a designer because it has some virtues like simultaneous turns, and it inherently presents players with choices. Drafting is often used as a component in games, but the drafting itself can be really exciting. Drafting does have problems though, like you need a number of cards and players to make those choices interesting. If you’re drafting, say, four cards between two people, thoes choices need to be extremely difficult to make that interesting, and when you do that, you have a really small number of cards and therefore the game has only so many ways it can be replayed, and that’s risky. I have made games that don’t replay well on purpose, or games with incredibly hard choices that can feel dreadfully unfair (hi, You Can’t Win), but those are hard, thorny games for people who like challenges, and they’re also really small.

There’s also a mastery depth problem when it comes to draft. If you know the most cards, if you remember the cards that are going to be in the pool and potential application with other cards, you’re going to make the player with the largest amount of possible information and the best understanding of ways the game can fork be the player who has the most chance to win, and that’s not great for getting new players involved.

With that in mind for a small card game I’m working on at the moment (one of our $15 range), which is going to be about recruiting your own group of superheroes, I’ve come up with a new drafting technique I want to share.

  1. Deal out all the cards to each player not as a hand, but as a deck. So the player gets their cards, and they don’t look at them and don’t know what they’re going to do.
  2. Set these decks between each player – I’m right handed so when I do this test I intuitively put it to my left, so the player on my left can reach it.
  3. The drafting begins. Each player draws two cards from their deck, chooses to keep one of them, and puts the other card on the top of the next player’s deck.
  4. Repeat step 3 until the decks are only one card.

This means that players still have some specific choices; you know what you’re handing to the next player, but you don’t know all the choices they have. You have to choose between two cards each time, rather than have to manage seven then six then five and so on. Also, you don’t have the chance to determine, at the first draw, everything that you’re going to do, other people’s strategies based on what you’re passing. You’re presented with much more limited information. The draft unfolds a little more, without being all presented up front.

Game Pile: War Wind

They see the outposts being built; the lines of communication falling from the the weapons of war moving slowly into position, the empires’ weapons being simultaneously sabotaged and subverted. Mystics preach to the mercenaries and the common folk doctrine about the fall of an old order, while that same old order strives to shore up what remains. What it has must be kept, what cannot be kept must be destroyed.

Chaos reigns. Tumult rises. The winds of war roll across the land of Yavaun, and there is no escape.

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MTG: Rally Vincente

Time to time, Frank Karsten will release lists of combos that exist or have been made possibly by new additions to an environment. In Modern Horizons, he showed two that I really like: Vesperlark and Phantasmal Image allow for infinite sacrifices and so does Saffi Eriksdotter and Renegade Rallier.  He forwarded the Saffi/Rallier combo with Altar of Dementia, as a sacrifice outlet that immediately eats your opponent’s whole library.

It’s that latter one is really interesting to me because it’s in the same colours, all the cards in question are pretty aggressively costed, and they’re cheap to play with.

What can we do with them?

Let’s break it down into three basic bits:

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Making For

There’s a lot of motivational writing about making things. I know I’ve done a bunch of it, with an exhortation that you should try making things. There’s an idea that you’re a writer, because you write, so you should write. Sometimes, it’s framed as writing for yourself, or sometimes it’s framed as writing the things you want to see in the world.

If you can respond to that, that’s a powerful drive.

It’s not the reason I write, I don’t think. Not really.

I write in this blog daily (when I am writing daily) because it’s practice. Because I feel good when I have achieved the difficult task of doing it. But it’s not why I write any individual piece. I write because I think about the things my audience cares about. I think about what you, the people around me, have responded to, what you share, what you care about. That’s part of what encourages me to write. I ask you what I should write, it’s a common thing you’ve probably seen me do.

That urge is very common and it works for me.

I don’t really write fanfiction or fanart. These are ways you can take the work of others, and show how it matters to you, through the medium you favour. I don’t write that kind of fiction or compose music or draw, so the form my creative energies to express take is making games. Thinking of mechanics and related game objects, and thinking about ways I can invite people into that space, to be there in a way the fiction doesn’t necessarily allow. This means that for some people I know, I see their art or their stories and I think I want to make a game for that.

These game ideas get written up and they sit around, because it seems intrusive to me to present someone with that. For artists especially, it screams of I’m trying to monetise your work. For some the problem’s even worse: I have a card game designed to explore the world of a friend, and that friend hates card games.

I think about this because I think how many things people would be doing, if they could find an audience of just one. How little encouragement you need to keep trying, to keep going. Commentary from one or two people got me to finish three books. Feedback from two people kept a podcast going in its fledgeling days. Some of my games are made just waiting on a response from one person. This week, I was told that we don’t have a game for a particular niche, and now I’m thinking about a game I can make for a kid and a family, just because of that niche.

Some people can ‘just do it.’ But some of us need an audience. Some of us need to know that what we’re doing matters to anyone else in the world, and that there’s a value to putting it out there.

Muruganda!

Hey, if you’re a Wizards of the Coast employee, you’re not in a position to read this article. There’s a custom card or two in here, and I know you’re not allowed to look a those. Don’t worry, I don’t expect it’s anything you haven’t come up with on your own.

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Story Pile: A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean

After High Cumberland Jubilee, Jimmy Buffett went on to try something different. If Jubilee was an album full of attempts to be a cool late 60s protest singer – not proper protest, just protesty, he moved on to try something different, and that something different kinda became everything the man’s career would be about.

The narrative of the fans goes that this is where Jimmy found his own identity; where he became Jimmy Buffett, and explored the space that we now sometimes call Gulf and Western. It’s where Jimmy took on a very easygoing island nature, talking about beaches and boats and distance – not so much focusing on hard work and guns and roots the way that country tended to, but instead more about a sort of disconnected drifting.

The thing is, this narrative – that here’s where Jimmy found the ocean – is kinda weird when you listen to the opening of the album. It starts with a song that feels like a different kind of experiment in hindsight. The Great Filling Station Holdup is a pretty classic country loser story, some outlaw country, but the outlaws in question are idiots who suck and get caught immediately. It’s a funny song, singable, and it’s also pleasantly brief. It matches with a later song on the album, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, which talks about how Jimmy used to shoplift when he was poor. It’s kind of fun when Jimmy talks about ‘crime’ that centers himself because even his fictional crimes aren’t cool. They’re just dorky.

The followup, Railroad Lady is a really old, classic style song, made by Jimmy and Jerry Jeff Walker, the writer of the song Mr Bojangles. It’s again, experimental; this isn’t a song about the ocean and easygoing life. It’s talking about the death of the railroad and how it was possible to literally live on them, about how there was this whole wandering lifestyle that worked in such a strange way. This song is like a little serving on the A side for what closes the B side: there are some introspective, sad-sounding songs about winding down.

Jimmy writes about being old and tired and settling down, but it’s pretty worth noting that this album came out when he was twenty seven, so, you know, pump the brakes there Jimbleson Buffettersville.

Then there’s He Went To Paris, a song told in hindsight. It’s a pretty typical kind of country song – the old man sitting and crying and talking about what’s gone. But it’s a song that reaches its arms so wide, talks of travel so far, and uses (for example) the steel drums as a sort of long, soft weeping of the story. It’s beautiful and it’s sad, and it winds its way around to the beach, and paints a sort of future that Jimmy seemingly has decided to grow into. It’s not at all a unique song, there are so many like it, but none of the ones like it feel the same, to me. You can find dozens of country songs about old men reflecting on their lives. You can’t find many that feel as perfect as this.

Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit is the hit from this album, which I don’t get at all. I mean I’m glad there was a hit so he kept making them, but it’s a song I find infinitely forgettable. It almost feels like a song that’s more about the Coral Reefer band getting to play around with sounds. It’s boopidy doopidy and it’s not bad, I just don’t care.

Cuban Crime of Passage is – okay. So brace here. There’s a yikes. There’s a yikes where the woman central to the story is described as ‘half woman, half child, she drove him half wild.’ That’s pretty yikes. I assume this means she was a grown woman but it’s not the kind of framing I like. Still, I like it, it’s singable, and it does have that little underscore that no matter what goes on in Cuba, the whole life of people is reduced to just footnotes, discarded and forgotten to America. It’s a weird twist in the chorus, honestly, because it’s not like Jimmy seems to be positioning himself as above that.

Why Don’t We Get Drunk (And Screw) is a parody song. It’s meant to be a riff on the whole structure of ‘the love song’ on the radio, and it was part of Jimmy’s standard ongoing beef with the radio, which generally didn’t give him a lot of success. It’s also weird that people seem to now think of it unironically. It’s a song he’s revised a lot, including a kid’s version, Why Don’t We Drink Milk At School. I never heard this one growing up, seems dad was willing to hide this one specific song on a vinyl. It did come at the end of a side, making it easier to sneak away.

Still, it all ends up on the final song, a song that for the longest time I was absolutely convinced was some tragic, true story about Jimmy discovering his brother was a beautiful, amazing poet and wanting to honour him posthumously. It’s not a true story, but it’s a retelling of many true stories, all kind of cooked together. It’s one of my favourite Jimmy songs, and part of what I love about it is that it’s a very singable version of the kind of song it is. It’s sad and wistful, but that wist doesn’t mean the song breaks down as a song.

I love this album but I love it because it has He Went to Paris and Death of An Unpopular Poet. The janglier, louder, faster stuff I love from Jimmy isn’t on this, and I can honestly take or leave the majority of the remaining songs, but I have fun memories of sitting around with my cousin, uncle, and dad, and singing, together, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, so it’s always going to hit a soft spot for me.

Good album? Great album? It’s not like any song on it is bad, it’s just that this album has ‘merely’ two amazing songs on it, and those two songs kind of replicate one another, as reflective and mournful stories about unfulfilled goals.

Here’s the Spotify playlist if you’d like to listen to this album.

MTG: Blockness in Ravnica 3: The Secret of The Ooze

When making my Kamigawa remake, I used the term blockness to describe the way that a single card related to the time and place it was printed. The idea, as much as I described it, is that you can consider a card in terms of how much it belongs to the specific block and environment into which it was printed; that is, for some cards there just aren’t that many opportunities something like that card can be printed.

Now, sometimes it’s the flavour of the card, but usually blockness is tied to mechanics. You can always just re-flavour a card with different art, name, and creature types, like we saw in the the beautifully basic Kami of Ancient Law. In Kamigawa block, the Kami of Ancient law’s spirit creature type meant it interacted with other creatures and spells in the set. When Ronom Unicorn was printed slightly over a year later, it had no particular impact, and then when Keening Apparition was printed, another six years later, there was no particular relationship between the card and its environment. Wizards actually has their own take on this idea – sometimes you’ll hear a card referred to as Core-Set Ready. Core-Set ready cards are cards that can be put into a core set, sets made up of less complex cards that are designed to be approachable.

The fact is most cards don’t get reprinted – just sheer numbers work against it – and most mechanics are shallow enough that there’s only a small number of cards they can be used to make. Some set mechanics really aren’t going to have much chance to ever be seen again, so when it comes to some keyword mechanics like Mentor or Exploit or Living Weapon, the best cards of that mechanic are really the best cards we’re likely to ever see. It’s kind of a bummer, because you see a lot of those cards

When I first discussed this, I complained that the (then recent) Guilds of Ravnica mechanic for the Golgari guild was extremely lacking in blockness – that of those cards, literally all of them could be printed in basically any given set; the ability word of Undergrowth was so generic and so flexible it could have been printed anywhere. I didn’t think so little of the other mechanics in the set, mind you, and I have no idea how well these mechanics play with one another in limited.

Ravnica is a weird place. It’s weird because it’s a place that wants, as much as possible, to have continuity between three blocks and more, and hypothetically to make cards that at least supposedly can work with one another. There have been hits and misses on that front; Batallion cards and Mentor cards work just fine, and Batallion is one of those mechanics you can print without putting the keyword on it, meaning there’s a Batallion card in War Of The Spark. At the same time, lots of Golgari decks can get value out of a few Dredge cards, even if it’s just one-ofs like Dakmor Salvage.

I feel that it’s kind of hard for the Golgari to ever escape the fact that their first mechanic is mathematically one of the most powerful ever printed; of the fourteen dredge cards, about eleven of them have seen serious play. By comparison, Scavenge, the next Golgari mechanic, kinda doesn’t actually have any cards that are worth much of anything at all. Varolz, the Scar-Striped has his place in CEDH, but other than that, there’s not a single Scavenge card I have seen see play outside of oddball formats like Canlander. It wasn’t a mechanic exciting enough to see return, and it’s tied to the Golgari, and that meant there was a whole block of Golgari cards that don’t really matter much to a Golgari deck. Then we get Undergrowth, which doesn’t feel like it needed to be a keyword at all.

It’s a challenge I don’t imagine it’s fun to try and deal with. Particularly because Ravnica blocks are so tight on space, the limited environments are so bound around the challenges of synergy, of wending each set’s colour pairs so they draft well together, and making those mechanics fun and interesting without becoming a Lorwyn-style overcomplicated turbo-mess.

And the thing is, I kind of wonder if part of what’s going to haunt Ravnica, the plane, is its own success. It’s beloved, in flavour terms; it’s what finally seems to have broken the boundary between Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering in a big way, and every Ravnica set seems to bring with it a lot of energy and hype, because it is one of the most popular settings for the game.

It is a setting where each mechanic demands high blockness, but low complexity; it wants cards that can only come from Ravnica, and it wants them to have mechanics that are not confusing and alienating.

 

Game Pile: Kingdom Hearts (But So Not Really)

I guess as a disclaimer up front: I haven’t played Kingdom Hearts. The research for this video kinda means I wound up wanting to, even though it would be a kind of hate-play. But it’s about games, it’s about using Kingdom Hearts to talk about something in games, and it’s a chance to put forward some work I like.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. I know when I say this I’m going to be giving voice to some academic idea that someone in my circle either knows better than I do or that I’m going to come across sometime months from now and I’ll finally have it crystallised by people who are more focused on, more marinated in the field. Or maybe I’ll relisten to a podcast and find the quote – probably by Michael Lutz – explaining it.

For now, I want to get this out.

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October 2019 Wrapup!

And with that, spooky month draws to a close! Well, then, what happened during?

This month’s blog posts had a sort of mini-event feel to it. I’d planned to play some horror videogames and watch some horror movies and mostly found myself unhappy with the results, but I did get to finally put my thoughts out there on the fantastically terrifying Tickled.

I did a series of posts about me and my own experiences with trauma; stories about the first time I drowned, stories about the histories of serial killers and stories about the relationship I have to horror. Most importantly, though there was my reflection on the way ‘God’s Vengeance’ is more horrible and horrifying than anything a reasonable person would conceive of.

In other, lighter news, two different 4E posts went up and got a great reaction, one about running it, and one about making horror movie characters as D&D heroes.

I didn’t wind up making a deep dive video about Bloodborne. I think that I can still turn this article into a video, maybe for greater access, but the footage of Bloodborne I tried to record off my PS4 just wasn’t available, so that was a bummer. In the end, though, I feel that the article is really good in no small part because I think it’s worth calling out the way that games are forgiven their sins if they are deemed to have Proper Goodness.

Also, I finally sat down and told the story of Acephale in a way that’s suitably creepy!

After the blog posts, though we had my video on Blood, which was fun to record and also pretty quick. I like making these videos about games as I play them, with a certain degree of freedom to discuss. I think that I’d like to maybe try doing them on-and-off.

I’m also finding I have more video ideas than I have video article ideas. I’ll deal with the way the scheduling works in the new year, but for now there may be a bit more casual chat game videos coming up.

T-shirts! I made a pair of spooky designs for November, both based on the Hunter’s Mark from Bloodborne. I like them! The Hunter’s Mark is one of those bits of iconography I love from games and I really appreciate the subtle joke of ‘I’s in the ‘Inside’ being marked differently.

Games we didn’t get tons of work done on! I did a bunch of playtesting of games I had already underway, but this month has been heavily focused on teaching, which means a lot of my creative time is spent exploring things that my students might be interested in, so I can meaningfully comment on it.

And finally, personally? I have felt really tired and groggy this October, which means a lot of work I’d have gotten done just melted away in hours of playing picross in bed while I tried to muster the energy to stand up.

Hunter’s Dreams – Defining the Hunt

This is more work on Hunter’s Dream, a 4th Edition D&D-compatible mod made to enable a Bloodborne style of game, where players take on the role of hunters, who have to first research their prey before going out to the tactical combat stage of things where players get to have cool fights with werewolves and whatnot.

Something I really like from Blades in the Dark, something that I am shamelessly trying to bring to Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition in Hunter’s Dream, is the degree to which players have a sense of agency over the game they’re engaging with.

There’s an existing mindset for D&D that games are basically one of two different kinds of play space. The first is often known as narrativist, where you treat every session, every encounter, as a sequence in a narrative, and so the whole game can be seen as a string of beads. This vision can be sometimes presented as a weakness, where the players are always confined by ‘the story’ that wraps around them like a tunnel. I’m not really here to criticise that, because hey, even the most railroaded game campaign can still be an interesting ghost train.

Then there’s a position, often called ‘simulationist’ which presents the idea that the players are just operating in a world, there’s stuff for them to do, and they can go do stuff at that world, and if it does all relate or connect to things, that’s just because the DM’s job is ‘running the world,’ and any narrative that ensues is emergent. I don’t think this is true either, but some people are fond of talking about it like that.

Neither of these perspectives suit well Blades in the Dark‘s style of player-driven fiction roleplay, and they don’t quite do the job of what I want for Hunter’s Dream. What I want for this is a hybrid model, with a Narrative running as a timer on a simulation, and a large part of that is formalising a system whereby players have direct agency over the tasks in front of them, and the order they handle them.

Now, 4ed is good for this because 4ed D&D is designed to handle a lot of small tactical encounters that are reasonably well-balanced with one another, where the alchemy between monster interactions are less likely to result in catastrophic failures. You’re not likely to find a lot of total dealbreaker combos if you throw enemies together semi-randomly, which means one of the things that it handles really well is generating sequences of small quantities of conflict without necessarily a lot of elaborate construction.

This asks for a robust system for constructing incidents quickly, giving DMs good sources of inspiration, and a clear vision of how they can execute on these encounters interestingly. Now I’m a sucker for this: In 4e, I’m a fan of using the same monster configurations from fight to fight and just changing the terrain around them and watching as players have to formulate different strategies to deal with them.

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Halloween As an ASMR Fan

ASMR is a subculture that’s full of people who like to dress up for a camera. Well I assume they like to dress up, I don’t know if it’s actually a thing they enjoy but at least for now I’d like to imagine they’re doing something they enjoy.

Typically any given description of ASMR is going to involve a description of what the phenomenon is, so here we go: ASMR is an acronym you don’t need to remember for an ill defined ‘response’ some people can get from a range of subtle positive stimuli. Typically but not always, ASMR effects are described as ‘tingling’ along the line of the skull, and can be brought on by specific sounds or groups of sounds with slight variation in the stimuli. As an example, earlier this year, a channel I follow – and like, totally unironically – released a forty minute video of someone wordlessly filling a bucket with soda and ice and gently stirring so I could listen to the clinking of ice and the bubbles of the soda.

ASMR tends to also be connected to some awkward things. For example, ‘trigger’ is a very common word in ASMR communities, and there it’s used unironically and positively to describe something that causes the reaction, so you can get something described as ‘very triggery’ or ‘totally triggered’ which isn’t meant to be a jerkhole’s way of describing someone being upset or bothered by something.

I  do experience ASMR, and I use ASMR videos to listen to as background to study and to help me overcome the difficulty of wakefulness that I have. Sometimes I use it when I’m travelling on a bus to help fight carsickness. It’s a whole online cultural space.

ASMR has trends, too; what I listen to is largely on Youtube, which means it is largely driven by the algorithm. Some channels are large enough to have support and sponsors like the familiar podcast supporters, including beds and anime, and that means you get ASMR video trends that tie into sponsors trying out the space. That sometimes means a bunch of anime characters will whisper to you and help you build your costume or your arm or whatever the current in series is. The culture sways to the algorithms of our society.

Around Halloween there’s a pretty easy theme and lots of people play into it:

yes, if you’re curious, I was listening to one of these as I wrote this

One other weird thing is that Youtube specifically demonitises videos that are marked as ‘roleplay’ videos, which is kind of weird, and their algorithm is largely working on a very weird model of how advertisers work. This means that you often see people avoid ‘roleplay’ in their roleplay video titles, except when they have presences on sites like patreon and rely on those services other than Youtube advertising to make money.

I don’t actually Halloween much here. I don’t know much about the candy, we don’t have stores that specialise in selling the costumes. I get a bit eh about the way twitter goes a bit silly for a month and all my autosuggested names don’t fill in properly. That’s life, but I don’t want to deprive anyone of their fun.

ASMR is a weird field to look at as media. It’s weird because it’s something that kind of only exists the way it does right now because of the presence of internet subcommunities, and the ability of Youtube to allow for long-form niche production to happen. If I want a ghost pirate to kidnap me in Dutch and whisper about it, I can find that on Youtube, and it’ll inevitably be someone who’s more or less doing it as a full-time job.

leunig can go fuck himself

When I was a child, I went on a school excursion to a museum which was holding, amongst other things, a collection of the works of one Michael Leunig. At the time, he was a guy who did things in the newspaper that I could appreciate, being a child who didn’t like reading all the tight, bunched up text that was mostly about boring people shouting at one another.

In this collection, there was a tv screen set up to show a panel of a documentary about Michael on loop. I remember it, and I think it means this is advice, this is meaningful commentary he gave, that has stuck with me for decades.

See, he was saying in this that he made his whimsical, weird little cartoons, because he thought of himself as walking down a beach; making his way from his origin to his destination, and along the way he’d see a lovely shell he could pick up, and make the journey about that. But it was right there and it was obvious and it was easy.

He said he’d much rather go a little further, be a little stranger, and take something that took a lot more effort, rather than go for the easiest option, even if it was the most appealing. He said he’d rather be strange than boring.

I pray I never in my whole life ever betray my younger self the way that Michael Leunig, anti-vaxxer and miserable self-centered anti-phone anti-youth shithead boomer stereotype has betrayed the Michael Leunig in that video.

October Shirt II: Inside Eyes

A thousand eyes
Open inside
To grant me sight to see the end
A thousand eyes
The curse of the wise
Into the madness I descend

Here’s the design:

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Story Pile: Jigsaw

Content Warning: Due to the nature of this movie, I’m not using pictures for this one. Not because it’s super horrifying, just because it’s not really very important. There’s some medical horror in this one, and a lot of gory fake dead bodies mangled up in messy ways. I’m also not really talking about spoilers beyond ‘there is a twist,’ which is sort of du jour for horror movies in the Saw franchise.

With that in mind, we now begin the presentation.

 

 

 

Just how good can this movie be?

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3.5 Memories: The Kaorti

Now, while I may be on the record saying that Dungeons & Dragons can do horror scenarios, doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with the way that the default books angled towards horror. One can point to the ‘mature’ Book of Vile Darkness (more like vile dorkness, boom, gottem) that tries to be shocking and edgy and it’s just kind of insulting and basic. But the BoVD wasn’t the only book of its type that tried to be creepy and horrifying, nor was it one that strived to be mature.

For example, the Fiend Folio is the only book I own with nipples.

Here, check it.

After this point I suppose it only bears to mention: Content warning, creepy monsters and horror imagery after this point.

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Game Pile: Bloodborne

 What is there to say about this, the longest night?

Bloodborne, for those unfamiliar with it, is a 2015 PS4 exclusive videogame by From software, the makers of Demon and Dark Souls, and joins those games as part of the genre we hamfistedly call ‘Soulsborne’ games, because videogames are a space where it’s very important to constantly reinforce brand loyalty, I guess.

The game starts with you as a hapless person dropped context-free into some space or other whereupon a game kills you repeatedly and gives you infinite chances to avoid dying again. It is largely considered to be one of the greatest videogames ever made, which doesn’t seem to be wrong per se but as I played it, seemed more and more to be an insult to videogames in general as a medium.

I took notes as I played the game, which is a transformative thing with a From software game. The experience of these games often melts away so you don’t really know – you don’t know – how many times you try things, how difficult a game experience is until you really look at it in a numerical context. I did, so I have a very reasonable measure of how much of my life I was spending on this game, and whether or not the progress I was making made me feel good enough to merit that exchange. It’s very easy when you don’t quantify these experiences to think a game is ‘hard’ and just let that one word cover all your sins, as opposed to having clear information about how many days of effort it took you to deal with boss monsters that, amongst other things, do behave semi-randomly.

I also haven’t finished this game at this point. I got the game in January of 2017, and haven’t finished it as of October 2019. I don’t think this colours my opinion of the game at all, and I think it’s actually very important to look at the game from this position, rather than from the perspective of someone who having finished the game, is able to dismiss all the time spent as being ‘worth it’ in the end.

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FOYMO

Let me tell you about one of my little fears.

It’s a little fear, not because it’s small to me. It can be all consuming, to me. But it’s a little fear because it’s a sin that can be measured in dollars and cents.

I sell games. I sell my writing, too, on this blog, here, on patreon and still don’t know why you pay for it but I’m so grateful. But I sell games, and those games are typically made out of cards that are printed and I hand them to people and they give me some money and they go away. Overwhelmingly, our sales are face to face, in conventions, and to people who talk to me and buy the games based on talking to me.

I am scared, so scared, that one day someone is going to come to me, having bought the game, and say ‘Yeah, you know what, this game is really bad, and you wasted my time and money.

Everyone’s so nice. Even the responses we’ve gotten about some of our games that don’t work is it’s too easy for me, or we didn’t use that rule, or he outgrew the game quickly. These are the little cuts, the little things that make me wince because I feel like I did someone wrong. Like I guided them into a bad purchase. And I fear that everyone who bought a game, or who I sent a free copy of the game, is just quietly being polite.

It paralyses me in improving and upgrading our games, too. I want to revise LFG and Burning Daylight and even Middleware, but I feel like doing anything to make the games that are already purchased ‘wrong’ would be a sort of act of violence against those people who trusted me with their money and time. I am ultimately afraid of making my game better so the people who bought the game before hand are left with a version of the game that is missing something.

I have a Fear Of You Missing Out.

The Cult Of The Decapitated

This year, I had reason to go deep on the book Man, Play And Games by Roger Caillois, and I have made my notes about it very public including exasperation at the kind of person who’d write such things. Wanting to know more about Caillois however pulled me into reading about his circle of friends, including the philosopher Georges Bataille and strange woman-behind-the-culture Colette Peignot, aka Laure.

Time to time I’ve mentioned their ‘cult of skulldicks,’ which is funny, but I think it’s worth giving at least a briefest overview of this quietly chilling group of extremely serious people who at one point, were going to walk out into the woods and kill themselves.

Let’s talk about Acéphale.

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Being The Monster: 5 Horrible 4e Heroes

Everyone I know has some hypothetical interest at the very least in playing a hot monster in their local tabletop game. I am willing to recognise that this is a selection bias, possibly due to the overwhelming presence of the queer monsterfuckers in my social circle, but the long and short of it is that I know people who regard the Monster Manual as less like a threat and more like Tinder.

The problem with making monstrous characters in most D&D games is that all the monsters you might want to be are gated behind a lot of rules baggage, like the hellscape of imbalanced garbage that is Savage Species back in 3rd edition. But what if in this season of spook, you want to make a monstrous character and just get rolling in my edition of choice? Here then are five spooky characters you can play from level 1 that let you get in the spirit of the season without needing to jump through a dozen hoops.

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