Story Pile: Havana Daydreamin’

I haven’t tried to hammer these Jimmy Buffett albums around the themes of the months as they come up. They’re just going to happen as they happen and things can move and adjust around them, whatever.

Still, this is an album with a bit of a theme that fits the mangled, strange ways I wound up approaching romance, and thankfully, I like to think it did some good, following on the heels of Come Monday from earlier.

When I first found Havana Daydreamin’ it was a busted, tan coloured tape that had been living in dad’s car, a place I didn’t spend any time hanging around until later in my life when I wanted to hide from the evening of loneliness that was church. I was cleaning dad’s car for a dollar, and I found this, in his tape collection. For that reason it’s always felt older to me, like this is somehow primal Jimmy, that this is Jimmy Buffett from before all the other, ‘better’ songs I knew.

The elephant in the room of this album is The Captain and the Kid, a song Jimmy Buffett ostensibly wrote about his grandfather, a sea captain who talked to him and helped him grow up and taught him things and then, as people are want to do, died. Remember that at this point I’m a cultist, I think that people who die are going to hell if they’re not going to basically our church, and so the mourning sadness of this man missing his grandfather stabbed me.

The song is great. It’s sad and it’s serious and it’s that Jimmy Buffet nostalgia turned to a deeper kind of sadness than just ‘hey, things from when I was a kid are gone.’ It’s beautiful and it made me reflect on how my grandfathers both died before I was born. I remembered actually resenting my life for that – that maybe if there were other men in my life than my father maybe I could learn useful things, maybe I could feel less afraid all the time.

There’s some real tour music, too – Kick it in Second Wind is an absolute coke binge of a song, This Motel Room and Big Rig are all just life-on-the-road story songs, and they’re fine. I actually ran a motel for a while and I remember always hearing This Motel Room as I went about my job, that and Vacancy by Harry Chapin. Which, uh, that song is also great, in a different way.

There are a few more story songs here than I normally expect out of Jimmy Buffett albums. You have songs like Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street, Havana Daydreamin’, Cliches, and Something So Feminine About A Mandolin and they’re all pretty good, salted with varying degrees of the Jimmy Buffett template of lots of alcohol and or drugs. Of them, I do prefer Cliches, which tells the story of two people who are definitely a pair of kombi-van hippies and how they’re happy and having fun with their lives anyway. What I love about this song I think, these days, is how it’s so incredibly of its time. The couple in this song are now absolutely a pair of stoner grandparents who never officially got married and still live in that trailer.

That’s the thing that I think stuck with me the most about this. There are some people here who aren’t very original. They’re not very remarkable. But they’re together and they like one another and they didn’t need their love to be agonising or astounding. They’re just happy.

Is there anything on this album to compare to He Went to Paris or West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown? No. But it’s a fun album full of low-key crime and a lot more drugs and fun than A-1-A and it’s got a lot more energy when it bothers to wake up.

Karmic Twin

Okay, I said I’d only do a few 3.5 posts a month, so this one’s going to be a quickie. Back in that day, there was a special crop of feats you could get that you could take at level 1, which were made to try and give a character a feeling of their ‘background.’ These feats were first trialled in Dragon magazine, then a few were tested in the Player’s Guide To Faerun (that horny setting I talked about earlier in the month), and one source that really went hard on them was the Oriental Adventures and Rokugan sourcebooks.


Now wait, hold up, let’s just mention something here because if I don’t bring it up, someone will huff their cheeks and go ahah, gottim. Look, Oriental Adventures is the label on a door behind which you can find yikes, yes, of course, obviously. Doesn’t have to be, we have room for potential here, I really like this setting and stuff, there’s lots to like, but let’s not get caught up there.

Because the really funny thing here is a player behaviour, based around a single ‘Background’ feat.


In Rokugan, a General Mish Mosh Of Asian Cultures setting, you had Ancestor feats instead of Background feats, and they tied to historical lore characters and that was kinda cool as a way to encourage players who wanted access to mechanics to be aware of the lore of the setting. Good idea, good move, do that in your settings.

Anyway, one of the Ancestor feats was a Scorpion clan background feat, Karmic Twin.

Karmic Twin is a feat that is pretty gonzo on the face of it; you get effectively 4 extra points of Charisma for most non-spellcaster purposes, you get the ability to track or find a single person without any help and oh yeah, if nobody else in the party is your karmic twin the party gets an NPC whose story is tied with yours.

Leadership was one of the most powerful feats you could get, because it’d give you an NPC that was basically 2 levels below you and that’s an enormous amount of utility. Power, maybe, but just having someone who could synergise with you under your control was really strong. Karmic Twin gave you the same thing at level 1. Sure, some DMs might use it to inflict a lifelong enemy on you (and if they did, the charisma boosts were probably reasonable as a trade!), but here’s the thing.

My players used Karmic Twin and its cousin feat Sons of Thunder a lot. And every time, what they used it for was not for power reasons – the players overwhelmingly didn’t care about the mechanics of the other character.

But they all used them to get hot boyfriends.

Let your players have hot boyfriends if they want ’em. It doesn’t hurt things and the stories are more fun with players getting things they like in them.

Poison Ivy

Recently I glibly stated on twitter that it’s interesting how DC Comics’ enviromentally-minded supervillain Poison Ivy has largely remained unchanged over time and yet in the process has become less and less of a villain. This is interesting in the same way that the Planeteers have remained exactly as embarrassing as they were but somehow the idea of getting kids to care about the environment seems a lot more worthwhile than my cynical parents regarded it.

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Game Pile: Cute Demon Crashers

Porn gets a bad rap.

It’s weird for a term we wield so freely. We talk about pornography, the porn industry, we use ‘pornographic’ as an adjective for something fundamentally unsettling, and there’s the way we use porn as a term for all-purpose ‘kind of disgusting’ term, like a positively pornographic sum of money.

I’ve used that phrasing, I know I have.

Porn also gets appended to describe things like photography of nice landscapes or photos of good food or bubble wrap, and as I discussed in my examination of Tickled last year, there’s also a bunch of stuff that we file as definitely not porn that absolutely is porn (for the right people) and that complicated relationship creates a space where all those systems for controlling pornography can be leveraged against people who didn’t expect it.

Infamously, we don’t even have a description of porn, really. You know, ‘I don’t know what it is but I know it when I see it.’ I’ve even referred to stuff this month – The Knight Before Christmas – as ‘comfort pornography.’

Personally, when I talk about pornography what I mean is media that seeks to maximise an indulgent element of the media experience, and is willing to sacrifice all other elements to do so. And Cute Demon Crashers is a porn game.

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4E: Harnessing Hotness

Alright we’re going to talk about some base assumptions about character building in Dungeons & Dragons and they’re going to relate to hotness. I’m deliberately leaving this super ambiguous, because hotness is always relative and you get to decide the ways in which you’re hot, but it’s a common, reasonably accepted shorthand that in D&D, if you have high charisma, you’re appealing. Stats are flexible, your flavour is your own, everyone’s character can devise their own explanation for their abilities, but if you want to play a character who’s really hot, and want that hotness to be mechanically obvious, one of the easiest and most commonly accepted ones is high charisma. This is the place we’re starting from.

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AceMR

As a person who participates in and enjoys ASMR, I have one hobby that involves throwing my potential free time into Youtube’s algorithm. ASMR is an interconnected web of media space where Youtube has managed to put together an actual reasonably robust recommendation model. If I stumble into a Korean ASMRtist’s videos, and watch all the way through, I’ll wind up with three or four other Korean videos recommended to me. If I trend towards games or relaxing play video ASMR content, I will get more of that.

This can mean that like a cake, you can cut into ASMR and see a broad cross sections of types, and one type I find I really enjoy are ASMR with some degree of narrative or unreality to the fiction. I don’t know why exactly, maybe it’s just the sheer novelty of it, but I’ve watched a plague doctor mall cop compliment me in my taste on Slayer albums multiple times.

The nature of ASMR tends to be viewer focused; typically if you want to do ASMR narrative, given that part of the effect is personal and can be the result of particularly specific engagements, your best options for a narrative is to do something second person.

Oh and uh, yeah, second person narratives violate the NAP I guess.

Anyway, moving on from that, second person narratives being common in ASMR, and ASMR being usually comfort, intimacy, or care oriented means that there is a world of ASMR content that’s designed as boyfriend or girlfriend roleplay. I haven’t yet found any enby ASMRtists (and hey, if you are an enby ASMRtist, please, hit me up, I’d like to promote your work as best I can!), but I assume that kind of thing is out there too, built around the idea that the narrator/performer is your partner, and they’re helping you sleep, or helping you relax, or just chilling out with you on a rough day.

These videos, being on Youtube, don’t mention sexual content, want you to hang around for an hour or more of audio recording, want to build and maintain intimacy with a hypothetical you, and do so all while having the intimacy to touch you (stroking your hair, shoulders, hands are all very common) and even sometimes put you to bed or share bed with you.

This is not to say that all ASMR is sexless – there are absolutely a number of sex workers who are very good at their jobs who also make ASMR content, and share it, and that’s cool  and there’s a protracted campaign to treat those people badly. It sucks, and that’s difficult, especially because while ASMR is for some people sexual doesn’t mean ASMR is a sexual thing. There’s one of those divisions within the community that’s a challenge to even talk about, because it’s common that accuasations of inappropriate sexuality meet defensive denial, which is then used to foster more criticism, and so on, all while negatively impacting unrelated sex-havers and sex-enjoyers.

That conversation aside, though, this means that Youtube has this large, deep spread of extremely ace content; romantic relationships that dwell not on sexual interaction, but on intimacy and long, slow periods of comfort and sharing each other’s presence. I’ve often wondered what asexual pornography would look like; content made with minimal context to simply deliver as positive a desireable reaction as possible, without using sex as an axis of engagement, and I kind of think that ASMR as a community has kind of lucked into doing it.

Check this stuff out. Even if you don’t like it, if you’re looking to make Ace Smooch content, it might be your kind of thing, and it might give you ideas. If nothing else, it might show you the kinds of comforting content that people are already making and enjoying!

Of course, here’s a kicker for me. The most important ace person in my life hates ASMR, so this isn’t content they can enjoy.

Oh well!

Smoochy Cardgame Thoughts

I want to play more games about smooches. I however, am not powerless to the whims of a games industry in this regard – I can just make my own, and therefore, I think I should. Through this month, I’ve just been jotting down some notes here about possible ideas in that space. Consider this a peek at process.

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Story Pile: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is a 2018 romantic comedy movie about an ordinary everygirl who finds that the boy she’s been dating has all along been one of the richest people in the world and part of a community of super rich people and what follows is a reasonably but not completely predictable story about finding acceptance and the struggles and demands of family pressure and all that stuff you expect to see in a rom-com about a fish out of water dealing with a class difference.

I guess one of the other details is to mention that this movie is about and involves almost entirely Asian people. I would have thought that was a detail that didn’t need mentioning, until this movie brought to my attention that, in fact, this might be the second prominent romantic comedy ever made primarily by, about, and starring Asians that came out of western movie studios. That is to say, in the history of cinema, this might be the second movie like this that western media’s made. That’s effed up!

That’s your lot, that’s your movie, and now you get to watch as I, magic-trick like, pull another eight hundred words out of my hat.

I guess as a first point, I should admit that there’s a reason I watched this movie that has nothing to do with Smooch Month or the like. You may remember in a previous Decemberween, I mentioned Calvin and Dee, and how they were people in the board game space I listened to and liked. Well, Calvin’s in this movie, as the extremely awkward PT. Calvin suggested I watch this movie, and I did. There’s your disclosure.

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How To Be: Ranma Saotome from Ranma 1/2 (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 for this kind of project 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.

This time, we’re going to try and capture the feeling of gender-flipping Martial Arts Death Machine Ranma Saotome from Ranma 1/2.

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Romance and the Smooch

I’ve been using the word Smooch a lot on this blog this month and part of why I do that is because I figure if I keep using it, you’ll at least be able to extrapolate what I mean by it. Conventionally, the category of stuff I file as ‘smooch media’ is ‘romantic’ media, at least if you pay attention to Netflix categories. I resist that description, though, and it’s partly because Romantic is a term that means something else, in my mind.

This is a problem when it comes to talking about it in general, because a word’s usage is determined not just by the person saying it but also by the people hearing it. If you say ‘romantic media’ I don’t tend to think you mean it the way I mean it, but I tend to use it to try and introduce this idea.

What I mean, typically, when I say romantic media is the idea of media where the logic of the universe is predominantly related to the feelings of people. I like this term, I need a term like this, because I want to be able to draw a circle around the kinds of stories that are often easier to write when you’re focusing on feelings. It’s not to say feelings-first writing needs to lack verisimillitude, but a lot of romantic storytelling is at its strongest when it can recognise what matters to its type of story.

It’s not uncommon to hear criticism of Hamlet and Romeo And Juliet where people are snared into stupid situations and the tragedy so unfolds where if they communicated better or more meaningfully, or if people took notes, or if the government behaved like a government might, you’d be left with a situation that, more realistically, would result in a story that doesn’t end with piles of bodies on the floor. This criticism is something that I myself levelled at these plays when I was a child (in part, because I was a child).

It’s kind of a categorical failure of examination. The reason these stories don’t take the most logical path, or a path that can be ‘proven’ in some way is because the important things in these stories are human feelings and the failings of those feelings. Hamlet doesn’t confide in his mother in a way that solves the problems tidily, because his inability to communicate with her is one of the things the story is about. Those feelings drive the way the story works, not vice versa.

It’s also useful for talking about media that isn’t just about people kissing – smooch media, as it were. My friend Caelyn Sandel writes regularly what I’d consider romantic urban fantasy, not necessarily because it’s always about characters kissing (though there’s plenty of that), but because the urban fantasy (and superhero and classic fantasy) she works on, the magic or superpowers or supertech or mutation or whatever is a way of examining feelings. Feelings about bodies, feelings about systems, feelings about power – but the feelings are there foremost, and feelings hold a lot of ideas together.

In a lot of ways, Caelyn is a sort of romantic radical, where she uses the model of romantic narrative (ie, stories about feelings) to drive other stories.

So, when I want to talk about stories where the important thing is the characters smooch, or don’t smooch… I’ll say it’s smooch media.

I hope it’s not too annoying. ♥

Game Pile: OSU! TATAKAE! OUENDAN!

Do you have any idea how hard it is to write about games and smooches.

The theme of smooch month in movies gets me watching stuff I’d never touch otherwise, and occasionally finding gems (honest, there’s positive reviews coming). But for games, it’s a desert. Oh, there’s a whole genre of games which are ‘about’ smooching – you have lots of romantic phone games, lots of gacha romance games, and a wealth of romantic novels, but finding any given one of them to write about is needle-in-a-stack-of-needles hard, not to mention often extremely thin for a critical surface. I know I don’t like most of these games, finding ones that differentiate themselves is hard enough and then sometimes, when I find one that sets itself apart somehow, it still upsets me.

I took it a step down and tried to write about games of a different genre where romance is important and you know what, that’s super hard too! Lots of games have a romantic element where you’re seeking to rescue or satisfy some lover or romantic partner, but that is almost all it seems being written by dudes with issues! I went back to look into adventure games from the 90s in the hopes of finding something with even an engaging romance subplot, and boy howdy,  I was reminded that Space Quest was not an exception.

There is something to be said about Kings Quest, but even those romances are fairytale style, and therefore kiiinda spring up out of nowhere once you get the two destined characters in the same room.

Then when I went looking for games that detailed the course of a romance through the game play and wow those are thin on the ground in my space, too! I could find more games about rescuing a dog than I could find about working with a partner!

And that’s why I came back to this classic rhythm game, OSU! TATAKAE! OUENDAN!

Ouendan is a game whose name you don’t have to shout but come on, you should want to, you should be shouting in your heart, that was the original progenitor of a game you might have heard of called Elite Beat Agents. It’s a rhythm game on the NDS and 3DS, where you tap the screen in time and place to correspond with the flow and movemen tof the music, and that’s kind of it. If you know what a rhythm game is, you probably can work out how to play Ouendan in just a few minutes, even across the language barrier for non-Japanese speakrs.

In fact, it was that accessibility in part that led to the game being picked up in the west, and enjoyed so much we got a American localised version of the same game, Elite Beat Agents. This was in fact so much of a thing that at the end of the credits for Ouendan 2, there’s a thank you note in English.

That approachability is only part of the reason why you can play Ouendan without literacy, though; another element is that the NDS doesn’t have region locking, so you can just buy a Japanese copy, jam it in your Belgian NDS (I assume you have one of those) and it’s going to work, rather than requiring you to pay distributors in your country. And then, the thing that pushed this game from a good, solid game to an absolutely amazing game is the framing device of the narrative.

In Ouendan, you play a squad of cheerleaders roaming around town (and history) finding people who need help, then cheering them on to do their best, and what you get in this is a collection of tropetastic preposterousness that scales from ‘helping a kid with their college entrance exams’ and ‘getting a noodle shop guy to get over his problem with a stray cat,’ to ‘helping cleopatra build the pyramids’ or ‘bringing back the dead,’ finally culminating in ‘saving the world from a asteroid strike through the power of rock and roll.’

What’s important about this, though, is that in each of these stories, you aren’t playing the people who the story is about.

You’re playing cheerleaders.

One of the stories that you help out with is a story in a festival, where a dude is being blocked from dating a girl he likes by her crappy dad. The dad is willing to let him ask his daughter to marry him, if the dude can win a race against him during the festival. If you win the level, he succeeds, and they get to get married. Not only do they get married, their kid shows up in the sequel game.

Now I pulled deep to find this game because I think this successfully breaks a lot of my problems with videogame romances. First, you don’t control the agents in the romance; you’re not the boy or the girl, and your relationship to the other has nothing to do with how well you play the game. These two characters are into each other, and their reactions to how well you play is how well you get them towards a goal they both want (where they want to get married). You want to do well, because you want them to have their chance to get married (and you get a rewarding tish sound).

It’s a sweet story, it’s about something nice, and in amongst all these games I’ve been digging through to find just a romance that didn’t make me clutch my insides, the worst thing about this one is that the story written fifteen years ago still does the ‘dad won’t let couple marry because he has some sense of ownership over the daughter,’ which is a total asshole thing, but he’s presented as being a dick for it.

Incidentally, I did consider doing this with Elite Beat Agents instead, because, you know, it’s slightly more available and didn’t get a sequel. Thing is, it’s uh, it’s not got a story like this one in it. The closest we get to this song is Queen’s I Was Born To Love You, which shows us Leonardo Da Vinci harrassing Mona Lisa until she agrees to pose for him as a model, which is so much worse as a story.

Ouendan! It’s great, go check it out, oh my god videogames are bad at love.

What If We Kissed (Mechanically) In The Squared Circle

Man, it’s hard writing about games in Smooch Month. A boy who was a bit less weird than me would just belt his way through four visual novels and talk about how the girls were hot, the boys were present and the Renpy engine was, once more, there, but I’m not that boy, and I can’t do it. Visual novels are a real trouble for me, and we’ll get into more, why, later, but until then, I’m looking at a lot of card, board, and videogames that are ostensibly about romance that really aren’t.

And I think that part of why is the same reason wrestling games suck.

Bear with me on this one it’s a bit of a lift.

Wrestling videogames treat wrestling, as a fiction, as if it is real. That is, a wrestling match is ostensibly about two dudes (usually) who have been scheduled to fight each other and then the player makes the two dudes punch each other until they’re done punching each other and one of them falls down. That is to say, the fictional narrative of the fight that the two actual performers are enacting is treated as the fiction you play.

This has been on my mind as super boring because the far more interesting thing about a wrestling match is that it’s not competitive, but it is rather cooperative, and there’s a lot of communication and interplay and practice going on, with lots of different styles. Essentially you’re watching performance art between two people, A and B, and they need to understand each other and know how to work together in a way that’s engaging and gets different things out of a match they both want, while responding to a live stimulus in the form of the crowd.

I think about this specifically in the vein of romance games. Romance is a thing that games sometimes represent as a background element (Mario games for example), or as a maze (like I said in my review of The Blind Griffin), and sometimes it’s represented as use-keys-on-door style puzzles (Leisure Suit Larry, I guess)? And then it’s sometimes part of a greater narrative (the inexplicable ‘romance’ in Police Quest for example). Very rarely, though, is romance treated as the connected interaction of two mutual characters, sharing in an experience.

I think what I’m saying is, if we can clock this kind of videogame mechanic, of two characters sharing common actions and trying to reach a common ends, we won’t just have made a new kind of rhythmic pattern of play for both real-time and turn based romantic games, we’ll have made the mechanics for a rad wrestling game too,

and then, the wrestlers can kiss,

MTG: Friendly Planeswalkers

There’s a lot of Magic: The Gathering that uses mechanics to express theme. Theme is really important, since being able to see card entities as creatures that relate to one another, enchantments that relate to greater rules, artifacts that have a material existence and lands that can be used or expended is a big part of how you manage the mental load of all the game parts happening at once. This is going to be a quick introduction, then we’re going to do a list, so buckle up.

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3.5 Memories: Soo-Nee

I’m trying to limit my writing about 3.5 D&D and 4e D&D to maybe once a month, because while I do love doing deep dives into subjects there, they’re time consuming and I’ve found a variety of different articles is the best thing I can do to keep my audience engaged. Plus, it’s a great kind of ‘content well’ where you can grab a book from the game in question, leaf through it, and find something to talk about – inevitably.

In this, Smooch Month, though, what content is there in 3.5 D&D to talk about that I haven’t gone over with a discussion of ‘roll to seduce?’ Lords knows we don’t want to talk about the way sex and romance are normally represented in D&D, because they’re mostly only ever brought up transgressively. We did the Book of Vile Darkness already!

Still, it’s smooch month and that means that while we may be talking about romance and relationships, there’s always with that aftertinge of ‘horny, maybe?‘ that I circle around and avoid, and when the time comes to talk about horny, maybe and D&D, there’s really no place to go but the Forgotten Realms.

If you’re not already aware, Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms setting is a place full of lots of different interesting countries (I’m trying to be nice) which are perhaps known for a pattern of having an elderly, cranky wizard in an important place that’s secretly guiding important political events and enabling adventurers. You might know it as a setting which has a large number of prominent women in positions of authority in some important, adventurer-centric places, meaning you may have a fond memory of being sent on an early quest by Aribeth.

It’s also perhaps a little less well known for being a setting where under the hood Ed Greenwood was fantastically horny and has definitely, definitely dedicated lots of time to thinking about the sex lives of those characters. Once you know about it, it just kind of lurks there like a fog at ankle-height, clinging to everything.

Now, something else about the Forgotten Realms is that Ed Greenwood started writing it in 1967 and pretty much has never stopped, filling the world with ever increasing levels of detail, conspiracies, political introgue, cities, townships, lodges, orders, empires, dragons, really racist drow stuff, and of course, gods. That brings us to the book I flipped open this month, Faiths & Pantheons.

If we’re talking about a love domain (and boy there’s a lot bound up in that conversation which I largely want to leave alone, but suffice to say fucking sigh) then why not look at the Forgotten Realms’ goddess of love, Sune?

 

Sune as a goddess is a bit standard. She’s a beautiful feminine woman, her descrpition includes how her lips are plump, how she dresses in ‘near transparent clothes,’ all that standard stuff. She’s a redhead, which I mean, you can make a case for any of those typical looks and what they encode, but the real basics is that Sune is a Hot Goddess of Hotness.

The descriptors of her goals, aims and dogma are all extremely in this vein, with a drop of how thanks to recent reforms in her church, women only outnumber men four to one. Her temples are described as public salons and bathhouses, with diaphanous robes and beautiful clergy and mirrors all over the place. Sune even communicates with you via mirrors, where you look into them, she changes your appearance, and then talks to you through your own, now hotter face.

Now, one thing in favour of this setting, and this character, is that Ed Greenwood has gone on record that Sune (and everyone good in the Forgotten Realms) says Trans Rights, so that’s something and that’s all we need to talk about there.

Sune’s a goddess of love, lust, pleasure and protection and it’s so weird that as represented, her faithful mostly seem to hang around taking care of people and not doing adventure stuff. They even talk about how commonly the Heartwarders are pacifists, and how this means that enemies often are reluctant to attack them, which let me tell you, that’s not how that tends to work.

What else has Sune got going for her? If you’re not getting sent on quests by the Goddess of Love to do things like smash tyrannical families that are keeping star-crossed lovers apart or destroying churches that are trying to control people’s expressions of love or pleasure, or even just building safe spaces and standing in the doorway with a sword, what else has she got going on, why worship Sune?

Girl Hot counts for a lot, right?

When you get a Player’s Handbook you may see the five or ten gods presented there and think that the power of a setting is built around gods of punching, fierceness, and maybe evil punching, and that’s certainly a place to start. As the pantheon of the Forgotten Realms built out, Ed expanded into things like racial pantheons, where elves have a bunch of their own gods, and maybe other races have whole bunches of other gods, and with that came the need for more things for gods to be about, represented by more domains.

Sune, therefore, required (?) the creation of the Lust Domain.

It’s not great.

I’m trying to avoid talking about the way you may frame enchantment spells or diplomacy checks in your game, but the good news is that you don’t need to worry about what the Lust domain does in any given 3.5 game, because it’s really bad and the Protection and Pride domains are right there. Okay, so she’s not setting the world on fire mechanically. What else is Sune bringing to the table?

Art by kiikii-sempai

Another mechanical space that these gods open up is the idea of prestige classes. This was a really good idea, because it served two possible purposes for player characters. If you liked Sune, you could look at her prestige class and get a feeling for the kind of mechanics she liked; if you liked the mechanics of that class, you could look at Sune and see if you liked that direction for your character’s personality.

Sune’s pretige class is the Heartwarders, which is a basket of yikes. This class increases your charisma (very rare to get like this, but not hard to get at all), gives you a ally buff power by kissing them (which also is so amazing a kiss it dazes them, meaning you can actually make them worse off), and lets you create holy water love potions by, um, crying. There’s a lot bound up right there in what a person sees as being beautiful or aesthetically resonant. The class is pretty broken, because it still lets your cleric be a cleric, but as far as stuff you can bolt onto an already-broken class goes, this one’s not worth what it gives you!

It’s a shame, because a rose-coloured knight of love and rage seems like a great character concept to defend the worshippers of a god of love. Someone should make a much better version of this idea.

And that’s Sune! A Goddess of love and lust in a subtly horny world. And if you’re like me, you were today years old when you learned this name is instead pronounced ‘Soo-nee.’

Story Pile: The Knight Before Christmas

I know over this past year I have definitely become something of a fan of not the Hallmark media itself, but rather the serious critical space that surrounds Hallmark media in the form of Dave & Jeb Aren’t Mean and their various commentators looking at Hallmark as a brand. Now, I don’t have Hallmark movies of my own to watch, but what I do have access to is Netflix, and Netflix are happy to make and present their own knock-off derivatives of Hallmark’s design space, and maybe even afford it something that could be seen as a ‘bigger budget’ version of same. Thus, for our next Smooch Month movie, we’re going to look at The Knight Before Christmas.

Notionally, you might want to know what happens in this movie, so to give you the most basic rundown of the plot, a knight in the 14th century England meets a witch, who hucks him forward in time with a cryptic message to 2019 Ohio, where he meets Vanessa Hudgens. They hang out and do no-impact Christmas stuff, he finishes a quest, goes back in time, then asks the witch to send him back, so he can kiss her again and become a cop. I’m not joking.

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Cassunzel

This is a bit of a weird one. Normally I like to save talking about queer content for Pride Month, but I also like using Pride Month to talk about actual queer content, and this is very firmly in the space of ‘fanon.’ On the other hand, there’s a term I want to talk about in Pride Month which is germaine and then you don’t need to know what the Germans have got to do with anything!

And so here, in Smooch Month, a ship.

In case you weren’t aware, there’s a TV series of the Disney movie Tangled. The premise of the series is very much one of your Disney spinoffs; if you saw Aladdin or Hercules when you were much younger, or the more recent Big Hero 6 the basic idea is to use the marketable branding of an existing, successful movie, then use the world and setting to durdle around and do stuff that wouldn’t matter for the plot of the movie but still works fine in the genre. Big Hero 6 has a great series, and so, to my surprise, does Tangled.

These series however, often have to run in place with some continuity point, like how Hercules couldn’t exactly have Hercules come into his full power or confront Hades in too ultimate a fashion (given the movie happened after the series), and Aladdin had to keep Aladdin as a street rat rather than focus on the whole ‘prince’ thing, and kept the genie as a bit of a wuss, because otherwise, you know, ridiculous power. Tangled is set right after the movie ended but before the epilogue Eugene describes where eventually, he marries Rapunzel.

Now, it’s best not to think about how the series weaves its way back into the narrative, just accept that this is really well produced fanfiction using the generic adventure world of Tangled, building on the kind of ridiculous side characters we see in the movie. Then, into that mix, you throw Cass, Rapunzel’s handmaiden and daughter of the captain of the guard.

Now.

Tangled is a fine movie. I like it a lot. When I first saw it, I remarked that it was ‘the best Disney movie since Hunchback,’ and for me, that’ pretty high praise. I thought Flynn Rider/Eugene was a pretty great character. And that same character, when you have the time to hang around him in a comic TV series, where he’s anchored to Rapunzel’s section of the world and can’t just run from everything, that dashing charm slowly morphs into mawkish dorkitude.

Then, in Tangled, because they couldn’t make Eugene a different person, they throw Cass, who basically gets to be the other half to Raps’ story. They have a fun dynamic, their skills complement each other, and Eugene, being wallpaper for the first two seasons while they develop this friendship, as Rapunzel’s Designated Eventual Romance makes Cass and Raps look really gay for each other.

It’s a fun ship! Tough jock with a sword and her ethereal magic girlfriend? Hardworking defender and actual literal princess? Road trip adventures? Magic mirrors? Trying to sacrifice one another to save the other? Tying one another up sometimes? You get a lot of that stuff here!

Does it work out? Nah, but this series was always going to live in a cul-de-sac and it doesn’t end well. But watch the first two seasons, and the episode where they re-do the movie Tangled with Cass in the place of Eugene, and ask yourself what he’s even doing here.

Love And D20s

This was meant to come up later in the month but since it seems someone at Wizards has made a ‘love’ domain or something like that, we’re going to do it now, I guess.

Now first of all I have no interest in defending or even talking about the 5th Edition Love domain. Lots of reasons, not the least of which being I don’t know the game, and I don’t care. The internet has enough semi-experts shooting from the hip about their personal opinions of the thing I already don’t like is bad, so instead I’m going to swerve around that and use the opportunity to talk about the idea of roll to seduce.

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Game Pile: Tussie Mussie

Once again, I’m going to talk about a Button Shy game, which I’m beginning to feel I need to construct some kind of template for. Let’s see about hitting the notes! Button Shy make wallet games (roughly 20 cards or fewer) in nice aesthetically pleasant wallets, focus on non-dexterity games from a variety of designers, and it’s smart, funny, clever, designed for fast iterations on play, rewards replay, and is absolutely perfect to keep in your everyday bag. The base floor on these games is quite high, and any criticisms I make of this thing is also made in the context of the game you get under the hood as already being really good and definitely worth having, especially at the very modest rates Button Shy charge.

We got that?

Good, okay, moving on.

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Simple & Clean’s origin story weirdness

Hey, I’m going to talk about something in Kingdom Hearts, so like, brace yourself because I’m going to run the risk of being mean to a videogame and I know that can be super upsetting. If you’d like to go somewhere else, here’s a link. If you stick around, I promise that this one is, I think, extremely gentle and doesn’t do anything like talk about plots or characters. Promise.

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PaleBlood Moon Debrief

Okay, now with all that scheduling weirdness hopefully past us, what the heck happened with that weekend game? Well, logitistically, we turned up at a rented room, and we spent three days playing D&D. It was heaps of fun, and the thing is, three solid days of D&D gives you a certain kinetics.

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Game Brief Example: PaleBlood Moon

Thanks to some scheduling mistakes in an automated system, this went up and down a few times when it shouldn’t. Thanks for your patience.


Every year, some of our friends visit from Melbourne to come play D&D. Every year, Fox and I pitch games, and we decide which one people want to do the most. This year, this is my pitch, which I wrote all the way back in December.

Now, I’m making this blog post now, but it’s a bit of a hedge. See, there’s a really good chance this pitch won’t get used at all, in which case, I’ll just brush it up a little bit and add an explantion for any twists in this three-day campaign that were coming. But for now, here, check out the Bloodborne inspired game pitch for a game I’m probably not running next weekend.


The Pale Moon Rises

The lamps are lit, the doors are barred, and the hunt begins. The hunters of Cainwicht have been training and hunting, listening at the doors and windows, and as the night of the hunt begins, stepped out onto the streets to take to the grim and bloody task of slaying the predators upon humanity.

People are not to be about on the night of the Pale Moon.

But in the Cathedral Of The Ministration in Finhbrigg, something has gone awry. Finhbrigg’s hunters have gone out – but the clocktower light that signals the Hunt has begun is out. Thick fog clings to the ground, and without the light, Hunters from Cainwicht are not going to come – leaving Finhbrigg to fend for itself.

But the Cathedral is not without defenses – and you, whether hunters in training, older veterans of the hunt, or travellers in the wrong place at the wrong time, have a chance to fix it.

Character Creation

  • This game is designed to be run in Heroic level, currently at level 7. This can be negotiated upwards, but I want the game to run smooth and quick.
  • Everything official is fair game, plus Escarnum material. (Now online at https://escarnum.invincible.ink). Knock yourselves out.
  • There is a contingency in-setting for players who die and you’ll probably die once
  • Aesthetically, think Bloodborne or similar Gothic Horror settings.

House Rules

  • One free expertise feat
  • Revised immunity rules (poison immunity doesn’t make you immune to secondary effects of power sthat do poison damage)
  • The Blackguard is replaced by the Vindicator

UPDATE: Holy shit, my players went for it.

Tune in Tuesday to find out the twist.

Story Pile: Tall Girl

Smooch Month brings with it the challenge of li’l ole me, the boy who does not watch romantic media, trying to find a handful of movies, series, or even albums, to talk about that fall into the category of smooch media. I like the exercise! I like forcing myself out of the zone of watching just pure adventure stuff, and it means I can have fun asking Netflix to just show me something with a keyword like ‘romantic comedy.’

And this time, it gave me Tall Girl.

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MTG: Dinobots (Not The Transformers) Commanders!

Hello, Wizards of the Coast employees. This blog post is going to feature custom cards and I know you’re not allowed to look at those. So, please, go elsewhere, sorry!

Magic The Gathering? In Smooch month? is this going to be about shipping? Is this going to be about Nissa and Chandra, and the War Of the Spark: Forsaken?

No.

Because I don’t really care about that.

I mean I don’t have the book; I don’t plan on buying the book; the book was handled so badly that Wizards of the Coast apologised for it, and there are rundowns on how the writing is bad (even setting aside the subject matter) and ways that the Nissa/Chandra romance was specifically handled, and really, you don’t need someone who hasn’t got the book, and has no interest in reading it, to go over it.

Instead, I want to talk about a shipping pair I learned about from Twitter, and has basically no basis in actual canon but I don’t care.

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Smooch Month 2020

Ah, February. February, the month with Valentines’ Day in it. February, the shortest month. February, the worst month, the hottest part of summer, the month of my grandmother’s birthday, the month in which romantically themed candies and sexcapade based romps will abound and people will share their definitely not bothersome jokes about marriage. February.

It is a month for smooches, a month for media about smooches, or about conspicuously choosing not to have smooches. During this month you can expect the game pile to look at romance games, which… probably means more visual novels, like, actual visual novels about finding and making relationships, and the story pile to talk about media that wants to talk to the experience of havin’ a smooch or not having a smooch.

I’m being very ambiguous here because the reality is that it’s hard to define what ‘romantic’ media even is any more in a useful way, and last year’s experiment of playing visual novels and writing about them was a deeply alienating experience of finding games that literally had no space for someone like me while doing things that made me feel guilty. I skirted the topic at the time, because heaven forfend I be honest about how a videogame makes me feel if it’s anything but positive!

This is gunna be a month where I talk about games and media where interpersonal romance is focal; where I look at works I normally avoid and try to bring them to bear on ideas that do mean something to me; and who knows, I may even talk a little bit about romance, building relationships, and things I’ve learned after losing my entire friend network leaving the church.

It’s gunna be fun and hopefully I’ll find some other romcoms to goof around with, because they’re more fun than  thought.

Game Pile: The Cleanup!

With the cleansing ritual of excusing a number of physical games from my Game Pile, I decided it was also time to make a ritual of making it clear a number of 2019 digital games that had definitely, definitely left my Game Pile. Presented here is a lightning round of Games that I tried in 2019 and didn’t feel I had anything to say about them. These games largely went unfinished, unless something provokes me to give ’em a second look – which can include you specifically asking me about it!

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January 2020 Wrapup!

New year, new set of blog posts, new planning tools, and how have they gone? This month, I spent more time on blog posts for longer, which made it so some blog posts were kinda longer than I really expected them to be. There are fewer 400-500 word posts, and a lot more 1000 worders. I am real happy with the article about Sidekicks, which even gets to do a funny Sonic The Hedgehog thing, I liked my article about Overwhelm,  where I learned a valuable lesson about difficulty in games, and for just being funny on its own merits, I liked my article about the Taco T-Shirt Cannon.

This month’s video was a stilted little half hour of me running around playing a little bugge and trying very hard not to cough in your ear… and it turns out I didn’t render it correctly. Don’t worry, I will be fixing this and reuploading, but thanks to CanCon, I haven’t had that time to work.

Shirts! I had a lot of great shirts this week, with three different Allstar Themed designs:

It was CanCon month! That eats a ton of time and space! Then, I took the great opportunity to be sick for a week! While we were getting ready for CanCon! That was a terrible idea!

Still, we’re here, we’re okay, and things are not as bad as they could be, so let’s keep going! ♥

Cancon Debrief

CanCon2020 is over, and with it, a time to decompress, to take a deep breath, and to recover. It’s also a weekend full of short stories.

Customer Feedback

We talk about our games a lot over the course of the weekend. Commonly, people buy games on day 1, take them home, play them, come back and talk about them, and in many cases, buy more, which excites me a lot. Several of our games have stood the test of time, in my opinion, and players are likely to talk about liking them. Now, I know that people are inclined to be kind in person, and I understand that, but it’s still easy to be and stay mad if you feel wronged.

Basically, I haven’t, it seems, pissed anyone off.

There are still ways our games can be improved, and there are some details on that front.

One weird thing that happened was we sold most of our copies of Cafe Romantica, a game we simply did not expect to sell well at this con and which I almost left most copies at home. It’s a great game and I’m a fan of it, but it’s surprising to me that this weekend, it did well. This is something about our current line up I have to grapple with: That a bunch of our games are doing their main job of being part of a selection for people to browse. I only sell one or two copies of some of our games, and I don’t need all of our games maximally available at all times, but success is a matter of rolling lots of dice, and so, more games is more dice.

What did I learn?

Access Issues

One thing I got to do a lot this weekend was explain my games to people in terms of things that make the game good for them. This meant being honest with people about player counts and game complexity – kid games have a whole range of design needs, and if you were looking for a dense, complex game, most of our games aren’t quite there. Social deduction, planning ahead, drafting games, all sorts of talk about people who may or may not be aware of the kind of things I’m talking about – there’s a lot to be done explaining and understanding games, then doing it again twenty times in the day.

Some holes in our collection though:

  • All our adult-targeted games are reading heavy. Our kid-aimed games are reading light, but if you have reading difficulties, our card games that are aimed at adults are hard to play.
  • We have one cooperative game. Still haven’t fixed this, despite it being Fox’s and my current favourite kind of game to play.
  • Lots of social deduction games, not as many ‘watch a system work’ games.

Handling The Heat

CanCon this year happened on a very hot weekend, but not the hottest; we’ve had worse days. The main thing that happened this time was we planned our day to minimise the amount of times we left the building; one trip to another building, at the start of the day, then minimal leaving afterwards. We had stocked up on water, we stayed in cool locations, and we made sure our transport was done in as few trips as possible. Even then, it was still awful dealing with things like getting into a car that was full of stuffy air and heated metal fittings.

That said: I need to get a hat. I felt the sun on the back of my neck and side of my face a lot, I should do something about that. Also also: I got a haircut before I went down and that was a really good idea.

The Haul

I did buy some games, including a ‘mystery box’ game box, which was a cool looking pile of games in a mystery booster. That means there are some games I got that I was planning on getting, some games I got I was not planning on getting.

First, when I was interested in the storage solution for Star Realms, the day after I wrote that, Star Realms held a kickstarter for a deluxe box. Then I looked at that and realised: No, I don’t want that. Instead I decided to buy a $12 Ultimate Guard deckbox, which will do fine for my base copy of Star Realms. I’m not here to all-in on it.

I did see some of those games, and in the light of having them, didn’t want them enough. That’s okay! I found something else instead, and that’s the glory of Ding-And-Dent and Bring-And-Buy. There’s stuff that just I wouldn’t have thought of.

What I did get however, is, just as a list:

  • Katamino
  • Purrlock HOlems Furriarty’s Trail
  • Ninja Taisen
  • 10′ To Kill
  • Among Thieves
  • Rox
  • Bang!
  • Aerion
  • Realm of Sand
  • Newfoundland Jam
  • and Sakura Arms

Maybe you’ll see some reviews of these!

January Shirt (And December Shirts): All Star Fandom!

I teach a class on memes. I make shirts. I watch as people spend real money on white t-shirts manufactured by a millionaire who has no reason to want to bilk people out of money beyond sheer ego. And I exist in a cultural space that wants to recognise the disposable pulp media as being as worthy of academic consideration as classics, and that’s why I sometimes put serious effort into things that I can only describe as silly.

I also have musical taste that we can at best described as ‘arrested 1999,’

Anyway, here are Decembers’ shirts, and January’s as well:

This is a design I’m taking to call a peer shirt, where someone needs to actively look at it to work out what it is. It’s great for logo designs like the loss shirts or other subtle joke signalling, the kind where someone has to ‘get’ it.

This started out asan attempt to make some text look superheroic, as a test of the method. Then I realised my test text, which was a joke, worked really well and I liked it.

And this one is a complicated, elaborate and colourful spiral that hopefully takes a good few moments to work out, but is rewarding once you do.

You can check these designs out on Redbubble or TeePublic, and remember when you buy shirts I made, you are helping me get pizza, and I’m hoping I help you get a big laugh.